I’m an expat Aussie who has now lived longer out of Australia than in, but in a few years my (Swiss) wife and I are planning on moving from Switzerland to Airlie Beach in North Queensland, Australia. It should be noted this this was her idea, not mine.
In September 2016, I flew to the region for a week’s worth of face-to-face meetings to help lay the groundwork for our move.
It was a tight schedule, especially as I was sure to be suffering from jetlag, but it was doable.
It’s a long flight − 24-30 hours including fuel stop − and I could only afford to be away for ten days, so that only gave me a week on the ground in Australia.
My plan was to fly into Brisbane, visit my sister and see my parents (who live just a few hours north of there), then fly the 1,100 kilometers from Brisbane to Airlie Beach, spend three days there having meetings, fly back to Brisbane, hopefully arrange a small get-together with a few watch collectors, and then head back home to Switzerland.
The best laid plans of mice and men
I booked my flight to Brisbane, arranged my meetings in Airlie Beach, and then . . . the best laid plans of mice and men.
Chris Vandyke, the Cairns-based architect we had commissioned to design a tropical house for us in Airlie Beach, let us know that he should have the first set of drawings finished by the time I arrived.
Was there any chance I could meet him in Cairns to discuss the plans?
Yes, I could. But I could only fit everything I had planned if, instead of starting in Brisbane, I flew into Cairns in the far north and then drove the more than 2,000 kilometers from Cairns down to Airlie Beach and then to Brisbane to fly out.
Driving would actually be more efficient than flying as I would lose too much time checking in and arranging hire cars at airports if I tried doing the internal legs by plane.
Horological travel companions: De Bethune DB28 and Ulysse Nardin Dual Time
I’d need good company to make such a long solo road trip more bearable.
My De Bethune DB28 was an obvious choice as its titanium case and articulated lugs make it very light and comfortable, but I’d also need to keep track of the time back home in Switzerland if I was to avoid stressing my marriage with jetlag-fogged calls to my wife in the wee hours of the morning.
Happily, Ulysse Nardin was willing to lend me a Dual Time for the week, so I was all set.
My schedule would include a 36-hour flight from Geneva to Cairns (with transit stops in Abu Dhabi, Melbourne, and Brisbane); meeting with our architect; lunch with my brother and his wife; three days in Airlie Beach, a ten-hour drive to see my parents; a visit with my sister, and a small get-together in Brisbane.
With side trips (and getting lost), it would work out to be well over 2,000 kilometers.
While driving long distances isn’t unusual in Australia, I hadn’t lived there in more than 30 years, and Switzerland is better known for the heights of its mountains than the lengths of its roads.
It should be an interesting trip.
The adventure begins
One thing I should mention is that I was traveling very light.
As the weather should be warm and I wasn’t planning anything formal, I first packed a small bag then thought, “Just how light can I go?” Even with my laptop, I managed to fit everything I thought I’d need in a small day bag. It was liberating and saved time packing with no luggage to check in on flights.
Monday evening: Cairns − Tully (150 kilometers/2 hours)
Cairns/Monday: The trip out on Etihad airlines via Abu Dhabi was smooth and uneventful.
I had to change planes in Melbourne for Brisbane, and as the flight out of Melbourne was delayed I was worried that I might miss my connection from Brisbane to Cairns. I needn’t have worried, as I later learnt: Tiger Air, the budget airline I’d picked for the Brisbane-Cairns leg, was known for being late . . . and luckily for me it stayed true to form.
I had allowed a tight 30 minutes from landing on the tarmac at Cairns airport, for hiring a car, driving into the city, parking, and finding the meeting place.
I was unduly pessimistic; it only took me 25 minutes.
The Ulysse Nardin Dual Time made keeping track of the time easy. I’d played with it on the flights from Geneva − in 36 hours there was plenty of time to fill − and was surprised at just how easy it was to set and adjust via the two case band pushers: one to advance the second time zone, the other to go back.
If I was late anywhere or started phoning at the wrong time, I definitely couldn’t blame the watch.
My meeting with Vandyke went well and we finished around 7:00 pm. I’d been travelling for 36 hours and didn’t want to be driving tired at night, especially as I was no longer used to driving on the left and there was also the risk of hitting a kangaroo in the dark, which would be expensive for me and worse for Skippy.
My plan was to find a motel on the south side of Cairns, have a good night’s sleep, and head off to Townsville around 8:00 am after a good breakfast.
