By September, the dry season in Cairns was coming to an end. It was the perfect time to continue the journey and my next destination would be some 2,500km southwest across the Australian outback. Amid the vast surroundings of the red desert, I was headed for Alice Springs and I was delighted to have five friends that I’d be sharing the overland adventure with.
Our transport for this epic journey was a six-berth campervan that a hire company needed to relocate from Cairns. The arrangement was that we only paid $25 a day and in return we had three and a half days to complete the distance. We christened the campervan "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and she drove like a dream. It was like an apartment on wheels complete with shower, toilet, cooking facilities, microwave and DVD player.
|Priscilla, Queen of the Desert|
The best route to Alice Springs is going down the coast to Townsville and then west through Mount Isa. When we met Stuart Highway near Tenant Creek, it would be a six hour run south to our final destination…
The scenery on the five hour drive down the north Queensland coast to Townsville would be in stark contrast to what we’d see for most of the journey. At various times we had mountain ranges on one side the Pacific Ocean on the ocean. There was lush green rainforest and fields of sugar cane. The first town we passed through was Innisfail which is rich in art deco buildings of the 1930’s. Aside from sugar cane, this is banana country and there are plenty of plantations in the area.
|Big golden gumboot, Tully|
Not far south is the town of Tully is the sugar-mill town of Tully. The big golden gumboot at the town entrance proudly boasts that it is the wettest place in Australia. The upside to this is that it’s a great place to experience white water rafting in the nearby Tully River. It’s also just a short drive to beautiful Mission Beach where the World Heritage rainforest meets the Coral Sea in a 14km stretch of palm-fringed inlets and beaches. Aside from hiking and various water sports, it’s also one of the closest access points to the Great Barrier Reef.
So we’d love to have stayed a day or two but we were on a schedule and had to keep moving. The city of Townsville would be the ideal place to stop for lunch and more fuel. We decided it would be a great idea to eat our sandwiches on the landscaped waterfront esplanade. It’d be the last that we’d see of the ocean for quite some time!
|The Strand, Townsville|
The landscape changed as we drove inland. Lush green rainforest, banana plantations and cane fields were replaced by tussock-like grass, gum trees, rocks and earth which became a distinctly red colour as we moved toward the Northern Territory. We were in the awesome frontier of the Australian outback. It’s harsh country that also has a unique beauty to it. This would be a road trip like no other I’d ever done and we all had a sense of excitement about what we were experiencing.
We stayed the first night in a truck stop at the dusty town of Charters Towers. There’s really nothing of interest here other than the impressive road trains with four trailers that were also parked up there for the night. The next day we’d cross the Great Dividing Range and truly appreciate the sheer size of the country we were traversing. The dusty opened wide and the sky above even wider. As far as the eye could see, the sun was beating down on the ancient landscape in a relentless but almost mesmerising way.