Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Visitors, bucking bulls, and boxing.

We've been very lucky this year and we've (so far) had 4 parties of friends come and spend time with us. We really do like it when friends are wanting to, and do, come and visit, but the experience has taught us a lot too. 

This years experience has taught us that visitors should spend a maximum of 3 nights with us. We learnt this with our first visitors (who spent 12 days with us) but we failed to apply the lesson with our last visitors (14 days) so I'm writing it here in an attempt to apply it more successfully in the future. 

The stress that a longer stay causes us probably has many reasons: 
a) we're used to it just being the 2 of us. 
b) we're on an indefinite period of time for travel, so our speed of travel should probably be slower than persons on 2 weeks leave and flying in from the other side of the world. 
c) I feel responsible for making sure the guests have a great time in my home country, and this really stresses me. 

So, note to self: maximum 3 nights and we should tell the visitor-to-be this when they are planning their visit. I'm wondering how other overlanders feel about visitors?

With our most recent visitors we did do some great sightseeing. Here's what we did:

First we went spent 3 days at the Mount Isa Rodeo. The rodeo was Awesome! I'd been to rodeos before but this is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The big screen helped with explaining the rules, showing the chute action and showing replays. Events were varied: bullriding, bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, roping events, and buck jumping were just some of the events. And there was live music too. Everybody else in our group of 5 we're all novices to rodeo events and everybody enjoyed the action. 

In our little convoy (our visitors had hired a Campervans) we travelled up to Burketown. I hadn't wanted to go to Burketown in August as I'd wanted to visited there a month later for the Morning Glory cloud (it's a weather phenomenon), but I felt that we couldn't waste our visitors time and Burketown, with a festival on, might provide some entertainment.  When we got there I was excited and glad we'd come: Fred Brothy's Boxing Tent was at the festival! As the last remaining boxing tent in the world, it travels to outback towns and was something I'd heard about but never witnessed. 

As well as the boxing tent they had a rodeo (quite different to the Mount Isa one, with predominantly indigenous competitors) and some top country music acts performing (Katherine Britt and Troy Casser-Daley). The night's entertainment, first the musicians then the boxing tent, was very good and it made for a far later night than we are used too. 

When the 4th generation Fred Brophy banged his drum and told the rules we were surprised how many people threw up their hands to volunteer to fight (against one of Fred's men). Even some women fought. Neither H or I would normally choose to watch boxing but Fred Brothys boxing tent is more of an historical and cultural event. It's fun, and Fred made sure no-one got really hurt. 

Then we went to Lawn Hill National Park. It is one of Queensland's most spectacular parks but less visited because it's so far from where the bulk of the population live and tourists visit. It's a spectacular Gorge with waterfalls, great hikes, canoe hire, and boat tours available. We had found (on Cape York) an inflatable queen sized mattress so we floated that up and down the beautiful waters of the Gorge as well as enjoying the hikes and swimming. Each evening a massive colony of flying foxes flew over. 

Scenery wise it was a great couple of weeks. And with time maybe we'll all forget a little of how stressed and nasty I was to everyone. 

Next time, I hope we'll remember to only offer a short stay. If your reading this and you're a friend or family member that intends to visit: you're welcome! ... just briefly. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Traveling the Savannah Way

It's been a while since I last wrote, I just haven't felt like it. I struggle to write posts about our travels in Australia: like it's too close to home, or too personal. So, this will be a summary. 

After we reached Cape York we didn't waste much time coming South again. We spent one night camped near old Somerset, on the beach, and it was lovely for the corals, rock art and a little bit of shipping activity that we saw. The very next day we started South. 

Once again, we had a little trouble getting off the Jardine River ferry as our overhand is a little too long for such an angle, but the damage wasn't much and H was able to fix it up easily. 

Continuing South we'd thought we'd go to a place on the Eastern coast called "Captain Billy's landing" but everyone advised us that it was too windy to get much enjoyment from, so we skipped it. We drove in past the Heathlands Ranger Station to take a look vehicles going through the famous "Gunshot" (thoughest 4wd section of the Old Telegraph Track). Here we drove 30kms of bad corrugations only to reach the intersection of the Telegraph Track and find the trees too close in for us to drive any further! So... 30kms back on those same corrugations. But, it mightn't have been for nothing as I think I saw an Eclectus Parrot. 

At Laura we stopped and did a tour of the Quinkan Galleries. At $160 per person it's overpriced but it is considered to be possibly the best indigenous rock art site in the world, at least in the top 10, and we were keen to have a look. Despite the price the art site had a definite WOW factor, and it felt special too. 

Some Quinkan Art

Some Quinkan Art

Our next tourist site was the Chillagoe caves, with tours run by National Parks the price was good and the quality of information excellent. We did 2 of the 3 caves that were available as guided tours. We also clambered into one of the free caves and I chickened out at the entrance to another. Chillagoe is a lovely small town, with a unique feeling to it. 

