Sunday, July 26, 2015

Keep River National Park

After leaving Timber Creek we traveled for 182 km this morning before turning north just 3 km short of the West Australian border onto another dirt road as we entered Keep River National Park.
The park has two camping areas. Gurrandaing, the first campsite is 18 km from the entrance and Jarrnarm 28 km along what I would call a very badly corrugated dirt road that wasn't at all very pleasurable to drive along. Both sites have pit toilets and drinking water is available at the Ranger Station just inside the park.
We based ourselves at the Gurrandaing campsite and were lucky to get one of the better parking bays as the people who were on this particular site were about to leave.
The park is quite small in size but some of the spectacular rock formations, make up for the parks small size.
What we didn't know before arriving, was that the parks people had just undertaken a burn-off within the National Park and if there had been signage at the parks entrance indicating this then we wouldn't have bothered going in. 
Our plan was to spend three days doing all the different walks, but with all the ground cover burnt including most of the palms, we decided to spend just one night and then head into Kununurra.
We completed the 2 km circuit walk just near our campsite before heading off in the morning feeling quite disappointed. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Across The Northern Territory

We were going to spend an extra day camped on the river outside Camooweal, but have decided to move on hopefully to somewhere warmer. 

It was ten degrees inside the van at 7 am. We emptied our toilet cassette in town and topped up one of our non-potable tanks before stopping at the Northern Territory sign just 13 km away. The sign was welcoming us to the Northern Territory so Ros took a photo, whilst I was successful in finding a geocache hidden nearby.
 The easterly winds that have been blowing for the past several days were still quite strong and helped with our fuel consumption as we continued across the Barkly Tableland. We stopped for morning tea at the Barkly Roadhouse and I was again successful in finding another cache. 

We continued on for another 117 km to camp at 41 mile bore which is another free camp. We were appalled at the amount of rubbish laying around the site including lots of toilet paper blowing in the breeze. There were plenty of bins around the site and all have lids to keep the birds from rummaging through the rubbish. After donning our plastic gloves, and an hour later we had filled six plastic bags and the place looks much better than when we arrived.
Another cool morning at just ten degrees inside the van. The diesel heater ran for half an hour before we felt comfortable enough to leave the warmth of our beds and get dressed. There is currently a slight breeze blowing from the east but I'm sure it will pick up as it has done for the past four days. 

We left camp for the remaining 70 km run across the Barkly before turning north onto the Stuart Highway.
We passed three Bushtrackers along the way but none of them were on channel so we couldn't say g'day except for the usual wave. We refueled at the Three Ways for $189.9 cpl before stopping at Attack Creek rest area for morning tea. We bypassed Renner Springs and arrived in Elliott just after midday.

We turned off the highway just past town for the 12 km dirt road that would take us to Longreach Waterhole. The road was sandy and corrugated and felt much rougher than it really was because our tyres on the 4wd and van were still at highway pressures. Today was just like all our other days so far on this trip where we try and make camp around or just after midday. We then enjoy a cold beer before setting up camp. 

The waterhole stretches for many kilometres and the twenty or so vans here are spaced out at a reasonable distance from each other. The bird life is quite amazing with pelicans, brolgas, herons, cormorants, egrets and jabirus to name but a few.
After three wonderful nights, it was hard to tear ourselves away from this very peaceful campsite. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and when we next return it will be for a much longer stay.

Continuing north along the Stuart Highway we reached Dunmarra where we refueled. Dunmarra is really just a roadhouse supplying fuel and several levels of accommodation including a caravan park. 

From here it was just a short distance until we turned west off the Stuart and onto the Buchanan Highway. This road was named after Nat Buchanan.
This road links the Stuart and the Victoria Highways and is unsealed for its entire distance of 393 km. Surprisingly, its called a highway when really its just another dirt road. 

We stopped briefly whilst we reduced tyre pressures on the 4wd and van before continuing on. Taking this route instead of the bitumen north to Katherine then west towards Kununurra in Western Australia saves about 175 km in distance but to us, its more about the drive seeing new country and again taking the road less traveled. 

From just north of Newcastle Waters on the Stuart Highway, the Murranji Stock Route heads north west finally running parallel with the Buchanan about 100 km from the Stuart Highway. It continues like this until it reaches Top Springs. Its total length being just over 240 km. 

