The one where the car breaks down....

Trip Start Sep 28, 2003
Trip End Sep 29, 2004

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Saturday, December 13, 2003

Well it was the next step of our journey further south and there were some places that we wanted to spend some more time at on our way back down the coast. James needed to get down to Melbourne, as his Mum and her husband were due to fly in, in a couple of weeks.

Also some of James' friends from back home -whom I had met once or twice - Jack and Molly, were travelling up the East Coast, so we were aiming to try and catch up with them en-route.

So we set off from Airlie Beach, on a mission to get as many kilometres (everything over here is in kms) down the coast as possible. We had been kind of expecting James' car to do something untoward. It had been shaking a bit at various speeds and feeling unsteady. In Cairns James had the wheels balanced, unfortunately with no real advantage noticed!

We had been travelling for about three hours down south after leaving Airlie Beach and it was then that the car broke down in the middle of a featureless stretch of road.
Thank goodness for mobiles phones and that we got reception! James called the NRMA - who the car was insured with and had to pay to upgrade his membership to include recovery. At the start of the call there was an unfortunate moment where they had not heard of any of the places that we thought we were near. It turned out that there are different phone numbers for each State and that we were speaking to New South Wales, but we were actually in Queensland. After being transferred to the correct department, he had a rough time trying to get the recovery operator to believe that we really
could not see any features on the landscape apart from bush each side of the
road (and an unfortunate wallaby). We had worries about where we were on the Bruce Highway (why don't they have names like that for roads at home?..... the William Motorway?) luckily the NRMA membership, did cover us for the tow - which was under 10KMs - they allow 20 then start charging. But it so could have easily been 50!

Anyhow we ended up in (probably) the smallest town in Australia Carmila. Imagine.... a pub,
a 24hr service station (I don't think I would have survived without the
pies bought when hungry!) a garage (where James' car was recovered to and eventually fixed) and a caravan park, oh and a couple of houses and a post office / general store.

Well they would not look at the car on Sunday, so we had to wait until
Monday before they even put it up on a ramp to look at it.

The recovery chap kindly delivered us at the local hotel (a pub with rooms). He even checked that they had a room for us. I think we were in fact the only people there that night.

We went into the pub and sat up at the bar telling the locals of our misfortune, it seemed like the kind of place that would be going 'til quite late. Not lively, just that there seemed to be several people in their supping away at their drinks.

It turned out that the business in the pub was currently very poor. It had been busy earlier on due to the weekly "Meat Raffle". Most of the people who would normally come to the pub were Cane farmers, and because of the lack of water in recent years the conditions for farming cane were becoming very poor.

Unfortunately he also advised us that the pub did not serve food on Sunday evenings, so we would have to goto the service station. This was not quite as bad as it perhaps sounds and we had a reasonable meal in what was essentially a mediocre café.

When we had had our meal, we decided to play a game of chess out the back and it was there, where after not seeing any Cane Toads, several large families of these noisy poisonous creatures appeared. Thanks to Fred giving me a "Dangerous Creatures of Australia" book, I can now inform you that the Cane Toad is "...covered in poison glands, its powerful array of toxins can kill." It appears that just treading on one can be a risky business.

So we carefully had a closer look, but didn't really need to. Later when using the phone box, which seemed to have the only outside light in the village. We found at least two varieties of toad or frog in there. It looked like one was right next to the dial waiting to make the next call. One of them was a kind of lurid green that may as well have had "I am deadly poisonous" written all over it.

We also succeeded in attracting the attentions of the local policeman who left his house to go to his car, I suspect, just so that he could wave his torch around to see what we were upto. I suppose it may have looked a little strange, someone on the phone with someone else watching over with a water bottle, ready to whack a toad on the head. Especially in an area where they are not too used to tourists, especially those using a payphone after dark.

We turned up at the garage the next morning and it was like a plumber's convention - everyone sucking their teeth - as in "that will cost you". Then we discovered that the transmission case had smashed (this was bad!), so bad in fact that at least three separate people from the garage relished in telling us that they had never seen one like that before.

It was at this point - and frankly it wasn't a great surprise with the way things were going - when the mechanics had decided that the only thing to do was to replace the whole transmission. Luckily they had managed to find a second-hand one for $3500 (approx 1600 pounds) instead of a new one (about 4000 pounds plus fitting, nearly what James paid for the car!). Of course the down-side was that the part was in Hervey Bay - perhaps 1500 km's away.

So we phoned up and bought the part - the garage told us it might be cheaper if we did this. (It also meant that they would not have to shell out for the part in the mean-time). But it would take about two days to come in, via coach and then courier. (We could have easily driven there and back quicker ourselves - although that was obviously the issue!)

It was at this point, because we had found that we were not overwhelmed with stuff to do in sunny Carmila - and boy was it hot! - that we decided that the extra 10 or so dollars spent on a caravan between us would give us a TV and hence at least some form of entertainment for the evenings. Well we stayed there two nights and we were getting bored.

The owners of the Caravan Park we were in, took pity on us and offered us a lift into town as one of them was going to the Doctor. Imagining that the nearest town may not have an awful lot more to do, we declined as we knew the nearest place even worth thinking about going to - called Mackay - was a good 100 km's away. They then explained that town was Mackay. Imagine living 100km's from your GP!

So we gladly accepted their kind offer and found ourselves in the town of Mackay many, many miles away from where we hoped we would be at that time!

Mackay, far from being a one horse town as Carmila was, did not seem to be overflowing with different ways for the tourist to spend their time. So we did the obligatory trip to an Internet Café and then the local Cinema. There was also a museum of contemporary art that we spent an hour or so in. I took the opportunity to open an Australian Bank Account, seeing as though I had a forwarding address in Sydney organised.

