Catherine loves painting and photography as well as the great outdoors. Cycling, kayaking, pack-rafting and hiking are favourite activities as well as scuba diving when the location permits. A self confessed geek, she’s the reason details are included in our stories!
We’re not that keen on staying on traditional campgrounds, and when reading comments such as ‘packed in like sardines’ associated with campsites in Bowen, we decided to look elsewhere. A mango and cattle farm, for example. So when we farewelled Midge Point and headed north, our destination was Glen Erin Farmstay.
After setting up we had an explore along the farm tracks, through a mango orchard and along quiet grass lined pathways. Red tailed black cockatoos were the noisy locals that first caught our attention.
The farm-stay was pretty rustic, but a friendly affair with 5 o’clock BYO drinks each evening around the campfire, with the camp host cooking a couple of loaves of damper to share amongst the guests.
The farm is about half an hour’s drive from the town of Bowen, so we drove in the following morning, hoping to find somewhere nice for lunch.
Bowen is the oldest town in Queensland, settled in 1861 and the filming location for the movie ’Australia’ (2008). It built up around a port which was essential for the newly established farming community shipping its produce across Australia particularly mangos and sugar. There is quite a large immigrant Pacific islander nations population (such as workers from Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji) who were recruited in the early 1900s as cheap labour to help with the sugar harvest. Many settled in the area, often marrying into the Aboriginal communities, both groups treated as outsiders for their dark skin.
Prior to this settlement, First Nations people from the Birri, Jangga, Juru, Gia, and Ngaro communities called this area home. We recognise and thank these people for their custodianship of this coastline for many thousands of years. They farmed the area around the port for a parsnip-like root which was a large part of their diet, as well as fishing from canoes. As we have seen in many other areas, the injustices bestowed upon the resident Aboriginal communities were numerous, with people forcefully removed and placed on reserves or in missions because their presence did not fit with the new plans for the region.
Bowen has moved on somewhat from these horrors and next week will see the inaugural Whitsundays Multicultural Festival held in town (July 30th). This will celebrate and recognise all cultures that make up the town through traditional dance, cooking and art activities. It’s great to see a community taking positive steps to recognise their extensive human history and the contribution all cultures have made to the society.
We stayed in Bowen three years ago, enjoying some great walks and incredible views. This time we found ourselves lunching at The Cove, a great Asian fusion restaurant on the ground floor of a smart apartment building, with glass walls opening up to landscaped gardens and fabulous scenery. We treated ourselves to some delicious food, accompanied by a Clare Valley riesling – very civilised indeed!
We returned to camp for a lazy afternoon, again joining our fellow campers around the fire for damper, drinks and conversation.
The camp owner has two dogs which wander around freely (Tassie wasn’t so keen!) and one nudged up against the chair of a lady by the fire. “You can probably smell the cat!” she exclaimed. Mark responded; “Oh have you seen us with Tassie then?”…which surprised us as she hasn’t really emerged here, due to the dogs. The answer was no, they also were travelling with a cat. If this coincidence was not enough, the funniest thing happened then, the lady behind us called out “We are travelling with two cats!”, and the gentleman beside her, “And we have a cat, Pippa, too!”
As you can imagine the conversation descended in to the sharing of travelling cat stories, with many laughs at the joy our furry travel companions give us. What a strange coincidence – we all ended up sitting together, and five cats between us.
Before we left the following morning, we had a bit of a cat meetup. Tassie came face to face with Pippa which was not such a good meeting (Pippa is twice the size of Tassie, and gave her a fair warning for coming within a metre or so of her territory), but the humans enjoyed it.
It was a short dalliance with the Bowen region, but will be one we will always remember. Time to continue our journey north, heading to the Townsville area next.
Location: Finch Hatton, Eungella National Park, Queensland
It was nearly 19 years ago when Mark and I first visited Eungella National Park. It was August 2002 and were on our honeymoon. After a week of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands with friends and family, we had a few free days to ourselves. hoping to spend some time kayaking around the islands. it was much too windy for kayaking, so we opted for plan B. After a couple of nights camping, we spent a few days in a cabin in Eungella National Park. I remember clearly us seeing our first platypus, and being enthralled by the rainforest birds that visited our cabin surrounded by trees and vines. And so the spell was cast – we had to return.
Eungella National Park is situated about 80km west of Mackay, half way between Cairns and Brisbane. Located on the eastern side of the Clarke Range, the landscape is lush and rich, receiving plenty of rainfall.
This is in fact our third trip back to this gorgeous location, every time as magical as the first. After setting up camp in the Pioneer Valley at Finch Hatton, we rushed up to Broken River to try and find platypus. As these bizarre looking creatures live for an average of 20 years, it could be possible we have seen the same ones on each of our visits.
We followed a walking trail along Broken River, looking out for telltale ripples and bubbles. It didn’t take long before we spotted one.
Platypus are an endangered species, already extinct from South Australia (though they have now been introduced to Kangaroo Island), and with reducing numbers elsewhere. This is one of the best places to see them in the wild and we relished the opportunity.
We spotted an Azure Kingfisher which seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with the platypus, following it around the pool and diving in when the platypus disturbed small fish. It certainly gave us a good show, nevertheless!
Due to the diversity of the environment, the bird life is of course prolific, though it is a challenge to see, as most are hiding away in the dense thicket of the rainforest. We managed to spot quite a few despite this, and even caught some with the camera. Walks were constantly accompanied by the rustles and calls of Whip-birds in the leaves and the booming cries of the Wompoo Fruit Doves high up in the canopy.
We did a few walks through the rainforest, and despite the numbers of visitors were still able to see a large number of birds just going about their daily business. It just took a few moments of standing quietly listening to the rustling and occasional movement to start seeing them there. Of course the density of the undergrowth made it virtually impossible to photograph them so only a fraction of what we saw is shared here.
There are many lookouts up on the Eungella Plateau which makes up part of the Clarke Range. The views are simply breathtaking down into the valley where we are staying.
Since European settlement of Australia, around a quarter of the rainforest has been cleared for farming, and this area was originally earmarked for that purpose. While some of the forest was cut down (now used for growing sugarcane and farming cattle), much of it was saved after a 12 year battle and designated national park in 1941.
Our visit falls during sugarcane harvest season, with seasonal workers busy chopping the crop and loading up trains and trucks to take it for processing further down the valley. Much of the Mackay region is dedicated to sugar…I would have expected to see more dentists around than I have!
Where cane has already been harvested. the farmers were out busy ploughing the fields ready for planting the next crop. You can see the richness of the soil here, stark contrast to Australia’s land further west.
The name Eungella is derived from the First Nations language meaning ‘land of the cloud’. We thank and acknowledge the Wiri-Yuwi People as the traditional custodians of this land. The waters of Broken River have been seen as sacred for the more than 10,000 years these people have called this area home.
Other than a cursory mention, there is little to learn about these nations. A little research reveals they were hunted down in great numbers by the white settlers in retribution for spearing cattle or trespassing on land. Others were enslaved to work on farms or moved to the coast to work on fishing boats. There was little policing in these parts in the mid 1800s, so people took the law into their own hands.
While information boards request visitors to respect the cultural significance of the park, they share no information about this. The Queensland Government National Park’s website talks only of the geological history, avoiding any mention of culture. It is sad to continue to see this when we as Australians should be taking time to recognise the significance of the long human history in this region, and perhaps learning from the way these first nations people lived in this evnivronment.
