Tropical Queensland – Part 2

4 Mile Beach

We were sick by now of the rain so we decided to find a place that we at least did not get wet.  It was a bit difficult as the whole region between the

A beach along the Cook Highway.

Fiji Islands and most of Northern Queensland was heavily influenced by a series of cyclones, the radar showed covered skies everywhere.  The only exception at least for the highlands.  You see a few miles inland along the coast there are a series of hills that lead to the highlands, the climate there is very different than the coast, it is a lot drier and mostly cooler.  So we decided to head inland to the Atherton Tablelands.  The Atherton Tablelands are a plateau that is part of the Great Dividing Range.  The plateau is named after John Atherton who sttled near the town that now bears his name in the late 1870s.  The region is well suited for farming as the soil is very fertile due to ts volcanic origins and it is also well suited for dairy and grazing.  The region though was originally developed for its tin that was discovered near the present town of Herberton.  It is not an easy drive, especially with the car we had, the road up through the mountains onto the plateau is full of tight curves, there were lot of look out points but the only thing

A WWII bombing site

we could see was a white nothingness as the clouds were hanging very low.  It was raining all the way up but once we reached the plateau the weather turned favorable, we even saw some sun.  We did not come prepared as we were not planning to visit this area, our idea of Port Douglas and Queensland was sun, beach and tropics but in life you do not always get what you want or even what you paid for.  So we just looked at the map and drove to Mareeba.  Mareeba is the biggest town in the region with a population of about 7000, as always Australia is just way to big to fill with 22 million people.  Nevertheless by now we were accustomed by now and found the town to be bigger than expected.  The town grew with the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century and also during World War 2 when the Australian army used the town as a staging area for the battles in the Pacific.  According to the tourist guide the town gets 300 sunny days a year and that was a reason enough for us ti explore the town a bit.  We headed for coffee at the Coffee Works.  A delightful little place that was packed and offered some very tasty desserts, the Mississippi Mud Pie (I know it is not Australian) was the best and of course excellent coffee from local coffee beans.  As with all places in Australia the town was trying to project a sense of history, to somehow tell a story and prove to anyone willing that there is more to the place than meets the eye.  Australia is so young though that

Ben at the marina

to us it did not seem very significant in the big scheme of things, maybe only in the Australian scheme of things.  Mind you that this is not a criticism, just an observation.  The drive had taken us longer than expected so we decided to head off to Cairns with a stop at Kuranda.  The road was better, we also got to see some huge termite mounds, they can be huge!  It started raining again, it was pouring like there was no tomorrow.  That was to continue for the rest of the day, which was still half the day.  We drove to the town of Kuranda, 25 kays from Cairns.  Thousands of tourists visit the town either with the skyrail  or the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway.  The rain was so bad that we did not stop to get out but just drove through the town that was devoid of any tourists.  We managed to find our way to Barron Falls were Beth and me took turns to run to the lookout platform to look at the -only in the wet season- spectacular falls.  It was a pity that we did not get to spend more time but it was uncomfortable so we decided to get on to Cairns and hope to find some respite.  The road turned nasty again as we had to drive down from the highlands, I wish we can visit again sometime when the weather is better the views must be breathtaking.  We went into Cairns looking for food, we were hungry as we only had had breakfast in the morning but it was not meant to be.  The restaurant we wanted to go to was closed and would not open until 5pm, so we took a little walk at the Cairns Esplanade in the

Near Mossman Gorge

rain and went into a couple of souvenir shops.  Before long we took off to go back to Port Douglas.  I cannot stress enough how beautiful the drives were, the scenery despite the gray skies were breathtaking, we stopped at Palm Cove and while the beach was closed for swimming the place looked very beautiful.

This was our last night in Port Douglas and we decided to try Thai food, Beth did not allow me to give prik (Thai for chili) to Ben but we had fun and enjoyed a very nice evening out.  We also started talking about the return trip and we wondered where two months went.  We only had four more days in Australia, we had so much fun and we done so much that we did not realize that our time here was almost up.  We went back to the hotel and packed, we had a flight to Melbourne to prepare for….

So long….

Somewhere around Mossman

The Daintree River ferry crossing

ANZAC Memorial in Port Douglas

My BB's at the same ANZAC Memorial

A very nice tree, mv BBs next to it.

Macrossan Street

Wind in Ben's hair!

Ben packing

An interesting statue in Mareeba

The museum in Mareeba

Barron Falls near Kuranda

The Cairns beach front

Ben at the Cairns Esplanade

Palm Cove

My BBs at Palm Cove

Mossman Gorge

Four Mile Beach

Ben entertaining the flight crew

Ben and his new friends on the same flight

Stuart Highway

Distances to some destinations

My BBs!

Well, on the 22nd of Feb we were all ready to go.  We woke up early, too early for Beth but exactly right when you consider that midday on our road the temperatures could reach 40C plus easily.  If you have a map go take it out and trace your finger along the route that we have taken.  Find Australia and then go all the way down about halfway between Melbourne and Perth.  There you will find Adelaide, from Adelaide, we will follow the Stuart Highway north.

Stuart Highway was named after John McDouall Stuart, who was the first European to cross Australia from south to north.  Oodnadatta, Stuart’s original route is a track that actually followed a traditional aboriginal route.  The modern highway is in parts laid on this track, although there are specific parts of the the Oodnadatta track that run parallel to the modern highway and are popular with the more adventurous drivers.  It is also along this route that the original Ghan (the train connection) run, the new one is closer and in many parts right next to the highway.  The train’s current name honors the Afghan came l drivers that used the same route when they arrived some time in the late 1800s.  The modern highway, still a dirt truck gained new significance in WWII as Darwin and the Australian north was repeatedly attacked by the Japanese.  So it was with a lot of haste that the track was widened and improve in 1940/1941 from Alice Springs to Darwin.  It remained a dirt truck for most of its life, it was in the late 80s when it was finally sealed.  All this was in my mind while driving north, believe there was not very much else to do.

