• Henrik Strand

Red Dirt: Part 2

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

From Isaac River to the finish line at Cairns

You know what's relaxing? Being lulled asleep by the serene song of tropical birds, pterodactyl like shrieks of cockatoos and the guttural trumpeting of koalas, all combining into a cacophony that can only be described as authentically Australian sounding. This was what our evening sounded like in the small idyll of Isaac River. Tucked down another long and narrow road that's half gravel and half pavement and used primarily by miners commuting to work, Isaac River turned out to be a perfect little oasis of massive shagbark trees and towering gumtrees.

Pulling into camp, we were at first slightly apprehensive as a small bridge was right nearby and it seemed the only camping spot was right within view and earshot of the bridge. Much to our delight though we continued down the sandy two track road, under a fallen tree and over a massive hummock into an appropriately sheltered and private campsite right on the waters edge. Being the end of the winter season, the river was not quite a river but rather a collection of pools of water in river basin. We'd read swimming was good there, but after peering into the murky waters teeming with small insects we opted into staying dry for the night.

With our mozzy coil lit and dinner sizzling on the stove, we tilted back in our camp chairs and soaked in the pure awesomeness of our little hide away. It can really only be described as a childlike joy finding these hidden spots that feel like a secret few others know about. As the sun sank below the horizon and the light quickly faded, we were joined by a hoard of flying foxes that swooped in and out of our campsite and right by our heads eagerly looking for fresh fruit to prey on. I absolutely loved it, but Anna may have had a slightly different opinion on that topic. The night wore on, but the continued serenade of all the local creatures continued all through the night, and depending on who you are that could be a good thing or a bad thing...

The brand new day greeted us with the prospect of another long haul up the A1 highway, which was not all too exciting to look forward to. When you're breaking camp its often wise to take care of some, er, morning constitutions to put it politely. A nice quiet private spot is usually key, and it's usually better when right as you're about to drop-trou a random miner doesn't pull quickly into your spot, startling the you know what out of you! Morning routine taken care of eventually, we loaded up once again into Matilda ready to tackle the day.

Us being us wouldn't let ourselves be contained to boring pavement all day. So on a whim and with the hope of access across a dotted connector road on the Hema Map, we veered off the highway onto a long ranging gravel road nestled between great red stone plateaus and dry scraggly brush trees. Australia never ceases to amaze us by the absolute beauty and grandeur of its many landscapes. I would be hard pressed to think of another place where you can experience such incredible diversity in its landscapes as well as the incredible amount of freedom.

As we trundled down the winding dirt track, I can't help but be reminded of Walt Whitmans "The Song of the Open Road."

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose."

With smiles on our faces, we felt content rolling down the open road in the middle of nowhere. Why limit ourselves to the pavement and high speeds when we can make our own course and go the way of the lesser taken path.

While our connector road was amazing and beautiful, it also did not put us much closer to our final campsite for the day. As we were spit back out into civilization, a 6 hour slog north still remained on the highway. Getting farther north past Townsville we really began to understand the magnitude of the wet and dry down here, as massive river beds were bone dry. I wonder how different it will be once we get our first heavy rainfall as the wet moves in?

Peculiarity seems to exist around every corner of this country. The Aussies seem to love giant statues of things. I can't even list off the top of my head all the giant statues we've seen, but so far there's been a pineapple, mango, cow, banana, meat pie, British redcoat, and so on and so forth. And I'm not talking about some little sculpture either, I mean legitimate towering oddities with photo op pull-offs!

The monotony of the drive broken up by a quick stop at the giant mango pictured above, we finally pulled into our final campsite. Tucked along the coast, we rolled into a small sandy lot sheltered by a few whispy trees and sand dunes. There was only one other truck there, a pretty sweet Toyota Land Cruiser Troopy with it's resident owner lounging in an old chair. On first glance, he seemed to be the quintessential retired beach bum who now spent his days living on the road and lounging by the sea. I can say with confidence that that first glance was not wrong. On talking with him about the campsite, we found out that not only had he been camping there for the previous few nights, but he had been camped there for the previous four months. Living off the sea to feed himself and using the free showers down the road, he was more than content it seemed. Trying to escape the bustle of New South Wales, he had packed up and headed north, where he landed on this small secluded spot on the sea. I would say he had more than succeeded in his escape from civilization. Appropriately cloaked in a beard that can only be described as castaway-esque, he mosied back over the sand dunes to catch his dinner after finishing our conversation.

A beautiful sunset closed the day, lighting up a mountain across the bay with hues of maroon and light purple and orange. Another successful day done, we passed out as soon as our heads hit the pillows in our rooftop tent. Tomorrow would be easy, as we only had a few hours to go before hitting our final destination of Cairns.

Notice the sweet Troopy in the background!

Awoken to the smell of campfire, our wayward neighbor was busily preparing his billy kettle and fresh morning catch for breakfast. Our camp broken, coffee made and eggs fried, I tossed the keys to Anna for an impromptu manual transmission driving lesson. Where better to learn than a remote gravel road without traffic right? With a bit of instruction and a bit of reminding to push the clutch, we crawled down the road, gaining speed and shifting gears. Not once during our lesson did Anna grind a gear or stall out, which is better than I can say for my first few times driving a standard!

Switching back into the drivers seat before pulling back onto the highway, we plotted our course for Cairns and pointed the nose of Matilda north. Not sure what to expect, we rolled into the small city of Cairns. Expecting to find a large city, we found a small laid back city nestled nicely within the curving valleys of the jungle clad mountains. A nice surprise to not be overwhelmed by a huge city, we rolled around the roundabouts into the city center eventually stopping at the doors of the Globetrotters hostel. Tiredly we rang the doorbell and checked in, excited for our first real shower in three weeks and the prospect of sleeping in an air conditioned room.

Having completed our first foray into Australia, we were excited to see where the next chapter in the tropical north takes us. We have a lot of work to do though, and have to rebuild some of our savings in order to continue our journey along the open road. We will have to adapt and be willing to live life on the fly and take whatever comes our way. We also learned a lot about our current set up with Matilda, so far it fits our needs, but there is always ways to improve our setup. More on that later though, so I can really go in-depth into our current set up and what we learned and what may need to be changed.

Let me just finish up with one more quote from "The Song of the Open Road" that seems rather fitting here:

"You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here, I believe that much unseen is also here."

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