14-15 July: Adels Grove and Boodjamulla National Park

Author: Mr A


Dr Google told us it was going to be a 2hr 33 min trip of 94km, as most of the road she knew was unmade. Too long we thought…be there in 90 mins. Well if you attempt this road from Gregory Downs across to Adels Grove, DO NOT FOLLOW DR GOOGLE! We blithely took the left turn she indicated, and bumped our way down 20km of corrugations…to a locked gate. This was the road to the zinc mine, and became private before coming out by Adels Grove. Back we went.

We arrived 1 minute after the good Doctor’s initial prediction, after having to stop to de-air when the bad corrugations kicked in. Adels Grove is a little oasis sitting in the middle of an enormous dry plain of spinifex. After the area was mined for zinc, silver and lead, the property was purchased by a French botanist who worked for the government. He spent his life planting an incredible botanical garden, irrigating his prize plants from the river, and recording the flora and fauna around the property in meticulous notes, only to have the whole lot burn down from a fire that escaped from a local mine. He no doubt cried “Merde” and promptly laid down in a deep depression and passed away.

We had a bit of a wander round, its a pretty big camp area, no power but with predictable blue skies every day solar is the go. River water is pumped up to some shared taps, but we came with full tanks (300 litres) so won’t be needing to boil that, and there is plenty of shade. Just 100 metres away from where we are set up, the vegetation changes completely from the parched, dustiness of the camping area, to the lush bamboo that grows along the clear, cool water of the creek. It made a lovely change to see this oasis after the dust and dryness of the previous week.


We headed to explore Boodjamulla National Park, just 10km down the road. This is what everyone comes to Adels Grove for, and if you are travelling with your fur buddy like us, then you have to stay outside the national park.

Our first suprise was the jam packed car park, we hadn’t expected quite this many people in this out of the way spot. As more people head out for their “wilderness experience” we must expect this I guess. We had been looking forward to getting our packrafts out here, as there is a gorge you can paddle. It was pretty busy out on the water for the first half an hour, then most of the hire boats had tuned around and we started to really appreciate the beauty of the place.I would definitely recommend not listening to the advice they give you to “come out here early”. By lunchtime we were on our own, and what a fantastic place this is. One of the most beautiful locations we have ever paddled in with absolutely prolific birdlife echoing across the gorge. Apparently there are freshwater crocodiles in here – we didn’t spot any but did hear at least one suspect splash as we travelled silently along.There’s one short portage, no problem for us in lightweight boats, then the second part of the paddle was even more spectacular. The archer fish were out in shoals, spitting water up at me (did I look like a fly?). Fly catchers darted around above the water doing a much better job of catching their prey.

On the way back to the car we stopped at the information boards and read about the significant aboriginal history of the area. The gorge and surrounding area has been lived in for 35,000 years, according to the latest radiocarbon dating of artefacts found here. Not for the 200 years as you would think just reading the information back at Adels Grove. Just think on that for a moment. A continuous, sustainable, culture in this area stretching back 32,000 years before the Pyramids were being built. Nowhere else in the world has anything like that.

I’m just reading a fascinating book about the history of archeology in Australia (Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths), which helps explain why we still really know so little about our country’s “deep history”, as he calls it. But more discoveries are being made here (like the oldest known shaped tool in the world at 65,000 years old), that are forcing a rethink of the first migrations of our species across the globe. Finally Australia’s history is being put into a proper context.

12-13 July – From coast to outback

Author: Mrs A

Thursday – Location: Karumba Point

The news of Mark’s mum’s passing and all the planning of funeral, wake, travel and all associated details had left us tired, so we decided to book in for another night. Mark spent an emotional morning writing a eulogy, and we visited the shops in Karumba for a freshly baked sourdough loaf.

The afternoon continued in the same vein, with a short walk around the area trying to spot the elusive brolgas, ever present while in a car travelling at speed, but mysteriously vanishing when on foot with a camera. Away from the coast the land is sparsely vegetated, a low lying flood plain covered in saltbush, surrounded by gumtrees on the higher ground.After showers, we headed out to the Sunset Tavern, nestled along the coast at Karumba Point with a perfect westerly view across the Gulf towards the setting sun. We ordered dinner, a bottle of drinkable white wine and sat back to enjoy the show.

