On the road

posted in: Life and things, Travel | 0

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a nice picture of a country road with views of the mountains (such as they are in Australia) but you’d be wrong. This is the Bruce Highway, Queensland’s most important road. Part of the A1 which goes right around Australia, it runs from Brisbane in the south to Cairns in the north, a distance of about 1,660km. For most of its length it looks just like that, a two-lane road interspersed with rare sections of dual carriageway (mainly the bits closest to Brisbane) and more frequent overtaking lanes to allow people like us to pass caravans and trucks. The road is always busy with caravans, tourists, and many trucks taking produce, cars, livestock etc etc to the large towns scattered along the road’s length. Maryborough, Gympie, Mackay, Rockhampton, Townsville, Proserpine, and Cairns to name a few. The speed limit on the open road is100/ 110km but the Bruce goes through twelve traffic lights in Gympie and the speed limit drops to 50kpm in many villages, such as Childers and Tiaro. The road is notorious for being blocked by floods from cyclones pretty much every year and it is listed as one of the world’s most dangerous highways with an alarming death toll. It is the site of 17% of the country’s road deaths. It’s not hard to conclude that the most frequent cause of accidents is dangerous overtaking.

There are always roadworks somewhere on the Bruce. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt but given the circumstances, the work is necessary. Although I can’t help feeling it’s a waste of resources. Why not bite the bullet and do it properly? It’s never going to be cheaper than it is now. Pete and I would vote for a project to build a dual carriageway right along its length. It would cost a fortune – but it would provide jobs outside Brisbane and new life to little country towns – both during and after construction.

It’s interesting to see the Government supporting ‘green’ initiatives. We came across this charging station at Mt Larcom, a tiny town featuring a cafe and service station, where we’d stopped to eat lunch on day one. Apparently, these are/will be set up from Cairns to Brisbane. Huh. I wouldn’t fancy kicking my heels for an hour in Mt Larcom. It’s a pimple on the map.

I don’t think I’d fancy driving this road in an EV

Maybe electric vehicles are a great initiative in the cities but out here in the never-never it’s not so easy. This story about a UK woman who took nine hours to travel 130 miles in her new electric porsche is interesting. I think the technology has a way to go yet. But, in the interests of balance, here’s another view on the subject. Can electric cars go the distance? It’s important to remember that the battery will also run your air conditioner – a must-have up here in the north.

Back to our road trip.

After we left Emu Park, we arrived back on the Bruce north of Rockhampton, where we idled along with the other traffic, passing through long stretches of roadworks. I wish the road builders could be a little more consistent with their speed signs. What’s the point of 100m of 80kph stuck between two long lengths of 60kph? It’s frustrating and annoying.

The anchorage at Airlie Beach – far fewer boats than in the past

We were on our way to stay with a friend at Airlie Beach. We’d stayed with Al several times before, the last made especially memorable because of Cyclone Debbie, a category five storm that ploughed into the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach in 2017. We had been enjoying a holiday in Cairns at the time, intending to drive further north to Cooktown. Debbie put paid to that idea. We bolted for home, stayed one night at Al’s unit high on the hillside overlooking the harbour, then drove home from there. I have a vivid memory of lying in bed listening to the wind howling outside like some sort of elemental hungry for prey.

Cyclone Debbie swept through the islands and clobbered Airlie Beach, then dropped thirteen inches of rain. The town was in rebuild mode for months if not years, its infrastructure destroyed. Now, two and a half years later, the town has mostly been rebuilt. A popular back packer pub was badly damaged and has never been rebuilt. I expect the remains will be bulldozed before too long.

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays so it’s mainly a tourist town. Needless to say, it’s suffering. But at least Queenslanders are turning up and people from Victoria and NSW will follow soonish. Many cafes and bars were closed and probably will never reopen but those remaining seemed to be doing good business, which is nice to see. We spent a pleasant evening dining al fresco at an Italian restaurant, enjoying the atmosphere and the food.

Shute Harbour, the main big boat port for Airlie Beach, was also decimated. Work is under way to rebuild the place, but at the moment, its not much more than a beauty spot.

What remains of Shute Harbour

We spent a couple of pleasant nights with Al, catching up and reminiscing before hitting the road for the short hop (270km) to Townsville.

Townsville was an overnight stop which we’ve done before. The city is not so much a tourist destination, although people can take a short ferry ride to Magnetic Island, which was what our friends did. We stayed at Rydges in the heart of the restaurant district and, like Airlie Beach, the hotels and restaurants are suffering from covid. Restaurants we’d been to before were closed in a very final way. Still, we had a nice Indian banquet and continued up the road to a little place on the beach called Cardwell. That will be next time.

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