Bulldust Gypsy travel memoirs from Red Dusty Roads to Jewel Oceans
I was lucky enough to born an Australian. I love this beautiful country. I’ve spent time living in South Australia, the Red Centre and Tropical North Queensland and have travelled far and wide in this great Southern Land. The excitement of an overseas holiday is wonderful, but for me, nothing can rival a great Aussie Road trip. In a 4x4, the more remote the better. Where the scenery is unique and the people are so few that you feel like the only person in the world. There’s no timetables, no stress and no airport queues. Just a big blue sky and a road or dirt track that leads somewhere special. This is my home and this blog is my way of sharing it ❤️
Camping, sometimes, is purely about escaping the rat race and having a couple of days of peace and quiet. Its good for the soul. Far away from the drone of highways, the view of concrete slabbed buildings, ticky tacky houses, retail madness and work. Some of the cattle stations in the North Queensland region have capitalised on this market and given us some wonderful camping options. A taste of country life.
Woodleigh Station is just perfect for this and easily accessible from Cairns. A two hour drive up via the Atherton Tablelands and then a turn to the left 20km past Ravenshoe on a dirt track signposted Woodleigh Station.
So what do I love about camping at Woodleigh Station? I like camping on grass. I like big shady gum trees. I like being next to a river you can look at, swim in and canoe. I like the sounds of native birds – magpies, lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds and galahs. I like being able to have a lazy campfire all day long. I like stunning sunsets and starry night skies. I like the absolute serenity. I like the cows and horse that wander nearby to chew the juicy green grass. I’m suddenly a country girl again. I love that.
The weather was warm and a little bit sultry in late March so a swim in the river was very refreshing. The water was a shade of caramel, which was unusual. Usually it is lovely and clear but a storm across The Tablelands the previous night washed away a lot of rich volcanic soil. It was still nice.
The clouds look a little ominous at times and we did get a little bit of rain during our weekend here but it just added to our experience. The lovely smell of summer rain and the array of colours it created in the sky at sunset were spectacular. This is mother nature doing her thing beautifully. Our campfire didn’t go out despite the rain, so it wasn’t a wash out.
So, our Woodleigh Station experience was pretty much perfect and a great camping destination getaway close to Cairns. As always, just avoid long weekends as then there will be more people than cows. And that would be a shame.
“A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.
Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.”
The tales of Crocodile attacks in Australia are just spine chilling. A crocodile is a predator and a man-eater and when travelling in Northern Australia you should always BE CROC AWARE. Not afraid, just aware. Especially in regions that Saltwater Crocodiles inhabit.
A large crocodile, up to 6 metres long, can make himself invisible in knee deep muddy water and remain under for an hour without even a ripple to indicate his presence. He is the ultimate master of stillness – until the right moment. The ultimate ambush reptile. He explodes from the water with ferocity and aggression and if need be he can jump to take prey two metres above the surface. He is quick and deadly and the prey in his enormous jaws will be subjected to the ‘crocodile roll’ which is almost certain to be fatal.
Australian author, Hugh Edwards book, “Crocodile Attack in Australia” contains stories of attacks in Australia that are both fascinating and absolutely horrifying. They all happened in the blink of an eye and not surprisingly a lot of those fatally attacked were locals who should have known better. Locals have a habit of getting blase. The ‘she’ll be right attitude’ just doesn’t cut the mustard in Northern Australia waterways though.
I write this blog to re-count a tale of our own, just as warning. We laugh about it now as we re-tell this yarn but after reading Hugh Edwards book it sits a little uncomfortably with me, although it gets bigger and better with every telling.
In 2005, Kevin and I, with our three young boys did the monumental road trip along the Savannah Way, from Cairns, QLD to Broome, WA. It was and still is the ultimate Australian adventure drive. Remote, a lot of kilometres on dirt roads and the scenery right through Queensland, The Top End of The Territory and The Kimberley’s in Western Australia is simply stunning. Blue skies, ancient landscape, stunning waterfalls, gorges and waterholes, red dusty roads and big remote distances.
Our philosophy for this trip was “keep it simple”. No fancy caravan or camper trailer for our party of five. Just our 4WD Landcruiser stacked with boxes, an Engel fridge and five swags rolled up on the roof rack. What a sight we were at camp. Five swags in a line between two trees, a rope extending between the trees and 5 bright orange and blue mosquito nets tucked around each swag. We sure attracted attention and created a few laughs.
We tend to free camp a lot when we travel and like to be away from civilisation. Between Burketown in The Gulf Country to Borroloolla in the Northern Territory we travelled the very remote and rough Carpentaria Highway. Why its called a highway is beyond me. At times its nothing more than a two wheel track with a many river crossings. The 500 odd kilometres takes over 15 hours.
