Travelling Oz…Mataranka, Katherine and turning west

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 23-24-25 August 2022

We arrived at Mataranka in the early afternoon. I wanted to have a swim in the thermal springs and had chosen Bitter Springs Caravan Park for our stay based on reviews in Wikicamps. First of all I went to the supermarket in the town. Wow! This was not your basic outback supermarket. It was really nice with much of the variety of a normal supermarket. Maybe because this is a tourist spot, but perhaps also because it is quite close to Katherine and even Darwin. How nice for the locals to have this in their little dusty town.

At the caravan park we were able to get a powered site and were shown to our spot by a man on a little cart. He would have offered more choices, but we were happy with the first one, though had to use a leveller under one wheel. A difference I found was that when we used levellers with our vans there would be an adjustment after I put on the handbrake and took my foot off the brake that we had to allow for, a bit of a falling back. With the Hilux it just stayed exactly where it was.

After a cup of tea (and using the air conditioner for comfort) we changed and walked out to the springs. Normally I would not swim in a creek, with scum at the edges and branches, etc. However, as this was the thing to do and the water really did look clear, blue and fresh, I ventured to join the other people. They mostly had pool noodles and I discovered why when I tried to swim. The current was actually quite strong and the water seemed to have even less buoyancy than a swimming pool, so I was really struggling. Stephen was still getting himself ready when I went in so I didn’t wait for him, but tried swimming with the current down to the next clump of people. It was such a struggle that I gave up half way and climbed out. Fortunately, there were steps along the way as well as at the ends.

The pathway wasn’t paved where I got out, so on my soft feet I had to pick my way to the end where the pathway was paved and there was a little bridge across the water. As I walked back I met Stephen walking down. He gave up much more quickly than me, fortunately. I had worried about him because if I was struggling, how much worse for him without the plumpness that at least gives me some buoyancy. There were lots of people to rescue him if he got into trouble so I wasn’t too worried.

We were glad we tried, but wished we had gone to the pools that have been built for the wimps like us who don’t like swimming in creeks. However, I wasn’t sure where they were, there was surprisingly little practical information in the tourist brochures, they are just for selling tours, not giving information it seems.

Anyway, we were glad we gave it a go and very grateful for the wonderfull showers when we got back to camp. How they keep them so clean when every other place sort of gives up against the dust I guess is due to good design and constant work. There were washing machines and clotheslines, so we did a load of washing including our bathers. There was also an excellent campers kitchen, which was handy for washing dishes as we were close to all of the facilities.

We still have too much stuff with us, so packing up our chairs, outdoor table, plus the leveller was a bit of a task in the morning. We went to the dump point on the way out, but it was being pumped out, very smelly. On the way to Katherine there was a lot of burning off happening, with no warnings about the loss of visibility, etc. I can understand the need for it as the grass is very dry at this stage of winter.

Katherine was good to us. We found parking and walked to a really nice outdoor cafe where we had hot drinks and a scone with jam and cream each, then did our shopping in Woollies. There was a good dump point there, clean and easy to use. As we had our shopping voucher we went to the Woollies service station for fuel. 

Still no leaks on the fuel line, thank goodness. We have advanced our knowledge a bit, we have a non-stock ARB fuel tank and Suncamper said we should go to a 4WD mechanic to have it repaired. We phoned a place in Kununurra and they said that they take a normal fuel line and adapt it, but they couldn’t see us until September, so we will have to plow on. We are covered by RAC if we actually can’t drive any further due to too much fuel leaking. But, we will keep our fingers crossed. We have driven with a leaking fuel tank from Young in NSW all the way home in the Winnie, so we at least know that diesel is not highly flammable. In the case of the Winnie we had to keep the tank under 3/4 full. It does seem that it’s impossible to travel long distances without something happening. Last year in the Adria it was that our house batteries died. Fortunately we were able to find a place in Broome to have them replaced.

After all the business in Katherine we were able to find a nice park near the river where we had lunch and a rest.

It was late by the time we were heading off, but there was a cool breeze and it felt like it was time for a free camp. It is very busy here, rather like a caravan park. Two cars with rooftop tents parked just in front of us. I could see one of them last night, but there seemed to be more than one couple, I only discovered why this morning when I went out. No wonder. At least they didn’t seem to be drinking heavily and didn’t play music. People can get very loud when under the influence.

