Friday, August 31, 2012

31 August 2012 - Anakie Gemfield Caravan Park, Central Highlands, Queensland

The day dawned fine yet again, making this for us a full month of no rain unless a few drops evaporating within minutes should be counted. We were soon packed up and farewelled our dear friends who were taking somewhat longer than us to break camp. They carry so much more than us; boats, iron pigs, satellite dishes, and so on, all items which enhance their lives but we have chosen to do without.

We were on the road heading back the sixty or so kilometres to Capella where we parked near the Gregory Highway intersection and set off along the street to see what it had to offer. Capella does boast a news agency, which is part of the General Store which in turn is part of a fascinating hardware store. The national daily newspapers had yet to arrive, should be in between 9.30 and 10 am, depending on the road works, but the carrier was running late. We asked that they put one aside when they arrived, walked the length of the town in the burning hot sun, returned to the caravan for coffee and a Sudoku challenge. As we were about to set off once more to chase the newspaper, Neil and Pauline pulled up beside us to report that the dump station in Capella was blocked up and too disgusting to use. We advised there was an excellent one at Emerald, where they were initially heading, and after more hugs and kisses, farewelled them once more. The courier van drove past as we waved them off and sure enough, the paper had arrived and it was only 11 am. Not too much of a holdup and I suspect these rural townships suffer this much of the time.

We set off south west on an alternative route through to the Capricorn Highway on a narrow sealed road, one forbidden to road trains hence the traffic was scarce. We passed through cattle country, over rolling open eucalypt landscape, fording one small creek and then after nearly eighty kilometres we arrived at Rubyvale, one of the Sapphire Gemfield settlements. We drove on through this higgledy piggledy collection of old and temporary housing, great piles of rusting machinery, and soon arrived at Sapphire, a little more inspiring than Rubyvale. Here we stopped at a rest area and had lunch before pressing on soon arriving at Anakie on the intersection with the Capricorn Highway.

Bird feeding time at the Caravan Park
These three settlements, together with the Willows Gemfields, make up the Sapphire Gemfields of this Central Highlands. As I write this, we are at a loss as to how we should investigate the area further and come away with positive memories; perhaps a chat to the camp owner in the morning will help because one with a couple camped along from us during the afternoon did not help.

This caravan park is advertised in Camps 6 and as such fits with our preferred price range. It is small, quiet and only $25 a night which is quite reasonable in this popular area. I did a couple of loads of washing and then at about 4 pm the camp owner came and told us that bird feeding was about to take place. I had been aware of gathering flocks of birds; lorikeets, cockatoos, crested pigeons, apostle birds, magpies, to name a few and then when the owner arrived with his two loaves of bread and asked Chris to carry a tray of water out into the yard, the birds came down from the roofs and trees in their masses and sat all over us while they fed. It was absolutely wonderful although Chris was not too excited about the fact his shirt required changing.
The evening was finished off nicely making contact with Olly and Kit, albeit briefly. We have now only to catch up with Larissa and my parents over the weekend to satisfy ourselves that all is well in the world, or at least in the narrow world of our immediate family.

30 August 2012 - Bundoora Dam, Peaks Region, Queensland

Our mode of travel from one place to another, travelling with a certain sense of urgency although we might well deny that description, sometimes precludes us from building relationships with people who might become lifelong friends, or with those re-encountered. I am pleased to say that we have stayed long enough this time at Bundoora Dam to enjoy one of the special joys of being alive; sharing time with like minded folk with whom we have history and hopefully much more to come. Such is my philosophical introduction of saying we have spent another awesome day with our friends with Neil and Pauline.

The day has been spent in a variety of pursuits; coffee and biscuits for a long winded morning tea, enthusiastic appreciation of the red claw fresh water crayfish caught in the overnight traps, a long walk along the lakeshore to throw the nets in for another round, to enjoy the fauna and flora of the region, to smell a decomposing body amongst the ruins of a bygone camp, perhaps that of the dam construction, collection of firewood, feeling the sun burning on our newly bared legs, helping one another through the many barb wired fence back to the dam reserve and the extensive conversation that took place all through that. 

As we sat over lunch shared under our awning, new campers came in daring to share our joint space, some moved on with warnings of future camp fire smoke and some oblivious to our wish to enjoy the wilderness and the space this huge area offers. Finally in the late afternoon, Neil lit both the iron “pig” camp fire and another which offered nothing but ambience, they cooked damper, cooked the red claw for us to taste and then we brought our humble offerings of pork chops, mashed spuds and a colourful salad. After too much wine and beer, coffee and biscuits we returned to our caravan under the full moon and booted up the computer to record yet an excellent day in this excellent country!

29 August 2012 - Bundoora Dam, Peaks Region, Queensland

Why on earth was I concerned about being disturbed by road or rail trains?  I should have been more concerned about fellow travellers under the influence of alcohol. We were entertained, if that be the description, by a collection of van living youths full of liquor and foul mouthed ramblings that continued until late into the night. So much so that I would have to warn people from sharing such free camping sites made available by fair minded councils with anyone else but like minded middle aged people.

The police arrived soon after we finally rose this morning to make a courtesy call to the van occupants who may or may not have been the centre of the disruptive proceedings of the night. Fortunately for us, we had no intention of subjecting ourselves to more of the same and were soon on our way to the Information Centre for water and dumping and then to Coles for replenishing our severely depleted stocks of food.  Filling with food and a quick visit to the off licence followed and then we were off on our pilgrimage to meet with our friends Neil and Pauline.

Neil & Pauline's rig; a welcome sight
The red claw fishermen; Neil with helper, Chris
Emerald, contrary to my preconceived ideas of it being a more eastern Coober Pedy with dry hills and spasmodic mines offering precious stones, is in fact the centre of a thriving rural centre. “Emerald” relates to Emerald Downs, the station that was established back prior to1879 and named thus for its emerald green fertile lands, nothing to do with the precious stones that are mined further east and west. We passed through eighty or so kilometres of very gently rolling fertile lands offering proof of young grain crops, the residue of cotton fluff from the transit of that crop in weeks gone by and glimpses of  cattle grazing. Coal mining through this region is prolific but well shielded from the traveller on the main roads except for the many very late model 4WDs with hazard lights on the roof to suggest they spend most of their lives in the bowels of mines and the conveyor belts and derricks appearing above the tree line close to the German Creek Mine adjacent to this lake. 

