Category Archives: roadtrip

Wordless Wednesday #24: Beware Australian Wildlife

Sign post showing a kangaroo lifting a car

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November 18, 2015 · 8:54 PM

Back in England and still on the Banksy trail, this time in Bristol

Art goes technical with a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Modern art: art that requires a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Back in England, the pursuit of Banksy continued. Whilst London appeared to be a bit too much of a widespread maze in which to get lost, Bristol – Banksy’s hometown – seemed the better option to seek out some of his work. Real life work in real life places. No prints this time.

It was to be a trip centered on technology. There are benefits, apparently.

D-man, a long time fan of Banksy’s work, downloaded the Banksy Tour iPhone app. We wove in and out of city traffic, up dead-end streets and down bustling suburb highstreets in our hire car, tapping coordinates and street names into the sat nav and scanning sides of buildings as we drove by.

Some works no longer existed, others were carefully preserved. It felt a little like a grown-up treasure hunt.  Each time that we finally found a piece I was filled with an indescribable bubble of something, not too dissimilar to joy or satisfaction, maybe, and we’d park up and go and stand and stare for a few moments, occasionally muttering critiques too insignificant to report.

Maybe the most gratifying part of this urban adventure was spotting unknown works that may or may not have been anything to do with Banksy, pieces that acknowledged his style, themes and timing.

Because in amongst a sea of scribbles and expressions, there are some conscious pieces, pieces that are angry and articulate and beautiful, and they’re not all by Banksy.

Heavy weaponry - original Banksy work given a chance to fade

Heavy weaponry – original Banksy work given a chance to fade

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it's back

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it’s back

Early Banksy contributions

Early Banksy contributions

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

Rose in a rat trap

Rose in a rat trap

The mild mild west

The mild mild west

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across... courtesy of Banksy?

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across… courtesy of Banksy?

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Queensland goodbyes and mischief making

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 10: Isla Gorge National Park – Ballina (693km)

There was no sign of the boys when I awoke.

The sun was shining light on another blue sky day and I saw that we’d pitched the tents on dusty, rocky road, the route into the Isla Gorge lookout. As with many of the Queensland National Parks that we’d stopped off at in the last two weeks there was an undercover area and a seated long drop, fairly recently completed, it would seem.

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Camp wake-up

I heard voices. The boys had returned.

‘The views are amazing’, said D-man, pointing me in the direction of the lookout. Breath hung in the still morning air.

I took the camera and went for an early morning wander, past the lookout, along a pathway that seemed to lead to a forever that was tempting me on and on.  I didn’t have any water. I was wearing flip-flops. I had no phone (and no reception had I even had a phone in my possession). In Australia, a land full of snakes and spiders and sun that can kill, I disappointingly had to be measured. Boring and responsible. I headed back to camp, away from a precipice walk and vast views across a gaping gorge.

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Isla Gorge

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And the path goes on…

Back on the road we cut through rocky hillsides and rolling landscapes dotted with tall, lightly canopied trees and past trucks pulling trailers of oversized tires until we arrived in Taroom, where we pleasantly breakfasted at BJ Coffee Shop before starting the journey reenergised and suitably caffeinated.

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Heavy load

But I was drained, and whilst I hate to admit that I missed out on moments of Australian countryside splendour, I happily spent the next section of the journey dropping in and out of a light sleep. Maybe I was sensing the end of this trip – this travel adventure – and my mind was digesting the sights and sounds of the last ten days? Chinchilla and Dalby, with their farm machinery and posh utes did little to deter me from dozing some more, and my response to the sign stating Watch for 36 metre road trains was simply (and unusually) a shrug of fate acceptance.

It was unfortunate timing, but by the time I was awake and chatty and ready to observe the changing scenery we seemed to have arrived into a monotony of recently flooded farm land and continuous roadworks. So far, this inland route through Queensland had been full of well-maintained roads cutting across a quiet and striking isolation, but between Waru and Dalby we inched along past yet more empty fields to the tune of road repair trucks and the whir of a struggling air conditioning system. It wasn’t a moment for travel awe.

