Saturday, 30 August 2014

Trip summary

Well the trip is now complete, I would love to say the same for cleaning.  That red dust does get everywhere, not even the pressure washer at the local car wash gets it all out.  The long, slow way is best to get the job done ... might take a few more weekends though.

Some statistics from the trip:

Total days on the road: 63
Kilometers travelled: 11028
Average fuel: 13.71
Best Average Fuel usage: 10.2
Worst Average Fuel usage: 19.8
Most expensive fuel purchased: Seisa $2.30. ( Although most expensive was seen at Bamaga - $2.45, just 6 kilometers away go figure!)
Cheapest Fuel: Townsville $1.51

Number of 1 night stays: 18 
Numbers of 2 night stays: 6
Numbers of 3 night stays: 6
Number of 4 night stays: 1
Total setups: 31

costs : came out at approximately $125 per day.  This includes fuel, food, accommodation and entertainment.  Will need to cater for home based bills such as insurance, rego etc when we out the budget together for the next big trip.

Still working on the trip log with a map of where we went ...

It was certainly a trip that we won't forgot any time soon, so many fantastic places from the mountains on the coast, the flat plains of the cape and the even flatter but just as stunning plains out west.  A fantastic state to visit.  I am sure that we will be back sometime to explore further.

There was of course, things that worked really well and things we still need to think about.  This is the shakedown trip to iron out all the issues in preparation for the big lap in 2016. Below is a list of stuff that fits into each category.

Stuff we learnt:
Free camps aren't always somewhere we felt you could leave your camper and visit places.  They for staying still or overnighters.
Food shopping - particularly around the cape, while there are shops in most towns, they are not always open. We also found out how important meal planning is, it's not just about where you are going in terms of kilometres.
Setup changes with different people - with Chris around there was a different setup regime to when  Katie and I were together.
Awning setup - with just three extra c-clip poles we were able to put up the annex without guide ropes.  Light wind application only though, but meant it was very quick to put up and remove and it was used more often than we were expecting.
Too much stuff - we had too many clothes by about 30% for all of us.  There was enough that we could leave a box of clothes in the storage unit for a month and we didn't miss them.  There was also equipment that we had that we didn't use or seem to need.  They have been removed from the camper already.

Stuff that worked:
Power - we had plenty with the 100 amH in the car, and the two 100amH in the camper.  With topping up via the 120watt solar panel at each opportunity.  Only on one occasion under shady and overcast days did we get down to 58% in the camper and that was after six days of off grid use.
Space - we had enough in the camper for 5, didn't feel even a little bit cramped.  The weather being clear the majority of the time might have helped.  
Water - we had enough to last 6 days off grid as long as we near a creek with nice water.
Toilet - with Desiree being christened on this trip, that solves that issue!
Washing - Katie was able to keep us all nice a clean, hand washing and drying worked a treat together with machine wash and dryer, if needed when in caravan parks.
Blogging - not only did it let you know a bit about what was going on, but it was a good way for us to remember what happened as well.  With so much going on each day, you soon forget what you did on a particular day.  Found this when we missed a few days and had to play catchup.

Stuff that we still need to work on
Free camps vs paid - we discovered free camps come with there own issues, sense of no security as we were travelling solo, convoys had a different feel about them.  Also with free camps we didn't feel safe leaving the camper alone, so it's for when you not wanting to do day trips etc.
School education - perhaps being realistic about what we can cover, the boys picked up lots on the trip as we discovering, but it was hard work getting them to enjoy writing their journal and doing some school work.  Not sure if it's an age thing or the lack of structure but we need to figure it out so that it's doesn't seem like a chore.  Maybe a dedicated day for school in between 3 days with journal on the other days?  Any ideas would be welcomed.
Showering - the solar shower was good but it wouldn't work unless you have a full days sun
Shopping - stock with more basics that have multiple uses, work out how to combat the MT and AT munchies better!
Technology - we tried to Skype and connect with the school but it was too intermittent and the signal just too low to do that.  There were also times where even Telstra didn't have service and we had to revert to phone boxes.  Check where there are phone boxes, we got caught out at Bramwell.  You need to carry a telstra phone card to be sure as some don't accept coins.
Toilet tent - Giles isn't going last if he needs to packed up, or should I say that Dad isn't going to last if Giles needs to be packed up.
Warmth and keeping kids warm - Mum spent a lot of time at night trying to keep the blankets, sleeping bags on the kids, Griff in particular.  This resulted in many a sleepless night.
Suspension - fully loaded Charlie was dragging his bum quite a but, need to give him a harder spring or air bags.  

So with these things in mind we will slowly start preparations for the big lap in 2016.  There is a few smaller trips planned in between around Christmas time and wanting to get back to Moroton island, maybe in July.  It's a lifestyle that Dad in particular likes!

Day 63 - Ponto Falls to home

This morning we were greeted with a morning frost, not a heavy one but any frost feels heavy when you are in a tent.  On top of that given our location next to a river, the fog was hanging around as well.  A real misty start to the day.  It was our final packup, it was cold and so we were trying to make sure we didn't dawdle but also trying to let the tent dry.  The dew was pretty heavy.