Missile Park, Woomera SA

Pt. Augusta Crossroads of Australia

We drove straight north in the direction of Port Augusta, the city that prides itself to be the crossroads of Australia.  Port Augusta, about 450km north of Adelaide is also where civilization stops, 10km out of town on the Stuart highway there is nothing but red earth, the bush, Kangaroos and no mobile reception.  From Port Augusta trace the Stuart Highway, a highway straight as an arrow for hundreds of kilometers at a time with a total length of 2834 km to the next major town that is Woomera.  Between these two towns we passed through dry lakes that were white as snow as the only thing left after they dried was salt.  Basically, Woomera’s sole purpose was to beat the Soviets in the race to space and arms game.  It is an Anglo-Australian project and as you enter the town you see what it is all about as a rocket is there to greet you.  North of Woomera we pass through the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), an area the size of England that is the largest land-based defense and aerospace range in

Coober Pedy, SA

the world.  The town of Woomera mainly serves the people that work in this range.  Work your way about 360k north, through Glendabo and the WPA to Coober Pedy.  Glendambo prides itself that it is a town of 30 people, 2200 sheep and approx. 2,000,000 flies, we did not stay to count them.  Coober Pedy is a town that in the summer lives underground as it is too hot to be on the surface.  It is the opal capital of the world and in the little experience I had in town it looks and feels like a frontier town.  An aerial picture of Coober Pedy showed how much digging has taken place, the region looked like Swiss cheese on a bad day.

...welcomed us!

From Coober Pedy it is about 150k to Cadney Homestead and from there another 90k to the town of Marla, supposedly one of the hottest spots on earth.  These places are really service areas that offer anything that travelers may need plus a bar for the people that are staying overnight and the few locals.  Marla prides itself of being the last stop in South Australia and on the way back of course as being the first stop in South Australia, I guess it is always a matte of perspective.  In Marla there is also a police station, I immediately thought of Mad Max!  These places are so isolated.  You are not allowed to transport animals, vegetables, etc. between states so in Marla there is also a quarantine zone.  When we stopped for fuel in Marla, I noticed posters about the upcoming election, apparently the vote would take place in the pub.  That is I believe a great way of motivating the voters.  If you trace your finger

NT border, only 500km to go!

farther up north about 180k you will see a place called Kulgera that is as Marla the first or last stop in the Northern Territory and like Marla nothing more than a pub, a petrol station, a motel and a caravan park.  After Kulgera, it is only 70k to Erldunda, it is here that we turned right or west to you boy scouts out there.  It is only 250k to our final destination the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Now I am not sure if you have realized but after Port Augusta this is the first major turn off the Stuart Highway.  Sure you can leave the highway at Pimba to go to Woomera and then to Roxby Downs but that is a stretch of less than 100k, Roxby Downs is a city that was build in 1987 to serve the world largest uranium and significant gold, copper and silver mine, the Olympic Dam Mine.  Apart from this bitumen (sealed to you non-Australians) roads there is nothing for more than a 1000k.  From Erldunda it is another 300k or so north on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs.  Imagine that 1000k of mostly straight road and there is no other road to turn onto, nothing, nada.  Sure there are enough dirt roads to take you anywhere if you got the right wheels and experience.  For example the Tallaringa Track, which heads west at Coober Pedy through the WPA (special permission needed) for more than 500k to the West Australian border through Emu Junction, a place that is so radio active that it rivals Tchernobyl.  The British did atomic bomb testing in this area.  Once you reach the border you need a few hundred kilometers still before you hit any town of significance.

This is the other side of the same marker!

Another notable junction is to the Oodnadatta, the original south-north route.  There were many dirt roads like that on both sides of the highway and I did feel the urge to follow them but then of course I was not alone, maybe another time.

Now Erldunda is a major crossroads right in the middle of the continent and the only direction that you can go besides the north-south direction on the Stuart Highway is West.  So take a turn here and follow the Lasseter Highway for 250 km to our final destination, through Mt. Ebenezer and Curtin Springs both service stations much like Marla and Glendambo.  This highway is a bit more interesting as there are more rock formations to see and the road itself has more curves than the Stuart Highway.  Lasseter Highway ends in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, with special permission you can continue on a dirt track to the West Australian border for another 250k.
Tracing this route on a map with your finger took you a few seconds, this route though is 1600k in total distance, 3200k return and we had to do it with all the stops, hikes, sun set viewings, tours, also on the road sightseeing, etc. in 7days/6nights.

A few more meters before to the Lasseter Highway

Erldunda Station and a road train

The Bush/The Outback

Marla.

WPA, what are they hiding?

Glendambo

Ben in his capsule.

Ready to go, notice the Camelbak

Hiking in the Kata-Tjuta.

By the time you will read this we will be back in Adelaide and we will be getting ready for another 1000k of driving along the coast from Adelaide to Melbourne, we will also have spent well over 70 hours in the car.  We have been to so many places and seen so many things that I will bore you if I included them all.  I will however post a commentary on the trip itself, about our experience, our encounters with birds and kangaroos, flash floods, fellow travelers and aborigines.

Our final destination...

...we travelled 1600 km for this!

An HDR version

So long…
PS.: I do not have time to proofread these posts, so I hope you do not mind some of the grammatical or spelling errors.
PSS.: Some random videos, first one is from the drive.  This is how it looked for most of the drive!