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Australia 2008

Savannah Way

Leg details

Date
August 10 - September 3, 2008
Leg
Alice Springs - Devils Marbles - Katherine - Mataranka - Borroloola - Lawn Hill NP - Riversleigh - Gregory Downs - Inverleigh - Normanton - Mitchell River - Chillagoe - Undara Volcanic NP - Cairns
PDF




Leg map (click to enlarge in separate window)

On Sunday, August 10, 2008, after some delicious pancakes at the Alice Springs Big4 Camping, we leave Alice Springs in direction of Darwin.
We plan to travel to Mataranka and there wait for Michi and Marlene, some Swiss travellers that are coming from Cairns on the Savannah Way, that want to meet us on their way over to Perth.

Shortly after passing the Hanns Ranges we see a sign informing that there is a quarantine station ahead of us and that we are not supposed to carry fruits or vegetables with us.
Now we have a problem!
We are fully loaded with fruit and vegetables for the next 2 - 3 weeks, supplies for our trip on the Savannah Way over to Queensland.
What now?
We continue on until we find a sign with a phone number that we can call on the sat-phone.
But the phone number given on the sign is incomplete.
There isn't much more we can do at this moment than to continue on.
Should there be a manned quarantine station we will tell the personnel where we are heading to and why we did not comply with eating a few kg of fruit and vegetables before reaching their station.
Should they want to penalise us we can at least prove to them, that we have tried to call that number.
To our relief there is no station.
But we are now fully aware that we will have to be extremely cautious with discarding rubbish, as this is a fruit-fly free zone.

After Alyuen the spring flowers start appearing on the side of the road.
The white and bluish cushions of flowers look pretty on the red sand.

A few kilometers later Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) becomes dominant at the side of the road and the flowers disappear.
The native flowers don't seam to stand much of a chance against this grass that is native to Africa and south western Asia.
Buffel grass was introduced for erosion control and as a pasture species as it can withstand heavy grazing.
Its spread has gotten out of control and Buffel is now widely regarded as a weed.
(see www.weeds.org.au for more details)

We continue on and stop for the night at the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve.
We stroll through the rocks but cannot find the ones pictured in all brochures!
Well, we'll look for them tomorrow.

After a cold (6.5°C) and windy night on Monday we wake up to beautiful sunshine.

As we drive out of the reserve we see the famous balancing rocks.
But we only stop for a few pictures; the cold wind is a not very pleasant companion.

Continuing north every so often we pass areas with lots of red termite mounts.
Then again there are large areas where none can be seen.
We wonder, what is the trigger for termites to settle or not ...

Next stop is Tennant Creek, a sleepy little town with an amazingly well maintained main road with flowers and green lawns.
The gardens surrounding the mostly wooden houses are well populated with termite mounts and Susi wonders, why the termites haven't already eaten the houses.
Maybe they are Spinifex termites and don't eat wood ...?
We don't know but it is interesting to watch.

After some shopping we head out to Lake Mary Ann.
The lake is almost dry.
We wonder, where the water that they use in Tennant Creek to keep those lawns so green comes from ...

On the endless Stuart Highway we continue on to Elliott.
By now the arid desert like country has changed to a solid groundcover of shrubs, some Spinifex and lots of Buffel grass, but there are almost no flowers to be seen.

We would like to visit Longreach Waterhole but are not successful in finding the way to it.


So we continue on to Newcastle Waters where we find some interesting memorabilia.
For more details on Newcastle Waters and droving done in this area please click here.

As we leave Newcastle Waters we pass a lagoon and spot some brolgas.

By now we are so far north that the day-temperatures become pleasant with 23°C.
That's more to our liking!

Then we look for a spot for the night and find a suitable area on a small track leading to a Microwave Tower.
We have found that those Telstra towers are a good place to check for a spot for the night.

On Tuesday morning after another cold night (7°C) we are soon on our way further north.

For a long time we drive through light forests with an incredible amount of termite mounts.
They are brown coloured which indicates a change in soil.

We also find this small bird's nests in the high grass but have no clue, what bird could have built it.

More and more the Mulga is replaced by Eucalyptus, the country turns greener and greener.
After Daly Waters amongst the green colour of the trees some red starts appearing too.
When looking a bit closer we realise that "red" is not equal to "red" ....

... there are many varieties of plants producing red "parts" ...

... one of the flowers has a striking resemblance with the Kimberley Rose ...


... another one seems to have lots of nectar and attracts birds ....

Further north the termite mounts start changing their shape from long thin mounts to round ones.
They exist side by side ..... one wonders, which shape is the "correct" one ....

Then we reach Mataranka where we decide to head out to the Jalmurark Campgrounds in the Elsey National Park and stay for the rest of the day and the night.
By now the temperature has risen to beautiful 28.5°C and we cannot wait to go for a dip!

But the water of the Waterhouse River (later on Roper River) is not really warm; one can hardly feel that warm thermal water flows into it a bit further upstream.
This is too cold for us so we turn around and head back to the Mataranka Homestead.
Mataranka Thermal Pool (water temperature of 32.5 °C) offers some safe swimming.
Freshwater crocodiles inhabit the Park but are harmless; saltwater crocodiles have been found further downstream from the Park but after each wet season the river is patrolled for crocodiles before being declared open for swimming.

We head down to the pool and have a bit of a soak.

Bliss!

We even have Internet-reception and soon are busy reading emails.
We find one from Michi and Marlene telling us that they are already in Burketown, where they have found an Internet possibility in the local library.
They inform us that they intend to visit Lawn Hill National Park on the way west and will probably only be in Mataranka on the 17th.
As this is too late for us we decide to drive to the Butterfly Springs in the proposed Limmen National Park and wait for them there.
We inform them accordingly, hoping that they will find Internet connection in Borroloola and be able to receive the mail.

The rest of the day is passed with watching the various "animal activities" ....
Especially watching the Rainbow Lorikeets drinking from the tap was amusing.
Click here for a short movie (file type: .wmv, size: 748 KB).

On Wednesday, August 13, we are woken up by singing birds.
It has been along time since we were able to sleep with open windows and have been able to hear the birds singing in the morning.