 Our morning view

 Bit of frost to greet you in the morning

As you would expect we had a restless sleep trying to keep boys covered, whilst do the same for ourselves.  Dad was wearing in a beenie by the morning.  All four of us were piled into bed till around 6:45 or so.  

Dad hopped up and started to prepare a warm breakfast of baked beans on toast.  Needed something to encourage the warm blooded little ones to emerge.  These were quickly consumed and pack up began.  As per usual the boys escape at packup time, out on their bikes down the tracks.  Mum and Dad are now well tuned machines, pulling the whole thing together quite quickly.  With no distractions around our departure time was a record breaking 8:35am.  Griff's remark looking at the clock in the car "we leaving in the eights, very good!".

The boys are excited about heading back home today.  They have picked out what they are going to play with first; Griff - Lego, Andi - Barbies.  Dad was probably the least keen to head back to normality.

Before descending on the 'berra we stopped for fuel for Charlie and ourselves at Yass, we thought that McDonalds would be a nice way to finish off the trip.  The boys had a great meal, for Mum and Dad the place doesn't have the same zing.  Nice but not something you would long for!

Back on the road we enjoyed a fairly traffic free entry into Canberra.  We pulled up at around 2pm.  The boys screamed inside to check everything out as if they needed to remember what the house looked like.  It was spotless inside, that was until we started the unpacking process.  We fixed that clean house in a jiffy.

Over the weekend we will begin the long process of cleaning, washing and getting back to normality.  Not looking forward to the Monday morning rush!

Day 62 - Bourke to Ponto Falls

Well the days are running out, its our second last pack up for the trip.  The morning is fairly brisk and so it takes a bit to coax the family out of the camper, 3.9 degrees they say!  The weather is acclimatising us to the forthcoming Canberra winter mornings.  We didn't get any pictures of the campsite at this location but it wasn't anything to write home about.  The electrical wire on the top of the colourbond fence says it all.  Bourke sounds like its quite a rough place, its the only place we have been to where the drive through grog shop is behind a cage!

Pack up goes well and Mum and Dad have a quick shower.  As we are about to go we wonder what the boys have got up to? They were on the park just a minute ago.  We find them chatting away to a older couple that were in the midst of taking their tray topper off the back of the ute!

From the conversation we had it sounds like the boys had a lovely chat whilst finding out how everything works.  The couple were actually lucky to get back to Bourke; they were on their way north to Hungerford and thought they should check the car over after a rough bit of road.  They were met with flames coming from the right hand rear wheel!  A quick extinguish to put out the flames but they were in real strife with a shattered bearing and axle shaft that had come loose from the Diff!  Lucky for them there was a telephone box just 500 metres down the road. In the end they were towed back and were getting the mechanic to come out to the caravan park to fix it up.  About $1000 or $1500 they reckon ... amazing how quickly it can happen ... cross fingers!

We leave at 9:35 and make our way south to Nyngan.  If you look at the map the road seems pretty straight.  They are not wrong!  Boredom sets in at the 10 km mark.  On goes an audiobook by Andy Griffiths to pass the time, they are entertaining but after the first 4 times they can be a little mind numbing!

We stop for lunch in a town called Trangie.  The usual wraps with a concoction of ingredients was consumed.  The boys played in the skate park, pretending to be on skateboards, it was quiet with everyone else in school.  Mum was trying to read drafts of the blog so had her head in the ipad whilst Dad and the kids rang around like chooks.

Back on the road we are making our way up some altitude finally as we head towards Dubbo.  Yes the road has corners and hills!  Makes for much more interesting driving.  The "Just Crazy" audio book we had for about 2 hours or so, was coming to an end and the boys were getting a bit etchy whilst going through Dubbo.  Understandable, we have done three days of 4 or more hours in the car.

Our target today is a reserve just north of Wellington.  We were planning a big day all the way home originally but we felt if we could, it would be best to break it up.  The reserve was called Ponto Falls, on the Macquarie river.  With a bit of dirt  to get in through cattle farms, we came across a lovely spot.  Sought of reminded us of our camp at Palmer river, just a little further from the water.

We setup camp and Mum started preparing the boys favourite dinner, Spag Boll as their final camp dinner.  It was predicted to get to 2 degrees overnight and the temps dropped in line with that as the sun went down.  The fire was lit and we tried to gather as much little bits of timber from around the joint to keep it going.  We had a few "stayer" logs from previous camps that saved our bacon.  As the sun set we noticed that the farmer had moved some cattle into the reserve.  It made for some interesting comments from Andi when the "moos" happened.  They weren't shy either, coming close enough for Bruce the shovel to encourage them to keep their distance.

 Camp at Ponto Falls

Boys in bed by 7:30 or earlier, sorry can't recall.  Mum and Dad weren't to far behind them.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Day 60 - Charleville

Missing the Cosmo centre tour yesterday meant we had to get in early to see if we could go on the 7.30pm tour tonight.  At 9:15am we rang and they were already all booked.  Bugger!  However about 10 minutes later they rang back and said they would make an exception for us!  I thanked them profusely as Griff and Andi were kinda keen to go.  There was another tour at 6:30pm but the lady Eve from the centre said that kids get bored on that!  

So we went to caravan park office and booked another night.  They were happy to accommodate us.

