We were sad to leave Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park on 10th September but we'd probably done most things and we have a date. We need to be in Cairns on the 17th or 18th to leave Elim Beach on the 20th as we are travelling to the tip with Sandy and Simone. Having 2 vehicles and this being Sandy's third time up it will be much safer.
We left Yalara on the tar and joined the Stuart Highway to travel North. We decided against the shorter, but being dirt probably slower. Ernest Giles Road - next time…
We arrived in Alice at 7:15pm and went straight to the town centre for the Desert Song Festival Opening Night Concert. It was a fairly small affair and we only got to see the last two artists but it was still interesting. That area seems to have some nice restaurants but we went to KFC for the speed and convenience and after a quick bite we went 10km out of town to the free camp we stayed at last time and got an early night. Next morning we packed up early and were at the shops before 9! We stocked up on food and booze and we were off. Heading out of Alice we stopped into Terrain Tamer… Closed… :(
The Plenty Highway is part of what is known as The Outback Way and that's the route we chose rather than the Barkley Highway which is tar all the way. The Plenty started out as a single lane of tar so when oncoming vehicles approached you have to put wheels into the dirt. Pretty soon it was a nice wide dirt road, although fairly rough in places it wasn't too bad. We camped by the side of the road where Arthur Creek becomes Martha Creek.
We drove on and took the less frequently travelled Urandangi Tobemorey Road, which runs up the border, and Urandangi North Road, which has long straight stretches of road through the Mitchell grass plains. We then met up with the tar again at the Diamantina Development Road which took us in to Mt Isa. Our experience with the mining town at Tom Price was that even though it was a small town because of the shift work shops were pretty much city hours. Mt Isa is bigger and has a Coles, K-Mart and a Woolies so we weren’t worried about pulling in to town at just after 5pm on a Sunday. WRONG! The servos and the pubs were the only places open! Even in much smaller towns in WA we'd grown used to the supermarket being open until 10pm. Oh well we didn't need anything critical so we drove on to Corella Dam, deciding to spend two nights to be able to catch some red-claw (a type of yabbie).
We ended up in a campsite well away from everyone else and spent a peaceful relaxing night just us the stars and the night birds. Sandy Mabbott you recommend some cracking spots! Just beautiful and so live with birds. Next day Julie got none of her diary writing caught up as she was always finding a bird to watch. Glen got around to hooking up the remote control to the lights he fitted in Darwin. Late in the afternoon Glen paddled (apparently risking life and limb because of the blue/green algae) the opera house net over to the spot Sandy suggested and we sat around the fire as we wrote. Next morning Glen paddled over to find a small tortoise - about 3cm across, thankfully still alive so it hadn't been in there long enough to drown - and a single yabbie about 7cm long. No red claw, but that means we don’t need to clean and cook them so it's really a win.
From Corella Dam we headed towards Cloncurry and spent some time in the town as the blog uploaded. Nice sausage rolls from the bakery. In Queensland the food seems to be much cheaper than the Northern Territory. Leaving Cloncurry via the Burke Development Road we stopped the night at a camp by an old river crossing, but about 100m from the water. In the morning we went across the old causeway to re-join the main road which now crosses at a high bridge. In the water we saw 4 salties, so staying away from the river was a very good idea.
We soon arrived at Normanton, a town known for The Purple Pub and the life sized statue of Krys the Croc who was the largest crocodile ever shot at 8m. We decided to do a quick trip up the Karumba to actually see the water of the Gulf of Carpentaria. There were very large flocks of brolga that could be seen from the road, a hundred odd birds in each flock and probably 10 flocks in the 75km trip. In Karumba it was over 30 degrees at 10am. We went for a walk from the boat ramp and chatted to an annual visitor and before long we were walking on the mud flats looking at the birds while a guy was casting a net to catch poddy mullet for bait. Glen at this stage had failed to see the attraction of the place, since we'd seen more of a river than a gulf, but it seems to be a fishing Mecca. After a trip to the bakery for Julie to sample their sausage rolls we drove to the other part of town and drove along the back of the beach next to the landing strip. From here we could see "The Gulf" and a myriad of birds which had Julie reaching for the binoculars and her bird book.
We drove back to Normanton and checked out the Info Centre before stopping at the train station for lunch at their picnic tables. The Gulflander is a pretty famous train that twice a week travels to Croydon and back so we had a look at the museum. The train had left at 8:30 am and takes 5 hours to travel the 155km. This week the train had a special payload - the 2016 Melbourne Cup and it's minders. The station master, who opened the museum for us said we could see The Cup at Croydon Rodeo Grounds at 6:30 that night Since 150km takes us less than 2 hours we'd arrive about 5pm so we decided to do it.