We get ready to head out into the bush and the Savannah Way.
When Ruedi wants to inflate the tires the engine stops with an error code telling him that the level of the coolant is too low.
Ruedi can fill 3 litres of water into the expansion tank ....
Something is wrong and we will have to watch out for the fault.

We head into town to fill up the jerry-cans with diesel.
On the way to the cash register Susi sees water dripping down from the front of the OKA ... the expansion tank for the coolant has cracked and will have to be replaced before we can continue on.

After the experiences we have had in Alice Springs with spares being delivered "a.s.a.p." all alarm bells go off.
After a few enquiries we find out that "express post" deliveries are flown from Perth to Darwin and then loaded onto a road train to Katherine.
There they are unloaded and passed on to the Greyhound bus for delivery in Mataranka.
Expected time of delivery: 1 week!

The friendly lady at the post office recommends that we drive up to Katherine where we would be able to get the parcel within 48 hours.
Hmm ... today is Wednesday, plus 48 hours makes Friday ...
If we are very lucky we could get it this week, otherwise it will be Monday, as the post office in Katherine is not open on Saturdays.

Well, we have no other choice.
We give instructions to OKA to send the tank to Katherine and get ready for the drive to Katherine.
Luckily the OKA can still be driven even with the crack in the coolant expansion tank if the lid on the tank is removed.
(Removing the lid prevents pressure building up in the coolant system.)

After all this has been decided we inform Heidi & Peter, Ruedi's sister and husband.
We also send an email to Michi and Marlene, informing them that the plans have changed again and that we will head up to Katherine.

But there is also another problem:
South of Katherine there is a weighing station that is known to be manned very often.
We know that when we are fully loaded with extra water and extra diesel we are over the weight limit (like most off-roaders are ....).
And of course we filled all our tanks this morning including 4 jerry-cans (= 80 kg extra diesel) ... so we decide to drive as close as possible to Katherine, then wait until it gets dark and sneak past the weighing station behind some other large vehicles.

On the way we stop at the rest-stop at Leach Lagoon and find a small track leading down to the lagoon.

Water-birds have a feed and some Lotus flowers bloom - what a peaceful place.
This is a perfect place to spend the afternoon and wait for nightfall.

We also find a good spot to hide the 4 jerry-cans (it is so well hidden that Ruedi takes a GPS position to ensure he can find the jerry-cans again in a few days on our way back to Mataranka ....)

Before we leave we also dump all our drinking water (2 x 100 lt = 200 kg) and empty the waste water tank.
With all this done we hope to be close to our legal weight limit ....

As we leave the rest area we are passed by a tour operator bus with a trailer.
That's exactly what we need!
We tailgate it and drive past the weighing station ... which is currently not weighing ... but we got past it and into Katherine and that's all that counts.
Relived we find ourselves a caravan park and have a good nights sleep.

After a balmy night with 18.4°C (great, that's more to our liking) we get busy in Katherine trying to find some coolant for our Cummins engine.
We have received the details from OKA and it is not easy to find one that matches that specification.
After a few tries we actually find a dealer but have to buy a 25 lt drum.
As we are close to the Low Level Crossing where the Big4 Caravan Park is we hop over and book a site for a night.

Next is the post office to find out by when we can expect our spare to be here.
The shock is big when the lady says: "Don't even bother coming in on Friday, you will be lucky if your Express Post arrives on Monday. This is the Outback NT (Northern Territory)!
Not Today - Not Tomorrow - Not Tuesday - Not Thursday - Not This week!"
Pretty frustrated we return to the caravan park and extend for another 3 nights.

Friday is a pretty day, with warm temperatures and a light breeze.
We keep ourselves busy with work on the OKA and on the computer.

After 4 PM we head into town and go to the post office with low hopes.
We have to try ....
Ruedi is the brave one while Susi looks to the other side, her spirits very, very low ...
But surprise, surprise: we are lucky; an Express Pack has arrived for us!

We head back to the caravan park to check if it fits, and surprise #2: it actually does!
Great!
Ruedi gets the repair done.
We relax a bit and have a good nights rest after all this worrying and frustration.

On Saturday, after another warm and comfortable night we decide to stay another day and get the washing done.
Ruedi also wants to exchange the coolant and checks the radiator for a possibility to add the liquid.
But he cannot find any .... guess what. On the OKA's you will have to add the coolant through the expansion tank .....

While he has the engine cover open he checks the tension of the belts and finds one to be loose.
It's the one used for the air condition.
When looking a bit closer he finds that the bolt used to tension the air con belt has broken off and that the bottom part of the fixation has been lost.
The whole unit is hold in place by the fuel high pressure sensor, a very sensitive switch that we have been warned by OKA to treat with great care.
Even having one in spare, should it break it would set us back by 1200 AUD ...

Ruedi spends the whole morning rebuilding a new holding mechanism.
Luckily he has so much material and tools (= weight) with him.

Then we go shopping and in town receive an SMS that Heidi and Peter have arrived in Mataranka.
What now?
Should we wait until dark and try to sneak through the weighing station again?
Should we wait until early on Sunday morning and sneak through at dawn?
Or should we just take the risk that the weighing station is attended and we might get pulled over?

Well, we still got the empty tanks, have used diesel in the meantime and should not be much over the limit.
We also see many prime movers standing on the side of the road so we assume that there are not too many trucks on the road and the weighing station could be unattended.
We decide to risk it and start driving south.
As we get closer to the station we see that the signs are covered up, an indication that the station is closed.
Out of curiosity we pull over and put the OKA on the scale. Hmmmm ..... it is a bit heavier than we thought .... Ah well, we usually don't drive much on bitumen and that is where the weighing stations usually are.
Then we reach Mataranka, find Heidi & Peter and settle down.
We will stay here until Tuesday and pass the time with a bit of Internet, swimming in the thermal springs, watching the movie "We of the Never Never" that is screened at the homestead daily, just have a bit of a break after these stressful few days.

The animals are one of the prime attractions here.

We also find some more time for some soaking in the springs.

