We may still be close to the coast, but it feels like outback Queensland. Back to reality, after Airlie Beach and the hordes of backpackers. This is Australia, a bit rough around the edges, remote and wild with a pioneer spirit.
We passed through Mackay (pronounced “Maccoy”), the sugar capital of Australia, where miners, covered in dirt and still in work clothes, were shopping and enjoying a pot at the local pub.
Rockhampton, a 6-hour bus ride south, is the beef capital of Australia. The smell of bulldust hangs thick in the air and it takes a few minutes to adapt to the smell. Strangely enough, there doesn’t seem to be any steakhouse around here: “Calories Street”, as the Greyhound driver called George Street, a busy thoroughfare where the bus terminal is located, is packed with American fast-food joints and Thai noddle places.
The city lies on the Tropic of Capricorn—there is even a marker at the tourist information center. It is very spread out and doesn’t really have a city centre but for the old commercial center. Like in many places in Australia right now, we live under the threat of severe floods and the Fizroy River in Rockhampton was overflowing.
This is a classic Australian town, with its huge pubs, big cars and palm trees lined up in the breezy streets. But there is undoubtedly a cowboy spirit here: wide-brimmed hats, boots and saddleries are right around the corner and rodeo beats cricket any time.