Finch Hatton Gorge is a part of the national park which is accessible from close to where we are staying, so we drove out there for a hike. The temperature in the rainforest is a few degrees cooler than out, reminding me of that feeling when you step in to a magnificent cathedral. Your breath catches as you experience the wonder of it all, the rich organic smell of decaying wood and leaves accompanied by signs of new life all around you.
Our walk to up the Wheel of Fire cascades ( named for the red flowers that surround them in the summer months) entailed a precarious rock-hop over Arulen Creek before climbing many slippery stairs to the top. If you can cross the creek without getting wet feet – you are doing well. Mark hasn’t yet achieved this accolade!
Definitely worth the hike up if you’re game!
Up on the Eungella Plateau sits Eungella Dam, a large reservoir and freshwater fishery. You can actually camp out here, as long as you don’t need power. It sits nestled in a picturesque valley and is a great spot for birdwatching.
We had lunch on the sandy beach before taking a wander to see what bird life was around.
Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Pelicans, White-eyed Ducks andsome very pretty Cotton Pigmy Geese were amongst the birdlife spotted.
Staying at Finch Hatton for a week has meant we could also visit some locations off the traditional tourist trail, finding our way to creeks and locations that are a little quieter. Cattle Creek winds its way through the valley past our campground and had a wealth of surprises for us each time we went out.
We finished up our visit with a somewhat longer walk along Crediton Creek. This hike actually continues on, forming the Mackay Highlands Great Walk – heading one way for 56km (taking 3-5 days). The short 10km return walk we did was pretty stunning.
Not far from the end of our walk we took ten minutes to sit down by Crystal Cascades (how many falls have this name, I wonder! A lot!) and just enjoy the ambience. Listening to the constant sound of the water running over the rocks as they have done for hundreds of years, to breathe in the clear, clean oxygen from the forest.
Just before heading back to the car we diverted briefly to see whether we could catch our last glance of a platypus. Lucky us, we were rewarded with two.
Our week here has been so incredibly precious. We have relished every morning waking up to our incredible views, breathing in the clean air and drinking in the colours, scents and sounds of this unique location. As we move on back to the coast, we will continue to hold Eungella in a special place in our hearts. 🤍
PS Tassie loved it here – walked and walked exploring the sheds and fenced paddocks where cattle would have been kept during the last show day. Her favourite area was the shed with the tractors in.! One happy Burmese!
Location: Kinka Beach and Byfield National Park, Queensland, Australia
We said goodbye to Tannum Sands and Mark, Tassie, I and our uninvited mice drove up to Rockhampton then headed back inland to the coast again, heading to a little settlement called Kinka Beach It was a cool day with a strong southerly wind blowing, nicer behind glass than out exploring. But having not been out much the past few days we were keen to stretch the legs and set off, aiming for the Kinka Wetlands, a location rich in birdlife we had read about online.
Sadly the wetlands were not to be as we trundled down a very rough narrow road, which looked more like a stream after all the rain we had this past weekend. We gave up and decided to check out the beach instead, finding a stunningly wild setting with the forest stretching down to the sand.
The chilly wind was unfettered down on the shoreline, icy cold fingers creeping down necks and up sleeves, sending shivers down our spine. We figured most of the feathered creatures this coast is well known for would be hiding in sheltered bays or behind rocks.
At the water’s edge sat a pair of Caspian Terns, taking off and gliding effortlessly over the waves. These are quite robust birds, but they still remained pointed into the wind so their feathers wouldn’t get messed up!
Shortly after they had moved on we were wowed by one of Australia’s three types of eagle swooping past, a White-bellied Sea-Eagle.
After a couple of kilometres walk along the shoreline we gave up and drove back to camp to warm up, deciding to have another go with the el-cheapo mouse-trap in the car.
We went outside at 8pm to check – Bingo! Got one. We reset the trap vowing to check again before bed. Yes! it had caught another one…Finally the following morning we awoke to find that a third had succumbed. Since then we have heard nothing, smelt nothing and there is no visual evidence of mice…we are hoping we have seen the last of our hitchhikers!
🐁 🐁 🐁
The following morning we moved on up to the town of Yeppoon where the Toyota service centre was going to have a look at our car and the leaking roof. We had a wander around town, leaving Tassie sleeping in the van in blissful sunshine.
A few hours later we returned, the problems solved. It turned out some of the people who worked on the vehicle while we were away in Europe last year had failed to screw the roof racks on properly and the rain was leaking in through the holes! Their mistake cost us nearly $400, but at least it was all fixed, holes siliconed up – no more water ingress in our future. Thank goodness we didn’t have any disasters with the loose racks!
Our next destination was the small village of Byfield. This sweet settlement sits nestled in between Byfield State Forest, Byfield National Park and the huge Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area , and is just under an hour’s drive north of Yeppoon.
Much of this little known area of Queensland is relative wilderness – thick rainforest surrounded by mountains and leading down to remote sandy beaches. Our kind of place!
Our home for the next three nights was beautifully lush and grassed, and we learned used to be an old mandarin orange orchard. More than thirty years ago, when Beth and her husband purchased the plot, the trees were hardly producing any fruit, so it wasn’t a hard decision to remove them and landscape the land. We’re pleased, because it resulted in Byfield Camp stay – no facilities other than a couple of long-drop toilets and a rustic shower, but being pretty self-sufficient, it suited us perfectly.
It was so peaceful – after our long day getting the car fixed, we arrived just before sunset and immediately heard blood curdling cries from the forest behind us. It turns out this sound is the cry of the Bush Stone-curlews, which choose dusk to make themselves known. During the day they are rarely seen, choosing to stand still like statues on the forest floor, or pick their way quietly through the undergrowth. We were lucky to spot one on the edge of the forest the next day.
We had a look around the grounds in the morning. We could hear a lot of bird life, much of it very high up in the canopy of the trees and inaccessible. But rounding a corner beside the dam we saw a couple of Forest Kingfishers. They were clearly used to seeing people and comfortably sat in a tree beside the water, occasionally flying down to catch a lizard or frog from the long grass below. Forest Kingfishers are more similar in their diet to Kookaburras, not necessarily relying on fish and other aquatic creatures for meals.
Later in the day we took a drive over to Waterpark Creek in the National Park for a look around. On our way there I spotted an Emu strolling alongside the road, so we pulled over for a look…and he thought exactly the same thing as he strolled right on over to inspect us. Lucky Tassie wasn’t in the car – she already is afraid of birds – this large visitor might have put her off travelling for good!
Once in the park we found a lovely pair of Kookaburras and saw the multicoloured Wompoo Fruit Doves, last photographed in Cape Tribulation on one of our earlier trips. This time they stuck to allowing us fleeting glances as they flitted through the canopy, not hanging around for a picture.
The National Park stretches down to the coast, with a few water crossings leading to a sandy track where you need to deflate your tyres to continue. After all the car issues of the past few days we chose not to risk another puncture or other problem so headed on back to camp via a local pottery. We purchased three lovely little pots.
This land is Darumbal Country. We thank and acknowledge these First Nations people as the traditional custodians of this region of Queensland.
The Darumbal people have a long history in this area, living in and off the land, its creeks and the ocean. When white settlers arrived in the region during the 1800s, the usual horrors of murder and displacement ensured. More than 3,000 Darumbal people were either killed or forcefully removed from the region, and there are many horrible stories about how the new landowners poisoned, chained and drowned community members in order to remove them. Much of the virgin rainforest was cleared for farming, and what we see now is mostly regrowth.