In fact the lake was specifically established for mining purposes in 1983 and holds 10,000 mega litres of water when full. This, the mines purpose, accounts for the fact that mining vehicles have frequented the recreational area, and paid attention to the fact that the toilets are severely out of action.

Enjoying drinks before dinner
We travelled north on the Gregory Highway as far as Capella and then turned east to Tiera, passing entrances to a surprisingly great number of coal mines. To our north east lay the Peak Range, a collection of peaks and ranges standing proud above the flat plains we travelled across.  Just short of thirty kilometres, we reached the German Creek mine and turned abruptly north to the unmarked track leading to the reservoir on a few hundred kilometres of rough surface, soon identifying our fellow Lotus caravan travellers established above the lake edge and a level site higher up reserved for us. We parked up, embraced our dear friends, set up camp and lunched with them chatting nineteen to the dozen in an attempt to catch up on over a year’s chit chat.

The afternoon soon passed, we walked around the lake with Neil to check his red claw crab nets, helped him loosen them from their rocky snags, watched and appreciated their efforts in cooking an excellent roast beef dinner cooked in their iron “pig” fire and polished off bottles of beer and wine with uncommon pleasure.

What a joy it is to catch up with such excellent friends!

28 August 2012 - Emerald Botanic Gardens, Central Highlands, Queensland

I was disturbed by the flying foxes during the night, but once I had established in my semi-conscious state that it was indeed those cute nocturnal critters, I soon drifted off again. When we did finally wake, the sun was well up and half our fellow campers already gone.

We hit the road at about nine thirty and headed on westward across the Capricorn Highway, following the railroad all the time and frequently in the company of kilometre long coal hauling trains. I counted the carriages; there were usually as many as one hundred. The road trains transporting cattle east were less than yesterday, but still noticeable.

We stopped at Blackwater, called such for the tea tree tannin in the creek water rather than the coal that now gives life to the community. We drove into the town to buy supplies and found the streets wide and well set out. The town has been purpose built for the coal miners just as many forestry towns are in New Zealand. The council have tried hard to give the place character, which is of course good for the residents’ souls, all 8,000 of them. Alas that is a hard call in such a place.

Back on the side of the highway is the Blackwater International Coal Centre and the Japanese Garden. The garden is still too new; the plants have yet to develop their own form. The Coal Centre is well worth a visit, an excellent source of geological, historical and environmental education on coal. Some of the interactive exhibits are currently out of action so the entrance fee had been reduced to a gold coin donation. Even at the normal entry fee, this should not be missed. And for those who find anything educational a total bore, there is a Subway restaurant and good clean amenities.

Coal was first noted by the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt during an 1845 expedition, but large scale exploration in the Bowen Basin, which covers an area of 75,000 square kilometres, did not commence until the 1960s.  Today the Blackwater mine is one of Australia’s largest open cut coal mines producing 13 million tonnes per annum.

We lunched outside the Centre then continued on to Emerald, firstly calling into the Information Centre before heading back to this camp, already appearing quite full by the time we pulled in. An hour ago there were thirty one camping parties in; I am sure there are many more by now. We are tucked under the bridge over the Nogoa River, next to the rail bridge over the same, at one of the entrances to the Botanic Gardens. Once set up, we wandered through the gardens which seemed to be a green strip along a flood prone river. Since our walk, we have learned that the park is larger than that seen and perhaps those other parts are more attractive.

We wandered up into the town, through the main street and past the very lovely restored railway station, purchased fish for dinner at the supermarket and booked a site at the Anakie Caravan Park. No sooner had we done that, that our friend Pauline of the Sunshine Coast, rang and invited us to join them up at Boodoora Dam, a mere hundred kilometres or so away. We have since cancelled our booking at Anakie with a little white lie, but will head there after we have spent some time with our friends. So looking forward to catching up with them again! It is well over a year since we actually saw them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

27 August 2012 - Duaringa Rest Area, Capricorn Highway, Queensland

After so many many months of excellent telephone and internet reception, we are struggling to cope with the fact that we are totally incommunicado much of the time as we travel inland again. Obviously we have been too spoiled for too long! However I am not struggling with rationing water and battery power; it is simply such a joy to be bush camping once again. And so here we are this late afternoon settled into another of these amazing rest areas, this time well back from the road and at least a kilometre from the busy western coal rail line. About an hour ago, we counted about a dozen parties in; I suspect there is now at least double that number, and it is not yet five o’clock. Yellow faced honey eaters have joined the throng of birds about us, these not seen for some time; they are quite lovely.

We left our Dululu camp early this morning, not quite sure how the day would pan out, but set on visiting famous Mount Morgan. This once largest gold mine in the southern hemisphere was just a thirty two kilometre run eastwards and so we were there about nine o'clock. Mount Morgan has been heritage listed since 1981 and we do think that everyone in the town has taken that completely to heart and absolutely literally, ceasing all maintenance or upgrade work since then. We called into the newsagent to pick up a newspaper and found it to be in a dingy dark old building with nothing to suggest the modern and attractive displays one sees in all other such businesses. We also were unable to source any national paper at all; apparently their supply had sold out in the first half hour. The superette was busy but dowdy and unattractive. The locals we spoke to were all very friendly and helpful, although those not behind counters servicing the public, seemed to be idle and as dowdy as the buildings and businesses. We were later told that the population is currently about 3,000 and given this fact, we decided that the facilities and services for a population of that size were abysmal.

