Oct 8, 2007

Gulf Savannah Trip 2007

Most trips involve a bit of planning, routes to be taken, and things to see and do, approximate costs need to be calculated and the time involved needs to be arranged to coincide with holidays. Not for Vickie and Myself and our good mates Kimbo & Nerida, this was all semi arranged over the mobile phone as we were camped along the coast at Ningaloo WA and they at home at Newcastle..

Us: “We are thinking of upgrading our van to an off road with ensuite”

Them: “We are thinking of doing the same”

Us: “Well we will have to catch up when we are over”

Them: “Sure, look forward to it.”

That was about as planned as we got,

Fast forward twelve months and we were at Kundra Park taking delivery of our 19’ Bushtracker Off Road van, Kimbo & Ned who had recently bought a 17’ Kedron Top Ender were already on the road out far Western Queensland way heading for King Ash Bay & Borroloola. Knowing that we would be pushed for time to meet them there we arranged to meet up around Lawn Hill in a few weeks time, again nothing was planned as to the exact date but it did not surprise us that just 30 minutes after setting up camp at Adel’s Grove that who should drive in but them. Happy hour started immediately and tall tales were told of both our adventures so far.

Kimbo and Ned had come to Adel’s Grove via King Fisher Camp, part of the Bowthorn Station and we had travelled in via Camooweal, the dirt road we followed was dusty and corrugated and it sounded like the station tracks they travelled through were no different. Great! We both like getting off the bitumen, why else would you own Off Road vans and we both enjoy fishing and Kimbo had the tinny and King Fisher camp had the Nicholson River so it was decided to head back and check it out properly.

The station track to King Fisher Camp was easy to navigate to, just follow the track and the KFC signs, who would have thought Kentucky Fried Chicken was way out here we joked. We travelled through open pasture with big fat cattle grazing to narrow sandy tracks lined with trees and river crossings, none of it was difficult. Kimbo tows his Top Ender with a well set up 100 series Landcruiser and we tow our Bushtracker with a Ford F250 with oodles of grunt, both vans have more than adequate clearance and strength to cope with any conditions, the only restriction with these rigs as to where we could go was the physical size.

KFC was a welcome sight, especially after staying at Adel’s Grove, which was a dust bowl in comparison. Green grass, shady trees and running water greeted us as we were directed to our camp spot. Both our vans are self sufficient for power, with 4 solar panels on each roof we positioned ourselves so that we could get the sun for the better part of the day, awning’s out, fire lit and drinks poured I thought to myself, good friends, great camp spot, it just doesn’t get any better than this.The boat came off the roof and we gave the river a good workout over the next four days, but to our disappointment there were no Barra apparently the water temp was too cold for them but we still had fun catching many sooty grunter and big fat cat fish.

We thought we were on a roll when pulling our nets revealed two large cherubim, the girls started salivating about dinner and encouraged us to put more nets in but alas they were the only two we caught. We did spot the largest freshwater croc we had ever seen but before I could take a photo it had spotted us and headed for the water.

Leaving KFC we travelled out on the station tracks to meet up with the Gulf Savannah Highway and head for Burketown. The road wasn’t to bad, enough corrugations to keep us alert and hardly any other traffic, Just past Doomadgee we encounter a long stretch of bull dust, I was travelling in front and at times we were engulfed in the fine red dust as the wheels found the pot holes, I picked up the UHF hand piece and called Kimbo to hold up whilst I stopped and got the camera ready for some action shots. A couple of minutes later found me squatting down in the middle of the track with six and a half ton of rig heading towards me, looking through the 300mm lens and firing continuously on the shutter it appeared as if it was a war scene with bombs detonating around the Cruiser & Van, Kimbo found one hole that seemed to swallow up the whole rig, it was very impressive.

Burketown was very windy, we had intended to camp down by the Albert river, but having a chat with others it appeared the winds were set to howl for a week or more so we decided to stay in town for the night and catch up with some washing and shopping. Next day we headed for Normanton, we were in luck the Rodeo was on that weekend and we were all keen to experience that. The entrance fee which included camping at the Rodeo grounds for a very reasonable $5, if you ventured outside the grounds it cost you another $5 to get back in and if you stayed longer than three nights it was then $25 a night, a great incentive to get people to visit but then move on.

The rodeo was fantastic, the weather was hot and the riding was hotter. Everything from young children riding camp draft & poddy calf’s to a one armed elderly guy riding a wild buck jumper, we were charged by one wild bull that almost sent me tumbling backwards off my chair as I was looking at it through the camera lens and it appeared to be a lot closer. We had intended to take a trip on the Gulf Lander train but instead we spent the three days just taking in the action at the Rodeo and thoroughly enjoyed it. We know we will be back one day so the train can wait till then.

