SUNDAY 10 APRIL HELLS GATE TO PUNGALINA 180kms
We were up before dawn and away from the roadhouse at 7am. O’s influence!
The road was markedly poorer between Hells Gate and the border of Qld and NT.
Wollogorang Roadhouse was permanently closed now, as was the access it used to allow to the coast. Pity. Further east, near Burketown, Escott had also closed its tourist operation. Seemed cattle stations were finding looking after tourists too much of a distraction from their main business.
We encountered a number of ditch like crossings of either low water or dry creeks. These had not yet been shallowed out by grader. Made it slow going.
The day became progressively more hot and humid. It eventually got to over 40 degrees!
Over the border, into the NT, and we proceeded through the very pretty Redbank Gorge – an interesting feature in otherwise fairly featureless plain country.
About 20-25kms past the Redbank Mine, we turned north onto the 64kms long Pungalina access track. We had driven this before, in 2003, when we came to suss out the place, but that was at the end of the tourist season, when traffic had tamed the track, somewhat. Now, it was rough in places, sandy in others, and always slow going.
The first 21kms were not too bad. The next 16kms were very rocky. There were lots of little gutter-like shallow water flows, and a couple of rough, rocky, flowing creek crossings.
At one of the rough creek crossings, John moved some rocks away from the approach, before we tackled it. We were, of course, following O, which helped.
One of the sandy sections, maybe about 45kms in, was quite loose and deep, and we almost bogged down. We decided we would probably need help on this part when we eventually left here again!
We stopped for smoko at a creek. O told us that this was named Hot Dog Creek, because in the early years here, one of his dogs came off the back of a vehicle, chased it and overheated and died. A sad tale!
O lit a small fire, boiled a billy, and made tea in that. Very strong tea. Real bushman stuff.
The country was still green and the spear grass tall. It was very different in appearance from our late dry season visit of 2003. It was exciting, driving through this wilderness country. I hoped we’d get sufficient time off to do lots of exploring.
We reached O’s house about midday, so the estimate of about five hours travel had been accurate.
We met M and J, who had minded the place while O was gone. They seemed nice men; one was some kind of relative of O’s. Apparently, nothing had been done to set up the camp – but I couldn’t work out whether this was because they hadn’t gotten around to it, or whether someone who had been supposed to come and help had failed to show up. Didn’t like to ask, as O seemed somewhat put out by it all.
Also met O’s three dingoes – Scunge, Beau and Lachie. On our 2003 visit, Scunge had been tied up somewhere, so we hadn’t met her then – and the other two were from a litter she had last year, fathered by a local wild dingo. They were all interested in sniffing us out, but were not aggressive. We would all have to get used to each other.
We had lunch at the house, with the men – bread, vegemite, jam – and more tea. Some of the utensils used were none too clean…….
Then it was back into Truck and O led the way to the safari camp – back along the airstrip for a few hundred metres, then off onto a track that was about 5kms long, to the camp. He showed us the area where he thought we could set up our camp. There was a very roughly slashed track into a slashed clearing and turning circle around a large tree. Obviously, there had been considerable regrowth since O cut it a few weeks before. There was a dead tree standing almost in the middle of the cleared area.
It was all pretty rough.
Then O revealed that there were no showers, or toilet, yet, because there had been no setting up of the safari camp. We would have to dig a toilet hole! Great! There was no power, of course, but we had expected that and had our own solar power. The water supply was the creek that flowed past the safari camp area.
Well, we were here now, and would have to manage as best we could.
After surveying the clearing, John asked O if there was a motor mower. O went away and returned with a rather beat up old one. He then left us to get ourselves set up, saying he had other things to do.
We thought the site as presented was far too rough, and was a fire risk in its current state, with dry grass and brush lying about. John set to work – in the heat – and mowed the clearing again, which also chopped up a lot of the dry material more finely. I used the leaf rake we carry on our roof rack to pile up some of the cut material into heaps – maybe for later burning. John widened the access track into there, by removing some branches so we could even manoeuvre the van in.
It was all hard work, trying to fix our camp in the heat and mugginess. There was quite a bit of cloud about and – at one stage – about three spits of rain.
John decided that the dead tree in the clearing would have to come down, because it would threaten the van.
Before we tackled that, we had to go and sit by the creek, with bottles of Gatorade – we were both feeling rather nauseous, from toiling in the heat.
I’d noticed that the clearing was close to the little mud brick “shed” that housed the camp generator. And here was I feeling happy at the prospect of sleeping nights without the background noise of the Adels genset!
Whilst he’d been here, O had also said that he would put us on the payroll from next Wednesday week! I was not impressed, and pointed out that we were already working, to set up our camp. So he relented and said it would be from next Wednesday. We were quite put out by all this, given what we had to do to get set up, and how we were having to grub out roots and rocks to create even a roughly level area.
John had just started work on cutting down the dead tree – with our axe – when M and J arrived. They had come to ask us to come to tea. They stayed and helped with the tree, which was great, because John was starting to struggle. I think they were a bit stunned to see how much work we had already done to the clearing. They connected up a pump in the creek, that would pump water from the creek to the overhead tank that supplied water to the safari camp – when there was a camp! Showed John how it worked. They said that, although there was no surrounding structure, the shower pipes and heads would work, so we could have open air showers. Nice of them! They then had a swim in the creek – downstream from the pump – and went.
M and J had obviously been doing a good job of watering and mowing the lawned safari camp area – it was green and lush, even if it was – as yet – tentless.
Eventually, we got the van in, and parked.
It was too humid, and we were too exhausted, to put up the awning today. We were running sweat – not just dripping! So we went and checked out the showers. These consisted of two floors of heavy wire and corrugated iron, two upright pipes coming out of the ground, and holding the shower heads and taps. There was a wire framework, which I presumed would eventually make walls. So, each shower was open to nature – if anything natural was interested. I was a little apprehensive that critters I didn’t want to meet, might have taken up residence under the corrugated iron of the shower floors. But it was so good to stand under the quite respectable water flow and get clean – and temporarily cooler.
Near dark, we drove the 5kms to O’s house. We were served a pot roast dinner – beef – which was tender enough, but quite coarse meat. There were some vegetables, but no gravy. There was red wine to drink, albeit a bit tart.
We were able to use O’s satellite phone service to call Adels and let them know we had arrived safely. Found out that the boss had to be flown to Mt Isa hospital this morning – medical emergency. They certainly could have used us there, still! L said the errant backpacker bus that we’d seen last night, didn’t get in there until half an hour after midnight. No one was happy – least of all the staff who’d had to wait up and then feed and get them settled in. I didn’t know what poor judgement had convinced the company managers to try the top route this early in the season.
O said he now realized that our clearing had not been slashed large enough to be fire safe, so he would come down and do more tomorrow. Good!
He explained that, after the safari camp was set up, the fridges would not be turned on when there were no guests in. He did not want to have to run the camp generator and thus waste fuel. I thought we would be much happier without the noise, but it would also mean that camp food perishables would have to be shuttled back and forth between the camp and house.
We were given some fruit and vegetables. Although “keep” was supposed to be part of the deal, we did not like to ask for too much – still had a few supplies of our own left, anyway. No mention was made of meat.
It was still humid, with the night temperature in the high 30’s. We were so tired that we slept well, even with the noisy little 12 volt fan going all night. It WAS lovely to be away from the generator noise we had at Adels.
Once the direct sun had gone, we noticed that there were lots of hungry mosquitoes about.