Thank goodness, then, for walkie talkies, a boy gadget that D-man had gleefully bought for our Eclipse 2012 festival excursion which now proved to have other purposes: to provide entertainment and speed on our journey. At a stop sign we looked towards another sign and then switched our walkie talkies to Channel 78.

‘We’ve got a white Mazda at the north end, happy to authorise access? Over.’ We tested.

‘Come on through. Over.’

It worked, which was somewhat unfortunate for those labourers because for the next few hours we probably caused all sorts of innocent chaos and confusion.  We immersed ourselves in local road building culture. We asked questions about progress and demanded timescales. We waved at the authorising workmen and thanked them, via walkie talkie, as we drove on by. We should have (maybe) known better and behaved far more maturely but time on the road can do funny things to your attitude and behaviour so that you end up doing things you might never do back when you had a responsible job and a mortgage and were functioning in a society of consideration.

Ah, cut us some slack. No one was hurt.

And so, with some mischief and a raft of memories from our Queensland road trip, we arrived back to New South Wales, homeward bound for Ballina. Just like that, it was over.

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Sensing isolation on the fringe of the Australian outback

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers - Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers – Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Two hours into our journey the radio cut out. I checked my phone for reception. Nope. I looked out for other vehicles. Nothing.

Vultures drew black circles in a bright blue sky as we drove along straight, wide roads, over bone dry creeks and past dirt tracks that may or may not have led off to tiny villages or hundred acre farm settlements. We were leaving behind the spindly, pitchy trees of the Blackwood National Park, heading towards a hillier backdrop in the far distance.

Nerrell – our 1984 Mazda 323 – had thus far served us well on our Queensland road trip, but as we drove further away from civilisation and on into flat, barren lands and big, big skies, we acknowledged our vulnerability. If we were to break down now, I wondered, how long would our water last? Our food supplies? How long before someone found our shrivelled remains? Before the vultures moved in and made dinner of our weakened bodies?

Up ahead, something loomed on the horizon, visible movements. Someone? Where was their car? Their truck? Why were they on the road? Were they in need? Were we about to play out a scene from a terrifying road trip movie where the person in need pulls a knife and cable ties and wipes his blade clean after leaving us to bleed to death?

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What’s that on the road?

We got closer. The shape didn’t move from the centre of the opposite lane. It was an eagle chomping on road kill, a bulky, black horror film bird who didn’t even acknowledge us spluttering past.

We weren’t to be the victims of this bright, bleak environment, thankfully.

Trees thinned out to expose open planes and squat shrubs, and still the road cut a red line through the green brown fringe of the outback. These were good roads, maintained roads along which only the odd road train thundered by, infinity trucks with bully noses, vehicles that wouldn’t – couldn’t – easily stop.

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On and on and on. Just us, it would seem.

On and on and on until finally the rising banks of a coal mine and the first turn off in nearly 400km. Don’t take it. Wrong turn would head us back up north somewhat, back to the coast, back to Mackay. Nope, we were heading south by the inland route.

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Back to industrialisation: Clermont coal mines

The midday sun beat down on the car but now the fuel tank was full and our water supplies replenished. We’d be okay. Breathe. Absorb this isolation, suck in hot air. Breathe. We chased mirages on new, unpainted stretches of tarmac before eventually arriving at the mown grain fields surrounding Emerald. We didn’t stop. Call us small minded, but tractors and trailers held little appeal, so on we pushed, back to empty landscapes.

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Late afternoon skyscapes

It was only after Rolleston that the scenery started to change significantly, shift from open expanses to windy up and down roads hugged by woodland lushness and grassy verges dotted with little purple flowers; leaves, petals and blades colour saturated in the late afternoon sun.

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Set up camp before sundown?

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Nope. Definitely not.

