Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is roughly 250 km east of Darwin. 
It's the best known park in the Northern Territory and probably Australia for that matter and is very large covering over 19,000 square kilometres. 

The park consists of amazing escarpment country with rivers, billabongs, wetlands and the largest concentration of Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia. Some of this art has been dated at over 20.000 years old.  

Because there is so much water about and because it's always quite hot it also has a huge population of mosquitoes. 
So whatever you do don't forget the mozzie repellent. 

One-third of Australia's birds live within the Park along with many species of reptiles, insects, fish, dingoes and kangaroos. 

Probably the only really safe water in the park to swim in are the swimming pools at Jabiru and at Cooinda Resort although we will also be swimming at Gunlom Falls

Because the park is so large all the sites are spread out over a large area. 
Our intention was to spend four days camped at Gunlom Falls but when we stopped at the Mary River Roadhouse for refreshments they advised us that the dirt road into Gunlom and been closed due to recent unseasonal rains. 

This would have been the second visit for Ros, and I have been here many times. When I lived in Darwin in the seventies we would camp at Gunlom Falls. Then it was known as UDP Falls or Uranium Developing and Prospecting Company Falls.  
In those days we were able to drive our vehicles right up beside the waterhole and camp, but now you almost have to take a cut lunch just to get here. 

Our only alternative was to stick to the bitumen and head to Cooinda and book into the caravan park at the resort.

On our way the dirt access roads into Barramundi and Graveside Gorges were also closed. For the next 100 km until we entered the access road into Cooinda both sides of the Kakadu Highway had pools of water lying beside the road. We found out later that the track into Twin and Jim Jim Falls were also closed and will remain that way for sometime.

We booked in for four nights at $46 per night for a powered site, paid our park fees with each getting a reduction by showing our NSW senior passes, paid for a sunrise and sunset tour on the Yellow Water Wetlands with a full cooked breakfast thrown in for good measure and a 50% reduction for the sunset tour. 
The wetland boat tours operate up to six times daily during the dry season with the sunrise and sunset tours being the most popular. 

That afternoon we spent several hours in one of the two pools at the resort before retiring to the air conditioned comfort of the van until we ventured outside for our happy hour.

Some photos from this morning's sunrise wetland tour....
The front end...
And the other end....

Bird life included Magpie Geese, Nankeen Night-Herons, Egrets, Kingfishers, Jabiru, Black and Whistling Kites, White Breasted Sea-eagles, Brolgas, Spangled Drongo's, Jacana, Australian White Ibis and Plumed Whistling Ducks.
Unfortunately the Azure Kingfishers were too flighty this morning and I was unable to get a good shot of the many that we saw.

Thank goodness we went on the sunrise tour because the bird life was almost non existent this afternoon. 
However the sunset photos and this silhouette of a White Breasted Sea-eagle eating this Barra helped make up for this. 

These Little Kingfishers have been lurking around our campsite for the past several days and I was fortunate enough to get these shots after many failed attempts.

While at Cooinda one morning was spent viewing the rock art in the Anbangbang Gallery at Nourlangie. Nourlangie Rock is a sandstone outcrop which is part of the Arnhem Land Escarpment.

These photos were taken from the Gunwarddehwardde Lookout at Nourlangie.

We also visited the Nawurlandja Lookout which involved climbing a 300 metre moderately steep slope with views east of Nourlangie and the escarpment.  

When we left Cooinda we had planned to camp at the Merl Campground near Cahills Crossing. But with the higher daytime temperatures and very high humidity we have opted to stay in the Jabiru township at the Kakadu Lodge for three days. That gives us power to run the air con. It wasn't a great day's drive with just over 50 km to travel. The site has many forms of accommodation along with a restaurant and bar but best of all a pool for the guests to use. 

The campground is in a huge circular configuration comprising 169 sites that surround the pool area, restaurant and bar. Being so late in the season there were only about another 12 sites being used on our arrival so choosing a site was easy peasy.

The major attractions close by are the Ubirr rock art galleries and Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River. The river crossing has been closed for the past several days because of the unseasonal rain that has been experienced however it opened on the day we visited. The East Alligator River is the border between Kakadu and Arnhem Land and I read that this river's claim to fame is that it's the second most crocodile populated river in the world. Only the Nile has more.

