We refuelled the car before leaving Boulia, happily paying $1.51 per litre in the knowledge that diesel was $1.86 a couple of hundred kms south at Bedourie, & $1.60 approx 400kms south at Birdsville. We have a ‘crowd-sourced’ app on our ipad (Fuelmap) which gives us the prices, not always up to date, but even the comparative prices give a good idea of where to fill up. Away from the cities & east coast prices seem to generally be far more stable too. We had sufficient fuel to get to Bedourie, but were uncertain if we’d have enough to reach Birdsville, especially if we took the Lake McHattie detour to see the pelican rookery, besides it’s foolish not to always have a bit more in your tanks than you need out here. With two tanks holding 180 litres between them a saving $0.35 per litre is significant.
Finding our way out of Boulia should have been straightforward, but we just couldn’t find a sign pointing to Bedourie & Birdsville, quite frustrating given that Boulia is comprised of just 3 major streets & there were signs pointing north to Mt Isa. I guess the driving around & around the town looking was meant to be. Upon our arrival in town we had seen a pair of Brolgas walking together in the street. In the past we’ve seen emus & kangaroos in towns, but brolgas were a first, & I’d missed the opportunity to capture them on my camera. Well on our 3rd ‘leaving circuit of the town there they were again, wandering totally unperturbed up the main street.
Whilst photographing them it occurred to me that the Bedourie/Birdsville road was probably a turn off the road we had come in on, & sure enough, over the river & a short distance out of town, there was the road, complete with a sign. Doh!
The road to Bedourie was sealed all the way. Once away from the impact the Burke river has on the country surrounding it we were travelling though flat plains with little vegetation stretching out to the horizon. An occasional jump up added interest to the view. About 110 kms south of Boulia we crossed back into the Diamantina shire, & shortly after that reached the Vaughan Johnson Lookout. Named after a politician who secured funding for it! As we gazed across to the 180 degree horizon from the top of a Mesa we had driven up it was the view which monopolised our thoughts, not a politician. Some information sources refer to the lookout as the ‘Loo with a View’ & we had expected either an open sided dunny or at least one with a window, but I guess it was at least in a spot with an incredible view. Some info signs gave some interesting facts about the Diamantina shire we had been unaware of. The area of the shire is just under 100,000 sq. kms which is roughly twice the size of Tasmania or much the same as Scotland & Wales combined. This area has a population of just 320 in two towns Bedourie & Birdsville plus all the stations. It has a road network of 1636kms of which 265kms are sealed. It promotes itself as “Where the Desert meets the Channel Country” .
Continuing south the country followed that description. Less soil, more sand. Occaional red sand dunes said “desert”. It was a surprise to us, we hadn’t expected sand dunes until much closer to Birdsville, but it made our travel far more visually interesting. Bedourie was pleasant enough for an overnighter in the truck stop opposite the ’Simpson Desert Oasis’ servo/fast food/tyres & repairs/motel/general store & greengrocer. We didn’t visit the old pub, instead paying $50 (refundable) for the key to the artesian spa where we soaked in 40 degree water all alone whilst waiting for sunset. A huge refrigerated truck pulled into town having come up from Birdsville & set up on the side of the road for a few hours, with steps & handrail into the back, & a double screened entrance to help keep it cold. We’ve purchased fruit & veg from walk in fridges in a couple of places, but hadn’t seen a mobile one before. Apparently Col, the mobile grocer does regular outback runs.
A late start for us, as we had to return the key to the almost manic but delightfully bubbly & enthusiatic lady at the tourist info centre, & they didn’t open until 10am. Having discovered that Lake McHattie is currently dry & thus there would be no ‘wall to wall’ pelicans there our drive was to be a short one, just 70kms to Cuttaburra Crossing. A camp spot alongside a permanent waterhole on the Eyre Creek renowned for it’s birdlife. It turned out to be a pleasant spot on water rather different to the muddy brown rivers we have become accustomed to. This was a less muddy & clearer body of water with a greenish tinge, but importantly banks lined with green bushes & grasses which gave it instant appeal. Bird numbers were not huge, but there was a large variety, a number of which we were able to identify & to ’tick off’ in our bird book as ’spotted’. Catching a yellowbelly for dinner, baked in foil in the ashes of our camp fire helped too, to make a 2nd night’s stay an easy decision.
We had read & heard of the dreadful problem that feral cats are to native wildlife throughout Australia, but they are a problem that are largely hidden, or at least that’s the way it has seemed to us. They are not prone to making their presence known, & to date we had never seen one. Sitting on the side of the creek, surrounded by the floodplains & the wider desert in what could fairly be described as a remote area a cat emerged briefly from bushes across the river until it realised we were there. It was no scrawny ill fed little puss, this was a very large & healthy looking hunter, pale grey, short coat – like that of a Burmese, but 4 times the size! That night a couple of spotlighters in a pair of utes pulled into our camp briefly, with their hunting dogs. They were out after feral pigs. Sometime later we heard 2 shots & were glad they knew we were there. Next day we were walking & saw a carcase laying on the dry mudflats several hundred metres from the road. We investigated & sure enough it was a large pig surrounded by crows who flew off as we approached. We approached from up wind to avoid having to smell it, but what took us aback was another feral cat, this one smaller & tabby, seemingly standing guard at the carcase, or perhaps waiting for the crows to expose a feed for it. It looked defiantly at us, only taking off (at full pelt) when we within just a few metres of it. Next day as we drove away on the road, we could see it was back sitting next to the carcass.
The road between Bedourie & Birdsville is part sealed & part unsealed, the bitumen & quartz gravel alternates every 10 or 20kms. It wont be long before it is possible to access Birdsville by all sealed road, which of course will change the town forever just as the sealed road to Cooktown has done. Of course there are many travellers for whom this will be very welcome, but in my view towns like Birdsville & Cooktown (& many more before them) became iconic Australian destinations because of their relative inaccessibilty, their ‘on the edge’ pioneering ambience & the strength of character required to be resident. They were Australian, but largely made their own rules. Bringing in the bitumen ‘tames’ them & it’s sad to see hard earned reputation traded as a commodity whilst the character is slowly lost. ‘Progress’ means different things to different folks I guess.
Before reaching Birdsville, the Carcoory ruins & bore diverted our attention from the ever increasing sense of ‘desert’ . The 4 room sandstone block homestead built in 1877 is remakably solid despite it’s iron roof having been & commandeered by the federal government during World War 2, & since innumerable travellers have seen fit to carve their grafitti into the walls. It was fun getting MrsTea to pose using the ruins as a ‘prop’. A short distance away the Carcoory bore still operates, it’s pipes supplying a tanker filling arrangement fed by a large diameter poly pipe, whilst an arrangement of shut odd valves & metal pipes feed a permanent & steaming stream. This water comes out of the ground at a temperature capable of giving serious burns, & the stream runs away across the sand via a cooling pond, where it felt a similar temperature to Bedourie’s artesian spa. Evidence around the pond suggested that cattle don’t mind a hot drink.
On to Birdsville through extensive Gibber plains, increasingly higher sand dunes, distant monoliths, difficult to judge their size, (close & small or distant & large?) & occasional humour that the outback encompasses. The best being a concrete garden setting, two chairs & a table, situated on a bare treeless gibber plain. One of those photographic opportunities that by the time I think “I should stop to photograph that” we are well past it & didn’t bother.