I don’t know if I took the wrong road out of town (likely), but I couldn’t find a motel so ended up driving south out of Cairns. To keep myself on the right side of the road, which is the left side – and kangaroo free – I fell in at a safe distance behind a big truck and kept my eye out for a motel. Anything would do; I wasn’t in the mood to be fussy.
One big difference in being outside built-up areas in Australia compared to Europe and much of the USA was just how dark it was. There is so much light pollution in Europe that it never really gets completely dark.
When the sun set in north Queensland it wasn’t just dark, it was jet black.
Stay out of the shower
I was surprised by just how black it was.
Which, coupled with having very little sleep over the course of two days, goes some way to explaining why, after 30 minutes’ driving, when I saw the sign to a motel and then its lights set up a slight hill in the forest about 500 meters away, I thought of the film Psycho.
I actually laughed at myself at the ridiculousness of the thought . . . but once that idea was embedded in my brain there was no way I was going to leave the main road and stay at a quiet, remote motel. I’d continue on until I’d found one in the center of a brightly lit town where at least somebody would hear my screams if Anthony Perkins came knocking.
I ended up driving for another couple of hours to a motel near Tully, and it was 10:30 pm before I hit the bed exhausted. But at least I felt that I had a better than even chance of waking up alive.
I’d even had the good fortune to have missed the signpost for Murdering Point Road (I kid you not), as that surely would have reignited thoughts of a scene in the shower.
At least I wouldn’t have to get up early. I had an easy two-and-a-half hour drive to Townsville and wasn’t due to meet my brother and his wife there for lunch until 12:30.
Tuesday morning: Tully − Townsville (220 kilometers/2.5 hours)
Tuesday, 2:00: just over three hours after hitting the bed exhausted I was wide awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. I worked for a couple of hours, then decided I may as well hit the road (I’d paid the motel the night before just in case).
It was 4:00 am.
It was actually very nice driving south with little traffic and watching the sun slowly lighten the sky and then come up over the sea.
I arrived in Townsville early and spent a few hours driving around the city that I’d grown up in and left more than three decades ago. Not surprisingly, a lot had changed.
My brother had suggested we meet for lunch at the Herbert pub near his office at 12:30.
I arrived at 11:00 am to check it out, was pleased to learn it had WiFi, and settled down at a quiet table with a power outlet − both WiFi and power, what bliss!
On the downside, it wasn’t one of the more upscale establishments I’d been in and there were a few patrons that looked like the pub was home (that or the street) and drink was a necessity rather than optional. But the local drunks were friendly enough and I was able to work in peace.
The food was good, though, as was catching up with my brother for a couple of hours. But I still had a three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead to Airlie Beach, so I said my goodbyes and headed off around 2:00 pm.
Tuesday afternoon: Townsville − Airlie Beach (280 kilometers/3.5 hours)
Within 30 minutes of hitting the open road, I realized that the combination of severe sleep deprivation for 48 hours, a 4:00 am start, a long lunch (resulting in a full stomach), warm weather, and long straight roads meant that I was in no condition to drive safely. I found myself driving along and desperately wanting to just close my eyes for a few seconds, well aware that if I did I was likely to crash and never open them again.
I quickly pulled over, walked around, and poured a bottle of cold water over my head. That woke me up enough to get to the town of Home Hill, where I stopped for an excellent extra-strong coffee and bought another for the road.
I felt awake again and good for the rest of the drive.
Wednesday-Friday: Airlie Beach (200 kilometers)
I had a busy three days in Airlie Beach, meeting possible house builders, landscape gardeners, talking to locals, exploring horse agistment options (my wife’s horse would be relocating with us), and generally getting to know the area where we planned to live a bit better.
It was a busy and very productive time, and I wished I had a few more days and time to relax but the road was calling.
And the next drive would be a long one.
Saturday: Airlie Beach − Hervey Bay (900 kilometers/10 hours)
I hadn’t planned to do the 900-kilometer drive to Hervey Bay, where my parents live, in one day. My plan was to sleep in and then just drive as far as I felt comfortable with, finishing that leg of the trip with a short drive on Sunday morning. I’d told my parents to expect me for lunch on Sunday.
As it turned out, jetlag was still severely interfering with my sleep pattern and I woke up 4:00 am. After a few minutes deciding if it was worth trying to get back to sleep, I decided I was wide awake so had a shower, packed the car (which, with only a small backpack, didn’t take long) and left before the sun came up.
