Cairns & Surrounds

 by Alison

Friday 11th June 2004

Left the house at 7am on another great trek into the unknown. We would have liked to have left much earlier but were rather surprised to get away at all after a series of things through the week seemed to conspire against us.

Heading north on the Bruce Highway, we have no firm plans at this stage what we'll see or do on the way, or even where we'll spend the first night. The big plan, I guess, is to get to Cairns within two days, and camp in a little town called Kuranda just outside the city.

We've got the Nissan overloaded with camping gear and we even put the kayaks on the roof. We may not find any water to launch them, but it's a beautiful sunny day and we're off on our winter holiday.

Passed through Gympie right on 8.30. At least we assume it was Gympie, the town was blanketed in thick fog, as was the highway for at least 20 minutes either side of the town. Many of the trees on the roadside were draped in cobwebs, and with the dew shining and dripping in the mist, it created quite a fairy tale look.

After three hours we drove through Childers and passed the turnoff to Bundaberg, where we promptly lost most of the other traffic. Except for the petrol tanker semi we caught up with, after he had pulled out in front of us in Childers. A quick overtaking manoeuvre and he was soon dispensed with, leaving us with an empty road ahead.

This area and further north is best explored at this time of year because of the weather, so a lot of the other vehicles are camper vans or 4WDs pulling caravans, driven by what's known in Australia as the Grey Nomads - retired couples who have sold up the family home and hit the road - a group to which Vic and I aspire to belong one day.

The traffic has definitely thinned out, and the landscape changes between dry brown grasslands scattered with gum trees, to paddocks of sugar cane and some undetermined fruit trees. 

We cross the Burnett River, very pretty with green bush right down to the water's edge. Vic commented that it would make for interesting canoeing. One day, I guess, when we're not rushing anywhere.

We make Rockhampton by 1.30pm, and decide we'll keep going rather than stop and look around the town. We do however pick up a pie at the first shop we come to, and then carry on.

I take up the driving from here until we get to Mackay at 5.30pm.

We stopped for an hour at Mackay, and examined the inside of the local KFC diner when we decided we'd carry on to Townsville. Arrived in that town by 10.30 pm, but now of course it's too late to put up a tent. (Well, so said us, anyway).

After refuelling again we found our way back onto the highway, this time with the intention of finding a place to stop for the night. We found what we were looking for about half an hour outside Townsville, although we didn't know it at the time. A signpost informed us of Bluewater Rest Area, 5kms ahead. A bit odd we thought, rest areas are not normally named.  But we didn't think any more of it, so we followed the sign from the road and stopped under a tree. There was another car parked under a tree as well. The front seats in our truck recline so far back that they rest on the back seat, so as long as there isn't more than two people, sleep is not impossible.

Saturday 12th June 2004

We managed to grab a few hours of broken sleep and woke with the daylight around 6am. Vic had a look around outside and saw some other vehicles parked not far away, so we followed the road round that we came in on, and found a huge free campground! Well, not really a campground, as you are only permitted a 24hour stay, one day a week. It was more like a large carpark with trees around it. But it had a toilet block, picnic tables and barbecues. We told ourselves it wouldn't have improved our sleep any, other than the streetlights wouldn't have been in our eyes, so we checked out the facilities and were back on the road by 6.30, looking for breakfast.

This is lovely countryside round here, with rolling hills covered in bush, and the fields on both sides of the road packed with sugar cane, so that the road appears to wind it's way through the cane fields. The cane is so tall you can't see over the top from inside the car, and every few yards a railway line appears from the cane plants on one side of the road and disappears through the cane on the opposite side. Signs along the way warn us to look out for sugar cane trains as we drive, but it's not cane harvesting season now, so the trains aren't likely to bother us.

We found our breakfast stop, at a Driver Reviver place. The Driver Reviver program was established in 1989 and is supported by the Government and the community. It provides a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits (all free, although donations are welcome), at some 220 locations around Australia. The idea is to combat driver fatigue by encouraging motorists to "stop, revive - survive". It is run by volunteers during holidays and long weekends. Similar programs operate in other countries. We downed our very welcome coffee and bikkies while chatting to another driver who was heading South. She told us she lived in Mossman, about 70kms north of Cairns, and had left home with her three children to go to Townsville. They were going to watch the North QLD Cowboys play the Newcastle Knights that night in Rugby League. For the record, the Cowboys won that game convincingly.

