Rockhampton, Australia (15th Feb 2008)
This entry shouldn't exist, we had never planned to stop off in Rockhampton, but the worst weather Australia has seen in 50 years had other plans. We managed to drive 150 kilometres north to the beef capital of Australia (everywhere seems to have some claim to fame) before being told that the roads have been closed due to torrential downpours and a cyclone that was hovering over the Whitsunday Islands (our intended destination).
The reason that we can't get through is because the road we need to get on cuts straight through the region of Mackay in central Queensland and at the moment, Mackay has been declared a disaster zone after 624mm of rain fell in 10 hours yesterday, and a total of 1050mm fell in 24hours causing the region's worst monsoonal downpour in 90 years. Trust this all to happen the year we decide to come backpacking around Australia, and in the middle of their "summer"!
Below are a few things that we have now heard on the news or seen in the papers, etc
"The Whitsunday area is tonight being affected by heavy rainfall with authorities warning residents of Airlie Beach to stay indoors and be prepared for flooding".
"All roads into Proserpine had now been cut by floodwaters".
"People should stay indoors until the rain depression subsides'"
"Homes in various suburbs and towns throughout the region have been evacuated with more monsoonal rain expected to worsen conditions".
So as you can imagine, it been pretty bad weather up here and we won't exactly be working on our tans anytime soon. The biggest problem for most people on the bus now is that everyone has booked a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands for the next day and with the weather being this bad it looks like they are all being cancelled for the foreseeable future. Our first problem was finding somewhere to stay and with a full 57 seat coach our driver had his job cut out since most hostels and spare beds in the area were full with people trying to escape the floods up in Mackay and to make matters worse a lot of the beds were booked up with people travelling to Rockhampton to watch the first rugby match of the season that was being played this particular Friday night that we pulled into town.
Rocky, as the locals call it, is a quiet town with shops shutting by 3pm most days and given the weather situation there is not much to do, so after finding beds for 50 of the people onboard, at some real dodgy looking places we were left as a five some, us two, Nick (Cleethorpes), Paula (Brighton) and Claire (London); and our new best mate the coach driver Fireie. Fireie had had a word in our ear when we made our first stop and just told us to stay on as he knew a good place we could stay, where the Oz Experience bus used to visit years ago as a lunch breach on route to the Whitsundays, it turned out to be a real gem too.
About 45minutes after we dropped everyone else off we pulled off the highway, in the middle of nowhere, at a little outback pub called The Raglan Tavern. Fireie took us inside an introduced us to the owner, Terry, a guy in his late fifties who was a bit mad but a great guy none the less and before you know it he was pouring us all a nice cold beer. As the Raglan isn't used to putting people up for the night, our rooms were still being made up when we arrived, so the 6 of us sat and listened to Terry's stories about travellers end up here and giving a hand behind the bar for board for the night and then staying for months, leaving in tears as they didn't want to leave, and its not hard to tell why, Terry and his wife Marge are so welcoming and generous, lovely people!
Our driver had arranged with Terry a deal for the nights' accommodation, dinner and breakfast for $40 which we thought was pretty good, considering the others had to pay about $30 in Rocky and were staying in a dump. For dinner Mark had a massive steak, at least 18 oz, which was well worth what we paid in our deal and Kara got a big dish of pasta which went down a treat. The rest of the night was inevitably spent down at the bar drinking cheap beers and chatting with some of the locals and before we knew it midnight had arrived and after drinking a fair few free beers and playing lots of free pool we were ready for bed.
Rockhampton lies ever so slightly north of the Tropic of Capricorn (23° 26' 22"), and being in the tropics, means the town experiences extremely hot weather in summer and conditions are exacerbated by the action of surrounding mountains, which trap heat and humidity, making it still reach 30C all day from 8am to 8pm even though it is chucking it down with rain, meaning for us the only place to be is inside because if the heat doesn't get you the humidity will; so for day two in Rockhampton, that's exactly what we did until after dinner time when we headed back into the town to try do laundry and some shopping as it looked like we would be staying at least one more night.
When we arrived into town we were pretty surprised to find that about 15 people had paid a fortune to fly out of Rocky airport to somewhere else; mostly due to the fact that they can't do the Whitsundays sailing anytime soon and that's the only real reason to be stopping now on the way up to Cairns; one young lad, stupidly paid $300+ to fly down to Melbourne, when if he had waiting until Monday he could have gone for $90, anyway...
Our second night was almost a carbon copy of the night before except there were a few more of us now as the YHA in town couldn't accommodate everyone for another night, so they came back to the Raglan, but most went to bed before 9pm as there was a clear group of us and the locals and "the others", not intentional, but hey what can you do. The food was great again, but as a bonus, Terry put the rate down to $30 for the same deal as the night before since there was twice as many people now and we think he just loved all the company, as he seemed in his element and asked Mark to stay for a few weeks and work for free food, board and spending money (very tempting) but he had to decline, Terry said the offer was open if he changed his mind anyway.
After another night of uninterrupted rainfall it looked like we would be staying for a third night as all the roads were still closed, so we sat down for our super greasy cheese ham and tomato on toast and got settled in for another day of not doing much. When we had just about finished breakfast Marge came over to Mark and said to go outside because Terry was waiting for him, a little unsure of what this meant, but curious nevertheless he went to find out what Terry wanted; and there he was...
Mark had seen Terry's car the minute we got here and was drooling over it straight away, it's a beast; a Ford Falcon GTP Boss 290 in electric blue and just out the front of the Raglan, Terry was sat with his beaming smile revving up his awesome V8. Two minutes later Terry and Mark were flying down to the petrol station to get the Sunday morning papers. The V8 sounded absolutely amazing as good old Terry flicked the race settings on and floored it, 20...90...200...240Kmh within a few short seconds and it wasn't even flat out yet. It was a brilliant ride, and the fastest 20Kilometers Mark has covered in our whole time in Australia. Not much longer after we had set off and we were back, but now we had the Queensland Times and a couple of huge smiles that weren't coming off both our faces anywhere soon. Legendary Guy.
When Mark got back we decided, well our group, decided that we should go back into town and go bowling and have some dinner out, that was until just before we were going to set off, Fireie said, "sod it, the Greyhound buses are trying it so let's go"; five minutes later and are bags were back on the bus and we were back on the Bruce Highway waving goodbye to Terry and Marge, heading north, towards closed roads, flooding and possibly a long drive back to Rocky if it went wrong. Terry was still trying to talk Mark into staying even when we were pulling off. For a place we weren't going to stop at, we are so happy that we had these few days, to chill out, make some more good mates and save a bit of money too.