Friday – Location: Karumba to Gregory Downs

We hitched up and farewelled the fresh salty air and headed back south, into the hot dusty Savannah. We called into Normanton one final time for some expensive eggs and fuel, before hitting the road. We were unsure as to whether we would make it all the way to Gregory Downs, but the choice of roadside camps was pretty limited and unappealing.

Gregory is not a destination in itself for us, rather a half way point on our way to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, an oasis in the desert.

We pulled up at the free riverside camp in Gregory at around 3pm and it was heaving! It is Queensland school holidays, but I have to say we only saw a couple of children – the rest being nomads, like us – perhaps escaping the more popular coast. We managed to park up at what looked like to be the last space.

Gregory is a tiny little settlement, it has public toilets, a pub and a tiny shed which is apparently the general store. It sits on a crossroads – heading west you reach the Century zinc mine site, Adels Grove and Boodjamulla, and eventually the Barclay Highway. Heading north, the road leads to Burketown, and east to four-ways and the Burke and Wills (for the non Australians, named after a couple of European explorers) roadhouse. The landscape surrounding it is dry and dusty, with scrawny looking cattle occasionally spotted in the scrub.

The popular free-camp is alongside the crystal clear waters of the Gregory River. The tall gum trees, palms and ferns made it look like a real oasis. We saw several people cooling off in the waters, some floating down the current on inflatables.

We ambled up the road to check out the pub, but it didn’t look very inviting. It really wouldn’t take much to give it a lick of paint, a few plants, benches perhaps. Maybe our expectations are too high? But I’m certain if it looked more appealing there would be a lot more visitors. There would have been around 25 caravans and campers in the free camp – at least 50 people. If only half of those went up to the pub for a sundowner each night that would certainly bring in some funds that would soon provide payback for any expenditure on basic decorations and improvements. But no. People stayed at camp, including us.

Despite being relatively crowded, it was very peaceful and we had a good night’s sleep.

11 July: Out on the Norman River

Author: Mr A

Location: Karumba

Karumba is really divided in two by the Norman River. There’s the commercial area in Karumba itself, comprising of the fishing fleet and port facilities, then where we are staying at Karumba Point, a long detour around the river’s flood plains, to a more tourist focused settlement with a few caravan parks, awesome sea food shops, and the Tavern.

As well as dividing the town though, the Norman River unites it by providing a year round source of economic wealth. The fishing fleets swap over from Barra to prawn and other harvests from the Gulf, during the various fishing seasons, and the zinc mining operation has its port of onward transportation here. After a 4 year hiatus, it has just restarted to the relief of the town, courtesy of a Chinese company (of course!). The gravity fed pipeline that transport the slurry stretches from the mine 302km to the south, right to the loading dock. Pretty neat and cheap way to transport it for 9 cents a ton!We managed to find a tour boat going out in the afternoon with two spaces (it’s busy season up here!) and headed out. The family running the trip gave us a good running commentary on the river and the town, of course starting as most trips do with “European exploration”, not a word about the previous 50,000 or so years of human occupation in the area. It isn’t easy to find information. I’ve just spent 20 mins with Google and have at least established that the area was home to five distinct Aboriginal groups, all of whom had a seperate language, all of which are now officially classed as extinct.

What our tour guide also didn’t mention is that the locals refer to the period when the first white settlers moved in to Karumba as “the shooting time”. The Native Police were pretty active here! Four groups of traditional owners also had a stake in the local mine. The name Karumba is even taken from the local aboriginal word meaning “this place”. I know it’s not easy to find things out about a history that is inaccessible to us who rely on the written language to pass information around, but at least acknowledge the history prior to white settlement. I’ve sent then some feedback – will be interested to see the response.

So we did see lots of bird life, including black and whistling kites, white bellied sea eagles, osprey, black-necked storks (often incorrectly called Jabiru) and crocodiles…Drinks were passed around as we watched the sun dip into the Gulf. At this moment the nearest capital city to us is Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, not Darwin.

