Travelling Australia - Journal 2011
1 August 2011 - Mt Surprise to Charter Towers
After a final cup of coffee at the Bedrock bakery we set off from Mount Surprise. Packing up this morning had been easy as our site was large enough to connect Pathfinder and caravan the day before ready for an easy, early departure.

We were keen to get away reasonably early because we were hoping to reach Charters Towers a little over 400 kilometres away, mostly along the Kennedy and Gregory Developmental Roads; the Kennedy Development Road to The Lynd then the Gregory Road to Charters Towers. Information available on this road mostly comprised warnings about poor road conditions, particularly about long sections of single lane bitumen. Warnings were also included about large numbers of road trains carrying ore-concentrate or cattle. The company operating the ore-concentrate road trains had posted a notice at Mount Surprise warning of road train operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week with rigs to 50 metres long; other road users were warned these road trains were so heavy they had to remain on the bitumen on single lane sections.

With all these warnings we were not sure how far we would get today.

The first section of today's journey was along the last bit of the Gulf Developmental Road we had left Normanton on several days ago. This was 56 kilometres of mostly very good, dual-lane, full-width bitumen highway. For some odd reason there was a single kilometre of single lane bitumen remaining. This section of road climbed up the western slope of the Great Dividing Range from 466 metres elevation at Mount Surprise to 806 metres at the Mount Surprise turn-off from the Developmental Road to Charters Towers. A strong, gusting wind from the side combined with the climb to produce the highest fuel consumption I have seen when travelling. This was 25.7 litres per 100 kilometres for the section from Mount Surprise to the intersection - and it had been 26.6 litres per 100 kilometres until the road flattened out five kilometres before the intersection.

Then we turned south along the Kennedy Developmental Road and fuel consumption improved; the wind was now behind us and dropping and the road ran gently downhill along the ridge marking the Great Dividing Range. The two-lane bitumen road lasted for 53 kilometres before we came to the first single-lane section.

On this two-lane road we met our first ore-concentrate road-train (three trailers and prime mover) heading north. The ore-train stayed on its side of the road and we stayed on our side and we passed without difficulty. Despite the gloomy warnings of heavy mining traffic this was the only ore truck we saw while driving 349 kilometres from the Mount Surprise turn-off to Charters Towers.

There was no sign of the heavy road-train traffic we had been led to believe was characteristic of this road. We passed three cattle road trains and two general-goods road trains in total. The largest category of vehicle was caravans and motorhomes.

Neither was the road generally poor and narrow. Much of the surface was excellent, two-lane, full width bitumen with a central broken line and continuous sidelines. There were some remaining sections of the older, single-lane developmental road but these had a reasonable bitumen surface and smooth verges level with the bitumen so moving over for oncoming traffic was not difficult. A significant section of road had very recently been upgraded increasing the total length of good-quality road. Overall, the Kennedy and Gregory Developmental Road between the Mount Surprise turnoff and Charters Towers compares favourably with many Queensland roads, in good weather without rain we were able to maintain about 90 kilometres per hour without difficulty.

Although we did not see many road trains the road remains officially a Road Train Route with UHF channel 40 as the designated communication channel. To improve communications on single-lane sections, where light vehicles (including caravans) are required to give road-trains right of way, 25 Call Points have been identified and signed. A vehicle approaching a Call Point should broadcast its presence on channel 40; for example, "Caravan southbound twenty" from a caravan heading south approaching Call Point 20. This broadcast alerts any vehicle near that Call Point allowing it to prepare to move over. But much roadwork in recent years has provided two-lanes of bitumen and adequate verges at many Call Points and travellers no longer need to respond to oncoming traffic. Broadcasting vehicle type and location was not widely practiced on this day of good weather.

But some Call Points were on the narrow road and it was re-assuring to have prior knowledge of another caravan approaching on the single lane road before it came into sight.

We refuelled without incident at Greenvale. This mining town has had a varied history and was nearly abandoned in 2003 when we last came this way. The mine has re-opened and the township is flourishing. Fuel is also available at Lynd Junction (travellers have to turn off this road to reach the roadhouse) and at Bluewater Springs Roadhouse further south.

The road passed through a variety of scenery. At first the ground was heavily cluttered with basalt boulders generated by lava flowing from Undara long ago; vegetation remained open woodland with widely spaced trees and only grass as ground cover. South towards Charters Towers variously coloured sandstone became common; some cuttings were a blaze of coloured sandstone in orange, yellow, pink and white.
Mt Surprise to Charters Towers - page 2
Woodland continued to the south but changed in nature to be more closely packed with many trees now having white trunks; there was also a low layer of shrubs and foliage was a brighter green than the dull greens common around Mount Surprise.
Open woodland Woodland near One Mile Gin Creek, 131 kilometres north of Charters Towers.

Cattle were seen in large numbers in paddocks beside the road; more cattle in paddocks than we can recall ever seeing before. These appear to have been stranded by the Gillard Government's suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia without notice; in normal years they would have been sent from the area (via the Port of Townsville) but must now be held while processing procedures are sorted out. When we arrived in Charters Towers there were news reports about the adverse impact on the local economy of the live export ban and of the very long time being taken to resume that trade.

Shortly after passing the Bluewater Springs Roadhouse the Pathfinder and caravan were suddenly shaken by a dust willy-willy. I saw a blur to the left out of the corner of my eye then everything shook unpleasantly for a few seconds. Calm was restored and we just looked at each other wondering what had happened.

In Charters Towers we drove to the selected caravan park, checked in for three nights and were shown to one of four informal sites around a large tree. Taking care to leave space for the television aerial above the roof, the caravan was carefully backed into place and levelling blocks put into place. Then we went into town for a quick look and to collect our mail which had been forwarded from home.
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