We pull into Marree early and after a little scout around town and visit to the shops we head to the Drovers Rest Tourist Park. A large and sparse caravan park but with the cutest little crafty touches about the place, that gave it a warm well loved feel.
Being early the park was pretty empty but gradually filled up as the day went on. It was a steady stream of 3 bunk vans pulling in one after another, until there was a possy of 12 kids. The owners of the park were lovely but I don’t think they knew what hit them when the kids got into full swing. However that said as we sat around the communal fire pit at night we all had plenty of stories to tell.
We were blown away when the host Jo made a separate gluten free damper for Georgia. I haven’t gotten around to finding a recipe and this was above and beyond. So Georgia didn’t miss out I had actually made her a batch in the van to cook on the fire so we had gluten free damper galore. Jo’s was delicious made with Chickpea flour but whether Georgia was distracted with her new friends or not she wasn’t too keen on either. Doh!
That night was much fun socializing, either sitting around the fire or standing by the vans chatting, as the kids ran around and eventually all settled down to write their journals together. What a great bunch of parents and awesome kids, and the best bit we are all traveling in the same direction so its likely we’ll be spending a bit more time together. I have really missed friends and that beautiful buzz you get from making connection with like minded people on a regular basis.
Some of us are leaving the next day and others are going to be a day behind but we are all travelling the Oodnadatta Track and meeting up at William Creek in two days time. It had really cooled down over night and we’d speculated around the fire about there being rain. Brent the owner was quick to shut it down with a comment of “there’d be 40 heart attacks in town if it rained, it’s not rained in 4 years!” Well here’s hoping everyone survived the shock as in the morning it rained, a fairly decent shower to. We were then blessed with the most spectacular double rainbow.
Marree this small town in the middle of nowhere had turned out to be one of our most memorable camps. Not for the fact it’s home to the Lake Eyre Yacht Club (raises eyebrows as the lake only fills once every 50 years), or the history of it being an old Afghan town, or home to Australia’s first Mosque, or a feature of the old Ghan railway. But for new friends, rare rain and rainbows.
We spent two nights on the Birdsville Track and while the sign said the road was closed we’d have official word it was now open so off we went. The track was good, a changing surface but mostly rock and it wasn’t long before we came across our first crossing.
I got out to walk it just to be sure which also gave us a chance to have a look at some of the wild flowers and this large squadron of pelicans, no doubt following the water to Lake Eyre.
Other than that early crossing it was a pretty uneventful drive. A little water around, pretty green, flat, wide open plains and big sky’s. We also said farewell to Queensland and crossed the border into South Australia.
Pulling up for the night we missed to turn for the camp site but being self contained it wasn’t too much of a bother and we just pulled up in a dry creek bed a few more km’s up the road. We caught the last of the warmth from the sun as we set up and the flies were out in force but as the sun set and the temperature drop they disappeared to where ever they go when it get too cold. A very peaceful night was spent by the fire and under the star.
The next morning we got on the road earlish and arrived at Mungerannie by lunch time.
What a weirdo and funny stop that was. Toilet, food and then we had a bit of time to wonder and chat with folks while Ken and an attendant had a look at our slow puncture. Turned out we only need to plug it which was great. The fella was a volunteer traveler helping out for a few days as the owner was sick. So he just helped Ken and gave him some good tips on how to use the stuff we had for repairs but had never used before.
Meanwhile the girls and I being entertained by the character how owns the place and really should have been in bed apparently. I don’t know if he was just eccentric or it was the medication but it was a pretty weird exchange.
A singing bear with a cigarette hanging out it mouth, the owner with a shot gun under his arm the whole time, Charlotte starting to freak out in the strange and unfamiliar environment and I was just trying to keep it all normal. We were happy to be back on the road again.
That evening we pulled up for the night at Clayton Wetlands Campground. A well known pastoral station. The camp ground was basic but all you need a patch of dirt and boasted a hot tub. Well that sounded like fun and too good to refuse. We got set up and filled the tub with hot water straight from the artesian bore. It was pretty cool for the middle of no where but I had trouble with the tub not being able to be drained properly old water sitting it, the slimy bottom and the creature I’d never seen before swimming in it.
