Alice, Tennant Creek to Mt Isa and Cloncurry

Friday, Jul 15, 2011 at 12:34

Member-Heather MG NSW

Day 34
Monday 4th July. Alice Springs
Its back to Alice Springs this morning and we check in at the van park before 10.30, having booked and paid for a site before we left 10 days ago. Our site is the one we occupied last time and for some inexplicable reason we have all kind of difficulties getting the van parked. It must provide some interesting entertainment for the people around! John finally gets into the drivers seat and does a drive through of another site then quickly gets us into the spot but we don't have much room to spare.
As soon as the fridge is switched over, I carry all of the laundry to the machines and select two of the largest in which to fit it. Its much more economical to use these even though they cost more ($5 and $4) as I fit approximately 5 loads in and they are very fast.
John gets the setting up organised, hangs two lines under the awning and puts up our small folding clothesline while I go inside stuff and the washing is on the lines before 11.30! He then sets about looking at a slow drip in one of the van water hoses, puts some air in one of the car tyres which has a slow leak and is becoming a worry, and has a think about what he needs to buy and do at the shops.
I check online, find a phone number and address for Nissan service in Mt Isa and we book a service in for next Mon 11th. We are now strongly in favour of deferring this until the following week and doing the drive to Normanton for a weeks barramundi fishing in the river there as we are so close. John decides to talk to Darrell when we next meet them and try to either persuade them to accompany us, or maybe visit Lawn Hill or Cloncurry instead so we can still then continue on to the Corner Country as planned a week later.
With repairs to the car tyre and the van water hose done, we have luch consisting of any meagre left overs we can find, and pay the supermarket a visit. Its a big shop but very necessary and takes a while. John gets prescriptions filled..a one and a half or a half hour wait depending on which pharmacy we choose while I wander up and down the supermarket aisles.
With shopping in the car, we walk to pick up the scripts and have to dodge groups of aboriginals, mainly men, who have begun to congregate around the streets. They don't seem to cause any problems although I do feel a little threatened as they speak loudly and seemingly aggressively to one another in their own language and I wonder whether we are being discussed or taunted. I try not to look at them, in case they notice me!
John relates a scene he witnesses on the way to drop off the scripts, where a young man runs down the street with a carton of beer under his arm, pursued by a number of running women screaming 'Wayne....stop'. It is a sad reminder of the dependence on alcohol many of the indigenous locals have but also maybe a sign that the new laws in relation to purchasing take away alcohol from July 1st in the NT may be working - making access to it difficult to anyone without photo ID.
By the time we return to the van and I get the groceries sorted and packed away, the washing is dry and ready to be folded. John gives me a haircut while I sit under the awning and the short grey hairs float around and make the ground appear as though we have shaved a koala!
I enjoy the luxury of a long shower in the van then its 5pm and we spend most of the hour until 6 speaking to family members while we can.
Dinner is a simple meal..a thick piece of tender succulent eye fillet steak each and vegetables. After such a busy day its about all I can manage.
John is in bed and asleep very early while I spend a few hours online catching up with emails and other communication and watch a bit of TV. Its difficult for me to sleep as the sounds of Alice after dark penetrate the van..fireworks being let off, car tyres screeching and engines revving.Ahhhhh the serenity NOT! How I miss the bush, the stars and the camp fire.
Day 35.
Tuesday July 5th Tennant Creek
We are on the road by 8.30 today with no real plans as to where we drive to by this evening. We think Barb and Darrell will be in Tennant Creek and we may try to join them there so we can discuss our plans to go to Normanton and Leichhardt Lagoon camp ground asap.
We make good time but don't stop for anything more than toilets in a roadside rest area, lunch on the road side and then fuel at Wycliffe Well ($1.99 litre for diesel). At the Devils Marbles we do a drive through the campground and decide not to stay as it is already getting busy and it only early afternoon. There's a strongish wind blowing red dust around and some old bugger waves to slow us down ...sorry Mate but its one of the pleasures (or not) of staying in such a camp ground! We have now decided to make Tennant Creek and the Outback caravan Park which our friends have recommended to us a place a bit of the highway and ok to stay in.
We take our place in the queue of vans then find a site under some shady trees after a minor disagreement as to where we should park. Yes.....another long day driving 500 kms is showing on the other half! We locate Barb and Darrell who are surprised to see us, and after the setting up is complete wander over with chairs and drinks in hand (coffee for me, soft drink for John) to have a chat. Its very warm, hotter than we have experienced since our summer and we are glad to be under the trees however the others are parked where they have to sit in the sun!
