In the middle of the night, half awake, I feel something moist and cold pressing against my cheek. My mine explodes into action at the possibility of what animal is touching me, fears of deadly snakes fresh in my mind. I dart back and look up to see a big wet nose pressed up against the screen where my head was laying a split second earlier. Thankfully a herd of cows came grazing into camp, one big one giving me sniff as I sleep, adrenaline pulsing through my veins. Back to sleep, need to be up early tomorrow.
The airstrip is an interesting place, cut from the forest, it is an extremely long runway built on compressed red clay. The recent rain storms creating drainage veins that deposit red sand off to the sides. It’s perfect for take-offs, and after several hours of tuning last night, Craig and Glenn now have both Paramotors running at optimal efficiency, now getting up to four hours of flight time out of the 12.5 litre fuel tanks, rather than the original two.
Both pilots lift into the air with little drama while Craig and I break camp. Stopped by a train as we got back to the highway, Craig wisely decides not to push his luck, however as we turn left onto the highway and start to catch up to the train, we’re motoring down the highway at about 90-kmh when a large dark mass leaps from the roadside weeds. With my heart skipping a beat I move away from the door, expecting a massive impact, but all I hear is a squeal and the sound of hooves locking up on the tarmac as the huge wild Boar spins 180 and darts back into the bush. Scared out of the weed by the passing of the train, my senses are heightened from yet another lesson learned.
We’re now leaving the foot hills and stretching out into the Outback plains, the land becomes flat and the horizon straightens out. For a Canadian that has yet to fully experience the prairies, these “Downs” as the Aussies call it are really quite spectacular. What’s also impressive is the bloody heat. We may have left the misery of the humid coast, but now the temperatures are shooting towards 40-plus degrees during the late afternoon. The skies are clear and the searing Aussie sun beats down on us.
The pilots bypass Hughenden and make a run for Richmond in the decent weather. After a quick refueling, they’re back in the air heading for Richmond. While the Jellyfish are bypassing towns in an effort to get leg one finished as soon as possible, Craig and I are able to enjoy the attractions of these slightly larger towns, both Hughenden and Richmond being well known for dinosaur fossil finds as the entire area used to be a massive inland sea. No wonder it’s so bloody flat, the land here used to be a sea floor. Hughenden has a couple life size dinosaurs on display as well as the massive wind machines called Comets, which use the power of the wind to pull water up from an underground lake, from one to two kilometres beneath the surface.
Richmond is known for the Koronosaurous, a gigantic Crocodile that used to prey on the dinosaurs, and also have a life size example sitting out in front of a learning centre, however, we don’t have time to doddle around a museum as the pilots are still pushing on for Cloncurry.
After a couple days travel, we make it to Julie Creek for a mid-day stop, and boy is it getting hot. Glenn thankfully found an airport to land at, which had an air conditioned old ticket counter shack for the now defunct Trans-Australian Airlines. With the heat beating down from the sun high overhead, we’re also bombarded from the reflected heat rising from the black tarmac. Some time in town at a local air conditioned pub for lunch was called for, but the cheapest meal on the menu was Fish & Chips for a whopping $18.00, in a pub! A quick beer not to be impolite and we find a grocer to make our own lunch out at the airport, then its back in the air for a final push to the end of leg one in Cloncurry.
The winds have been somewhat kind these last couple days as the pilots have been able to put is some decent distances, and our arrival into Cloncurry comes with a well-deserved night at a caravan park, a much needed shower and even a dip in the pool to cool off from the heat on a day off.
Leg one is finished, however, leg two is looking daunting. The internet is telling us that after battling light headwinds all the way to Cloncurry, the wind has changed just at the wrong moment, giving the pilots strong head and cross winds across to Emerald. On top of that, the trip will be even more desolate than the trip from Townsville, so we make sure the food, water and fuel are all topped up for the trip across the Outback.