Sydney to Savannah Way Top End

Journey                 # 12

Time:                      May/June/July 2015

Transportation:        Landcruiser 100 series and Lotus Freelander caravan

Having a bit of lunch at the park in Wellington, NSW. Often our first stop when travelling this way.

Saturday 13th May - Day 1
We left Engadine a little later than planned, about 6.40am, but there was no hurry. Travelled along the M7 out of Liverpool and then onto the M4 (Great Western Highway for us oldies) over the Blue Mountains and down the very steep Mt Victoria. We had just passed through Lithgow, when Mark and Wendy telephoned to say that they were passing through Leura, so we turned around and met them at Lithgow for breakfast at the Golden Arches family restaurant. Filled the fuel tanks at Orange and then stopped at the usual park in Wellington for lunch.
Our first night came up quickly and we pulled into a rest area 60klms north of Coonamble, had dinner and settled in for an early rest. There were mobs of kangaroos to keep us company and the occasional truck travelling along the highway. Beryl woke about 2am feeling nauseous (wasn’t my cooking as we all had the same) but seemed ok. We got up around 6am and the temp was a balmy 3 degrees. Had a quick breakfast and packed up ready for day two. We only got about 30klms up the road and Beryl told me she felt like she was going to be sick, so I pulled off the road and she slumped in her seat unconscious. I was very worried and ran around to try and get her out of the seat belt and responsive. She came to about a minute later and threw up. A decision was made to take her to Walgett Hospital to be checked out. She didn't have strength to walk, so was wheeled in. The Dr attended to her around mid day and she had received an injection and tablets, so felt a lot better. Five hours later, we headed off again, a happier troop, to Lightning Ridge caravan park for the night.

Drovers, driving cattle along the highway.

Day 3 saw us heading off again and we crossed into Queensland, at Hebel, where we stopped for coffee and bought some meat pies to have for dinner later that night. Our next stop was St George, where we had lunch in a nice park on the Balonne River. Another fuel fill and we took off to Mitchell, along a narrow sealed highway. This was a very pretty drive with lots of wildlife and green bush. At one stage, I had to stop for cattle on the road, as drovers were pushing along the roadsides for the abundant feed there. It was neat to see the cowboys with their powerful horses and leather gear. You know what I mean – old style cowboys. The dogs let us pass and we drove on to a freecamp just outside of Mitchell, at the Neil Turner Weir, on the Maranoa River where we stayed the night. There were a number of other caravans doing the same thing, and we met a couple who worked for Care Outreach, a Christian organisation helping those in need.

Spectacular sunset over Lara Station wetlands, Barcaldine Qld.

Day 4 saw us head off around 9.30am to continue the journey north, towards Barcaldine. There was a ‘new’ campsite listed in the Camps 8 book, which looked interesting. The cost was $20 per night but they had showers and toilets, so we drove in the 13klms of dirt road, to have a look. It was a lovely place and we had a spectacular sunset with loads of birdlife in the wetlands. It was located on Lara Station, just south of Barcaldine. We met Jo, the owner, and she told us they had been open just 1 year. Her husband was killed in a helicopter accident on the day of opening, 1 year previously, so he didn’t get to see the opening. We had a good nights sleep and prepared for day 5 on the road.

Brolga is a large crane with a wicked beak.

We left Lara Station this morning, 17th May, with very dusty cars and vans and headed north again. Coming into Barcaldine, we got wheeled in for a random breath test. I told the constable I knew the procedure and he spotted my Police I.D. and waved me on. Mark got tested. The road seemed to be continuously climbing and the stretch between there and Longreach was a boneyard of kangaroo carcasses. There were many hundreds of dead roos on and beside the road, with the accompanying thousands of hawks and kites gorging themselves. I have never seen so many road kills, often with four of five dead kangaroos within metres of each other at times. We stopped in Longreach and had coffee and vanilla slices at the bakery, as well as filling the cars again. Reaching Winton around lunchtime, we ate at a park near the local swimming pool, where Beryl got bitten on ankles and feet by sandflies. As usual, she had an allergic reaction to the bites and they are swollen and dark red. The countryside from here northwards, was totally barren and featureless, well and truly in the grip of the drought. We saw emus and very scrawny cattle along the route but nowhere to pull over for the night. Not a tree in sight. We finally reached a roadhouse at Kyuna, where we stopped in their “caravan park” for the night. There were three very tame brolgas in the park and one came over and swiped Wendy’s freshly prepared toast off her plate. I stood up to shoo it away but it stood up to its almost 6ft height and hissed at me. With a sharp beak almost a foot long, I sat back down and invited him for breakfast. Off to Cloncurry today.

