Chillagoe and lots of Waterfalls

8th-12th May

Once more we return to eucalypt savanna lands to the west of the Tableland. Originally we’d planned to visit Chillagoe via the Burketown Development road when we left Karumba, but it was closed due to flooding, hence the zigzagging across the Tablelands. Surprisingly, as we left the Tableland, we passed through rich agricultural lands with avocado, mango, banana, citrus, grapes and sugarcane, and other crops we didn’t recognise, stretching for many kilometres. Before long though we were back in cattle country. 

Pawpaws – or red papayas. Absolutely delicious eating. Outside Babinda
The Wheelbarrow Way, one of many tourist trails that highlight our history. Chillagoe

Chillagoe has a population of a bit more than 200. It struck us as a tough little town, its residents having weathered many ups and downs as most mining towns have. Over the years huge deposits of silver, lead, zinc, gold, limestone and marble have been mined here. The lime stone and marble mines are still working, with a few small silver, lead and zinc operations continuing. Chillagoe lime has the sugarcane industry more or less cornered, and while beautiful marble is mined here, unfortunately most of it is sent overseas for treatment. Most of the marble in Parliament House came from Chillagoe. 

Marble blocks awaiting orders before shipping to their destination.

But we’re here for the caves. Back around 400 million years ago, the limestone laid down under shallow oceans, was lifted, towering above the surrounding countryside where weathering and erosion and fluctuating groundwater levels slowly dissolved some of the limestone, creating caverns and passages, now rich with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones. We visited three caves today with the ranger – Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch. All were outstanding, as was the infrastructure allowing us to view them without causing damage.

Chillagoe Caves
Chillagoe Caves

Between cave tours we walked out to the Balancing Rock. I’ve seen many Balancing Rocks, but this is a pretty good one, and the bush walk, after yesterday’s marathon effort, was good to keep the muscles moving.

‘Saving’ the balancing rock – Chillagoe

Dinner at the Cockatoo Pub tonight, behind which we’re camped for 2 nights. 

Before leaving Chillagoe this morning we drove out to the Archway caves, which are self-guided.

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The approach to the very sinister-looking Royal Arch caves.

Other than the extraordinary, gothic-like appearance of the limestone karsts in which the caves form, we weren’t impressed with this section, nor game enough to go crawling into little spaces by ourselves with just a head torch. 

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Exploring the caves at Chillagoe

Back to the Tableland through the savanna, and the rich agricultural farms and orchards. On the way we dropped in to the Mount Uncle Distillery. A tasting board of spirits was set before us – a pleasant time was spent tasting them all, buying a couple of bottles, and then wandering their beautiful grounds, lush with tropical and vegetable gardens and lots of peacocks!

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A delightful time taste-testing at Mt Uncle Distillery.

By the time we’d done that and made ourselves a cuppa we were sober enough to continue our journey to Malanda where we booked in to the caravan park. The Malanda Falls are beside the CP, but we weren’t that impressed, looking more like a weir than anything. A quiet night, other than for the curlews which seem to be at every campsite!

Still chasing waterfalls today we’re following the Waterfall Way to the southern Tablelands. First stop was Millaa Millaa Lookout, which promised amazing views out to Mt Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker. However, this section is known as the “misty mountains’, hence no mountains seen, but the rolling countryside and magnificent valleys filled with rainforest was absolutely beautiful.

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The view from Millaa Millaa Lookout. On a clear day you can see Mt Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker – not today. But beautiful nevertheless.

Next stop, Millaa Millaa Falls, the most-photographed falls in Australia. They are “perfect” falls, coming out of thick rainforest in one reasonably wide band of water and falling to a large pool below. Despite the cooler weather I had a swim here, swimming over to and behind the falls. A wonderful experience. 

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The very beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls.

Next stop, Zillie Falls then on to Elinjaa Falls where there’s a steep path of about 500m to get to the base. It’s possible to swim here too. 

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Elinjaa Falls

By now it was lunchtime and the cafe at the biodynamic dairy at Mungalli was calling to us. A very filling cheese platter, followed by the best ice cream I’ve ever had (Espresso flavour) replenished our energy levels. The countryside is so pretty – hills, gullies, rainforest and the lushest grass you can imagine. It’s no wonder the dairy cows give such beautiful milk.

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The most delicious lunch at the Mungalli Biodynamic dairy farm.

Continuing our meandering drive through the tiny town of Mungalli, which also has a waterfall, though more like steep rapids, we descended and descended until reaching Henrietta Campsite in Wooroonooran National Park. We’ve stayed at lots of National Parks over the years – they’re a credit to our country. This one has a large open area to kick a ball, an electric BBQ, covered tables, toilets and a shower (cold). The campsites are all nestled into the rainforest all around and beside Henrietta Creek. Most have bush walks or other activities. Here we decide to do the walk to Nandroya Falls, a return walk of about 7km. A couple of rock-hopping water crossings and a narrow path ascending and descending alongside the river gave us a bit of a workout. First we came to Silver Falls and finally Nandroya. These are a favourite of Steve’s as they fall spectacularly from a narrow gap in the sheer cliff face to the pool below, then from that they tumble down again over a wide cliff to the next level. 

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Nandroya Falls – such interesting falls.
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The lovely Silver Falls, seen along the walk to Nandroya Falls.

Back at camp we took our chairs down the steep little path to sit by the river contemplating life, the universe and everything, and hoping to spot a platypus. Alas no platypus, but we did get up close and personal with a few too many leeches! A quiet night anticipated with just us and one caravan. 

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Relaxing at our campsite at Henrietta NP campground.

Atherton and Cairns

28th April – 7th May

We leave ‘the West’ now for the Atherton Tableland, but not before a dip in the hot mineral waters of Innot Springs. The water leaves the ground here at around 75°C. At the park there are 6 pools each with a controlled temperature ranging from cool to so hot just a few minutes in it is long enough! We moved between two medium temperature pools having a lovely rejuvenating soak.

With wrinkly skin we left the pools to view Millstream Falls about 30km up the road. These falls are the widest single-drop falls in Australia, flowing over the end of a basalt lava flow. A walk from the car park winds down to a viewing platform where, due to the big wet season the area has experienced, the falls are spectacular. 

Millstream Falls, Atherton Tablelands

We pass through Ravenshoe, the highest town on the Tableland to stay the night at a caravan park in Herberton. Herberton has a truly wonderful Historic Village where we spent several hours the next day. I’m not a great fan of these historic displays, but this one is not to be missed! 

Herberton Historical Village. School room. Don’t know that I’d do particularly well on this test.

The countryside has changed so much within the space of a day’s drive. From the eucalypt woodland savanna we’re now in full tropical rainforests, lush rolling hills with grass so high the cattle are nearly hidden and the most beautiful tropical plants – and it’s a lot cooler. Lake Barrine is one of two crater lakes, on the Tableland, Lake Eacham being the other. These two lakes were formed around 10 – 17,000 years ago when the earth’s magma contacted the ground water creating steam which blew the top off forming a crater which subsequently filled with water.
We’d planned to kayak around Barrine, but the weather is still a bit rainy at times and lovely and cool now, so instead we walked around them both, and may have had a coffee and something sticky to eat at the Tea House on Lake Barrine.

If it weren’t so windy we’d have kayaked around. Steve, on the walk around Lake Barrine.

We spent two nights at the Lakeside Caravan Park on Lake Tinnaroo and took the time to drive around visiting local attractions such as Nerada Tea Plantation, Gallo Dairy and Chocolate shop and the delightful town of Yungaburra.

Enjoying the perfect cuppa at the Nerada Tea plantation.

However being the beginning of a long weekend and Lake Tinnaroo being a favourite for the local water skiers, jet ski owners and just generally noisy boats, we were pleased to leave.

Our campsite on the banks of Lake Tinnaroo. Temporarily quiet, until tomorrow!

1st May: We descended to the coast via the Gillies Highway, a Highway famous for its 263 corners and 800m elevation change in just 19km. It was built in 1925 and I’m rather proud to say my grandfather was one of the surveyors for this road. The scenery was absolutely spectacular, unfortunately the lookouts were all on the ascending side of the road making it a bit dangerous for us to pull over to take our time enjoying it. 

Babinda Boulders is our destination today, but first the highly rated Josephine Falls near Mt Bartle Frere. In ‘usual’ conditions these falls provide an ideal natural waterslide – way too much water at the moment though.

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Enjoying the spectacular Josephine Falls

The Babinda Creek is a fast-flowing creek that winds its way through huge boulders forming large pools ideal for swimming. Still a bit overcast and cool for swimming but I did wade in and enjoy the refreshing waters here.

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Very beautiful, but very dangerous for swimming, at Babinda Boulders
Further downstream is the Devils Pool where the water cascades down huge boulders, waterfalls and forms washpools. Just incredible!

There’s a nice-looking free camp here, but we decide to go back to Babinda where there’s a large free camp beside the river. Most memorable about this campsite is the rooster that crowed the wake-up alarm right outside my window from 4.45am for at least half an hour. I dare say I’m not the only camper who had visions of roast chicken!

2nd – 4th May: We’re now having a holiday in the middle of our trip – three nights at the Doubletree Hilton in Cairns! The hotel is fabulous, particularly the beautiful atrium with a pond with barramundi that swim through lush tropical plants. We are both impressed with Cairns – the Council has done a marvellous job with tropical plants everywhere, an excellent walkway/cycle way the length of the foreshore with sculptures, parks, impressive playgrounds and exercise stations and a beautiful swimming lagoon.

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The beautiful pool area on the Cairns Esplanade

On our last day we rode our bikes to the Botanic Gardens where the local and exotic tropical plants stunned us with their lushness and colours and variety. It’s such a large Gardens we’re pleased we rode our bikes, covering several kilometres within the gardens to visit all the areas.

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The amazing plants at the Cairns Botanic Gardens

We also had dinner with Philippa and Andrew, new friends we first met at Boodjamulla, then again in Karumba. And when we weren’t doing all these activities we swam in the hotel pool and spa, lazed poolside reading, or had a few drinks at the outdoor bar and restaurant. 

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Enjoying sundowners at the cafe at Doubletree Hilton

5-7th May

We return to Atherton Tableland this time via the Kuranda Highway. On previous visits we’ve come up to Kuranda on the cable car and the train – both highly recommended, but this is the first time we’ve driven. Not quite as spectacular, but still a fabulous drive. 

Barron Falls – a spectacular waterfall near Kuranda

Kuranda … disappointing .. lots of shops closed and the feel was mass-produced tourist trinkets. After wandering around for a while, trying to give the place a chance, we drove out to Barron Falls Lookout. Wow those falls are amazing. A kilometre-long walkway took us to a couple of lookouts over the falls and down the range to the coast. Interestingly the river above the falls was dammed for hydroelectricity for a while in the early 20th century. 

A view down the valley, taken on our Barron Falls walk

Moving on from here our campsite tonight turned out to be one of the best we’ve ever stayed in! Upper Davies Creek campsite in Dinden NP, site#2. We seemed to climb a long way on an unsealed road before reaching the campsite, but 4×4 only needed at the very end to get into the campsite. The next nearest camp was a long way away (and no one there anyway). The creek came down a small waterfall then over rapids before forming a large pool right beside where we were camped, leaving the pool via more rapids. It was stunningly beautiful.

I swear this has to be the best campsite ever. Upper Davies Creek

A thoughtful previous camper left wood beside the fire pit where we cooked our dinner. Swimming was chilly and did involve a lot of resolve to fully submerge. Unfortunately we’d only booked one night here, but we stayed until quite late in the afternoon making the most of it before leaving. 

Enjoying a swim at Upper Davies Creek – our own private slice of heaven

Speewah campsite in Barron Gorge NP was also lovely – only 3 campsites, each on a well-formed pad with large grassy areas and a patch of natural bush between each site. On our first full day we set off to do some walking. Phew … that was more than we’d bargained for. The walk was through thick rainforest which was magnificent and a treat to be immersed in.

Beautiful rainforest walking at Speewah NP

However it has rained a lot here recently and in quite a few places the track was in very poor repair, with many fallen trees and their multiple branches to scramble through. In one section a wide fire trail we were following was so badly washed out and eroded it’d be impossible to drive on it. There were 5 water crossings, two where we needed to wade through, rather than rock-hop over.

And yet another water crossing on the Speewah walk

But of greatest difficulty were the many steep ascents and descents, not short ones either! Along the way Steve managed to pick up a few leeches and get caught in lawyer vine enough to draw blood, and I came face-to-face with many golden orb spiders whose massive sticky webs were built right across the track. These spiders from toe to toe would have been as big as my hand.

One of many giant Golden Orb spiders that formed their webs right across the track.

Our GPS told us we walked for 5.5 hours over 18km – I don’t know it was that far, but it was a tough walk however far it was. A chilly shower on return restored feeling to weary bodies! 

Gorges and Tubes and the Gulf

13th – 27th April

For many, many years people have raved to us about how wonderful Lawn Hill Gorge is (Boodjamulla National Park), and finally, finally we’re going to see it for ourselves. From Mt Isa we headed north on the Camooweal Rd, another really bad road, to Miyumba camp, the southern-most camp in the National Park. The road was rocky, and when not rocky, it was corrugations, plus a few water crossings thrown in for good measure. We drove ‘according to conditions’ and arrived intact.

Poor condition of road on the way north to Riversleigh

The final water crossing, just 100m short of our camp was over the Gregory River. It was flowing quite swiftly, about shin deep – no drama for Priscilla. Once camped (only ones there) we walked back to the river and had a lovely, cool, spa bath right there beside the road. 

Having a ‘spa’ on the side of the road in the swiftly flowing Gregory River

The night was magic – no lights, no moon and millions of stars from horizon to horizon. These are the nights we especially love. 

14th – 17th April Boodjamulla NP

Riversleigh World Heritage Area

Next morning, continuing north, we stopped at the Riversleigh World Heritage site renown as a dinosaur fossil site. It’s very well presented and interesting with large  fossils evident in the rocks along an 800m path. 

The signage and displays at Riversleigh were very good.

The gorge part of Boodjamulla is 55km north. A large commercial campsite at Adels Grove, just outside the NP, provides accommodation for the on-road vehicles and caravans and those who didn’t book early enough to get into the NP. The National Park campsite is 10 km down the road at the Gorge. The road was improved significantly.

Over the next 4 days we did a twilight walk up to Duwadarri Lookout completing the circuit via Indarri Falls, a walk to the Cascades, then back to walk to the Upper Gorge. These walks were lovely in places, stunning in others and difficult in parts, but well worthwhile. Another day we took the kayak up the river, marvelling at the stunning cliffs through which we paddled.

At Indarri Falls we ‘portered’ the kayak along the path to bypass it, then continued right up to the Upper Gorge where we found a fabulous landing spot at rapids where we stopped for lunch, a swim and a massage under the rapids. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves for more than an hour. On our last day we kayaked up to Indarri Falls then spent quite a few hours there, swimming, getting massaged by the falls, chatting to other kayakers, relaxing and staying cool.

Indarri Falls. Boodjamulla NP

We both enjoyed Boodjamulla, and while a longer stay wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t mind coming back another time. The only thing that spoilt our visit was the weather – it’s very hot, 35/36° for the first 3 days, cool breeze on the last. 

19th – 22nd April

We saw the Gulf of Carpentaria from the west in our Arnhem Land trip in 2019 and now, heading to Karumba I’m planning to get my feet wet in the eastern Gulf. But first the drive from Boodjamulla was pleasant on good unsealed roads, just a few small washouts and corrugations as we traversed the grass lands stopping for a coffee and a highly-touted muffin at Murray’s Place in Gregory. From here we headed north (on sealed roads) to Burke for a look around town, sitting in a park having lunch at the same time the ABC News that night informed us it was the hottest town in Queensland! Back south again to stay the night at Leichhardt Falls. 

Leichhardt R falls – free camp

Leichhardt Falls, on the Leichhardt River is not much more than a puddle during the dry season, but at the moment the water is roaring over the falls. A croc was spotted just down from the base of the falls – no swimming! Watching the road trains navigate the long, single-lane bridge that crossed the river gave me an even greater respect for those drivers.