From there we followed the Savannahlander train route South and West and had the classy historic train catch up with us when we swam in Copperfield Gorge (at Einasleigh) and at its terminus at Forsayth. It makes a weekly trip from Cairns to Forsayth and back. 

Savannahlander Train crossing Copperfield Gorge

Savannahlander Train crossing Copperfield Gorge

We skipped Cobbald Gorge as we really thought that $98 per person was too much and it probably not special enough. Some road friends (people we'd met multiple times on the road and become friends with) said we'd made the right choice (they'd done it) but other people would no doubt disagree. 

Georgetown's Terrestrial Centre and its display of minerals was beautiful. In Croydon, unfortunately most of the historic buildings were closed for renovations so we could only view them from the street but Queensland's oldest continually run General store was open, and it's a treasure! 
A sign inside Queensland oldest continually run store.

A sign inside Queensland oldest continually run store. 

We stopped in Normanton both on our way to and way from Karumba. It's got some lovely old buildings, especially the train station and the building that houses the visitor centre and museum. The Gulflander train was also in at the station. (We've decided we're not so into train rides, but like to see the old trains and buildings). 

Karumba is famous for sunsets. We'd accidentally caught up with the road friends mentioned earlier and so, with them, enjoyed the sunset view from the tavern on the first evening and did a very good sunset tour (with historic talk, crocodile spotting, drinks and prawns) on the second evening. The tour was just $50 per person, by Ferryman Cruises, and excellent. During the day we also visited the Barramundi Discovery Centre and really appreciated the education they gave us about Australias most famous fish species. 

From here we left the Savannah Way as we were meeting friends for the Mount Isa Rodeo.  But, we did return to do just a little bit more after the rodeo. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Reaching the Northern tip of Cape York

We reached the tip of Cape York Peninsula 5 weeks from when we did the Bloomfield Track, and it took us just 4.5 days to return to Mareeba. When we got to Bamaga, we went even just a little bit further North by taking a ferry to Thursday Island (without Blu). 

Some people had warned us that Blu might be too big to do the final part of the road to the tip, but when we stopped at the Croc Tent (souvenirs and info) and said we're in a bus she advised us "buses go here, here and here" whilst pointing at a map. Excellent, the tip was included, as was Somerset, where I'd also chosen for the days itinerary. 

Once again Blu handled the roads with ease and when we met another bus coming the other way (once) we backed up a bit to find a place to get over. Overall, the roads were mostly wide enough for 2 vehicles and only one part was steep. 

We crossed deeper water elsewhere on this trip, no worries.

We crossed deeper water elsewhere on this trip, no worries. 

Our moment of hesitation came when we reached the end of the road. There sides to the road were overflowing with parked 4wds, and we wondered how we'd ever turn Blu around. But by the time we'd walked to the tip, taken the 'we are here' photo, and returned there was lots more room to turn around and so it wasn't a bother. 

So many vehicles at the end of the road!
 So many vehicles at the end of the road! And Blu, sitting big. 

After visiting the tip we headed to Somerset. It's a place with a very interesting history but there really isn't much of that history left to look at. Furthermore the trees have grown and it's difficult to see what it once would have been like. 

Below Somerset there's a lovely campsite (access allowed with having paid for a Jardine River ferry), overlooking Albany Island, where we stayed overnight. From here you can make a difficult scamble over rocks at low tide to see Aboriginal rock art in a cave. We also enjoyed the corals at low tide... whilst keeping an eye out for Crocodiles. 

So we did it! H, Blu, and I made it to the tip! It wasn't difficult, but sometimes the driving was 10-30 kilometres per hour. 
The obligatory photo at the top of mainland Australia.
 The obligatory photo at the top of mainland Australia. 

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Old Telegraph Track without a 4wd

2 options: the Bypass Road or the Old Telegraph Track.
 2 options: the Bypass Road or the Old Telegraph Track (Overland Telegraph Track)

There's 2 ways of getting to the top of Australia. There's the notorious Old Telegraph Track and there's the Bypass Roads. The official guides, maps and printed books for Cape York only mention going by 4 wheel drive no matter which route you take. The Old Telegraph Track deserves its rating of 4wd only, and is labelled 'experience needed', 'Adventure 4wd'. The Bypass road is labelled as 4wd needed too, but as a precaution. 

From the Cultural Centre in Weipa.
 From the Cultural Centre in Weipa. 

Occasionally a non-4wd does do the Tele, but not a bus, I spoke to the driver of a  4wd tour bus and he told me they can't fit on the track anymore. 

We could, however, take a look in a couple of places. 
First, and easiest for us to access was Scrubby Creek crossing. It's not far from the fantastic Fruit Bat Falls (where we had a swim), and the road to it is gravel, quite wide, and easy. At Scrubby Creek there's plenty of room to park and go and watch vehicles crossing. In a short period of time we'd seen 8 vehicles cross: 6 through the deep part and 2 via the shallow with steep entrance crossing. 
Scrubby Creek crossing. This driver really checked out his options first by walking the crossing and made the most successful crossing we saw here.
 Scrubby Creek crossing. This driver really checked out his options first by walking the crossing and made the most successful crossing we saw here.

