Most Australians live on the coastal fringe within about 160km of the coast, where the country is clean, green and well watered with the only inconvenience being the occasional water restrictions. Outside this zone things are remarkably different and dangerous. The land itself seems predatory as if trying to suck the very moisture from your body. Despite all these and other factors, it is the most beautiful and inspiring place on earth.
At some time or another on you first trip to the Cape you will become aware that Cape York exploration usually starts at Cairns. Cairns is at least 3,000 kilometres from Melbourne by road and there is NO WAY it can be shortened unless you put yourself and your car on the train and I can tell you that this really costs a big quid. It's not that the railways have got all that flash it's just there are some people out there prepared to pay the prices. Any way back to the trip Melbourne to Cairns all 3,000+ kilometres of it.
I can remember as a child in the early 1960's in the back seat of the FB Holden travelling from either Ballarat or Bendigo to spend our holidays with relatives in the Mallee. Pinching, poking, hair pulling, name calling and all the other brotherly and sisterly ways of entertaining ourselves, were the only options, until the great arm of justice appeared from the front seat and belted us into silence. After that uncomfortable reminder of who was in control of the motor car, silence descended. We disappeared into our own daze of thoughts, front windows down exactly one inch in that sweltering heat, so as not to overtax the motor, as we careened along at 50 miles per hour. We were lucky we had the flash model with the wireless and the single speaker in the dashboard. The sound not quite making it into the back seat. So we tried to drown it out in utter frustration. We counted telegraph poles, sheep, silos and anything out of the ordinary for entertainment. We learnt that queries like "Are we there yet?" and "How long now?" only made matters worse and our destination retreated into that shimmering haze, that only those who have driven these long, lonely, roads know only too well.
Seeing the contrail from the early jet aircraft in the clear blue sky, we all made the silent promise that when we grew up we would have no more snail like progress in the FB Holden. We would fly. Fly and arrive refreshed. No more being contained to the back seat with our siblings.
Now in retirement, we know that in an aircraft, there is less to see, and kids and teenagers behave the same way. Only this time, it is with what appears to be the tacit approval , of their parents. I can't recall anyone getting Deep Vein Thrombosis from the back seat of an FB Holden.
Flying within Australia is the most effective way of covering long distances if you are on a tight time line, but, in a commercial airliner there's not a lot to see from 10 kilometres up. All the details seemed to sort of roll together, into a reddy purplish mess.
So how many hours can you actually spend in a vehicle without accident, domestic or any of those things that can occur when people are confined in close company for extended times. Failure to share tasks and properly communicate exacerbate the situation and next thing you know fatigue has set in, a few white posts have gone to god and luckily you are still in forward motion on the black bit or catastrophe has struck. How to avoid this I hear you ask? Simple break the journey into manageable blocks, research things to do along the way, where to camp, what to see, the Dubbo Zoo, for instance and when you get right down to it there is a huge amount of activities that can be undertaken on the way cheaply. On our last trip we threw caution to the winds and ate at the Chicken Shop in Forbes, 2 bits of beautiful chicken and a souvalaki to wash it down with. The lady serving had left Tasmania 15 years ago on a holiday to Cairns and was still working her way south but with a husband and 3 kids in tow. As it turned out we'd been some places around the same time and lo and behold the world shrinks a little further. By the way the food was magnificent.
Activities are mainly found in the towns and cities with the occasional one like the Parkes Radio Telescope out in the middle of nowhere. All travellers should be aware that there may be some considerable distances between these towns and / or attractions and the country can be as flat as a night carters hat with absolutely nothing to break the monotony until a Kangaroo jumps out in front of you. So try to find some solace in the fact to get to the good sites the ordinary must first be travelled.
Our country is a parochial country and different states have different views on all subjects, yet show an amazing ability to come together in times of crisis or national need. As a born and bred Victorian, I find it astounding that I live on an aggressively hostile island, and look to Antarctica to a find a more forbidding climate and landscape. Yet, most of us south of the "divide", hold little or no appreciation for the dangers of this country and are simply unprepared.
Australia is an arid island continent with a red centre, and quite a few other red areas. For this you should read red means hot and dry. In the summer months it is hot enough to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car. I hear some serious scoffing in the background, but I have seen it with my own eyes. It was done to demonstrate to a group of English tourists what the outback sun can do to you if you don't show it proper respect. This demonstration didn't take place in Alice Springs or the Kimberly, but Swan Hill, that lovely metropolis on the Murray River, which knows its share of hot weather between September and May. I was born and raised in rural Victoria. I have a deep affection for the hot, dusty ,undulations of the Mallee, but those of us who have lived through the droughts and mouse plagues, know it as a harsh and unforgiving place.
The outback is not like the irrigated fringes. The Outback is where there is no regular rainfall, and there is barely enough water in the Great Artesian Basin to water stock most of the time. When you consider that 90% of all water in the outback is lost to evaporation, the mind simply boggles.
is populated by
all sorts of poisonous and deadly things from snakes and fish to spiders,
and if you can successfully avoid all of them, then there's the all Australian
estuarine crocodile and his close associate the Queensland Developer. Believe it or not, on my last
two trips to
the Cape, I saw NONE of the above not even a mosquito. Please do not become
down hearted when listening to "war stories" from those who have done
the trip. For all it's faults, and the humans that spoil Cape York, it is still a
great place to see and an excellent work up to a longer trip.
