Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dash across the gulf

A week ago we were in Katherine,which according to google maps is 2,328.9kms or 1 day 5 hours (with traffic) from Cooktown where we are now.

It's been a week of hard driving and I've not even been able to fall back on the consolation of Champion Ruby tobacco. But somehow I've made it through, and Ness and I are still together (for the moment at least).

After leaving Katherine we headed down the Stuart highway and then got back on the off-road with a left hand turn at Mataranka. We fueled up on diesel and pies (and my last Paul's milk) at the surprisingly well stocked Roper Bar store before entering Limmen National Park (proposed).

Anyone with a passing knowledge of quantum mechanics would quickly recognise Limmen as the Schrodinger's Cat of national parks, being a national park in a real sense on the macroscopic scale (camping facilities, park rangers, signs, leaflets, long drop dunnies etc), but only proposed in a legal sense (probably caught up in the red tape of aboriginal land claims). Anyhow, the good news was that (1) the camping is free (they're not allowed to collect camping fees from a proposed park) and (2) it was far enough off the beaten track that there was almost no one around despite it being school holidays.

We found a top camp spot on the Towns River and it was even cool enough to warrant a campfire (and Ness sorted us out with a beautiful damper for tea).

Next stop was the Southern Lost City, essentially a load of bungly sandstone formations with a beautiful walking trail through the middle of them. If the Southern Lost City was within 100kms of Sydney it would be world famous.

But luckily it's not and we had the place almost to ourselves.

The road through Limmen was pretty tough going, lots of corrugations, lots of potholes and washouts, and a fair amount of wildlife.

We thought things might get better when we rejoined the National One Highway just short of Borroloola, but I think conditions actually deteriorated.

It's hard to remember absolute road conditions but it was pretty bad. Fuel economy was about 80% of the usual amount as a result of the constant breaking for dips and crests and water crossings.

The annual rainfall in those parts gets to 2m and there are a huge number of waterways that drain into the Gulf of Carpentaria. We crossed each of those waterways and there wasn't one bridge for around 1,000kms.

One of the many water crossings on the National Highway 1 across the gulf.

While the road conditions might have been fairly ordinary, the opportunity for bush camping was pretty sensational.

Yet another Surprise Creek camp surpassed expectations and this one had heaps of firewood just waiting to be burned.

We saw our last night in the Territory out in style with the biggest fire of the trip and one of the best cheese dampers. No risk of burning the place down as there had already been a fire through the place, which was one of the reasons my feet got so dirty.

In the morning all of the trees around our car were covered in blood, which seemed a bit weird. I was about to get on the phone to the Vatican when Ness explained that they were bloodwood trees, and it was only sap.

Another creek crossing on Highway 1.

On the third day after leaving Katherine we sadly said goodbye to the Northern Territory and crossed into Queensland. Unfortunately the 'Morning Glory' phenomenon doesn't get going until August.

We stopped in Burketown for longer than planned thanks to a power outage which meant the pumps weren't working at the servo. It also meant we couldn't get chips with our burgers for lunch.

Power was restored around 3pm and we had just enough time to push on to Leichardt Falls where we secured a top, albeit rocky, bush camping spot. This was night 2 of the first Ashes test and I finally had radio reception again so it was a fairly late night for me.

Saturday saw the end of the rough Highway 1 and we got back on the bitumen just short of Normanton. We checked out the Purple Pub, and Krys the Crocodile - a life size replica of what at 28.2 ft 4 inches is considered to be the largest croc ever shot. It has a girth of 13 feet.

This isn't Krys, but is a similar size.

Troopy getting a well needed clean (aka weed removal).

We spent Saturday night at Georgetown where we headed to the pub for a feed, filled with anticipation for some Ashes on the TV. They insisted on showing an ordinary NRL game but did flick to the cricket during the half time break. We saw about two overs and chewed our way through the worst steak of the trip. On the plus side at some point in the evening I was (unknowingly) over-changed to the tune of fifty dollars which almost made for a free night so I'll stop complaining.

On the Sunday (after another night of two, maybe three hours, sleep) the landscape and weather suddenly changed as we hit the great dividing range. Up and up we went, and before long we were experiencing our first rain since Kununurra in May.

Another tip from Savage/Lewis had us camping on the shores of Lake Tinaroo. A must do trip if you ever come up to Cairns.

The good news was that at 11.50am we suddenly (and for the first time since Perth) picked up Triple J, just in time for part two of the Hottest ever 100. We huddled together for warmth under the shelter of the tent and 'smashed beers'. During a break in the rain we managed to bit of frisby.

After another night of two hours sleep (and with the disappointing result of an undeserved draw in the first test) we awoke to a beautiful clear and sunny day.

Lake Tinaroo was shining and with many Top 100 songs in our hearts we put our trust in Google Maps to take us further up the Great Dividing Range to Mareeba for our first espresso coffee in a long long time.

After a brief stint of unscheduled work at Mossman, we carried on to the Cape Tribulation Ferry, where we had massive deja vu, triggering memories from our second trial trek to Wisemans Ferry last year.

Wisemans Ferry, NSW, September 2008.

Daintree Ferry, QLD, July 2009

Queensland are fairly organised when it comes to National Park campground bookings and it all has to happen on line. We already knew there was no availability in the Daintree so we stopped at one of the few commercial campground - Cape Tribulation Camping.

While $30 is a lot to pay for an unpowered site with a miniscule dunny to person ratio, it was right on the beach. Ness also got to speak to some people who'd just completed the trip to Cape York which we're about to embark upon.

The drive up through the Daintree, especially once the road was unsealed, was dramatic, exciting, scenic, and altogether reminiscent of the Victorian high country (lots of low range on the hills, leaning forward and willing the Troopy onwards and upwards etc).

A taste of what we have to come too. Fraser Island aside, Cape York is really the last of our 4WD adventures of this trip, and in a real sense the last opportunity for us to come to serious grief in a remote area. Stay tuned. No news is bad news.

1 comment:

Si and Charl said...

Hi Guys. Fantastic. That trip was so dry when we went across but we did try and imagine it with water. Did you find it a bit scary? I'm sure that trip across the gulf was some of my more scary nights on route.

Good luck with the Cape - you will have the best time :) If you stop at the old telegraph station see if Kathy and Brett are still there - probably not but say ho to them if they are from us.

I've just, eventually, found a website - booksmart - where it will take all your blog entries and turn it into a book. Have a look.

Enjoy Cape york - we spent a lot more time on it than we ever thought we would and it's well worth it :)