Not a long drive today. The road to Karumba is unsealed, but mostly pretty good. At Camp 119 we viewed the blazed trees and read the story of Burke and Wills most northerly campsite. They tried to walk further on to the coast, but as it was the wet season (crazy!!) it was too swampy to reach.

The most northerly campsite of Burke and Wills in 1861

Another rest stop at Normanton proved interesting for not only the story of Krys, the largest crocodile ever, but also the Information Centre told the story of the beef industry here and the important role of the native stockmen.

Krys, the largest crocodile ever seen in Australia. This magnificent creature was dozing on a riverbank when a crocodile hunter shot it dead. So sad.

A cruise on into Karumba was easy driving before we found our campsite at Ronnies and settled in. First point of call was to buy prawns for our lunch. 

Karumba prawns for lunch. Delicious

Karumba exists to service the commercial prawning trawlers, the commercial barramundi fishers, to a lesser extent the export of zinc from Century mine and, of course, tourism. The prawning industry started in the early 1960’s when a wealthy businessman managed to talk the CSIRO into jointly funding an exploration in the Gulf and the highly sought-after banana prawns were found in abundance. 

The purpose of the Barramundi Discovery Centre is to maintain the stocks of barramundi by breeding them to fingerling size then releasing back into the wild. It was begun some years ago by the local commercial fishermen who saw the need to protect the barramundi from over-fishing. Smart move! The Centre was recommended to us by other travellers and I must say it is really interesting and not to be missed, though the tour at $50 each, was overpriced.

Feeding the ravenous barramundi

Karumba has been recognised for their efforts to maintain a sustainable seafood industry. Well done Karumba. 

While here we did a sunset cruise (so so) and enjoyed meals at the End Of the Road restaurant one night and the Sunset Tavern another – seafood meals, of course, while sipping cocktails and watching magnificent sunsets.

Sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba

Road closure due to flooding changed our route of departure to the sealed section of the Savannah Way – traversing rich grasslands once more. 

Darn! That was our intended route.

22nd – 23rd April

The highlight of a night at Gilbert River West (free camp, no facilities) was seeing the foaming waters of the river in flood, not far beneath the long one-lane bridge.

Viewing the flooding Gilbert River – not over the road, fortunately!

Next morning we moseyed on into Georgetown to stay at the CP, the power giving our batteries a boost. A walk around town left us with the impression of a small town with plenty of pride. 

They’re pretty laid-back in Georgetown

24th – 25th April

On towards Cobbold Gorge over unsealed roads in pretty good condition with just a few shallow water crossings. On the way a cuppa stop at Forsayth and a wander around town found this town to be as impressive as Georgetown with its beautiful, restored buildings and well-tended parks. 

I was very excited to get to Cobbold Gorge – the photos I’d seen of the gorge were stunning and it didn’t disappoint. The beauty of the narrow gorge (only about 2 meters wide in some places) was only discovered a few years ago by the current owners of Robin Hood Station, the cattle station it is in.

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Cobbold Gorge

A LOT of private/public funding has gone into developing the tourist facility here which includes a large reception area with souvenirs, a small grocery stocking basics, a large open-air restaurant beside the pool which has a swim-up bar, a function hall as well as very well laid-out RV and camping areas.

Apart from the Gorge itself there’s a large dam with free kayaks, several bush walks and mountain bike trails (BYO bike) and some four-wheel drive tracks to points of interest and the gem fields (agate mostly). 

On our first afternoon, after settling in, we did an 8km walk up to a lookout, then back for a swim and cocktail at the swim-up bar. 

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Chilling at the swim-up bar at Cobbold Gorge

The Gorge is several kilometres away from the resort and only accessible on tours in an effort to maintain its pristine condition. We did the boat tour next morning. The guide was particularly good sharing historical, geological and botanical knowledge with us. The boat, an open punt, has a silent electric motor.

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The amazing narrow gorge of Cobbold Gorge

It was a stunning experience with the walls of the gorge towering up beside us, close enough in places to touch both sides at the same time, while we glided silently along. Back at the start we then walked up onto the huge sandstone rock that encloses the gorge, crossing over the gorge on a glass bridge. 

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On the glass bridge over Cobbold Gorge

That afternoon we’d signed up for the SUP tour. If this morning’s tour was stunning, the SUP induced awe. This morning’s boat held 14 people, plus the guide and while everyone was quiet, just soaking it all in, the guide, naturally talked a fair bit. With the SUP there were only 7 of us and we all headed off separately, so Steve and I were able to enjoy the gorge more or less alone. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped – and I didn’t fall in! 

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Denise, just finishing the return trip of Cobbold Gorge on the SUP

26th – 27th April

Leaving Cobbold Gorge we did one of their 4-wheel drive trips up to the Quartz Blow – a hill of beautiful white quartz which gave us views across to the horizon all around. 

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Steve, contemplating geological wonders from atop the Quartz Blow, Cobbold Gorge

We’d asked around about the road through to Einasleigh and been rewarded with a shrug and “it’s OK”, so off we went, and it was “OK” – some bitumen, some corrugations, some washouts – OK. What we failed to ask about was the road from Einasleigh to the Gregory Developmental Rd! The Einasleigh River was over the causeway and flowing pretty fast.

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The Einasleigh River in flood. And we need to cross it.

As all good 4x4ers who don’t want to walk a river crossing do, we parked to the side and made ourselves some lunch and a cuppa. Sure enough 3 vehicles came down and we watched them cross, noted where it was washed out, noted their track and safely followed on. 

Crossing the Einasleigh River

Kalkani Crater, a very typical cone-shaped hill with a perfectly round rim that drops away into the middle was a great little walk on our way to the Undara Experience, the resort set up at the Lava Tubes. 

Undara Experience, the accommodation associated with the lava tubes, was moderately busy as a music festival had just finished yesterday. It’s quite a resort here with lots of units, and heaps of powered and unpowered camping, a large open air cafe / restaurant, pool … you get the idea. 

“The lava tubes and caves were formed when rivers of lava confined to a valley crusted over and formed a roof. Insulated in its casing of solidified lava, the lava flow carried on for tens of kilometres before draining out, leaving an empty tube of lava. Weaker sections of the roof of the tubes later collapsed to form caves and depressions. More than 70 caves have been found in the park.” (Text from NP literature) The lava flowed more than 90km to the north and 160km to the north-west at a rate of 1,000m3 per second! 

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How the Undara Lava Tubes were formed.

Access to the caves is restricted to approved scientists, speleologists and guided tours. The area has received 3 times its usual annual rainfall in the last few months and the caves have been full of water, a rare event. We had the amazing experience of walking through the caves on the walkways with crystal clear, chilly water up to our shins. 

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Undara lava tube.

There are several bush walks starting from the camping ground, the longest being the Rosella Trail at about 14km. This trail took us to several lookouts from which we could trace the track of collapsed tubes by the bright green vegetation that grows in the protected stream bed.

Home to Mt Isa

March 29th – April 13th

Well that wasn’t my most favourite departure. We’d not intended to leave for another week, however with the possibility of a COVID lockdown looming we decided to leave early, and not as well prepared as we’d hoped to be. It’s easy to self-isolate in a motorhome and to continue to follow the isolation rules.  Got away about 2pm, travelling only about 90km, up to the free camp at Kilcoy. Tuesday 30th we stopped for lunch in Kingaroy and a brisk walk along the rail trail before lodging for the night at Cerotodus, a lovely free camp near Monto where the old railway building and switching points provide an insight into travel as it was done. This is also the home of several free-range roosters who take their morning alarm duties seriously.

A beautiful campsite at the old Cerotodus railway station, beside the Burnett River

Wednesday 31st begins our new adventure in earnest, or so I thought, as we camp at Munall Campground at Blackdown National Park. A beautiful flat road through rolling green hills with cattle, emus, brolgas and kangaroos doesn’t prepare you for the very steep, winding ascent of Blackdown Range.

Blackdown National Park looms in front of us.

The views for the passenger are spectacular looking down over the cliff edges, but the driver who dares not shift his gaze sees nothing but a narrow, steep, twisting gravel road in the best parts, a little bitumen added to the worst parts. 

A narrow, winding road took us up the mountain to Blackdown NP

We paused at the top to take in the view from Yaddamen Dhina and do the 4km walk to the gorgeous waterfalls at Goodela.

Magnificent views down the valley from Yaddamen Dhina, Blackdown NP

Small falls tumble into a pretty pool that continues downward over smoothe rocks and then into oblivion.

The small pool was enticing for a swim, but it’s after 4 now and we’ve yet to cover the 8 unsealed kilometres to our campsite. 

Thursday 1st – 4th April. Not an April Fools Day joke, unfortunately. Steve spent a sleepless night coughing, and woke with a sore throat. In view of having Covid-19 in our home area before we left we decided we should get tested, so down the mountain we drove. The small town of Blackwater was the nearest place offering this service, but not till 3pm. Blackwater is OK – it’s known as the Coal Capital of Queensland and has an apparently world class mining museum to see – not that we saw it, being responsible citizens we were self-isolating. 

After the swabs were taken we drove on to the free camp in Emerald, between the railway line and the highway(!), but right beside their magnificent Botanical Gardens. Nothing to report now for 3 days as we continued to self-isolate until we finally got the all-clear on Easter Sunday afternoon! (No photos – we didn’t do anything!)

Free to travel at last we headed to the caravan park at Alpha. But first a break at Bogantungan. The name derives from the aboriginal words “bogan” meaning grass and “tungan” meaning tree.

In February 1960 Bogantungun was the site of the Medway Train Disaster, one of Queensland’s worst train accidents. As the train passed over the flooded Medway Creek just west of town the bridge collapsed. 4 passengers and 3 crew were killed, with 43 injured.

Alpha is known for its murals and its fossilised wood sculptures. And also a bull sculpture made out of barbed wire. All were very good. 

The magnificent barbed wire bull at Alpha.

At Barcaldine we viewed the left-wing Tree of Knowledge (again), then the architecture of the right-wing Masonic Hall. Built in 1901 of timber and corrugated iron, they ‘did up’ the facade to replicate stone-work. 

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The iconic Masonic Hall at Barcaldine. Built in 1901 is iron-clad with an imitation-stone front wall. it was decorated to appear as if it were made of stone blocks, and adorned with columns, friezes, semi circular windows and a porch.

We also spent a little time reading about the Great Shearer’s Strike of 1891. There’s a very good display and sculptures explaining the reason for it and the outcome.

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Barcaldine

5th – 7th April. Apparently it rained a lot at Lara Wetlands last night. Oblivious to this we drove in over 13km of flooded dirt roads. It was still water, so not dangerous. Two vans came in after us before they closed the road to entry.

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The road in to Lara Wetland – bit wet!

We’re here for 3 nights – by our last day we were the only campers. So peaceful for a normally very popular camp.

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Our campsite at a very quiet Lara Wetland

Lara Wetland is a large shallow lake fed by a century-old artesian bore on a 15,000 acre working cattle station. The starkly white dead ghost gums in the lake provide homes and hunting vantage spots for the many, many birds that live here. 

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Lara Wetland, from the kayak.

Kayaking, soaking in the hot artesian pool, walking, birdwatching and relaxing filled our days. 

Steve soaking in the artesian pool at Lara Wetland.
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Brolgas at Lara Wetland – can you see the chicks?

8th – 9th April Leaving Lara Wetland today the road is now open, though there’s still water over the road and it’s been cut up quite a bit by the departing vehicles. We headed north to Aramac where the chap at the Council told us a section of the unsealed road on the 200km long Lake Dunn Sculpture Trail is closed. No problem, it’s a circuit so we went the opposite direction. 

The Sculpture Trail sculptures, 40 of them with more being added, have all been created out of junk by a local artist, Milynda Rogers. We stopped at each sculpture, some very good, others OK.

Lake Dunn Sculptures

This western section of the trail is a sealed road through rich grasslands where the cattle are chubby and we had to pause to allow emus and kangaroos to cross the road. Tonight we’re camped about half way around the sculpture circuit at Lake Dunn, a large lake where fishing, water skiing and birdwatching are the main activities. Not a favourite camp – too busy with camp spots alongside the road. 

Stockman and dog. Lake Dunn Sculptures

Rumour amongst the campers has the unsealed remaining sections of the road open now so we left very early to complete the sculpture trail. As well as the sculptures on the trail there’s a Healing Circle, apparently joined spiritually to only 5 other places around the world, and interesting history at Gray Stones where passengers from the Cobb and Co coaches running in the late 19th and early 20th centuries carved their names into the sandstone when they paused here for a rest. 

Names scratched into the sandstone go back to the late 1800s from the Cobb and Co passengers. Lake Dunn Sculptures

At Alice Ck water covered a good 100m of the road, reaching to Steve’s knee height at its deepest. As the surface was firm we drove on through without a problem. 

9th – 10th April: Porcupine Gorge, north of Hughenden, is our destination tonight. It was a very long drive through very flat, lush grasslands. One 25km section between Aramac and Torrens Creek was unsealed – a very rough, corrugated section! 

The Porcupine River has formed a long, deep gorge through this flat country which is now protected by the national park. We’re camped at the Pyramid campground for two nights allowing us to do some walking in the gorge. It’s quite a steep track down roughly-made stone steps to the bottom of the Gorge, followed, of course, by the corresponding climb up the track in what is now very hot weather. Many of our fellow campers balked at going down. However with the promise of a swim in the cool refreshing waters of the river we headed down. The swim was delightful.

Enjoying a well-deserved swim in Porcupine Gorge.

Late afternoon, near sunset when the heat had gone out of the day, we walked along the ridge to see the length of the gorge from above. 

The Gorge. Porcupine Gorge.

11th April Julia Creek (Happy wedding anniversary Laura and Stu)

Pat and Dick gave us a ‘heads up’ to book ASAP for the sunset time slot for the ‘artesian baths’ at the Julia Creek CP – a difficult task as the CP wouldn’t answer their phone. Anyway we did score the last booking and had a lovely hour or so soaking in the baths, snacking on our grazing platter and sipping sparkling wine. 

Enjoying the view, a soak and a wee drop or two. Julia Creek

12th April (our 46th wedding anniversary)

First stop today was Cloncurry where we had a cuppa at the painted water tower overlooking town, then stopped to view the Burke and Wills plaque showing where they passed through on their south to north exploration. A little further along a memorial to our First Australians was quite poignant – too poignant for some as it had been defaced.

Our campsite for tonight is the abandoned site of Mary Kathleen. Mary Kathleen was an architect-designed ‘model’ town with homes, a post office, cinema, sports ovals, a school, banks and a community store built in 1956 to service a uranium mine. When mining finally finished in 1982 the infrastructure of the town was completely removed and the mine site rehabilitated. Nothing remains here now except the cement slabs of the buildings, the mine tailings and a huge hole in the ground half-filled with water.

Our campsite at the ghost town of Mary Kathleen. We’re camped on the slab that used to be the Post Office.

Camping is free and was quite pleasant – a dry stream bed lined with beautiful ghost gums cast lots of shade as did the trees planted around the town, while contented cows wandered freely keeping the grass trimmed.

A beautiful, quiet evening at Mary Kathleen

We drove over a really terrible road up to look at the view from the hill above, but had had enough of dodging huge potholes and rocks to bother going on to see the mine site some 6km from town. 

Still heading west we stopped at Mt Isa for fuel and to restock the larder before the next stage of our big adventure.

Bawaka, Baniyala, Mataranka and home

16th – 28th August, 2019

This part of our travel blog describes the remainder of our August Arnhem Land adventure, taking us from Nhulunbuy to home via the Yolŋu communities of Bawaka and Baniyala in East Arnhem Land and ending our tag-along at the very beautiful Mataranka.

Friday 16th August

For the next three days we’ll be in Yolŋu homeland country of Bawaka, about 70km southeast of Nhulunbuy.
Leaving the Central Arnhem Highway after only 27km a sandy track wound its way through the bush.
Stopping to have a closer look at a field of termite mounds we learnt this type of “magnetic” termite mound is only found in far northern Australia. The mounds are 2 – 3 metres high and very narrow with their long axis always built directly north-south.

Neill teaching us about the magnetic anthills.