The slow glimmers of turnaround for the Darumbal people has been in relatively recent times, with Native Title claims first made in the mid 1990s, and finally land returned to the community in 2007. In 2016 they were recognised by the government as the Traditional Owners of the land along this coastline and up to Marlborough, north of Rockhampton. Much of the traditional lands sit within what is now the military training area, surrounded by high barbed wire fences. In 2019 an agreement was signed with the military allowing them access to their sacred sights. Things are looking up.
Meanwhile, back at camp, Princess Tassie just loved her new home, particularly after the four dogs and their families had left! She went for quite a few accompanied walks, loving the greenery, new sights and smells as much as us. Fortunately the closest we got to any slithering reptiles was this snakeskin on a woodpile Tassie was exploring. We encouraged her to explore new areas after that!
We had a brilliant two days – the second being a little wetter and therefore a little more anxious as we didn’t get as much solar power as we would have liked – but we got though fine.
One of our fellow campers was a maths teacher from Brisbane who was having a little downtime in the school holidays, chilling out in her camper reading books and enjoying the ambience. We discovered it was her birthday, so our campsite owners baked a homegrown kumquat cake for her, and Mark and I provided nibbles and a chicken red curry for dinner. We lit a campfire and whiled away the evening with many laughs and a few too many beverages consumed. All in a good cause!
We moved on the next morning feeling a little dustier than planned!
Location: Cania Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia
We were woken up in Moura at 4.30am by the idling engines of four wheel drives as the resident mining community headed off to work. We had already had a somewhat disturbed night with the caravan park’s pool constantly gurgling and making unpleasant suction noises as the water level was too low. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and see Moura in our rear view mirror.
Within two hours we were pulling into our little piece of paradise for the next three nights, Cania Gorge National Park. We were staying on the edge of the National Park, surrounded by red sandstone walls, tall forest and many birds at Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat. The park is actually for sale, if anyone fancies a project and has $1.5 million to spare. It needs some upgrading, but is in an unbeatable location.
Every afternoon at the retreat is bird feeding time, and while we disagree with feeding wild birds in principle, it certainly brings the inaccessible birdlife down to meet the average person. We were given some sunflower seeds and held our our hands to see which birds were hungry.
The brightly coloured and gregarious Rainbow Lorikeets flocked to the site, their screeching almost deafening as they squabbled to get to their free feed. Beautiful King Parrots (red and green) were also there, but a little more cautious in their approach. In the trees surrounding us (but not game to come down to the people) were pink and grey Galahs, Laughing Kookaburras, and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos calling from the highest treetops, excitedly.
We had a wander around after the feeding, to see what other birdlife was around.
Cania Gorge has a First Nations history dating back at least 19,000 years, (to the height of the last ice age) with many examples of freehand artwork in the park, but none of the nine art sites accessible to the public. The Gooreng Gooreng people were the custodians of this land, their territory stretching from here all the way to the coast (200+km away). When white settlers arrived in the area, the Gooreng Gooreng, like many other tribes during the 18 and 1900s, were murdered, starved or sent off to settlements such as Woorabinda, Cherbourg and Palm Island (making for very grim reading).
In good news (it is hard to find any!), in the mid 1990s a bunch of academics worked with a Gooreng Gooreng elder in order to save the language from extinction (90% of Aboriginal languages are extinct), and produced an English/Gooreng – Gooreng/English dictionary to teach the next generations. This is so important – Indigenous history is a living thing, handed down and carried on by language via spoken word and the story telling. More than 40,000 years of knowledge about Australia’s flora, fauna, how to cook, how and where to travel, when to harvest particular foods is shared in this way. When a language disappears, so does all this knowledge. We often wonder what we are only now learning that our First Nations people may well have known for centuries.
We acknowledge and thank the Gooreng Gooreng people, present and ancestral, as the traditional custodians of the land we visited.
We did a early morning short walk looking for birdlife, just relishing the refreshing temperatures and clear blue skies. Following various birdcalls, we found ourselves climbing up to the Giant’s Chair Lookout, where a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were swooping acrobatically through the sky, chasing insects.
We breathed in the oxygen from the surrounding forest, finding peace in the greens and blues and just taking the time to stop and be amongst nature. Without realising it, we have really missed the variety of vegetation on our travels the last few weeks.
Later in the day we decided to tackle a longer hike, heading up along a dry creek bed to Ferntree Pool, a location we hoped would attract some of the harder to see forest birds. It was a bit of a workout for Mr A as he carried my heavy camera lens on the 7km circuit as well as his spotting scope, but it was worth it.
We almost couldn’t believe it when we saw water in the pool, a precious resource for the native birds and wildlife here. We stopped and sat quietly at the water’s edge, enjoying an apple and watching quietly to see who would turn up.
First to arrive was a Grey Fantail. She flitted around catching insects, before finding herself a quiet edge of the water for a bath.
Then we gasped as a little flash of red, black and white appeared, then another and another – a small flock of tiny honeyeaters flew down to the ferns, dipping down for a quick drink of water, then up to the safety of the undergrowth. It was so hard to capture them, but we later learned they are Scarlet Myzonelas. They are rarely seen as they feed high up in the canopy, usually identified by their calls.
We watched them for a while before continuing on our way, climbing back up on to the ridge and returning back via the Giant’s Chair Lookout.
When we returned to the campground we had missed the evening bird feeding, but I persuaded Mr A to hold out his hand and see whether a bird would come down…the answer was yes….but he would be swiftly punished with a Lorikeet nip for not having any snacks in his hand! Oops!
Before long it was our final day at Cania Gorge and still there were many walks we hadn’t done – we really could have stayed here a week, but already had a booking at a site on the coast we didn’t want to lose (things are getting busier now as the wave of travellers heads north from South Australia, Victoria and NSW for the winter).
A short drive took us up to Cania Lake, a large reservoir at the end of the valley, and likely the reason for there being so many dry Creeks in the area. Other than some Pelicans and Little Black Cormorants there was little evidence of water birds.
We decided to try our luck at finding some new birdlife down at Three Moon Creek – one of the few waterways with water in it.
It was a good choice. We immediately saw Peregrine Falcons soaring up at the top of the sandstone cliffs, and a frenzy of birds flitting along through the undergrowth. We found ourselves some quiet spots and waited to see what would come to us once we were no longer seen as a threat.
We spent a good hour there, seeing some interesting birdlife, many we had never seen before (thank goodness for the Merlin bird ID app in helping us work out what we’d spotted!).
We had a great couple of days here, but it was time to move on. We’re finally going to reach the coast again after six weeks of being land-bound, and are quite excited about it!
Location: Carnarvon Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia
Departing Roma we were quite excited about our next location, Carnarvon Gorge National Park.
Carnarvon Gorge is not particularly easy to reach if you are not travelling with your accomodation. It is around a 9 hour non stop drive from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, or 4.5 hours from Rockhampton. There are two campgrounds, only one with power and water, the other (Sandstone Park, where we stayed) for self-contained vehicles. There is one resort with cabins, and otherwise no other options unless you are backpacking or prepared for a two hour drive from the nearest town, Injune or Rolleston. For Mark and I, it is this remoteness and status as a real oasis in the desert that really draws us in.
