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: 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!
We continued our journey east, we would be staying a couple of nights at the small town of Roma to resupply before heading north and off grid once again. On the way to Roma we decided to break the journey with a night just outside the small settlement of Morven.
Our home for the evening was a working farm, grazing sheep, cattle and goats, with an abundance of bird life. Checking in at the office we also noticed it was home too a small business Gidgee Smith Bags. The owner set up the business 13 years ago on line and has gone from strength to strength, now employing a couple of people and producing these really smart bags from a pvc material.
We love to see this type of small enterprise, unencumbered by their location in the middle of nowhere. It probably keeps the local Post Office open as well! They also run a little coffee shop and mobile van for the passing (mostly caravans) traffic on the highway. How enterprising.
Tassie liked the fact that she had 15 acres almost to herself! It was a very peaceful afternoon for the three of us, Catherine capturing some more fab shots with the zoom lens, me continuing to get the hang of my new spotting scope, and Tas, well she was just hanging out. She doesn’t even have to leave her chair to get a drink!
Apparently over 70 species of birds had been listed on their property, and what a lovely surprise to be somewhere our hosts even knew that! I think we got to 20?
We then tootled off to Roma, our first town with a large Coles/Woolworths type supermarket since our small supermarket at Leigh Creek – 1,741 km behind us! Isn’t that just incredible? Charleville did have an IGA to be fair, but it was still a small supermarket. So this was our first town with a big supermarket in since Whyalla, over 2,095 kilometres away!
For those of you not familiar with the sheer scale of Australia, that illustrates how low the population density is away from the coast and our cities. Imagine needing some fish sauce or oyster mushrooms for that Asian recipe you want to cook…or to find some wholemeal or fresh vegan pasta..….oops..”Bye honey…just need to pop out to the supermarket…don’t wait up…back in a week or two” And in the couple of little shops we did see on the way, you will of course be paying an enormous premium for basic foodstuffs. Quite a different world. So we were excited to get our big restock done at a big national chain supermarket!
I wonder how many Australians forced to take their holidays domestically this year (we are banned from travelling other than to NZ, and that is often interrupted by our continuous outbreaks of COVID-19 from hotel quarantines) and will be shocked by how different life is for the 15% of Australians who don’t live in our five urban centres? Hopefully the tourism dollars flowing into these regional businesses will help revive some of these small towns.
We arrived at Roma to find a delivery waiting for us – a pop up screen room from our old favourite manufacturer Oztent. We have looked at annexes over the years, but they tend to be bulky and heavy and take a while to put up. This screen tent is plenty big enough for us, and literally pops up in seconds. Another couple of minutes to peg it out and we have doubled the fly and mozzie proof living area we have available to us. Let’s see how it works out but first impressions are very good.
A wine top up was also required, and fulfilled at a little bottle shop next door to our caravan park. I also slipped in most importantly, another bottle of Woodford Reserve, our bourbon of choice. Well, it’s going to be zero degrees at night where we are headed, so something a little warming is required, or so the rationale went.
Mrs A spotted (despite my best efforts to distract her) a sign to “the biggest bottle tree in Roma”, and off we went.
For you folk not based in Australia, yup…weird looking creations. I feel like singing “Who ate all the pies” when walking past them, but as they are pretty prevalent in Central Queensland that’s probably a slippery slope to mandatory mental health support.
So water tanks are filled, fridges and freezer stocked, washing bag empty (highly unusual status), wine store brimming over (not so unusual), its off to the wooly wilds again. Our water will need to last for five days, and thankfully the sun is forecast to shine as we will have no access to mains electricity. Carnarvon Gorge here we come! Talk soon…
Location: Northern Flinders and Marree, Northern South Australia
Australia has this brand of being populated with outdoorsy and Crocodile Dundee outback types, but in fact is one of the most urbanised nations in the world, with two thirds of Aussies living in a capital city, and 90 per cent of them clustering into just 0.22 per cent of the country’s land area. So when you are away from the urban areas, as we mainly are, it sure isn’t busy! And we are about to head into one of the least populated areas of the country, the vast expanse of the far northern end of South Australia.
