Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Boulia to Gold Coast

Yellow route: Boulia to Gold Coast - 2490 km
White route: Total so far - 37'180 km

The third weekend of the Simpson Desert Carnival, held in Bedourie, was our place of interest two weeks ago. We travelled roughly 1500 km to attend this event and made it on time to the Rodeo on Friday night. For both of us it was the first time we watched these courageous cowboys fighting and falling off the bullocks or broncos. Many of the participants, most of which locals, didn’t score as the animal bucked them off in less than the required eight seconds. As an outsider it is hard to understand why someone would put himself in such a risky situation.

 Tension is high, everything ready to go

 Very brave cowboys. No matter whether riding a bullock....

 ... or a horse

Ouch – the landing is hard

We were very pleased that Kate and Lindsay (the two Sydnesiders we met several times on this trip, last time in Cairns) joined us on time for this special weekend (they had driven 750km that day!). As always we really enjoyed their company, we loved the chats around the campfire and they got us into playing cards the Australian way….

Exchange travel highlights at the campfire with Kate and Lindsay

While the Friday evening event was rather small, short and with fewer spectators, the horse races on Saturday attracted a much bigger crowd. The women were dressed up in fancy clothing, broad-brimmed hats and high heels. Wearing pink was a must, not only for women, in order to support the breast-cancer organisation. 
There are different motives to attend this event: social gathering, see and be seen, betting and winning money or having fun and drink lots of beer. We tried to make money too, but were unsuccessful with our bets although we took Lindsay’s advices to heart. We could have won the „furthest from home“-category in the Ute-Master, had we only participated. The whole weekend was a real true-blue event and we absolutely enjoyed being there, arguably the only overseas visitors.

Competition everywhere – also for the nicest dress, but we didn't see men line up for a dress competition

Good luck with the bet...

On Sunday we had a dip in the artesian spa in town (still Bedourie) where we met Anne and Juerg, two travellers from Melbourne who met another Bremach with Swiss number plates (friends of ours) just over 2 years ago in Birdsville, 170km away. We got along really well and they spontaneously decided to join us on our short Simpson Desert trip. We drove 70 kms into the QAA line, which, according to our guide book, offers the most challenging sand-dune crossings of the whole iconic Simpson Desert track. We had a lot of fun, great camping and excellent company in the two days. Even though we always chose the most challenging option – if there was a choice at all – we only needed a second attempt once- Except for the Big Red, where we pushed Kasbah to its limit. He did well and managed the second most difficult ascent. After another curried camel pie from the famous Birdsville Bakery and a drink in the pub, we went East whereas Anne and Juerg went South. Hopefully we will meet them again in Melbourne.

 On the way to the Simpson Desert

 Legendary Birdsville pub

Camping in the desert is particularly nice....

...not to mention sunrise and sunset

 Kasbah on the "Big Red"

Last drink at the pub with Anne and Juerg

The next outback event was about to follow shortly in Roma. Driving the 1100km took us only two days but we still got to see a few outback towns like Betoota (population zero!), laid-back Windorah, friendly Quilpie, charming Charleville and sleepy Mitchell. We were warned that Campdraft is not a spectator sport but still wanted to attend this unique Australian sport in Roma. For the readers which might not know what it is all about, here is an explanation. 
A rider on horseback must „cut-out“ one beast from a mob of cattle in the yard (= the camp) and block and turn the beast at least two or three times, to prove to the judge that he or she have the beast under control. They then drive the beast out of the camp and through a course around pegs involving right-hand and left-hand turns in a figure of eight, before guiding it through two pegs known as „the gate“. The outside course must be completed in less than 40 seconds. The judges give scores for the cut-out, the horse work and the completion of the course. Disqualification (time up or lost control of beast) is signalled by a crack of the judge’s stockwhip. We were lucky enough that an elderly gentleman, who was competing in campdrafting most of his life, explained everything to us and made this another unforgettable experience for us. But it is true, that it gets boring after a few hours if one doesn’t know neither horses nor riders, which are mostly young Jackeroos and Jilaroos (i.e. station workers). 