Rest area south of Normanton, Qld

Sun shining off the leaves at Karumba, Qld.

Day 6, we hit Cloncurry in time for morning tea and found a nice coffee shop/café which was modern, clean and knew how to make good beverages. I heard a couple of old ladies ask the waitress what Chai Tea was, though. Filled up at the Caltex, for 4c per litre off, but soon found that my 90 litre tank, which was not empty yet, took 92 litres of petrol. I asked the attendant when the pumps had last been calibrated as I paid for at least 15 litres of fuel above what I received. No joy, no apology, no comment aside from, “I will let the boss know”. We drove on to our planned stop at Bourke and Wills roadhouse, but the facilities looked no different to those we had seen at roadside rest areas with toilets, so we drove on to one about 90klms north. I noticed my car seemed a bit low in the back, so checked my airbags. One was zero psi and the other was 22psi. I got the pump out and inflated them again. Heard air hissing out and found that one air bag is damaged. Headed off to Karumba about 8.30am. The road turned into single lane, sealed, and we had to pull off several times to allow oncoming road trains the bitumen section. We also came across a caravan stranded in the middle of the road, with a broken axle. The poor owner had just about removed it from the van as we pulled up. Hot and dirty work. Lucky it was a dual axle van, so he could limp back to Karumba for repairs. We arrived at the Sunset Park and got the vans set up in their allocated spots. I had booked adjoining sites a few months ago, so that is good to have us both together, as the park is pretty full at this time of year. Good to have power, water and facilities for the next few days before we head off to Lawn Hill on Tuesday. We had just set up and having a cuppa, when a couple of ladies came around selling raffle tickets for the cancer council. Beryl bought three, for six dollars, and thought no more of it. Half an hour later the ladies were back and Beryl had won first prize of $100. She gave them $50 back for the charity, but we were all laughing about the win. First time for everything.

Sitting behind the waterfall at Indarri Falls.

Lawn Hill National Park is a lovely place.

2/6/15 we left Karumba about 9.30am on our way to Lawn Hill. It was quite windy so we battled into a crosswind, which increased out fuel consumption considerably. To make matters worse, my engine warning light came on and that means ‘take vehicle to dealer’ for attention. Well, we are a long, long way from any dealers or mechanics, so a call to my Sydney mechanic set my mind at rest slightly as he informed me that the most likely cause was an oxygen sensor causing the onboard computer to register the fault. So, that is a split airbag on the rear suspension and now a sensor glitch. We arrived at the Bourke and Wills roadhouse about 1.15pm and filled up the cars and had some lunch. I only got 250klms out of one tank of fuel, compared to 400klms around Sydney. The road to Gregory was in terrific condition for 90% of the way and good for the rest. We had thought to camp on the Gregory River overnight, but it was wall to wall caravans along the banks on both sides, so we continued on to Adels Grove. The first 30klms was bitumen and really quite good, but that ended as soon as we passed the entry to the zinc mine. The mine only maintained their section and it was fairly rough going from there on. A bit of harsh shaking across the corrugations saw a few things on the floor of the van and fridge items tumbling out when we stopped. It was hot and dusty when we set up camp and the Grove is also crowded. We booked for 3 nights rather than the planned 5 we had thought to do initially. I had prepared pizza dough before leaving Karumba, so we all sat down to home made pizzas that night, cooked in the baby Weber Q. First use and they worked out to be excellent and tasty. Off to bed at 10pm for a well earned sleep. The morning proved to be quite cool at around 10 degrees.
The plan for Thursday was to get up early and leave for Lawn Hill gorge around 7.30am. It was about 9 degrees again so it took a while to get out of bed. Right on track, we left here around 8.15am and drove the 12klms on the dirt to arrive in the relatively early cool to begin our hike. We did the loop walk plus a bit, for about 4.5klm. Stopped at Duwadarri lookout, which provided views of the river and gorge. Continued on to Indarri lookout and then down the gorge to Indarri Falls where Mark, Wendy and I had a swim. Mark and I sat behind the waterfall and emerged through it. The force of the water was quite amazing. It certainly could hold someone under, pinning them to the bottom if they weren’t prepared for it. Lots of Archer fish, Sooty Grunter and other species there. We continued on and saw Crimson Finches, lizards and other birdlife. It became quite hot when we finally got back to the carpark and back to Adels Grove. Having dinner there tonight for a treat, before we think about heading off in a couple of days, to Camooweal and then, Borroloola.

