We’d divided our route to Alice Springs into 4 stages:
Stage 1. A short drive south (54 miles) back to Townsville on the A1 Bruce highway. We’d originally bypassed the coastal city of Townsville on our way north to Ingham. Neither L or myself were expecting any great wonders from Townsville itself but when we rocked up we were both pleasantly surprised. The beach front is stunning and there are some great walks to various look out points. We’d heard Magnetic Island, a 20 minute ferry trip from the harbour is great for beaches and snorkelling, but upon seeing what the town had to offer we opted to stay on the mainland, after all we’d seen a lot of amazing beaches and islands on our trip so far. We stayed at a free-camp just outside of Townsville, to give us more time to explore and check out the G.B.R reef aquarium and turtle hospital. We’d counted our visit to Reef HQ, the world’s largest coral reef aquarium, as our third and final G.B.R experience, this was because the weather on our long weekend up to Cairns hadn’t been good enough for us to go out and experience the northern part of the reef.

Stage 2. Drive west and keep going for 540 miles. From Townsville we headed west into the outback on what is called the Overlanders Way. The road passes through some small but interesting places, equally there were a few places not worth a stop. L and I developed a measure for these: If the lady in the information centre tells you that viewing the town’s illuminated water tower features anywhere within their top-10 things to do, then the other 9 will be equally of no interest … therefore get back in the Crampervan and drive on. Charters Towers (think old western town) was our first interesting stop. L and I booked onto an evening ghost tour for something different and then tried to navigate our way to the out of town free-camp in the dark. This proved somewhat difficult because the place was nothing more than a large gravelled area through some gates at the side of a minor road. It’s hard to say whether we found the right place or if we were pitched up in some farmers field, especially as we were the only ones there, or so we thought… The next morning we woke to a bustard (which I now know is a huge bird) and kangaroo staring right back at us. Previous to this, I'd confidently informed L that the dunnart was a large Australian bird and in one town along our route we could watch a dunnart feeding. When we got to the feeding we were a bit perplexed as to why we were looking at small marsupial mousey creatures! It was here we learnt that the dunnart was in fact the small creature we were looking at and the bustard was the large bird we'd woken up to days later. I'm not too sure how I managed to confuse the two.

West from Charters Towers we arrived at Richmond and considering L and I are both from the original Richmond in the UK, we were always going to stop here for a quick look around and an obligatory photo next to the town sign. Little did we know that a chance encounter with a particular somebody, would prove to make our visit to this Richmond, one to remember. Having felt very much in the mood for coffee and cake, L and I stopped off at the cafe, one of just two in town and quite probably the front room of the cafe owner's house. Whilst L had gone inside to order yet more cake, I overheard the cafe’s only other patron saying to his grandson; “Only mad dogs and English men go out in the mid-day sun”. It would seem my resulting amusement had not gone unnoticed and he called over “Are you an Englishman?” “Yes I’m English and I’m from the original Richmond.” was my response. This was a statement that perhaps would have intrigued any local, but this chap turned out to be none other than Richmond’s Mayor and just the mention of being from another Richmond, was enough to gain a couple of days VIP treatment. Whilst the age of the town is but a fraction in comparison to the original Richmond, they’re proud of their gold rush history and the catholic church has even recreated their own castle (photo!) …

It’s underneath the ground where Richmond’s ancient history lies. In that of the marine fossils dating back 90-110 million years ago. Richmond, Queensland is on the world map for Marine fossils. One of the world’s most complete vertebrate fossils “Penny” a Polycotylid was found here and this was where our VIP treatment began… L and I were granted free entry to the fossil centre and after a look around the museum we were invited to follow the museum curator out of town, to a dig site located on private property. M, the museum curator had coincidently visited Richmond, North Yorkshire in 2006. Her family had loved their visit to the castle and her boys, then a lot younger, had bought bow and arrows from the gift shop. M recounts a somewhat impractical purchase when you still have 7 weeks of touring in the UK left to do. It was here in the heat and dust of the outback that we spent the afternoon fossicking. As original Richmond representatives  we were treated to lunch under the shade of a pop up gazebo (at this point we were really starting to feel like palaeontologists) along with further refreshments later on in the day, part way through our dig. We couldn’t believe how the day had panned out. L went on to unearth two fossils of interest and so donated these to the museum for further investigation. M then invited us to learn how to process and extract fossils in the lab the following morning. So we found ourselves booked in to stay a night at Richmond’s Lakeview caravan park and the following morning headed back over to the museum to meet M in the Lab. We spent a few hours leaning over illuminated magnify glasses scraping away the dirt from a handful of fossils we’d found the previous day and came away with two perfectly intact 110 million year old sharks teeth. 

Mount Isa was our last stop on the Overlanders Way and it would be our last big town before Alice Springs in 470 miles. That said, we filled both tanks with fuel, topped up the water tank and both the 20L containers and stocked the pantry with some delights before heading out on the next stage. 

Stage 3. Mount Isa to Boulia: 180 miles directly south. The road had narrowed to a central single tarmac lane with gravel either side, and both L and I agreed that this was the start of really 'going bush' (a phrase we'd heard but up until now hadn't used). We'd only seen one other vehicle in the hour or so we'd been moving and the phone signal was now non existant and would remain this way for the next 3 days. Approximately 20 minutes after passing a rarer species of ‘bike tree’, a sign post appeared advertising a short cut. We stopped and deliberated the pros but mainly cons of changing our planned route for one more minor, more remote and of just gravel. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to put our confidence in the road sign and took the 111 mile short cut, which turned out to be THE best decision!!! To be continued, find out why in the next blog post …. Happy guessing folks.