A Travellerspoint blog

Flinders Ranges

rain 10 °C

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As the Flinders Range approached I was looking forward to mountains and some elevation after the weeks of flat outback desert. The weather was improving and this morning presented clear skies. After the last few days of rain, mud and slush and extremely difficult driving conditions it was a relief, although large trenches of water still existed in places, overall it was drying out a bit. The lovely new red brick paint job I’d acquired on the Strzelecki track was taking on new hues as it dried and the packs of dust, sand and stone plastered around the wheel rims and side steps has started to form a conglomerate like concrete.

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As I approached the Flinders from the North the magnificently stark and torn rocks rise out of the harsh dry desert quite suddenly. The North Flinders have the oldest rocks and some exposed layers date back 1600 million years (1.6 billion). The landscape is also very arid and bare, in fact the North Flinders has less water than the surrounding desert because it doesn’t enjoy the many springs and bores that tap into the Artesian Basin as the basin doesn’t extend down this far. The unique geology of these mountains has attracted scientists and artists in equal numbers for over 100 years. The most well known Australian to study the Flinders was Sir Douglas Mawson of Antarctica fame, who coined the phrase when describing these mountains as “…the bones of nature laid bare…”, which I thought was an excellent description.

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Some more history – Most of the Flinders are developed on folded sedimentary rock which was laid down in the sea some 500 – 1600 million years ago. This huge wedge of sediment was later compressed, buckled and thrust upwards and was once the size of the Himalayas! The evidence suggests that the mountains were upthrust over 500 million years ago and consequently worn down until the land was relatively flat. About 60 million years ago, further earth movement began thrusting up the present mountain chains. These mountains developed continuously up until several million years ago, forming a high plateau. The force of weathering and strong erosion have now sculpted the features we can recognise today.

The North Flinders is the most rugged and is rich in minerals and consists mainly of heavily dissected granites and allied rocks that were formed 1600 million years ago. The rocks predate the formation of the mountains in places and the effects of intense heat and pressure upon the rocks can be seen everywhere.

Arkaroola village

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I drove into the Flinders and entered the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges national park which covers the centre area of the far North Flinders range, at the parks heart is the small village of Arkaroola and the only place with fuel and supplies.

It was getting late by the time I entered the park so I decided to camp somewhere for the night and then drive up to Arkaroola in the next day. I spotted designated bush camping grounds 5km off the road in Weetootla Gorge (it's also marked on my Hema 4WD map). The road ends at the start of the gorge and has camping spaces beside a dry creek with a small toilet block. I paid $10 in the self-pay box at bottom of track for a nights camping. This gorge is popular with artist and hikers alike and has several marked walking tracks starting off up the gorge.

I had the place to myself again that night and awoke to drizzle and overcast skies again. After packing up camp I headed out to Arkaroola.
The rain started to get heavier and the skies darker, which disappointed me a bit as the light wasn’t great for photography. But, as I found out later, it rarely rains in the Flinders so to see like this is very rare indeed.

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I filled up with fuel and spent sometime in the café at Arkaroola. The village is very much centred on tourism and offers many adventure trip, some taking you on the hairy 4WD tracks along ridges in the area. The village also has an “Ark-Henge’’ of stones with labelling of all the different rock types found in the area which was quite interesting (there are more photos of this henge in the gallery).

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My plan from here was to take a 4WD track up into the mountains and through Umberatana Station which will eventually bring me out near the centre of the Flinders Ranges. The park is surrounded by big stations which have recently opened up their land for 4WD tourism and I was planning to follow a well-marked route on the Hema 4WD atlas. There are loads of other interesting tracks too but many of them need permission and permits from the station owners.

There is a rather exposed caravan park here too which I used to top up my water supplies, in the rain it looked like a rather wet and chilly place to stay. Water here is rather hard to come by, in fact harder than the surrounding desert due to lack of reliable bores and rainfall.

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Heading out of Arkaroola the scenery was amazing, contorted and twisted rocks bared themselves everywhere and the flora growing on them was no less craggy.

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The rain carried on as I took a short detour to “The Pinnacles”, two prominent alkaline granitic pegmatite outcrops which are reached by road up to a parking spot or by foot on a designated track from Arkaroola. The Pinnacles are a series of pegmatite plugs looking like they have been upthrust against the surrounding landscape, but in fact the rest of the landscape has eroded away around them.

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I cracked open my walking boots for the first time on this journey and hiked some of the trails around the Pinnacles. It was nice to have some exercise, even in the wet!

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I met a troop of tourists who all fell out of this large 4WD adventure truck to take a look at the Pinnacles. Apparently the rain was taking its toll on the rough tracks and someone mentioned tracks may close soon… well I’ve been in this situation before, and predictably I decided to carry on, cautiously of course :)

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As I re-joined the 4WD track and headed further up into the mountains the track was indeed in a pretty bad state, I had seen no vehicles for the rest of the afternoon and the track got decidedly stony and muddy in places, in some places where the water ran across the track it gouged out deep ditches which caught my tail end a few times crossing but these were the most difficult obstacles so far. I’d kept the tyres at 20psi hot and they would stay at that pressure through the Flinders giving the tyres extra protection against the sharp stones and in places I was down to low box 1st gear crawling over large boulders in dry creek beds, and yes the creek beds where mainly dry still. It was another hard day in the office for the Landcruiser, but nothing it wasn’t used to.

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The rain continued and I carried on very slowly and just after dusk I made it to the Wheal Turner mine, an old set of mines with smelters dotted around.

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I was quite high up on this lonely track and hadn’t seen anyone all day, probably because the track would be officially closed now and certainly parts I had encountered driving up here would warrant that status. The sun was setting and suddenly the rain stopped and the sun came out for a brief period before dusk.

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I camped the night just passed the mines in a sheltered flat area just off the track, I’d noticed an old fireplace there so decided it was probably safe to camp the night, I was mainly keen to avoid any sort creek or potential land slide spots given the rain.

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Umberatana Station

It was a cold night indeed, high up here and nearly in Winter now. I ran the engine several times during the night to keep warm.
The overcast rainy skies soon cleared to crystal blue skies and the temperature rose quickly, from one extreme to the other I thought. I packed up camp and carried on.

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The landscape flattened out a bit and the track got a lot better, I was still high up on a plateau and had now entered Umberatana Station. Mainly cattle grassing up here but it was still arid and bare, not much for the cattle to munch I thought.

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The mammals and birds of the Flinders are representative of the semi-arid country surrounding the ranges. Unfortunately a lot of the native animals were driven to extinction with the coming of cats, foxes and goats brought by Europeans but protection in the last 30 years and a concentrated effort to eradicate these animals has seen an explosion of native animals return, particularly the Yellow-footed rock wallaby. These animals were once widespread across inland Australia and nearly went extinct but now have a stronghold in the Flinders. They have adapted to the terrain and can often be seen jumping in groups up the steep rocky slopes.

Unfortunately the recent European arrivals are eradicated by poison which is laid out all over the Flinders, there are warnings signs everywhere not to take your dog into the Flinders due to the poison everywhere.

The Rock Wallabies are shy and if it’s quiet you often come upon groups of them grassing on the rocky slopes. Startled they will start hopping up the slopes in packs, quite a sight to see.

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Another numerous animal is the Emu, they are everywhere in the Flinders, packs of them roaming everywhere. These big flightless birds are very amusing to watch when they get startled and it doesn’t take much to startle them, as soon as they spot you they go into panic mode and start running, doesn’t matter in which direction even if it’s in front of oncoming vehicles. You don’t want to hit one as they are big and they run very fast indeed, their long spindly legs carrying their large shaggy feathered bodies at terrific speeds.

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After couple hours slow driving I reached Umberatana Station itself, a collection of houses and sheds with a prominent sheering barn with ‘Umberatana’ ‘written in red on the roof , I realised this was for aircraft landing at the nearby airstrip.

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The place seemed deserted and quiet so I carried on through a couple of gates down the track.
I spent another 3 hours driving with the track getting progressively better as it passed more Stations until I finally came out on the main road to Leigh Creek, I say main road of course it’s still a gravel track but wide and graded and seemed like a motorway to me!

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Chambers Gorge

I drove across the Flinders again from west to east to follow a track which would take me down to central Flinders and Wilpena a small village at the centre of the Flinders famous for its dramatic quartzite and granite Pound. But that would be tomorrow, I needed somewhere to sleep tonight on the way so referenced the map and found a free bush camping site in Chambers Gorge overlooked by Mount Chambers. The mountain stands alone east of the Flinders and rises up out of the surrounding country with sheer rock faces and is a place of great cultural significance to the Indigenous Adnyamathanha people. It is featured in a number of their ‘dreaming tracks’ which run through the Ranges.

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The mountain looks magnificent as you approached and about 10km driving off the main gravel road brings you to a lovely set of completely free camping spots along the side of a dry creek in the gorge underneath the mountain.

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I spent a good night under the large rock and the place felt nice, I was accompanied by several more 4WD campers later that evening and we had a blissful night under the full moon. I only spent 1 night there as I was keen to press on but would highly recommend it as a splendid free camping spot and you can hike the mountain if the fancy takes you.

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Wilpena Pound

In the morning I packed up and headed south west to Wilpena Pound. As you approach sealed roads start. Wilpenia is right in the centre of the flinders and sealed roads come all the way up from Adelaide on the coast 430km south. The Pound is the most northern point with access via a sealed road, mainly I judged to bring tourists up to the Pound which is quite an attraction.

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The Pound is a natural amphitheatre of mountains in the heart of the Flinders. It was called ‘The Pound’ by early pioneers as it resembled a stock enclosure, or ‘pound’ as graziers of the day termed them. Indeed it was actually used as an enclosure to keep stock in – at one stage 8000 cattle and many more sheep roamed the natural enclosure. Wilpena is an Aboriginal word meaning the place of bent fingers or cupped hands.

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Covering an area of 55 sq km, its 11km long by 5km wide and the highest point is St Mary Peak at 1170 metres high. Two creeks flow out of the Pound. One, Wilpenia Creek is used to gain access into the amphitheatre.

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I parked at the Tourist Centre and hiked into the Pound along one of the many designated walking tracks. After about 5km of walking you enter the Pound. I took a side track up to a viewing spot to try and get some photos. Most of the basin is full of large spectacular white gums rimmed by red rocks and is quite a sight, well worth the hike if you get a chance.

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Well now it was time to head south to Adelaide. There is far more to explore here and I’ve only really touched the far North and Wilpenia in the centre, although they are the most dramatic and geologically interesting there are many more landscapes to explore here including the South Flinders. Alas another day that will have to be, I need to head south now, it’s still a very long drive to Sydney.

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For a good while as I drove South from Wilpena I was overshadowed by the sheer outer rock faces of the Pound, spectacular in the late afternoon sun. The following day I drove the 400km down to the Adelaide hills and experienced a dramatic change of landscape. After weeks of dry desert you almost suddenly fall into the lush green rolling hills of Adelaide, with the many European trees and vine yards all turning colour in the Autumn chill… amazing!

Posted by Logan Crerar 17:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Oodnadatta Track and Lake Eyre

rain 15 °C

I headed out of Coober Pedy trailing a halo of dust behind me, I was glad to be on the road again after staying 3 nights at the Oasis caravan park in Coober Pedy. I was heading for the remote outback again to re-join the famous Oodnadatta track which will take me to Marree, a classic old outback town about 450km south of Birdsville and where the famous Birdsville track ends. South of Marree the far north Flinders Ranges start which I was keen to explore next, also the Oodnadatta track passes Lake Eyre on the way which I had to check out.

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I don’t think I’ve talked much about bull dust, well its remarkable stuff. The gravel roads kick up the dust as you drive along producing this magnificent comets tail arcing across the desert behind you. It’s great for spotting oncoming vehicles as you can see the dust trails from miles away, especially oncoming road trains. But it also gets everywhere, I don’t know how it gets in and spreads itself so evenly throughout the entire motor, no crevice or surface is spared. It seems to bypass the sealing rubbers on doors with abandon and after a day’s driving you’re covered in the stuff, you can taste it on your lips and it covers your glasses with a fine film. I’ve learned to be at one with the dust now and there’s no point trying to stop it. My dad told me a funny story about the French out here who used to leave all their car windows open when driving to let the bull dust out so it doesn’t pile up in the car… their cars still filled with dust anyway!