We had found a flat park in a street some distance from the town centre and walked up the street in the sunshine and along the main road for some distance to the Information Centre located in the Rail Museum. The women behind the desk could not have been more helpful, explaining in some detail all the points on the mud map. It seemed that the old mine is out of bounds and out of sight to all but those who pay for a commercial tour of the place and those few government workers cleaning up any residual poisons from the mining process. We were encouraged to visit the dam where we could enjoy our picnic however when we drove the couple of kilometres up there, we found little space for parking even though there was hardly anyone else there.

This same woman encouraged us to visit the museum (not the one she was tending) because it really was the best of its kind in the entire region. We did so and did learn much about Mount Morgan and its one hundred year long mining history however it, the museum, like the rest of the town, appears to have gone into a holding mode since 1981.

In short, we were disappointed with Mount Morgan and to any reader from Mount Morgan, I apologise. I would also point out to them that the three little girls I stepped over in the Ladies loo were no more sick than you or I, and should have been at school. They looked even more sprightly when we encountered them later walking in the sunshine eating sweets from the shop. I fear that they will end their days in Mount Morgan doing little with their lives unless they get well very soon.

Perhaps it is appropriate to mention here some population statistics highlighted in the museum:
The Aboriginal population is now far greater in Mount Morgan than many other areas in Australia. In the 2006 National census, Mount Morgan had 2,984 residents. Of these 10.8% were Indigenous compared with 5.7% for the nearby city of Rockhampton and 2.3% for all of Australia.

To quickly explain Mount Morgan’s claim to fame with special reference to its inception: 

Way back in 1870, a stockman by the name of MacKinlay found gold bearing rocks near the top of Ironstone Mountain. He kept this a secret and insisted his family do the same. From time to time, he whittled a little of the gold off but this was all a bit of a hobby; he was a stockman not a miner. One of his daughters became friendly with a local and divulged the family secret; she was immediately banished. The young couple married and Sandy Gordon, the young man, was working at a mine until he was sacked for drunkenness. His wife begged his employer, Fred Morgan, to reinstate her husband on the condition that Sandy would show him something worth his while. And so the secret was out and the Morgan’s registered the claim in 1882 and thus the mining enterprise began.

In 1923 there was a major miners’ strike which ended up with a fire in the mine. This was eventually extinguished but the machinery was ruined and the mine closed. In 1929 a new outfit resurrected the mine as an opencast mine and work continued until about 1981. There is talk that the mine could have another chance at life by way of the tailings being sifted through with more modern technology, but for now it is only talk.

We left Mount Morgan soon after 11.30 am, heading back to Dululu, then turned north, before joining the Capricorn Highway. This highway is greatly superior to the Burnett Highway and much busier. Dozens of trucks carrying cattle toward the Gracemere Saleyards passed us and all about us were the vast grazing lands of the Central Highlands.

We found a spot on this large rest area then set off for a walk about this town of just 247 people, around the incredibly wide streets and well-kept if modest houses. There is a roadhouse where we filled with diesel, a school, a post office, a police station, a hotel and the council office which doubles as the library. Just a block from this camp, we saw trees in a couple of private yards black with upside down flying foxes. We have since learned there are 35,000 of them and the council refuses to move them on because there are a number of pregnant females and young among them. I wonder if we will hear them tonight? I wonder if they will be noisier than the crowd of honeyeaters who are making an absolute raucous outside our caravan door?

26 August 2012 - Dululu Rest Area, Banana Shire, Queensland

We had tossed up the possibility of staying another night given the fact that the Cania Gorge Tourist Resort is one of the loveliest camps we have stayed in, but instead decided to rise early, complete the last of the chosen walks and head on our way.

And so we were breakfasted, packed up and parked up the road in the gorge before 7.30 am, all without the aid of an alarm clock. We are returning to our old routine which suits the weather and light conditions here in Queensland at this time of the year. We set off on the three hour Fern Tree Pool and Giant’s Chair circuit, following Doctor’s Gully up through the eucalypt forest between towering sandstone bluffs. The early morning mist rose up out of the gully in front of us and the birds were still fresh of throat and happy to entertain us. Soon the vegetation turned to dry rain forest, and we crisscrossed the dry bed of the creek, across large stones which in wet times must be most welcome. After about an hour we reached the deep dark pool lying near the top of the escarpment, beneath overhanging rocks and surrounded with ferns you would find in New Zealand, including maidenhair. Here we encountered a delightful couple from south Victoria with whom we could have spent the entire day conversing, however they, unlike us, had yet to return to camp, pack up and remove themselves before the 10 am pumpkin hour. We walked on, they down the gradual descent to the carpark and us on up the steep climb to the top, then along the ridge and down to a lookout high above the camp, before descending hundreds of steps through the black boys and eucalypts. We reached the carpark to intersect the Victorian couple coming from the opposite direction. We had taken just less than two hours and that included our time spent in conversation.

After a quick cup of coffee, we drove back out through the wide irrigated valley to the Burnett Highway just north of Monto and proceeded on over the Coominglah Range, a slow trip in low gear, and then down into the wide wide plains south of Biloela (pronounced Billoweela). This is cattle country, feeding the cattle market at Gracemere we visited last year from Rockhampton, but it is also well irrigated fertile lucerne and cotton growing country. We pulled into Biloela, walked through the very quiet wide streets of the town to the Visitors Centre and inquired after a map and information about the region, Banana Shire.

The Shire’s name has nothing to do with bananas, but all to do with a dead dun coloured bullock. In days gone by, stockmen used working bullocks as decoys to lead wild cattle to pens. A bullock named “Banana” was one of these. After he died, no doubt having been a good old boy to have earned such an endearing name, his body was chucked into a gully, and the gully became known as Banana Gully. Then the town that grew around the gully took its name and eventually the shire followed suit. The settlement of Banana is no longer the centre it was back in the 1880s, however is long remembered for this story.