We pulled into Isla Gorge National Park campground some hours after nightfall. Once again, we were alone. This would be the last evening with my road trip crew, finishing as we started, just the three of us sitting around a camp fire, eating instant noodles, chatting the journey, sitting quietly looking up at the sparkling night sky through a gap in the tree canopy.

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One last wild camp

Still no phone reception, though. Ah, who cares? We were alright, just the three of us.  Out of the outback yet still covered by the same star blanket. Tired, safe, content.

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Queensland local legends

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 8: Palm Cove – Charters Towers (via Cardwell and Townsville) (510km)

I’m not really someone who gets excited about meeting anyone famous, but this wasn’t just anyone, this was Robert Jesse, acknowledged by those well-regarded folk over at The National Geographic, Robert Jesse, local commentator on both the Cyclone Yasi aftermath and the subsequent  Prince William 2011 trip to Cardwell in Queensland, Australia.

Buying a pie in Cardwell had been one of the few things that me and my travelling crew wanted to do as we road tripped the Queensland coast up to the Eclipse 2012 festival. But, alas, on the journey north it was not meant to be. We had driven slowly through Cardwell, eyes scouting the main strip, but nothing. No pie van. No pie man.

We settled for a sub-standard snack alternative (although this harsh judgment can possibly be attributed to the discovery that my wallet was lying in Townsville service station toilets some 180km away).

This southwards return journey, however, delivered. Perseverance paid off. Here we were, parked under a tree and the Jesse’s Pies van was but five strides away.

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Jesse’s Pies, Cardwell, Queensland

 ‘Even the locals eat them!’ advertised the reputability of the cuisine, and I thought: if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s definitely good enough for three somewhat bedraggled travellers.

As you might expect, Robert Jesse himself was far more interesting than the actual pies.

I’m known now’, he said, ‘I’m famous’.  He dishes up a pie for each of us. Warm. Amply filled.

He asks what we’re doing, where we’re from, where we’re going. He’s happy to have his photo taken for the blog, all part of the fame game, I guess.

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Me and the piemeister

‘When do you think it will be up there?’ he asks as I write down my blog address. I wonder if he’s keeping track of his publicity, keeping a scrapbook for future grandkids. Local legend.

We talk about travelling and he asks about my journeying around the world and mock shudders when I talk about my sailing trip across the Pacific.

‘I travel in Cardwell’, he says, ‘I was born in Ingham’. To put things into context, Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland and has a population of 1,250. Ingham is all of 52km away, a little further south.

‘So you keep it local?’I ask. Silly question. Maybe.

‘Oh, I’ve been to Fiji’, he adds, ‘and once I visited Townsville and I was cold’. I can’t tell if he’s actually being serious but he goes on to tell me that he gets all the travel stimulation he needs from people passing through Cardwell, stopping to buy his pies. The world comes to him, see? He feels, he tells me, completely connected to the world, and totally content in his town.

‘It’s like I said in the National Geographic’, said Robert, ‘about this place being a postcard place’. I look around and think about the drive through and I keep my opinions quiet: I’m not blown away by the town. But then, as Robert goes on to tell us, Yasi has a lot to answer for and the post-cyclone clear up is evidently still in motion. Plus, today is a bit grey. Sunshine would undoubtedly put a different slant on things.

http://www.cairns.com.au/article/2011/02/03/147715_cyclone.html

Cardwell after Cyclone Yasi (pic from http://www.cairns.com.au)

It’s nearly 14:00 and Robert tells us he’ll soon be packing up and leaving for the day. He doesn’t want the local pub to think he might be stealing their customers. I can’t imagine it being a problem, and I’m sure people – like us – come to town specifically for the pies and not the pub; but his intentions are solid, rooted in caring for the Cardwell community.

We drive on southwards and pick up my erstwhile wallet from Townsville Woolworths Caltex, thanking Don King for keeping it in his care this past week. The money, unsurprisingly, is missing, something which Don takes very seriously. For the next ten minutes we scour through CCTV tapes and it is with some relief that we discover it is not one of his staff members next into the toilets. He is clearly relieved.

