Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Gone bush
Date: September 20, 1994 03:47

16:30 Ed James Memorial Rd (Charters Towers bound) :: 16 SEP 94

We're pretty much on the road to the middle of nowhere in particular. Let me catch you up on the goings on of Katrin and me.

We spent four days in and around Cardwell, the jumping off point for Hinchenbrook Island, without actually ever jumping off. service limits the number of people enjoying the Island park and getting permits proved too difficult. So we visited several of the nearby national parks, like Alligator Creek (in these two photographs) and Murray Falls, before giving up and continuing North.

Of those parks, Murray Falls, The park where we spent two days, stands out. The falls themselves are interesting enough primarily because it's the first "falls" I've seen in Australia where a respectable amount of water flowed over the head. All that water made for decent swimming downstream too, and we split our time between that activity and hiking through the rainforest.

I used the mask and snorkel to check out the creek life. This consisted primarily of small barramundi, pretty tasty fish that run in both fresh and salt water, much like Pacific Salmon. Barramundi cooks up something like a cross between tuna and swordfish; it has a steaky texture but flakes. Swordfish has always been my favourite but barramundi may displace it. I'll have to try it a few more times.

Below Murray Falls

Murray Falls National Park
Queensland, Australia
Below Murray Falls Below Murray Falls

Don't go to Edmund Kennedy National Park and expect to camp there. The parks literature says you can, and they did just spend $64,000 a couple years ago constructing a fine new camping ground there but it's now permanently closed. The posted reason is lack of water but a Cardwell local informed us that the site is also well know as a mosquito habitat. It seems campers would arrive, purchase their permits and then, within half an hour, demand their money back. This is not the first gaffe I've encountered concerning National Parks in Australia. More on that coming up.

We departed Cardwell and were heading for the Atherton Tablelands when Katrin got a devilish grin in her eye and asked if we could delay the Tablelands for a day. "I've got a special place I want to take you."

Ella Bay, Late Afternoon

Ella Bay -- Late Afternoon
Queensland, Australia

The special place turned out to be Ella Bay, a spare little camping area on a tropical beach.Wait until you see photos and video from this place. "If we can't have Hinchenbrook, we'll have Ella Bay," she said. Well, Bogey and Bergmann can HAVE Paris! We walked about 5 kilometers up and back the beach seeing all of 10 other souls, we skinny-dipped in the comfortably warm ocean, and then, to wash the salt off, skinny-dipped in the invigoratingly cool fresh-water lagoon just beyond the high-tide line. We slept on the beach where we made love under the stars and, in the morning, watched the sun rise out of the ocean and into the dawn cumulus forming above the horizon.

11:41 Flinders Highway, Westbound (past Charters Towers):: 17 SEP 94

Stan's a little cranky this morning. He doesn't like climbing small grades. Fortunately for Stan and us even small grades occur fairly rarely until we get well into the Northern Territory still some 1000 kilometers distant. Perhaps our neglect has something to do with Stan's surliness. We hadn't checked the oil since leaving Airlie Beach and this morning, in Charter's Towers, the dipstick said "No oil -- FILL ME UP!!" Perhaps old reliable got used to running without oil? It's possible too that in my zeal to set the situation aright I may have topped Stan up a bit over the top and the excess is getting in the way. I'm a computer jock and don't claim to know anything about mechanical contraptions.

If Stan is choking a bit on an overabundance of lubricant, he'll burn off the excess shortly. As the saying goes, "Check the gas and fill 'er up with oil."

Even if he's throwing up bit of a fit, Stan still plugs along at a brisk 95km/hr along the Flinders. Thus far I'm impressed with the Flinders highway. By Australian standards it's an Interstate Superhighway. That is, it's got two full lanes, and sometimes even a paved shoulder.

Most of the Gregory highway that we traversed yesterday consisted of a slip of bitumen just wide enough to hold a road train as it weaves and bounds along at 60-100k/hr. The Gregory's a nice big red line on the road map but not much wider than a driveway. It's a little disquieting passing one of those 3-trailer pulling semis at 90k/h on these stretches. The truck must pull onto the graded dirt shoulder to let you pass and this kicks up a curtain of dust through which a hail of small stones is hurled. In this maelstrom you must then confidently bring Stan up to speed and pull half onto the right hand shoulder and hang on for the 10 or 20 seconds it'll take you to pass the 50 meter long behemoth yawing and pitching just 1 to 3 meters to your right.

I seem to recall explaining before that a big red line on an Australian road map means that the roadside has been cleared 10 to 20 meters on either side of brush and grass. This makes it easier to see the kangaroos, wallabies and emus before they dash out into your path. Still, it's hard to But to this point the Flinders has been a steady cruise.

10:27 Flinders Highway, Westbound (past Julia Creek) :: 18 SEP 94

And it remains so.

Stan, when he's in the mood, is a comfortable cruise. Stan's interior climate control is what you might call 'environmentally activated.' That is, you roll down the windows and if it's cool so are you. If it's warm then you are always on the verge of a dripping sweat. It's very warm.

I like traveling this way. I know I've ridden the Australian highway system pretty hard but that's simply my North American sense of standards speaking. Emotionally, I prefer driving through the towns along the way. With the windows rolled down you smell the changing countryside, the brush, the grass, the towns, even the ruined carcasses of kangaroos on which the eagles and crows feed gluttonously. You wave at oncoming cars and trucks as they pass by and they'll wave back -- likely as not, they were about to wave at you anyway. If it's time for rest or a little tucker, you find an amicably shady spot along the roadside and pull off.

North America's superhighways remove you from this experience. You are elevated and separated from the countryside through which you travel. You close yourself in and bathe in the stream of cool, filtered air streaming from the climate control system. The highway engineers have rolled out the asphalt carpet assuring a smooth pleasant ride. And you lose all the immediacy of traveling. In North American we've traded the journey for the destination.

It wasn't always this way. Route 66, Highway 61, the 401 Trans Canada, California's Pacific Highway. These were masterworks from another age of travel. Towns and roadhouses dotted the roadway and journeys always seemed to require at least one night on the road. The local folk along the route were part of the experience of travel so "getting there [was] half the fun."

[Sorry, I have to laugh for a moment. <giggle> The name of every creek bed along Australian highways is sign-posted just before the creek. We have just passed Canal Creek where someone has cleverly white-washed the two 'C's from the sign.]

The difference between traveling North American highways and those of Australia is like that between back-row and front-row seating at a concert. The back-row concert-goer feels like a spectator whereas the front-rower gets a sense of participation. When I sit in the back row I always marvel at what a good time the people up front are having. In the front row, I'm having too much fun in the thick of it to wonder about those poor sots in the bleeder seats.

So the Flinders and Stan are a good traveling match. We pitch and bob and roll along with the windows wide open and our hair billowing in our faces. The outback; you are in the thick of it.

The sun has crept up and over this westbound vehicle and now peeps through the windscreen at what sits in my lap. The Toshiba, being made entirely of plastic, doesn't take too kindly to this intrusion, so it goes on siesta.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --