WEDNESDAY 29 MAY WINDORAH TO HUNTERS GORGE 346kms
We had the alarm set this morning, for 6am, as it could be a big day. We were setting out into somewhat remote country.
We were out of Windorah at 7.30am – after paying our camp fees for the previous night.
There was some light cloud about in an otherwise blue sky – it was quite a pleasant day for travel.
Took the Diamantina Development Road west from Windorah. This was single width and sealed, and John had to concentrate hard driving on the narrow strip of tar. Still, we made reasonable time to the end of the tar, some 130kms from Windorah, by Morney Station.
On the way, we passed the old JC Hotel ruins, some 80kms west of Windorah, and about 20kms further on, the turnoff to Birdsville. There were occasional stark jump ups to vary the otherwise flatness of the country.
Once we left the bitumen strip behind, John had to concentrate even harder. Today would not be an easy one for the driver. At least, there was very little other traffic.
Further on from Morney, we came to the multiple channels of Farrars Creek. Around this area, there were some occasional low red dunes appeared. The creek channels were mostly just distinguishable by lines of low trees intersecting the road, but occasionally there was a Floodway sign. The country had steadily become more arid and stony too.
We had no trouble finding the Palparara turn off – it was signposted to Diamantina National Park, too.
This was definitely a station track. It ran roughly parallel to the braided channels of Farrars Creek, as far as the Palparara homestead – about 56kms from where we turned off. There were frequent patches of bulldust – the fine, powdery dust in holes of varying depth in the road. We decided there must be a lot of truck traffic, moving stock off the property, due to the drought.
We stopped at 10am, for morning coffee, near an abandoned bore.
Near the Palparara homestead, our way veered off to the NW, to Davenport Downs homestead, about 100kms distant, and near the Diamantina River. This section of the track was better – probably there was less stock truck traffic? But there were still some hefty bulldust sections. Despite being very cautious, sometimes it was hard to see these, or gauge their depth, so occasionally we ploughed through one instead of crawling carefully around it, and raised a great cloud of fine dust all around and over us. I was concerned about how much of this might be finding its way into the van – I had opened the pressure hatch on the roof this morning, but reckoned this stuff must be penetrating everywhere, regardless.
Mixed in with the dusty country, there were extensive gibber plains. On one of these gibber sections, I spotted a small group of birds on the ground and we stopped to check them out. Light brown, with some yellow, they were identified as the Gibberbird – a type of chat. We hadn’t seen these before, so were quite pleased with ourselves. It gets harder all the time to find birds we have never spotted before.
We stopped for lunch by a dry creek channel, a bit south of Davenport Downs homestead. Around this time, had begun to notice quite strange, low hills on the horizon – a low range with quite wide gaps in it. We speculated whether any of these gaps were the so-called Diamantina Gates, where that river’s many channels constrict to flow through two gaps, before spreading out again.
The track turned north just before Davenport Downs was reached. The entrance gate to the National Park was only a few kms north. We reached that about 2pm – the going had not been fast.
As I was opening the gate, a 4WD came up behind us. This was the only vehicle we’d encountered since turning off the Development Road. The 4WD driver was amazed to see us there with a caravan, and wanted to know how we’d managed to tow it, on that track. He reckoned he’d nearly gotten bogged in the bulldust, as few times. Maybe we’d taken a lot more care than he had, but it really hadn’t seemed all that bad, to us. We certainly were going slower than him.
Continued north, running parallel to the Diamantina, until we came to the National Park headquarters. This was quite a substantial set of buildings, which we thought must have been the station homestead and associated outbuildings, when this was Diamantina Lakes Station, once briefly owned by Kidman. It would have been a bleak and lonely place, surrounded by the flat barrenness of the flood plains.
There was a huge solar panel array on one building.
The two men from the 4WD were there too, booking in. It cost us $7.70 a night, and we paid for four. They said they were going to the Gumhole Camp, as it was more sheltered. We opted for the Hunters Gorge Camp area, because it was right by the Diamantina River. I might add that when we got to Hunters Gorge, and felt the wind, we realized why shelter was significant!
The track to Hunters Gorge – and beyond that, to the Boulia road – crossed the Diamantina channels in cemented dips – interesting! They would be covered very deeply in floods! Just beyond the channels we turned right on the track to Hunters Gorge. Then we crossed a small but deep, dry creek channel.
When we got to the camp area, which was just basically anywhere one could access along the river bank, we were the only people there. It was a bit dusty and had been well “stick-picked”. We found a fairly flat spot for the van, with a premium view over the big Mundaweira Waterhole – the deepest one in the park – to a reddish coloured bluff beyond.
The waterhole was great – clay coloured water, pelicans drifting about on it. From the outset, we thought it a magic place and well worth the effort to get here.
There was a long drop toilet not too far away – but not too close! It was somewhat smelly, but better than none.
There was not as much dust in the van as I’d feared, given what we had been ploughing through. A quick wipe of all the surfaces, a floor sweep, and all was well.
A screw holding one end of the griller burner had vibrated loose and the burner was resting on a bread baking tin that I’d stored in the compartment. Good thing it was there because the burner had not been able to drop far, so it was all easily fixed by screwing it up again.
We pottered about, setting up camp and just looking at the waterhole and the birds.
John’s left arm and shoulder were sore from the driving – it had been a hard day for him. requiring total concentration and lots of gear and clutch work.
Tea was tinned mussell soup, then garlic and parsley pasta with a tomato sauce – I had some squishy tomatoes to use up.
After tea, we sat out by the fixed fireplace/BBQ that was by our site. We watched stars in a brilliant night sky. The moon rose about 8.30pm. John had set up his camera on the tripod and took photos – including a moon “staircase” on the waterhole (these did not come out!).
There were lots of fish splashing. We’d earlier seen a Pacific heron, on the opposite bank, catch and eat a big fish. It took him ages to mouth-maul it to the exact position he wanted, before swallowing it, head first.
The cruising pelicans made great phosphorescent streaks where they sailed across the moonlight path on the water.
It was a chilly night, though. So quiet – no people type noises at all.
Unfortunately, there were several feral cats about. They approached our camp soon after we set up and were around for the rest of the night. One even climbed into a gum tree, in the dark, about two metres from where I was sitting.
We were both very tired and did not stay up late.