Not wanting to put the girls off and make the too precious about a bit of muck and creatures, I didnt make a fuss and grinned and bared it. I tired to keep their heads out the water and was thankful when the week after our dip passed and no one came down with any serious illness! Another camp fire more marvelous stars and a good nights sleep.
The next morning we only had 60 km’s before reaching Marree and the end of the Birdsville Track. It had felt like an adventure, the landscapes epic and thankfully the roads pretty tame.
On our way into Birdsville we pass a stunning piece of public art. The Dreamtime Serpent traveling on the Mithika Country. It is making pathways connecting the river systems in the Channel Country of the Diamantina Shire. The Serpent is created with all the different types of gravel and gibberish that are found throughout the shire.
Arriving in Birdsville we check out a few free camps but in the end the reports of midges sound too fierce and they look dense. We are sufficiently scared off and retreat to the caravan park. Coming into town we see the sign for the road conditions on the Birdsville Track. This is of particular interest to us because the road we are planning to travel next, Mungaranie to Marree is still closed due to flooding! We’ve been watching reports and are pretty confident it will open in the next few days but we’ll be here until it does.
With the arrival of water comes the arrival of water birds, frogs, insects and snakes. It’s the birdlife and setting sun that lure us down to the lagoon. Beautiful hues of pink, organe and purple.
The next day we spend exploring Birdsville and Big Red. We start at the visitors centre, another great centre, full of wisdom, knowledge and experiences. A chance to learn more about the area, stories from locals and history of the Diamantina.
The kids enjoyed a play in the playgroup space, while Ken and I used the internet to plan and make bookings for our visit to Lake Eyre and the highlight was a fabulous video that runs on request. A quality production that leaves you with a great sense of the Diamantina Spirit. The spirit that is infectious in these parts and makes living, working, playing and surviving out here a joy.
Birdsville hosts a couple of highlights on the social calendar in these parts and has a rich history of people who love to party! The Birdsville Hotel is a great place to start. No one passes through town without visiting the pub and in times of flood when they may be cut of from supplies for months in stifling heat gathering for a party and whatever cold beverage is still available is the thing to do.
There is a great story of the formation of the green lizard guild. During one particular flood the town had been cut off for sometime and the pub ran out of beer. All that was left was creme de menth and so it was that the green lizard drink was created. It wasn’t long before a party was in full swing and the whether it was the drink or the heat the Green Lizard Association was formed. Entry was gained by drinking copious amounts of Creme de Menth then throwing yourself through the front window of the pub. The association still exist today with meetings held every few months.
The Birdsville Cup, a famous outback horse race, is the social event of the outback calendar. Folks fly in from cattle stations all over Queensland, the Northern Territory and even Western Australia. In more recent years a music festival has been attracting folks from all over as well The Big Red Bash takes place just out of Birdsville at the base of Big Red the red dunes that start the Simpson Desert.
We took a drive out to visit Big Red for the sunset. On our way we there we came across a muster in progress. For us city folk this was quiet exciting and done the old fashioned way, on horses, with whips. We pulled over to watch, fly the drone and not get in the way. The cattle crossed the road right in front of us and and one of the stockmen came over to ask if we were recording footage on the drone and if he could get a copy. At first I was a little worried he might be a little miffed with us but it was all good and he was just keen to see how it looks from the aerial view.
Big Red was awesome. Red sand dues with view across well more red sand dunes apparently this is the first of about 147 more across the Simpson Desert. The kids had an absolute ball with the boogie boards riding down the dunes and we met and had a beer with another of the stockmen for the muster. Turns out he was from Brisbane on a gap year and had fallen in love with the lifestyle. It was one of those memorable moments as a family and a unique experience.
Washing done, shopping done, sightseeing done and the road to Marree is open so we are off on the Birdsville Track. Finally the flies deserve a mention, there are millions of them, and they are soooooooo annoying. Enough said.
