Lotsa Water: Lake Argyle & Kununurra

We’ve changed states and have moved over into Western Australia.  Leaving the NT was a little sad but we are keen to explore and revisit beautiful Western Australia.

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Lake Argyle has a nice van park with a lovely infinity pool.  This was a serene environment being enjoyed by many pensioners… until we arrived. The kids rush in splashing and yelling about how cold the water is. I inched my way in, while Craig laughs at me, as I stretch up as high as possible on my toes to get as far into the pool and get as least wet as possible. Amelie decides to join her dad in tormenting me by sending a wave full of water my way. Got me square in the face and over the head, straight onto the pensioner behind me. I apologised to the inadvertent victim, but then Xavier who’s seen the ‘Let’s splash cold mummy’ game rushes over with a war cry and sends another wave my way. Ladies with their styled hair and make-up are glaring but the old boy who copped the spray did have a chuckle, especially when Craig said “The kids are toilet trained, just not pool trained and mummy is going to get them now!” The kids thought it was pretty funny until I got both of them by the tops of their heads and dunked them under water. Not so funny now.

The only way to check out Lake Argyle is by plane, boat or kayak.  We don’t have any of those and opted for a boat cruise.  The guide is funny and informative about the history of the dam, the flora and fauna. Xavier’s favourite part of the tour was jumping off the roof of the boat. Off course Craig did too! Amelie jumped from part way up the ladder and I got to float around in the dam with the fish and take photographic evidence of the jumps. Two species of catfish live in the lake, one large and one small. The large one eats the small one. The large catfish used to fetch $3/kg at market, but after a rebranding as “Silver Cobbler” sets the palate alight at $30/kg in all the best restaurants.

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Second place winners, are grinners!

When we crossed the NT/WA border, we surrendered any remaining fresh produce. The campground shop and only shop for the area stocked a bowl of red onions and one sad looking tomato for sale.  I’m not clever enough, nor inclined to create an onion soup for dinner, so we ate out at the restaurant with the Port Philip family we were chatting to at Gunlom Falls.  That night was also a trivia night.  Bonus!  The kids wanted to play too and got their own table. I love trivia nights as I have the unfair advantage of Mr ‘I remember a ridiculous amount of stuff’ Maskiell as my partner in crime. After a slow start we managed to come in second place, thanks in part to answers to some obscure questions such as, ‘What was John Candy’s characters’ job in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles?’ There’s no reception here so you can’t even cheat with Google! I totally would too, but Craig had seen the film once when it came out and says, “Curtain rings. Shower curtain rings.” For real!

The kids also did well. They escaped being on the bottom of the ladder, answering the majority of questions themselves and were stoked to have beaten a couple of tables of adults. They scored keyrings, placemats and snow globes as prizes and we scored a bottle of wine. The only way to split that was to open it there and then of course. We also shared a lot of laughs (everything is funnier when grog is involved) and made plans to catch up in Kununurra.

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I wasn’t expecting a lot from Kununurra but I was pleasantly surprised. This little town is great! The van park is right on the edge of a picturesque lake, the town has a great couple of cafes and there are a few places to explore not far out of town. There’s a fun water crossing called Ivanhoe Crossing, which still had water flowing over it.  It wasn’t too high and the bollards were visible both sides.  Still, a water crossing is a fun crossing, just ask Amelie.  On our first afternoon in town we ventured out to WA’s only licensed distillery “The Hoochery” to sample the produce. Following this we visited the Sandalwood Factory, sandalwood plantations being a significant industry in the area. There is also a great lookout at Kelly’s Knob and Mirima National Park (mini Bungle Bungle) on the edge of town. The Mango cafe in town has some of the best food we’ve eaten since our Mother’s Day dinner at Mission Beach. Zucchini, chickpea frittata with avocado dressing on a bed of rocket and spinach. Delicious!

At the local markets we got chatting to a group who were very active at trying to prevent the dreaded Cane Toad from entering the Kimberley. I just asked Craig what you’d classify the group as. They aren’t strictly a conservation group or an environmental group but kind of both. He said they were like zombie hunters “The Croaking Dead.” Boom, tish. Bad dad jokes continue. The toads are a real problem for the native carnivores like large lizards and quolls, who eat them and then die from the poison.  Although our Queensland goannas and lizards must have learned they are bad as we still have plenty of them on the coast coexisting with the millions (billions?) of cane toads. Did you know there is such a thing as ‘Super toads’? They’re toads who grow to enormous size that can take bigger, faster jumps and lead the way in populating areas that were previously cane toad free.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done about them.

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Boab trees along Parry Creek Rd, Kununurra.
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Inside the Boab nut

We took a back road to Wyndham, the Kimberley’s northernmost town, which takes you across the Ivanhoe Crossing (yay water crossing), along a corrugated dirt road a.k.a Parry Creek Road. Boab trees are everywhere along this road and we stopped to pick up exactly two boabs nuts for the exactly two nutty children in the back of the car, who couldn’t possibly consider it fair if one got to inspect a nut before the other one! The thin hard shell is covered with velvet like hairs.  The local indigenous guys don’t recommend handling them too much, those boab nut hairs make you really itchy! We cracked the fruit and inside was a crumbly, white, polystyrofoam-like substance.

IMG_7788Along the road we passed a lone chimney stack on a small mound. It was kind of random as there was no evidence it belonged to a larger structure, no info signs to tell us what it was used for, no mention in the guide book and the Internet offered no clue either. You’ll just have to use your imagination like we did. Was it an old school road stop where you could boil a billy or bake some bread? Was it a regular stop for cattle mustering where a camp cook would use the chimney to make up a big feed? Who knows?

The historic Telegraph Hill was an old communications line that still has asbestos at the site, but offers a great view over the land.  We detoured to Marlgu Billabong bird hide spotting many types of birds but no great big crocs.  Apparently it’s a great place to spot a croc.  Not great for swimming though! We saw, Brolgas, a Sea Eagle, Cormorants, a Pelican, Egret, Pied Heron, Whistling Kite, Honeyeaters, Rainbow Bee Eater and another bird of prey that we couldn’t identify.

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There is a lot of flat dry land and the kids enjoyed seeing the dusty willy-willy’s scoot across the ground, throwing dust high in the air.

The town itself is dying.  The mine recently ceased operations, the croc farm closed and the pub was shut.  That’s right the bloody pub was shut!  I don’t know who was disappointed more, me or the kids.  We stopped in a crazy tin shed that was a secondhand store with local celebrity, Pixie, behind the desk. Pixie was a right character and told us all about the town.  She also had some Boab nuts cracked open and was offered it up for a taste. Tastes like chicken. Not really. It tastes like stale, slightly acidic popcorn. Not too bad really. Pixie said she crushes it up and uses it as a coating for her fish before pan frying it. I’d give that a go!

Either side of the Great Northern Highway (Craig would later reclassify sections of this road as the “Not So Great Northern Highway”), the land is white, flat, dried up flood plains.  Plenty of car tracks veered off in the distance, confirming my suspicions that it was a great place to do a bit of circle work in a hotted up car.  At the Five Rivers lookout you could see the Pentecost, Ord, Durack, Forrest and King rivers all emptying into the Cambridge Gulf. Again great and vast views of the area.

Back in Kununurra, we gathered provisions, said goodbye to the van as we head back on the road with the tent to tackle the Gibb River Road.  Adventure awaits!

Rock on! Kings Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta

I’m going to have to warn you straight up, there are going to be a lot of photos of rocks in this one.  A lot!  Like, seriously lots and lots.

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While travelling between the East and West McDonnell Ranges, we stopped through Alice Springs and met a Sunny Coast couple who had relocated to Alice and  taken over The Overlanders Steakhouse Restaurant. So we booked a table for the night of our reunion with The Stolls.  That booking was then expanded to include The Tafai family, who we met at Palm Valley the day before.
It was great to see The Stolls, although I was reluctant to give them a hug after five days out bush without a shower and mostly two changes of clothes (I had to layer up due to the cold). What a fun night. We laughed till our cheeks hurt, thrust our hips around to the ‘home among the gum trees’ song and tried to pass Sol Tafai off as ‘The Rock’ on social media. A few people fell for it but most saw through my bluff.

