Saturday, October 8, 2011

What we have learned from our travels

What have learned from our travels?

1.  People need to visit the pristine and isolated places in Australia to fully appreciate the destruction wrought by white settlement and the demise of so many of our native species. This destruction has occurred though inappropriate use of fragile ecosystems for cattle, sheep and other grazing; the greed of mining giants; introduction of feral pests and diseases; and clear felling of marginal areas. The destruction of country by cattle and sheep is more obvious in Queensland than anywhere else.  Whole islands off the Kimberley coast are disappearing before our eyes.

2.  We've been horrified by the numbers of feral animals everywhere, especially in the National Parks, where they need to be destocked, urgently.  We've seen feral cats, dogs, pigs, donkeys, cattle, camels, horses, buffalo and goats, in enormous numbers.  In addition, the national parks are overrun with cane toads.  Introduced grasses, weeds and escaped garden plants all add to the woes. A very special place for us is Mornington, off the Gibb River Road, where the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, is making every effort to protect our fragile ecosystems, by destocking, removing introduced flora etc, eco-fire management.  It is one of the VERY few places left to see the endangered Gouldian Finch and Purple Crested Wren.  A ray of hope lies in their new acquisition of managing one of the few pristine and inaccessible places left in the Kimberley; the Artesian Ranges.

3.  We've most enjoyed being away from the "madding crowd", especially the "grey nomads"!  To do this it's best to travel on dirt, to out-of-the-way National Parks, preferably 4WD only and to travel before and after the "great migration", which happens annually between Mother's Day in May and Father's Day in September.  Most grey nomads take three to four weeks to arrive at their destination and three to four weeks to return. They usually stay in one place only - in the warmth, but sometimes travel slowly between caravan parks.

4.  It's best to avoid "free" overnight camping spots on highways where there are no toilets.  Otherwise you have to deal with the detritus of human existence - rubbish, excrement and toilet paper!

5.  A very pleasant surprise was the friendliness of the Indonesian people, particularly those on Lombok.  This is particularly surprising given the extreme poverty we witnessed. There was little evidence of crime, and the people were concerned to ensure visitors had a wonderful time. The discrepancies between the haves and the have nots was extreme.

6.  The iPad has been a wonderful traveling aid.  We have used it to make phone calls, check emails, make bookings, keep photos and diaries, navigate, banking, play games etc.  But you must remember to turn off "data roaming" when overseas!

7.  Good points about the camoer: Being off the ground has has so many advantages.  We have avoided mud underfoot in Harndorf and Mallacoota, Flash flooding flowing through the tent in Port Pirie, mouse plague invasions throughout SA and the centre of Australia as well as other creepy crawlies getting in. Being up high has meant that the tent as been able to take advantage of any breeze and with all the windows open very cool inside in the hotter areas. It was warm during cold nights in Victoria and SA with the heater - got too hot! The tropical roof is a bonus and ensures the tent stays dark inside at night as well as cooling the inside whilst up north. The kitchen is out of reach for dingoes and possums.  The seals to all cupboards and the kitchen are dustproof and waterproof. When the weather wasn't so nice the space inside allowed us to set up a table and two chairs inside.  It's excellently designed and well made. The canvas and window materials are all excellent quality and didn't let any mosquitoes or sandflies in. the kitchen is very well designed with it's storage shelves.

8.  Some bad points about the camper:  we had to purchase eggshell overlay and new woolen overlay for the mattress because it was cold underneath to begin with.   This prevented us from keeping the bed made up when closed. Pillows, blankets and dons had to be stored away. We also had to purchase non slip strips to place on the steps - this should be standard. The gas stove needs to be more powerful and it needs a windshield. The plastic water tank tainted the water too quickly. It needs better electrical connections that are more robust in corrugated road conditions. The bed isn't quite long enough for Peter, but better than some where you have to climb over each other to get in and out of bed.

9.  The people, we met, from all walks of life and from all over Australia, are seriously concerned about the lack of leadership in our country at the moment and the lack of vision for the future.  They all expressed serious concerns about what happens to our future generations when the mineral boom finishes and we've sold all our best land and assets to overseas conglomerates. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Drive home

The weather turned foul from Jundah and beyond. So this meant that our intended stops at national parks was not sensible. All of them lie in the Channel Country with dirt roads leading in and out of them. The roads become impassable with even the slightest wet, so we were lucky to have reached the Tarmac without too much trouble.

