On May 23 we headed for Mataranka first thing in the morning. We had an amazingly perfect swim in the warm water under the ring of palm trees and beautiful hot showers. After that we began the first of three days of driving, driving, driving. We drove over 600 km to a dusty, flat, huge rest stop just after Three Way Junction (horribly expensive gas), joining the W-E Barkly Highway to the N-S Stuart Highway, called the 41 Mile Bore. There was an incredible sunset there so we pulled out our camp chairs and our Styrofoam broccoli-box-turned-cooler to sit and have our dinner sandwiches as we watched the sun fade from the sky and a blanket of stars to pop out one by one. Outback sunsets are something else, but I really don’t understand the people with the caravans. Here they are, in the middle of nowhere at their free rest stop with all of the stars they could ever hope for and not a mosquito in sight, and they are trussed up in their campers with their generators going. We may have turned into gypsies at this point, but I am glad we don’t have any electricity.
May 24- Northern territory to Queensland
The sunrise at 41 Mile Bore was just as amazing as the sunset. We got an early start and drove over 700 km today, until the solid stands of low bushes that are the Northern Territory turned in to fields of nothing but spinifex at the Queensland border. Once we reached Mt. Isa, we found low rolling hills covered in low, sparse trees. The kind with white trunks and bright leaves. Mt. Isa is a monstrosity, a town unfortunately built around a mining processing plant. Everywhere you look this HUGE BLACK plant is in the background to this pathetic excuse for a town. Like Gary Indiana shrunk down to the size of a town with a population of 1000.
We did not stay there. We drove 150km east of Mt. Isa for the night at a decent rest stop with actual bathrooms and a rather good collection of flies. In this picture Sam displays his posse that he collected within two seconds of stepping out of the car in the morning. At this point the flies are like our pets. Sam is convinced that they feed off of misery, as all they want is to be on your face, in your ear, up your nose. They never bother your food, just your head. I think he may be right.
The hills of Mt.Isa were short lived. Back to flatness. By the way, if you can manage to see through the flies splattered across the windshield, please notice something about this highway. This is the main highway, the only highway, traversing east-west across the northern part of Australia. The only one; the one that road trains carrying up to four giant, fully loaded trailers blast down at up to 130km an hour, headed straight for you. And this road? Yeah, it has no lines. NO LINES!!!!!!!!!!!! ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY?????????
May 25 brought us the highlight of our journey east. Our first ECHIDNA!!!!!!!!!!! It was waddling across the highway in front of us. They are surprisingly large, like a waddling football covered in spikes. It made it worth driving 800 km to see it! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!
Look at his cute nose!
We made it to Townsville, on the east coast of Queensland on the 25th, but continued on for another 30 km to reach Saunder’s Beach for the night. Here we slept just meters from the beach, for free, then in the morning awoke to enjoy a beach-side breakfast followed by a couple hours of sunbathing on a perfectly empty, beautiful beach. For free. Need a BBQ? Here is a gas-powered one that you can use. For free. Just please make sure to throw away your litter in the bin. And your recyclables? Please put them in the recycling bin. Thank you. If it weren’t for gas being $8 a gallon half the time our stay here would be cheap…
That is the water of the Coral Sea just past those trees…
We continued our drive north this morning, May 26, towards Cairns. The landscape has turned to unspeakably beautiful. Fields of sugar cane and forest-covered mountains and beautiful blue ocean are all fighting with mad gray clouds. We’ve been sprinkled on but are glad for it – maybe it will wash the orange road dust off of Hiro, the best station wagon ever, for us.
Lovely road scenic outlook:
We ate lunch here, at a beach rest stop overlooking Hitchinbrook Island, then headed into Innisfall, where we are now, checking our email as we hide from the rain. We might check into snorkeling tours on the Great Barrier Reef, but if the weather stays bad we will continue north to Cairns and Daintree National Park.