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Sunrise over King’s Canyon

We travelled to Kings Canyon Resort and took in the magnificent views from the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon. Rainer did the hard yards carrying Nathan up the steep ascent at the beginning. Craig also ended up doing some hard yards as Amelie decided to run up the climb. It could be that we’ve been watching a few Rocky films and she’s inspired to push herself or it could be that she chose to wear shorts, t-shirt and a flimsy jumper and needed to warm up! The rest of us were feeling the cold especially on the windy sections and were rugged up in puffy jackets, beanies and gloves.  As Amelie and Craig reach the top of the steep section, she turns to her slightly out of breath father who had to actually work to catch her and said “I want to be an athlete when I grow up”.  She is changing her mind about what she wants to be every week but I’m loving her choices, astronaut, teacher, doctor, scientist, veterinarian and now athlete.

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Cotterral’s lookout was worth the extra walk and rewarded us with spectacular views.  The other side trip we did was Eden’s Garden.  That place was very serene, with remnants of rainforest vegetation a stark contrast to the red rock and spinifex.  The Creek walk was blocked so we scrambled around the barricades and boulder hopped along the creek for a while.

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Kathleen Springs was just down the road so after an epic days walking already, we made the kids do some more.  It was an easy walk with cattle mustering ruins, hairy caterpillars, piggybacking bugs, “what are they doing dad?” along the way.  At the end is a small waterhole. I didn’t read the sign and was imagining how much fun it would be to jump down from the cliff into the waterhole. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT jump into the water. I was quickly put in my place by Craig who read the sign about the aboriginal legend where they believe the Dreamtime serpent lived there and if you swam in the water, the water would dry up.

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Not Uluru

We’re off to The Rock!  Craig got a little excited, as did we when he pointed out Uluru and then got on the UHF and pointed it out to the Stolls.  About 5minutes passed before it twigged that it was actually Mt Connor.  Common mistake apparently.

Uluru a.k.a ‘The Rock’ is impressive. Almost as impressive as the two backpackers in onesies, cooking pancakes for breakfast in the parking lot.  Seriously, Uluru has a feeling of ‘something’.  I don’t know if it’s the enormity of it or is there a sense of spirituality?  Okay, now for the big question – did we climb it?  No, we didn’t.  The kids really wanted to, Craig had climbed it many years ago and I was in two minds about it.  We had a healthy discussion about why the local aboriginals don’t want you to climb it and should you be able to.  On the actual day the decision was taken out of our hands as the climb was closed due to forecast rain. The small walks along the bottom were great with informative signs of how the aboriginals used the small caves and overhangs, and explained some legends and stories about the rock. The majority of the base walk did not have much info and was very restrictive about photographing certain sections.

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We all agreed Kata Tjuta was awesome! Walking in and among such large formations of rock offered great views pretty much everywhere you looked.  It was also a fun walk with steep sections and a bit of bouldering.  I don’t really know what else to say about this place that would do it justice.  If I could whisper in print I would whisper “I liked it better than Uluru”.  Shhhh.

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At the Yulara campground Laura and I headed off on the bikes to buy groceries.  Riding the fat boy bike definitely increased my street cred.  Wearing a helmet, any helmet, leaves me looking like a mushroom as I have a small head and long neck so it all evens out.  The point is, I felt cool even though I stopped and got off to ‘jump’ the gutters.  Riding along however, people were giving the fat tyres appreciative nods and smiles.  A gap toothed local gave me a massive grin and said ‘wicked!’  We met basketballer Joe Ingles who I let have a ride on the fat boy.  Didn’t know who the hell he was and as usual was being cheeky.  Laura found out he was competing at the Olympics and I said “Well, I suppose I’d better get a photo with you.  You might be famous one day.”  Laura googled him later and he earns over $2million US dollars playing for a team in the States.  That and making the Australian Olympic team… yeah he might be famous… one day!  Joe (sounds very casual), Mr Ingles (no, too formal), you know who I mean, anyway he loved the bike, so if you see any photos of him riding a fat boy, it’s because of Craig’s bike.

Laura suggested doing a dot painting class with an aboriginal elder.  I thought this was a great idea.  Alice spoke in her native language, drew and explained the art symbols in the sand while a University graduate translated for us.  Each painting pretty much tells a story.  At Hermannsberg in the Western McDonnell Ranges, we saw many paintings depicting the story of the ‘Seven Sisters‘.  We were told to tell our own story in a painting.  Now, I love playing with art but I didn’t do so well at dot painting.  I think, I tried to tell too much of a story in one painting.  Painting dots of a uniform size was a challenge and I couldn’t believe how long it took to paint dots.  The kids really enjoyed it and it was great to see everyone’s story interpretation.

Our time with The Stolls, is coming to an end.  We’ve seen so many rock formations together that it seemed fitting our last campsite together was near The Devil’s Marbles.  After a pub dinner and kids playing in the starry light display the only thing we had left to do on this adventure with The Stolls was race to see who’d leave first in the morning.  Stolls won!

We loved hanging out with those guys and while it was sad to part ways, they were looking forward to an island adventure before heading home, and we were dead keen to visit all the Top End has to offer!

Onto a town called Alice

Julia Creek was only ever intended to be a stop over. We had just enough time to set up the van and duck across the road, literally across the road, to check out the local pool. Yes the pool tour continues. Julia Creek is a pretty small place but it can boast a really lovely public pool. Clean, well maintained and great water quality. Craig knows a smart guy who grew up here and took a photo of The Knowledge Place. Now we know where he got it! I stayed well clear of it to ensure the gaffs continue.  This flat land is providing a smorgasbord of awesome sunrise and sunset photos, so just like baby pictures, prepare to be inundated with them. (Mum, I don’t know if you know this – but you can click on the pictures to have a larger view of them)

Sundays are a bane to the traveller! Especially in the smaller towns. Mount Isa fortunately has a pretty impressive info centre with the Riversleigh Display, Art Gallery, Museum and gardens all in the one centre! It’s worth stopping in to have a look especially at the Riversleigh Centre where they display ancient marsupial fossils to the modern marsupials skeletons.

My impression of Isa wasn’t great. It’s not a place that I’ve added to the list to revisit. My impression is probably tainted by setting up camp in the rainy weather in an average caravan park, reading notices on the back of toilet doors about how to minimise lead poisoning in your children, and then add to that the change from warm to cold weather.  Worst part of that is knowing it was only going to get colder. Yes, I know it was officially Winter and I shouldn’t complain.  The cold is my cryptonite.  Hate the bloody stuff.

The land here is flat. Very, very flat. As we drive away from Mount Isa, we hit the occasional small rise in the road and are treated to an almost 360 degree view of the landscape. No hills or bumps evident on the horizon, just more wide, flat land.  From beaches, to dry country, rainforests, tropical islands, gorges, waterholes, red dirt and flat land with big skies.  We’ve covered a lot of ground in Queensland.

The trek through Queensland
The trek through Queensland
Crossing the NT border from Qld
Crossing the NT border from Qld

We’ve made it into the Northern Territory!  I was very excited to come back here. I had a two year posting in Darwin about 25 years ago. It was a fond and memorable time and I was looking forward to seeing places I didn’t manage to visit the first time and revisiting some of the old places.

We caught on the news that Alice Springs and the surrounding region had a deluge of unseasonal rain. Alice Springs seemed to cop the worst of it and we saw a photo of the police station with a carpet of hailstones. When we arrived at Barkley Homestead where there was no red dirt to worry about because it was loads of red mud. It wasn’t too bad and made a nice change from the dust. The only time it did matter was when you were tip toeing your way to the ablutions block. The layout of the campsites here was great! Each site had an island where you could access power and water, large shade trees and the centre of the island had sections of AstroTurf and large gravel which got any remaining mud off and helped to keep the inside of the van fairly clean. This place even had a pool! Toes were dipped in the water and all agreed the water was probably too cold to swim in. Craig won’t let the kids say the water is freezing unless there are icebergs floating around in it. So a broader vocabulary is being used such as “very, very cold”, “invigoratingly cold” or “incredibly bloody refreshing”. A popular servo and hotel out the front means the fuel is good and so is the food. We didn’t eat there but went over at happy hour to listen to a couple of pretty decent country crooners, have a drink and take advantage of the free wifi!

The information centre at Tennant Creek had a museum that displayed what it was like to live and grow up in Tennant Creek through the eyes of a young boy during the gold rush.  It was a pretty hard life in harsh conditions.  The information presented was lightened up with some funny anecdotes from the time and it looks like they knew how to have a good time despite the circumstances.

