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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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.