Anyway, back to the two old ducks in the Visitor Centre, what helpful souls they were! I came away with the last of the informative books about the area, vouchers for a free drink at the RSL and a mine of other information. And speaking of mines, Biloela (which is local aboriginal speak for White Cockatoo of which there are many here), now backs it’s wealth on coal and power generation beside the agricultural activities. We were given directions and encouragement to drive out to Lake Callide and the nearby lookout from where we could view these industrial wonders, however we decided to stay with Plan A, which was to continue on our way along the Burnett Highway.

We soon learned that Biloela is shut on Sundays like many a good Queensland country town, and so we were unable to patronise the local Woolworths supermarket so instead bought fresh rolls at Anderson’s Market just along the street which was doing a roaring trade being the only commercial food outlet open for the day.

We lunched outside the Queensland Heritage Park, a museum which we were also encouraged to visit, but did not, and then headed on up toward this “township” of Dululu. Here we found this excellent free camp already well patronised by several campers, with a 48 hour time limit, power and showers available for a fee by request at the pub, the one commercial operation in the settlement. The official population is just 139 and now about thirteen camping parties to boost the numbers. We are still without internet and my battery power will probably run low soon. Time for a game of petanque with my beloved husband?

25 August 2012 - Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat, North Burnett, Queensland

Before we left this morning, I popped out to count our numbers; we were seven in last night so the pub should have done alright. Pizza was on offer from the kitchen; alas our dinner was underway when we learned that.

We passed through Monto after picking up the weekend newspaper and filling the fuel tanks with undiscounted diesel of an unfamiliar brand, but just as far as the caravan park on the northern edge of town. We had decided that we needed to be settled into a caravan park this evening to ensure we would be able to catch the All Blacks complete their slaughter of the Wallabies and retain the Bledisloe Cup for another year. Chris went in to the camp office to ask after television reception. The proprietor was un-inspirational and Chris was not at all satisfied, so we elected to move to Option B, a camp up the Cania Gorge recommended by our overnight neighbour. They were sporting both a brand new caravan and one of those very strange looking figure eight vertical aerial’s which would surely pick up Channel Nine, and were kind enough to offer to share their television since they were headed in the same direction.

Views back to our camp
And so we drove up the wide flat valley north of Monto, toward high sandstone cliffs and afforested mountains. The road was sealed but a mere single lane and the oncoming traffic almost seamless; rigs like ours all heading off to their next camp. This meant that one or both of us had to pull across to the gravel verge frequently however we persevered and no harm came. When we pulled into this camp, we knew we had made a good call although the television business was still an unknown. We quickly set up and found we could tune into the camp’s satellite dish to pick up four channels, one being Impargia, the country version of Channel Nine which broadcasts advertisements for cattle sales and … the rugby.

Assured all was sorted for the day, we set off on up through the Cania Gorge National Park to Lake Cania, a manmade earth and rock dam completed in 1983, stemming the flow of the Three Moon Creek and covering an area of 630 hectares. The recreational area on the south side of this lake is just lovely and today well patronised by fishermen and their families all enjoying the summer like weekend weather.

We lunched beside the lake, delighting in the birdlife, as usual, and especially delighted to find a family of Lazy Jacks, such funny birds with the oddest voices and group behaviour. During the afternoon we did several walks, one a wander up into the historic Shamrock mine site and the other a combination of more challenging walks at the southern end of the park.
Posing beneath overhangng rocks

Gold was discovered in this area back in February 1870. The Kroombit, a little north of here, and Cania gold fields covered an area of about 130 square kilometres. Here on the Three Moon Creek, a town was established to support the growing population which by June 1870 peaked at 1600, fifty of whom were Chinese. Alas by the late 1870s many of the workings in the area had been abandoned. Over the next thirty years, the population fluctuated as miners were drawn to follow more lucrative discoveries and finally the gold mining industry here at Cania collapsed during the 1920s.  Small amounts of mining went on by the ever hopeful over the years, however came to an absolute end when plans to build a dam on the creek were approved in 1974. The town now lies below the waters of Lake Cania and local myth tells of gold being discovered during the dam’s construction, a fact that was kept hush hush so no one would stake a claim over it and disrupt the construction.

All that remains now for the tourist is a track about the hill where once the Shamrock mine was situated. The area supported both alluvial and reef mining from 1870s and by 1910 was the principal mine in the Cania goldfields. Now there is just evidence of deep shafts, a replica gold stamper and lots of lovely eucalypts.

Palms and rocks of Cania Gorge
Back toward our camp, one of two here in the area, we walked up creek beds, along sandstone cliffs, through dry rain forest, eucalypt woodlands, past weathered caves and up masses of rocky stairs on walks named Dripping Rock and The Overhang, Dragon Cave and Bloodwood Cave and the Gorge viewpoint. By the end of all this, we were all walked out and happy to return to this very delightful camp.
The camp is wonderfully laid out, very professionally run, very popular, and set in the loveliest of landscapes. It is apparently less costly than the Big4 up the road which boasts bouncy castles and real coffee, but still costs $28 in the off peak season. Normally this would put us off, or at least put us off considering extending our stay; it has not although that is not to say we will. In the meantime we have watched the slaughter of the Wallabies yet again, this time 22:0 and will show respect for our fellow campers in the morning by not referring to the matter.

24 August 2012 - Mulgildie Hotel, North Burnett, Queensland

I woke early this morning to the sounds of the country birds all about; the magpies and crows, the galahs and all the others that abound, although the kookaburras seen last night were silent, if there at all. I was also pleased to hear a whispered “Happy Birthday” wish from my waking husband; I did wonder if he would remember. The strange thing is that I feel no older today than yesterday, and while this is a common statement one makes on such auspicious occasions, I have been this same age all year, having adopted a calendar year to age myself rather than my own personal historical marker. This is convenient if rather irregular, I suspect.

Not only had my dear husband remembered to offer me birthday greetings, but there was a gift as well. Given that we have agreed not to exchange presents at all, this was most unexpected. Of course I frequently ignore this agreement and buy my husband chocolates for his special days, but this is of course quite acceptable. His gift to me was rather special; the scandalous and bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey! And when did he have the opportunity to buy it, given that we are constantly in one another’s company? While I was having my hair cut a few weeks ago. A man must be given kudos for such deeds!