The Oodnadatta track is a famous old outback road which has the old Ghan Railway running alongside. The railway was used up until World War II to transport troops from South Australia to Darwin at the top end and 3 different trains were used as the railway gages change in each state ( even to this day each state has a different gage for their tracks).

Lake Eyre

I took a detour to see Lake Eyre, there is a 70km dead-end track taking you to Lake Eyre North, the largest and most spectacular of the salt lakes. The track is rough and corrugated and ends at a well designated camping spot on the shore of Lake Eyre with a toilet block. This is Aboriginal land and you pay $10 for a camping permit at the start of the track in the self-pay drop box. The track was rough indeed and took me a couple of hours driving to reach the lake.

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Lake Eyre is a barren spectacle, as you arrive you see can see the lake stretching out across the landscape vast and flat. At first it looks like a massive frozen inland sea, the salt is so white it looks like ice! This is indeed a barren place, I was the only person there and had the campsite all to myself, there was nothing here apart from the vast quiet lake and the continuous wind – no wildlife, no land features… just the vast empty lake.

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The Lake Eyre basin is massive in its extent and stretches over most of central Australia and up into the Northern Territory from Wndorah in the West to Alice Springs in the East, any water falling in this basin will end up here eventually but the lake is dry almost all year round apart from a brief spell each year when it comes alive and water fills the lake. Suddenly you have shrimp and moths amongst the flowering desert plants and all sorts of wildlife then it quickly evaporates away leaving more salt and the eerie quiet. When the lake is empty the surface is 12m below sea-level.

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You certainly shouldn’t drive on the lake as the salt is only about 3 inches think and can conceal deep mud underneath, your vehicle can become hopelessly bogged up to its belly with little hope of recovery. Also be careful walking out onto the lake as you can lose your bearings pretty quickly in this landscape and end up wondering the lake forever…

Marree

After a windy, quiet night at lake Eyre I headed back down the bumpy track to meet the Oodnadatta track again.

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Eventually I came to Marree the classic outback town. They have a roadhouse with fuel, a pub and a Yacht Club! Excellent humour I thought as I saw the hut flying a ‘’Lake Eyre Yacht Club’’ banner :)

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Amazingly enough this wee town was originally settled my Muslim Cameleers from the Middle East and even has an old mosque. Camels in the Eighteen Hundreds were used extensively for transport to the remote towns and stations in Central Australia and that’s why there are so many in the wild now, in fact they are a problem now because of their numbers drinking all the spring and bore water in the desert. They also have one of the old Diesel locomotives from the Ghan railway sitting rusting in the desert here.

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I camped that night in Farina ruins about 100km south of Marree. A $5 camping fee in the self-pay box gives you a lovely spot with toilets and a gaggle of other travellers to keep you company - mostly in their caravans and 4WD camping set ups.

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Strzelecki Track

I awoke to drizzling rain again, packed up camp and headed out. I re-joined the track and followed a very slow moving (50 – 60kmh) Road Train down to Lyndhurst. I was wondering why the road train was travelling so slowly, normally they batter down these tracks at 100 – 110kmh. It didn’t take me long to work out it was because of the rain. I arrived at Lyndhurst which has one roadhouse with fuel. Another famous outback track starts here heading west, the Strzelecki Track which was originally created by the cattle thief, Harry Redford, when he drove 1000 head of stolen cattle from Queensland along the Strzelecki Creek to Blanchewater Station, giving him the nickname, Captain Starlight. Although he was caught eventually, he was not charged due to the audacious feat of blazing a new cattle stock route, making him a national hero of the day.

Up the Strzelecki track the next fuel stop or indeed anything else worth noting is 475km but I was only planning to travel half way to Mt Hopeless then I would turn south on a track which would take me to the start of the far north Flinders ranges and eventually into Arkaroola a small town with fuel in the heart of the North Flinders.

I filled up with fuel at Lyndhurst and the rain started to get heavier. In the roadhouse I enquired about the forecast and road conditions, the nice lady serving me said they may get 15 – 25cm over the next 24 hours then further showers for a few days following. She also said that some travellers who had just come down the Strzelecki track said it was already pretty horrendous and she thought it likely they will close the road shortly.

Hmm what do I do… stay here and wait out the rain, it could be days before I move again… or do I chance it. I decided to carry on :) . As I turned out of town onto the Strzelecki track I passed convoys of parked Road Trains beside the road, obviously they were holding still until they knew more about what the rain was going to do to the track.

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The rain was quite heavy now, these outback roads turn into a quagmire at the slightest rain, all the sand, bull dust and gravel mixes with the water to produce a lovely 3inch deep slippery mud pool. It looks a lot worse than it appears on the surface and is very slippy. I made the mistake of parking on the verge just out of town to check over the vehicle and nearly got bogged right there… stay well away from the verges in the wet! The deep mud also puts a lot of load on the engine and the back-end fishtails continuously slipping from side to side, it was horrendous!

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I carried on cautiously and passed several road trains coming the other way trying to make it to Lyndhurst before they got completely stopped. They were inching a long and I spoke to one trucker out of the window as we both came to a slow stop beside each other. We exchanged road conditions, he had about another 40km to go before Lyndhurst, he would carry on but he didn’t like his chances of reaching Lyndhurst. These truckers will go as far as they can then stop and batten down the hatches and wait it out, it could be days before he moved or saw anyone again.

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I managed to carry on carefully for another couple of hours, the rain was still heavy and I passed more struggling road trains, a slight hill can stop these beasts as the mud is so slippy and watching them crab their way down hills is something to behold… from a safe distance of course… give them plenty of berth as they can slide anywhere. I have some excellent video I took of a struggling road train I passed (which will post on YouTube when I can). I stopped beside him and there was 3 of them in the cab looking like they were having fun, the truck with all 42 wheels was inching its way up this incline bit by bit with the drive wheels slipping and I asked them if there is anything I could do to help! Well I had to ask… he said they would make it over this incline eventually.

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The rain still came down heavy and I realised the track would now be closed behind me, and probably in front too, so I decided to stop at the top of a rise in a fenced off rest area with a set of shaded picnic tables and that’s all!. I pitched camp and decided to wait out the rain, the road was horrendous and I didn’t want to get bogged, at least this way I can choose where to camp :)

The rain was horizontal so I parked the motor side on and pulled out the awning to give me some shelter to cook. I was quite exposed up on this rise but better than being low or in some creek bed! The landscape around was barren and it reminded me of the high moors in the UK but with dry yellow grass instead of moss, No trees or shrubs and the occasionally rocky outcrop, the last straggling remains of the flinders ranges as they degenerate into bare, rocky hills.

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I’ve spotted a few dingos around and they look big and healthy, looking more akin to their direct Wolf ancestors! I will keep the spade handy just in case :)

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After a night of lashing rain and winds it cleared somewhat, still heavily overcast but the rain had gone. The road was completely quiet and closed I’d suspected. Later that morning I set off cautiously and the going wasn’t too bad, slow but Landcruiser managed it OK. Eventually I got to Mount Hopeless and the comic value in the name wasn’t lost on me. I then turned south to head towards the far North Flinders.

As the Flinders approach out of the surrounding desert it’s an impressive sight to behold. These magnificent torn and twisted rocks rear up out of the desert with suddenness and audacity that’s breathtaking against the vast desert backdrop surrounding them.

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Posted by Logan Crerar 20:34 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Simpson Desert French Line – part III

sunny 32 °C

Day 5

The rain had gone and the skies cleared to a crystal blue during the morning. The nights were still chilly but the risk of being cut-off and stranded by flood waters was disappearing, much to my relief. The last 2 days were hard going and tough on the motor, the never ending dunes and the state of the track made it very slow going. I wasn’t out of 1st gear for the last 2 days and was worrying about fuel consumption as I’d burned through a lot during last 2 days. It would take me at least another 2 days to reach Mount Dare and I’d already taken more time than planned. I wasn’t worried about supplies, it was the time as I’d informed people I would take around 4 nights and didn’t want some sort of rescue operation to kick-off at great expense no doubt.

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I’d still not seen much wildlife and certainly no camels :( but the experience of being out here in the middle of the desert was extraordinary and the utter remoteness is quite humbling. It would have been good to have someone else to experience this with, if nothing else someone to talk to would be nice, I feel if I spend much more time out here I shall start talking to the Spiniflex!

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After another slow half day of driving in first gear - up and over another dune to be faced with yet another similar looking dune in front – the road suddenly got better, right after the Colson track met the French Line. Excellent I was in 2nd gear and even 3rd gear in places, I was flying along. I later found out from the Mount Dare manager that 150 vehicles had recently battered through the section I’d just travelled coming down from the Colson track and continuing along the section of French Line I’d just travelled. It was some sort of adventure race with big Paris-Dakar style sand vehicles tearing up the track, that’s why it had been so slow and I did wonder what could have caused such damage. Anyway I was passed that now and remaining fuel was looking good for the final 150km to Mount Dare.

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Near dusk I came to Purni Bore – the accidental lake! The French drilled a bore here in the 60’s to explore the rock strata, they drilled down 1.8km into the Artesian Basin and then capped the well which eroded over time and hot water started gushing out creating a lake in the desert which wildlife started to rely on. They have since recapped the bore but still let a little hot water out to maintain the ecology of the place.

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To me this was civilisation! You had toilets with some camping grounds and several vehicles camped up on their way into the Simpson. I chatted to them for a while giving information on the road ahead which they were about to embark on… it was also nice to talk to humans after such a period of solitude.
I took some photos and then headed off. I was keen to make it to Mount Dare tomorrow so I did another hours driving then pitched camp next to the road. The road had flattened out a lot now, still bumpy and rough but compared to the French Line it was like new sealed motorway to me.

Day 6

During the morning I came to Dalhousie Springs, natural hot water springs coming from deep underground and heated to near boiling point. This is a popular camping spot for people coming and going from the French Line and you can bath in the hot pools. I stopped briefly then carried on as I wanted to make Mount Dare by nightfall.

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I arrived at Mount Dare in the afternoon to much relief – I had made it! – with 20litres of fuel remaining. I had travelled 590km from Birdsville and used about 110 litres of Diesel, taking me 5 nights and 6 days... what a RELIEF!

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Mount Dare was a hoot – a single hotel with garages and some camping grounds out the back. They had cold beer and good showers and of course fuel priced at $2.20 per litres of Diesel! Normal prices in Australia at the moment are around $1.40 per litres but this was still a remote place and it costs to get the fuel out here. The manager of the place Jeff who’s also a mechanic and runs search and recovery operations this side of the desert. The Birdsville recovery service looks after the east side. I was the only person in the bar that evening so over a few beers he told me some hair raising recovery stories and I shuddered at the cost he quoted for vehicle recoveries. He had over 30 years of desert driving experience and had seen all sorts come through here. When I mentioned I was probably slightly mad to do it without a Sat phone he said not mad but certainly adventurous! He told me he saw a Pom from Manchester come through here about 10 days ago heading into the desert. He had flown into Alice Springs, hired a Ute and headed off into the desert. He had a spade loose in the back of the pickup and not much water, he also didn’t know about letting tyres down in the sand and seemed inexperienced. Funny enough the first vehicle I met out of Birdsville was this Mack coming out of the desert, he seemed fine and we chatted for a while on the road so looks like he made it in the end! Unfortunately there are too many stories of Brits and others coming out here ill prepared and heading out into the desert and its Jeff who has go fetch them out!

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Jeff had just spent $100K reinforcing a big levy that surrounds the place, apparently the original explorer who pitched a camp here and called it Mt Dare did so in the middle of a creek which floods violently during the wet season. There is a mark on the bar noting the water level after a cyclone in 2011 hit the top end, it was over a metre high! During flooding they actually get cut off and have to close the levy gates. It has a bore for water which is reasonable to drink, if not cloudy and all the power comes from a large 50Kw Diesel generator which hums along beside the pub… what a place to live!

