Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Old Telegraph Track, Cape York (Part 3)

Following the fun at Gunshot Creek watching others trying to avoid breaking their cars it was time for us to have some fun as we headed to Fruit Bat Falls and Eliot Falls. Less than 30km north we turned off to Fruit Bat Falls for an early morning swim before the crowds arrived. The river is fairly shallow running over a rock platform then drops a couple of metres per the falls into a sandy pool below, great fun for swimming with the kids.

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Sufficiently cooled off we decide to head to the camp at Eliot Falls for lunch. 12km away we had heard the road had a particularly deep crossing, marked innocently as a ford. Scrubby Creek as it is known was silted up on arrival so we had to wade it, water levels reaching the thigh, deeper in the middle. After watching cars go through on both sides we crossed without trauma, sticking to the one side. The park itself sits on the edge of the Jardine River National Park and Heathlands Regional Park. At Eliot there are three main waterholes called the Saucepan, Twin and Eliot falls. The former was a deep section of the Eliot river with cascades into it, allowing older kids to jump from the sides. Twin Falls was more picturesque with a series of small waterfalls into sandy bottomed shallow pools, fed from Canal Creek and more suitable for younger children. The clarity of the water proved popular with our kids as they fossicked for stones in the river bed. Pitcher plants, sundews and bladderworts, all insectivorous plants lined the riverbanks, testament to the nutrient poor soil on and around the limestone rock.

Eliot Falls themselves were the biggest falls offering 3m jumps into the middle of the horseshoe shaped falls. Below the falls deep rocky sections flowed rapidly over large boulders offering lap pool alternatives, swimming into the current. Where the two rivers meet it was noticeably warmer water coming from Canal Creek.

We spent two days here relaxing with plenty of swimming to cool us from the searing heat. For such a popular spot it was a shame to have no visible Park Ranger presence whilst we were there. People had dogs in the park, generators on at night, people ripping down trees in the campground for firewood, and Simon and Hilary even spotted people soaping up ready to wash in the rivers. It won’t be long before it becomes a lot less attractive if Queensland Parks don’t raise their game, focus on the site preservation rather than the ridiculous online camping booking system aimed at revenue raising rather than customer experience. The city-dwelling consultants who sold that one to the government should be ashamed of themselves as they clearly don’t understand how travellers operate. Maybe another blog for that one!


Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Queensland, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Telegraph Track, Cape York (Part 2)

Having made the decision not to risk trailer and car at Gunshot Creek, we had bypassed to the camp at Cockatoo Creek, some 10km north, then drove back hoping to see less conservative people prepared to risk their vehicles.

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It was quiet when we arrived with only another family there awaiting some action. We walked down to the creek where the Hall of Fame tree lies adorned with wreckage from the cars that didn’t make it, bragging notices and a lot of rubbish. On one side there are three main crossings, No.1, the original path offering a vertical drop some 3-5m into a muddy pool. With only centimetres either side of the car it leaves no margin for error and only the brave or foolhardy attempt this. Ferns grow out of the cliff walls on either side. No.2 and No.3 are not much different, offering only slightly less than vertical entries, with longer deep muddy exits. On the other side some 4 or 5 “chicken” options are available where the car’s entry can be controlled to a certain degree. We ended up seeing two cars do this side before we left, both performing the crossing relatively effortlessly, though the first Patrol lost both taillights on the descent. The secret to an easy crossing appeared to be suspension lift and large mud tyres. Without these a winch is the necessary accessory to get out.

Sizing up No.2

Sizing up No.2

No.1 birds eye view

No.1 birds eye view

It was only later that we discovered we missed out seeing the five cars that completed No.2 later in the afternoon when they turned up at camp in the evening.

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The Old Telegraph Track, Cape York (Part 1)

With the Lenovo seeming dead I have adopted an Apple to continue blogging!