Last night after having an excellent game of scrabble, excellent for the fact that I won, we stood out under the night sky, clear but for the billions of stars and the lunar sliver, all defying the promise of rain.

And then this morning, the rain, all one hundred large drops of it, had passed by the time we pulled away from our overnight stop.  We continued on north west soon covering the mere twenty seven kilometres through to Gayndah. This township along with Mundubbera and Eidsvold, is a CMCA RV Friendly town and as such, offers travellers a wonderful array of camping spots and other facilities.

Gayndah’s boast to fame is as Queensland’s oldest town, settled in 1849. I am sure there are many others which have the same claim to fame, and many we have passed through however perhaps, just perhaps, this is the oldest still only considered a town rather than a city? The town sits high on the banks of the Burnett River and yet flood markers at street level show how high the river has risen over the town. The 1942 flood was the worst to date and in recorded history, when the houses on the far side of the highway and main street, away from the river lay eleven metres under water. When you stand at the top of the river bank and gaze up to the buildings, it is just amazing to consider the power and volume of water at such times. 

Gayndah’s other claim to fame is as the “Orange Capital”, of what I am not sure, however there are quite a few citrus orchards about and a number of roadside stalls selling mandarins and oranges.

We walked up and down the main street, and while applauding the welcome travellers are given to this small town of less than 2,000 folk, could find little to keep us here. The town has all services and supplies, but gives the impression of having been renovated after that 1942 flood and not since.

Gayndah does have internet reception, so we set the computer up to collect emails, of which there were several including greetings from my parents and my two sisters.

Forty four kilometres further on, passing up and over along the lumpy and bumpy sealed highway, through beautiful open beef grazing land, we arrived at Mundubbera, a slightly smaller town with a little over 1,000 inhabitants.  This town was surveyed back in 1863, but I have to say that without that knowledge I would have suggested it was after the floods of 1942. This, along with Eidsvold, supposedly near or on the Burnett River, are so far elevated that there is absolutely no danger of the same inundation Gayndah has been subjected to over the years. Again we walked up and down and purchased a water tank cart for use as a waste tank to complete what we consider “self-containment”.

We discovered an art exhibition tucked away behind the council library by two women, one of women and scenes of Africa, the other of women and scenes of Pacifica. We chatted with the volunteer at the desk and admired the work before heading back to the rig, generally unimpressed with Mundubbera despite our canny purchase and the art encounter.

Another low range of hills and another thirty five kilometres, and we arrived at Eidsvold, an even smaller town perched on the side of a hill away from the river. This was founded in 1848 and remained principally a service centre for the cattle stations about the area until gold was discovered in the 1860s. In the 1880s, Eidsvold was a bustling gold mining town of over 2,000 people, but all good things come to an end, so they say, and it is now what it was in the beginning.  But there is the addition of the RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre which also serves as the Information Centre. Today one half of the building was hosting a writers’ workshop with the guest writer, one of RM William’s daughters. The other half houses a museum of sorts, explaining the life and achievements of RM Williams and the gold mining past of the town. When one travels through rural Australia, one is bound to see the RM Williams brand relating to leather products and many matters country. And if you are like us, (who is?) then you might tend to avoid these products as being rather too pricey but also wonder who and what RM Williams is or was.   

The pub at Mulgidie
In a nutshell, he was a country boy raised amongst horses and a horsey family, poorly educated who went off to make his fortune at the tender age of fourteen. He tried his hand at many tasks as such “runaways’ did in those days; camel trekking, masonery, leatherwork and general stockmanship. A bushman wandering past his camp up in the Flinders one day where he had established his wife and children, showed him some clever ways to work with leather and before you know it, RM (as he seems to be known) had started manufacturing boots, saddles, whips and other bits and pieces. Riches came and he moved his long suffering family to a palatial residence in Adelaide, but all this proved too much for our simple RM who was apparently not too clever at managing money. The marriage failed and he moved back into the “bush” and yes, you guessed it! To a station just out of Eidsvold hence this local claim on the entrepreneur. He met a horse riding, like minded woman, who managed to pull him into line, provide a few more children and the rest was history. (I am not sure whether the writer is from the first or second family; probably the second since she was keen to pass this way.) So if you check your smart leather boots and find they have RM Williams engraved on the sole, you will know how it all came to be. In a nutshell, that is.

Our camp beside the Pub
And so after this further education in Australia and all matters Australian, we came on through more hills, more beautiful yellow flowering wattle, and down into a wide valley, still on the Burnett Highway to this free camp beside the Mulgildie pub, quaint, for sale, desperately in need of maintenance and tended by a pretty blond European backpacker.

The sun is shining brightly in through the window, from across the valley. It is a glorious evening and my husband is in the process of preparing dinner; devilled sausages. My mother had requested that I keep my cellphone on all day however there has been absolutely no Vodafone reception all day, and very little on Chris’s Telestra. Internet reception here in Mulgildie is so minimal I cannot even send her an email to tell her any of this. 

We popped back to see the barmaid and purchased a bottle of cold chardonnay. Her boss was working the bar, all fellow travellers; she was a middle aged version of the back packer, blond more bottle and complexion more sunbaked. Better sign off and toast another year!

23 August 2012 - Ban Ban Springs Rest Area, North Burnett, Queensland

As I start this, it is still a warm 30 degrees and there is no sign of the forecasted rain. It is a joy to be once more out in the country, free camping beside the road. Or, in the local lingo, to be bush camping out in the bush. We are beside the Burnett Highway so there will be a little road noise as indicated in Camps 6, however it is bound to diminish as the afternoon turns to evening.