Our first stop for the day was the Charleville School of Distance a Education.  It used to be called School of the Air. We wanted to give the boys a bit of an experience of what station life is like from a different angle.  After stuggling to find the place we arrived in somewhat of a rush.  We were greeted by a teacher of about 12 years with the centre, very knowledgable, and the first question she had was if we were teachers.  They are the most frequent visitors to the centre by the sounds of it.

While we waited for class changeover we had lots of questions for her, pretty sure that Mum and Dad were more excited about the visit than the kids!

 Not sure if you can see but there are pins for all the kids the centre supports. 

The Charleville school covering about 400,000 sq kms supports approximately 210 students from Kindy to Yr 10, with 27 teachers and 8 support staff. The junior classes gave 1/2 hr lessons and the upper/senior have 45 minutes each day - essentially just covering English and maths. The supervisor at home (usually a parent but there are still a few stations that employ a home tutor) covers off the rest of the curriculum. That's a pretty big job! We sat in on a year one "on air" lesson with the young teacher teaching verbs and adjectives through a book. She had 3 boys on the line (usually she would have 6, but some were away) and it was awesome to listen to the dialogue. She could also see them via the web cam and they could all see the same "whiteboard". Even though the kids and teacher were miles apart you could still hear/see the connection between them all.

After the visit we popped into the supermarket for a quick restock of necessaries.  The boys noticed that next door there was a toyworld.  They ware absolutely everywhere in queensland, every two bit little town has one!  To date we have resisted, but we relented on this occasion on the promise of a statement such as "I want" or "please can I have" would be an instant departure.  We even pinky swore on it.  The boys were awesome, had their bit of fun playing with some new toys.  Andi still thinks he wants a quad bike!

The rest of the day was a bit of chillax around the camp.  We had a few bike rides, bit of journal and spelling around the joint.  All in all a lovely day, the wind a bit chilly but once you were out of it, it was nice and warm in the sun.

Dinner was tuna casserole, served in time for us to have dinner all completed by 6:30.  The boys were itching for the tour.

The cosmos centre was out at the airport, about a 10 minutes drive from the campsite.  We left with a good half hour to spare as the excitement of the boys was becoming unbearable.  There were about 29 other people on the tour that takes about 1 hour.  We were escorted to a platform where there are 4 small reflector telescopes that a group of 8 people share.  The lady we had as an operator really "got" the kids and what they were after, she was super keen and a person that really loved her job!  The kids got first go, with the telescope being lowered to a height they could see things.

We saw a whole range of things from Saturn's rings to Mar's red dust, some older star costellations in the universe as well as younger (I.e 5 million years or so) ones.  Dad had a light bulb moment about why the bight sky is brightest at the centre, it's where the centre if our galaxy is!  Trying to explain galaxy's to the  boys as spinning pizzas was entertaining for the others to say the least.  A really enjoyable experience that has kindled a bit of star gazing passion, in Griffy particularly.  We will see how that goes over the coming nights.

Back at home the boys were fairly nackered, so bed wasn't far off,  we had a smaller fire than last night, the boys enjoyed the first 10 minutes or so before hitting the sack.  Mum and Dad hung around a little longer munching some run and raisin choclate.  Yum!

There was plenty of wood for a bigger fire later but we were both fairly tired so we moved into bed around 10:30.  Meant to be a chilly one tonight, relatively. We'll see how we go!

Day 61 - Charleville to Bourke

Chilly start to the morning with a low of 3.9 degrees.  Nothing compared to what we'll face in Canberra but the chilliest we had for a while.  Boys slept ok, Andi better than a bombling Griffin.  It was moving day so we were up and at early but not too early given the temperature.

Drove from Charleville to Bourke, boring road, mainly straight.  Vegetation more mulga scrub, after yesterday's trees around Charleville it was almost back to desert stuff.  The red dirt was back with a vengence on both sides and seems to have a real impact on the types of vegetation that survive,  the body count of dead kangaroos continues to grow, the roadkill was pretty bad.

The roads were pretty boring as I mentioned, lots of straight sections.  Andy Griitth's Just crazy audiobook got a full run through to keep everyone entertained.  A total of 220 minutes of fun!

We pulled into Bourke around 4pm.   We opted to only stay for one night so as to break the trip back to Canberra into two.  The town was smaller than we expected, but clean and a few attractions. The back of bourke centre being the main one.  We felt we had done very similar things before in Longreaach so gave it a miss on this occasion.

The boys had homework duty after setup so just a quite night for the Ross's as their trip draws to a close, only 2 sleeps left!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Day 59 - Barcoo River to Charleville

We hit a new record this morning being on the road by 8:55, even Griff commented that it was a good take off time!  We had a good night with the road trains quieting down from about 10pm. Only the odd one or two through the night.  The lights they must have on at night is impressive and you can hear them coming for miles.

We made it to Tambo by mid morning.  Looking at the website we had to manage expectations that we would not be purchasing a Tambo teddy, they were a tad on the expensive side starting at $120 for the basic one and going up to $290 for one in dress up.

However we rocked in and had a great chat with one of the ladies that makes them.  The boys were fixated as the little blue bear came together before their eyes.  They even helped put the stuffing in.