In addition the tent on the camper as become quite dusty from all the red interior dust. We wanted to avoid making the canvas streaky and washing the grime into it. The weather forecast is for continuing showers, so we are now on the way home. And will arrived this evening having done over 1500klms in two days!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stonehenge, Jundah and Quilpie


Eventually we found a laundromat in Longreach that had room to put our dirty washing.  So whilst it was washing we investigated the local RSL club for lunch.  Unfortunately the drying took longer than necessary because, Sue only emptied the washing from one machine.  When she emptied the dryer, there wasn't enough washing!,  Ooops another washing machine still had the remainder in it all still wet!

When all the washing was dry, we took the road towards Welford National Park.

The road was one strip of tar, and badly formed.  In some ways worse than the dirt roads we had already travelled on because, if you meet a road train on a road like this, unless you get right off the road, they will shower you with stones!  Visibility from behind is limited by the width of the camper, so a one stage, as we were pulling off to let the 35meter road train full of fuel, overtake, he deliberately swerved to ensure we copped the biggest showering possible.  The tar strip is sometimes very difficult to get off as the edges form a sharp drop and the sharp edges can cut tyres to shreds

It started to get late in the afternoon and we still had some 90klms to get to Jundah, before another 64klms to Welford National Park.  The paddocks were not fenced from the road, so cattle and sheep are able to wander at will.

So we decided to pull in to a small town called Stonehenge.  There are 25 residents living in the tone, most of whom were at the local pub when we arrived.  The caravan park was a dusty strip diagonally opposites the pub and payment was by "honor system".  But there were clean hot and cold showers, electricity, if required, BBQ facilities, if you had wood, rain water to drink and all for $10.

Meeting the locals was an interesting experience. Most were in some way connected to the pub. The two girls serving were the publican's daughters, the two blokes sitting outside were employed by the publican, who also owned the local RACQ and earth moving business.  The teacher from the local school of just four children, taught the pulican's grandchildren.  

The local gardener turned up later.  His job was to keep the town's garden in order. This being the grounds around the campsite - not much in the way of gardens and the gardens around the community hall - again not a big area. They were very pretty and very green. He had a helper two days per week.

At the shower block, later in the evening, Sue spotted what looked very similar to a Cane Toad!  Let's hope it hasn't made it's way down as far south west as this!

By morning the wind had really picked up and it was threatening to rain. So we were unable to use the has stove to make tea and breakfast.

The road out of Stonehenge in the morning took us along a magnificent dirt road until it looped back onto the one strip of tar to Jundah. 

In Jundah we stopped for fuel, which was a rusting pump in the middle of a paddock.  We waited and no one came, so Peter went to the local store.  Kathy the owner, also ran the fuel stop, so she ambled over, filled the car and told us to meet her back at the store to pay.

The store was something out of the 1900's, old wooden display cabinets, very dusty and minimal products for sale.  We went in and ordered two toasted sandwiches.  Kathy went down the back to cook the toast and whilst she was gone, two other customers came in to be served.  They waited for some while and eventually left.  When Kathy came back out she said, "Did I miss some customer?"  When this was confirmed she said, " Oh well they can wait for me, if they want something they will be back".  As she is the only store in the town this would be true.  She was the dictator to the customer!

From Jundah, we took the dirt road through Welford National Park.  This is a magnificent park, with red sand dunes, rocky outcrops, clay pans and stony plains.  Here we saw heaps of bustards, and emus with their chicks.  We also saw plenty of red and grey kangaroos.  On the road were large lizards standing up high on their front haunches. Again the dirt road was great.

Towards the very end of this road, we came across the large clean lake.  Wildlife abounded here.  Birds of every variety were on and around the water.  Bird chatter and noise could be heard all around.

We stopped here to make a cup of tea as the wnd had finally stopped. And then we felt the first spits of rain.  

When we got back onto the tar strip, it started to rain in ernest. This was not pleasant diving.  Every kilometer or so we would have to stop to avoid colliding with either kangaroos, emus or cattle. Cattle grids and sheet water, together with flood dips proved to be additional hazards. In addition, large road trains were also using the road.  This was for 247klms.

After Quilpie, the road widened marginally and the number of animals decreased slightly, but the number of road trains increased. This was for a further 210klms.

So we have arrive in Charleville very tired and not wanting to open the camper in the rain.  So we have booked motel accommodation for the night.

Bladensburg National Park

Bladenburg National Park

The drive from Cloncurry to Winton  was about 380klms of flat dry dusty dry yellow grasslands called the Channel Country. Plenty of grass, due the the "big wet", where it hadn't been overgrazed.  But very uninteresting to drive through because there is almost no other vegetation than grass and it is flat as far as the eye can see!

Just before we reached Winton, we saw our first Brolgas.  These graceful and elegant birds are often mention in poems about the outback.  They are usually found near water  -these were closed to the town water supply, supplied by a large dam.

