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Australian Road Trip: Part One

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We are halfway through our ten day drive from Cairns to Brisbane, and we already have so many stories from the road that we’re going to struggle to fit them into a single blog piece. So without further delay, this is where the first five days on the road have taken us:

Day One: Cairns

A man and his motor

A man and his motor

We collected our car in Cairns: a bright red Toyota Camry which Adrian had managed to secure for us as a free upgrade from the Corolla originally booked. Car hire in Cairns is actually very competitive, presumably because the Australian East Coast is a popular road trip route. Having spent the previous day snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef (a must-do for anyone visiting this part of the world!), we were ready to hit the road.

Day Two: Cairns – Townsville

Our first proper drive was to Townsville, 345km south of Cairns, for no other reason than it was the first town on our route of sufficient size for us to be able to book a hostel online before we left Cairns. In all honesty, our road trip was a rather last-minute idea, born out of a realisation that buying Greyhound bus passes to reach Brisbane within 10 days was going to be just as expensive and a lot less flexible than renting a car, so all we really had time to plan on that first day was where to spend the night. As soon as the sun rose, we got up, got in the car, and headed for the infamous Australian Outback …

Day Three: Townsville – Charters Towers

Situated 135 kms south-west of Townsville, Charters Towers is an historic Gold Rush town. A 9-year-old Aboriginal boy called Jupiter discovered gold in the tors (hills) of Charters Towers in 1872 and before long thousands of people had flocked to the town to seek their fortunes in gold mining. The town became one of Australia’s most important gold industry centres, and was so well regarded that it was nicknamed ‘The World’. To this day, the residents of Charters Towers are extremely proud of their town’s history.

We of course wanted to learn more about the town’s gold mining history so we signed up for a tour of the fascinating Venus Gold Battery, which is best described as a outsourcing centre for gold miners. Established by the entrepreneur Edmund Plant shortly after gold had been discovered, the battery offered a service to independent miners and small mining companies where they could bring their mined quartz containing the gold fragments, and hand it over for the pure gold to be extracted, thus saving them the expense of having to construct their own processing centres. The battery remained in operation until 1972.

Peter showing us the gold battery

Peter showing us the gold battery

Our tour guide was a gentleman called Peter Bagley, who had returned to Charters Towers to be closer to his elderly parents after 37 years away. Upon his return, Peter discovered that the battery was falling into disrepair due to nobody being willing to take it on, and was in danger of being sold off or even demolished. Not wanting to see a key part of his town’s history disappear, he leased it from the state of Queensland and is now actively pursuing his goal of restoring the battery to its former glory. We were Peter’s only customers that day, and he explained that he is currently in the process of building a website and raising more funds for up-keeping and marketing the battery to attract more visitors.

That evening, we drove up to the top of Towers Hill, where Jupiter had discovered gold all those years ago, for an open air screening of the film ‘Ghosts of Gold’, which was also presented by Peter. We thanked him for giving us such a memorable day, and wished him all the best in bringing more visitors to Charters Towers to learn about the Gold Rush. It has certainly been one of our Australian highlights thus far and we would recommend it to any blog readers who are planning to visit this part of the world.

Day Four: Charters Towers – Finch Hatton Gorge

A rainforest retreat

A rainforest retreat

Our experience in Charters Towers had taught us that exploring places away from the beaten backpacker trail (i.e. the coastline) could be very rewarding. As we awoke in our lovely period room in the Royal Private Hotel in the town centre, we decided our next stop would be at Finch Hatton Gorge. Our Australian friend and travel blogger Dave Robertson had suggested we visit Eungella National Park as this was a good place to spot a platypus. Having checked the map it looked like a reasonable distance from Charters Towers, and we were further persuaded to visit by the discovery of a place to stay called the Platypus Bushcamp, where you sleep in a treehouse and shower in the rainforest. Irresistable!

This day’s drive was to teach us two valuable lessons about Australian road trips: first, just because something looks like a reasonable distance on a map doesn’t mean you’re going to get there in anything like the timeframe you imagine; and second, a GPS system is only as a good as the highway it’s used on. The minute you turn off the main road, it’s as lost as you are. After several hours of twisting, turning, and attempting to locate roads that didn’t exist, we admitted defeat, followed signs to the nearest town, and pulled over to ask a helpful local lady for directions.

Arriving in the dead of night to an unpowered bush camp can be something of a challenge, but we were spotted by a friendly fellow camper, who guided us with his flashlight through the forest path to the camp HQ. Amazingly, this fellow camper was a chap called Owen who came from a suburb in Cardiff called Llanishen – just two miles from where my parents live!

Day Five: Finch Hatton Gorge and Eungella National Park

There’s nothing quite like waking up in a rainforest tree house. Although very basic, our hut was wonderfully comfortable, and we had one of the best night’s sleep on our travels thus far. With the benefit of sunlight, we were able to explore the Platypus Bushcamp a lot more effectively than the night before, and we were intruiged by the kitchen, cookhouse, huts and rainforest showers, all hand-built by Wazza, the eccentric but charming 60-year-old proprieter, and all operating without electricity. The best part by far was the creek behind our hut, and we started our day with a refreshing swim.

A great day for a swim ...

A great day for a swim ...

... and a float!

... and a float!

The remainder of the day was spent lazing around the camp, sipping beer on the big swinging couch and pulling faces at Wazza’s two parrots, followed by a walk to Araluen Falls in Eungella National Park.

A visit to the Platypus Bushcamp would have been incomplete without at least trying to spot a platypus in the nearby waters. They come out for a swim at dawn and dusk, and despite Wazza’s strong urging to get up at 4.30am for the dawn showing, we opted to try our luck in the afternoon. After about 30 minutes of waiting still and silent at the waterfront, we succeeded in glimpsing a platypus, although unfortunately it managed to hide almost completely from our camera’s view.

Spot the platypus!

Spot the platypus!

We were joined for the evening by a New Zealand couple called Laurie and Kirsten or, to quote Wazza: “It’s bad enough we’ve got the Poms here without the bloody Kiwis turning up as well”. It was Laurie’s birthday, which worked out well for us as he kindly shared his chocolate cake and champagne with us. Our relaxing and enjoyable day in the Australian bush was rounded off with another restful night’s sleep, and considering what awaited us as we made our way further south the next day, this was fortunate indeed … stay tuned for Part Two!

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3 Responses

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  1. Like the sound of the bush camp!

    Liz Cruse

    November 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

  2. […] Missed Part One? Read it here! […]

  3. Liz, we thought of you when we were there!

    Emily

    December 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm


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