 Watching a little one come to life.

 A little bit of stuffing and they are born.

We left without a purchase but maybe a future purchase might occur for the right occasion.  We filled up Charlie as the price was right and off we went towards Charleville.

We spotted a few free camps on the way, they were ok but it seemed like 2pm was too soon to stop.  So we pushed into town and opted for an unpowered site, it was only $28 a night and meant warm showers and toilets and washing facilities.

We tried to book into the Cosmos observatory centre for a star gaze but no luck, all booked out.  We have a day up our sleeve so we will probably stay another night.  Seeing these stars each evening in all their glory and not having a closer look seems a waste.

We thought we would spoil ourselves again with a pub meal.  The air is certainly chiller by dinner time so the street were deserted with no outside dining.

Had a great fire next to the camp, not a usual thing in a caravan park.  On top of that they supply wood so it was extra good.  Our neighbours joined us.  They were on their way back home to Sydney after 5 weeks on the road doing the lap! Yes you read that right, 5 weeks and about 13000 kms.  Seems a bit rushed to us by they enjoyed it and they recommended a few new places to visit.  As the fire died and the air cooled Katie and I hoped into bed.  

Day 58 - Ilfracombe to Barcoo river

It was moving day and so a few jobs needed to be done to get ready to head south a bit more.  The aim was to make our way to Tambo to pop into the famous" teddy bear shop.

We packed up by around 9am, the wind was fairly chilly and it made the pack up almost chilly, Dad didn't even raise a sweat in a jumper!  We made our way through Isisford rather than taking the  highway through Barcaldine.  The road was surprising good in places, they had put a bit of money about 20million into the roads around the district and it was evident where they had been, with still about 25 km still to go.  Having said that there were also sections where the tar bit was one lane and the dirt made up the rest.  You just got off and stopped for trucks, caravaners are expected to share a bit more but some were clearly scared to even touch the dirt!

We drove through Isisford, a surprising largish town for where it is situated and the population.  Had a pool, library and a school along with the usual pub and shops etc.  We pushed on through, the wind against us all the way.  It was killing our fuel economy, hitting about 16 or 17 litres per hundred.

We came to Blackall from the west, past a free camp on the river.  Nice place that we will remember for next time.  We wanted to give the boys a stretch and only found the local school as an option.  When asked if there were other options, the petrol station man was not very aware of what he had in his own town!  We had a quick bite to eat before seeing signs to a wool scouring plant.  It pricked our attention give the French's challenges with finding one of late.  We made our way there, realising that it meant we probably wouldn't make Tambo tonight.

The plant was originally built in 1906, and was the only operating steam driven scour in Australia.  The water is from a bore linked to the great artesian basin, coming out a perfect 57 degrees.  It closed down in 1978 due to a number of reasons, the wool market, maintenance and operating costs. It lay dormant for 20 years before local residents formed a group to bring it back to life, aiming really to capture a historical time as well as creating a tourist attraction for the town.

We got there just in time to back onto the 3pm tour (we have a habit of doing this) and our guide took us through the history and machinery sheds.

Everything was steam driven by boilers on site, the original engine and scour machinery are all operational but just at a slower than full production speed.  The boilers were powered by a constant stream of wood cutters using the Geehi tree from the district.  The 200,000 litres of water a day were used in the washing process and because the temperature from the ground it didn't need anymore treatment. 

 Scour with bore in foreground

 Boiler number 1

 First of the scours 4 wash bays .

 One of the famous shearers who crutches 1000 sheep a day for 40 days! Impressive effort.

The aim of the press was to export the wool in the most compressed form possible, the washing reduces the weight by 30 - 40% and then a series of presses and compression reduced it to have about 4 bales in the space of 1 normal pressed bale.  This was then taken by train to Brisbane and shipped over to England.

It was a fascinating but frustrating story, to have all this infrastructure available and not being use for actual production seemed like a waste.  However they explained the money it would take to make it viable in today's market as well as it's heritage status, means it will remain in it's current state for some time yet.

By the time we finished there it was too late to get all the way to Tambo, we figured we would head in that direction and see how far we get looking for free camps on the way.

About 40 kms south of Blackall we came to the Barcoo river, it looked fine with other campers already settling in for the night.  We setup and began the process of collecting firewood.  The air felt like it make get a little chilly tonight.  Plus Dad wanted to have another go at scones.

The boys were up and about on their bikes, enjoying the rough dirt and mud around!

The scones were slightly more successful, this time the first batch was left in a little long, rock cakes resulted!  The second batch was much better.  We had a few before we sat round the coals for a while and then retired for the evening. 

 Free camped at Barcoo river 

 View from camp, road if the background

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Day 57 - Longreach

It was a fairly slow start to the morning for some, Katie wasn't one of them with first spot at the washing machines reserved around 7:30ish.  After breakfast there was a bit of school work to catch up on for Griff, journal mainly. The lady at the local pool last night also works at the Stockman's hall of fame.  She is a local that stays in Ilfracombe and takes the money for the pool 7 days a week.  She worded us up on the stockman show starting at 11:00 so that was our deadline to do the 25 kms into town.