The caravan park at Mataranka was very reasonable $40 per night for a tourist area, especially as it has such nice facilities. It was a vehicle and caravan wash down area as well. I would recommend it if you are going there. If staying for several nights they offer a discount and our next door neighbour had stayed for a few weeks. In weather that is warm, fairly dry, with cool overnight temperatures it is quite a lovely place to be. Just don’t forget your pool noodles!

If you are wondering about crocodiles, there are freshies. I think at the springs they are scared away by all the people, there are signs about not swimming except in the designated areas. At our lunch spot on the Katherine River there was a warning sign saying that crocodiles there could cause injury or death, but a young woman was playing with her dog at the edge, with the dog actually in the water, and near the bridge there were people paddling, including a child. So, it appears that people don’t take the risk seriously. I do, and stayed well back from the water.

We had a signal in Katherine, but I hadn’t written anything and our overnight spot doesn’t have a signal. I write the blog in Apple Pages, then bring it into the blog, with some iPhone photos, when we have internet. Pages works a bit better offline than Word, which always seems to want to connect to the internet at times when we don’t have a signal.

Today we travelled through mostly grassy savanah, but nearing the Victoria River the landscape became much more interesting. We stopped at the roadhouse and had lunch of bacon and egg rolls, then spent some time walking around with camera and binoculars (me camera and he binoculars, of course). I followed some people down to the river where there was an old bridge right next to the newer bridge we had driven across. My photos just don’t do this area justice at all, it was really lovely and with the temperature at around 27 degrees it was just nice to explore. The landscape is similar to that around Karijini, so except that we are passing through anyway we wouldn’t drive this far just to see it.

Eventually we drove on to Timber Creek where we had a signal and could stock up on Minties, very necessary for driving in the bush. It was busy there and we were glad to drive out again and find a spot to camp. There were a couple of campers here when we arrived and others have since joined. Thanks Wikicamps! We prefer to have some company, perhaps not as many as last night, with people very close to us.

We cross into Western Australia tomorrow and are cooking up the vegetables we bought in Katherine and will try to eat all of our fruit as well. I’m not sure if we will have to surrender our honey, it is just the commercial sort that is sold in supermarkets all over Australia. We can ask. Otherwise, these days there are no quarantine requirements for humans, though there is a message on the Kununurra Tourist number about it, they obviously haven’t updated lately.

Travelling Oz…We’ve done it!

Turned north at Threeways and are heading up the Stuart Highway towards Katherine. I’m wondering what the difference was last time when we couldn’t bring ourselves to keep heading north. I think we were travelling earlier in winter when I could remember the heat of summer and wanted to stay in cooler weather. This time we have had a good winter experience and feel more able to tackle the heat. After yesterday afternoon I have suggested that we take powered sites at caravan parks where possible so that we can use our air conditioner. It is still cooling down overnight, but later and later in the evenings.

On our first day of travel after the rest day we managed about 350kms. We called in at a roadhouse, but they wanted $38 for an unpowered site and we knew there was a spot about 15kms up the road where we could sleep, so opted to keep going. By driving until about 4.30 p.m. we avoided the warmer part of the day as well. Our parkup was at Excellent Gravel Pit Stop, and that is it’s official name on Wikicamps. For our purposes it was indeed excellent, though a bit tricky to get a level spot. After we had finished driving around to get level two other small RV’s showed up and parked near to us. I think they too were wanting level ground and it made us feel a bit safer than being there on our own, especially as we were visible from the highway.

The secret to being able to travel so far in a day was that Stephen did over half the driving. But, I also think it was because we were eager and rested, it didn’t seem hard work.

Our second night on the Stuart Highway is at the Daly Waters Hi-way Inn Caravan Park. It really filled up during the afternoon and because we arrived early, about two p.m., we were able to get a good spot on the rear fence overlooking the cattle paddock. There is lots of birdlife, but also the sounds and smells of the farm. They have good facilities here, toilets, showers, a bar with an open area and with a singer/musician playing, and a couple of indoor areas as well. The trucks park out the front and side, there is plenty of room.