Leaving behind the relative comforts of the campsite at Rawnsley Park Station in the southern Flinders, we headed north for the drive up to our next destination of the small settlement of Maree. Catherine had spotted that on the way there was a “self-guided drive” along an area of outstanding geological significance. As a geographer by education she was keen. Me, I know whats good for me, I go where I’m told 🙂
It was actually a very interesting drive, a little rougher than I expected, but the information boards told a fascinating story of this ancient landscape. When you read that something you’re looking at is 610 million years old, it really puts in perspective the impact we homo sapiens have had in such a microcosm of time, so much so we have our own geological period unofficially named for us – the Anthropocene.
We also saw stromatolites, which are some of the earliest life forms we have found evidence of (the oldest being the ones we saw in WA dated to around 3,500 million years old!), and as the ozone layer built up over hundreds of millions of years (and that we put at risk in a decades, thanks to strong global action, now seems to be repairing) it created the first known complex life forms of Ediacara Fauna (soft bodied sea dwellers).
So with our heads stuffed full of this geological wonder, we emerged back on to the tarmac again and set course for the small mining town of Leigh Creek. Well, it was a mining town until the coal mine closed in 2015, and it may become one again if the plan goes ahead to create a key ingredient for fertiliser by heating the underground coal seams. We were relieved to see that not only was the local supermarket still open (the town has dwindled to around 120 people now) but was really well stocked with fresh fruit and veg. This is most unusual, and we were very grateful, as the next supermarket on our route north would be 1,201km away!
When you look at the health stats on rural Australians, they have lower life expectancies, and suffer from more preventable diseases. It just isn’t healthy in the (remote) country. It really doesn’t surprise us looking at the contents of most of these remote stores, and as for exercise opportunities, well there’s certainly a dearth of walking or cycling routes, and a climate that for much of the year would make using them pretty uncomfortable.
We pulled off for the night a 100km short of Marree, by Clarrie’s Waterhole. Nothing there, just a flattish piece of gravel, and with full water tanks and fridges that is all we needed. We were treated to a big outback sunset, then settled in for what was a very peaceful night.
The morning saw us make the short run into Marree, a small (150 people and still dropping) service centre for the large sheep and cattle farms in this remote area of far north South Australia. It also lies at the junction of two inconic outback travel routes the Oodnadatta Track (which runs for over 600km up to the north west) and the Birdsville Track, that we will be taking.
I noticed the roadhouse operates scenic flights from here over Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre. A bit of bucket list item for us, particularly as it has water from the Queensland floods now reaching it – a particularly rare occurrence. So off we went for our 90 minute ride around the skies above this massive natural wonder.
We thank the Arabunna people as, since 2012, the recognised traditional owners of the land we flew over. What an incredible landscape these people have lived on for thousands of years, before the Europeans arrived and claimed the land as their own in order to graze their sheep and cattle on.
In those rare flood years, it fills 960 sq kilometres of lake – for comparison, Sydney Harbour is 55 sq km. When it is dry and the salt is hard, it’s big and solid enough for Donald Campbell to have set a world land speed record on, averaging 649kph! It also is home to the lowest natural point on the Australian mainland, at 15 metres below sea level.
The area also has its fair share of mysteries, such as how do birds who are thousands of kilometres away know that the lake has flooded and fly there? In the 1998/99 flood apparently around 80% of Australia’s total pelican population turned up there! Just one of the mysteries surrounding bird navigation. If it is a subject that interests you, like it does us, check out the Sunday Times Nature Book of the Year in 2019 “Incredible Journeys’. It collects all that we know currently about how animals (including us) navigate, and highlights by implication so much of what still remains a mystery.