Mataranka's Rainbow Spring and other springs of this region have long been known by local Mangarrayi / Yangman people.
However it wasn't until WW2 when soldiers stationed at Mataranka dammed the spring, turning it into a relaxing swimming pool.

The pool is known for its large population of flying-foxes too.
Currently not too many are present as there is not much food around for them.

We also visit Bitter Springs (we actually like Bitter Springs better .....).

The water is absolutely clear.
It feels like swimming in a large aquarium.
We get out the goggles and drift with the current passing all these amazing underwater gardens.

For more details on Bitter Springs' and Mataranka's history, geology and the flying-foxes please click here.

On Tuesday morning we leave Mataranka and turn east into the Roper Highway.

After the bitumen finishes the dirt road continues on in pretty good condition.
We are surprised about the amount of traffic we encounter, both in our direction and coming against us.

We stop at the Roper Bar.
It is such a lovely place but because of the saltwater crocodiles having a swim in the pools it is a definitive "no go".
There are still many VB beer cans on the ground spoiling the pretty scene but it seems to us that it has improved a bit since our last visit two years ago.

It is quiet interesting to stand at the same spot where Leichhardt in his 1844-45 expedition lost four horses and his botanical collection in the river before locating the rocky bar and its safe crossing.
Leichhardt named the river after an expedition member, John Roper, on 19 October 1945.

When looking up and down the river it is hard to believe that in the early to mid 1870s the navigable section of the Roper River was the busiest waterway in the Northern Territory, with the Roper Depot having the largest population of the Territory settlements.

Then it is time for some "tourist pictures".

We also visit the ruins of the old settlement.
Sadly the information tables are badly damaged by the sun and also by stupid people leaving their graffiti on it.
But some interesting facts can still be read.
If you are interested in details please click here.

Then we turn into the Savannah Way and continue on past the area where we had searched for the Old Hodgson Crossing two years ago.
When we pass the track leading to the Rocky Bar Crossing we cannot resist and have to drive down to see, if the track actually leads to the crossing.
It does, but the bar is dry.
It must look quite spectacular in the wet... guess we will have to come back one day when the creeks are still flowing ...

Billabongs start appearing and we stop at a very pretty one to watch the lilies and the birds.

Along the Roper River there are many good camping and fishing spots.
It is a shame that we (still) don't fish, even though we are both Aussies now ...


We continue on until we reach Lomarieum Lagoon where we stay for the night.

After a not to cold (14.5°C) but rather humid night on Wednesday morning we are woken up by the songs of many different birds.

The lagoon is covered by fog and the sun is just starting to break through.

Birds are waking up and getting ready for the day.
It is such a pretty and peaceful place.

We continue south on the Savannah Way ant reach the turn-off to Roper Port.
Here we also find the end of a track that we had tried to drive from the other end on our last visit two years ago.
Then the track had just vanished in the high grass and in a creek bed we had "altered" the chassis and improved the departure angle a bit by hitting the ground with the spare wheel with the full weight of the OKA ... click here for the details of that story and a short movie.

The Savannah Way has long sections with very bad corrugation.
It does not really bother us but Heidi & Peter's Kokopelli takes quite a beating.

Next stop is the Towns River Camp, one of the camp sites is along the river.

There we spot our first crocodile!
It's a freshwater one, soaking up the sun and warmth on the rocks.

There are also some flowers and a pretty beetle that we can spot ... don't know how many we missed on our walk along the track ....

Next we deviate to Brumbys Lagoon.
The lagoon still seems to be flooded.

There are already many different plants germinating in the areas where the water has retreated.
Susi goes for a walk and finds that some of them are already blooming; some flowers are just 1 - 2 mm large ... or small?

There are also very interesting trees trunks; the patterns of the bark is amazing.

The structure of the termite mounts has changed too.
Up to here there were many small slim towers up to approx. 1 m high.
Now there are fewer and they are large and round.
Their shape is as if somebody had been poring mud over them.

Then it changes again.
Around Yangkanji Billabong (Lake Mary) the termite mounts consist of many flat towers that are joined together, as if the termites want to have as much surface as possible to keep the mounts well vented.

At Cox River Crossing we spot another crocodile ... or is it just a log?
We also find marks in the sand ... we think ...

Then we reach Butterfly Springs, where we want to stay for the night.
The campground is already nicely full.
We find ourselves a spot where we should be ok with our solar panels.
As we stop the engine we hear a pretty familiar dialect from the group of people in the camping area just next to us ... they are from Switzerland .....

Later on we meat them at the pool and have a bit of a chat.
As the water in the pool is rather cool they get all excited about Lorella Springs where they camped the night before.
Warm springs ..... sounds intriguing ....

In the evening fruit bats invade the springs.
They decide that the trees around us are the place they want to hang around.
We don't really mind except that every time the bats leaver their tree they seem to have the urge to urinate which results in our campers being sprinkled with urine ... and it stinks!!!!

We stay for an extra day and take it easy on Thursday.

On Friday, August 22, we visit the ranger to pick up the key for the gate to the Nathan Lost City.

Shortly after passing the gate the track gets rough; some sections can even be called very interesting.
Then we pass through a spot that is almost like a gate in the rock formations.

We park the vehicles and climb to the top of the next hill to have a look at the surroundings.

Then we reach the Nathan Lost City and are impressed.

We have already seen a few of the lost cities in Australia but this one is by far the prettiest one we have visited.

The recent bush fires have removed much of the vegetation but the surviving plants are blooming.

We also spot animals and also some trees that are survival-experts ...

There are at least two arches, one of them is so large that vehicles can drive through.

Also interesting is to explore the shapes and colours created by erosion.

It is amazing what wind and water can do to rock!

In some cases the rock has shifted down .....

... in some areas due to varying rock types some very interesting shapes have been formed by the weather over time.


The colours and the formations are very nice and we take many pictures .... too many .....
Delete delete delete ...? ... it is very hard to pick the best ones.

Too quickly it is time to head back but we want to reach Lorella Springs today.
Continuing on the Savannah Way after the Butterfly Springs the corrugation gets worse and some nasty wash-outs appear.