We stopped in Winton to get directions to Bladenburg National Park.  This park is representative of the Channel Country in its natural state. Large flat plains where water travels during rain periods; spinifex clumps on small gibber plains and low thorny acacias.  Here we finally saw Big Red Kangaroos in large numbers.  It was still early afternoon, so they were napping in any shade they could find, including on the road.

We drove to our campsite following the circuitous route through the park, stopping to look at the few water holes along the way.  They turned out to be muddy pools in otherwise dry creek beds. The last water hole, called Bough Shed Hole is a deep waterhole left during the dry in Surprise Creek. This is where the camping area is located.  Very muddy water but many birds nearby.

We picked a prime spot and thought we were going to be the only campers there.  Bur about an hour after we arrived two 4WDs with campers arrived, covered us in dust and the proceeded to camp right beside us.  There was heaps of room, but they chose to camp right beside us!

On arrival we were greeted by a loud "woop" noise and looked up to see an owl's head peaking out of a hollow in the tree above.  It watched us for a long time, before deciding we were harmless and went back inside it's hollow to sleep again.  This same performance happened when we were leaving in the morning.

The difference between station paddocks and national park is incredible!  The station paddocks looked dry and denuded, whilst the national park, looked, by contrast, unadulterated and full of native vegetation and wildlife.

Bladensburg National Park is an excellent example of the arid Channel Country region, with dry clay pans, rocky creek crossings and low acacia scrub.  

In the morning we tried to find a laundromat in Winton.  Several days in the desert, with limited camper water, meant an urgent clothes washing was in order.  But the first laundromat was fully occupied and the second was so dirty, that even with our filthy red and dusty clothes, there was no way we were going to wash them in those machines!

Some ten kms off the main road is the entrance to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Preparation Facility.  It is located another eleven klms on a dirt road atop a mesa.  We chose to take part in the tour offered so that we could view the dinosaurs discovered in the black soils of the Channel Country.

The young tour guide was doing her gap year before going to New England University to do archeology and paleontology.  She was excellent.  Her family comes from the Longreach area, we suspected that she may have been come from one of the station families as she knew so much about the local area and was passionate about her " dinosaurs" !

A family of local farmers first came across the dinosaur bones, when driving though their paddocks. They noticed some unusual "rocks" sitting on the surface of the ground and went to investigate.  These rocks were collected and reassembled on their kitchen table to reveal a very large fossilised leg bone.  This was subsequently sent for analysis and guess what, they had found a new species of giant herbivorous dinosaur, who they have nicknamed, Matilda.

Subsequent digs on the sandstone below the topsoil, have revealed a whole field of dinosaurs, including, Banjo, Matilda, Ward and Dixie. Ward and Dixie, have yet to undergo rigorous scientific classification before being released to the world.

Apparently the black top soil in this area is "regenerating". What happens is that the soil cracks with the dry and into those cracks fall small grains of dry topsoil, which fall to the bottom of the cracks.  When the wet comes the water forces up the lumpy bits in between and with it it pushes up the fossilized bones. Hence finding "Matilda".

The digs are not dug initially by hand, but the three meters of topsoil is removed by front end loader.  In the one week per year that this occurs, they are excavating enough material to keep the facility busy for six years!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Clem Walton Reserve

Clem Walton Park

Mt Isa was completely different to the images both Peter and I had about the place.  We were expecting a dusty, industrial town with slag heaps and mining towers.  Instead, it is a clean and thriving metropolis! It is situated amongst picturesque, rolling deep red and orange hills

A stop in Mt Isa to get information from the Tourist Information Centre, turned out to be a waste of time! The girl behind the counter couldn't tell us anything other than info about Mt Isa, so we continue our travels, only knowing we can't go to Lawn Hill or the Birdsville Track, due to bush fires. This we read on a notice pinned up inside the centre.

Our search for a suitable camp between Mt Isa and Cloncurry, resulted in us find a wonderful spot along a river in Clem Walton Park.  The entry point is very strange as there is a shut gate, complete with padlock; only the padlock locks nothing; and there is a large notice about the presence of blue/green algae.

The blue/green algae reading on the notice board indicated a "moderate" level. We drove for some way before arriving at a fork in the road, one leading to a large water catchment dam and the other leading somewhere else.  We chose the "somewhere else", because we could see a number of caravans and motor homes beside the dam.

The "somewhere else", turned out to be a vibrant river with green grassy campsites right at the water's edge.  On arrival, there was just one other couple, who were from Mt Isa and spending their Sunday enjoying a picnic in this very quiet and beautiful spot.

We got out of the car and continued walking further downstream along a rough road close to the water. We found no one else there and the best camping spots ever!