Another mystery in the area is the so called “Marree Man”, a modern geoglyph (large design you can only really appreciate from the air), but unlike the famous ones in the UK and South America, this was created, by persons unknown in the winter of 1998. Thanks to NASA for enabling the timeframe for its creation to be nailed down, but nobody since has owned up to being the artist, despite Dick Smith even offering a $5,000 reward! You can’t beat an outback mystery…
Today we are heading off up the Birdsville Track. We are unlikely to have any internet for the next few days (or possibly longer if we linger!), so all going well we will post next from the Birdsville Pub in state number four for this trip – Queensland!
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!
Our South Australia sojourn is drawing to an end after four months, and tropical central Queensland here we come! Our plan is to “head up the track”, as the saying goes when tackling an iconic outback adventure: the Birdsville Track. The track starts in South Australia’s arid north, and winds its way through three deserts before spitting you out, very dusty and thirsty, at the Birdsville Pub a few kilometres over the border in the central west of Queensland. It will be an adventure for sure.
But first we had a bunch of jobs to get done in the small town of Whyalla, where Catherine was once again going to fly back to Adelaide for steroid injections into her airway, a visit to the hairdressers and some retail therapy. I was being looked after by Tassie, and getting some local medical stuff done. Then it was a matter of cramming as much fresh food into the van and car as we could store. 1,700 km lies between us and our next supermarket in Queensland! Yup…thats a long way between fresh vegetables!
Whyalla is a town that has been struggling for years under threat of its biggest employer, the steel mill, closing down. Today the serious crime squad in London announced it was opening an investigation into the mill’s owner, but despite this cloud, everyone was super friendly and a strong sense of community was evident. But, we couldn’t wait to hit the road.
After six weeks on the very flat Eyre Peninsula, it was great to see the country rising up into jagged peaks in front of us This was the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, a semi-arid country containing some of Australia’s most important fossils and evidence of early human history. We had made a trip here back in 2004, but it was January and crazy hot. Now daytime temperatures are pleasant in the high teens and low 20s, and nights in single figures that have us both fighting over a snuggle with our hot water cat in bed!
Our first destination was the small settlement of Quorn, a town made famous by having for many years both the main east to west and south to north railroads passing through it. During World War 2, around 40 trains a day passed through the town carrying our troops up to defend Darwin and on from there on to fight against the Japanese in the Papua-New Guinea campaign. Nowadays its a very pleasant stop on the tourist route up into the ranges. It even has a tea shop serving a range of brews in English china cups. So civilised.
We had managed to snare a cancellation on the only caravan park in town. It is a really busy season up here, and we had heard from friends who stayed locally that there was an outdoor movie shown every evening at sunset. We dressed up warm and headed out. The film was projected onto the side of an old silo, very atmospheric, and had some really interesting content, including from an elder of one of the First Nation groups to live on this ancient land. So inspiring to to see a community pulling a project together like this.
Tomorrow we head further up into the ranges and a three night stay on a sheep station, and then from there up to the end of the tarmac and the start of 519km of the Birdsville Track.
It may be a while before we get enough signal to upload another post, hence the heads up on our plans over the next few weeks. It would be an unusual plan that survives contact with the Outback, so our fingers are crossed, but we think we have prepared well enough. The wine cellar is full, the fridge groaning, and the tanks full.
Location: Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
We had decided to move on from Elliston, but that was before I woke early on Friday morning feeling somewhat unwell. Food poisoning. Either from the meal at the pub or the spoonful of ‘past its use-by date’ coconut yoghurt and fresh raspberries I had on my return, either way, I was not in a good state, and unable to stray more than a metre or two from a toilet. Mark tried his best to persuade the caravan park to let us stay another day, but they already had someone coming into our site and were fully booked.
Mark did all the packing up and we drove the longest 30 minutes ever down to Sheringa Beach, where we had stayed the previous weekend, found the same site we were on then and settled down for the long haul. I will not go into detail, but the following three days were pretty awful for me, and worse for Mark who was thankfully feeling well but was amazing, looking after me with kindness and patience.