I had read that the bakery in Birdsville, renowned as it is for their pies, particularly the curried camel variety, had in recent years been making gluten free pies, & as a result of my dietary requirements had been dreaming of one of these for the past 5000kms since we left home. We made a beeline to the bakery upon our arrival in town. Imagine my disppointment to learn that my info had been incorrect, especially as MrsTea tucked into a non gluten free one.
After setting up camp out of town on the river (Diamantina River again) we left the Tvan for an excursion to one of Birdsvilles’s biggest attractions – Big Red. A sand dune around 35kms out of town which signifies the offcial beginning of the Simpson Desert which extends westward for around 400kms, a trek favoured by adventurous 4wd’ers because of it’s remoteness & the challenge of crossing something like 1100 dunes during the crossing. Me …. I’’d never driven up a dune in my life, but I was keen to see how I & our car would manage it. Actually the first dune is known as ‘Little Red’ & has to be crossed before reaching Big Red a couple of kms further on. Big Red has a ‘chicken track’ for those who cannot make it over, which apparently are not just a few. Little Red has no such chicken track so once crossed, the only way back is to cross it again. The dunes run parallel to each other & can be hundreds of kms long, so nipping around the end of the dune is generally not an option.
Drove up the dune heading away from Birdsville in second low with zero problems – easy peasy.
Down the other side equally easy, although noting that the sand was a lot softer, especially near the top.
I should mention that this was around 3.30pm on a hot sunny day. I knew that the loose/soft sand was looser/softer when hot, but reasoned to myself that we’d seen others coming back with their Simpson desert flags waving, & besides which anyone crossing the Simpson simply couldn’t cross all the dunes in the early morning cool of the day.
Well I’m afraid coming back up was such that I was pleased there was no audience other than MrsTea. It took me 7 attempts & I was seriously considering the possibility we would not get back to camp. I had expected to get up in 2nd or 3rd low. But quickly realised that I was going to need more momentum than this allowed. In the end I
got up in 2nd high, foot well down & giving it the berries, & me just a passenger, trying as best I could to stay in the existing wheel tracks. It got me up… just….
Consultation with 4wd online friends that evening revealed that although I had reduced my tyre pressures significantly, I had not reduced them enough. From those experienced in Simpson desert crossings the concensus was that both Big Red & Little Red were different to all the other dunes, with especially softer sand at the top. I’m just glad that I chose to try to get back over Little Red before going off to get us into worse strife on Big Red.
A final note about my photos. I am really quite frustrated about the quality which shows on the blog, it is a much degraded version of the original, but it seems that sorting out the technical issues is not practical with our limited bandwidth & net availability so for now at least I’ll have to continue ‘as is’.
Continuing south for about 120kms on the Diamantina River Road took us to the Diamantina National Park over road surfaces which could be best described as ‘variably awful with just enough good bits to raise one’s optimism before once again dashing it to pieces’. We kept hoping that the road ahead would have smaller corrugations or smoother rocks to traverse but our hopes rarely beame reality. Commonly the ’slightly crushed’ quartz surface in many places did not allow movement out of the rail line-like wheel ruts we were in without significant risk of cut sidewalls to our tyres, so no zig zagging along the track in an attempt to find a smoother part, (as many dirt roads allow), instead riding out the ‘jackhammer’ corrugations & bumps. Some folk advocate speeding up to enable the car to ’skim’ across the top of the bumps, but it’s not a practice I subscribe to for two reasons. 1. If I need to slow/brake suddenly I have far less control & greater chance of accident, & 2. even though it may ‘feel’ smoother, the car is still being hammered from below, & the extra speed & less noticeable vibration can still do damage, either suddenly or insidiously & we want our car to keep doing what it does for many years yet. A tiny example of insidious damage caused by corrugations occurred despite our caution,but because we were going slow we noticed a noise we didn’t normally hear, stopped, found the cause & rectified it before any significant damage had been done. All we sustained was a 2 or 3mm deep groove worn into the aluminium of the rear canopy by a brass fitting on the end of a hose. We estimate it would have happened within just 3 or 4 kms. At speed we would not have noticed & undoubtedly would have found a hole worn through the aluminium. I’ve heard stories of folk wearing holes through the roof of their vehicles when a roofrack fitting has come loose allowing movement of the rack. After seeing how quickly wear can happen I have no doubt that such stories are true.
On reaching the camp ground at the NP I was exhausted. 120kms is not much, but driving these roads demands constant concentration, reading the ever changeable road ahead, scanning for any indication which might suggest a wash out, pot hole, steep floodway dip, holes full of bulldust etc. It struck me just how EASY bitumen roads have made driving. Concentration may still be required, especially around other traffic, but the road surface can generally be expected to be consistent. No complaints about the roads we’re travelling on though, it’s our choice & they have significant benefits. Virtually no other traffic (often none & if we see more than 2 or 3 other vehicles a day it feels like a busy day!). They also take us to places the bitumen can’t, AND because they are used far less than sealed roads the wildlife often haven’t learned to be wary or frightened of cars & people, so we see them close up.
Entering the park was quite spectacular. More hills/mesas, but with a particularly pleasing perspective. Set among these was the ruins of the old Mayne hotel which operated along this stock route from 1888 until 1951. Only a few posts which once held up the walls were left, along with the remnants of the beer ‘cellar’, an old bed frame & a few empty beer bottles. Alongside was a now dry dam & & part of the water tank on the levee bank between the dam & the pub. It was hot & dry…… & easy to imagine what a welcome oasis it would have been to the many drovers who brought cattle through there.
A detour off the road along a smaller track took us to the Diamantina Gates. In flood the Diamantina spreads wide over a vast area through multiple channels, flooding the country like a great sea, but all that water has to pass through the ‘Gates’, an opening of just a little over 1km wide between two cliffs at the ends of the Goyder & Hamilton Ranges. Few people can have ever been there to witness the spectacle of the Diamantina floodwave entering the ‘Gates’. It would have to be an incredible sight. I have searched the internet for film footage of the event, but doubt if it has ever been filmed. I’d give my right arm to witness it first hand, but just standing on the top of the Hamilton Range at ‘Janet’s Leap’ looking across to the Goyder cliffs it wasn’t hard to imagine it happening. If anyone is aware of any film footage of the ‘Wave’ coming through the Gates please let us know how to access it.
The park has two camp grounds. Gum Hole has small shady individual & private sites next to a waterhole whilst Hunter’s Gorge has a larger waterhole with a cliff as a backdrop, but is a large, open & dusty area, where even the park literature comments how it can often be very windy. Wind & large dusty areas combined make for unpleasant camping, as does almost non-existent shade under the harsh Queensland sun. Gum Hole however is recommended for ‘tent campers’ & not suitable for caravans, motorhomes etc. We checked out both sites & decided that as we are half tent/half caravan we could get away with staying at the far more pleasant Gum Hole ……. & we did. It was a good decision, this part of Queensland has been experiencing an unseasonally early heat wave & in daily temperatures in the mid to high 30’s being under the trees was very welcome……..despite the entire Australian fly population sharing our view!
When we travelled back in ’08/09 we were enthralled by the airborne acrobatics of flocks of budgerigars, the synchronised swimmers of the air, an airborne symphony. We rued the individual caging of birds who’s natural habitat is in nomadic flocks of 100, 200, 500 or sometimes in the many 1000’s, clouds capable of blocking out the sun. It was here in the Diamantina, at Gum Hole that we made our first ‘re-contact’. A small flock of just a 100 or so putting on a display over the waterhole. Many birds fly in formations, but none can equal the speed & syncronicity of the budgie. Time & again they split off into smaller flocks, before once again rejoining after their lightning fast manouvres, glinting under the morning sun, bright green, silver, invisible, bright green again. It felt great to be back into ‘budgie country’.