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The Old Telegraph Track(OTT) is a very popular 4WD track that heads north up Cape York from Bramwell  Station to the Jardine river and beyond with the Telegraph terminating at Cable Beach near Punsand Bay, only 20km or so from the most northerly point of mainland Australia.

We left Morton Telegraph Station early, quickly drove 42km to Bramwell Station, keen but unsure what to expect at the first challenge Palm Creek.

A small wooden sign, not worthy of a photo pointed the track past the station and we pulled up at Palm Creek behind a big tour bus and a couple of other cars. Their eyes lit up and everyone reached for their cameras when we said we were going to cross.

It was certainly a bit more challenging than I was expecting but the word was if you can do this crossing you can complete the track. The entry into the creek was a two step, narrow muddy track with the tiniest bend towards the base. Total drop was possibly ten metres.

With other people arriving behind I jumped to it, handed cameras and video to people and started the GoPro running.

In the excitement of the moment I then made a number of rooky errors. Firstly, the GoPro was in camera mode so I got a photo of me looking at the camera – oops. Secondly, feeling the pressure of people waiting to cross I forgot to reduce my tyre pressures.

The descent was relatively easy as you just have to get your tyres in the tracks and keep them there while descending in low gear. The opposite side offered two exits and we chose the direct one. Naively thinking we could savour the moment with a slow ascent, I underestimated the traction on the slippery incline and sheepishly descended backwards after getting only the car nose to the top. On the next attempt I made my third error trying to ascend before the low range gear had engaged properly. The third time I beckoned to Amanda to grab the winch, put it round the nearest tree and 5 minutes later we were out. The tourist bus was happy with the spectacle but it was a very amateur effort indeed as the next cars showed us, roaring past in one attempt.

The ice was broken and we were on our way at last. Three kilometres later we arrived at Dulcie Creek, where track notes indicated care required to avoid deep holes. A muddy puddle sat in the middle of an otherwise dry river bed so this obstacle was passed with relative ease.

Dulhunty and Bertie rivers provided more water but these were more a case of avoiding deep holes in the rocky bed, nothing a quick wade in the crystal waters couldn’t solve.

One thing we did notice was that there are very few intact telegraph poles remaining. Souvenir hunters have bent the metal poles to remove the porcelain insulators along the entire track. There were some older wooden poles standing but these too lacked any porcelain adornments. They would look more impressive on the poles than sitting forlornly on people’s

The infamous challenge on the OTT is Gunshot Creek and we chose not to do this challenge as we were towing a fully laden Camprite trailer that we still needed to live in for some time. We bypassed this and setup camp at Cockatoo Creek, another crossing where deep holes in the riverbed need to be treated with respect. We camped above a deep waterhole and the kids spent the afternoon fishing and swimming. I spotted a big barramundi whilst spotlighting that night, and a quick well placed cast landed a 70cm fish for the next evening’s dinner.

Up early in the morning I took Oscar for a fish, still seeking his first barramundi, and landed a 72cm Sarotoga on my second cast. Unfortunately Oscar only caught some good-sized grunter. We also got a visit from the rare Palm Cockatoo which is a magnificent bird with a huge beak, black with red cheeks and a huge array of long feathers on his head.

So far the Camprite trailer was holding up very well and all was good. As the sun rose we prepared for as visit to Gunshot Creek.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Fishing, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Mitsubishi, Offroad, Photography, Photos, QLD, Queensland, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Having been unable to post blogs for the last two weeks due to our remote location in Cape York I was devasted today to find my laptop will not boot up.

Last night I was downloading photos from my camera but ran out of battery. Today the Lenovo T410 kicks into life then the drives stop whirring after a minute or so, the screen never even illuminating.

is there a computer whiz out there who can help me?