We decide to stop overnight half way across and we always like to camp by a watercourse if its safe. There’s just something really nice about camping by a creek or river with a campfire and maybe a refreshing swim when its hot.
So late afternoon, after many dusty slow hours of punishing dirt, we come to the Robinson River Aboriginal community. As we cross the causeway over the river, despite a crocodile warning sign, there are a couple of adults with young Aboriginal children frolicking and splashing in the water.
Kevin winds down the window and asks if there is anywhere we can camp for the night. They are very friendly and give us directions to follow a track to the right. “Don’t go left – big crocs that way”.
So, we find a lovely camp along a shallow tributary. Crystal clear shallow water and we all have a paddle to wash off the dust and travelling grime.
We prepare camp in the usual way by lining up all our swags in a row on the shallow bank of the creek, only a couple of metres from the water with Kevin at one end and me at the other. The three boys in their mini swags in the middle. The mighty sacrifices parents make for their off spring. Get eaten first.
A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.
Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.
We all wake up instantly. What the heck was that? Kevin has the torch by his head and shines it quickly over the creek. We see nothing. “I think its just the fish arking up” says Kevin. Back to sleep again. Well a tentative sleep with me. I’m thinking about being stalked by yowies or bush pigs or Mick from Wolf Creek. Finally I doze off.
Then a while later a furious SPLASH, SPLASH, SPLASH, SPLASH……….
On goes the torch again frantically searching in the pitch black for the culprit.
We see nothing in the placid , calm, peaceful creek.
This happened all night long. It set us on edge although the boys zonked out.
In the morning its all cheery sunshine again as we pack up and we just brush off the weird goings on of the night before as a glitch.
As luck would have it, as we went to hit the road, Kevin discovered we had one dead flat tyre. A bit of messing around for us and a couple of the boys were getting antsy, so we gave them a two way UHF radio and said go and explore up the creek a little bit while we change it.
Next thing Kevin gets a call on the radio. “Hey Dad, are there crocodiles in this creek?”
“Because there is one in front of us”
“Come back RIGHT NOW!”
YIKES. We slept on the bank in swags, exposed, in crocodile country. The splashing during the night was possibly the crocodile going up and down the creek.
Kevin went to meet the boys and when they showed him the spot, the crocodile was gone, so we don’t know if it was the saltwater or freshwater variety. But as close as we are to the Gulf of Carpentaria it was highly likely a saltie. Way too close for comfort but I didn’t give it too much thought.
However, when we got to Broome, we bought the book. Hugh Edwards “Crocodile Attack in Australia”. Oh dear, that opened my eyes a whole lot more.
Were we croc aware? Well yes, in a way. We live in Cairns. We asked the locals first and got the all clear. However there are rules to camping in Northern Australia in crocodile country. They are as follows…..
Observe the warning signs as they are there for a reason (yes, they were on the causeway)
Seek local or expert advise before swimming, camping, fishing or boating ( well, we did do that)
There is a potential danger anywhere saltwater crocodiles occur. If there is any doubt do not swim, canoe or use small boats. (Fail, we all had a paddle in the knee deep water)
Be aware. Keep your eyes open for large crocodiles and keep small children and pets away from the waters edge (gulp!)
Do not paddle, camp, clean fish or prepare food at the waters edge. (gulp again!)
Do not return daily or regularly to the same spot. Crocodiles are smart and they will be watching for a pattern.
Do not lean over the waters edge or stand on logs overhanging the water (remember they can jump)
And be aware that Saltwater crocodiles don’t only live in salt water. They can live hundreds of miles from the coast in freshwater lagoons and waterways and especially in freshwater swamps.
So there you have it. That was the night we were stalked and almost eaten by a reptilian monster. (Told you its gets bigger with every telling). But we all lived by the skin of our teeth to ride camels along Cable Beach in Broome.
Anyhow the moral of the story is ‘be croc aware’ in Northern Australia. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see you and even innocent mistakes can land you in a whole lot of strife. Don’t be too worried or afraid though. Its perfectly safe to travel and enjoy the North of our wonderful country as long as you observe the rules.
We have travelled and swum in exquisite waterholes all over Northern Australia but only where we know its safe to swim. Its actually rare to sight a crocodile and when you do its exciting (from a safe distance high up the bank of course.)
We learnt a lesson on that trip. Now we don’t sleep in swags on the banks of waterways in the North. Just in case………..
This stunning place is Sir John Gorge in the Kimberley. Yes we had a gorgeous swim here. No croc signs and perfectly safe. There are so many wonderful places like this along the Savannah Way. No need to risk it anywhere there are crocodile warning signs.
Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park is a National Park located approximately 130 km from Katherine and 200 km from Darwin. Like everything in the Northern Territory, its a little bit remote, a little bit off the main highway. You kind of have to make the effort to go there especially. The outstanding feature of the park is the hot thermal springs in the Douglas River. The river is cold but bubbles of heat rise from the shallow, sandy bottom creating pools of lovely, delicious warm water. On a cool Territory morning this is just the ticket.