Mark managed to escape on a few occasions to explore by himself, rinding in to the sand dunes and to ‘Round Lake’ which sits behind the dunes and beach.
Perhaps most importantly, the 17th was Tassie’s 17th birthday, which was a sunny occasion filled with sunbathing and exploring the dunes – just as she would like! She’s such an amazing and adaptable cat – not many felines can boast having visited every capital city in Australia, climbed sand hills overlooking Uluru, slapped dogs in Cooktown and sunbathed beside a crocodile infested lake near Darwin…but Tassie can. The only state she hasn’t visited is, ironically, her namesake, Tasmania. Maybe in the spring…?
I didnt stray much further than the caravan for the first two days, and on day three managed a short walk for an hour to see the dunes.
On day four, I managed another walk in the morning. We saw our first ever flock of Rock Parrots, beautiful green birds which nest in the cliffs and spend days in the dunes behind the beach feeding on nuts, berries and seeds. There were several shore birds feeding on the sandy water’s edge, enjoying the natural bounties this coast has to offer.
I managed a few roasted vegetables for lunch without incident and we went on our way, heading for Coffin Bay. After four days without food or water, my head is pounding and body aching and weak, but hopefully finally on the mend. Food poisoning officially is something I never want to experience again!
I feel somewhat cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy this spectacular area more, but ultimately feel privileged I was able to see it at all. We offer our thanks and recognition to the traditional owners, the Wirangu, Nauo and Kokatha people for their careful custodianship over the past thousands of years, preserving the integrity and enabling us to spend time in this pristine place.
Location: Gleeson’s Landing and Port Victoria, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Packing up and leaving our spectacular camp at Coffin Beach was a challenge, as was farewelling our wonderful camp companions, Kim and Mike. They were off back to Adelaide, while we continued on our way. We topped up our water tanks in nearby Marion Bay, and crossed the peninsula to a council campsite on the other side known as Gleeson’s Landing.
You cannot reserve sites here – it is literally first come, first served, but there are a lot of water’s edge areas to camp. Ideally suited to self contained caravans, there are a few long-drop toilets dotted around, but they are not necessarily well maintained. We found ourselves a recently vacated area on top of a small cliff overlooking the water, setting up moments before the weather changed.
What started as a hot and humid morning, changed as though by a switch of a button, the wind picking up, swinging around to bring a strong, cool southerly storm, accompanied by showers.
The storm soon passes, leaving us with a spectacular evening about 10 degrees cooler with an incredible sunset.
The following morning was cool with a fresh breeze, but it didn’t prevent our adventurous Burmese Princess from venturing out for an explore on the cliffs and dunes.
At this point we had been without any internet or phone access for five days, which may sound like heaven to some people, but when you are living full time on the road managing your affairs (and an online global support group) completely in the cloud, meant we were getting a bit nervous. Having most of our family living in the UK also meant we felt a little out of touch, hoping everyone was doing ok and keeping well.
We decided to find ourselves a town to settle down in for a couple of nights, and selected a random settlement half way up the west coast, with camping on the show ground having a full mobile phone signal. We packed up and drove to Port Victoria.
We got settled in and had a relaxing afternoon catching up on news and downloading books to read, before deciding to go out to dinner at the local pub.
Well that was a disappointment. Given it was Friday night, perhaps we should have expected it to be a little rowdy, but I guess we are out of practice with these things. It was unfortunate that a group of 20 or so men were dining there, having spent a good couple of hours downing beers as an appetiser. The atmosphere was not very relaxing. We had no other dining options, so little choice other than to eat our fresh fish and salad quickly and leave! It was probably the fastest meal out we have ever had!
We had a look around town (a tiny settlement with a population of just under 350 people), learning it was once a huge and thriving port. Windjammers were huge multi masted sailing ships which docked here at the jetty to collect grain to be transported to Falmouth (in Cornwall, where we spent Mr A’s birthday, last year) in the UK, and Queenstown in New Zealand.