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This pool was technically freezing
This pool was technically freezing

This stretch of the trip has a whole lot of not much. We broke up the drive by staying near Karlu Karlu or better known as The Devils Marbles. We set up camp at the Devils Marbles Hotel in Wauchope (pronounced War-cup) where a nice little beer garden complete with pool drew the kids attention. Everyone expected the water to be cold and Xavier covered his bum by bringing a piece of ice with him.  He jumped in after throwing the ice into the pool so he could confidently proclaim that it was technically freezing.  Didn’t stop my crazies from getting wet.

A quick change and we’re off to see the sunset at Karlu Karlu. It’s a pretty set of rock formations and as we walk towards them the kids are pointing out rock ‘bums’ everywhere. They did kinda look like giant rock bums. Lots of people had climbed the rocks and kids were playing around on them. Our kids fell in with another group of kids who showed them a rock cubby house and we enjoyed another lovely sunset.  Told you! Another million sunset photos.

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Just down the road is Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia.  The van park/servo is really daggy.  There is alien ‘everything’ everywhere.  Kids loved it!  All three of them.

IMG_7128Alice Springs is a place where we spent a bit of time shopping and prepping for a tent adventure to the McDonnell Ranges.  We decided to hole up at the Big4 so the kids have plenty to do while Craig and I do the boring stuff.  The kids are pretty much guaranteed a bouncing pillow and pool with waterfall or slide.  The pool was heated which made it feel all the more cold once you’re out! A long line of shivering children waited their turn along the stairwell of the spiral slide.

We managed to fit in a couple of tourist outings while we were in town.  The Alice Springs School of the Air museum was interesting.  You get a great overview of the vast area they service, how the kids on remote stations are taught and we got to sit in on a teacher teaching a kindy class.  She rocked into her ‘classroom’ wearing a neon, green wig and ended up painting a spider and web on her face.  We also picked up an excellent phrase of hers, “Don’t cry. Try!” Feel free to use this on your toddler or adult who hasn’t yet progressed out of the tantrum phase.

The highlight of The Reptile Centre was being able to handle various lizards and a python. Watching the Thorny Devils feast on ants was entertaining and trying to spot the hidden Death Adders was a little nerve wracking.  They are scary little mongrels who are experts at camouflage, and I hope I never, ever, ever meet one in the wild.

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We also spent a short time at the Desert Park. They put on an awesome bird show which showcased their skills.  Whether it was camouflage, silent approach or hunting and speed skills each bird elicited ‘Ooohs and aaahs’ from the crowd.  We raced through the remaining enclosures but spent a little time laughing at the hilarious looking Bustard. He (it could’ve been a she for all I know), reminded me of the bird from ‘Up’.  You know, Kevin!

We’ve shopped, we’ve been tourists, we voted and now we are ready.  Ready to tackle the East and West McDonnell Ranges.  In a tent.  In the freezing cold.  It’ll be alright… I think.

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Travelling the Savannah Way

A little late in posting another blog.  My mum gave me a little kick up the bum with a passive aggressive “Hey, it’s been a while since your last blog!”  So, I’ve been reading a few books instead!  I am supposed to be on holidays.  Anyways, better late than never.  Here are words and photos from along the Savannah Way.  Warning, it’s a bit of an epic, so go to the loo, get yourself a snack and settle in for the ride.

Cairns was our base before and after The Cape York adventure. The van park here is a kids nirvana! Multiple pool areas with slides, water spouts and a giant pineapple bucket of water that comes splashing down every 3mins. It would give the kids a warning with a loud ‘Tick, tick, tick’ noise. The kids would run into place either standing, sitting or lying down ready to be bombarded with a massive dump of water. As if the pools weren’t enough there is also a humongous jumping pillow, tennis court, badminton court, playground, basketball half court, outdoor exercise equipment, indoor gym, pool table, table tennis table, electronic run around game, spider web climbing thingo, mini golf, and this ball whacking thing which I think is called Tetherball.  A Napoleon Dynamite google search told me so.

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Cairns Coconut Van Park
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Cairns Coconut Van Park

Most of our time here before the Cape was spent enjoying the van park offerings and getting more essentials for Cape York. I was however lucky enough to catch up with a friend who was in Cairns for a conference. As much as spending time with the family 24hrs a day, every day has been actually pretty easy and for the majority of the time really pleasant, it was nice to have some solo time with a girlfriend. We had a drink in a trendy bar and walked along the esplanade where we were amazed at the number of people taking part in a free aqua aerobics class in the esplanade pool and marvelled at the large number of parrots rushing to find a roost as the sun started to set. We settled in at a Turkish restaurant and talked each others ears off while enjoying the food and losing count of glasses of wine.

Although we didn’t actually do a lot of tourist stuff in Cairns, we did do some things other than hang out by the pool watching the kids! We visited Mareeba Coffee Worx which has a fascinating museum and tastings of coffee, tea and chocolate. Kids liked that part!  The chocolate not the coffee.

We went to Kuranda and toured on the historical train which was a novelty for the kids… for the first two minutes. The history of the train was interesting in terms of its construction of the railway along some pretty sheer drops, creation of its tunnels, as well as its use transporting troops during the war.  Everyone has a little adrenalin rush as the skyrail cabins take off.  Amidst the beautiful scenery the conversation was uplifting.  The kids were talking about how we would be plunging to our doom any minute.

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Viv meeting the family

Another couple of catch-ups, this time with some ex-military friends, Vivian in Mareeba and Kerry in Cairns. As usual, it’s an easy reunion full of stories and laughter. This trip is in itself an adventure. Meeting new friends was expected and catching up with old friends is the icing on the cake!

A bit of monkey business down on the esplanade finished off our time together with the Wakefields nicely.  Standing over the coloured lights was perfect for creating zombie-esque photos.  Pete started it!

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Many fellow travellers insist that the Undara Lava Tubes is a must see and they weren’t wrong. These are the longest and largest lava tubes in the world! They were formed from the longest lava flow from a single volcano on Earth, and the fact that many of them remain intact today makes this place unique. The only way to view the tubes is to take a tour.  The Savannah guide taught us about the landscape thousands of years ago where we walked through remnants of rainforest, we learned about the settlement of the area and how the tubes were discovered. Some of the tubes were discovered by the children who lived on the property and wouldn’t think twice about squeezing through a small hole on the crumbling rock or entering a dark cave. What the parents don’t know, can’t cause them heart failure I suppose! After posting a photo on social media, a friend told me she grew up there and would also explore the tubes. Another nice thing about this trip is discovering connections with people we know and the places we visit.

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IMG_6831Walking along the Kalkani Crater also let us gain mobile phone reception. Kind of felt weird standing on top of a wonderful natural formation trying to make caravan park bookings for future destinations!

We extended our stay so we could mountain bike along some of the trails that lead out from the Undara campground. We went to Heritage Hut, Flat Rock and Circle View. It was 2hours of soft sand, gravel, rocks, mud, prickly spear grass and bike stacks! Craig was in charge of our bike training and had said keep some distance between you and the rider in front. I was at the rear and Amelie had collected a long piece of grass in her rear wheel. I was mesmerised by it and got pretty close thinking “If I can get a little closer my front wheel will pull it out of her wheel.” Before I know it, Amelie eats dust and is down on the path. I’ve hit the brakes and with no where to go crash into her bike with my body aimed to land squarely on top of her! I broke most of the fall with my hands to keep my weight off her. Fortunately Amelie wasn’t really hurt and neither was I. After a terse reminder from Craig about distance, I was delegated to the front of the pack where I couldn’t squash anyone.

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The campground was nice and has a large dining area where we decided to treat ourselves to dinner. Amelie settles on the ‘Georgetown Sausages’. Unfortunately there was the sausage incident which I’ll use her own email to the relatives to explain.

Hello everyone,

I am having a great time on holidays.  We went to Undara that had a bar and I ordered a Georgetown sausage.  Dad ordered, coming back saying that there were no Georgetown sausages.  I nearly burst into tears.  The next day we went to Georgetown.  We heard there was a butcher that had Georgetown sausages, so we went to the butcher.  He gave us 9 sausages.  My mum cooked.  Yum!  And that was the end of the mystery of the Georgetown sausages.