Today was a pretty long travel day, through mostly flat and increasingly dry land. The longer the day goes on the harsher the landscape appears. The green gradually gives way to a grey, brown and red stoney land until finally it seems like we may be driving on the red planet itself, Mars. A stoney, red, moonscape laid out before us a far as the eye can see, appropriately named the Sturt Stoney Desert.
Earlier in the day we’d past through Windorah stoping for fuel and ice cream of course. Coming into town your greeted by an interesting array of solar collectors, a configuration we’ve not yet seen on our travels.
From Windorah we travelled west on the Diamantina Development Road for 115 km before taking the Birdsville Development Road for another 85 km to our overnight stop at Deon’s Lookout. The roads were in good condition a mix of dirt and bitumen. Deon’s Lookout is on top of a little jump up, the road up was good, they views wonderful and the wind blowing a gale.
We had the place to ourselves, so we parked the van using it as a wind break and enjoyed a peaceful night, toasting marshmellows by the fire under the stars.
The kids love these free camps, out in the middle of nowhere. They always find something to entertain themselves with, and only occasionally need encouragement (code for after getting kicked out of the van and booted off iPads). Charlotte always loves to dance and really lets the dance moves rip when there’s no one around to watch. Except us ……… and you.
The information boards at the lookout are brilliant and a just reward for traveling here. The history of this particularly harsh part of Australia is fascinating and with the help of these boards we are just starting to get a sense and feel for its uniqueness. It always amazes me, what was the mindset and experience of those first pioneering pastoralists. Who would decide it was a good idea to come and make a go of it. Try to establish a home, a life a town out here?
Well, some tried, some died and they all fried in the baking sun but a marvelous history has unfolded. Unlike other places in Australia the relationship and history between the black and whites appears harmonious. A mutual respect and reliance upon each other for survival out here seems to have fostered a caring and peaceful view of each others culture. An unusual lack of racism, exists amongst the people of the Diamantina. Hooray for humankind, it seems it possible.
I truely hope the picture portrayed and told here is true and I do believe we have to capacity to be this good and kind but the skeptic in me always wonders if this is the whole story. Either way, with the news and so much negative media around it’s nice to be reminded it can be done. Humans with differences (be it physical, spiritual, or other) are capable of choosing to get along if they wish or simply must for survival.
It’s beautiful country this, a remote wilderness of lush green plains and distance ranges. There were two big flood events during the wet season this year and it takes months for the waters to travel nearly the length of Oz. The first flood has been through and we’ve been watching reports closely as roads have been closed. For us this is also the first real test for a major issue we have had with our van, DUST!
One of the biggest selling points for me was its claim to be a dust free van. So while I love our Zone RV I am hugely disappointed we’ve had dust coming in at the rear. It’s been back to the factory twice to have this seen to and these roads are the first serious dirt roads we’ve been on since the last fix.
And the verdict …………. bugger, more dust. Well, there is no going back to Coolum now, and with the Birdsville Track, Oodnadatta Track, Red Centre, Kimberley and Gibb River Road to come we’re going to be seeing a lot more dust. Grrrrr!
I flux between deflated, disappointed and hopping mad! I was too angry to face it when we pulled up for the day, so Ken took matters into his on hands. Literally, with a torch, screw driver and roll of gaffa tape. Dealing with Zone and negotiating repair or compensation will have to come later, but bless him, Ken got into as many cupboards, draws, nooks and crannies as he could to taped up any possible entry points. Here’s hoping that will stop it because I hate the thought of facing all the girls clothes, books, toys, our toiletries and surfaces being covered daily.
While Ken worked away the girls got school done and then we hit the road. Wide open land and big blue sky’s with whispy white clouds. The roads are firm and a little rocky but in excellent condition. It’s not a long days drive before we arrive in Jundah and decided to pull up for the day.
Our timing is perfect. The Light Horsemen – Spirit of the Outback, is in town. What’s that you may ask? As did we, and the answer is, a refrigerated truck that visits these outback towns once a fortnight, for two hours, with fresh food. Bingo! Fresh food is hard to come by out here and we’d not expected to be seeing any until Birdsville at least, even then not knowing what we might find. What a legend and service he provides for the hard working families out here.
