Side of the road

When travelling in Australia, you can find free or cheap ‘side of the road’ overnight stops. Some people use Wiki Camps, Camp10, tourist atlases, or a mixture.

Generally, we have found the amenities (if they are present) are very clean, but most people carry toilet paper to be on the safe side. If water is provided, you can’t assume it is safe to drink, and many have signs saying boil first, or not for drinking. A portable toilet gives you more options but some sites in Qld that say you must be self contained, mean you must have a fixed and permanent toilet and shower.

If you are right beside the road, you will possibly not get a good night’s sleep, as trucks travel 24 hours a day and sometimes train lines are close. We use reviews to guide us and try to have planned the stop before we begin the day’s journey.

Some of the best ones look like this and provide a lot of choice about where to set up your ‘rig’.

Unspoken rule – don’t crowd others, or have a generator. Most people are asleep early and depart near sunrise, unless they like the spot enough to stay more than one night. Don’t park in a truck stop!

If you park in a national park, pay the fee online and display your details as directed.

Safe travels! Take enough water with you. Carry a rubbish bag.

Blackdown National Park

After a cold night in Emerald, we headed off early for Blackdown National Park. The reason we had chosen Emerald was its proximity to the park, as the other, nearer, towns had bad reviews. On passing through Bluff, however, we saw a popular free site at which you could leave your van.

The road was good at first and then winding and finally dirt and corrugated, with some potholes. Cows wander close to the road in some parts.

We took about 2 hours to get there, with roadworks, and began following the loop, starting at Yaddamen Dhina lookout,

but missed a stop at Mook Mook so went on to Gudda Gumoo lookout and gorge walk. This leads 240 steps downward to the falls. As the falls weren’t gushing with water, it was easy to get around the rocks and levels and climb to various spots for a look. Very picturesque, with tall fern walls and rocks of so many colours.

Mook Mook lookout displays a massive panorama and the best thing was the sounds of the birds chirping in this huge expanse.

We really enjoyed the treks and although the loop drive is said to be 1.5 hours long, we spent about 3.5 hours there, doing walks and taking photos and listening to the park, which the Ghungalu people advise.

If you have a compact camping style, then you can camp here at a cost set by National Parks of Queensland, which at the time of writing is $6.50 per person per night.

Take a hat and plenty of water. Wear swimming gear if you intend to get wet and attend to signs.

Safe travels.

Outback Queensland – dust and dedication.

It’s hard to describe the region from Mt Isa to Rockhampton in an all-encompassing way, as it ranges from grazing to politics to the mining industry. Driving through Cloncurry and Winton, which are decent-sized, pretty towns, we made it about 20km from Longreach before setting up in the bush for the night.

Longreach is quite large and we admired the heritage train station before moving on. I would have liked to enjoyed some of their pioneer adventures and do the stagecoach ride, but due to Covid-19 it was not running. Another year!

An unexpected find this day was Ilfracombe. There is a substantial display along the main road, of old cars, tractors and machinery. Called the Lynn Cameron Machinery Mile, in recognition of his contribution which made the town what it is, the historical facts are recorded and it is fascinating. For example, there is a disused army tank from WWII that was converted to farm machinery.

Barcaldine was our lunch stop and what a beautiful place, buzzing with grey nomads on the move. Apart from some welcoming craft shops and eateries, the town is known for The Tree of Knowledge.

You can’t miss this structure and once inside it is hard to capture the dimensions.

In 1891, under the tree of knowledge, next to the train station, an organisation was formed that later became the Australian Labour Party. There is a statue, by Mylinda Rogers, to commemorate the shearer’s strike

The original tree was a ghost gum, that dies in 2006 so a monument was built by the Barcaldine Regional Council and a plaque explains that “the tree of knowledge monument, signifying protruding shear blades, is in recognition of the stalwart men and women of the west, who, through their courage, determination and dedication to the principles, ideals and objectives of the Union Movement, played a leading role in the formation of Australia’s Labour and Political Movement which emerged from beneath this Tree of Knowledge in 1891, and spearheaded the many reforms which were to result in a vastly improved way of life for Australians generally.”

There are other historical buildings in the town and a huge xylophone (?) that you can play.

We moved on and found a park in Emerald, which was much bigger than we had expected. Emerald is considered the richest coal and mineral centre of Australia so there’s plenty of work, people are on the move early in the morning and supermarkets are full. We visited the Botanic Gardens which are small but very pretty and used by many for fitness it seems.

A good playground in the Botanic Gardens

Ezmerald was chosen as our base to explore Blackdown National park, but I think there was a spot closer to the NP, Bluff, that we could have chosen, but didn’t know until passing it.

From Blackdown we went to Yeppoon, via Rockhampton. The latter has an unusual amount of bull statues! It looks substantial and attractive but we pressed on.

