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Old August 14th, 2006, 19:41   #1
vmq6695's Avatar
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Default AUS: Gold Coast to Cairns

Here’s my report of our 2,000 km (1,200 miles) trip in Australia (Aus, pronounced as in Frank Baum’s fairytale land). 4 – 7 August 2006, north along the Queensland coast from Southport (in Gold Coast City) to Cairns.

August is winter in Aus, so temperatures were 9 – 20°C from the Gold Coast to Townsville and 10 – 26°C from Townsville to Cairns. No rain fell during my trip (no surprise: much of Aus has been in drought for a decade or more).

My start and end points are both major tourist destinations. When I left, the Gold Coast – famous for its beaches and forest hinterland - was playing host to a mix of tourists from southern Australia, Asia, and the Middle East.

Cairns is the major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and wet tropical forests. At any one time, the tourist population of Cairns almost equals the number of residents. Young European backpackers mix with well-heeled tourists from Asia (especially Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China), and – see below in Day 3 – the fabled ‘grey nomads’ from the cooler south of Australia.

Queensland is the north-eastern state in Aus, occupying about 25% of the continent, but home to only 3.8 million people (about 15% of the 21 million Aussies). Since the late 20th century, the Aus population has been slowly shifting north: about 1,500 people are reported to move to Queensland each week.

Most Queenslanders – more than 2 million of them - live in the southeast corner, in an interrupted conurbation that includes the cities of Gold Coast, Brisbane (the state capital), Ipswich, Redcliffe, and Logan and the many neighbouring towns stretching north to Caloundra City and the Sunshine Coast and its hinterland. Outside the SE corner, the population is spread thinly apart from a few coastal cities.

Our recently purchased 2006 Mk V Golf 2.0 TDI Comfortline – the A5 platform, model 1K1, with the BKD engine rated at 103 kW (138 hp, 140 PS). The engine drives through a HDV gearbox (six speed manual) to Goodyear Eagle NCT5 Eco 195/65R15 tyres, run at 255 kPa (37 psi) – that’s 85% of sidewall max. The vehicle was assembled in VAG’s Uitenhage plant in South Africa.

I added a few options and accessories to the standard Comfortline specifications: ESP (standard on the Jetta in Aus, but an extra for the Golf); mudflaps, rear and side window sunblinds, rear boot inlay, floor carpets, bonnet protector, and headlight protectors. I sought, but failed to find, a suitable skid plate (the VW Group of Aus does not market the steel skid plate for the A5 and after market skid plates such as Evolution are not retailed in Aus).

The odometer had recorded just less than 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) before the trip.

Fuel and fuel consumption:
Fuel kiosks in Aus retail so-called ULSD, which is really LSD with up to 50 mg/kg of sulfur. Genuine ULSD is slated for 2008. Cetane level is, according to the oil companies, typically 51 and lubricity 460 micron max.

Four refineries and their associated retail kiosks supply the market. Two of the refineries have formed retail links with big supermarket chains. Chevron (using the retail name Caltex) and the big supermarket retailer Woolworths, have about 38 % of the market. Shell and its big supermarket retailer partner, Coles, have about 27%. Stopping the supermarket retailers and their partner refineries from setting up a duopoly and screwing the customers comprehensively are BP with 17%, Exxon-Mobil with 10%, and a few small independent fuel retailers.

Aus produces around 75% of its own petroleum fuels, importing the rest. Biofuel production (eg biodiesel from slaughterhouse fat – I guess vegans don’t use biodiesel in Aus?) is small and inefficient.

The engine is new and tight. And we used air conditioning (and heating in the early mornings). At idle, such as waiting for traffic lights, fuel consumption was reported as 0.7 litres/hour in contrast to 0.5 litres/h when idling without air con.

I’ve not calculated overall highway trip fuel consumption, because of the way I keep records. I think it was better than 5.75 litres/100 km (49.13 mpg imperial, 40.9 mpg US). The car carried two adults and luggage. I’ve included fuel consumption figures for two of the legs and also given clues to my average road speed for those legs.

Day 1: Gold Coast to Brisbane, 82 km (50 miles)
This was a short drive from the Gold Coast VW dealer to Brisbane along the Pacific Motorway. The dealer replaced the steering bushes, which were binding, under warranty. Replacing the bushes took 3 hours.

The Pacific Motorway is a high quality divided highway with 4 lanes each way. It’s almost equal in quality to an interstate highway in the US and superior to the North-South tollway (PLUS) in Malaysia. But the posted speed is only 110 km/h (70 mph). Signage is excellent. Drivers maintain 110 km/h consistently (ie no slow coaches and few scofflaws).

Gold Coast City has a resident population of 0.5 million. As mentioned above, it’s a tourist centre (surf beaches, theme parks) with a tiny commercial/industrial sector.

Brisbane City has a population of 1.7 million and is the major administrative, industrial, commercial, and cultural centre of the state.