Karumba has a real end of the road feeling, which we actually like. Almost all the tourists are fishermen and women, who like to drink beer from about noon, and talk constantly about lures and catches etc. Its interesting for us to observe as non-fisher folk, but one more day here will be sufficient though.

11 July – We make it to the Gulf of Carpenteria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Karumba, far North Queensland

Distance driven: 372km

Tuesday: Our day began with some trepidation as we hitched up the caravan and drove to the Georgetown mechanic, earnestly hoping our final parts (the brackets for our shocks), had safely arrived. We pulled onto the forecourt shortly before 8am and Bushy came out to let us know that they had turned up last night. Phew!Before long we had backed the caravan into the workshop and Mr A was inflating tyres as Bushy did his work, welding the new brackets to the front right hand side of the van. He did a thorough check of all the other brackets, and added some extra weld where he felt needed the strength.By the time we pulled out at about 10.30am we felt happy that all was securely in place and Bushy reassured us it should stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Finally we left Georgetown and were off to pastures new. The road was in pretty good condition, mostly a combination of single lane (where you share half on and half off the tarmac with anyone coming towards you) and dual lane highway.

The landscape continued to be pretty flat and dry, but with more water than I expected, and we even crossed a few rivers and creeks with pools in them, plenty of Brolgas around (large grey stork-like birds with red heads).

We stopped very briefly in Croydon (yes, there is one in Australia too!), with a longer break in Normanton, where we did a top up of fresh vegetables. There was limited choice, and we paid $8 for four bananas – just a couple of days drive away from where we bought eight bananas for $2! But beggars cannot be choosers, and we bought whatever looked relatively fresh.

Our final destination for the night is Karumba, up on the coast of the Gulf.The air feels lest dusty up here, and it is so good to see the ocean again.

Arriving at Karumba (having narrowly missed a goanna, a baby wallaby and a couple of cows on the late afternoon drive from Normanton!) truly felt like the end of the road. People are very laid back and friendly, but all the caravan parks are booked out. We were told about a couple of boat trips – one to watch wildlife and one to see the sunset – but on calling to take one tomorrow or Thursday were told it’s all booked out until Friday. So no cruising for us.

No cycling either, since our brush with the bindi thorns on Sunday destroyed our tyres, so we went for a short walk.There’s a lovely looking Tavern right on the water front, with a surprisingly interesting menu. It has a large beer garden overlooking the water and sunset, and we have earmarked a couple of seats for tomorrow afternoon.We returned to camp to watch the sunset over the wetlands, before making dinner with our fresh veg. We watched the whistling kids flying in for the fish scraps being shared by those lucky enough to catch something today. The birds swooped down and caught snacks tossed in the air – quite a sight.Mr A had more funeral arrangements to make and accomodation to book in the UK…I dread to see what our mobile phone bill will be this month after all these calls! This is a beautiful change of scenery for us though, and we think we’ll enjoy our stay here.

8-9 July: Georgetown and the attack of the bindi

Author: Mr A

Location: Georgetown, Outback Queensland

Sunday: Georgetown does have an excellent information centre, and very kindly they helped me with some printing of flight itineraries for the the UK dash back. They also have a brilliant (no pun intended) gemstone and mineral collection. On from there we cycled to the only tourist activity we could see in the town itself, a 6km walk/ride along the outskirts of town.We mostly followed the dry river bed, and all was going well, until that dreaded exclamation from Mrs A “Oh no….puncture”. I nipped back to camp on my bike, and returned with the car. Mrs A was soon loaded up with her bike and returned to camp, where we spent the next 3 hours picking bindi spikes out of both of our tyres! I’ve never ridden in this type of country before, so was pretty shocked how it has destroyed even my thick tyres. At least my tubeless set up kept me inflated, well until I started picking out the thorns! We are now going to have the petite (but usually very reliable) MTB that Catherine rides converted to a tubeless set up as well. Definitely worth it. So no more riding until we get to Darwin in a couple of weeks.

