Kinda erosion

Rounded boulders are common at Karlu Karlu

North of Alice Springs and South of Tennant Creek is Karlu Karlu, which means round boulders in the language of the first nation’s people of the area. They’re my entry to Becky’s squares.

Once anglicized as Devil’s marbles, most people are changing to the traditional name.

Despite their appearance of having been dropped or hurled there, the boulders have been formed by wind, heat and water erosion over millions of years.

It is believed that a large granite mass, of which they are a part, was formed by volcanic activity, 1700 million years ago. Fissures in the mass allowed the erosion and the rounding of the blocks occurred.

Stunning at sunrise and sunset, I’ve tried to select photos that are not culturally sensitive to the Arrernte people. If you come this way, do stay overnight for a small fee (it was $3.30pp) and do walks, enjoy the vibe, learn some stuff.

Cape Palmerston

Recommendations are constantly made, when you are on the road, about good, cheap places to stay. One such suggestion we received was for Cape Palmerston. We were told it was beautiful and, as part of Queensland’s national parks, the rate to camp is $6.50pp/night. It was unforgettable.

How hard could it be? The road to Palmerston was dirt off the highway, which was now sugar cane country, but reviews were good and nothing to indicate any special skills or vans, apart from ‘recommended with a 4WD’. So off the highway we ventured and tentatively followed signs until the final turn-off, where we saw two people inflating their tyres. Uh-oh. We stopped and had a conversation, during which they advised driving over the hill, keeping well to the left, following in others’ tracks, unless we could ride their rise, stay well away from the water, watch the tide so we did’t get caught in quicksand (did she say ‘quicksand’?) and we should make it to the first camp. Stay there.

It would be accurate to say we had some reservations and the woman suggested some sand driving would stand us in good stead. Over the rise we drove and saw some other cars, to either side, well back from the beach. We decided to have lunch and then head back where we had come, then forward in our journey, but when one couple came over and said they were moving on and we could have their spot for a camp…well, we moved in.

I’m still uncertain that Queensland Parks intended this spot for a camp, but I got online and paid our fee, and soon we were exploring the beach.

The tide was about 40 m out from our camp and receding. We had taken maybe 30 steps when a movement on the sand caught my eye. Crabs! But no ordinary crabs; these were travelling forward (not sideways) and carrying bulbous blue heads/bodies .

If we approached them, they stopped and spun themselves under the sand in a second. They travelled in groups, alone, in a line and in any direction. The sand was alive!

The entertainment having lasted a good hour, we explored some more and found very unusual jellyfish nested in the sand (waiting for unsuspecting tucker?)

then tucked into dinner. As the sun set, our neighbours fished at the water’s edge, our cameras s clicked and we noticed the waters beginning to return towards us. No cause for alarm, the signs of last night’s high tide were at least a metre from our door. And the others were in a tent, further forward, so any cries of alarm would alert us in time.

Sunrise was lovely and, although we had both spent some of the night listening to waves lap near our door, we awoke high and dry. A little trouble with midgies, which were also new to us.

Plenty of cars had taken to the sand trail the day before, during the late afternoon and early evening, speeding off in other people’s tracks or on their rise, way off to the point, where we hoped they avoided the quicksand and made it around to the first campsite.

An unforgettable experience, nonetheless. Sorry Queensland National Parks if we took a liberty. Cape Palmerston is for the more adventurous and experienced and by all accounts is excellent for fishing and beaching.

Take your hate, sunscreen, water and 4WD manual.

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.

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!

Quirky Kulgera

Having arrived at the South Australia/Northern Territory border, we handed over our paperwork (COVID-19 arrangements) and were free to go through, but not stay at this beautiful, free campsite. The officer suggested Kulgera, down the road about 20km.

We had been here before for fuel, but had not experienced its hospitality. There is a reasonable store on site, an art gallery that showcased local work and a pub.

Famous (?) for the big 4X can, it also had its own travellers ‘artwork’/ collection – of sandshoes in this case.

Good, clean amenities and plenty of room, with drive-through sites.

4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

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Overall, the message is DO IT.  There are stunning free spots and others that are front row to top locations, like Mataranka Springs, The River Murray or Litchfield National Park.

But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

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NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry. WE have found roadside toilet facilities to be very good and NT and WA keep theirs in top condition. Always carry toilet paper, just in case the roll is empty.

