23-25 May: Up the coast to Townsville

Author: Mrs A

Location: Home Hill then Townsville

Wednesday: We checked out of our Bowen campground around 11am and took off up on the Bruce Highway towards Home Hill. Along the highway we called in at a roadside farm stall, and picked up fresh eggplant, apples, garlic, pineapple – an eclectic collection of produce from the same farm. Nothing beats fruit and vegetables picked only hours before and these were delicious.

We were only stopping at Home Hill for the night so Mr A could visit the local GP, so decided to jump on our bikes for an explore. There was a bit of a false start when I realised my brand new front tyre was completely flat – a call to the bike repairers in Bowen revealed they’d been sold a bunch of faulty inner tubes, and mine must have been one of them. Testing the tube in a bucket of water revealed this was indeed the case. Luckily we had a couple of spares with us, so between us we replaced the inner tube and I was rolling again.

Home Hill is a tiny settlement in the centre of sugar growing country, with mango trees on every corner and a very sleepy feel. Big typical Queenslander houses line many of the streets, and every other house owns a snappy yapping terrier which raced out to chase us off as we rode along the street.We were camped on the showground in town, surprisingly busy considering it is a dry dusty field, with some freshly painted, but fairly tired amenities provided. Apparently it is sugar harvest time, so many travelling farm workers have arrived to help with that. The end of next week will see a huge harvest celebration, culminating with the burning of the sugar stubble.

Thursday: We set off early to continue on our way to Townsville. We had little knowledge or expectation of the town, Mr A has never been here before, and I came here 19 years ago as a backpacker but mostly saw the bus station and ferry terminal as I headed off to Magnetic Island.

Locals see this regional centre as the unofficial capital of North Queensland, and it is the government administrative centre for matters concerning the north of the state. There is a port which serves to provide transport for the gold, pastoral and sugar industries.

As with most of the towns we have come across in Queensland, there is shocking and sad history regarding the native Australians here, with stories of the men being rounded up and shot, while the aboriginal women were abducted to the barracks for ‘use’ by the surveying party and soldiers. Just horrible.

As you drive into the city you pass by a large army barracks and supplies centre, with tanks, camouflage trucks and other vehicles. Townsville has a long history with the military, with over 50,000 troops from the USA and Australia based here during World War II. Apparently there were three bombing raids on Townsville by the Japanese, with the primary damage being the total destruction of a palm tree, having missed the railway which was their target.

Our destination in Townsville was the Seventh Day Adventist Conference camping area, about 8km by road outside the city centre, and situated alongside the Ross River. We had selected this campground for its proximity to the shared pathway which winds alongside the river for many kilometres.

After doing a few tasks in town we decided to explore by bike in a westward direction, a cycling school teacher passing by deciding to act as a local guide for the first four or five kilometres. The paths are fabulous, with beautiful views of the river and taking us away from the traffic at all times. This wet-edge swimming lagoon complex sits alongside the river and is provided for free to anyone who wants a dip:We crossed a bridge and rode back on the other side, making a great 13km circuit.Friends we had made in Moonee Beach back in March, fellow Zoners Cathy and Gawain Bowman are also camping here, so we snuck over to their Zone with a glass of red wine each (it’s meant to be a dry campground) to catch up on their news. They’re in Townsville to care for their son who is recovering from some major back surgery, and it was great to see them.

Friday: Despite a forecast of rain, a fine day dawned, so we jumped back on our bikes and cycled in an easterly direction, aiming for the CBD. Feeling so safe away from the traffic is exhilarating, and the 12km ride felt easy (it was pretty flat, after all!). We found our way into town, collected a final parcel from the post office, and investigated The Strand, the road alongside the waterfront, facing out towards Magnetic Island, just 8km out to sea.We didn’t see another cyclist on the bike path, and after lunch in town rode back, completing a good 32km ride. Many birds were spotted along our ride, including Blue Winged Kookaburras (they have a different laugh to the usual ones!), many Rainbow Bee-eaters, Egrets, Dusky Moorhens…the list is endless. Apparently the river is home to freshwater crocodiles too, but we didn’t see any.A delicious curry from a local (very seedy looking) Indian takeaway concluded our day – we’re pleased the food was better than the ambience in the empty restaurant! Tomorrow we head offshore, out to Magnetic Island.

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