The Gorge has been a sacred location for the First Nations people for at least twenty thousand years, with more than 2,000 examples of artwork in the National Park. It was visited for ceremonies, involving a recognition of the Rainbow Serpent which they believe created the gorge. We recognise the Garingbal/Karingbal and Bidjara peoples as the traditional custodians of this region and acknowledge their ancestors, stories and cultures which helped preserve and protect the land we visited and stayed on.
We were staying at Sandstone Park, a 50 acre cattle station and bush camping area, with sites set up high on a hill with 360 degree views across the gorge’s white sandstone walls. With no power or water on offer, we had filled up our tanks to the brim and hoped for clear skies to help charge up our solar power.
The western view from the park overlooks the ‘Milgin’ or Sandstone Belt. According to our First Nation peoples’ culture, this landscape represents the burial sites of their indigenous forefathers. The tree line represents the brow (Milgin) above the eyes of the resting ancestors who continue to watch over and protect people in the surrounding area.
It didn’t take long to see our first wildlife, with a Pretty-faced Wallaby taking its morning drink down by the first water crossing. The water here is semi permanent and has only been recorded as stopping twice since records began. It. was so lovely to see water clear and pristine, not tainted by the mud and damage of the introduced carp as we have seen in so many other waterways.
We just drank up the scenery as we walked. The huge forests of cycads and tree ferns looked incredible after the flat land we had been travelling through, the multitude of shades of green with the morning sunlight breaking through just breathtaking.
Off the main track there are several side walks to other gorges, caves and interesting sights, but we were happy to miss these out on this occasion, stepping away from the crowds of people and find our own quiet spots. Picking our way a short way down the creek we found a lovely quiet pool, a haven for small birds and butterflies – the perfect place for a picnic.
After lunch we continued our walk along the gorge, deciding to head to an area called ‘The Amphitheatre’. We were just walking over the stepping stones and I spotted a Platypus swimming along. It is so unusual to see one of these shy, often nocturnal creatures, we decided to miss out the side-walk in favour of watching out to see whether it would return.
Our patience paid off – it didn’t take long before we spotted ripples and bubbles coming from the pool, and then there it was, popping up to the surface and making a dive down to catch a yabbie or other nourishing snack.
It was truly a magical experience, and worth waiting around for.
We concluded our day’s hiking by diverting beside another quiet area of Carnarvon Creek, along the ‘Nature Trail’. We watched a few birds enjoying their late afternoon baths and drinks, before heading back to camp.
We had a lovely evening with a couple of other Zone owners, Sandie and Leigh, popping over for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles, sharing travel stories and all things Zone. There were so many parallels to our stories, and we had lots of laughs.
Later, when most of the lights were out and fires dying down, I went out into the cool night (about 5 degrees centigrade) to photograph the stars. The smear of smoke coming from the back of our Zone is in fact the Milky Way – hundreds of thousands of stars, seeming to go on forever. I have still a lot to learn about astrophotography, but I was quite pleased with this effort.
The following day we had a lazy start, deciding to enjoy the ambience and the campsite before taking a nature and bird watching focus for the afternoon.
As I picked up my rucksack I noticed a strange odour…I looked inside and found an apple I hadn’t managed to eat the day before was still inside, however with several bites out of it. Mice! Ugh. Other campers had mentioned there were lots of mice about and we hadn’t noticed until now. I cleaned out the mess and we continued.
We had decided to tackle two of the quieter walks – the Nature Trail and Rockpool walk. Both follow the creek, and walking quietly along it doesn’t take long to find plenty of bird life around, as well as some stunning butterflies.
After a lovely afternoon in nature, we returned back to cook a home made pizza on the BBQ – finally we have nailed the technique – two delicious pizzas, perfectly prepared. Brilliant. After dark, I took Tassie out on a mouse hunt – she had a great time at our next door neighbour’s caravan chasing several little critters away from their fridge…she’s a little too slow to catch any these days, but had a good time trying.
On Sunday morning we decided to hike up to Boolimba Bluff. It’s a walk with a warning: only for the physically fit. Apart from me being unable to breathe unimpeded(!), we both felt fit enough to tackle the climb (54 floors of climbing) via steep paths, steps and metal ladders.
I won’t pretend I found it easy with my restricted airway, but we made it up to the top and were rewarded with a magnificent view, and a bench to catch our breath on.
The climb down was much easier than the way up!
Monday was our last day, so we decided again to have a wildlife spotting focus. After cleaning out the previous night’s mouse damage from the car (this time they had torn up tissues and attempted to eat everything – including the inner soles from Mr A’s shoes!), we drove back down to the National Park.
It was a blissful afternoon. Just taking the time to stop and observe what is around you is so calming, and helps us develop a far deeper connection with the environment we’re in. Mark’s really getting the hang of using his spotting scope for observing birds, and I’m getting lots of practice learning the photography side of things.
We were just returning back along the river and I noticed a rock looked different from before. Mark looked through his scope and exclaimed “Yes! It’s a turtle!”. We stopped and watched the cutie as it sunned itself on the rock, before ultimately deciding it was time to get wet again and plopped back into the water with barely a ripple. Wonderful.
We have been watching Sir Richard Attenborough’s Our Planet series on Netflix. While it has some fairly somber messages for the world, it does remind us what still remains and how important it is that we take steps to ensure humans and wildlife can live harmoniously. We hope that by sharing our photos and stories, we can raise awareness of some of the stunning bird and wildlife out there and maybe sway people to think about how to protect these in the future.
Carnarvon Gorge National Park will remain in our memories as a very special location. It is a spiritually and culturally important place and a haven for many birds and animals. Five glider species call this home – we saw a few on our last visit during a night safari tour. The gorge is also full of echidnas, rufous bettongs, kangaroos and wallabies, as well as freshwater turtles, fish, snakes, goannas and more than 170 species of bird (we counted about 30 on our trip!).
While we can never hope to fully understand the significance of this location to our First Nations people, we leave with that continued feeling of connection we had felt in the past. We would certainly recommend this location to anyone that wishes to experience nature at her best…except the mice – hopefully the owls will sort that out before you visit!
Location: Travelling from Birdsville to Charleville, Queensland, Australia
Farewelling Birdsville we turned on to the imaginatively named Birdsville and Diamantina Developmental Roads and pointed ourselves east. Over the next couple of days we were making our way across to Charleville, pretty much half way to the coast of Queensland.
Much of the journey was along graded gravel road, with occasionally a stretch of single lane tarmac for good measure. Our first day’s driving took us across the outer reaches of the Sturt Stony Desert and Strzelecki Desert into what is known as Channel Country, so named for the numerous creeks and rivers (often dry) which intertwine across the region.
The landscape is largely featureless and flat, stretching across to the horizon. The morning we left there were strong winds which whistled across the desert, nothing to stop the dust flying. As it was a head wind it made driving a challenge too – the Land Cruiser certainly ate up the fuel.
There are occasional rest areas, sometimes with picnic tables and toilets, a chance to break up the monotony of the journey. Mid afternoon we saw a slight uplift on the side of the road, decorated with a giant serpent. The Dreamtime Serpent is an important figure in the Aboriginal creation story, representing the mythological serpent which joined all the waterways throughout Mithaka Country. This artwork had been created with different coloured gravel and gibbers from across the region.
As we continued on through the afternoon, hills became more frequent, and we pulled over at this bizarre sign directing us to the ‘Hole through Mount Henderson’. There is a walk up to a lookout up on top of this, but the sun was getting low in the sky and we still had to reach Windorah for the night.