Picture a gentle creek meandering through the Aussie bush. Birds chirruping and darting over the natural watercourse. Clear blue skies and sunshine. And you can wallow and enjoy it lying in a bubbling hot patch of the creek. Magnificent.
So we decide to go. I had read on the internet a couple of weeks earlier that the park was still closed as it was early in the dry season (early June). We decide to check it out anyway just in case. There was no closed sign at the turn off so we keep going. A bit down the road we come to the next turn off. The sign was a bit ambiguous. Closed or open we weren’t 100% sure but we thought as we come this far we might as well have a look. We come to the gate. It was also a bit ambiguous – partially open, partially closed but it was unlocked. No further encouragement needed for us Aussies behaving badly. We keep going although we figured it was still closed. No harm in having a look.
At the end of the dirt track we come to a huge campground delightfully crowd free. There’s only a couple of European backpackers camped in a tent. Hooray, we think – that’s a good sign. It must be open.
“So it is open?” we ask them before we set up.
“Yar, yar we ave been svimink and there vas 4 other campers last night,” they reply cheerfully.
So we set up camp in the lovely sunshine. Then the magic moment. We have a wallow in the bubbling hot water ALL BY OURSELVES. It was awesome. Last time we were here many years ago the water was crammed with char broiled, wrinkly bodies all clamouring for a spot. No serenity in that. To have it all to ourselves was an amazing experience. So relaxing. For me anyway. Kevin was a bit on edge and only had a short dip then watched me blissing out.
Back in the campground I chat to the Germans again about how lovely it is in the thermal pool. I mentioned that we thought it might be have still been closed because of crocodiles. There’s a lot of them in the Top End and the Douglas River does have them in the wet season.
You know what he said? Very complacently at that.
“Yar, there is a croc trap in the creek just over that way a bit”
But no, he wasn’t kidding. I grab Kevin and we wander along the creek a bit for a look. Sure enough there was a big croc trap waiting in anticipation for its reptilian guest of honour.
Aussie’s behaving very badly indeed.
We packed up and got the heck outta there real quick. We don’t have ignorance is bliss as an excuse like the European backpackers.
So we drive out again and this time we headed right at the turn off, the opposite direction to how we came in. Sure enough behind us was a big sign. PARK CLOSED. We couldn’t see it from the other way.
Well, that’s our excuse….. There were many other signals that we deliberately chose to ignore. Because on this occasion we were bad Aussies. Don’t be bad like us. Be good Aussies.
So, Douglas Hot Springs? Highly recommended. Its a wonderful place. Only when its open though and that will be highly obvious. Do go – you’ll love it.
Will you get to have it all to yourselves like we did? Highly unlikely. In fact the chances are virtually zero.
So I intend to take the positive from the experience and remember how blissful it was when I was ignorant and wallowed in Douglas Hot Springs all by myself.
And I humbly promise to only visit parks that are open in the future. You European backpackers should do that too……
Chillagoe is one of my happy places. Its a tiny little town on the edge of the Outback. Blink and you’ll miss it. Its special though and always recharges our batteries. Its a little off the beaten track but definitely worth visiting on any holiday to Far North Queensland.
The reasons why we find it special are as follows
THE NATIVE BIRDS – the silence in Chillagoe is only broken by the symphony of native birds. Some melodic, some loud and raucous but all together music to my ears. No airport or highway noise continually droning in the background – just birds. The joyous sounds of Galahs, Red-tail Black Cocky’s, Budgies, Apostle Birds, Butcher Birds and our favourite the Magpie.
THE WEATHER – Blue skies and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. Hot in summer so perfect for swimming, mild in winter and perfect for exploring. Dry weather always means great campfire wood. We love having a campfire in Chillagoe.
THE CREEK – Such a gorgeous, idyllic, refreshing, wonderful place to swim. Chillagoe Creek is just on the edge of town and walking distance from the campground. Most outback creeks are murky from silt but this creek is special. The region is rich in limestone and the lime in the water disperses the sediment quickly. Most of the creek is quite shallow but there is a couple of deeper holes with water cascading over rocks. Its beautiful and shady fringed with trees and ferns.
THE CAVES- The main attraction that draws tourists to Chillagoe are the caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. The spectacular karst landscape hides a mysterious underground world. The Savannah landscape here is dotted with limestone outcrops that were the living Coral reefs in a shallow sea 400 million years ago. Inside these outcrops are a myriad of cave systems. Ranger Guided Tours are available to explore a few of them. You can also do some self exploration. We go to the Archways and I love the absolute silence and the coolness in these underground worlds. We feel like we are in a scene of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” when we explore. It would be so easy to get lost and it feels mysterious and a bit eerie.
