Leaving Alva we headed West for 20 kms, then turned right before the land rose into a mountainous barricade protecting the hinterland. It was only an hour and a half up to Townsville from here, and sugar cane lined the highway all the way up.
The temperature seemed to be heading north too, which we were all very happy about. I don’t care if we have to spend more on fuel as the air con is on all the time, I’ll happily pay it for the warmth of the tropics.
Eventually the mountains circled round and framed the city, and there were a few isolated peaks that reminded me of Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Townsville has an army base, James Cook University, and is known as being a wee bit rough sometimes. When we approached however, I thought it was beautiful – not at all the industrial work horse I was expecting.
We landed in a caravan park that wasn’t quite finished. The grass hadn’t grown in properly yet, and it felt a bit like a building site. It was reasonably priced though, clean, and pretty empty – so we got a spot right next to the camp kitchen, and the toilets were virtually en-suite for us– so we could handle it for a wee while.
We drove in, dropped the trailer off and didn’t even set up. We had a dentists appointment to get to.
Katie’s second teeth are coming in and we needed to check that all was in order. Thankfully it was, and after what was a terrifying visit for Katie we felt she could do with a treat. Although she is very active, loves running around and climbing, Katie also happens to love ‘lunching’ and shopping. Wonder where she gets that from… So we headed into Townsville to have a look around, and find a nice place for lunch.
Past the Reef HQ and the Queensland Museum you drive alongside the beach for about five kilometres. This stretch is called The Strand, and it is lovely. Massive fig trees line the middle grassy stretch which has lots of paths, play areas, bars cafés and restaurants – all the way to the end where the historic barracks are, and a beautiful ‘rock’ swimming pool that’s connected to the sea, but safe from stingers.
I loved it. I had a friend who was up here for university for years and I meant to visit him, but never managed. My loss.
We seemed to have a lot of school to do in Townsville, but we did manage to visit Reef HQ. An aquarium that’s right next to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and has the largest ‘living reef’ aquarium in the world.
Again, Katie and I were pretty excited as this was part of the build-up to our Great Barrier Reef excursion further up the coast.
I’ve been to a lot of aquariums. I absolutely love them, but the one thing that made this place different were the talks from marine biologists. We went to one where they fed the fish, and told us how each one plays a part in the ecosystem. It was really interesting, and they were very passionate about their subject. Fraser the 18-month old Crocodile was the best performer, launching himself completely out of the water to grab a morsel of food.
Then we attended a ‘dangerous creatures’ chat, and before long I wished we hadn’t. Katie can get a bit nervous sometimes, and when these ladies started talking about cone shells, stone fish, box jellyfish and irukandji, sea snakes and all the other animals in the reef that can kill you, I saw Katie’s mind go into overdrive.
“I don’t’ want to go snorkelling in the reef daddy.”
“It’s OK sweetheart, none of these animals want to hurt you. It’s only if you go poking them.”
And we’re back on to Steve Irwin again…
After that however, we went to a turtle talk that kind of turned things round again. We also got to visit the on-site turtle hospital, and bought a few bits and pieces that help fund the operation. Certainly don’t mind prying open the tight Scottish wallet for something as deserving as that.
The Lure of The Cape
Back at camp, I bumped into a nice fella called Lenny who had just come down from the Cape. I peppered him with questions about the conditions of the roads, and what was going on up there. He said it wasn’t too bad. I got out the map, and compared notes between my intended route and his.
It was comforting to hear that even so soon after the wet season, the roads were passable.
The tip of Cape York is the northern most point of Australia. It’s a remote, rugged and untouched wilderness.
A very unique place, and for me, a real challenge to get us all there.
From the very start of this trip, I’ve wanted to make it all the way up to ‘the top’, but wasn’t really sure if we’d make it or not. The sealed road stops at a place called Laura, leaving about 800kms of dirt roads to rumble along, crocodile infested creeks and rivers to cross, and off road tracks to negotiate. You have to be completely self-reliant up there. It’s a long way between stops, and you have to bush camp much of the way.
All that is part of the challenge of course. It’s what the car has been prepared for. It’s the reason we have an 80L water tank, satellite phone, solar panels and all the rest of it.
But I wasn’t exactly sure that my family would be up for it, well, the kids will do whatever really. I wasn’t exactly sure that Erin would be up for it, but she seems to be warming to the idea. The closer we get, the more people we talk to who’ve been there, who all say it’s absolutely amazing and you’ll love it! Fingers crossed…
North of Townsville we were going to travel into the Atherton Tablelands, but I had read about a place called Charters Towers that tickled my fancy. Back in the gold rush days, it was the second largest city in Queensland. It was, apparently, a very well preserved town, boasting one of the first stock exchanges in the country, a gold ‘battery’ that you could visit, and numerous interesting museums.
So we put the coast in our rear view mirror, and headed into the outback.