 The cut-out

Course around the pegs

We found the very pleasant farmstay „Ups n Downs“ a few kilometres out of Roma, where we enjoyed our time until the „show“ in the Roma saleyards was on on Tuesday morning. During our stay we also cycled around the area and visited the most impressive, modern displays of the Santos office, where they allow visitors to find out more about their operations on gas exploitation on a very, very big touch screen. They are currently running the Santos GLNG project, which is a pioneering venture that will produce natural gas from Queensland’s coal seams and convert it into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for sale to world markets. This is economically important for the region but environmentally critical as they use the frakking method to extract the gas. The readers with more interest can check their website.
Attending the auctions on the saleyards in Roma (the largest cattle-selling centre in Australia) was an absolute highlight. The two knowledgable guides (retired cattle farmers) were good as gold with their explanations about the process and the history. Everyone could feel their passion about this industry. Through these saleyards an annual head of cattle of 300’000 - 400’000 are sold. Cattle are usually sold by cents per kilogram of their live weight. The auctions are conducted twice weekly with store sales on Tuesday and prime sales on Thursday. The store sale is comprised of cattle purchased for fattening or to breed from. It attracts usually around 7000 head of cattle. The prime sale is comprised of cattle fattened on grass, fodder crops or grain and are ready to be sold for meat production.

 Cattle in one yard is auctioned in one go

 The head auctioner is also an incredibly fast speaker. Counting up is like the rattling of a machine-gun

 Brahmen cattle is easy going and has a soft nature

The buyers

We left the outback for the Gold Coast to meet Adrian an Anna (two Swiss who came to Australia in 1969 by boat for a two-year working commitment, but never felt like going back. We met this lovely couple in 2010 on the Great Ocean Road and kept in loose contact. By coincidence we were in Alice at the same time in June this year, and not surprisingly they spotted us.) For three days, Adrian lent us not only his fully equipped workshop but also his expertise, he drove us around and together with Oliver did a full service on Kasbah. Apart from that we were able to fix many bits and pieces which needed to be sorted. Our fridge, which refused cooling since Bedourie, was repaired at the Waeco headquarters and we are all set now for the final countdown. 

 Adrian's workshop was our home for three days

 Kasbah got his well deserved service

Adrian's well equipped workshop – heaven for Oliver

Being so close we had a look at Surfers Paradise which was packed with people because of the school holidays. We don’t envy those holiday makers. Definitely not our cup of tea but Burleigh Heads, only 10km South is a gem. It not only offers an excellent surfing beach with a perfectly set up lawn to sit and watch the surfing cracks, but also a national park with pleasant walks in a small rainforest. 

We are already in the second to last week on the road and the title of the next post will not be a surprise. Gold Coast to Melbourne!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Northern Tip to Boulia

Yellow route: Northern tip to Boulia - 3010 km
White route: Total so far - 34'690 km

From the northernmost point of the Australian continent it was a long drive back on the Peninsula Developmental Road to get onto bitumen roads and back to more densely populated areas. A good 480km back to Coen, which acts as the gateway to the northern Cape York Peninsula, another 400km to Cooktown and back to sealed roads. It took us 3 days of solid driving but time flew as we were listening (wherever corrugation did allow it) to another excellent audio book: Kings in Grass Castles, a classic by Mary Durack. This gave us more insight into the history of settlement of this vast country by some very enthusiastic, dedicated and fearless white men. Again we were able to find nice and quiet camping spots on the way. After crossing the Great Dividing Range in a spectacular drive through Lakefield national park we headed for the pleasant Elim Beach (20km north of Cooktown) where we gave Kasbah and ourselves a rest and stayed for two nights. Not doing much but enjoying the scenery with the coloured sands being particularly attractive. 

 Very smooth gravel road through rainforest in the very north of Cape York Peninsula

 Fantastic camping at Elim Beach

 Elim Beach and the coloured sands in the background

On a Sunday morning we got into sleepy Cooktown for an excellent coffee and magnificent views from the Grassy Hill lookout.