Another beautiful “big sky” sunset, as I call them, and the three of us (fur child included) watched it with a much needed glass of wine. These have been a tough few days, with all the hassle of sorting out our caravan to try and get mobile again, then organising everything in the UK connected with my mother’s funeral.At least we have good phone signal here in tiny little Georgetown. It’s been an experience, and makes you realise from talking to the locals, what are some of the challenges of living in a remote area. No doctors, dentists, supermarkets (one of the petrol stations stocks some basic supplies). Or any other trappings we take for granted in the city – restaurants, hairdressers, clothes shops etc. And even this place isn’t remote by some Australian standards, ie. it has tarmac road access!

Monday was a day spent organising more of my travel arrangements – booking transfers in the UK, getting menus sorted for the wake, and the myriad of other things that come with a last minute trip of this nature. The great thing is with an iPad and a 4G phone signal, its pretty easy. How times have changed.I have to say I have become a fan of Flight Centre today. I booked through them and they have provided superlative service, so easy to get hold of a real person and talk to them. As compared to going through Qantas, where I spent 45mins on hold trying to even speak to their call centre to resolve an issue. And Flight centre were cheaper for the same tickets. Excellent.

7 July: Yes, this is our first Rodeo…

Author: Mrs A

Saturday: Location – Georgetown

Relishing in the fact we have a good mobile signal for the first time in a week we decided to do some planning. Mark’s mum’s funeral is not going to be until the 27th July, so we calculated we have time to get to Darwin, allowing us to see some new sights on the way rather than retracing our steps to Cairns plus allowing Mark to fly to the UK relatively quickly.

Finding somewhere for Tassie and I to spend time without Mark was a challenge, with most of the city centre caravan parks not allowing pets or having terrible reviews. After a lot of hunting around we eventually found somewhere about 55km outside of Darwin which sounds picturesque and full of birds with nice hosts who have already promised to make sure I do not become a lonely mad cat lady! If anyone is passing through Berry Springs towards the end of the month, please call on in and say hello to us.

After Mark booked his flights back to the UK, we roughly plotted our next couple of months of travel, taking us back to Sydney. All in all quite a productive morning.

We then decided to go and check out the Georgetown Rodeo, apparently the town’s biggest occasion of the year. What are the chances of being stranded in town on this very weekend? Clearly it was meant to be… We stuck around for a couple of rounds of lassoing bullocks and bull riding, before heading back to camp.While at the butchers yesterday we had been recommended to head back to the rodeo grounds this evening for dinner. What occasion could be bigger than the town’s Rodeo? So off we went…We had a selection of dishes from a buffet and a couple of spirits from the bar. It felt a bit like being at a country wedding where we didn’t know anyone. We sat up high in the bleachers and people watched… so many stetsons! Yeah hah!

Upon the tree beside us sat a little Grass Owl hunting insects in the spotlights. Just lovely.

5-6 July: Welcome to the outback!

Author: Mrs A

Thursday – location: Cobbold Gorge

It was a morning of frenzied phone calls, with Mark hiking up and down to the reception to get a bar of phone signal to call family and friends in the UK as well as chase up the replacement parts for the caravan.

By early afternoon we were in need of a break and went for a stroll around the property. It’s all very beautiful in that raw, dry outback way – the yellow dried grasses and the dusty creek beds, with only the green leaves on the melaleuca trees giving away any clues to the water deep beneath.As the day drew to a close we chatted to our neighbours, a lovely family from Broome. They very kindly gave us a strap to help tie up our suspension to counteract the impact of lack of shocks. Mick (the tour guide from yesterday’s gorge trip) came down and used his mechanic’s experience to ensure we were sufficiently strapped to the right spots to enable us to limp out tomorrow.

Friday – Location: Cobbold Gorge to Georgetown

It was only a 90km drive, but travelling at an average of 30km/hr and walking pace through any dry creek crossings it was very slow going. We arrived at Georgetown’s Ampol Roadhouse shortly after midday, established that no parts had been delivered, and then drove anxiously to Bushy’s mechanic shop. There we found (with some relief) the shocks had been delivered but disappointingly, no brackets.

Several phone calls later we discovered that although the package got delivered to Cairns in good time to get on board the truck to Georgetown, for some reason it failed to make it. The next truck doesn’t leave until Monday morning, arriving some time late that evening (we hope!).

