Twice before I had wanted to drive the road along the flank of the Great Basalt Wall and now we were going there. The road starts just before Fletcher Creek on the Charters Towers side via Lolworth Station and culminates in Pentland on the Flinders Highway. The distance is a shade over 200 kilometres and I was hoping to see some of the Great basalt Wall. Much of the latter is confined within a National Park with no public access which wrong as the parks belong to the people. We did see some Basalt but nothing spectacular. The drive however was very nice with the roads being in reasonable repair and with all the creeks running crystal clear waters.
We drove along at 60kmh in places. At various points many wild orchids could be seen growing in the nooks of trees. At lunchtime I wanted to do more work to the battery system for the caravan and pulled up at the upper end of a roadside quarry. By the time we had stopped, which was less than 100 metres the wheels were caked in a white, muddy goo. I did the repairs and we had lunch and then gingerly picked our way across some rocks to get back to the road. From here on the road was wet for around 50km. We were steadily climbing in altitude though as we were driving up the last hills of the Great Dividing Range. The altitude peaked at 745m above sea level and we began a steep descent down the other side.
At the Cape River crossing we found a good campsite within the road reserve and stopped for the day. A handful of vehicles passed. I went for a walk in the river and tried out my Metal Detector and found a small piece of scrap iron. After dark a Ute towing a rattly old trailer stopped at our camp and the young station employee came to enquire about the fire. We said that we would extinguish it properly before we left the next morning. A small frog mimicked the sound of a generator down along the banks of the river. I went to look for it with the spotlight but had no luck.
In the morning we set off again over a very rough road and after a short while I dropped the tyre pressures by 5psi to smooth the ride out a bit. We were in Pentland by mid-morning and bought some snacks for munchies and had a cuppa at the same time. Our journey now took us through the small townships of Torrens Creek and Prairie before arriving in Hughenden. There we did some shopping and lashed out and bought a digital radio for night time listening. We paid $6 for a permit to camp at the RV site which to my mind was a waste of money as only a vacant block of land was in offing for the money.
The Pterodactyl replica at Hughenden
It looked like rain was coming with the whole sky overcast again and so we decided, the next morning, to head for Richmond, even though we were a week early for our appointments for the Dig and Laboratory work. We also had to make sure that the bookings had been made as the last contact had been in October the previous year. On arrival at Richmond everything was in place and we paid in advance for our excursion at the end of the following week and were given special dispensation and allowed to camp at the free RV site for our time in Richmond.
The week in Richmond passed. We had a look at some real estate and found an old church hall that was for sale. We spent many hours discussing the merits of moving house and refurbishing this old building and how we would go about it. One thing that became very clear is, that although Richmond is a nice small town with a good community, it has limited retail outlets supplying necessary materials in the building, automotive or household lines and that the nearest major centres like Mount Isa or Charters Towers are both more than 400km from the town.
We spent a day fossicking in the mounds of gravel at the Fossicking Sites, twelve kilometres out from Richmond along the Cattle Byway to Croydon. We also had a good look around town at the native Herb Garden, Lake Tritton and other places of interest.
Our time finally arrived and we spent a whole day in the Laboratory of the resident Paleontologist, at Kronosaurus Korner Museum. Here we learnt how to use miniature compressed air jackhammers, the size of a dentists’ drill, to flake away rock to expose a fossilised animal or part thereof. I worked on a Turtle bone while Judith worked on the one of her own finds, a Richmondichtys Armoured fish plate. As one flakes away the rock you may find other fossilised life forms beneath the surface.
The following day a group of ten fossil hunters gathered and we were guided to a site on Cambridge Downs Station where we spent the day in a quarry, up-ending rocks to see what we could find. The find of the day was a Squid imprint. There are virtually millions of fish bones, jaws, teeth in these quarries which were once the sea bed of the Eromanga Sea some 100 million years ago. Ammonites( like Nautilis shells) Belmnites (like tubes) and Copprolites (fish poo) are found all over this area. There is also a great variety of shell imprints and Mother of Pearl as well as shell casings. Most of these are very fragile, and break up when touched. Dinosaur fossils have been found in the Richmond area and the museum displays a Kronosaurus and Ichtysaurus skeletal remains plus that of a number sea creatures of 100 million years in the past.
