Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Chapter 4 - final leg

The last day of the trip was always going to be the longest and hardest. There are few towns between Mt Morgan and Moranbah, and the first, Middlemount, was nearly 200 miles away. It's flat, dry, empty country, and in summer you carry a lot of water in case of breakdown. Cell phones are useless, and traffic light. The road is at least sealed the whole way.

The first leg retraced about 30km, and then we headed north to the Capricorn Highway, which runs west along the Tropic of Capricorn. For some of the westward drive along the highway I sat behind a road train, almost coasting in his slipstream. We did an easy 100km/h, hardly touching the accelerator. It would have been the perfect free ride if not for a strong smell of cattle leftovers...

After he turned off, I realised we were slowly passing an empty coal train heading west to the mines. These trains are 120 wagons long, and sit at about 80km/h, so passing took a looong time. As we finally caught up with the loco, I heard a short toot and looked over. The driver waved, I waved back, and he let out a long, loud blast. Man, I want one of those horns! Only one thing for it, we floored it and sat at 110 (the limit) all the way to Dingo. He had more horsepower, but I had a weight advantage!

We turned north off the highway at the Dingo roadhouse. Dingo's not so much a town as a place to fill the tank, grab a bite and have a pee. From there it's 120km to the coal mining town of Middlemount, up a straight, flat road known locally as the Beef Road. The whole road is 230km long, with no towns, roadhouses or rest areas, built solely to get cattle trucks to the market at Rockhampton. From Middlemount to Moranbah, we passed one huge mine after another. Although it isn't usually visible, the road parallels a single open pit about 65km long. The quantities of rock removed, coal mined, expenditure on infrastructure and income are staggering, and pump billions into the Queensland economy every year.

Derailed coal train near Saraji Mine

The Outback. Flat, straight roads and big skies. And hot.

Made it!

Gerald pulled into my drive in Moranbah at 2pm, a bit hot and dusty after three days and 747 miles (1202km), but running perfectly. He picked developed a few new rattles and squeaks, but never needed the oil topping up, returned a consumption of 36mpg or better (despite racing trains) and kept his cool in all but heavy traffic.

After a trip of nearly 3500km from Christchurch to Moranbah, from temperate latitudes right into the tropics, that was definitely Gerald's biggest adventure, ever.

The red line is the flight down to Brisbane (at least the portion I was allowed to have the GPS on for). The green line is the route Gerald took, along the D'Aguillar, Burnett and Capricorn Highways, and then into coal country. Two hours vs three days!


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