If I can’t fix it I will only be able to post phone camera photos for the next few weeks until we return to a big city. Cairns is at least two weeks away at this stage😮

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Undara Volcanic National Park

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With no barramundi bagged in Karumba, after fishing the incoming tide for a couple of hours, it was time to move on. I consoled myself with the fact that no-one else had caught anything either. With half the day gone it was a rush to get to Mount Surprise close to Undara. Flocks of brolgas lined the road as we left Karumba.


Cumberland chimney

Cumberland chimney

Intrigued by a large chimney rising above the trees, we took a quick stop at the remains of the town of Chamberlain, close to Georgetown. The chimney is all that remains of a once prosperous gold producing town in the 19th century. The adjacent dam still flourishes though, so we had a break for some birding.

A brief stop then at Georgetown to visit the famous gem collection in the visitor centre was stifled by a grumpy lady. She gruffly stated that it was $8 each and she would be closing in 15 minutes so we’d have to come back tomorrow. We hoped she might have said we could look around for a few dollars but it wasn’t to be.
The longest lava flow from a single volcano on the Earth’s surface can be found at Undara Volcanic National Park, some 260km south-west of Cairns. Formed some 190,000 years ago, not very old in geological terms the lava flows took place over a period of 18 months and stretched up to 160km in some directions. Today there are 69 tubes that have been found and nine of these are accessible to the public. The tubes formed where there was an optimal gradient that allowed molten lava to follow the course of a creek bed slowly enough that the surface could cool and solidify whilst inside lava continued to flow through. Many of the ceilings of these tubes have collapsed in subsequent years but those that exist can be explored on guided tours.

On the bush walk to the tubes we followed the course of a collapsed tunnel, and saw how dry sclerophyll savannah became tropical vine thicket in the river bed. Bottle trees, some over 200 hundred years old emerged out of the thicket, standing proudly above the canopy, though being deciduous and with no leaves they appeared to be dead. Axe marks on one particularly old tree were testament to how aborigines used to climb them to collect the seeds which were then ground into a flour for cooking.

The highlight of our tour was the Wind Tunnel, approximately 200m long, with resident bent wing bat colony. Unfortunately, the tour guide had a deadline to meet and I didn’t have as long as I would have liked taking photographs.

It was mid-afternoon by the end of our tour so we had to find a camp quickly, resorting to a quaint little rest stop on the Archer river. The river was full of sooty grunty, then as the stars appeared in the cooling evening a creature that we guessed, from only a few glimpses, to be a bandicoot scurried feverishly through the long grass on the perimeter of the camp. Later that night a larger visitor rudely awoke me as it rummaged through a waste bag on the kitchen, a brushtail possum. Reluctant to leave he approached me first, peering into the tent then as I emerged it made a hasty retreat up the nearest tree.

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Next stop Kurumba (Via Burketown and Normanton)

Having covered quite a few kilometres recently and being behind in my blog due to having no telephone coverage for days on end I had to dig out the map to recall this one!

Preferring the road less travelled we chose to head north from Boudjamulla National Park towards the Savannah Way and this plan proved way more challenging than it should have been. We got into the habit of opening and closing gates behind us as the road continued but when I looked up after one gate, having driven a hundred metres into the centre of a monstrous herd of cattle, it became obvious the only tracks were those of the cattle. What made it somewhat amusing was the fact that we were still being followed by a very trusting couple of backpackers who had asked us directions, and obviously accepted our confidence. At that moment a stockman drove past on the opposite side of the fence with a freshly killed cow strapped to the back of his UTE. I casually pushed past the cows towards him trying not to look like a goose, but he must have been killing himself with laughter and after a brief polite exchange of pleasantries he put us back on the right track closing with “If you keep going this way you can drive for a week without seeing anything”. Sure he was exaggerating but point made both cars exited the paddock quickly.

With no further significant events the next stop was Bourketown after a very dreary stretch of the Savannah Way. The land is so dry and overgrazed it is quite sad to see herds of cattle, ribs clearly visible, sitting under what little shrub, or tree, cover there remains offering shade, in what can only be described as a dustbowl landscape.