We drive past some water buffaloes.
They are well nourished and seem to do well out here.
There are not too many left.
They are known to carry tuberculoses so most of them were shut.

Then we reach the turn-off to the Lorella Springs.
First the road is much better and Heidi & Peter in their Kokopelli already rejoice.
Then the track deteriorates, gets sandy, has put holes, bull dust, you name it.
We and the OKA don't mind but they and their Toyota take a bit of a beating.

Then we reach the Lorella Springs Campground and spot the Bremach truck of a Swiss / Dutch couple we had already met at Palm Valley during our stay in July.
Like Heidi & Peter they have brought their truck over from Switzerland in a container and drive around Australia with their plates from Zürich.

Next thing we spot is a blue Bucher-Duro, a truck build in Switzerland.
The truck also has plates from Zürich.
Somehow we must be in the wrong movie ... yesterday the group of tourist from Zürich at the Butterfly Springs, today the two trucks with Zürich plates in a place that is 28 km off the main track ...

But it is already a bit late and for the moment the most important thing for all of us is the dip into the warm water of the thermal springs.
Bliss!

After a windy night on Saturday morning we wake up to an overcast sky.
For us unskilled weather prophets it looks like some rain is building up.
But after a while almost all of the clouds evaporate and the sun shines again.

First we are visited by the couple from the Bremach, then the couple from the Duro comes up for a chat and then it is lunch and we have to hurry up a bit.
We get some valuable details about Cape York from the manager of the camping as he has been up there some 15 times already.

Then we quickly visit the thermal springs and off we are.

We head to Borrolloola via the Ryans Bend Road, where after some shopping and refuelling we head down to the boat ramp and set up camp for the night.
This tip also came from the manager of the Lorella Springs camping.
Thanks for that!

Early on Sunday morning after a warm night we are woken up by the birds once more.
It is a lovely place down here at the boat ramp.
As there is no wind yet all is mirrored in the water.
But there are tons of mozzies and they are active!

It is overcast again and we are not sure about the weather but we have no forecast so we will just have to take it as it comes.


We continue on towards the Queensland border and pass many nice creek crossings.
Especially one of them, Robinson River Crossing, is very nice.
The creek forms small puddles where one can have a dip without having to fear the crocodiles.

Right after Calvert River we stop for lunch and discover these interesting rocks ....

By now the sun has burned away the clouds and the temperature has risen to over 30°C.
The corrugation on the track gets worse and worse.
Also some sandy sections appear, some with pot holes in them that are hard to be seen.

We pass Wollogorang Roadhouse which is no longer open for business.
Then we reach the Queensland border and are relived that no quarantine offices are standing there with their bin.

We continue on and reach Westmoreland Station.
They must be used to tourist, especially fishermen, as there are "No camping" signs on the tracks leading to the lagoons.
A bit further down the road we find a spot just beside the road where we can stand.
It's nothing special but it's flat and will have to do for the night.

Peter & Heidi's power supply for their GPS and iPack has given up on the corrugation and we cannot fix it.
That means that they will have to navigate with the paper maps we carry with us.
Once again we learn that electronic equipment is great but one still has to carry the paper backup-solution along .....

The night is very comfortable with the temperature staying at 19°C.
We are definitely travelling toward the tropics.

On Monday we continue on passed the Hells Gate Roadhouse which against the info found on the internet is actually open.

After the roadhouse there is a stretch of bitumen.
At the end of it we see a sign "End of 100" and wonder how much we can drive now .... QLD to our knowledge has a 100 km/h limit ....

The dirt track has a decent quality with only a few sections with bull dust.
Later on we reach a road plant and also bitumen and a 100 kmh restriction.
Looks like the bitumen has been extended from Burketown to almost to the QLD border.
But it does not last long, only to the turn-off to the Lawn Hill National Park.

We also pass a sign regarding the transport of alcohol.
At least here the signs are clear and not as confusing as at the WA / NT border.

But Susi gets confused about one other sign:

"K.F.C 42 km" ... a Kentucky Fried Chicken out here?
It seems that other people also have had the same association as somebody has written on the sign above "King Fisher Camp 42km".

We turn into the track that is narrow but in good condition.
It probably has too many curves for people to drive it too fast and generate corrugation ....
We reach King Fisher Camp and when we enquire regarding the track to Lawn Hill NP we hear that the Swiss couple with the Bremach is staying here.

We head over and have a bit of a chat.

Then we tackle the track (or "slow road" as it is marked on the sign) to Lawn Hill National Park.

More and more cattle appear along the track. There are many very young ones there too ...

.... some "big boys" .... some large mobs ... but they are all friendly.

Also more and more gates have to be opened and closed, some with "occupants" ....

... some with "decorations" ...

Also some good signs can be seen along the track ...

It is an interesting track with lots of dips, a few wash-outs and some creek crossings.
The nicest creek is the one just before Lawn Hill Station, where one would like to just hop out of the vehicle and into the running water of the creek.

We reach Adel's Grove and settle down in the campground for the night.
Then we head down to the river.

The river is very pretty but the water is fairly cold (too cold for Susi .....).


There are also large fig trees with ripe figs on them.
Of course we have to try them, they don't taste too bad.

Then we go for a stroll along the river.
It is well mantainend and the views are very pretty.

There is a lot of bamboo growing along the water.

We are fascinated by the colours of the individual parts of the cane, such a variety.
Also the shoots are interesting.
Apparently they can be eaten .... we cannot try it as it is a National Park ...

The birdlife is amazing too.
We hear many new birdsongs we have not heard up to now.
Especially as night closes in the birds have one last song for the day .... it's a great place.

Susi is due for cooking; she also bakes fresh bread on the Cobb.
That will be for tomorrow's breakfast .....

We also have a look at the ADELS GROVE CAMPER'S GUIDE and get a good laugh out of it.
Here some extracts:

"...
Our use of rocks allows changes to the pattern as needed.
We ask that if you find it necessary to shift any of these rocks whilst you occupy your site then please put the bloody things back the way they were before vacating as they also act as erosion stoppers and collectors of leaf litter for soil improvement.

