March 20 Jericho – Ilfracombe – Longreach – Aramac – Torrens Creek
With the storms having passed around us, we awoke to a dry and dusty campsite. We packed up quickly before the heat and headed out to Longreach very excited to visit the Qantas Founders Museum and see where the legend that is Qantas began.
On the way we drove through the town of Ilfracombe, which has the most amazing collection of machinery lining the main street! We pulled up to take a look, only to discover that the storms hadn’t missed Ilfracombe and the dirt around the machines had turned to thick clayey mud that threatened to swallow our feet whole. After a few pics and a lot of cleaning up and laughter we headed back on our way.
As we approached the town, it was impossible to miss the museum due to the large red tailfin sticking up from the plains. Among other aircraft, the Founders museum is home to a retired 747 that was donated by Qantas for their 85th anniversary. It was just able to make the landing but will never take off again as the runway at Longreach is too short!
Inside, we watched a short doco on the origins of the airway to put everything in perspective, then we explored the main hall of the museum for a few minutes while waiting for our up close and personal tour of the 747 and 707. The hall is centred around a lifesized replica of the Avro 504k which started it all, with displays around covering the various eras of the airline. We each took a turn in a WW1 flight simulator and started to work our way around the exhibits. It was all very interesting but before long it was time for our tour, so we met our guide in the foyer and headed out.
The tour of the aircraft was excellent, we got to look through and learn the history of each aircraft and even have our photo taken in the engine of the jumbo! It was Zach and Rissy’s first time on board an aeroplane and they were both very excited. Both aircraft have serious history to them, but the 707 in particular has served as a private jet for some very notable people, including the Jackson 5. The fittings are amazing in a very 70’s luxury kind of way, all timber and leather and gold and crystal… Even the toilets have leather seats!
After the tour we continued to explore the museum and the original hangar where the early Qantas aircraft were both built and housed. While we were watching another presentation in the hangar the next wave of storms rolled in and we began to wonder if the door to the theatre would stand the wind! Heading out at the end of the film, the old hangar was very wet and dripping from the roof in various places as the wind howeled through the open aircraft doors. We were ferried back over to the main building by staff members with umbrellas to find that we were almost the only ones there. Staff were running around putting blankets under door sills and mopping up the flooding that had already got in. As the main hall is a fairly recent building and Longreach hasn’t seen real rain in at least 3 years, we think this may have been it’s first real downpour, fortunately the water wasn’t threatening any of the exhibits!
When the weather settled we headed back out to Ilfracombe and then on to Aramac for a fuel topup before taking the back road up to meet the Flinders Highway at Torrens Creek. Due to the storms, the power was out when we arrived in Aramac, and as it was our last chance too top off the tank before a couple of hundred k’s of really remote road, we opted to wait for it to come back on. Chelle and the kids had fun at the local playground while the service station owner was kind enough to let me change Blu’s oil out the back of the Servo… Something I had been planning on doing at camp later in the evening.
The power came back on after about an hour and another torrential downpour that had the local kids running about like they had never seen rain (and some of them probably hadn’t)! So with full tanks we headed out on the road again.
It was absolutely spectacular driving along a single narrow strip of bitumen with clear sky and a beautiful sunset on one side and thunderclouds on the other!
The storms at Longreach and power outage in Aramac had pushed our day back, so we slowed down as the light waned and the roos came out to play. As we arrived at our planned campsite just after dark, the rain was bucketing down and the thunder and lighting were very close. We decided not to make camp in the middle of a thunderstorm on a road that was possibly going to be closed when we woke up the next morning. So, after raiding the fridges and food box for anything that could serve as dinner and getting the kids cosy in their seats, we pushed on.
We made one small sealed water crossing at a creek but otherwise the road was narrow and wet but still sealed and smooth until the last 30kms to the highway… At that point it became wide and rutted and unsealed. I jumped out in the rain to lock Blu’s front hubs, put him in second low and for the next hour or so we crawled and bounced through the mud at 10-30kms/hr knowing that the longer we left it, the worse the road would become. I have never been as thankful for any modification to Blu as I was for the HID driving lights and LED bar that I fitted just in case we ended up having to do night driving! Without them we would have had to stop for lack of visibility in the rain and may have been stranded on a totally impassable road the next morning.
Pulling into Torrens Creek at 9:30 at night, I was totally exhausted and Chelle needed to stretch her legs, so I headed in to the local pub for a Lemon, Lime and Bitters (Neither of us drink, so anything harder was off the table :p ) and a chat with the owner while Chelle took a break from the seat and the kids stayed sleeping in the back (how they managed to sleep through the previous hour I will never know!). Then we headed 10 minutes down the road to a rest area and slept in our seats for only the second time on the trip.
March 21 Torrens Creek – Charters Towers – Townsville
Waking up in the car is never fun. We extracted ourselves from our seats, folded down the kitchen on a muddy Blu and made some breakfast before hitting the road.
Charters Towers (AKA ‘The World’) wasn’t far away so we paused to have a look at the old WW2 bunkers. We met an old guy walking through who showed us where to find some old barometric sensors from the bombs the that were stored there. Apparently the area has been picked over years ago for anything else, but there were so many of these that no-one wanted them. Now they are just going to rot in the ground, but they made excellent souvenirs for the kids!
The period architecture in the town centre was amazing, neither of us had realised how big Charters was back in it’s hey day.
The extra driving the night before meant it was just before lunch when we pulled in to Townsville, we found a caravan park and booked in for a couple of nights. Blu’s suspension was looking a bit lopsided at the back and hadn’t felt right on the drive in… A quick look under the back showed why, the left leaf pack had pretty much collapsed with the shackle sitting hard on the chassis and the axle just about touching the bump stop… Grrrr… After 2 seperate upgrades and $$ already spent it wasn’t a welcome sight!
While Chelle and the kids spent the afternoon in the pool, I headed to a local spring specialist to see what needed doing, he was really helpful and was able to book Blu in for the following day.
We had dinner that night with old friends who had been youth pastor at Gympie while we were there. I hadn’t seen them in years and it was good to catch up and see what their kids, who are slightly younger than us, are up to now! We also had a good chat about camping as they have recently taken it up and Zach and Clarissa loved (or overloved) their very patient cat.
March 22 Townsville
While Blu was at the doctors, the next day was spent almost entirely at the swimming pool, with Chelle and I catching up on bills and blogs, while the kids spent over 7 hrs in the water! We were all in need of a down day after our push in to Longreach and back.
In the afternoon I picked up Blu to find that the “at least 60mm higher” that had been promised for his springs had come in at 100mm higher! He is now sitting how I would have liked all along and is carrying his load much more comfortably.
On the way back I ducked into a camping shop we don’t have at home, not looking for anything specific, just because ‘camping shop’. While in there, the radio in the background was discussing how prepared Townsville was for a possible cyclone that might be forming off the north Queensland coast…Hang on…Cyclone…we’re in a tent! This was going to require some rethinking of our plans for the next week or so!