We left Yandina about 9 am, a noteworthy achievement after having been a whole week established in the one camp, however we should be organised enough to do so by now. The Bruce Highway was busy and much of it toward Gympie still undergoing massive reconstruction. In Gympie, we paused only long enough to stock up on fresh produce and bread for lunch, and then pressed on once more, turning west just north of Gympie and travelling across toward Kilkivan. We stopped just short of Kilkivan, at the Fat Hen Creek Rest Area where we first free camped alone last year.

The country passed through was much drier than last year but still quite lovely. The gold of the grass, growing in many places long enough to hide our growing grandchildren if they were here, contrasts well with the green eucalypts, and the motley collection of beef cattle add to the colour scheme. The toilets at Fat Hen Creek have now been repaired; last year they were closed after massive flood damage. The creek was more attractive than last year when it had still been a muddy swollen flow through flattened vegetation. We parked where we had last year, read the paper and then feasted on our delicious sourdough rolls.

At Kilkivan, we turned north east, taking a short cut across to the Burnett Highway, across more lovely farmland, open woodlands over rolling hills, some steeper than others, until we came down to Tansy on the main highway. On the shortcut we had almost cut short our trip when we and a large logging truck carrying its trailer both approached a narrow bridge at speed, neither giving way to the other. In truth, the bridge was wide enough for two vehicles to pass with caution. We hit the bridge before the truck, but the caravan, according to Chris, was still on the bridge as the truck arrived. I rely on Chris to tell this part of the story because it was one of those OMG and eyes shut moments; mine that is, not either of the drivers. No harm came of the moment, however I suspect the truck driver is still cursing caravan touring nomads. 

It was soon after 2 pm that we arrived here at Ban Ban Springs, having covered just less than 200 kilometres, however this had been the spot on the map we had pinpointed this morning, so here we will stay overnight before heading further north. There were already over half a dozen campers here when we arrived and about as many more have since arrived and set up camp. There is a twenty hour limit to one’s stay here however I suspect some of those caravans we saw on arrival have been here all of that and more. The springs have been here for yonks, as you would expect, and were an important meeting place for the aboriginal people as they travelled this way and that. Great volumes of clear water bubbles up out of the ground marked with little but a few stones around the perimeter. Across the road is a roadhouse where one can top up with fuel and maybe buy a beer. This will serve us well for the night.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

22 August 2012 - Yandina Caravan Park, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

The past three days have whizzed by as they all seem to; a sign of a busy life. The weather  has remained fine and warm but is forecasted to change in the next couple of days. The locals welcome the possibility of rain as wild fires are popping up about the region.

On Monday we explored the more southern reaches of the Sunshine Coast after dropping into Caravan World at Woombye where we had purchased our Lotus caravan at the beginning of last year. We looked through other Lotus caravans on the yard and chose a couple of vans we would upgrade to if we were of a mind to do so; all hypothetical but always fun. We were directed to the caravan repair yard now located in Forest Glen and purchased parts appropriate to install an external television aerial. Many caravan parks, as for instance this one we are in now, are located in spots where television reception is poor however they offer the opportunity where a caravanner can plug into an aerial system on a post just as one plugs into the electricity. In fact we have only done this three times, and had to feed the cable in through the window, not ideal when bugs are plentiful. Masking tape plastered over the gap works quite well but is hardly ideal.

We drove to Caloundra, a centre we had visited last year to seek out the Bunning’s Warehouse. Then we were busy setting ourselves up and did not spend any time exploring this community.

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area was known as Bulcock Beach and was a tourist destination offering lovely beaches, as it still does today, but it was not until the early 1950s that Caloundra started to boom. By 1968, it had become the base for the Shire of Landsborough. Then it had a population of about 3,700; by 2006 it had increased to 41,293.

We drove around the suburbs of Pelican Waters and Golden Beach, picnicking at the latter and decided that we liked the area very much. Golden Beach is situated on the edge of the Pumicestone Passage, the narrow waterway between Bribie Island and the mainland. At this northern point of the passage, Bribie Island is little more than a narrow spit of sand, but does still offer excellent shelter from the open sea. The growing residential area of Pelican Waters utilises the waters from that passage to fill the many canals and private waterways. We imagine that the real estate prices here are high or at least higher than those we saw for Caloundra.

The original part of Caloundra is situated right on the “mouth” of the Pumicestone Passage but of course now stretches both north and south of this point. Views from the main street between the buildings can be had south over the northern end of Bribie Island and far beyond to Moreton Island.

We parked in the main street of Caloundra and walked up and down, as is our want, purchasing some shoes, sox, ice-creams and the newspaper; our modest contribution to this lovely township. We then followed the coastline up north as far as Mooloolaba, an area that our friends had taken us through last year, but this time going under our own steam, we grasped the lay of the land better and confirmed their opinion that this is indeed a delightful spot. We walked out along the northern breakwater of the Mooloolah River and looked northwards, across to the high-rise apartments at Mooloolaba and those further north at Maroochydore. Quite a few tourists were braving the cool sea water and more were stretched out wearing very little and developing their skin cancer.

From there we headed north west back to Nambour, shopped at Woolworths because our Tomtom directed us to a non-existent Coles (obviously they have relocated somewhere else) then came on back to camp in time to rescue the line full of washing before the dew settled.

We spent yesterday on another drive tour, a break from the crowds of the coast, heading through Nambour up to Mapleton 370 metres ASL in the Blackall Ranges from where there are amazing views of the Sunshine Coast similar to those from Montville. This small settlement does have a population of 2,000 however most of them are tucked away in avocado orchards and other similar hideaways.

We made our way to the Mapleton Falls National Park where the Pencil Creek, well named for a diminutive flow already at the top of the range, plunges 120 metres over an escarpment. The lookout over the falls is more spectacular for the views of the valley below than the falls themselves. We set off on the Wompoo Circuit walk, just 1.3 kilometres through a beautiful forest of piccabeen palms, strangler figs, and towering eucalypts. The birdlife was wonderful, so much more than those near Montville, but then Tuesday does not bring the crowds of noisy children. Alas the wompoo pigeons were silent here but we were delighted to hear the bell miners, not heard since leaving the Central Coast NSW.

