(written by Nancy)
It was a quiet night at the camping area but both of us slept fitfully. I think it was a bit hot in the tent – we should have opened the vents but we had gotten used to having cold nights so were not prepared for a warm one.
The kookaburras woke us up pretty early – there weren’t many caravanners stirring at the time we got up. The tent was dry – first time in quite a while that we did not have any condensation on the tent. We had our oatmeal and coffee and packed up and headed off around 8:30. We made a first stop over at the tourist information centre to make a donation for the showers. The fellow manning the centre was a character, wanted to chat and give us lots of brochures. We finally dragged ourselves away and hit the road.
We were on the Capricorn Highway all day today – and will be for the next several days. The wind was at our back again, which always helps the day! It was cloudy and seemed to be threatening rain but only spit a little at us – never really rained. We had several wide loads pass us again – looks mostly like mining machinery. It’s amazing the stuff that is transported on trucks on these relatively narrow roads. It does seem to result in decent shoulders on the roads as the trucks and other traffic need to have room to pull over when the wide loads go through. It’s a bit scary when the big loads go past, but I think it would be even scarier trying to drive a caravan when one of those wide loads came through – or to be in front when one of those big loads came up behind you!
We tried to avoid yesterday’s mistake of not eating enough so stopped for morning tea at a roadhouse in the town of Dingo, about 37k into the day. Dave came out with a meat pie and a big litre of flavoured milk – it actually tasted pretty good! Dingo is, not surprisingly, named after the native Australian dog. It is home to the annual World Dingo Trap Throwing Competition – unfortunately it was not on when we passed through.
There weren’t many other towns along the road – just lots of open plains, sparsely populated with trees. We saw lots of cattle trucks go by, evidence of the farming around. We stopped for lunch in the little town of Bluff and had a couple of great toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches that hit the spot. Bluff is a major rail assembly depot for the surrounding coal basin and there were lots of train cars along the rail. We rode past a massive pile of coal just out of Bluff that was being moved about by a big huge cat – there was a conveyor belt that took the coal over the road to waiting rail cars on the other side. There must be some money in this mining thing!
We made it to Blackwater about 1:30. A caravan book we have indicated that there were two caravan parks here but we didn’t see any signs as we came in to town. We rode down to the ‘Blackwater International Coal Centre’, which appeared to be where the information centre was located, but they were not overly helpful. They did tell us about one caravan park but said we would have more luck in Emerald – which was another 80k away! Dave called the caravan park – the manager said they had no vacancies, even for a tent, and that his was the only caravan park in town. Hmm, not good. So we headed to the council office to see if they could give us any tips. Dave went into use his charm but came out shaking his head – they basically said sorry, can’t help you, best luck would be in Emerald. This town is really here to serve the mining personnel from all the surrounding mines – it really is not a tourist location. Both places we stopped said it was hard to get rooms anywhere around here. While loitering and working out what to do, an elderly woman sitting at a nearby picnic table came over and gave us a bag of home made cookies (biscuits here in Australia). Her crew had seen us out on the road and she wanted to make a contribution to our trip. Too bad she too was heading for Emerald – we might have gotten a camp spot from her. The biscuits were great.
We debated about getting some water and continuing on to try to bush camp somewhere but we were both pretty tired and looking forward to stopping. There was a motel across the road from the council office so we thought we’d give it a chance. They did have a room – a bit of a blow to the budget as all of the prices here are inflated due to the mining demands but oh well, it gives us a safe place to sleep tonight.
Tomorrow we head toward Emerald. Given today’s experience with accommodation we called ahead to one of the caravan parks to confirm availability and it sounds like they have lots of availability – whew!