From Townsville we hit the road fairly early. The place where we’d had breakfast the last time we were here was closed in a very final sort of way and nobody else seemed to be open, so we headed along the Bruce looking for a roadhouse on our way. We eventually settled for Hungry Jacks on the edge of Townsville. They offer the usual fast-food breakfasts – muffins and wraps and things. We’d found the Hungry Jacks breakfast wraps acceptable in the past. This one was dead ordinary but at least you could still order at the counter. We’d stopped at a Macca’s for coffee a while back and found they didn’t have counter staff taking orders. In the interests of contact-less service, we had to use a machine, which spat out a number. You collected and paid at the counter when your number was called. This is allegedly about covid-19 but I’m pretty sure it’s a way of reducing staff costs. Call me a cynic. I don’t mind.
It’s not far from Townsville to Cardwell, about 165km. For a long way the road runs between cane fields and not much else. We made a comfort stop at Ingham, then carried on through more interesting countryside, with the highway winding its way through the hills. Still two lanes only, with passing lanes on the occasional up-slope. The local wildlife authorities had evidently recognised the extent to which the road was a danger to wildlife and constructed a number of bridges across the highway so that animals like possums and other little furry critters could cross unscathed.
We had heaps of time so when we noticed a sign to a lookout we went to investigate. The lookout gives a view over the rain forest to Hinchinbrook Island, a substantial piece of land which is only just an island. From up here you didn’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out what had happened. Thousands of years ago Hinchinbrook had been part of the mainland, just another part of the range of hills we were driving through. The sea levels rose and the deepest valleys were drowned. The channel separating Hinchinbrook from the rest of Queensland is very narrow but I expect it will widen over the next century or so.
Hinchinbrook, which is a national park, hasn’t been developed, although there was talk. But some operators in Cardwell take visitors over to enjoy the island’s rugged landscapes. Only forty people are allowed on the island at any one time – and that’s not a covid restriction. Read about Hinchinbrook here. Twenty or thirty years ago I would have loved to go over there and immerse myself in nature. It looks like a fantastic place to visit.
We reached Cardwell mid-morning. It’s a tiny little place, located at a point where the Bruce runs along the beach. That’s where we’d encountered Cardwell before, going home from Cairns. We’d stopped for a coffee and a break and admired the lovely beach and its view of Hinchinbrook, just a few kilometres away over the aqua blue sea. Not this time, though. The east wind chopped up the white caps and churned up the silt. The resulting grey, turgid sea was thoroughly uninviting even without the signs warning of crocs and stingers. (They always have ACHTUNG on those signs, even though that’s the only German word.)
Since it was so early, we decided to find a laundry and do a small load of washing. The laundry was next to a diner called the Hinchinbrook Hop, part of a run-down caravan park. The diner looked like something out of the nineteen-fifties with a counter offering pre-made food and a dining room with half the tables roped off due to covid. What used to be the petrol station had long since ceased to function. The bowsers were gone and the high veranda that used to shade the cars was a place where the sparrows and Indian mynahs nested. I think the laundry used to be the service station’s office. Pete and I had a takeaway coffee while the washing did its thing, already having second thoughts about staying in Cardwell for the night.
I wandered over to look at a set of faded photos in the Hinchinbrook Hop’s window. The town had been hard hit in 2011 by Tropical Cyclone Yasi, the largest storm to ever hit Queensland. The storm surge exceeded three metres so the Bruce would have been flooded for kilometres and Cardwell would have been trashed. People had to be rescued from Hinchinbrook Port, a resort-style development built around that time. We went to have a look at it later in the day and although some people still live there in upmarket houses fronting a marina, much of it is deserted and run down. I remembered a photo from that time of boats piled up in a marina. That was in Port Hinchinbrook. You can see it here. I don’t think the place ever recovered from its visit from Yasi.
We’d booked at a motel and learned yet again that there are certain dangers to booking accommodation via the web. The room was utilitarian but the air con worked and it was clean. The noisy neighbours weren’t too bad.
We spent the afternoon having a look around, taking a walk up the board walks along the beach in both directions. The one heading south meandered through the mangroves with signs explaining the ecology of the wetlands. But, like most of the country we’d driven through, the mangroves were drier than they should have been. That, combined with the wind, made the whole adventure less than pleasant.
The walk in the other direction, which we did late in the day, went through a park to a memorial for the battle of the Coral Sea. While we were there we noticed a restaurant at a rather more upmarket motel than the one we were staying at and we checked to see if the place was open that evening. It was.
Back at our low budget digs, needless to say, the motel restaurant wasn’t open. Mine host suggested the pub, so we drove down there and after some searching discovered the dining room. The menu offered a variety of pizzas. That was it. Tonight was pizza night in a not very exciting venue. We drove back to the place we’d spied on our walk and asked to see the menu. Tonight, it seemed, was pizza night. But we could sit outside, sip a drink, and admire the view as the sun sank behind us, lighting the peaks on Hinchinbrook Island. The pizza wasn’t bad, but the bottom was soggy.
I don’t think we’ll be staying in Cardwell again.