The 90km ’tourist track’ through part of the park took us to sand dunes, clay pans, gibber plains , waterholes, old stockyards & seemingly never ending mitchell grass plains over track mainly made only by vehicles driving over it. No graded tracks so often very slow & bumpy, except for on the clay pans. Sticking to the tyre marks across these extensive clay pans was wise, despite the seemingly hard surfaces, getting out to walk around revealed some surprisingly spongey surfaces which it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a set of 4 wheels with the weight of a touring 4wd above sinking quite suddenly.
A highlight was seeing our first dingo of the trip. We have seen dingoes before, they can be quite common around some heavily tourist focussed areas, (particularly in the red centre) but seeing them genuinely in the wild …. in ‘their’ territory is better still. In our 30 years in Australia this is only the second one we’ve seen away from campgrounds (where people tend to feed them, thereby encouraging their presence). This one was taken by surprise at our appearance. The wind was in our favour so we saw him before he heard us, but as soon as he knew we were there he took off. The only photo I got after pulling up, grabbing the camera & trying to follow him on foot is the one below. Not the best photo of a dingo, but I’m including it to celebrate his/her ‘wildness’, & our privilege to have seen it.
Leaving the park via the Springvale Road (leads past Springvale Station) the road remained awful until the Boulia side of the station, after which the relative smoothness was a joy! Stopping off to walk around Elizabeth Springs, a set of artesian mound springs where water oozes out of the ground at high temperature from deep below we found natural grass rimmed ponds and areas of bog where walking was not adviseable. There were mounds where we could see water oozing from, but those we could get close to were cool & appeared insufficient to fill the ponds. Perhaps the ponds are fed by these in conjunction with underwater supplies? Apparently they are home to unique aquatic species adapted to living in very high temperatures as well as supporting a local population of wildlife including a specific goanna & birds called Yellow chats, which only live around such places & uncapped bore drains. We did find goanna footprints but no goannas or chats. One seemingly dead bush came surprisingly & suddenlyto life as we walked past it though. From their ‘hiding’ place unseen, their was an exodus of Zebra finches, many hundreds of them formed a long cloud as, disturbed by our presence’ evacuated the bush for another further away. It was almost unbelievable that so many, small though they are, could inhabit the modest sized bush. That we could not see them in this bush, which had no foliage, was testament to how well camouflaged the bright little crowd was.
Once at Boulia, we briefly enjoyed the driving through a familiar place before setting up camp down at the Burke River just outside town. It’s been a hot couple of days here, 37degrees yesterday & very windy for most of yesterday & last night. Apart from a little shopping in the small supermarket come hardware store, & utilising the free washdown facility to get rid of much of the red dust build up on the Patrol (up to an inch thick in places) we have enjoyed more ‘visits’ from larger budgie flocks ( lightning quick acrobatics under the trees & through our camp) as well as the phone signal which facilitates my writing & posting of this blog.
We will be heading south for a while from here, as far as Camerons Corner we think, before cutting back across Queensland.
From the Lillyvale hills a track winds for around 90kms across country southward to the Old Cork homestead. Here there are the ruins of a once apparently impressive homestead (by the standards of the day), but a somewhat modest sized dwelling by todays standards. Some weathered info boards outside tell the story.
The track took us through more hills similar to the Lillyvale Hills and others of differing colour.
Occasionally we had livestock to contend with as well as reasons to stop to stretch our legs or simply gaze & feel.
Reaching the sign saying Diamantina River had me feeling pleased to have ticked an item off my bucket list.
Old Cork sits just up from the banks of the iconic Diamantina River, alongside an old Southern Cross windmill which once pumped water from the ’never run dry’ waterhole. The windmill still spins & does so remarkably quietly given it is no longer maintained, but it’s shaft is disconnected so it no longer pumps water. A pleasant spot with a lovely outlook, but plagued by flies. Unless you have experienced them it is hard to convey the relentlessness of their onslaught from a little after sunrise until the flie free bliss of sunset. However just before the flies take their leave, the mozzies turn up, although thankfully not in similar numbers. When the wind blows it disperses both these irritating little buggers somewhat, but replaces them with a swirling dust storm. This is the Aussie outback! Somehow amongst these distractions we managed to bake on the camp fire & to catch a number of good sized fish. Looking forward to a baked fish supper, our disappointment was as much as my verbal responses were loud. I had finally caught sufficient fish for a good feed, rather than just an ‘hors d’ouvre’. The fish, not Yellowbelly, but Welch’s Grunters, were disgusting. The taste was fine, but the texture was vomit inducing. The chicken sausages from the Winton butcher weren’t much better, in fact MrsTea thought them worse, but we bravely soldiered on & lived to see another day!
Here are a few photo’s which only go to prove that photos don’t always tell the whole story!
What we did enjoy at Old Cork (always two sides to the story) was our interaction with the birds. In particular a couple of families of Butcher birds, who were very ‘friendly’. We had heard the most beautiful singing amongst the dawn chorus but had not realised it was the Butcher birds until MrsTea started whistling to them & they responded in kind. The dates on my map are slightly out of synch (tech problem) but we stayed at Old Cork for 3 nights, mainly thanks to the invitation from these lovely residents!
We left buying our meat until the morning we left Winton. The butchers opened at 7:30am & we were there at 8, much to the dismay of the butcher who had clearly already planned his morning, & we his customers had the gall to disrupt his plans. He asked if we might come back for our order in a few hours time. “Sorry” says we, “We’re leaving town directly”. He clearly wanted to help but was equally clearly anxious about his plans being disrupted. Catch 22. Customer service won out but it was a battle for him all the way. He was trying to rush & in so doing creating ever more hold ups for himself & becoming ever more anxious. By the time we left with cryovaced order we were exhausted too. We did feel a little sorry for him, but bill-shock helped to relieve any guilt we felt about this. Steak which 2 weeks earlier had cost $24.99 a kilo in Blackall was $32.99 a kilo here, plus an extra dollar for every one of the 10 cryovac bags (previous butchers have not charged extra for these). Overall the cost for our fortnight’s worth of meat was almost 25% higher than previous outback butchers! Veggies from the green grocer were priced similarly, (although were far better kept & with greater selection than we have become accustomed to). Freight costs west of Blackall must rise dramatically, either that or advantage was being taken of the passing Birdsville race crowds.
Going west from Winton is the Kennedy Developmental road. Approximately 300kms to Boulia with the only town along the way being Middleton. Town is rather an overstatement. It consists of the old Middleton hotel run by Lester (“Yehmmate”) & his wife, supported by their helicopter musterer son. It is possibly the most remote hotel in Queensland where customers must travel at least 150kms from any direction to get a cold beer. We met Lester & his son several years ago when passing through, (but unsurprisingly he didn’t remember us!) 🙂 The place hadn’t changed. Lester is a real outback character, a former drover, who’s language initially seems restricted to “Yehmmate” said in a hard to reproduce laconic manner, & with the ability for it to mean just about anything you can imagine. He listens well though, & if you are respectful he’ll share a little more of himself. If you are more than a bitumen road tourist, & have reached his pub via more remote routes this seems to garner respect & a fuller conversation occurs. This is when you know he listened to what had previously been said, particularly when the detailed directions to where we wanted to go were forthcoming. Some days later we met other campers who confirmed that once Lester knew thet had travelled down an old stock route from Kynuna he became quite animated . Anyway he put us on to what we wanted, an ‘unofficial’ camp spot in the Lillyvale Hills, a short distance from the better known Cawnpore lookout, as well as directions to the Old Cork homestead & on to the Diamantina National Park.
