Day 35: Townsville to Rockhampton
The thing I noticed about Queensland and its residents is that they have the word "resilience" plastered all over them. The northeast coast of Australia is home to some incredible wildlife, scenery, and beaches. It is also home to the country's strictest building construction standards and toughest bylaws. Queensland homes have to be made of concrete and be of a certain thickness and height. To be a resident, you have to be able to bounce back from anything despite your situation.
Cyclone Debbie is a severe tropical cyclone that was branded as the most dangerous cyclone in Australia since 2015 and the most deadly cyclone since 1974. It stayed offshore for 5 days, slowly accumulating speed and strength, before making landfall at Airlie Beach on March 28th. I was lucky enough to be forewarned about Debbie and decided to change my path as soon as I heard about her. I raced from Normanton to Cairns in a day so that I wouldn't ride into Townsville in the torrential storm. It was this ride that helped me realize I made the right decision.
Leaving Townsville was again very green and vivid. The cyclone brought 400mm of rainfall in 24 hours (40mm could be called a heavy downpour) so I was on the lookout for possible flooding on the roads. I wasn't in the mood to reenact the 2ft floodways near Fitzroy Crossing. But because 5 days had already passed, the floodwaters have gone into the soil and the flora were thriving. The roads weren't doing too well though, and the only thing that prevented a smooth sailing into Rockhampton ("Rocky", as the locals call it) were some potholes that were quickly repaired.
The challenge for today was to get into Rocky before they close access into the city. Rockhampton is positioned on the body of the Fitzroy River which indirectly collects runoffs from the surrounding areas. In short, Cyclone Debbie caused what is said to be the biggest flooding in Rockhampton in 100 years. According to Rocky locals, as long as I made it into Rocky by 3pm, I should be fine. So off I went, leaving Townsville at 6am and making my way through Ayr for petrol and stopping at Bowen for a bit of a tour. Many of the trees in Bowen had fallen and there was dust and gravel all over the roads. Road signs were ripped off from their poles and parts of the buildings' roofs were scattered around the surrounding area. Emergency vehicles could be spotted doing cleanup. There were no residents walking around and barely any vehicles on the road other than myself and the emergency ones. I did a small loop through Bowen before heading back onto the highway.
Less than an hour down the road, I came to Proserpine which is the turnoff to get into Airlie Beach. My original plan was to stay in Airlie for a night because it is a cool beach resort that is usually populated by locals and tourists alike. As I rode closer to Proserpine, police numbers grew and recreational vehicles lessened. The petrol station at Proserpine had a queue about 3 vehicles deep per pump - the most I've seen during this entire trip. They were utes and vans that were filling up big 20L jerry cans and placing them in the boot.
Despite having a tremendous amount of chaos happening at the station, where people were stockpiling large quantities of petrol, the staff were relatively calm. Almost robotic, actually. You could tell that they had been working long hours and were probably exhausted from the past week of protecting their own homes and personal belongings from the cyclone.
I rolled into Marlborough (about 100km from Rocky) for a quick sugar hit and an impromptu gravel skills test in the driveway. A couple of elderly Rocky locals were also there for a snack and seemed incredibly collected for people who could potentially find their house underwater. I asked them about the potential floods this week.
Older gentleman: "So where ya headed to miss?"
"Oh just Rockhampton."
"Ah we're headed to Rocky ourselves. We call it home."
"How are you feeling about the floods?"
"Pfft. The news always hypes it up. We'll be just fine."
"Isn't it the biggest flooding in 100 years?"
"Well, yeah, but that's only one part of town, and if you're not in that part of town, you'll be right."
"Oh okay. Thanks!" I called out as he started walking back to his car.
His wife turned around and said "As long as you aren't staying longer than one night. Are ya?"
"Oh... no, I'm leaving bright and early the next morning."
"Good. Really, don't stay longer than tonight. Oh and when you do leave, be sure to look at the river on your way out. It's really somethin' else."
Wide-eyed, I hopped back on the bike and jetted to Rocky without stopping. It was interesting to note that there were heaps of signs that say "Water over road" and "construction zone" but really the roads were bone dry and the potholes had been filled.
Rockhampton is a nice little town that straddles the Fitzroy River but I stayed the night at a friend-of-a-friend's place on the North side. Dan, my lovely host, was out at work when I arrived but Queensland hospitality meant he had left some food out on the counter for me. I don't remember devouring it, it happened so quickly. But I'm sure it was delicious. I couldn't remember the last time I had vegetables. When carrots enter your soul the same way riding does, it means your body was craving a shit ton of vitamins. A mattress was prepared in the living room. Once I saw it, I face planted for a good couple hours, falling asleep long before my face was consumed by the pillow. Thanks Dan for making me feel at home.
I cross the Fitzroy tomorrow and go on to see Brisbane, the final capital city to check off my list!