Lake Eyre and then where? (Part 3 Western Qld Towns and National Parks)

Thursday, Jan 12, 2012 at 02:29

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

It was obvious to us that from Birdsville we would need to head east towards Windorah but from there it was to be where the whim of the day took us. In other words we really had no plan for the next few weeks travel. The day before we traveled out towards Big Red but baulked at the 70 klm detour due to the wet conditions (we've already conquered Big Red several times in the past). We drove until we reached water, marveling at the birdlife plying the shallow water. Between the sandhills were expanses of greenery, very pretty.

Late August is a good time to travel this road, what with the Races only 2 weeks away, graders were working long stretches of the Development Road making for good traveling conditions. Lake Moonda provided an interesting lunch stop - anywhere out here with water is interesting! A further stop at Deon's Lookout - great views and a chat with fellow travelers, passing the sadly derelict Betoota Hotel where once you could obtain a cold beer and fuel (but not unless the bar closed or the fuel pumps were locked) before reaching the Diamantina Development Road (now bitumen beyond this point) and some 277klms from Birdsville.
The drive into Windorah is not without some interesting features, the J C Hotel Ruins( hotel finally bought up by the local station owner and closed to stop his employees from becoming intoxicated - or so the story goes), the Hole in the Mountain and just a few kilometers short of Windorah is a magnificent red sand hill.

Windorah itself is an interesting small town, the kicking off centre for the Birdsville races and the Simpson Desert adventure, it has cheap camping at the caravan park $10.00 for power and $5.00 for unpowered sites with excellent facilities. The Service Station across from the pub was selling diesel at $1.62/l (good value) but the old chap running it was near as blind and was happy to take your word for how many litres sold, he also recommended the meal at the pub, however on this Saturday night the staff had been given the day off to attend the Jundah Rodeo in lieu of the upcoming Birdsville races rush. Never mind, they provided a pleasant BBQ meal. We also met and chatted with 3 bikers who had left WA to ride to Cape York and were returning home via the Birdsville Track and Great Central Road. As they mounted their heavily packed bikes there were "groans" as they threw their legs over the bikes - boy what an adventurous (and torturous) ordeal, basically around Australia on a motor bike and a lot of it off the bitumen as well. They were happy to know that there was only about 12 klms of sandy road on the Birdsville Track (out to the punt).

Next day there were lots of birds on the Coopers Creek (at the bridge) and plenty of campers (many long term). It was here we decided finally that we would turn off near Hammond Downs and take the station road for 78 klms into Welford NP. arriving about midday. I have to say that on first impressions (with half the park closed) that there is not a lot to see. The Barcoo River waterholes are encased by Mulga, and Gidgee scrub and Spinifex grasslands. the camp site on the Barcoo - Old Boomerang Waterhole, no facilities - was lovely except for the many dead fish floating on the edge of the waterhole - still they made a great meal for the many hawks and the family of scrounging feral black pigs. The river was a beautiful sight on dusk with the setting sun and the reflections on the water - if only the wind had died down. On a casual walk we sighted a Little Grass bird - another first for me.

On our way out next morning, again with a strong wind, we followed the glorious 22 klm "desert drive"which took us north towards Jundah. The track through the scrub passed a large waterhole, two bores and tanks, an oil well bore of over 2000ft in depth with many rusting fuel drums and best of all the most easterly (and brilliant red) sand hill in the Eyre Basin and covered in heaps of flowering shrubs. Another exquisite sight was the sudden appearance of small clusters of white daisy like flowers, just brilliant against the red soils (see photo).

Leaving the park an interesting drive into Jundah, probably one of the neatest outback towns you could come across. It is the administrative centre of the Barcoo Shire - well set out with gardens and a caravan park, a small general store (for sale) Shire offices and Police Station. It was gazetted a town in 1880 an is an important opal mining area, population about 100. A few dollars spent to stock up and then off along the highway towards Longreach passing through the low hills before turning off 6 klms into Stonehenge. This is a small community - orginating as a safe crossing area for bullock teams and as a corner stone of 3 large properties, now with a population of about 10. It provides facilities for travelers (free camping) an information centre (though shut when we visited), a pub that operates fuel bowsers and an engineering service and that's it. Apparently it is one of only 3 areas in Australia chosen as a base for an over-the-horizon radar defense initiative. A great spot for lunch though and a chance to top up with fuel before heading out the station road for 35 klms before we turned off over the Thompson River and drove for another 5 klms to the Broadwater Waterhole in Lochern NP. It is the combination of 2 large stations and conserves Mitchell grass plains, Gidgee and Mulga scrub and Bloodwood woodlands. There are some good campsites (no facilities) along the extensive and permanent water hole and we chose one under the Coolibah trees about 1 1/2 klms from the registration point. We were the only visitors in the park at that time, a visit from the Ranger provided us with an insight into his job and the isolation from his family and children (living in Longreach), this was his first full time park appointment and as such very enthusiastic about his job, it was good to talk with him.

This whole area is a perfect example of the dry expansive station country that is constantly subject to flooding and drought alike. The Thompson and Barcoo Rives join to form the Coopers Creek (about 100klms south) and as such at times see huge volumes of water flowing through the system. Evidence of this was apparent at the old station homestead where the unique fowl house has an elevated roosting area (second story). Time spent here at the waterhole was just so peaceful and restful.

Our next stay would be Isisford Common some 150 klms East. The flat, dry and largely open Mitchell grass country extended for the 40 klms to the Thompson Development Road and then another 12 klms before we turned off onto the Isisford Road. Here the vegetation improved with low scrub and bush, but still plenty of open grassland. Three interesting features, the grey and often rich brown soils, contrasted beautifully with yellows and greens of the vegetation. Secondly along the last 100 klms side roads led to the many stations - all well sign posted - there must have been more than a dozen of them. Thirdly the existence of many hundreds of Moon Rocks (Calcium Carbonate) formed below the surface and forced up through the soil to weather in the sun. I have seen examples of them at Blackall decorating their gardens in many different rounded shapes. You wouldn't want to be caught on these roads in the wet.
Isisford is a quaint historical town, not much remains open commercially but the local community is to be congratulated on the way they have presented the past. For $2.00/day visitors can camp on the Common and believe me many do and often for extended periods judging by the well set up camps. The place was quite crowded on this occasion. We spoke with one chap who had been there a couple of weeks and was intending to stay for another three. I'm sure there was a policy of one or two weeks (?) oh well it's money being spent in the town that counts.

We have often stayed at Blackall on our travels and once again it was a good opportunity for a clean up and stock up of essentials - there is a great butcher shop here along with many interesting sights. One hundred klms southeast is the small township of Tambo with its free camping on the waterhole of the Barcoo River (again) but here it is a mere creek. A walk back into town the next afternoon revealed well presented old buildings and houses, museum of interest and best of all the now trendy Fanny Mae's cafe, where a mug of tea/coffee (self serve) is a mere $2.50. On returning to our campsite we discovered that we had neighbours nearby who turned out to be our very good friends Stella and David from Brisbane (returning home from their trip to the Gulf) and whom we had intended to call in on before leaving Queensland. A great night of chatter beside possibly our lousiest camp fire for the trip.

Next installment into the Sandstone Belt and a minor disaster
Photos to follow
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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