Love Amelie

Spoiler alert!  We go to Georgetown after Undara.  Also to risk any confusion, you can only buy Georgetown sausages in Georgetown.  They aren’t ‘Georgetown Sausages’, like say chicken thai sausages that you can buy just anywhere!

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Cold Undarra mornings

A chill is in the air during the evenings and early mornings.  On the last morning, I brave the cold and decide to walk out on one of the tracks to see the sunrise. Aitkinsons Lookout provided a really nice vista with the bumps of remnant volcanos silhouetted against the horizon. Feeling pretty good about managing to walk there in good time over the rocks and not get lost in the dark, I thought I’d jog back to camp. All the while I’m thinking about how it would be a bad thing if I sprained an ankle or something. This is likely as I can be a bit clumsy, just ask my sister about how I fell headfirst down the stairs in front of a large audience at Expo88. Anyhow, I’m doing fine with this jogging caper until I catch a rock with the toe of my shoe. You know that moment when you trip forward, you’re over balanced but you’re still taking steps, the ground is not far from your face and you can foresee the moment when you’re about to eat dirt. Well, I don’t know how, but after this slow-mo moment in time I recovered enough momentum to get upright and unscathed. Just goes to prove my theory that running is a waste of time and not good for your health.

After the sausage incident we thought we’d better stay at Georgetown and purchase those famous sausages from the butcher for dinner. It’s a small town that not only has famous sausages, it has a cute local pool and an amazing mineral collection. Ted Elliott collected specimens from the local area and throughout Australia. His collection is now housed at the Information Centre and was completed with donations from other collectors including a generous donation from an American collector.

 

Cobbold Gorge infinity pool
Cobbold Gorge infinity pool

From Georgetown we booked a boat tour of Cobbold Gorge. The lady said come for the day, there’s an infinity pool we could use. She didn’t however tell us to wear enclosed shoes. The boat tour actually included a bush walk, then a boat tour. As the guides addressed the group before we got on the bus they were saying things like “ensure you have a hat, water bottle, enclosed shoes” and pointedly looking at our plugger encased feet. Mate! We’re from the Sunshine Coast, you’re lucky we’re not barefoot! Needless to say, compared to the many boot wearing grey nomads, our little mountain goats ran rings around everyone on the walk, thongs and all.

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The gorge was discovered by the land owner only 22 years ago, and is considered a fairly young gorge in terms of its formation. After walking to the top of he gorge we cruised the narrow gorge in small electric boats.  Interesting to note, the initial walkway and boat launch area are moved every year to prevent damage during the wet season.  Pretty impressive really.

The gorge itself was eerily beautiful, with mostly barren towers of rock looming close either side of the boat. There are a few fish, turtle and fresh water crocs in the water. Other than a few spiders hanging out in their webs it was,devoid of animal life. No bird sounds and I don’t recall seeing any insects. Which gave it a spooky, dead feel to it. Unfortunately there is no known aboriginal history to the place. When the land was colonised, the aboriginals were either killed or relocated far away. There are no known survivors from the original people who know any stories from this place. Their spoken language history about this place has been forever lost. The absence of any paintings or discovery of aboriginal tools suggest they may have avoided the place.

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On impulse, we decided to check out a quartz blow on the way home.  Xavier our resident rock collector was very excited.  Amelie not so much.  As soon as we arrived the boy jumped out of the car and is scaling its heights.  Amelie remarks “Is that it?” I’m thinking, she’s thinking this quartz blow, blows.  What’s that saying? You can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time.


IMG_6915On we go to Normanton with a claim to fame for the largest Crocodile ever caught. ‘Kris’ the big 8.6m croc was named after the lady who shot him. Yes, you read that right. A lady hunter has bagged the biggest crocodile on record. Bet the blokes are spewing!

NormantonThe only other things of note in Normanton are the Purple pub, which much to the disappointment of our pub lovin’ offspring we didn’t visit, and my dream car that was up for sale.  Unfortunately he was asking $2,500 for it.  Double that to transport it back to the Sunny Coast.  I could’ve done the ol’ “Tell him, he’s dreaming!”, yet it was I who was dreaming of how fun it would be to drive that hunk o’ junk around town.

The Normanton campground had a large pretty bloody cold 25m pool with a sulphur smelling hot spa. We jumped in the cold pool and tried to warm up with a couple of laps and chasing each other around, but none of that really worked as well as floating around in the hot sulphur bubbles of the spa.  Sulpher smelling bubbles – cue the fart jokes.  Our children are charming.

IMG_0873On Sunday we took a day trip to Karumba. A Sunday in small towns is the worst day to visit stuff. Never mind, the main thing we came to see was the sunset. There is a pub here right on the water aptly called ‘The Sunset Tavern’. We made ourselves at home in a little section of the beer garden called ‘The Sand Bar’. It had a sand floor and distressed coloured wooden daybeds to lounge on. If they had cushions, I reckon I could have spent a lazy couple of hours there. I learned a great turn of phrase from an old, salty skipper at the pub. He told the kids “Don’t you go swimming in the water, or else the flat dog’ll get ya!”

The drive out to view the sunset was absolutely worth it!  A beautiful beach, novelty (for us East-siders) to see the sunset over the ocean and birds circling as the sun went down.  A few people were out and about to also enjoy the view.  Generally though people were pretty sparse so it did feel like we had a large slice of nature to ourselves.

Before our trip, Craig decided to forego putting a bull-bar on the Ranger as we didn’t plan to drive at dawn or dusk, it didn’t really offer passenger protection and added a heap of weight.  With no bull-bar, and the sun well and truly gone, we drove slowly in case there was the odd roo around.  Holy, bouncing pouches Batman!  Both sides of the road were crowded with roos for about 15mins of the drive.  It was like a mass of roo spectators, crowded close to the road to watch a single car parade.

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The land around here is flat as a pancake which makes for big skies!  The road is a faded, narrow, bitumen road… for a while.  Then it’s red dirt and more red dirt. We are heading to Leichhardt Falls to break up the trip to Burketown and we come across this crazy rooster jogging along pushing all of his belongings in front.  Why it’s none other than Ferris Gump!  Okay, I’d never heard of him before either but he’s running around the country and raising money for a good cause.  We flick him some bucks and continue on to Leichardt Falls. It seemed to be a pleasant place to free camp if you needed to, but the water didn’t look too inviting to swim in.

We got to Burketown pretty early and decided to continue with the pool tour. The system in this town is pay at the Council and they’ll give you the code to get in the gate. Fair enough. Off we trot, pay the fee, get the code, arrive at the pool and its padlocked shut because the keypad is broken. While we were waiting for the guy to come unlock the gate, I walked down the side of the fence to check out the pool. What a cockamamie set up! There were a total of six small pools of varying depths all separately fenced off. There would be no laps swum this day, my friends. The water was pretty cold anyway and I did shake my head as I watched my crazies jump into each pool just to say they’d swum there!

Every man and their dog we met along the way said “you must visit Lawn Hill and stay at Adele’s Grove”.  Lawn Hill is now called Boodjamulla, and seeing as we were passing through we thought why not!  The water from the gorge flows through the campground which makes it a great setting.  There are a few small rapids, a pontoon to play on, bar and restaurant with a great big deck. It’s only about 10kms from Boodjamulla and you can still camp there with access to toilets but little else apart from the gorge itself.

At Boodjamulla we decide to explore a walk that will take us across a small island.  We get to where the bridge was supposed to be… you see what’s coming right?.. there is much disappointment from the children.  We attempt to adapt and overcome by walking downstream for a possible place to cross.  There was a large log that had fallen most of the way across and Xavier is jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of balancing across the log, suspended above the rapids and hidden rocks. Amelie is not looking so confident.  We judged it a little perilous for all involved and thought about coming back better prepared the next day.  We were going to swim and floating our gear across in garbage bags. Instead of the island exploration, we walked up to a great view of the plains and cliffs of the gorge.

On the way back I spotted Gary the freshie! Most fresh water crocodiles are very timid and will disappear into the water at the first sight or sound of people. Not Gary. Gary doesn’t give a sh!t. Gary is the honey badger of freshies. He was sunning himself on a log protruding from the water. One or two of us could walk right to the waters edge and Gary would just eyeball us. It was only when all four of us came down together that Gary bellyflopped into the water with lightening speed.