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I had steak and chips in the pub that night, nice but the steak only comes well done, even though they asked me how I liked it cooked! The next day I filled enough Diesel to get me to Coober Pedy still another 400km of rough tracks down the famous old Oodnadatta track which the old Ghan railway runs beside. Coober Pedy is the nearest place that has mobile and internet, I was keen to get there so I could inform family that I’d made it safely across. What an adventure that was, slightly pant filling at times but an experience I will never forget and when you make it to the other side the feeling of achievement and relief is awesome.

The next day I drove to Coober Pedy and relative civilisation, just over 400km on the Oodnadatta track stopping at Oodnadatta on the way. I made it in 7 hours.

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Made it to Coober Pedy

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Posted by Logan Crerar 19:12 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Simpson Desert French Line – part II

overcast 28 °C

Day 3

I awoke this morning to chilly overcast skies and then during my morning coffee it started to rain! Just a drizzle that the desert hungrily ate up as the drops hit the dry floor. I wasn’t expecting rain in the Simpson that’s for sure, but more worryingly if it carried on and got heavy it can cause flooding resulting in the tracks being cut-off. Occasionally during the year flooding swells the dry salt lakes and river beds and they become completely unpassable and this can happen any time up until July. The thought occurred to turn back then, I was about 170km in from Birdsville but the rain was very light so I kept an eye on the clouds and decided to carry on.

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After 10km I came to Poeppel Corner a major junction of desert tracks and also the corner of 3 states, you have Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia all meet at this point. Originally this was only a Eucalyptus wood post placed by Augustus Poeppel in 1880 as part of his survey work for the South Australian government. The post was not seen again by Europeans until 1936 when self-proclaimed “ordinary bushman” Ted Colson and Aboriginal companion Peter Aim completed the first east-west crossing of the Simpson Desert with five camels. Ted Colson is a legend in these parts and a very interesting character, if you’re interested his biography it's here http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/colson-edmund-albert-9798
Twisting my limbs around the post it was possible to have a limb in each of the 3 states :)

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Now the fun began, which track do I take out of here! It is not clear which track is the French Line and there are many crossing tracks here, some that loop around the nearby lake and come back to this spot. I needed to make sure I headed on the right track as I couldn’t afford to make a mistake and head down the wrong track for 50km and then have to backtrack as this would put my overall fuel situation at serious risk. I had a good map, the Hema 4WD map of the Simpson showing all the tracks with GPS coordinates at track junctions and I had my vehicle GPS system spitting out my precise longitude and latitude, plus I had my trusty compass. All three of these should be enough but I also wasted a bit of fuel driving up each branching track to confirm where it was heading, a worthy expense I deemed.

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I finally got onto what I was 90% sure was the French Line heading West in a straight line over the dunes. I was paranoid until I was certain and stopped every 10km to check GPS settings and compass against the map, making sure I was heading in the right direction, this gave me comfort as I was certain after 20km I was on the right track.

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After Poeppel Corner the dunes got bigger and the ruts got deeper, the going got very slow and didn’t get out of first gear for the rest of the day – up and down over the never ending dunes. I finally came to a junction where the Rig Road meets the French Line, it had sign posts confirming I was on the right track after all… phew.

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I decided to take a small 4km detour down the Rig Road to explore the Approdinna Attora Knolls. The knolls are rare gypsum outcrops which once were the highest dune crests in the area. Due to their fragility and great scientific importance they fenced off but you can park and take the marked footpaths up them. They are sacred Aboriginal hills and Ted Colon thought he recognised them from Aboriginal songs when he passed this place with Peter Aims in 1936.

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The sun was now setting so I decided to camp on the Rig Road just up from the knolls

Day 4

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It had been raining again during the night, nothing heavy but consistent all night but still there was no standing water anywhere, however my awning had collected a decent amount of water overnight. Ha! I thought - I’ve got the perfect desert water catcher here and diligently collected the water pooled in the awning and used to wash the dishes :)
I got under way and the going was still very slow, the dunes were big and the track was windy and ever so bumpy. Before setting off I had empties the Diesel jerry cans on the roof into the main tank. I had used about half a tank already and there was enough room to take the 2 Jerry cans, I was keen to lower the centre gravity which would help on the bumpy tracks and it was actually noticeable, the vehicle didn’t roll so aggressively from side to side.

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The first challenge of the day came as a large dune approached. It was steep and high and you couldn’t get any speed up at the bottom due to the ruts. The first attempt stopped me, the motor running out of puff and speed under the load of the deep sand. The second attempt I tried a different path up and nearly made it, I was 1 foot from the making it over the rim of the dune and I got stopped, worse I got bogged and couldn’t reverse either. I’d made a school boy error - If you get stopped don’t keep trying, just stop take a breath and reverse gently backwards and try again from bottom. But instead I tried to push over the top, I was actually moving inch by inch wheels spinning and thought I would do it and be over the dune but alas not and all the efforts just compacted the sand under my axles and springs!, time to unstrap the shovel!

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It took me nearly 2 hours of shovelling sand in the hot midday sun to get out. Even though I was near the rim there was no chance of going forward so I dug myself out backwards to get back down and try again. I got up after reversing back down by battering up and taking another hardly used side route. If someone had come along they would have dragged me out but I hadn’t seen anyone all morning on the French Line.

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I carried on and was thankful for getting past that challenge when an even taller and steeper dune appeared in front - blimey I thought this one is steep! I failed on my first two attempts, the sand seemed deeper also and I wasn’t getting much traction at all. You lose more traction when sand is hot and it was the hottest part of the day so that wasn’t helping. There was only two tracks getting up and I’d tried both in vain. I’d considered cutting my own track up the dune to the side but it wasn’t any less steep and the vegetation growing on the dune would make it tuff. I considered my situation and it wasn’t looking good, I couldn’t get enough grip nor speed to get anywhere near the top of this dune and there was no way around. I thought this may just stop me and I would have to turn back and drive the 290km back to Birdsville but I didn’t like the thought of turning around as I was beyond half way now and I wasn’t certain my fuel would last going back!
I remembered a story I heard on Fraser Island – this chaps father owned an old Series 60 Landcruiser and he told the story of how his dad got the top of sand hill that had stopped all other vehicles by reducing the tyres right down to 10psi and using low box to crawl up like a traction engine, he amazed the onlookers as he chugged up very slowly and made it. So as a last resort I decided to give it a try and dropped all 4 wheels to 8psi. If you lower the tyres enough they act like a tracked vehicle, the surface area increase on the sand giving more grip and traction. I started at the hill in low gearbox 2nd gear and to my amazement and great joy it made it and chugged slowly all the way up – slipping a bit at the steepest section but not enough to stop the vehicle. Joy oh joy oh joy and on we go :)

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Posted by Logan Crerar 19:16 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Simpson Desert French Line – part I

sunny 35 °C

So after talking to people and gathering information on current conditions I decided to cross the Simpson Desert via the French Line. The line was built by the French Petroleum company in 1962 as part of their oil exploration efforts in the Great Artesian Basin. The track is the most direct route across the desert and traverses directly across the tops of over 1200 red sand dunes and is nothing more that wheel tracks in the sand and tyres ruts over dunes, however nowadays its reasonably busy and at this time of year you can expect to see at least one vehicle per day. The desert is closed from December through to March every year when the temperatures gets extreme and vehicles start to breakdown in the heat, rangers have officially recorded 50c in the shade but locals will tell you it can get up to 60c in the shade, whether you believe this or not is up to you. The desert is one of the most arid in the world and the driest place in Australia which can hope for 15cm of rain per year if it’s lucky. The track is 550km between fuel and water stops between Birdsville at the East side to Mount Dare on the West. If you’re interested in more history and details of this track then check out the website http://www.exploroz.com/TrekNotes/Deserts/Simpson_Desert_French_Line.aspx. This page on the French Line gave me the inspiration for this crossing. I’m doing it in the reverse direction to what is laid out, which is fine but it is more difficult traversing the desert from east to west because of the way the dunes are formed. The Simpson is the largest dune desert in the world and is all parallel dunes 300 – 500km long running north-south created by the consistent south-westerly wind and this means the east side of the dunes are steeper and more difficult to climb with 4WDs. To attempt this crossing you need an equipped heavy 4WD with plenty of extra fuel, water and a powerful UHF CB Radio and ideally a satellite phone or emergency GPS rescue beacon. In retrospect I should have hired a satellite phone and if I come back here I certainly will next time. They are quite costly and I wasn’t planning on venturing far from the relatively busy track but would have been nice for the added security. I already knew that if I had a mechanical breakdown I would be hitching out of the desert as the cost of recovery would total more than 3 times my vehicles value!

Day 1

I packed up and checked over the motor before saying goodbye to Sully and the rest of the people at the Birdsville caravan park. I topped up fuel and water and checked over my supplies and then headed off into the desert.

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The first 35km out of Birdsville west is a good graded gravel track and this takes you as far as Big Red, a famous sand dune and the biggest on this track at 40m high. The gravel road ends here and it’s just tracks in the sand from now on. The track goes over Big Red and everyone is suppose to have a pop at this mega dune and try to drive over it but I decided to take the easier route over little red, I was being cautious as I had a long way to travel and didn’t want to strain the vehicle when I didn’t need to, the bravado points didn’t bother me much – I would get enough just completing this sandy journey :)

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I had my tyres down to 20psi hot all round when I came to the second dune on the track about 300 metres past Big Red and the next parallel dune. It was very steep and tall and it stopped me dead on the first attempt – the engine running out of steam with the load of the sand and steepness of slope. Plus I was loaded with fuel and supplies weighing down the vehicle. A second attempt with more speed and power didn’t get me much further up before I had to reverse back down again. Blimey I thought, if I can’t even make it over this second dune what chance have I with the following 1198!

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On the third attempt I tried a different tactic – I was losing traction at the steepest part and I couldn’t get enough speed to overcome this because of the large corrugations at the bottom so I lowered the tyres even further to 15psi hot all round and selected the low gear box and just started off slow in 2nd gear. The motor chugged up slowly and I could notice the extra traction in the tyres, it slipped at the steepest part but made it just!

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The dunes were impressive with deep red sand and quite a lot of green vegetation growing over them. Apparently the desert is very green at the moment due to rains over last few years. During the 10 year draught recently the desert lost nearly all of hits vegetation and looked more like your typical sand dune desert in picture cards. But don’t let the greenery fool you this place I still very dry and hostile.

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The dunes got a bit easier after the start and typically you’d get 200 – 300 metre flat stretches between dunes which gave you the chance to get out of first gear (high box). This stretch of the line called the QAA Line was quite busy and I passed 3 groups of vehicles all coming towards me. Several desert tracks merge into the QAA Line heading to Birdsville which is why it’s quite busy. The UHF radio was alive with chatter and I made myself known at the tops of big dunes by stopping with head lights on and broadcasting ‘’attention, single Landcruiser travelling east to west 20km from Big Red”. The UHF radio has line of sight range to about 10 – 15km and everyone uses channel 10 for comms. Channels 8 and 38 are reserved for emergencies only and have doctors, police and even stations managers listening in.

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I had set off late at 11am from Birdsville planning an easy first day and it was already 5pm and I was tired so decided to pitch camp for the night. I had done 90km and the going was slow and tough in the dunes demanding a lot of concentration. You were in 1st and 2nd gear mostly so lucky to average 15mkh. But it was going well, I was taking it easy and the motor was taking it in its stride – apart from the second steep dune this morning I had no other dramas for the rest of the day. The track is straight over the dunes at right angles and seems to go straight forever. It’s quite flat in places between the dunes in the valleys and you can see evidence of lots of camp fires so I decided to stop in one for the night. Pitched camp and cooked my first diner in the Simpson.