Neill explained the mounds have a central solid core, which insulates the east and west sides from each other. During the morning, when the sun shines on the long eastern surface the termites can be found on the western side, and vice versa in the afternoons, and in the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead and there’s no shade, only a very narrow surface faces the sun. The temperature difference between the two sides can be as much as 8 degrees. Other types of termites may retire to underground tunnels when it’s hot, however due to the summer monsoons and these grounds being flooded for months at a time, these termites don’t have that option. With a paucity of trees and wood these termites feed on grasses which are stored inside the mounds.

To enter Bawaka Neill opened a locked gate that restricts access and on we drove on an even narrower, even softer, sandy track until we reached the ocean before continuing along the beach.

Leaving the very soft sand inland track and now following the beach around to Timmy’s place, Bawaka.

We’re here at the invitation of Timmy Burarrwanga, one of the traditional owners, and it’s Timmy and Jason who soon overtook our convoy and led us in. Suddenly their car stopped, out jumped Jason brandishing a fishing spear, ran into the ocean some 20 metres and speared a mudcrab. How they saw it from a moving car I’ll never know.

Spearing a mudcrab for our dinner.

Bawaka means “a known heaven”, and this place is definitely that. Australia has many magnificent beaches, but the stunning blacks and reds in the dunes and rocks that meet the endless curve of the dazzling white sand beach with its shady tamarind trees and coconut palms bending over the clearest blue ocean before it meets the deep blue of the sky makes this one unforgettable.
For the next couple of nights we’ll be sleeping on our air mattresses on a large open deck just above high tide mark – and above crocodile climbing height too, I hope! Offshore we could see Nike, the 4 metre crocodile who owns this beach cruising around.

A short drive to the tip of the peninsula brought us out at Lonely Beach which we’d been told was ‘pretty safe’ for swimming (ie probably no crocs!). It’s a magnificent little cove between cliff faces, and the swimming was indeed magnificent.

Pat, heading down the cliff to the shore at Lonely Beach. We’ll swim in the cove to the left, but a lookout remained up here to keep an eye out for dark shadows moving through the water. (with thanks to Pat for the photo)

Our belief in what is wrong and right to eat will be challenged over the next couple of days. Yolŋu have protected and lived off this land for many thousands of years. They have title rights over not only the land but also their waters. Being sea people all manner of seafood has been a part of their diet, including dugong and turtles, both animals the western culture protects. This afternoon the Yolŋu men, having received permission of the elders, collected a bucket of turtle eggs and caught a turtle.

Turtle eggs.

Randy, Timmy’s assistant for our stay, had also been busy spear fishing. We all shared tastes of one of the sea mullets he caught and the crab caught earlier (but not the turtle eggs; though I’m sure they would have shared had any of us asked).

BBQing a fish and mudcrab just caught by the young guys with their spears.

This evening the elders welcomed us to country with song and dance and a smoking ceremony where we all had ochre painted on our foreheads. Jason played the yidaki, Timmy the clap sticks and sang an ancient song and Randy danced. We were asked to remove our watches and become in tune with the rhythm of the land during our stay. A liberating experience. Timmy has been actively engaged in Yolŋu rights, protection of homeland and improving the economic opportunities for his community. While white contact occured here later than in most other parts of Australia and this community appears to be more intact than most, it was still not innocuous.

However the evening wasn’t all ‘deep and meanifuls’. Timmy told us the story of the first tractor in East Arnhem land and we danced and laughed to the ‘tractor song’.

Timmy on the right. Jason playing the yidaki.

Timmy told us Nike’s story. Nike, the 4 metre crocodile, was named in honour of Kathy Freeman. At the time Kathy was in the area for a photo shoot Randy rescued a baby crocodile caught in flotsam. He brought it up as a pet until he became just a bit too big and demonstrated his natural instincts! Nike still comes when called, but is afforded a very healthy respect. At one time when I was standing near the water’s edge with my back to the ocean I was told by Randy in no uncertain terms to come away and never to do that again – I didn’t!

It was a delight to lie in bed tonight on my little mattress on the wide open deck listening to the gentle lapping of the waves and watching a million stars twinkling – a creation story in each. (No mozzies!) What a privilege to be invited to share a tiny portion of the lives of our first Australians.

Saturday 17th

Slow start this morning. It was very foggy, which Timmy tells me is quite unusual. Mind you the little bay looks so ethereal in the fog.

Foggy morning at Bawaka. Very unusual I’m told.

Nike the crocodile is just offshore, watching … I think he knows there’s going to be a feast for him today.

Timmy and Randy and Jason prepared the turtle for cooking today, with some help at times from Paul, Steve Orr and Neill. The rest of us just looked on, or walked away as it was quite confronting. Of course it’s easy to rationalise that we eat other meats and this is no different; however when it’s not part of our culture, quite the opposite, and it’s such a beautiful creature, it’s a little difficult.

If you don’t wish to read about it then skip reading from this photo until the next one.

Nike. Thank goodness for long-range lenses. No desire to ever be this close to the gorgeous little critter.

Timmy, Randy and Jason started preparing the turtle for cooking. After the turtle was killed, the head and entrails were removed and wild herbs placed in the cavity. Hot rocks from the fire that had been started earlier were layered on top of them and then topped with grass clumps to keep the steam and heat in. The turtle shell was left standing upright to begin the cooking process.

After some time the turtle was placed on the fire, underneath plate down, then turned over and the outer shell charred. The meat was only partially cooked when it was taken off the fire. The remainder of the cooking will occur just before it is to be consumed. The underneath shell of the turtle was cut and levered off, then Timmy began the difficult, strenuous and precise job of butchering the turtle. The meat was washed and divided into large pieces to share with extended family. Nothing that could be edible was wasted – the intestines were rinsed out to be cooked and eaten too.

Timmy BBQ’d some intestine and liver for us to taste … I guess you could develop a taste for it, maybe.

All the inedible parts, ie the head, fins, etc, including the shell, were fed to Nike.  Randy would call him and slap the water with the food for him and he’d come silently cruising in. Randy put the food high up the beach where Nike would lumber up to get it before returning to the water to eat it. A happy croc, but not one I’d like to get anywhere near.

To view the photos taken of this process CLICK HERE.

Randy calling Nike in to take the carapace of the turtle. You can see just his eyes out of the water and the shadow of his body. He’s swimming in. Notice there are no ripples at all. Also notice that Randy is watching him very closely.

A few more fish were caught today. The keen fishermen in our group went around the other side of the bay with the local men and all came back with fish. Our guys used fancy, expensive fishing gear; the locals used spears.

Never lose an opportunity to spear a fish. Note that Randy is holding a woomera attached to the top of the spear to assist with force when he throws it.

We had a big bonfire on the beach this evening and another very moving group talk with Timmy. Amongst other things he explained the way everything is divided into yirritja and dhuwa – like ying and yang. We were challenged when asked to reflect on our knowledge and beliefs of our country’s first people.

Yirritja and Dhuwa are the two moieties. Yothu yindi translates as ‘mother child’. Everything in Yolŋu life belongs to one of these moieties and they determine how people interact with one another and the country in which they live. It is a very complex and extensive system.

 

The open deck on which we slept for a couple of nights. Such a pity it’s a foggy morning when this photo was taken. You can see through the fog where the water is. That’s us on the mat at this end. Julie and Paul are sleeping on the stretchers to the far left of the photo and Steve and Jo on the big blowup mattresses on the far right of the deck. And no, none of the clothes and stuff lying around is ours. Others were sleeping either in the bunk house, or several had vehicles in which they could sleep. (thanks to Pat for the photo)

Sunday 18th

Quite a few of Timmy’s relatives began arriving yesterday from Yirrkala where the family lives. As well as the extremely talented artists whose artwork I showed in my last post, Yirrkala is also the home to several members of the successful music band Yothu Yindi and the award winning singer and musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. No, sadly, I’m not leading up to saying that we had a private concert from Yothu Yindu, just letting you know where they came from and yet another illustration of the talent in this area.

I love this photo of Randy fishing.

One such talented person that I hope we may hear more of sometime in the future is Sienna who is completing year 12 this year and came over to chat with us about her life and dreams and aboriginal culture. A very impressive young woman.

The lovely, vivacious Sienna who spent some time talking with us about her life and plans.

Timmy and I. He shared his homeland and his life with us in a very generous way. What an amazing experience!

One of the family is to be married next week and another turtle was caught and prepared today, all the meat going into the fridges ready for the celebrations.

We packed up and left late morning, once more honing our 4×4 driving skills on sand that is so soft you knew if you stopped you’d be bogged. Someone had left the gate open and a random tourist, without permission, had started down the road and was very quickly bogged, blocking the track completely. While Neill was assisting them, and our convoy was all parked sporadically on any firm piece of ground we could find, another of the locals started to come in. I was amazed to see them leave the track completely, the passenger got out and, walking in front of the car, guided the driver through and around obstacles as they made their way through the bush and past us.

Back in Nhulunbuy for our final night here we shopped, refuelled, washed and generally sat around marvelling at the most incredible experience we’d all just had … and snuck our watches back on.

Back in Nhulunbuy, chatting about the very unique time we had at Bawaka.

Monday 19th

After a last visit to the bakery we headed back onto the Central Arnhem Highway, then along the track toward Baniyala.

Lunch break on the way to Baniyala. Only occasionally did we see oncoming or passing traffic on all of these roads.

We drove on past the Baniyala turnoff to the National Parks camping area at Dhuluwuy Bay where we set up camp just metres from the ocean.

Oh it’s us! Dick, Steve, Denise and Pat. World problems solved!

Admiring the view over Blue Mud Bay towards Groote Eylandt and into the Gulf of Carpentaria didn’t seem to tire us until well after a beautiful full moon rose.

Moonrise over Blue Mud Bay. Wow, could life be more perfect.

The disadvantage of being right on the cliff edge overlooking the ocean, is the wind – blew lots tonight making sleep sporadic.

Tuesday 20th August

As a form of thanks for the unprecented access we’re granted by the local communities to share their lives, Neill takes every opportunity to contribute where he can; an example was the beach clean-up we did earlier. Today several of our group went with Neill into Baniyala to fix some tents that may one day become a tourism venture.

We joined them late morning and went up to the community where we were met and shown around by one of the elders. For many centuries they’ve had a sand representation of their lands, which is where they hold all their ceremonies. This is cared for and repaired as needed.

This large sand sculpture, which has been here for many, many years tended to as necessary, represents their land in relation to other places plus the sea and the clouds. (Photo courtesy Pat Evans)

The stingray is of great importance to this clan. They are able to show, by a huge indent in the ground, where the stingray came ashore back in the Dreamtime.

Here we are looking at the stingray sand sculpture. They take sand from the eye holes and name the places they plan to hunt stingrays, which helps them on the hunt. (Photo courtesy Pat Evans)

Graham is the man who took us to see these important aspects of their lives. He is also a very accomplished artist, working in sand painting. using coloured sand he makes beautiful designs on bark and logs.

Graham, the artist explains to us how he paints first with glue then sprinkles the coloured sand he needs over it.

Two beautiful completed sand art works by Graham – made on commission unfortunately. I would have loved to have bought one.

After lunch the locals took us out of town where we women were dropped off while the men drove on further to a large lagoon where they saw brolgas, emus, heaps of birds and even more mosquitoes, so I’m told.
The indigenous women started by looking for a pandanus palm that had fronds that would be perfect for weaving. When they found it they chopped it down and sorted out the fronds they wanted into a big bundle.

The pandanus palm has been cut down and suitable fronds are being stacked, ready for drying and eventually making one of the wonderful woven baskets they are so famous for.

Then they began to look for a tree that would contain a native bees hive, and hence honey. We all walked around for ages, spreading right out. I was completely lost, so just followed one of the local women. The tree we were looking for would probably be a stringy bark, that was hollowed out by termites and where they could see the bees flying in and out of a small hole. The call came – one had been spotted. Despite staring very closely I couldn’t see any bees.

Ah ha, found one! Look – tiny little native bees flitting in and out way up at the top of that tree! Better eyesight then I have!

The oldest of the group of women took the axe and chopped the tree down, then cut a hole where they guessed the hive was. Sure enough, lots of beautiful, dark honey flowed. A pot was placed under it and the honey flowed in. It was really delicious honey – such a rich, sweet taste.

Look at that beautiful, dark, rich honey. The honey is dripping into the saucepan under the log.

 

The saucepan nearly full of honey – and a bit of bark.

The women gathered all the honey and the pollen which would be eaten, and also the wax, which would be kept for molding mouth pieces for yidaki. Yet another very unique opportunity to share a little of their way of life.

Cheeky boy – how come all boys this age are so adorably cheeky!

Back at camp we lit the campfire, though it was still blowing a gale. We BBQ’d our meat for dinner and spent the evening solving the World’s problems with Pat and Dick. We then slept surprisingly well, despite the wind. Maybe because the toilets and showers were easily a 500m walk away from our camp – all that exercise!

Wednesday 21st

Leaving this morning at 9am we rejoined the Central Arnhem Hway and headed south. Parts of the road were wonderful, recently graded gravel that we could travel at 80-90km/hr.   Other parts were bad: corrugations, stony, bull dust holes, washouts – a mixed bag.

As we’ve travelled these roads we’ve frequently seen slow burning fires. Some of these have been lit by the rangers doing a controlled burn to reduce the fuel load preventing serious bushfires later in the dry season. But many of them are caused by lightning strike, or discarded cigarettes or mischief-makers. Another cause could be the ‘fire birds’. You’ll often see kites (the raptor)  flying just in front of a fire catching the small ground animals fleeing from the fire. These birds have learnt to pick up a burning stick and drop it in another spot if this fire is going out or not producing enough fleeing animals.

Slow moving fires are very common in the Top End at this time of the year. No fires should be lit after August 1st, however this is not adhered to, obviously, and is often quite random rather than planned.

There is some contention about the amount of burning that is happening. A return to the fire management regimes of the traditional owners is being strongly encouraged.

It was a long driving day, broken up with stops at the bridge we bypassed on our outward journey and Bulman where an ice block from the local store was greatly appreciated.

We saw lots more feral animals too – buffalo and donkeys.

Buffalos grazing by the side of the road. These can be very dangerous if they take it into their heads to cross the road as you get there.

Eventually arriving back at Mainoru Store we once again appreciated the grassy campsite beside the springfed brook, the flushing toilets and the warm-ish showers.  Dinner tonight was once again provided by the Store: beef and salad (tough as).

Early night – exhausted after a long day.

Thursday 22nd

Our last day of the tag-along!

A long drive continuing along the Central Arnhem Highway. Lots of buffalos, donkeys, cattle to be seen. The landscape and flora changed subtly as we travelled from driving along the ridge to down in the valley. Once more we stopped at Jurassic Park – only buffalo in the park thank goodness, no dinosaurs, though it wouldn’t surprise me.

The sunken valley of Jurassic Park. You can see the cliff edge on the far side where it once more rises to the usual level.

A craft shop at Beswick was open, though the highlight was their museum of artwork. In 1996 local elders and renowned digeridu player and artist David Blanasi conceived of the idea of putting together a collection of art to showcase and celebrate the strength of Indigenous culture in the area. The most famous of the artworks have an interactive installation where an animated story plays on a tablet when pointed at it.
Blanasi himself had an interesting history bringing the digeridoo (bambu in his language) to international fame in 1967 after giving digeridu lessons on the very popular Rolf Harris television show in London. Following the death of a very close friend of his, in 2001 he went missing in the bush with no trace since.

Unfortunately there were few of the commmunity around as they were experiencing “sorry business”.

Here the blacktop began and we gleefully farewelled the corrugations and dust.

Once on the Stuart Highway we headed to Mataranka where we camped at the crowded caravan park, did the washing and headed down to Bitter Springs. Heaven on a stick! This 500m waterway is fed by an underground spring that gently flows down a watercourse lined with cabbage palms. With a noodle hired from the CP, we were able to float gently down the stream. The water is crystal clear, right to the bottom, which is well over my head – so crystal clear it looks icy blue, though icy it wasn’t, just delightfully warm. Only downside is the number of people we share it with.

Back at camp we’re all going for dinner at the CP up the road – lots of fun, nostalgic saying farewell to everyone with promises to drop in when passing, and delicious food.