As we said our goodbyes and moved off again, the landscape changed from sugar cane to trees and bushes right down to the road edge, as we wound our way up and through some hills. The scenery was actually reminiscent of New Zealand with the bush covered hills, and very green as well. Back down out of the hills again and in amongst the gum trees, but now the ground is green beneath the trees, unlike further south where the gums grow sparsely on a dry brown land.

A bit further along the road past pine forests on one side and gums on the other, we come to a tiny town called Cardwell. What a delightful place for a holiday, with Hinchinbrook Island right opposite. Unfortunately we have no time to stop here, so we promise ourselves we'll come back. One day.

Another 30kms along the road the sugar cane fields have reappeared, but with an added attraction of banana palms. A little bit south of Cairns, just as we came through a gap at the top of a hill with bananas on both sides of the road, a small plane shot across the road in front of us and disappeared. He was so close to the ground, he was actually below us. He was topdressing the banana plants. We haven't seen that method of fertilizing since we lived in New Zealand.

We drove through Cairns and out the other side, following the signs to Kuranda. It was just on mid-day when we parked outside the information centre in Kuranda.

We went in and inquired about camp grounds. We knew of one commercial place, but wanted to see if there were any others. The lady behind the counter looked at us and told us she knew of a place that would suit us. She showed us the map and pointed to a National Park about another half an hour up the road. We must have looked like we had been driving for a day and a half, and therefore not respectable enough for the commercial camp ground. We passed on the offer of the National Park, and settled for Kuranda Rainforest Park.

The couple who ran the place were very nice, he even offered us a free mandarin off his own tree, he seemed to be trying to impress us with the fact that he'd grown them himself. We didn't tell him we had a kazillion  ripe ones hanging on our own tree at home.

So we put the tent up and had lunch while we looked over a few pamphlets of things to see and do in the area.

We were told of a quick way into the town from the campground. Apparently you go out the back of the grounds and down to the railway line, where you walk along the tracks for a short distance til it comes out at the station. 

So after lunch, and booking a ride on the Skyrail for the next day, we headed to the town for a look around. But we failed to see the steps down to the river from the railway, and ended up walking through a tunnel to come out on one of the platforms. Not quite the recommended route, we should have walked along the river bank to the railway footbridge.

In the town we wandered up and down the main street, it's not very big, we took a few photos and decided to do a pub crawl. As there were only two pubs, we had to have a couple of drinks in each one, or walk back and forth between them.  In one pub we had a chat to a couple of locals for a while, who had actually not lived here long, but come from the UK and liked it enough to stay here.  By 3pm the shops had started closing and the streets were almost empty. It turns out that most of the tourists stay in Cairns, and just pop up to Kuranda on the train for a day, and the last train back to Cairns was about to leave. At about 5 o'clock we made our way back to the tent. The correct way. Well, along the river anyway. By now it was time to cook our gourmet camp dinner and then head to bed.

Sunday 13th June 2004

Today we're going to take the Skyrail down to Cairns, so we got up around 6am and made breakfast. It's a beautiful morning as we walk along the riverbank to the station. It's a lovely time to be in Kuranda before all the tourists from Cairns arrive for the day. We turn up at the Skyrail station just on 9am, a bit early for our ride. It had rained briefly overnight and all the plants were glistening in the morning sun. The railway station looked stunning with baskets of ferns hanging from the roof over the platforms and the surrounding gardens rich with gingers and heliconias. The odd banana palm was growing along the river bank.

We were the only passengers going down on the Skyrail to Cairns, most people do the trip the other way around, from Cairns to Kuranda.

The ride down was awesome, we crossed the Barron River fairly early, and stopped at two places on the way, Barron Falls and Red Peak Station. At the Barron Falls Station we walked the boardwalks to all three lookouts. From these points you get a wonderful view of the Barron River, Gorge and the Falls. At this time of year, however, (the dry season), the falls are a mere trickle. In the wet, you can hardly see them for the spray, they are so full of water. Also at this station is a computer based information centre called the Rainforest Interpretive Centre. Pretty impressive name. This room has several touch-screen computers that people can use to learn more about rainforests and the wildlife that live in them. At the Red Peak station you can again walk the boardwalks through the rainforest. We took heaps of photos on this trip.

