Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
19 July 2013

Cumberland Chimney to Mount Surprise
This sunny morning was unusual in that I was out of the van early to photograph birds having their morning drink (and bath) in a pool nearby and separated from the main lake. One group of three pale headed rosellas looked as if they were a bunch of sedate citizens discussing the events of the day in a public bath.

We were one of several caravans leaving at about the same time but were the only ones turning towards Georgetown on the single-lane Gulf Developmental Road with Georgetown 22 kilometres away as our immediate destination. The road remained intermittently single and double lanes of bitumen with 11.5 of the 22 kilometres being single lane. Traffic was negligible, one cattle truck overtaking us and a few caravans going the other way. The land remained hilly with large boulders in evidence; vegetation cover was woodland with grass understorey.

In Georgetown we refuelled at one of the three servos in town. It was very quiet because this day was a public holiday because of Cairns Show Day; one local resident we spoke to commented that in ten years he knew of one Georgetown resident who had gone to the Cairns Show on show day. After a cup of coffee we turned onto the Developmental Road towards Mount Surprise crossing the Etheridge River on a long concrete bridge; this was marked as a two-lane bridge but the lanes were a bit narrow so I waited for a truck to cross towards us before moving onto the bridge. The river bed was completely dry and sandy with a good covering of paperbark trees along the banks and on the river bed.

The road left the Etheridge River as a two-lane road but soon reverted to a single lane and continued the earlier practice of alternating single and double lanes of bitumen. Of the 92 kilometres to Mount Surprise there were 18.6 kilometres of single lane road and a further three kilometres of what we called one and a half lane road which had wider bitumen than a single lane road with a white line down the middle to give the impression of a full width road, but the lanes were narrow and passing an oncoming vehicle was a bit tense.

Considerable work was in progress on improving the road by building two-lane sections; these new road surfaces were pleasant to drive on but some single-lane sections had reasonable bitumen lanes with narrow and unpleasant verges. On one occasion we met an oncoming truck where there was insufficient space for us to pull over so he had to move onto the verge as well; the mass of dust and stones in the air meant we had to go very slowly until it cleared and we could see what was ahead of us. Clouds of dust were a hazard even when a single oncoming 4WD pulled over onto the verge; until the dust settled it was impossible to see if there was another vehicle coming.

The road remained generally hilly while slowly climbing. Then, about 16 kilometres from Georgetown, we started going up. The road climbed up Newcastle Range from 360 metres elevation to 452 metres in one long, winding climb on fairly new two-lane road, then continued climbing to reach 553 metres elevation 27 kilometres from Georgetown before gradually descended to be 463 metres at Mount Surprise. The hills were covered in eucalyptus woodland commonly seen in this region.

Approaching one section of single-lane road we met a wide load we had heard on the UHF radio some time before so we knew it was coming but we were not really prepared for what we saw. This 4 metre wide load on a single bitumen lane about 2.8 metres wide gave new meaning to the term "Wide Load" and the sight prompted us to immediately pull off and wait well clear until the load had gone past.

The narrower roads end about 15 or 20 kilometres from Mount Surprise. This is a favoured stopping place for caravans and the village seemed to be overflowing with vans as we passed through. We checked in to the selected caravan park and were led to a smallish, just adequate, site in the newer section of the park where we set up for three nights.

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