Crossing the Gregory River, south of Riversleigh, Qld.

We left Adels Grove about 9am this morning and decided to head south along the dirt road through Riversleigh and then take the Mt Isa fork to the Barkly Highway. The gravel road was about 110klms and it was quite good until we hit the Gregory Downs intersection and subsequent 50 or so klms. The first section was quite scenic and we drove about 70kph on good road. We had three creek crossings, the Gregory River, O’Shannesy River and another one. Good fun. On the second section, the corrugations were quite deep and a few dips and bumps thrown in. I had covered the vents and door vent with plastic but when we stopped at Camooweal for fuel and lunch, we discovered a bit of damage inside the van and red dust everywhere. The microwave had torn loose from the mountings and was lying loose in the cupboard space behind it. Light globes were strewn across the floor and food was rearranged all over the place. We drove on into the N.T. and stopped for the night at Barkly Homestead. Met up with some friends from Mark and Wendy’s old church, who had left Lawn Hill two days before us, going back the way we had come in, with only 30klms of dirt and 600klms compared to our 200 or so klms. They had bad corrugations and opened their van at Gregory to find massive damage. Wardrobe doors had torn off their hinges, fallen against the fridge which had then flown open and food, clothing and all sorts of stuff was sitting in a big mound on the floor. I guess we took the risky way but it turned out to be better in terms of road condition and time. Off in the morning for Borroloola.

Heartbreak Hotel, Cape Crawford, N.T.

Caranbirini, Lost City rock formations.

The road north was quite good with a good deal of it two lanes. Many hundreds of klms were single lane though, and we got completely off the road when a road train was approaching. You come to realise the extent of the outback, when you see a sign to the house on a cattle station, along a dirt road for 230klm from the front gate. Also had to stop several times when cattle were crossing the road and they were unpredictable, turning at the last moment to dash back across from the way they had come from. There were a lot of them dead on the side or in the roadway. We averaged about 80kph though, and soon arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford. It was a pretty oasis in the middle of nowhere and Mark filled up with fuel, at $1.90 per litre. I was on the second tank, so waited until we arrived here at Borroloola, where we found fuel to be $1.65. A good saving when you have 200 litres to fill up. The caravan park was about 1klm from the McArthur River boat ramps, so Mark and I drove down to have a look. Very basic, bush ramps with a large crocodile trap at each one. I guess the local crocs are causing some concern to fishermen launching their boats. It isn’t going to be easy for us to launch Marks boat, as we have to lift it off the camper trailer and onto the roof of his car to get it to the water. Can’t believe it is already the 8th June and we have been gone for 2 weeks. Mark and I went fishing at the boat ramp in the afternoon and didn’t see any crocodiles, but we did catch a few Queenfish on lures. We have decided to stay an extra two days, to relax a bit before tackling another long drive.
Yesterday, 9th, we drove down to the Caranbirini reserve to have a walk around the area. The small billabong attracted many species of birds, including ducks, grebes, honeyeaters, bustards and finches. The flies were in great numbers and really annoying. The ancient rock formations, left over from sedimentary deposits when Australia was largely covered by sea, were impressive. The area is of significance to the aboriginal culture and it is good that we are allowed to visit and see the beauty. A bit different when compared to the sight of denuded countryside around the region, where zinc mining is in progress. We returned to base, and Mark and I went for our usual, non productive fish. We drove out to a place named Bing Bong, which is right on the Gulf coast, but access was all but closed off by the zinc mining loading facility they have built there. We had a good walk around the creek and flats though, not seeing any crocodiles or sign of them. Back to camp, fishless. The following morning we drove to the local boat ramp, only to find the section of sand had been taken over by 10 boatloads of fisherpersons, enjoying a day out. Their barbeque smelled delicious, even though we didn’t get an invite to share. They had travelled the 37klm upriver from King Ash Bay. I got a short video of the resident Ospreys and Hawks, harassing a much larger White Breasted Sea Eagle, which had flown over the area. The aerobatics were a treat to witness, with the eagle looping, talons extended, to protect itself. It swooped low over the water and grabbed a Queenfish, much to the annoyance of the smaller hawks. It had trouble lifting the fish and settled on a sand bank to enjoy a meal. Once the eagle was on the ground, the other birds lost interest. We dined on cod and Javelin fish (Grunter) fillets that night, courtesy of fellow caravanners. Delicious.

Daly Waters Pub. Nice place for a meal and entertainment.