I am, however, clearly a bit peeved about the loss, but I try to be level. $80 may be a lot of money for a budgeting traveller but it’s also a lot of money for someone who feels the need to steal it from fuel station facilities. I like to imagine it was put to good use, maybe to buy nappies, or fruit and veg (my imagination has often served me well).

And then back in the car; turn to the west, hot sun baking the three of us into a tired slump as the air conditioning cuts out, again. We drive on along single lanes behind three carriage road trains, passed cows shading under a single billboard in the middle of nowhere roadside. Ominous skies split their guts with gusto as we arrive into a deserted Charters Towers and we use the heavy rain as an excuse to check in to a local caravan park.

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On towards Chaters Towers

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Follow the rainbow to the out of town motel

The rain, of course, stops barely a moment after we settle into our one-room house, but by then it’s too late to back out. We’ve paid up. Let’s suffer this punishment of curt landlords and a roof over our head, of a jacuzzi spa, of television movies and an equipped kitchen, of crisp, dust-free sheets and comfy beds. Ah, what a difficult life.

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Evening visitor

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Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival

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Recycling the eclipse

In my sheltered world, hippies and trancers don’t live harmoniously side by side. In my stereotyped view, people who dance to trance are off their heads on party drugs that sustain them through hours and days of dancing to a repetitive beat. In my head hippies are natural and flowing and mix with creative crowds, preferring didgeridoos to synthesizers. In my world, hippies don’t attend trance parties, or doofs (if you’re an Australian partyer). At least, this is what I used to believe.

The Eclipse 2012 festival would show me otherwise.

The event will host a huge music lineup of the world’s leading musicians and DJ’s, outstanding artists and decor crews, a dedicated workshops and intentional healing space, extensive food and market stalls and a perfect viewing platform only a short distance away from the eclipse centre line of totality path. Link

My world started to expand and any preconceived ideas about 24/7 beats and dancing, about everyone being cocktailed to the highest high, about being disconnected from the world in order to appreciate the world started to shift. I knew it would happen. Why else was I here?

Apart from the total solar eclipse itself. Oh yeah. That was the real reason.

But if it was just about being present at the total solar eclipse then I could have instead nestled in amongst astronomers from around the world on purpose built viewing platforms somewhere else, somewhere close.

No, from the moment I’d heard about the festival I’d been determined to go. I wanted to fling out my arms and dance uninhibited at whatever time of the day I pleased, I wanted to be filled with thoughts and ideas about the future direction of the world, I wanted to immerse myself in a new experience and surround myself with beauty in all its forms. What an indulgence.

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DJ set backdrop on the Sun Stage

The Eclipse 2012 festival ticket and website were the first giveaways to something beyond a primitive party, making reference to a ‘spiritual’ festival, to ‘healing spaces’, to consciousness raising, to an array of workshops and speakers and films designed to inspire change and open the mind.

And why else do we travel?

The music itself was not the catalyst for me to part with AU$350. Despite there being six stages, I barely recognised any names in the line-up, other than the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop and Tijuana Cartel, both on the Earth Stage, the only truly live stage at the festival. If I’d ever been into the trance scene or had stood longer on Australian ground, I’d probably have been aware of the reputation of some of the other acts, but it was all new to me. No bad thing.

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Inspiration

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Flowertime

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Food and relax stops

Getting involved in yoga and craft classes, lounging out listening to learned folk discuss current thinking in relation to the upcoming cosmic and spiritual shift (including the impending end of the Mayan calendar), dancing under the sweet kiss of sprinkling water, of being surrounded by sculptures and murals and living art, that is what convinced me to join thousands of people for a week of celebrations rather than huddle quietly with the odd cluster of scientists and astronomers for one night only.

And so the days went by and people stomped and bounced day in, day out, taking moments to refresh themselves with fruit juices and wholesome, fair priced curries, to solar shower away a thick caking of dust, to chat and catch-up with friends, new and familiar.

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Daytime Sun Stage raving

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Sprinkler dancing @ the Sky Stage

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Doofer in training

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Beach feel flake out

Polka dot dresses and exaggerated face paints, tutus and lederhosen, basking on the branches of living art, taking dips in crocodile cleared waters, window shopping the work of artisans more concerned with their craft than making a sale, catching a ride on a motorised sofa, relaxing in the women’s shelter, watching fire art, learning to hula-hoop, re-gathering at camp for water refills and sustaining snacks.

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Daytime lazing

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Sun, shade and crocodile warnings

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Tutus and wobbles

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Doctor dress-up

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Parasols, fishnets and boat sails

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Brace dancing

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Sofa riding

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Art branch moments

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Face painting

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Base camp catch-ups

And sleeping. It’s amazing how one learns to sleep through a constant beat.

Through life and travelling I have had the good luck to meet and share time with a real range of people – a spectrum so broad that my mind should find no space for stereotypes. Yet I still have my assumptions, my preconceived ideas based on everyone I’ve previously met and everything I know. And of course it’s limited.

Stereotypes have some basis and function, maybe to act as a compass to enable us to find ‘our type’ and fellow ‘types’, maybe to guide the un-established personality and set them off in a specific direction. Maybe they offer some tribal comfort? I guess the only real danger is not being able to see beyond them.

At Eclipse 2012, stereotypes loomed large, on an ocular level. If you wanted to see society’s versions of a dreadlocked, grungy hippy, a dancing nymph dressed in floaty tie-dyed skirt, a yogi in lotus meditation, they appeared. If you looked for the sweaty, gurning raver clutching a water bottle and repeating moves in their own little world or sporting Day-Glo, hot panted outfits, they too existed. The Japanese wedding in a fusion flurry of traditional-clubbing kitsch, the self-important eco-speaker, the meticulously costumed regular festival goer, the wise old earth mother. They were all at Eclipse 2012.

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Temples (and makeshift church)

But sometimes hippies chewed their faces up. And sometimes pig-tailed raver chicks needed no more than the music to get high.

Stereotypes flipped, were stretched and distorted. Earth mother surprised me with her mushroom journeys. Famous drummer intrigued me with his gentle nature. Dreamy types brought considerate, well-behaved children to basket weaving classes. And the raver sat with a stranger during a bad trip, talking them through some crazy moments until a place of relative calm was reached.

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Morning at the Moon Stage

More often than not, the festival was a whole lot more wholesome than one might expect. Good food. Good company. Good support. Good dancing. Beyond good.

Of course the craziness existed. As with many a party, a continuum of personalities coloured and enriched the event. But it’s what most those people did that made the event; they spoke, they performed, they danced, they painted, they played; they – an army of artisans and thought-leaders and revelers – created a beautiful visual and sensual feast of celebration.

If you believe this random mix of humanity, of intention, of consciousness, cannot exist side by side, then Eclipse 2012 was a great example that we can.

Let’s dance.

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Chill out and kick back stage

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Live creativity

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Light, sound and DJs

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Accessorising

 

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And the heat and beat build

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 5: Cairns – Palmer River Roadhouse (via Mareeba) (218km)

There was something about Kurunda that caught my attention that was less about the cute, independent coffee bars and tourist shops of the compact town centre and more about everything else. Like the gorge at Barron Falls, and the dense lushness of greenery, an environment of the richest greens.

We were barely half an hour out of Cairns, car weighed down with a week’s worth of drinking water for three people. We wound our way up into the mountains, missed the stop-off for wide angle views down over Cairns and the Coral Sea, and made a brief stop at the gorge.

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Barron Falls, Kurunda, Far North Queensland

But now to face the matter in hand; the final inland stretch to Palmer River and the Eclipse 2012 festival.