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I’d read about the amazing clarity to the air in the Simpson and it’s supposed to be one of the clearest star gazing places on the planet - they weren’t wrong, the clarity of the clouds and then the stars was phenomenal as if someone had turned up the contrast gage by a few notches. I saw the great Emu in the Milky way rise with astonishing brightness but I was too tired to wait out for the best show which comes later when the Milky Way rises to dominate the entire sky and was tucked up in bed by 7:30pm!

Day 2

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It was quite a chilly night, I had to use all blankets to keep warm but woke up to an amazing sunrise and with the sun the temperature rose quickly. I’d slept well out here, it was so quiet, the only noise being the occasional gust of wind whistling around the motor. I made coffee and had a relaxing morning before heading off about 10:30am. I wanted to take it easy and not get too tired driving each day, mainly for safety but also because I wanted to enjoy the desert. You can do this crossing in 2 to 3 nights and many people do but it’s exhausting and you don’t see much along the way.

The day went well and I passed another 2 convoys coming my way. I hadn’t seen anyone alone like I was and most vehicles were in tag-along groups of between 4 – 7. You often stop and chat with the lead vehicle coming the other way, a quick exchange on route conditions and known traffic. A few raised eyebrows when they realised I was alone!

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I hadn’t seen much wildlife so far, a few small lizards scurrying across the road and a skinny looking Dingo which appeared around my camp as I was cooking. It looked dejected and hungry, probably been turfed out of its group to fend for its self. It scurried off when it saw me but didn’t go far and I spotted it lying down behind a spiniflex probably planning to return to my campsite after dark to seek scraps.

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Of course out here you leave nothing outside, rubbish, dishes and all foods inside the motor. I was told not to even leave shoes outside as you may find one missing in the morning, the Dingo’s will take one shoe off into the desert and leave you puzzling over the one left! I really wanted to see camels and possibly wild horses out here but nothing yet. The wildlife in the Simpson consists of Camels, Wild Horses, Wild Cats, Dingo’s and various small mammals on the ground. There are Goanna and smaller lizards and you may even see a Western Brown Snake… although I wasn’t so keen on spotting one of them. There are a few birds, but mainly the large desert eagles rule and are impressive. The vegetation is mainly Spiniflex and upside down trees, the Spiniflex have thorns and also scratch your paint as you brush along them on the track. I always kept the shovel handy at night and had the wood axe nearby when I slept just in case you get unwanted visitors in the night.

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After 150km in I came across my first salt lake. I’d never seen a dry salt lake before and from a distance it looks like there is water in the lake but as you get closer you realise its patches of salt lying on top of the dry lake bed. The track runs along the side of the lake for about 20km and is slow and bumpy but whatever you do you must NOT be tempted to drive on the lovely smooth lake bed. Apparently the conditions underneath can be wet and muddy and before you know it your vehicle could sink hopelessly to its belly.

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It was getting late so I pitched camp about 20m off the track next to the salt lake. Unfortunately there would be no stars tonight as it was overcast so after cooking some diner I hit the sack early again. As I crawled into the back of the nice safe steel Landcruiser I couldn’t help thinking how it now felt more like a life pod than a vehicle, without the protection and supplies that it provides I would surely perish out here pretty quickly.

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Posted by Logan Crerar 00:19 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

The road to Birdsville

Preparation

It was time to start travelling again after my extensive rest in Cairns. I’d decided to see some of the interior, particularly the Simpson Desert and Flinders Ranges as this route would drop me out in South Australia and I could then travel the Great Ocean road between Adelaide and Melbourne before returning to Sydney. My immediate plan was to travel to Birdsville which is right in the interior and smack next to the Simpson Dessert, from Birdsville there a several options – the most travelled and famous is the old Birdsville Track taking you south west from Birdsville down into South Australia along the edge of the Simpson and through the Sturt Stony Dessert. This is a remote unsealed track but nowadays is well graded and busy with travellers, you can do the Birdsville track in a 2WD vehicle (with good tyres and clearance) these days. The other options are the French Line across the Simpson which is more challenging but again busy these days, particularly this time of year which is the best to travel.

From Cairns to Birdsville is a fair drive of around 1,800km (1,000 miles) and I took it easy to start with, mainly because I needed to source more spares and equipment to make sure I was prepared for the outback and the dessert. The motor had performed excellently up until now with some challenging circumstances during the trip and I felt confident it was mechanically up to the challenge. Also I’d gained a lot more experience with difficult remote driving, particularly in sand and felt all round I knew the motor a lot better now. But I was still missing a few things to feel prepared - my biggest fear was not getting stranded alone, I had enough food, water and fuels to last comfortably for 2 weeks, no my main fear was breaking down and needing recovery in the desert as this would cost many thousands of dollars - and that’s just to get dragged to the nearest small garage which still may not be able to fix your problem. So with this in mind I bought spare engine belts (fan, water pump etc), spare radiator hoses, additional winch towing ropes with D-shackles, spare fuses and tested spare wheels and jacks. I already had my full toolbox with lots of spare bits of pipe and ties, handy if you need to repair a burst brake pipe etc and I knew enough mechanics to be able to fix minor problems on the road. Also of course I had the essentials already including a compressor and tire gages so you can reinflate your tyres after dropping down the pressure for gravel roads and sand, a good sand shovel and nice big fat tyres which are good in sand and less likely to puncher on the sharp stones. However I didn’t have a second spare wheel which is recommended and all government vehicles around Birdsville have to have a second spare tyre by law. I decided to try pick up a cheap second hand wheel on the way from some garage, luckily Landcruisers are common vehicles where I’m going so shouldn’t be a problem.

Townsville to Mount Isa road

As I travelled inland from Townsville to Mount Isa the land started to get flatter, the roads straighter and trucks got bigger. This is truly the land of the road trains now. Large cattle trucks dominate, some with 3 full length trailers and over 50 wheels stretching the vehicles to over 50 metres in length. The road wasn’t bad, a sealed highway now but still rough in places – rougher than the worst bits of the Bruce Highway running up east coast of Queensland.

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Even on large highways like this it’s tiring driving, especially at night. Not because of traffic, the road is quiet at night but because of the animals crossing the road, especially Kangaroos. You have to keep a continuous vigilance and the frequent corpses littering the road make sure you don’t forget. 90% of dead animals on the road were Kangaroo’s but I also saw Emu’s and big black boars. When it was quiet I deployed the large halogen spot lights on the front of vehicle for the first time which lit up the road hundreds of metres in front like daylight. Of course music on long drives like this is essential and the motor had a good stereo system which I could plug my ipod into containing a good chunk of my music collection.

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One evening driving in the dark and keeping my eyes out for a place to camp for the night I found this Rest Area beside a weir 1.5km off the road. You would miss it if you weren’t looking for it but it turned out to be an Oasis in the outback. A large weir of water packed with ducks, mowed lawns and toilet, cooking facilities along its edge. I drove in at night surprised to find a whole bunch of campers, caravans and 4WD campers all enjoying this oasis in the country. It was such a nice spot I stayed for 2 nights, to rest from driving and catch up on blog writing and correspondence.

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The next day a fully kitted out Landcruiser towing a double wheeled caravan rocked up beside my camp. A large gruff man jumped out with a shock of white hair and proceeded to throw long rope with a weight on the end high up into the tall gum trees surrounding the water. He then started yanking the branches and after a while having not been successful he proceeded to get out a chain saw and cut down several low hung branches. He was gathering wood for a fire we would enjoy that night. I guess no rangers going to catch you here, were in the country now! I was used to the more controlled parks of the East Coast. His name was Ross a first generation Scotsman travelling with his wife and they had been on the road for 19 years! He sold most of his farm near Byron Bay and retired when he was 48 and been travelling ever since. They had travelled all around Australia and I spent an hour with Ross that afternoon hunched over maps going over best roads and routes to travel, he also knew all the best free camping spots on my journey which I noted studiously on my Hema map. This is the kind of travelling lore you will never read in Lonely planet or from any map, absolutely invaluable!

Mount Isa to Windorah

As I turned south from Mount Isa down to Birdsville the country started stretching out and getting drier, the roads got smaller, still sealed but narrow so extra caution was needed to get out of the way of oncoming road trains. In most places you need to pull over and completely stop to let them by, giving them plenty of berth as their many trailers can drift on the road like crabs so the last trailer can be many metres across the road when it passes. Also keep your UHF (CB) radio tuned to channel 40 to hear the truckers and try to get some warning of approaching land trains.

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Windorah to Birdsville

I took a diversion around Windorah to get to Birdsville as the track down from the north was closed. The distances between towns and fuel stops was increasing and can stretch over 300km so I stocked up with fuel, filling all spare tanks. And of course stock up with nice fresh filtered water as the bore water in remote parts is drinkable but smells like eggy farts (more lore from Ross)! Bore water has a sulphurous smell to it like rotten eggs which didn't sound pleasant .

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I camped the night at Coppers Creek just outside Windorah, a largish river with free camping spots along its shores. The water didn’t seem to be flowing and was obviously quite low with the usual outback watering hole colour of permanent brown mud. It was a lovely spot to spend the night, the only troublesome thing being the flies! Now it has been a relief to get away from the mosquitos and sand flies of the coast which I’m truly grateful for… but they have been replaced with outback flies… oh my god! Although they don’t seem to bite much they swam around you in clouds and like demented torturers keep going for your mouth and eyes which drives you crazy! Alas and too much relief I’ve now found the true nature of the little head net I’d inherited from the previous vehicle owner. I shall never mock such silly looking things again!

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In Windorah, a small outback town of one pub and fuel station, I found my second spare wheel at the service station. The owner had an old Landcruiser rim with tyre on which he sold me for $100. The tread wasn’t much good but it would do as an emergency second spare.

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As I headed out of Windorah the road soon turned to gravel and there was nothing else now until Birdsville 370km away. This would certainly be the most remote I’ve ever been. The track was well graded but rough in parts with big stones and corrugations that made you feel like your teeth were being rattled out of your head, stones and bull dust make up the road as this track passes over the outskirts of the Sturt Stony Dessert. The surrounding country flattened out even more into vast stretches of stony red dessert looking similar to pictures of Mars sent back by the rovers, except for the tuffs of dried yellow grass here and there. I can see how the Sturt Stony Dessert got its name, a pebble dashed landscape with occasional sand dunes and tuffs of vegetation looking like someone has taken a shovel and evenly spread pebbles and rocks over the landscape, amazing and to think the geology here hasn’t changed much for billions of years and is the oldest surface on the planet.

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The main wildlife here are kangaroos, dingos, cattle and wild cats. Yes wild domestic cats which have gone feral. I saw a wild cat one night outside the motor trying to get the scraps from my left out dishes, after hearing the commotion outside I peered out with my torch from the safety of the vehicle and it just looked like your average grey and white moggy. After that encounter I didn’t leave anything outside at night – all rubbish, dishes and any kind of food stored in the vehicle from now on!
The temperature was getting hot during the day with clear blue skies and a punishing sun but it was a dry heat so even though it was well above 35c it didn’t feel so uncomfortable - as long as you kept your hat on and cowered from the midday sun. The nights got nippy indeed, I had to use all my spare blankets one night just to keep warm.
I stopped for some lunch under the shade of a lonely tree in the desert, shade is getting hard to come by so when I saw this little tree a 100 metres from the road I drove to it and parked right under it… lovely for a spot of lunch I thought. I ate the last of my fresh yoghurt and fruit from the little 12v fridge I had in the back wondering when I would taste such delicacies again. This place was amazingly quiet apart from when the wind blows, which it does often and can be quite strong. The good news is the wind drives the flies away and it can also throw up the most amazing dust eddies along the road.

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After lunch I dropped the pressure on all 4 wheels from over 40 down to 22psi as it was mostly stony gravel roads from now on. Dropping the tyre pressure significantly reduces chances of puncture on the sharp stones and increases your traction. Yes it also slightly increases the chance of side-wall punctures but keep your speed low and take it easy and you shouldn’t have much problems. Too many people batter over these roads doing 100kmh or more and wonder why they keep ripping tyres in two. I travel around 70kmph on smoother bits slowing down to 40kmh during bumpy rough bits, mainly because it was too bloody uncomfortable to go faster! yes it will take me more time but I’m far less likely to rip tyres or bust my suspension.

