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2 Heading West

semi-overcast

Thursday 13th May
Slightly cool breeze when we arose but managed to get going.
Shifted some of the gear around to reflect the warmer weather and changing supply situation. Replaced a blown brake light to ensure we didn’t incur the wrath of any local police, if they existed. Mary decided to take advantage of a laundry facility at the camp so we had clean clothes to last us another few weeks. Hey, we are on the Nomad Trail so we don’t HAVE to change into fresh clobber every day!
Had a nice morning tea and homemade scones that Mary had brought with us and planned the next couple of travel stages.
After lunch we all went into town to see the Waltzing Matilda Centre. It was generally good value and had a huge range of both historical artefacts but also many modern productions of the towns historic past, one video item I considered was in very poor taste. What a pity such a good and informative tourist attraction should be stooping so low in their vain attempt at bush jokes. Not only was Waltzing Matilda written and performed in the area about one hundred years ago, it is also a major part in the founding of Qantas Airways. Heaps to see and well worth the hours spent looking around.
Topped up with petrol for the next day, and enjoyed a home-cooked dinner before Mary, Maureen and Brian headed to the evening’s entertainment here at the camp. From the frequent laughter they sound like they are all enjoying themselves.

Friday 14th May
Set out quite early for Fountain Springs Rest Area a few Km before Mt Isa. There a now a lot of these free overnight camping sites along the highways. Very popular, although Fountain Springs was similar to sleeping under an airport flight departure route as a serious volume of 3-5 trailers being towed between Cloncurry and Mt Isa mines. Had good chat with ‘Chris’ a Brisbane to Mt Isa truckie having his tea break. A very helpful chap.
Again, it was long straight roads that seemed almost endless until nearing Mt Isa where we started meeting a few hills for a welcome variety! We pondered how the ancients might have thought that if they travelled too far they would fall of the Earth! Petrol becoming increasingly expensive.

Saturday 15th May
Drove the 60Km in to Mt Isa for some supplies and a coffee. Of course some of us had to buy more than that! Petrol much cheaper. The massive chimney stacks loomed over the whole town, so no one could be confused as to whom it belong! Foodstuffs and meat at Woolworths seemed fairly expensive and the store was rather dowdy.
A rather easy day today as we travelled northwards again to our next free overnight stop at WWII airfield memorial road. Quite peaceful with necessary toilets and BBQ area, so we had a reasonable night until it started to rain! The light rain on the van roof sounded much heavier than it was in reality, however, it was the start of unseasonal rains that lasted for some days.
During the afternoon, we all went for a very pleasant stroll along the old pre-war road that parallels the current excellent highway. Many interesting plants, some new bird species (for us) and some interesting termite mounds were observed.

Sunday 16th May
Starting off for the distant Barkly Homestead van park in light rain was a bit depressing. We experienced some heavier rain from time to time. Not so much road kill but did see some magnificent birds of prey looking for a target for lunch, or taking advantage of the supply along the road side. We did have a near miss with one white large Eastern Grey kangaroo, who, wisely for all concerned, turned back of the road in front of us. After a tiring trip we arrived at Barkly Homestead for our stopover and managed to get wet setting up. That beautiful red countryside on postcards is an absolute disaster when stuck to clothing, footwear, water hoses etc. Petrol at 179.9C per litre brought us rapidly back to reality! Managed to cook outside in the light rain some potatoes and rather yucky mango and chilli sausages of indeterminate animal origin that Mary bought on special at Mt Isa! I tried for some time to get a Telstra phone/mobile/internet connection to book a Darwin van park as this is their busy season. Fat chance until late when I managed to get an email request sent. Spent a happy hour finally getting our expenditure spreadsheet in order to ensure we didn’t kill the budget too soon! Petrol prices were the scary bit of news, but all up to date and correct now.

Monday 17th May
As our van is easier to get ready we were ready to roll on time but because of the overnight rain Brian and Maureen had a real hard time readying the van due to the persistent light rain and the damaging red clay.
We headed west again towards the Three Ways junction between the Barkly and Stuart Highways – a long journey in the rain. We looked at a morning tea break after about two hours but it was as muddy as Barkly Homestead so we kept going. Some very beautiful but wet and miserable birds of prey were observed along the roadsides. Again it was very long straight roads that brought thoughts of the Never Never to mind. Dorathea MacKellar’s famous poem about our Sunburnt Country was also in our thoughts as we saw hundreds of kilometres of almost nothing.
Bought yet more petrol, slightly cheaper than previous couple of spots, and had a coffee break before heading to our next (almost) free overnight stop at Banka Banka pastoral station about 74 Km north of Three ways on the Stuart Highway. All set up, then lunch, then a bright idea to climb the rocky path to a nearby high ridge. When we got there we saw, too late, the approaching showers, so, dampening by the minute, we stumbled over the rocks and back to camp.
Tea before dark as we were on battery power only. Banka Banka was a very reasonable $16 per two adults and their showers and toilets were better than in Winton!

Tuesday 18th May
Up early and had the trek to the loo in the dark and a shower for David (at last said Mary!). Had breakfast and observed a very strange phenomena– an actual sunrise – that was a pleasant start to the day.
Travelled north on Stuart Highway planning to stop at a free site near Mataranka but after a couple of roadside breaks we made a slight detour from the highway and ended up at Daly Waters Hotel. Mary & I ordered a Barra Burger for lunch and decided that the sandwich lunch would do us for tea; however, we have never seen such huge burgers, not even in Texas USA!

