About a month ago Pete and I drove up to Far North Queensland for a week’s holiday at Palm Cove, a little north of Cairns. We enjoyed our week, but had to curtail any other activities because Tropical Cyclone Debbie came calling. As it happened, she crossed the coast further south and wreaked havoc and massive floods down into the South-East corner of the state, and NSW. We had already planned our next trip, a train odyssey with a small group up to Cairns and across to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and we were pretty hopeful that after that very late cyclone the weather would return to normal programming; ie warm and dry.
But Mother Nature can be a fickle old lady. Just before we started our new journey north the weather forecast predicted a significant rain event which would impact the northern coast, and then penetrate inland. Rainfall in the hundreds of millimetres was expected. Oh well. The skies were clear when we arrived at Maryborough West railway station to board the Spirit of Queensland for our journey to Cairns.
Maryborough West is (um) west of Maryborough, in the middle of not much at all. It’s a station and a few houses, and we were due to catch the train at 7:28pm. We didn’t quite believe the advice to be there an hour early for luggage and what have you, but we arrived faster than we thought we would and dragged our luggage up to the office at around 6:45. As expected, the place was unattended, so we kicked our heels in the waiting area. There’s no waiting room, just an undercover area with a few benches and a vending machine for cold drinks. Be that as it may, the local mosquitoes thought it was excellent. They were there in their squadrons and some of them were so big if a couple of them worked in tandem they could have carried us away.
A railway person arrived at about 7:10. The man weighed our bags, which were well under the 20kg allowance. I have to say I thought it was a bit odd to fuss over weight. I understand that’s important on an aircraft, but on a train? Having attached the luggage labels, he informed us the train was running 20 minutes late, so we retired to the benches and the mozzies.
We eventually boarded at around 8pm. The train basically has two classes – economy, where you sit up for the whole trip, and rail bed, where your seat converts into a flat bed. It’s a bit like business class on an aircraft. Steve, who was lovely and as camp as they come, welcomed us onto the train and showed us our seats.
Everybody else had already eaten dinner, so all the lamb rump was gone. Chicken Kiev it was. Note the challenging movement of the tray.
It’s a long journey, taking a complete 24 hour day from Brisbane to Cairns. But we had our tablets for reading, and the train had its own entertainment system, once again rather like an aircraft, but with a more limited selection. If we got bored, or wanted a drink or a cup of coffee, we could walk through to the club car. Our car had two toilets, and even a shower room.
At night, of course, there’s nothing to see out the windows but your own reflection, and that does tend to get a bit tedious. We watched a show or two, then turned in for not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. There’s a major difference between air travel and train travel. Once you’re in the air, unless you hit turbulence, air travel is pretty smooth. Train travel – at least on this train – is like being in constant low-level turbulence, with the train rockin’ and rollin’ on its tracks. Being a single line, it also had to slow down and speed up at intervals to allow for other traffic. And then there were the stops; at least ten of them. Eating was sometimes a challenge, and so was sleeping, even though the bed lies completely flat.
The big danger overnight was that the rain would cause flooding at Rockhampton, which could prevent further travel north. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and next morning the staff had us up early to convert beds back to seats, and serve breakfast. Outside the rain came down, obscuring pretty much everything more than a short distance from the tracks. This far north the views should have been picturesque. If you could see them. Back to the movies and TV shows, and a few rounds of Solitaire on the tablet. We reached Cairns only about half an hour late and were taken to our hotel close to the city’s main CBD. We were bussed to a venue for dinner – a cafeteria style arrangement at one of the sports clubs – roast meat and veg. I wasn’t impressed. If the intention was to have the group get to know each other, sitting at a long table in a noisy venue isn’t going to work. But hey. We’d made it this far and the rain had virtually cleared from the coast. Tomorrow would be another day.