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It was starting to get late and I was about halfway between Windorah and Birdsville so I started to look for somewhere to camp for the night. I knew from talking to feller in Windorah there was a great rest area coming up that was on top of a hill with great views over the surrounding country. And there it was, I could see the picnic shelter and toilet block against the horizon on top of this hill so decided to head for it.

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There was no one around and I had the hill to myself for the night. This spot had the most fantastic views and you could see a good distance in all directions. To the South East I could see the great Sturt Stony Dessert disappearing into the distance and to the West the start of the Simpson Desert. I must have been able to see 40 miles and there wasn’t a sole about. I knew from the map the road I came in on that passes east / west was the only track within 150km in any direction and there certainly weren’t any houses or stations either. As the sun was setting and I looked out over the vastness of the landscape I realised this is the most remote I’ve ever been and there was no traffic on the road below me… there is truly nothing out there... not for a very long distance in any direction! Just little me and my truck on top of this hill overlooking the vastness.

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It was quite a chilly night and I woke to strong wind outside and a lovely clear sunrise. Good thing about the wind was it kept the flies at bay so I could enjoy the magnificent sunrise with my coffee in piece.

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Birdsville

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Birdsville population 120 which swells to 7,000 once a year during the Birdsville races in September, which it’s famous for. It has one pub, one general store with fuel, air strip, caravan park and a hell of a lot of bull dust! There are signs as you approach the town asking you kindly to stop your motor to allow the bull dust to fall off your tyres before entering the town! I arrived and booked into the caravan park for 2 nights, they boasted the best showers in Birdsville and had powered camping sites. I deployed the tent for the first time since Cairns as I wanted to relax and have a couple of nights good sleep. Birdsville has plenty of power and to my surprise mobile reception which allows me to get this blog updated and check emails. The water here is all from bores underground and is perfectly drinkable but smells like eggy farts. Sulphur gas from the surrounding rocks leaks into the water as it comes up through the bore giving it the smell, its fine to drink and tastes ok as long as you can get past the smell. I’m just glad I stocked up with nice filtered water for drinking before I arrived!

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I dearly hope I don't need this...

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And its now nice to have the security of a second spare!

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I set up camp next door to a really interesting chap called Sully who is a WW2 veteran of 92 and still going strong. He travels to Birdsville every year for Anzac’s day and meets lots of his old mates who all camp in the caravan site here and he is a local legend who has organised many Anzac events and memorials. He was in North Africa as part of Monty’s Eighth Army and fought at Tubruk and then got taken POW in Greece before being freed at end of the war. Interesting as my grandad fought in the Eighth Army and I wonder if their tracks crossed back then. Sully also helps train the army on desert survival and has a Series 60 Landcruiser which he bought new 24 years ago and a hand built custom made trailer especially adapted for desert travel. He knows the Simpson Desert really well and often accompanies the local police if their rescuing anyone out there and has spent 3 months by himself in the desert with his Landcruiser and trailer.

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Needless to say the stories were amazing and the tips he gave me on travelling out here invaluable again. Right time to close the laptop and go check out the Birdsville pub :)

Posted by Logan Crerar 03:19 Comments (0)

Cooktown and beyond

sunny 34 °C

After Archer’s Point we were relieved to reach Cooktown and civilisation again. It was high time for a shower and some fresh food.
Cooktown was lovely with a friendly community welcoming of tourists. In fact Tourism is now the main industry around here and the whole country North of Cooktown is now opening up for Tourism with camping sites and reasonable 4WD tracks everywhere. We spent some time in the Cooktown Museum ( http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/qld/james-cook-museum ) which was really interesting, the best bit for me was the day by day transcriptions from James Cook and Joseph Bank’s diaries whilst they were stranded here.

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We paid a visit to Grassy Hill above Cooktown where Cook would hike to find a good view of reefs out to see and plan the escape. There is a lighthouse there now and spectacular views over Cooktown and surrounding area. We looked out, as Cook would have, at the never ending reefs and sandbars stretching out to the horizon on the sea and wondered how the hell he got out, we couldn’t see a passage through at all!

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We stayed in Cooktown overnight at a really nice little campsite ( http://www.cooktowncaravanpark.com/ ). John the owner was friendly and chatty, giving us lots of stories and pointing out good places to visit in the area. If you meet him ask him to tell you about some of the local Crocodile stories…. Jesus! Or not depending on your disposition…

Hope Vale

We still had a couple of nights before we needed to head back down to Cairns for Tony’s flight so we took John’s suggestion at the Cooktown caravan park and headed north to find Elim beach and Eddi’s campsite. There is a sealed road heading North about 40km from Cooktown to Hope Vale Aboriginal community and then a 20km 4WD track from there to Elim beach which is about 50km up the coast from Cooktown and below Cape Flattery.

We passed through Hope Vale, an impressively modern small town which had its own police station. You have to love the use of colours in the Aboriginal towns, we particularly liked how the police station was painted.

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Eddie’s Campsite at Elim Beach

The road turned to track but it was relatively easy going with a few small creek crossings. As we neared the coast the track turned to sand and a vast landscape of sand dunes opened up which stretch for many miles up and down the coast here. There are lush green palms and bushes growing all over the dunes and it feels remote with no houses or people to be seen.

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This part of the shore is famous for coloured sands which can be seen during low tide, unfortunately we missed this as we arrived during high tide but I’m told it’s quite spectacular. We carried on and the track got rougher and then came to its end at Eddi’s Campsite. The campsite was a house up on stilts and some outlying tin shack toilet and shower blocks… yes shower blocks! I was astonished to find showers this remote.

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The whole area is on sand with plenty of camping spots and some running along a small white sand beach overhung by tall white bark gum trees – the scene looked amazing and was the most perfect tropical beach setting we’d seen so far. The place was quiet with only a few 4wd campers taking the prime spots down by the beach.

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We looked for Eddi and found him sitting on his veranda , an elderly Aboriginal man by himself. He welcomed us and invited us both to sit down beside him. We chatted for what must have been 45 minutes and Eddi told us how he built this place up over the last 10 years with help from his Son. He wanted to make it clear to us that he never had any support from the government, like so many others in the area. I must admit we did notice the money being spent by the government on housing and amenities, especially in the little townships we passed through on the road up here from Cooktown. After a while we asked him if he gets troubled by any crocodiles, he said there has been a large crocodile hanging around recently and it was joined by a second larger one a few weeks back. They sun themselves on the sand bars just off the beach during low tide and Eddi was concerned so he called the Rangers up and a bunch of them came to check it out. He said they did nothing but camped and got drunk on his lovely beach then left so Eddi took matters into his own hands… I’m not going to publish this story here but let’s just say we both felt safer camping on his lovely beach knowing that Eddi was back there with his 303 rifle…

We spent two nights at Eddi’s campsite on this magical beach, the best spot we’d camped at during the whole trip. Alas didn’t see any crocs which I’m not sure is good or bad… I did wake up a couple of times in my tent at night with loud growling noises right outside and feared I was going to be dragged out of my tent into the sea by some salt-water monster (my tent was only about 7 metres from the sea on high tide) but it turned out to be Dingos and Cows and probably the odd Possum… phew.

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Cairns

Time to pack up and head south to Cairns for Tony’s flight. After retracing our route to Cooktown we took the most direct and easy route using the inland sealed road down to Port Douglas and then onto Cairns. It was a full days driving of around 400km (280 miles) and we arrived in Cairns just as the sun dropped. I’d scouted out some campsites in Cairns, I wanted to be close as possible to the centre for easy access to the airport for Tony and I was planning to spend a week here recovering and preparing for next leg of the adventure, which would be alone.
Tony was sad to be leaving, I was sad to see him go, we both had such an amazing experience and didn’t really want it to end. The 4 star Cairns Caravan Holiday park ( https://www.cairnsholidaypark.com.au/ )I’d found which was walking distance to the centre was just the ticket with hot showers, laundry and a nice pool to bath in. Tony got scrubbed up and ready to return to civilisation again. I took him to the airport and said farewell, it was a 3 hour zip down to Sydney where he would spend the night in the Airport before boarding his long haul back to London the next day. A word of caution if you plan to spend the night at Kingston Smith airport in Sydney as they don’t cater very well for overnight sleepers. I found this excellent blog post giving info and tips to travellers through Sydney if you ever find yourself having to spend the night there ( http://www.sleepinginairports.net/oceania/sydney.htm#.UYSUfFLgf4E ).

Posted by Logan Crerar 21:37 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Cape Tribulation and the old Bloomfield Track

sunny 35 °C

From Lake Tinaroo, were we’ve spent the last 2 nights recovering and relaxing after our wet drive up, we decided to head North from Cairns to Cape Tribulation and then possibly (if the road was open) drive up the Old Bloomfield Track to Cooktown.



Cape Tribulation was so named by Captain James Cook after his ship ran aground on Endeavour Reef in 1770 during their exploration up the East Coast of Australia from Botany Bay. They were charting a dangerous course inside the Great Barrier Reef in order to map the coast in detail and for Joseph Banks (Royal Society Botanist) to catalogue and explore the many flora and fauna of this area. Cook and his men spent nearly 2 months stranded on the side of the Endeavour river (later to become Cooktown) whilst they repaired the ship and scouted a way out of the sand bars and reefs that trapped them. Whilst they were stranded Joseph Banks recorded the first ever European description of a Kangaroo and Cook also made first contact with Aboriginal Australians, unfortunately not all in a friendly manor. I was eager to explore Captain Cooks history here as he is a distant relation of mine, according to our family tree James Cooks sister Margret Cook is my great, great, great Grandma. Cook himself never had any children.

North of Cape Tribulation, the Bloomfield Track is an interesting 108km (65 mile) drive through the Rainforest on a 4WD only dirt track, traversing several creek and river crossings and including some steep climbs and descents. The track passes through several Aboriginal Communities of Wujal Wujal, Bloomfield, Rossville, and Helensvale including some sacred sites. We weren’t sure if the track was going to be open as it often closes after rain due to flooding and this area has just had a week of heavy rain. There are only 2 ways to get a vehicle to Cooktown, this track and the Mulligan Highway which runs inland and is now a good sealed road all the way.

This whole area from Townsville up to Cooktown is called the Wet Tropics and is a World Heritage Site containing 95% of Australia’s animal and flora species living in bands of dense rain forest. The jungle and mangroves come right down to the sea and onto lovely white sand beaches with coconut trees overhanging. Unfortunately there is no swimming for us here, in fact you don’t see anyone in the sea or rivers, mainly due to the concentration of large saltwater crocodiles in the area and a plethora or other nasties including the Box and Irukandji jellyfish (marine stingers). As the locals say ‘get stung by one of those and you’re a goner mate’.
The other potentially dangerous thing to look out for, apart from wild pigs, is the Cassowary bird which is a large flightless bird slightly smaller than an Emu but has a set of wicked claws and can be aggressive. They are protected and quite rare so unlikely to even see one but good to be prepared :)

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Saltwater Crocodile, Cassowary and Wild Boar
(note: I didn't take these photos, they are just for illustration)

Port Douglas

First we stopped at Port Douglas, mainly to resupply in preparation for the Bloomfield Track and to check out the beach and take some photos. We filled all water and fuel jerry cans taking on 70ltrs of water and 120ltr of Diesel plus enough food for both of us to survive for at least 2 weeks if we needed to. It was unlikely given the distance of the Bloomfield track we would ever need this amount of supplies but it’s good to covered in case we get stranded in some remote place and the track can be very remote in places, especially if you drive off down a side track to find a quiet beach for camping.

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Cape Tribulation

We spent the first night at the Cape Tribulation Campsite ( http://www.capetribcamping.com.au/ ) in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. The Old Bloomfield track starts 2km from here and this is the last centre of civilisation until you get to Wujal Wujal about 40km up North. The Campsite was good and only a short walk through the forest to the beach which was lined with coconut trees and mangroves. Jason who worked at the campsite and been living in the area for a while gave us some invaluable current information and tips on driving the Bloomfield track and he also marked out some really beautiful remote spots to camp along the way, he also knew the locals in the Aboriginal communities we would pass through saying they are cool and friendly around here and that we should mention his name if asked when camping on their land.