Mt. Isa

In the far northwest of Queensland, we survived a chilly Mt Isa night and set off for a day of discovery. Arriving at the lookout, the 360 degree view is dominated by the towers emitting smoke, and the density of high-viz clothing and 4WDs leaves you in no doubt that this is a mining town.

The original inhabitants of the area, the Kalkadoon, had fought to keep the area but were defeated by larger numbers and the fortifications. We found it hard to get any information about their culture and practices.In the 1920s a lone prospector found mineral-rich ore and thus began one of the most productive mines in the world, producing lead, silver, copper and zinc.

My husband posing in the display

There was a series of murals on the water tank at the lookout that are worth including , by artist David Houghton and two others.

Heading to Outback Experience at the Information Centre, we watched an informative 1970s film about the area. We did the self-guided tour which included the museum of artifacts and minerals, another film which was quite good and slightly more recent, then entry to the garden area.

The latter contained a small man-made waterfall, some attractive trees and benches to sit on for a moment of peace or to catch sight of the elusive birdlife. Overall it was overpriced.

The film upstairs did show us the underground hospital, created for the expected invasion in WWII, so we saw no need to go there, as planned. I liked seeing the experience of migrants to the area, as my father arrived in Australia after WWII and did labouring, alongside other European migrants. Mt Isa’s people believe they were multicultural before the word was being used, and when they started soccer teams in the 1950s, there were teams from many countries, but not Australia. A large contingent of Fins settled here, were called Huckleberries (as in Huckleberry Finn) and were known to be hard workers.

approaching the open cut
You can see two people on the bank, a quarter of the way down from centre

In the afternoon we made our way 53km to the Mary Kathleen mine, a disused uranium mine that opened in 1954 and closed in the 1980s, leaving a town of 1000 people with no work. The town is dismantled and some foundations remain but it is extraordinary to think of what we are capable. The mine is very impressive with colours and layers and a large pool of water at the base which also shines a rich turquoise hue. The road out is a bit rough and I wouldn’t try it with a 2WD (you can get a tour from Mt Isa). Many people brought their vans out and were staying the night in the site that was once the town, as it is free camping. You get a split in the road for each destination.

The history of Mary Kathleen, the town, erected in the old town square

Finally, we headed back to the lookout for sunset, missing the red reflection on the hills, but catching the calm shadows of the range against the colourful sky and the lights of the mine, like Christmas decorations.

It was very mild when we were there but Mt Isa can get extremely hot so take your hat and your water. There is a variety of water sports, due to the man-made lake, and the town is buzzing with activity. Most of the caravan parks were booked out and usually (non- COVID-19) mid-August is rodeo season, so you’d be advised to book ahead.

Safe travels.

Explorer’s and Barkly Highways

There are very long stretches of road in Australia, that in parts of the world would get you to another country or the other side of a country. But here, you can still be in the same State, in the middle of nowhere and have seen few towns.

Some of these stretches have variation and others do not. Notorious for the latter is the Hay plains, the Explorer’s Highway between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and the Barkly Highway between Tennant Creek and Cloncurry. Luckily, it was not long after rain, so there was a variety of vegetation and we amused ourselves with spotting unusual cloud patterns to pass the 7 hours it took to get from Alice to Tennant Creek.

The explorer highway goes from Darwin to Adelaide and was mapped out by John Stuart. In fact, it’s correct name is Stuart Highway but, as it’s an iconic Australian drive, it got a nickname (of course). Although Tennant Creek is still on this, it’s also the start of the other highway.

Once we hit Tennant Creek we found somewhere safe for the evening, as it can be a bit wild there. We discovered later that there are 2 free camps about 20 minutes further on, that have good wiki camp reviews.

The Outback caravan park had some interesting artwork in the trees.

Torres straight islander, Aboriginal and Northern Territory flags
Main street, Tennant Creek

Leaving Tennant Creek the following morning, we had an 8 hour drive to Mt Isa. Again, the scenery only offers minor changes, but a pleasant distraction at one point was a cloud of small birds (finches?) swarming toward us, followed by another and more. I think they ‘attacked’ us for a stretch of 200km and hopefully the video will let you share the experience. You’ll get a few looks at my husband’s legs – sorry, we’re amateur.

If not, in the picture, what looks like leaves is actually the little birds, stopping to rest and chatter.

Barkley homestead is an oasis on the journey and you can stay there. They have an interesting display of old steam engines out the front, with which to amuse yourself as you have lunch.

As we neared Mt Isa we passed some places worth returning to, such as Gregory Creek and Lawn Hill, but those dirt roads would be major diversions.

There are plenty of frequent toilet spots that are usually kept very clean and can provide an emergency stop if you can handle the highway traffic.

Soon the chimney stack appeared and we made last minute arrangements for a caravan park.

I’ll do a separate post on Mt Isa as it is a large mining town, warranting some discussion.

Safe travels. Always, always carry lots of water and a roll of toilet paper!