Apart from the cheers and shouts about the state of origin rugby that is on tonight, it was a quiet night and we get away early the next day.
After our day immersed in poets and dinosaurs there wasn’t much daylight left for traveling. We are on the Winton – Jundah Rd, making our way to Birdsville. A dirt road in pretty good condition. The country is flat and pretty green as there has been plenty of water traveling through here in the previous months.
It is called Channel Country, the country that carries water from the northern wet season through a million little channels, creeks and a few major river systems like the Diamantina River and Georgina River, eventually ending up in Lake Eyre.
A typical bush camp night. Sunset colours bath the sky, the bugs descend upon the lights of the caravan, dinner by the camp fire, kids to bed following hot drinks and chocolate by the fire and if were lucky a couple of quiet hours under the star by the fire.
We’d heard of this Dinosaur Trail in outback Queensland and I was disappointed we weren’t going to be able to see it. Well, with our new itinerary it turns out it’s only a skip, hop and jump up the road from Longreach so we’d be silly not to!
Before you get to Winton you can turn off for a visit to the Australian Age of the Dinosaur. The Museum is home to the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world. It is split between three facilities, the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, Collection Room and Dinosaur Canyon. It really is in the middle of nowhere but frankly there has been some remarkable discoveries here so why not.
Bec was our first tour guide, in the laboratory, and we’ll never forget her passion for dinosaurs, their bones and the discoveries and information they reveal. She was fabulous and super engaging. Volunteers come up to the museum every year to help process, clean and do all the painstakingly slow and delicate work required on these amazing fossils. It was wonderful to watch and learn so much.
Next we learnt about the two main and near complete dinosaurs found here, Banjo and Matilda as they are affectionately know. We are then driven out to the Dinosaur Canyon were the scene is set to walk through and view how it would have looked with the dinosaurs were walking around. The information boards are fantastic and the view fabulous. It’s much greener than usual has they have had rain and floods come through, but we’re told give it a week more and it will all be brown again.
The sun is setting now so we make our way to Winton to spend the night. We arrive in the dark and plan to leave first thing to visit the Dinosaur Stampede site. However Winton has more on offer that cant be missed. The Waltzing Matilda Centre. Turns out this is the place where Banjo Patterson first recited the poem before it was put to music.
Fire completely destroyed the original centre some years ago but the new centre is spectacular. What an amazing monument to Banjo Patterson and a song that is so legendary in our society. We loved out time here, state of the art, informative and engaging. Also was a great launch pad to get the girls to learn this song and for us to study it for homeschooling. After our unexpected but fantastic morning we made our way to the site of the Dinosaur Stampede.
It was well past lunch now and we just caught the last tour of the day. Also amazing! So, about 150 little dinosaurs got spooked by a larger dinosaur, (most likely wanting to catch its dinner), and a stamped ensued. All these footprints including the larger one (possibly Banjo), are beautifully and clearly set in the mud, as this was once an inland sea/river system. Amazingly what happened next is a combination of exactly the right minerals washed over these freshly made prints and has preserved them for all time. What are the chances.
It is a truly remarkable site to behold. The scale of it and I guess actually having before you some hard evidence of the time when dinosaurs roamed earth, in this exact place millions of years before. It gives you a sense of just how fragile a species, including ours is. We left full of awe, wonder and icecream. Lulu never misses a well placed or even hidden icecream cabinet!
With a late start and drone rescue hindering out previous travel day we never made it to Longreach but stopped overnight in Emerald. After our spacious site and grand views at Carnarvon Gorge it was a shock arriving in the very cosy and tight caravan park.
It did however have everything we need for an over night stop though. The following morning I had a chance to visit the shops and Ken and the kids had time to visit the local botanical gardens full of amazing parrots (which Georgia just loved) and an awesome playground. A brief but very pleasant overnight stay.
