9th June 2017–Barkly Homestead to Camooweal

Distance: 263 km
Fuel: 32 L

It was bitterly cold this morning; only 9’C in my camper according to the gauge – there was some delay while I plucked up the courage to get out of my snug bed. By the time I showered, ate my cereal and had my coffee my hands were frozen and I had to dig about in the back of the car for my warmest jacket. Because it was so cold I was off pretty early – in fact before 8am, by far the earliest to date I think.

As I drove along the Barkly Highway I found myself reflecting on how much I enjoy looking at the Australian bush to the point of almost Dorothea MacKellarishness (though less poetic).

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A lot more traffic on the Barkly Highway of course – ‘a lot’ being a relative term meaning that I had to overtake about five caravans and a couple of road trains and saw a couple of dozen vehicles passing in the opposite direction.

The head wind of the past few days is playing havoc with my fuel consumption. It is a very cool wind too, coming from the south east, I wear my light jacket even in the mid afternoon.

Today my journey crossed into Queensland from the NT and a different time zone so I was able to take a picture of the border from the NT with my car half an hour ahead of me in Queensland.

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Fortunately this time difference also meant that I didn’t arrive at the caravan park at quite such an absurd time of the morning than would have otherwise been the case.

Now I am back in familiar territory I am consciously trying to stay at towns and roadhouses I have not stopped at before because often in Australia there is only one road between distant places and the tendency is to stay at the same places. Camooweal is one of those little border towns half way between Mt Isa and the Stuart Highway where you need to stop for fuel and not much else though it does have a fair sized pub and two caravan parks.

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8th June 2017–Cape Crawford to Barkly Homestead

Distance:382 km
Fuel: 42 L

The scenery on Tablelands Highway south to the Barkly Homestead was a little more varied than the Carpentaria Highway. There was typical bush with some trees as well as open plains, lots of cattle on the road too but no stubborn cows that wouldn’t move.

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Only one road train and a couple of smaller trucks plus the usual assortment of caravans and four wheel drives. The road was narrower in general and in poorer condition than the Carpentaria but not bad really. A section was being made two lane (for overtaking) so there was a dirt detour through the scrub, elsewhere there were a few unrepaired washouts left over from the wet which bounced you about a bit.

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I say the road was ‘not bad’ but I have actually broken a piece of wood in the trailer, or rather that bane of my life the Esky has. Nothing serious or unrepairable just annoying.

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Quite cold today, there is a cold wind so I had my jacket on at 2pm, it was about 25’C but felt decidedly cool because of the wind. Wind also affects my fuel economy too.

Today I had phone reception (at the Barkly Homestead) so I have booked a couple of nights at Undarra and Normanton – the latter has a rodeo on when I am there so I thought it a wise precaution; the former tell you in their advertising that it is necessary to book – I booked a tour of the lava tubes while I was at it.

Just realised it is Thursday:

Statistics

Distance Travelled: 12581 km
Fuel Used: 1271 L
Cost of Fuel: $1782
Cost of accommodation: $1583

l should be home in less than two weeks.

7th June 2017–Daly Waters to Cape Crawford

Distance: 280 km
Fuel: 34 L

Woke up this morning early had a shower and felt the need for a jacket, the first time for weeks because, at dawn, it was about 14’C.

Only travelled a few km down the Stuart Highway before turning onto the Carpentaria Highway and set off for its junction with the Tablelands Highway. Not a particularly long drive but being a single lane road most of the time had to watch out for trucks coming the other way.

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Fortunately those that I did see I saw in the distance rather than just as I rounded a bend or came over a crest so I was able to slow down and get off the road with no problems. Passed three road trains of cattle and a couple of trucks; the rest of the traffic was either cars or caravans so it was just a matter of putting the left hand wheels in the dirt and passing each other in a cloud of dust.

Arrived at Heartbreak Hotel just after midday and booked in for the night (too far to the next caravan park). Fuel here is an outrageous $1.79/l but the site was only $28 – mind you the facilities are a bit crude but acceptable –  the place serves food and has a bar. The sites have plenty of shade so you can’t complain too much.

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There is no mobile phone/internet coverage at all (note the Telstra phone boxes in photo) so this blog will have to be posted another day when I do have coverage.

All the caravan parks are noticeably busier since the beginning of June; April and May were much better months to travel.

Oh yes, it has been pointed out that on a few recent posts I have entered May instead of June – Oooops! – I will correct this as soon as possible.

