Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 44-45 Mataranka - 22-23 July 2009

8090kms, 33 degrees C, 3 snakes

We have now had a 31 day spell with all but one in a tent, and that was because there were no tent sites available on our first night in Karumba, so we had a villa instead. A month under canvass – and we are going OK. That problem is not the tent, it is the facilities on the site, if any. Sometimes the loos and showers leave a bit to be desired – or at times when bush camping they are non-existent!! We had no such problems in Mataranka – Dan’s recommendation was spot on and the campsite is great.

As the video will attest, we enjoyed a dip in the thermal hot springs.
We had an 8km bush walk to Mataranka Falls and the highlight was the Bowerbird. We had seen a few Bowers but none with the bird at home. A Bowerbird creates an elaborate nest, decorated with “bling”, in this case shells, to attract a mate. Nicky is keen that I take note of this strategy in future!

Day 42-43 Mt McMinn Station, Roper Bar - 20-21 July 2009

7842kms, 27 degrees C, 2 uses of poo shovel

It’s a small world despite being a very big country. Shortly before we left on our big trip, we went to dinner with Sue Needham and Patrick Russo. They had other friends round, and we were lucky enough to meet Mick Cahill. We got chatting and eventually moved onto the subject of our trip. Mick mentioned that he and his brother Dan had bought, “a bit of dirt” up by Roper Bar, and that we should “pop in”. Mt McMinn Station is 200,000 acres! And the most dangerous words you can say to us as, “why don’t you pop in”, as we will. And we did.

Dan and Jane were wonderful hosts – we had a camping spot to die for on the banks of the Roper River, as shown in the video clip. Sorry about the domesticity, but we have been asked for details of our camping arrangements. We had a wonderful snapshot of a working cattle station and met some “real” people in the process. A group of us schlepped up Mt McMinn to catch the sunrise, which was cover in cloud. Pictured from L to R are Drew, Jane, Irene, Harry, Nic, Sandy and Donna.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 41 Cape Crawford to Limmen River(travel day) 19 July 2009

7564kms, 27 degrees C

Cape Crawford (which isn’t a Cape, but that is another story) is a clean camp site – a great stopping off point in the middle of nowhere. And they do awesome fish and chips. But the main reason for coming here is to do a very short, extremely expensive helicopter ride to the Lost City. It was remarkable, but not worth the money. Even using Nicky’s money.

The rest of the day was another long drive up North to Limmen River – 4 hours averaging 50km/hr as the roads were not flash and we own this car, rather the people driving much quicker in hire cars. Note so self – never buy and ex-hire 4WD. We met a couple from Canberra who are here for a month, fishing. There is nothing else to do. And this is the third time they have driven up from Canberra to do so. Then again, Canberra is both cold and boring at this time of year.

Day 40 Kingfisher Camp to Cape Crawford (travel day) 18 July 2009

7356kms, 27 degrees C

We hope there will not be too many days like today! 8 hours of pretty tough driving on roads that briefly were like sealed roads, then in a flash turned to bulldust, corrugations, rocks, holes, sharp dips with washways in the wet season – it was a long hot day behind the wheel.

The only things of note were a dingo, a few wild pigs and we have now left Qld and passed into the NT.

Day 38-39 Kingfisher Camp - 16-17 July 2009

6838kms, 27 degrees C

Kingfisher Camp is an oasis in the middle of nowhere. It is on the banks of the Nicholson River in Qld but less than 100km from the NT border.

We have hit the bulldust, ie fine silt – shocking stuff. The car kicks up clouds of it. We are well and truly in the bush!

Great birds and lots of freshwater crocs in the rivers and gorges. We spent an hour sitting by Hedley Gorge waiting for the crocs to surface.

Normally delighted to come across wildlife, we report with regret that we met our first cane toad. If anyone reading this feels like a trip to Australia you are very welcome, but don’t bring any bloody creatures with you! The bush is full of disasters from introduced species. The cane toad was introduced from Hawaii by some clown who wanted bugs removing from the sugar cane in Qld. The toads ignore the bugs, reproduced like rabbits (another nightmare pest introduced by an idiot who wanted to shoot them on his property) and are in the process of invading WA, having
marched thousands of kms West across Qld and thro the NT. They are killing all in their midst as they are toxic, so eagles, snakes and even crocs are dying after eating them.

Day 35-37 Lawn Hill National Park- 13-15 July 2009

6642kms, 28 degrees C

We are in the bush now – red dirt roads with cattle! And water crossings!!