Now the name of this town and the one’s next to it, Sapphire and Ruby, should have given me a clue about the kind of country we were in, but alas it never registered a bleep on my radar. We were in and passing through prime fossicking country, but had no time to stop!
Since our time in Tassie I’ve been keen to do more fossicking and knew Queensland was a hot spot for it. However not expecting to be back in Queensland I had forgotten about the great fossicking fields here and had done zero research on the area. I was kicking myself as we drove right past these towns and fields. Oh well, another one for that every growing list ‘next time’.
Over the last couple of days I started having a little look at what there might be to do and see in Longreach. To my surprise there is plenty. Who would have known a little outback Queensland town could have become such a Mecca. There are plenty of fascinating stories to be told here and we are going to have to stay for a week to see it all.
But first before we even get to Longreach we passed through a town call Barcaldine. We’d only just heard about an attempt to break the world record for longest line of moving RV’s. We’d just missed it by a day but the town was still full of vans and RV’s and was buzzing. It’s seems it was a success but apparently took the whole day and late into the evening / night to get everyone in place, get the line moving and record the procession.
Arriving in Longreach we checked in and settled in. Knowing we would be here for a few days it was also a chance to get a few chores and few jobs Ken was keen to do on the van. Testing the solar panels was one and fitting some clips and hooks in the tunnel boot to keep thing a little better organized in there.
Our first day we schooled before popping into town to check it out, book on the Cobb and Co coach tour and have some lunch. The afternoon was used to crack on with some of those never ending chores and the with the weather warm a little later in the day the girls as always were keen to check out the pool. They have not yet been put off caravan park pools, even though they are usually freezing. They didn’t stay long but had fun.
The following morning we paid a visit and did a tour of the Longreach School of the Air campus. What a fastinating morning. We observed classes in session, walked around the campus, learnt about the area the school covers and the relationship between the teachers, parents or governesses and students. It was really great to see how schooling works in these very remote areas and the way a community can function over such vast distances.
Our next outing was the Qantas Founders Museum. What an awesome afternoon. We only had half a day here but really could have spent the entire day. The museum itself is a fantastic collection and tells the story of how our great and national carrier came into existence and its impact on aviation in Australia. A remarkable tale of the characters and pioneers (Paul McGinness, Hudson Fysh, Ferguson McMaster and Arther Baird) that built Qantas up in the harsh Queensland outback.
It’s not just some little outback museum (we’ve seen a few of those, and still love them), but this is next level and world class. Tours are on offer of both the donated aircraft that sit out the front. The Boeing 747 and heritage 777. Both have a few stories to tell but the 777 tells an epic tale of rags to riches to rags.
She was fitted out with no expense spared for a Saudi Prince but in the end was left abandoned without a buyer because all her leather seating and fixtures were pig leather! Turns out there were any wealthy enough Christians in the world so she rotted away at the end of a tarmac somewhere until some Qantas enthusiasts tracked her down and spent the next 6 – 9 months getting her air worthy again before bringing her home.
The next day was a very fresh and early start for a Cobb and Co coach ride. Only a few of these operate around the world apparently, and they even get the horses and wagons up to a full gallop giving you a sense of just how rough a ride folks would have been having in those days. It was fabulous, a family run business and the twin boys are quick witted and pretty funny.
We ended up spending the best part of 5 hours at the Kinnon and Co experience. Cobb and Co stage coach ride, morning tea, old time movie and show. The kids loved it! Funny, educational, entertaining and animals, what more cold we hope for.
At this point we’d been having such a great time but were keen for a down day not going anywhere or being on a schedule so thats what we did. Being conscious we are heading into even more remote parts of the country we need to make sure we were prepared with equipment, maps and food so it was great to have a day to be sure we were set to move on.
We couldn’t leave Longreach without a visit to The Stockmans Hall of Fame. So that is where we spent our last day. It was also a very interesting day. Learning about stockmen, stock horse, the work and lifestyle. It’s a vocation and a bit of a dying art. These days trucks, helicopters and land cruiser utes are replacing the old fashion use of horses and stockmen. It’s a shame in a way, a legendary craft. There is a special bond when man and animal work, live and share a love together.
