An epic Australian road trip

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

Queensland: Friendly cobbers and croc warnings

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Camping at Fong-on Bay in Dunbarra State Park. Photo / Colin Espiner
Camping at Fong-on Bay in Dunbarra State Park. Photo / Colin Espiner

Today we went from the sublime to the ridiculous and then back to the sublime.

Such is Queensland - one minute it's over-the-top tourist hell on earth, the next you're in the middle of nowhere with some small-town cobber offering to buy you a beer.

Since we left Townsville a few days ago we've had three fantastic nights camping in state and national parks, at minimal cost (A$10 for a campsite is the going rate).

The first night was in Murray Falls, a gorgeous grassy spot by a waterfall complete with swimming hollow around 100 kilometres north of Townsville.

From there we pushed on north up the Bruce Highway before heading up onto the Atherton Tablelands - an incredible, vast area of tropical rainforest and farm land, rivers and lakes, all around 800 metres above sea level.

We spent the night at Henrietta Creek, another great national park spot. I'd barely switched off Chuck the Truck when this woman in a velour tracksuit came stamping towards us. And I mean stamping.

Boy, she's mad, I thought. I wonder if I ran over her dog?

"I don't know if you're the nervous type," she said.

I assured her I wasn't.

"It's just that I saw a six-foot red bellied black snake go past where you're planning to camp."

"Oh," I replied. "Are they, erm, poisonous?"

"Very," she replied with a look of grim satisfaction, and stamped off.

Apparently stamping lets the snake know you're there, although I would have thought it was pretty obvious already.

We decided to stay anyway, and put up the tent with a lot of stamping.

Next thing, an old bloke stops by our camp in his 4WD.

"Well are ya coming to the pub with me or not?" he asks as by way of an opener.

Since we'd only met that second, I politely declined.

"Well can I get you anything while I'm there? I've got a few numbers to check on in a raffle."

Well, actually, we didn't have any tonic, if he wouldn't mind?

"Hold on, I've got some of that in the back of the bus," he says, disappearing for a minute before returning and proffering a full bottle of Schweppes' finest.

I try to give him $5 but he waves it away.

Well, what he actually says is: "Nah, stick it up your bum." Which I decide is his way of saying it's a gift.

The following day we drove across the tablelands before arriving at a gorgeous and virtually empty lakeside campsite, called Fong-on Bay. A local wag had changed the 'F' to a 'B' so it read Bong-on Bay, which I thought was pretty funny.

A fire beside the lake under a starry sky - life doesn't get much better.

Today we descended briefly into tourist hell when we came out of the tablelands and down into Cairns and Port Douglas. Suddenly we were surrounded by camera-toting tour bus loads full of pasty, gawping tourists on day trips from their hotels in the surrounding area. We got out as fast as we could.

We found a tent site at Wonga Beach, a tiny little settlement just short of Daintree, about 60km north of Cairns, near the start of the Bloomfield Track - a notorious 4WD-only 'short cut' to Cooktown and the last stop on the public highway before the roads turn from bitumen to gravel for the stretch to Cape York.

Of course we're going to take the short cut.

Still no crocs, but the woman at the campground advised us not to go swimming, as they have been sighted around here.

There are also warning signs everywhere, which puts a bit of a dampener on the sunset beach strolls.

More soon... assuming there's mobile phone service further north.

* 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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