As our ride got further down, we noticed more and more people in the cars coming up. By the time we got to the bottom we were just part of the crowd. We didn't waste much time below, as a bus ride was necessary to get into Cairns, and we'd decided to do that trip on another day in our own car. So we turned around and joined the queues to go back to Kuranda.

We were back in Kuranda by 11am, so we wandered around the shops and markets for a while, where I found a few things I just couldn't live without, and stopped for lunch in the Frog Restaurant. We chose a table out the back on an open deck overlooking the trees and bush. The decking had been built around two giant palms giving the impression that the palms had grown up through the floor and ceiling. In the time we were there, it rained several times in short heavy bursts, and then the sun would come out and it was so warm you could see the steam coming off the trees. No wonder it's so green up here, and this is not the wet season.

After a leisurely lunch and a few wines, (hic), we strolled around the streets of Kuranda again, taking a few more pictures, and once again found ourselves in a garden bar of one of the pubs. Of course everything closes mid-afternoon except the pubs, so there's not much else to do in Kuranda. After a couple of drinks we staggered back along the railway line to our tent.

Monday 14th June 2004

A bit of a lazy morning this morning, didn't get up til after 7am, so it was after 9 before we had left the tent for the day.

Our first stop was the BP in Kuranda and then the Barron Gorge Lookout. We parked the car and wandered out along the boardwalk and down onto the Barron Falls railway station. This time we're on the other side of the gorge, and looking across we can see the Skyrail in the distance. We'd been there a few minutes when the  tourist train from Cairns pulled into the station beside us, offloading hundreds of Japanese tourists, who were more concerned with taking each other's photos than looking at the scenery. There was a constant misty drizzle of rain while we were there. From there we went to another little lookout place called Wright's Lookout. You are supposed to be able to see Cairns from here through a gap in the hills, but unfortunately being a wet day, the fog is blocking the view.

We drove back into Kuranda to stock up on food for dinner and more ice. We found that the general store sold kangaroo meat, which we like, so we bought a couple of steaks. After leaving the shopping at the tent, we made our way out towards Mareeba.  We turned off the Kennedy Highway towards Barron Gorge NP with the intention of walking a couple of the bush tracks but by now it was pouring rain (well we are in the rainforest), and we didn't really feel like getting that wet. So we carried on towards Mareeba. As we left the bush behind us, we also left the rain, so we turned down a nearby road pointing to Davies Creek NP. This was at the end of a long red dirt road, and after the recent rain, the truck certainly looked like it had done a few miles. Here we found a campground and a walk (2kms) to the falls. We drove the 2kms and then had a look around the falls.

We got back onto the road towards Mareeba and thought as we were that close we'd have a drive through that town. Well it was pretty ordinary and looked rather sleepy, so we turned back. This time we went down the road towards Emerald Creek Falls in the Emerald Creek State Forest. We walked up to these falls, a bit of a hike, but once again very pretty. These places must be sensational in the wet season.

Back at the tent we opened a beer and sorted out the things for our evening meal. As the weather was looking pretty dodgy for cooking outside, we bundled up our food, cooking gear and a bottle of red wine and headed to the camp kitchen and prepared our meal there.

It's always a good social place to meet some interesting people and have a chat, but only a few people came by tonight. One, a young girl, brought a rather large bag of spuds of  which she washed every one, then piled them back into the bag and took them back to wherever it was she was camping. She must have been feeding an army. She didn't seem keen to chat, and the few words we heard her speak weren't in English anyway.

Another person, a man from Texas, USA, (I mention USA because there is a Texas in Australia), stopped to say hello on his way past and sat for half an hour with us discussing the state of the roads in Australia and how they should build better ones. He was also not very pleased with the weather as it was meant to be the dry season. Nor were we very happy with it but we are in the rainforests, and anyway we didn't come this far to listen to an American complain about our country. We can do that ourselves.

He then got on to talking about computer companies with Vic and which ones were worth keeping his shares for and which companies weren't going to last. Seemingly satisfied with passing on his opinions, he left us.

After we'd eaten, a guy from a nearby campervan popped in, he seemed to be curious about what was going on, as he walked in, didn't actually say hello or anything, just looked at the fridge and mumbled something like "mmm - fridge" and then opened the freezer door and said "uh-huh", he closed that door and then opened the fridge door and said "uh-huh" again. He walked around the tables and as he was heading out he stopped and asked us if we'd seen the curlews. We told him um - no, not tonight. Then he said, "so, nothing to report?" I told him there was a gecko on the wall and a spider in the sink, and he said "ok", and left. Vic and I looked at each other and laughed. I wonder if he was hoping to find the curlews in the fridge.