Lawn Hill was a first for many things – fossils, gorges, aboriginal rock art and crocs. Our first stop was the world heritage listed Riverleigh Fossil Site. Excellent viewing of bits of old roos, crocs, birds etc. Lawn Hill is a wonderful National Park – anyone reading this thinking of doing a similar trip must pop into Lawn Hill. We saw our first red rock gorges – the stuff of the Croc Dundee films (though they were filmed in Kakadu, known as kaka-don’t in some circle but we will report on that when we get there in a few weeks time. We will see gorges over 3 states from Qld, the NT and into the Kimberley in WA over the next two months.

One of the walks at Lawn Hill took us past some aboriginal rock art dated over 10,000 years old. A mere 5000 years before the first Egyptians started strutting their stuff.

The gorges were gorgeous for swimming and canoeing. Those worried about us getting on is such a confined space were justified – the canoe had two skippers and it is almost all went horribly wrong. But we staying upright and married.

We saw our first budgies in Australia – that might sound a bit odd but you don’t get budgies in the wild around the coast and 90-odd percent of Auzzies live on the coast. You are more likely to see them in a cage in Guildford. But they were spectacular in the wild. And our first croc of the tour was not enough to get the heart racing – it was only 300mm long!

Day 34 Karumba to Gregory Downs (travel day) - 12 July 2009

We did over 400km driving to Gregory Downs, our stepping stone to Lawn Hill National Park. Normanton was the main town of which the main attraction was Krys the saltwater crocodile, a replica of the largest caught in the world. He was 8.63m, or 28’ 4”. A serious piece of dinosaur.
Next stop was Burke and Wills camp 119 – their last before getting as close to the Gulf as they could before returning on their ill fated trip home to Melbourne. The trip was an epic tale of adventure and folly – an ill prepared group tried to be the first to walk up to the top end. They left from Royal Park, right opposite our house in the run up to summer and the wet season in 1860. We don’t try that game in a 4WD even now – utter madness. Four of the forward party died tragically at the Dig Tree site – King survived, thanks to local aboriginals. They marked their path with blazed trees – axe marks that still exist today. Bloody vandals!

The caravans have thinned out now, it is only the hardcore 4WDers left. Most of this drive was on dirt roads – we are well and truly in the bush. Gregory is not a lot to write home about – the bar had no draft beer, only very expensive cans. There are more aboriginal people in these towns.

Having had a dip in the river, we had a beer at the pub. The barman told us the river had salties, then after we went a few shades lighter, he adding the minor detail that they are 150km away! We debated the accuracy of these measurements when lying the river.

We found a bush camp by the Gregory River – a bush camp is where you set up with no facilities, ie no caravan site, no loos, no power, nothing. The poo shovel was christened!

Day 32-33 Karumba- 10-11 July 2009

6067kms, 28 degrees C

Karumba is all about the fish – catching them and eating them. And that goes for people, birds and other fish. The population of 600 doubles between May and September when the Grey Nomads arrive to take advantage of the mild 27 degree days and glorious fishing. At the camp site roast we sat by one bloke who has been coming here for 11 years. An 87 year old caught his first Barramundi that day. For most of the regulars, bookings are measured in months – we stayed 3 nights.

Paul was our skipper on the Kerry D charter out into the gulf – he has done this gig for years and knows what to fish and how. We caught mackerel, very different from the dark oily ones in the UK, great eating these blokes. They had to be 500mm long or put back. Then we used one as bait for the big one, the Spanish Mackerel – check out the video!

There was plenty of bird life. The pelicans hunted in packs right off the beach. They were much better at fishing than the two legged grey blokes. We saw our first Brolgas of the trip – leggy and awkward, but pretty cool. And the Sunset Tavern was aptly named – a cold beer watching the sun sink into the gulf is a great way to end the day.

The Barramundi Discovery Centre is a volunteer organisation that has put over a millions fingerlings (baby barra) into four rivers around these parts. They might look miserable but they taste great!

Day 31 Undara to Karumba (travel day) - 9 July 2009

We start by apologising for the delay in getting these postings up. From Normanton to Mataranka we have been in the third world, devoid of internet of phone signal. Stuart would rather has lost a limb!

Today was typical of many to come. We will probably try to do the driving in big chunks then have some time to rest up and see a spot before moving on. This
also reduces the number of camp set ups – we are getting quicker but it still takes time.

We expected a long boring 500km+ drive – not so. Cattle sleep on the road at night – an interesting obstacle to keep the driver alert and indeed awake. The road kill was astronomical, and accounted for the huge numbers of raptors swirling overhead. The carcass of a wallaby provided our first Wedge Tailed Eagle of the trip – the “wedgie” is the top of the feathered food chain. The wedgie was on the carcasse, the others watched from a safe distance.

