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Published: February 17th 2016
We had been travelling for quite a while now without a lengthy period of time in any one place so we decided to treat ourselves to a week off somewhere. The price we had to pay for that week was a couple of one-night stays in places en route, just to get us there. I hadn't found one-night stays easy - there just wasn't time to relax or sightsee and travelling can be tiring, even if you are just sitting around on a bus. At least there was a purpose to it.
Our first one-night stay was in Agnes Water. I know, sounds like an elderly lady, doesn't it, rather than a place?! While waiting for the bus in the Hervey Bay Stockland Transit Centre we chatted to an Australian who had moved there from Greece 40 years previously. He couldn't understand that Agnes was a place rather than a person, having never heard of it. I don't think geography was his strong point though (hark at who's talking!) as he and his wife were travelling to Bundaberg which he told us was south of Hervey Bay and therefore he wouldn't be travelling on the same bus as us. In
fact, Bundaberg is north of Hervey Bay and he ended up sitting behind us.
The first leg of our journey was uneventful, through mainly unpopulated landscape but with LOTS of sugarcane. There were no wild animals to be seen so I'm guessing sugarcane doesn't support much. It was a sunny, pleasant day, though we were hearing of bad weather ahead of us, oop North, with a cyclone developing off Cairns. We arrived in Agnes Water just before 8 pm.
Agnes is a VERY small place but is situated on a stunning coastline, which is why people visit. It is well off the beaten track, miles from anywhere and it takes a certain level of commitment to go there. It is very close to, almost a part of, a sister town called 1770. Yes, really. Given my problems with numbers I could never live there - I'd never make it home! It was dark when we arrived. We'd moved beyond any planning we'd done at home so had no preprepared and printed maps to guide us to our accommodation. We were so far off the beaten track Vodafone didn't work (indeed, we later discovered that mobile reception of any
sort was very limited and more pot luck than anything else) and neither the Greyhound driver nor the two cashiers in the petrol station where we had been dropped off could offer us any clues on where to find The Mango Tree Motel. Fortunately a customer in the petrol station knew it and off we went, luggage in tow (no chance of a taxi in this little hamlet). When we arrived, we found Reception closed (well, it was after 8pm, what did we expect?!). OK, no phone and no room and nowhere else to turn. What next? Whilst we stood there cogitating we noticed a note, pinned to the door, addressed to Teresa. It suggested that Teresa ring a given number to find out more info about her room allocation. Well, we weren't Teresa but we would like to know about our room allocation please so we thought we could also ring that number, if only we had a working phone. Luckily, the Australian telephone company, Telstra, tends to plug the gap in places like this and provides strategically placed payphones. Although we hadn't needed it there, we had come across this in the Outback and, hooray, there was a
phone kiosk just outside our (closed) motel. Unluckily, Australian coinage is very heavy. I'm a bit like the Queen when I'm travelling. Apart from an emergency supply of notes I never touch, I don't carry money; instead I use Steve as my ATM. Steve was fed up of the weight of the coins pulling his trousers down, so he spent them at every opportunity. We had, literally, a few coins to attempt what needed to be a very brief phone call to the number left for our missing fellow traveller. After the guy on the other end finally understood that no, Steve was not Teresa, he told us that we were in Room 14, the door was unlocked and the key was on the table in the room. He started to explain that he thought he had sent us an email with this info in it but, thankfully, the money ran out before we could tell him he hadn't, probably in less than polite language. We spent the remainder of the evening eating from our 'emergency rations' supply which I had organised after our Brisbane fiasco and for which we were grateful, before an early night. We later discovered that
Teresa never did make it to the Mango Tree, or maybe she did but couldn't find a way to ring the number and had to spend the night elsewhere.
The next morning was still showery after rain overnight. We dashed down to the beach, just a stone's throw from the motel, just to see if it really was as beautiful as we'd heard. It probably was, on a nice day and I could understand why people travelled miles off the beaten track to visit. For an overnighter, I wasn't sure it was worth the effort of all those miles. We retraced our steps to the petrol station forecourt, where our bus came to collect us. We were the first passengers of the day so were able to sit at the front again.
