By Phil Jones
This is the third part of our Queensland Explorer 21-day Tag Along Tour Brisbane to Cairns tour blog, and covers days 9-12 of the tour.
Day-9: We depart Carnarvon Gorge for Emerald, some 280km northwards. Back towards the Carnarvon Hwy for the first 20km then northwards along a farming backroad for about 50km before rejoining the highway some 30km south of Rolleston.
Rolleston (pron. Rollston) is a quiet country town with an excellent town park as a rest area for us weary travellers. The local community is recreating several old houses as part of a living museum - already there is a bark hut and a squatters cottage is under renovation, alongside a working windmill pulling water from underground.
Turning northwards again, it was a long and steady drive northwards to Emerald. We are staying at their showgrounds along with several dozen other travellers and itinerant workers, and others who have arrived here early for next weekends annual rodeo.
Emerald is a big country town ~ the shopping malls have many of the same chain stores as I am used to seeing down in the big-smoke. The prices seem much the same as well.
Got some enlargements done at the local Kodak Express shop, done while-you-wait and the staff at the shop were extremely helpful.
The other artist in our group is Bill Nesbitt, who is a dab hand at monochrome watercolour images and who regularly draws an audience when he sets up his brushes and art supplies.
Day-10 is northwards again, up along the Gregory Hwy a long, reasonably flat good bitumen road. It was almost a matter of setting the cruise-control and just letting it all happen.
We are still seeing signs of coal mining ~ the long trains pulling dozens of wagons go by in the distance, and we soon arrive at Clermont. What a pleasant, small town this place is.
Bill Nesbitt with his watercolours
We stopped at the information bay just outside the town to read about the famous 1916 floods, where the road into town was under 3-1/2 metres of water.
Signs advised travellers of a caravan toilet dump point just around the next corner, and also the location of the shops themselves.
Quite a range of shops were present, and our various group members made a bee-line for cafe's, the supermarket, the Op-shop and museum. One of the group commented later that the pub made a cappuccino to die for.
North of Clermont the highway diverts around several coal fields ~ the old road still goes off into the distance as we, on the new road swept around a corner and away from the area.
The remainder of the road northwards is pretty barren it's the best part of 200km to the next fuel stop at Belyando Crossing and there is not a single rest area to be seen.
If we, or any or the truckies need a comfort stop there is nowhere for them to pull off the highway. We came across the tragic remains of a caravan a Jayco from its signage which had gone to God.
All that was left was a pile of timber frame, some external cladding and some internal bits, the rest had been taken away. Somebodys dream had evaporated.
Belyando Roadhouse is a small family-run business, and the camping area out the back was packed out.
Belyando Roadhouse camp
A birds-eye view of the camping area looks like a trouser-belt buckle, with a perimeter road and three connecting roads, and we travellers are parked bumper-to-bumper into four rows of vans up these three connecting roads, and along the fence line campers had erected small tents.
There are some nice toilets and showers ~ an improvement on two years ago; power is still intermittent, and there is still no running water to the vans parked out the back.
Day-11:We departed Belyando Roadhouse ~ we continued northwards along the Gregory Hwy. The highway is a good piece of road with the bitumen in good condition.
Lots of roadworks are evident northwards from the Cape River ~ the last of the single-lane bitumen from the 1960s has been replaced, so now the road surface is good for its entire length. I saw no sign of the rest area [Camps4,Q400] at the Cape River, it may have gone or I may have blinked, who knows.
Charters Towers CBD Post Office clock tower
Near new Victoria Downs station we came upon a major crash emergency vehicles, the SES and others were present.
It seems that a 4wd vehicle towing a domestic trailer had come to grief, and a mother and four children were being attended to by para-medics and SES personnel.
It gave our tour group a sobering thought as to how quickly and easily things can go wrong, and our speed after the crash site was slower than before! [we later heard on the local news that all were okay, although injured to various degrees]
Shortly after we joined the Flinders Hwy, we meandered into Charters Towers. What an impressive place ~ it has lots of olde-world charm with its buildings and shop facades.
The main shopping street is Gill St, and one street south, Hodgkinson St has down its centre, a designated 3m wide parking lane for caravans and large vehicles. What a wonderful idea ~ something that every town in Australia could copy. Every 50 metres or so along the parking strip was a large painted image of a caravan.
Some of the big-smoke chain shops are present, but they are outnumbered thankfully, by lots of local shops each with a unique charm.
Viva la difference as some might say. I for one, certainly find it quite boring to go shopping in the big smoke, where all the same chain shops are present, with the same goods selected by the same corporate buyers.
BBQ team from Charters Towers Little Athletics Dalrymple CP
Walking the Charters Towers streets, wandering in and out of these Aladdins-cave shops is a mouth-watering experience.
We are staying at the Dalrymple Family Parks Caravan Park about 2km north of the city.
It is a clean and tidy park, well maintained with good grounds, lots of side-by-side space between sites and where your neighbours voices and one-sided phone calls do not intrude into your van's interior (like happens in all-too-many other parks with small sites).
While the girls do a great job in the office, the boys at Dalrymple make a practice of showing you to your site and giving you assistance to park your rig if needed.
I have seen them standing at the open passenger window giving the driver the left-hand-down - right-hand-down guidance to reverse the caravan into the site. Not often you get this help.
In the amenities block this morning, I could hear chatty comments passing between several blokes while in the showers ~ one comment that floated across was I have been to some pretty crappy parks in my time, but this one is real good.
Alayne and I decided to treat ourselves to an evening out ~ so we returned to the main street after dark and found ourselves dining at Henrys Restaurant, alongside the tourist bureau.
The cuisine was first-class, service good and when our meal choices arrived, the plates were overflowing with both the meal of choice and a delightful serve of vegetables.
Day-12 was a rest day for the group ~ each member decided to do their own thing with everything from domestic chores, essential shopping, retail therapy, visiting local attractions lookouts, museums, displays of the mining industry of Charters Towers.
That evening we enjoyed a community barbecue offered to the park by the Charters Towers Little Athletics group: about four-dozen other travellers and several families on school holidays all lined up for a pretty fine meal.
Tomorrow we are off to Townsville and Magnetic Island. Hope you are enjoying following our travels, more in a couple of days Regards, Phil www.philjones.com.au
Disclaimer: none of the businesses referred to herein have supplied any services or discounts to Phil Jones Photography Tours to secure any preferential comment in this travel blog.