...

DOGS: Since many people have a dog travelling with them, and the National Park prohibits entry to domestic animals we have a policy which allows for such pets.
In consideration to our other guests and of course our wildlife, we ask that your dog be kept restrained at all times, does not enter the amenities block and does not bark all bloody day and night.
Your dog will be asked to remove itself from the property if it contravenes these few simple rules.

....

Occasionally you might also see our Black-headed python - he can be up to about 2,5 metres long, golden brown with dark brown stripes around body and a jet black head (non venomous).
In the water you may see Macleay's Water snake, rich dark reddish-brown on top and white on lower sides and belly - mildly venomous but very placid by nature.
Also in the water you may encounter the Arafura File snake - quite dark in colour, up to about 2 metres long and non-venomous - although he still frightens the hell out of you.

After dark is when you might see our Olive python, olive-brown in colour, up to about 4 metres long and as thick as the top of your arm.
This bloke feeds on warm blooded animals such as birds and wallabies and although no cases of human predation are known to us, babies and very small children could well fall within the size range of prey for this reptile.
We do not seek to alarm you unduly with this information but merely to make you conscious of the possibility.
Although snakes have the small openings they cannot open tent zips or caravan doors.

..."

On Tuesday, August 26, the birds really get going shortly after 6 AM.
There are many different ones but they don't sing the same songs as last night.
Still, it's very nice to wake up to such a sound.

We have a long breakfast with fresh bread and three different marmalades.

We also get the chance to watch some birds and also inspect some unusual beans with large seeds, but we have no clue what it could be.

Then we head off to Lawn Hill National Park.
We would like to stay in the park for the night.
Once there we find out that one needs a reservation and prepayment that has to be done either on the web-page or by calling a 131 number ....
Great!
And how are we supposed to do this, not knowing when we get where and once we have arrived not having access to the internet respectively not being able to call a 131 number from the Sat-phone?
We decide to go for some of the walks first and then make up our minds on how to proceed.

The walk down to the cascades leads over a floating bridge.
The water is clear and the fishes can be seen swimming in it.

We head down to cascades, a pretty spot with tufa formations and plenty of fishes in the water.

Then we climb the hill to the lookout.

Next is the Island Stack walk, with beautiful views down into the gorge.
The songs of the birds are reflected in the wall of the gorge and amplified to the top.
Nice spot.

Next we find ourselves in a spot with a great panoramic view over the Widdallion Creek and Lawn Hill Creek.
No wonder they have placed a bench there!
It is the perfect spot for people to have a bit of a break and take the landscape in.

By now the temperatures have reached over 35°C, the sun is burning from the sky with brute force.
We head back and head down to the ranger station.
By the looks of it the ranger is used to having people here that have no reservations; the prices are marked and there is a letter box to drop envelops in.
So we decide to stay here for the rest of the day and leave the money at the ranger station.

After lunch the Swiss couple with the Bremach arrive.
They find a ranger and register for a stay.
So Ruedi heads down too and settles the account.
He also discusses the situation with the rangers and their comment is:
"Don't tell us ... this scheme was developed by some pen pusher in Brisbane. It might work for the parks along the Coast but back here ....."

Then it is definitely time for a swim.
The jump into thee water is spoiled a bit by the freshness of the water, too cold for Susi again ....

After the refreshing swim we relax in the shade and try to escape the heat.
We are definitely not used to these temperatures yet, but we better do!

Some clouds start building up and during dinner every so often a few drops can be felt.
But according to the weather man on ABC Radio it is still too early for the build-up.
They recon we can start expecting some early rains in approx. two weeks.

In the evening the couple from the Bremach come over for a cold drink and we enjoy the warm evening until late.
During the night at least twice some light rain can be heard.
It is a very warm night (temperature does not drop below 23°C) without a breeze and it takes a long time until we can fall asleep.
In addition the fridge runs all nights, almost non-stop.
But it still cools well so we guess that in Cairns we will have to fill up the gas used by the compressor of the fridge.

On Wednesday morning we all look a bit tired.
Still Heidi & Peter go for a walk while Ruedi and Susi relax and have a quiet morning.

Then we register for the Miyumba Bush Camp with the rangers and head south towards the Riversleigh D Site, a Fossil Mammal Site.

Hmmmmm .... We wish they had left a few more bones there and not taken all of them south and into the museums.

Just one bone is really impressive, the one from "Big Bird".
Well, at least the views into the country are pretty.

It is hot again with 32.5°C and all we want is to get down to the Gregory River for a swim.

The bush camp is close by and the river crossing is very pretty and the water warm, warm enough even for Susi ..... it actually has 26°C!


We all agree that it is the best swimming spot we have had since Mataranka / Bitter Springs, no people, nice setting, absolute clear warm water, just great.
Later on we move the vehicles up to the official bush camp and settle for the night.

During dinner a few rain drops fall but the clouds soon disperse again.
We decide to get up a bit earlier so we can travel in the cooler times of the day, so from tomorrow the alarm will be set to 6:30 AM and we will hit the road at 8 AM ...
Susi is not impressed but has no arguments against the 3:1 majority.
Ah well, she will get used to it ....

The overnight temperature drops to 17.5°C giving us a good night's sleep.
Soon we are on the way down to the river crossing to wash the urine stains left by the bats at the Butterfly Springs off the OKA.
Peter & Heidi had washed their Kokopelli down yesterday but we don't won't to exaggerate, spot removal is necessary though as the urine from bats is very aggressive and could over time damage the metal of the truck.

Then we continue on and get confused.
Just a few hundred meters after the river crossing the track makes a full 180°C bend and we reach another crossing, but he water on it runs in the opposite direction!
After checking the map we find that there are two creeks coming together here in a 90° angle, forming the Gregory River.

We continue on and soon reach the O'Shanassy River Crossing.
They are really blessed with lots of water here in this area.

What surprises us is the amount of erosion we can see all over.
There is no grass left, just barren soil and deep washed out tracks in it.
There is lots of cattle in this area, could well be that this damage is caused by it.