One thing we noted was the cost of going to events, all pretty high but they have you captured somewhat as you don't want to travel all this way and then not go.  It made us curb and prioritise somewhat.

We made into Longreach by 10am. Charlie enjoyed the drive without Ernie holding him back, the joy of travelling at 110km/h, got some wind in his hair!  This stretch of road for some reason attracted larger than usual numbers of roadkill, every 50 to 100 metres there would be something, the toll on wildlife seems very high, particularly kangaroos.

Arriving before the show meant we had a bit of time on our hands to wander round.  The volume of infomation is immense.  So much to read and look at.  You could seriously read for days!  They had some good displays balanced with a few videos that gave the boys a good idea of what it was like back in the pioneering days.  The roles that horses, camels, bullocks and then mechanised transported played.  All good stuff, I think/hope some of it sank in.  Will see how much of it comes out in conversation of the coming days.

 Merchant cart, explaining the idea that couldn't just go down the shops like today was interesting.

 Bullock wagon

At 11 the cow bell was run and we were off to the Stockman's show out the back of the hall of fame.  Lochie Cossur runs a 5 days a week with two on Tuesdays and Thursdays, just in case you are interested.  The show was a mixture of comedy, singing and obviously displays.  It was good entertainment that slid in the messages he wanted at the same time.  We saw displays of stockman ship including the different horses used and why, sheep dog displays.

When the dogs came out Andi was none too pleased and started climbing the stand's railing. After their bit in the show they wandered through the crowd which sent him scourging again but after a few pats he settled down.  That was until the finale of the show.   The surprise at the end with a bull called Jigsaw, some 1060 kg Brahman bull.  Andi was sitting on my lap at the time and I used most of my strength to keep him there when Jigsaw appeared.  He did settle down and whispered in my ear, "That's a lot of steak Dad!".  He wasn't wrong.

 Jigsaw was a big softy and we had a pat after the show.

After the show it was back to the museum to look at the remaining displays.  We had only done 2 of 5 levels before the show.  The boys came across the Flying doctor display, probably the highlight for them.  Lots of new knowledge came to be from that display. The boys were mesmerised by the plane you could fly, as well listening to the phone calls of patients to the service and how they talked them through a diagnosis and how to use the kit that each station had been provided to treat them.  It has so much more than just an airlift and emergency treatment capability.  It drove remote radio communications development in some areas with the peddle powered radio.  Nowadays they are moving to a more holistic health care service, not just emergency care.   

By this stage tummies were rumbling and the wail of "I'm hungry" was being echoed through the place.  We tried to scurry round the other displays but only briefly. We took the offer of a pass out so that we could return either that afternoon or the next day.  We didn't get back there but took lots of pictures of the displays and boards for later reading.

We made our way to the local Anzac park for lunch.  There was a playground for the boys to blow off some steam and some shade for us to relax under.  It was warm still during the day, around 26.  During our lunch quite few people arrived at the park for a memorial service for one of the locals, Cecil.  We didn't catch his surname but it was nice chilling out listening to the obituary of Ces, he seemed to travel a bit between Southern Australia and Longreach, and he sounded like he had a very rich life.  It was  bit noisy in the background, with traffic etc, but it didn't bother them. I guess that's what happens when you hold such events in a public place.

After lunch we split up, Dad off to the qantas museum, the kids and Katie off to the local swimming pool.  I mentioned costs earlier, we didn't see the point of dragging the kids through another museum with more reading.  From our chat with the locals  it sounded like there wasn't a lot of interaction in the museum aimed at kids.  The wing walk on the 747 which is one thing I was hoping to do with boys wasn'topen to under 12's and turned out to be around $200ish dollars.  So we thought we would do something they would enjoy, swimming being top of the list.  And they did, spending more than 2 hours in the pool, jumping, bombing and playing around.

At the qantas museum it was certainly not aimed at kids with lots of information and a few displays. It's a great story of perseverance of a few men and women to establish an airline.  Lots of new infomation and history. Strangely though there isn't much past 2003 apart from the arrival to the fleet of the A380.  Not sure why, maybe there hasn't been a lof of good news for the airlines.

 The jumbo that got there in 2002.  Undertook 18,020 flights over a distance of 5.4 million kilometres! Impressive for a bird commissioned in 1979.

Whilst in the original qantas hanger a couple of helicopters arrived, the museum is located right next door to Longreach's airport.  Not sure if they were going to drive into the hanger, they felt close enough!

Before heading back to pick up the family Dad took a quick lap of the airport.  Small regional one so nothing special, however saw this in the car park.

 Hate to see the rest of car if this is what was left in the car park!

We met back up around 4:30pm and ventured back to camp.  Dad went off to happy hour and to hear a performance from Karen's other half, Jesse. It was as  just as entertaining.  Dad did have a good laugh. Mum was trying to fill empty tummies back at camp.  It took a long time as the wind had picked up, making cooking on a gas stove a tad difficult! Once the boys were fed and entertained, we attempted to cook our dinner but again it took such a time that we weren't feeling particularly hungry by the time it was ready! So we had a little bit but saved the rest for dinner tomorrow night.  With it being a little chilly we scurried back inside for an early night.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Day 56 - Winton to Ilfracombe (via Longreach)

The packup went well and once again we were all on the road just after 9am ...we were hitting our straps.  Reckon we have this packup thing licked by the last night!