There’s a coastal walk/cycle which leads several kilometres to an Aboriginal reserve,
Other than a short walk, we did very little on Saturday, spending the day with Tassie, reading and drinking numerous cups of tea. A great opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back to Adelaide for a few days.
Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula
Our caravanning friends, Kim and Mike, had told us about this pretty special place that they had been coming to for years with their family, at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Well they certainly have sent us to a little slice of paradise!
As we pulled up in the van, even with grey skies, the view was just breathtaking. We had travelled 70km down a dirt road off the highway, then through a locked gate at the entrance to the private property called Hillocks Drive that stretched for miles along this remote bit of coastline.
We chose our spot with a sea view, got set up and waited for Kim and Mike who were driving out from Adelaide (around a 4 hour drive). Tassie immediately took herself off for an explore, always a good sign we are somewhere bushy.
We watched the sun go down and light up the red cliffs as Catherine served a cashew nut chicken dish and Mike produced a lovely old Shiraz. We have shared many dinners with these guys now and it’s never an ounce of effort to keep finding new points of conversation. Perfect companions for four days off the grid!
The days just flowed, with Mike putting a rod in early in the mornings, and us wandering along the cliff top walks with their dogs.
Dinners were amazing. Mike and Kim are super BBQers, and produced a full lamb roast with all the veg and then meatballs on the last night.
We also had a pizza bake off, which they won hands down as I messed up with how I had installed a new fancy Weber ambient temperature probe, finally realising my error too late to save the pizza. Ah well…a valuable learning experience. All the gear and no idea! Next time I’ll be ready.
Dinner was rudely interrupted one night by spotting a Peninsula Brown Snake curled up a couple of metres away from our camp. Given they are one of the more venomous in the world (although quite passive by the standards of other brown snakes) it was moved on with the assistance of Mike’s fishing rod. Never a dull moment in the great Australian outdoors.
I took myself off for a ride one day along the old coast road, overgrown, rocky and sandy, perfect for my big old tyres. I could feel this view along Salmon Beach lodging itself in my memeory, ready to be hauled out and revisited on the next trip to the dentist’s chair. A moment to treasure, and not another soul seen on the ride.
I wondered (as I often do) how many other people had sat at this very spot over thousands of years and what was in their minds. I regularly try and find out something about the traditional owners of the land, by that I mean the First Australians to live here, and regularly come up empty handed. All I can tell you about this spot is that the Nharangga people lived all around the Yorke Peninsula for thousands of years before they spied a tall ship sailing past their coast in 1802, and their thoughts would have been irrevocably changed. This will be the subject of another post dedicated to trying to explain why this part of our history is so often glassed over, or given a politically correct mention at best.
Another day, Kim and Mike kindly offered to keep on eye on our (no doubt sleeping) Burmese cat while we headed out for a day trip to a national park. Tassie is closed in the caravan when we leave her, with plenty of ventilation, water bowls, litter tray and food…but…peace of mind, especially for this anxious soul. So off we drove to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, right at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.
It is a rugged park of pristine white beaches, framed by the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen. This was nature at its most awe inspiring, and so quintessentially Australian with its harsh, scrubby landscape that gives you a scratch on the legs almost every time we walk through it. I call it the Australian tickle, to go with the Australian wave (swatting away a fly). Rugged beauty at its best. We followed a couple of the walks detailed on the park leaflet, some more rewarding than others. The climb to the top of a short hill to the lighthouse gave us the most inspiring views though.
Just as we were about to head back to camp we had a message from Australia Post to say the parcel I had confirmed was being diverted to Adelaide (because it was delayed), had failed to have been diverted after all and instead just been delivered to a post office up the road! Bless Australia Post. It was the new double deck cover for our inflatable kayak. This now enables us to convert our double sit-on-top kayak to a single or a double open-water fully enclosed boat. I have really been impressed with this kayak so far.
