We left the campsite after Ruth sweet-talked the two rangers into filling our freshwater tank. We made use of the the local library to update our blog as we hadn't been able to do so for maybe two weeks. Took ages as the connection wasn't brilliant and I suspect because the blog is quite a large file now; there are over 70 entries.
Ruth announced she would like to drive today, so she did! We drove along the quiet country road to Miriam Vale where we rejoined our old friend, The Bruce Highway towards Gladstone. Gladstone is an industrial city, the home of the largest aluminium smelter in Australia and a large power station to support it, we were warned off it by the I-site lady in Agnes Water! We veered off the Highway to Tannam Sands, a delightful little town some 20km before Gladstone where we found a lovely picnic park right on the beach. We found our first crocodile warning notice, right her on the beach along with warnings about stingers, strong currents and underwater rocks. Hey, now it was really getting tropical. Sadly (?) we saw no crocodiles (or are they alligators?)
There were several covered tables and benches and hot plate barbecues so we decided to have our main meal of the day there and then. We barbecued a boned shoulder of lamb with squash, courgettes and eggplant and sat and ate it overlooking the wonderful beach and the Coral Sea, fabulous! Bit windy though.
After a short walk along the golden sands we set off again, through Gladstone and on to The Bruce Highway. We determined we would try to make up some distance and time as we had taken three days out on Lady Elliott Island, so set our sights on driving past Rockhampton and on to Clearview, a little village on the coast, over 400 km away.
The road was mostly fairly flat, open countryside with either cattle pasture or open forest, all fairly green and lush. We did notice the cattle were more akin to those found in India (we later discovered they were, in fact, Brahman). The road followed the railway for most of our journey and we did see a number of trains, all coal trains, very long and trundling along sedately, full ones heading south and the empty ones returning north. As we approached Gladstone we passed alongside many sugar cane fieldsWe diverted to Gracemere which had the largest cattle sales yard in Australia and it was impressive. We arrived after it had closed for the day but there were still cattle in the holding pens. Returning to the highway we entered Rockhampton and passed through the Tropic of Capricorn, so we were now in the tropics. Rockhampton is considered the beef capital of the Southern Hemisphere and there were statues of bulls at the entrance to the town and all along the road.
Once clear of Rockhampton we were back on open roads with huge trucks thundering past, in both directions! Often the round was dead straight for miles, although there were ups and downs and road signs warning of koala, but no koala were spotted by us. As the sun went down Ruth was uncomfortable driving with the sun in her eyes, so after a quick bush pee, I took over, and not being so vertically challenged the sun didn't bother me. We drove on in the dark but did make our destination around 7 in the evening. It was pitch black, but we found our campsite and settled in for the night.
We were woken by the sun rising over the vast flats exposed by low tide, no noisy birds, though a coal train had passed by and it felt like an earthquake. A lovely beach, but due to the low tide it was a long, long way to the ocean so after a little walk we set off. Amazed that we were on the road by eight in the morning (usually it was nearly 10), we thought we could enjoy a slower day. We rejoined the Bruce Highway but diverted to the Cape Palmerston National Park. The road passed through farmland until we hit the park when the road deteriorated to a gravel surface but not too bumpy and we drove several miles through forest until we reached the coast. In front of us was a long, long, wide, golden sands beach, no one on it but us. It was breathtaking, just us and the ocean and the wind.
We were tempted into skinny dipping but the stinger warning signs put us off - I mean, stingers are one thing but stingers on one's bits are another! So, we remembered our pledge and took away two bags of plastic bits and pieces we collected from the beach. I wandered into the bush to try and see the birds that were calling but mosquitos descended on be and I bailed out quickly. We had heard on the tv that dengue fever was about in the Mackay region.
We heard the eastern whip bird again, this time just the male bird, and he moved on quickly as he did not get a reply from a female. There were some beautiful butterflies and flowers as we drove out and back to the Highway. On again and we stopped at Sarina I-site where we met some lovely ladies who gave us information about the local beaches and a great drive into the mountains. We drove to Sarina Beach which had picnic benches and barbecues - the Aussies do provide great facilities at their beaches. This beach had warnings about box jellyfish and advice on treatment if stung - even supplying a bottle of vinegar for first aid.
After a lovely lunch we headed on to Mackay, but only to hit the Pioneer Valley to the Eungella National Park. We stopped along the road (for a bush pee!) under a huge mango tree, sadly it appeared none of the fruit had been picked as all around, under the tree were dried husks and seeds, what a shame, but we were too lat e to help ourselves. Right at the start was the Miss Melba House, the former home of Dame Nellie Melba, now a museum and info centre, sadly it closed at 3pm, it was now 3.10pm! A nice enough drive through the cane fields, gradually climbing up the valley. It was interesting to see the narrow gauge railway alongside the road, used at sugarcane harvest time to ship the billets of cane to the crushing mills. The track system was extensive, ran for miles, and we saw hundreds of empty rail trucks and some small locomotives parked and waiting for the next harvest.
We had been told about the Finch Hatton Gorge and duly turned off to visit. The road became gravel and twisted and wound its way up the river, we forded the river several times before arriving at the car park and start of the track. Only when we got there did we discover it was an hour and a half walk to the gorge, falls and bathing pools. It was already five o'clock, so we decided not to do the walk, but to continue to Eungella. We did however over spot small skinks, brown with pale brown heads, and heard the raucous calls of the parakeets.
On past more cane fields until we reached the head of the valley when the road climbed very steeply to the saddle at 628 metres, and Eungella. The campsite overlooked the whole Pioneer Valley, a lovely sight in the evening sun, but we had more to do. We booked our spot on the campsite, (we were the only camprpers that night!) and drove on to Broken River, in the National Park, where platypus were to be seen, and there they were. We saw four of five, not spending long at the surface, but great to see them. After about ten minutes they moved on down the river and we did not see them again. More people arrived and were very disappointed, so we were lucky this time.
