With only a little over an hour’s drive left, I spent some more time smelling the roses.
By a miracle named Google, I then found my way to Maroochydore Beach, where I was one of several hundred people on the beach. At 7.30 a.m. It would have been rude not to have gone for a swim. I waddled in, but played it very safe on the unfamiliar beach.
After breakfast, I drove all of two minutes up the road for a perfect coffee, and settled down to peacefully scratching away on this machine.
Again with Google’s help, I found my way to Sunnybank Hills, a suburb south of Brisbane. There I emptied the van, funneled some food, and set off to return said van.
Again paying manic attention to Google, I bulls-eyed my target, arriving at the arranged Jucy van drop-off with 15 minutes to spare.
I woke the attendant , and handed over the keys. He asked, so I whined a little about uncooperative doors and curtains and such.
And then it was over. I’d traveled more than 2000 km in 6 days. I was ragged, a little unwashed, slightly dazed, but in one piece.
And it was time to return, to life in the ‘burbs, to a comfortable bed, to being indoors, to working, and to talking to people.
Now, on the second-last day of the Migration, I have this thing down pat.
Even if it involves another morning jump-start. This time I approached a likely-looking customer also sporting the Queensland uniform – shorts and singlet – and walking his dog. Turns out he’s 60, and has retired to his boat. He’s living on the river right now, and is heading south soon as spring comes on.
And so, no, he doesn’t have a set of jumper leads.
The riverside carpark, desolate earlier, is now beginning to buzz, if not swarm. A chap in a hurry for his coffee is happy to stop and futz around, and help me on way. Destination the Sunshine Coast.
But first, a pit-stop in Hervey Bay for a quick dip. It’s windy , and almost cold , but not quite. And just say ‘Harvey Bay’, otherwise they’ll know you’re a Kiwi.
Tin Can Bay
A longer detour than expected then found me in Tin Can Bay, probably lovely with the tide in, as you see below.
Then it was back on track to make up some time. First, back to the main trunk,and then through some windy , lonely, and hot forest roads, trusting that Google knew what it was doing.
It did, and n hour-plus of “focussed” driving got me to Noosa Heads, with vague ideas of finding a beach and parking up.
First, in a feeble attempt to get some relief from the heat, a quick stroll in Noosa, near town;
But on being reminded that today was another of the Queen’s birthdays, and the beaches were full, I headed to the Sunshine Coast.
There, more driving around in circles followed, until I found somewhere to park up for the night. Nearby a river, and public toilets, and an arterial route. Far enough away to dull the noise.
The day started off with a couple of small blunders, but anxious moments soon turned into plain sailing.
First, the van battery was flat in the morning. I was , however, surrounded by campervans. So the first person who greeted me got his opportunity to do his good deed for the day – jump-start the van.
Ron was an affable northern Englishman who’d been in Australia 50 years – “the last of the 10-pound Poms“, he told me. He was an engineer, retired now, wandering Australia with his wife.
When I got to the main road, I shunned the first petrol station with gas at $1.66 / litre. I soon cursed that decision on noticing the fuel gauge , and the next big town, Rockhampton, was a long way south.
The road ahead, and the map, showed almost nothing in between. I slowed down to pensioner’s pace, and started coasting the downhills. On re-checking, I was relieved to find I had plenty of water as I pondered hitch-hiking to Rockampton.
Then out of nowhere, the oasis of Yaamba appeared. Nothing but a house or two, a pub, and a gas station, run by the fella at left. Perfect.
I stopped for the morning coffee at Rockhampton. The coffee was perfect,and again the river-side is well appointed for public enjoyment.
Back into a dry and barren landscape, I hit Calliope, which seemed to be some sort of holiday pop-up town to separate tourists from their dollars.
A quick detour to Gladstone – it didn’t help that the tide was out – to check out the beach was a disappointment.
Past there the landscape opened up – large flat plains, full of greenery, mostly corn. For example, at South Kolan, below.
And finally to Bundaberg, where I arrived late afternoon. A pretty little town, with an appealing main street, and some classic old architecture. Home of Bundaberg rum.
At this stage of life, I had still not reliably hot-spotted my phone as an internet connection for my laptop. So I went on a wild wifi chase before giving up and tapping out the required work in a quiet industrial part of town.
Too quiet for the night, I decided. I shifted to a public area where more cars were around, and parked up near the river for the night.
After 10 pm, and it seemed I’d picked the local teens’ party spot as my crash-pad. Twenty feet away, a carfull arrived with the beers and the reggae.
“It could be worse,” I’m telling myself as I pull down the shades.
I’m spotted doing this, and seconds later a young girl, maybe 17, is tapping at my window.
“What’s the van about?”
Not sure how to answer this, I blunder something about it being a rental,and that I’m driving from Cairns to Brisbane. I’m sleeping innit, I tell her, trying to smile.
Pleased with herself for gleaning all this, she saunters off.
Seconds later, the music fades, the car starts up, and they drive off.
With an online afternoon appointment looming, I found myself in a barren wilderness called Clairview. No civilization to be seen here. Except dire signs warning against overnight parking, and a huge dusty campground like something out of Mad Max. No room at the inn there either.
The next stop was a travellers’ rest near St. Laurence, where I parked up and tried in vain to sort an internet connection good enough for Zoom.
After that failed, I consoled myself with a bucketful of chocolate, and decided to push on for Rockhampton.