A little while later, the guy who runs the place stopped in and said hello, and asked us how we'd heard about the campground. I told him I found it on the internet. Then we mentioned how the lady at the information centre told us to go up to Davies Creek to camp and never actually mentioned this place. He said, yes, other than the Skyrail, Cairns doesn't seem to want to admit that Kuranda exists.

After exchanging a few more pleasantries he left and we cleaned up our mess and headed back to the tent.

Tuesday 15th June 2004

Today we're spending the day in Cairns for shopping and a general look around.

After parking the car in a city street, we walked down to the marina. Boy, there's a few dollars worth of boat tied up down there. We walked around for ages, walked back up to the shopping area, and spent a bit of time there. We had lunch in a restaurant near the water, which was rather pleasant. Then we hunted out the railway station so we could book our tickets on the Kuranda scenic railway for the next day. We had to book from Cairns to Kuranda and return, instead of catching the train at Kuranda, as once again, most people travel up to Kuranda, and the train only leaves Cairns in the morning. So that means we have to drive to Cairns to leave the car to go back up to Kuranda on the train, then go back down to Cairns on the train so we can drive back up. Confusing.

However, after booking our tickets, we drove out to three of Cairns beaches for a look; Holloway, Machans and Yorkey's Knob. We bought fish and chips for dinner and ate them at one of the beaches.

Wednesday 16th June 2004

This morning we're off on the scenic train from Cairns. It's a much better day weather-wise today, and we settle into the train for a pleasant 2-hour trip. The sugar cane is in flower all around here and looks rather lovely.

The track goes through 15 short tunnels on the way, the longest being almost a mile in length. When this long one was being constructed, it had to be made in 8 sections all at the same time, as they were running out of time for completion. Kuranda is apparently the northernmost station in QLD.

After getting off the train in Kuranda, we visited the butterfly sanctuary and the bird aviary. We had a simple lunch today at a sandwich bar before heading back to the train for the ride down.

Back at the tent, and after dinner, we monopolized the TV up in the backpackers' lounge as there was no one else in there. We watched the second State of Origin rugby league game with a bottle of wine. We watched the first half on our own with the TV on what we thought was a reasonable volume for 8pm. At halftime a woman came out of one of the rooms and asked if we'd mind turning the volume down. Vic told her the knob didn't work, but she walked up and fiddled with it anyway. Well, what do you know - it didn't work. It changed the channel not the volume. After 10 minutes into the second half of the game she gave up and stomped back into her room. We never saw her again. Now the volume was twice as loud as it had been, but we didn't care, at least we could hear it now! And QLD won the game as well.

Thursday 17th June 2004

After rather a slow start to the day, we piled into the car and headed north for a day trip to Port Douglas. What beautiful scenery as we drive round the hills, with the road running alongside the beach.

Getting back into tourist country again, seeing caravans and vans with plates from NSW and Victoria and even Tasmania. Suddenly the road takes a climb up through 20 kms or so of winding narrow road, and the views down onto the coastline are superb.

In Port Douglas we wandered around the shopping area, which has a similar layout  to Noosa. We walked along the very wide beach, along with a number of other people. I think it is called 4 Mile Beach. At least at low tide it was wide. Judging by the high tide line, it didn't look like there would be much left of the beach. Coconut palms lined the edge of the sand, and many people were riding hired bikes along the beach. Then we walked over to the other side of the town, to the marina area, to find a restaurant for lunch. We found a suitable one looking across to the boats, and had another very enjoyable 2hour lunch with wine.

At 4pm, we went up to the park overlooking the marina and sat on the grassy bank under the palms. A woman in a shop we had gone into earlier in the day had told us that at about that time, all the boats come back in after a day out on the reef. She said that the large Quicksilver  boats look like the Star Wars fleet when they come in. She wasn't wrong. They are large multi-decked catamarans with narrow dark tinted windows.

Friday 18th June 2004

We're all packed and ready to leave Kuranda. We are going to head out towards Mareeba and inland and down from there. We hope to make Charters Towers for the night. It doesn't take long to get out of the rainforests and into the open. We passed through the Atherton Tablelands and across the tops of the hills. There are orchards of mangos, bananas and sugar cane here. We drove through Misty Mountain, with rainforest either side, and spot several road signs telling us to slow down as tree kangaroos and cassowaries cross the road in this area. I would have liked to stop and wait for one, but I suspect we could have been there a while.

