Around the world in 80 months
We thought it was winter … I am sitting inside typing this update as it's just too hot to sit outside in the sun. When we left Lightning Ridge in May to cycle up through the Queensland Outback and Central Tablelands, we thought we had hit the jackpot with the fine sunny weather that made cycling and camping just so enjoyable.
Gloriously beautiful days of brilliant blue skies, temperatures in the high 20s and just a slight cooling breeze to cool us down and keep the flies at bay.
Fast-forward then to Emerald, (we overheard one visitor say they thought Emerald was the most beautiful country town in Australia, I think a trip to the optometrist is due), and it's the end of winter.
It's been unbearably hot (for us Southlanders), with a maximum high so far of 34 degrees (Celsius), little wind and a "very high" fre danger (currently there are 57 bushfires burning in Queensland but many are left to burn as they pose no threats and who is going to miss a few hectares of dry bushland?).
The outdoor swimming pool of Emerald is open, I had my first spring magpie attack while on my bike yesterday and the only green grass available are sports fields that are irrigated.
We were told that in the summer "Emerald gets damn hot" (that was from Denford, an African from Zimbabwe we are working with) and so now the reality is starting to sink in. Our plan has always been to avoid cycling in the summer months because of the heat, but it looks like summer is a bit longer than what we were used to in Te Anau.
We decided to stay in Emerald to continue with our casual work in the vineyard, and it looks like the biggest challenge will be dealing with the heat and associated problems (one of being the multitude of ground dwelling animals that like the sun; snakes, spiders etc).
What also makes life difficult is you can't just sit down on the ground as either you will sit on a cluster of "Bindi weed" (vicious thorns), cactus thorns or a nest of bull ants (the bull ant can inflict a bite that rates a 2.5 on the "Schmidt pain rating', a honey bee sting rates a 2 and a wasp is a 3 so the bull ant is best avoided), we have been quick learners during our travels!
Of course, we shouldn't complain. This weather is all that a touring cyclist could ask for and I must admit that now it would be hard to battle into a typical Southland southerly, dressed in full winter clothing and avoiding the green spray from passing stock trucks.
The other day, it was a pleasant 30C so we went for a bike trip that took us out and along the Fairbairn Dam and the manmade Lake Maraboon; this is the second largest dam in Queensland and provides significant irrigation water to more than 300 irrigators for cotton and horticultural crops.
Of course, it's not always hot sunny weather here, in December 2010, Emerald was affected by a major flood. Floodwaters peaked at 16.05 metres (the Nogoa River flows through Emerald and the current flood height marker on the eastern bank goes up to 18 metres), 1000 houses were flooded and 95 per cent of all properties inundated with flood waters.
The Fairbairn Dam does not have gates on its spillway so once the catchment and lake are full the water pours over the spill way and down the river to Emerald. The climate here (seasonally arid tropic) means rainfall is strongly seasonal, highly erratic and most summer rainfall usually falls within a very short period (sometimes days).
Given the right conditions, a flood can occur very quickly and not much can be done to prevent it.
We certainly appreciate the large variations in weather around Queensland, during our recent trip through Mackay and up to Port Douglas the effects of Cyclone Debbie are still being felt. With more than A$2.4 billion in damage many areas are still in clean up mode, horticulture was hit hard with many crops wiped out and flood defence systems damaged badly (and Edgecombe in New Zealand was also hit hard).
As we travelled north, construction crews are everywhere with large sections of the Bruce Highway undergoing repairs with one of the main actions being raising bridges and installing larger stormwater box culverts.
But even though there has been significant damage, it doesn't seem to have put off the holidaymakers and the "Grey Nomads" from undertaking their annual trips to the north to avoid the cold weather in the south. I guess that Australia is so big you can just take a different route and avoid any problem areas.
While travelling north, I read in the local newspaper that 28,000 caravans (this will include motorhomes) passed through Rockhampton during August. It is estimated that there are well over a million Grey Nomads travelling Australia; many live on the road fulltime on the pension and no longer own a home.
While on our trip north we met up with our friends Blake and Shell at Townsville. They are a couple of "Aussie Nomads" whom we met in Dubbo back in May and we meet up on an irregular basis depending on where we are.
We also met up with Leah and David; they are the farming couple who farm near Masterton in New Zealand and invited us to their house for lunch when we were cycling to Alfredton. We have met so many people during our bike trip; everyone has a story to tell and crossing paths with friends made on the road is an unexpected pleasure; this is a real source of inspiration.
So, as we move from a warm winter to lingering hot summer days and nights, the desire to not want our trip to end is stronger than ever.
A travelling life is not about "there and back" but rather accumulating experiences and making the most of opportunities; both Gaby and I agree that we will always consider all options.
Six months ago, we would never have considered we would spend some time in Emerald, north Queensland, working on a vineyard, but that's travel and discovery. We wouldn't have it any other way.
- Andrew Welsh is a former general manager for the Milford Sound Development Authority, and his wife, Gaby, used to work for DOC in Te Anau.