Members Trips

stories from Australia



Into The Red Centre

by Brian & Christine Moyse


19/5/07 Left Sunshine Coast at 9:45, Mazda Tribute with Camel Camper.  Travelled west along the D'Aguilar Highway to Kilcoy where we stopped at the rest area. On to Yarraman, then via the Bunya Mountains to Dalby. On the way, OSKA the Navman GPS, in idiot mode, tried to take us down a firebreak shortcut. Noticed what appeared to be small clumps of wool on the edges of the road but it turned out to be cotton!. In the fields between Darby and Chinchilla we saw sorghum and wheat fields. Camped overnight at Cypress Pines Caravan Park, Chinchilla, a small town on the Warrego Highway.

20/5/07 Long drive to Charleville. When we got to the Bailey Bar Caravan Park it was full, crowded. Our alternative was Cobb & Co around the corner and we managed to get a powered corner site there before it too became full. Didn't have time to do much in Charleville, except call at the Westpac ATM and draw out some cash. We noticed on the way that a lot of the remote pubs offer free camping at the rear of the establishment. One way of getting custom I suppose. Saw a lot of road kills along the way, Roos (Kangaroos) and even the odd calf. This is roadtrain territory and they drive fast and at night when the animals are active.

21/5/07 Another long drive to Windorah on the edge of the outback. Saw lots of Roos bounding across the road ahead of us. Also saw a pair of Emus on the side of the road. Windorah has a beaut pub and great meals. The caravan/camping area there is run by the National Parks and is $6 per night with full facilities - a park ranger comes around in the morning to collect the fees and have a yarn. We liked Windorah and stayed there on the way back out. All there is there is a fuel depot, pub and general store.  A good stopover, right on the edge of the scrub where the goannas come in from the local tip at night to scavenge. Roosters, flocks of white Cockatoos and Galahs woke us up at dawn. In this area we noticed an unusual smell, pungent. Thought it might have been from the flowering wattles, however as we found out later it was coming from thermal bores along the way. The weather so far has been great - warm clear and sunny days with cool nights.

22/5/07 Took on 40 litres of extra fuel at Windy and travelled the 127kms of one-way seal before we hit the unsealed start of the Birdsville Development Road. (really just a reasonable track). Aired down all the tyres including the CT to 26psi cold. This stretch of dirt/mud/rock is about 270kms long with speeds varying from 30kmph to 80kmph. Went through several mudholes and long greasy stretches including the big one across the road where we saw a Nissan Patrol being winched out of the mud. One of the guys there said it was passable providing we stuck to the middle of the water which we did and had no trouble getting through.  Further on it was pretty weird coming across about 5kms of wide smooth tarseal, which is an emergency airstrip. You could land a jumbo on it. This mostly unsealed road is in the middle of a vast wilderness plain, gibbers (brown stones) and rocks and little vegetation to the horizon. Dusty road, flies, mud patches, flood channels every few hundred yards.  You may think that Birdsville and the thousands of square kms around it, which include 4 deserts, are dry arid places - not so - it is a gigantic sponge that drains south towards Lake Eyre. There is water here to burn (excuse the pun).

Got to Birdsville reasonably early in the afternoon  - just as well - because it fills up with overnighters pretty quick.  Booked the camper in for 5 nights and picked a good spot under some trees. The camp quickly filled up around 4pm and every conceivable 4WD combo came in. Some of them looked like Paris to Dakar rally support vehicles sporting 4 metre high fiberglass poles with red dune flags on top. We may have been the smallest, but were certainly the prettiest. Looking like a chicken amongst the roosters, we saw a small Toyota 2WD station wagon hitched to a Supermatic camper trailer. Some of the mud-plastered biggies had just broken out of Innamincka where they had been stranded by flooded roads for up to 2 weeks.

At Birdsville there is a garage/general store, bakery, coffee shop, info centre, that's about it. Unleaded petrol was $1.49 per litre. From here you can see the expeditions gearing up for the Simpson Desert crossing. We went out to Big Red sandhill one morning and watched them practicing sand dune driving.

23/5/07 Went to the local internet cafe and had coffee and sent off a couple of emails, refueled the wagon, filled 2 extra fuel cans for the Birdsville track. Facilities are good at the Caravan Park, huge ablution block which they need for the annual September Birdsville Races. Flies arrived at 10am. Chris went to the local museum $10 for a 50 min show. Many old relics from days gone by. the museum owner is restoring old horsedrawn carts and lots of other interesting bits and pieces. He seems to have a thing for horsedrawn carriages etc.