The road from Winton is a mainly single lane bitumen affair, with occasional wider parts to allow for overtaking. The ’spin merchants’ at Queensland roads seemed to have taken lessons in positive re-framing. Rather than signs advising of narrow road ahead, there were signs at the point where the road narrowed advising, for example, ‘Overtaking Opportunity in 29kms ahead’. We rather liked that. Mirages & shimmering horizons combined to confound us as to what lay ahead. We played guessing games – What was on the road ahead, a car, a caravan, a motorhome, a tree, a bush, a roadtrain, a cow ……….. or what? We saw all of these but the distance to the horizon often had us guessing for a while. Sometimes it appeared that the road & sky were merging & that we were driving off the edge of the world.
When guessing games had had their time, we attempted poetry……. well that’s a bit too grand – rhymes are probably more accurate. Here’s an example of our low brow travelling culture. (Feel free to applaud at the end). 🙂
“Seventy kay an hour Is very very fast, Excepting when it’s slow. And you want to make it last.
No matter what, you’ll get there, The same as all the rest, But will have seen the country At it’s very best.
There were others, but you’ll probably appreciate us not sharing them with you.
The Cawnpore lookout is a lookout with plenty of ‘Wow factor’, well known amongst the grey nomad travellers. ………… Well the camp not far away & hidden from the road is better. Most will stop to take photos & to appreciate the beauty of the Lillyvale hills before continuing on to Boulia or Winton, but to be able to call those hills home for the night & to wake to the view of the sun rising across the mesas added an extra ‘wow’ to stunning. Judge for yourselves in the photos………… how lucky were we?
Thanks to those of you who left comments or emailed us about the Ant-lions & wood borers. Mysteries solved. (Click on the previous post heading if you want to read the comments & haven’t yet).
Continuing north from Opalton toward Winton our route took us through the Bladensburg NP. Only just into the park we saw the first snake of our trip. A black headed python laying in the road. It didn’t appear to be injured, but may have been dead. Either that or it was exceptionally relaxed. I rolled a rock close to it & it didn’t move, so we left it there & carried on our way.
A short time later we saw our second snake, this very much alive & well, & obviously taking notice of us. Only the thickness of a finger & around 400mm long. No idea what sort, but wonder if it may have been a small/young Inland Taipan, or perhaps one with anorexia? 🙂 We kept our distance as Taipan’s are one of the worlds most venomous snakes & a bite more than a tad inconvenient … given our location, probably deadly! Every so often it’d raise it’s head to look at us. Then again it could have been harmless. Can anyone identify it from the following photos?
Like many of the National Parks in the outback, Bladensburg is named after the Station it once was before the government purchased it to preserve as a park. The following photos hopefully give a ’snapshot’ of how we found it. As in previous parks we took the opportunity to drive the park’s tracks, taking us through a variety of landscapes. The 4wd tracks vary, none would satisfy the hard core 4wd lovers who lust after the challenge of ‘conquering’, but having sufficient ground clearance was certainly needed in a few places, & low ratio helped us climb a couple of jump ups. 4wd was reassuring in sections of soft sand, but mainly the tracks were corrugated dirt or bumpy rock. We are finding that we enjoy seeing the country ‘close-up’ on these slow park drives, & have come to realise that the ‘attractions’ that the tracks take us to are often little more than markers along the way. As often as not it’s the wildlife we see & the ‘immersing ourselves’ in the country which create the ‘Wow factor’. That’s not to say that the waterholes, claypans, forests etc are ‘ho-hum’ ….far from it.
For my friends, family & other readers from outside of Australia, the term station is the outback Aussie equivalent to ‘farm’. Stations generally run cattle or sheep, but there the similarity with farm ends. Not only are most stations very remote, but also cover huge areas. The size of an English county would not be unusual, often much bigger. The drive around Bladensburg covered only a small section of the park & was 40kms (24 miles). Quite modest compared to many. 100km (60 miles) tracks around parks are not unusual, commonly taking 5 hours+. ‘Farming practice’ on stations like Bladensburg & most current stations is very different. The land is not ‘worked’ other than to create water storages etc. Stocking rates are very low, (measured in hectares per head not head per hectare) but in country where the inevitable question “What on earth can the livestock eat?” is posed by the ignorant like me, the immediate answer to oneself is “plenty” given the generally fine condition of the stock we see. Most of the station work revolves around ensuring water supply & mustering/shearing etc. Most of their lives the stock have minimal interaction with humans.
The old shearing shed at Bladensburg struck me as more modern in it’s design than we would have expected from what we believe to have been a 1950’s or 60’s built structure. Lots of light & very airy. Despite being just a tin shed the interior, rather than oven-like was a refreshing santuary from the heat outside. I guess it would have been different when full of sheep, men & a pounding stationary motor to power the shearers blades. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but wonder why the many shed builders across this land today have failed to appreciate such effective design.
A note on camping fees in Western Queensland National Parks. Fees are not being collected. The Rangers recognise the ‘difficulties’ imposed by the expectation that visitors will pre-book online. This was commenced around 12 months ago in W. Qld, & is totally inappropriate. In some places a ranger has verbally told us ‘not to worry about it’, & in others notices like the following have been put up for campers to read. Given that the same system was introduced in other parts of Queensland prior to W.Qld, one wonders how long it will be before the desk jockeys recognise they’ve stuffed up big time!
Winton, although a small outback town felt like a return to a metropolis. Here we had to drive on the correct side of the road , obey road signs, notice other vehicles (instead of their dust clouds) & navigate things like roundabouts! The town was very busy with us arriving at the same time as many of the revellers on their way home from the Birdsville races. The often lauded free camp just out of town at ‘Long Waterhole’ was a dust bowl, complete with a waterhole more akin to a manky puddle, & screaming kids on mini bikes. We didn’t stay. Instead we found an equally manky stretch of water in the corner of a dusty paddock, shared with a mob of cattle but no kids on mini bikes, a couple of kms further out of town at Surprise Creek. This was home for 3 days, not the most salubrious surroundings we have called home, but it’s what there was, it had an internet signal for my previous posts. Our primary reason for staying was to ‘blog’ & to restock. Restocking was significantly more expensive than any previous. You may be thinking that we didn’t rate Winton very highly, but you would be wrong. It wasn’t the best ’stay’, but it also is not our first visit to the town. We were here a few years ago & enjoyed all it had to offer, & were pleasantly struck by the ‘go-ahead’ nature of the town. It is still the same town, albeit without it’s primary ( & top notch) attraction – the Waltzing Matilda Centre which burned down about 3 years ago. They are however rebuilding & expecting to re-open next year. Winton remains a go-ahead little town, we just didn’t get them on their best day.
Here are a couple of photos we invite your input on.
The first is a regular occurrence on dusty ground. Every night. We wake in the mornings to find these ‘inverted cones’ in the dust or the sand. All different sizes, some alone, some in multiples. We assume it must be the work of either insects or small animals of some description. Can anyone tell us what makes these ‘holes’ & perhaps what their purpose is?