Before making our way to Longreach we visited the Age of Dinosuars centre which was about 39kms out of Winton on the Longreach road.  It was situated on top of a jump up, a raised round rocky hill which gives you the most amazing view given the flatness of everything else around.  We opted for the tour that commences hourly, we scraped into the 10am tour which was lucky.  We were introduced to Matilda and Banjo, the most completed and one of the first dinosaurs they discovered here.  The work they doing is amazing, discovering dinosaurs that have never been seen before anywhere in the world!  In the first 30 minutes they lay out where they found them and then go through a process of reconstructing them in 3D, the boys, all three of them were mesmerised. Matilda was a sauropod (long neck and tail) Banjo a smaller carniverious guy, more like a raptor.  Matilda was discovered after a farmer phoned David Elliot up and asked them to come check out some bones, it was Matilda's thigh bone they found.  On further digging, Banjo lay next to her.  2 for the price of one. 

Then it was over to the laboratory, about a 500 metre walk across the top of the jump up.  Lovely views as you go.

The tour started at 11:30 so the boys had some waiting time.  Played with puzzles in the waiting room, a container in a big shed with images of the area been shown to music.

Once the second part of the tour started with Steve informing us how the place came to be.  It only started in 1990 when David Elliot, a farmer keen on dinosaurs discovered bones in one of his paddocks.  Up till then only individual bones had been discovered, out here they were discovering whole skeletons, and it sounds like it sent the dinosaur fans in Australia into a bit of a tizz.  The museum was established because they found so much and wanted to store it but other museums and places didn't have the storage and David was concerned that it would be going overseas and lost for ever.  So he and many others lobbied for it to remain in Australia and the Winton district.  Steve described the process of creating a museum, not something a farmer or anyone else does everyday!  The first was to find some land, a jump up was desired simply for the view.  A family whose name I don't recall offered up a small paddock for gratis, a small 4000 acre paddock, so the location and space issue was ticked! Next they lobbied for grants from government and in 2012, they were successful and the main entrance building was completed.  

The lab buildings were next and a great 30m by 20m shed was constructed with lodgings.  This is where the painstaking work of removing rock from bones occurs.  They also store the bones they have discovered and await processing.  They are all wrapped in plaster cast to preserve them. They only dig 3 - 4 weeks a year, they have found enough to keep the processing going for 10 years!   

They ran through the process of how the bones came to be, what they do to recover them and then process and restore and reconstruct.  Lots of pictures of this so will include them at a later stage.

The museum community engagement is simply the best model I have seen.  Anyone above age 18 can come along on digs.  Anyone above the age of 12 can work in the laboratory.  No training or prior knowledge necessary.  So they have people from all over Australia coming and working for them and paying for the privilege.  It's about $2000 a week to do diggings, that is all inclusive of accommodation food, transport and "refreshments".  It's about $60 a day to work in the lab for the first 10 days then free from then on.  They have also run work experience program's for the Winton area, support community events and causes. They have become a big part of the community and the support from the community is evident as well.

The information on display, the relaxed nature of the tours were fantastic, clear and concise with really passionate tour guides to boot!  Steve, our guide, is one of four full timers at the museum.  We were comparing this to our excuse for a national dinosaur museum in Canberra and it just doesn't!  What a difference a farmers view makes as apposed to a scientist has on the world sometimes!

 View for the jump up.  Imagine the sunsets!

It was great morning at the museum.  Moved onto Longreach aiming to get there for a late lunch. Another 176kms of dead straight road punctuated by small twists and turns to keep you awake.  Saw some emus but there wasn't much else around.

 Longreach was a stop for some lunch and restock.  The reviews of the caravans parks wasn't great and down the road in Ilfracombe sounded like a good place as any.  Given good reviews, the happy hour is famous, so off we went.

On arrival you can see why, the staff greet you with friendly open arms, gave us an option of several sites.  After setup we made our way to the swimming pool, it opens from 3:30 to 6:30 each day.  There is a larger pool and smaller spa that is water from the artesian basin.  The water is drawn up from a bore out of town but it is too cold to swim in, not sure what the temp is, but the spa is heated to around 36 degrees.  We spent a bit of time in the bigger pool to refresh but quickly returned to the spa. It is big enough to hold 20 or so people!  Good way to chill down and relax!

Around 5:30 we made our way to the happy hour shed, a tin shed in the middle of the park, with tables and chairs and curios from farming days long past.  There was a good turn out with the place full.  We felt like the youngest people there, clearly a grey nomad haven!

The Happy hour shed

After a mingle and a stand by the fire the entertainment for the evening began.  Jesse and Karen the park owners do bush poems, jokes and stories that have you in stitches for an hour or more.  Thank goodness most of the jokes went over the kids heads, although we will see how many awkward a questions we get!

Back to camp for dinner and chill out.

 Our camp
The view of not much.

Day 55 - Corfield to Winton

After our third one night stop we were getting more efficient with pack up and on the road by 9am.  Most of the other van campers hadn't surfaced by the time we pulled out at 9am.  Yes we broke the 9:30 barrier for only the second time since leaving home!