We drove along straight roads towards more mountains and into a plateaued land of spindly trees, thirsty twigs and branches poking out of thin trunks, out into a vast, clear sky. Termite mounds rose up from the tarmac edge, dotted along into the far distance, some heading towards the two metre mark, traditional cone shapes alongside crazy distortions and face-like shapes, trip-like. No wonder the festival was being held out here. Mind enhancement seemed pretty unnecessary: let nature show you some magic instead.

A cow ambled along the roadside. Where was its nutrition?

Those far away mountains loomed close and once again we started to climb. With less than an hour to go, we pulled in at another scenic viewing spot and paused, looking out over a light brown landscape, a tinderbox of dryness.

One guy stops off to  take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

One guy stops off to take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

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Dry, dusty environment… a taste of things to come

And then the last filling station, a few souls milling around grabbing smokes and snacks, what was left. Bottle shops and convenience stores from Cairns to Mareeba to Palmer River were running low. Fuel needed bulk replacing. It would be a good week for this little area of Far North Queensland.

We turned into the festival site, waved in by two guys and a girl, big smiles and a jiggle dance. A girl walked towards us, little shorts showing smooth, tanned legs covered in a thick layer of dust. She pulled down the cloth that was tied around her mouth.

‘You already got tickets?’ she asked.

‘Yep.’ I dug around in my bag. ‘Have you seen any crocs?’ I asked.

‘Not for a bit. Some guys pulled a couple out. It should be fine.’

Armbands on, we passed the quick car check and drove on down a few more kilometres of bumps and dust alongside water holes bearing signs that read ‘No swimming’ until we reached civilisation in the form of a rocky, hard-ground campsite. Many rocky, hard-ground campsites.

My mind flipped. This was a city of tents and abodes and set-ups, established within what felt to be the most inhospitable natural environment I had ever found myself within. It would be like no other camping experience. Of that, I was sure.

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The final stretch into the festival site

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And we arrive! Some 2,307km later. Celebrate.

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Keeping it cheap in Cairns

Cairns surprised me.

Because despite a glitzy facelift of the esplanade area, Cairns hasn’t risen to big city status and gone down the ‘we’re-so-good-we’ll-rip-you-off’ route. At least from what I could tell.

Cairns doesn’t seem to be an overly exciting place, with it’s a grid system of functionality, trimmed and watered grasses and all the anticipated visuals of palm city tropics. Before you shoot me for such a low impact first impression report, know that I’m not a city fan. It takes me to know a city to love a city. More on that later. But Cairns, well, on first impressions it seemed pleasant. Surprisingly so.

All I really knew of Cairns – previous to this short exposure – was that it happens to be where many people set off on Great Barrier Reef adventures.

L-man, D-man and me were on a different kind of adventure, a road trip drive-by exploration that had already seen us cover some 2,000km from Ballina in New South Wales. Our destination was the Eclipse 2012 festival, a few hours inland from Cairns, our food was cheap camping cook-ups and our accommodation a couple of mismatched tents.

But on our first night in Cairns we called a friend and crashed his family holiday. So strong was the call of a shower and a social.

‘If we get caught’, he said as we skulked down the side of the holiday apartment building, ‘you guys are gonna have to pay up’.

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$8.50 breakfast + a proper coffee from next door = sorted stowaways

The next morning we breakfasted with two other stowaways at a hole in the wall offering $8.50 big breakfasts before wandering around the free public pool on the ocean’s edge. Ah, the irony. All that salty water so close, a forbidden territory of jellyfish deadliness, and you have to make do with a man-made structure and a dose of chlorine. But at least there is a man-made structure, I guess. The heat of the day was rising and even a paddle in the shallows of the pool brought some cool-down comfort.

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Lagoon on the ocean’s edge

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Heaps* of paddle space (*loads for non-Aussie speakers)

Before leaving the pool area I noticed a sign and I realised that if I didn’t dislike organised aerobics quite so much, Cairns would be a great place to live. Here in the park, every day, were free fitness sessions. No ‘I’m too poor’ excuses for anyone. Aussies and their mission to stay on top of health and fitness, bold and in full colour. Gotta love it. Or at least appreciate the intention.