Our choice of campsite was towards the very end of the track.  Green grass down to the water's edge, a camp fireplace, a flat area suitable for the camper.  With gin and tonic and beer in hand we enjoyed the stillness and solitude. 

This has been one of the best campsites.  The river showed little sign of the alleged blue/green algae, it was alive and very well!  Thousands of different species of fish were enjoying the water plants and abundant insect life.  Birds were happily swimming, diving and washing in the water.

Other than one cow dung, there was no other evidence of the feral animals seen in other sites.  This may be why the river is so alive.  The banks have not been eroded by hooves and the vegetation is still all intact.

All types of birds abounded including many types of little wrens and finches - usually a good indication of the health of an ecosystem.

As the sun was setting, we saw our first "alive" big Red Kangaroo.  Until now we had seen only one "dead" one on the Barkly Highway, past Mt Isa. In the morning we saw a Whistling Kite catch and eat a large fish from the river.

Camooweal Caves National Park

Camooweal Caves National Park - (Nowranie) 

The Barkly Highway to Camooweal, from Barkly Homestead, passed through some very green landscape due to the very late wet up in these areas. This certainly has not looked like the "Red Centre" anywhere on our travels!  There were also kilometers and kilometers of flat yellow grasslands with no other vegetation at all.  During very dry periods this would probably only have the tiniest amount of visible grass.

Some eighty kilometers from Barkly Homestead, we came across a very large bush fire.  Fires in this part of Australia, don't seem to burn in the same ways that they do in the wetter eastern part.  The flames are relatively low and are mainly burn the grass and spinifex, not the tree canopies.

Ten kilometers before Camooweal, we crossed into Queensland.  This is the first ever visit to Queensland, by Sue!  It also means that we have now travelled in every state and territory of Australia this year! We had been to Tasmania in January. 

From Camooweal we took the turn off to Camooweal Caves National Park (Nowranie), where we stayed the night. The road in leads through pristine vegetation, but only for a short while.  The fences have been knocked down in places, so the vast herds of cattle from the nearby station have flooded into the national park causing severe degradation of the soil and indigenous flora.

When we arrived at the campsite, it didn't look very inviting, despite the large expanse of water, the remnant water of Nowranie Creek. This was because the cows were using the grounds as their own personal recreation space.  We tried shooing them away, but all our efforts were in vain as they just kept returning.  The cows in desert areas are bred for their drought tolerance and ability to digest dry and brittle vegetation, they are also very large and bred from Brahman Cattle, so they can be quite fierce.  These cows, however, proved to be merely curious, so once they had cured their curiosity, they were happy to move on.

Unfortunately the cattle had left their calling cards, with dung in the shelters and all over the possible camp sites.  We thought we were going to be the only people there for the night, as no one else turned up for some hours.  But, a group of four Germans eventually arrived on dusk. They were on their way to Darwin. We have found the German tourists, on the whole, to be not particularly friendly, preferring to stick to their own, these were no exception. Foreign tourists are now outnumbering Aussies, by a massive percentage, now that the "grey nomads" have all gone home.

After the cattle had drunk at the waterhole, and as night fell, flocks of birds also came to enjoy the water. We saw a Jabaroo, an Egret, Little Comorants, ducks, Pink-Breasted Galahs, Cockatoos, Eastern Cockateils as well as the usual Mud Larks, Small Ground Pigeons and Crows.  The best bird-watching time, though, was early in the morning when there were huge flocks of Budgerigars, an Egret, white Heron, Whistling Kites, as well as the other birds seen the night before.

On the way out we visited the caves. These caves are part of the Barkly Tableland, mentioned in the previous blog.  This is where the water collects from the wet, seeping through the limestone rock, into the underground aquafers below. The water has eroded cave systems, that have been breached in places, by the surface collapsing into a sink hole. An aerial survey shows that there are 87 such caves in and around Camooweal, with another 67, suspected ones, apparently making in the largest cave system in Australia.

Three Bustards were sharing the grazing space with a large herd of cattle.  These are very large upright birds, that were eaten by the early settlers, reportedly very tasty!

Barkley Homestead

Barkly Homestead

Some 300 odd kilometers or so we turned off the Stuart Highway onto the Barkly Highway and headed towards Barkly Homestead.  

Most stations in the outback are now taking some advantage from the enormous numbers of visitors to the outback.  Barkly Homestead is no exception.  It has a very well run roadhouse with attached bar and restaurant, frequented by all the road trains, as well as cabins and caravan park.

Set in lovely verdant gardens, with a pool, it is a welcoming place to stop.  Many of the "free" wayside stops, by contrast, have no toilets, and so can be quite disgusting with toilet paper and excrement lying everywhere.

We found a suitably shady spot away from everyone else and enjoyed restful stop.