Leaving Normanton we took a look at Karumba, we were disappointed to find it so busy and what camp spots were left were small and uninviting, we treated ourselves to a lunch of barra & chips
and headed out of town to find an overnight camp spot The Gulf Development road took
us through to Georgetown, one of the best butcher shops is here and we took advantage of some lovely 1″ thick steaks. We travelled on down to Forsayth and Cobbold Gorge, which was all dirt, and gravel roads that were in dire need of a grader, in fact the grader was sitting on top the low loader being readied for the job. Camped at Cobbold Gorge we visited the Gorge itself on the tour, very nice but less people to a tinny would have been more comfortable, the rock formations due to the river flooding over thousands of years was spectacular. The 2nd night we were there it poured, 2″ of rain came down and it looked like the roads out would be closed to traffic, before that happened we decided to make the break and head out, we were immediately followed by a tour bus and 3 - 4 .  vehicles towing camper trailers. The drive out was interesting, luckily the F250 had some chunky mud tyres fitted and with it’s large wheel base it made light work of it, not so Kimbo who was sliding and having trouble getting traction with his more conventional AT tyres. By the time we got back out the rigs were looking very ‘used’ so we decided to keep on going and take the back track out through Einasleigh to Mt Surprise, more muddy black soil caked the underneath of the vans & vehicles.

We stayed at Mt Surprise Van Park initially but then moved out to O’Brien’s Creek, a Topaz fossicking area that allows camping. We had a great time there in between showers of rain, we were determined to find our fortune or the Mother of Big Topaz, the enthusiasm left after 3 days and finding out that topaz was inexpensive to buy and one 170ct uncut specimen we looked at could be purchased for $45, Kimbo and I decided it wasn’t worth busting our guts for. Onto Ravenshoe, the highest town in Australia, and we think the coldest, wettest, foggiest as well! But it was an interesting town and camping for a gold coin donation at the local railway yard, well you can’t beat that for value. It is also a good town to base yourself and explore the many waterfalls in the district; we never get tired of looking at beautiful scenery. On the Sunday the steam train takes tourists for a ride, we preferred to watch it rather than take the journey.

Through Atherton and onto Mareeba where we stayed at the Rodeo Grounds, an excellent venue that is well populated with the Motor Homers as it is not fancy but its cheap, Danny the caretaker is a likeable character and the grounds give security for leaving your rig and exploring the district. We were starting to travel to fast and needed to slow down so after giving the rigs a good wash and top soiling the show grounds with all the mud from underneath we decided to take a visit to Palm Cove just North of Cairns, of course none of us thought how busy it would be being peak tourist season, we managed to get in but only for an over night stop.

Cairns down to Townsville, we called in and visited many places, I was hoping to visit Tinaroo Dam but it wasn’t to be, next time with my own boat perhaps. We were heading to Burdekin where Peter & Noelene Shadforth were hosting a Kedron Caravan Gathering on their sugar cane farm, we were invited as we had once owned a Kedron and we were travelling with Kimbo so that was reason enough, It was going to funny being the only Bushtracker in amongst 40 Kedron vans and their owners, we were up for it though and don’t mind the stirring at all.The gathering was excellent, the hosts had thought of everything from marque’s to Porta loo’s, even going to the trouble and expense of erecting lights & power, 3 of the nights were catered for with a different theme each night, tours of the farm explaining how the sugar cane is grown & processed, even a longer day trip out to the Burdekin Dam which was overflowing at the time. The high light though was a helicopter ride, Peter’s nephew has an agricultural business and fly’s a Bell Jet Ranger, he took groups of 4 up for an overview of the farm and the camp area, the ride was very exciting to watch from the ground but once it was our turn Vickie asked for it to be WILD!! Well, he turned and looked in shock and said MILD? Vickie yelled back WILD, he powered it through every manoeuvre imaginable and whilst Vickie, Ned & Sam, [Neds daughter] screamed in the back seat I was in the front taking photo’s and just laughing myself silly, as we were dodging the tree’s I thought to myself Oh Well, it’s been a good life should it all end now! An absolute blast and thanks to the Shadforth’s & KOG group for having us.

It was getting close to the time when the girls were flying home for a few weeks to catch up with families so we headed to Townsville and readied for their flights. Kimbo and I were going to hang out the couple of weeks they were away and try and catch that elusive fish but that is another story.

P.S The nine month wait for our new Off Road BushTracker was worth it we love it, the F250 with it’s big 7.3lt V8 Diesel made an excellent touring tow vehicle, with 26,256klms travelled, 5453 litres diesel used at a cost of $7146, an average cost of $1.32 per litre and an average economy of 21 litres per hundred, it was not cheap but we travelled in comfort and safety with the big Ford F250 towing an estimated weight of 3.5 ton, we saw a lot of Australia and we think it was worth every cent.