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Bloomfield Track

We woke up hot, the temperature and humidity was noticeably higher in the forest and the weather was now clearing up and getting hotter – this is more like what I was expected the tropics to be like, even in Autumn. Wearing clothes is uncomfortable in this climate so most of the day is spent in thin shorts and no top at all, especially if you have do anything like packing up and setting up camp.
We packed up, checked out and said goodbye to Jason before heading off on the Bloomfield track. The track itself isn’t too bad, you need a 4WD and in parts it can get very steep at nearly 40% gradients so having a low ratio gearbox handy is good as you don’t want to batter up one of these hills then find you need lower box half way up and then have to negotiate your way back down in reverse. Also there are some mean water crossing so power and traction are necessary but you can do most of the entire track in 2WD only (when it’s dry, wet is a different story all together).

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Chugging through the jungle, keeping our eyes peeled for crossing Cassowary, we came across this massive Fig Tree beside the road. It was enormous with a riot of twisting roots at its base. So we had to stop for a photo.

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We stopped at beaches along the way with amazing mangrove trees growing out onto the beaches and croc infested watering holes, of course being alert and cautious when approaching any water edges and keeping a continuous vigilance when outside vehicle.

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The most serious water crossing was the Bloomfield river which must have been close to 50 meters wide with a concrete runway to drive across. The water was running hard and we estimated it probably had about the same volume as the Ithon river near Builth Wells in Wales. We checked the depth and strength of water and waited for another vehicle to cross before attempting – it was the flow that concerned me most, fearing it would lift and wash the vehicle off the concrete runway and down the river! In the end it was fine, the locals batter through in their 4WD Utes without battering an eyelid.

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We were rewarded at the other side of the river crossing with the Bloomfield Falls, a short 1km drive up river followed by 200m walk to the waterfall. Impressive with a drop of 40m onto the river bed below.

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Weary Bay

Driving on you pass through the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal community and then around 5km after just passed the Wujal Wujal camping grounds there is turn off to the right which takes you down a track to Weary Bay. This was the first cool camping spot Jason pointed out to us. Cpt Cook named this Weary Bay after running aground just east of here, they must have had a terrible time here but the beach is wonderful, stretching a full 2km with lovely camping spaces along the dunes. The locals fish on the beach at dusk and there is a keen sea breeze which was very welcome after the stifling jungle.

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It was so lovely we camped on Weary Beach for 2 nights. We had a close encounter when we arrived as I stupidly insisted, against Tony’s recommendation, that we take the vehicle onto the beach to take a drive up to the end for sunset. The sand was different here, more volcanic and sticky and we nearly got bogged with a fast incoming tide. We finally got off after lots frantic pushing and driving but it was a close one and I learned a very good lesson that day.

Lion’s Den Hotel

We left Weary Beach and carried on down the Bloomfield Track, the track got much better from here on and was mostly graded gravel roads with occasional sealed tarmac. Today’s destination was Archers Point which would be the last camp before Cooktown. Another out of the way sublime camping spot suggested by Jason.
On the way we stopped at the Lion’s Den pub for a pint. This is a historically listed building and a proper outback pub started in 1880 with a solid wood bar surrounded by corrugated tin. It’s quite a tourist attraction these days but well worth a visit.

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Archers Point

After a good pint we headed on to seek out Archers Point to camp for the night. Archer’s Point is a sublime outcrop of rocky heads with little white sand beaches at the end of a 20km track and very remote. This is Aboriginal Land and there didn’t seem to be any residents living down here, we only saw one house on the track on the way in. Of course there are fishermen and we saw a family camped up on one of the little beaches as we arrived. If you really want to find the most remote, sublime places, follow the fisherman.

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It was so nice we stayed another two nights. Thanks to Jason at the Cape Tribulation Campsite for telling us about these spots – they are not marked on any maps and only locals know about them. Archer’s Point is one of the most beautiful and quiet spots we’ve encountered so far on this trip, there is even what looks like massive Stone Circles arrayed along the coast, much to Tony’s excitement and joy. But they are natural which is extraordinary. The place was spectacular but also quite spooky in a way, we didn’t see anyone while we stayed and decided to leave after the second night and head to Cooktown. We we’re really getting experienced by now with remote camping and doing without the usual comforts quite happily. Tony was getting really brown and losing more weight, I was starting to look like a more rounded Robinson Crusoe, unshaven and browned by the hot tropical sun.

Posted by Logan Crerar 18:12 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Rockhampton, Townsville and beyond to far North Queensland

rain 25 °C

After recovering from Fraser Island and clearing sand out of everything we decided to hit the road again. Sand truly does get everywhere and I’d be surprised if I’m not still finding it in months to come. Our next target destination was Cairns far North Queensland. Tony has just over 2 weeks left before he flies back so we decided to carry on and experience the far tropical north before he catches a plane from Cairns to Sydney to get his long haul flight back to UK. It makes sense as it only costs $140 and allows us more time to reach the tropics.

Cairns was still 1,300km (around 700 miles) north up the coast so we decided to spend the next few days mainly driving. We would miss some things on the way including Whitsunday Islands, Rockhampton and Townsville but we didn’t have the time for everything. It took us 3 days to cover the distance to Cairns doing roughly about 450km a day (280 miles) and I took to sleeping outside again on the blow up mattress to save time pitching campsite every night and allow us the convenience of sleeping in the Highway Rest Areas or Aires which are along the Bruce Highway and quite impressive large areas of mowed park with trees and toilet facilities. The larger rest areas have free camping and sheltered BBQs. At night you see the usual mix of travellers – Caravans and campers including small hippy camper vans which are getting ever more popular and stuffed with young European backpackers who come over and rent one for a trip up or down the coast

It started to rain heavy and the forecast wasn’t good for the coming week. It wasn’t monsoonal but still heavy rain with intermittent strong squalls. I guess the best place to be is in the vehicle travelling in this weather. One morning having our coffee in a rest area that we had stayed previous night in we chatted to some locals, a man and his son travelling south from Rockhampton. North Queenslanders are noticeably different from folks down south near Sydney. Both are open and friendly but the Queenslanders use of language and accent is noticeably different and they are more curious and interested in where you’re from and where you’re going, often suggesting and providing great local information and tips. They also have a steely dry humour which is great to experience, similar to some of the Welsh humour you get. They continuously grinned at us as we spoke to them over our coffees and the conversation turned to the weather. It was still pelting down and the forecast was only looking worse. They said Townsville up the road was expecting 600mm of rain today, their grins got bigger as they said it was just a shower and not to worry... Christ! I guess they were right, the monsoon rain can drop 2 metres of water around these parts.

Lake Tinaroo

After 3 days of driving through heavy rain we arrived near Cairns and decided to head inland to Lake Tinaroo to setup camp for a couple of nights and rest. The rain was now clearing to heavy shows but the drive up was hard and tiring but at least the Highway stayed open. During the monsoon the main Bruce Highway often gets flooded and you’re in danger of getting trapped for several days along with hundreds of other motorist, they say there’s quite a camaraderie develops when this happens and everyone bands together to share milk, bread and play cards!

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Lake Tinaroo is a manmade lake with a large dam up on the Atherton tablelands at 670m above sea level surrounded by old gum tree forests and modern pine plantations. It’s high up so is cool even in the tropical climate and is spectacularly beautiful with multiple camping sites setup all around its shores. Funny enough the lake got its name from a European prospect explorer in 1875 called Mr Atherton and it’s reported that upon discovering Alluvial Tin, Mr Atherton shouted "Tin, Harroo!!" to his prospecting mate - hence the name. Very Australian I thought!

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The lake and surrounding is spectacularly beautiful and it reminded me of some of the lakes in Mid Wales, particularly Lake Clywedog near my mums house, except with parrots, dingoes and wild pigs :) . There also a number of snakes and spiders of course and this area boasts Australia’s largest snake the Amethystine Python with the largest ever recorded at 8.5m long! There are also tree snakes and many wild ducks taking advantage of the still lakes. The highlight of the stay was seeing a wild pig, it trotted by our campsite just after dusk. Tony was walking down by the lake when I saw this large thing trot past the front of our vehicle, I assumed at first it was a dingo wild dog so grabbed my torch and then noticed it had a curly little pigs tail. It swiftly ran off carrying on with its territorial patrol. It was tall and quite slender and seemed shy… Christ! Wild pigs are one of the most dangerous animal you can come across in Australia but luckily this one seemed to be a female and certainly not one of the large gristly boars you see pictures of… oh boy.

Posted by Logan Crerar 19:19 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Fraser Island

sunny 30 °C

We were both looking forward to Fraser Island, it is one of the highlights of the trip. Fraser Island was created by over 800,000 years of drifting sands and is one of the world’s ecological wonderlands Known as G’Kari, or paradise, by the local Aboriginal people, this world heritage listed sand island attracts anglers, campers and all lovers of the natural world. It is hard to grasp the size of the island at 120km (75 miles) long and covered with lush rainforest , staggering beautiful beach and mineral-rich pools of fresh water all sitting on top of a pile of sand. Some of the sandblows (dunes) reach up to 200 metres high and the surrounding ocean is shark-infested which means no swimming! There are sharks, whales and dolphins up the East side and reported saltwater crocodiles up the West side.



I did some research online to figure out the best way to get onto Fraser Island without being ripped off. There are 3 separate ferries and barges that take vehicles across to the Island. The best option by far is the Matra Ray Barge which crosses from Inskip Point to the southern tip of the island, the crossing is only 10 minutes and costs $100 return for 1 vehicle plus 2 adults ($75 on a Sunday). It’s locally run and by far the best deal. The other services are run by large corporations who can charge up to $250 return! I also got some advice on how to approach the barge on the beach as depending on where the tide is it can be several hundred metres of sand driving before you get the barge ramp!

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Only 4x4 vehicles are allowed on the Island with enough clearance underneath to handle the deep sand and ruts. Let your tyres down to 15 to 20psi to gain more traction in the sand. This will be the first time either of us have driven on Sand so we’re not quite sure what to expect. I’ve done a lot of off-road driving in the past but never much on sand so this is going to be a steep learning curve!

We prepared beforehand and gathered enough supplies to last us a week or more on the Island. There is no drinking water on the island, any water you do use from taps needs to be boiled before drinking. There is fuel and some supply shops but they are very expensive so best to take what you can onto the island. We loaded up with 70 litres of water, as much food as we could store and keep cool in the 12 volt fridge and towel cooler and filled two external Jerry cans with Diesel bringing the total to 120 litres of Diesel… that should do, now for the ferry crossing!

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The crossing on the Matra Ray barge went well and we were on the Island. The barge drops you on the southern tip beach of Fraser and you need to drive a fair way up the beach before you hit the first major centre which has various tracks going inland. Because it was just coming off high tide the route was blocked so we waited in a line of vehicles for the tide to drop so we could progress. It’s important to have an up to date copy of the tide times as much of the beach can be unpassable or dangerous during high tides and there is a chance you could get cut off by the rising waters, I’ve seen too many photos already of stranded vehicles in the sea and don’t want our beloved truck to end in the same fate!

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Once the tide dropped enough we all headed off up the beach in a long convoy. It was all going well until the first beach wash out crossing and I chose the wrong line, not seeing the subtle darkening of the water ahead and drove down a deep hole. We got out the other side just, vehicle first dropping then bouncing up out the other side as I frantically applied power. The roof rack took the worst of it, already weak where it attaches to the vehicle and overloaded with water and fuel it literally jumped off its anchoring feet clean into the air and landed with thud. Everything was still on top just moved forward about 6 inches... OK time to take it easy until we get the hang of this. The roof rack needed repairing but we decided to carry on carefully until we could get to a quiet to work on it.