It was at this point the single track of tarmac became continuous, and we knew it wasn’t far to Windorah. There we pulled up on a field behind the pub, donating $10 to the Flying Doctors to park there the night.
The following morning (Saturday) we pumped our tyres back up and gave the car and van a good wash with a high pressure hose just outside Windorah. We know it is going to get dusty again, but hopefully slightly less than the past couple of days have been.
We actually passed through Windorah and Cooper Creek when we very first started our big trip – four years ago in 2017! We reflected on how much more comfortable we are now travelling, feeling less stress towing and parking up. We have learned a lot in that time.
The landscape started to change as we progressed, the small drought tolerant shrubs changing to small trees, then larger trees, paddocks full of dry grasses and more undulating hills on the horizon. We called in for a lunchtime break at a rest area beside a creek (with actual water in it!) I had read was good for spotting birds. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and think about something other than driving. We saw quite a number of birds, including flocks of budgerigars flying past, Mallee Ringneck Parrots, a White-necked Heron and more.
Another roadside rest area just outside the small town of Quilpie was our camp for the night.
The journey continued on Sunday morning, with just a few hours’ driving this time to our destination of Charleville. We stopped at a ‘Ghost town’ called Cooladie for lunch on our way over, which gave a chance for some more bird spotting before we settled in for an afternoon of washing.
Cooladdi was originally a railhead for the local pastoral community. At one time, Cooladdi had a school, post office, and police station with a population of about 270 people. As the railway line extended further west, Cooladdi’s role and population declined. There is little evidence of a town (let alone a ghost!) today, no more than a few wooden floors and a cairn marking the town centre.
It was only a short while further to our destination for the coming few days, Charleville.
Charleville is a small town located on the Warrego River. Its traditional First Nation custodians are the Bidjara People who historically lived all along the river banks. These people are still an important part of the Charleville society. As of 1980 the Bidjara language was almost extinct, with only 20 elders speaking it in communities along the length of the river. It has now been revitalised and is now being taught in schools.
The settlement built up during the mid 1800s as a service centre for pastoralists across this region. While slightly smaller these days it is no less important, with its hospital serving as the primary medical centre for the whole region. If you get sick in Birdsville, a 2-3 day drive away, it is likely you will be flown to Charleville for your treatment via the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This service is absolutely essential for residents living in remote areas and means we no longer see the high death rates seen prior to the launch of the service in 1917.
After a morning exploring the small town, the hospital was where Mark and I found ourselves on Monday afternoon, for our pre-booked Covid-19 first vaccination. We are very keen to continue our travels around the world and believe being vaccinated is our first step to being able to do this.
We went out to dinner at the local Thai restaurant (with a Vietnamese chef!) to celebrate.
We have spent some time exploring the various parklands and riverside walks for birds of course. Mark has a new tool in his bird watching kit – a spotting scope. It is like a telescope you put on a tripod and can see birds in incredible clarity up to about half a kilometre away. It is like watching a live nature documentary unfold in front of your eyes, just amazing. He has bought an adapter to allow him to take photographs on his phone though the scope. I am certain he will soon be complementing my camera photography.
On the Warrego River Walk we felt very privileged to see a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas feeding their hungry family – just metres from people out for their afternoon stroll or jog. A few trees back I heard a call I recognised from my childhood, and up in the trees behind us was a flock of Cockatiels, their yellow faces and rosy red cheeks looking so familiar. I much prefer to see them flying through the treetops than captive in a cage.
Another outing near the Charleville Cemetary had us observing Apostlebirds, White-browed Babblers, Whistling Kites, Galahs and more.
A novelty for us was the change in the weather. Just for one day we had rain! I know our friends and family in the UK will scorn us, but we do appreciate the brief change. With the low humidity and dry air comes dry skin and high levels of static. I am a little tired of getting electric shocks every time I turn off a light or get out of the car! The increased humidity definitely helped reduce that for a short while.
Other than the river, there is little surface water around, so the lakes at the Charleville Water-treatment Works attract a lot of birds. On the advice of a lady at the Information Centre we popped over for a look. We found five or so large patches of water surrounded by reeds and full of water birds.
The birds were quite skittery, clearly not used to seeing people. A large flock of zebra-patterned ducks took flight as we arrived. We later learned these are Pink-eared ducks (if you get close enough, you can see they have pink ears just behind their eye), and live only in Australia. Ibis (commonly seen with their long beaks in city rubbish bins!) were here too, as well as Pied Stilts, Spoonbills, Pacific Black and Grey Teal ducks. We had a good look around before leaving them back in peace.
Meanwhile, a couple of walks down to the quieter end of the river near where we are staying yielded some new and old birds for us. Just walking in the forest, listening to the wind and the chatter of our multitude of feathered friends is so peaceful. We ended up walking 10km without realising!
After a pub dinner, we went out to Charleville’sCosmos Centre. We had booked on an hour’s stargazing session with some powerful telescopes and a guide to explain some of the sights we were seeing. We wrapped up warm with our beanies and thick coats against the 10 degrees temperatures, but had a perfectly clear, starlit night with no moon. Ideal for seeing the Milky Way and constellations. It was an interesting evening and a different way to see the stars without sitting beside a warm fire…we were pleased to warm up once the show was over.
We had a lovely week, taking the time to do our cleaning and recover from the relative trauma of our disruptions on the Birdsville Track and in Birdsville. But now we are ready to farewell Charleville (or Barky-ville as we have renamed it, due to the multitude of noisy dogs here) and continue on our adventure heading east.
We would like to acknowledge and thank the Yarlayandi, Karnwali, Birria, Kuungkari and Bidjara People through whose traditional lands we travelled and spent time the past few days.
Location: Marree to Mungeranie, Birdsville Track, South Australia
We set off from Marree on a beautiful bright Sunday morning. The track from Marree has been recently graded, and apart from one or two deep sandy bits and the occasional cattle grid, was smooth driving. Even Tassie managed to get some sleep.
The Birdsville Track follows an ancient Aboriginal trading route which links several water holes. The route was then made into a track for mustering sheep and cattle to Adelaide. These days most of the sheep stations have changed to cattle stations, cows being a little more robust and able to protect their new born calves from dingos and wild dogs.
The route traverses three deserts; the Strzelecki, Sturt Stony Desert and Tirari Desert and as you would expect, the land is incredibly dry with no more than 10cm of rain falling per year. The survival of people, flora and fauna is predominantly thanks to the Great Artesian Basin – a huge underground freshwater reservoir which stretches more than 1.7million square kilometres. This huge water source is the world’s largest subterranean water basin and could fill Sydney Harbour 133,000 times.
Bores (a hole, often using a windmill to draw up the water) have been sunk into this reservoir, with approximately one every 40km along the track. In a few areas there are natural springs and seeps which form puddles and small wetland areas, essential for the survival of birds and mammals in this area. When the water emerges the temperature ranges from 30-100 degrees centigrade.
This area is closed to travellers in the summer months, when temperatures have been measured to reach 49.5 degrees centigrade in the shade. Phew! Temperatures are only getting hotter, with Birdsville, our next destination, breaking records only last year with more than 10 days on the trot over 45 degrees centigrade – and that was November, which is still classified as spring!