Bourketown has an artesian bore that leaves the ground at a scalding 68 degrees. Drilled as early as 1897, it was found to be suitable only for adult cattle to drink, and the CSIRO in 1959 decreed that it was unsuitable for domestic use, irrigation, the flow was uncontrolled and was leaking. The was a bath house here for a while but nowadays there is just a swampy ground frequented by wallabies and wading birds. The mineral content of the water is so rich that their deposits over the last hundred years have caused the bore to “grow” upwards into an impressive rock structure.

The Savannah Way onwards to Normanton yielded few more surprises or points of interest, however, the big crocodile was awaiting us in Normanton and the kids were getting excited. We chose to stop and camp at the Leichhardt River as we had covered quite some distance already and though the Leichhardt Falls were dry the camp spot was pleasant.

We had a quick fish and caught a shark, interesting as the river level was so low, not tidal here, and we were over 50km upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria. An arafura file snake poked his nose out of the water, flicked his tongue to check us out then slipped back into the depths. A solid campfire on a crystal clear starry night was the perfect end to the day and I tried to take some long exposure shots. Does anyone know why I am getting different coloured light specks all over the images (no they aren’t the stars)?

A short 2km deviation off the final stretch of the Savannah Way to Normanton takes you to the spot where early explorers Bourke and Wills made camp 119. All but one of the party perished shortly after from starvation and/or malnutrition. The only survivor relied on aboriginal assistance and the tragedy of the story is that the aborigines consider this a fairly abundant region.

In 1861, a dash to the north coast was made from this, their most northerly camp, to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The people remaining at the camp passed their time creating blazes on surrounding tree trunks, and though many have died there are a few remnants remaining, the clearest probably being the Walker tree that was carved the following year after their expedition. Others are marked by a plain steel square nailed to the trunk, identified from early photographs and the distinctive blazes.

Krys the Savannah King was an 8.63m estuarine crocodile that was shot near Normanton in 1957. A supposedly replica statue is proudly displayed in the town centre, and whilst the length may be accurate it definitely seems that actual proportions may have been slightly exaggerated to create the beast that we went to marvel at. For those doubters, compare the photo of the hunter sitting on the corpse from 1957. Don’t get me wrong, 8+m long is huge, but that Normanton statue looks closer to a four-legged T-rex proportion. We had some fun there then pressed on to the Barramundi capital, Karumba. We have yet to bag a barramundi that we could eat!

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Boudjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill)

Riversleigh is a world heritage site based on the abundance of unique fossil deposits found there. To get there we had a relatively short drive from our camp at the O’Shaughnessy River, two short, shallow, but surprisingly slippery river crossings, and the obligatory corrugated rocky dirt road that makes the outback what it is. Whilst it appears to be an unremarkable spot on the surface, the signs provided allow visitors to look past the dusty, dry rocky landscape. For even the more imaginative visitor visualisation of the change in landscape over millions of years is challenging as the fossil record represents eras of marine reef, through to swamps when giant 4m freshwater crocodiles were the apex predators, and then elephant birds whose enormous size meant they couldn’t fly.

One fossil in the rock exposed a cross section of a turtle shell thought to be long extinct, however, as recently as 1995 the gulf snapping turtle was rediscovered in the Lawn Hill river system, thriving as it has done for thousands if not millions of years without change.

A short drive from this hot arid, fly-ridden place brought us to the oasis that is Boudjamulla National Park. The deep gorge and pandanus-lined river is a verdant oasis for fish and birdlife. Water levels were low and the Cascades had no water flowing over them, however the Indarri Falls, less than a kilometre upstream, spilled beautiful green, warm, lime-saturated water into the gorge. The water turbulence at the falls causes a gaseous release of carbon dioxide and the “tufa”, as it is called, is deposited at a surprising rapid rate, 2-3cm annually. The falls are not large, less than 3m in height, and covered in pandanus growth. Below the falls barramundi and turtles abound and we all spent hours exploring every nook and cranny.