Darrell is adamant that he will not deviate from his plans and travel with us to Normanton for some reason! John tells him we will probably go anyway and may meet up with them later on down the track if they aren't too far ahead however we know he will probably head for the North coast of NSW and their home at as quickly as possible once they have seen Mt Isa.
We however will still travel home via the Corner Country by ourselves unless something untoward happens.
We return to the van, make phone calls and have a stir fry chicken and vegetable satay dinner with rice. Plans are made for our stops between here and Normanton, and I have a look online to work out distances between campspots. John will phone the Mt Isa Nissan place in the morning and defer the service for a week and we will have around 7 days to spend in the camp ground we last vsited and loved 4 winters ago. I will pay for another night in Tennant Creek ($31 powered) in the morning.
The sounds of fireworks exploding penetrates the quiet of the evening intermittently however otherwise its a quiet night.
Day 35
Wednesday July 6thTennant Creek.
We let Darrell know our intentions this morning before setting out on a walk to the shops and Main Street and back. John phones and changes the car service date and I pay for another night at the van park.
We meet and see many aboriginals in the street, mostly wandering towards the Highway . Mostly they are polite and return our 'good mornings' or do their best not to acknowledge us. Many of the shop fronts are either boarded up and vacant or heavily protected by metal grilles and grates and some are defaced by graffiti. I don't think it would be the kind of town I would like to be out in after dark, or even late in the day however maybe I am wrong about this. We buy a Tuesdays 'Australian' paper for $3.50 which is more than double the marked price, and a couple of grocery items from the very well stocked Supermarket.
Back at the park, we take the car for a drive to the Information centre, a waste of time for us, and then to fill the car and spare fuel containers with diesel ($1.73? litre at the BP). The fuel at the caravan park is $1.89, and the United fuel station next to the BP is $1.68 so it pays to shop around.
The park is all but deserted however as we get back the queue is forming and sites are starting to fill. By tonight it will be three parts full again and we will all take off again not long after daylight like a flock of galahs!
Its a quiet remainder of the day...with not too many chores to do, so I spend time catching up on my diary, make a couple of van park bookings and enjoy the day reading the 'Weekend Australian' paper we managed to buy in Alice on Monday.
Day 36
Thursday July 7th Avon Downs rest area Barkly Highway.
We are out of Tennant creek early so as to get as far East as possible today. Our sights are set on Avon Downs rest Area, 70 kms west of Camooweal in Qld. Its slow going after we turn at Threeways and pull the van across the Barkly Highway into a head wind. We are glad to have the extra fuel on board as we read signs warning us of crosswinds and how they can increase fuel consumption.
The road stretches out across hundreds of kms of flat and mostly uninteresting land where small trees stand out on the horizon and clumps of trees are a rarity, although there are also stretches of dense stunted scrub with golden wattle blossom brightening the landscape. Every now and then small rocky outcrops rise out of the plains. Bird life is prolific: flocks of budgies, zebra finches and birds of prey, leading us to believe that there is still lots of water lying around after the prolonged wet season and we actually drive through short stretches where water lies in pools on either side of the road. We also see patches of holly grevillea in blossom as well as honeysuckle grevillea, some desert bloodwoods too. In places where the road verges have been recently burnt, the re growth is brilliant green. The decomposing carcases of cattle lie beside the road, and also occasional burnt out vehicles abandoned after breakdowns or accidents.
Our stops are brief - for toilet, fuel at Barkly Roadhouse (surprisingly not the dearest in Australia) and lunch. Darrell and Barb overtake us and we chat on the radio briefly before they pull away and vanish along the ribbon of road. There is the occasional road train which we communicate with and slow down for so they can overtake, and many caravanners going in both directions. By the time we reach Avon Downs mid afternoon we have decided so long as it is anywhere close to OK we will pull up for the day as John is tired and needs to rest.
We find a place which will fit the van between a few small trees and park so the worst of the wind is blocked by its rear. Whilst vehicles pull in regularly, mostly they don't stay and there are only a few of us parked when night falls. We are well spaced so as to not annoy one another. The pit toilet is clean which is all that really matters and there is the safety of the Police Station and a public phone directly across the highway, should we need it.
Day 37
Friday July 8th Cloncurry - Gilbert Park Top Tourist van park.