The local Ranger at Boodjamulla was hilarious to talk to.  We talked about the feral animals.  The Rangers catch loads of feral cats which are really problematic.  If only cat hats were a viable market commodity we might be able to make a dent in the problem!  He also quoted that Australia has around 30 million feral pigs!  And don’t get him started on the buffalo.  Apparently they are feisty!  If you go out hunting buffalo they’ll start hunting you. He inadvertently walked past one and it snorted, so he jumped into the water and started swimming. Fast swimming! Thorpe had nothing on him that day.

The next day we paddled up the gorge and I do see what everyone was raving about.  It is beautiful. The scenery, surroundings, and birdlife.  We paddled through a few gorges with a couple of sections of portage to get to the end but it was worth it.  The kids were fascinated by the Archer Fish who nibbled their fingertips and one spat water in Amelie’s face.

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We paddled past two couples in the gorge on the way back and met up with one of them on the deck at lunch time. Wouldn’t you know it, they are also from the Sunshine Coast. We’ve met quite a few people from the coast. It’s like no one works there and everyone is on holidays! Don’t look at the employment stats! Xavier also had a great time hanging out with a boy his age that was camped next door.  I guess a lot of what can be attributed as to whether you enjoy the place you’re at, are the people you are surrounded by. People have raved about this place and perhaps my expectations were too high. The gorge is lovely and the walks were cool but I didn’t think the place was exponentially better than other gorges and walks we’ve done. The people we met there however will probably make me remember this place fondly.

Mission Beach

Another gorgeous location to base ourselves and explore the wider region.  Mission Beach is Cassowary country and despite signs everywhere, we didn’t spot one.  It’s a pretty place.  The beach was just across the road from where we stayed with a clear view of Dunk Island.  Mothers Day dinner was an indulgent affair at Miller’s restaurant right next door.  The food was amazing and probably on par with some of the best restaurants I’ve been to.  Treated myself with a Mother’s Day gift by sipping on a Cheeky Coconut cocktail or two, while watching the sun set.

We planned to see many sights in the surrounding Atherton region and started with a visit to Paronella Park.  At first glance it doesn’t look like much but the story tells of a grand vision realised by a crazy Spaniard.  Anyone know of any other crazy Spaniards?  No?  He must have been one of a kind then.

There is a lot to the story but essentially, Jose Paronella comes to Australia to make his fortune before going back to marry his fiancé in Spain.  It took about 12 years of working on cane farms, saving his money, purchasing land, improving it and continuing this pattern until he becomes quite wealthy.  He purchases his ideal piece of land complete with waterfall and is ready to go back to Spain to bring his bride back to Australia.
In these 12 years he never writes a letter to his family or his fiancé and on arrival discovers that his fiancé, believing he must be dead, has married and has a son!  Never mind, her sister Margarita, at this point Xavier chimes in with “just like the pizza”, is single, so he marries her and brings her to Australia instead.  He builds his first set of castles, a family home and a ballroom.  He constructs it out of concrete and steel, and to save money collects many of the materials locally.

Sounds like someone I know and all of a sudden I feel like calling my dad.  Anyhow, on with the story, he has worked out how to generate electricity using the power from the waterfall and is one of the very first homes in the area to have electricity and running water in the home.  His wife Margarita can make and sell ice cream at the ballroom, which you can imagine, cold ice cream is a real treat in North Queensland when refrigeration is scarce.  On with more construction, he creates a tunnel of love, another castle which overlooks tennis courts, bocce courts, and a water feature.  Most places have a view through to his beloved waterfall.  He worked bloody hard his whole life to realise his dream and create a good life for his family.  Well worth the visit.

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Paronella 08Mamu Tropical Skywalk is a nice way to see the rainforest from a different perspective.  This place also offers headsets to guests for self guided information along the walk.  We only took two sets so to keep Craig informed, I performed interpretive charades.  He got some of the housekeeping stuff, like ‘there are no toilets on the track’ but couldn’t quite understand much else.  Amelie changed her mind and wanted to listen too, so now the kids both have headsets and Craig and I had one of the most peaceful walks in a long time!  The information/story boards were interesting.  I didn’t know that Ma:my indigenous clan used totems.  When a person is born they are given an animal totem and they aren’t allowed to hunt or eat their totem.  If that particular animal was low in numbers or hadn’t been seen for a while, then the ban would extend to the whole clan.  Pretty smart conservationists!


Herberton 02Herberton was just up the road and we had to visit! One of our friends held the title of “Tin Queen of Herberton” and we needed to see the road where the parade would have taken place.  It was beautiful country and I can see how she has so many fond memories from days ‘on the farm’.

The day is getting away from us and we decide to do a speed tour of Millaa Millaa, Zillie, and Ellinjaa falls. We’d race down to the falls, take a quick pick and race back to the car with “last one in the car is a rotten egg”.  Fun!  I think we all got a turn at being rotten.

The van park we stayed at was at Wongalin Beach.  Mission Beach was about 6kms to the north and South Mission Beach was obviously, to the south.  One morning we jumped on our bikes and cycled up to Mission Beach for breakfast.  No cars, no bitumen, means no helmets.  Woo hoo!  Craig got to test the ‘fat boy’ for its intended purpose and apparently it was a joy to ride along the sand.  Must do more beach rides when we get back home.

A lot of people sky dive here and we saw a few people float down to land at Mission Beach.  This peaked Xavier’s interest who is keen to jump but has to wait until he is 16yrs old to do so… and has to save up for it!  We loved this place and would happily return.

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Dinosaur Trail Part 2 – Hughenden

Winton to Hughenden
Winton to Hughenden

Craig did quite a bit of research into what vehicle and van would work best for our needs on this trip. Gotta say, he did a great job. He loved the car from the get go, and towing the van has been pretty easy. Typically we average between 14-15ltrs of diesel fuel per 100km. Towing the van with a roaring headwind all the way from Winton to Hughenden wasn’t fun and our average fuel consumption blew out to 20ltrs per 100km.

Hughenden Anderson
Oh where, oh where has my Anderson plug gone? Oh, where oh where can it be?

On arriving we discovered our first problem. The Anderson plug to the van has been wired to top up the battery in the van as we drive. It however, was missing in action. All that was left of it were some sheared off cables with the copper hanging out! I can only imagine the journey it would have had. Holding on and slowly but surely losing it’s grip on the connector to bounce and drag along the harsh bitumen of the Kennedy Development Rd. Made me think of watching Westerns with my dad, where some villian or poor hero has his hands tied and is dragged along behind a horse, loosing bits of flesh along the way. Luckily, we were camped right next to a helpful retired auto mechanic. He gave Craig some good advice and now we have a shopping list to repair it.

The second thing we lost on this leg of the journey was a tightening screw off the caravan awning. We lost one previously and they are expensive (for what they are) and tricky to replace. You also have to buy them in pairs! So we had a single spare handy for the one we lost this time. I usually put the awning away… soooo it’s probably my fault. No more spares! Must remember to tighten these screws properly!

Hughenden is 300m above sea level. That’s like living above Mt Coolum. The days were a little cooler reaching a maximum of 32 degrees during the day and we had one morning were it was a crisp 16degrees.  It was a bit of a novelty to reach for a jumper or extra blanket. In a rare show of solidarity, the children snuggled together to keep warm.

The whole reason we came here was to continue the dinosaur trail so I’d better get back to gas-bagging about fossils. The Flinder’s Discovery Centre has a life size replica of Hughie the Muttaburrasaurus. The original bones were found in Muttaburra and another skull, a few teeth and some additional bones were found in Hughenden. The Centre has a vast array of fossils and gemstones, a good video explaining the formation of Porcupine Gorge, a sheep industry display and a collection of items from years gone by. While this Centre has a lot of stuff, it lacked explanation of what was there and hence, my attention span was pretty limited. I wasn’t the only one! A few groups of people came and went in the time we were inside and I imagine the average length of visit would fall short of the one hour mark.

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The town has many dinosaur related installations throughout.  It also has locusts!  Winton has flies, Hughenden locusts, I can’t wait to see how big the pests get at our next stop!  Oh, also be careful of the Hughenden cows.  They eat cars apparently.

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Flinders River runs through town and at 1004kms, is Queensland’s longest river. It was almost bone dry. A small puddle under the bridge and a muddy section near the bank was all that was left of it in Hughenden. It was kind of surreal to see bike tracks along the riverbed and is yet another reminder of how desperately these towns need a decent drop of rain.