This stock route gained a horrible reputation because of the lack of water along the route and the lancewood scrub that the track passed through. Once a path was finally found and bores were sunk it became a shortcut for drovers travelling to and from from the Kimberley. This stock route along with the Barkly Stock Route were established by Nat Buchanan.

Tonight our plan was to camp at either Illawarra Creek, or the Armstrong River but neither of the sites allowed us with our van to get far enough off the road. Our only alternative was to continue on towards Top Springs that sits on the crossroads of the Buntine and Buchanan Highways. We parked in the large dirt area adjacent to the roadhouse which was covered in bulldust. We shared the site with two B-triples carting hay to outlying cattle stations.
The Buchanan, from the Stuart Highway to Top Springs totaling 182 km turned out to be quite a rough piece of dirt road. There were plentiful amounts corrugations and patches of bulldust. 
We were finally glad and a little frazzled by the time we had finished the days driving. Our midday beer wasn't consumed until 3:30 when we stopped for the day. 

Thankfully, the temperatures had now increased with this mornings temperature at 7 am of seventeen degrees. Before leaving Top Springs I asked at the Roadhouse about the conditions for the remaining 212 km of dirt until we reached the Victoria Highway. They indicated that it was much better than what we had experienced yesterday, except it became rough for the last 55 km through Jasper Gorge and to the Victoria Highway.

The trees that had encroached right up to the roadside on the way to Top Springs yesterday, disappeared about 20 km after leaving Top Springs and had we known this, we would have continued on and found a more enjoyable spot to camp. 

The information given at Top Springs proved to be correct with the corrugations much kinder to us than yesterday. There were however large sections of bulldust as we neared Victoria River Downs. At 12,000 sq km the station is very large although at one stage it was much larger than this. We stopped briefly at Dashwood Crossing on the Victoria River for a photo before continuing on, and could only imagine how deep the water would be here during a good wet season.
Several kilometres later we came across men and women on horseback moving a mob of cattle numbering in the hundreds. We waited for twenty minutes while they herded them across the road before we could continue.
Several kilometres later we slowed as we passed right by the stockyards and airfield at the VRD. The houses were hidden from the road by a large bank of trees but we could make out the beautiful green lawns that looked out of place in this dusty environment. 
In all we counted 9 helicopters and we could see two planes on the runway but there may have been more inside the hangars. From here to our campsite for tonight at Charles Crossing in Jasper Gorge the road became much rougher with corrugations and rocky outcrops across the roads surface.

The Gorge lies on the eastern side of Gregory National Park. Our campsite is at Charles Crossing which is located beside a waterhole that has the usual crocodile warning signs that you find in this part of Australia. 

The scenery here is quite amazing especially late afternoon or early morning when the cliffs turn red from the sun. The towering ghost gums and the imposing Livistonia  palms contrast against the amazing colours of the surrounding cliffs. It was very hot today with the van temperature at thirty six degrees at 6 pm. We remained outside until 7 pm while we had our dinner then moved inside to escape the mosquitoes.

We had the campground to ourselves and had a quiet evening with no traffic passing through the night. We made our coffee and sat outside in the cool until the sun rose above the gorge and with it came the flies so we moved inside for breakfast. 

We continued through the remainder of the gorge and 55 km later arrived at the Victoria Highway. It took a further twenty five minutes to re inflate our tyres to highway pressures.

We stopped in Timber Creek to inquire about doing the Victoria River sunset cruise on our return later in September, but were told that they would be finishing their tour in early September because of health reasons. So while we were having scones and cream we decided to book into the caravan park and do tonight's tour. 
We had read great reports on TripAdvisor about the tour and that is why we were interested in doing it. 
Neville who runs the tour grew up around the area and provides a great commentary and some amazing facts. The Government purchased a former cattle station called Bradshaw for five million dollars to be used for army exercises. To allow access, they built the bridge in the photo below spanning the Victoria River connecting to the purchased station so that they would have year long access. The bridge cost a further ten million dollars to erect. A large army exercise had just finished between Australian, American, Japanese and Indonesian troops and there were sentries manning the gates while we were on our tour. 
The tour took in a 70 km round trip on the river and for the whole of this time the former Bradshaw Station now army exercise area remained on our right as we went downstream. We spotted several saltwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the river banks but we were a little disappointed with the lack of bird life we saw. Nibbles were served on a pontoon anchored permanently for the purpose and we watched Neville feed white bellied sea eagles with catfish he caught from the pontoon. I've included a photo even though it was hard to capture and isn't our usual standard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Territory bound