Birdlife is great down at the billabong below the Caravan Park, but had no luck with fishing. They probably hadn't seen a flyrod before and were more used to being fed shrimps and yabbies instead of woolly buggers and vampires. Flies were there in abundance though, and we had to wear head nets all the time. The only concoction that kept them off temporarily was a insect spray called "Off!"

24/5/07 Loaded up the Triby with fuel and supplies, locked up the camper and headed down the "Track" to Mungerannie.  Except for the first 5 kms, the track is in South Australia and we crossed the border at the big sign.  The track starts off fine, and sort of deteriorates as it goes. Corrugations were no worry, it was the mud - there was a lot of surface water lying around on and off the track, and boy it's isolated out there, fair dinkum outback - we didn't see another vehicle for the first 3 hours. I think a total of 4 for the whole day.

Speed varied between 30kmph and 80kmph depending on whether the surface  was dried mud, wet mud, solid rock, broken rocks or a mixture of all. Cold morning, only 13C. Chris had her gloves on. We are now heading south in the middle of the Sturt Stony Desert, and stony it is - to the horizon. Barren of all vegetation and mirages in the distance. No animals and very few birds, although we did see some Wedgetail Eagles.

Stopped at the Mirra Mitta bore (artesian-thermal) for a cuppa. The water coming out of the ground is mineral and boiling. You could make your tea with it and no doubt some do - it is quite drinkable.

A lovely feature we came across was the Mungerannie Gap, a series of sculptured hills covered in gibber stones. Arrived at Mungerannie Roadhouse early afternoon and called in at the pub to pay for camping, $14 for the night down on the edge of the billabong/waterway. There was a thermal pool there but the pipe had not been running and it was too cold to use. Set up our tiny tent and went back to the pub to avoid the flies for a couple of hours. Met a road maintenance crew there. The pub gets its mail every fortnight by light plane. Went back to the tent and had a feed of sausage casserole from the Dreampot and hit the sack just in time for the evening dingo chorus. They howled all night and trucks appeared out of nowhere and drove around the roadhouse area refueling or using the facilities.

25/5/07 Cold this morning. After filling up on fuel and taking some photos of Tom Kruse's (the Birdsville track mailman) Leyland Badger trucks, we headed back to Birdsville. Didn't see another vehicle for 2 hours. Stopped at the Mt. Gason Wattle Project where an area of special wattles have been fenced off to protect
them from cattle etc. These special wattles were only discovered and identified in 1978. Along the way we passed large flocks of Galahs.

The weather is still holding, fine warm and sunny, and COLD mornings. The flies were so bad on our cuppa stop we had to have it inside the wagon. Arrived Birdsville 2:00pm.(Total distance on the Track was 608kms).  That evening we watched TV on our little black and white portable. Amazing wee set, runs on batteries, 240volt and 12volt.  Also operates as a radio. Not brilliant reception but enough to get the news and a few programs. We used it lots.

26/5/07 Went out in the morning to "Big Red" sand dune - the biggest sand dune at the edge of the Simpson Desert. Nobody there when we arrived but soon after a group of desert crossers turned up to practice their dune crossing. They deflate tyres down to about 15psi and drive very slowly and steadily up the hill - not like a bull at a gate. After returning to Birdsville we drove around to the Burke and Wills "Dig" tree. You can still see the initials and date that they carved into this tree nearly 147 years ago. "B & W 20 Aug 1860" They accomplished the first South North crossing of Australia but perished on the way back. Tomorrow we head back to civilization and tar sealed roads. Have an extra day up our sleeves but will use that to stay longer at Quilpie.

27/5/07 Packed up the camper and left Birdsville at 9:20am just ahead of the flies. At Betoota near the ruins of the old pub we came across a metre long Goanna crossing the road. Stopped and took some photos. It didn't appear to be overly anxious about us and strolled into the low scrub to sit and observe. The mudholes had dried out quite a bit by now and didn't look so daunting. Oh the joy of being back on seal. Narrow, bumpy, one-way, but heaven compared to the dust and stones.  Arrived Windorah 3:30pm and set up camp back in the NP Caravan Park.
Instead of cooking that night we walked down to the local pub and had lovely roast beef and vegies. Met the local celeb, a Golden Spaniel named "Cleo" who didn't hang around for handouts but lay down very close to the table should anything accidentally fall off. Couple of campers had been fishing Coopers Creek nearby and
came back with a basket  of up to 4kg Yellowbellies. That's a big fish. 

