Sunday, 11 May 2014

Free camping over the Queensland-Norther

Driving away from Adel's Grove on yet another dusty and corrugated road, Fiela almost wet himself with excitement when we came across a couple of creek crossings. Tyres wet and 4WD finally engaged, he was happy to drive the next couple of hundred kilometres of fairly rough road until we made it to the bitumen: the Barkly Highway.

Camping at Camooweal.

We free camped the night just west of Camooweal at the billabong, a beautiful spot with just enough people to scare thoughts of bunyips away, but enough space to yell at the kids without disturbing anyone. The billabong was beautiful, lilies and birdlife everywhere- even a pelican actually hunting for fish.

This was the also the first time we set up our portaloo complete with its own tent (thanks Van Zyl's!!). The kids found this to be  incredibly amusing and played in it for a few hours whilst we looked on, faintly disgusted and disturbed.

Camooweal Billabong at dusk

The night passed uneventfully, we packed up in record time and by 9am we were taking photos at the Northern Territory border. For whatever reason , Fiela had decided we would drive a few extra hundred kilometres up to Cape Crawford "just for a look" and then back out to the Daly Waters Pub instead of straight up the highway (something vague about taking the road less travelled. Oh and did you know Cape Crawford is the gateway to Borroloola, a famed fishing spot??? So subtle Fielpiel...)

We stopped at the Barkly Homestead, which is really just a glorified service station in the middle of nowhere with a pretty cool looking pub attached to it. They must be fairly busy if the amount of young working internationals (ie backpackers) being fed their 'work lunch' is anything to go by. And by their looks and gender, I can also imagine bar patronage from the surrounding cattle stations since their arrival has also increased.

We ate, we toileted and we headed off up the road toward Cape Crawford through bush and grasslands under that enormous blue sky, seeing just a few people towing boats on their way home after the Easter weekend in hundreds of kilometres. The first free camp we came to was a bit lonely standing right beside the road, and we decided to push on to the Kiana rest stop, which according to our Camps7 book had nothing more going for it except that it was another hundred kms towards our final destination. However,  on arriving at this isolated camp, we realised we had picked the clear winner.

The isolated idyll of Kiana, in the middle of nowhere....

 I'm not sure what the attraction was; it was right beside the road, had a  creaky old windmill right next to where we set up and was surrounded by bush. But we felt priveleged somehow to spend our first night in the Northern Territory in such a beautiful bush setting, and for whatever other reason, we felt safe. The bush seemed to close around us in a friendly and comfortable embrace, rather than the pained, awkward hug from someone who smells a bit and is really sweaty a la the Chimney at Georgetown. Fiela made a fire, we cracked open a bottle of expensive champagne we'd been carrying around in the camper since Brisbane (cheers to Ren and the Dr) in celebration of the new state and sat out under the stars.

Another quick pack up and we drove up to Cape Crawford through some beautiful bush country,  interspersed with pretty creeks and rock escarpments. Cape Crawford itself was not the metropolis I had been led to believe it would be, being another roadhouse with a caravan park tacked onto it and selling the most expensive bottle of iced coffee ever ($7). Unsurprisingly,  Fiela mentioned the great fishing and didn't I just want to head up to Borroloola and check it out? But with Karumba still very fresh in my mind, I wasn't prepared to sit in another fishing village with a heavily chlorinated pool being my only means of occupying the kids while Fiela chased barramundi. And yes, this is selfish and miserly, but sorry, I just wasn't up for it.

And neither was Fiela apparently because he took the negatory response very well and was quite happy to drive back out to the main highway and DalyWaters, a stop highly recommended to us by our neighbours and friends, Andrew and Kym, who've already done what we are doing, probably just in a much neater and cleaner caravan.

The Daly Waters Pub.

The Daly Waters Pub is like the Ettamogah Pub on the Sunshine Coast, just much more authentic. Travellers passing through get hammered at the bar then leave 'something of themselves' at the pub, dependent I guess on an equation of how drunk you are and whether you think you'll need it again... Thongs, hats, underwear and ID all adorn the walls, some with incomprehensible messages, others a lot clearer eg "Kate B. 2013 What the hell happened???" on a pair of ripped shorts.

Thongs and live entertainment in the beer garden.

In a great example of entrepreneurial success, a caravan park is professionally run out the back and by the time we got there at around 2pm, was starting to fill up (or so it felt, this being the most 'packed in' with other caravans we'd experienced thus far on the trip). As we set up in the heat of the day, our friendly neighbours offered us some help, and when I tested the waters with a "No, we're right for now but I'm looking for some babysitters for tonight!?"... I was met with a quick "What? Sorry? Can't hear you. Ha ha!" The Uys Huis had met the Braggs and suddenly our travel adventure had been set on a course which would be enriched beyond measure for having met this beautiful couple.

Tinker children running amok in front of live music.

The evening was spent swapping travel stories around the bar, listening to old mate play old songs on his guitar, eating a delicious meal then wobbling back to the camper for a few more drinks and travel stories with the Braggs. They're home state of South Australia sounds amazing and luck of lucks for Fiela, they are just as into their fishing as he is! It was a late night, but fun was had by one and all.

After packing up again the next morning, especially in the cold (I mean hot- 36 degrees at least every day for the passed 3 weeks was taking its toll) hard light of our hangovers, I couldn't wait to get to Mataranka and its non-chlorinated thermal springs.

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