Everyone really appreciated the great job Neill Bell, our knowledgeable, energetic but ever so patient leader did, ably assisted by his wife Gail.

And so ended our tag-along.

Friday 23rd – Tuesday 27th August

Homeward bound.

We packed up early, then ducked down to the Springs. Glorious! Only us and one or two other couples this morning, so we were able to thoroughly enjoy a relaxing and quiet float. These Springs are absolutely amazing – if ever you’re up this way, take time to enjoy them.

The very beautiful, artesian-fed watercourse lined with cabbage palms. Unforgettable.

 

Got away about 9am taking turns with the driving. We headed south on the Stuart Highway before heading east on the Carpentaria Highway as far as Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford. Grassy site for the tent.

Two big Brahman bulls wander the campsite grazing on the green grass, coming into the outdoor eating area and drinking water directly from the sprinklers. They entertained us for awhile, though there was a little fear they may wish to investigate our tent while we sleep.

One of the two Brahmans that wander the hotel and camping grounds. What was most entertaining is when they drank from directly from the large sprinklers that keep this grass so lovely and green.

Saturday: Early start heading south on the Tableland Highway. Mixed feelings about this drive as it is a good road and a bit different to the main highway south, however the fields were absolutely bare other than for the carcasses of cattle that had starved to death.  We soon headed east across the border back into Queensland where we met up with Pat and Dick in Camooweal in time to take in a little local culture – the Queensland camp drafting championships. We arrived in time for the evening festivities – several entertainers including a very talented young man who cracked a burning whip in time to music – you really needed to be there to appreciate it.

A big horse event happened here today. Now there’s just the music, the bar and the BIG hats to go. Camooweal

Sunday: Both vehicles headed off to Winton today via the Barkly and Landsborough Highways.  At the Winton caravan park we had the pleasure of being entertained by a bush poet.

Grazing the long paddock. As you can see there’s not too much here for the poor damn animals to eat either. So dry. Following Pat and Dick on the Landsborough Highway

Barcaldine and the Tree of Knowledge.

Monday: We lunched together at Barcaldine before sadly farewelling our newest friends as they hurried back to their home in Sydney and we scuttled home as fast as we could to avoid sleeping in the tent any longer than we had to.

Farewell lunch in Barcaldine with Pat and Dick. You’ve been great travelling companions and I hope we’ll have more travels together in the future.

On reflection this Arnhem Land trip has been up there with the very best travel we’ve ever done, anywhere. We shared the land, the culture and the spiritualism of the oldest continuous living culture on Earth with great generosity on their behalf. This was no ‘tourist highlight’ – this was life as raw and as beautiful as it gets. We are incredibly fortunate.

And a super big thankyou to Great Divide 4X4 Tours whose ethical behaviour has seen the local indigenous communities welcome them back every year, and a really wonderful group of fellow travellers with which to share it.

To see all our photos from East Arnhem Land CLICK HERE.

Adelaide River and Nhulunbuy

Our Arnhem Land travels continue having left the Cobourg Peninsula and now heading to East Arnhem Land.

Saturday 10th August, 2019

Another very full day today as we leave the caravan park just outside Kakadu and head a little further north along the Arnhem Highway to Adelaide River. The peaceful, picturesque Adelaide River’s claim to fame these days is the concentration of saltwater crocodiles (salties) that call it home. No trip to northern Australia would be considered complete if you didn’t see a saltwater croc, and this trip was not going to fall short on that score. Crocodiles were at risk of extinction before a hunting ban in the 1970’s saved them. It’s estimated there are around 150,000 salties and 100,000 ‘freshies’ (fresh water crocs) in northern Australia today – that means there’s nearly as many crocs as people – a sobering thought. Their habitat, ie fresh or salt water, has nothing to do with their name and they coexist happily in either. Salties can grow up to 10 metres in length and are aggressive in hunting their prey, of which humans are merely tasty morsels.

Idyllic day. Inviting river … but not for swimming! Adelaide River

A tourism venture called “Original Jumping Crocodile Cruises” is our destination where we’re on the first cruise of the day. Well, it was pretty spectacular. We were in an open sided boat, told to keep all hands, cameras, etc inside the boat and headed out looking for crocs. The river itself is quite spectacular and just the cruise along the river was enjoyable, however it wasn’t long before we came across crocs lazing on the river banks keeping a watchful eye.

Cruising alongside the boat. Adelaide River

The tour guide was excellent – informative and fun. He’ll hold out a pole with a piece of meat tied onto a line and a croc will quietly slip into the water and sidle over, without so much as a ripple in the water. When the croc is alongside the boat, it’s teased a little with the meat. They’re expected to do 3 jumps before, on the third, they receive the meat. Just one piece per croc. We must have watched perhaps 10 big crocs jumping well out of the water to get the meat. The tour guides have named all the crocs and know their personalities well.

And up he goes. Note the meat on the line which you’ll see just at the top of the background tree line. Adelaide River

Moving on from here a nearby lagoon fulfilled our ration of birdlife for the day.

Coming in to land, ignored by the spoonbills.

From here we backtracked south a little way along the Arnhem Highway before turning right onto a 4-wheel drive road that was a shortcut across to the Stuart Highway. The road, while unsealed, was in good order, apparently infrequently used and a very pleasant drive.

Next stop was the magnificent Leliyn (Edith Falls) which is on the edge of Nitmuluk NP (Katherine Gorge) and was the finishing point for my Jatbula walk of only 2 weeks ago. The Edith River cascades into this very beautiful, large freshwater pool that has been de-crocced (is that a word?) and therefore safe for swimming. We enjoyed a lovely swim and relaxed here for a couple of hours before wandering on, in our own time, to the Shady Lane caravan park in Katherine where we’ll spend the night.

The pool at Leliyn. That’s me with the grey hair, enyoying my swim with others in our group. In the distance you can just see where the Edith River cascades down into the pool.

Washing, shopping and refuelling in preparation for the next leg of our journey was a priority this afternoon. Once more we filled the jerry cans we carry on the roof racks (with diesel), just to be sure. Rather than cook we bought pizzas and shared them with Pat and Dick.

Sunday 11th August

Heading south as we left Katherine it was only about 50km before the turnoff for the Central Arnhem Road that joins Nhulunbuy to the Stuart Highway. A few years ago 4WD Magazine ranked the Central Arnhem Road in its top 5 “must drive” four wheel drive tracks. We agree! This is another road that requires a permit from the Northern Lands Council as we travel predominantly through Aboriginal lands (as did all the West Arnhem Land roads). It’s unsuitable to tow vans and permits won’t be granted to do so, apparently

Beginning the Central Arnhem Highway. Mainoru Store is our destination today.

Once we hit the dirt the tyre pressures were once more reduced and our convoy spread out over many kilometres as we hung back from each others dust. We passed through a few small aboriginal communities on the way. A constant lookout had to be kept for feral animals straying onto the road –  cattle, donkeys and buffalo.

Feral buffalo are prolific in Arnhem Land. Hunting safaris are common and there’s also a meat trade in buffalo.

Lunch today was at a lookout over what is colloquially known as Jurassic Park. The area looks like its a sunken valley with cliff edges all around and a flat base. Quite unexpected out here where everything is so flat.

A break for lunch overlooking “Jurassic Park”.

The road condition has been quite good. Some sections corrugated and dusty, but mostly reasonably smooth, fast, hard dirt. When oncoming vehicles approach we’d reduce speed to a crawl, and when the road trains approached, and we saw a few, we’d pull right off the road and stop. After they’d passed visibility would be close to zero for several minutes until their dust settled.

Central Arnhem Highway. A few corrugations here.

Late afternoon we arrived at Mainoru Store. This is a store that sells everything, food, clothing, shoes, etc. Camping tonight is on a beautifully grassed area beside a natural spring. The store owners have big sprinklers on the lawns 24/7 and that spring never falters. After setting up we went for a walk along it. It’s a beautiful lilly-covered oasis surrounded by glorious gum trees So unexpected out in this harsh environment.

The fresh water spring that never runs dry beside the camping ground at Mainoru.

All feeling weary after a long, dusty drive today Neill organised for the store to cook us a meal – chicken and salad. Very average. Then to cap it off Steve and I had set our tent up close to the toilets. Everytime the door opened, which was frequently, it closed with a loud bang, and the whole area was illuminated with what I swear was a search light on a motion sensor. Not the most restful of sleeps.

Monday 12th August

We left early today to cover the 470 remaining kilometers to Nhulunbuy. Much of it was corrugated, though some stretches not too bad.

Driving the Central Arnhem Rd north of Mainoru Store. Note the tape on the windscreen – placed over a crack that occured on the way up to Darwin. Also note distance from vehicle we’re following, avoiding the dust.

The Central Arnhem Rd crosses several small creeks. It also crosses the Goyder River and its flood plain, a challenge for road users in wet weather prior to 2014 when the government built a very large, all-weather bridge to bypass this difficult crossing. The old crossing is our destination for morning tea today. It does appear that the road authorities don’t want you to go there as the exit off the main road is well hidden. With some prior knowledge though we were all soon travelling on a lovely single-lane road to a delightful, shallow, broad crystal-clear brook, babbling over a stoney base which was the Goyder River on this day. The entrance and exit could be steep and I can imagine the trouble the road trains had trying to cross this river before the bridge was constructed, particularly after a good wet season.

Will we or won’t we? Goyder River

A discussion of whether we should cross or return the way we’d come in was had, with all voting to cross (not sure that Neill, the guide, had a say in that decision). What’s a 4-wheel drive trip without a decent water crossing or two? (Grin)

Apparently the biggest termite mound in Arnhem Land.

Further on we stopped by the largest termite mound in Arnhem Land.

Arriving tired at Nhulunbuy on the coast, we set up camp behind the Walkabout Lodge on lovely green grass, with modern, clean toilets and showers … and washing machines! After attending to the necessary I cooked a stir-fry and we went to bed to sleep well, listening to the surf in the background.

Tuesday 13th August

We did a full day trip down to Cape Arnhem today. Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, named Cape Arnhem in 1644 after the Dutch ship Arnhem which explored these waters in 1623 – the captain of this ship and some of his crew were killed here by the indigenous inhabitants – I wonder what they did to upset them! Terre d Arnhem appeared on early Dutch maps but wasn’t ‘official’ until the Aboriginal Reserve was named Arnhem Land in 1936.

A narrow, winding track around trees, washouts, holes, rocks, etc, took us from the Central Arnhem Road to the coast, then a steep descent down the dune escarpment led to sea level and onto a beautiful little beach for a BBQ lunch provided by GDT. Tyre pressures were down to 16PSI by this time as we were driving on very soft sand.

Up and over the sanddunes on our drive around Cape Arnhem and its beaches. (That’s the back of a vehicle with a built-on tent in front of us, not a house!)

 

A view of our ‘lunch time’ beach from the top of the dune.

After lunch Neill took us along tracks on the escarpment or down on the beach exploring towards the Cape.

Oysters, oysters, big fat juicy oysters! Yes I did sample some of these, with one eye looking out for a croc. Cape Arnhem.

Neill gave us the good guff on sand driving, and we had plenty of opportunity to practice our skills.

Off to explore another beach of soft, white sand. Cape Arnhem

We stopped at one beach where we all did a ‘beach cleanup’ gathering 9 big bags of rubbish to take to the dump at Nhulunbuy. This beach looked stunning by the time we’d finished our clean up. Not all beaches gather rubbish – depends on  aspect and where the currents run.

This is the beach where our group did a clean-up We ‘over-filled’ 9 of those bags with rubbish that has drifted ashore here. Cape Arnhem

 

Awww. Look what I found on the beach clean-up. This little fellow was heading the wrong direction. I put her at the water’s edge and told her I’d be back in 20 years when she’s next back here laying her own eggs.

Back to camp after 104km of good fun. Dinner at Walkabout Lodge – expensive and OK. 

Wednesday 14th August

Restful morning.

After lunch we went for a drive to Banambarrnga (Rainbow Cliffs). The exposed cliffs produce a striking effect from the weathering of the beautiful whites, yellows and red ochres. The top of the cliffs is a sacred site. We spent an enjoyable time exploring this beach, the little tidal creek which exits here and viewing the cliffs.

Rainbow Cliffs – beautifully shaded ochres.

Back at Nhulunbuy, John, a long-time resident, the owner of Walkabout Lodge and a ‘mover and shaker’ in the town, took us for a drive around town, telling us about its development and the challenges it is currently facing. We started at the Lookout where we had wonderful views out over the town.

Nhulunbuy from the Lookout.

Nhulunbuy (also sometimes referred to as Gove) is a Yolgnu word meaning ‘honey man’ and is a very remote town by any standards, (over 700km by 4×4 vehicle, a tiny airport or an occasional boat being the only access). It came into being in 1963 when the Federal government approved a bauxite mine and a town was formed to house the workers. The Yolgnu people strongly opposed the mine and presented a bark petition to the Federal Government, obviously unsuccessfully. This petition is on display in Canberra (not sure how I feel about that – a continuing slap in the face to the indigenous people I think).

This is the Yirrkala Bark Petition which is on display in Parliament House in Canberra. The bark petitions asserted that the Yolngu people owned the land and protested the Commonwealth’s granting of mining rights of land excised from the Arnhem Aboriginal Land reserve. They asked that no arrangements be entered into with any company which will destroy the livelihood and independence of the Yirrkala people. And so this became the first formal claim for native title. It failed. In 1971 it was taken to the Supreme Court where the judge used the notion of terra nullius to justify this ruling. Photo Wikicommons

We drove through town, which has restaurants, schools, a hospital (that our business cooperated with when we ran the GOLD conferences back in our history) and a good shopping precinct – oh and a bakery! We headed north out of town to the port where the refinery is. The bauxite refinery closed in 2014 with a loss of over 1000 jobs – a huge loss to the town. Bauxite is still mined here and transported via ships for overseas processing. A new refinery had been built at great expense, however before it processed any bauxite it was closed. It’s still here, in pristine condition.

Bauxite stockpile awaiting shipment for processing overseas.

Just this year an area outside Nhulunbuy has been chosen as a rocket launch site by NASA. Being this close to the equator apparently the earth spins a bit faster, so you get an extra boost to your rocket, using less fuel. Who knew? Locals don’t feel it will add too many jobs for the locals though – time will tell.

Thursday 15th August

Today was a fabulous day starting in Yirrkala, the small indigenous community just south of Nhulunbuy. The amazing Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre is located here. It started in the 1960s by an artist who exhibited his own art from a shelter on the beach, and from this it has grown to what it is today consisting of two divisions; the Buku Art Centre which represents Yolŋu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the museum.

Nyapanyapa Yunupiŋu, quite a famous artist, at work on her latest creation. Look closely at the fine lines that form the picture. Buku Art Centre, Yirrakala.

We couldn’t get over the amazing art – so talented and so intricate. There were many, many pieces of art we’d have loved to have bought. Most impressive in my mind were the many ḻarrakitj. Ḻarrakitj are memorial poles. In time past they held the bones of the dead and formed an important part of funeral rites. Today Yolŋu continue their cultural tradition painting hollow stringybark branches and selling their art (minus the human remains!), reviving and disseminating the beliefs of their ancestors. On one of our drives we saw a roadside memorial with a ḻarrakitj marking the place of a fatal road accident, much as our culture marks such roadside tragedies with a cross.

Some of the larrikitj, with others in the background in the Buku Art Centre, Yirrakala.

Every now and then while driving we’d come across a stringybark tree where a couple of metres of bark had been removed. Neill joked these were dingo trees (ie no bark – ha, ha, ha!) The bark that was removed is cured by fire, weighted and left to dry. Using locally sourced ochres traditional designs are painted onto the bark; each unique, very fine, cross-hatched pattern reflecting knowledge belonging to a particular estate, clan, state of water, moiety and place.

Highlighted in the middle of this photograph is one of the bark paintings (ie artwork done on a piece of bark). Exquisite! Buku Art Centre, Yirrakala

Yiḏaki is the correct term for what we call a didgeridoo. Prior to European colonisation yiḏaki were only found in northern Australia, in particular Arnhem Land. Today this term is only permitted to be used when the instuments have been made and decorated solely by Yolŋu people. Finding a naturally occuring termite-hollowed stringybark tree is the first step in making this unique wind instrument. According to sources at Yirrkala all other similar instruments should be called didgeridoos, unless they are made by an Aboriginal person and called by their local Aboriginal name for the instrument. And yes, there were many beautifully made and decorated yiḏaki on display.