Having completed our stay in Richmond we returned to Hughenden, refuelled and then went to drive the Basalt Byway, a circular loop through the ranges north of the town.
Just before the first jump-up along this Byway, we met a farmer and his wife driving a truck with cattle on board. They stopped for a chat and he enquired if we were Tourists. He reckoned that the road was closed up ahead or that it was very rough. I showed him our Byway pamphlet issued by the Information Centre but he remained unconvinced. Nevertheless we pushed on. Four wheel-drive was required as sections of the track were washed out and needed careful negotiation. There was one deep creek crossing and a rough jump-up over another range but by picking our way through the rough bits we made it and eventually arrived at Alderley Crossing on the Flinders River where we camped in 2010. It was still the same and we set up camp.
In the morning the School Bus out from Hughenden arrived at its terminus which is just beyond Alderley Crossing. A couple of utes arrived to drop the kids off and then we could hear a whirring sound. Someone was running late and brought their child to the bus stop by Helicopter! That made my day!
At Hughenden we bought stuff again and Jude has a short-short spikey haircut. We had morning tea under the trees next to the Flinders River which runs through Hughenden and we had company watching for scraps from the table.
Then we drove north on the Kennedy Development Road and after 28km turned off on to the Prairie connector road. Much of this is a bush track.
More like a farm road to Prairie
At the Flinders River crossing there was no concrete causeway. There was no need for us to cross over as we were just looking for a campsite. I walked the track through the water however and found a number of very soft quicksand type places. Just the two utes arrived from the south. They were from the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. I suggested lowering tyre pressures but said that they should be able to get across without too much trouble and they did just that after aI had suggested a course over hard sand. When they got through the one bloke told me that this was his first every water crossing by 4×4! Not much water in South Australia, methinks! After they had left we made a camp spot at the top of the embankment on the side of the road and stayed there for the night. Only two vehicles passed. One was the owner of the nearby New Glenorden Station and he stopped for a chat telling us about the number of people who get bogged at the crossing. Their property is also split in two by the river making management in the wet season very difficult as they have to access the other side by driving via Pentland and Hughenden!
The Kennedy Development Road runs from Boulia in South West Queensland to Atherton on the Tablelands west of Cairns. The section we drove from Hughenden to the Oasis Roadhouse at The Lynd is still under construction and after the heavy rain falls of the summer the road is in poor shape. It has wide bitumen sections, narrow bitumen sections, rough and potholes bitumen sections and many kilometres of smooth to rough gravel sections. The country side is quite interesting with woodland savannah traversing at first hilly areas and then plains country.
Inspecting grass trees along the way
After crossing the Einasleigh River for the first time there is a large area of swampland around Lyndhurst Station and major road construction is underway as the old road had collapsed. We turned west 1km south of the Oasis Roadhouse which wasn’t a too exciting place and headed for Einasleigh along a gravel road. We crossed the Einasleigh River again just beyond Carpentaria Downs Station and found campsites on all sides of the river. There were only two other camps and we found a good spot to sit back and relax for a few days before heading further west and then north to Georgetown. The Einasleigh River spills over a layer of basalt Rocks to form rapids and to make a light roaring sound over the rocks
We always seem to find enough to do when camped and this time was no different. First up we found that the front right hand panel on the van had popped out of its beading. We figured this might be so because of the 35kg battery located in that area. So with some effort and Tek screws the job was done. I repaired my Multimeter which had a broken tip and was able to solder it back together. Washing clothes is another routine and an array of buckets, compliment this process. I tightened a slightly loose wheel-bearing on the van and made sure that the batteries were getting enough charge from the sun. We did a lunchtime cook-up form our Campfire Cooking page on our website making Strawberry and Cream Damper! One night we had a feed of Marshmallows and ate until we were sugar coated! The Yabby trap yielded enough Red Claw Yabbies for a feed. Judith sat and painted a scene from the river.