The rain cleared, and I really enjoyed watching the sun rise as I drove south. Breakfast was at a truck stop near Mackay, and I felt like a small boy in awe of just how big the trucks there were.
Three things surprised me on the drive that Saturday:
1. Just how much traffic was on the road, and how many cars were towing boats and caravans.
2. How many signs there were recommending and reminding drivers to pull over to avoid fatigue and how effective they were. On numerous occasions I found myself pulling over well before feeling that I needed a break because the signs were so persuasive.
3. Many of the rest stops had volunteers handing out free tea and coffee, and every rest stop was an enjoyable place to chat and learn where others were going. There was a real social occasion thanks to these breaks.
What I hadn’t realized was that it was a long weekend, and so many people were going camping and fishing. These free coffee stops were something organizations did on long weekends when the traffic was especially heavy.
As the kilometers rolled by, regular coffee breaks made the time flow quickly as well.
Before I knew it, I’d passed Rockhampton, then Gladstone, and realized that I was on track to arrive in Hervey Bay by 4:00 pm.
Sunday-Monday morning: Hervey Bay (50 kilometers)
Hervey Bay is on the Queensland tourist map largely thanks to whale watching in winter and being the gateway to Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest sand island. It’s known for its great fishing, wild dingo population, and 4 x 4s driving along the long beaches.
I had a brief, but great time catching up with my parents, but after lunch on Monday it was time to hit the road again for the last main leg of my trip: on to Brisbane.
Monday afternoon: Hervey Bay−Brisbane (350 kilometers/4 hours)
My plan was to arrive at my sister’s home in Brisbane before 4:00 pm so as to avoid the peak hour commuter traffic. However, that didn’t work out due to a major accident on the highway south of Cooroy that blocked all traffic in both directions for around three hours.
So rather than avoiding traffic and arriving in Brisbane nice and early, I ended up driving through the city (which I do not know well) in heavy traffic in the dark. But arrive I did.
With 48 hours left in Australia.
The highlight of my Tuesday in Brisbane was lunch, which ended up taking most of the afternoon. Lunch was organized by an old friend with an appreciation for fine wine and champagne and has made a living from his passion as a writer and judge.
Lunch was at Bar Alto, an Italian restaurant in a converted powerhouse in Brisbane; Ken had invited a few wine-loving friends, so the restaurant had given us a private room at the back and kindly allowed everyone to bring their own wine.
The company was convivial; the conversation was spirited; the food was superb (I didn’t even look at the menu, but simply asked the waiter to bring whatever he best thought would pair with the wines we were drinking, an excellent decision); and . . . the champagne and wine were simply sublime!
Wednesday: Brisbane watch aficionado GTG − evening flight home
While the Ulysse Nardin Dual Time and De Bethune DB28 were excellent travel companions, they didn’t say much so I was very much looking forward to the Brisbane get-together over watch talk and coffee arranged by the human dynamo and Panerai evangelist Alan Hammer, (aka Hammer).
We had a private room and superb coffee thanks to Sunny at the Mobi Cafe in Sunnybank. There were seven of us, but at least three times that number of watches as Hammer had brought a selection of his Panerai timepieces, which by themselves constituted the most impressive Panerai collection I’d ever seen.
We had an excellent, all-too-brief time, and I am very much looking forward to the next Brisbane GTG.
From there I headed to a meeting near Brisbane airport with Geo Air to learn more about using a ground-source heat pump for energy-efficient air conditioning.
Luckily for my body clock, flying west is a lot easier and generates significantly less jetlag than flying east. And I was finally homeward bound!
In the last 30 years, I probably haven’t spent much more than four weeks in total in Australia, so while this one-week road trip was relatively short, it was a good refresher as to what Australia, and particularly Queensland, were all about.
And I’m happy to say that I liked what I saw and am feeling very happy about the prospect of returning.
For more information on the Ulysse Nardin Dual Time, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com/product/classic-dual-time.
For more information on the De Bethune DB28, please visit www.debethune.ch/collections-db28.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Dual Time
Case: stainless steel, 42 mm, screw-down crown, two (forward/back) quick-set pushers
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-334
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; large date, second time zone
Price: 9,500 Swiss francs or €9,500
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28
Case: 42 mm, titanium, floating/articulated lugs
Movement: manually wound Caliber 2115, 6-day power reserve, silicon balance wheel
Functions: hours, minutes; three-dimensional moon phase, linear power reserve (on the back)
Price: 110,000 Swiss francs (excluding tax)