I have reserved us a powered site in a park in Cloncurry for tonight so we don't have to worry about when we arrive. We are away from our overnight park by 7.45 am and drive directly into the rising sun for almost the whole 70 kms. John tells me later its a really tiring drive as the landscape is flat and almost bare for most of the distance.
We pull in to buy diesel and Barb and Darrell greet us. They have stayed overnight in Camooweal in a park and soon overtake us once we are both back on the road, intending to stay in Mt Isa for a couple of nights. On reaching Mt Isa, we refuel then are fortunate to find a flat parking space on the highway across from the Coles supermarket so I shop while John searches for fishing gear and a newspaper. The perishable items are put into the fridge and we drive on to a rest area further east where we pull in for lunch and to pack away the remainder of the groceries. I have shopped for the next week so we aren't unprepared for our time in the Gulf country. From past experience we know how poorly serviced that area is as far as fresh fruit and vegetables and other commodities. The shelves empty as the week progresses and theres little choice after a few days.
The drive to Cloncurry is interesting with many red rocky ridges and hills and we arrive in the town mid afternoon. It is early enough for me do get a load of washing dry so its soon in a machine and then hanging under our awning as the clotheslines are all taken. Our site is directly across to the amenities, rather too close really however I guess the park has put us here as many people would desire it in preference to being a long walk away.
We pass the remainder of the day quietly, glad to be out of the car for a few hours. Tomorrow we face another long day as we travel to Normanton via the Burke Development Road.
Day 38
Saturday July 9th Bush camp on the Flinders River, south of Normanton.
A disappointing day! We do the long tiring drive to Normanton and then east along the Savannah Way for 18kms to Leichhardt Lagoon only to find a 'Campground full' sign on the gate! I called the number provided three years ago before we stayed here to be told that there was no need to book and there was plenty of space! It seems that word has gotten out and now it is frequented by travellers not so much because they wish to fish but because it is cheaper than the caravan parks in town! I phone and am told that theres no vacancy until Monday so we turn around and head back into Normanton both extremely disappointed.
The Burke Development Road is good double lane bitumen until north of the Burke and Wills Roadhouse however afterwards deteriorates into intermittent stretches of single lane bitumen and short sections of wider sealed road. Its tiring driving with increasing oncoming traffic as the day progresses and we slow so as to avoid throwing up gravel or being hit by that caused by others. We don't relish the thought of returning as John is tired and short tempered with his week of barramundi fishing taken from him! After a couple of text messages to inform family of our whereabouts, we fill the car with diesel in Normanton and turn south directly into a strong headwind again, deciding to bush camp overnight wherever an opportunity presents itself.
Around 50 kms south, theres a dirt track leading off the road so we pull in and do a walk to investigate parking places. There is a small flat space tucked in between some trees just off the road and further down the track nearer the Flinders River there are three or four assorted campers set up. The river has a weir and plenty of water on the southern side with pools on the Northern and its similar to the fishing places near Leichhardt Lagoon so we decide to stay overnight. The van isn't too difficult to park and John sets up the awning and shadecloth to protect us a little from the hot sun. He is soon away with fishing rod and redclaw traps baited in search of fishing opportunities.
I spend time collecting firewood and building a fire place from small rocks scattered around and before long there's a good fire burning. The day isnt so bad after all...it's quiet, private and the frequent sounds of bird calls penetrate the air. I enjoy a pot of coffee and sit in front of the fire with a book, perfectly happy! We can have a meal cooked over the fire and heat water to have a wash...what more could we need!
John is surprised to see the fire when he returns and happy to pull out the camp oven. We wish now we hadn't sent a message letting Barb know we would try to contact her tomorrow as we could certainly stay a few days here! We enjoy a quiet evening and after dinner I sit outside with the light of the stars as the fire burns away, knowing that its a special time!
Day 39
Sunday July 10th Cloncurry Gilbert Park tourist park
After breakfast I accompany John to the river to check the redclaw traps and watch while he fishes for barra for a while. We are thrilled to find 5 cherapin in the traps, two of which are quite big. They will make a delicious sandwich filling on todays lunch. There is no luck with the fishing so it seems we will pack up and head back south, at this stage unsure of where to.
Back at the van, we heat water and cook the cherapin then get the van packed up. Lunch is at Burke and Wills roadhouse where we also buy fuel. Mid afternoon, we finally have phone service and theres a message from Barb telling us they will wait to hear from us. We decide to phone and book a site at the park in Cloncurry for tonight and then in the morning try a third time to schedule a car service in Mt Isa, asap.
