Days 235 – 237 (Jan 22nd – Jan 24th) Heading northwards towards Cairns and then south to Emerald

We’d booked a motel on the coast at Sarina Beach but stopped en route at a small place called Clairview. The caravan parks here allow day parking so the cafe and facilities are usually open to residents and casual drop ins like us. The BarraCrab Caravan park was probably representative of what Queensland used to be like before people elsewhere in Australia decided it would be worth moving to. A ramshackle bar/restaurant with seating immediately adjacent to the unspoilt and empty beach (although the very obvious warnings about stinger jellyfish may have had something to do with that). We had a crab sandwich and a wander along the beach before moving on. This would be a wonderful place to do nothing for a day or two or more..

Just down the road was the municipal notice board which gave more information about the area, which is now designated as a Dugong reserve

Our motel was in a similarly idyllic location which had direct access to a huge beach

View from our room

Our plan at this stage was to head north to Mackay and stock up on some North Queensland essentials such as snake bandages, long trousers and gaiters (for snakes and ticks respectively) before setting off towards Airlie Beach and, ultimately Cairns and Cape Tribulation. This was our rough idea….

Then Tali called. Thursday, 26th Jan was Australia Day (or Invasion day if you’re an aborigine) and she just been told she had a 4 day weekend and could she meet us? So, postponing plan A we reverted to plan B….arranging to meet her for 4 nights in Emerald, a town we’d all planned on visiting at some stage and which was roughly 2-3 hours from Worrabinda, where Tali is currently working.

Heading south we arrived in Clermont where we’d planned on staying overnight. We worked down the high street, stopping at all the motels asking for a room for the night. All were booked, filled with road workers who were busy repairing the roads after the recent storms. One rather large and very dark man even offered to share his room with me (Andy writing..) but I thought that was unfair on Helen and we moved on. We got to the stage of heading off towards Emerald when we threw the dice one last time, stopping at the Commercial Hotel, previously dismissed as it looked empty, derelict and unused.

Many of these outback towns have a “Commercial Hotel” and they all seem quite similar, presumably being the earliest accommodation made available to travellers and they combine that function with being a pub and gambling hall so are a one-stop shop for most of the vices…There were 2 bars, the sports bar and the gambling bar, both were quite busy as I walked in and asked for a room. They had more than one, which was both pleasing and worrying at the same time, but we were committed now and for the massive sum of AUS$60 (£40) we had ourselves a room opening onto the massive first floor balcony, a sink in the corner, aircon, and “communal” facilities. Helen was less than impressed but it was now a done deal and we moved our stuff in not knowing how things would unfold over the next 12 hours or so…

We went downstairs to get a drink and something to eat. Chatting to the bar staff it turned out all of them were from the UK. All backpackers, taking advantage of a scheme in Australia whereby if you work in a “rural” placement (definitions seemed to vary but north of the tropic of capricorn and inland seemed to be the most common) for 88 days then a 1 year visa could be extended to 2 years. The manager, an aussie, who we only met the next day, thought this was a great arrangement as otherwise getting staff for such a remote location would prove very difficult.

After dinner we went upstairs to luxuriate in our room only to find out that the air-conditioning unit, already swaddled in blue tape, had transformed itself into a tractor-impersonator, so sleep was out of the question. Downstairs again, speaking with the assistant manager (an ex-‘spoons manager) it turned out the our room should have been removed from the list as requiring maintenance. They couldn’t provide a fan and there were no other rooms available but they would refund our AUS$60….now we had an intolerably hot room, with no aircon, communal facilities, many hours until daybreak and a somewhat unhappy spouse… but it was free! Luckily the bar served Jamesons, an essential nightcap for such situations……for some!

We ran the aircon for as long as we dared and tried to sleep…..

At 0300, 0330, 0430, 0600, 0630 the fire alarm went off. At first we got up, peered out of our room, spoke to the two ladies next door but no-one from the staff turned up, there was evidently no fire so thereafter we ignored the sound but failed to sleep much. Checking the communal facilities, we decided to forget showering (would the floor hold out or the spiders get you?) so got up, packed the car and drove to the nearest tourist attraction, Hoods Lagoon, the site of the 1916 flood of such ferocity that it killed a staggering 65 members of the local community but which is now a fabulous local amenity and birdwatching area and one which has an enormous number of fruit bats.

Walking round the lake itself there were some nice birds to see

Returning to the hotel to get our refund, we stopped off at the mural opposite, a quite impressive depiction of the short but varied history of the town painted on old train wagons

Described in detail on the accompanying information board

So, a town with a fascinating history but terrible accommodation.

We stopped briefly at the Clermont Historical Centre, which was closed until March, and peered through the fencing and read a couple of information boards in the carpark.

Heading down to Emerald we had to stop at quite possibly the least deserving scenic lookout in the outback…

On to Emerald and an unexpected treat of seeing Tali again after 3 days.