Driving the Rural Outback

3000 (plus) kilometers from Sydney to Port Douglas! Seeing Australia’s best and not so necessarily worst – from a major city to small rural outback settlements, it was a week of driving that we’ll never forget. There are times when one of us remembers a stop along the journey, when it was actually in another place all together – we have to piece it out by where did we eat, where did we find (or not find!!!) chai tea lattes for Karen. And, as try as we may, we just didn’t get everything journaled!

Reaching the northern section of New South Wales found us in Lightning Ridge – home of Australian’s black opal. Shifting through mounds of mine tailings with a stick (as recommended by the information center volunteer) found a few pieces of opal potch (the bottom layer of the opal) and maybe a piece or two of nice opal (we’ll know more when we get them home and cut) – and many “pretty” rocks. Two more days into the center of Queensland and Emerald – home to sapphires, rubies, and other gem stones, (but no emeralds). Three buckets of dirt later, we are proud owners of three nice stones (star sapphire {black}, green sapphire, a zircon (reddish color), and many multiple shades of blue “tell and show” sapphires.

The first rural outback roadhouse was an interesting place. Owner Mandy brought good, sound advice about the 25 kilometers of “skinny” road ahead and an introduction to her new friend, Christmas Dinner (2008), a baby wild boar that had been left behind.

Skinny roads provide a new and frightening experience! A skinny road is a single lane (very single lane) of roadway in which a road train (ie: tractor truck with usually three or four trailers) barely fits down the center. We hadn’t seen a road train for about an hour when we hit that piece of road and – Murphy’s Law – six of them spaced out every few minutes. The good news is that the shoulders are very wide, the ground hard, and the road straight enough that we could see them coming! We had been thinking about driving all the way north on the Great Inland Way to Cairns, but changed our mind knowing that there was about 200 miles of skinny road beyond Charters Towers if we kept going that direction. We headed east to Townsville – tourist traps, traffic, and beautiful coastlines.

A stop in Charters Towers brought us to Towers Hill, a historic gold mining site. Local information suggested that visitors take a walking tour to see wildlife in the area including rock wallabies. We took a short walk through a historical park and saw a lonely wallaby and felt fortunate to see an animal in the wild. As we chatted with each other standing in the middle of the trail – hoping to see another one – we decided it was time for dinner. As soon as we turned around – there were six wallabies sitting on rocks just behind us – not sure who startled who? We jumped, they jumped, and that began our hour wait, watch, and photo shoot evening with the mob! Much smaller than a kangaroo, a rock wallaby has a tail about three feet long which is used for balance as they hop through, up, and over rock piles. Baby wallabies – also called joeys – are quite small and spend most of their time with just their heads sticking out of the pouch. An occasional foot comes out, but we weren’t lucky to see the whole body.

On to Ingham, a small town further north along the coast for the night. There’s not much in Ingham, though it is a major hub for sugar cane farming and refining. If your timing is off, you get stopped at the tracks for sugar cane trams – a small engine pulling oversized metal baskets on a narrow gauge track. However, Ingham does have the Tyto Wetlands, which has a listing of over 100 birds that are frequent visitors. It was the form of a very large “bird” that caught our attention as we drove past – turning quickly at the next street to drive back to see “what is that?” It wasn’t birds at all – it was a mob of over 200 wallabies! Wallabies have a certain comfort zone – not quite sure of the distance, but come too close and off they go! A good two hours of wandering in and around the park, seeing just how close we could get! Now that’s the way to spend an evening in Australia!

Ending our second week, we are now in Port Douglas. It has been a long week of driving, of seeing the many faces of life in the rural outback. Would we do it again? Without a doubt – YES!

About rkcaton

We like to travel and even spent nine years roaming around North America in a 40 foot motorhome. We're now back in a home in Washington state roaming by car, air, and boat.
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