THE FREE FISH SKIN CLEAN THERAPY – If you sit really still below the weir in the creek, the tiny fish , start darting in and nipping at your skin. Its such a weird but quite delightful sensation. Totally free and with a view like this absolutely a priceless experience.
THE CAMPING IN TOWN THAT FEELS LIKE WE ARE OUT BUSH – We always stay at the Eco Lodge Campground in Chillagoe itself. Its a huge campground with room to spread out and feels just like a bush setting. The bonus being that campfires are allowed. Very affordable at $10 per person unpowered and the birds here are just amazing. The sounds in the morning are just wonderful. So its like camping out bush but with the bonus of hot showers, a small restaurant and walking distance to the pub for a quiet ale or dinner.
THE STARS AT NIGHT in Chillagoe are exquisite and mind blowing. Clear, dark skies are amazing. The Eco Lodge Campground has an Observatory with a powerful telescope and night sky tours. The opportunity to look at far distant galaxies and the rings of Saturn through the high power telescope is not to be missed. The tours operate on moonless nights during the tourist season.
Honestly, for us bush romantics, Chillagoe ticks all the boxes for all the right reasons. It does get very hot in the summer wet season though, so if you have an aversion to high temperatures, come in the dry. Also avoid public holiday long weekends when it gets crazy busy with locals escaping the city.
I guess what I’m saying in this blog is that you don’t have to drive thousands of kilometres into the vast Outback regions of West Queensland, the Northern Territory or West Australia to get away from it all. Its not about the distance travelled but about the state of mind that changes as the landscape changes from coastal fringe Rain-forest to the dry Savannah. Three hours to achieve that is just brilliant. We love Chillagoe.
Complete solitude and relaxation by a remote Gulf Savannah River. An all day lazy campfire, the sound of running water and sunny blue skies. That’s camping at Karma Waters.
We have two reasons for coming out here. Firstly, to recharge our depleted mental batteries in a way that only being by a campfire next to an outback river will do and secondly, to test out our new Trayon on a Trailer configuration a little bit off the beaten track. How adventurous can we really go now?
It’s a lovely drive from tropical rainforest into the drier Gulf Savannah. Two hundred kilometres northwest of Cairns, Karma Waters Station is just over a three hour drive. We travel for 2 hours on sealed road up the Kuranda Range to Mareeba, Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine before turning off 10 minutes past Mt Carbine onto the dirt station track sign posted to Karma Waters and Hurricane Station.
The next fifty kilometre stretch of dirt takes just over an hour. On the left, 10 minutes after turning off the bitumen, is the short track to Cooktown Crossing. We take a quick detour to check it out.
This causeway on the Mitchell River is a free camping spot and is popular (because it’s free) but doesn’t have many ideal sites. It’s much better at Karma Waters despite the $25 per night camping fee. The drive from here follows the Mitchell River and is slow going with dips, creek crossings and cattle to avoid but lovely with nice views in the distance.
Karma Waters Station is private property and they have nine camping locations on the banks of the Mitchell River. The beauty of camping here is that you have absolute privacy and solitude. The spots are a considerable distance apart. After checking in at the station homestead we head for camp site number two, through our own private gate, go over a sandy, somewhat dicey, 4WD only crossing into a lovely canopy of shady paperbark trees right along side the river.
There is the option here of canoeing down the river, swimming, fishing and catching a few cherubin (yabbies) in opera house nets. Or you can just be lazy and sit on the banks with a good book and enjoy the views. We choose option two as the river still has the after wet season flow and is flowing very wide and strongly. Too strong for our inflatable kayak. We did have a refreshing dip or two though.
So we learn some things about travelling with our new trailer while at Karma Waters. On the open road it tracked behind us beautifully with only a slight difference to fuel consumption. On a dirt road it’s great and it handles the bumps and dips really well but there are limitations we need to be aware of now. We realise that we are now the length of a bus and need a very wide turning circle. We realise that this will create situations where we will need to unhitch the trailer and manually push it around because there is no other way to avoid low overhanging branches. We realise that two thick sandy bumps close together with jagged rocks to the side can be a bit perilous with a trailer. Being bogged and wedged between them in a V shape is not much fun and serious off road stuff should be avoided. There is no way we’d take it through the Simpson Desert. We learnt that we are virtually a mini caravan now. Gotta love those adventurous learning curves.
However, we were still able to access a remote site that would be completely inaccessible to a caravan. We were able to unhitch easily and be independent of our living quarters. We were able to stop on the way and collect heaps of firewood and just chuck it in the back of the ute and we had storage space in abundance. Empty cupboards in the Trayon is unheard of. Amazing.
Karma Waters is a nice weekend escape destination from Cairns, especially if you want to a break from the coastal humidity and need a dose of outback scenery. You do need to book ahead though, especially on long weekends. Some rules apply as well – there are no facilities so they request you bring a chemical toilet, no weapons or hunting dogs allowed, no motorbikes and quads. This is all good as it makes for a much more pleasant camping experience for all.