In the museum Andrew, one of the curators, took us to see beautiful old pieces of art and photographs made by the anthopologist Donald Thompson in the 1920s – all fascinating and his descriptions wonderful.

A Donald Thompson photograph taken in 1936. These tall, strong, healthy men are preparing a ḻarrakitj for the remaining bones of a clan member who had been interred (either in a shallow grave, or a burial platform) some time ago. The ḻarrakitj is painted with sacred designs of the deceased’s lineage.

But the most striking artwork in the museum are the two Church Panels. Each Church Panel is on masonite sheeting twelve feet tall and four feet wide. Yolŋu society is divided into two moieties—Dhuwa and Yirritja—and so too are the Church Panels. These panels, created by the elders of these moieties in 1962/63 were for display on either side of the alter in the new Methodist Church. There were two core reasons for their creation – firstly to introduce Yolŋu religious iconography into a Christian context to demonstrate that Yolŋu had their own sacred heritage; and a political assertion of Yolŋu sovereignty in the Yirrkala area to emphasise Yolŋu connection to land and land ownership. It was because the Federal Government annexed their land for the bauxite mine and after seeing these panels that Beazley Snr (a Federal political minister) suggested the Bark Petition – as such these Church Panels were the precursor to the first land rights claims in Australia.

Despite their intricacy, beauty, importance and sentiment, a Methodist minister had them removed from the church in 1974 (they didn’t tell the ‘right’ creation story!) and stored them, unprotected, under the eaves of the church. Four years later they were rescued by Buku-Larrŋgay Arts, but it wouldn’t be for another 10 years until the museum was built that they were once more on public display.

No trip to Arnhem Land could be considered complete without viewing the Church Panels. Their artistic beauty is notable, their message is important, but the spiritual feeling that envelops you as you sit quietly viewing these panels is extraordinary.

Reluctantly leaving, we could have spent many more hours here, we drove on to Daliwoi Bay. This camping area has a boat ramp and is at the mouth of an inlet. Great for fishing, so I’m told, but only from a boat as the crocs like this spot.
We drove on to Macassan Beach, a very pretty little tropical beach with a camping area. Here we found the story of the Macassan relationship with the Yolgnu told in stone arrangements. These were created in the 1800’s by Yolgnu to aid their oral tradition of passing on the stories of their people. A walk of a couple of hundred metres takes you past 6 stone installations each representing a facet of their history.

The information board describing the stone installation that represents the dugout canoes. Macassan Beach

After a pleasant time spent looking at this installation and wandering the beach we headed back to the main road, then down a side road to Goanna Lagoon. What a top spot this was! There was a school group of a dozen or so young boys with their teachers who were camping here for a couple of nights. The boys were having a wonderful time, a few of them spear fishing for cherubin (yabbies). A narrow steep-sided creek has carved its way down to supply the lagoon with fresh, crystal-clear water. A delight to go for a dip on this warm afternoon.

A group of school boys having fun at Goanna Lagoon. Note the boy spear-fishing.

Back to camp in Nhulunbuy we spruced ourselves up ready for dinner at the Yacht Club to celebrate our last evening here.

A beautiful sunset taken from the Yacht Club – bauxite processing and shipping structures in the background.

For more photos from this time spent in Arnhem Land CLICK HERE.

West Arnhem Land (Cobourg Peninsula)

The following posts are the report of our tour from Darwin to Arnhem Land and home again in August 2019. Due to the remoteness of Arnhem Land and the potential difficulty getting permits we’ve joined a tag-along tour run by Great Divide Tours. While Priscilla (our Trakka Sprinter 4WD) would have made the trip very comfortable for us, we were rightly concerned that due to her length and height she wouldn’t have managed the smaller side tours we did. We’re in the Pajero with a free-standing, small tent.

Note the National Park and Smith’s Point shown at the northern part of the map and follow the Central Arnhem Highway to Nhulunbuy in the east, both areas we visited.

Arnhem Land is in the north east of the Northern Territory, with its northernmost point only marginally more south than Cape York, Australian mainland’s most northern point. With an area of 100,000 sq km it’s larger than Hungary, Portugal or Austria. However total population for this very remote area is only around 16,000 people, 12,000 of whom are the traditional land owners, the Yolngu people. Arnhem Land was named after the Dutch ship Arnhem which navigated across this coastline in 1623. We know we are privileged to be able to access this very remote area of the World, the indigenous communities and people who live here.

Did you know Arnhem Land is the home of Australia’s most famous instrument, the didgeridoo?

Gratuitous photo of a didgeridoo. Image from wikicommons

Sunday 28th, Monday 29th July 2019

Darwin

Yesterday I finished walking the 65km Jatbula Trail in Nitmuluk NP with some friends, and am now in Darwin. Meanwhile Steve and his mate Nigel left home a week ago to drive to Darwin from Brisbane via Birdsville.

I farewelled my walking buddies as they headed to the airport and I walked over to the Ramada Zen Hotel (ONLY 2.5km, easy!) to await Steve and Nigel. By all reports they had a brilliant trip. Relaxing, catching up on our experiences, drinks and dinner at the Penthouse (barramundi) before an early night finished that day. 

Monday we drove out to the War Museum at East Point. It is very well curated and had lots and lots to see both inside the museum and outside in the grounds, including the big 9 inch guns and lots of personal stories from civilians and military personnel in Darwin 1942. An excellent documentary style film portrayed the events of February 19 1942, the day war came to Australian shores with the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese.  I was here particularly looking for a photograph of my mother who was an army nurse during WWII and stationed in Darwin. I think I’ve found the one I’d been told about. 

Maybe mum is the one third from the right in the middle row. Though she was a registered nurse so I’d expect her to be wearing a veil. Perhaps she’s the nurse sitting in the front row, second from the right.

From there we headed into Darwin and wandered the streets and malls finally settling for lunch on the lawn overlooking the ocean at the Speakers Corner cafe in Government House. Wonderful location! 

We’re sitting under those umbrellas enjoying the view of the ocean, which is over the shoulder of the photographer. A lovely building, designed beautifully for the climate.

Later in the afternoon we went to the joint RFDS / War Memorial building on Stokes Wharf. Here there was a virtual reality portrayal at the time of the bombing and also a good hologram depiction of the actions of a US naval captain whose ship was in harbour at the time of the bombing. 

We finished the day at Crustaceans restaurant on the wharf where we all relished the joy given by a whole chili crab each. Fantastic! 

Kakadu

Tuesday 30th – Friday 2nd August

This morning Nigel flew back to Brisbane, and Steve and I provisioned the car before heading to Kakadu NP via the Kakadu Highway. We’re camped in the tent at Gunlom for two nights. I tried to talk Steve into going tent-free (as I had been during our Jatbula walk) but haven’t achieved it yet.

Our campsite at Gunlom. The infinity pool is at the top of the hill in the background. A lovely clear, sandy pool is at the base, off to the left of our campsite.

Gunlom brings back very happy memories from the last time we were here with Ric and Gill. However this time the road in, supposedly a 2WD road, is very badly corrugated and due to a poor “wet” this year the creek feeding the infinity pool  is low, hence not a great flow through the pool nor over the escarpment. And the upper ¾ of the steep path to the infinity pool is a temporary one scrambling over rocks, hanging onto saplings, and even steeper than the original which is being replaced with steps.

The track up to Gunlom infinity pool – challenging!

The pool itself and view are as spectacular as ever, however the pool is green and the many submerged rocks very slippery. Not the picture postcard perfect experience the tourist is led to expect. Mind you over the two days we’ve been here we haven’t seen any tourist busses pull in. The plunge pool at the bottom of the falls, however, is as spectacular as ever, crystal clear and chilly and an enjoyable swim. 

Gunlom infinity pool, still a magnificent pool despite the dry weather. You can see the small waterfall that leaves this pool at the far end.

After a dip in the plunge pool on Thursday morning we moved closer to Jabiru, which is where we will join our Arnhem Land tour. On the way we stopped to look at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This well curated very interesting centre is well worth a visit. Cooinda, our camp for the night, is a very large, very busy, privately owned caravan park that I wouldn’t recommend. Friday we moved on to the township of Jabiru. This little town used to be the centre for the Ranger Uranium Mine until it closed down several years ago. There are many closed shops and it’s beginning to look neglected, except for the tourists that keep it going. As it is on Aboriginal Land the mine was granted a limited time lease for the town. That has been extended once for another 5 or 6 years, and there is a feeling it may not be extended when it comes up again – time will tell. 

We restocked our food at the local supermarket, which was pretty good, considering. We booked into the cabins in the caravan park (not salubrious), did some washing and rested in the air conditioning – not that it’s hot, unless you’re in direct sun with no breeze. 

This evening we met the group we’ll be travelling with for the next three weeks then we all went over for a meal at the bistro – lovely tender pork for me, steak for Steve. Tomorrow our trip begins. 

Garig Gunak Barlu NP (Cobourg Peninsula)

Saturday 3rd – Tuesday 6th

8 4WD of all different types lined up this morning, with Neill Bell from Great Divide Tours, our tour leader, in the front. About 40km out of Jabiru we all “aired down” to 28 and crossed Cahill’s Crossing which had about half a meter of water flowing over; and we saw our first crocodile. 

Cahill’s Crossing. The crocodiles are further upstream. Apparently as the high tide flows out the crocs sit at the edge of the crossing and pick off the fish as they are swept over the causeway.

That ended the black top. Our road varied over the next 250-odd kilometres between smooth and badly corrugated dirt or sand with washouts and bulldust holes.

The whole Cobourg Peninsula comprises the Garig Gunak Barlu NP. This extensive park includes the surrounding waters of the Arafura Sea and Van Diemen Gulf, and some of the neighbouring islands.

Another water crossing on the way. (Paul and Julie’s car)

We stopped to view points of interest, have a coffee break, collect wood for a fire and “Sturt” stops (think of the pretty red flower that grows in the desert).  

Lots of birds at these wetlands. Garig Gunak Barlu NP

Our campsite (cold showers, long-drop toilets) is right at the beach at Smith’s Point at the head of Port Essington and is exclusive to our group. Our site looks directly onto the Arafura Sea. After watching a spectacular sun set into the ocean, meals were cooked on the big gas BBQ that Neill fires up each night, then we all settled down around the fire for a yarn. A good first day.

Sunday Steve and I and 4 others (Mark, Katie, Steve and Jo) went down to the jetty to join our fishing trip. Wow! That was exciting! Travis, the skipper, flicked a line out at the end of the jetty and straight away pulled in a decent sized trevally which was our bait. First spot we stopped the lines weren’t in the water for more than 3 minutes before Steve got a BIG strike. It took him about 10 minutes to bring it in as it pulled him all around the boat – a very good sized Jew fish.

Steve’s ‘catch of the day’ – a jew fish

It wasn’t long before Mark also caught one, maybe even bigger. Then it was my turn with a “queenie” that gave me a workout and measured about 1.5 metres long. We moved to a few different spots and mostly caught and released what we caught after that, except for a beautiful big coral trout. It was rough on the water with 30 knot winds gusting stronger, but the excitement of the trip over-rode the rocking and rolling. 

Travis, our very competent fishing teacher, filleting one of the many fish we caught.

Everyone had BBQ’d fish for dinner tonight. 

Enjoying the fruits of Denise’s labour – Queenie on the barby.

In the afternoon we did a scenic drive, in convoy, around the Peninsula along narrow, two-tyre-track tracks that hugged the magnificent coastline for awhile before we went inland to see the wetlands. These wetlands received Ramsar accreditation in 1992, designating it as a “Wetland of International Importance” because of its diversity of coastal and inland wetland types, support for populations of threatened species including a number of endangered turtles, maintenance of regional biodiversity, support for life-cycle functions such as turtle and waterbird breeding and refugia values, and for providing important fish nursery and spawning habitats. There are now some 65 Australian wetlands recognised under this convention, however this was Australia’s first.

The previous wet season up here is one of the worst (ie poor rainfall) in recorded history and though the wetlands are significantly reduced the bird life was still prolific. I’d have loved to be here at dawn or dusk to see the birds. We drove back around the coastline then across the Peninsula and back to camp. A good drive and great to see more of Cobourg Peninsula. 

Lots of birds at these wetlands. Garig Gunak Barlu NP

Monday was a quiet morning at camp before once more we joined Travis on the boat this time to go to Victoria Settlement, an army garrison set up in 1838 to warn and protect the new colony of potential threats from the French and the Dutch and to encourage Asian trade. It was a very comprehensive settlement with beautifully built stone officer’s quarters, a kiln, hospital, quartermaster’s stores and munitions store. National Parks has created a 4 km walk around the site. Some of the buildings were so well constructed that much of them remains in very good order.

The chimney stacks and fireplaces for cooking are all that remain of the Officers’ homes. Victoria Settlement

It was an ill-fated settlement with many deaths and was finally abandoned after only 11 years. However in its day it was very busy with Macassans coming down from Sulawesi as they had done from as early as the mid-1700’s to trade with the many aboriginals who lived around there. In exchange for fishing rights, turtle shell and pearls the Macassans traded cloth, tobacco, metal axes and knives, rice and gin. They predominantly harvested and dried the trepangs (sea cucumbers) for culinary and medicinal use. A lasting legacy is the number of tamarind trees planted by the Macassins that remain today. Travis told us that there was a lot of mixing of the cultures and that aboriginals had already been travelling to Sulawesi, Asia and even Holland as the Dutch traded here too. Intercultural marriages occured both here and in the destinations to which they travelled. We’re learning a lot of Australian history that is not widely known. Another excellent excursion, made all the better for the incredible knowledge Travis shared with us. 

More BBQd fish and another big fire tonight. 

Tuesday was a restful morning for us while one group went fishing in the morning and another in the afternoon – yep, heaps more fish, Jew fish and coral trout. A trip to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre gave us more perspective with displays describing the life and a little history of the indigenous people, the Macassans and the Victoria Settlement. Caiman Creek, some 20 km down the corrugations was good for fishing for some, while we enjoyed a walk to the mouth of the creek to view the cliffs.

During our travels we occasionally spotted the elusive Banteng, a feral cattle native to Asia, that was released when Victoria Settlement was closed in 1848. These cattle are endangered in Asia with few numbers and no longer any pure bred, while these in Arnhem Land are very pure and thriving. It’s become an issue for the conservationists trying to protect the National Park and those conservationists trying to protect an endangered species. 

Alan, has been the Ranger here for 34 years – there’s not much he doesn’t know about the area. He chatted with us around the campfire tonight sharing a wealth of information. One of the many advantages of doing this trip with a company that has a long and well-respected association with the area. 

Wiligi Outstation

Wednesday 7th – Thursday 8th

Leaving the Peninsula and National Park we travelled 140 km to our destination for the next two nights, Wiligi Outstation, a small tourism venture with camping and a few cabins, owned by one of the Traditional Owners. This is another spectacular campsite with our tent barely 20 metres from the high tide line.

Our campsite from the boat. Our tent is on the far left, between the two pandanus palms.

We had a boat hired for the day for fishing or going out to explore Copeland Island. Steve chose to stay in camp reading, listening to music (and the gentle lapping waves); I took the opportunity to go to explore the island with Pat and Dick (Neill took us over in the boat), climbing to its peak to get 360° views. Beautiful. 

Taken from the highest point on Copeland Is, with Dick to the left of the photo.

Sunset alongside our campsite at Wiligi Outstation.

Pandanus Spiralis or ‘screw pine’ at Wiligi. The Indigenous Australians use the strappy leaves for weaving and the fruit (the big orange fruit you can see) has a tasty nut, though it’s hard to access. The base of each leaf is white and apparently tastes a bit like cabbage. The dead trunk can be made into a didgeridoo and as it burns slowly the Indigenous people would use it to carry fire from one place to another. A useful plant.

Friday 9th

Leaving Arnhem Land for the time being we return to civilisation today. We retraced our outward journey, via another wetland before stopping in at Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) where, unfortunately, the Art Centre was closed. The major Art Awards are on in Darwin and many of the artists and their works are currently there. However there were a few artists sitting around painting or weaving outside the centre so we wandered around observing them. 