Even though we were now under the 19th parallel South, the mornings and evenings tended to be cold and we had to rug up in our winter woollies until after 9am in the morning. In the late afternoon we were dozing outside in the sun, when Jeddah suddenly jumped up and made for the long grass nearby. Next thing she had a feral cat by the scruff of the neck and a fight ensued. Soon after there was a standoff and I had to intervene to despatch of the cat.
Out from Einasleigh River the road winds across the ranges and is in reasonable condition with some sections bitumenised. It is quite a scenic drive. At Einasleigh we found a small hamlet of a dozen or so houses and a pub where the sign stated that it was ‘Gulp’ Country. Close-by is Copperfield Gorge which comes as a surprise as it is not mentioned in any literature anywhere. A small waterfall pours over rocks into the gorge.
Forsayth is the next town of gold mining fame. It too is a small town with not many facilities but relies on Tourism to keep it alive. The Savannah Train runs on a weekly basis between Cairns and Forsayth as a mail run and tourist conveyance. The train is made up of two units only looking the same with an engine drive at both ends. I asked why the road was being bituminised and the answer was for servicing the cattle industry.
At Georgetown we did some shopping and internet activities and also found out that the road that we intended to take east of Mt Surprise towards Almaden was closed due to a bad crossing on the Lynd River at Lyndbrook Station. We were advised to take the road-train route 22 kilometres west of Mt Garnet to get to Almaden. We refuelled, had a quick look around and then headed for our destination via Mt Surprise. Once on the road-train route we used our UHF Radio to call ahead at Callpoints 1 to 27 and other names so as to advise oncoming traffic of our whereabouts. The road was slightly corrugated but not bad at all. I spoke with a Truckie about as to a possible campsite and he told us about a place further ahead. When we arrived at this spot there was another Truckie hosing his water-tanker down and he told us of a better place further ahead and so we looked for that spot. When we found it there was car and trailer parked near the entrance to the campsite which was obscured by trees. We drove in and then saw that the track either went through a very swampy area or over some high mounds near a railway bridge. I decided on tackling the latter as I thought that the swamp would pose a problem. The van followed along obligingly but the one back trainer wheel did touch on a rock in the manoeuvre. After this we found a beaut camp spot all to ourselves on the banks of the Sandy Tate River which was flowing nicely. We spent two nights there enduring the trucks going by 24/7 at about two hour intervals. The trucks haul tin ore for delivery to a crushing plant at Mount Garnet. On the way out we had a good look at the ‘wet’ crossing but decided again against it taking the more difficult route out without incident. Slow as you go in first gear Low Range.
When we got to the Chillagoe Dimbulah Road we turned right and headed for Atherton via Herberton. The road veered off at Petford but when we arrived there we found a sign stating that No Caravans were to be taken on this road. This was disappointing and while we were contemplating our next move a dear old lady wandered out from a house nearby and started chatting to us. She repeated aspects of her life over and over a again and it took us a while to extract ourselves from the conversation without being rude. So we drove off back up the road and to Chillagoe where we camped at the Rodeo Grounds for three nights.
The following day we drove to Atherton to do some banking and shopping. Chillagoe was nice and warm but on arrival at Atherton in was cold and raining and I was in shorts and a T shirt! We did our jobs with some difficulty as the locals don’t seem to know where their other businesses are. Parking is also a problem as poor city planning has made parking bays smaller. Nevertheless we were out of there by lunch time heading for Herberton.
At Herberton the hotelier pulled the plastic sheets down at the outside dining area and lit the gas heater for us. I devoured a giant T bone steak and Jude a Seafood platter. From Herberton we climbed the range to close to a thousand metres before panning out and slowly dropping down to around five hundred metres. It was an interesting drive with some sections of the road only one car width wide. We passed Irvinebank and Emuford which are small hamlets nestled in the tropical forests. Some houses look decidedly derelict. There were roadworks in progress and we got stuck behind a truck and in its dust for about 15km before we were let through by the roadworks crew. We got back to the main Chillagoe Dimbulah Road at Petford and made for Chillagoe and our van.
In Chillagoe, this time around, we made time to go and chat with Tom Prior and to have a look at his wonderful display of old Ford vehicles
We spent another day in Chillagoe doing exciting stuff such as washing and swimming in the local waterhole. It was our anniversary and we went to a hotel for lunch.