This past week has been made up of fantastic, fantabulous celebrations, adventures and ceremony. It all began early on Monday morning with a road trip up the Bruce Highway from Yeppoon where I live, to Townsville, a journey of 741.9 km (492 mi) according to one of the many calculators available, and taking 8 hours and 1 minute, rather funny that 1 minute, it seems to me. Now, I've made this trip before and vaguely knew distance and time details, but time always varies according to how many stops you make and whether there are road works. Both are guaranteed. The Bruce Highway is the south-north National Highway in Queensland which runs 1,652 km (1,027 mi) from Brisbane to Cairns close to Australia's east coast, as you can see from the map.
My daughters Erica and Fini and I were travelling to Townsville for Erica's Ph.D Graduation Ceremony on Tuesday afternoon. We were understandably super excited about the upcoming ceremony, not so much about the forthcoming drive of 8 hours, and 1 minute, which could quite easily become 9 hours.
Predictably for Queensland, Monday morning was bright, clear and warm, and the further north we went the warmer it would be, so we had packed lightly for the 4 days we would be away. We were taking Fini's car, so she drove, Erica was the front seat passenger and I had the back seat to myself. I was grateful for this as I'd only slept 2 to 3 hours the night before due to excitement and anticipation, funny that. I don't get away much, so when I do, it's a big, beautiful deal! I could relax, close my eyes and tune out in the back seat and regain some lost energy for the days ahead.
"Our" stretch of the Bruce Highway - Rockhampton to Townsville - would take us through Marlborough, Sarina, Mackay, Proserpine, Bowen, Home Hill, and Ayr. Mackay is a city about half way, 4 hours or so, otherwise most other places are small towns with an occasional settlement interspersed like Ilbilbie or Gumlu.
There's not much to see for the first several hours before Sarina other than cattle country where there are white Brahman cattle in their fields of light green grass (not the photo above) sprinkled with Eucalypts and Wattles. Paperbark trees with their soft, peeling, paper-like sheets of bark flourish near rivers and creeks. At this time of year, most of the vegetation is green after the (unfortunately not enough) wet season.
As we near Mackay we pass into sugar cane country, established in the 1860's shortly after the founding of the then town. Kilometres and kilometres and hectares and hectares of sugar cane plantations spread out in almost continuous rows on either side of the highway, sometimes as far as the eye can see. Harvesting time approaches and most of the tall, lush green cane stalks look to be 3 to 4m tall as we rush by. In fact some of the cane is already being processed as evidenced by the occasional brown, stubbly field, and smoke rising from the stacks of local mills. The unique cane trains are nowhere in sight, but there are many empty bins waiting along tramways which frequently cross the road, bins to be shortly filled and hauled to the mills for round the clock sugar processing.
We'd made lunch and coffee and bought fruit and snacks for the journey, but nature called so we make a quick stop on the outskirts of Mackay, just beyond the turn off north. It's around 11.30 am and Erica takes over driving. About an hour in, Fini changes our entertainment from music to Deepak Chopra's "The Book of Secrets". I settle in for a session of deep learning, ahhh, excellent.
I listen, but also notice changes beyond the car. Traffic volume has increased, particularly heavy traffic like freight haulers. Small settlements and towns are more numerous. There are older types of houses here, Queenslanders, (image Abandoned Queenslander farm house in sugar can fields by teejaybee) square shaped timber dwellings of often only 2 bedrooms, set high with wide verandas all round to catch the breeze as much as possible during the long, hot summers in the days before air conditioning. I imagine the women 'glowing' in their long dresses and the men, dust covered, tanned and sweat stained, at the end of their day from the labour of hand cutting the cane...
Eventually the countyside becomes less flat, there are hills and ranges of hills to pass over or through, and the more hills, the less cane, until there is no more. Deepak's words are still sinking deep into my subconscious as we reach the outskirts of Townsville. Don't ask how long the trip took, I'm not interested. All 3 of us are too happy to be out of the car. Needless to say, we'll have an early night, for tomorrow will be a double day of celebration. Ethan, my oldest grandson is turning 3. We'll phone him at some point in Yeppoon.