Flinders River 01
Flinders River

A walking trail winds its way along the bank of the river, includes an eco walk and, according to Craig, one of the best public fitness trails he has seen. That being said, he did think it was lacking lower body exercises… for his liking. Never skip leg day! There were also quite a few windmills, and windmill memorials around town. Thanks to Krissy, we now strain our eyeballs to see if they are Southern Cross windmills.

Heading to the local Chinese restaurant was a novelty and we figured the kids could practice their language skills. They only really said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, which is not nearly enough to warrant calling it a Chinese class. Amelie was fascinated with all of the Chinese decorations and told us the story of why the Chinese like the colour red. Well, she tried to. She gets a bit muddled with the details (as do I frequently enough), so Xavier corrected the story (as Craig is often left to do) and Craig and I learned a little something from the kids.Another interesting place to visit was the FJ Holden cafe. It is owned by Frankie J Holden and his wife and was a real step back in time. Juke boxes, Elvis memorabilia, Coca Cola collections and of course an extensive collection of all things Holden. The burgers were good too!

Porcupine Gorge 05.jpgThe absolute best thing about Hughenden, (in my humble opinion) was heading out to Porcupine Gorge.  This is where a pyramid section of rock is exposed and reveals the layers of earth as it formed.  It was a pretty hot day when we ventured there and I was looking forward to cooling off once we hit the water at the bottom.

It’s spectacularly beautiful in the gorge with caves of all sizes carved out of the softer sandstone and while their was water in various pools, it wasn’t flowing.  The stagnant water had a lot of ‘stuff’ growing in it.  You know, the plants and algaes that make swimming unappealing.  That stuff.  Most of the remaining pools were in the deepest parts of the river bed and the sides of the rocks were mostly vertical.  This made it difficult to even sit on the edge and dangle our feet in the water.

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Porcupine Gorge 10A steep walk into the gorge meant a steep climb out!  It took a lot of sweat with a few complaints after seeing false summits but we made it back and treated ourselves to cold fruit and yoghurt.  Hooray for a car fridge!  I also had to explain what these dragonflies were doing.

So, that pretty much sums up Hughenden.  Wait!  Just in case anyone was waiting with baited breath to hear if the pool tour continues… yes, for the record, Craig and Amelie swam in the Hughenden pool.  Now, we head towards our final destination on the Dinosaur trail, Richmond.

 

Dinosaur Trail Part 1 – Winton

Winton flies1
The main reason we headed out this way was to explore the dinosaur trail. First stop, Winton. This small country town mostly known for it’s dinosaurs, also has links to Waltzing Matilda, the Great Shearer’s Strike, Qantas and copious numbers of flies!

Going back a couple of days in Longreach, I spied an elderly, yet spritely couple sporting wide brimmed hats with head nets and a camouflaged neck flap. My thoughts went something like this, “Geeze Louise! They are taking adventuring to a whole other level! I mean, we are in the Main Street of Longreach, not the inner jungle of the Amazon! They look like right dorks!’ Judging others without really knowing anything about them is something I hate to admit doing.  I try not to and writing it down makes me feel spiteful. My only saving grace is that I did not voice this judgement to anyone else at the time.

Winton flies2Fast forward two days when we are encamped at Winton. Without trying, I’ve swallowed one fly and snorted two up my nose. Amelie also swallowed one and snorted one. Amazingly, the boys got off fly ingestion free. Craig has an old growth forest of nasal hairs protecting his airway but I’ve no idea how Xavier got away without the pleasure of eating flies. This situation had me slightly torn. Do I lose any sense of dignity and invest in a fly net or continue to eat flies? The realisation that I’m neither stylish nor dignified, promptly had me hunting for nets. Museums were sold out and the shops were shut. Karma for judging the smarter oldies I guess!

The locals told us they were having an unusually hot week with temps in the low to mid 30’s and the flies had made a resurgence. The best thing for us to do was continue the tour of public pools. Our timing is excellent, the pool is closing just after we leave town. Apparently a company my crazy Uncle Michael worked for, built this pool. It might have been before his time with the company, but Craig liked to point out it was only 24m in length and slightly crooked. Despite the shoddy construction, it was very refreshing (Disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with the construction of the pool, we just like to give my Uncle a hard time.)

This tidbit is for the families that mentioned Winton is on their bucket list of destinations – bring drinking water! The caravan park is managed by the Tattersall Hotel located across the road. It has grassy sites, free use of the washing machines and did I mention it’s across the road from the pub? Cold drinks and pub meals within walking distance is a bonus! The water however is bore water, complete with strong sulphur smell. Drinking it ‘as is’ was a challenge. Boiling it first made it a little more palatable but still, it wasn’t awesome. The kids made a big song and dance about the ‘stinky’ water and we had to explain the town was lucky to have any water at all.

Winton’s Musical Fence is out the back of town and sits amongst industrial sheds and vintage car wrecks. First impressions are that it’s not much of an attraction, however we had great fun there. The hollow plastic tubes from the drum filled with ‘found things’ were the best at making big sounds! It was a percussionists dream bashing all the old bits of metal objects and twanging the wire fence. You could even have a go at playing Waltzing Matilda. The drum kit was everyone’s favourite. It was loud fun! Probably the reason why it’s located at the back of town away from the houses. We’re claiming that experience as an on the road music lesson.

One of the nice things about travelling is meeting new people, hearing their stories and learning from them. There was a really nice family from the Sunshine Coast staying at the van park with children the same age as ours. It was great getting to know them. The kids all loved having bike races around the park together. Fearless warrior Amelie took the corners on the gravel at high speed and certainly held her own against the older kids. Even Craig had to warm up with a few laps to try and catch her. He gave them some tips on bike cornering so we’ll call that a HPE class.

Their son had an avid interest in girls, which Xavier couldn’t understand and at the same time found hilarious. One of his sage words of advice to Xavier was ” if you like someone you have to ‘plug into them’ and if they decide to ‘turn on the switch’, then that’s when you have a love connection.” On a more serious note, I scored their home made midge/mozzie recipe, which is sure to come in handy when we head north.

Winton Age of Dinos1
Australian Age of Dinosaurs – Winton

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is just out of town and where all the fly eating and snorting took place. Firstly they take you on a tour of the facility where volunteer technicians and palaeontologists are actually working away on fossils. We found out that people can volunteer to go out on digs there when you are 18+ years old. What most excited Xavier was that you can volunteer as a technician to help prepare the fossils when you turn 12. He’s counting down the days!

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Back in the museum we saw the fossils from three dinosaurs, Elliott, Banjo and Matilda and a video presentation. Elliott was named after David Elliot, the farmer who stumbled upon a strange rock which turned out to be part of a giant Cretaceous period Sauropod, Elliot. This farmer was super lucky! Years later, a meteorite crashed to earth in the area and those who saw it believed it landed on David Elliott’s property. So David visited all the people who saw it, took bearings of where they thought it went down using a ‘wooden hinged stick contraption thing’ (that is it’s technical name) and estimated it did indeed land somewhere on his property. He gave up searching after two weeks, and around two years later found it!

Millions of years ago the Winton was a swampland forest on the edge of the inland lake. Hence, a great place to find dinosaur fossils. Banjo is the most complete carnivorous dinosaur (Theropod) found in the Southern Hemisphere and Matilda was another Sauropod.  These two dinosaurs were found together and there are a number of theories about how that came to be.  It’s just as exciting as the theories about future Game of Thrones episodes.

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Winton Lark Quarry 01.jpg
Lark Quarry landscape

It’s a bit of a drive to get out to Lark Quarry to see the dinosaur stampede. A 110kms drive on sealed and unsealed road took us about 1hr 25mins. The sealed sections are interspersed with the unsealed sections, giving you and the car a bit of a break from the corrugations. The landscape around the site is quite harsh yet spectacular. It’s an arid landscape with sparse, gnarly vegetation. Driving up the ‘jump up’ to the museum opens up the vista and I can only imagine how beautiful the land would look under the light of a full moon.

Winton Lark Quarry 02.jpgThere are a few fossils on display and to see the stampede you pay for a guided tour. As we finished our tour a retired couple who’d just arrived, got in their car and left because they didn’t want to pay for the tour. So that’s a 220km round trip to refuse to pay $22 see the stampede. Really? The girl who conducted the tour is stationed out there for 5 days on her own, does up to 5 or 6 tours a day and has other duties such as watering gardens, cleaning etc. How can they run the place if there is no fee?

