Sunday, August 08, 2010

Miles to go before I sleep…

Aug. 6th Friday. After filling up we detoured out to Mission Beach. This was recommended to us as one of the best beaches so naturally we decided to have a look. It is also one of the best places to spot a wild Cassowary as the land behind it is a protected sanctuary for the large indigenous flightless bird. We have yet to spot one.

We got there and both agreed that it was indeed a very very nice beach and also that we weren’t really interested in swimming or sunbathing so we moved on. We also realized that we have seen some of the nicest beaches the world has to offer by now and perhaps we will maybe pass up the next one. From beach to mountain town all in spitting distance is pretty much how the next few hundreds miles went. We traveled down the Bruce Highway though floodway roads that are regularly underwater in the rainy season. There are even meter sticks on the side of the road to indicate to drivers how deep the water is over the road! Those snorkels sticking out of peoples hoods aren’t just for show. Realizing that our tiny car is really only useful in these parts for certain months out of the year kind of helps put into perspective how gnarly Australia is. And this is a major highway!

Our next stop was Tully. The town of Tully is a small one situated on a slanting hill (good thing) and adjacent to a large sugar cane factory. Train tracks and small trains for transporting the cane dominate the landscape and we’ve probably driven over at least a hundred rail road crossings. Most of them with signs, watch for trains. Tully is special because it is one of the wettest towns in all of Australia with an average annual rainfall of something like 5 meters. A large fiberglass Gumboot (rubber boot) with a spiral staircase and lookout platform inside was erected outside of town. The tourist trap stands at a whopping 7 meters high which is the height of the highest recorded annual rainfall. On the inside of the boot are photographs of various parts of town under 1, 2, or 3 meters or so of water. Lucky for us, it is August and our stay in Tully was a dry one.

Ingham came into view and we stopped at the Tyto Wetlands information center. A very helpful woman helped us in our search for a nearby national park where we might camp for the night. It was almost noon and the site was quite a ways away. We stood in the wonderfully decorated building with informative exhibits on the flora and fauna of the wetlands all around us and rows and rows of brochures and pamphlets, maps and flyers for all the different activities, nature trails, hiking routes, waterfalls, beaches, mountain climbs, and animal sanctuaries that we could visit. Overloaded with possibilities for how to spend the rest of our day, we had to make a tough decision. In the end we decided to press on toward Townsville and pass up the 55 kilometer detour out West to some waterfall. Some waterfall was in fact Wallaman Falls, the highest waterfall in the southern hemisphere and the 3rd highest in the word at 305meters, according to its excellent brochure. But the last 18k indicated that a four wheel drive vehicle was recommended. What that really means is that if you want to get there, you had better have 4 wheel drive and not a refrigerator with 4 inches of ground clearance. I told Will that I hope to never have to pass on the 3rd highest, largest, longest, oldest or any other adjective whatever ever again. I marked Wallaman falls down on the list for my next trip to Australia.

We blasted through Townsville stopping only to admire the sailboats moored in the river and kept on going. One last detour as the sun started going down was to the top of a large hill with a steep drive but an amazing view from the top of farm land as far as the eye could see. 30 miles or more of farm plots with mountains in the far far distance and a view of the pacific to the east. A compass plate at the summit indicated the great circle bearings and distances for various other major world cities or ports.

We finally stopped to use a payphone after we were near where we thought the national park campground was only to find that we were off by about 60 km due to the poor detail on our road map and since we were both pretty tired, we just pulled off at the next “rest stop” to camp. Of course as luck would have it, the one we came across had a large sign. “No camping…No Overnight stays…No Tents…Penalties Apply”. Odd we though considering that signs on the road we had seen tell you to “pull over if sleepy”, and “take a rest and refresh”. Figuring that we were pretty well in the middle of nowhere still 20 k from the next town we pitched our tent anyway, in the dark, way in the back behind some trees. We set the alarm for 5:30am so we could be packed up before first light and went to bed. A cold cold night followed. Our coldest since leaving Cairns in fact but we suffered through the cold and highway noise and managed another free campsite. At least we tried.

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