These guys were tempting fate especially fishing from the crossing...they were unable to land this Barra and it made its way back into the river.

Ubirr (pronounced oo-bir) is one of two major rock art sites in the park along with Nourlangie. 
The main gallery illustrates X-ray paintings from the last 1500 years. You can view the art via a 1 km circuit walk and there is a 250 metre climb to the Nardab lookout which overlooks the flood plains below. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gregory River

The headwaters of the Gregory River are located on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory. 

The river is spring fed and flows all year round when many other rivers in the Gulf Region of NW Queensland have dried up until the next rains fall once the monsoon season begins. 

Part of Lawn Hill creek flows into the Gregory which in turn flows into the Nicholson River near Burketown finally emptying into the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

Over the past twenty years we have often camped on the riverbed of the Gregory whenever in this part of the world. This is our fourth time.

After leaving our campsite on the Georgina River we stopped briefly in Camooweal and filled our drinking water tank and then emptied our toilet cassette.

On the eastern end of town is a dirt road that runs NE for 220 km towards Gregory Downs. Our campsite for the next four evenings is on the river stones just feet away from the river. 
For those that aren't aware we are 300 km NW of Mt Isa and 120 km south of Burketown in the Queensland Gulf Country. 
So far the van has travelled mainly over bitumen roads but it was now time it got down and dirty because that's why we have purchased a Bushtracker so that we can travel to out of the way places and do it in luxury.

Prior to leaving our campsite and while the tyres were still cool I reduced the tyre pressures on the 4wd and van for what lay ahead. The 4wd pressures were reduced to 30 and the van tyres reduced to 28 psi.

We were surprised how good the road surface was for the first 92 km until we met up with Yelvertoft Road that heads north from the Barkly Highway.

From here on past Thorntonia Station the road passes through hilly country with a road surface that includes corrugations, stony sections and veins of rock running across the road which forced us to walking pace on many occasions. 

It took us just over five hours to complete the 220 km and that did not include stopping for a coffee break however we did stop several times to check tyres and ensure the vans hubs were not overheating.

We have never seen the place so busy. We normally camp south of the bridge but were forced to camp on the northside this year. There are no facilities here on the river but just over 500 metres away near the Gregory Downs pub there are public toilets, rubbish pits and also a dump point.

Our days were spent swimming, photographing the birdlife, relaxing and eating. 

We headed back down the same road to Camooweal and with the threat of rain have swapped the black soil on the river for a spot in the caravan park.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

NW through Queensland

Today's drive of less than 300 km will have us at our next campsite around lunchtime. 
Whenever we are on holidays our aim is to make our campsite for the evening before or just after lunchtime, and after setting up which takes less than ten minutes we normally sit back with a cold beer and enjoy our surroundings. 

Just 50 km after leaving Eumundi we passed through Gympie then onto the Wide Bay Highway towards Kilkivan. From here we took a minor road to Tansey which involved climbing the Coast Range with a maximum elevation of 357 metres. 
Here we joined the Burnett Highway passing through Ban Ban Springs and Gayndah. 

Our intention tonight is to camp at the RM Williams Learning Centre in Eidsvold. 

The centre charges $10 to park in a very large open area adjacent to the complex. This includes access to toilets, water and the use of a BBQ but there's no power available. 
We had plenty of time to explore the centre which we found very informative. 
Camping is also allowed at the nearby showgrounds with fees paid at the servo across the road. Here your $15 gets you water, power and toilets.

A leisurely start this morning after a tour around the town, before continuing northwards still on the Burnett Highway. We passed through Monto, Biloela and Dululu before joining the Capricorn Highway as we headed westward to spend the night at another campsite in the small town of Duaringa. 
Sad to see that the pub at Dululu has now closed down. We have stayed at the free camp nearby on a previous occasion.

We have stayed at Duaringa several times before. There are toilets, showers and a dump point and while we don't use any of these facilities, because we prefer to use our own, we are more than happy to make a donation all the same. 

Continuing further west we passed through Blackwater, Emerald and Alpha and were going to stay at Jericho but after viewing the weather for tomorrow with the likely hood of a large low coming in from the west we continued on. Our plan was to camp at Lara Station and we were concerned that the 13 km dirt access road would be closed. We normally prefer to drive between 200 and 300 km each day but today's drive to reach Lara Station was 504 km. Thankfully a large tail wind helped with our fuel economy.