Thursday the 11th, saw us hook up and continue our travels north. We stopped at Heartbreak Hotel, Cape Crawford, for some morning tea. They offered waffles and ice cream for $7.50, but we discovered that they only had one left. Mark and Wendy shared that. Looked delicious. We ordered a milkshake but the girl didn’t know how much they cost. She returned from the kitchen to inform us they were also $7.50. We declined and had a carton of iced coffee. We drove on, along the single lane highway, getting stuck behind a truck for many klms until a two lane section appeared and we got past. I saw two big snakes on the edge of the road and they slithered off as we passed. Arriving at the intersection of the Stuart Hwy, we turned right and headed several klms up the road to the historic, Daly Waters Pub to stay for the night. Well, that didn’t happen. The van park was apparently filled at mid day and the overflow, dirt section was also full. Never seen so many caravans and mobile homes as on this 200klm stretch of the Stuart Hwy. We turned back the way we had come and pulled in at the Highway Inn, where we got nice grassed spots for the night and 2 schooners of drink for free. We had booked in to the Daly Waters Pub for dinner, so went back up in plenty of time to get a table. Only just managed that, 3 hours early. The place was packed and a couple of singing acts really made the night. The first guy ran through some history of the place in between songs and it was a real treat to hear the history or the top end, during, prior to and after WW2. The second singer was also well aged but had a great voice and sang songs from the 60’s. Got back to the vans late and had a good nights sleep.

Nitmiluk N.P. Katherine
Saltwater crocodile, Daly River, N.T.
The pontoon at the caravan Park. A huge croc was caught there a week prior to our arrival.

Headed off for Katherine this morning and got caught in a convoy of vans. Many were doing 70-80kph in a 130kph zone, so no wonder the locals whinge about the ‘grey nomads’ on the roads. Staying at the Big 4 caravan Park and it is very spacious and clean. A lovely spot. We have just returned from a helicopter tour of 8 gorges, with a landing on top of the escarpment. It was Beryl’s first heli flight and she enjoyed it a lot. It was just the two of us plus the pilot of course, and the chopper was a Robinson 44. Got some video and hopefully also some good photos. Tomorrow, 14th June, we have booked a dawn cruise for two gorges, so ct will be an early rise and then breakfast at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre afterwards, for brekkie. We arrived at dawn to the raucous squawking of flying foxes coming in to roost for the day. They had a pretty pungent smell as well. There was a busload of old folk in the parking area, and sure enough, they were booked on the dawn cruise. They were all Italians, from Melbourne, but were pretty good. We saw one Johnson’s crocodile, but plenty of sign on the sandbanks from nesting crocodiles. We had brekkie on the deck of the visitor centre restaurant and some big birds flew in to pick up scraps. They also roosted above the table and one of them dropped a bomb which exploded all over the cutlery. We moved tables, thankful that our food hadn’t arrived yet. After we had finished, we drove back to the caravan park and lazed around for a bit, before Mark and I headed into town to get his car washed. In the afternoon, we all went to the Thermal Pools for a swim. It was packed, but refreshing. I saw a small turtle swimming around the edges and some brilliant blue dragonflies. Chicken risotto for dinner tonight and then we walked to the Big Fig restaurant, which is located in the park, for dessert. Packing up in the morning and the plan then, is to continue north and visit the Daly River for a last ditch effort to catch some decent fish, and then on to Litchfield National Park and the Wangi Falls campground for a couple of days.
The road to The Daly River was sealed and in good repair, so we made reasonable time. Pulled into the Daly Pub, only to find that the camping area had been closed and it looked pretty ordinary. I was asking Mark if there were any other spots he had seen on the map, when the local Police officer came on the air and suggested we head off along the dirt road for a few klms and take the Mango Farm turnoff to their caravan park. The road was in good repair but the talcum powder bulldust was like a solid sheet as it billowed behind me. Needless to say, it got in and lay in drifts in every ridge in the van and car – mostly outside, thank goodness. The park is located in a shady spot, under 100 year old mango trees, around 30-40 metres high. They had their own boat ramp and pontoon system for tying up boats. They also hit the news a week ago, when a large resident croc which was taking a liking to the ramp and the small tinnies, was trapped and re-located. It was so hot and humid though, as it is around Darwin and Litchfield. Mark and I manhandled his boat off the roof racks and carried the motor and gear down to the ramp. Launched the boat and I had hold of the mooring line as he tried to start the motor. It was serviced a few days before we left and it didn’t want to go very well or idle at all. Frustrating to say the least. I also noticed water coming in from one of the welds, so more problems. Pulled it back out on the ramp, keeping an eye out for crocs, and the crack was plugged with epoxy ‘chewing gum’. Wonder of wonders, the motor fired up and ran smoothly as well. Mark motored around to the floating pontoons and I drove his car back to the campground. It was about 42 degrees and 98% humidity. Sat in the van with the aircon on until we cooled down a bit. Lots of mozzies too. Next morning, Mark and I went down to the boat and found it had only taken a litre or so of water, so we headed off downstream. Lots of hazards on the river, with submerged trees, rock and sand bars and a variety of things which could damage the boat or motor. We saw a few decent sized crocs and a shark, but failed to catch a barramundi. Others in the park caught their three each, but only on live Cherubins. We didn’t have the time to set nets to catch these big ‘prawns’ but probably would have eaten them ourselves if we had caught some. Back home for lunch and then a short run in the afternoon before putting the boat back on the car, prior to our departure next morning. I was trolling a lure behind the bat, when I got a hit from a fish. It left the water at speed and combined with the speed of the boat, it snapped my 15lb line in about 3 seconds. Shattered, I reeled in the loose line and was about to tie another lure on, when Mark spotted a large barramundi “tail walking” across the surface, back to where I had hooked it. The fish was shaking its head and my lure flew from its mouth, to float on the surface. We motored over and retrieved it, but that was it for us. Saw a few more saltwater crocs and pulled the boat out. The night was cooler but still too humid for comfortable sleep and we woke to thick fog the next morning. Off to Litchfield.