Our site this time is up the far end of the park (site 80) and its big and grassed (dry brown grass admittedly) and quieter than our previous one. After 5pm John phones Barb and Darrell and they tell us they are going to travel the bitumen roads so won't wait for us however they will be in Cloncurry tomorrow night so we can see them again. We wonder why we left the tranquillity of our bush camp so soon!
Day 40
Monday July 11th Cloncurry, Gilbert park tourist park.
John re-books our service for 2 days time, 8am and I pay for another night in the van park, before we take a walk into the town shops at Cloncurry. Its only a km or so but very tiring: flat and boring on the concrete pavement past old and ugly dwellings long past their best! We decide we would rather climb a mountain than walk here!
Barb and Darrell arrive mid morning and park in the adjoining site, here for two days and I change our booking for the park in Mt Isa for the following two nights without problem.
With a load of laundry on the clothesline we have a quiet day reading and enjoying company of friends. John attaches a new filter to our water hose and the quality of the water improves so much, we connect the water up to run through the hot water system. Until now, we have been using our own tank water for drinking and coffee maker.
Day 41
Tuesday 12 July. Sunset Top Tourist park Mt Isa ($26.10 p night powered with TT discount)
We arrive at Mt Isa by 10.30 and are happy to find we have a shaded site up the end of the park with only one close neighbour. John puts up shadecloth to protect us from the biting cold wind. After an early lunch we take a drive to the Information centre and I pick up information on Boulia and beyond. We also call at the big IGA supermarket on the eastern end of town and I am delighted to find Chocolate gelato finally. We buy two tubs! Unfortunately we may not have space in the freezer now for extra meat or bread however at least we will have gelato!! I certainly have my priorities right and life will be good for the next couple of weeks!!!
We drop in at Coles for a few groceries and I buy an inverter across the road to keep my laptop powered when we arent in a van park as the 12v car charger and the other inverter have both stopped working reliably of late.
The remainder of the day is uneventful really...just killing time while we wait for the car service tomorrow and then we off to the outback! I am impatient to be out of here.
Day 42
Wednesday July 13th. Mt Isa.
We have the car at the Nissan service place by 7.50 am and are second in line. Its a major (120,000km) service and as we also have a recall notice on the alloy wheels, and want the auto transmission fluid changed, could take all day before we have a phone call telling us its ready.
We walk into and around the shops, mostly still shut, before returning to the van park some 90 minutes later. I do a bit of hand washing and the chores around the van and much of the rest of the day is spent writing up my travel journal which has been sadly neglected for the past week.
I also spend time online checking latest information on roads and weather as much of the country we are planning on travelling for the next couple of weeks does not have internet or phone service and is regarded as remote. We need to be as prepared as possible.
We return to Nissan around 4.30 and pay our bill of just under $1000.00. We are also told that a number of parts need replacing, unfortunately not in stock in Mt Isa, and we are concerned about driving into the more remote parts of the state with these not attended to. Overnight we think about our movements...

Day 43
Thursday July 14th Cloncury Gilbert Park tourist park
John is back at Nissan before 8am and books us in for the extra work for next Tuesday 19th. I get on the phone and book Site 80 at the park in Cloncurry and then visit the Park office in Mt. Isa to book us a site (hopefully the one we have stayed in the past two nights) for next Mon and Tuesday nights.
We pack up and move on again, along the now familiar road to Cloncurry. There is a 'Stockman's Challenge' on for the next four days so maybe we can spend some time having a look at that, also put the canoe on Chinaman's rec area and dam close by. It is a more pleasant alternative than spending the next 6 nights in Mt Isa.
Our afternoon is spent taking a walk to the newsagents and then the 'Mary Kathleen' Information centre, before returning to while away the afternoon. John has set up the shadecloth as rain is expected tomorrow. Maybe it is fortuituous that we aren't travelling the dirt roads around Boulia during the next few days after all.

Day 44
Friday July 15th Cloncurry
I wake around 6am and think of our son and his partner who should be landing in Sydney around now...back in Australia having been working in the Caribbean on Cayman Island for the past few years. Its 18 months or more since we last saw them and I am longing to make contact again....however will have to be patient until we get home in a few weeks.
Its a cloudy and grey day, and light rain falls soon after daylight. We have a very lazy morning inside the van watching many others move on to other places. Our end of the park is almost deserted.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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