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What’s your punishment? What’s your happiness?

So what were the tricks to keeping Cairns cheap? Dishonesty in terms of accommodation, grease in terms of nutrition, killer chemical in terms of health and fitness and keeping cool.

More realistically, though, we barely spent any time in Cairns – half a day – so of course it was easy to keep it cheap in this compact city centre.

Why this blog post focused on budget, who knows? The main thing I realised is that I like Cairns enough to go back, maybe to spend some time exploring it’s surface normality a little deeper (whilst not doing zumba classes). It was that kind of place, and it surprised me.

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Going big

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 4: Cape Hillsborough National Park, Nr. Seaforth – Cairns (715km)

It all started with a giant mango. Sorry, a big mango. By all accounts, it was giant. It’s all relative. Or a matter of lexis. Or something.

Actually, the day started with a relaxed breakfast. Problems, of course, came later. But for now the three of us sat down to a fluffy banana and blueberry pancake feast and a mug of percolated coffee. Bursts of tastebud bliss.

Day 4 was about completing the bulk of our journey north and getting to the provincial city of Cairns. We knew it would be a long day but it had to be done: we were meeting people there that night.

Significant stops started with the Big Mango. Yep.

I’d heard and read about Australia’s quirky obsession with all things big – pineapples, prawns, and mangos (evidently) – so now was the time to immerse myself in some big stuff culture.

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Me and the giant… err… mango (but I’m thinking James and the Giant Peach…)

Ironically, we couldn’t buy any real size, real life mangos but hey, let’s not complain: I got a photo (ah, just get stuck into the silliness) and had a breather from cramped car time.

Across the road from a beach that without sunshine looked dull and grey, The Big Mango enjoyed a constant trickle of tourists taking two second photos before continuing on their journeys. We were now not too far from the town of Bowen whose role in Baz Lurhmann’s recent Australia film (starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman) had pushed up the profile of this small coastal hub.

But we had no time for film buff stuff, only Big Mangos and big cities. So onwards, to Cairns.

And then a bit of a  clearer run, just us and a lot of truckers, it seemed, cruising alongside train tracks and cane tracks, past coverings of yellow-brown grassy tufts and spindly trees, some of which boasted an attempt at a green-brown canopy explosion.

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Cane tracks or train tracks?

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Cane train crossing

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Not too welcoming

Leaving my wallet in the bathroom in Townsville service station marked midday, although quietly because it wasn’t until we were 2 ½ hours on, right up by Cardwell, that I realised my loss. Or my stupidity. Well, both. Dammit. My improved health high had obviously impacted on my ability to stay switched on. It could have been worse. I could have, for example left my Eclipse festival tickets at home (yes, at the same time of my wallet realisation, someone, somewhere in Cairns – no names – had the horrible realisation that their tickets were tucked up in their bedside table draw some 1,800km away. It’s all relative).

Late afternoon we drove on towards mist covered mountains, through Euromo and Tully and still further on through plateaued valleys, Cairns feeling as far away as on any other day.

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The skies get ready to pour

Dark and damp kicked in until finally we were there: through winding roads and ineffective windscreen wipers we saw the approach to the relative calm of Cairns.

Parking down at the esplanade, we stepped out of the car. I felt too grubby to be in the city, somewhat unkempt after four days and nights camping and road tripping up the north coast of Australia, yet a little giddy shiver shot up my body as my feet touched down on the pavement. The Far North Coast. We’d made it.

I took in a deep lungful of Cairns’ warm breath and went to get lost in amongst sparkling lights and people spilling out of cafes and bars.

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The need to budget for health whilst travelling

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 3: Byfield State Forest – Cape Hillsborough National Park (430km)

It was an emergency that stopped me exploring our camp spot by light. Everything got thrown into the car; pots and unwashed coffee cups shoved into ill suited gaps, L-man’s backseat den more cramped than cosy.

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