We had chosen a rest spot for a break when driving yesterday, but had to go to the next one as it was very busy, with cars only allowed, and chairs set out under a large shaded area. We wondered what was happening. On our walk around the roadhouse/caravan park yesterday evening we encountered a vehicle with the sign we had seen and asked what the gathering was about. It was a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the overland telegraph.

Stephen has given up on having the vehicle inspection and change over to WA licence in Kununurra, so we don’t have quite the time pressure. The licence is due for renewal on the 19th September, and as long as we are home a few days before then we can more easily get it done in Perth. We have to take it to a weighbridge, then it has an inspection, then licenced. That will all be much easier at home where we have a base to stay and a second car to help with drop offs and pickups.

Travelling Oz…Rest Day at the Barkley Homestead, NT

At the billagong near Camooweal, QLD.
This is when we were still in Channel Country near Winton

We spent our last night in Queenland at a billabong camp just beside Camooweal on the border. There was wonderful birdlife, including some brolgas who came by our spot in the afternoon, then walked close by us in the morning. I was too excited to get the camera out in the morning, but did get some video of passing cattle.

Very wary of coming near the man outside his caravan

In the end rushing across in case there is danger!
I took photos of other birds, but using the long lens the brolgas came out best as they are so large

We enjoyed a meal at the Homestead last night, doing an unusual thing of order two meals, which meant it was a bit too much food for us. We can’t rely on pub meals being enormous, though they were in this case, and at least it gave us a chance to have chips and salad with one and veggies and mash with the other. We were able to sit in a sheltered outdoor area with good ventilation, and hope that wearing our masks inside, where it was crowded, was sufficient protection. The shop, cafe and bar all have good ventilation with open doors.

Stephen has made an appointment in Kununurra for next Thursday to have our vehicle inspection that is part of getting it registered in WA. Hopefully we can cover the 1300kms in time!

We are enjoying having a less squeezy living space, with couches we can use with the table as a dinette, but also allow both of us to lounge with our feet up. Our loft bed is a bit higher than in the Adria, and Stephen is reporting that the step down causes a bit of knee pain for him. I do a sort of ballet move on the little wooden step so that I step down facing inwards, then turn outwards, and haven’t had any problems. We have a sturdy hand rail to assist, as well as the wooden step.

It was also not possible to assess from the photos, but the kitchen benches are very deep. This means that we have better bench space than is apparent even for washing up or cooking on the 3 burner stove top. When we get home and can do a proper setting up of the spaces we should find we can fit everything we need into the cupboards. Our personal cupboards for clothing, books, etc. are quite large enough even though we have summer and winter clothing to store and we are using the little wardrobe for shirts, trousers and jackets.

It is like having a small caravan on the back of the car. I am still using the cab space for storing stuff whilst we are parked, but hope to tame that a bit as well, so there is not so much of ‘vanlife shuffle’ happening. Having the bed out of the way on top of the cab is good, and if we ever feel we can’t make it up there anymore we can turn the dinette/couch area into a bed that is nearly as large and just use the loft for storage.

We did a load of washing yesterday evening, which was dry this morning by 8.00 a.m. I did another small load today so that we will be mostly up to date when we move off tomorrow.

We will contact Matt tonight as we have excellent internet here and may not have a good signal again until we get to Katherine.

Travelling Oz…Waltzing Mathilda

The Jolly Swagman

Monday August 15th, Tuesday August 16th and Wednesday August 17th

We drove from Winton to Kynuna, with a stop at Combo Waterhole, one of the purported sites for Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Mathilda. We were delayed after leaving the caravan park by long lines of vans at the fuel station and my discovery that we had a slight leak, presumably from the fuel infill line. We also had to do a gas bottle exchange as we didn’t like to wait until we possibly could get a refill.

We stopped at an automotive repair place, but they couldn’t do even look at it until the next day. We found a place in Cloncurry which would take a look, so decided to wait until then. We stayed overnight at a roadhouse in Kynuna, very basic and the unpowered sites were nicely located at the back where we had very little road noise.

