East Coast Road Trip – Rockhampton

Day 9-10

Airlie Beach to Rockhampton

After a hasty, yet tasty, bacon and egg sandwich from Harry’s Corner café, we left Airlie Beach in search of the sun. The day was shrouded in a miserable drizzle and it stuck with us we traversed the Bruce Highway south through Queensland.

Our optimistic plan was to make it to the quiet beachy paradise of Seventeen Seventy, (named after the year James Cook landed upon its shore aboard the HM Bark Endeavour in May 1770). We hoped that the storm might not stretch so far south, but the weather reports weren’t as optimistic as we were.

As the miles stretched on through the morning we came to accept that the inescapable grey mist was here to stay. After about four hours of driving we decided to make a lunch stop in the small township of Marlborough. Here we could reassess our plan and make a decision as to where we would stop for the night. The beauty of travelling with the camper was that we had nothing booked ahead of us and could therefore alter our plans to suit the ever changing conditions.

As we eagerly over mulled what to have for lunch the traffic ground to a halt on a particularly isolated and lonely stretch of the highway. Ahead of us was a line of trucks and caravans which stretched off in to the distance and then disappeared around a bend in the road which descended gradually through the hills. For a while we sat patiently, hoping that whatever the problem was, it would fix itself. But after around thirty minutes we came to the abrupt realisation that we might not be going anywhere for some time. With a depleted fridge and an ever increasing hunger, we did what all desperate campers would do and got out the breakfast cereal. We sat in the front seat of our camper and munched away on delicious oversized bowls of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, pondering what was going on ahead.

Lesson Number 8 – Always have plenty of water and food in the van when you are doing a long journey. On Australia’s East coast there are sections where you can drive for a long time without encountering a town or service station. With changeable weather conditions and the potential for road blocking accidents, the narrow highways can become impassable. 

As time passed cars and caravans ahead began to turn around and head back to god knows where. But we’d just driven through four hours of nothing and had no inclination to do it again. We stuck it out for three agonising hours and didn’t move an inch. It even got to the point where we had to go for a wee in the bushes on the side of the highway. Rumours about what was going on spread like wild fire from one car window to the next and a family even took out their bicycles to scout ahead.

Just as we were contemplating spending the night on this desolate stretch of tarmac, we heard the beautiful harmony of trucks engines roaring back in to action. The line of traffic crawled slowly down the sloping highway ahead of us, passing the cycling family who frantically peddled back up the hill drenched in a pool of sweaty regret. We passed around the gradual bend in to the unknown and immediately found the source of all our problems. Only a kilometre ahead, where the land flattened out, a river had burst its banks and was now flowing ferociously across the road. Even though the road repair teams where on site the river was still a raging torrent. Luckily for us our sturdy camper and the trucks ahead of us where able to trudge cautiously across in to the town of Marlborough. The land here was as flat as a billiard table and all the roads and fields where submerged in ankle deep water.

Our delay, and the persistently bad weather had given us no choice but to abandon our plans for 1770 and to head instead to Rockhampton, which was still and hour away.

We drove warily in to the approaching darkness, carefully navigating through the flood damage that the nasty weather had already caused in Rockhampton. The rivers were unusually high and the windswept streets where practically deserted. By the time we arrived the rain was coming down with force and so we decided to head in to town for some food before setting up camp.

During dinner we managed to locate a free campsite close by. The reason it was free is because it was effectively just a patch of grass off the main road. At least at some point there must have been grass there, but when we arrived the campsite was a bog, churned up with thick, wet mud. There were other campers in the “field” and each one of them looked like they had been there for some time with their tires half submerged in the viscous mud.  It was a nervy park as we trudged through the mud trying desperately not to get stuck. Once we found a spot we were happy with all we could do was clamber awkwardly in to the back and try to wait out the storm.

It was a sleepless night as the wild wind violently shook the camper. The rain was incessant and we thought for sure that we would either wake up in a muddy river or that we’d be inescapably bogged down. We were already awake as the sun rose to revealed much of the same. The rain still beat annoyingly against the metal of the camper and so we decided to at least move on from the campsite to a safer spot. We were impressed with our own blind, yet genius parking which had left us with a relatively clear path through the bog to the exit. Our brave camper managed to haul itself out of the thick mud and out on to the river of a road.

Having spent practically the last 24 hours cooped up in the camper we were desperate to escape the rain and freshen up. It was still before 7am when we parked up at the nearest Mcdonald’s and while one of us ordered coffee’s the other had a wet wipe wash in the bathroom and changed in to fresh clothes.

From here we headed to a deserted underground supermarket car park where we found respite from the weather. It was a glorious morning as we set about drying our worldly belongings and cooking up a breakfast in the first real shelter we’d had in days.

Life in a Camper can can be tough, we found ourselves completely at the mercy of the elements but we also found that we could always make it work. That morning, as we sat in the relative haven of a Coles car park like a couple of homeless vagabonds we felt a real sense of pride that we’d rode out the storm and come out unscathed. We praised our little van ‘Hermes’ for keeping us safe and once again dreamed of some sunshine.

Day 9-10 – Airlie Beach to Rockhampton – 482 km

Highlights – I’m not entirely sure there was one.

Where to Eat – It looked like there was a wonderful pub in Marlbourgh.

Where to stay – Anywhere but that grim patch of grass we found.

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