We resigned ourselves to abandoning our plans and staying in town for the next four days, booked Bushy to do our repairs early on Tuesday morning, and checked into the Goldfields Van Park.

Georgetown is a small town (village?) originally settled in 1869 following the discovery of gold nearby. There are currently around 270 residents here, though at any one time we have only seen a maximum of about 10. The streets are wide and empty. Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Agwamin Aboriginal people.

After several important calls to the UK, Mark and I jumped on our bikes for an explore. We found the golf club, the cemetery (with graves dating back to 1877, deaths from influenza amongst others) and the large winding dry river. Back into the town centre we found the local butcher and purchased some bacon and sausages.From there we called into the local pub The ‘Wenaru’ Hotel…as in “‘When are you’ going to finish building it?” Apparently.

The beverage choice was fairly limited, with no cool climate reds or crisp refreshing whites that took my fancy, so we opted for as safe a choice as possible under the circumstances. Of course the barmaid was Irish.The 30 degree day cooled to a 13 degree night and we slept well.

3 & 4 July – Cobbold Gorge: Ups & downs

Author: Mr A

Location: Mount Surprise to Cobbold Gorge Village

Tuesday: Some days just don’t got to plan – and this was one of them. It started well with a great drive across the dry scherophyll forest, or savannah lands, as they are commonly called. This region makes up for a fifth of the total land area of Australia, it’s huge. We turned off the main highway at a small settlement called Georgetown, and headed into the remote area we would be staying for the next 3 days, at a cattle station turned tourist destination called Cobbold Gorge.

The road was a little rough, unsealed and corrugated in places, but I was taking it very steady as usual, and had pumped up the air bags this morning so the van was sitting nice and high, tyres down to 25psi. However, we finally arrived at the property to see a pair of our shocks hanging down on one side. I then spent a very stressful afternoon trying to figure out with Zone and their suspension supplier (both who were super helpful) what had gone wrong and how we would get it fixed in this remote location.

The summary is, in case you are a Zoner, and you really want to avoid being in this situation, we had been told where to measure the ride height by the guys who supply the components, but Zone gave us a measure that would test the ride height in a different spot. A bit of miscommunication, combined with our lack of experience and know-how, and you have a shock that over-extended and came apart, shearing off the bracket that holds them as well, all because the ride height was too high. We had no idea that there was any risk in it being too high, and thought we had them set right for rough road travel, anyway.

Some parts are being sent from Brisbane, some from Cairns, arrival time anyone’s guess, certainly the freight companies won’t pin themselves down to a day. Looks like we might be getting to know this region really well.

Wednesday: We had booked on a tour of the property today, trying to get back on course to our plan for this stay. Cobbold Gorge has become a real magnet for tourism, hosting over 11,000 people last year, the big drawcard being a narrow, winding, deep gorge that was only recently discovered by settlers here in the 1960s.

We started the tour though with a short bushwalk, with a guide who talked us though the local flora and fauna, with a focus on the many different uses to which aborigines put the trees and shrubs. He explained how they used them to treat everything from bruises, rashes, diarrhoea and cuts, to avoiding pregnancies in lean years. For bush tucker there were grapes, plum type fruits, all sorts of berries with concentrations of vitamins we humans need.

We saw the striking bloodwood tree oozing its red sap, the soap tree that we had tested up in Cooktown and produced a beautifully scented wash, it was so fascinating.

Everywhere our untrained eyes looked we just saw shades of green and odd looking flowers or berries. Mick saw breakfast, lunch, dinner and a full medicine cabinet.We climbed up high on the walls of the gorge and admired the views from above, imaginations going wild with the shapes of the rocks. Can you spot the crocodile?We then climbed into the boats and set off along the gorge. Mick explained about the geology that had formed this narrow gorge, with the layers of sandstone washed down through the inland sea being cracked open, and we were in one of those cracks. If you are a geologist please excuse me, but that was my drift.

Over 9 metres deep under the water, and only a few metres wide, it was a quite something to drift though, I wish though we had been allowed to wander through on our own in the packrafts…they assured us the crocs are only of the freshwater variety!Tourism here has brought many economic and social benefits for the local communities that were really struggling through drought and depressed cattle prices. It’s great to see entrepreneurs doing this out here. Small shops, pubs, caravan parks, and servos (petrol stations) all benefiting. Mick even said “people are taking more care of their yards now”. A returning sense of pride…awesome.