With all due respect to the good people of Croydon, Georgetown and other places between Undara and Karumba, there is not really a lot there. In that same way that you can tell a lot about a dentist by reading the mags in the waiting room, the same is true of a town and it’s newsagent. In Georgetown (population 300) the magazine rack was filled with hunting, shooting, fishing and large silicone breasts. Nicky’s favourite was Boar It – “the pig hunting magazine with grunt”. Patients and parents at the Children’s hospital can look forward to some interesting reading from December onwards!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day 29-30 Undara Lava Tubes- 7-8 July 2009

5499kms, 33 degrees C

The first stop on our trek inland was to the Undara Lava Tubes, around 300km inland of Cairns on the Savannah Highway, the road from Cairns (on the Tasman Sea) right across to Broome (Indian Ocean). We will be on or around this road until mid September.

Undara means “long way” to the aborigines. It is a flat plain with lots of old volcanos and underground lava tubes. We walked the rim of the Kalkani Crater.

Black cockatoos are wonderful – we see lots of white ones but black ones are spectacular. There was no shortage of marsupials with roos, rock wallabies and cheeky Rufus bettongs – the latter mooching around our campsite for a feed....

...and while on that subject, we had our first ever camp fire supper. We had to gather firewood, start the fire then cook dinner on it. Thank goodness Nicky did her Queens Guide! Thanks for the camp oven Gordi.

And we have now spent over two weeks under canvass. Nicky cannot plait her underarm hair just yet, but it’s not too far off.

Day 25-28 Port Douglas- 3-6 July 2009

5147kms, 27 degrees C

We have reached our first milestone of the trip – Port Douglas. 5147km = 3215 miles, or the distance from London to Boston or Doha.

We have met a number of people up here who have had plans to tour lots of Australia, found PD and didn’t leave. Once here it is easy to see why. This really is heaven on earth. It is our 5th trip here since we first arrived in Australia in 1998 and the place has changed hugely over that 11 year period.

It is Victorian school holiday time and not surprisingly there are lots of Vics up here, seeking the sunshine. We have three groups of friends in PD – Sheena, Paul, Noula and Brenda, then the Savarirayan clan (Ravi, Sophie, Jacob, Noah, Priya and Zoe++) plus Davin and Kath Holt and the kids. After so long on our own it was wonderful to see our friends. We also used the time to prepare for the next leg of our journey – lots of red sandy roads. The car was serviced and stocked full of goodies. Nic (grumpy bearess) has rightly decided that if the husband become hungry then we may see more of ‘grumpy bear’ and so has stocked the car to the gunnels with food. So far we have not had to eat witchety grubs and don’t plan to start soon!
And finally it was a chance to have some time out of the car and relax before quite a bit of driving, some of it full on 4WDing.

We have reported on some wonderful wildlife, but the most common sighting is the Laughing Kookaburra. We have not seen too many sitting, “in the old gum tree”, but lots on the electric wire. We have had a local one in the tree over the tent. They are truly magnificent birds and quintessentially Australian.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 24 Atherton Tablelands- 2 July 2009

5017kms, 27 degrees C

Our final trip before Port Douglas was to the Atherton tablelands. The Great Dividing Range runs from Victoria right up the East coast. Beautiful undulating country and probably our last rainforest until South of Perth. It’s waterfall country – we popped into a few of them including Millaa Millaa Falls. The Ma:Mu canopy walk was amazing.

Day 23 Mission Beach- 1 July 2009

4732kms, 27 degrees C

Mission Beach is remarkable. The Poms who are used to touching elbows on beaches would be astounded to see miles of empty glorious flat sands and inviting waters. It is also one of the last homes of endangered Cassowary. We did two bushwalks to try and find them – saw heaps of poo (er literally) but no pooer!

We getting pretty good at setting up camp – at first it took over and hour, now we are down to 30 mins. There were more vehicles with Vic plates than any other state – it must be cold down in Melbourne!! Our camp site was called Dunk Island Views – which was just the case. We could see the big cruise liners on the West side of the island. Stuart swam and watched a white bellied sea eagle hover overhead.

Day 22 Bowling Green National Park, nr Townsville- 30 June 2009

4417kms, 30 degrees C

Bowling Green National Park is just South of Townsville. The country is changing as we move North, but some things stay the same, like the 2000km or so of sugar cane with kites (er the birds, not the toys) hovering above.

Bowling Green was hot – our first day over 30. We had a dip in Alligator Creek, which the guide book assured us, was not named after its inhabitants. We saw turtles and lots of fish, but no crocs. But when the sun started to go down out came the wallabies and pademelons.