EDIT: Since writing the above, by coincidence we found the answer in a Queensland Parks brochure. The conical holes are made by the larvae of lacewings (a flying insect) called ‘Ant-lions’. These larvae, obviously capable of movement, create the holes which are ant traps. The unwitting ant attempts to cross the hole & falls down it’s steep, loose sides into the waiting pincers of the larvae. I had no idea that larvae could have pincers!
Secondly we have seen these ‘lines’ of ‘material’ on white barked gum trees, but only on the non-white patches which many have. The ‘material’ is soft & granular in appearance, & easily brushed off the tree with one’s hand. We wondered if they might be insect eggs of some sort, but the quantity, & size might suggest otherwise. Anyone know?
The day we left Lochern NP was the day I learned not to trust the maps in the mapping system we are using. The problem was not user error this time, but map inaccuracies. Actually inaccuracies is perhaps not the best description rather a mix of out of date inaccuracy & blatant fibs fits the bill better! These are maps provided on the latest & greatest Hema off road GPS navigator , the HX1. Purchased just a few months ago, shortly before we left on this trip I thought it reasonable to expect that it would be pretty much up to date. For those unfamiliar with the Hema product it’s ’off road mode’ displays your position on a map rather than giving turn by turn directions like most road going gps navigators (& indeed the road navigation mode on the HX1).
The first instance which suggested there may be inaccuracies was 45 minutes along a two wheel rut 4wd track following a river north – a potentially interesting shortcut, which promised to save us over 200kms. Interesting it had been, with frequent creek crossings (dry) of varying difficulty – enough to have me comment to MrsTea that this would be a shortcut which would save us in distance but probably not time, & that it was good to be getting away from roads. (She agreed). We had reached a fork in the track, having noticed a few kilometres earlier that the GPS showed our position to be heading away from the track. A short distance along one of the two tracks ahead of us were some steel stockyards & a red Nissan Patrol ute, which started toward us.It seemed prudent to await the driver’s arrival to enquire which track we should take.
The stocky unshaven & rough looking chap pulled up across our path, got out & walked toward us. It was hard to read his expression, but it didn’t appear especially welcoming. I quickly explained our situation & received the curt response of “Ya way off the mark there” …. not even a “mate’. When I made reference to the track shown on our map ….. “That track hasn’t been in use for over forty fucking years & would just dump you way out in the scrub”. I deferred to his knowledge which seemed to soften his intial disposition a little, only a little, but it was tangible. He went on to tell us stories of near disaster when folks without local knowledge went gallivanting around this country. I assured him that with our gps position at odds with the track we were on the point of turning around, & now on his added advice would do so. He told us to follow him back to the station (we had passed earlier). Not wanting to ‘put him out’ I began to say there was no need, that we could follow the track back without his assistance but he quickly made it clear he was not offering us a choice. By the time we reached the station his attitude had softened a little more, probably, we thought, because he had observed that we had done the right thing on our way in leaving every gate just as we found it. At the homestead another car pulled up in front of us. Red car driver told us to follow it back the the road & that he would follow behind us to shut the remaining gates. It seemed that we were clearly being escorted off the station in case there were any chance that we might turn back to give the track a second go if left to our own devices. Red car turned back to the station after the final gate. At the road the other car pulled up in front of us & Alex the driver got out. “Well that was a bit of an adventure” I opened the conversation with, “I hope we didn’t cause too much of a problem”. His broad smile conveyed that the ice had been broken. “Nah, it’ll be fine” he said – there two bachelor brothers got the station, you met one of ‘em. I agist some of my cattle on there place. They’re alright & will no doubt enjoy telling the story about a couple of crazy Victorians who were driving off into the never never when they’re next at the pub”. With that he gave us directions & then headed off in the opposite direction to us.
Over forty years since the track has been used & shown on the latest mapping system …… Sheesh!
Around 40 kms further on our map showed a crossroads with all four roads attributed equal status – that of ‘main’ dirt road. We had intended to turn right (northward) at this point. Only problem was there was no right turn, the crossroads was only a T junction with our only option to continue straight ahead – a route which would add almost 300kms to what we had expected. Thankfully we had sufficient fuel in our tanks to cover this as there are no towns or fuel stops until Winton. It’s not hard to imagine someone relying on the Hema map & running out of fuel – potentially a life threatening situation for those less well prepared than us.
At this stage I need to introduce you to the third member of our travelling party. Besides myself & MrsTea ……. there is ‘Ted’. Ted & I have known each other for close to 60 years & knowing that we would be travelling indefinitely, he insisted that he join us. Until now he has taken a back seat, but another issue with our Hema HX1 has brought him out to front & centre stage. He now ‘leads the charge’. The Hema, designed to sit on the dashboard , in a cradle suctioned onto the windscreen, to guide us around outback Australia suffers with an ‘on the job’ problem. It overheats, & protectively shuts itself off, refusing to do it’s job until it has cooled down. To get around this apparent design flaw for an appliance intended for use in the Australian climate & needing to be mounted on the dash in the sun to get a satellite signal, we have had to remove it several times & hold it front of an air conditioning vent to cool it enough to re-start it. And ambient temperatures are yet to rise above 31 degrees.C.
We can only wonder whether it will be useable at all when those ambient temperatures rise into the high 40’s! Anyway, back to Ted. He, plus a cloth beanie are now doing a sterling job of sitting between the windscreen & the Hema to protect it from the heat. So far it seems to be working & Ted doesn’t complain like the Hema!
Now just on a note of fairness, the HX1 is very nice to have & much of the time works just as it should, it is however not a cheap appliance, & for something considered ‘best in class’ I feel it should have been a little more.
Just to keep Ted happy we promised him a spot in the blog from time to time, & when we came across our first ‘termite mound city’ this trip – (always a favourite of MrsTea who instantly manages to spot shapes which have a complete story to go with them) Ted wanted in on the action.
Checking on the ‘WikiCamps’ app showed us what sounded like a good overnight camp spot alongside the Mayne River part way along our dusty route. Given our preference to keep our travelling day mileage down we elected to check it out. So glad that we did. The river, comprising of many channels as most of the channel country rivers do, was dry at the causeway across the road, but taking a track at one end of the causeway brought us to a very pleasant waterhole around 500 metres long, lined with white barked river gums. There were already a couple of other campers there & after talking with them we decided to check out the “even better campspot further on that we can’t get to but your rig should manage no problem”. Discussion also included a whinge about maps. “Are you using the ’250’ Hema maps” I was asked. I said I was. “Ah you’ll be far better off using Hema’s ‘Great Desert Maps, the 250 maps are notoriously inaccurate”.Since then I’ve looked at their recommendation & sure enough the ‘Great Desert Maps’ show far fewer tracks, presumably those that are currently useable!
Around another kilometre further the track divided with one leg crossing a rocky dry section of creek as had been described, high clearance was needed, but the Patrol & Tvan managed with ease, albeit with a bit of rockin’ & rollin’. As promised it brought us to a gorgeous camp spot, possibly our best outlook to date. A second waterhole we are guessing is at least 2 kilometres long (we walked it this morning). 50 metres from the water the country is red dirt & rock desert, but we are in a green oasis, & unlike every other river we’ve camped by to date the water is clear, not muddy. We have seen more of the ‘luminous’ red winged parrots – I think they are my new ‘favourite birds’. They are fast & don’t seem to stay still for long, some day I’ll get a photo of one in flight, but so far haven’t managed a single shot. 9 pelicans flew over me just after dawn this morning, lit above the trees by the rising sun…. didn’t have a camera with me for that either, & when I did have the camera with me when a short time later I was walking along the river whilst MrsTea had a ‘lay in’ the zoom lens again failed, refusing to zoom in on the single pelican on the mirror-like water with a backdrop of red rock & green ferns. Ah well I hope the description goes some way to conveying what a lovely bit of country it is which we decided to call home for a night …. & now a couple of nights.