From Brisbane north, the road is called the Bruce Highway. The highway is named after a local politician from the 1930s. I suspect that the design of the highway also dates from the 1930s (and did not benefit from the highway design revolution associated with the autobahns of Germany).

Most of the Bruce Highway is inadequate and some sections are worn out and sad. Aus governments, both state and federal, have failed to invest in infrastructure. Even though the Bruce Highway carries the highest traffic load of in Queensland, it’s mostly a sub-standard single carriageway (ie an undivided two lane - one lane north, one south - strip of bitumen). The surface is indifferent. Long stretches have no shoulders. And a few stretches have deficient foundation.

Day 2: Brisbane to Rockhampton, 650 km (400 miles)
Fuel consumption was 5.79 litres/100 km (48.78 mpg Imp.; 40.62 mpg US).

For photos of the Bruce Highway to Rockhampton (and an assessment that uses ‘good’ as equal to my ‘inadequate’), see: http://www.hotkey.net.au/~krool/photos/qld/bruce.html.

Only the first 100 km, from Brisbane to Cooroy, is a multilane divided motorway about equal to the standard of the North-South tollway in Malaysia. One section, from Caboolture to Cooroy, is posted at 110 km/h. For the rest, the posted speed limit is 100 km/h (~60 mph). Some sections, passing through hamlets, are posted at 80 km/h or slower. Most of the Bruce Highway is therefore not up to the standard of the N-S tollway in Malaysia (which has about the same population and is a poorer economy).

Most long distance drivers are scofflaws who aim to maintain ~120 km/h. Truckers maintain a steady 105 km/h (most have electronic logs open to inspection by authority figures). Traffic is frequently slowed by travellers (see below in Day 3), particularly underpowered passenger cars towing high-air resistance caravans.

Apart from the urban areas, the Brisbane-Rockhampton road passes through sparsely inhabited areas, including rural areas (pine forests, dairy and beef cattle pastures, fruit orchards, sugar cane fields) and native forests (sclerophyll woodlands dominated by eucalypts).

I chose to drive in daylight – some stretches are notorious for kangaroo strikes from dusk to dawn. All long distance trucks and many local cars carry impressive bars (bull bars, roo bars, nudge bars) to minimize vehicle damage and ensure that the roos die quickly when struck.

The highway passes outside the hamlet of Bauple, notable for being at the core of the native range of Macadamia trees. The macadamia nut is the only significant food plant that the Aus continent has contributed to the contemporary world. Macadamia nut production in Aus has just recently outstripped that in Hawai’i and other locations, but not a few of the lower-priced macadamia nuts retailed in Aus are imported and do not have the creaminess (due to mono-unsaturated fat) of fresh maccas bought locally.

We stopped in the delightful town of Childers for lunch. The town (of just less than 3,000 people) sits on a ridge overseeing red soil planted with sugar cane and fruit. Some patches of sugar cane have been infected by smut. We lunched on meat pies, at the Hot Bread Café, the winner of the 2006 Best Bakery in SE Queensland. The pies proved excellent.

We passed two police patrol vehicles, with their crews busy harassing drivers. And we saw one mobile radar speed camera, near Miriam Vale. Traffic was such a mix that we decided to record a sample next day (see below).

Rockhampton, with 100,000 people, sits astride the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s the focus of a large area known for beef cattle (mostly grass fed), mining (especially coal, but including semi-precious stones), and some mineral processing (mainly alumina).

We chose to stay overnight in a motel on the northern outskirts, for an easy start next morning. Brisbane to Rockhampton is really 100 km or so short of being a serious one day drive, but the next major settlement north is 330 km away. At speeds around 100 km/h, 1000 km is just a tad too far, so many northbound drivers choose to break their journey at Rockhampton.

Day 3: Rockhampton to Townsville, 715 km (444 miles)
Fuel consumption was 5.56 litres/100 km (50.81 mpg Imp.; 42.3 mpg US).

For photos of the northern part of the Bruce Highway, see http://www.hotkey.net.au/~krool/photos/qld/bruce1.html.

The first 200 km of this leg, north to Sarina, runs through sclerophyll woodland with beef cattle studs and cattle stations (ranches). The cattle in tropical Aus are now a majority of Bos indicus breeds (eg Brahmin), or hybrid indicus/taurus breeds (eg Droughtmasters). The drought of the past decade and the grazing pressure has reduced grass cover, so most quality cattle delivered to slaughter are now grain-assisted or grain-fed. That’s in contrast to earlier years when Aus cattle were almost totally grass-fed, with lower fat levels and needing less medication with antibiotics than their grain-fed counterparts (the gut of cattle seems optimised by evolution for digesting grass, not grain).