At this point in our trip we are acutely aware that we still have a lot of territory to cover and are running out of time, but we are finding outback Queensland so rich in history and tales of adventure we are not wanting to miss much. We make a conscious choice just to enjoy where we are and if we run out of time closer to home so be it. Longreach has been amazing and considering we never planned or intended to be here we are grateful fate bought us by.
The final cherry on top was walking back from the toilets on the last morning and spotting Delilah a Ragdoll cat! Just like our beloved and much missed River at home. My jaw dropped and I just knew Georgia was going to love this little surprise. She was so beautiful and while it was amazing to meet her, I think we all left a little sad and missing River even more.
The drive in is lovely. Ranges provide the back drop to the lush grasslands, dotted with cattle, brolgas and towering ghost gums. It’s getting late in the day so this scene is lit by the warm glow of afternoon sun.
We opted to stay at Sandstone Park, it had great review on WikiCamps and they weren’t wrong. You climb a small jump up to be treated to magnificent view, large camp site and the cleanest porta-loos on the planet. Fresh cloth hand towels daily, super clean and a few other little touches that give them a well kept homely feel. While the toilets are good, it’s the views that is what where really here for.
It’s not long before the girls have a visitor and the games are on. They love the chance to play and Georgia in particular loves having someone to get her dolls out with. However pesky school had to poop on their party but it was only short lived. When they are motivated it really doesn’t take long for the girls to power through school and get back to whatever it is that they want to.
We have never really had much success cooking with the Webber, struggling to get it up to temperature. I was hankering for a roast chook so thought we’d give it another go. Unfortunately it went much the same, Ken even resorted to sliding the Webber with cooking chook inside back into the tunnel boot, hoping to shield it from the wind and cook things better.
Eventually the bird was cooked and dinner delicious but when I lay down in bed that night all I could smell was burnt animal fat and smoke. My side of the bed and head is directly over the tunnel boot, ugh! It took about a fortnight for the smell to disappear and I’ve pretty much given up roasting anything again! Still we eat like kings. While the oven can only cook on the top shelf we manage some delicious meals and the Thermomix has really come into its own with our low carb, healthy fat diet.
Our first full day we schooled before making our way to the Carnarvon Gorge Visitors Centre. A very informative and fascinating centre which is also the starting point for a number of walks. We did a short 30 min loop track along a creek, crossing it twice. It was very scenic, and while the girls are alway reluctant they love it when out there. Lulu is not a great walker and wants carried the entire way and will not be carried or put in the sling. Ugh!
We are going to be going through many more gorges over the next few months and hope to do plenty of walks. I am a little worried and unsure how it going to workout if I have to carry her everywhere.
It was now getting pretty warm and on the way back to camp we pass a swim/play spot at some rock pools. I’ve a picnic lunch, so we stop off, and spent a lovely cool couple of hours playing, building, fossicking and making paint. Nothing beats a babbling brook for tranquility.
That evening the kids invite their mate over to join in movie night and his dad Ronnie joins Ken and I by the fire for a bit too. Ronnie has lived a fascinating life travelling and sailing around the world and is now taking his son Ron Junior around Australia for a few years. It was a really pleasure listening to Rons stories and learning from his vast experience of life.
We stayed on for one for day, just a hanging about the van day. More play for the kids with RJ, stories and chat with Ron and soaking up the views for Ken and I. We’ve not explored the gorge as much as maybe we would have liked but we have loved our time camping here in this stunning location. Surely you’d never tire of watching the cliff faces change colour as the sun makes it merry dance across the sky.
The drive out was again beautiful and we stopped to capture a views with the drone, when yet again, the now all to familiar news arrives at the car window, “dronies down”, in a tree this time. Kens got a pretty good idea where it is, so off he goes on another recovery mission. Luckily the tree was a small one and he was able to retrieve it, with just minor damage. With everyone accounted for and present back at the car. We get on the road heading for Longreach.