Looking out the window here in Emerald, it's still wet and drizzly outside, which is kind of strange for this time of year, but the locals are very excited 'cuz this is a farming district (mandarins, mostly) and there hasn't been any rain since January. However, this is very bad news for us. See, the thing is that a lot of the soils in the area are chernozem (or something like it; I don't really understand what the locals are talking about, but they say it's a black soil that turns to an incredibly sticky mud when it rains). Therefore, rain = no off-roading. We did drive up to Mt Mitchell a couple of days ago in the rain, but that was kind of a disaster; when we finally got up there (after some treacherously slippery bits that Dan skilfully negotiated), we were greeted by the ranger's wife, who was just on her way out to close and lock the gate to the interesting section of the park for the next couple of weeks as it had rained so much the track up there was now too dangerous to drive. Damn! To make matters worse, the boardwalk through the Aboriginal art sites at The Tombs had burned down recently, and the local Koori community had closed the other major art site (Kenniff Cave) just two weeks prior. So, we found ourselves up a 160km mud track with nothing to see except for a very minor art site (a few stenciled handprints... hm.... not bad but not worth the drive).
We were planning on visiting the Salvator Rosa area as well, but that road is now closed due to mud as well (as far as we can tell - it's very hard to get good info here). So, we're now about three hours out of the Carnarvon Gorge section, but it seems increasingly likely that that road has closed as well. I'll call the lodge down there in an hour or so and see what's up. This is getting to be a little bit frustrating.
Anyhow, the main plan right now is to be in Airlie Beach by Saturday. We start our PADI course on Sunday, and should be certified by Friday, at which point we have to scoot up north to Townsville to meet up with our 4WD tour to Cape York on Friday night. First thing Saturday, we start the trek north to the top of Australia. This is kind of exciting to me, but frankly it's also worrying me, because it means we'll be camping for three weeks... and I really hate camping. Hate the cold night air, hate the lack of decent reading lights, hate the dirt, etc. Dan sez I'll get used to it but it's hard to say... well, I guess I'd better, because it's paid for and I don't have an option.
Once we get back from the Cape (on June 26), it's unclear what happens next, but we have four weeks to get to the Alice from there. I'm thinking we'll have a look at some caves and lava tubes, check out the Gulf, maybe Lawn Hill, then dip south over some outback tracks (Birdsville, Oodnadatta) to wind up in Yulara (near Uluru) the week before we meet up with the Kimberly 4WD tour in Alice Springs.
After a month on that tour, then it's Darwin/Kakadu/Litchfield etc through the first of September, then a hurried dash back to Western Australia for wildflowers in the first couple weeks of September. Then, we have to leave the country to renew our visas by the first of October. And, then, I'm not sure what, although we do need to get back to Brisbane by the end of the year (to fetch our rear seat, currently in Opposite Lock's warehouse, thanks!), and then back to Sydney by January 29 for the flight home.