BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ, my bedside alarm abruptly jolted me into consciousness. Squinting through half open eyes l confirm its 4:45am, its also cold and dark. Have to get up and get going, Karl is arriving at 6:00am. Winding the clock back a couple of months; Karl had mentioned that he was planning to drive his trusty 57 wagon to Cooktown, about as far north as you can go in Queensland on a made road. Why Karl thought that this could possibly be a good idea remains somewhat of a mystery. Even more mysteriously l found myself agreeing to go along for the journey. Today was the start of our big adventure.
At the appointed hour of 6:00am Karl arrived rather too full of enthusiasm for so early on a chilly Friday morning. Karl had already mapped out our tightly scheduled route north covering some 3,600 kilometres to deliver us to Cooktown in 4.5 days. A tidy 800 km per day barring disaster and little time to take in the sights. Although l was along for the ride to Cooktown l had arranged to stay a few days in Townsville with my son Jonny on our return south. This brief tale covers the highlights of my 5 days on the road before Karl departed south driving solo back to Melbourne.
Friday 5 July
With my luggage safely stowed on board and a silent prayer that nothing was forgotten we headed for the Ring Road and Hume Highway. First stop Dubbo NSW a distance of 830 kilometres. Departing the Hume Highway we diverted on to the Goulburn Valley Freeway as the rising sun drove off the morning mist. On through Shepparton towards the NSW border and Tocumwal. At about this time both the GPS and l had some difficulty persuading Karl that we didn’t have to go through Tatura. Having successfully dodged Tatura we made our first fuel stop at Finley in southern NSW.
Now on the Newell Highway we sped on through the towns of Jerilderie, Narrandera and West Wyalong having decided not to stop for lunch until we reached Forbes. Once in Forbes we dined at the local motor museum’s cafe. Not wanting to make a gold coin donation in case we had a more pressing need for gold coins later in our journey we briefly viewed the museum display through its windows.
On the road again our next stop was to be the Parkes Observatory, The Dish. It’s certainly large enough for a game of cricket, but everyone seemed more interested in preparations for the upcoming celebration of the moon landing. At Peak Hill a collection of rusting roadside classics including old Holdens and Fords, a 58 Chevy and a Dodge brought about another temporary halt. We learnt that the cars belonged to the local Holden dealer who had long ago closed up shop.
With no further diversions we reached Dubbo in the early evening and after checking into a motel we dined at the nearby Westside Hotel.
Saturday 6 July
An early rise saw us depart Dubbo at about 7:00am. Today’s objective was Kingaroy Qld, another 825 kilometres north.
Remaining on the Newell Highway we pressed on through small towns including Balladoran, Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. We took in the Gilgandra Museum and Historical Society displays with speed unabated at 100 kmh, no time to spare. From Narrabri on to Goondiwindi the scenery was not dissimilar to that in Victoria, save for cotton balls littering the roadside around Moree. Who knew that two thirds of Australia's cotton is grown in and around the Moree Shire?
From Goondiwindi we took to the Leichhardt Highway named in honour of the courageous explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. Ludwig disappeared during his exploratory travels during 1848 and the highway bearing his name appears to have been little improved since this time. Rolling undulations had the front of the 57 gyrating with the suspension getting a thoroughly good work out. It was about this time we started to notice battered late model cars abandoned in the shrubbery following wild off road excursions. We became accustomed to this sight throughout Queensland, although a prime mover and trailer resting quietly on its side was more of a surprise.
Finally we reached Kingaroy where we checked into a motel. Exploring on foot we found that almost everything in Kingaroy was closed after 6:00 pm on a Saturday evening, including the Woolworths supermarket. Fortunately the local RSL was open where a weary traveller could partake of a drink and a meal
Sunday 7 July
Forever the optimist Karl had determined that today our objective was Mackay, another 860 kilometres northwards. Again an early start was in order with a travelling time of some nine hours anticipated.
Heading vaguely northward along the Burnett Highway we passed through native bushland set in a hilly terrain which slowed our progress a little. Then the first sign of trouble as the alternator light started an intermittent glow. Faintly at first but soon a burning bright light signalled that we are running on battery power.
Hmmmm, this is not good; we speculate that a broken wire or the regulator are the culprit and decide that the best place to be broken down is the next town. After around forty minutes we reach Monto just as various electrical functions including the fuel gauge and GPS cease to operate. We pull into a petrol station to fuel up and then the car refused to start, the battery was dead.
After pushing the car out into the street we pop the hood to investigate the problem. At the very least we will need a jump start so we also contact the RACQ for assistance. Karl had by this time discovered a broken wire on the back of the alternator and we had repairs well in hand when the RACQ arrived. With the wire connection repaired a jump start had us on our way once again. Minor adversity is all part of the adventure and a story for the grandkids.
Still on the Burnett Highway we reached the City of Rockhampton before joining the Bruce Highway which finally brought us nearer the coast. The countryside had by this time become distinctly tropical and soon we were running amongst vast sugar cane fields. For kilometre after kilometre there was cane, cane and more cane. Accompanying the cane are narrow gauge tracks for the cane trains which criss-cross the countryside. Adding to our enjoyment was steady stream of rain, so much for sunny Queensland.
Finally we reached Mackay in darkness and close to 8:00 pm having blown out our estimated nine hour travel time by a wide margin. We quickly found a motel and ate at the nearby KFC. Note to self; no more KFC ever.
This is not the end. More to come in our September news letter