Wangi Falls in Litchfield N.P. Great place for a swim.

Blyth Homestead. Hard times back in those days.

We arrived at the Wangi Falls campgrounds around 11.30am and were lucky to get a couple of adjoining sites. It was very hot setting up, as the thermometer showed 42 degrees in the shade and there was no breeze. Whew! After some icy water from the Fridge, we got changed and walked the 300m to the falls and plunge pool. It was cold at first but so refreshing after a minute or so. We swam over to the falls and I managed to sit under a portion of it. The water is so powerful as it hits you and the main section would knock you off your feet if you tried to stand under it. The motor homes and vans were coming in a continuous procession now, and with no spots available, were pulling up anywhere. People were parking across day use parking areas and setting up tents and campers. One big Winnebago pulled into ‘our’ driveway and went off at Wendy, saying that we were taking up all the space. Wendy pointed out to him that the camping sites were clearly marked, had posts to delineate them and that we had already paid for the sites. He yelled out that he had paid as well, and backed out, almost hitting posts. He had to have two goes at it. Unbelievable. Today, 18th June, we are looking at driving some of the 4wd tracks to some of the hard to get to sites and waterfalls in this glorious park. First thing, we drove out to the Bamboo Creek Tin Mine walk, where the ruins of the old 1940’s mining lease can be seen. Hard times during that era. Next, we drove to Florence Falls where we climbed down the 135 steps to the valley floor to see the lovely falls and plunge pool. Too chilly for a swim, although lots of people were doing just that. We walked along the Shady Creek path back to the car park, seeing many birds and scenery. Then on to the Buley Rock Holes, where we actually did go for a swim. It was hard to leave the crystal clear, cool waters to continue on. Next stop was the Tableltop Swamp, which had lilies in abundance and a few species of birds. It would be better later in the afternoon, but we had a lot more to see. Next stop was the lofty Tolmer Falls lookout. It isn’t possible to walk to the bottom of the falls here and I would not like to climb back out in the oppressive heat. Back to camp for lunch and another drive out for other places.
We drove out to the 4wd track towards the Blyth Homestead and Tjaynera Falls. The track was corrugated but not too bad. Only a kilometre in, we came to the first water crossing. Only half way up the wheels, it proved to be easy. We saw many magnetic termite mounds and changing scenery on the 20klm run in, deciding to go out to the Reynolds River to drive across the 70m crossing. Mark and I both did it twice, but the water just failed to crest over the bonnet of the cars. Still fun though and Beryl didn’t seem to mind it at all. We backtracked and drove out to the Tjaynera Falls, which is said to be the most spectacular in the park, but the long walk out there in the heat and mosquitoes hardly made it worth the effort. Not as good as Wangi Falls in my opinion. It was getting dark as we made the last call in to the Blyth Homestead. Our last water crossing was made in the dark as we found our way back out to the highway and the campground.

Longreach Waterhole, out of Elliot NT, is a great spot to camp.