They were delicious and about four times the size and taste as any commercial rubbish you buy elsewhere. In fact, we were so taken by the rather off-beat ambience that Brian suggested that we book into the rapidly filling caravan park. Just in time as it is a very popular stopover from those in the know. A must see again place – but avoid the toilets and showers as they are quite substandard. Just hope that we can sleep tonight when the entertainment gets started!

Wednesday 19th May
After Breakfast Mary phoned Sonia with 40th birthday greetings.
There was the possibility of improved weather when we rose to get ready for departure for Katherine. However, dark clouds prevailed for the first part of the journey, and, having had trouble getting the van brake lights to function we headed north somewhat carefully. The good news was that we soon had the lights functioning properly along the way – don’t know what happened so just thankful for small mercies.
Then the UHF radio started playing up with transmit OK but we could not receive. We carried on anyway and hoped for the best! There was a real change in the local flora as the trees got taller, as did the ant hills! A few corners among the trees added variety to the trip, and that made it quite enjoyable.
We diverted to the Mataranka Hot Springs at the Mataranka turnoff. Mary, Maureen and Brian went for a dip, but the gardener was hosing off the pavement dirt from a recent big flood and the yucky water was trickling into the pool – so I declined to enjoy this delight! It was very obvious that this Roper River flood of only a few weeks previous had reached a height of more than 12 meters and caused damage to the many palm trees. Had morning tea and later lunch at the ‘Never Never; house used in the film of the same name. A number of most interesting stories and exhibits for all to view. Well worth the small side trip from the Stuart Highway.
Back on the Stuart Highway I checked how much fuel we had in the tank and there was more than enough to reach Katherine. However, about 23 Km from Katherine we ran dry and were stranded on the highway for almost an hour and a half while we waited for the angel from RACQ/AANT to arrive with the petrol rescue. Brian and Maureen had continued on their merry way unaware of our predicament with the faulty UHF radio. We finally made contact via SMS and they made sure that we held our booking at the Shady Lane Tourist Park.
We finally made it to Katherine town centre and immediately topped up with a full fuel tank – better late than never! As we did the U-turn from the bowser the UHF radio burst back into life.
Not happy Jan!!
However, on arrival at Shady Lane we immediately noticed that this is a very pleasant spot to stay, so we booked for two nights! Mary managed all the washing while I set up so that, a little late, we managed to enjoy a quick swim in the pool and then dinner.
We did notice that we were definitely back in the tropics with high humidity with the beautiful weather.

Thursday 20th May
A slow start to the day! About 10am we headed back towards Katherine and the Katherine Museum located at a former airport site on the Katherine Gorge Road. We enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours looking at the many historical exhibits. The ABC TV sourced DVD on the 1998 floods was very moving. A restored Gypsy Moth aircraft added to the great displays.
Had lunch under a massive tree (nice and cool there!) and headed into the CBD for some top-up shopping. The streets were crowded with many apparently unemployed Aboriginals, along with many campers doing their shopping. After getting a replacement windscreen wiper to replace the new, but useless one I got from a well-known motoring supply store in Brisbane, we headed back to camp for a few chores then a swim in the nice pool. It continued to be hot and humid, but, after dinner Mary & I packed up the majority of our gear in preparation for an early start as we had to be at Katherine Gorge by 6.45am for a sunrise cruise.
The day ended pleasantly, at least for Mary, when she finally found her lost set of van keys!

Friday 21st May
Departed Katherine for Kakadu. A brief stop at Pine Creek for lunch and a petrol top-up; we’re not planning on getting caught short again! A pleasant little stop just off the Stuart Highway – with expensive petrol.
The journey saw a significant change in the flora along the highway. Previously we had a few small shrubs and grass, with lots of ant hills, but gradually the flora became larger. Of particular interest was the beautiful apricot coloured gum trees that we noticed because they stood out from the rather standard green of everything else.
The trip along the highway to Kakadu showed more changes in the landscape with more of a winding road with pleasant vistas. We also noticed the increasing number of rain clouds, and copped a few as we travelled which made it quite unpleasant. We had been in the habit of having at least one car window open rather than using the aircon, mainly because the aircon cost more money to run, but also because the fresh air kept us awake in the increasing heat and humidity. However, the heavy squalls meant frequent window closures, so, the aircon became necessary.

We arrived fairly late and had an arduous check-in as all the paper work seemed to take quite a time to complete. When we finally brought both cars into the van park, Brian found that he had been allocated a very bad site that was virtually impossible to set up on. He had some difficulty getting thought the various natural and man-made obstacles and was virtually stuck between these impediments. With a bit of careful manoeuvring we managed to get car and van free and Brian decided to set up on another site instead, just in time for another shower to leaves all very wet and a bit less than even-tempered as we all struggled to beat the rapid onset of darkness, the showers, and the murderous mosquitoes who appeared to have been starved of nourishment for who knows how long.
We decided to only stay for two instead of three nights that had been booked, however, after a seriously humid night we changed our minds.

Posted by psstevo 06:07 Archived in Australia

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