Friday, August 6, 2010

Doing the Dinosaur

(29-31 July 2010)

Heading west from Townsville we bypassed Charters Towers to reach our first night’s stop on the Flinders Highway at Campaspe River Rest Area, about 90km west of Charters Towers. Not much of a river this time of year, but the place is green thanks to the big wet earlier in the year.

The next day, we continue the drive westwards towards Mt Isa and the Northern Territory border. The road takes us up an ever so gradual incline as we reach the top of the Great Dividing Range, our connection to home at 550 metres above sea level, which is actually higher than Springwood. Even with the height advantage, strangely, we couldn’t see home from here!

So what is there to see along the Flinders? A lot of flat grazing land as far as the eye can see in all directions, so that much of the road here is straight, dead, boring straight – but we take it as a little early practice for our drive on the Nullabour in future months to come.

Our stop in Hughenden was an introduction to dinosaurs for the tribe; they met ‘Hughie’ in the street and the skeleton of the swamp-dwelling Muttaburrasaurus at the Dinosaur Museum and Information Centre. As the tribe were sleeping, we had to forego Richmond, another of the dinosaur towns and home to the elasmosaurs, kronosaurus Queenslandius, and pliosaur.

Somewhere after Hughenden, there were parts of the road with a dense curtain of the gold and green of acacia on either side, like a guard of honour – something that provided a relief from the dullness of the drive so far.

After the acacia, much of the landscape that accompanies us is again dead flat – grasslands with occasional clusters of shrubs as far as the eye can see. And when you reach the place where your eye could see the furthest, there’s even more of the same as far as the eye can see. Did I mention this was a boring drive? No?

Well, it was a tad boring, despite seeing the mercury hit 38C in the mid-afternoon – our hottest day on our travels.

We did get into the habit of waving (actually just a lazy raising of the hand, or even lazier raising of the forefinger from the steering wheel) to passing caravaners and occasional others, as others did to us – must be an outback thing to pass the time, although there is a strange masonic aspect to the wave.

Our second night along the Flinders was at Max Welton Rest Area, 50km west of Richmond – where we swapped travel hints with a young German couple – they’d just come from the NT, and had about four weeks to do Cairns down to Sydney, as they had spent longer than expected in their trip from Adelaide to Darwin.

A couple of other beaut things about this spot:
• there is a plague of locusts heading east and south – the place sky was dotted with them!
• the suggestion from a former worker who was camping the night, of the bore 200 metres north of the rest area for a warm water wash (fresh warm water from the Great Artesian Water Basin!);
• it was the first time I have seen night chase day and day chase night across a flat expanse – quite a fascinating experience being in a spot where you straddle night and day under the huge expanse that is the sky.

From Cloncurry to Mt Isa, the landscape changes quite dramatically – no more are the flatlands surrounding us as far as the eye can see, as now there are undulating hills interspersed with dramatic rocky outcrops with the soil a vivid red, darker and richer than in the land east of Julia Creek. At Cloncurry, we enjoy a picnic lunch, the town, famous for being the first Flying Doctor base and experiencing the highest temperature on record (53C!), yet for us, it was an anticlimactic 28C.

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