June 22, 2006 GMT
It’s official! We made it to the Outback. It’s a little vague where the Outback actually begins, so we asked the question when stopping off for fuel and a sandwich at Tilly’s Servo in Alpha, a small village along the Capricorn Highway; so named as it lies along the Tropic of Capricorn. According to Tilly, if you’re from the city, the Outback begins when you leave the suburbs. However for those living further afield it’s a few more hours inland. Great stuff, but where exactly?
All was revealed when we entered Aramac Shire, en route from Longreach to Muttaburra, whereby a prominent sign announced “G’day Welcome to Aramac Shire The Real Outback, Where the West Began”. So there you go, now we know.
Upon arrival in Muttaburra (population 200), we came to learn this small town had several other attributes despite its small size. It’s the centre of Queensland for one and also the site where in 1963, a local stockman came across unique dinosaur remains, later to be excavated and pronounced “Muttaburrasaurus Longdoni”.
However for us, Muttaburra wasn’t about where the west began, its geographical location or the local dinosaur, it was about the people and our time spent there. Camping at the town’s rest area for free met with our approval, especially given the fact that the water supply was continuously hot as it’s fed from an underground hot spring! Another appealing fact was that it was within the vicinity of the local pub, and with the Wallabies playing England live on the telly, it was another chance for me to humiliate Emma!
To cut a long story short, by the next morning Australia had beaten England, the XXXX beer beat my head and we ended up riding out to an outback station belonging to some bloke we’d met the previous night via directions scribbled on the back of a beer mat.
Upon arrival at Bill’s 28,000 acre station, my sketchy welding skills were put to the test assisting Trevor fabricating steel gates, whilst Emma assisted Bill unloading cattle from two recently arrived Road Trains. A couple of hours later I was rudely disturbed by a loud air horn blast. I looked up to find Em driving one of the mammoth Road Trains round the farm!
Not content to stop there, Em later hopped aboard the farm quad bike and helped to muster the newly arrived cattle out to pastures new.
Over the next day or two, I helped out Bill and Trevor to muster sheep, mark lambs, hunt wild pigs (another introduced menace) and drink their XXXX supplies, generally having the time of my life. Riding an XR250 dirt bike over endless plains, in UK summer temperatures, with kangaroos hopping off into the distance and artisan well windmills pumping away on the horizon, I had to pinch myself this was real.
Meanwhile Em took a trip to the local shops for supplies with Peta, Bill’s wife– some 120kms away and was introduced to some of the local amenities, surprisingly sufficient for such a small community. Both Em and I have been blown away by the Australian hospitality, in particular Bill and Pete’s who took us into their home and gave us an insight into life on an outback station. However, more than that was the warmth and friendship experienced.
It wasn’t easy to leave, however the show must go on, so it was back on the bike and North on yet more gravel roads
to Porcupine Gorge, a National Park some 70kms North of Hughenden. We arrived not long before sun down, time to pitch the tent, get dinner on and catch an early night.
The next morning we were rudely woken to the sound of highly strung strimmers buzzing away. I poked my head out of the tent to find a hive of activity taking place; tables being erected, temporary awnings going up, even a helicopter came into land! I went to investigate and established there was an 8km-running race taking place that morning up the gorge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Em and I signed up to participate. Before we knew it we were standing on the starting line down at the bottom of the gorge not knowing quite what we were letting ourselves in for. About an hour or so later we a little wiser and a lot more exhausted. Nonetheless we had a good time and another chance to meet the locals, some of whom had travelled some 5 hours from Townsville to compete.
After relaxing for the remainder of the day, we set off the following morning via Lynd Junction, whose claim to fame is Australia's smallest pub. Em quaffed a VB - no such luck for me, a Ginger Beer had to do.
Next stop was Undara National Park, home to the lava tubes, created some 190,000 years ago when lava flowed from a nearby volcano. The tubes themselves must be 10 – 15mts in diameter, and quite a sight to see, despite the damage to the wallet created by the fact you can only visit by taking a tour with the monopolistic tour operator. ‘Nuff said.