Every traveler needs to be aware that in some parts of very long trip into the outback there will be times when a feeling of isolation may overcome some people. In my opinion there are certain parts of the country that have few if any redeeming features, usually caused by man., but they lead to the good bits. It seems to take an eternity to cross and it is imperative you are aware of heightened fatigue with nothing to see. The mind starts to wander and our thoughts turn to things other than driving . Next thing, an excursion onto the gravel shoulder and you can join the dots on the rest. Ensure everyone involved is aware of the vast distances and how easy it is to sink into a time consuming daze. I have an awful habit of going faster when my wife is asleep in order to shorten the trip, but I have a bad habit of sliding the "go fast CD" in and turning it up and, for some inexplicable reason, she wakes up. Big mistake. We seem to cover ground easier when she is awake and commenting on every subject that takes her fancy. Especially my ability to drive in a proper and safe manner.
The outback is a quiet place especially for the city dweller. Most of the fauna in these arid and semi-arid areas are nocturnal and they don't make much noise simply because a predator might notice them and they will subsequently be eaten. You will hear some strange noises like that of the bats of Cape York as they flap and chirp there way around. There is no suburban traffic noise to which our ears are accustomed, and this lack of noise can sometimes be disconcerting. In some parts there are no radio stations, not a chirp out of the CB, and in the middles of the day only static emanates from the HF. It is deadly quiet and if Mum is sick of your selection of CD's and tapes, look out.
If this causes you any problems look for the usual suspects all of whom snore like the old steam locomotives and you'll feel right at home. If you are camped you will sometimes hear the bush turkeys, dingoes and bandicoots ratting through your rubbish and anything else you forgot to lock up.
If you need a distraction from the sometimes overwhelming silence at night, look straight up and enjoy the sounds of silence by the stars, millions of them, in their incredible beauty. This has to be the best free show nature can put on and it's there every night. For some reason it draws you towards astrology, you know, looking at the stars. The more you see the more you want to see and know about. Since getting my slot car set a couple of birthdays ago, it only took me twenty years of nagging to get that. I have been agitating for a telescope because binoculars and big lenses on the camera only serve to whet the appetite to get closer to the stars. The colours are incredible. All I get for my trouble is an earful for being a dirty old man. Fancy that, the older I get, they think I'm actually becoming a dirty old man, a peeper. Not bad for the self esteem though.
Please don't think there is nothing to see or do in the outback or in fact the high country. We are only limited by our imaginations. Nature provides the most spectacular displays that cannot be matched by mankind.
The things we will see and run into are wide and varied and range from comic to tragic. A friend of mine was conducting a 4x4 driving course in the Yarra Valley, so needing some addition shots for this site so I paid him a visit. Shortly after he had headed up a 30 degree incline he radioed, asking whether I still needed a trailer because he'd just found one.
Somebody had been collecting wood in the forest but instead of getting the interior of his brand new trailer scratched and dirty with the wood he strapped it to the top of the empty trailer. You will note that this is not the flashest of tracks and is reasonably steep. Would it surprise you if it had no brakes?
This poor trailer was fitted with a mum and dad trailer hitch as fitted to a normal road going trailer. It didn't have a hope with no brakes, the center of gravity being way to high, a towing hitch totally unsuited to the task and of course the track itself. Some equipment is not suitable to take into rough country but more to the point the old Australian attitude of "She'll be Right Mate" can and does lead to disaster. If you own a 4x4 that is well serviced and well shod there are very few places that are inaccessible to you provided you plan and prepare properly. It is only the thought of getting sued that makes me refrain from explaining just what sort of a dickhead left that trailer on that track.
Be sympathetic to others for one day you may be in need of assistance. On our last trip we managed to meet a young lady who had travelled all over the world and had returned to Oz to rediscover the place. Everything had been done right, proper diesel campervan and all the right equipment but we thought vehicle would go that extra mile without fuel. We stopped to help but couldn't because new vehicles have these little doohickeys in them to stop diesel being siphoned out. I only carried gerry cans of water this early in the trip so we gave her a lift into Rolleston and she was soon on her way. Yet when we were southbound 7.5 kilometres short of Yass and the same thing happened to us we had to ring for the NRMA. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it just might happen to you one day.
Long distance travel in Australia is a reward in itself. Boring and sometimes seemingly interminable distances are covered but the rewards are greater. Who will ever forget, after travelling the inland route, the first sight of the Coral Sea and Hinchenbrook at Cardwell. Words cannot paint a picture.
Please do not be put off because of the distances involved, travel at YOUR pace and SEE what YOU want to SEE. Talk to the natives they're friendly, well most of the time, and meet you fellow travellers. Enjoy all the experience to be had and when we meet at a 4x4 show or similar you will know where the smug smiles and faraway looks come from.
I have only written of the places and people I liked and enjoyed, if a particular place is not mentioned I either did not see it or I did not like it, or I may not have gotten around to it. This is a simple philosophy to avoid getting sued. No one has paid in any way, nor were we offered discounts, for these comments. They were just comfortable places I liked. I will add more places to the list as I see and experience them.
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