Love an early morning campfire with campfire vegemite toast. Yum.
Michelle’s guide to Waterfall sightseeing in Paradise
Cairns and water go together. Like strawberries and cream. Add the mountain backdrop and it’s a recipe for a green paradise. As local residents we tend to get a bit blasé towards our own natural scenery. On occasion though we do take off the blinkers and really appreciate this place we are lucky enough to call home. You just cannot possibly ignore the beauty of nature when viewing falling water up here in the North. So over two days at Easter time we do the Waterfall loop.
We have had an incredible amount of rain in the last week of March. I love our wet season rain. Its not a gentle pitter, patter of raindrops. Our rain is torrential and really loud. It’s like the pendulous storm clouds just dump the whole lot all at once. Like those wet playgrounds with the bucket of water that drops it’s load when it reaches tipping point. Tropical rain is truly a wonder of nature in itself. It takes the edge off the steamy humidity and creates a vibrant green visual feast. ‘Rain’ forest is called that for a reason I guess.
So after a week of torrential, flooding rain we decide to enjoy our most wonderful natural splendours at their finest – the Waterfalls. We are literally surrounded by them in Cairns – all beautiful, all different, all glorious and it’s easy to do a loop and not a huge distance. It has to be the best place in Australia to do a waterfall crawl.
Barron Falls just up the Range at Kuranda is our first stop. The power of these Falls is immense when the Barron River is bulging at the seams. It’s a long drop and there is nothing delicate and dainty here. The water plummets a long distance bouncing from boulder to boulder with the sound of thunder. Its a worthwhile short stop with a lovely rainforest walk to the falls viewing platform.
Between Kuranda and Mareeba off the Kennedy highway are Davies Creek Falls and Emerald Creek Falls. Both these lovely falls are unique as the Northern portion of the Tropical Tablelands are characterised by open eucalyptus woodland, with granite outcrops and clear flowing streams. The smell is gorgeous – that eucalyptus fragrance of the warm Aussie bush. Both of these Falls are similar, plummeting with a thunderous roar over a granite escarpment. From the top the views of the Tablelands are magnificent. Below each fall is a fast flowing stream being channeled through granite boulders in continual cascades. You can find a quiet calm pool for a refreshing swim. I did just that at Emerald Creek and it was delicious.
Coffee time. The Northern Tablelands are famous for coffee plantations and most offer tours and serve scrumptious barista made coffee. We stop at one of our favourites, Jacques Coffee. A delicious treat.
We then turn South at Mareeba toward the rolling green hills and rainforests of the Southern Tablelands. The quaint, idyllic village of Yungaburra is our destination for the night and we arrive with time to wander around on foot and try to spot a platypus in the creek. A misty rain makes our motel room a cosy haven.
In the morning it’s only a short drive on to Malanda Falls. There is a bit of perfect symmetry in the low natural cascade. The water has a brown tinge due to recent flooding. Usually folks swim in the clear pool beneath the falls but today it’s closed. The current is too strong.
We continue driving south in misty rain through rolling green hills of the Southern Tablelands, very reminiscent of being in Victoria, except the weather is warm. We head to my favourite of the three sets of falls on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit. Millaa Millaa Falls. This is misty waterfall perfection. Perfectly manicured by Mother Nature. The exquisite tropical tree ferns frame a photo beautifully.
Zillie Falls, a further 8km on, took me by surprise. These are usually a bit ordinary after the exquisite perfection of Millaa Millaa Falls but with the wet season flow they were powerful, intense and even pretty as the water plummeted over the abyss pummelling the rocks below. The walking track down to the bottom is a bit hazardous though in the wet. Tree roots, mud, slippery rocks and a steep descent through tangled rainforest.
Elinjaa Falls, 2km on is very pretty cascade. Like a lacy curtain. There’s no better place to find yourself, than standing by a waterfall listening to its music and this one had a lovely melody.
From Millaa Millaa we head down the Palmerston highway toward Innisfail back on the coast. We stop at Henrietta Creek to walk the 4.4km rainforest walk leading to Silver Falls and Nandroya Falls. This is our first time here and it was truly incredible. The trail to the falls took us deep into the beautiful tropical rainforest. A long walk but nothing strenuous and the reward was the gob smacking view of Nandroya Falls. Silver Falls were just stunning. Delicate and very pretty but Nandroya Falls were in a league of their own. An absolutely amazing spectacle. The sheer power, the noise, the mist. It was an incredible sight. Violence and beauty thrown together in spectacular fashion. Definitely worth the walk.