Weaving a dilly bag from pandanus leaves.

Back over Cahills Crossing and into Jabiru where we had lunch by the lake, a minor restock and refuelled. 

We followed the blacktop through Kakadu NP on the Arnhem Hwy. Outside the NP and at a very inconspicuous spot on the highway at Mt Bundy is the turnoff to an amazing granite sculpure ‘park’ celebrating the importance of wild rice as a staple food for indigenous peoples for centuries as well as its importance as a sustainable food crop for the future. The wild rice of northern Australia is genetically pure. The sculptures were created by an elderly Japanese artist, Mitsuaki Tanabe and are epic in their proportions, the longest being a wild rice sheaf 82 metres long carved in the granite ridge.

Viewing the extent of the granite carving of a wild rice sheaf. Mt Bundy

Tonight we’re camped at the privately owned Corroboree caravan park for the night. It was very full and very noisy! Ahh, but the joy of freshly laundered clothes can’t be underestimated. Dinner tonight was at their restaurant with the group – salt and pepper calamari for me. 

We’re all looking forward to the next part of our adventure in a couple days when East Arnhem Land will be the highlight.

To see more photos from this part of our trip CLICK HERE.

Jatbula Trail

21st – 28th July, 2019

Situated amongst the stunning ancient landscape of Nitmiluk National Park, the 62 km Jatbula Trail follows the route travelled by generations of Jawoyn people, from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) to Leliyn (Edith Falls) – a traditional song line. The local indigenous people, the Jawoyn, named the area of the gorge Nitmiluk (pronounced Nit-mi-look) meaning ‘place of cicadas’.
The trail was named after Jawoyn Traditional Owner Peter Jatbula who was instrumental in securing land rights for his people and who walked the route of the trail with his family.

The Jatbula is walked as a one-way trail with walkers limited to no more than 15 leaving per day, the trail to be completed over 5 or 6 days. Walkers must be fully self-sufficient as there is no access to the trail other than at the beginning and the end. It’s booked out almost as soon as the places are released online, hence Trish has organised our little group of 4 to be doing it through a trekking company, Gecko Trekking and Canoeing.

Jatbula Trailhead


21st July

Yesterday Steve and Nigel left on their epic drive to Darwin via Birdsville. I’ll see them in Darwin on the 28th. Today I flew to a very warm Darwin and met up with my walking buddies, Trish, Sarah and Wendy. We’re staying at the Hotel On Mitchell – self-contained apartments – well located and appointed. 

After packing and repacking our backpacks and discussing at length what we should leave behind, ie rain jacket, rain cover for backpack, puff jacket – “it will not rain” the tour company lady assured us – we went down to Cullen Beach to watch the sunset and partake of a seafood smorgasbord. 

Sunset at Cullen Beach in Darwin. Wendy, me, Sarah and Trish
Mmmmm seafood smorgasbord – heaven!

22nd July

Bob the driver for Gecko Trekking and Canoeing company picked us up at 7am and we joined David, Belinda and Emma who’ll be sharing our exciting adventure for the next 6 days. (ie 7 walkers plus our guide, Travis).

Firstly though a drive from Darwin to Katherine, stopping at Adelaide River for a coffee and to view Jock the Croc, a 5 metre stuffed crocodile, and the buffalo from the Crocodile Dundee movie. 

The buffalo from the Crocodile Dundee movie.

A cultural experience awaited us a local Jawoyn man played the didgeridoo for us …

then guided us on spear throwing using a woomera, lighting a fire using two sticks and traditional painting using a reed. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t a success at any of them.

Displaying my skills at spear throwing using a woomera. Lookout anyone within a 10 metre radius!
Trying to light a fire using two sticks. Needless to say after we’d all had a go at it, our guide had the fire going in no time at all.
My attempt to copy a piece of artwork using a traditional reed stick.

In Katherine a relaxing 2-hour cruise between the majestic towering cliffs and crystal clear waters of Katherine Gorge gave us a taste of the adventure to come. 

Trish and I standing, Wendy and Sarah sitting, on the cruise down Nitmiluk Gorge

Back to Mick’s property (owner of Gecko) to set up our first camp. Hmm took a bit to remember how to blow up the mattress, etc, but I got there. I’d mentioned I was eating predominantly Paleo and they’d bought in a whole box of Paleo dehydrated food for me. Wow! That was pretty decent of them. However dinner tonight was the tenderest steaks and salad. Delicious. 

The temperature dropped rapidly as the sun set and we turned in early to get warm. Several of us, including me, decided to sleep without a tent or insect screen. Lying in bed watching the stars is amazing. Earlier Travis, our tour guide, pointed out the Dark Emu, some constellations and planets and set up a telescope for us. As for being warm though – not so much. I put on my thermals and was still cold. A very restless night ensued. 

23rd – 27th July 

Map of the Jatbula Trail. Note it is walked from Nitmiluk Centre to Leliyn.

Walk Day 1: Nitmiluk to Biddlecombe Cascades – 10km

An early start and a lesson on how to pack my backpack quickly and efficiently from Mick himself was useful. All the food and cooking equipment for the 5 days was divvied up between us. My backpack weighed in at about 14kg, including 3 litres of water. I was very pleased with the fit of my new backpack, tolerating the weight well, and continued to for the duration of the walk.
Excitedly we began the trail with a boat ride over the Katherine River before we began walking in earnest.

The pathway we’ll be following, off into those hills. Adventure awaits.
A break here at Northern Rockhole for morning tea.
Biddlecombe Cascades.
We finished the first day walking the way we did at every campsite – with a wonderful swim in crystal clear fresh water. This is at Biddlecombe Cascades campsite.
Travis, our guide and chef for our trek.

Walk Day 2: Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls 12km

A tricky early morning departure from our campsite at Biddlecombe.
View from the hilltop.

While the trail is not noted for its hilliness nevertheless there are still some reasonable hills to climb. Here we got a good view of the surrounding countryside. Not many trees in this section.

Rock art.
Wendy and Trish examining the beautiful rock art.

Today we see the first of the rock art along this trail. These art works are protected under an overhanging rock.

The trail between Biddlecombe and Crystal Falls.

Another view of the trail and countryside we walked through. The disparity in walking speed was beginning to become a problem to me as I was frequently dropped and walked alone. Being at the back of the group I was concerned I’d be injured or bitten by a snake and no one would notice until it was too late. (Note that I was more than 10 years older than the next oldest on this walk!)

My air mattress, blow-up pillow, sleeping bag, etc all set up ready for a peaceful night at Crystal Falls campsite.
The lagoon at Crystal Falls. This view is just a few paces away from the bottom end of my air mattress!
Lots of spots here for a soak in a spa pool. Crystal Falls

Our drinking water (we began every day with 3 litres each) was sourced from the creeks and pools where we camped. We didn’t treat it and no one had tummy troubles from it. And it did taste really good!

The falls at Crystal Falls, beside which we’re camped for tonight.

Walk Day 3: Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls – 10km

Setting out from Crystal Falls. Note the blue triangle to indicate the trail. Most of the time the pathway was easy to see as it is here, but in some areas the triangles were useful.
Another photograph of the starkly beautiful country through which we’re walking. (after climbing another hill)

We leave our packs behind on the path and scramble down into the Amphitheatre where the flora becomes more tropical and lush and there’s a long wall of indigenous rock art.

Rock art
Rock art
An explanation.
Maybe this is the fellow the woman in the previous art was trying to attract!
Our campsites were all in very picturesque places, always beside a fresh water stream or pool. The sandy surface was comfy under the air mattress. It didn’t rain and insects weren’t a nuisance while we slept. I had no issues sleeping in the open with no tent cover.

Walk Day 4: 17 Mile Rocks to Sandy Billabong 16km

A longer walk today so we set off early with view to arriving at the campsite before the temperatures get too hot this afternoon. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I’d guess it was never less than 30°C once the sun got up. Evenings were cool to chilly.

Leaving 17 Mile Falls before dawn.
17 Mile Falls. We camped at the top of these falls last night.

My issues with being dropped by the others continued. However the group seemed to stop every 20 mins or so for a rest and a drink, which is when I’d catch them. Not needing to stop to rest so often I continued walking expecting to be passed, but they never did – too much stopping for me! This did mean that I walked the majority of the last 3 days on my own, which was disappointing as I’d wanted to share the walk with my friends, but it was safer for me than being behind on my own.
The upside was that the trail felt a lot more spiritual now with just the sounds of the birds and the wind in the trees as I walked. Beautiful!

The savanna country was now behind us. i found this countryside to be ‘intimidating’.

As I was walking alone by now interestingly I found this section of the walk a little creepy – like I was being watched. I’m sure a Jawoyn elder would tell me that I was, by one of their spirits.

There were many flowering grevillea to brighten the walk.
A very pretty place amongst the fallen acacia flowers to sit on the log waiting for the others to catch up.
Edith Creek crossing. Not much water here at the moment, so easy to cross.
Sandy Billabong – our last campsite on this walk – well, maybe on a nice sandy patch, not right here.

Walk Day 5: Sandy Billabong to Leliyn (Edith Falls) 15 km

Our last walking day took us through long grass, a few creeks including Edith River South and a swamp to negotiate before stopping at Sweetwater Pool for a break.

The trail condition changed throughout – mostly very good, as it is here.
This part of the trail is through long grass in a bog. Thank goodness for the boardwalk.

Sweetwater provides another campsite, but campers not doing the full walk can also access it from the Leliyn. Hence there were day trippers here and a few people camped.

Sweetwater. A delightful pool where we had a swim before moving on to Leliyn.

It’s only 4.5 km to Leliyn which, after a lovely cooling swim here, we walked on to – finishing the trail. Funnily enough, while most tourists consider Leliyn to be a fabulous pool, we walkers had experienced so much better that we didn’t even bother having a swim here.

We arrived at Leliyn (Edith Falls) around 1 pm completing our wonderful walk.
A celebratory lunch of fresh food and orange juice was the ideal way to finish a fabulous walk.

The 3-hr drive back to Darwin in the minibus seemed to take forever for our exhausted little troupe. We spent tonight at the same motel before Wendy, Sarah and Trish flew home and I continued my travels to Arnhem Land with Steve.

Corner Country

This is a report of our August 2018 19-day trip to the three Queensland State corners. This 5,000km trip in the Pajero with the roof top tent will take us through outback Queensland, across the Simpson Desert (Munga Thirri) and Sturts Stony Desert into remote areas of the Northern Territory (briefly), South Australia and New South Wales. We’re travelling with our buddies Doug and Leura.

The route taken for this trip.


 

Our trip logo – designed by Steve.

5th – 23rd August 2018

Sunday 5th:

Departed home at about 1130am after last minute packing, watering all the plants and making sure the chickens have plenty of feed and water. Rob and Anne and Ric and Gill will keep an eye on them and collect the eggs while we’re away.

First, and hopefully last calamity of the trip occurred at our very first stop! I couldn’t open one of the drawers in the back of the Pajero – the food drawer! It appears that something has slipped down below the locking mechanism preventing it from opening. After half an hour of trying to prise it open, tilting the car sideways and nose-down on the steeply sloping road to try to move the blockage we gave up, just a bit stressed by now (understatement!!). When two crazy people doing weird things with their car aren’t there Rogers Park in the State Forest outside Yarraman becomes a lovely quiet, well-treed, day-use only park with picnic tables, covered tables, BYO wood BBQs and loos. 

Yay. We’re off on our adventure. Morning tea break at Rogers Park. Looking happy here, but not for long once we discovered we couldn’t open the food drawer.

On the way we passed farms with ‘I support New Acland Mine’ posters and others extolling the virtues of farms and environment. Significant expansion of the New Acland mine is proposed, but was rejected last year by the Lands Council due to concerns about the ground water. However an appeal to the Supreme Court in May this year overturned their ruling. The battle is not yet over… watch this space.

Bowenville Reserve, our campsite for the night, is a huge area a couple of kilometres outside Bowenville and bounded by a loop of Oakey Creek. It’s a free camp with picnic tables and a clean flushing toilet. A lovely spot, except for the occasional smell from the cattle feed lot up the road. Doug and Leura had already arrived and set up their tent.

Campsite at Bowenville Reserve. Doug and Leura with their tent, us with our rooftop tent.

With solving the drawer issue still an imperative Steve finally drilled a hole beneath the lock and dislodged the salt shaker that caused the problem – phew, it wasn’t looking good for a while there.

A walk along Oakey Creek late afternoon was just the relaxation we needed. It has plenty of water in it, despite the whole area being very dry.

Reflections in Oakey Creek at Bowenville.

A very pleasant evening was spent chatting and laughing before an early night. Feels funny to be back in the rooftop tent – it’s been a while.

A French champagne ‘toast’ to our first night.

Monday 6th

Not a lot to report on today. We stopped briefly at the Chinchilla Saddlery for Leura to catch up with her cousin who owns it. It’s one of those amazing stores packed to the brim with clothes, boots and all manner of horsey stuff, including saddles – fun to explore. Chinchilla looks like an interesting town, noting among its accomplishments the first place to release the Cactoblastis moth which proved to be very successful in bringing the invasion of the prickly pear under control. They also celebrate the melon festival here in summer.

At Miles we stopped for brunch. Lots of roadworks happening in Miles and for quite a distance along the Warrego Highway. The landscape is generally flat and brown – grasses burnt by recent frosts or fields of stubble after harvest. This is a large grain-growing region.

We’d planned to stay at Wallumbilla, however after a short drive around town and not being impressed with the showgrounds camping area and amenities we moved on to camp at the Clay Target Gun Club in Roma. Here they’ve very kindly situated us on a grassy patch protected from the strong winds that are blowing and away from the packed out caravan area. A drink, or two, at the clubhouse in the afternoon went down well before dinner back at the tents. It’s forecast to get down to zero degrees tonight. The hot water bottles have been filled and we’ll soon be under a few layers of doonas and blankets.

It’s a bit cold here. Brrrrr. Roma Gun Club campsite

Tuesday, Wednesday 7th & 8th

While it’s very chilly overnight and in the mornings, as soon as the sun gets up it starts warming up to the low 20s with cloudless blue skies. So a slow start to the day ensures we don’t feel too much of the chill.

First stop today was Mitchell where I’d promised everyone that the Artesian Spa cafe sold the best Eggs Benedict ever, according to my secret source (WikiCamps). Not so I’m afraid – well not on a Tuesday anyway! After that big disappointment, that I was reminded of for the rest of the trip, we spent an hour or so partaking of the beautifully warm Artesian Spa waters, maybe not quite the 38C they said it was, but definitely well in the 30s. It was hard to get out, particularly as there was a sneaky, chilly breeze blowing. 

Outside of the artesian spa pool at Mitchell. Sorry, didn’t take the camera in with me.

The countryside west of Roma is a bit more interesting – more trees, lusher grasses. The amount of road kill was extraordinary – an emu, a pig, a steer and dozens upon dozens of kangaroos. The road trains travel all night and don’t pause for anything.

A cuppa stop at Morven then on to Charleville where we’re booked into cabins for two nights at Bailey Bar caravan park … happily as the overnight temperatures are set to drop even lower. Tonight the van park owners are putting on a spit-roasted pork to be served around the campfire. We’re there! – not bad.

Charleville promotes itself as a centre for observation of the stars, and conservation of the bilby. Wednesday morning Steve and I went to the Cosmos Centre. The very engaging main display is a mock-up of a Space Shuttle. The information and displays are excellent.

The space shuttle mock-up. All the screens were interactive and very informative.

During an interesting talk given by one of the astronomers we got to hold an actual meteorite that was found a couple of hundred kilometers from Charleville. It was so hard that even diamond drills couldn’t cut it and because it’s so dense it felt really heavy. Fascinating. There was also some ‘space junk’ on display which was found just west of Charleville – a 20kg ball of black carbon fibre which had been either a hydrogen or a nitrogen fuel cell. It would have entered earth’s atmosphere looking like a shooting star.

There’s about 5000 tonnes of space junk orbiting the earth at any one time and this is a bit that came back.

