By the end of February I receive a message that my camper trailer is finally ready for pickup. Yay! Time to leave Sydney and travel to Sunshine Coast, and thence... who knows! And so, on Saturday, February the 22nd, I hop back into my Prado and leave the big city behind once again.
3000 kilometres in 3 days across the scorching hot Australian hinterland in a car without the air con. Sounds like fun, right? I agree, and I can't wait to begin. What better way to end the Christmas holidays and meet the new year!
The road to Townsville is quite uneventful, and only a few isolated mountains here and there provide some scenery. The number of mango stalls increases proportionally as I drive further north, as does the number of sugarcane fields. I most certainly have been here back in 2016, but I'll be damned if I remember any of all this. The region is probably worth taking a closer look... unfortunately, I can't spare the time. Some other day (or some other year, more likely).
There's slightly over 2,500 kilometres from Townsville to Darwin, and most of it lies across the vast stretch of land called the Gulf Country. It's a very strange place... or at least it feels strange to me, but more on that later. There are two roads that I can take through the area, and I choose the harder: the so-called Savannah Way, which will take me very close to the Gulf itself and force me to tackle about 500 km of unsealed roads. Sounds like fun? Well, maybe not too much, but there should be a room for adventure in life, eh?
Ah, the tropical Queensland! All the heat, and humidity, and the blazing sun that is so ridiculously high up in the sky. It's not that bad at this latitude and at this time of the year, though, and being so close to the sea also helps. Not that I can swim in it, though: apparently, saltwater crocodiles are known to visit this area from time to time, because there's more than a few warning signs installed nearby. However, the very first thing I see on my very first night here is the young couple with a kid, splashing around merrily in the shallow waters. Either they don't know something about the crocs, or I.
In the morning the whole tent is covered in thick dew, so I have to pack it as is, soaking wet. It will stay that way in the Tucson's boot for two days, because both in Brisbane and Sydney I will be staying in proper houses.
When I wake up, the sun is up, too, which is unusually late for me. Then again, Townsville's tyre shops don't open until 8:30 anyway. When I do arrive there, they finally tell me that they do have 235/60, and half an hour later I drive away with brand new front tyres. Hooray!
In the morning, when I visit the toilet facilities, I suddenly see a white frog on the seat. I lift the seat to scare it off, but apparently the creature is all too familiar with human ways and simply crawls higher up, looking at me angrily. I shrug and enter another stall. Already sitting there, I glance to the right and see another frog, which is green and about twice as big. I keep glancing at it nervously until I'm done with my business. Croydon: the frog capital of Queensland.
After having slept beautifully, I get up at 5 a.m. and finish eating and packing up before dawn. As the sun rises, I add a bit more oil to the engine (just in case) and take off. Ahead lie Queensland and the mining town of Mount Isa.
No wind at night = excellent sleep. At least while I'm still travelling with a tent, anyway. I'm off at 7:15, ready to explore my way down south. Coincidentally, this is where the sealed road ends for me as well. I stop to deflate the tyres next to the hotel's amenities block and suddenly discover that they have free showers there (unless you feel like making a gold coin donation at the hotel desk). Well, plenty of time for hygiene later.
Windy night did not make for a good night's sleep indeed, but it's not like I came here for comfort, is it? It's still windy and chilly when I pack up my camp and head out at 7 a.m., but the sun is out and the skies are clear: going to be a hot one today. The landscape becomes more and more flat and featureless as I drive on amidst the quickly shortening shadows.