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.
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.
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.