After a spot of lunch in Innisfail we head North toward Cairns and detour shortly after to Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park. Its a 700m stroll through stunning pristine rainforest. So pretty to look at but you can sense the foreboding and danger when you reach Josephine Creek. So many have died here, lured into the water by its beauty and clarity. Its so clear, deep and inviting with natural fun filled rock slides but the churning water is powerful, turbulent and will suck you under the boulders with its fury. I don’t swim here, especially with flash flooding warning signs. Crazy, but others still do. Spectacular waterfall though.
So waterfalled out, we head back home. It’s been a lovely two days and just the tip of the iceberg. It has renewed our sense of appreciation for the joys of living in this paradise we call home.
I don’t know if I’ve happened to mention it before but I adore Tasmania. The natural scenery is stunning from Coastline to Alpine Plateaus, there are hiking trails, waterfalls, forests and National Parks in abundance, the distances are short and the little towns are quaint with delightful bakeries. Even the thriving metropolis of Hobart has a uniqueness.
On our first visit to Tasmania as a couple in 2010, we flew in and completed the seven day hike of the world famous Overland Track. We did it with a tour group and it was our first taste of extended hiking. We were hooked with both hiking and Tasmania. It was just the most adventurous experience. The walk started with drizzle, turned to rain, the wind was perpetually icy cold, it sleeted on us and then finally it snowed. This was in January. We slept in tents and put on wet clothes, socks and boots every day on bitterly cold mornings. I shudder at the memory. We walked on a trail that at times became a river, slid on tree roots, sloshed in deep mud and due to persistent clouds we missed all the views. This all, no doubt sounds quite horrendous but it was exciting, unpredictable and we felt like we had achieved something really special at the end.
The only regret we had was that we were unable to climb Mt Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak, due to the poor weather conditions. Mt Ossa is located pretty much in the middle of the Overland Track and is a four day walk in. So we figured we had missed our opportunity as it was unlikely we would ever complete the whole Overland Track again.
Never say never though. A little bit of google research goes a long way. Mt Ossa is accessible without doing the whole Overland Track. There is a 12.2 km shortcut (on foot) that intersects with the Overland Track called the Arm River Track. It’s a bit of a local secret. and you don’t need to purchase the costly Overland Track pass to do it.
So on our third visit to Tasmania on a grand and glorious road trip we decided to ‘give it a bash’. Of course we knew how very important it was to time the adventure with the weather and some careful planning ensued. Wet boots are always inevitable but were were so hoping for Mt Ossa to be out of the clouds.
We planned to spend two nights at New Pelion Hut, the central Overland Track hikers hut, to give us a whole day to summit Mt Ossa.
We camped at Mole Creek and early morning packed up camp and turned left onto Mersey Forest Road where we then had to keep an eye out for tiny Maggs Road which was our turnoff. We followed Maggs Road to the end and found the tiny car park which is near where the Maggs and Arm Road meet. This is the start of the Arm River Track. There was only one other vehicle there and with us the car park was full.
Incidentally it was drizzling with rain and cold but we knew it would be. Tomorrow was the day the sun was supposed to shine. The all important day.
One minute into the hike we had to cross a small stream and Kevin sank in thick mud. Right over the boots. Great start. It was actually hilarious. Nothing like a bit of levity before a 45 minute extremely steep trail straight up into the clouds.
It levelled off somewhat after that and we crossed rivers balancing on logs which was a bit hairy and I had a big fat leach sucking on my head.
We walked and walked. Had lunch beside a lake in the mist. A quick lunch because we had a few leaches. Then we walked and walked again. It was a lovely walk. At times the track became a river, we slipped on tree roots and walked in mud. But this was all starting to feel very familiar to us.
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New Pelion Hut was a very welcome sight after about 5 – 6 hours. We were very weary.
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Whether it was brilliant planning, a fluke or divine intervention I’m not sure but the next day was gloriously sunny. Perfect timing. We faced another uphill slog for a couple of hours on our friend ‘The Overland Track’ before we came to the junction of The Mt Ossa Track.
The walk up Mt Ossa started off easy but turned a little challenging as we got higher. All I can say is thank goodness for long legs. Clambering over the boulder scree required them.
It got so challenging a bit further up that we were actually having second thoughts on whether to go on. This was serious climbing at great height. Luckily we banished those traitorous thoughts and after a false summit or two finally found ourselves perched upon the roof of Tasmania. What a moment. Those sublime views were the most amazing reward for having made the effort to do this. It was really the most amazing natural high feeling (no pun intended).
So with that ticked off the bucket list we were able to enjoy the more leisurely stroll in the sunshine back to New Pelion Hut where we spent another enjoyable night chatting to those folks doing the hard yards on the Overland Track. We took great glee in revealing our sneaky little shortcut to get here.
The walk back down the Arm River Track was also in pleasant weather so we saw it in a whole different perspective the following day. It was so very nice though to see our car waiting patiently in the car park. We were both so tired but in a contented, satisfied kind of way.