At our lunch spot yesterday we saw some stockmen mustering cattle. I went out with the GoPro and one of them joked that we could post it on Youtube and make money. Of course, our little channel doesn’t make money, but it was fun to get the shots. The cattle run every which way and have to be herded to follow the main body, so there was quite a lot of action to see before they moved off into the distance. The mob had come very close to the road because of the terrain, it was the only level ground.

At the Combo Waterhole there are a number of billabongs on a track, but we only walked in a little way and thought the first waterhole was a good representation. Stephen posed squatting next to it for a Jolly Swagman shot.

Of course there are other billabongs that claim to be The One

This morning we got away in good time, only have to use the dump point and fill up with water before leaving Kynuna. We arrived in Cloncurry and went to have our line checked. The person we were to see wasn’t there, so we went to a lookout and had our usual lunch of bread, cheese and chutney, followed by bread and honey and bananas. I tried using the toaster over near the door and it didn’t set off the fire alarm.

At the lookout, Cloncurry

When we went back, it was confirmed that it was the fill line, but he couldn’t replace it and didn’t want to even tighten it up in case the whole thing was deteriorated and fell apart. We will have to live with it until we can find someone to replace it. We only lose a little bit of fuel and just have to hope that it doesn’t collapse when we are a long way from a large town.

We had morning tea at the Crocodile Dundee Hotel

Tonight we are camping at a place recommended by Frederick and Sherene called Corella Dam. It is quite a large body of water in a bushland setting, and very popular. We have chosen to be away from the main shoreline as it’s more private. There is another Suncamper Sherwood here, just across the way. The road in was a bit hairy, with large ruts in places, and we were glad to be in the Hilux. However, there are lots of motorhomes, some very large, and they had to get here the same way, so we could have done it in our camper van. After all, our friends have a camper van and it isn’t 4WD.

There are lots of birds, in fact it’s quite noisy. There is a strong breeze as well, which meant that although it was warm in the sun we were comfortable without putting the fan on.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a day for restocking with food, emptying the loo and getting water, all possible in Mt Isa, where we have spent the night. In the afternoon we went to get more fuel, and the leak from the infill pipe seemed worse. A local person noticed and recommended a local mechanic. 

They weren’t able to help until next week, so we kept ringing around and on the third try were able to make an appointment with Autofirst Service and Repairs. We spent some time at the Visitor Centre, which we both remembered from last time we were here, then went there at about 4.00 p.m. It was the tidiest, cleanest mechanics shop we have ever seen, staffed with people from overseas. They had very much a ‘can do’ attitude to our problem. Someone went to the local Toyota dealership to pick up a pipe that they thought might fit, It didn’t, so they have patched it, using a special glue and duct tape. We talked with the joint manager on reception. She was quite lovely. She wanted us to understand that this wasn’t a permanent fix and we should get a new pipe when we return home.

For all the time they charged us for one hour of labour, plus a little extra for the tape. But nothing for their courtesy, kindness and the actual length of time it took.

We experienced more kindness when we got to our overnight spot, the carpark of an oval belonging to the nearby Irish Club. We stayed here last time we were in Mt Isa. The local council disapproves of this arrangement and a notice at the gate says we must pay $15 and have a written permit saying that all caravan parks are full. We did try one caravan park which was full, but by 6.00 p.m. when we left Autofirst it was closed and driving there to get the permit was impossible. Some caravan parks won’t supply permits anyway. The Irish Club thinks as it is their private land they should be able to do what they like with it. So, as last time, we stayed for free, though last time I think we went to the club for a meal. Then Stephen was looking for a bin for our rubbish and a local person kindly offered to take it home and put it in their rubbish. And one of the other people staying here said that the rangers never check this spot anyway.

We had a peaceful night, slightly smelly from the nearby mining operation, but otherwise just what we needed, somewhere safe to sleep.

Travelling Oz…’Monsters of the Outback’ – on the trail of the dinasours

We visited Winton a few years ago when it was in drought, it is almost unrecognisable after a couple of years of good rain. And they have had a bit of winter rain as well, meaning some areas are still boggy. Everything is green.