On our final day we enjoyed cooling off in the rock pools on ‘our’ Coffin Beach.
Later, Catherine joined Kim, Mike and the dogs for a walk along the aforementioned Salmon Beach, while I enjoyed some quality time out of the sun with Tassie and a good book!
Well, what a campsite this has been. Catherine and I just love spots like this where you can spread out without worrying about the neighbours. The sound of the surf at night. The brightness of the stars. Trailing our feet in bath warm rock pools as fish inspected madams red toenails. Memories burnt into our heads.
We know how lucky we are to be experiencing this when so many of our friends are in lockdown. We could so easily have stayed in Victoria and now been stuck there. South Australia has so much to offer, especially when the weather is unseasonably temperate as it is right now. That means its not in the 30’s!
Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide, South Australia
Adelaide has been a city where we have had some great times on various visits to friends over the years. This visit has certainly continued that pattern!
Amongst other things, it is a city that boasts a pristine white sand beach and bath-warm shallow waters that are fabulous for a spot of kayaking. Well that was one afternoon outing for me anyway, testing out the new top deck I had zippered on to the kayak that makes it a full-on open water boat.
I had dropped Catherine off for her next lot of injections in her throat to keep this persistent narrowing of her airway at bay. Then she had organised to meet up for lunch with a group of ladies who are members of the support group she manages for that disease. It’s always so great for her to meet others in person and judge how her considerable labours in administering it are valued.
She was buzzing with enthusiasm when I picked her up, and I felt so proud once again of what she has accomplished. The lovely doctor she met for the first time who gave her the injections greeted her by calling her “the visiting celebrity” much to her amusement.
We had been invited to stay with a couple of friends who live up in the hills to the south of the city centre. It’s been such an interesting visit, as we share many passions that involve getting out and about in the great Australian outdoors. They have two thirds of an acre that‘s heavily planted with all manner of vegetables and fruits, with chickens clucking away and laying the most gorgeous rich yellow yoked eggs.
One dinner in particular will always stick in our minds as they had taken their tinny (small metal tin boat with an outboard motor) down to the city beach and just a few hundred metres offshore sunk a line and some crabbing pots. Apparently the sea there is rich in blue swimmer crabs, almost at plague proportions at the moment. Lovely to hear that something is thriving so well in these climatically challenged times. Well, they were absolutely delicious, together with some small garfish and herring they also caught. A salad picked fresh from the garden, and washed down with a local chardy. Then peaches straight off their tree. What an absolute feast of fresh bounty!
Another couple of friends had agreed to join us for a paddle and they suggested a local spot that was a dolphin sanctuary. We crossed our fingers and sure enough up shows a small pod pottering round us having a fish. The weather was just perfect, not too hot considering the time of year. Adelaide can have some scorching weather but we are currently delighting in La Nina dominating, bringing some fresher temperatures and the odd shower or two.
As well as activities, eating and drinking, it has also been a busy few days getting jobs done while we are in a city, like haircuts, and shopping.
We have had some issues with our Land Cruiser’s 12 volt accessories, a legacy of some poor workmanship back when we initially had the vehicle fitted out in Sydney. A visit to Toyota ensued, and they also told me after running an engine scan that I should have a “trans wash”. I clearly looked a bit bewildered, and somewhat nervous. The young lad then hastily clarified, a transmission wash out. I briefed an audible sigh of relief and booked that in.
I also found a local auto electrician, who after examining our vehicle for a few minutes asked me if it was a Prado. Now that may not seem like a red flag unless you are familiar with the Australian car scene, but let me tell you it did not inspire confidence. He was all we could find at short notice, and added zero value but still charged me his call-out fee! Not happy…. now we have a booking in ten days time at a business specialising in the area we need. It just means a shorter trip to the Yorke Peninsula than we had planned – no great hardship. So let‘s keep our fingers crossed the electrics behave themselves while we away.