One word. Nothing…
No, actually this is not strictly true, but more or less. There were a few things on the long and arduous stretches of highway between Alice Springs and Australia’s “Adventure Capital”, Cairns.
There was the Devil’s Marbles, an interesting collection of rock formations that looked a bit like giants had attempted a spot of rock balancing, and some dinosaurs, and that’s about it really. This kept us entertained for about an hour or so during the 4 long days of driving.
Having left Laura in Alice Springs (she pissed me off, so I decided to ditch her – only kidding, she jumped out because she wanted to go and spend some time engaging in some modern day slavery, i.e. 2nd Year Visa Regional Work, where eager backpackers are tempted into the joys of outback farm work with the promise of the coveted 2nd Year Working Holiday Visa in Australia, and paid a barely legal wage for extremely hard graft. Fuck that!), it was back to just me and Soph again. Over the 4 days it took us to reach Cairns, we covered over 2,500 fairly uneventful kilometres. From Alice Springs we drove north up my old mate the Stuart Highway for 4 hours to Devil’s Marbles, then after another hour on the road reached Tennant Creek. Renowned across Australia for having the highest levels of alcoholism, and some pretty impressive crime statistics, I could really see the appeal of Tennant Creek. Safe to say we just drove on through that particular shit hole of an outback town.
From Tennant Creek we took a right (yes, we actually turned off the Stuart Highway!!) onto, if it is at all possible, an even more boring stretch of road – the Barkly Highway. I’m not too sure who this Barkly fella was, but he must have been one dull bastard. Attempting to cover as much ground as possible in the first couple of days, we forged on across the Northern Territory towards the Queensland border. After a night spent in a tent in a noisy rest area by the side of the highway – the road trains literally sound like jumbo jets from ground level! – we continued on our quest towards the East Coast. Nothing really of note for the next two days, just lots of nothingness as we cruised along the Barkly Highway, oh actually, we crossed the border into Queensland, stopped at a strange road house pub that had signed bank notes from “all corners” of our spherical world, and that was about as exciting as life got.
On the 3rd day of driving, we reached a town worth stopping at (or so we thought at that stage of our trip). Along the Barkly highway, we passed a billboard saying “You Are Now Entering Dinosaur Country”. As you may expect, after 2-and-a-half days of sweet fuck all, this provided a fair to moderate level of excitement. A stretch of the Barkly highway between Richmond and Hughenden is an “important section” of Australia’s Dinosaur Trail… with plenty of amusing billboard quips such as pictures of hiding dinosaurs with the caption “Do-You-Think-E-Saw-Us”. You’ve got to love Australia sometimes. We unfortunately did not see any real dinosaurs, and trust me if they managed to avoid extinction anywhere in the world, it would be the Queensland outback. We stopped in Hughenden and checked out the visitor centre museum, which contained a 7m skeleton of a Muttaburrasaurus. Oh the joy. Something to look at on this intensely long and utterly soul-destroying drive!
On our final day, Cairns was in our sights. A mere 7 hours drive away, we were nearly home and dry. Along the way there was actually some stuff to see. Some hills to climb, waterfalls to ogle, and we even decided to treat ourselves with a stop at Gallo Dairy, close to the town of Malanda in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands. All cheesed up and ready to go, we reached Cairns late in the day on day 4, where we checked in for 3 comparatively luxurious nights in an apartment at The Northern Greenhouse (all for free, of course – the life of a travel agent!).