I walked up to Apollo’s office early doors to collect the camper van. After filling in a gazillion bits of paperwork and watching a DVD on its operation, I was handed the keys and sent on my way. There were various provisos: I couldn’t take it off unsealed road except to get to campsites and the like; I had 2950km allotted for free; $750 fuel allowance. This restricted the route I wanted to take slightly, but hey-ho. At $1 per day I wasn’t going to complain.
The van I was relocating turned out to be a 3l Toyota Hilux with a small house stapled to the back of it. The inside had basic furnishings and the roof was raised and lowered for camping to give more headroom. Nice enough. I checked everything was OK and set off into town.
First stop was Woolies to get some food, then I tried to find somewhere to get a cable to connect my MP3 player to the van stereo. A simple 2-ended stereo jack lead was going to cost me $20 in the places I found them so I decided not to bother and just listen with my headphones instead.
As I headed back to the van after my third stop, I suddenly realised my head was a day out. I thought it was Sunday and therefore free parking all over Cairns. But it wasn’t. It was Monday. And if I hadn’t paid, I risked a ticket. Oops. Fortunately, nothing awaited my return so I got away with it. I don’t think parking wardens care about “honest mistakes”.
And so the journey began. With the fridge and food box laden, I headed south as far as Ingham then tweaked west along one of the lesser-used roads. Rather than driving all the way south back to Townsville, I thought I’d go for variety.
My first rest stop was at Crawford’s Lookout, over the Johnstone River. I hopped out here to enjoy the view and decided to walk down the 1.7km trail to the next viewpoint. Around 100m in I encountered my first ever wild snake. Thankfully he/she wasn’t that wild, and slithered off into the undergrowth when I stomped nearby. I have no idea what kind of snake it was – just black and about a metre long.
The view from what turned out to be the emergency helicopter landing pad was quite impressive. I could have walked down to the river itself, but I didn’t feel that I had the time. Instead I walked back to the van and drove further down the road to a picnic spot where I used the free stove they provided to make myself some soup for lunch.
Following the windy road to Normanton – which I aimed to reach before sleeping – I passed an enormous amount of nice countryside. It was lush to start with but as I progressed west, the greenery gave way to scraggy dry bush. Windy Hill was the last green place I stopped – an area with 20 wind turbines which proclaims itself happy to serve the community. Rather than the usual case in the UK where these things are built and then ignored by everyone except the people who complain that they make too much noise and spoil the view. Deal with it – it’s clean energy and they’re better than burning coal. Oh, and they don’t make much noise. I was stood 20m from one and it was quieter than a ceiling fan.
I passed briefly through Ravenshoe – Queensland’s Highest Town at 920m above sea level – and them just ploughed on until I finally reached Normanton, the “Home of the Gulflander” (one of the main train routes in Oz). It was closed. The town, that is. All of it. I was hoping to find a bar where I could share a drink with the locals before sleeping, but it wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, I parked up on a verge, extended my roof and went to sleep. No point in paying for a caravan park even though there was at least one nearby.