We walked a total of 38.7 km all up and it was so worth it.
“Its wild and remote yet gentle and incredibly peaceful. A high exposed plateau with jagged walls of rock that shelter an alpine valley. A myriad of tarns that glisten like jewels, mounds of button grass, alpine wild flowers, king billy pines, the occasional trickle of tiny streams and then total silence. Its another world where human civilisation ceases to exist. To give us such visual beauty though, nature asks a price. It was cold. So cold. We froze at night, especially Kevin in his wafer thin sleeping bag. Our tent was wet, our sleeping mats insufficient and our bodies had so many aches and pains from hauling heavy packs up wickedly steep inclines, over long distances. However, beyond any doubt the stunning scenery more than compensated us for the discomfort. This is Tasmania in all her glory. We climbed Mt Jerusalem, The Temple and Solomons Throne and the views were sublime. It was quite surreal and I feel incredibly blessed. Sometimes the natural world just blows you away and yes, I had a tear in the eye as we departed through Herods Gate. Special moments are like that.”
These were my words straight after completing the three day overnight hike into Tasmania’s Walls of Jerusalem National Park. So what is this place and what made it stir my soul to tears and more specifically why would I include it in a blog about 4WDing in Australia?
The following excerpt is from the Parks and Wildlife website and is bound to get you a little intrigued.
“The Walls of Jerusalem are located in a remote area of the Tasmanian highlands and are part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The area is a spectacular labyrinth of alpine lakes and tarns, dolerite peaks, ancient but fragile forests of Pencil Pines and unique alpine vegetation.
There is no road access into the park and entry is only possible by walking. There are no facilities for shortstop visitors other than toilets at Wild Dog Creek. All tracks into the area are steep and rough and are subject to extreme weather conditions that can include heavy rain, hail, snow, freezing temperatures and blazing sun. Low cloud can reduce visibility to a few metres and snow can cover the track making it difficult to follow. There are limited track markers so navigational skills are essential during poor conditions. These conditions can occur in any month of the year and the weather can change dramatically within a few short hours.
There is one way and one way only to get to see this amazing place. On foot. With a backpack, a tent and a great pair of hiking boots. Those Coopers 4WD tyres are of absolutely no use up here.
“Bushwalkers must walk into the park from the car park located off the gravel Mersey Forest Road near Lake Rowallan. The car park is reached from Deloraine by following the B12 through Mole Creek and taking Mersey Forest Road (C138 then C171) to Lake Rowallan. A gravel road approximately 4.8km past the Lake Rowallan dam wall on the left just after the Fish River leads to the car park. The only infrastructure near the carpark is a registration booth. There are no public phones or toilets. It is not advisable to leave valuables in the car. There is no public transport to this area, although some operators may offer charters.”
Our 4WD with Trayon Camper was parked in the remote car park as it was the only way we could access this National Park. Its part of what makes the Walls of Jerusalem so special. The challenging access means its way less touristy than nearby Cradle Mountain National Park. I admit we were quite concerned about leaving all our worldly possessions sitting unattended for three days after being informed on the website not to leave valuables in the car. The nearest Camping Park is at Mole Creek. We stayed here prior and after the walk and could have had the option of leaving our camper set up here over the duration. However we decided to take the risk and it was a good call. Our car was not interfered with at all and there were quite a few other vehicles as well to keep it company. Its popular with the local Taswegans.
On this Tasmanian 4WD odyssey, although our space was limited, we squeezed in backpacks, the hiking tent, sleeping bags and self inflating mats. It was always our intention to fit this hike into our itinerary, subject to February weather. As luck would have it the weather was forecast to be quite good. Not perfect but overcast is better than sleet, rain and snow. That was how we experienced the famous Overland Track on a previous visit. Now that was an adventure.
I won’t deny it – the trail up to the Walls is steep. Puffing, wheezing steep for a good couple of hours until we reached Trappers Hut and then another hour beyond that. Kevin had a big pack complete with most of our gear while I managed with a day pack. Yes, that was fair and I really can’t understand why we nearly broke Kevin coming back down. Chuckle. Then finally once up on the thankfully flat plateau we pass a myriad of mesmerising tarns called Solomon’s Jewels, Wild Dog campsite and pass through Herods Gate and into the Walls of Jerusalem. We camp one night inside the Walls at Dixons Kingdom and one night at Wild Dog Campsite.
The pictures below show our time exploring within the Walls. There are various options and we tried to do as much as we could. The cold mist kept sweeping in and out, sometimes obscuring our views but it was such an incredible experience that we didn’t care.
So the Walls of Jerusalem were just wonderful. However, we had to get down again and Kevin felt every bit of that steep trail on his titanium knee. He nearly didn’t make it and literally hobbled the last few steps back to our car. That car park was the most beautiful sight in the world at that point.