But late afternoon was upon me, and I went down a sideroad to the township of Marlborough, population 149, altitude 90 metres, apparently.
I meandered around the township, and eventually hit upon a small and likely-looking gathering of campervans in a dusty compound. At $5 for the night, including toilets , showers, and a pub , it was an easy sell.
After again failing to get an internet connection for my laptop, and being laughed at in the pub when I asked about Wifi, I ate a well-rounded evening meal of sardines, tomatoes, and peanut butter, and turned in for the night.
After today, it’s unlikely I’ll return to stay in Cairns.
The simple reason – you can’t swim in the sea there. This day by way of consolation, started and ended with dips in the Briny.
In Townsville, at 7.30 a.m., the bathing belles on the beach advertised the small bay. They’d already been in, and scoffed off suggestions of Salties. The water was beautifully warm.
Townsville is now my favourite town in Far North Queensland. Its waterfront is better equipped, there is sand in place of Cairns’ mud, and there are cafes and other tourist traps all along the while.
After again wrestling my push-bike in and out of the van for the second of dozens of times, I followed the Coast South-East to Airlie Beach.
I arrived mid-afternoon to a breezy little seaside town which has an official population of 1,208 people.
It’s compact, and as with Townsville ad Cairns, the town centre is right next to the seaside. Also like those two towns, I soon discover a large public area close to town, equipped with picnic areas, large open spaces, and toilets.
Again there’s a chlorinated pool labelled a “lagoon” like the ugly sister right next to the beach.
Coming into town I discovered an open secret. That is, Liberty fuel. It was selling at around AUD $1.35, competing with prices as high as $1.65 elsewhere.
Since it’s dawning on me that petrol costs won’t be much less than the cost of van hire, I start choosing petrol stations more carefully.
I headed for the higher-up and leafy suburbs this night, looking for slightly cooler temperatures.
I got some sidelong glances from a couple of elderly strollers at dusk, but a cheery “hello” put them at their ease, and I slept a little more comfortably.
2021, Cairns, Queensland, Australia>. I’m riding down a side-road when a feral-looking dreadlocked brother takes a u-turn, and starts bike-stalking me.
I’m on my way to Jucy rentals to pick up my van for the trip from Cairns to Brisbane, and this first 2 km leg of the 1800 km road-trip isn’t going well.
I make a couple of u-turns, but he tails me, like a fighter pilot.
“Stop following me, bro,” he growls.
I’m not too sure where’s where, so I hit the after-burners and scarper off towards a gang of workers a few hundred metres away. My stalker disappears.
An hour or so later, all kitted out with a cigarette-to-laptop charger, and aux sound cables I’m on my way.
Despite the warning roadsigns, I’m momentarily flummoxed by a large bird which poles through the trees for a few seconds. It looks like a cross between an ostrich and a turkey. It’s a cassowary, native to North-Eastern Australia and Papua New Guinea, and protected.
I arrive exhausted at around 6pm , and wolf down a lazy dinner of sardines and whatnot.
It takes me a few minutes to discover that Townsville city centre, set on the beachfront like Cairns, is beautifully laid out and with all the mod cons a tourist could want.
It takes me much longer to figure out how to set the van up for the night. I finally doze off sometime around 2 am after meandering the town looking for the best parking spot.
A mental health day(-trip) was in order, and so it was that I set out in a rental car for parts further north.
I discovered that either Australians are the slowest drivers in the world,or that Mr. Google thinks they are. Or that the Aussie govt wants us to think they are.
When I told her I was bound for Cape Tribulation, 140 km north of Cairns, the rental car company rep hemmed and hawed. Google predicts a 2h37m drive. I nodded appropriately as she advised a more sedate approach.
But the roads are ( mostly ) flat and straight, and there are no trucker convoys and suchlike.
I also discovered that some Far North Queenslanders – myself among them – enjoy a dip without becoming crocodile lunch.
Palm Cove, about 40 km north of cairns, warns swimmers about jellyfish. But no mention of crocs.
With lifeguards on duty, and swimming flags, and three people in the water at 11 a.m, the temptation was too much, and I hove in.
“Crocodiles? – they’re like mermaids. They don’t really exist,” said one swimmer.
Is a small beach ( and tourist ) community. Wikipedia gives its population at 3,500 . but that has to be wildly off the mark.
It’s pretty much self-contained, with a main centre not much smaller than Whangarei. Lots of cafes, a car rental , tourist shops, and accommodation aplenty. With a patrolled and flagged beach, it’s ideal for swimming. Accommodation prices permitting, I’d stay here in future.
The next mission was buying some cheap curtains to shield myself from the interrogating street lights just outside. Ten dollars lighter of pocket, and I have some portable curtains as insurance against future cheap dives.
With the help of a flatmate, Roger the Aussie, I cleaned the filters in the old air-conditioning unit, and so got some blessed sleep last night.
This morning I headed about 15 km north to Machen’s Beach, which is indeed – as a flatmate had said – an excellent swimming spot.
But like a tramp ogling jewels through a store window, I dared not partake. Salties. Not past my ankles anyway. When I told this to Roger, he glares at me – “are you insane“?
‘Twas good to get back on a bike, the first time since Vietnam. These scooters are slower ( top speed around 55 km / h ), but the 30 km round-trip to Machen’s cost 0.50 cents. On the other hand, scooter hire is $50 /day, as opposed to $120 NZD / month in Thailand.