A lazy morning getaway saw us packed & moving by 9am. One of the strengths (& joys) of the Tvan is the ‘quick set up’ – which enables easy packing. Increasingly we are not bothering with an awning on the Tvan, just open the rear hatch & climb in, or spend 30 seconds attaching the elasticated fly/midgie net if needed. During the day if we need shade we have either just used the shadow of the vehicle & Tvan, or have used the sailtrack awning I had made to fit onto the Patrol. The description ‘swag on wheels’ really does seem to fit the Tvan well. The easy packing is helped enormously by our now having established a routine. We know where stuff goes & can recognise if something is missing or is not looking right. However that said when we arrived at Mayne river I thought it might be worthwhile using the compressed air blow gun to clean away the large dust build up before we unpacked – ultra fine red dust an inch thick on all horizontal external surfaces (but none inside). The idea was to blow it all off before opening the hatch as touching anything just spreads it around. The routine had been broken, when I repaired a seal on a lock back in Isisford. Somewhere in Isisford is my ‘good’ Jamec Pem blow gun I brought with us instead of the cheapie I left at home. I reckon I left it sitting on the drawbar of the Tvan & failed to notice it when doing our pre departure check. Bugger! We’ll try & get a replacement in Winton. A blow gun is one of the most useful tools we carry.
40kms or so north of Mayne River the Winton Jundah road deteriorated, becoming horribly corrugated, so it was a relief to turn off onto the Mayneside Access road to take us instead to Winton via Opalton. It’s a longer way around by about 100kms but was a far better road by a long shot. The remains of the old Mayneside station are few, just an old windmill & a well kept grave site of a young girl who died age 11 years & 10 months in July 1920.
The road was an interesting one, enough dips & rises to feel like a roller coaster at times, (in wet times every dip would be flowing with water), lots of corners (unusual compared to most of the roads we’ve been on) & different outlooks once again.
This time along with the red earth & jump ups we have moved into spinifex country. Sometimes lone clumps, other times clumps for as far as you can see. Hay colour & green. All with ‘hair’ up to a metre high. MrsTea suggested we should have brought lots of large ‘googly eyes’ to attach a pair to each clump as she thought they all looked like strange desert creatures, reminiscent of the troll dolls she played with as a child. It is as though this country has been coloured by an artist with a different set of pastels to that we have so recently pased through.
We passed various small scale opal mining enterprises before reaching Opalton, where we found the Opalton Bush Camp, set up by the Miner’s ‘Progress Association”. For a population of just 25 they have done a great job. Small shacks, covered camping spots, fly & mozzie proof eating areas, fire pits, flushing toilets, hot showers (using a donkey boiler after we collected firewood) & the friendliest welcoming folk you could meet – all for $2.50 each per night. Tomorrow is a regular monthly association meeting & social get together for the miners at the bush camp site – bbq – & we have been invited. MrsTea is also keen to do a bit of opal noodling around some of the old mine sites having been given a few tips by a couple of the miners. Looks like our rustic verandah will be home for a couple of nights.
Now on our 2nd day at the bush camp. As promised the entire ‘neigbourhood’ turned up for the meeting & bbq. A few beers were sunk & the large wood fired bbq was pushed into service to cook several cows. A slight exaggeration, but there was a lot of meat, together with salads & cake. Business was concluded, snippets of opal & mining politics revealed by a few & generally a good time had by all. It is warming up today, not a lot of breeze & around 35 degrees.C. Some claim this is still cool, which I suppose it is compared to the temperatures in the mid 50’s just a month or two away. Most of the miners leave when it gets that hot, but a few hardy souls keep on digging year round.
MrsTea’s ‘Noodling’ efforts were interrupted by the days social activities, but now, after 3pm she is back at it with Neil, a veteran miner & noodler of some 20+ years. He has taken her under his wing & they are out there in the heat picking at rocks whilst I sit here with a cool drink under the shade of ‘our’ verandah. Who is the smarter will no doubt be determined by whether any opal is found! MrsTea has already started talking in a different language, using terms like fairy, boulder & pipe to describe the rocks she is finding. Certainly they are interesting but I doubt they will have anything more than personal value although one piece with a ‘pipe’ & with ‘colour’ looks promising….. apparently! Most importantly she is enjoying every moment of it. She has always been one for jigsaws, crosswords, suduko etc, & ‘finding needles in haystacks’ is an extension to this……. she has opal fever…. I’m confident however it will be a temporary affliction, she’s not a lover of heat.
For folk who love bush camping without the need for anything more than the basics (although it does have the luxury of flushing dunnies) this place is worth a visit. The attitude behind it is what I love. It’s a tiny community project achieved on a shoestring. No attempt made to exploit the tourists give it a nice ‘feel’. They could charge more & build it up, but as one chap said ‘We’d rather stick with all the little fish & keep things uncomplicated’. In so doing they have created a resource for both travellers & locals alike. I applaud that attitude in today’s profit driven society & wish there were many more places like this.
We are sitting on the bank of yet another river, or more precisely a large water hole several kilometres long, a section of the Thompson River which rarely, if ever dries up.
Having left Isisford the dirt road we took across to the Longreach Jundah road was in pretty reasonable shape, very few corrugations, 100kms of lots of dust & unpredictable cattle grids where it was wise to slow to first or second gear speeds to avoid unwelcome & potentially damaging jolts across the the ‘steps’ on & off the grids. All cattle country,although mainly just small mobs seen here & there, sometimes behind fences, sometimes on the road, but always near a source of water whether natural or piped. The country varied in gidgee densitiy for the first 70kms or so, becoming open plains of Mitchell grass (native grasses). We’ve already been though similar open country elsewhere , but mainly with the odd tree dotted here & there. This was different, What we have seen previously has been cleared country, whereas now we were travelling through natural plains. Vast flat land with distant horizons.
The beginning of the Mitchell plains coincided with another change of shire, a sign informed us we had returned to the Barcoo shire. Even without the sign it would have been obvious we had changed to a different local government jurisdiction. The dirt road changed quite dramatically from a good two car width (almost) road to one 6 times as wide & even smoother, albeit with far more dust. Clearly the Barcoo shire has different priorities for road maintenance than the Longreach shire.
Whilst making reference to local authorities, we found an interesting ‘Welcome sign’ hidden away at the rear of a shed in Isisford before we left. It had obviously once been erected at the entry to the town & conveyed the local feeling about council amalgamations which occurred back in 2007. We suspect that the strength of feeling it conveys could well take generations to subside. As a believer in the importance & maintenance of local ‘differences’ I am sympathetic to those unwillingly subjugated by bean counters who prioritise ‘economics’ above local culture.
The new looking Longreach to Jundah bitumen road (I don’t recall it being sealed when we were here in 2009) , complete with a rest area containing public toilets & a shaded table & seats provided us with a welcome lunch spot within in metres of the end of the dirt road.