I must mention that on the way down we passed quite a few people going up. The weather forecast for the weekend was perfect so the locals take advantage of the opportunity. Two of these people were hippies. Bare feet and no packs. No shoes, no tent, no jacket, no food, no nothing. The mind boggles. Surprised we didn’t hear on the news about two frozen hippy corpses the next day.
So is it worth going out of your way to explore The Walls of Jerusalem? Absolutely. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“The sky forms vivid pastel layers and the gorge glows a soft orange. Pelicans with their great wing span glide serenely over the water. Everything becomes still and gentle. This is outback Australia at her finest and its magnificent.”
Diamantina National Park is remote. Draw a rough diamond on a map between Winton, Boulia, Birdsville and Windorah in Outback Queensland and Diamantina is roughly in the middle; in the middle of nowhere to be precise. It’s the catchment region for the Diamantina River in the heart of the mighty channel country and until 1992 was a former pastoral holding.
The flat, treeless black soil plains that surround the National Park hold many perils for the 4WD enthusiast if it rains. Even small amounts of rain can make the roads impassable. The wet black soil is treacherous and will suck you down to the bowels of the earth, or at the very least to your mudguards. National Parks advise that all travellers must be self sufficient, prepared for emergencies, carry an EPIRB, extra fuel and be aware the campground is exposed and has few shade trees.
As uninspiring as all this sounds, we were drawn to the Diamantina in July 2015, or more appropriately, lured by a siren song. Australian folk singer, John Williamson is responsible for that. His version of ‘Diamantina Drover’ has always been one of our favourites and it inspired an intense longing to visit a region immortalised so eloquently in folk song. It’s a song about droving days gone by at Old Cork Station where the rain never falls on that dusty Diamantina.
With a few different options available to enter the National Park, we chose the 306km Winton route, specifically so we could go via the ruins of Old Cork Station and pay homage to those droving ghosts of days long gone. We passed the occasional red sand dune on the drive in, an indication of our close proximity to the Simpson Desert. You must be totally self sufficient and its rough but there is a free camping area behind the ruins on the muddy banks of the Diamantina River. It’s in the dirt, its parched dry and the river is the muddy brown of all our inland rivers but it has a romantic allure with a windmill providing the opportunity for a classic Australian sunset photo. The feeling of isolation was absolute and the ruins proved to be fascinating to explore.
It’s only a relatively short distance from Old Cork Station to the entrance of Diamantina National Park, where the landscape continues to hide its secrets. There is literally nothing from horizon to horizon. It’s this in itself which makes the drive ‘something’ to experience. The third year of an extended drought ensured that we encountered little more than vast expanses of bull dust and dry parched earth. We could see how only a little bit of rain would change the conditions instantly though.
After passing through the park ranger station it was a further 10km before we set up camp at Hunters Gorge Campground on the banks of the caramel coloured Diamantina River.
The harsh midday sun drains the colour from the landscape. It’s stark, harsh and almost lifeless and our initial impression was misleading. Only the 1.5 billion flies take great delight in making their presence known; in your eyes, up your nose, in your ears and they even accompany you on a visit to the single pit toilet. Any orifice will do. Okay, that was a bit tongue in cheek, but I’m sure you get the picture. The flies were bad to the extent that even Kevin for the first time ever in all our years of bush travel succumbed to the almighty ‘fly net’.
This place is, however, incredibly special. When the sun sinks low on the horizon at sunset and sunrise, Diamantina National Park is spectacular. The buzzing of flies diminishes and only a gentle chorus of birdsong breaks the quietude. The features of the landscape start to soften and the hues of colour are stunning. The sky forms vivid pastel layers and the gorge glows a soft orange. Pelicans with their great wing span glide serenely over the water. Everything becomes still and gentle. This is outback Australia at her finest and its magnificent.
So, we find it hard to leave this stunning place. We extend our stay and we learn to live with the landscape. During the day when the sun is merciless and the flies congregate in masses we ‘siesta’ and read in the safe confines of our fly-screened Trayon camper. At dusk we drink in and savour the beauty and the complete solitude. At night we prepare the campfire for a phenomenal starry night sky that defies comprehension and then we sleep to the eerie tune of distant dingo howls. At dawn we rise early to appreciate the coolness, the stillness, the pastel shades in the sky and the mirror reflections on the water.
So, is it worthwhile to go out of your way to visit this remote National Park in Outback Queensland? If you are into adventure and solitude where people are few, the landscape is vast and only 4WD vehicles dare to tread, absolutely it is.
We love the layering of the layers in the sky. Its worth braving the chill and climbing a hill at sunrise for the view.
After visiting Diamantina National Park I recommend a visit to Boodjamulla National Park. Yeah it’s a long drive but that goes with Outback Queensland and Lawn Hill Gorge is an absolute oasis. Read my blog Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?