Back on the road, we travelled westward and descended steeply into the Obi Obi valley, so steep that towing vehicles are forbidden access and the road divides into an upward sealed route and a downward gravel one. We were soon in no doubt the exclusion of some vehicles was wisely made.

Once in the valley, we followed the Obi Obi Creek to Kenilworth , near where it converges with the Mary River. This is not the first time or place we have encountered this river which enters the ocean just south of Hervey Bay after passing through Maryborough. Last year when we were travelling north, we camped at Petrie Park, Tiaro just south of Maryborough. Here near Kenilworth, the river is obviously shallower, more in its infancy and all the more beautiful.

A little south of Kenilworth, we arrived at the confluence of the Little Yabba Creek and the Mary River, a delightful picnic spot. We had our lunch in the company of a butcher bird family, watched Mary River Cod leaping for insects flying too low for their own preservation and then walked the Fig Tree Walk, an 1.1 kilometre walk through a small patch of rain forest featuring some very fine examples of strangler figs in much the same way the kings of New Zealand kauri are exhibited in Northland. Here we saw roots at least a hundred metres long and tree tops that challenge one’s neck muscles, and here we heard the Wompoo pigeons.

We travelled on up the Mary River valley as far as Conondale; here the river disappears south while the road climbs back up into the ranges to Witta and then on to Maleny.  This was a case of déjà vu, having been here with Neil and Pauline last year although Chris did not immediately realise this. However when we entered David Linton’s Furniture and Timberworks outlet, he clearly remembered how impressed we were then, just as we were yesterday. There is some lovely work here, small and large; to suit all pockets and I should be requesting a commission for saying as much. Divine dining tables selling for in excess of $7,500 and chairs to fit the same at $880 a pop rather rule us out of the market, even if only for the fact we have no dining room to accommodate such classy furniture.

After walking up and down the main street, busy with tourists including a bus load of oldies on tour and much new construction work, we drove on to find the showgrounds which had actually been our intended next camp a week before we left Brisbane. The knowledge that all roads to Maleny were straight up was a slight deterrent and so when I suggested Yandina and spelled out the merits of such an alternative, the driver was keen to switch options. Having said all that, we were impressed with the position of the showgrounds and many other camps we passed along the way, most listed in Camps 6, and would recommend them to all who don’t worry about stressing their tow vehicle with two and a half tonne behind.

Distant views of the Glasshouse Mountains
We took a route just south of Maleny, Mountain View Road, from where one can enjoy the most wonderful views over the Glasshouse Mountains and out to the islands to the south. Fabulous! We stopped briefly at the Mary Cairncross Park but then decided that we would learn or experience nothing that we had not earlier in the day, so pressed on toward home, turning off the Maleny - Landsborough Road at the top of the ridge that stretches out toward Bribie Island like the buttress roots on a fig tree. Unlike the steep main road which does have warnings about the level of incline but is otherwise a traffic friendly road,  that we took was signed as not being a through road and as being forbidden to any towing or heavy vehicle. The narrow gravel road just tipped off the ridge down to Mooloolah where we joined the northern railroad, then followed this up through Eudlo, Palmwoods, Woombye, Nambour and home. It had indeed been another excellent day.

We were out on the road again this morning soon after nine, which used to be normal for us but over the past month or so has become the new early. Today Noosa was the main destination, an apparently fabulous tourist destination which we had dismissed as otherwise last year when we called there. But then in all fairness we were towing the caravan, and not only that, it was the very first day we had set out with the new rig. Then we found Noosa impossible for anything but smart cars, crowded, convoluted and altogether unwelcoming. Such a reception tends to sour one’s impressions but we did want to have another opportunity to form a contrary opinion.

Today, as then, the sun was shining and we were in good health. Today we had only the one vehicle to consider and there were none of the frustrations of the last time. Our first stop was the Laguna Lookout at the top of Progress Hill. We drove up through the Noosa National Park to a large level area at the top from where one might have extensive views over the entire Noosa area if there were no trees. Instead there is a narrow view across the river and little else. It is a pretty spot; the multitude of birds think so anyway.

Frustrated we descended into the maze of tight little streets that make up the village of Noosa Heads and drove into the National Park centre, parked and from there walked along the shoreline to Hells Gate at Noosa Head, high above Alexandria Bay, then back; a distance of close to ten kilometres. It really is the most beautiful walk, first through archways of pandannus and scrubby gums, past sandy beaches between rocky outcrops, along the top of high cliffs covered in banksia and casuarinas, and all the time beside the blue blue ocean. Returning to the park office, we lunched in the company of several curious brush turkeys, one of whom could not be pacified until I had fed him all our discarded fruit cores, something one is ill advised to do. 

From there we drove out on to the Spit, new since the 1970s and even since then covered in vegetation and many pathways. Along the river edge there are a number of fishing platforms and several folk were making good use of these. We wandered about through the scrub still delighting in the lovely areas of this truly wonderful seaside region and could now understand why it was so well celebrated.

Had we bicycles, I could imagine spending even as long as week here, discovering all the ins and outs of the waterways and cycle-ways and walkways and perhaps even patronising some of the many attractive cafes and restaurants, and maybe even shopping for some new shorts in the smart fashion boutiques, of which there are many. However we are not on holiday, so I shall leave those delights to others who choose to pass their vacations in Noosa.

Having reconciled ourselves with Noosa, we drove directly south, hugging the coastline, along the road we had come north on nineteen months or so ago, but this time taking greater note of the charming beachside settlements we passed through: Sunshine Beach, Marcus Beach, Peregian Beach and Coolum Beach where we parked and strolled along through the commercial centre in search of our daily newspaper. Right now there is a mess of work going on in the township, new paving on the seaside of the road. Hopefully this will all be complete by the time summer and the extra tourists arrive.

We followed the road even further south to Marcoola and Twin Waters, before turning west back through Bli Bli, then north through Maroochy River, on up the Maroochy Valley across frequently flooded flats of neglected looking sugar cane and so to Yandina.