We didn’t take too much notice last time of the dinasour connection. I’m not sure why, perhaps we didn’t get caught up in the magic. But, it happened this time. On our drive into Winton we diverted to the Age of Dinasours Museum and got to see some of the dinasour bones that have been found in this area. We also saw exerpts from the documentary on the discovery of the bones. A DVD of the whole documentary was on sale in the gift shop, but DVDs are not that useful and I asked if they had it in another format. Unfortunately not, but a Google search later and I found the full show on Vimeo. We were fairly hooked after our visit to the museum and we watched the 40 minute documentary in the evening.

Today we took a tour to another site, which they think is the site of a dinasour stampede. ‘A minute in time preserved for 90,000,000 years’, as someone has said. We could have driven to the site, but it made it a sort of rest day to be on a tour, plus you get far more information about the landscape and and the dinasour bones and tracks that have been preserved for so long here. We also had good, healthy food, apart from morning tea with biccies and lamingtons. Our tour guide had everything in our vehicle and he served three snacks/meals during our time. Lunch was cold meat and salad and afternoon tea was fruit salad, in individual packs for each person.

We went on a tour run by the museum to see the stampede tracks, which have been enclosed to try to preserve them. Embarrassingly, a wall fell in on the tracks after four months, but they have also left some of the covering rocks in place so not everything is exposed. Even if there is further damage at least part of the record has been preserved. The current theory is that tiny dinasours, the size of chickens, plus some slightly larger ones, were at a water hole when a very large predator arrived. As the large dinasour tracked down a victim the others fled towards it as they had the water at their backs and nowhere else to run. This is only a theory, and fits what is there, but they stress that they don’t really know what happened, though they know something of why the tracks were preserved. This area was rainforest in those times and actually located a bit south of where Tasmania is now.

The open savannah grasslands of present time are very good for cattle. Although they started out here with sheep it is mostly cattle now, and many pastoralists at least try to practice sustainable land use without overstocking.

The light during today was slightly less bright than I expected. Perhaps the polution which is giving us such splendid sunrises and sunsets is also present during the day and holding back some of the light.

As the day went on I noticed that there was much about the history of settlement in the area, as well as the ancient history, but nothing about the original inhabitants. Eventually our tour guide told us that story too. After pastoralists started settling here they ran into dispute with the indigenous people, who, after all, had the greater claim to the land. Police were sent in and killed about 200 people. The rest were sent off to missions and their original culture and language was lost over the generations. However, they eventually mounted a native title claim which has been successful. A good result in the end, but doesn’t make up for how their ancestors were treated.

The weather is sunny and cool, and ideal for exploring and we felt that we had a really lovely time. Our guide was ex military and fairly commanding. He said doing the tours was like taking his friends’ parents on outings. We were all grey nomads, of the fit and healthy kind, and very docile. Perhaps keeping us fed and watered is to that end. The tour was value for money at $145 per person, and included all our food and drinks, plus entry to the Lark Quarry (the name of the stampede excavation).

Travelling Oz…Barcaldine and Longreach

After our night at Bogentungen, we stopped briefly at the Drummond Range Lookout. Although it was lovely we were having to photograph the view looking towards the sun and it doesn’t look as nice as it was in reality.

We drove through the towns of Alpha and Jerico to a campsite just outside of Barcaldine where we spent last night. This morning we have driven to Longreach, going firstly to a laundromat for an hour or two.

These little birds are very bold, like magpies, and will hang around people if you have what they want, in this case they were at the water tap waiting for a drink.

Stephen is exploring options for visiting the dinasour stampede about 110kms out of Winton. It was being talked about when we visited last, but has been made into a major tourist attraction. Friends have said that the cost of a tour is $25, and that is true, but we are not sure how to get there. If we drive, half the distance is on a gravel road, which would mean we would end up very dusty and would also need to find somewhere to stay overnight. It is supposed to be accessible to 2WD vehicles. Our friends took a bus tour, but I wasn’t able to find anything for a reasonable cost online, so Stephen has been to the Visitor Centre here in Longreach to see if there is a bus service at a reasonable cost. That would mean we could go out and back in one day.

And good news, there is a day tour for $145 each and we are now booked in for Sunday. After a few calls we’ve been able to find a place to stay for two nights.

We are feeling that we have been travelling for a long time now and really need to have a bit of a rest. It’s a matter of finding a nice spot. I’m thinking of the Barkly Homestead where we stayed for a few days the last time we came this way. Stephen had a cold and needed to rest and it was quite comfortable with power and water at a reasonable cost. However, that is still about 1,000kms away and might have to be our second rest stop.