The campsite was good however, with our own private campfire and various marsupials paying us a visit throughout both day and night.
We therefore decided to stay an extra day and sort out some of the surplus luggage we’ve been lugging around. Heated discussions were inevitable as to what was deemed essential and non-essential, (like the size of Em’s wash-bag for example), however we made some progress and are on the way to lightening the load a little.
Entering the Atherton Tableland region yesterday after the Outback was quite a change to what we’ve been used to – it was raining for one. Not only that, but the scenery was much more akin to that of the UK; rolling green farmland but with masses of wild busy lizzies providing a wealth of colour by the roadside. We decided we’d give camping a miss for the night and treat ourselves to a traditional Queensland Hotel. The 95-year-old Malanda Hotel, the largest wooden hotel in Queensland, fitted the bill. Despite looking like it hadn’t had a refit since 1911, it all added to the character. And at 45 bucks night, who’s to complain?
Today it's off to Cairns to pick up some parts and give the bike a bit of a service. The dirt roads have taken their toll on both fork seals and paralever bearings, therefore they'll be replaced along with the usual 10K km service tomorrow. All in time for the next leg of our journey, North of Cairns and then along the Savannah Way to Darwin.
Posted by Emma Myatt at 03:28 AM
Friendly Folk and Vast Vistas
About 5000 km and one month into Australia and we've not even left one state yet! Queensland has so much to offer; Hame and I could probably spend a year here and not explore it all.
Since I last wrote we've wound our way up from Brisbane, headed out West and then North towards Cairns. You can see the route on my incredibly hi-tech map below (compete with tippex marks where I accidentally re-drew Queensland's borders).
There's way too much to write in detail, but here are a few photies with the highlights of our trip.
After our brief stop at Someret Dam and its grunty things we rode to the Bunya Mountains National Park, where 160 million year old rainforest is the home to some of the only Bunya Pines in the country. These huge old trees were once a logger's dream as they are very straight and very tall, but thankfully in the park they are protected.
The campsite was home to (whatever the collective term is)s of wallabies which bounced around amongst the tents and left lots of poo which had to be dodged while we cooked our dinner.
It was also quite chilly, our blood still wasn't used to wintery weather so a kindly group of holidaying nurses lent us a spare sleeping bag to drape on top of ours.
With all our clothes on as well we were just about warm enough - it was minus something and I did wonder a few times druing the night why on earth we'd ever left the tropics!
Our next stop was Carnarvon Gorge, recommended by Marcus in Imbil. Although we were getting better at leaving early and getting on the road we stopped to watch a trail bike ride and then to wander around the Historical Village museum at Miles (very good) where we'd been when the starter motor went. This time I didn't have to push start the bike however! As Ken says, this is the real reason for pillions. Great exercise but try pushing half a ton of metal 'down' a hill...
My favourite sign of the week was "Wamboshire, Proudly Rural" - each shire has its own slogan and I think this one must be to do with sheep.
By the time we arrived at the turn off to the gorge (after a stop for the slowest fast food in Australia in Roma) it was getting dark, we were getting grouchy - and the intercom had been unplugged for a while! The road turned to gravel, cows and huge bulls appeared out of the darkness, small marsupials raced across the road in front of us and I got pretty scared for a while. Nevertheless we arrived in one piece and decided to try and plan better next time.
Carnarvon Gorge (yep, named by a Welshmnan) was worth the scary ride though; we spent two full days walking and exploring it.
For 3000 or more years the gorge was used as an Aboriginal burial ground and in several places you could see Aboriginal art. A guide explained the meanings of the pictures to us which was very interesting.
I hope to learn more about Australian Aboriginals while here, there is heaps of information and history about the white settlers and what a hard time they had 200 years ago but I think the fact that people lived here for 60 000 years before that is something more of an achievement!