6th June 2017–Katherine to Daly Waters

Distance: 295 km
Fuel: 33 L

Left the caravan park at about 8.30am and headed straight down the Stuart Highway to Daly Waters, very much in familiar territory now. Didn’t stop at any of the many ‘historic’ WWII airfields or hospitals because I did so last time I was down this way. Anyway most of the airfields have just been reclaimed by the bush and are barely visible

Last time I was here I stayed at the Hi-Way Motel so this time decided to stay at the Daly Waters Pub Caravan Park. I thought it would be quieter than the roadhouse. Nope! from when I arrived at about midday there was a continuous stream of campers and vans filling the place up. The pub was doing a roaring trade.

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Revisited the Stuart Tree – you can just vaguely make out the ‘S’ carved in it.

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Also had a look at the Daly Waters Airstrip once a fairly busy hub, it claims to have been a ‘complex’ especially leading up to and during WWII but now just another bush landing strip though with a tarmac surface.

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Am stopped here because I have decided to get off the Stuart Highway and take a detour to the Barkly Highway via the Carpentaria and Tablelands Highways instead of continuing down to the Threeways Roadhouse and getting on the Barkly there.

I had a couple of beers or six at the pub ($8 a schooner!) but they have a happy hour at 5pm to 6pm which I tested – $4 midis. Afterwards I ordered their kangaroo steak which was surprisingly good and well priced.

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Tomorrow I plan to stop at Cape Crawford and this journey is about 100km longer than staying on the Stuart but I have never been there before (road less travelled and that).These highways are sealed but a single lane so oncoming trucks have to be treated with a lot of respect (ie you take to the dirt). BTW ‘Cape Crawford’ sounds nautical but it is actually about 140km inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

5th June 2017–Katherine Day One

Distance: 23 km

Had a change of heart and decided to stay in Katherine for an extra day so I did some laundry then rolled up at the office when it opened to pay for the extra day and buy a bag of ice.

Almost immediately took off to go to the Katherine School of the Air which I had passed on the way to the caravan park. Annoyingly it took me ages to find it because the sign faced the town and there was no sign facing the other way.

It was very interesting it is claimed to be the largest classroom in the world because it covers the northern part of the NT from Tennant Creek to Darwin (Alice Springs serves the southern half of the territory). While I was there a teacher gave the pre-schoolers their lesson. Each child has to have a governess (govi) to supervise their study, sometimes it is an employee sometimes the child’s mother. It is a really good education system and the results exceed those of the rest of the system.

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They still had the original short wave radios that they used until they got the satellite. Now the children can see their teacher and each other, though the video is under the control of the teacher.

Following that I went to the Katherine Museum which was moderately interesting with information about the growth of Katherine (basically started with the Telegraph Station at Knotts Crossing but expanded massively during WWII), the development of transport, railway and a whole room devoted to the flying doctor – not the RFDS but a local doctor who flew his own plane to treat people in remote areas. He sounded like one of these disastrous adventurers who was a danger to themselves and everyone around them but he was obviously well respected (he crashed at least four planes).

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After lunch went to Knotts Crossing where there is a weir and shallow crossing across the Katherine River used before the low level bridge was built. It was also the original site of the settlement.

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Finally Dogs Head Rock(?)

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4th June 2017–Timber Creek to Katherine

Distance: 321 km
Fuel: 35 L

Another easy drive through varied scenery but a lot skirting or cutting through ranges. Ignored the 130kph speed limit and stuck to my now self imposed 100kph limit. Only overtaken half a dozen times and most of them were not travelling at 130kph judging by the time it took them to pull ahead (one maybe).

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Stopped several times during the trip otherwise I would have arrived at some ridiculous hour; as it was I still arrived at a caravan park about 1pm. The park I chose was about 5km outside town which might have been fortunate because one I passed one near the centre of town had a queue of five caravans outside waiting to check in.

I was in Katherine only last year on my Darwin trip and spent several days looking at the sights so am probably only staying one night.

Spend a lot of the afternoon trying to work out rough distances I need to travel each day to see what I want to see and still get back home within the approximate deadline I have set for myself. I want to revisit the Undarra Lava tubes but from now on I am largely in familiar territory. I am only allowing two days to get from the Qld border to home which should be do-able but it is a long drive each day. I just don’t fancy sitting outside in the NSW winter.

The temperature at the moment is just over 30’C during the day and about 20’C at night – it suits me perfectly.