To Burketown

29th July, 2015.

We topped up our water tanks and left Cape Crawford fairly early, heading towards Borroloola and then back on gravel roads to the NT-Qld border. Our plan was to stop overnight along the way at one of the river crossings. Robinson River seemed to get good reviews so I put it into the GPS. We arrived at the camp spot high above the river but it didn’t really appeal so we decided to travel further with the intention of checking out the campsite at Calvert River.

As we walked back to our parked vehicle, a cattle truck came through the crossing from the opposite direction. He called us up on the UHF to tell us there were two more road trains loaded with cattle close behind so we told him we would wait for them to come through. The entry and exit to this river crossing was very steep with a blind corner coming down into the river from the south. There were a number of camper trailers parked on either side of the crossing with their occupants standing around chatting. I walked down to see what was going on and was told they had passed these cattle trucks at Calvert River where they were having a break and the drivers said they would be coming through Robinson River around lunchtime so they had stopped to watch them come through. It wasn’t long before we could hear the next truck. By contrast with the first truck that we could hear going down through his gears as he slowed his vehicle for the descent to the river bed, the second truck came barrelling round the corner, through the river bed at a speed that sent water spraying above his cab and roared up the other side. Had anyone been coming up as he came around that bend, I’m sure he would have taken them out. The third truck came through shortly after at a more reasonable speed but I still felt sorry for those poor cattle in the trucks. Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken my camera with me.

Once we were sure we could safely cross the river, we resumed our journey. As it was past lunchtime, we pulled into a layby a reasonable way off the road to have lunch. It wasn’t a bad spot so we decided to camp there for the night.

At about 1.15 a.m. I was woken by the sound of what must have been the return of the empty cattle trucks. I thought they were coming through the van, the noise was so loud!

30th July, 2015.

Today was my birthday but, as we were in the middle of nowhere, it was just another day. Or so I thought!

After another early start we reached Calvert River where we had planned to camp last night but having been disappointed with the camping area at Robinson River the previous day and having found a reasonable spot along the road, we had decided not to take a chance on another disappointment. As can be seen from the photos I quickly snapped from the car, it was indeed a pretty spot and I would have liked to take more photos around the river but as there were signs warning about crocodiles, I was not venturing out of the car into the water. The entry and exit to the river crossing was very steep and we didn’t want to stop going in or out.

After what seemed like days of relatively flat countryside, as we neared the Queensland border we began to see some jump ups and hills. This sealed section was just after a mine site and was a very steep descent with signs warning about oncoming road trains. Fortunately, we did not encounter any but as we were almost at the bottom four or five mine vehicles approached us but gave us plenty of room.

Back in Queensland again after 18 weeks and around 15,500 kms but we are still a long way from home. The Savannah Way up to this point had been good with just a few sections where roadtrains had carved it up a bit.

From the border the road deteriorated somewhat. A section was tarred but badly damaged and then it was fairly corrugated and rough. Still we were travelling along quite happily until the Tyredog alerted us that the left rear tyre on the Landcruiser was deflating 32 kms west of Hells Gate Roadhouse. This time it was not a false alarm. Erich could hear air hissing out of the tyre. So there was nothing for it but to stop where we were and make a tyre change. The edge of the road was fairly deep red sand making it difficult to jack up the car.

As luck would have it, vehicles taking part in Oz Bash began roaring past us, lights flashing, horns blaring and throwing red dust all over us.

In this photo, a road train that had passed going in our direction can be seen heading away. I can tell you, standing by the side of the road watching a roadtrain bearing down on us in a cloud of dust was a daunting sight. Fortunately he was a considerate truckie and slowed down to crawl past us with more Oz Bashers approaching. It was fortunate that the road was as wide as it was at this point.

After a lot of huffing and puffing, Erich managed to get the tyre off having already thrown the spare down from the roof rack but we were having a bit of trouble getting enough purchase in the sand to lift the spare onto the studs. Up to this point quite a few vehicles had stopped to ask if we needed help but we had felt under control till now. It was around 30 degrees Celsius, Erich was covered in red sand – no longer white hair and beard; it was red!! So when the next vehicle stopped, we were happy to accept some help. A young chap and his father who were taking part in the Oz Bash were happy to help. The young fellow, probably around 30, made it all look like a piece of cake and had the wheel on doing up the studs while Erich was on the roof rack having the flat tyre hoisted up to him to mount. We would have managed it ourselves eventually but we were very glad of their help and gave them a donation for the Royal Flying Doctor Service for which Oz Bash was a fundraiser.

Our helpers.

When everything was packed away and we were ready to roll, Erich was such a mess that he went straight into the van and had a shower. The mess in the bathroom was incredible!! The shower curtain is no longer white!

When we got to Hells Gate Roadhouse the mail plane was parked on the tarmac across the road. Apparently passengers can go on the mail run round trip, departing from Mt Isa and stopping off at outback stations, the roadhouse and Burketown. This is something I think we would enjoy so will file it away for a future trip. On this occasion, the plane picked up a bunch of backpackers who had totalled their vehicle somewhere near the roadhouse and was taking them to Mt Isa.

Prior to getting the flat tyre, we had been debating whether to go to Gregory Downs and then to Lawn Hill Gorge. We had been told that there was no water in the river at Gregory Downs (which we have subsequently learned was incorrect) and as we felt it was important to have the spare repaired, even though we had a second spare, we decided to bypass Gregory Downs and get to Burketown where we hoped to have the tyre repaired before the weekend.

On arrival at Burketown we went to the caravan park to book in, only to find it was full but they offered us a spot at their overflow camping at the Rodeo Grounds. $10 per night and there was water so we were happy with that. It was very dry and dusty, but this is the Outback!!

Next stop was the local garage come engineering works and they repaired the tyre while we waited. We had thought a faulty valve was to blame but it turned out that in addition there was a sharp stone through the tread. Because we still had the van hooked up with the stone stomper in place, they were unable to get their jack under the car so we took the now repaired tyre with us and Erich changed it the next day. It certainly was an easier exercise doing it on firm ground.

As it was my birthday we decided to head to the pub for dinner and had a lovely meal. It certainly was a birthday to remember!

It was also a Blue Moon – there won’t be another until January 2018.

We stayed an additional night at the Rodeo Ground so that I could do some washing and Erich had his camera at hand as usual.

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