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We were driving up this magnificent beach that seemed to stretch into the distance for ever, the deep green Pacific sea crashing in white foam on the long shallow beach which seemed to stretch for some distance and the white sandy landscape of the island with low slung green bushes and far off view of larger hills (sand blows) covered in rainforest. It was a magnificent and surreal experience driving for what seemed like forever up this never ending beach scape, passing occasional trains of 4x4 vehicles curving and bending their way down the beach trying to keep the more solid sand and void incoming waves crashing on the beach… several times it felt like I was in a Mad Max movie watching these trains of far off intrepid vehicles slowly getting closer!

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We wanted to camp up by a fresh water lake on the first night so headed inland on one of the scenic marked tracks on the map which passes by three inland lakes before returning in a long loop to the eastern beach. The scenic track is about 15 miles long in total and rough with large exposed tree roots and steep narrow gorges. We went very slowly as the roof rack was still loose, I could even feel the load moving on top of the vehicle as I eased the motor slowly over the ruts and roots. We had our first deep water crossing on the track as it ran along the side of a lake which had been swollen by the recent rain overflowing onto the road. We hesitated after scouted the water, it came nearly up Tony’s waste in one part, fearing we would lose the vehicle to the lake if we didn’t make it. After figuring the best route to avoid the deep holes we decided to give it a go and I climbed in and drove at the water keeping a high speed and plenty of power in the engine to create a bow wave in front which helps keep the engine compartment dry. We made it and I got water in my door window it came up so high.

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After passing the 3 lakes; Lake Boomanjin, Lake Benaroon and Lake Birrabeen it was getting dark so we headed for Central Station which was deep in the rainforest near the centre of the island and was remarkably quiet when we arrived. There is a Rangers station here but we couldn’t see any lights or activity and there was little sign of any other people around apart from the odd tent and vehicle we could see deep in the campsite. Very quiet!

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We stayed 2 nights at Central, mainly because we wanted a quiet place we could fix our roof rack before the whole thing came off in a heap on some pot hole or root and it was a lovely spot under the high canopy of the rainforest. It took us a day to fix it up but we felt it was good enough to hold for the trip, we even strapped the roof rack to the chassis down the side of the vehicle with long tie straps!
Camping in the rainforest we saw many birds including the red and yellow tailed Black-Cockatoos, magpies and the Crested Pigeon amongst others and there are huge White-Belied Sea Eagles near the coast with 2 meter wing spans. On the ground the biggest things are Dingos, Bandicoots and large Goanna lizards. The Dingos on Fraser are the purest breed in Australia and look marvellous with their bushy tails and long ears but they are also dangerous and there are many of them. Unfortunately a 9 year old boy was killed in 2001 by Dingos so you have to be wary on your own and make sure all food and rubbish is tied up and put in the vehicle at night. The Goannas are an eye opener, they are large lizards, looking like some sort of dragon dinosaur and they come around the campsites during the day scavenging. They usually patrol around the campsite doing orbits hoping to snuffle up some scraps. The creatures can reach up to 1.5 metres in length head to tail and have large feet which make quite a noise as they brake twigs and scuffle slowly around you, one even snuck up behind me when I was sitting in my camp chair quietly reading my book. Neither of us saw each other until he was under my chair – I looked back to find the ancient monster nearly under my seat, we both got startled and he scurried off into the bush at a great pace, they can really move when they want to!

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We successfully repaired the roof rack and headed off up the east coast beach to explore the North of the Island where it gets more remote and quiet. It was Easter and quite busy in the Island with many intrepid families all stuffed into these serious 4x4 vehicles all kitted out with full camping gear, some even had hot showers setup in little standing tents! The east side of the Island has a 75 mile beach stretching the entire length and used as the main highway so we headed up and stopped at some sights on the way including a ship wreck on the beach which had been abandoned in 1920’s after running aground in a storm. It is a steam passenger cruiser and lucky all souls made it to safety on the beach after it ran aground. You also had a keep a keen eye out for planes landing on the beach!

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We stopped at Indian Heads near the top of the 75 mile beach. The only rocks on Fraser Island are found up here with several rocky heads reaching out into the sea and Indian Heads is the biggest.

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Just beyond Indian Head is the Champaign Pools, the only safe sea bathing spot on the Island protected inside rock pools splashed and refilled by Ocean waves. We both got our swimmers on and joined the rest of the people jumping around in the salt water pools, it was lovely to cool down during the hot day and also clean the mozzie wounds in the antiseptic sea water!

Apart from Mozzies you need to watch for Sandflies and large blood sucking flies with big green eyes, which look like Horse Flies and hurt once they get a chance to settle on you and start feeding.
We spent 2 nights at Waddy Point just past Indian Heads, a lovely green gorge running down to the sea protected by the local rocky heads and full of wildlife. We camped in one of the fenced off Dingo safe camping areas along with other campers. We got visited by Bandicoots during the night who dug up a load of soil next to our tent and we saw lots of birds. The Sandflies were quite bad though so it was a relief to leave after 2 days. Sandflies are incredibly small, smaller than midges which make them hard to even see and they make your skin itch like hell with their consistent biting.

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After Waddy Point we headed North hoping to get to Sandy Point, the most northern remote tip of the Island. We were warned that the track up is dangerous and may be unpassable in places. There are many outcroppings of dark chocolate coloured rocks on the Beach called Coffee Rocks and when you can’t find a way over the rocks you have to take short inland bypass tracks to get around. These tracks can be difficult with very deep sand and often steep inclines over dunes.
And on the first inland bypass track we got bogged for the first time! We had forgot to remove the spare tyre from underneath the back of the motor which dragged and slowed us down as we drove through a hollow of deep sand promptly stopping and bogging the vehicle. We managed to get ourselves out after digging sand from underneath the vehicle and placing the spare wheel on the roof then slowly rocking the vehicle forwards then backwards to flatten and compact the sand. We made it passed this time with lots of momentum and the engine working flat out to churn through the deep sand. The whole day was full of excitement like this as we worked our way slowly up to Sandy Point. What fun! it was exhilarating to finally make it through and reach the far remote tip of the Island.

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Sandy Point is noted as remote and has no facilities at all, there are few people and no mobile reception at all so you have to be careful not to have any accidents as it’s a good day of rough driving (when the tide is low) to get for any help. But with the remoteness comes the beauty of this part of the Island.

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We camped at remote Sandy Point for 4 nights, right up high on the beach above the recent high tide mark. We hardly saw anyone apart from a group of campers who arrived for 2 nights and setup just down the beach from us. This was the perfect spot to view any Whales, Dolphines or Sharks passing in the water in front of us and we also saw large groups of migratory birds resting out on the shallows of Sandy Point. We regularly saw dolphins working their way up the beach close in to shore, one came about 5 meters from Tony standing in the shallow water! What a spectacularly beautiful place. We still had enough supplies remaining with plenty of Diesel in the two roof Jerry cans. Food was running down and we’d used up all our fresh food and were down to cans and good old sliced white bread which seems to last forever! Water was running down but didn’t quite get to Blackadders urine drinking stage … Although Tony started on his before the water ran out saying he preferred it!
After the 4th night at Sandy Point we had been on the Island for 10 days with no showers and often no toilets, supplies were also dwindling so we packed up camp and started our journey back down the Island to the Barge. It would take us at least another nights camping to get off the Island maybe more. I managed to bog the vehicle again on way down negotiating a passage over the coffee rocks on the beach and got the out-riggers jammed against a rock whilst my back axle was stuck on a rock and I couldn't get enough traction to pull out forwards. Luckily we got towed out forward by a big Patrol that was coming up the track!

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We made our way back down the East side of the Island with no major dramas and caught the Barge back to Inskip point then headed to Marybrough about 60 miles up the coast to find a Caravan Park with hot showers and mains power. It was a relief to get off the Island after 11 days of camping but we had the most amazing experience. I thought overall it was more controlled than I had expected with Rangers keeping a close eye on everyone but then I guess it has to be to manage all the visitors and maintain the wildlife and unique environment. It was certainly breathtaking experience and I highly recommend it to anyone.

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Posted by Logan Crerar 17:21 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Queensland, Brisbane and Surfers

We packed up and left Nimben after spending over a week in the area, feeling refreshed and most of our mozzie bites healing (itch, itch...). Doug our host at the Rainbow Retreat had traced out a scenic route for us to take from Nimben into Queensland over some mountain passes eventually coming out near the Gold Coast. Our next target was Fraser Island which was still a fair way up the coast passed Suffers Paradise, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast so we decided to spend the next 3 days mainly travelling and camping light.

To save time and effort I took to sleeping outside under the vehicle awning on a blow up mattress because we were travelling everyday it was too much effort to unpack and setup tent every stop... and there weren't any crocodiles yet! Tony slept in the vehicle which he found comfortable. Unfortunately we both got ravished by mozzies again, me especially as I was sleeping outside! We’ve learned a lot and evolved our strategies for dealing with biting insects, including covering up skin at night, using mosquito deterrent spray (it actually works well, we used Bushman Plus a DEET formula spray) and trying to pick camping sites away from swamps or water. Some of the best nights where right beside the beach with a keen sea breeze keeping the biting insects away!

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We whizzed through the Gold Coast, only stopping for a quick beer and some photos. Huge long beaches stacked with high rise buildings along the coast and stuffed with tourists and bars. Also did a quick in and out fly through Brisbane to buy a few things including a new camera battery and some camera cleaning accessories. Brisbane is an impressive modern city with new high rise buildings and a lovely river snaking its way through the centre, slightly reminding me of London, it even has a South Bank full of theatres.

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Driving out of Brisbane up the Bruce Highway heading for Fraser Island with the sun beating down on a hot humid afternoon. The Bruce highway is quite impressive going North out of Brisbane, 8 lanes of traffic making up Queenslands main artery up the coast. Fraser Island was still a good distance so we would need to camp one night on the way. As we drove up the Bruce Highway pointy tipped mountains covered in forest started to appear on the horizon so we decided to check out camping sites on or near them. The mountains ranged from 200 – 400 metres high and rose out of the flat surroundings as we approached. We stayed right by the beach in a charming little seaside town called Caloundra. Tomorrow we would arrive near Fraser Island and camp another night before getting the vehicle stocked up with fuel and provisions before catching the barge to Fraser.

Posted by Logan Crerar 14:14 Comments (0)

Byron Bay, Nimben and Surrounding Area

sunny 36 °C

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Lennox Head and the Tea-Tree lake

We stayed in and around the Byron Bay area for a whole week and it was wonderful. Tony as predicted had a great time, enjoying the surrounding country and the laid back culture. Right at the top of New South Wales just before the Queensland border the surrounding area is sub-tropical fertile with lush green valleys and patches of rain forest on pointy topped mountains, giving it a Tolkien Shire feel and you half expect to see a Hobbit popping out of some of the dwellings. The area has also attracted a lot of alternative people, from hippies to artists and musicians and is often described as the alternative capital of Australia, it certainly makes for a very nice place to visit and spend some time.

When we arrived we decided to spend some R &R time in a lovely campsite in Lennox Head which I knew about from spending 3 days camping during Byron Bay Blues Festival 2 years ago. Lennox Head is a small coastal surf town about 10km south of Byron Bay. It boasts a 7 mile beach which looks impressive and has mighty surf. The campsite is called Lake Ainsworth Holiday Park and has the beach on one side and a marvellous fresh water Tea-Tree lake on the other. The lake is warm and has an amber brown colour to it from the Tea-Tree tannings seeping out of the Tree’s circling the lake. It’s popular with locals who come and swim in the lake. Perfect, just what we needed after the last batch of camping and travelling up from Sydney, dip into the lake in the morning then go for a salt water tussle with the surf in the afternoon, doesn’t get much better than that!

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Byron Bay

From our campsite in Lennox Head we took a day drive to Byron Bay to do some sightseeing for a few hours. Byron is a popular backpacking / surfers party town and often gets chocker with tourists and kids out for a good time. It also has a thriving alternative culture with a lot of African drum makers and shops, although prices can be pretty expensive and it’s generally a good idea to avoid buying anything while there. We had a walk around the shops, ate an ice cream to cool down as it was midday and well into the 30’s and then took a dip in the sea, between the patrolled surf rescue flags of course as this beach has a mean rip.