It was only a short 85 km to the town of Winton from our overnight stop.  We had heard that the town water was artesian, that's not usual but the strong sulfur smell that comes with is.  We were a little hestiant about staying there, a good shower was in order as we hadn't had a warm shower for 7 days and only swimming at Paluma for cleanliness.  There were quite a few thing to see in Winton, pronounced by the locals without the "n".  There is a waltzing Matilda centre and the town is the dinosaur capital of Australia. Plenty to entertain us for a day or so.

We rocked into a park around 10ish and were greeted by the new managers.  Just a week in the job and nothing was too small an issue.  Really tried to make you feel at home.  It was a fairly basic park, had a petrol station attached and you got a park discount if you topped up with their fuel.  Anyway it gave us a powered site for $25. (Unpowered was $25 too!) We met another family just leaving the  park, and they practically swooned over Ernie! They have been looking at Trackabouts for about 2 years.  We shared some of the likes and challenges but enjoyed the chat.  Nice to share someone else's passion about Trackabouts.

 Camp at Winton
 Camp kitchen on the left of our spot

After setup we headed towards the waltzing Matilda centre, a whole building dedicated to a song.  There was also other displays of farm machinery, health and medicine and whole heap of stuff that you could go through.  Didn't think that there would be so much to see but we spent over an hour and half in there, the boys happy to look at the things from the olden days.  Interesting fact that the first Qantas board meeting was held at Winton in 1912.

We got back to camp around 2:30pm with the boys starving, Mum sorted that out with wraps. We noticed that the town pool was closed so we thought we would try and find the quarry that the family we met on arrival had mentioned.  We spotted a few free camps on the way but no luck on the swimming front.  Not sure how much water would have been in there anyway.

 Someone in a free camp called long waterhole with some friends around them for company.  The smell from the poop alone would have driven us nuts but there were lot of caravaners around this mud puddle for some reason.

We got back to camp and the boys went off to play with the family that had moved in next door.  They were on a four month holiday, and went all over the west of Australia including Darwin, the savanna way and were making their back home slowly like us.  They had Melina, a five year old and she loved the company of the boys.  Dad had a puncture to repair in Andi's bike that he had picked up in Corfield, it took longer than expected with no tire leavers and only one patch left in the kit, but he was back on the road soon enough.  There was a magpie that was early in the swooping season that paid particular attention to the cyclists scooting by.  Griff wasn't that fussed, Andi not so, he had a short ride till the bird went to sleep!

We had our second night out on the town. After checking out the menu's at the three pubs we settled on a meal at Tattersall's. The publican showed the boys a stash of toys in the "games" room and as long as they didn't go on the mat they were good to play. Turns out the mat hosted the three pokie machines! Should of seen the boys faces when they walked into the room! They thought they had hit the jackpot! After a stern warning about following the rule from mum and the patrons using the machines kindly turning the sound off, they were forgotten. Everyone enjoyed their meals and drinks before walking back to the park.

The camp kitchen had all these new fandangled things such as TV, toasters and kettles.  Once the boy went to bed Dad and Mum got caught up watching repeats of big bang theory and then a silly rom com movie which meant we didn't get into bed into 11:30pm, the latest night yet!  Amazing what TV does to your body clock!

Day 54 - Porcupine Gorge to Corfield

 After a night that had a bit of a chill the sun rose and warmed things up a bit.  Griff had a restless night, as when it is a bit chilly he bumbles something cronic and then tries to find the warm in a single blanket as opposed to keeping his sleeping bag on.  Mum then has a restless night putting additional clothes and resetting his bedding cause he says he is cold.  Dad's suggestion of putting him in the mummy shaped sleeping bag and tying the top might get a guernsey tonight!

The little kangaroos turned out to be rufous bettongs. Cute little guys that cleaned out the frying pan of its sausages juices overnight.  They are nocturnal so we didn't think to get pictures last night and they weren't anywhere to be seen this morning.  Oh well, google it and you'll see what they look like.

After breakfast we packed up and moved Ernie to the day use area.  We were planning to do the 2.4km walk to the bottom of the gorge and back.  We used Dad's camera for pictures so we'll have to get them off there but the gorge although not super deep was quite spectacular once you got down the bottom.  The Sandstone sides and base have been worn into all sorts of smooth shapes over the thousands of melenia.  Dad and the boys took a walk towards the pyramid and crossed the river several times, once again lovely and clear and well stocked with fish.  Oh for a rod!  We were back on the top of the gorge by 11:00 and had to decide where we wanted to stay for the night.  Staying at current spot wasn't an option as fires are prohibited.  

 The pyramid for the top of the gorge

 View of pyramid from the bottom

 Wash pools in the sandstone that have been carved out by the water.  There was another one nearly 4 metres deep and twice as round.  Must be a lot of water out here at some stage!

We made the decision to continue towards Winton, a 214 km long stretch of road that has turns at the 130km mark.  The road wasn't particularly smooth, quite bumpy but more of the slower wider bumps than corrugations, something different anyway. It seemed that they have thousands of flood ways, in fact every dip in the road had a flood way sign! In the country known as channel country, it would be a sight to behold seeing the area during a wetter time. Not real exciting driving but the landscape kept you entertained.  

