Theresa Cronk takes a road trip through inland QLD, seeing the sights and delights from Mackay to Alice Springs
There is something about the Australian outback that appeals to those seeking an adventure. Why else would two twenty-something girls armed with a map and a couple of tourist brochures want to drive a camper van across western Queensland? We were asked that same question many times during our fourteen day adventure.
The idea had been born as we chattered over a cup of tea at Uluru when we discovered a mutual interest in exploring western Queensland. Twelve months later saw us arrive in Brisbane and head north along the Bruce Highway. We had no particular destination in mind and wandered aimlessly for the first four days, drinking in the sights of southern Queensland.
We filled our days trying to identify pastoral crops near Kingaroy, buying pineapples at roadside stalls and touring the striking formations of the Glasshouse Mountains.
We headed to the coastal towns of Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach. At Woodgate Beach, the local kangaroo population did not fail to disappoint and greeted us whilst enjoying the lawns of houses with ocean views. And in the home of Bundaberg Rum, we of course made time for an obligatory visit to the 124-year-old distillery.
Swapping the wheels for a boat, we cruised out to Lady Musgrave Island on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. A sumptuous seafood buffet lunch, a glass bottomed boat tour, snorkelling and a walking tour of the island fulfilled our desire of spending a day at sea.
After seven days of meandering, we decided to begin our trek inland. The seventh day began with a drive through green crops of sugar cane, surprising some local farmers with our interest in a working cane cutting machine and taking a small trek on foot to see the Araluen Falls. We then headed towards the historic gold mining town of Mount Britten.
Whatever treasures this town could have revealed remain a mystery. Eight kilometres from our destination we found ourselves surrounded by uninspiring wheat crops, scattered burnt trees and hungry cattle. It was such a depressing sight that we decided to make an early exit and headed onwards towards our overnight stop of Clermont.
The towns of Blackall and Barcaldine revealed strong, long-standing ties with the pastoral industry in Australia. Blackall honours Jackie Howe and his record for shearing 321 sheep in seven hours, 40 minutes in 1892.
In Barcaldine, we lamented the loss of the Tree of Knowledge, the site where the 1891 Shearer’s Strike began. We will also remember Barcaldine as the place where we almost collided with a roadtrain.
Our close encounters continued at Longreach. This time it was with the local wildlife in the form of two grey and white birds with very long legs strolling through the caravan park. These brolgas were definitely not shy and seemed to enjoy the attention they attracted. They were still touring the parkas we left.
It was in the town of McKinley that the Australian sun decided to seek revenge. Only consisting of two businesses, this is the location of the Walkabout Creek Hotel that featured in the movie Crocodile Dundee.
Although I only walked a couple of metres, the intense heat as I retraced my steps made me very glad to be back in the camper van. The heat made us even happier to see Lake Julius at Mount Isa. Indeed, the wide expanse of blue water snaking its way between outcrops of land looked very welcoming and inviting. The blue-green algae, however, did not have the same appeal.
Crossing the border into the Northern Territory saw us rewarded with the Barkly Tablelands. Strong cross winds proceeded to buffer us and threatened to blow us off the road. Not that we had to worry about hitting anything. Only the road provided a respite from the tussocks of dry, withered grass that stretched in all directions.
Our arrival in Alice Springs flagged the end of the trip, just in time for an outback dust storm.
So why did we decide to drive from the coast to the desert? We simply wanted to see this part of Australia for ourselves and would gladly repeat the expedition. We visited many places that were not conventionally beautiful but that didn’t reduce their ability to impress. The heat, drought, dust and open spaces are experiences synonymous with The Outback. Without them, we would have been sorely disappointed.