Our maps showed a track we could follow from the Isisford road turn off into the Lochern National park. The distance looked less than heading north on the bitumen & then due west on the ‘main’ dirt road to the park, so we took it. After around 10 kms of little used wheel ruts across low scrub interspersed with gibber flats the wheel ruts began to take us in a different direction to that shown on the navigator & after a short time it became increasingly difficult to see any wheel ruts ahead of us. Unclear as to where it was taking us we cut our losses & returned to the bitumen, taking a different shortcut track a few kms further north. This one was easier to follow & the direction agreed with the navigator, eventually bringing us out where we expected & having provided us with an extra litlle adventure and a saving of around 30kms driving distance, 🙂
Along our ’ adventurous’ track we spied a mob of birds in the distance which were flying up from the ground, seemingly straight up for perhaps a couple of hundred feet & then diving back to the ground agian, over & over. This unusual sight of course took our interest & luckily the track took us closer, our approach totally ignored by the birds. Closer examination revealed not birds but a thermal column lifting, at some speed, lots of tumbleweed. I hesitate to call it a willy willy, as all willy willies I’ve seen before move across the country, whilst this one seemed pretty much stationary. Whatever…. it was an interesting phenomena to witness which we wouldn’t have seen had we taken the easier road.
This was yesterday (28th August) & we are now taking it easy at another pleasant camp spot. The Lochern NP is predominantly about the preservation of the permanent waterhole & the country which feeds it. All around us are dry channels running into the waterhole, & the ground is the light friable soils in which we would sink as soon as they became wet.
Our shade is provided by iconic Coolabah trees in this ‘Matilda’ country which also provide for a wide variety of birdlife. In particular we have enjoyed seeing brightly coloured ringneck parrots close by, through the open rear hatch of the Tvan, whilst laying in bed this morning.
Of course I have a line in the water, but the luck I experienced at Isisford is sadly not being repeated. Local lore has it that when the river is not flowing the Yellowbelly are fat & lazy. A little disappointing as I had held high hopes for the Thompson River, it being the only place I had caught a good sized Yellowbelly during our previous travels (a little further south at Jundah) but it was at a different time of the year & the river was flowing then. Perversely I have been more successful in gathering bait here than anwhere else. Both some leftover(uncooked) beef mince & a small can of the cheapest cat food we could buy has attracted a good number of freshwater shrimp into my bait net, but of course they aren’t much good in attracting fish presumably already full of their crustacean brethren. Maybe tomorrow (if the catfood lasts)! 🙂
Now late in the afternoon of our third Day at Lochern NP. It is warmer today, still no fish, (I gave up & packed the rods away this morning) but the little bush flies have come out in force. A hat plus head net is the only thing to prevent insanity. Waving hands is useless & foul language less so. Without the net the tiny little blighters manage to find there way into any available bodily orifice. The odd 5 or 10 are manageable but when you have a minimum of that number in each ear, nostril, eye socket & your mouth, whilst several hundred others are jostling to take their place the net provides relative peace ….. at least once those which have snuck inside the net have been dealt with! They seem to know when their chosen victims (us) want to relax.
Most of today we have been driving around the park’s ’scenic 4wd drive’ with only minimal interference from them. Not a long drive, only around 40-50kms, mainly in low ratio just because we wanted to go slowly & ‘absorb the views’, athough a few short steep climbs out of dry creek beds required 1st or 2nd low. The drive took us through contrasting country. Red dirt Gidyea swamps, open Mitchell grass plains & ‘cracking grey soil’ river flood plains similar to where we are camped at the waterhole.
Although we have seen similar similar country elsewhere, there were subtle differences in the mix of colours. What we particularly enjoyed though was being able to travel through it travel through it on a narrow track & often at little more than walking pace, stopping every so often to walk a short distance & listen to the silence being broken only by the rustle of leaves & birdsong. Birds were difficult to indentify, often just fleeting shadows, but we did manage to get the binoculars (MrsTea) & Monocular (myself) onto a small flock of around 40 – 50 Zebra Finches. The first time we seen them on this trip. I felt quite chuffed with myself – my eye followed the flock into a large bush, where their individual dark silhouettes ‘disappeared’. The ’Noc’ ( as opposed to MrsTea’s ‘Noc Noc’ which I am unable to use without seeing a double image) showed first flashes of bright red – their beaks, & sneaking a bit closer their tell tale black & white striped rear became more obvious. It is surprising how such amazingly coloured birds can at a casual glance pass as ’shadows’.
We came to the old Lochern homestead toward the end of drive, on the high side of the Thompson (which still had dwindling stretches of water in it, clearly sustaining a few unseen cattle as well as a couple of very large feral pigs who bolted across our path). Strangely the timber & iron clad water tank stand remained but absolutely nothing of the homestead dwelling bar a perimiter fence & gates, & what we think was an above ground septic tank plus a brick fireplace with no obvious evidence of having been used. There was another outbuilding in a state of decay, but we couldn’t decide what it’s purpose may have been. If anyone can tell us (& other readers) what it was used for from the photo please post a comment to let us know.
When we are back in the land of the internet I’ll try to remember to look up Lochern Homestead to see what became of it & possibly explain why there is a complete absence of the dwelling.
The turn off to Idalia NP took us onto dirt road of varying quality, some good, some requiring high clearance. The first ‘real’ (other than corrugations) test of the Tvan’s off road capabilities, which it managed without even breaking a sweat. We engaged 4wd more for control & to do less damage to the road rather than because we needed to. Our friends Peter & Margaret, veteran 4wd travellers maintain that both are good reasons to use 4wd whenever off sealed roads & so we do.
It was approximately 70kms into the Park’s campground where we set up for a couple of nights & did all of the walks & drives the park offered. Whilst good to be out there in the silence of the bush, & enjoying some walks & views we felt the park offered far less ‘wow factor’ than Welford had, but enjoyed the slightly more (but still mild) 4wd’ing on the park’s tracks.
Back at the junction with the Blackall road we met an elderly couple who had just pulled of the bitumen to visit the park. They were pulling a huge dual axle caravan which I’d guess would have had to have weighed at least 4 tonnes loaded & I’d estimate at around 24’ to 27’. It had lots of checker plate around it & large lettering advertising that it was an ‘off road’ model. I tactfully expressed my concern about the viability of taking this behemoth onto the park’s often tight & twisty tracks with a few deep dips in which I’m certain the van’s rear overhang would become caught. The old fella wasn’t about to be put off reaching his dreamed of destination (despite his wife’s uncertainty) so I advised he take the van no further than the info board just past the park boundary where there was a large turning circle, unhitch & drive in to see for himself first. I hope he did……. I haven’t heard anything on the ABC’s Western Queensland news about him getting stuck & preventing anyone else getting in or out. Seriously how some caravan manufacturers manage to convince folks who are old enough to know better about the off road capabilities of their products is beyond me. I have no doubt that this chap, who would have been pushing 80, intended to just drive in because he had a van he could take anywhere.