 A monument to the Goldrush in the Cooktown area

 View from Grassy Hill lookout in Cooktown

There are two good options to enter the northern Daintree area. The renowned Bloomfield track with extremely steep climbs and the notorious CREB track which had recently been reopened. The latter being definitely much more demanding. But having „failed“ on the Old Coach Road lately (see last blog) we were not yet ready for a new adventure. The challenge of Bloomfield didn’t make much impression neither on us nor on our truck, but the scenery of the rainforest was very much to our taste. This wonderful jungle tumbling right onto white-sand beaches continued after the overnight stay at Noah’s Beach. Next we spent half a day in the outstanding Daintree Discovery Centre, where we got to explore the rainforest at different vertical levels. Walking with an audio guide along different tracks from the very ground to the canopy of the trees. Only the icing on the cake, seeing a Cassowary in nature, was missing. A car ferry brought us across the Daintree River and back into agricultural land. The pricing of these kind of ferries across Australia is quite interesting: the eleven ferries which cross the Murray River in South Australia are all free of charge, crossing the Daintree River costs $13 (single-fair) and crossing the Jardine River up at Cape York is worth $98 (return). In terms of transport distance, there is not much difference!

 Bloomfield falls

 Lush rainforest in the Daintree

 Crabs' work – the animals too shy to be photographed

Lookout in the Daintree

 Thornton Beach, near Cape Tribulation

 Green Tree Phyton

 Boardwalk in the Daintree discovery centre

We chose Mareeba in the Tablelands to be our service town before the next stint into the Outback. Probably not the smartest of decisions as they didn’t have neither a car wash nor a laundry with good front loaders and to top it off: we inadvertently selected a campground with no showers. We worked around all this and still had a pleasant stay and a most interesting guided tour through the Jaques coffee farm.

Strolling through the Herberton Historic Village kept us busy for another half day. The exhibits (old houses either moved from other places in Australia or rebuilt) were carefully chosen, authentically furnished and splendidly equipped. The exclusive presentation of the machinery at a print-shop replica by an expert who has worked as a printer for his whole life, left a big impression on us and made us aware of the huge impact of the automated type-setting process on both literature and education. 

 Neat little shop in the Herberton Historic village

Print shop and David working now as tourist guide

Tedious type setting before automation

A leap in productivity in type setting: Intertype machine with 4000 moving parts

Printed on a manual printing press

 In this shed there were beautifully maintained vintage cars

After another long driving day we enjoyed the lookout and gorge walk in the Porcupine national park as well as the overnighter at Pyramid campground. 

Curious Rufous Betong visiting us at night (the animal is actually 50 cm tall)

 Pyramid Gorge, Porcupine national park

The landscape got drier and drier as we drove south west. Our current goal is to be in Bedourie by Friday 11th for the last weekend of the Simpson Desert Carnival ("Birdsville races") with a rodeo, horse races and the Ute & Travellers Muster. There were many options to get there and regardless of how small these Outback towns are, they have a colourful flyer or magazine, advertising the „must-dos“ in their town. The lovely lady at the visitor centre in Hughenden made the choice for us. We went for Muttaburra, Aramac, Barcaldine, Longreach, Winton, Middleton and Boulia and didn’t regret it. Great scenery, a lot of remoteness and heaps of dead kangaroos along the roads. Also some very interesting history about the pioneering shearers strike in 1891 which indirectly led to the formation of the labour party and lots of friendly people in charming little towns. All the while we listened to the "soundtrack" of this important part of history: Evan McHugh’s latest audio book, The Shearers. 

 It's "shockingly dry" in the Outback, as the lady at the tourist information in Hughenden put it

 Good example of a small Outback town – Aramac

Famous tree of knowledge in Barcaldine. Place where the meetings of the striking shearers took place

We mostly camped at rivers (both wet ones and dry ones) and some sunsets were spectacular

One of the several hotels in Winton

Statue of the legendary Banjo Paterson, composer of the song Walzing Matilda. Unfortunately the museum burnt down in June this year....

A big contrast to the monotony of some Outback roads was the stretch between Winton and Boulia. A magnificent scenery with colourful hills in dry flats — and suddenly the Cawnpore Lookout presented a jaw-dropping view of a series of rocky hills. Also not to be missed was a drink at the legendary Middleton Hotel bar, the only remaining building of the once-important Cobb&Co. mail service route between Boulia and Winton.

We haven’t decided yet how much more Outback there will be on our travel as it is bone dry. You’ll read in the next blog how we will spend the last weeks of our Grand Tour around Australia!

 Middleton Hotel – truly in the middle of nowhere

Magnificent view from the Cawnpore Lookout