Hervey Bay to Airlie via Sunlander: The Long Night
Back in the Aussie Woolshed we happily spent a full day doing well… nothing. We slept in, made ourselves some breakfast and then spent most of the day hiding out from the sun and trying to stay cool whether reading, listening to music or writing up our travels and offline emails. By late afternoon the heat was becoming suffocating and I had finally finished the book that was scrambling my brains. We headed out seeking some fresh air. With the day almost over there was a pleasant breeze as we strolled along the main road browsing in shops. For some reason the tide was especially high on the beach so instead of walking along it, we lay out on a wooden boat ramp watching while the dying sun glinted on the waves rolling in.
On the way back we checked out the fitness stops with various outdoor gym equipment along the track. Unable to resist a grown-up playground, Brodie had to try them all out. After dinner we made our way over to the infamous Koala Beach Resort to sit on the bench outside reception and sign up for a bit of time on the internet. Just long enough for me to try and transfer some more money to fund the remainder of the trip, download new email and get cut off before I’d really answered the couple of people that had messaged me. With all the travelling we’re doing it’s easy to get way behind on everything. We’re trying to keep a broad running total of the costs so it won’t be a huge shock when the final credit card bills show up on our return home.
The following morning we only had a few hours to kill in the kitchen/lounge until it was time to get a shuttle bus to the centre of town and start the overnight journey up to Airlie Beach. What was always going to be a long night became even longer. Phase One – we crossed the road to Palace Backpackers to catch their courtesy bus to Pialba Centro. This seemed to be the hippy hostel from hell. The van had graffiti on every square inch of the interior. The very tattooed guy in the front passenger seat was most definitely stoned. The long-haired ‘blonde surfer dude’ that was driving seemed to be going through a munchies stage as he wolfed down Hungry Jacks takeaway while en route. They seemed on good terms with one of the few other passengers who sat across from us puffing away on a cigarette ignoring how much of the smoke was blowing back in our faces. Brodie just about refrained from punching her for the short journey.
For Phase Two we climbed aboard a connecting bus that made its way with numerous stops to Maryborough West train station which was quite deserted at this hour. With the rest of the group that had been collected we waited for the Sunlander train to show up. And waited. And waited. The station master scurried out periodically to quietly update the estimated arrival time before skulking back to hide where more irate passengers couldn’t find him. The few minutes the train was supposed to be late stretched out into a full two hours. The reason? Something about being overbooked and misplacing the spare carriages. That’s the kind of excuse we’d expect back home in Ireland. It’s not like those carriages are so small they’re difficult to locate. By the time the train finally showed up it was 8.20pm and we’d already raided the vending machine a couple of times. It now looked like we wouldn’t get off the train until 9.35am the following morning.
Resigned to arriving at Airlie Beach even later than we’d planned, we went in search of our sleeping berths. The economy cabins have 3 seats in each which transform into 3 beds for the night. Single sex in each cabin. I left Brodie with an English gentleman who, though not terribly pleased at finding he had company, seemed ready to settle in for some long amiable chats. The woman already in my cabin was quite reticent which suited me fine. Unfortunately a stop later we gained a third companion who was most definitely a talker. The first occupant promptly vacated the cabin for a couple of hours I made a valiant attempt to bury my nose in a book, but it was unavoidable that I listen to many rambling family anecdotes. At least an hour passed of wishing I could just sleep talk my way through the appropriate responses. As my brain grew numb with boredom I gave up on subtly implying the conversation was over. Changing tactics I innocently enquired as to when the staff folded down the beds. My companion immediately demonstrated how you place a sign on the door to request the change. Twenty minutes later my objective was achieved – the beds were out leaving no opportunity for further discussion until the morning. When Miss Reticent peered in again it was safe to enter.
Economy berths on the Sunlander are designed to fit the maximum number of people into the minimum amount of space. As a result each shelf has very little space. I can’t imagine someone with a larger girth ever managing to clamber to the top one, let alone cram themselves into the gap. With the three shelves in use it was a case of slotting into a small coffin along with a couple of bags that ensured there was little chance of moving without dislodging some belongings. I resigned myself to a long night. Finding it impossible to even read without inducing claustrophobia, I opted for trying my best to doze through as many hours as I possibly could. It’s surprising how much space you need to comfortably sleep. While time did pass, there was no sense of feeling refreshed. I was anxious to be out of my coffin by first light but far too exhausted to be able to field any more mind-numbing conversation, so I stuck it out until 7am when I was supposed to locate Brodie in the dining carriage. Heartily wishing we’d splurged to buy up a whole cabin for ourselves, I quickly gathered my belongings and stumbled off to see if Brodie had surfaced yet.
If I was feeling sorry for myself, Brodie’s appearance indicated he was firmly in the grip of a VERY BAD MOOD. Judging by his face we wouldn’t be travelling in economy berths separately ever again. We traded notes and it was quickly obvious that he had the trump card when it came to having a miserable night. He only shared with one other person and his cabin buddy was a nice chap. The problem arose with the now very extended journey time and the fact that his cabin buddy used a wheelchair. At some point during the night the sound of aerosols being sprayed and the stench of something unpleasant had indicated that the gentleman was using an adult diaper and had just made very good use of it. Finding it impossible to get any rest, Brodie made an attempt to vacate the cabin and get some sleep, but this failed when a staff member booted him out of the empty dining carriage. The remainder of the night was spent conversing with his cabin buddy while trying to ignore the very large smell in the room. Well, you can imagine the humour Brodie was in by morning.
Unfortunately for us, the train was now running three hours late. There was no way we were getting off at the original time of 7.30am. It was back to the cabins for us. Mine had been converted back to seats and Miss Reticent had obviously made a run for it. I endured another hour or so of the talker before she stepped out for a few minutes. On hearing that Brodie’s companion had finally vacated the train, I joined him for the remainder. Both of us willing the train to move faster. Finally at 10.30 we disembarked from the train and climbed aboard the transfer bus from Proserpine to Airlie Beach. Thankfully the driver was willing to drop us off at our accommodation. We checked in as fast as was possible and immediately retired for a much-needed nap.