We find a small track through the hills, a shortcut that saves us some 40 km of way.
Soon we reach the main track again and continue on towards Gregory Downs.
The country opens up and it gets flat.

We reach Gregory Downs and have a look at the "camp ground" down at the rivers edge.
Even though there are signs saying that camping is not permitted there are lots of campers and caravans there.
We cannot blame them as the area is very pretty with many small pools and swimming areas.
But we are much too early in the day (Susi's comment: see, hat's what happens it one get's up at 6:30 AM in the morning and starts driving at 8 AM!!!) and decide to continue on.

We head east on the Wills Development Road and then turn north on the Nardoo - Burketown Road.
The track is quite good, not much corrugation.

There are a lot of cattle around.
They all gather around the few water holes that are left.

Some pelicans share the water with the cattle and don't seem to be too impressed with their presence.

The area looks barren. It is pretty obvious on which side of the fence the cattle are grazing ....

We continue north and deviate towards Burketown to visit the Leichhardt Falls.
It is hot (34.5°C) but a bit of shade and a constant breeze keeps the temperature at comfort level.

On the way the Swiss couple in the Bremach catch up with us. This guys are simply everywhere.

The section above the falls looks muddy and not very inviting.

But there seems to be food and a drink for the birds.

Even though the falls are dry there is water left in the river.

In the section above the falls we spot a few crocodiles but we cannot say of they are freshwater or saltwater ones.
They are rather small.
If one goes by the rule of thumb that the length of the crocodile is 10 times the distance between the nose and the eyes they must be around the 70 cm long.

Even though it is very dry there are flowers blooming along the way.

We continue on east on the Burketown - Normanton Road.
The track is pretty badly corrugated.
We overtake Heidi & Peter who are suffering through it.
Their Kokopelli rattles and shakes like hell and they are afraid to shake it to peaces.
But for us their speed of 25 - 35 kmh is not good, for us 65 - 70 kmh is ideal as we just float over the corrugation.
So we decide to pass them and go ahead.
We will check on the radio every 15 minutes for contact and should we loose them we will wait until they catch up again.

The landscape changes from the dry and yellow flat area to plains covered with trees, many of them being silvery-green Eucalyptus.

It looks pretty with the yellow Spinifex and the red road.
We look for a spot for the night and settle down at Seven Mile Tank, a place used for mustering.

On Friday, August 29, the weather forecast is for another hot day.
The hot weather for the Gulf country announced a few days ago will last for a few more days.
They even recon that it could be a warmer than usual spring, but no rain in sight.
Sounds like we could be lucky with our planned trip to Cape York!

Shortly after hitting the road again we encounter a problem with small birds.
They sit on the track and only fly away when the OKA is basically on top of them.
As they have the same colour as the track has it is close to impossible for us to spot them.
Driving slower does not help either as the just wait longer until they take off.
So we have to just live with the though that a few of the birds will not make it in time and will be sucked under the OKA by the air current and probably will die.
It's not a very pleasant thought.
But luckily after a few km the birds disappear and we are relieved.

We continue on through cattle stations.
A lot of cattle can be seen along the road.
And as usual they have to cross the road in front of the vehicles so wee have to be careful when approaching them.

The country is flat again, just grass on it (where the cattle have not eaten it to the ground already).
Every so often there are pockets of trees, providing a bit of shade for the animals.
We wonder how much hotter it must get here in summer ....

Heidi & Peter still have to drive much slower than we do because of the corrugation.
We reach the Flinders River Crossing.
There is still plenty of water on the southern side of the crossing.
On the northern side of the crossing brolgas have settled down.
As we leave the crossing a large flock of brolgas takes off in the near field.
What a sight!

Shortly after we reach the Bynoe River / Waterhole Crossing.
This one is even prettier, with some cattle feeding on the greens of the banks.
Just a few hundred meters later we pass the Little Bynoe River crossing, nice too.
The whole area is perfect for a bush camp.

We deviate into the Burk & Wills Camp 119 site.
Suddenly the small birds are here again, sitting on the road and taking off too late.
Even though we drive with less than 20 kmh the stupid things don't manage to leave the track on time.
Then one hits the windscreen and falls down onto the windshield wiper.
It's not a bird; it is a large grasshopper, a Locust! They all are Locusts not birds!
We are very relieved now and don' worry about the flying objects anymore.

We reached the information shelter and have a look around.
The display table tells the sad story of inexperienced people being sent out to explore an unknown country.
The trees blazed by the parties have grown over the marks left on them, some have died...

Then we reach the bitumen and are in Normanton shortly after.
Some shopping and refuelling is on the program as we will be heading to Cairns on the Burke Development Road, no major facilities for 550 km ..... just hot open space .... exactly what we like.

At the Mobil Station we see this sign:

"Attention Customers
Daily newspapers come in late afternoon on the plane unless the plane gets cancelled.
Please do not ask us what time because we do not know an exact time.
Weekend papers arrive Monday afternoon.
Thank you"

Well, this shows you nicely how much "out bush" we are here!

We also meet Agnes and Henk again, the Swiss couple in the Bremach.

We leave Normanton in direction of Karumba and drive past some wetlands.
Large flocks of brolgas, jabirus and many other birds are standing in the water.
It looks very pretty.

We turn east onto the Burke Development Road and have to stop at a road pant.
A roadtrain delivering road base got bogged and has to be pulled out with a chain by the grader.
Well, let's hope this is not an omen ...

The dirt road gets rough, has a long-stretched corrugation that is very painful to drive.
In between there are stretches of bitumen, then again dirt with corrugation ....

We pass through an area where we see that most of the termite mounts are under shade trees or placed that the shade of the tree falls on them in the afternoon.
Interesting.
This would actually mean that termites have a certain amount of intelligence.
Amazing!

In the area of the Smithburne River there are lots (and we means LOTS) of wallabies.
We have never seen an area as densely populated by wallabies as this one.
We have to drive very slowly so we can avoid hitting them as they (as usual) dash out of a bush and cross the track right in front of the vehicles ....

