Gem Tree – Sun 23rd Aug
Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, its off to work we go. Funnily enough together with John and Amanda we numbered 7, just not dwarves, as we headed out on Gem Tree’s garnet fossicking tour. They have their own private area and provide all the kit needed. Basically you dig up earth, sieve it, discard obvious rocks and then wash the rest before holding it up to the light – any garnets will shine red.
After a very tiring, dusty few hours you regroup back at camp where your garnets are graded, mostly into “show and tell”, the junk ones, but also into any of gem quality – they even offer a service to cut and mount the stones if you wish, for a reasonable price. It is fair to say garnet mining is not going to make our fortune, but all tremendous fun.
Urandangie – Mon 24th Aug
Originally the plan was to backtrack up the Stuart Highway and pick up the Savannah way, but time was getting short. Instead we joined John & Amanda (Fifty Toes Walkabout) in taking the Plenty Highway across to Lawn Hill and pick up the Savannah Way by Doomadgee.
The first part of the Plenty was in surprisingly good condition, with just the odd rough patch. There is not much out there though, passing through cattle stations along the way. Plus the odd monster termite mound.
From smooth dirt the Plenty slowly turns stony ahead of Tobermorey, then turning north the bulldust holes begin. Nothing as bad as the Binns track, but there were times I was once more nervously looking for the engine light….
Urandangie is just a few houses surrounding the pub, population less than ten. The lady running the pub had retired there, presumably she is not a city lover. A lovely person though, she gave the kids bread to go and feed the miniature horses in the paddock. To their delight she also had a handful of baby kangaroos out back – when the locals kill a roo for food, if it has a joey they trade it for a can of soda or a chocolate bar; sounds like a good deal for them, dinner and dessert.
Camp for the night was just out of town, where there are a couple of free sites along the mainly dry river. They are a bit dusty but otherwise very pleasant.
O’Shanassy River – Tue 25th Aug
Setting out the next morning it seems donkeys are part of the menagerie, waiting at the pub for their morning carrots.
A feature of the place is the car bonnets used as signs for creek names etc. with one on the way out solving where skippy had retired to.
Driving on towards Mt Isa there is still not much to see, aside from the odd windmill. However the landscape changes when you reach the highway going north and finally regain the bitumen – steep hills and valleys replacing the open plains.
There is no disguising that Mt Isa is an industrial town built around the mine, which dominates the landscape. For us it was just a quick stop to get supplies.
Today was also brought our first encounter with QLD’s online booking system for national park camping. All sites have to be pre-booked either online or over the phone to a call centre in Brisbane. OK you are guaranteed a spot when you arrive, but you have no idea what that spot is like; and if you wait until you arrive you likely won’t have signal to then book your preferred spot. No surprises the rangers hate the system too, it smacks of centralised money grabbing over providing a service.
A frustrating hour later and 3 nights at Lawn Hill had been booked, more on that later.
From Mt Isa to Lawn Hill is quite a hike, nearly 400km, of which the last 150km is rough dirt. Setting out in mid-afternoon there was no chance of arriving same day, but that just gave the chance to enjoy one of the free camps along the way. The O’Shannassy River to the south of Boodjamulla National park, just over 50m from Lawn Hill. Coming out from the centre this was the first flowing river we had seen for a while, and a lovely little one it is too with some secluded camping spots along the bank whilst the river babbled past.
Lawn Hill – Wed 26th to Fri 28th Aug
Between O’Shanassy river and Lawn Hill the road crosses the Gregory River, not a difficult crossing but there is a strong flow even this late in the season.
Just over the river on the left is the Riversleigh fossil site, where some of the fossils on display at Mt Isa came from. It is well laid out and has useful information boards but to be honest there is not a great deal to see. The main fossil on view is a shin bone from Big Bird, also known as a Thunderbird; standing 2.5m high and weighing up to 300kg these walked Australia 25m years ago – an indicator of its size is the mass of pebbles next to the bone, from its gizzard. Other fossils include a cross section of a turtle shell and a crocodile leg. Being set on a hill the site also provides a spectacular panoramic view.
Lawn Hill is based alongside Lawn Hill Creek beneath where it has carved a sheer sided gorge through the sandstone of the Constance Range. Contrasting the deep red rocks the water is a lovely emerald colour, and even better is free of crocs so makes for some wonderful swimming.
The campsite is divided into sites for caravans / trailers, and sites for tents which each have a car space alongside, and this is where the booking issues arose as the Brisbane call centre had no idea of the sizes of each site. With no trailer sites available we had booked a tent site, hoping the trailer would fit in the adjacent car space. As it turned out John and Amanda’s trailer site was so big there was room for both of us – it would have been nice to know that in advance, as my tent booking now served only to prevent someone else enjoying the park.
There are various walks from the campsite. The upper gorge was sadly closed, as an irritable water buffalo had taken up residence and was a touch jealous of intruders. However the falls and swimming at the top of first gorge are fantastic.
There are a huge number of archer fish in the water, it is fascinating how high they shoot water to get food; also interesting there is a pecking order as to who shoots first, with the larger fish definitely dominant.
Also great fun is to swim back down the gorge to camp, it is over a km long so tubes etc. are needed for the kids as there is nowhere to get out once you have started; the gorge is sheer both above and below the water.
Heading down the river Lawn Hill also has a deep aboriginal history, the Red Dog walk takes you past not only evidence of the Rainbow serpent but also rock etchings dating back thousands of years.
All in all a wonderful place to relax for a few days.
Leichardt River – Sat 29th Aug
Heading east from Lawn Hill is Adels Grove, a privately operated campsite a few km away. Nearby is a small hill, up a short dirt track off the road, which gives a decent view back to the gorge nestled in the range and only visible by the colour of the rocks.
As ever presented with two routes we will take the rougher one. There is a dirt road from Lawn Hill via Mt Oscar to near Doomadgee, through the cattle stations along the way. The magic of the minor route is seeing things the highway misses, in this cases a couple of road trains loaded for market, and then a full cattle drive – sure you can get held up, but its worth it.
Doomadgee is an aboriginal community on the Savannah Way. For the traveller there is a roadhouse providing fuel and a small shop. Arriving a few minutes before 2pm it was fortunate we did, there was a funeral in the community that afternoon so the roadhouse had to close at 2pm for “sorry business”.
Heading east along the Savannah Way it is evident where the name comes from, the road slices through unremitting savannah; it is not the most scenic of drives, unlike the night’s campsite.
Draining into the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Leichardt River crosses the Savannah Way to the east of Burketown. At this time of year the river is split by the road and does not flow, although there is water deep down in its course. The campsite is up on the wet season flood plain, a landscape of scoured rock gulleys and sand – whilst there is little shelter there is a great view over the river, and of the night sky appearing.