Next, from the Bypass Road, we took the 11km 'North Jardine River Bypass track' to the Old Telegraph Track, parked at the intersection and walked a kilometre or so to Nolans crossing for a look. It's considered the most difficult part of the Northern Section. H saw 7 vehicles cross, but I'd already headed back to Blu before they arrived. 

Nolans is a deep crossing that apparently causes a few problems.
 Nolans is a deep crossing that apparently causes a few problems. 

The most notorious of all the crossings is 'Gunshot'. It's on the Southern section and we drove in for a look at it when we were returning from the tip. The track from the Bypass Road goes in past the Heathlands Ranger Station, 25 kilometres of bad corrugations, to meet with the Old Telegraph Track where it's another 7 kilometres South to get to 'Gunshot'. We'd been told it would be possible for us to go in for a look, but when we got to the Old Telegraph Road and saw how closed in the trees were, we decided it looked too dubious (for our roof height), so we turned around there. Since then we've had advice anyway that most traffic is bypassing Gunshot and doing what is called the 'chicken track', so maybe we didn't miss much. 

For us, having a look at some of the Telegraph Track action but driving up on the Bypass Roads gave us the best of both worlds. 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Lockhart River and Chili Beach

As I write this we are almost finished with what we are doing of Cape York. So I think it's okay to say that Lockhart River and Chili Beach were my favourite destinations on Cape York, and I already wish we'd spent longer there. 

Lockhart River is an Aboriginal community. Most of the people there are aboriginal but white people do live there too. Teachers, police, medical personnel and some business people. I actually have a distant cousin (Jo) who did a 2 year contract there as a teacher, and our connection to her greatly enhanced our experience of the area. 

Chili Beach is a campsite, and fronting Beach, in Iron Range National Park. 

For our first night we contacted one of the people that Jo recommended, a member of the Aboriginal  council. Unfortunately he was out of town so we couldn't meet him but he granted us permission to camp on Quintal Beach at Lockhart River and gave us some advice for another place to camp. 

Most travellers, even if they are going to Chili Beach, don't seem to go to Lockhart River. But travellers are welcome to visit the town to buy fuel and groceries and visit their contemporary Aboriginal Art gallery (which was closed when we tried to visit). 

The next day we went to a place, at the end of 'Portland Road' called 'Portland Roads', confusing huh? We had lunch there at a very civilised cafe. 

Our air conditioning belt had broken so as there was nice grass there, in a public area, H decided he'd change it there. Meanwhile, while I'd wandered on the waterfront rocks I'd spoken to an Aboriginal lady who was fishing and told her that my cousin had taught in Lockhart. It turned out that Miss Jo had taught her kids. 

I returned to our bus and, after a while, I heard a 'hello', 'hello'. I couldn't see anybody! But then I realised the voice was coming from the trees next to the bus. I said 'hello' back and the kids appeared. 2 of them: 
"You know Miss Jo?" 
"I know miss Jo", "Miss Jo my teacher". 
I sat on the step of Blu to talk to them. They certainly were friendly, it was like I was family. 

They left and another kid came, and invited herself in, then another kid, then the first 2 came back. Many questions. 
"Where do you camp?" 
- on the bed (pointing)
"You don't camp outside?
-no, do you?
"Yes, on the verandah". 

Their mum's (2) came past so they called their mums in for a look. I don't think so many people have ever been inside Blu at once. The mothers were pleasant, they had a look said it was nice, and left me with their kids. 

Finally the adults of the family had piled into the car to go, they pulled up beside Blu, called out to the kids and the kids put down the pens and left immediately. The car, a Ford Falcon wagon (and they say you need 4wd on these roads) was already over-full, but 4 more squeezed in. 

For me it was all quite a daunting but memorable experience. 

We left it too late to get a booking for the campsite at Chili Beach (Iron Range National Park) so we made do with other camps as permitted by Jo's friend, but visited Chili Beach for a day. It's fascinating. It's a beautiful beach but it's one of those parts of the world where rubbish washes up from the sea. Check out my photo of the informative sign at Chili Beach. Wow!
Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach

There's so much rubbish on Chili Beach. And it's interesting. We met a local who was picking up a strange looking device and we asked what it was. A satellite connected fish finder, as used by the big commercial fishing operators, it had solar panels and apparently sophisticated electronics and a lithium battery. 
Litter strewn Chili Beach
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach

I'm a person who regularly picks up litter when I'm out. But Chili Beach, and Cape York in general, was beyond me, there's just too much rubbish lying around. So I decided that since I couldn't tackle everything I'd  pick up the imitation turtle food: plastic bags. I collected a bucket full and with them being big wet and sandy (i.e. heavy) I felt it in my shoulder later on. 
(Turtles often mistake plastic bags for one of their food sources (jellyfish I think) and eat them. Unfortunately this kills many turtles). 
I'll leave you with this sad image:
Dead turtle on Chili Beach. I don't know if a plastic bag killed it.
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach