SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER KINGFISHER CAMP TO PUNGALINA 265kms
Tried to manage an efficient breakfast and pack up. But breaking down a tent camp is never as fast as getting a caravan ready to go.
From camp, drove the 45kms north to the Gulf Track, then turned west on this. We stopped briefly, on the KFC track, to take photos of dead tree remains whose ballerina style remains intrigued John.
Stopped at the Hells Gate Roadhouse, to refuel – $1.33cpl. Ouch!
We had travelled, last year, as far west on the Gulf Track as Wollogorang Roadhouse, about 110kms from the KFC turnoff. Beyond this was new territory – and saw us into the NT. The road was fairly corrugated – only to be expected, towards the end of the tourist season. We crossed several dry creek gullies, smoothed out by traffic.
About 50kms beyond the border, we entered a rather rugged range area and then went through the Redbank Gorge, with the Redbank copper mine just beyond this. We hadn’t been expecting this really interesting looking range country, but did not have time to stop and explore.
The Redbank copper mine had not been worked for several years, but there were caretaking staff there, we had been told.
About 20kms beyond the mine, we found the turnoff to Pungalina, to the north. There were two hand made signs beside the road. One read “Pungalina. No entry without prior arrangement”. The other read “64kms. 4WD”.
The track – that was all it was – soon became quite rough and rocky in parts, but fair in other sections. Just a few kms along the track there was a gate that had to be opened. We assumed that this was locked when there was no one in residence.
The 64kms from the Gulf Track, to the Pungalina “homestead” was slow going, and took us nearly four hours.
There was a great variety of country on the way in: flat savannah scrub and grassland, lots of rocky outcrops, little dry creek gullies and a few shallow water crossings. The track surface varied from stony and rocky, to some shallow sandy lengths. At least, we had no doubts about being on the right track, because there were no noticeable side tracks that looked much used.
Being late in the Dry season, the tall grasses had dried right out and were brown.
Eventually, the track emerged at the end of an airstrip runway and we drove along the length of this, then past where there was a large open fronted machinery shed, and beyond that a wire fenced “yard” – quite large, with fruit trees scattered about it.
Past these was O’s “house” – which looked like a long, low shed. There was a tin roof, some walls of tin, some walls of stacked logs with mud or mortar in the cracks between them, some mud brick. One end of the shed was a car garage, the other end was the living quarters. Here, the log and mud brick walls ended at about waist height. Above that, was mesh all round – creating an almost open air but insect proof large room – combined living room, bedroom and kitchen, with a wood burning stove and a sink in one corner. Real old-time bush stuff and definitely not luxury living!
Off from one side of the house, which sat up on a bluff overlooking the Calvert River, was a large fenced off garden.
The Calvert River flowed past the house, down in a valley, although apparently a big Wet would still flood the home area. O told us that one of the first jobs he had done, after taking over as manager of this long-abandoned and neglected property, in 2001, was to construct the airstrip. Then, the next season’s Wet washed most of it away, and he had to start again. Unforgiving country, this!
We chatted with O, at the house, for a while. It became clear that he expected us to pay the same camping fee as anyone else. $25 a night. Hmmm – I’d thought we were coming to check the place out for work, next year, like doing him a favour, as staff were hard to find for a place this remote. Anyway, we were here now, and paid him for a week – cash, of course.
O had his son lead us, in a camp vehicle, to our camp area. The best site was currently occupied, but we would be able to relocate there in a couple of days.
The one we were taken to – that they called Fig Tree Camp – was to the north of the homestead and maybe 8 or 10kms or so away. It was on a high bank of the Calvert, on a deep looking reach of the river. There was no shade to speak of – and the days were hot by now. The river banks and all around the outside of the small, cleared, grassy camp area was Noogoora Burr infested. So, there was a clear area on which to put the tent, and a cleared area to the side of the river. It was not a great camping spot!
However, the pandanus and paperbark fringed river was lovely to look at. No swimming there – it would most likely have a resident crocodile somewhere.
It felt very hot and exposed there.
We set up the tent and camp. Discovered that the fridge had stopped working. We turned it upside down and shook it, but it did not work properly at all. I draped a couple of wet towels over it to try to help the contents stay a bit cool.
We wondered what we would do now? Nothing had been said about where we could go or what we could do – it felt very uncertain.
In the later afternoon, O arrived at our camp and said he’d come to show us around the place, a bit. This was more like it!
We went in his vehicle – a troop carrier – and received a demonstration of the great variety and beauty of the area. He drove us to an area of huge paperbark swamp – all vivid green ferns and pandanus and large paperbark trees. Then on to a wetland swampy area where water was lying on the surface. This, he told us, had not been there in 2001 but appeared after the subsequent big wet seasons. The swamp paperbarks were huge and beautiful.
We probably drove about 30kms.
He then deposited us back at our camp, saying that he was busy tomorrow, but that the next day we should make our way to the house and discuss what to do then.
The property lease had been bought, in 2001, by a Melbourne dentist. O had found the place for him and was to manage the safari camp tourism venture they planned. It was still really early days for this.
We had no problems finding wood for our campfire, not far from camp, lit that, and cooked tea – on the gas stove – using the open fire to heat water. We did not need the fire for warmth, that was for sure, but it was comforting to have – and between us and the river, just to deter any unwanted visitors!
After tea, we relaxed near the fire, listening to the myriad of night sounds – insects and the occasional splash from the river – these seemed fish sized, not anything larger. The sky seemed full of stars – so bright. Back in the grove at Adels, when sitting outside the van, we didn’t see much of the stars at night, because of the thick tree canopy.
Eventually stoked up the fire and went to bed. It had been a tiring day, travelling over the rough roads.