As Mark suggested the other day, there is always the chance of our plans being waylaid, and this evening we got some very sad news from the UK which has done just that. Mark’s mum, Jill, passed away peacefully in her sleep on Monday night.

Our plans to continue west will have to be put on hold, as Mr A will need to catch a flight to London for the funeral. Plans for that will depend on the delivery of the new shocks for our caravan to Georgetown, in the middle of the Savannah…we hope that might be Friday, but in reality, who knows…it looks like the east coast of Australia might see us again sooner than we thought…

2 July: Loving learning about lava tubes

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mount Garnet to Mount Suprise

Monday morning again dawned grey and we wondered whether we would ever see the sun again. Off we took from Pinnarendi Station heading just a short way along the Kennedy Highway to our next destination.Undara is Aboriginal for ‘long way’, and is the name given to Undara Volcanic National Park when it was established in 1993. It’s interesting they chose to give it an Aboriginal name, since there is no evidence of any Aboriginal habitation, visitation or use in the direct vicinity. Still, I’m pleased there some nod of acknowledgement to the traditional custodians of this land, who suffered great losses at the hands of the original settlers.

Undara is famous for its lava tubes, created some 160,000 years ago from the shield crater volcano (a very low profile volcano, just some 20 metres above the land) also in the park. Many of the lava tubes have collapsed, but some of the more spectacular sections are open to the public by private tour. The name ‘Undara’ was selected due to the great distance the lava flowed from the volcano – 160km.

We smuggled Tassie past the ‘no domestic animals’ sign and parked up. She was more than happy to curl up on the bed and have a long overdue nap while we went off exploring. Given we were parked up on a cattle station and not actually National Park we figured it wasn’t too big a crime – that and she didn’t actually step paw on the ground at any stage.The sun soon came out and the dry landscape lit up with the coppery tones of the iron filled granite contrasting with the jet black basalt. It’s all quite different to the rich and green landscape of the past few weeks and we are really noticing the impact of the rain shadow cast by the Great Dividing Range along the coast.

How many kangaroos do you see?

We paid our crazy amount of money and joined a guide to take us on our ‘Active Explorer’ exploration, apparently only suitable for those with moderate fitness level. We boarded a mini bus and were transported to the site, our guide spouting non stop facts and figures about the area and what we were about to see.Before long, we were entering the first tube, clambering down piles of rubble left from a roof collapse. We were all too aware of the many tons of basalt over our heads, held together by little other than the compressive strength of the arch. Should the keystone break, then our travels would have ended right here.Fortunately for us, today was not that day, and we lived to explore another tunnel, this one around 1.3km in length, winding its way along an old watercourse. Bats, moths, cockroaches and cane toads are among the known (and seen) residents of these tunnels, and the colours are fabulous.Memories of my Uni Geography degree came back in troves, with images from text books flashing through my head, not revisited for more than 25 years! We both really enjoyed the visit – yes, it was pricey at nearly $60 a head for two hours, but we felt well educated at the end of it and further immersed in some of the geological history of Australia.

We departed and headed just a 45 minute drive out to Mount Surprise, where we had chosen to spend the night. We’re parked up at Bedrock Village Caravan Park – and yes, you guessed it, a strong Flintstones theme is here, with Fred and Wilma indicating the gender of the amenities and the odd nod to the cartoon to be found elsewhere.We decided to go for a stroll and what did we see? None other than a couple of handsome male cats on leads exploring. See folks – it’s not just us!We continued our walk as the sun lowered in the sky, spotting birds and just enjoying the feeling of sun on our skin. As nostalgic as the rain and drizzle has made us feel, we really do appreciate the warmer weather!Common Crow Butterflies, red winged parrots, whistling kites – there’s plenty of wildlife to be seen here, and topped our day off nicely.Where are we on our Savannah Way journey? Just a short way along, but a world of difference from Cairns. Off to a new destination tomorrow and a whole lot more red dust!The Savannah Way