Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 197 – 27 Jun 09

Took a run out to Karumba today. I’m a little miffed, I booked into the Normanton caravan park for two nights and when I got to the Norman River, less than a kilometre away, there were several caravans and motorhomes camped on the north bank of the river for nothing!

Karumba is about 70 km from Normanton and I suppose I am pleased to have gone there simply to say I have done so, but quite frankly, it’s a dump. I understand that it is a mecca for fishermen (and women I guess), but there is basically nothing else there. The caravan parks were chokkas and didn’t look particularly flash anyway. It reminded me a bit of Kalbarri in WA except not quite as up-market. Anyway, I saw the Gulf of Carpentaria (looked just like any other stretch of ocean to me.)

And the mouth of the Norman River where it empties into the Gulf.

As the centre of the Gulf’s prawning industry, I was looking to pick up a nice big feed of prawns on the cheap, but they were $18.50 per kilo, which was no cheaper than anywhere else.

On the way back to Normanton there were some areas of wetlands and there were Brolga’s everywhere.

Back to Normanton for a bit of sightseeing. There is a life-size replica of the world’s largest crocodile which was shot by a woman in 1957 and it is awe-inspiring. 8.63 metres (28 foot 4 inches) and weighing in at two tonnes! Rumour has it that whereas the length is correct, the size of the jaws has been exaggerated and are out of proportion, but even so it is an absolute monster.

The famous “purple pub” is purple, but more than that I can’t say. It seems to me to be a bit like Paris Hilton, famous for being famous.

I thought the Albion Hotel was more in keeping with the concept of a remote-area pub.

I know the town is small, and there is an excuse for doubling-up on some services, but this one seems to be a very strange combination.

Day 198 – 28 Jun 09

Off on the road again today, first stop was the Burke and Wills Roadhouse for a spot of morning tea. $1.669 for diesel, glad I don’t need any. $10.00 for a hamburger with the lot, and I bet it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the one in Croydon.

The cattle industry seems to be going gangbusters up here. There were four, three-trailer cattle road trains at Burke & Wills and I passed another 8 or 9 on the way to Gregory Downs, and the cattle looked prime.

Pulled into Gregory Downs about 2:30 and set up for the night. It is a really pleasant spot, room for about 15 vans without crowding. I am amazed that there is a free camp-site here, as there is a caravan park at the pub which is only a couple of hundred metres away. Had a yarn with the couple next to me and talk about a small world, they are the parents of the bloke who sold me the caravan in Perth. I’ll go down an have a look at the river tomorrow.

Day 199 – 29 Jun 09

The river (the Gregory) is quite impressive. I understand that it is actually spring-fed rather than seasonal, so it runs all year round. The surprising thing was the speed of flow for what is after all quite a minor river, it must have been at least 10 knots. Three kids in a canoe went past me and they looked like they had an outboard motor in the thing.

It’s a pity that camping isn’t allowed on the riverbank, but understandable because not only does the settlement at Gregory Downs draw its water from the river, but also Burketown downstream.

There is plenty of firewood around, provided you’re prepared to walk a couple of hundred metres to collect it, and the campfires are great at night, not only for the aesthetic value, but also because it is quite chilly once the sun goes down.

Day 201 – 01 Jul 09

200 days, who’d a thunk it? The time is absolutely flying, even though I have slowed down a lot and I’m not covering anywhere near as many kms as previously. Left Gregory Downs this morning and I’m heading for Burketown. The road is gravel and I won’t see bitumen again until Borroloola. The road is pretty rough, but nowhere near as bad as the Plenty Highway was.

Burketown is a hole! As for the famous hamburger, I took one look at the roadside caravan where they were sold and decided to give it a miss. The only building in town which looked half-way decent was the pub.