We arrived at the Croydon Visitor Information Centre at 4pm and it should have been open, but it wasn't. There was a poster on the door as to The Cup's itinerary for the day so at least we knew it was true. We went to the free pool, which should have been open but it was locked. Seems everyone had shut up early to see The Cup. A quick trip to the Rodeo Ground about an hour before The Cup's arrival found it deserted and locked up so we went 4km out of town in the opposite direction to the dam and had a shower there. At least we'd be clean even if we didn't have race day finery to wear. On the way back to town there was The Cup - in the bush with some aboriginal elders and the newspaper photographer. After getting fuel we led the cup into the Rodeo Ground carpark which had 30-40 cars in it now. The party was in full swing with a band playing, people chatting and drinking and kids running around playing. To fit in we made our way to the bar and bought beers for $4 each. We soon found that anyone could hold The Cup and have their photo taken so we joined the cue and lined up the person behind us to take our photo. The town police officer was there to keep an eye on things and handed Glen the white glove so he could hold it as well as Julie. Hold it by the stem, not the handles, smile for the photo and put it down for the next lot. Then the lady gave us Emirates caps and some printed info about what to hashtag on instagram. We were going to make an exit then but $5 for a plate of food (salads, green as well old school rice salad and a piece of steak - pick your own as some were huge) made it just too good to leave. While we ate we chatted to a local - lived here all his life and now works at the info centre - yes he saw us pull up but he was going home to get scrubbed up for the night. We were stunned that little kids probably 6 and 4 were able to don the gloves and hold The Cup. $178,000 worth of gold cup and the lady in charge didn't even look worried. We left but as we got to the car the speeches started so we felt rude and went back. The guest speaker was Wendy Green, owner of 1999 winner Rogan Josh. Her speech was a delight. She was a school teacher from Darwin with one horse and rubbing shoulders with the late, great Bart Cummings and the Sheik of Dubai who had 700 horses in his stables. Her trip from Melbourne back to Darwin was reported in the papers so it took 3 months as she and her husband were stopped in every town and people drank from the cup. The evening concluded with about 5 minutes of very impressive fireworks. In whole a bloody good night and thanks to the town of Croydon Qld for their wonderful hospitality. I'd have to say it seems like a lovely place to live. How did the cup get to a tiny town in Outback Queensland? They have a connection with The Cup. Archer, the winner of the first two runnings of The Melbourne Cup was trained by someone from Croydon.
After such a lovely evening we would have liked to have a look around. They have a wonderful heritage display behind the Info Centre and a free pool and an old pub but we were under time constraints to get to Elim Beach so we needed to move on and camped at a roadside stop headed east.
The next day our journey continued, firstly to the Cumberland Chimney, the site of an old gold mine outside Georgetown where the council has put in shelters, information boards and (free) binoculars to view the birds on the dam Up to 600 species have been recorded here and it was certainly rich with life when we saw it. Would have been great to camp at the free camp there and see the place at dawn and dusk. In Georgetown we visited the mineral exhibition and had a swim in the free pool before heading out to Undara to do a tour of the Lava Tubes there. Julie was not keen but ended up loving the tour and Undara accommodation and philosophy so we'll be back.
Stopped at a rest area/national park for a quick dinner and drove on to Mareeba War Memorial Park as there is a free camp there, arriving at 11:30pm. Without the time constraints we would have stopped well before that as there was heavy fog over the ranges.
At Mareeba/Tolga/Atherton we intended to stock up, get car bits and pieces and see a movie. Because it was Friday we naturally spent a fair bit of time in workshops. Let's try to get the electric brakes on the trailer fixed - the brake place suggested maybe an auto electrician so we rang Mareeba Auto Electrics and he said bring it around. He checked it and said we'd need a mechanic, so he rang Sep's Mechanical Repairs and Sep said he'd fit it in for us, but we have to leave the camper with him. No worries, dropped it off and took the car to Tyre Power to get the tyres rotated - 4 tyres removed from rims, refitted and balanced for less than the price of a puncture repair in Kununarra, and we didn't get called whingers. While that was being done we walked into town, had latte, of course because they grow coffee here! but a phone call had us headed back to Sep's. It was bad, naturally… Bearings and brakes but he was able to source some new electric brakes (only $160 per side which we considered cheap) and the drums looked OK. Back in town the cabin fan stopped working - a semi regular event but it didn't come back on with the next bump so we thought we'd take the auto electrician up on his offer of "if there's something you need me to do drop back in", besides the air conditioner hadn't been working for a month or so now anyway. We felt bad he did all the diagnostic work this morning for free then helped us get into another place today. Luckily we did because the plug to the fan was melting the plastic and may have started a fire! He also found a loose bolt and advised us over another issue. Out of there with a very cheap $106 bill. Meanwhile Sep wasn't having a lot of luck. He'd found that the bearing race was moving in the drum after finding we don't have the usual trailer bearings but he was able to source some and we kept our spare set. The drums he was having no luck finding in town and even further away could only find 1. Looked like we were going to be without a camper over the weekend but the guy next door had a whole new axle and said Sep could take the drums off there and replace them later… he tried but they didn't fit. After some discussion to get us on the road that day we decided he'd Locktite the race in. Half an hour after the normal closing time he and an apprentice were working frantically to get us on the road. After a road shake down he checked the bearings, taught Glen how not to overtighten them again and we were off with a very moderate $600 bill.