We left the following morning and decided to stop at Katherine again, as we needed to do some washing and the idea of a hot shower was appealing. We arrived there about 2pm as we had a late start, talking to another ‘nomad’ who was in the park and camped beside us. She was a 69 year old woman, travelling on her own. She had sold her house in W.A. some 5 years before and bought her caravan and car to begin travelling. She was a character and a nice old lady. She had gone to church in Tennant Creek, where we are planning to stay later in the week, and commented that there were on 7 people in attendance. She had a lot of camping equipment on the roof of her Prado and told us it had been on there the past 5 years, unused. We stopped at Mataranka for morning tea and found it depressing to see the aboriginal people just sitting around in the park, hanging around the pub and roadhouse, just existing. We don’t know the answer to what we perceive as a tragic lifestyle for them.
I am still amazed by the number of vans on the road. We drove south to a beautiful place, Longreach Waterhole, just out of Elliot and stayed there overnight. Lots of birds and not as crowded as the rest area some 30klms north. This area had so many caravans in it, that you wouldn’t have been able to drive into or through it. What a joke! In contrast, we had klms of waterfront to choose from and only a dozen or so caravans in there. The downside, though not at all bad, was the 12klm rutted dirt road into the place. Woke up to a stiff little breeze and 6 degrees temperature. Quite a contrast to the 40 degrees only a couple of days before. We had to punch into the S.E. breeze all the way to Tennant Creek and the fuel consumption was terrible. I got 250klm for 82 litres of fuel used.

Mark and I did the mine tour at Tennant Creek.

A nice sunset with wine and nibblies and family.

Arrived at Chris and Alison’s home around lunchtime and were greeted by beaming faces. They were standing outside in anticipation of our arrival. Backed the van into a small space in the backyard, but couldn’t quite fit in, having to leave the gate open and the car on the road. Mark and Wendy parked their camper under the carport, but then found they couldn’t open it up to get their clothing, towels etc out, that night. They slept inside the spare bedroom and we slept in the van. We all drove out to the Philip Creek Mission block waterhole for afternoon tea. It is on aboriginal land and the site of the Presbyterian Mission where the indigenous mob were ‘rounded up’ in the mid 1940’s and essentially fenced in so that they wouldn’t be in the way of the mining operations in Tennant Creek. The ruins of the old buildings could still be seen, and the handmade bricks and a wall has been preserved as a monument to those times. The bricks and some of the floors, were mad from the numerous termite mounds in the area. The mounds would be left soaking in 44 gallon drums, dissolved and then formed into bricks. Rock hard.
Again, woke to a chilly 8 degrees. Had to get up during the night and get the doona out as we were both cold. Out this morning to try and get the airbag suspension replaced and also have a battery in the car, which has decided it has had enough of the outback life.
Well, as happens in the outback, the parts for the suspension will take at least a week to come from Brisbane so we will be gone from here. Can’t get that fixed, but the battery is fine according to testing equipment. Just one of those glitches that happen, I suppose. This afternoon, Chris, Mark, Beryl and I drove out on the Peko Road, to the Gosse River. I thought that it was a nature/sightseeing trip but it turned out to be a firearm sighting in session. The boys were happy but Beryl wasn’t as impressed. Back in the dark to arrive home and be served with a baked lamb dinner, courtesy of Wendy. I also found the best way to lessen the impact of the gravel road corrugations – travel at 120kph.
Today we had a rest day and just drove out to Mary Dam for a look, Katerina’s Café for morning tea and then floor cleaning and tidying up the caravan for our Thursday departure. After lunch, Mark and I did the Battery Hill underground mine tour. Unbelievably hard work done by miners to extract the gold from the ironstone. The girls joined us a little while later, to see the stamping/crushing machine which pounded the rock into fine powder in order to extract the gold. The machinery is very old and is now only used for the tour to demonstrate what it did. A piece of it broke off a few years ago and fell to the concrete floor below, almost giving the tour guide a heart attack. It weighed several tonnes and put a big hole into the concrete. Interesting to see how the mine operated way back then. The ore is reported to be the richest in Australia but to my mind the amount of gold per tonne is negligible. Later that afternoon, we drove out for a sunset hill view of Tennant Creek and the sunset was just glorious. Lots of mozzies though and they punctured long clothing, so we left not long after dark and picked up some pizzas for dinner. Ali was a bit sad to see us go and said her house was much quieter without us.

Sometimes you need to overtake. Keep smiling as you pass.