 

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

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If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

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SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

 

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

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Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

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Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

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Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free camping is definitely cheaper.  One caravan park was $140 /night for a basic cabin (no toilet or shower) and $30 for an unpowered site.

Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

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We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

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Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, WA

Coolgardie, gateway to the gold mining region, was a stretching stop on the way to Kalgoorlie, that proved to be very interesting. Seeped in history and with charming heritage buildings, Coolgardie lays claim to the first gold sighting in WA,1893, and has excellent facilities for a family stopping there for any length of time.cof

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an old township

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well-maintained automatic ? toilets

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The gardens, said to be ‘the lungs of the town’ in 1916, providing outdoor recreation

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gazebos and trees for shade

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delightful playground

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historic buildings

There was a discovery trail suggested outside the visitor centre, covering the Eastern Goldfields and promising history, geography, culture and exercise. Had we more time, we may have explored further, but headed for Kalgoorlie as our main destination.cofKalgoorlie is etched into Australia’s early mining and railway history and we thought it was worth seeing, at least once. We are glad we did, as the buildings are impressive, the museum informative and the sight-seeing within easy reach.

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centenary buildings

Parking at the visitor information centre (look for the yellow ‘i’ signpost), we received excellent advice about what could be seen in a day. The major sightseeing spots were within a 3km radius.

We started in the very building we were in and explored the City Hall, with its displays of World War I and II, sporting and local heroes and beautifully maintained dress circle.

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We walked the main street, Hannan Street, named after one of three men who found the first nugget, and admired the architecture while we looked for ECOmaniac where the owner recycles things into crafty objects. Very interesting wares. The old market place was a bright construction, well-restored.

There are mining monuments all around Australia, but the one to St Barbara in the main street of Kalgoorlie sent shivers down my spine – it connected me with the present and the past. My family tree goes back to a place in Poland where they mine coal. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners and she is revered in that region of Poland. It reminded me of the great distances travelled by people, to harsh environments, when a new country or mineral was discovered. This circlet tells the dramatic story of Barbara, betrayed by her own father and is just down the street from the Paddy Hannan statue.

 

We jumped in the car to Hannan’s North Tourist Mine, cofwhich was very informative and you’ll find modern-day mining trucks

as well as old machinery, recreated buildings, a miner’s tent with a recording of Paddy’s find, and even a gold panning area where you can keep what stones or gold you find. You find yourself realising that people will endure a great deal in the hope of making it rich, quick.

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The Chinese arch and garden of remembrance were a nice touch, to pay tribute to the many miners who came from China during the goldrushes.

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There are souvenirs and a cafe, as well as outdoor BBQs and tables and chairs in the shade.

A short drive from here is The Mt Charlotte reservoir and lookout. The site informs you of the woodland area and the 360 degree trail has information and photographs about the opening, at the turn of the twentieth century, of the water supply which was the only one for 200km. It is the head of the Golden Pipeline, designed to get fresh water to miners and stop the deaths caused by lack of water.

One claim to fame of Kalgoorlie is the Superpit – once the largest open cut gold mine in Australia (now beaten by another in WA) which has a stunning viewing platform. The mine produces a massive 28 tonnes of gold a year.

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Those massive trucks are at the bottom of the pit

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the viewing platform is very safe

Burt Street, one of the original features of Boulder, established first, was damaged by an earthquake in 2005. A stone’s throw from the Superpit, it has recently been restored to its original state, from the late 1800s. Charming and with a symmetry that blended with the colour scheme, it was very quiet and the locals said that it was hard to keep up business when school holidays were started, and summer coincided.  It’s a hot and dusty place and many people stay home or in the main street of Kalgoorlie to do their Christmas shopping. We had a very good free- trade coffee in Newton’s Espresso Bar.

So, were we in Boulder or Kalgoorlie? Both – the towns merged at the start of the 19th century to sustain growth and share the only water supply for over 200km.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder explored sufficiently, we made for a petrol station, filled up with diesel and made it to Norseman before sunset.

There is a railway line that connects Adelaide to Perth, via Kalgoorlie, the Indian Pacific. Most drivers crossing The Nullarbor do not go through Kalgoorlie, as there is a quicker way to Esperance and Perth.

Always, always take water and a hat. Go west young ones, and see the world!

Safe travels.