Much of the 200 km from Landsborough to Sarina is posted at 110 km/h. I found no logical reason for the higher posted speed, but made use of it. This higher speed section is the same inadequate single carriageway and it lacks shoulders for much of its length. The monotony of sclerophyll forest is broken at Clairview with a glimpse of the sea.

Sarina marks the start of rich coastal plains, with good rainfall, that stretch north to Mackay and on towards Townsville. Sugar cane fields dominate the plains. Cane harvesting and milling were in progress as we drove past, adding to the sights and smells. The world sugar price is higher this year than the recent past. So cane fields are fetching higher prices at sale.

From Rockhampton to Mackay, we kept statistics on south-bound vehicles and other things. Over 5 hours (515 km) of highway we passed 1226 vehicles. They included:

Passenger cars (sedans, station wagons, hatches, coupes etc): 49%
4WD (including utility/pick-up configurations): 26%
Travellers (caravans towed by cars or 4WD, and full-blown motor homes): 13%
Trucks (B-doubles, 34 wheelers, down to 2 tonners): 8%
Motorcycles: 4%
Buses (long distance coaches): < 1%
Bicycles (pedal power): 2 only
Police patrol vehicles: 1 only
Fire emergency vehicles: 1 only
Cane trams (light trains carrying sugar cane to the mill): 1 only
Road kill (largely kangaroos): 29

Boats (aluminium dinghies, GRP sailboats, speedboats, canoes and kayaks) were carried or trailed by 28 vehicles, about 2% of the total. Several of the vehicles towing a caravan carried an aluminium dinghy on the roof of the tow vehicle.

Amongst the travellers are a few of the much fabled ‘grey nomads’. The GN are retirees, aged from their 50s upwards, who have sold their urban houses (taking advantage of a real estate boom in urban centres) and taken to the travelling life. Many other travellers are vacationers, particularly southerners escaping the winter cold and bleakness in Queensland.

The highway diverts to pass outside the seaside town of Bowen, just before giving a sight of the sea and a hillock of salt at the seasalt evaporation pans south of the township.

We stopped for lunch at a truck stop just north of Bowen. The food was indifferent, but the staff was friendly.

As we approached Townsville, we stopped at Gumlu to buy fresh fruit from a roadside stall (based on a ’49 Chevy, I think). We parked just behind a candy white Mk V Golf 1.9 TDI and complimented the owners on choosing to buy an excellent car.

Townsville (the combined cities of Thuringowa and Townsville) has a population of around 160, 000. It’s an industrial and service centre for a large portion of northern Queensland.

Day 4: Townsville to Cairns 347 km (216 miles)
After a drive to see new developments in Townsville-Thuringowa, we headed north to Cairns.

Townsville sits in a rain shadow caused by the coastline to the south running in the same direction as the prevailing rain-bearing winds, but the full-blown wet tropics commence just north.

The coastal range is higher and closer to the highway in this leg, so the scenery is more impressive.

Sugar cane fields dominate the roadside. After a short and nasty experiment with slave labour (men kidnapped from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu), sugar cane agriculture changed to free labour. Young Italian immigrant men, working on cane farms owned by Italo-Aus families, provided the muscle in the days of manual harvesting. Cane harvesting is now mechanised. The chief cane towns, including Ingham and Tully, retain significant Italian culture and have formal ties with villages in Italy.

Apart from sugar cane fields, banana plantations and mango orchards are common. About 90% of Aus bananas are grown around Innisfail.

In March 2006, a category 5 tropical cyclone (aka hurricane or typhoon) devastated the towns, banana fields, native forests, and highway signs around Innisfail.

In August, more than 4 months after Super-Cyclone Larry devastated the area, the damage remained. In and around Innisfail, we saw roofs that were new or covered by tarpaulin. Constant rain and the lack of skilled labour have delayed repairs. The native wet tropical forests have been stripped of leaves. Banana fields are uniform – the stems are all 4 months old and just starting to fruit (locals predict a glut of bananas in 1 – 2 months, with a crash in retail prices likely). About 50% of the damaged highway signs have been replaced. Damaged signs still remaining are directional signs, giving distance to the next location, which have to be custom-made.

We stopped for lunch at the coastal town of Cardwell and chose to eat fish and chips at a café that provides for sidewalk dining beside the highway, which runs through town. The food was excellent. The seaside setting, with the highway running between our sidewalk table and the sea, was magic.

We saw one mobile radar speed camera, north of Tully.

A challenge for drivers comes from a winding section as the highway crosses a ridge in the Girrigun National Park, north of Ingham and south of Conn. The ridge provides two fine outlooks to the Hinchinbrook Island and channel. The Bruce Highway has dual carriageway sections (ie multi-lane divided road) on the outskirts of Townsville and Cairns.

Cairns has a resident population of 120,000, but the daytime population includes commuters (from Kuranda, Mareeba, and other neighbouring towns and hamlets) and tourists.

Last edited by vmq6695; August 16th, 2006 at 01:06.
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