Travelling Oz…on the Capricorn Highway

Stephen finally felt confident in driving the Toyota Hilux yesterday and we made it to Emerald without feeling too tired. We were parked up near a bridge and a botanical gardens. We were also within walking distance of a shopping centre and I donned a backpack and went there for shopping.

We enjoyed a short walk in the botanical gardens. In the children’s playground they had a monorail with little pedal cars. We saw one in Rockhampton as well. It looks fun, but the kids have to pedal hard and they go rather slowly.

In the morning we went to empty the toilet and get water, then Stephen went to Woolies to get some extra stuff that would have made the shopping too heavy for me to carry the day before.

I had made an appointment with an auto electrcians the day before and we rocked up at 11.00 for our appointment only to have Rod, our expert, about to have his smoko. Still, it gave me time to remove all of the cushions, etc. from the benches so he could access our elecronics. He confirmed that our DCtoDC charger was working, but it wasn’t linked through the shunt that would have allowed me to see the power coming through on my app. He corrected that problem and also rewired the batteries and connected the 240v charger to the shunt as well.

Rod, the auto electrician drew this diagram to show us what he changed

On our drive afterwards the batteries performed as they have in the days since we bought the camper, but at least I understood the negative values I had been seeing as the fridge operating on DC when we were travelling. It can draw up to 10 amps, but this no longer shows up, there are now positives values.

The batteries are not reaching the super high voltages they were reaching in the Adria, but that is a good thing as it worried me to have them sitting on 14.4v whilst we were travelling. The DCDC charger is clearly doing a better battery management job than previously, so that part might be due to our installer at the sales yard. We had two people doing the installing and it probably never occurred to them that I check the input/output so obsessivly!

Tonight we are staying at a place called Bogantungen, just off the highway. This donation camp has a toilet and drinking water and is in the Drummond Ranges. It is much more peaceful here than last night although the highway is close by.

Travelling Oz…We’ve escaped!

A photo from Kershaw Gardens where we walked yesterday evening

It felt very good indeed to be leaving Rockhampton and heading west along the Capricorn Highway. The relief is in getting away from the heavily populated East Coast. We haven’t travelled very far today, only about 111 kms, but the vegetation has changed and the air is dryer, so it feels more comfortable. We thought it might be warm, but there was a cool breeze when we arrived at about 12.30 p.m. and it felt about 15.

We chose this place due to recommendations on Wikicamps. It is a free campground with toilets, hot showers, and outdoor area for washing up, and drinking water and dump point. They ask for a donation, but we will have to do it in the morning as the volunteers had gone home by the time Stephen got there.

Our parkup for tonight. There are quite a few RVs, including one of our kind of campers on a Toyota Hilux. However, it is a large area and we don’t feel it’s crowded as we have been for the last couple of nights. There is less traffic noise as well, though we are fairly close to the highway.

We have a question mark about our DCtoDC charger to follow up. There is an auto electrician place in Emerald, the next town on our route, that gets very good reviews by travellers like us who end up with a van or car electrical issue. There is also a supermarket and we really need to stock up on fresh food as the pantry is looking a bit sparse. Stephen couldn’t carry very much when he went shopping yesterday.

Travelling Oz…made it to Rockhampton yesterday

We spent one more night on the road at the Boyne River Rest Area close to Gladstone. It was memorable for a flat parking spot, a retro mobile coffee and donut van, and some cattle coming to visit near the fence and staying long enough for me to photograph them.

We arrived in Rockhampton yesterday and are staying at Kershaw Gardens free camping spot, along with many others, of course. We rested, then had a walk around to see what is here. at Anaconda I bought walking sandals and Stephen bought some light trousers.

This morning we went to get fresh water, then to Bunnings for portasol and Autobarn for sunscreens for the car. We stopped at a very busy laundromat to do a load of washing, then back to the free camping area. We couldn’t get our good spot on the fence overlooking the park this time, but we can’t complain, it’s free and well located. Stephen just walked over to Coles for a few essentials.

We’ve had quite a busy time here getting some important things done, but we want to start heading west tomorrow.