Yesterday afternoon, as I was checking into the Caravella Backpackers accommodation, I asked the girl at the reception how long it would take for me to reach Mackay the next day. She seemed not to know the place and I found that very strange. I tried again and yet again. Then she got it. I had pronounced the name as “Mack-ay” while when she said it it sounded like “Muck-eye”. I do not know which one is correct. I used to follow a stout-hearted Aussie cricketer called Ken Mackay and always pronounced his name as “Mack-ay”. And thought that the name of the place also should be pronounced the same way. Anyway, I am headed to Mackay today, a distance, according to Google Maps of 730 km. I was familiar with the first 350 km of it as I had travelled over that stretch yesterday.
I did not wait long this morning after I had updated the blog to leave from Cairns. I knew where to deposit the keys and the gate that would let me out of the premise, as the reception was closed. I debated on whether I should have breakfast of muesli and milk. Finally, I abandoned the idea as it was too early for a meal. I took one last, long look at the esplanade before powering the car and starting off. I have only three more driving days before the expedition ended in Sydney on 5th April – Cairns to Mackay, Mackay to Brisbane and Brisbane to Sydney.
It was less than 200 km to Cardwell, a gloriously picturesque place with the distinction of being the only town between Cairns and Townsville on the A1 Highway to be on the coast. I stopped at the boat ramp of the town and the views with the rising sun were glorious, to be economical with adjectives. In a distance I saw a jetty and decided to explore that part too. I found a martyrs’ column and tributes to the erstwhile aboriginal settlers of the place. Being Easter holiday people were out walking their dogs and having leisurely breakfast in cafes nearby. The place looked like a pensioners’ paradise. It is said that the waters in Cardwell turn muddy and become dangerous during the summer months with crocodiles, box jellyfish and sharks.
Babinda is another small town I passed by. The town looked stunningly beautiful and one of the billboards caught my eye. It said that the steaks in the town came from animals that were fed grass of that region! While this is also another sugarcane town the backdrop are the two of the tallest mountains in Queensland – Mount Bartle Frere (5300 ft) and Bellenden Ker (5200 feet). It also has the distinction of being the wettest town in Australia.
Right from Cairns through to Mackay sugarcane fields abound on both sides of the road. Mackay region is one of the largest sugar producing regions in Australia; it produces 420,000 tonnes of refined sugar annually. The extent of sugarcane cultivation can be gauged if one knows that it takes 8 tonnes of cane to produce 1 tonne of raw sugar! The sugarcane fields are served by narrow gauge cane trains to facilitate the transportation of cane to the mills within 24 hours of harvesting. These trains are active only for 20 weeks in a year. The erstwhile steam locomotives have been replaced by diesel locos. A single train normally carries up to 2000 tonnes and can be nearly a kilometer long.
It had rained overnight in Cairns and as I was leaving there were mild showers. They eased up in a while. But, after passing Townsville the showers became heavy and stayed that way right through to Mackay. Sometimes the visibility was dangerously impaired and puddles on the road made the car sway often. The high wind velocity added to the danger on the road. I located the Cool Palms Motel quite easily and fortunately, the Motel has covered parking. The room is very comfortable with en suite arrangement.
The lady at the reception told me that a visit to the Marina and Breakwater is all that I would be able to do in the town if, and if, the rain lets up. It did after about an hour and I took the opportunity to make a quick dash to the Marina. The road over the Southern Breakwater was closed to vehicular movement because of some repairs being done to the Breakwater. Pedestrians and cyclists were granted access. The Port of Mackay is essentially a bulk terminal supporting the sugar and mining industries in the region and neighborhood. The Port has large storage silos and a couple of vessels were being worked alongside at the time of my visit. The Southern Breakwater is over 2 km long and the walk was certainly good exercise for the legs. The Southern Breakwater provides a protected Marina. Perhaps, due to the adverse weather conditions, a number of slots in the Marina were empty. Interestingly, there are warnings about recent crocodile sightings asking people to keep away from the water!
On the way back from the Marina I dropped by at a KFC to pick up some grub. By the time the change was handed over to me I was handed over my order too. Express service as never before experienced. I must confess that the quality of the preparation was quite bad. KFC, never again, even with the Express service. It was too oily and the chicken too fatty.