This 475km stretch of highway is a good opportunity to talk about the copious hours of driving that must be undertaken when undertaking an any outback journey.
Most of our day’s driving was at least 4 hours before you take into consideration breaks, with some days bordering on 6 hours. So yes, there is a lot of time spent in the car. But don’t let that put you off.
If your eyes are peeled, there’s plenty of wildlife to see – roos, emus, eagles, black kites – even a dingo crossed the road before us. Of the mechanical variety, there of course are road trains galore. Up to 53.5 metres in length and 4 carriages, these formidable monsters carry everything from livestock to army vehicles to behemoth mining machinery.
The perennial favourite eye spy does wear thin quite quickly, but a variation of it, road trip bingo (complete with a bingo board) has more longevity. It kept the kids and my mum amused for a number of days. It turns out it’s not that easy to spot a cat after all. Spotto – where you count yellow cars, kept our competitive spirits active throughout the trip, with the girls coming from behind for the win in the final hour.
But our biggest saviour was our collection of Roald Dahl audio books, on loan from my sister-in-law. Countless hours were consumed by listening intently to the antics of Mr and Mrs Twit, Matilda Wormwood, Willy Wonker and others. It was an entertaining, educational and pleasant way to while away the hours. (Note: there is scant mobile reception in great swathes of the countryside, so you can’t rely on streaming anything. We used CDs but if you’re going to use your phone, at least download and save everything before you go.)
With listening, drawing, activity books, times tables’ practice, journalling and – shock-horror – actually talking to one another, you would be surprised with how quickly the time goes.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Despite the isolation, there is always something to see along the way. On the approach to Emerald, we stopped at Clermont for lunch. Had we had enough time, we might have tried our hand at gold fossicking, as the town is known for it. One old mate we met said his friend finds about $10 000 of gold a month in the area. With that incentive, perhaps we’ll come back and try our luck another time.
But this town had a lot more to offer other than a great bakery and the prospect of riches. In a park (which used to be the main street), there is a piano up a tree to commemorate 1916 flood which killed over 60 residents and effectively relocated the town. It replicates a piano found way up in the branches of a eucalyptus when the water receded.
We also spend an hour or so at the Clermont Historical Centre. Full of agricultural and mining machinery and hundreds of bits and bobs from yesteryear, this neat, unassuming place is everything the Stockman’s Hall of Fame is not, and at a fraction of the price. Definitely worth the stop.