Cape York via Simpson Desert 27 June 2015 – Day 26

Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015 at 22:48

Peter Beard (WA)

We have found Lorella Springs Station and, as the sign on the gate says, "Welcome to Paradise". We are going to stay here for a couple more nights and explore this wonderful haven on the eastern side of the Northern Territory, just 80 km from the Gulf of Carpentaria’s south east corner. Getting here has been quite a grind. A 630km, nine hour grind to be precise.

Burketown pub on a Friday night is great. Lots of travellers, lots of locals, good food (highly recommend the local Barramundi) and great little units out the back to sleep in. The beds are firm, clean and comfortable, the shower hot. Perfect way to spend a Friday night on holiday.

We were up early, on the road not long after 7:30 - too early to get a coffee at the cafe over the road from the pub. Not far out of town we drove past the Tirrana Roadhouse - the "open" sign next to the "coffee" sign drew us in. Fresh coffee, but no milk. Apparently there was a shortage in Burketown yesterday so everyone drove out to Tirrana and cleaned them out. Never mind, a long black is just as welcome as a flat white early in the morning.

Suitably caffeine-charged we girded ourselves for the Savannah Way’s famous corrugated gravel. It failed to materialise for many kilometres. It is bitumen all the way to well past Doomadgee. Approaching Hells Gate Roadhouse (wonderful name) a road crew is laying the base to take the bitumen all the way to Hell(s Gate). Soon this final stretch of Highway 1, Australia's perimeter national highway, will be sealed making the circuit complete.

Heading towards the QLD/NT border the land once again surprises. Rocky hills erupt out of the flat country, the well graded track weaves through oddly-shaped red rock outcrops all the way to the border.

As soon as you enter the NT the track deteriorates. At first it’s the odd section of corrugations interspersed with sharp rocky sections and impossible-to-see-until-you're-on-them washaways, with relatively smooth bits in between. Crossing into Garawa Aboriginal Lands, the smooth bits disappear altogether and now it's just corrugations and sharp rocky sections. Countless creek and river crossings add to the excitement. Some are a gut wrenching, swooping drop down a bull-dust hole filled descent (bull-dust holes indistinguishable from the track), over a rocky base and then up a steep corrugated exit to more corrugations and sharp rocky sections. Did we mention the corrugations and sharp rocky sections? Others are the same as above but involve a water crossing. Not deep, not long and very pretty. Lots of white gums and paper barks and even flowing water at times. And crocodile warning signs. Lots of crocodile warning signs. Reminder: don't get too close to the water.

This stretch of track from the border to Borroloola is more than 250km long and the last 20km is the worst. The corrugations swell to alarming proportions, jarring car, body and soul. A huge sigh of relief to finally hit bitumen about 2km out of town. This was around 2:00pm (NT adjusted time, we picked up half an hour at the border). We filled up with fuel and sandwiches and decided to head on, having heard about Lorella Springs Station but not too sure what to expect.

The final 150km of track is not too bad. The first section, a shortcut bypassing Cape Crawford, is well graded and welcome after the bone destroying track heading in to Borroloola. Joining up again with the Savannah Way after about 60km it turns back to corrugations, sharp rocky sections and creek crossings, but not nearly as bad as back down the track. Finally the turn off to Lorella Springs Station appears - only 30km (or as the sign says one million bumps) to go.

The driveway in is a bit tough - yeah, yeah, corrugations, sharp rocky sections, creek crossings - but it is worth it. Stop the car next to the bar. Get greeted by friendly faces and a bell ringing for happy hour. Get pointed to the hot springs and given keys to a cabin. Oh joy. After a soak in the hot springs it was an easy decision to stop for a few days and explore.


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