It was our first tree free day, now low scrub or none at all, we now really in the Queenland outback still gripped in drought.  There is not much stock in the paddocks, only wildlife you see are very parched roadkill, or the animals feeding off them.  You get the odd the drought master cattle but most properties have now destocked because of the drought.  We counted 7 sheep in 130 km and they didn't look that healthy!

We stopped at the free camp at Corfield, the first corner we came to!  Setup camp closest to the BBQ area for the evening's fire. 

Next door to us was a tennis court, without the net and the boys had a great time running around playing line tag.  Dad even had a go and was tuckered out pretty quickly.  The boys imagination is fantastic and with three pieces of old playground furniture they were entertained for hours.  If that got a little too much there was always a bike ride for a change.

We toyed with the idea of getting a pub meal, only $10 and it came well recommended.  On the other hand Dad wanted to have a nice fire and burn some of this timber he has been dragging some 700 kms from Paluma!  We opted for the later and had sausage hotpot for dinner.

One of the 6 campers that pulled in for the night had been out at Opelton seeking his fortune looking for boulder opal.  The mention of the word opal and several others came out their vans, it was like an impromptu happy hour, sharing stories and gossip about what's been found and who is still going.  He was kind enough to share some small bits with the boys.

The sunsets in the desert are amazing, I am sure you have heard this before.  The purples and blue hues as the sun disappears was vivid and peaceful all at the same time.

We spent the evening next to the fire (made in a BBQ) chatting with Bill and partner about their travels in the 1989 Viscount van.  After a few red wines it was time for bed, will sleep well tonight!

Day 53 - Crystal Creek to Porcupine Gorge

The day started the same with our friends waking around 6:30 and zooming off in cars, seeking firewood and cracking things to get the morning fire going.  All of this to a chorus of "f","s" and "c" words spoken that the top of their lungs.  Increably inconsiderate, made my blood boil!  Seeming some simple as shutting up would have made things a whole lot better for everyone.  I will hop off my soap box now.

Other than that it was moving day so we got first breakfasts going around 7:00.  Trying to keep the boys a little quite while Gem and Andi slept in their tent was a challenge.  They too were having fun listening to the language for our friend down the road.

Around 8:30 we had bacon and eggs and in between did little bits of packing.  It was the first time we demonstrated the pack up for Andi and Gem.

The plan for the day was to drop into Townsville outskirts to restock fuel and food for the next couple days. Over the next coulple of days we will head west towards White Mountains National Park and then continue west towards Porcupine Gorge and then down to Winton.

We stocked up with supplies with no fuss and headed around and then out of Townsville towards Charters Towers.

 Followed the crown hotel alcohol order for a little while heading west. The little Hyundai i40 was so full it made Charlie look like he was on tippy toes.  Can't believe that they transport a hotel's liquor order by car and trailer!

 A very busy main street of Charters Towers with the town hall and information centre in the tower at the end.

We had lunch in Charters Towers, found a wonderful park for the boys to blow off some steam.  Spoke briefly to Uncle Chris who needed some technical ipad support.  Sounds like he has hit the ground sprinting at home, although he had mentioned the procurement of camp oven so hopefully the holiday memories will last a little longer.

 Driving out of Charters and along the road it followed the train line all the way.  Guessing it goes to Mt Isa.  The trains are a little long like the road trains.

 It went on for 100 or so carriages!

We continued to drive, it was an easy drive with the boys settling into a new audio book we have purchased.  It was Andy Griffith's Just Crazy and the boys were having a great laugh.

We really struggled to see any signage of the White Moutnians National Park.  The best we saw was a sign that said "White Mountians National Park 16km East". What the?  We stopped in a little town called Burra and asked the publican the best way in there.  The reply (with beer in hand) head back up the road to where the dunnie's are on the left hand side of the highway, it's about 20km back towards Charter Towers, oh and there is just nothing fu$)(ing there!"  It just filled us with confidence!  We made a decision to give the NP a miss given the silly non existent signage! Plus it was getting late and we needed a plan for night. The roadkill was mostly big roos, younger cattle and pigs, so nothing that you would want to toy with after dark if you can avoid it!

We decided to push through to Porcupine Gorge.  People have spoken about it and the signage seemed more like normal, i.e there is some.  It meant another hour or so in the car which pleased the boys none to much!

 Stopped for a toilet break at Prairie.  It has a massive windmill.  Just for show though.  From here we tried to book the next campsite in Porcupine Gorge but a lovely "Error" screen ensured and we were out of luck.  We thought that we would risk it any way.

 Driving into a setting sun, not ideal but pretty.

Once the sun got down low the view was somewhat restricted but surreal at the same time.  The colours, scale and form of the country is awe inspiring, so vast!

We rocked into the campsite just on dark.  Given the boys good behaviours they had some Octonauts time whilst Mum and Dad setup Ernie.  Just a basic setup, with sausages and bread on the menu, it wasn't long before we had dinner on the table inside Ernie.

Little kangaroo things joined us, not sure what they are, Bandicoot or Bittongs, not sure but they are cute and quite confident!  Andi wasn't a fan of them but we will see how things go this evening. After a total of 551km everyone soon crept into bed and asleep by 9:30 ish.