We intended to head to Longreach but stopped instead to try and get rich in the Gem Fields. These are a quirky collection of holes, ramshackle houses and eccentric people all trying to find big gems. We went for a fascinating tour around the 'Bobby Dazzler Mine' while John, the owner, taught us loads about sapphires, geology and mining in general. Afterwards we bought a bucket of dirt and fossicked away for a couple of hours. We found some small sapphires but didn't get rich, however it was great fun.
And so to Longreach; almost in the middle of Queensland, right in the outback and home to the Stockmans' Hall of Fame and a 747 in a car park. We stayed at the 'Gunnadoo' Campsite which had more Grey Nomads (retirees in caravans) than we'd yet seen and some 'traditional bush entertainment' around the campfire at night, which we avoided like the plague.
The Hall of Fame was interesting and pleasingly did suggest that the first settlers might not have been able to er, settle without the assistance of the locals. This later became forced labour in some cases, although some enlightened people did recored some positive comments about those whose homes they had invaded. The white settlers did have one hell of a job and their stories were amazing but I find it incredibly sad that it was at the expense of a whole race of people. I also find it incredibly sad that many people we have met have been more than slightly cynical about Aboriginals without really looking at the root causes of the problems they are facing today. Right, I'll get off my soapbox now.
The 747 is actually a 'living' museum, donated by Qantas to the Qantas Founders museum next to Longreach Airstrip. This was also fascinating and we got to see all the bits of a plane that are usually restricted.
The roads have been amazing, so straight that a corner is a major event. I've never seen such BIG spaces, land stretching to the horizon in every direction. We have seen a huge amount of wildlife too, we've both been twitching away taking pictures of birdlife. We've seen emus and kangaroos running across the plains, huge numbers of birds of prey and a couple of very long snakes. We've also seen more roadkill than I've ever seen in my life, dead marsupials almost every kilometre on the main roads, which is such a shame.
People we've met have been so welcoming too, we've had big kindnesses and small kindnesses and we've both felt incredibly at home, (even though one of us is a Pom!) Whenever we meet people and say where we're from they say 'Oh, England'. And then 'Oh!!! Scotland!! My family were from there in 1880whatever! My great grandfather was a McSomething...' I'm sure Hamish is related to half of the country! But I can't say strongly enough how friendly just about every person we've met has been.
If you look closely you can see the size of Scotland compared to Australia!!
The intercom on the bike is one thing I'm really glad we added. It's great for passing the time over huge distances and communicating directions, needs to stop and interesting things to see. I can also plug in the iPod which is great for taking your mind off having a numb bum. We've had to invent a signal which means 'I'mgoingtosneeze!!!!' otherwise it scares the living daylights out of the other person. I've been particularly deafened as Hame has had a cold for the past week.
Our camping equipment has also been very good - we will get around to adding some kind of list to this as we found reading other people's very helpful when planning our trip. However, we still have way too much stuff and will be posting another parcel back from Cairns in a couple of days, (sorry Alastair and Sarah!) As you can imagine, there have been several 'discussions' between Hame and I about what 'essential' means.
Right, time to hand over to the other author to write about the last two weeks.
Posted by Emma Myatt at 01:48 AM
June 02, 2006 GMT
Things that go Grunt in the Night
Just as I finished writing yesterday Hame appeared with a mended bike, thanks to those lovely guys at the BM Shop. Sharon, Steve's partner, had kindly let me use an office computer to write up the blog so Hame picked me up from there and off we went for camping supplies, before heading off up into the hills.
Steve had suggested a route to us which took us out of Brisbane and up and over Mount Glorious; the views certainly were glorious. The road was twisty and steep, and at the foot of a hill was a sign which said something like "Really really twisty roads ahead, careful!". Hamish's eyes gleamed; I smiled indulgently and glued my hands to the grabrail.
We rode through more stunning scenery with hardly anyone about. Just as it was getting towards dusk we thought about finding a rough camp, but rounded a corner and found ourselves in Someret Dam, with a fab camping spot next to the river and a general store which sold wine. Perfect!