There was no real hurry to leave camp this morning with just 240 km to drive today. Sunrise this morning was quite special and the overnight expected temperature of three degrees thankfully didn't eventuate. Instead we had fourteen degrees at 7 am.
 Before hooking up the van we headed into town to the local butcher where we picked up a boned leg of lamb and a piece of pork. 
As we left town we passed this tree that was filled with well over a hundred corella's. We know from past experiences, that these birds choose a tree and continually remove the leaves until the tree eventually dies, and this particular tree had very few leaves but the others nearby were full.
We were now heading towards Winton a further 175 km away. This section of the Landsborough Highway is long, straight, flat and quite featureless with nothing much to see. We have stayed here before, so today we are just passing through, but not before we purchased fuel and stopped at the bakery for a coffee. 
During our last visit we spent considerable time going through the very informative Waltzing Matilda Centre with its magnificent displays, so it was very sad to hear that the centre had burnt to the ground and with it all the wonderful displays that will never be replaced. These included Qantas artifacts and an exhibit honoring the districts 620 ANZAC's. 
Tonight's campsite is just a further 65 km up the road. Ayrshire Hills is listed in the camps book but we drove 1 km past this site and camped behind a hill that would help limit any road noise from the passing B doubles. We shared our campsite with a father emu with three chicks.
Over the next 90 km there was not much to see until we reached the small town of Kynuna. The town was established in the 1860's and at one stage had three hotels but all that remains is The Blue Heeler Pub originally built in the 1880's to service the Cobb & Co stage coaches. We stopped briefly to check our tyres, before continuing on towards McKinlay. It was made famous with the shooting of the first Crocodile Dundee movie. A quick photo and morning tea before continuing on.
As we approached Cloncurry, the Mitchell Grass Plains gave way to a rocky landscape of low hills covered by spinifex and eucalyptus trees which made for a wonderful change. Its just over forty years since I last drove this section of highway and I had  forgotten how scenic the countryside was. 
Our original plan was to spend three nights camped near a popular free camping spot at Clem Walton Park, which is at Corella Dam. Clem Walton was one of two men who discovered uranium at Mary Kathleen in 1954 and the mine was named after is wife Mary Kathleen. Its just 50 km west of the 'Curry' and the dam was originally constructed in the 1950's to supply water to the Mary Kathleen Mine Township.
Even though the majority of Queensland is in severe drought, and the water levels at Corella Dam where low we were actually surprised by just how much water there was. We changed our plans for two reasons and we are glad we did. We wanted a view of the water however these were all taken and there was a very strong easterly blowing that would have made staying very uncomfortable.
We drove the several kilometres of dirt road back to the highway before turning west towards Mt Isa a further 65 km away. The trip into the "Isa" passed through the same lovely country we had seen yesterday. 

We emptied our toilet cassette and filled our tanks then it was off to refuel at $139.9 cpl. While I waited in line to refuel, Ros ran across the road to by some groceries at Coles. She also purchased a rack of lamb that we would try in the camp oven tonight. The lamb was to be a test before we progressed into cooking the other meat we had purchased in Longreach. We now had just 190 km to travel to our next campsite just outside Camooweal. Our campsite for the next two evenings was on the Georgina River.
We have been cooking camp oven meals for over thirty years but have always used coals. This time we are using heat beads as our source of heat. We purchased  a heat bead basket that sits in our pig at a recent show and tonight was its first test.
Before leaving home I had downloaded a chart from the net indicating how many heat beads were required for our size camp oven. For the test we placed sixteen beads on the lid with twelve underneath. The lamb was cooked with onions, potato, pumpkin, and garlic seasoned with macadamia oil we purchased at Bauple. And it was absolutely delicious. Desert consisted of plain yoghurt and strawberries drizzled with Byron Bay honey.