On our way up to Mackay the owners of the Caravan Park, told us about a National Park (Eungella) that was nearby and that we might wish to explore for a day. So we went about hiring a car. Following Murphy's Law the town centre of Mackay did not appear to contain any Car Rental companies (I suppose this follows with it not being a major tourist stop-off point on the East Coast). It was only after trudging right through the city that we discovered Mackay Car Rentals in an industrial area. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mackay Car Rentals with this Travelogue project, as I used a pen with their logo on, to write some of the notes for this Travelogue. (However, I must mention that this was short lived and the pen has given up the ghost after light duties for a month.)

We asked for the cheapest car and we got a Proton. Having not being asked if we had the licence to drive a manual (A high proportion of cars in Australia have automatic gearboxes, I guess that a corresponding number of drivers in Oz have licences just for automatics.) and also never having seen a small Proton in the past. I was quietly optimistic that we might have another large gas-guzzler like I got to drive in the Blue Mountains. This however was not the case, and the car we were given was a Fiesta-like little car (probably still had a 2 litre engine though...) which of course was manual. In the end, this was not a bad little car and we had fun driving it up the steep roads into the National Park.

On our way to the Eungella I noticed a sign post pointing towards a Dam. As I do not recall having seen a Dam. We deviated from our route to go and have a look. Unfortunately the Dam, was not quit what I was expecting (200 Metre high dam from a James Bond film or similar!) however there were nice views of the water with mountains in the distance. Most of the time while we have been touring the East Coast, it is possible to see mountains in the distance, and some not too far from the road. I haven't really mentioned them too much as you get used to them. However I had not expected to see as many mountains as that in Australia, it is just that after a day's driving with them constantly in the background I have got a bit blasé about the landscape!

When we got to the National Park, we went on a 2.5km walk on a track through a rain-forest. I consider this to be the first time proper I have been in a rain-forest, because the one in the Blue Mountains was on a raised walkway and a well worn route. This one was different because although we were following a path, it was much less trodden a path and fairly often there were overhanging branches (worth inspecting for Snakes) and other obstacles across the path. It was the kind of place where it really felt that you should keep an eye upon for wildlife, particularly with the nearby rustles in the leaves and branches. Most of the noises were just safe inhabitants such as Bush Turkeys. These are like black turkeys and having seen a few of these already, we were not too excited about them. However keeping a watch for wildlife was a good idea as James nearly trod on a small snake in his path. Unfortunately I did not get to witness it as it quickly slithered across the path, but James jumped high enough at the time for me to assume it was a genuine sighting.

One of the main selling points of Eungella is the chance of being able to see a Duck-Billed Platypus. These are not too common in Australia anyway, and they do not like noise, so it is quite unusual to spot one in the wild. We had been told that the best time to catch them was in the afternoon when you may be lucky enough to see one paddling around after food. So we went on the above walk, to fill some time. After this we quietly made our way around to the observation point. We stood there keeping an eye on the turtles for a good 10 minutes or so before someone pointed and a Platypus turned up, on schedule. Unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence of this event as the light conditions were fairly poor, and you will have to take my word that we did see one. However it was an amazing experience, even if it did only last for a couple of minutes. This made the whole day and 200km return drive worthwhile and it is great to think I got a chance to see a Duck-Billed Platypus, in its own surroundings.

There was a terrific view from the National Park, please see the photos attached to this entry.

Well we returned to Mackay for our final night there before jumping on a coach back to Carmila. The coach doesn't normally stop at Carmila, so when we asked for tickets there the agent asked - "Oh, did your car breakdown?" - She even knew the name of the owner of the garage. It appears that the stretch of road covered by that garage frequently sees tourist cars breaking down.

Well we got back to Carmila, hoping to hear that the part had come in that morning and that we would be able to jump in the car later that night or early the next day, we were more than mildly disappointed to establish that the part had not even arrived yet. The garage managed to blame this on the logistics, so we retired to our usual Caravan at the Caravan Park. We were regulars now.

Later that day James was well and truly up the creek - not just with the car, quite literally - he had bumped into the farmer/bar worker we had seen previously in the week, who then invited us to go fishing with him. I turned down the offer, fishing not being my scene and retired to the room for air conditioned bliss. The temperature was still roasting, so it was a pleasure to be out of the heat, watching TV.

James' trip sounded interesting, as it involved going up the river in a little metal boat or tinnie as they are known here. Presumably it is made of metal to stop the crocs taking a chunk out if they are too small to tip the boat over? Unfortunately James did not catch anything big enough to keep. So it was the pub for dinner tonight (luckily it was a day that they served on).

The next morning, the part did turn up, thank goodness! The garage managed to get it all swapped over that day. Apart from the fact that they forgot to order in another part required in order to reattach the tailshaft (this is only needed for 4WD use). So we were finally able to leave Carmila. We threw our stuff into the car very quickly indeed before heading back down the Bruce Highway. It was starting to get quite late and we needed to get away as quickly as possible. It is not ideal to drive at dusk and after dark because of the Kangaroos and Wallabies, as they become more active at this time and you are more likely to find them in the middle of the road.

Unfortunately a mile or so down the road, James noticed that the car was putting out a plume of smoke. So we quickly turned around and headed back to the garage before it shut. We were assured that the smoke was nothing to worry about and probably just where some oil had spilt onto a part of the engine when the transmission came apart. So we headed on to Rockhampton...
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