We pulled over for lunch at one of these bore sites, an area where the water comes out warm. An enterprising station owner had put in a large plastic basin and a huge tap, calling it an Artesian bath. As we arrived there were several people sat in the bath wearing fly nets, enjoying the warm water. I meanwhile had less glamorous tasks to do – using the naturally warm water to do some hand washing!
Fly nets are absolutely essential out here – you cannot leave your car without looking like an odd bee-keeper, but without it you would have flies in literally every orafice. They are incredibly annoying. Without insect repellant your arms and legs are black with little insects. The only thing in their favour is that they don’t bite, just annoy!
After lunch we had a look around the nearby wetland area to see what bird life was about. I was very excited to see a lone Budgie munching on seeds. He was very friendly and sat on a low branch chatting to me and seemed quite tame (more photos on our Instagram feed).
We continued on our way, taking a look at a couple of other locations before deciding to stop for the evening at the Mungeranie Hotel. After checking in at the bar and paying our $20 and were told to pick ourselves a spot along the tree line. We found ourselves a suitable space, and went to level up. It was at this stage I noticed an awful metallic scraping sound coming from underneath the caravan – never a good sign.
I looked and spotted one of our water tanks hanging down at an uncomfortable angle, with one of the two brackets completely missing. The second tank was hanging down and leaning on the wheel axel, one of its brackets hanging by a single bolt, the remainder scraping through the stones on the ground. Nightmare!
It surprised us to see this, given the road surface had not been that bad at all. Talking to other caravanners, they weren’t surprised with many saying it just takes one rock to hit a bolt or for it to weaken over time due to vibrations. Either way, we were in the situation we were in and clearly could not continue.
The majority of the Birdsville Track has no mobile signal, and we suspected this would be the same. Yup, checking our Telstra phones, not a single bar. We went into the hotel to ask there and they let us know they had Optus signal. This was hopeful.
We are carrying two mi-fis with us (mobile wifi units), one of which has a UK Vodafone sim card, the remainder of a plan we had signed up to last year while travelling in England and Wales. It has free roaming in Australia, but to be honest, has been pretty useless…until now. We turned it on and amazingly, full signal! Hurrah! We were able to make phone calls, do internet searches, and share our situation with fellow Zone owners on the Facebook group.
Over the next couple of days, our caravan insurance company (CIL) agreed to foot the bill for towing out our van and repairs to the brackets, and we had managed to book a guy called Blake to drive down from Birdsville to collect us.
Once all that was organised, we had some time to try and enjoy our surroundings. It was fly-central so the insect repellant and fly nets were essential ingredients to being outside, but we managed to have a look around. Mungeranie Hotel is located beside a small wetland, and being surrounded by arid lands, the area is teeming with birds, with flocks of Zebra finches and Budgerigars frequently seen flying from the trees and bushes.
We saw a lot of water birds too, many first time viewings for us.
Of course it was impossible to be living 200 metres from a pub and not venture in. The Mungeranie Hotel is typical of Australian outback pubs – absolutely chock full of quirky character. The exterior is quite neatly kept, with a row of rusty old trucks on parade as you arrive up the driveway. Then there are the traffic lights and the ‘McDonald’s opening soon’ sign to give you a chuckle.
There has been a hotel at this location since the mid 1800s when the road was established as a stock route. At one stage there were also stables, a blacksmith, store and a police station, and drovers would let their cattle drink at the waterhole here. Everything was closed by the 1920s and this hotel as it stands was not licensed again until 1989. Today it is a roadhouse, offering very basic rooms, fuel, hot dinners and drinks, as well as space for camping.
Once inside the pub, the walls and ceilings are literally covered in souvenirs of previous visitors. Hats are the main decor, then there are the strange dangling pieces of hair, which we then learn are rats-tails from old mullet hairstyles and beards!! A little bit gross, and very bizarre.
All the drinks are bottled, nothing on tap given the distance from anywhere. They ran out of red wine while we were there (not our fault) and I had the last bottle of soda water with my vodka, followed by the last nip of Jamison’s Whisky!
On our second night, Mr A had got chatting to a young couple on their way over to the east coast of Australia to work on a mango farm. We invited them to join us at the pub for some drinks, brought our own music and soon a party was happening. We were joined by a road-train driver who had pulled up for the night after driving 1,200km that day (he insisted no drugs were involved). We had a great night, ending at 1am when the bar started running out of drinks we wanted!
The following day we got ready for Blake’s arrival with great anticipation. Although we had made the most of our couple of days at the Mungeranie Hotel, we were not keen to make it our forever home!
To our relief he finally arrived around 3pm, his drive down the rough track made all the slower by the long empty truck. It had taken him 7 hours in total to reach us, doing a couple of jobs on the way. And after loading our home, he was going to have to do the same trip again in reverse. We looked on in awe of this tenacity and attitude, and hoped our Zone would make it to Birdsville without further misadventure.
We left Blake to continue with the finishing touches, knowing we would be much faster on the track than him. We farewelled our faithful home and looked forward to seeing it tomorrow in Queensland, our fourth state of the trip.
We would like to thank and acknowledge the Yawarawarrka and Ngamini First Nation people, throughout whose traditional land we travelled on this journey.
Location: Rawnsley Station, Ikara Flinders Ranges, South Australia
We reluctantly pulled away from Quorn, wishing we had booked for longer and explored the region around this little friendly town in more depth, but unfortunately had little choice. Firstly, the campsite in Quorn was fully booked for the upcoming week, and secondly we had booked in to stay at Rawnsley Station, on the border of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.
A short drive from Quorn is the little settlement of Hawker. It has an art gallery that is quite well known for featuring some of the region’s most prominent artists, but sadly that was closed on this Sunday morning. Fortunately for us though, the other key attraction, Flinders Food Co, a cafe serving excellent food, was open for business. We called on in and ordered some delicious lunch from the interesting menu – well deserving of its great reputation.
As we drove up towards our home for the next few days we noticed quite a few vintage cars towing camper trailers. Apparently they had just come down the Birdsville Track, the route we are intending to take over the next couple of weeks into southern Queensland. Seeing the skinny wheels, most of the vehicles without air conditioning, heating or electric windows, made us feel more comfortable that we won’t struggle too much on our trip north. Punctures will be our greatest fear – we have changed a few tyres in our years travelling Australia, and it’s hard work with these heavy chunky wheels! Our fingers are crossed our tyres stay inflated. Changing a vintage car tyre would be much simpler!
Our destination was Rawnsley Park Station which was initially settled as a sheep station in the mid 1800s, originally part of Arkarba Station. Previous to this it was the domain of the Adnaymathanha Aboriginal people. Arkarba Station was split up , and in 1951 Rawnsley Park Station was purchased by Clem Smith and his family.
Rawnsley Park Station turned to tourism in 1968 to supplement its sheep business and has not looked back. It’s a pretty well set up operation, with many marked walking and mountain biking trails, and a short drive to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges national park. Scenic flights and helicopter trips offer another way to see the region. Mr A asked about the Aboriginal history, but nobody seemed to know anything.
A bit of online searching suggests that when the sheep station was initially settled there was conflict between the First Nation Adnaymathanha people and the white farmers. Aboriginal people were shot in retribution for hunting sheep to feed their families.
I liken the situation to aliens landing and taking over our water supplies, farms cathedrals, theatres, opera houses and supermarkets and restricting our access to them all. Thirsty and hungry we are then driven to trying to dash in and get some food, and are killed for our trouble. A pretty nasty situation, and one that completely changed the way First Nations people had to live their lives. They gradually adapted to become workers on the stations, stepping away from thousands of years of sustainable living.