Lunch was had in the park surrounded by geese, two roosters and a bantam hen .. yeah, a bit weird. Weirder still though was the Steiger Vortex guns in the park. These cone-shaped barrels were first used in Europe to fire a gas into clouds causing rain instead of the expected hail, which would destroy crops. A meteorologist named Wragge thought they could be used to produce rain to end the drought in Australia. They were trialled in Charleville in September 1902, the six guns were set up in two rows, spaced over a kilometre apart and fired at two minute intervals. Unfortunately the experiment met with no success, with no sign of the desperately needed rain.

The Steiger Vortex Gun in the park at Charleville. An idea to end the drought – pity it didn’t work.

From here we headed off to the Bilby Experience. It’s great to see the conservation work being done but there’s a long way to go – feral cats and foxes have nearly wiped out this lovable little animal along with lots of other little marsupials and reptiles.

Outside the Bilby Centre.

Dinner tonight was at the On the Rocks restaurant – fantastic meals. Then, once very warmly clad,  back to the Cosmos Centre where we gathered to view the night sky under the instruction of an astronomer. Four very powerful telescopes were set up to cater for the 30 or so keen tourists, including us, to view selected stars and planets. Excellent experience – a must do.

Thursday 9th

A fairly long drive today (for us), 315km, to Eromanga, stopping only twice for a cuppa and later at Quilpie for lunch. Quilpie’s rest stop had tables, but no shade; whereas at the turnoff to Eromanga not too much further on, was a very good picnic area with shaded tables and toilets – mentioned this as a reminder for when I pass this way again. Of note on today’s drive were the many emus grazing, and consequently the roadkill tended to be far more emus than roos. Driving these roads we are super-vigilant looking for wildlife that could run in front of us at any moment. While the bull bar is good protection, we didn’t want to kill anything and if it hits at just the wrong angle it could cause a lot of damage to the vehicle.

Wide roads, broad shoulders, low-growing vegetation, flat plains. On the road to Eromanga.

Eromanga’s claim to fame as you drive in is a big sign proclaiming it to be the furtherest town from the sea. It has a population of just 45 residents and has a pastoral and opal mining history. However we’re here to see the dinosaurs. Only about 14 years ago significant paleontological discoveries of Australia’s largest dinosaurs were made on a cattle property near Eromanga. Several dinosaurs have been unearthed and the area is being heralded by scientists as the most prolific dinosaur site in Australia. 

Eromanga Natural History Museum

The Eromanga Natural History Museum is home to Australia’s largest dinosaur, a 95-98 million year old titanosaur called ‘Cooper’. Not only does the museum have dinosaurs but some of the world’s largest mega fauna and a variety of micro fauna which were discovered nearby in Eulo and are thought to be 50,000 to 100,000 years old.

A dinosaur bone. Note the plaster of paris and alfoil packages on the table.

We visited the Museum just in time for their 3pm tour. It was great – good descriptions of the dinosaur era and the megafauna era and how they’re finding, retrieving, preserving and displaying the bones they’re finding. I learnt a lot and enjoyed the presentation. And  I got to hold a genuine dinosaur bone!

The bone is returned to its cast during the prep phase for protection. Eromanga Natural History Museum.

Doug and Leura booked into the new motel rooms at the dinosaur centre, but we’re pretty comfy in our rooftop tent, so we’re back at the caravan park. They’re going to open a new caravan park at the centre in the future … badly needed as the one in town is, needy!

Friday 10th

Today we’re only going as far as Cooper Creek, about 3 hours up the road. Cooper Creek, the Diamantina and the Georgina Rivers and their many, many ephemeral tributaries make up the Channel Country of south west Queensland. This is a rich grazing area, but not suitable for cropping due to unpredictable rainfall. The Cooper begins in northern Queensland as the Barcoo and Thompson Rivers, inland of about Townsville. Most of the water from the Cooper either evaporates or stays in permanent waterholes and lakes. Only when there is significant flooding in its upper reaches does the water fill the Cooper’s numerous channels creating huge flood plains and bringing the arid country to life, before emptying into the usually dry salt lake, Lake Eyre.

After crossing dry creek bed after dry creek bed it was amazing to come across the wide waters of Cooper Creek. There’s free camping on both sides of the road and both sides of the creek so heaps of camping sites available. There’s one clean, flushing toilet. We were all surprised at how few campers there were here tonight – only another two vans where we were and they were a long way from us.

Sitting by the banks of Cooper Creek near Windorah. Our campsite in the background.

Our campsite was right at the edge of a short, steep riverbank lined with glorious old River Red Gums. What a treat to be here, in such an idyllic setting, more or less by ourselves.

How’s this for a restaurant with ambience? Dinner on the banks of Cooper Creek, Windorah.

The weather remains beautiful – chilly nights (around 5C) awakening to cloudless blue skies and daytime temperatures in the low 20s.

A perfect night. Cooper Creek

Saturday 11th

Off to Birdsville today, but first we drove through the nearby town of Windorah. Another small town, we were quite taken with their solar farm! The plant uses five concentrated solar dishes each containing 112 x 1 metre-square mirrors. The five solar dishes sit on 13 m masts and can rotate 360°. They provide all of Windorah’s daytime electricity needs for 10-months of the year, diesel generators providing the rest.

The mirrored solar panels that meet a significant amount of Windorah’s power needs.

The countryside continues to be flat, with only a few weathered hills interrupting the horizon. We travelled through either bare clay pans, or spinifex covered red dirt, or the red gibber rocks of Sturts Stony Desert, with low mulga trees along the dry river beds. We saw no wildlife other than birds and only a few cattle. Soon after turning on to the Eyre Developmental Road the bitumen ceased and the road condition deteriorated in places; very dusty, rocky and corrugated. Not pleasant driving! Closer to Birdsville the road became sandy and we started seeing our first sand dunes.

The road to Birdsville. This section looks pretty good, but some sections were very rough.

However, there were a few interesting things to see along the way. First stop after Cooper Creek was at JC Hotel Ruins. It’s hard to imagine there was once a thriving establishment here, with nothing remaining but mounds of clay, broken bottles and rusting iron. Apparently the cattle baron who owned the nearby property got weary of having to pull his drunken jackaroos out of the the pub, so he bought it and closed it down.
We also pulled over to see the ‘Hole through the Hill’ on Mt Henderson. Yep, that was worth a stop and a laugh.

Yeah, OK, it’s true – there is a hole in the hill. The smaller flat-topped hill has a hole on the right hand side near the top. If you expand this photo you may see it.

Not much further on was Deons Lookout where we drove up a hill for views out over the countryside. It would have been lovely to have had lunch here, if it weren’t blowing a gale.

The next stop near Betoota was pretty stunning – the Dreamtime Serpent carved into a hillside. It’s quite a showstopper. The Diamantina Shire Council has coordinated the ‘Sand, Dust and Gibbers’ project, funding sculptures designed and built in Bedourie, Betoota and Birdsville to help tell the indigenous Women’s Dreamtime stories. This is the Betoota installation.

The Rainbow Serpent art project. The Rainbow Serpent is a creation story told by indigenous Australians right across the country.

We stopped for lunch at Cuppa Creek, another dry creek bed but shaded and somewhat protected from the wind by the mulga trees.

Arriving at last in Birdsville we booked into our ensuite cabins (small, but clean and modern) and went straight to the very iconic Birdsville Pub for a beer.

Inside the Birdsville Hotel, enjoying a drink at the bar. The akubras on the ceiling are from locals – well worn and well loved. All photos taken inside the pub require a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor, one I was happy to make, hoping we’d never need their services.

The helpful lady at the Information Centre told us the Simpson Desert track to Poeppels Corner is pretty cut up and it will take us about 8 hours to cover the 175km. Oh dear. We’re well prepared tonight, fuelled up, brandishing our high-vis flags and everything inside the cars tied down. An early start tomorrow!

Sunday 12th

We got away before 8am driving the 30 or so kilometres over a rough, corrugated, rocky road, to the beginning of the QAA Line and the dunes of Munga-Thirri National Park (Simpson Desert). Here we stopped to reduce our tyre pressures to 20psi. We crossed the dunes in Low Range Automatic. 

On top of our first sand dune. Many more to come.
Note the high-vis flags attached to the bull bar that is a requirement when travelling out here.

The initial apprehension we had soon gave way to quiet confidence as we crossed dune after dune, even though attention to the road can’t waver for even a few seconds. Some dunes were straightforward with reasonably firm sand, but the majority were challenging with lots of moguls full of soft sand which couldn’t be hit too hard, but still needing the power on to get up and over the dune. Many had turns in them halfway up, or turned suddenly at the crest, or had very soft sand at the crest. The tracks often split too as previous drivers had decided to make a different route up.

Now which is the easy path and which one the soft one? Only one way to find out…

In the later section of the track the descents were also quite difficult with deep, soft sand. One dune when I was driving got the better of me. I got ¾ up before the car dug into one of those moguls full of soft sand. I rolled the car back down to the bottom of the dune and hit it again with more power and we bounced and flew up and over. We named that dune ‘Denise’s Doosey’.

Between the dunes there’d be 50m to 500m of flat track crossing clay pans, or dry lake beds or flood plains. Many times this track was corrugated.

The flat area between sand dunes. This section is a clay pan which was cut up a bit from last time it rained.

We stopped several times for a cuppa and for lunch and to check the vehicles – all good. All day we only saw about half a dozen vehicles heading eastward and half a dozen guys on motorbikes heading our direction. That was surprising – we all thought it would be lot busier this time of year.

At about 2.30pm we crossed the border into the Northern Territory, though you’d never know it, there were no signs, before crossing a large dry salt lake and turning south along the lake, paralleling the K1 Line for about 20 km, which took us into South Australia and to our destination: Poeppel’s Corner, where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet.

After a looong tough drive we were all pretty happy to be here at Poeppel Corner. Note the dry salt lake in the background.

In 1879 Augustus Poeppel surveyed this point and Haddon’s Corner which we’ll visit next. Unfortunately when he returned to Adelaide it was discovered his chain, which he used for measurement, was 1 inch too long and he had to return in 1884 to do it all again. My admiration goes out to him … he would have traversed vast stony, waterless plains, salt lakes and large sandhills.  

A pole with a plaque marks the corner point of the three States. We opened a bottle of champagne and toasted dear old Augustus and our day’s achievement. Funnily, after having seen so few people all day, 9 guys who’d left Dalhousie Springs on the French Line arrived within a few minutes of us, followed by 10 or so on motorbikes heading to the French Line.

Celebratory drinks at Poeppel Corner.

We started heading back to Birdsville putting an hour’s driving in before finding a spot just off the road suitable to camp the night.

Altogether a good day!

Sun downers after a long day. Magic night in the Simpson Desert. I love the afternoon light on the red desert soils.

Monday 13th

Loved the evening last night – no one for miles around, no lights at all, no noise and stars from horizon to horizon. (Just an aside: I told my 3 yo granddaughter the stars touched the ground and she wanted to know if I’d picked them up.) In the morning we saw quite a few animal footprints around which we thought could be feral cats. None of us heard anything, however another couple we met further along the track, who’d left their rubbish and a few other things out overnight, said they saw a huge cat dragging their rubbish bag around. Feral cats are a major problem out here and are endangering many of our indigenous small animals.

The return trip was good fun – not that the trip out wasn’t, but now we knew what to expect and were much more confident, and the western side of the dunes wasn’t nearly as steep as the eastern side. We took time to enjoy the scenery, noting the vegetation and geological features indicated on the map. We passed through areas of hop bushes, salt bush, gidgee (mallee) and the acacias which are just beginning to flower.

Acacia covered in flowers.

The final challenge was Nappanerica, or Big Red, which is the tallest dune in the Simpson Desert and a very popular spot to ‘try out’ your 4 wheel drive. Arriving late in the afternoon makes it a bit tougher as the sand is dry and the track chopped up. We took 2 attempts, learning from our experience each time, before successfully scaling it. Good fun!  

Big Red successfully conquered.

Returning to the Birdsville Cabins, we enjoyed hot showers and yummy steaks cooked on the BBQ in the excellent camp kitchen. We slept well.

Wildflowers in Munga Thirri (Simpson Desert NP)

 

Celebrations all around for a great trip across the Simpson Desert (and Big Red) to Poeppels and back. (another donation to the Royal Flying Doctor!)

Tuesday 14th

A day of rest and exploration in Birdsville. Birdsville was proclaimed a township in the early 1880s and is situated between the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert, the vast gibber plains of Sturt’s Stony Desert to the south and the rich Channel Country to the north – as we know, having driven through all of that. It was established close to the Queensland and South Australian border in order to collect tolls from the droves of cattle being moved interstate. After Federation and the abolition of tolls the town began to decline until now it has a population of only 115 or so. Tourism has joined cattle as the major industry in the region, with the annual Big Red Bash (a music festival) and the Birdsville Races (horse racing) each attracting around 9,000 visitors.

The origin of the name Birdsville is disputed, however one popular theory relates to the numbers of birds around the lagoon on the edge of town.

Corella’s in the trees at the Birdsville Lagoon. I wonder if it was these birds that gave Birdsville its name.

 A wander through the cemetery gave us pause for thought, noting the young age that so many died in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We loved the rustic charm of some of the graves – no big posh mausoleums here.

Very simple graves out here. Note the engraving in the rock as the headstone.

We had lunch of curried camel pie at the bakery (meh), and spent some time in the Information Centre looking at their displays and information.

Eating camel pie at the Birdsville Bakery. It was … OK-ish.

Birdsville has Australia’s only geothermal power plant which provided 20% of the town’s elecricity needs from the very hot water from the Great Artesian Basin. However, just two months ago the decision was made to close it down, replacing it with solar and battery storage which is expected to provide about 80% of their needs.
We also got the washing done – woo hoo clean clothes! In the car park we happened upon a Qld Health woman who told us the “My Health Record” explanation was happening in the community centre this evening, so Leura and I decided to go. We had a hoot – I even got offered a job.

Dinner at the Birdsville Pub was very good before retiring to our cabins for the evening.

Wednesday 15th

Not too far to go today, so a relaxed start. We retrace our steps from Birdsville to the Innamincka turnoff, stopping just outside Birdsville to view the Burke and Wills tree – their last camp before Cooper Creek where they were hoping to meet the rest of their party. Back at Cuppa Creek we stopped for a cuppa, then on to the now very pleasant Deons Lookout for lunch.

Burke and Wills tree at Birdsville

A 7km detour off the main road took us to the ghost town of Betoota, it’s last resident, the publican, moving out in 1997 at the age of 82. The Betoota Races are run here every year in August. The only building that remains is the sandstone pub, which had been in ruins, but is now being renovated, though still very rustic. There were quite a few 1978 and ‘79 red wines in their cool room, though they looked a little the worse for wear.

Some of the old wines leftover from prior to closure of the Betoota Hotel.

The bulldozers had graded more of the road leaving only about 50 or 60 km that was really rough, the rest being a quite good gravel road. Even the first 10km of the road to Haddon Corner was good, just a bit at the end became a track before we crossed a couple of sand dunes to get to Haddon Corner. Augustus Poeppel also surveyed this point as he marked the western boundary of South Australia. He met up with the Queensland surveyor Alexander Salmond and together the surveyors took star observations for latitude to fix the position for what is now known as Haddon Corner, named after the nearby pastoral lease. More champagne to celebrate our second Corner.

Another celebration, at Haddon Corner.

A large flat area surrounds the Corner post and this is our campsite for the night. Flys! Flys are the predominant feature and fly nets made their appearance for the first time this trip. On the upside, we’re the only ones here. Under the roof of the covered picnic table the finches have built quite complex mud nests. They’re very cute.

These beautiful little finches have created amazing mud nests under the roof covering the picnic table. Haddon Corner.

We collected some dead mallee wood on the way in and had the best fire – it’s so hard and dry it burnt slowly with very little smoke.

Lovely colours of sunset at Haddon Corner.

Thursday 16th

Today we’re off to Innamincka via the unsealed Station roads. We had our morning cuppa under some trees beside a dry creek bed at the junction of the Barcoo and Bulloo Shires. The countryside has been largely treeless, some clay pans and lots of gibber plains.

Good to see some hills in the background, but not much else to commend the view.