The park also offers a number of bushwalks. The Wild Dog Dreaming track leads you along the river bank to a cliff face covered in ancient petroglyph art and more recent Waanyi rainbow serpent artwork. Island Stacks offered a walk on the limestone escarpment above the gorge, but the longest walk up the gorge was closed due to the threat of a grumpy buffalo that had recently been spotted up there.

All the forests were busy with birds and we spotted a pair of large channel-billed cuckoos near the trailer, and a whistling kite’s continual call gave away it’s nest site above the river, high in the outreaching limbs of a Eucalypt tree.

Canoes could be hired to explore but there was no need, and one day we made the decision to swim the one plus kilometre back to camp through the gorge, while Amanda carried our clothes back. The kids jumped on their inner tubes (presents from our friends at Marree Hotel so long ago now) and conquered the journey in no time at all.


Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Photography, Photos, QLD, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure, Walks, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Plenty Highway

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Alice Springs didn’t have the tyre we needed to replace our worn flat tyre so with no further reason to hang around we headed north up the Stuart Highway again to the junction with the Plenty Highway. This road is almost 500km long, predominantly unsealed, that provided us a relatively direct route into Queensland. Both the car and I are a little weary of corrugated dirt roads so this route offered a compromise. The road is also known for the mineral rich environment it passes through, and a random decision en route saw us pull in to the interesting named Gemtree caravan park.

The kids excitement levels rose when they saw there were tag-along gemstone tours for garnets and zircon so we duly booked up for the next day. The offer of a camp roast dinner that night proved too much too so that too was promptly booked. Then as we settled in to the site, each named after a gemstone, a cry went up that “110AroundOz” were in the camp, another Sydney family that we hadn’t seen for a while.


Kate and Arran, who run the park, won an award for their camp oven dinners in 2014. That evening Kate introduced her team and gave a thorough overview of the development and operation of the camp oven. The dinner was a well-oiled production line operation and the full-stacked plates that swiftly emptied were testament to the quality of the dinner. We have only had one roast dinner since we have been away so it was a real treat, particularly the beer keg-cooked spuds.

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Early next morning the car was loaded with pick, shovel, sieves, bucket and a 20 gallon drum of water, and a small convoy followed our guide Greg along the dusty road, pulled off some kilometres later and arrived at an unremarkable spot. Greg demonstrated how to sieve the dug soil, and how to wash it and by looking through the base at the sun garnets can be identified by the blood red glow in the light. The fragments often looked like bits of broken glass, but we hit a good patch, and after a few hours we were the last to leave with a tin full of garnet fragments. Back at the park Kate examined and graded them, commenting that she had never seen so many cutting grade garnets found before. With our beady-eyed fossicking kids it wasn’t really a surprise.

Mulga ant hole

Mulga ant hole

The property also hosts zircon fossicking trips, but I chose to take the self-guided nature trail that highlights many of the native shrubs and trees and their medicinal or other uses. The mulga ant holes lined the walkway, supposedly a sign of impending rain, but little evidence of this being the case on any forecast I have seen. Although I didn’t see as many birds as were found in the camping area itself I was amused to find a few tees for what must once have been a golfing grand plan. From their condition I guessed that maintenance of a big course is actually quite hard and I couldn’t find any evidence of flags where the holes might have been.

Gemtree was truly a hidden gem that we were lucky enough to stumble upon. A few days earlier we never even planned to be in this neck of the woods.

From Gemtree the Plenty Highway provided lots of dust heading east, but the road itself wasn’t too bad. A particularly large termite mound by the side of the road provided a welcome opportunity to stop and let the kids try to scale it. Apparently the insides of the mound can be rubbed on the skin as a mosquito repellent, but you have to break into the concrete-like structures first.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Northern Territory, NT, Offroad, Photography, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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