Wreck Point, Yeppoon, looking towards Byfield.
Tuesday, and first things first; breakfast. Erica knows all the good spots as she has lived here for nigh on 4 years until December. Her apartment was close to the northern area of "The Strand", Townsville's fabulous foreshore recreation and dining precinct. Her favourite brekky spot had been Odyssey, so we head there. After Bircher muesli and coffee, the day is ready for me and we stroll back to our motel. The girls need some last minute supplies for the ceremony later so go shopping then swimming. I simply rest.
Barbeque chicken on fresh rolls with salad is for lunch, then it's suddenly it's 1pm. Yikes! How did that happen? The mad rush is on to be ready for arrival at the Townsville Entertainment Centre by 2pm. Unlikely methinks, 2.30 probably. Erica needs to collect her gown, hood and bonnet by 3, for the ceremony at 3.30.
Finally, dressed "to the nines", we make our way, in bright sunshine under palms, over sole-deep, carefully tended grass and concrete paths to the entrance area of the Centre. Erica disappears, to return a glorious sight in royal blue bonnet trimmed with gold cord and tassel, royal blue gown lined with red, and a royal blue hood also lined in red which is draped over her arm. WOW, WOW, WOW! My daughter looks so deeply happy, and beautiful. Someone told me once that doing a Ph.D is one of the most stressful times of your life. Erica can vouch for that, but oh so very shortly she will be duly awarded her prize and rewarded for her focus and persistence. And when her turn comes, the hood she's been carrying is placed around her neck and the bonnet reset on her head. Doctoral Degree in hand, she can now say the 8 years it has taken to get here have been worth it. And I am a very, very proud parent :).
By the time we've taken photos it's 6.30pm. We'd made reservations in the morning for 7pm at A Touch of Salt, a great restaurant with delicious food situated on the Ross River. We have a table outside on the terrace right next to the river. The sun is down and the balmy evening breeze blows gently, just perfect. We order mojitos, a martini and a whiskey sour, all with a twist, then wonderful mains consisting of Duck, Moreton Bay Bugs and Aubergine Lasagne. We're even brave enough to have chocolate dessert and port after. Yum, YUM. Whist at dinner we ring Ethan and sing him Happy Birthday. Nearing 3, all he wanted was Ninja Turtles, so that's what he got. At a "non party" event for him on Saturday afternoon, he was showered with all things NT, including a TMNT cake to round off the day. We too are well rounded off this day.
Wednesday morning breakfast found us at the C Bar, also on The Strand, and another round of Bircher muesli and coffee for me. I don't vary my breakfast menu often, even when away from home, preferring a light start to the day. The C Bar sits right on the water's edge, with rocky foundations keeping it steady from whatever weather events come ashore, and cyclones regularly do. In February 2011 Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast at Mission Beach, about 250 km to the north, and still left Townsville and surrounds battered, bruised, snapped and exfoliated. Erica was here then and and was evacuated from her apartment to higher, safer ground. Even Yeppoon, 980 km's to the south experienced strong winds from that storm.
Back to our motel after breakfast to pack up before 10am and begin the journey home. We're not travelling the full 741.9 km today, but only going a few hours down the coast where we'll spend 1 night, then continue home on Thursday.
Before setting off, Erica goes out to the uni to say goodbye to some friends and Fini and I relax on the foreshore of The Strand. Before us not more than several km's offshore is Magnetic Island, and behind us are joggers and walkers, grandparents with their grandchildren and fur babies with their mums and dads, and in the background stands Castle Hill.
This is quite likely the last visit I shall make to Townsville, and indeed up this stretch of the Bruce Highway. Driving long distance is not my thing, I prefer to fly. Tomorrow afternoon I'll see Hunny and Winnie again hooray! They've been boarding in kennels, and even though I explained everything clearly to them, I couldn't help but feel sad to leave them, hoping they would be happy.
(They had a ball).
Now for the return.