Back to the campsite as it was getting dark, laundry duties, dinner, a bit of skype-in then bed. A long day.
Windy and rainy overnight and the valley below was full of mist and cloud, so, no view. The cloud came and went giving us glimpses of the valley floor. We heard our old friend the eastern whip bird, but once again no female response, poor thing. We set off down the steep road into the valley below. We turned off the Mackay road to drive the rural route to rejoin the Bruce Highway, a very pleasant drive through green and lush countryside, even if most of it was covered with sugar cane.
We drove on up the Bruce Highway in the rain to Prosperine, another big sugar cane processing town, there were long trains of 'bulk molasses' tankcars standing idle by the processing plant, before heading to the coast at Airlie Beach. We had lunch in a little park by the beach on the outskirts of town, just dodging the rainy squalls, and then drove into the resort town. It was another backpackers town, lots of hotels and bars and shops offering trips to the Whitsunday Islands. More rain, it was hot and humid. We checked what was on offer at the I-site which seemed ok, but the operators had cancelled their trips tomorrow due to the bad weather forecast, and Sunday wasn't looking too good. Ruth asked about stingers and the very helpful young lady confirmed they were about and recommended we hire wetsuits at the island resorts because the alternative 'would really spoil your day'.
So, the combination of stingers and bad weather put us off, so sadly, we decided to pass on the Whitsundays, this trip (!). So somewhere for the night; we found a campsite north at Hideaway Bay, on Cape Gloucester, on our Wikicamps app and drove off to find it.
It was getting dark as we approached the Bay and we saw several small groups of kangaroos near the roadside, but they hopped off as we got closer. The campsite was practically deserted, just one caravan. We parked up and settled in for the night. As the day had been a huge disappointment we tried the TV and it worked! So we watched a couple of programmes - both imports from the UK!
Next morning, it was bright, cloudy, but not raining. Ruth spotted a couple of kangaroos quite close to our camper. We watched them come and go, grazing or lazily hopping around, they seemed very relaxed. Soon there were five, including a mother with a Joey who was sort of independent and another mother carrying a Joey in her pouch. We must have watched them for over an hour before we had to answer an urgent call of nature. They weren't bothered by us as we wandered over to the loo; stopped, looked up, then carried on grazing.
A kookaburra perched on the tree right next to us and several bright green and red lorikeets flitted noisily from tree to tree; many of which had beautiful flowers. It was a beautiful morning and we were glad to be away from all the crowds in Airlie Beach. After breakfast (and laundry!), we drove along to the beach, discovered the road went on to the end of the Cape, it was a gravel road but not too bad. At the end of the road was Monty's Bar and Resort, it was right on the beach, overlooking the northern Whitsunday Islands; it was a beautiful spot so we stopped for a drink in the bar and a walk along the beach.
We were warned about stingers here too, this time they had a leaflet describing the jellyfish. One was the Chironex (box jellyfish) which is 10 to 15 cm across with tentacles at each corner trailing some 30 cm plus. The other, the Irukundji, was much smaller, about 2cm in diameter and almost transparent. Whilst the box jelly delivers a powerful, and potentially fatal sting, the smaller one gives a lesser sting immediately but after half an hour it produces a traumatic reaction, again, life threatening. Immediate first aid is vinegar but rapid hospitalisation is often required. Nasty creatures!
The resort had had three people stung over the summer and all were rushed to hospital, and it is a long way to the hospital. When we asked about crocodiles, they said they hadn't seen them much at this beach, the river at Prosperine had many. So, with all these warnings, we declined the offer of stinger suits, basically Lycra bodysuits, finished our drinks and drove on.
We drove back to the campsite to collect our now dry laundry and drove on to rejoin the Bruce Highway and headed for Ayr. The threatened rain had not materialised though it was becoming increasingly overcast and very, very windy. The bar staff had told us of the possibility of a cyclone (it was a low pressure system currently), and that it was projected to hit the coast at Airlie Beach early on Monday morning.
We called in at Bowen for lunch, but when we got to the beach area the wind was too strong for comfort, so,we drove on, hoping we could get far enough north to avoid the storm. When we arrived at Ayr, the wind had moderated, so we decided to stay there for the night and then check the cyclone forecast in the morning. We found a site to the rear of a pub! They had recently renovated the area and there were about a dozen smart little cabins and a grassy area between them and the pub. Looked ok so we paid our fee and settled in.
In the morning, it was still overcast, hot and humid, the potential cyclone had stalled offshore and the forecast was that it would now veer northeast,away from the coast and probably dissipate. We were visited by some very noisy birds and a pair of ibis, plus one of the hut tenants had a very happy dog that was allowed to bark for ten minutes at a time before being called back inside. We drove back through Ayr but everything was shut! Ruth decided she would like to look for crocs, so we headed off to Rita Island. The island was covered in sugar cane fields, but one small part was native forest and driving through this we came to the inlet, no crocs!
Back through Ayr, to the Bruce Highway and on to Alligator Creek, so named for a rock formation, not because there were alligators. The campsite was set in open woodland alongside the creek and give it was Sunday afternoon there were quite a few people around. There were also a number of wallabies, Australian Brush turkeys and blue Kookaburras (different to the laughing kookaburra). Just down the track was a swimming hole and there we could see the large rock that looked just like an alligator's head! The pool wasn't very big and there were too many people so we went back to the camper and prepared dinner.
Still overcast in the morning, still humid and hot; the swimming hole beckoned and we enjoyed a lovely dip in the cool waters, with no one else around, it was fantastic. So, breakfast and we were off again, this time for Townsville, some 30km away (along the Bruce Highway!)