Tomorrow morning we will leave the Sunshine Coast confident that we have this time explored it well, and yet having said that, I am sure we will find a multitude of other things to do when we return. It has been a pleasure to be here to simply explore rather than rush around dealing with the business of caravans and other related business. Decisions as to our next destination will be made over breakfast no doubt, and I, as you, will learn this of this tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

19 August 2012 - Yandina Caravan Park, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Yesterday we headed off to the Eumundi Market, world famous, almost (at least in Australia) for being the best art and craft market in Australia. And now having seen it for ourselves and having called into markets all about the country (except for Perth and Darwin and the places in-between and Tasmania), we can believe it. We read in one of the promotional brochures that there are 600 stalls; I would suggest there are now even more.

The Eumundi Markets were established back in 1979 and were given a revamp in 2011. There are purpose built permanent stalls and other areas for temporary stalls set up and taken down twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays. These latter are under a row of gorgeous trees which offer much needed shade in the heat of the summer. The array of goods sold is endless; organic fruit and vegetables, fashion, jewellery, sculpture, paintings, homewares, takeaway foods, and the list goes on and on. That list should also include vendors with wonderful bird whistles operated with so much skill that even the sceptics such as my dear husband cannot resist and a stall to raise funds for the rescue of strayed or injured snakes which offers the opportunity for punters to interact with these fascinating reptiles or to have one’s photo taken wearing a living serpent scarf. All of it is top class and draws the tourists who holiday on the Sunshine Coast from Noosa to Caloundra and far beyond. We spent four hours there and thoroughly enjoyed browsing the stalls, watching talented artists work and generally inhaling the wonderful atmosphere.

Eumundi is only ten kilometres north of Yandina so we were soon there once we got ourselves organised. Just as we had been surprised by the size of Yandina, we were with Eumundi. I had expected little beyond grounds to house the six hundred stalls, and yet it is a township of 1,700 residents, once albeit perhaps briefly, home to Kevin Rudd and tennis player Pat Rafter.

Soon after 1 pm, many of the stall holders were packing up and so we checked out the main street of the town. There we discovered the Berkelouw Bookshop, a treasure trove of new and old books where one could spend weeks just wandering through the well catalogued shelves of jewels. Further up the street we happened upon the climax of an auction for a huge property, once the bakery, just in time to hear it being passed in at $700,000 and something. And all the time, the sun kept on shining.

The Eumundi Markets should be on everyone’s list of must-dos on the Sunshine Coast, in our opinion. And it should be noted that the bird whistles should be taken from their packaging in front of the vendor to check for faults.

Our day was capped off with the unquestionable win by the All Blacks over the Wallabies in the first round of the Bledisloe Cup challenge; Go All Blacks!

This morning we emerged from the van at an all-out record of laziness, one that beats our own records of at least fifteen years. Why one may ask? Well, it is not your business to know all but Saturday night in this principally residential camp is punctuated with disruptions all night and that, coupled with late night rugby, makes for sleep-ins.

We finally headed away from the camp south through Nambour and up into the hinterland to Montville. We visited this delightful Blackall Range top village, once aptly called Razorback, in early June last year with our friends Neil and Pauline. We were no more or less impressed today than then, but did enjoy the fact there were slightly fewer fellow visitors. We wandered from one gift and craft shop to another, into an Indian store where we were dazzled with the array of bright and ornate fabrics and crafts, and into three art galleries, the first two full of fabulous work where I could have easily spent $30,000 to $50,000 had we bare interior walls and the funds in the bank, and the third, a competition requiring critical input from us the viewers.

We sat in a small park and ate our sandwiches looking out over the eastern seaboard, spying five large cargo vessels killing time before heading into the Port of Brisbane. This is truly a beautiful part of Australia and it is no wonder our friends have elected to make the Sunshine Coast their home, and of course, the continuing fine weather does much to enhance the appeal of the area.

We returned a few kilometres along the road toward Mapleton and to the Kondalill Falls National Park where we walked the 4.7 kilometre track to the base of these lovely falls on the Skene Creek which plummets 90 metres over the rocky escarpment. It is an absolutely lovely walk through forests of piccabeen palms and strangler figs and appreciated by a number of likeminded walkers of all ages. This walk is a small part of the 58 kilometre Great Walk through the Sunshine Coast hinterlands across the Blackall Ranges.

By the time we returned to the packed car park, I had decided that we had done enough walking for one day. And so we decided it was prudent to head for home, but not before having one last little adventure. We noted there was a road, marked with a small thin line on the map, running from Mapleton through to Yandina via the Cooloolabin Dam. And so we set off along the Mapleton Forest Drive, not only a gravel road as advised, but basically no more than a forest track, pitted and potholed, with massive speed bumps constructed for no good reason, but sharper than any previously mounted. Fortunately there were few others sharing the same route and equally as fortunate, the road was dry. This is not a route to be taken when wet nor with a caravan in tow, but it is indeed a wonderful picturesque passage through eucalypt forest. 

Eventually we came onto the Cooloolabin reservoir situated upriver from the Wappa dam on the same river, visited a couple of days before. This dam was constructed back in 1979 and is larger than Wappa, with far less recreational area but still quite lovely. Given the state of the roads, it is unlikely that too many people bother making use of the limited public area.

From here it was all downhill to Yandina and arriving here just before 4 pm, we were both surprised and delighted to find that the annual Yandina Street Fair was still in progress. We had been cognoscente of it all happening today, however had chosen to go elsewhere. We parked and wandered up through the closed off streets, listening to the singers, scanning the stalls and marvelling at the activity still going on. Yandina was truly rocking! And even after we settled back at camp, we could hear the music and later after dark fell, we heard the fireworks playing for some time before the fair was finally ended.

I was pleased to catch up on Skype with Olly and learn that he and his family were all well on the way to recovery from their bout of ‘flu and winter lurgies.