An epic Australian road trip

Kiwi journalist Colin Espiner embarks on an intrepid Aussie road trip from Sydney to Perth

Queensland: An unexpected love affair

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Townsville, with Castle Hill in the background. Photo / Colin Espiner
Townsville, with Castle Hill in the background. Photo / Colin Espiner

I love Townsville. There, I've said it.

I have to admit it wasn't a sentence I ever thought I'd utter, but then again, Townsville was hardly what I expected.

We arrived in the North Queensland capital wet and bedraggled after five days in the pouring rain in what I shall only ever refer to as the WetSundays.

These picturesque islands of white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and sunny skies look fantastic - in the brochures.

In real life, the Whitsundays were a massive disappointment. It was like camping on the West Coast of the South Island, only wetter.

And without the great beer.

I've got a theory about the Whitsundays. I reckon the tourism organisations photograph these beaches on the one day that month when the sun is shining, and then act shocked and surprised when you turn up and the weather's crap.

"Nah mate, this is really unusual... you should have been here last week," was the stock response to my queries as to why we were drowning in downpours of biblical proportions during the so-called dry season.

You know things are getting bad when you discover your jeans are covered in mould.

At least we were camping. I felt really sorry for the Kiwis who'd forked out thousands for their one-week winter holiday to escape the cold of New Zealand. Go to Fiji or Raro next time, fellas.

Anyway, I digress. After five days and nights we were rescued, returned to the mainland, and reunited with Chuck the Truck. We floored it in the direction of Townsville.

My knowledge of Townsville went something like this: Hick North Queensland town, home of the Cowboys NRL team, nothing else to see.

Boy was I wrong. Townsville's gorgeous.

This quaint yet somehow slightly hip city of 180,000 people is full of cool art deco buildings, palm trees, amazing beaches, hip cafes, trendy boutiques, and decent bars.

On top of that, it boasts 325 days a year of sunshine. That alone was enough to impress me.

If you're ever up this way, check out Castle Hill - an incredible 1000m high rock formation that commands a stunning view across the town and the surrounding bays. It reminded me a lot of Napier. There was a 'goat track' you walked up to the top - 1200 steps straight up.

We bowled up at a B&B, where for the past two days we've worn out their washing machine and hung the entire contents of our truck - including the tent and airbeds - on the washing line.

Tomorrow, finally dry and warm, we'll hit the road again, heading for Mission Beach, which is apparently a cute little coastal town on the way to Queensland's party capital of Cairns, gateway to the Far North.

Then it's on to Cooktown and Cape York.

I haven't seen a croc yet, much to my disappointment.

Still, plenty of time - and plenty of crocs where we're going.

* Kiwi journalist Colin Espiner is a former online editor of Sydney's Sunday Telegraph. He and his partner have chucked in their jobs to spend several months driving the long way round from Sydney to Perth. A selection of Colin's blogs documenting their trip will be published on nzherald.co.nz. To read all his posts, see redbulldust.blogspot.com.au.

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