We left with a breeze into our faces and it soon turned into the infamous ‘Barkly Breeze’ just a few klms up the road. It really increased fuel consumption and making headway required a bit of a heavy foot. Even so, my car changed down to 3rd gear in places, just to maintain 80kph. Stopped at the Barkly Roadhouse and joined the queue waiting to fill up the petrol tanks. We continued on in the same vane to Camooweal where we stopped for the night at the Drovers Camp lagoon. Lots of other caravanners had the same idea and we drove in 4klm until we found a spot to pull in. The wind was brisk and cold so we all had an early night. Woke up to 6 degrees and the beginning of the breeze again. We drove on to Mount Isa, where we had ‘brunch’ and filled the tanks again for the next stop at Wal’s Camp, Cloncurry. I overheard some people next to us saying how good it was to have a tailwind pushing them along from Winton. Well, guess who is driving to Winton in the morning, into the headwind again. Yep, it’s us.

Drovers camp out of Camooweal.

Well, we drove the stretch from Cloncurry against strong headwinds and were in a procession of vans, campers and road trains all affected by the wind. Average speed with my foot down, was around 75kph. It was worst around MacKinlay where we passed the Walkabout pub from the Crocodile Dundee movies but thankfully lessened in the afternoon just out of Longreach. We were going to stop at a rest area just out of Winton, but it was packed by 2pm so we kept going and found a very big mostly empty one just short of Longreach. Much better. The 200klm section we have just travelled, was littered by road kill. Hundreds of kangaroos lay on and alongside the road with the attendant crows, eagles and hawks gorging themselves. They were mostly western red kangaroos with their attendant female ‘blue flyers’ killed together as they bounded across the road. Huge animals, which would have seriously damaged a car, so they must be victims of road trains. Looking at the desolate, barren landscape, it is hard to see where the ‘roos would be coming from or where they shelter during the day. It is like a moonscape of brown desert with few scraggly bushes every now and then. Today as we head off through Longreach and Barcaldine, there will be another intense few hundred klms of kangaroo carnage, as we retrace our track from a few weeks ago, until we branch off towards the coast.

Last site available at Emerald.

We drove on today, stopping for morning tea at Barcaldine and then taking the Capricorn Highway turn towards Emerald. The road was good and then rough in turn, with many steep hilly sections. There was also the inevitable headwind slowing our progress and increasing our fuel consumption. We passed the gemfields which make this location a desirable spot for fossickers to visit until we came into Emerald. It is quite a large town and we drove to a caravan park to book in. There was a line of vans waiting in the street, so the girls walked in to try and get a spot. We were lucky to get two of the last sites available and settled in for the night, enjoying the showers. I am glad that we have a shower and ensuite in the van, but a proper shower is very nice. Leaving the next morning, we drove east again for endless hours, but the changing countryside was nicer than what we had experienced in the west. There were long lines of traffic behind us on occasion, as we drove at a sedate 95kph and they wanted to get where they were going, much faster. It was getting to mid afternoon and we saw several rest areas were already full of vans, so we hoped that the one we chose near Gin Gin was available. We drove in to see that most spots were taken but we found two and set up for the night. It turned out to be a noisy one though, with trucks and cars roaring down the highway the entire night. One road train pulled in and couldn’t get past the entrance. Lots of yelling from him as he backed up in the dark to try and get around so he could drive back out. Very skilful driving on his part, but there was no other option for him. So many vans on the roads. It is also the start of school holidays, so many are travelling at this time.

The 700 metre jetty at Hervey Bay.

Today is the 30th June and we have arrived at Point Vernon, Hervey Bay for the next four nights. We have a spacious grass site, but the park is otherwise full. We also went out to the local golf/RSL club for dinner tonight and the food was excellent. Mark and I joined as temporary members for the month, at $2.20 and received member discounts on meals and drinks. We will return there again before we leave. Mark and I walked out on the 700 metre long jetty today, and many fishos were trying their luck. Didn’t see anyone catch anything though.
The tides were running about 2.5m difference in level and at high tide, the bay at Point Vernon looked pristine. At low tide, the water was about 1klm distant and the ‘river’ was a trickle which was only ankle deep in most places. There were a few places where the pools were a metre or deep and we spent a couple of hours flicking lures in there, to try and tempt something out. Mark and I both caught flathead, but they were only just legal size. As the tide came in, you could hear it coming like a strong wind and it quickly covered the sandy bay. We fished until it got knee deep and then hightailed it back to shore, racing the incoming tide. The fish came in on the tide and so did many turtles. We could only stay for 15 minutes of the run in, before having to leave, but it was interesting. We did this for the next couple of days and found a resident turtle living in the deep pool. It was there every day, in an undercut ‘cave’ in the mud and regularly surfaced to look around and flap its flippers. We stood on top of the bank and it was less than 60cm down beneath us. Shame the water was muddy, or we could have got some nice photos.