Then we reach the Gilbert River, a perfect place for a night camp.
On both sides of the river there is plenty of room to stay and enjoy the animals.
A new bridge has just been finished; the surrounding work has not yet been finished.
The old river crossing is still there and one can see the marks of the force of the river in flood on it.
We go for a bit of a walk but can neither spot any crocodiles in the water nor their tracks in the sandy river bed.

As it gets dark after a very pretty sunset, we hear rustling in the bushes.
Nervously we get the flash lights and start spot-lighting.
But we only find some toads (5 of them as you can probably see), cane toads as we find out later on.
Crocodiles would have been noisier and also probably would not have waited so patiently for us to shine the flashlight on them .....

In the morning the birds wake up and start singing some songs that we have never heard up to now.

Soon we are up and sneak down to the river's bed to see if any crocs are lying on the sand banks, but we are disappointed.
They have probably moved away with all the activity at the construction site.

We continue on east and the track gets narrower and less maintained.
There are areas where the track is pretty chewed up.


We spot groups of Sarus Cranes, easily recognisable on their long red colouring of their neck.
But they are very shy and fly away as soon as we stop the vehicles.

After crossing the Vanrook Creek the water table seems to be a lot higher than before.
There is lots of fresh green grass, the dams and billabongs are full and there are even areas of the track that have to be navigated carefully so we don't get bogged in the mud.

Just before we cross the Wyaaba Creek we see that the termites have again changed the architecture of their mounts from the round big ones to the ones with many "separate chambers".

Some of them seem to have two "architects", both ways of building being united in one mount ... or maybe two termite colonies living together in peace?

Some parts of the track are converted to bull dust so we have to keep a long distance to Peter & Heidi's Kokopelli.

At the Staten River crossing we spot some Jabirus.
One of them even very elegantly flies low over us, what a sight!

We continue on and pass the border line of Dunbar Station, one of the largest cattle stations in QLD, some 2.5 mio acres large.
They currently have 50'000 head of cattle on the station.

We meet a man and stop for a chat.
He is building a 40 km long water pipeline to the new paddocks that have been set up.
We ask him about the sandy river crossing behind Dunbar station and the condition of it.
He recons that we could easily get stuck and getting out of the vehicle for recovery is not really recommended as there are many crocodiles in that river.

They pull out vehicles with the grader and charge AU$ 500; so far they have pulled out some 20 vehicles this year.
But her recons we should go and have a look on our own and then decide if we want to give it a go or not.
It is interesting to talk to the locals ... well, he is not that local .... he is a New Zealander and he is on his way to Neman in Western Australia to work in the mines ....

We continue on until we reach Dunbar Homestead and head down to the ford to inspect the crossing.
There are a few tracks and on closer inspection also some "left-overs" of bogged vehicles.

A bit further downstream we find a reasonable section for a crossing and take a mental note of it ... not for now but maybe on the way back from Cape York ....?

We head back to the Burke Development Road and travel further along the Mitchell River.

We pass a pretty lagoon.
Then we reach the border to Carpentaria Shire and also the border of Highbury station and find a "No Camping" sign.

So we head back to the lagoon and settle for the rest of the day and for the night.
As the sun sets with a beautiful orange sky the birds give us a great good-night-concert.
God, it's great out here!

After another balmy night with temperatures around the 20°C mark on Sunday morning, August 31, Susi gets up just before daybreak to get the camera ready to tape the waking-up songs of the birds.
As her camera only records sound for 5 minutes but can record movies for 30 minutes she changes over to "movie" and places the camera on the roof facing towards the billabong for better reception.
Pleased with that she crawls back to bed as she has close to 30 minutes time to snooze.
But the peace does not last long.
She hears this strange noise from the roof ".... Rrrrrrr ...tic tic tic ..... rrrrrrrrrr ... tic tic tic ...."
That just won't stop. As she checks she finds that it is the camera.
It is set to "continues autofocus" and there is not enough light to focus on anything properly so the camera focuses in with "rrrrrrrr" and then back out slowly trying different setting with "tic tic tic".
And because the camera was lying on the roof of the OKA the roof acted as an amplifier!
Quick-fix: change the setting to "single autofocus", press start .... and go back to bed.

We leave early to beat the heat and also because as we want to reach Chillagoe today.
The track is a bit further away form the Mitchell River and the countryside looks yellow and dry.
The stations have prepared well and created many dams all over the place.

Every so often we pass a creek.
It all looks so pretty and harmless; one is tempted to forget that this is crocodile country!

The next stop is Longreach Lagoon, a pretty lagoon that is connected to the Mitchell River.
It has a track along the lagoon and many areas to pitch a tent but also the absolutely unnecessary rubbish that goes with it.
No wonder certain cattle stations don't allow camping on their property.

When we pass the Walsh River we see the locals having a bit of a bath in the pools in the lower section of the dam.
It is very shallow and doesn't seem to be a dangerous place.

At the crossing a prickly weed has started growing.
From the area where it is found to looks like the bulldozer that was used to model the crossing had the seeds in his shovel ....
Such a pretty flower, such a nasty weed ...

After passing the Wrotham Park Station we get the first view of the Great Dividing Range.
More and more the vegetation changes, becomes greener and more tropical.

We spot the first "Flame" or "Coral" tree and other flowers.

We reach Rockwood and are fascinated by the rocks.
It really looks like petrified wood.

Soon after we see a sign to Mungana Aboriginal Art Site and The Archways.

We deviate to it and find some rock art.
It is hot and the air around the rocks is cool.
One is empted to stay there a bit longer ....

Then we continue on to The Archway.

The entry is through some rocks.
In there Ruedi by coincidence discovers a funny physical phenomenon: if one walks towards one of he walls, the sunshine reflects on the T-Shirt and the colour of the shirt is displayed on the rock.
Especially Heidi's red shirt looks really pretty.
Click here to have a look at it (movie; file type: .wmv, size: 607 KB).

We also find some interesting flowers and seed pods.
We only find out later on that the seeds are very poisonous and a single one of them can kill an adult .... better wash your hands well after "looking" at them!