As we came over the top of one hill we saw several wind turbines in front of us. So we pulled in to the lay-by provided to view them, and took photos and read the info. Boy, was it cold when we got out the car! A sudden contrast after being in Port Douglas the day before, we had to hunt out winter sweat shirts to put on.

Much of the road from Mt Garnet is dirt with a narrow strip of seal down the middle. You wonder why they bothered. When anything comes towards you, you both have to put your left wheels in the dirt as you pass. Unless you're a road train of course, everyone else has to leave the road for those guys!

After a while we started seeing roadsigns to LJ. Not too sure what or where LJ is, we can't seem to find it on our map, but the last sign said LJ20. 20kms to LJ. We know we're coming to a junction in the road within that distance, so I guess that explains the J. Another sign tells us of the Oasis Roadhouse 2kms up a road we aren't taking, but we'll go there anyway, to re-fuel the car and ourselves. Out here you do that at all the stops in case there isn't anywhere else. We find that LJ stands for the Lynd Junction, where the Kennedy Highway meets the Gregory Deviation Rd, and the Kennedy Deviation Rd. The roadhouse just happened to be a BP, but they don't take fuel cards, lucky they take credit cards. The woman leaned over the counter and peered out the window to read the bowser from where she stood, as there was no electronic connection between pump and till. This place did, however, boast the smallest pub in Australia. I think the tables and chairs were only outside, you would be served from inside.

There's about 250kms to Charters Towers from here and the road hasn't got any better. It's still a narrow strip of seal with red dirt either side, and as well as dodging road trains, we now have Brahman cattle wandering about on the road. The Brahman seem to be able to survive in places that ordinary cattle don't. I reckon they'd probably survive on the moon, given half a chance.

Other than the cattle and the trucks, and the gum trees around us, there appeared to be no more life for miles and miles. Great outback travel - I love it!

We arrived in Charters Towers just after 4.30pm, and drove round and round looking for  a campground. They are there, we saw the signs on the way in. We followed the directions for a few streets, we couldn't find anything. Even the signs vanished, leaving us wondering if there was anything there in the first place.

We eventually stumbled across one, called the Mexican Tourist Park. By this time we'd decided to get a unit instead of putting the tent up. Units are usually cheap enough, often cheaper than a motel room. Ha, we pretty soon found out why it was called the Mexican - it has to have been run by a bunch of bandits! (Going by price for quality). And what place takes cash only these days?

Got ourselves settled into a unit anyway and wandered into town for a drink and a feed at one of the many pubs that dot the main streets.

Charters Towers has some very ornate old buildings, many of them pubs, and a lot of these buildings have towers mounted on top of them, some with bells in. It was a shame to see that some of these lovely old pubs were closed and boarded up, but we found one that was operating and went in. It's always a bit off-putting entering one of these small town pubs, as the drinkers are always sat around the bar, and whenever a stranger enters, all eyes seem to turn towards this stranger. It's not long, however, before you find yourself included in the conversation with the locals, dispelling any feelings of discomfort.

We had a drink at the bar and then made our way to the dining room. There was a good selection of vegetable dishes from which to choose and help yourself to, to put with some cooked meat. We ordered a bottle of wine, and the girl serving us went out the back for it. She couldn't find the one we wanted, so she went to the bottle store for it. We got it at the bottle store, price instead of the over the counter price, which is usually a few dollars dearer. You gotta love these back country pubs.

After a good feed, we moved to the more comfortable lounge chairs and sat for a while watching several people pour their earnings through the pokies. After that we left and made our way back to the Mexican.

It was close to 9am by the time we left Charters Towers on Saturday morning. We are all fuelled up and on the road south to Emerald.  Much the same scenery as yesterday, but with a few more cars and less road trains. We drove through Emerald just after 2pm, so we agreed on 3.30 as our "stop and look for accommodation" time. By now we'd given up on motels and campgrounds, and were looking for the local pub, so we didn't have to go too far for dinner and drinks.

We found a pub in a whistle-stop town called Dingo. Vic went in see about a room. He soon came back, telling me that all the rooms were out of action as the owner was in the process of painting them. I guess there's not too much call for accommodation in these parts, to have all his rooms out at once. He did however, tell Vic that Duaringa, another 30kms up the road, would probably have rooms.