Amazing Jabuticaba fruit trees at my sister's property.

We left Hervey Bay on the 4th July and dropped in to see my sister and brother in law at Bauple, just south of Maryborough. They had a few trees fruiting, and we got some Star Fruit, Macadamia Nuts and a bucketful of Jabucataba fruit. This is a south American fruit which looks like a black plum and grows on the trunk and stems of the tree. Most unusual to see big black clusters of ripe fruit on the trunks and branches. They are sweet and delicious, with a bitter tang if you chew the skins. I am going to make some jam from them. We booked in to the Maroochy Palms caravan park for 3 nights and will be visiting some dear old friends from our youth. Dave and Jenny live on Bribie Island and it will be good to catch up. Mark and Wendy will be spending the time with Marks brothers and families and we will meet up again on Tuesday at Tallebudgera for a few days before the home leg of our adventure. The time is going way too fast towards the end.

Glasshouse Mountains from Maleny lookout.

Tallebudgera Caravan Park.

Today, Beryl and I drove up to Maleny, Montville and Mapleton and did the scenic loop back to Maroochydore. The area is very popular up there and it was hard to find a parking spot, but we got lucky and managed one near the Mary Cairncross Café where we had lunch. It was a great view over the Glasshouse Mountains and the Sunshine coast. On the way back, we drove down the mountainside on a narrow, often gravel road which took us down a ridge to the Diamond Valley. Brian didn’t answer his phone, which was a shame as we hadn’t seen him in 42 years. He was my best man at our wedding and we got through to him later that night. He was home, but running a fever and sick in bed with the flu. Had a good chat and reminisced about the good old days. We left and drove back through Bli Bli where we caught up with Mark and Wendy, at his Brother Greg’s house. Left there and went to his brother Gary’s house for a brief visit and then back to Maroochydore for a Chinese takeaway meal. Today is Monday and another social day planned, with a visit to friends Dave and Jenny, at Bribie Island. The next week is mostly going to be a time of visiting old friends who have left Sydney for life in Queensland.
Spent a nice day on Bribie catching up on old times and also had a short tour of the island. It has certainly changed since I was there in the late 1960’s. Like everywhere else, the population has increased a thousand fold. Dave and Jen have a lovely new house in a new development area, so everything is fresh and inviting. Took off next morning for the Gold Coast and arrived to a packed Tallebudgera Caravan Park. It is a nice setting though and a clean park, although our ‘grass’ site had next to no grass on it and the flowering eucalypts left a carpet of blossoms and sap all over our cars and vans. Going to need some elbow grease to clean everything once we get home. Caught up with Tony and Di the first night and went to Currumbin RSL for dinner. Next day we drove up to Redland Bay and had lunch at John Duncan’s lovely Victoria Point home. Next day we just stayed put, while Mark and I went fishing on the beach and inlet and the girls went ‘shopping’. Friday, Con and Margaret came for morning tea and lunch and it was great catching up. They brought the usual yummy cakes, donuts, baklava to tempt us – life’s staples really. That night, last but not least, we went out for dinner with Warren and Jennifer and had yet another nice catch up. Left the following morning for Yamba and three nights at the Blue Dolphin Caravan Park.

The wind was howling and the temp was freezing but we managed to find a semi sheltered spot at Yamba.

There was a cold snap predicted for the east coast and it has hit. Strong winds during the night, almost caused damage to our awning, which by good fortune I managed to wind up just as the wind tore it upwards. It was around 4am, so it was dark and freezing outside. Back into a warm bed until daybreak. The wind was strong all day, as Mark and I attempted to go fishing. It was cold and freezing, so we didn’t last too long. Wendy had driven up to her cousin’s home, at Alstonville, so the rest of us went up to the café in the caravan park and tried to find a place in the sun, but out of the wind. We didn’t succeed. The recreation room and pool area is quite large and amazing. Big screen televisions, three different heated pools and a snooker/pool room with five full size slate tables. The wind died down a little bit after dark, but it is still very cold. Woke up this morning to 6 degrees temp and the wind is still here, so the plan is to drive in to the township of McClean and have lunch at a nice pub. Off in the morning to Newcastle and then home. The journey has come to an end.


We did a tally of fuel costs for the trip and came up with.
Total mileage – 11,612 klm.
Total fuel used – 3264 lt.
Av used - 28 lt per 100 klm.



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