I purchased Road Trip from the App Store after reading about it on Face book and will use this to monitor our fuel statistics for this trip.

We have driven along the Capricorn Highway on numerous occasions but have never seen the countryside looking so green. The vast majority of flood ways and creeks we crossed on the 141 km stretch between Alpha and Barcaldine all had significant amounts of water in them as did the spoon drains beside the road.

We arrived at Lara Station after exiting the Landsborough Highway 28 km south of Barcaldine and driving the last 13 km over a very well maintained dirt road with just some minor corrugations.  

What an oasis this location is. The wetlands are fed by a century old bore and have attracted an abundant amount of bird life with over 120 species recorded. Recent rains and the abundance of water lying around meant that there were very few birds here during our stay.

We enjoy our privacy so chose our campsite well away from our fellow campers. Life for us just doesn't get much better than this. We enjoyed the ever changing colours around us as each day progressed and once the sun had set and we lit our campfire and out came the stars.

Our five days spent here were very enjoyable and totally relaxing and we will return here again.

The predicted low system did eventuate dropping 32 mm on the station and closing the access road for several days.

We had ourselves a mini muster at Lara with ten Bushtrackers parked up for several evenings. Most were heading to the muster in Winton.

We rejoined the Capricorn Highway at Barcaldine for the run towards Longreach. Today we are just passing through to a spot we camped at last year in the Ayrshire Hills which are NW of Winton. 

As we passed by the showgrounds in Winton we could see Bushtracker vans arriving for this year's Bushtracker AGM Muster. Just over seventy vans are expected for the muster which will help inject some much need money into the community.
We topped up our diesel, shopped at the supermarket, lunched at the bakery and purchased some beer and wine. That was a total of $460, so you can imagine the dollar benefit to Winton having the muster here with over 140 people attending

There are no facilities here and we are again parking behind the same small hill to stop any truck noise that may eventuate during the evening. 

After the sun had risen and we had taken our photos there wasn't much else to keep us here so, after breakfast we were on the road quite early heading towards Kynuna. 
A lightning stop for a cuppa at McKinlay 

and then 106 km later we passed through Cloncurry where we joined the Barkly Highway.

Our campsite for tonight was just another 60 km further west at the site of the former Mary Kathleen Uranium Mining township. The entrance is just over 12 km west of the turnoff to another free camp that we stayed at last year called Corella Dam, built as the water supply for Mary Kathleen.

I was last here in the 80's when a school friends parents were minding the township after the mine had closed down and before any infrastructure had been removed. It was quite eerie being driven around the streets with no one living in the houses and not another soul in sight. 

Well the place is still quite eerie with the remains of bitumen roads and slabs from houses and shops that were all relocated to either Mt Isa or Cloncurry.

This is a wonderful free camp with no facilities. There is room enough for any number of vans and there are plenty of building slabs remaining that can be used to park the van on.

We drove out to view the open cut mine that has now filled with water.

Another leisurely day's drive today with just 244 km to our next campsite which will have us set up around lunchtime. That includes stopping in the Isa to refuel and tend to some last minute shopping at the Coles supermarket. It will be another twelve days until we pass through Katherine and there are no other supermarkets in between.
Last year on our way to WA we camped just outside Camooweal on the Georgina River, and are again staying in the same location, but this time we are spending five days here.

It's always nice to have a water view and camping here ticks all our boxes. The two main billabongs are Lake Francis and Lake Canellan. 
We prefer staying at the later location which is several kilometres past the cattle yards. The majority of people prefer staying at Lake Francis which is closer to the highway and town. There are no facilities at either spot but Camooweal is just several kilometres away with a dump point, garage, caravan park and of course a pub. Just about every town no matter how small it is has a pub, with this town's population just shy of 300.

On our third day we drove out to Camooweal Caves National Park. 
The majority of the caves here are just vertical sinkholes that have been formed by water filtering down through fractures in the surrounding land surface. The park is 22 km south of Camooweal along the unsealed Urandangi Road. The caves themselves are not very inspiring but the Nowranie Waterhole certainly made up for this with its lovely river red gums and quite long waterhole which is surrounded by dry grasslands that cover much of the Barkly Tableland.

Our yabby pots produced this haul of Red Claw last night which were polished off for lunch today.