Bought some diesel ($1.49, better than I expected) and tried to get a gas bottle refill, but they said they couldn’t do it for 4 hours, had a quick squiz at the information centre – nothing special – and took off again. One of the things that has surprised me is that the country doesn't look anything like what I expected. Logic tells me that this is Savannah country, but I had this mental picture of the Gulf of Carpentaria being wet-tropics, similar to what I saw going up Cape York a few years ago, but even then when I think about it, it didn't actually get "jungly" until the very tip of the cape. It must be the influence of the Great Dividing Range, restricting the wet tropics to the coastal areas.

Crossed the Gregory River again after leaving Burketown. The water was over the road (I think there was debris jamming the culverts) but it was only a few inches deep.

It looked very inviting and a great place to camp, but this close to the Gulf, there’s a fair chance there could be crocs in the area, so I think I might give it a miss.

Called into Doomagee, but there is nothing there except the aboriginal community, couldn’t see any sign of a general store even though the HEMA map says there are full facilities. Again I was glad I didn’t need fuel - $1.889/litre.

Tootling along the road about 5 kms past Doomagee and who should be struggling along but the three pushbike riders I saw at the Gilbert River 9 days ago. I stopped and asked if they were alright for water and, as they only had billabong water, filled their bags with 20L of the town water I was carrying in the car. They were a chap in his late 50’s or early 60’s from Perth, a young fellow about 30 and what appeared to be a female German backpacker in her 20’s, a strange combination. They have been on the road from Cairns for about 6 weeks and are heading for Broome. Good luck to them, but it all looks a bit like hard work to me.

Road is still pretty rough, but not too bad. Got into Hell’s Gate roadhouse about 14:45 and decided to camp for the night. $20 for an unpowered site but a hot shower will be nice after eating dust all day. Who should turn up but the three bike riders who had managed to get a lift with a young couple from Augusta in WA who were towing a boat and threw the bikes into the boat. Nice to see plenty of WA people on the road, lends a bit of class to the whole thing.

Day 202 – 02 Jul 09

Left Hells Gate at about 8:45 headed for Borroloola, 321 kms according to the sign. Saw a very interesting rock formation about 20 kms out – no signs and nothing on the HEMA map, so I can only imagine that the locals don’t think it’s anything special. I thought it was quite picturesque and if it hadn’t been stinking hot, I would have gone for a wander.

Hit the Qld/NT border about 60 kms past Hells Gate and immediately the condition of the road improved. It was still pretty rough in spots but there were several sections where I could safely sit on 85 kmh.

Some serious creek crossings along this part of the road. Luckily, just as I reached the first one, a land-cruiser was crossing and I could see how deep it was. About ½ a metre with a rocky bed which is OK for my rig. I shudder to think how deep and wide these creeks are in the wet season, I reckon they would be totally impassable.

Just after crossing the Calvert River, which was the first crossing, I passed a bloke and his partner on a motorbike heading the other way. I stopped them to let them know about the creek crossing and how deep it was and they mentioned that they had crossed four others on the way. That was good information, because if they could cross with the bike, I wouldn’t have any troubles with the van – and so it proved.

Into Borroloola and Blackfella’s as far as the eye can see. This would have to be the largest aboriginal community I’ve ever seen. This is the end of the dirt roads, bitumen all the way to Darwin from here, so, following the recommendations of the couple at Gregory Downs, I have booked into the caravan park for a couple of nights to try and get some of the red dirt out of the van. One of the few van parks where the manager has given me a discount for travelling alone. $12.50 per night for a powered, watered site is almost free!

This Jayco Penguin is a nice little van and suits my needs perfectly, but it would have to be the least dust-proof van ever made. Two days on dirt roads and there is red dust in every nook and cranny. Inside every cupboard and drawer and over every surface inside the van. Took me 3 hours just to get rid of the surface dust – I haven’t even touched the cupboards yet.

I am under the impression that using spurs on a horse is considered barbaric by some portions of the populace. I wonder what they would make of spurs made out of barbed wire! At least you have to give points for ingenuity.

A rest day tomorrow and then of again. Probably out of range again for a few days, so see you in a week or so.

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