Today, the Adnaymathanha people are integral in their work as rangers in the national park, helping to restore the land to its former sustainable state. We thank and acknowledge these communities and their ancestors for their connection to these lands for thousands of years.
Once we had settled into our site we pulled on our boots and set off for an afternoon hike. Rawnsley Park Station has a number of signed hikes ranging from 2 to 12 kilometres in length. We picked a 6.5km one named after one of the early station owners, Clem’s Corner. Clem is also the name of Mark’s fondly remembered late father, so the name was particularly poignant.
We are approaching the end of autumn now, so the sun is setting earlier and especially where there are mountains (hills) towering above you. Rawnsley Bluff is the highest peak on the property at 943 metres (3093 ft). As we reached the lookout the light was incredible – the shadows long across the land and the colours incredibly vivid, the pinks, blues, mauves, purples and oranges a feast for the eyes.
The Station is home to many birds, including the beautiful Red-capped Robin. We had never seen one of these before, and were delighted with this little chap emerged from the native cypress pines surrounded by his multitude of girlfriends.
Early the following morning we set off on another walk through the Station, rewarded for our prompt start with many more robins, Mulga Parrots, Mallee Ringneck Parrots, huge Wedge-tailed Eagles and Emus.
We took a drive out to nearby Arkaroo Rock, a significant cultural site for the Adnaymathanha people of the Flinders Ranges. ‘Arkaroo’ comes from the name given to the petrified serpents which later became the mountains of Ikara.
Unfortunately the National Park folk have neglected to share any interpretive information about the charcoal and ochre paintings. The paintings depict the Yura Muda or Dreaming (creation story) of Ikara.
A warm camp fire concluded our day with a nice glass of Malbec. With the nights dropping to between 2 and 6 degrees, we certainly appreciate all the warmth we can get!
The temperature here warms up to the late teens or early 20s during the day, starting to drop as soon as the sun dips behind the hills. It is a perfect time of year to be here. Mark and I last visited the Flinders in January 2004 (17 years ago), when day time temperatures were in the high 30s and we had to start our walks before sunrise to get the cool of the day and minimise flies. There are virtually no flies here currently, which definitely helps the situation. Walking without fly nets over your hat is impossible in the hotter months.
Another walk around the property revealed more bird and wild life including, of course, more adorable robins.
Walking back to the van we stumbled across another guest travelling with a cat. This cat is just 18 months old and huge, like a small lion – he is a Maine Coon – they can reach more than 8kg in weight – double Tassie!
We regularly encourage Tassie to be active and get outside, but being 17 she’s mostly keen to sit in the sunshine and sleep! One one short walk from the caravan she decided to mark her territory…while a dog might do this by urinating, Tassie’s choice was to find a big dust bowl and have a good roll – rubbing her cheeks and therefore her scent on the rocks and ground. One very orange cat emerged – she needed a good brush and wipe down with a damp cloth afterwards! She was not impressed, but forgave us after another nap in the sunshine!
We paid a visit to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, just under half an hour’s drive away. There are a range of walks available to do there, ranging from the easy 8km hike we did up to Ikara (Wilpena Pound) up to a couple of multi day (multi week even) hikes.
Ikara was a place of initiation ceremonies and corroborees (gatherings and rituals) until it was designated as farming land in the 1850s and farmers from Adelaide arrived with thousands of sheep. Needless to say, the climate of long droughts followed by flood meant the farm did not survive.
The area was designated as a national park in 1945 though it took until 2016 for the name Ikara to be included in the National Park’s name, in recognition of the significance of this place. Ikara features in traditional Aboriginal songs across Australia, showing just how important this location is to First Nation groups from right across the country.
The Adnaymathanha rangers have worked hard to rid the park of pests, including wild cats, rabbits and goats, though there is some work to do still as we saw both goats and a rabbit on our visit. Still, the Yellow-footed Wallaby is now stabilised there, after being driven to near extinction previously.
It’s a beautiful area and it pays to take the walk slowly, enjoying the sights and sounds, and for us, appreciate the novelty of tall trees after our time on the Eyre Peninsular where they are few and far between.
We climbed to the lookout and admired the view. The Flinders are the highest mountains in South Australia, Ikara stretching out before us filled with native pine and eucalypts.
The Woolshed Restaurant was our evening treat – located on Rawnsley Park Station itself. As we are on a sheep station, the menu was no surprise – specialising in lamb, with fish, kangaroo and vegetarian options for those preferring something different. We decided to share a lamb tasting platter, including chops, sausages and rump. Delicious, but a whole lot of meat! Somehow we managed to find space for dessert – a vegan panacotta for me and an affrogato for Mr A.
On our final day we took a walk up towards Rawnsley Bluff, the highest point on the range surrounding the sheep station. Magnificent views were our reward, plus more wildlife – Euros (stocky, hairy kangaroos!), Emus and more Mulga Parrots nesting in the hollow branches of a dead tree. A fitting end to a brilliant few days here.
We will never forget our time here, it has been truly magical. But it is time for us to continue our journey north, we have some exciting things to see over the coming few days!
Location: Pildappa Rock & Mt Ive Station, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
With Venus Bay in the rear view mirror we turned north, heading to the drier interior of the Eyre Peninsula, the South Australian outback. We were aiming for the outskirts of the Gawler Ranges National Park.
Within an hour we were pulling up at Pildappa Rock just outside Minnipa. Jutting up out of the flat landscape like a miniature Uluru, this pink granite monolith was a central point for the Kukatha Aboriginal communities, who used its surface pools for drinking water. Locals liken this rock to the more famous ‘Wave Rock’ in Western Australia, said to look like breaking surf in its erosion.
Geologists have found that this rock was originally formed about 7km below the earth’s surface (1500 million years ago!). The surrounding soil has weathered much faster than the rock, hence it now towers over the surrounding area. It is estimated it erodes about 50cm every million years.
On our visit, all the pools were dry, the lack of rainfall evident in the dusty surround, our climb up revealing stunning views of the landscape around us.
The First People traditional owners, the Kukatha community, cared for and tended to these lands, and we thank and acknowledge this. Being the only source of surface water for some distance, the people protected this rock and recognised it as a special and sacred place. When European settlers first arrived in the area seeking water, the Aboriginal community introduced them to this rock and shared their precious water, only to have it then taken over by the new settlers who built dams and drains to secure the water for themselves, restricting their access. Yes, yet another sad story of cruelty and selfishness from our ancestors.
Today much of the surrounding land is used for growing wheat, being autumn all harvested now. It is hard to imagine how anything grows in these dry, dusty conditions, Willie willies (mini dust tornadoes) are frequently seen racing across the huge fields, spinning up what is left of the topsoil.
We continued our journey, next stopping for lunch at a nearby camping area by some more sculpture-like granite rocks at Wattle Grove.
Once we left here, we joined a long red sand and gravel road heading further north towards a remote sheep station, Mount Ive. We let the tyres down a little to smooth out the corrugations and enjoyed the journey. The scenery was magical. The sun was just starting to dip in the sky and in doing so lit up millions of raindrops hanging in the trees, spinifex, blue bush and saltbush either side of the road. It was quite surreal, following a red-sand road surrounded by sparkling diamonds.
With the sun starting to set we decided to find ourselves a wild-camp just off the road for the night rather than press on.
