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BLOG: Outback Queensland shows us the love

Simon Parker's picture
The lookout at White Mountains, Queensland. Cycle Traveller

This latest leg of the GDR Route, which encompassed 1,160km over 16 days (12 of which were riding days) from Charters Towers to Injune, introduced us to the genuine friendliness of Outback Queensland. And this warmness comes at a time where the route traverses some of its most remote sections.

It's an isolation that we find intoxicating, with the intense silence and stillness of some evenings lulling us into a restful sleep.

Not that we're ever too far away though from a friendly local stopping their vehicle to offer some water, accommodation, or for a friendly chat, as we've found on our travels. It's been welcome, particularly on hotter days where the temperature can exceed 35 degrees and our water reserves go tend to down that bit quicker.

Colin's Fruit Truck

It is isolated out here, but if you time it right, you may not be as far from services as you may think, as we learned in a rather fortuitous meeting. We were cycling what will be one of the most remote sections of the GDR Route when a truck passed us, only to immediately pull over into a stopping zone just a few hundred metres in front of us. As we went to cycle past the truck the driver jumped out from his cabin, gave us a smile and asked, “Do you want some fruit?”

Colin Holt's Fruit Truck in Outback Queensland. Cycle Traveller“Are you kidding – yes please!!,” we bellow, almost in unison. And what followed was one of the most unique experiences we have had during our cycling adventure, for in the back of his refrigerated truck was a literal supermarket of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products that had us drooling. Fresh produce is not easy to come by in the Outback.

The truck is owned by Charters Towers-based Colin Holt, and over a two-week period he takes his precious load of food to the people of Queensland's Outback on a regular route, out as far west as Birdsville. The locals, who meet him at set places and times along what can be an otherwise long and lonely road, climb up into his truck and into the frigid interior to select their produce for the next fortnight. It makes for quite a social occasion and is a great way to meet the farmers. As many of them told us, it's a valuable service when your nearest town is hundreds of kilometres away, and Colin, a lovely, friendly man, is only too happy to make the trip out. You can tell this is more than a job to Colin and he knows most of the locals on a first-name basis. As he says, “When you make a friend in the Outback, you make a friend for life”.

So, thanks to Colin, at lunch that day we savoured fresh strawberries, bananas and apples, a diet we hadn't expected in the remote Outback and a nice break from our dry foods and kid's cheese sticks.

Snow's Bakery

Cycling near Bowen Downs Station. Cycle Traveller

Not to be outdone in the friendliness stakes though are the people from the small town of Alpha. Within minutes of arriving in town later that week, we had what seemed like the town's entire population crowded around us in Snow's Bakery; so interested were they in our project. We loved that this small town has been able to retain its bakery as many have closed down elsewhere – no frozen bread for us today!

The towns might be small in these parts but the hearts of the locals are big and bold, and we're thrilled that cyclists from all over the world will get the chance to experience what can be a rare type of hospitality in today's society.

Where the rivers run

We cycle up and over a number of passes of the Great Dividing Range and its offshoot ranges in this leg of the route, criss crossing from east to west, west to east, and north to south. Each pass, most of which are at the end of gradual, ridable inclines, give you wonderful views of the GDR and surrounding country. None better were the views near Springsure; on a day in which just three vehicles passed us in a five hour period, we had majestic views of numerous mountain ranges on all sides as we edged our way south through a long valley.

South of the gemfields. Cycle Traveller

What's interesting are the water catchments we enter in these parts, one of which is that of Lake Eyre Basin. At 15 metres below sea level Lake Eyre, in north-east South Australia, is usually dry – except when it rains heavily in Queensland, and parts of the Northern Territory and NSW. It's a long way from the eastern edge of the catchment to its western border, particularly when you consider that towns as far away as Alice Springs and Coober Pedy also fall within its 1.2 million square kilometre catchment. Phenomenal. In what is described as one of the world's last unregulated, wild river catchments, you may wonder how on earth the water gets that far over the arid, gentle slopes west of the GDR to fill the usually desolate Lake Eyre. Yet it does happen, and (admittedly unusually) in the past 15 years or so the Lake has been filled twice after heavy, flooding rains in Queensland.

The Sandstone belt

Not too far south of Springsure we ride into a major natural highlight of the entire GDR Route – Carnarvon Gorge National Park. Part of Queensland's Central Highlands and GDR, Carnarvon is a sandstone masterpiece; a collection of steep gorges and escarpments that run for hundreds of kilometres. We're consumed by its presence for long stretches of relatively quiet country roads and highways as we meander southwards, its cliffs clearly visible from a long way distant.

The Carnarvon Range. Cycle TravellerThe Park is home to a plethora of unique plants and animals, as well as a special aboriginal site – it's one of the country's best preserved and vibrant examples of Aboriginal rock art, and gives you a tangible link to the first peoples of the area. This link to the past is also emphasised through the numerous ancient palm trees and cycads you'll see. Descendants of the lush rainforest that once covered this part of Australia eons ago, these plants continue to thrive in and around the cool, moist confines of Carnarvon's tight, narrow canyons. In this oasis we heard dingos howling and saw emus, brolgas, parrots, kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, bettong and echidnas.

But perhaps the most exciting for us was seeing one of Australia's most unique and elusive animals: the platypus. We did at Takarakka Bush Resort, which is the main camping and cabin accommodation option at Carnarvon Gorge National Park. A lovely, tranquil place to spend a few days resting up or exploring the park, it comes complete with a well equipped camp kitchen and a general store with enough food options to keep you going for days. They also put on a roast dinner three times each week, which for a hungry cyclist is heaven.

Kangaroos are plentiful, and you'll likely have them munching near your ear throughout the night – it's uncanny how the grass always tastes better right next to our tent!

We were lucky enough to arrive at the official opening of a new range of holiday apartments and an astronomy observatory, to which we were kindly invited to attend by owners Amanda and Phil. Phil, an avid astronomer, now takes guests on regular tours of the pristine night sky with his state-of-the-art 14 inch telescope. Having spent countless nights gazing at the stars whilst we've been camping, we loved getting an insight into what we've been looking at. We met many of the locals at the opening, including those from the tourism authorities, and they were all very supportive of the planned GDR Route.

The gasfields

We're now in the small town of Injune, which is located near to a large coal seam gas project being run by Santos. It's one of a few towns we visit where the influence of the mining industry is more obvious, largely through the type of accommodation on offer (i.e. dongas, which are generally single, usually window-less rooms in demountable buildings), and the number of predominantly male workers in high-visibility clothing.

The town though has retained much of its original character, and unlike some other Queensland towns where the local caravan park – and only camping option – has been entirely sold off for mining accommodation, this town has retained a council run camping area. So we're pleased to see it is still tourist – and cyclist – friendly.

Our next leg will see us ride through the Granite Belt and enter NSW, which is around 10 days riding away. Thanks again for reading our blog, and we'll update you again in a few weeks' time.

Images from top: 1. Lookout at White Mountains National Park. 2. Passing a drought-stricken station in Outback Queensland. 3. A quiet dirt road down past the gemfields. 4. About to cycle up over the Carnarvon Range. (Images copyright Cycle Traveller)

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