Cape York via Simpson Desert 16 June 2015 – Day 15

Tuesday, Jun 16, 2015 at 20:47

Peter Beard (WA)

The view over the Gulf of Carpentaria from Karumba is as beautiful in the morning light at high tide as it was last night at sunset and low tide. This is a really special place, well worth a visit. Think of Broome before it became “popular” and about the size of Yallingup in WA and you start to get the picture. We grabbed coffee (for now) and sandwiches (for lunch) from Ash's coffee shop opposite our motel and headed out of town to the Burke Developmental Road and Chillagoe.

The gravel starts at the turn off from the Normanton Karumba Road, we pulled over to let the tyres down to 26 psi front and 30 psi rear - almost the entire 500+ km to Chillagoe is gravel. Two massive semis towing three trailers each full of cattle came off the track as we were preparing to head in, covering us with dust and giving us a heads up on what to expect.

The track heads north-east for about 250km, passing a number of cattle stations on the way. It then turns south-east for about 250km, passing more cattle stations on the way. So that was about it. A gravel road, cows, trees, cows, cattle grids and yes, you guessed it, cows. Keeping a sharp eye out for wandering cows became the game of the day, made even harder when the termite mounds grew to such proportions that it was difficult to distinguish between them and a recumbent cow. The main difference being that termite mounds don't suddenly leap up and dash across the road in front of you. Definitely one to get right.

The track surface alternates between clay with the odd drift of bull dust to red gravel recently graded to blue metal with unexpected holes and drifts. The water crossing dips get deeper and more extreme, sometimes the bottom of the crossing - generally a concrete causeway - is about three metres below the surrounding landscape so the car disappears below the surface and emerges up a steep climb to yet another section of red gravel, clay or blue metal.

We rounded one bend to find a semi-trailer hurtling towards us. We were unprepared, and so was he given he was in the middle of the track doing about 80km/h. Pete veered left braking heavily, coming to a complete stop on the shoulder as the semi thundered past a couple of metres to the right. We stopped for a few minutes to let the dust clear and our heart rates to subside before pulling back onto the track.

Once again there is an abundance of bird life out here. Eagles, galahs, brolgas, finches, crows - all happily living off the land. A monitor, a massive low slung lizard, ambled across the track in front of us. We also saw another four little pigs, although this time they were not eating grass but being eaten by eagles and crows. We didn't stop to take picture.

About 30km west of Chillagoe the terrain changes dramatically, sharp limestone outcrops rear out of the earth and the flat land is left behind for rolling hills and limestone peaks. There are lots of caves in this ancient landscape - once a coral reef, these dry atolls are now more than 200km from the sea and about 500 metres above it, and have eroded into fantastic shapes. We will explore these tomorrow. Tonight we are at the Eco Park Village, we can highly recommend it. The veggies with dinner were very fresh and just lightly steamed. Green beans that squeak when you eat them. Cooked perfectly.


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