Different people have reviewed the attraction varyingly. Some say ‘it was the best thing ever’ to the other end where people thought it was ‘crappy to go all the way there to see some muddy footprints’. Personally, our family really liked it. I’m in awe that something from 95million years ago survived to tell us a story today. It is also the only one of its kind in the world. A stampede of three kinds of dinosaurs. Two smaller dinosaur types (Coelurosaurs and Wintonopus) are minding their business probably just having a drink and a bit of a gossip at the waters edge, when this big, trouble making, meat eater (Theropod) comes in and says “I think I’ll have some of that!”

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The site is now protected and we were inventing ways tourists could have a closer view of the prints. Craig suggested snow shoe like apparatus with sponge soles. I went down a more mission impossible route with getting strapped into a trapeze system that’s suspended from the roof so you could travel the path of the larger sauropod or for the thrill seekers, get thrashed around following the flight of a scared chicken type dinosaur. Tip: take food and drinks. Previously they had nothing available and now have a small section of long shelf life foods, such as bags of chips, lollies, ice creams and soft drinks.

We took a look around Bladensberg National Park on the way home. Dry creek beds, dusty roads and twisted trees formed much of the landscape.  We stopped at Scrammy’s Gorge for a bit, but stayed away from the crumbling edge with no hope of getting to the bottom in search of a bit of water. Scrammy Jack was a hermit who came out to this place, built a small shack and pen for his horse, and died out here. He was called Scrammy because he lost his hand (I’m assuming his right) when a wagon rolled over it and an old English term for left handers is ‘Scrammy’.

Winton Anzac DayANZAC day arrived, so a Winton dawn service it is.  They did a good job and had a RAAF representative from Townsville do the ceremonial address. The MC for the service was funny as he kept mumbling “bloody terrible” in the background whenever a small glitch occurred.

After the ceremony a couple approached me and I recognised them as past employers of mine. One of the first jobs I had when I left the RAAF was working for their advertising company on the Sunshine Coast, and here we are years later at the same dawn service in Winton. Australia is a large country and at the same time a small place!

Off we go to destination two on the dinosaur trail, Hughenden.

Barcaldine or Barcaldine?

Barcaldine TOKBarcaldine is more commonly known as Barcy (bar-key) by those who live in this region. It’s correct pronunciation is, Bar-cawl-den. I liked to pronounce it Bar-cul-dine, which made Craig grimace every time I said it. Why? Because I like to be annoying sometimes. I don’t know why I actually try. I don’t have to, it comes naturally.  Anyway, it’s best know as home to the Tree of Knowledge, and birthplace of the Union Movement and Labour Party.  More on that later.

Along the journey from Emerald to Barcy we passed over a lot of creeks, and just like the one called ‘Toogood Creek’, they weren’t too good. Bone dry, mini grand canyons, with exposed twisted logs littered along their length. They would make for beautiful photos, but I bet the locals don’t see it that way.

You may wonder how we fill in the 3hr drive to our lunch stop at Jericho. We told the kids to look out the window. Hey, it’s what we did before iPads and electronic games! They are allowed limited time on the iPad and usually play Minecraft. Otherwise, Xavier will usually read, Amelie will colour in or read and they have some school type workbooks they can do.

We’ve banned ‘I Spy’ in the car. There’s only so much stuff you can spy within the car and we are out of new stuff to spy! Instead we find shapes in the clouds and play a ‘What am I?’ game. This game can be pretty tricky as sometimes the clues don’t fit the answer. For example, I am a thing, I am man-made and you take it camping. The answer, an apple. What the?  Science class, here we come.

The area either side of Jericho has a crazy amount of termite mounds! I think they were termite mounds.  They were only about 500mm to 1m tall and they were everywhere. Some of them were wearing t-shirts! Yes that’s right, I said t-shirts. Ladies t-shirts, mens t-shirts and kids t-shirts.  It was a pity we couldn’t get a photo. Towing the van with no shoulder to pull onto doesn’t allow the luxury of coming to a quick stop for a photo of a t-shirt clad termite mound.

We pulled up right outside the Jericho drive-in which is old school cool! It could probably hold about a dozen cars and there are canvas swing-back chairs up the back for peak crowds.  The take away shop next door was full of dusty bric-a-brac with daddy long-leg spiders in every nook and cranny. If you ever stop there don’t let this first impression fool you, the burgers were delicious and the chicken chips were moorish! Most people head on past through to Barcaldine. If you have time, it’s worth stopping at Jericho and they look like they could do with the trade.

Thanks to Xavier, we were laughing our asses off coming into Barcaldine. He was talking about the author that came up on his Kindle ‘save screen’. Our boy may read very well and very fast, but the downfall of not reading out loud is incorrect pronunciation. Xavier called author Alexandre Dumas (Doo-mah), Alexandra Dumb-ass.  Dumb-ass!  Still makes me laugh.  School kid humour, but still humorous!

It may be hard to stop for photo ops with the van, however it only takes about 15mins to set-up camp. Bonus! This gave us heaps of time to go see The Tree of Knowledge in the daylight and check out the Australian Workers Museum before heading back to camp where damper was on offer and happy hour was in full swing.

Tree of knowledge day
Tree of Knowledge – Daytime
Tree of Knowledge night
Tree of Knowledge – Night time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of which political party you are partial to, the story surrounding the Tree of Knowledge is really interesting. It may have remained a very old tree, however there was nothing special about the tree other than the events that unfolded around it.

The story goes, that in 1891 the shearers staged a strike against low wages and poor working conditions.  Well, the pastoralists were having none of that!  Serious shenanigans ensued with the burning down of shearing sheds, shot outs and unionist imprisonments.  This was happening all over the place, not just in Barcaldine!  The tree was significant as it was the place where influential members met and formed the labour union movement and eventually the Labour Party. Henry Lawson even penned a poem about these events called Freedom on the Wallaby.

Tree of Knowledge memorial

In 2006 the tree was poisoned with Roundup!  What seemed a bastard act, resulted in a pretty magnificent memorial which has won a multitude of architecture awards and cost the Australian people $5million.  Bet that idiot is kicking themselves now!

When the memorial is lit up at night, the reflections off the timber chimes and the void glow green, representing the canopy of the tree had it been living.

You need more than a few hours to visit the Australian Workers cottage!  There is so much to rediscover about Australia’s history and the exhibits are very detailed.

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There is too much to write about here but I just have to share my favourite story:

At the Ravenswood gold diggings in 1872 there were 42 licenced ‘pubs’ (shanties) within a three mile radius.  The police had no proper lock-up so they chained prisoners to a big log outside their tent.  One night, a giant Irish miner was arrested and chained up, but later he was found in a shanty carrying the 150kg log on his shoulder.  He was made to carry the log back to the ‘lock-up’ and threatened that if he did not behave himself he would be charged with theft of the log!

 

Barcaldine should be renamed Bar-crawl-dine.  Five pubs stretch out along about 500m of the main street!  Not a bad way to have a few drinks without having to travel too far between venues, but imagine how you’d be at the end, when the town held 14 pubs in its hey day!

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Our tour of public pools hit a wall. Barcaldine Public pool was shut two days before we arrived!  Two!  Not only did they shut it, they drained it.  We couldn’t even jump the fence for a sneaky swim!

Onwards to Ilfracombe and Longreach.  We’ll swim there.

 

The best thing about Emerald is…

Sunsets out west are best

The sunsets are pretty awesome, but the best thing about visiting Emerald is seeing Lizy, Barry and Mikayla.  My sister and I have always been close and it’s easy when we visit each other. Relaxed and no expectations. Easy.

We had a belated birthday gift giving with our Pokemon obsessed niece Mikayla. A plush Pikachu toy was the most cherished gift. She slept with it and left instructions for Xavier and Amelie to train him, feed him, bath him and tell him stories while she went to school.

4 5

 

Fairbairn Dam, the Big Easel, Botanic Gardens and historic train station are the main local attractions in Emerald, and a trip out to the gem fields have all been done in past visits. This trip we were happy to go to places we haven’t seen before. First up, traditional homeland to the Ghungalu people, Blackdown Tablelands.  A place of sandstone cliffs, gorges and rock pools.

Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze
Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze

As we drove through Comet, Blackwater and Dingo, it gave us a chance to test our UHF set up. We settled on a channel and used the call signs, Wookie-1and Ecto-1. I should explain. Barry is a pretty big Star Wars fan and Craig and I relived the 80’s last Halloween by dressing up as the Ghostbusters. Our ute is white, same colour as the Ghostbusters vehicle. Coincidence? I think not! We are contemplating naming our van Ecto-2. What do you reckon? Yay or nay?

It was a beautiful day. Big blue skies and a comfortable 28 degrees. As we approached the Blackdown Tablelands, which I kept incorrectly referring to as the Blacktown Tablelands, there was a huge amount of grey smoke billowing from the top. Burn off! Okay, so the vistas might be a little hazy but we were looking forward to visiting the rock pools.

 

School on the roadThere are no formal school requirements that need to be fulfilled while the kids are away for two terms but we do ‘school of life’. Craig is a nerd and great at explaining things to the kids. The top of Blackdown Tablelands is 900m above sea level, for every 100m you rise above sea level you drop approximately 1 degree in temperature. Our outdoor temp reading according to Ecto-1, was 28 degrees at the bottom and got down to 22 degrees at the top. I’ll have to google the elevation at the bottom to see exactly what height we were at to begin with. It also took us about an hour to get to the top after stopping to check out the view along the way so it’s likely the temp would have increased within that hour. We worked out that we definitely lost 6 degrees, possibly 7, maybe at a push even 8 degrees. Close enough to the prediction. Boom! Science class dismissed.

8It’s only a 2km walk to the rock pools, yet it will test you. The path is covered with tiny round rocks that brought back memories of roller skating at the Argonaut Rollerdome. Amelie was nervous about falling on her recently healed wrist, so we walked down hand in hand. Too many times to count, I did single arm bicep curls while Amelie was doing side splits, front splits and diagonal splits. Thankfully, we didn’t both get wobbly feet at the same time. It was pretty funny walking back with a large group of teenagers walking down to the pools. Every one of them had a little ‘slip and recover’ moment. I read ‘shame worthy’ on their faces. Could have been that teenage stage where everything matters, or it could’ve been because I was laughing at them.

A trip down a set of stairs brought us to ‘Rainbow Falls’, a ro7ck pool with waterfall, giant ferns and palms. The guys and kids all braved the refreshing (code word for freezing bloody cold) water. While it was fine for the guys and kids to strip off with discrete towel placement, change into their togs and brave the water, Lizy and I stayed high and dry. The logistics of getting naked and changing into togs under the cover of a towel was not worth the probability of flashing body bits to strangers and their children. Everyone else loved jumping off the rocks and ducking under the falls.

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Rainbow Falls Blackdown TablelandsBack up the 240 stairs, my trainer’s voice echoed in my head, counting the step-up reps. “That’s 50. That’s 150, less than 100 to go!”. Sadly, I have to admit being puffed at the top. A short walk further down the track brings you out to a few smaller pools and the creek. Xavier braved the jump into the largest one. There were a group of younger guys and gals, drinking, playing music, bomb diving into the pool, sliding along their bellies into the smaller pool below and braving the jump into the smallest of pools which would have been the size of a floating ring. They were having a great time and I was expecting one of them to miscalculate at any minute and crack their heads on the rock. How things have changed! No doubt a decade or two ago, I could have been any one of those kids!

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The next day we headed out to Theresa Creek Dam which is not far from Clermont. There’s a large campsite with a great playground for the kids and small shop doing decent takeaway food for lunch. The wider area is pretty dry but this camp site was lush and green. A benefit from being right on the dam’s edge.

Theresa Creek Dam
Theresa Creek Dam

Emerald PoolWhile we were in Emerald, Craig conducted swim squad for us. The fact that Xavier is better at backstroke than me overcame any earlier grumblings. I don’t remember disliking backstroke quite so much, but I do now! I’ve always sucked at swimming. Our races were pretty close except for backstroke, and swim squad was actually fun. Craig would like to do a public pool tour of Northern Australia. We should all be better swimmers by the time we come back!

The cousins had a ball hanging out together. Eating ice cream at the movies, playing endless games of Pokemon (Miky’s rules), laughing and mucking around way past their bedtimes. It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to my sister and Barry. Not so much for our niece Mikayala. She was ready for us to leave and was looking forward to getting back to her usual routine. I appreciate her honesty. It’s refreshing.

So off we go again. Next stop Barcaldine.

On the road

stockmen

Finally, the day arrived. The first day of our 5 month caravan-camping adventure. All we had to do was pack the van, do a few last minute things around the house and hand the keys to our housesitter. ETD 10am!

We started off planning and neatly packing things into spaces we guessed would be handy. One busted sewer pipe discovery and other unexpected house things saw time ticking away at a rapid pace. Our sedate, calm packing turned into rushed chaos. The kids would ask, “Mum, where should I put this?” and my reply was usually, “Anywhere! Just get it in the van!”

GinGin Maurgrah
Graham & Maureen’s farm at Horsecamp.

At around 2.30pm we hit the road and were on our way to Graham & Maureen’s farm near Gin Gin. The turn off from the highway is a tricky one.  It had just gotten dark, we missed the sign, a truck was up our butt and we had nowhere to turn around.

It could have been our first night of free camping!  Luckily Graham came out to meet us in Gin Gin and guide us back in the dark.

Being fairly new to this whole caravan thing, towing the van in the dark on narrow, winding, dirt roads, biting the dust from Graham’s ute, made me a little anxious. Did I mention, I haven’t towed the van yet? Or done a towing course for that matter. I’m thankful Craig was driving.

The kids loved hanging out on the farm. Cuddling dogs, feeding the sheep, alpacas and cows, and chasing chickens.  It was also a real treat to scrape the animal turds off the bottom of their shoes before we hit the road again.  Didn’t need that smell in the car for the next 5 hours!

Onwards to Cania Gorge. I love these long road trips as there is a lot of beauty in the everyday. Seas of flowing grasses, the slow motion arc of water from a giant sprinkler, the dense foliage of sugar cane plantations, cows dotted over the hills, a V formation of birds silhouetted against a sunset. Enough wax lyrical, you’ll all think I’ve gone soft!

Mulgildie BunyipThe Mulgildie Bunyip is looking a little worse for wear with it’s missing eye and weathered appearance.  You can not miss it as you drive towards the town and the story of the Bunyip is interesting.  The Bunyip is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes. The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia. However, the bunyip appears to have formed part of traditional Aboriginal beliefs and stories throughout Australia, although its name varied according to tribal nomenclature.

Monto ArtworkMonto was our lunch stop and celebrates it’s history by recognising their first doctor to the area.  23 year old Doctor Joyce Wharton, arrived in the area in 1926.  The roads were notoriously boggy and trapped many motor vehicles.  Dr Wharton often rode her sulky to visit patients.  Many of the local townships around here celebrate their history with this type of sculpture but this was the first one I saw that celebrated a woman’s contribution.

Monto Farmstuff

 

Ever tried to think of a business name?  It’s usually pretty difficult to come up with something awesome.  Not for these guys, and it can pretty much be applied to any business.  Just add the word ‘stuff’ to your core business.  Social Media Stuff, Physio Stuff, Book Stuff, Wine Stuff, it can be used endlessly.  Marketing genius!

The Big 4 at Cania Gorge is a children’s paradise! Jumping pillows, a water park, lots of places to ride your bike and most importantly, other kids. The park was pretty quiet as school holidays had just ended and the only other families were up from NSW. We’ve been to Cania Gorge before and explored most of the tracks. We didn’t go for any walks this time as it was really just an overnight stop to break up the drive to our next destination. The kids got to burn off a heap of energy and we got to organise all the ‘dumped’ items we packed.

While I love Facebook, those who aren’t on it have asked me to send photos or write a blog.  Okay it’s only my parents who aren’t on Facebook.  I figured it’d be easier to blog and share to Facebook, than email. Now that I’ve written all of this guff, I’m not so sure!  I’ve penned most of this while we travelled the same road out of Cania Gorge. “Tribute” by Tenacious D hit the playlist in the car and I had to sign off for a family sing a long.

We are in Emerald right now, staying at my sister’s place and enjoying time with family, so I’m signing off for now.

The Suarez.