It was a chilly night (below zero), but the new thermals (I dragged Hame round a camping store on the way out of Brisbane to emerge with a warm jacket, warm socks and another thermal!) kept me warm.
Sometime in the middle of the night though I awoke to hear this strange grunting just next to my right ear, outside the tent. Hame was snoring gently on my left side so I woke him with a nudge and whispered very very quietly, "There's something outside!"
In the middle of the night all kinds of thoughts go through your head with just a flimsy bit of canvas between you and a grunting thing. I haven't read "Things in Australia that can kill you" but I thought I'd heard of them all; lying there I began to wonder what I'd overlooked. The grunting went on and on. Hame said very unconvincingly "Do you want me to have a look?" but thoughts of him being eaten made me ask him to stay with me. Eventually it stopped but returned several times, so I was sandwiched between two snoring /grunting things all night.
In the morning I asked the very friendly lady in the general store what it may have been and she said probably a koala! Now I wish we had had a look.
Australia is full of BIG stuff. Big hospitality, big views, big fields, big meals - Hame ordered a rump steak in a pub a few nights ago and got THREE huge steaks on as plate (he couldn't manage the third!).
There are also huge trucks - called Road Trains. They are massive, long and fast. To go past one Hame and sort of huddle together in "road train position" (this is on the bike, not in the tent) and brace ourselves for the wall of air which slams into us. It was funny the first few times, but got quite tedious very quickly. We'll soon be on roads which won't have so many as anything which isn't tarmacked seems to be on Hame's ideal route, and I'm happy to go anywhere. After Fraser Island any roads should be a piece of cake (Yeah I know, I'll be chowing down on those words soon).
The land we're riding through at present, although stunning in a very big way, is also incredibly brown and dry. This area of Queensland is in the grip of a drought so severe that there are children aged 5 or 6 in some towns who've never seen 'real' rain. Apparently the last time there was rain enough to fill Somerset dam was back in 1999.
We are planning to spend the next few nights camping and will be in pretty rural areas so I don't expect to be near a computer for a while - we just happened to pass a town with a library so while H is doing bank stuff I've popped in to use the internet facilities. We're both enjoying ourselves so much, Australia is like home enough to be familiar and full of things we missed in Asia, but different enough to be explored with great excitement.
Thanks for all the e mails, keep 'em coming!
Posted by Emma Myatt at 02:56 AM
June 01, 2006 GMT
Dingoes and Dunes
Ken and Carol thoroughly spoiled us with their warm hospitality, and gave us some tips on 'Packingology' in which I think they both have Phds. They had a BBQ the day before we left and invited some other overlanders; Haydn and Diane who rode from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and are next year heading to South East Asia, and Mark and Aasha who will be in South America when we are there. Ken and Carol are once more planning a trip, to South America too so we spent a great afternoon and evening swapping stories and routes.
Hame and I spent most of Monday whizzing around Brisbane getting the bike sorted and doing some chores. Finally, finally, we headed North out of the city with a legal bike, two brand new tiny sleeping bags to replace our huge and heavy old ones and some thermals for me (it's a bit colder than Malaysia here!).
It was cold and dark by the time we arrived at our friends Marcus and Lissa's in rural Imbil but they warmed us up with homebrew, Lissa's fantastic curry and a great welcome. Again, we were throughly spoiled with great Aussie hospitality and spent a good few days catching up and enjoying being in Marcus and Lissa's beautiful self-built house in the bush, and wandering around Imbil, a very Aussie village.
We made a plan to head to Fraser Island before going North to chase the warm weather, and the four of us spent a night camping on Rainbow Beach, near Inskip Point, where we could catch the Fraser Island ferry. Hame and I managed to roll gently off Bertha as we hit a bit of soft sand leaving the campsite and as we rode up to the ferry...
...Hame turned to me and said, "Erm, do you think this is such a good idea?" I'm usually the cautious one but with a bit of bravado I didn't really feel I said "Nah, no worries mate, she'll be right" (or something like that). And so off we went, and yes, the sand was soft. Hame managed to get half a tonne of big red machine onto the ferry while I watched. This is him coming back, on the way there I was too busy watching in case he needed a push to take pics.