The journey was long and wet with lots of rain. And I mean rain, torrents of the stuff, all day long. We were pleased it was a day of travelling for us, rather than a day at leisure or sightseeing, but boy, it wasn't what we were expecting in Australia. Steve had brought no sort of rainwear whatsoever on the trip, fully expecting sunshine all the
way (ever the optimist!), and had this strange notion that buying a raincoat would somehow tempt the gods to dump more of the stuff on us. I had only a cagoule but it did the job wonderfully, though I was becoming somewhat tired of it in the photos and tended to whip it off and pretend it was fine if I could. Some parts of Australia had not had rain for five years, so some children had never experienced it and it was welcomed by them. Us? Not so much. Our journey took us through varied terrain (flat, hilly, coastal, inland, green, pasture, woodland) and I saw two kangaroos sheltering from the rain under a tree looking about as fed up with it as we were.
We eventually arrived in Mackay at 6 pm, so it was a long day travelling. Our hotel, the Metropolitan, chosen for its proximity to the bus drop-off, was just one block away. We struggled to find the entrance. It looked more like a casino and, once we had figured out how to get in, we found that in fact it was, with a gaming room and 'pokies' (slot machines, we later learned) and
the hotel element was very much an afterthought. After checking in (at the bar!) we found our room which was small, tired and dingy with a TV that struggled to get reception and a bedside lamp that didn't work. They did do food though, so we ate a mediocre meal seated between three TVs showing different programmes and a game of pool being played by the locals. Steve reckoned it was as close to hostel accommodation as we were going to get (hopefully). Our room did seem clean, though I thought it wise not to investigate that too much. The air conditioning blew a gale and the windows wouldn't open so we had an uncomfortable night before leaving at 7 am the following morning to catch the bus. Despite a hot and sticky night I couldn't bring myself to use the shower facilities, which were less than inviting, so I hoped the bus wouldn't be too full or the weather too hot. I was pleased to leave!
We were greeted by Rob, the same driver who had dropped us off the night before, who was fun and interesting and about to depart for a holiday in sub-zero Russia! The
bus was about half full and the sun was shining again so the journey was more pleasant, mainly through farmland of cattle and sugarcane. I'd noticed that Australia doesn't really do hedges. Lots of fences, yes, but I guess the hedges would compete with the crops for water. Sometimes the fences just seemed to disappear and the animals seemed to wander at will. For some reason, they seemed to like woodland and it was a strange thing to me, to see cows in a wood when I'm accustomed to seeing them in open pasture. They looked happy enough though and we had the benefit of huge vistas, stretching to the horizon.
The Australians like to abbreviate place names. It's like a term of endearment. So, as we Yorkshire-folk have Taddy, Scunnie, Donny for Tadcaster, Scunthorpe and Doncaster, so the Australians have Tassie, Brizzy and, unfortunately for Prosperine, Prossie. And they declare this on a huge sign that says 'Welcome to Prossie!'. I liked their sense of humour; a motel in Bowen was called the Bowen Arrow .....
The journey continued in sunshine, mainly through farmland with LOTS of cows and sugarcane. A quarantine area was enforced and road signs warned people not to carry sugarcane. We saw swillows and eagles gliding on the thermals and I thought I saw an ostrich but maybe not. The coastal parts of our route were beautiful, particularly Airlie Beach, which looked blissful in the sunshine with its clear blue water. The Australians like to have a 'statue' in their towns that epitomises their claim to fame. They are not hugely artistic; indeed they look to be made of papier mache or fibre glass or something and they tend to be somewhat vulgar in style, size and colour. Rockhampton (famous for its cattle) had cows, not just one but almost a whole herd of them, scattered about the streets. Okaaay. Ayr's emblem was a cobra, a huge, aggressive-looking thing which wasn't very inviting but I guess you have to go with what you've got. I won't be visiting Ayr any time soon though. As we entered the Burdekin Shire area the landscape became more watery. We weren't sure if that was normal or if it was the result of recent rain but we saw lots of geese and black swans. The cattle here each seemed to have their own individual egret and there were hundreds (literally, if not thousands) of termite mounds along the roadside and in adjoinjng fields.
All in all we quite enjoyed the journeys to get us up to Townsville, but not the accommodation we used to get us there and we had two extremes of weather, from chilly torrential rain to clear blue skies and a temperature of 38°! We were tired and ready for a rest so were thankful to arrive in Townsville at 2.30 pm, hoping it would be worth the effort.
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