There are caves and there is los to see.
Here the air is even cooler and we only really realise who nice it was when we get back into the sunshine.
It is 32.5°C by now, a bit cooler than the last few days and the thirst is big .....
Then we continue on to Chillagoe where we check in at the caravan park and have an ice-cream followed by a quiet evening.

On Monday morning we visit the smelter.
It is quite interesting.

We are intrigued by the large amount of solidified melted metal and rock.
Some fascinating formations can be found.
Fore more details on the Chillagoe Smelters click here.

Then it's time to say goodbye to Heidi & Peter who will be heading straight to Cairns to get their extension of the Carnet de Passage sorted.
We continue on with our sightseeing and visit Balancing Rock.

From one side the rock looks like a huge figure in a robe, some character out of Star Wars (Darth Vader from behind ...?) or some other hooded person.

Then we leave the town towards Almaden where we leave the Burke Development Road and turn south into the Savannah Way.
The track is marked as "high clearance vehicles only".
Well, we will see.

The track is travelled by trucks but is wide and well kept, just a bit corrugated.
For a while we can see the railroad tracks used by the Savannahlander, a railmotor from 1960 heading out of Cairns to Forsythe and back once a week.
Then we reach Gingerella, where we turn west.
According to the map this section should be rougher than the previous one.
But it has been graded and prepared for the wet season, not much of a challenge anymore.
But after the wet it must be quite interesting to travel along this route ....

We reach the bitumen again and turn east on the Gulf Development Road until we reach the Undara Volcanic National Park.
We book in the campground and study the activities they offer.
We decide to go for the 2 hours tour of the lava tunnels as the longer one for our taste is simply too expensive.
We get a spot in the one-o'clock tour which gives us all morning for some walks.

As Susi still "owes" Ruedi a dinner for a bet she lost she books the buffet for tonight.
Ruedi chooses the Kangaroo and Susi the Emu, both very nicely done, it's good value for the money.

A strong wind has developed and over night the temperatures drop to 14°C.
We are not used to those temperatures anymore .....

On Tuesday morning it is sill very windy but the sun is out soon the temperatures rise.
We walk to Flat Rock.

On the way we have to stop often and watch the many animals.

Some trees got attacked by an insect that causes them to grow funny shapes.

This is an interesting little plant ..... just sucks itself onto a branch ....

We pass some pretty pandanus .... look at the spiralling marks left on the trunk from the leaves!

At the end of the walk there is a viewing spot for the swamps.
One could sit for a while and just watch the activities of the various birds.

A small trail leads on top of a rock that offers a circular view.
From here one can see some of the many volcanoes in the area.

After lunch we join our tour and visit some lava tunnels.
They are impressive and the tour gives a good overview.

The tubes were created when Undara erupted spewing out lava at up to 1'000 cubic metres a second.
Part of the flow was channelled by watercourses for 160 km.
As the outside of the lava cooled it hardened to form a large system of subterranean tubes.

Weathering has caused parts of the tunnel roots to collapse, forming depressions where remnant pockets of vine thicket can be found.
The collapsed parts also provide access to the tubes.

Nature has taken over ... the roots of the trees grow into the tubes.
Snakes live here .....

In the afternoon the wind picks up again and the temperature starts dropping.
From a Swiss couple, Ursi and Michi, that set up camp nearby we hear that they had rain at the Milla Milla Falls yesterday ...

In the evening Ursi and Michi come over to exchange travel news.
They have just come back from Cape York and are planning to travel to Alice through the Simpson Desert.
So there is lots to tell and show on maps and it gates quite late.
During the night the temperature drops to 13.5°C .... a bit fresh .... we are not really used to such temperatures anymore .....

On Wednesday, September 3, we receive mail from Peter & Heidi that their carnet de passage is on the way and they expect to be ready to take off to Cape York on Saturday.

So we pack up and get ready to travel to Cairns.
The wind is still blowing quite strongly and clouds are rolling in.
Looks like we will get some of the rain that was announced in the news ...

On the way out of the resort we visit the Kalkari Crate.
From the top we can see lots of craters and also the lava tubes or at least where the roof of the tunnel has caved in.

Besides some pretty flowers we can also watch creation .....

Then we hit the bitumen again.
It is mostly a one-lane bitumen road which is being upgraded to two-lane bitumen road.
The many trucks and roadtrains travelling don't seem to care about their windscreens and don't slow down when crossing which makes it very annoying for Ruedi who has to slow down almost to stand-still to protect the OKA's windscreen.

After Innot Hot Springs the road improves and driving becomes pleasure again.
We fully agree with this camper's sign:
Adventure before Dementia!

The hilly country gets greener and greener.
A few kilometres west of Ravenshoe we pass the Golf Club.
The lush green of its greens is very unusual for our eyes.
We haven't seen a green Golf course for a long time ....

We pass the Millstream River and see that it doesn't carry much water.
We wonder how our next planned stop, the Milla Milla Falls, will be.

The wind turbines at Windy Hill are busily turning.
The road climbs and climbs.
By now we have reached 1 020 m above sea level.
And the temperature drops and drops; it' now only 18.5°C outside ...

We reach the Milla Milla Falls ... and there is actually some water flowing over them.

The area is very green and cows are feeding in the paddocks.

In one area we find a breed that looks very familliar ... yes, they are Hollstein Friesian cows!
It's not really the place where we would have expected European cows that are used to the cold weather!

We continue on on the Palmerston Highway decending fairly steep towards Innisfail.

We see a lookout and stop.
A track through thick rainforest leads down to the river.
It is ment for people that want to go river rafting .... but they have to carry their rafts a fair way down.
Hoping to find better views onto the river we start walking down hill.
But the rainforest is too dense; after a few hundred meters without better lookout we turn around.
Instead we find some interesting berries, edibla ones according to our bushtuker book, and of course have to try them.
They taste like unripe strawberries ... probably they are unripe oherwise an animal would have eaten them a while ago ....

As we get closer to the coast and down to sea-level the temperature raises again to 23°C, even though it is already 5 PM.
We reach Innisfail and head north to Cairns, where we book in at a caravan Park .... and this is the end of this journal!

 

 

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Last updated: Sunday, 06.06.2010 11:48 AM


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