The headwinds were taking their toll on our legs, so when we saw a sign pointing the way to the Mount Elliot camping area of the Bowling Green national park, Karen and I quickly turned left. Although only thirty six kilometres from Townsville, we had already travelled over sixty kilometres for the day and needed the rest. Two kilometres down the road we called in to the Alligator Creek Tavern for a beer, then continued on for the remaining four kilometres into the national park.
For some strange reason, when Karen and I arrived at the camping area we felt completely at home. I suggested to Karen that we might spend a couple of nights here, and she agreed instantly. Either we were both really buggered, or else there was something about Mount Elliot that struck a chord with both of us. While setting up our camp, we wondered what the night would bring, having recently endured attacks by possums, the retching of drunken yobbos, police raids, pre-dawn seasonal workers and hippie guitarists.
Strangely enough, the first intruders we faced were birds. Brush turkeys are native to Australia, a common bird about the size, not surprisingly, of a turkey. They are predominantly black with a head of red skin, and the males have large yellow wattles that hang down from their throat like an empty double chin. Shortly after our arrival, I placed a coconut on the picnic table near our tent while I went off to fetch some water for a cuppa. A brush turkey was up on the table when I returned. It jumped off with a clatter, and ran away, and the coconut was gone. I found the coconut the next day. It had been knocked off the table, and had rolled down the bank of the creek and out onto the flat where it was nestled in leaf litter. A little while later we left some food unattended for a few seconds and almost lost that to the brush turkeys as well. They were also ogling our garbage bag which we had stuck onto the low stump of a nearby tree, so I tied it to our clothes line more than two metres off the ground.
After lunch, Karen and I were just leaving the campground bound for a walk up the river, when a brush turkey raced towards our campsite, jumped into the air with a great flapping of wings, latched onto our garbage bag and dragged it down to the ground. It raced down into the riverbed, with every other brush turkey in the area in hot pursuit, about twenty of them in all. We never saw that garbage again. I realised how stupid I had been, because although they are primarily ground dwellers, brush turkeys can fly - like a bird. We had first experienced this at Cape Hillsborough, just north of Mackay. During the day, the area was thick with brush turkeys, but at dusk they all disappeared. The following morning Karen and I were walking down through the trees to the beach when I happened to look up and there in the canopy were scores of brush turkeys. They never actually bothered us at night - they had left that to the possums - but it was always at the back of our minds that while we slept, lots of very large birds were roosting somewhere above us.
Once the day shift brush turkeys had retired for the evening, their night shift partners-in-crime began their nocturnal scavenges. Karen and I packed as much food into the tent with us as we could, hoping this would discourage the possums, but it only seemed to make them want to get into the tent with us. After rising a few times to demoralise our attackers with a few whacks around the buttocks with a thin stick, Karen and I settled down to a good night's sleep and a 'normal' night in tropical Queensland, with its usual cacophony of shrieks, barks, hoots and wails.
In the morning we were still tired, having ridden on four consecutive days, with distances of eighty six, ninety three, thirty one and sixty six kilometres. In addition, we had just clocked our three thousandth kilometre. But the main contributing factors to our weary legs, bodies and minds were the headwinds of the previous day, and the climb up Mount Inkerman the day before. For our rest day, we decided on a hike to Alligator Falls, a round trip of seventeen kilometres! Typical of us.
The first six and a half kilometres of the walk followed a long, hot and dusty fire-trail beneath heavy power lines, with only a couple of creek crossings to break the monotony. The final two kilometres were through a forest on a narrow footpad - cool and refreshing despite being uphill. While Karen had a snooze on a rock at the base of the falls, I climbed to the top for views of Highway One, Cape Cleveland and the ocean. We both had a refreshing dip in one of the cold plunge pools at the base of the falls, and our walk back to camp was a lot more energetic.
After lunch we chatted to a neighbour in the camp ground called Sam (Samantha) who had been a social worker back in England. She was temporarily camping alone while her boyfriend Jamie completed a diving course in Townsville, so after a walk down the river in the late afternoon, we joined her at her table for dinner, conversation, an open fire and a shared cask of cheap red wine.
The biking and hiking, not to mention the wine, caught up with us the next morning when Karen and I both slept in until somewhere around nine o'clock. We did a short walk down the creek in mid morning and were rewarded with a new bird - the white bellied cuckoo shrike - then relaxed all day until the late afternoon when we strolled upriver for a change. It was a great walk, with pools, boulders and cascades, a delight for swimmers and photographers, but we had left our camera back in the tent. We agreed to return in the morning.
Sam had driven into Townsville earlier in the day to pick up Jamie. She also had a shopping list we had given her as our supplies were running low. We had not been expecting to stay for so long at Mount Elliot. She arrived back at dusk with Jamie, a Radar O'Reilly lookalike. We moved over to their table where I stoked the fire and began cooking a barbecue of steak, sausages, chicken and onion while Karen cooked broccoli. An old New Zealander wandered over to our fire to join in the conversation, managing to insult Sam by alluding to her weight and appetite. She abused him for his lack of tact and went away for a while to settle down. After a few embarrassed minutes, so did the kiwi too.
We were also bothered by another uninvited guest. With Sam and Jamie due to leave the next morning, Karen and I had organised a combined farewell breakfast of our bacon with their eggs. The bacon had been a part of our shopping order and had been placed on a nearby table along with a lot of other gear, to be packed away at the end of the night. Halfway through dinner we became aware of a shiny pair of dark eyes peering at us from just above the other table. A rapid inspection quickly revealed an exceptionally cute possum, sitting quietly on the bench below the table, silently munching his way through our small store of bacon. Luckily, we salvaged about half of our bacon from the raid, enough for breakfast, but not as much as we would have liked.
With our supplies replenished, Karen and I could afford another day at Mount Elliot - our third. At breakfast, Jamie showed us his patented camp toaster - hot coals put into a can and a slice of bread placed on the top - which we decided we could do without. Then the usual addresses were exchanged and goodbyes said, and Karen and I were on our own again.
The national park had a separate area for day visitors, and it amused Karen and I to watch some visitors drive into the park, look around for a couple of minutes, sometimes without leaving the comfort of their vehicles, then drive back out again, bound for the next scenic attraction down the road. We could only be thankful for our lifestyle and the time we had at our disposal which enabled us to stay as long as we liked wherever we liked.
After lunch Karen and I returned to the cascades up the river, with camera in hand. I took a few rock and waterfall shots despite a heavy cloud cover, then Karen decided to go for a skinny dip. Bugger the bad light, I thought, and snapped off another couple of shots of my naked wife. From a tasteful distance, of course.
Karen in Alligator Creek
Back at camp we attacked the coconut, which had been generously donated to us by the manager of an information centre just outside of Bowen, and which had been subsequently attacked by the brush turkey, lost down the river bank and found the next day. After a dinner of pasta, garlic and chicken soup mix, we performed our nightly dance with the possums and retired to our tent to rest up for the next day's cycle into Townsville.