A space for the night secured, we had an explore, bewitched by the beautiful sunset and incredible light cast on the red hills and scenery around us.
It was a beautifully dark night, a good opportunity to have a practice at some night photography. This shot of the Milky Way was my best first attempt.
The following morning we had a walk around, in awe of the silence. You could hear your ears ringing and the cogs in your brain whirring! Every sound seemed incredibly loud. The flocks of birds seemed to think so too, most too nervous to hang around for a photo or even to be identified through binoculars. They clearly are not used to humans out here.
We drove the final 45 minutes to Mt Ive Station, arriving mid morning and set up on the dusty dry paddock they had assigned to campers. It was a bit disappointing really. After some of the wonderful station stays in Western Australia (especially Hambleton and Woolleen) it felt like there had been no effort made here. We had so many questions for the owners, but they were not present and the managers were fellow travellers and only had been working there for a couple of days.
Visitors are attracted to the area because of its proximity to Lake Gairdner National Park. We paid for a mud map of a track and a key to a locked gate giving us access to the lake. Lake Gairdner is a huge salt lake, famous for land speed record attempts during Speed Week each March.
After setting up camp we took a drive out to the lake. No driving is allowed on the lake outside of the allocated event.
The lake is considered to be the third biggest salt lake in Australia. It is 160 kilometres long, and 48 km across, so the area we visited was all but a tiny corner.
Stepping onto the lake it is hard to convince your brain it is not snow. It crunches like snow, but is not at all slippery, with little give when you step on it. In some places this salt is more than a metre deep.
We enjoyed our experience so much we went back the following day – the grey skies changing the whole scene, and being wrapped up in our winter gear it felt even more like a snowfield.
The Mt Ive Station property also has a volcanic geological area known as the Organ Pipes. We hiked up a dry creek to explore.
The station is mostly set up to encourage four wheel driving, with visitors given the option to buy another mud map with further routes to explore. Rather than spend more time in the car, we decided to try some more walking, picking our way up through the rock and prickly spinifex plants to the top of one of the hills surrounding the property.
We had a good couple of nights here, but especially enjoyed our time wild-camping. We hope to do more of that in the coming months. For now, however, we had to head back to the coast and Whyalla – I had a plane to catch…
Location: Streaky Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
As our regular readers will know, it is quite rare for us to spend much longer than three or four nights in one place, but on this trip we are making a habit of slowing right down, and with few hard deadlines to meet, we are following our guts. Streaky Bay has been a perfect location to stop and pause at. Not only a great camp site, but lots to see and do in the area.
We had visited the Department for Environment and Water to ask where the the best areas for seeing birds were, and one area highlighted was Sceale (pronounced scale) Bay Conservation Park, in particular a saltwater lagoon which lay behind the dunes. We drove over for a look.
We found quite dramatic scenery with the wind whistling across the water, a shallow lake edged with salt encrusted mud, but not a single bird in sight, not even footprints on the water’s edge. We had a short look around and decided to continue down to the coast and Sceale Bay itself.
We found yet another stunning beach stretching along towards some small shacks and houses which make up the settlement, and just two people on the beach. It is just incredible how few people there are everywhere, and we are just lapping up the isolation.
We returned to the Zone to get ready for dinner. Yes, after my nasty food poisoning episode, we had decided to brave it for a night out in town.
We had chosen a small cafe with water views called Drift. They had an interesting menu, with ingredients sourced from local areas, so we had great expectations.
Sadly, we were disappointed. While the shared plate of steamed dumplings were tasty, they seemed no different from the frozen ones we occasionally have in the caravan. We both chose a seafood marinara for our main dish, only to find all the prawn, calamari and scallop flavours completely swamped with bucket-loads of an incredibly sickly sweet tomato sauce. So disappointing.
The wine we chose was nice, but tainted by the young lady serving us snapping that we couldn’t take unfinished wine home, and therefore she wouldn’t give us the cap! Responsible service of alcohol regulations anyone? In their favour, neither of us ended up sick, so that was good. Overall, it was such a shame. We so wanted to support this small business.
Saturday dawned overcast, so we followed part of the Westal Way loop drive (one of three loop drives from Streaky Bay which take visitors to several natural attractions) and made our way to Tractor Beach, just 20 minutes south. There’s council camping in a site by the beach and they provide free wifi and solar power charging at the beach shelter.
The sign at the beach was our first and only sighting of any mention of the local Aboriginal Wirangu communities which previously made this coast their home. We recognise their connection with this country and thank them for their custodianship over the past thousands of years.
We were the only two people exploring the beach of course, which stretched along to an ever-decreasing headland, slowly being worn away by the sea. Another picturesque afternoon’s outing, but still no sight of the sea-eagles or osprey which apparently call this coast their home.
Our surprise sighting of a female Sea-lion last week had left us wanting more, so we took a drive out to Point Labatt, about a 50 minute journey south of Streaky Bay. The drive took us along the stunning Baird Bay, a relatively calm but expansive area of water surrounded by sand dunes and not a boat in sight. We are constantly amazed by the spectacular beauty we find here, with so little human impact to spoil it.
Finally at the point, we found ourselves at a viewing platform above one of Australia’s last remaining Sea-lion colonies. As mentioned in our last post, it is heart wrenching to think that these beautiful creatures could be extinct in the next 40 years unless something is done to change their demise now.
It was incredibly windy at the lookout, and we had to wrap up warm to stand there and watch the goings on below us. Both Australian and New Zealand fur-seals and Australian sea-lions make this location their home, protected from their main predators, the Great White sharks, by a reef out at sea.
Female Sea Lions carry their pups for just under 18 months before they give birth, and then are pretty much ready to mate again within a week. Sadly only 3 out of every 10 pups will reach maturity.
Sea Lions differ from seals in that they have external ear flaps, and rather than flopping along on their bellies, they can walk on land using all four flippers. All females are light grey with yellow-cream chests and bellies, while the males are much darker and up to four times larger.
On Sunday we kept things more close to home, and took a walk up the coast from the campsite. We saw one person all afternoon, and he was stood at the shore fishing, just four metres from his car! We have the feeling that not too many people pick their way along this shoreline.
On Monday we drove south to Speeds Point. Speeds Point was the location of Australia’s first ever big-wave surf competition in 2009. It was certainly wild – what they call a high energy coast, with several collapses on the cliffs evident. Apparently scenic flight operators along this coast notice cliff collapses every day…something to bear in mind when standing near the edge capturing another spectacular scene.
From there we followed the Westall Way touring loop around, visiting Smooth Pool (an area of rock pools – it was busy with four wheel drives literally everywhere, so we didnt stop), Point Westall, and The Granites.
The Granites was incredible. It’s a popular surf beach with some pretty big waves, especially off the point. We spent some time on top of the cliff watching the exhilaration of the surfers as they rode the breakers.
Our final day in Streaky Bay has been spent doing final jobs and stocking up at the small supermarket in anticipation of not having any shops for the upcoming week. I encouraged Mark to join me on the historical tour of the town – it took us around the old hospitals, shepherd’s hut, monuments and official buildings. It was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs without getting sandy or dusty, or having to watch our step walking over rocks. We also got our flu vaccines – given we cannot get our Covid vaccines here yet (and it is extremely unlikely we are going to catch it anyway) we thought we should be protected from something!
Our time finished off with another fine sunset. I made sure to take advantage of seeing it set over the water. It’s likely to be a while before we get to enjoy such sights again.