After months of planning, our trip into the Queensland outback has finally started! We turned west on the Overlanders Way headed towards our first stop, Hughenden.
It felt good to be on the road again after two and half weeks with family in Townsville, we had our trip fully planned out for our loop of the upper Queensland outback finishing with a quick trip up to the tip of the Cape. It took about 10 minutes after turning west to get our first taste of Road Trains, a couple of triple trailers heading towards the coast. On the highway's they are not a massive drama but when you get onto some of the back roads, which are a single lane wide at the best of times, and a triple trailer road train fully loaded with cattle off of one of the stations then you need to get out of the way and fast! We had a quick stop in Charters Towers, a bit too quick this time round, just enough time to duck into the Toyota dealership to pickup some parts for a service. Next time we will spend a bit more time here as it seems to have an awesome history.
There are some other interesting sights worth seeing between Charters Towers and Hughenden. One of these is the first example we saw of one of the most widely seen landmarks in outback Queensland, the massive windmill in the tiny little town of prairie. Again, this was to be the first of many as they are abundant and a massive part of life in the outback. Without windmills and the water they draw from the deep underground water reserves, it would be impossible for the stations to survive the intense heat of this part of the country. There is also massive efforts to embrace renewable energy in this area too, both solar and wind power are being taken advantage of. First we saw a wind turbine farm in the distance and then a massive paddock full of solar panels, there must have been thousands of them and why wouldn't you when the sun is shining 12 hours or more for 9-10 months of the year.
Our tradition when we arrive in a new town is to unpack the caravan and take a drive around, Hughenden isn't massive but is obviously a hub for this area so has everything and like most little outback towns some shops cater for more than one thing. Hughenden was a quick stop, a couple of nights in the camp ground but there were still a few things we had heard about the area that we wanted to see. We crossed paths with our in laws who had been making their way to Townsville from Western Australia and all set up camp together. First job was unloading the Harley's from the trailer with the intention of putting some km's on them to some of the lookouts and national parks in the area.
We spent the first day together swapping presents, it had been almost two years since we had last seen each other and birthdays, Christmas's and other presents had all accumulated. It was good to unload a full suitcase of present but all the space they took up was soon filled up with other presents we received. We cleaned up the bikes after their 5000 km and raced up to the lookout just outside of town to catch the sunset. There are six or seven different lookouts all on mount walker, about 20 minutes out of town. Every evening the lookouts fill up with photographers all keen on getting the best shot of the outback sunsets. The colour's light up the sky before and after sunset, all the colour's mixed in with the amazing landscape and silhouettes of gum trees against the horizon make for impressive scenery, definitely worth the trip.
Hughenden is also the start of the Outback Queensland dinosaur trail which is made up of a massive area between Hughenden, Muttaburra, Longreach, Winton and Richmond. This area is part of what used to be the edge of an inland sea 100 million years ago so dinosaur fossils are commonly found in the area and a lot of the tourism is based around this too. We spent the afternoon at the Hughenden museum, which has a life sized replica of a dinosaur that was found in the area as the centre piece of their display. We also got our first taste of the history of the area, including the history of the stations and the way they have changed over the last 150 years. There was also a documentary on the creation and the geology of the nearby Porcupine Gorge, which we had been looking forward to getting out to since we got to town. We had a plan to take the bikes out to the gorge before the temperature got to high, it was about 60 km's out of town so we had an early start planned.
The ride to the gorge early the next morning was through some beautiful country, long straights through stations combined with sections of sweeping corners rising and falling through dry water courses and patches of scrub. We have slowly been ticking off our list of outback animals and I saw our first dingo in full stride chasing down a kangaroo, they both ran straight out in front of me and I luckily was able to come to a stop on the bike before getting to close. We crossed a number of cattle grids and passed herds of brahman right on the edge of the road, they soon took flight at the sound of the approaching bikes. We finally reached the first lookout of the gorge and saw how much of a treat we were in for. We had been told Porcupine Gorge was Australia's version of the grand canyon and it was easy to see why. The first lookout had amazing views in both directions and right the way to the bottom on the gorge over a hundred metres below. The sun was still ow in the sky so we planned to drop back in after lunch to be able to fully appreciate this amazing lookout in full sun.
10 minutes further up the highway was the turnoff for the camp ground and the start of the walking track down into the gorge. The track wound down the side of the canyon and the geology shown in the documentary was obvious, different layers of different coloured rocks were obvious the whole way down the winding track. We caught our first glimpse of the bottom and saw there was still plenty of water present despite how dry the surrounding area had been. We reached the bottom and saw the water was crystal clear and was definitely still flowing very slowly. It was obviously a healthy stream as there were plenty of fish and water plants present. The gorge spread itself out in all directions, an obvious result of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion, the small river at the bottom wouldn't have been more than 10 m wide at its widest point but it would be an amazing sight to see it in full flow during the wet season.
We got out our little drone and managed to get some amazing video footage of the gorge, it really was an awesome sight and easy to see why the reviews had been so complimentary. The formations in the rock were especially impressive around the pyramid, a massive 100 m high rock formation which looked like it would have been at home in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Perfectly shaped by nature, we felt very small next to these obvious powers of time and water. The ascent out of the canyon was hot and long and every set of stairs seemed to be followed by another but we made it back to car park in one piece and started our ride back to the caravan park to get packed up and ready to hit the road again.
We said our goodbyes and made an early start, next stop for us was Longreach and we were looking forward to the Outback Paddle Regatta on the Thompson river. The road to Longreach turned out to be one of the wildest ones so far!