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Nimben and the Rainbow Retreat

I’d heard a lot about Nimben, good and bad from various people, so it was good to have a chance to check it out for myself. Nimben is famous as a hippy town and self-proclaimed alternative capital. It has a famous street festival every year called the ‘Mardi Grass’ between 2nd and 5th of May promoting the legalisation of cannabis and growing of Hemp. The surrounding hills have a number of very interesting communes practising Permaculture and organic fruit and vegetable growing, some even have their own schools.
In 1975 there was a festival at Nimben called the Aquarius festival attracting a heap of hippies and students who basically stayed after festival and settled down. The festivals continued and more people arrived.
We wanted to setup camp and spend a few nights so I did some searching and found a backpackers camping site called the ‘Rainbow Retreat’. They had a good website ( http://www.rainbowretreatnimbin.com ) and the site was situated about a mile from Nimben so we packed camp and headed out to Nimben, about 20 miles inland from Lennox Head and up a small pot hole ridden road which snaked up the lush green valley. The locals had painted multi coloured circles on the road highlighting the worst pot holes, very nice of them and a dam site more effort than the local NSW government was doing about the road. We arrived at Nimben and had a walk around the town which mainly surrounded one street packed with hemp shops and hippy paraphernalia. I was warned that you could get hassled by people wanting to sell you things on the street but we didn’t see this, the atmosphere was pleasant enough and relaxed so we sat and had a coffee before heading out to find the camp site.

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We found the Rainbow Retreat about a mile out of town down a dead end road which also had another Backpackers YHA site nearby. The site was up a steep track perched amongst a small forest on top of a hill with a largish river snaking its way down the valley below. Nimben was walking distance across the valley the other side of the river.
We rocked up and it seemed quiet with not much tents and campers around so we hunted out the reception to check in for a few nights. The retreat looked lovely with some great camping spots amongst the trees and wildlife, it even promised Platypus spotting down at the river below. We walked through an assortment of small huts and lodges which can be rented to stay in, it even had toilets and hot showers. The huts were all different and creatively built with multi-coloured paints, some even in trees and built on huge tree trunk platforms. We found reception in a large house raised off the ground and all was quiet with no one to be seen. After ringing a bell Doug the owner and Mike popped out to greet us. They both gave us warm welcome and suggested a good camping spot, we also got 1 nights camping free if we booked for 3 nights so we did.

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Doug and Mike were great hosts and we got on with them really well, especially Tony who spent a lot of time talking to them about local wildlife and history. We also gave them a video testimony for their website before we left, I highly recommend staying at the Rainbow Retreat if you ever go to Nimben.

Mike, Tony and Doug at the Rainbow Retreat

Mike, Tony and Doug at the Rainbow Retreat

Hippy camper left after the Aquarious Festival 1975

Hippy camper left after the Aquarious Festival 1975

We took various trips into town, Tony was keen to sniff out any drumming parties that may be happening and just our luck the night we decided to stay in a large drumming party kicked off in Nimben, we could hear the drums across the valley…dom, dom, dom, dum... oh well next time. However we did meet some lovely local people in town who lived at one of the communes nearby and they invited us to a Permaculture gathering on the Saturday night which had live music and was part demonstration against the local gas seem drilling that was planned for the area. It was a nice little party at someone’s house with extensive vegetable gardens outside and lit by candle light. Not much alcohol on sale and most people brought their own wine and the food was mainly Vegetarian and Vegan orientated… the food was good but not exactly my fare :)

We tried Platypus spotting with the camera and tripod down at the river below the campsite, waiting quietly for up to an hour but saw nothing. The Platypus has to be the weirdest animal on the planet and it would have been great to get a snap of one. It was also getting hot in the day with temperatures reaching mid 30c but also humid so it felt a lot hotter. You could tell we were getting further North and properly in the sub-tropical zone.

Posted by Logan Crerar 23:43 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Hitting the road and enjoying some surf

We're finally off and leaving Sydney behind us

sunny 30 °C

Lane Cove Park camp site

After the last week of manic work moving out of my flat and handing keys back we were exhausted, and planned to spend a couple of days recuperating and testing the camping gear at some nearby camp site in Sydney. We got warned away from a lovely camp site down near Berowra Waters because of a mosquito plague so Tony did some hunting online and found a rather up market camp site right in the middle of Lane Cove Park (Lane Cove park is only about 7km from Sydney centre) which was rather expensive but we had no other options so we booked in 2 nights. We rocked up a bit late after giving the keys back and making our way in our loaded Cruiser to Lane Cove but luckily the nice lady on reception stayed back to wait for us. Our first night camping and on the road, both of us glad to have last week behind us and be rolling finally.

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At night it gave me a chance to test out some of the LED lighting which is powered from the vehicle 12 volt batteries. It has dual batteries with a cut over switch which should isolate the second battery for starting so you don't flatten both batteries when camping. However, it appears I managed to flatten both batteries on our first night playing around with the inverter... much to Tony's amusements and heckles I had the battery recharged from a mains outlet by the morning.... Well you have to test the limits of any new system :)

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Camp site at night and a curious Possum who came to visit

After 2 days we headed on the road out of Sydney up the Pacific Highway north. It was good to leave Lane Cove as both of us had been ravished by mozzies over two nights, it appears that mosquito plague was all over Sydney! Ah the joys of camping coming flooding back as we itched our way up the east coast.

Seal Rocks

Tony had done some superb research and found what promised to be a beautiful secluded beach camping site at Seal Rocks which is just past Newcastle near Forster, about 3.5 hours driving from Sydney. The area was touted as one of New South Wales' top 10 most beautiful camping sites. They where not wrong it was fabulous, within a nature reserve, quiet and right on the beach. The beach was mostly empty apart from some other intrepid campers, fisherman and of course Surfers as this was an excellent surf beach. We arrived quite late around 7pm when the sun was going down and we drove right to into the car park at Seal Rocks and noticed another guy camping so decided to pitch camp. The car park and our camping site was within a stones throw of the surf, and the surf is loud with the huge Pacific waves crashing on the beach. At night it felt like you where in the surf... sleeping with the sound of sea and surf in your ear is a marvellous experience.

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Seal Rocks

We spent 2 nights at Seal Rocks enjoying the surf and beauty of the spot. It was also a relief not to have any mozzies around so we could lick our wounds and recover, the salt water does marvels for healing skin wounds and bites.

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Enjoying a beer at sunset

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Seal Rocks beach and our make shift camp

At night we had gourmet cooking thanks mainly to the extensive kitchen we brought with us. This dinner was chops with Caesar salad and apple source yummy!

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Gourmet cooking

Point Polmer surf beach

The first target to reach from our overall trip plan was Byron Bay which sits on the coast right at the top of New South Wales just before the Queensland border. It was still a good drive (300 miles) to Byron so we decided to break the journey up with another secluded beach camp on the way. We heard about Point Plomer from Shane the gas pipeline worker who was camped up next to us enjoying some fishing and wilderness on his week off work. He enjoys finding quiet wilderness fishing spots and has explored most of the coast ahead of us so recommended we stopped at Point Plomer about 120 miles up the coast.

It was a good drive of about 3 hours to Point Plomer which went smoothly. We encountered our first unsealed gravel road approaching Point Plomer which is at the end of a long and very rough gravel road which makes you glad your in a Landcruiser. Then we arrived at the camp site and beach.

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Point Plomer Beach

We spent a rather slow relaxing 2 nights at the camp site enjoying the beach and surf during the day. The sun was hot and we over did it on the beach a bit resulting in some burned skin on both of us.

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Time to pack up and hit the road again, next stop Byron Bay or rather Lennox Head which is just before Byron as we plan to stay in a camp site I know which is situated right next to a Tea Tree lake that you can swim in.

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Posted by Logan Crerar 20:10 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Wrapping things up and getting prepared

Finishing work, packing apartment and preparing for our camping adventure

sunny 28 °C

Well, after over 8 months in the planning we're about to start our epic Queensland 4x4 camping adventure. Tony my dad recently arrived in Sydney from the UK on a 3 month Australian holiday, returning to the Great Southern land after 50 years away. The last time Tony was in Australia was after his student days in Sydney and back then (1962) the tallest buildings in Sydney stood no higher than 4 stories! needless to say it's been quite an eye opener for him. Tony has been basing himself at my apartment in Killara, North Shore Sydney whilst he gets over jet lag, does some sightseeing and also spends some time with my sister Blue who lives in Wollongong 60 miles down the coast from Sydney. He has also been helping me with preparations for the trip and witnessing me wrapping up my life in Sydney preparing to hit the road.

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Sydney welcoming Tony and rubbing the pigs nose for good luck outside the old Sydney hospital.

It is never easy completely wrapping up a life in a city you've been working and living in for several years. Finally finished work end of February with Commonwealth Bank after resigning and giving notice last October. I'm so looking forward to having a good break from work and not having to stress and think about my job continuously. I'm also giving up the lease on my rented apartment in Killara and packing up all my furniture and belongings into storage which will be ready for shipping back to UK after my Australian adventures finish. On top of this I've been frantically getting everything ready for the trip including the most important part the vehicle. There is no detailed itinerary or plan for our trip, just a high level summary of what we want to see and some key points along the way. We want to be reasonably free to change plans as we go, talking to people on the road and find interesting places. We have a good solid 4x4 motor which can take us most places and we will carry full camping gear including additional fuel, water and supplies, enough to survive in the outback for a week if we need to. Our broad plan is to head up the East coast of Australia starting from Sydney and hopefully getting as far up as the Daintree rainforest at the top of Queensland. Along the way we have some key places we want to spend some time including Byron Bay and surrounding area, Fraser Island where we may spend a week with the 4x4 on the sand and beaches of this marvellous sand island. We also want to experience some of the wonderful national parks and forests inland a bit from coast. The weather will start to cool down after March in Queensland and the monsoon should have finished but it will still be hot and wet at times.

The motor of choice for this adventure is an old 1989 Toyota Landcruiser series 60. Renowned for their sturdiness, reliability and off road abilities. Famous as the last of the true off road 4x4 Landcruisers, before they turned more into school run and shopping vehicles after the 80's. It's not the most comfortable vehicle, nor is it the quietest or best looking but it's big, solid and will get us anywhere. It's built like a tractor underneath and I've never seen such big axles and diffs on a 4x4 and it has a very nice running large 4 litre Diesel truck engine which is also reasonably economic. I purchased the Cruiser from a Dutch backpacker just before xmas. He was wrapping up a 9 month adventure around Australia and heading back to Europe. The vehicle was registered in Western Australia which is where he bought it and the registration was up end of Feb so I needed to get it re-registered in New South Wales. I got it cheap as it needed a few things done mechanically and also getting it through the NSW registration wasn't easy as they are strict, more strict then any other state. The main thing is the engine and major mechanical parts are sound and it had little mileage for it's age at 250,000Km (I was 14 years old when this vehicle was made) but I had to replace all the shackle bushes, all 4 shocks, fix the transfer case and host of other little things. It ended up costing a lot more than was planned but now I have a mechanically sound and newly registered vehicle - whoever buys this from me in a few months time will be getting a very good motor!

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1989 Toyota Landcruiser Series 60.

Blue was staying during my final week in Sydney and we all went to see the Sydney Mardi Gras which was fun. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of the parade due to the enormous amount of people lining the streets but it was still fun and we go the atmosphere. The final week in Sydney felt like a crescendo of activity that has been building for months - packing, preparing and dealing with paper work - I will be so pleased to hit the road and leave this behind me!

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Logan, Tony and Blue enjoying Sydney Madris Gras and a crazy coffee shop owner.

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Apartment in Killara with Blue and Tony.

Managed to finish everything and hand back the keys 10 minutes before the estate agents office closed on Monday my last lease day. Tony had been a great help but we were both knackered and exhausted after several hard long days work. We decided to book into a local camp site in Sydney to recover and test the camping equipment out for a couple of days. Let the adventures begin...

Posted by Logan Crerar 16:52 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney blue camping logan tony landcruiser killara Comments (0)

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