It's hard enough to walk on sand, let alone ride a heavy bike so we spent the ten minute ferry ride wondering what we were letting ourselves in for - Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world!
Hame rode cautiously off the ferry and found the harder sand near the waterline. He soon found it was fairly easy to ride on. I was terrified at first as the bike felt very different, sort of squishy, but once we got going it was just amazing. The beach is 75 km long, and mostly deserted.
After riding about 40 km and enjoying every minute we found a camping spot in the dunes about 500m from the only tap on the beach and a kilometre or so from the nearest shop. With the Pacific roaring in front of us and clear skies at night revealing more stars than I have seen in years, it was perfect.
Every night as we were cooking, our headtorches would pick out a pair of eyes glowing in the dark from the corner of our camp as a dingo would appear looking for food. Fraser Island's dingoes are the purest bred in the country and there are very strict instructions on keeping them wild, absolutely no contact is allowed. They are not fierce, and once we stood up and looked bigger the dingo would run off, sometimes to appear again, sometimes not. One got quite brave and came within feet of us, but he soon vanished back into the night as Hame turned to face him.
Fraser Island is one of those Aussie icons I've been hearing about for years, and it lived up to its reputation. We spent one day walking through rainforest, over sandblows and along the beach; another day riding up the beach to see some of Fraser Island's famous landmarks.
The best day for me though was riding to Lake MacKenzie. We'd heard the roads were "OK", so taking off the heavy luggage we decided to go for it, thinking we could always turn round if it got too hard. At first I was terrified as Bertha seemed to spend a lot of time going sideways, but as we got going I realised all those weekends holding a petrol can in the pits while Hame took part in off road races through Malaysian jungle had been worth it - he kept us upright and moving over roads I'd have struggled to get down on my mountain bike. Hame's attitude to bits of road that made me close my eyes in horror was simply to hit the throttle. After I got over my fear I began to find it incredibly funny. The harder the road got and the more Bertha behaved like a bucking bronco, the funnier it got, I just hung on for dear life and laughed! This is a good bit of road, we didn't dare stop for photo's on the bad bits or we may not have got going again.
We arrived in one piece and marvelled at the lake, the clearest water I've ever seen with white sand beaches, surrounded by forest. The road back wasn't quite such a source of amusement; the sand had dried and poor Bertha spent 15 km in first gear, getting very hot and skidding a lot.
We could have stayed on Fraser Island for days more but were both keen to head North, and into the outback so with regret we left at low tide and enjoyed the last bit of beach riding.
Back on the mainland we rode West towards Roma but on the way had a bit of a problem, Bertha was not starting properly. Hame thought at first it may be the battery so we kept going. As we rode along we saw our first kangaroo. We'd been told that the times to avoid road riding are dusk and dawn as there are suicidal marsupials around but the one who bounced across the road about 10m in front of us obviously wasn't wearing a watch as it was lunchtime. It was great to see though, finally we were off on our way into the vast Australian bush.
By the time we had reached Miles, about 300km West, the bike wouldn't start at all, and charging the battery didn't help. Hame took it all to bits and confirmed his worst fears that it was the starter motor. After a few phone calls to a local electrics shop and then to Chris back at the BM Shop in Brisbane, we realised we had no choice but to head back there. We spent the night in a friendly motel in Miles then the next morning, back to Brisbane...
Hame is at present with the bike getting the starter motor reconditioned (I think, I'll leave the techy stuff to him to explain later). While it was good to catch up with the friendly Brisbane crowd again we are a bit frustrated that just as we finally got going we had to turn back again! Having said all that I'm secretly pleased to be back in the land of good camping shops though so I can buy more warm things, it is cold! Hame, of course, is fine and can't understand why I feel the need to wear everything I own.
Posted by Emma Myatt at 01:55 AM