28/5/07 Paid our $6 fee in the morning and back on the road again to Quilpie. Drove over 33kms of floodway on the way east, and we saw about a dozen caravans heading the other way.  Saw lots of Emus on the side of the road and groups of the lovely graceful Brolgas which Quilpie adopted as their logo. Also saw
a dead Echidna on the road. Quilpie is a pretty wee town on the Warrego Highway - the council was watering the lawn strip in the middle of the main road when we arrived. All fresh water here in the channel country is hot mineral water from a deep thermal supply. They don't have hot water cylinders, they have alkathene cooling hose coiled under the house. Voila, unlimited  water, hot and cold.

Nice caravan park, some green grass even. Put the camper and awning up, had chicken schnitzel from the local butcher. Another lovely day cool night. Thermal smell pretty strong.

29/5/07 Drove a few kays to Baldy Top, a high outcrop which we climbed and took some great photos. The bush extends to the horizon in all directions and it's very scenic. Visited the lovely new library and used their internet to do our email.
In the afternoon we decided to do the river walk along the Bulloo river. About 15 minutes into the walk the sky got very dark and noticed a brown dust storm to the southwest. As it started to look stormy we hotfooted back to the wagon just in time to beat the rain. Back at the camp everything was tied down and 20mm of the wet stuff arrived overnight making the ground very muddy for our pack-up. Had no choice but to pack the camper with wet canvas and move out to our next stop at Mitchell.  Heard over the radio that a rainstorm had hit Birdsville and all the access roads had been closed - it was now cut off and we had got out just in time.

30/5/07 Mitchell. 390kms further east. Weather has cleared up and is sunny, but very cool. Striking more traffic heading both ways. Went to the Major Mitchell Caravan Park next to the river but there were no powered sites available, no staff around, and a notice suggested we try the Mitchell Showgrounds, which also has a part set aside for camping. We ended up camping at the showgrounds for 2 nights - it was dry, very few others there, ensuite-type bathrooms with toilet and shower, and handy to town. Did some shopping and used the local laundromat. A couple of caravans arrived and set up nearby. They were from NSW and doing a tour between here and their state.

31/5/07 Mitchell has a real feature - a hot thermal spa. The hot mineral water is piped straight from the ground into a large pool. It's mixed with cold water and kept at about 38C which suited us. We bought an all day ticket for $4 each and
had a least two soaks. Brilliant. Also on the premises was a cafe and internet access -what more could we ask for!. Mitchell was lovely, very rural, very friendly. Spent the day drying off our camping stuff. Did a large scone in the Dreampot and had it for lunch.

In the evening we got a campfire going and invited the caravanners next to us over. Sat around and had a few drinks and snacks and one of the women made a damper with bacon onion and cheese in her camp oven which went onto the coals. They were going southwards to St. George the next day while we continued heading east.

1/6/07 Dogs barked most of the night, very annoying. Left Mitchell at 8:40am. Sunny morning but cool. As we left, the sprinklers were going full bore on the grass. When we got to Roma, our mobile phones started to work again and it was strange to hear a txt message coming in. Unfortunately the coverage was limited to around the town and we soon lost it. Arrived Dalby 1:00pm. Found the caravan park down by the river, a lovely grassy tidy spot tucked into a corner near the road. In the trees above the river were a bunch of sulphur-crested Cockatoos, which we haven't seen since leaving the Gold Coast. Went for a walk to the town centre which was rather large. Dalby is a big rural town. That evening we went and got fish and chips for tea from a local seafood place and ate it in the tent. By now it had got very cold, in fact it was the coldest night we had on the whole trip. Being a Friday night there was a lot of traffic moving, and a few drunken teenagers fighting
on the other side of the river at midnight. Chris had her earplugs in.

2/6/07 Dalby to Sippy Downs. Called in at the local Shell servo and topped up with petrol for the last time. The lady behind the counter there couldn't remember when they last had good rain - it is a dry arid area with crops withered and dead in the vast paddocks. Travelled through the Bunya Mountains, came across 2 dead foxes on the side of the road. Through busy Kilcoy back onto the D'Aguilar Highway and back home at 2:15pm in the rain.

Had no problems or breakdowns with the wagon and camper, no punctures or tyre damage over some pretty rugged surfaces. Did just over 4,000kms total and used approx 560 litres of ULP.