That meant we hadn't had time to get all the bits and pieces and groceries we wanted but we were in our camper and not a motel for the weekend with a chance of it being even longer. Could not fault the people we dealt with with our repairs here in Mareeba,
That night was one of the most unusual free camps. We camped at the drive in. For $50 for the two of us we got 2 movies (Absolutely Fabulous and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) a hamburger, chips and a drink each. And we got to stay for the night! OK technically to access the place we would have had to pay $14 each for the movies but I'm still calling it a free camp as to stay cost no more. We had the best night.
Next morning we got our washing and shopping done and Glen got extra spares and parts from Terrain Tamer and Repco to do an oil change and upgrade the diff and gearbox filler plugs. We even got the new drone Glen wanted at only a little more than the on-line price! Changed the oil on the way out of town in the afternoon. On our way back down we'll be stopping here longer.
Arrived at Elim Beach at 9pm, promptly getting bogged outside the "office" on arrival. Way to make an entrance!
We were collected by Sandy and Logan and got the camper set up probably about 10m from high tide level right next to a "Crocodiles are regularly sighted in this area" sign. Seriously? We must be insane. Spent an hour or so chatting to Sandy and Simone before hitting the hay. Next morning we woke with a view worthy of a tropical island with the water lapping gently on the sand and a mangrove tree standing out in the water. We relaxed in the morning and caught up with Simon and Rachel and also had a shower for the first time in quite a while and although cold water. with it so warm up here it isn't necessary to heat the water. There was insufficient phone service to use the internet but Julie could use the phone. In the afternoon we followed the Mabbotts 4 wheel driving across Cape Bedford to a beach Ruby and Daisy have christened Treasure Beach. The most detailed maps I have don't have a name for this beach and I forgot to ask Eddie, who owns the caravan park and is a 91 year old traditional owner of the land, what it's name was. Treasure Beach seems to collect all the flotsam and jetsam and is littered with driftwood and all manner of things that have fallen from boats. Lots of plastic bottles, rope and a plethora of rubber thongs. This beach is also the place to collect nautilus shells and Julie got a couple about 20cm across. Before leaving we fired up the chainsaw and took advantage of the abundant driftwood. We had Ruby with us for the first half back then Daisy entertained us on the way back to camp. We enjoyed another night beside the fire. The following day we went fishing with Sandy and Ruby in their boat, trawling with a shallow diving lure. Before long Glen had the first fish, a 40cm barracuda and handed the rod over to Julie to try her luck. Quite some time passed then Ruby landed a barracuda, yes bigger than Glen's. After a fairly long time Julie finally had a strike and landed an even bigger barracuda. After that Julie was just reeling them in one after the other. Ruby had a couple of strikes but didn't manage to get them to the boat, Before we went to check the crab pots Julie had caught 7 fish, 6 barracuda and a grunter while Ruby and Glen had just one each. Crab pots were also successful and we brought 3 in.
Fish dinner by the fire. The following day Sandy led us and Simon through a 4wd track to Cooktown so we could all do washing and shopping. Strangely Glen got lost when we hit the tar and we relied on the Hema GPS to get us there. Despite being on the main road into town we were told to turn left. Since it was only 7km we followed the road it led us down. We continued to follow when it became a 4wd track first through the bush then along a single lane raised dirt track through the mangroves with wet mud both sides. We stopped following it when the road abruptly ended where perhaps many, many years ago a bridge may have stood. We then had to reverse for a km until we were out of the mangroves and could turn around. Back on the main road we drove the 13km into town on actual roads. Glen was able to get service and do the required updates to allow him to use the drone. With the girls having no new books Glen is reading them a couple of pages of Bollygum each night.
Back at Elim there were a few teething problems with the drone that Simon was able to sort out over the next couple of days and Glen finally had some useable footage - but it's 3GB and unedited so maybe on the blog later. For the rest of our time at Elim we drove out to the coloured sands beach where the girls, Lachlan, Sandy and Glen climbed a large normal sand coloured dune and slid down it on a boogie board and Julie, Glen, Ruby and Sandy went out fishing with no luck whatsoever.
For our trip up The Cape Sandy is leaving the van so we decided to take off the boat loader and leave a few things like solar panels and excess clothes behind. With preparations compete we left Elim Beach at 9am on the 22nd September and drove via Lakefield National Park camping at a gravel pit 100km south of Coen and then moving on to The Bends about 5km north of Coen today. Arriving before lunch gave us a nice day by and in the river and time for Sandy to cook a roast chicken dinner for us all in the camp oven. Glen had a couple of flights with the drone and we all spent the afternoon in the water. After dinner we checked out the maps of the Frenchman's Track which we will be tackling tomorrow or the next day. It seems to crossing at the Pascoe River will be the most challenging part with steep banks and deep water. Speaking of tackling the Swans v Geelong Prelim Final is on tonight and we are close enough to Coen to have internet access. Swans have just won by 37 points, so let's hope GWS can record a win tomorrow. What an amazing thing it would be to have two Sydney based teams in the AFL Grand Final!