We bid the couple farewell & drove on to Blackall, our first ‘big’ town in a while, in order to restock our dwindling fresh food supplies. Actually Blackall is not a big ‘big town’, but it does have all the main services, courtesy of being on the the main north/south Landsborough Highway, a route favoured by Grey Nomads who were much in evidence at the town’s camp spot. A dusty & somewhat barren car park on the edge of town, with a number of potable water taps but only a single toilet. There would have been at least 70 or 80 caravans, campervans & motorhomes set up on the $8 per night site. Would hate to see it when busy! I’m sure it is more attractive when the river has water flowing, but we felt $8 per night for a dustbowl & one single toilet was poor value. Nevertheless it was cheaper than the $30 per night caravan park, which by all accounts had plenty of customers. The aesthetics of our camp spot aside, Blackall provided what we had visited for, & gave us the added bonus of the best swimming pool I have been to in my 60 years. The pool is an artesian pool, with a spa & an olympic size pool. The temperature of the water is determined by how many folk in town are watering their lawns at a given time. Water comes out of the ground at 60 deg.C, & generally cools before use. The more folk using it at once the less chance it has to cool. On our visit the spa was at a lovely 37 degrees & the main pool at a comfy 32 degrees. Apparently they cap the spa temperature at 44 degrees by turning off the supply to allow cooling on occasions. The pool, it’s kiosk, & open changing rooms were reminiscent of yesteryear, whilst the outdoor pool facilities were modern. This gave a very pleasant & laid back ambience, very different to the large echo-ridden modern indoor pools. At $2 entry per person & no time restriction it was great value. We left relaxed & wrinkled & left town to drive the 120 odd kms to the small village of Isisford – once again heading west taking a round about route to Winton, avoiding the highway & Longreach.
Isisford was to be an overnighter before continuing to the Lochern NP, Opalton, Lark Quarry & then Winton to once again restock before going south to the Diamantina NP, & thence on to Birdsville & Innamincka. However we found ourselves such a pleasant sheltered, sunny & private little camp spot on the Barcoo River, just outside of Isisford, about 30 minute walk to town we are currently on our 3rd day here & will likely stay a fourth. Best of all, last night the fish started biting & I’ve landed 3 Yellowbelly, 2 small ones which went back & one cooked in foil on our camp fire. Yum. I think the reason for this success is a) the freshwater shrimps I’ve caught for bait & b) the method I’ve used to put them on the hook which I changed from previous attempts. Guesswork really, but it keeps me happy. Also found a freshwater turtle in my bait net this morning, whom I said G’day to before releasing. Birdlife is prolific & we have been visited during the hottest part of each day, by small but very bright butterflies, almost ultra violet in colour.
BTW. I still have no idea about the sirens at cattle grids, but a friend did write to tell me he had experienced similar somewhere in WA, where a feral extermination targeting particularly foxes, programme had been taking place. However instead of movement sensors triggering sirens, they triggered loud recordings of barking dogs! 🙂
We are expecting to be offline for the next week to 10 days until we reach Winton
The road east toward the Idalia NP & Blackall was, according to our map book, to be 249kms of dirt road. We had also seen signposts to a place called Yaraka. From Retreat Station (at the Welford NP boundary) to the turn-off to the quaintly spelled Budgerygar the road was sealed. The gravel road that followed was in excellent condition with not a corrugation to be seen (or felt). This lasted for around 40 or so kms, after which it returned to sealed road all the way to Blackall. This in itself was quite a surprise, as was the country we were passing through. The road runs reasonably parallel & approx 250- 300kms north to the Charleville/Quilpie/Windorah Rd but took us through far more interesting country. Thick Mulga & Gidgee (Gidyea) forests between dramatic jump ups (Mesas). Occasionally the road would crest hills, affording us extensive views across the top of these forests to the jump ups & the horizon. Somewhere out there we saw the gruesome sight of two large wild dog carcasses hung off a sign pointing to a station. It’s not clear to us if this is done to show off the shooter’s ‘trophies’, encouragement to others to also try to control wild dog populations or perhaps a mix of both. These were not the first we have seen, but certainly were the largest & the first time we have seen more than a single carcass. We stopped so I could get out & take a photo. This resulted in a further surprise (we can call this a ‘themed’ post 🙂 ).
Having returned to the car & driven on for several kilometres I suddenly & completely unexpectedly found myself under attack. Some vicious little critters were up my trouser legs & biting me savagely. Urgent action was required. I braked heavily & then to compound the situation I found my door was somehow locked & me in the throes of panic, unable to extricate myself from the ‘drivers seat of pain’. By now the usually caring MrsTea was expressing a degree of amusement about the scenario that I was not sharing! Having ‘pushed through’ the panic I was able to undo the door, tumble out of the car & remove my trousers in the middle of the road, uncaring about whether anyone might happen along. Two large black ants were my attackers, both duly despatched with relief, choice language & a little violence. Phew-ee!
Our journey resumed, only to once again be interrupted in a similar, but no less unexpected, nor vicious fashion a couple of kilometres later by a few more ‘mates’ of the initial attack force. Seems they were only the ‘scouting party’ & the full regiment had waited until reaching the upper parts of my torso before launching the main offensive. This time I was out of the car the moment the wheels skidded to a stop on the gravel & within moments was stark naked in the middle of the road, waving clothes around & screaming abuse. MrsTea was crying with laughter – (Just wait darling, my turn will come). Five more ants found, plus another two waiting for me in the footwell. Eventually I re-clothed & plucked up courage to return to the scene of ‘almost Cuppa’s last stand’. Thankfully my panic stricken ant genocide had been complete …… unless they are more cunning than I give them credit for & are still waiting & biding their time!
The main surprise still laid ahead. We had seen signs previously pointing to Yaraka, but our latest model Hema GPS navigator whilst showing the road on which we were driving made no mention of Yaraka at all. By the time we reached where we thought Yaraka might have been, we were beginning to think that the signposts may have been a bit of a Queensland joke, directing the unknowing to a non-existent town, or at best Yaraka would turn out to be simply the name given to an area, with no town at all. Rounding a corner we saw an airstrip fenced off alongside the road, & then a short distance further on a house! Even then we still didn’t expect what we found. Here was a tiny town, with a population of just 17 which appeared exceptionally well cared for. No rundown old shacks here. Instead a small ‘village’ of freshly painted houses. But wait there’s more! A pub with a comfy sitting room & verandah, along with the friendliest hosts one is ever likely to meet, offering unlimited free coffee, tea & biscuits to all visitors, a free sunset tour up to the summit of Mt Slocombe, the ‘local Mesa’ each evening, overnight camping for $3 including power, hot showers, drinking water, & a beautifully fresh swimming pool all whilst surrounded by gorgeously coloured scenery. In addition they have fuel available, & mobile phone/internet services that would be the envy of most cities. It was only installed in March this year, & with the tiny population bandwidth ‘traffic jam’ is not an issue. Download speeds have been measured as 16 times faster than Brisbane! There is even a local policeman & a school!
With all these unexpected bonuses how could we not stay the night? We did so, along with around a dozen or so other travellers, a mix of sealed road caravaners & dusty ute & swag travellers. The sunset tour in the pub’s minibus was great with free wine on offer to those who wanted it & an opportunity to get up close & personal with the top of a mesa in the sunset light.
Gerri & Chris, the pub owners are working hard to get ‘their’ town on the map. Gerri taught at the school decades ago & returned with her ex-pom husband to live out their retirement. They are a driven couple who are achieving their aims through a great deal of lobbying governments, councils & other influential bodies. Were it not for the heavily influenced religious aspect to some of the conversations it would be a place we might have considered as a more permanent ‘winter home’. Whether the achievements of this couple’s undoubted energy will be maintained after their inevitable demise will have to wait for history to tell, but there is little doubt that they have breathed new life into the town once the furthest west stop on the railway line which ceased operation 12 years ago.