So off we went again. Sure enough, the little pub had rooms so we dragged our weary backsides in for the night. Our room was interesting, to say the least. The inner walls were not lined at all, just the painted timber planking that was on the outside. You could see daylight through one or two planks.  There were no windows, but there were two wooden doors, one on the opposite wall to the other. There was a hand basin on one wall with only one tap - cold of course. And of course the shower and toilet were communal down the corridor. The bed at first glance looked as though the blankets had just been pulled up after the last person got out of it, the pillows were not flat, they were bunched up inside the pillow cases, and they were all different colours. The only other item of furniture was a large old-fashioned wardrobe, complete with cockroach bait.

But for all that, we felt quite comfortable being here, and we didn't feel nearly as ripped off as we did at last night's stop. We brought our bags in and made our way out to the bar.

Vic bought a beer for himself and a glass of wine for me. Unfortunately the wine was poured from an open cask and must have been sitting in their fridge for a few years before I came along, as it was some of the most disgusting I've ever tasted. I don't know how the barmaid couldn't smell it as she poured it. I tried to take a polite sip of the stuff, while the owner was chatting to us over the bar. Then we moved to another part of the bar, which was only about 10 feet away down the corridor from our room. I quickly and quietly took my drink into our room and washed it down the sink. I knew I should have settled for a beer.

At 5.30pm, Vic wandered into the dining room and put the TV on. No-one else was in there yet, so he found the channel with the rugby league and we settled down for the evening to watch the games. All the other TV's in the place were tuned to the horse racing. As we were occupying a table in the dining room we thought we'd better order a meal. The menu didn't turn us on very much, too much meat and not enough variety - we are in a pub, so I guess we shouldn't expect too much. As this was going to be the second pub feed in as many nights, I thought I'd stay away from the fried and battered things, so I ordered the pork chops and veges. Well there's no good reason for anyone to complain about the lack of food, when the plate was put in front of me, I saw two huge pork chops that totally covered the plate. On top of that was dumped a pile of fried chips, a few veges poked out from under all this, and over all the lot was poured a mound of gravy. What happened to apple sauce anyway? There was more food on my plate alone than what Vic and I would  have between us at home in one meal. Vic had ordered the mixed grill, and it looked just the same as mine with a few rashers of bacon added. It all tasted good, but we both left enough on our plates to still feed another two people. It's no wonder that Australia is the second fattest nation in the world next to the US. And Queensland is the fattest state in the country.

While we were still sitting in the dining room, a guy called Simon came in and introduced himself to us. He said he worked for the power company based in Mooloolaba. He and a few others have been staying in this pub for a few weeks while they've been working in the district. Simon had washed some clothes earlier and needed them for work in the morning. He had negotiated with Mick and Marilyn (the couple who ran the pub) to dry his clothes. So he had the wall heater in the dining room on full with his shirt and a pair of trousers draped over some chairs, and the chairs were standing on the tables so they were in front of the heat. Every couple of minutes he re-arranged the wet clothes.

Earlier, some of the locals had come in for dinner and the younger ones had the juke box going. Their choice of music was not the same as ours, and from our room the whole building shook with the vibrations. We couldn't help wondering how long into the night these guys were going to rock, but by 8pm we realized the place was relatively quiet. Most of them had gone and by 9.30, after watching two games on TV, we were almost the only ones left up. (Typically). We went off to bed and the pub pretty much closed up behind us. We thought with it being a Saturday night, we were in for a rough one.

Did I mention the coal trains? All around this area coal is mined, and the trains run one after the other, with a break of what seemed like only 10 minutes, before another one rumbled by. These trains can be a kilometre long sometimes, with dozens and dozens of cars. They are pulled by two diesel engines with another two in the middle. Where the railway line crossed the road was about 20 yards away from our bedroom door. I'm sure I woke with every train that rumbled and clattered past, but after we'd gone to bed, I never heard the train's whistle.

It was about 7am when we sussed out the Continental breakfast that Marilyn had told us was supplied. I haven't heard that term used for a while now. But brekkie was free, so we helped ourselves to coffee, toast, cereal and fruit juice. For all the apparent roughness of the place, everything was kept wonderfully clean.

We left shortly after breakfast and both agreed that a really interesting holiday would be to travel around the country staying only in the small-town pubs and hotels. They're nearly always friendly, and there's always some interesting characters there happy to chat.