However in some areas there’s a good covering of grasses and the cattle looked in good condition. The roads on the Qld side of the border were very good compared to the SA side where we did battle with the very corrugated and rocky surface.

The Dig Tree on the banks of Cooper Creek near Innamincka is significant in Australia’s pioneering history. What a tragic story that is! Burke and Wills and quite a retinue of other men, camels, wagons, etc set off in 1861 from Melbourne to explore to the Gulf of Carpentaria, ie south coast to north coast. Burke was an unlikely leader of the expedition having virtually no skills in bushcraft and limited leadership experience. He set up a base camp on the banks of Cooper Creek, taking only 3 men with him after instructing the team remaining to wait 3 months for their return before leaving. Very unwisely Burke left here in December to cross the Strezelecki and Sturt Stony Deserts where termperatures can reach up to 50C (122F) in the shade, not that there is much shade! Anyway, they made it to the Gulf, no mean feat, but it would be a total of 4 months before the 3 remaining men of the party got back to Cooper Creek (one man had died of dysentery). By this time they were close to starvation. Tragically only hours before their arrival the waiting party had left, leaving a carving on a tree indicating the location of some buried provisions  – now known as the Dig Tree. Burke and Wills both perished here, King survived with the help of the local aboriginal people and later returned to Melbourne.

At the Dig Tree, not far from Innamincka.

We lunched here then continued on to Innamincka where we had a beer at the pub, refuelled the vehicles and enjoyed a great hot shower before setting up camp beside Cooper Creek. Innamincka has a population of 12 – nope not a lot here, though the man at the General Store was very knowledgeable about the road conditions and advised us on a better route to our next Corner.

Innamincka Hotel.

Dinner at the pub tonight.

Friday 17th

Beautiful reflections of the River Red Gums in Cooper Creek welcomed us when we awoke this morning. Lots of corellas, galahs, and a pelican fishing too.

We left Innamincka via the Strzelecki Track which had been recently graded and was a pleasure to drive on. This is still sand dune country, though not soft, loose sand as it was it the Simpson Desert. The dunes track north-south, making it easy for the Strzelecki Track to head south between two dunes. Our route though needed to take us eastward into Queensland and that road was more challenging with corrugations, lots of sand and heaps of up and over crests of dunes. It was a lovely drive though with yellow flowers contrasting against the dark red sands of the dunes, a few acacias flowering, salt bush and spinifex and a pretty amazing looking clay pan. Lots and lots of gas wells in this area.

A good road – some corrugations, but nothing to complain about. The Strezlecki Track

The Epsilon Omicron Road took us back southward again. Epsilon and Omicron are two cattle properties. The cattle we saw as we drove looked to be in good condition – perhaps the drought that’s affecting farmers further south isn’t as bad up here. We saw a few kangaroos and a couple of beautiful dingoes.

A very healthy looking young dingo.

Cameron Corner, the last of our three corners, was today’s goal and we got there in time for lunch. There’s a pub and a “Corner Store” here, and of course the pole that marks the corner of South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Champagne time again!

Cameron Corner

The camping area was shade-less and uninviting so we continued on to Tibooburra via the Tooney Gate road. We were warned that the first section of it was rough and they weren’t wrong! Corrugations, pot holes and clouds of dust from oncoming vehicles was very wearying. Anyway that didn’t last forever and we did get some good, firm road too. This part of the drive was very stark with bare flat red sand plains or gibber plains with no vegetation.

The gibber plains

As areas with salt bush began to appear we started to see sheep properties.  It was a relief to finally drive into Tibooburra and check into the caravan park. Tibooburra is a tiny town with a population of only 134. Gold is why it was established and it still attracts fossickers. The few locals and the passing tourist trade supports not one, but two pubs and a Roadhouse that sells fuel, groceries, is the post office and takes bookings for the caravan park! A fossilised tree trunk dating back to the Cretaceous period is displayed in a glass case alongside the road in town.

The entrance to Tibooburra is pretty impressive.

We cooked our own meals but then went to the pub for their Happy Hour. What a great atmosphere! The place was full of locals and travellers and the pub supplied ‘bar snacks’ – chicken wings, meatballs, sweet potato chips, dim sims … pretty good! We bought tickets in a raffle to raise money for an intensive care bed for the medical clinic (their only bed) and won a cooked chook! Altogether a fun night.

A replica of Sturts boat at Tibooburra. In August 1844 explorer Charles Sturt set out from Adelaide on an epic journey to find an inland sea. He also wanted to prove that a great river or mountain range divided the continent. He took with him a party of 15 men, 200 sheep, 11 horses, 32 bullocks and seven carts. Indeed, so confident was he of finding this sea he took a 22-foot sailing boat and two sailors to crew it.

Saturday 18th

Another big driving day. The road to Wanaaring was OK for the most part, though a large section had lots of washouts and pot holes full of bull dust. It was a very windy day and the sand was being blown up a lot. Wanaaring is a small town where we really only stopped in the shade of the playground to eat our lunch – last night’s winnings, the cold chicken!

Passing through Station properties on our way.

The road to Bourke was atrocious! Kilometres and kilometres of corrugations, pot holes, soft sandy patches and bull dust. If that wasn’t enough to keep the driver focussed kangaroos and emus appeared frequently alongside the road, ready to dart in front of you without a moment’s notice. We were told the bulldozers are unable to grade the road during this drought because there’s no water, and that the road is only open to high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles with extreme caution. We were definitely very cautious. As we came closer to Bourke the vegetation became thicker, greener and taller. By the time we arrived we were passing trees!

Exhausted by the time we arrived at 4.30pm, we elected to stay in a motel. Dinner this evening at a local restaurant (average), then back to the rooms for an early night.

Sunday 19th

Situated on the Darling River with a population of more than 1,800, Bourke is the administrative centre for the Shire. In 1835 Sir Thomas Mitchell established Bourke as the first and only stockade in Australia for protection from the aborigines. Percy Hobson, the first indigenous athlete to win a Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games came from Bourke, and the famous eye surgeon Fred Hollows was buried here in 1993.
Before leaving Bourke Steve and I visited the Back o’Bourke Centre. This Centre is quite extensive with 4 large buildings, including the Information Centre. Information, photographs and stories about Bourke’s beginnings and history abound. Maybe we just weren’t in the right mood, but neither of us enjoyed it. Steve was disappointed at the lack of information on the local flora, fauna and geography while indigenous life before white settlement was ignored. I found there was just too much writing to read. If I read it all I’d still be there.

Back O’Bourke Centre

We did a bit of shopping at the IGA, then met up with Doug and Leura again at a cafe before heading east through Brewarrina and Walgett where we stopped for lunch at the park.

Heading north we arrived in Lightning Ridge where we’re booked in to cabins in the caravan park for two nights – fortunately as there’s a cold wind blowing quite strongly and the morning temps will be around the zero mark.
Wow! ALL of today’s drive was on bitumen. What a treat.

Monday 20th

We played Tourist today. Lightning Ridge’s indigenous people were displaced in the early 1800s by pastoral leases. When the rare and very valuable black opal was discovered in early 1900 it led to an influx of miners and the establishment of the town. Today the population is about 2,200 though, like most mining towns, it is transient. With mid summer temperatures averaging 35 – 36C with an annual rainfall of only 475mm that’s not surprising.

The John Murray Art Gallery was fabulous.  This city-born artist came out here about 25 years ago and fell in love with Australia’s arid landscapes. He describes his painting style as ‘whimsical photo realism’. However it’s described, his landscapes have a clarity and colour that is beautiful, while his caricatures of birds and other creatures are definitely a flight of whimsy.

John Murray art. Displayed on walls outside his gallery.

Stanley the Emu, on the outskirts of Lightning Ridge is one such whimsy. Stanley is an 18m tall emu designed by John Murray and made from scrap metal including a VW Beetle chassis, hoods and doors, satellite dishes for his ears, recycled metal from the old Dubbo Police Station & steel girders for his feet & neck.. The emu is named after a former Lightning Ridge policeman, Commander Stan Single, who was instrumental in ‘supply’ of much of the materials that the emu is made from. Stanley was officially unveiled in May 2013 and contains a time capsule due to be opened in 2063.

Stanley, the 18 metre tall emu made from scrap metal – including a VW beetle chassis.

There are four ‘car door tours’. A map to these self-guided driving tours is obtained from the Information Centre. Not quite sure how they were initiated, but we did notice that old car doors not only mark a ‘place of interest’ on the tour, but are also used to identify private residences. 

Recycling old car doors. “My house is at the white daisy on the brown background,”

The opal mine we visited, the Chambers of the Black Hand, was a relatively unproductive opal mine for many years before the owner began mucking around carving into the sandstone layer above the silica layer in which the opal is formed. Turns out he is a pretty reasonable sculptor. Now viewing these underground sculptures and a tour of the opal bearing layer led by an opal miner who shares his experiences (sometimes a little too graphically) are what draws the tourists. An underground opal shop also shows off exquisite local opals and the jeweller’s skills.

Entering the Chambers of the Black Hand mine.

Late afternoon we went to the Artesian Bore pool. Wow! That’s the hottest spa I’ve ever been in. The pool is filled directly from a bore into the Artesian Basin. The water termperature is around 40C. Sitting half submerged and varying the bits in the water made it tolerable. It was a very refreshing experience though – once out.

Lightning Ridge, like other small towns we’ve visited with privately owned mines, is defined by numerous mullock heaps, unguarded mine shafts and old rusting machinery. They also seem to be set in the driest, dustiest places. Credit where credit is due though, the town streets are most well cared for.

So many mining towns look like this.

Tuesday 21st

Leaving Lightning Ridge and its dust behind us our road (still sealed – bliss!) took us through prime grain-growing countryside. A stopover for a walk around and a cuppa at Dirranbandi led us to some interesting sculptures in the park. Dirranbandi was the embarkation point for many men and their horses who joined the Light Horse Brigade for World War 1. A memorial recognising their contribution is displayed. Continuing with the horse theme there’s also a very good sculpture made entirely out of horse shoes.

Memorial to the men who fought on horseback in World War I. Many of them and their horses left from Dirranbandi.

Onward to Thallon where we stopped to admire the painted silos. Painting silos has become a ‘thing’ in recent years, and I must say these examples of public art have been excellent. The Thallon silos showcase a stunning sunset scene over the Moonie River acknowledging the first owners by depicting a scarred tree.

Silo art at Thallon.

A free camp here between the silos and the river looks pleasant enough, however we have a lunch date in Nindigully. Nindigully Pub is Queensland’s oldest pub still in its original condition and location, and has been continuously licensed since 1864. There’s a lot of history in this pub. We lunched in the beer garden, Doug and Leura enjoying the pub’s famous hamburgers while Steve had a ‘Deathwish’ – an enourmous sausage with loads of chips. (To be honest our meals weren’t that great!) There are only 2 houses and the pub at Nindigully, with a population of 6 – but it’s a must-visit destination.

At the iconic Nindigully Pub

We drove on through sheep and cotton-growing country to St George. A wander around the town found us admiring the many beautiful, old buildings before arriving at the Unique Egg. These exquisitely carved emu eggs are displayed beautifully with lighting and mirrors. A very talented craftsman.

Another ‘cabin night’ at the caravan park – nice, new clean cabins tonight.

Wednesday 22nd

Our first stop today is Surat. This lovely little town situated on the Balonne River (yep, one of the rivers that will become Cooper Creek) has the best Information Centre ever. A full size replica of a 14-seater Cobb and Co Coach and a scale model of the 7-horse team that would draw it makes me feel guilty for complaining about the rough ride over unsealed roads in my well-sprung, air conditioned speedy car.

A Cobb and Co stagecoach at Surat.

The history display is very well curated, but of even more interest is the aquarium. This 25,000 litre fresh water aquarium has native fish species such as the Murray River Cod.

Now THIS is an aquarium – at Surat.

Here we farewelled our wonderful travelling companions Doug and Leura as they headed home and we continued on to Crows Nest to stay the night with our friends Randall and Catherine.

Thursday 23rd

Home today. Keeping the adventure alive we drove via backroads we’d not travelled before and reminisced on a fabulous trip – many great places we really enjoyed and will maybe visit again. Altogether an excellent trip with unique experiences, enjoyed with good company.

So much Australia, so little time.

To see all our photos from this trip CLICK HERE.

 

Clare Valley to the Victorian Border

9 – 11 December 2017 

The next 6 days (until we reach Balnarring) are what Steve refers to as ‘transfers’. That is, we’re not being travellers taking our time to see and enjoy where we are, we are just driving – big difference.

However we’ve still chosen a scenic route which I’m sure we’ll enjoy.

Saturday morning as we headed south the wheat stubble and brown fields gave way to grape vines as we entered the Clare valley. We stopped for an enjoyable afternoon tea with Bob and Cathy’s daughter Hannah, Raine and baby Dean. Then through the Barossa to stop the night at the tiny town of Palmer, where we camped beside the cricket oval. We even got to enjoy the last session with prime seats! Palmer won. The oval is virtually in the middle of a well-established olive grove – interesting!

We dined at the pub where the meals have been highly recommended, both ordering the pork belly and not being disappointed.

Sunday 10th.

The publican last night recommended a scenic drive that would eventually get us back onto our track. It took us along an unsealed road through grazing land along a valley and through a gap in the granite hills. Unsurprisingly it was called Gap Road. We came out near Mannum where our publican had recommended we see the waterfall.

The Gap on Gap Rd outside Palmer. Pretty drive.

From here we followed the highway to Murray Bridge and crossed the Murray on the first bridge ever built across this mighty river. It was good to be back to the Murray again after following it closer to its source for a few weeks back in March this year. Even more exciting was driving along the shore of Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert which is where the Murray finally reached the sea.

Tonight we’re camped at Kingston SE in the RV park right on the shore ($10) – brilliant location, if maybe a little windy.

Not a bad “Big Lobster”. Kingston SE

Monday morning we went for a walk along the river to the mouth and back through a park where the locals have put in some sundials of different types – doesn’t sound great, but it was very good. Then to the cafe where we had coffee, bought lots of gifts for Christmas and downloaded some podcasts using their wifi. Excellent cafe. Good experience at Kingston SE – well done!

Onwards to Robe for brunch, parked overlooking a small marina, before moving on to the Lighthouse Lookout. Perfect day weather-wise and magnificent views of the shore, coastline and ocean.

Rugged coastline, but look at all those blues. Robe, SA

At Mt Gambier we had another break. The Information Centre has a museum which is excellent – note to self- allow at least an hour, or more, to view this next time. We emptied our water tanks of the last of the metallic-tasting Norseman water and refilled with the amazing water from the Blue Lake which provides Mt Gambier with its water supply.  This 72m deep lake is the crater of a volcano, the very clear water in it filtering through limestone rock to fill it. There is a sudden change in water colour from grey through winter to vivid blue, the change occurring over a few days at the end of November. This dramatic colour change occurs as the sun is higher in the sky, the pure waters refracting more blue in the colour spectrum and the cleansing of the water as tiny calcite crystals reacting to the warmer water fall to the bottom, taking organic material with them.

The Blue Lake at Mt Gambier

From here we drove around to the Umpherston Sinkhole which has been made into a cool, relaxing garden. Thousands of years ago the underlying limestone cave collapsed creating this deep, steep-sided sinkhole. James Umpherston owned the grazing property which contained it. In 1884 he decided to make it into a garden for the locals to enjoy.

Umpherston Sinkhole. An incredible sight.

It’s had a mixed history since then but today a ramp and stairs take you down into the sinkhole where the grassed, terraced base is planted with hydrangeas and tree ferns, the steep sides dripping with ivy. Under a cliff overhang are picnic tables and a BBQ.

From one side of the sinkhole to the other. Its diameter is not huge. Umpherston Sinkhole

This evening’s destination is free camp at Dry Creek which is on the Glenelg River, on the SA/Vic border. This unlikely camping spot is really just a parking area for fishers launching their boats at the boat ramp here. A tree-lined dirt road in off the main road ends in a turning circle and camping is wherever you can find a level enough spot. Built out off the shore and over the water are half a dozen shacks.  It’s a lovely spot and we sat on the jetty enjoying our sundowners and chatting to the fishers launching their boats. A quiet night.

Not quite in Victoria yet.

 

For more photos from this trip CLICK HERE