Thursday morning two weeks ago I continued my drive south along the Carnarvon highway. Two heavy goods transports came towards me. One was even escorted by police, and they forced every car to stop at the side of the road. So the heavy truck could speed in the other direction opposite to me. Shortly after that forced stop, I crossed again the Great Dividing range, which brought me into the beginning of the Murray-Darling basin. This huge area of river systems covers about 14% of the Australian land mass, and eventually drains into the southern ocean in Adelaide – theoretically. From the 530,000 gigalitres of annual rainfall (which is about 50 times the size of Lake Argyle) 94% evaporate, 2% drain into the ground, and just 4% run off into the ocean. I briefly stopped in Injune, a small mining town. At the local fuel station several red trucks with fracking rigs from Halliburton (you know the company, where Dick Cheney was CEO before he was appointed by G.W. Bush as vice president…and which was also involved in the construcion of the BP Deepwater Horizon, which eventually exploded in the Gulf of Mexico). Now that company seems to try the next big opportunity in fracking of coal seem gas in the outback of Queensland. Next to the fuel station are the remains of the old railway station, with an old steam locomotive infront of it. As several other branchlines, also this one was closed after the road from Roma to Injune was sealed, and eventually used by road trains. In the regional centre of Roma I had my lunch and briefly stopped at the largest bottle tree of Roma. Bottle trees are pretty common around the outback of QLD, but these are not to be confused with the Boab trees in the western part of the NT, and the Kimberleys. In the afternoon I headed further south to Surat which is located directly at the Balonne river. The Balonne river is mostly a small creek, now after some rain it’s a small murky river, with good fishing opportunities, but also heaps of flies and mossies around. I took a short walk along the river to the local weir, which was constructed in order to supply the town with water, even in times a low rain. Surat is a pretty calm town, the basic stores were still open, but due to the recent restrictions the remaining shops remained closed. Luckily the public toilets including free showers behind the council building remained open. So I took the possibility before I headed off to the west in the late afternoon in the direction to Glenmorgan. I stayed the last night in my vehicle on a flat gravel area a few kilometres before that small community.
Tuesday morning two weeks ago, I crossed the electrified railway shortly before it’s ending at the Albinia Coal Mine. It’s the longest extend of electrification from Rockhampton. Directly next to the coal mine is the Albinia national park, a protection area for the endemic grasses. These grasses are very popular for feeding stock. Hence, most of these natural grasses are gone due to overgrazing from stock. I briefly stopped in the small town of Rolleston which is at the road junction which directly leads to Gladstone. In the late afternoon I arrived at the Carnarvon national park (I’ve no idea, how that name relates to Carnarvon in Western Australia, where I’ve been in 2008). After lunch I prepared my backpack for a two days trip. Luckily the trees in the Carnarvon gorge provided some shade during the afternoon. Hence, the hike was pretty nice between the tall sandstone vertical walls (I was wondering, if it’s suitable for some vertical moves 😏). In essence I followed the main hiking trail along the Carnarvon creek, but I made some detours along the way. The first stop was at the so called Amphitheater, this huge space was crafted by lot’s of water during a long time, and is only accessible through a small crack from the main gorge. Afterwards I walked up into the narrow Ward’s canyon. Within this small, shadow and humid canyon the large King ferns from tropical areas can survive. This small patch is the only known area were this huge ferns grow inland of Queensland. All other known locations from King fern are along the coast. The next stop was at the Aboriginal Art gallery. Over the last few thousand years this area was used for various ceremonies. During this time a lot of paintings were made onto the wall, as well as engravings. For one section the women were responsible, and they graved, as sign of fertility, a lot of vulvas into the soft sandstone. That reminded me to all the penises in Phra Nang Cave in Railway. About four kilometres further up I passed Cathedral Cave, which is another place of former gatherings and some Aboriginal rock art. I arrived in the late afternoon at the campground. I was surprised that two other blokes were already their and enjoyed their dinner. I pitched up my tent and had dinner just during sunset, before I went to bed.
I got up about one hour before sunrise, and started hiking after a quick breakfast. I followed the narrow Boowinda gorge, before I went up steeply in a side gorge along a dry creek bed. After this steep section the trail to the Battleship Spur Lookout followed basically a ridge, which had even some stairs and a ladder. After about two hours I arrived at the Battleship Spur Lookout and enjoyed the view across the complete Carnarvon gorge during the 30 min of my second breakfast. The area around the ascent was extremely green, even as there was some bushfires two years ago, and shortly before the summit a lot of kangaroos were jumping around. The way back to the camp was along the same way. It took me in total about 4 hours including breakfast. After a snack in the campground and pitching down the tent, I walked back along the gorge. I met met Shannon just when I started my walk back, and another couple with it’s two kids at the bench before the Art Gallery, where we had a short chat during my break. On my way back I made a detour to the Boolimba Bluff Lookout at the gorge entrance. The steep hike up was supported by ladders, but still it took me additional 90min to return, which wasn’t too bad. I was alone on the complete way. When I finished my walk, I met Shannon again at the parking area. We had a short chat and she told me, that she just lost her job and is on her way to some friends at the sunshine coast, but wanted to stop here. Unfortunately, the campground was closed, so I couldn’t get a shower there. Therefore, I went to the rock pool, which is located shortly before the breakthrough of the Carnarvon creek through the ridge, which lays like a natural blocking dam infront of the gorge. The murky water quality wasn’t that good, but at least it was refreshing after the long hike.
Monday two weeks ago I headed further to the East. I got out of the outback after arriving in Emerald. The town has all important supermarkets and retail stores, as well as the major fastfood chains. In Emerald I went to the solar farm just west to the town and had a drive around. The solar farm is now owned by a finance investor. It’s one of the poorly operated solar farms I’ve seen so far. The weed is more than 2m high and is heavily spreading throughout the solar panels. This puts a lot of shade onto the PV panels, and definitely affects the electricity production. I went to the only open pub later on in order to enjoy my last beer before they had to close at noon for indefinite time. In the afternoon I headed out to Lake Maraboon. It’s the second largest lake in Queensland but due to the drought, it’s almost empty. The lake had it’s lowest filling level, with just about 10%, by the end of 2019. It wasn’t busy over there, just one woman was sunbathing and some people took the opportunity to get out onto the lake for fishing with their boats. In the late afternoon I headed further south to Springsure. That is a lovely community next to the Minerva Hills National park. I had a walk around the park area, where the families met with their children next to the playground. After a short break I headed on and stopped at the Stairway Range lookout. The spot wasn’t that good, as all the heavy road trains plagued their way in the low gear up the range the whole time.
Sunday morning two weeks ago I arrived in Longreach. I stopped at visitor centre and asked for some informations. When I had walk along the main street everything was closed except one coffee shop where you still could get some breakfast. Hence, I headed over to the railway station. Longreach is nowadays the final destination of the train “Spirit of the Outback”, which arrives directly from Brisbane twice a week. Also the “Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service” relocated it’s headquarters from Winton, where it was founded in 1920, to Longreach a year later. Hence it’s the third oldest airline in the wolrd, which is still in operation. There’s a dedicated (rather expensive – 30$) museum with some of its former planes, including the first 747-200 Jumbo Jet from QANTAS. I headed off and a few kilometre east of town I passed the solar farm in Camden park. I briefly stopped and had a closer look, as this solar farm is not connected to the man grid, as the electricity supply of Longreach isn’t at all.
In Barcaldine I had my lunch at a visitor centre, before I headed to the tree of wisdom directly infront of the railway station. This tree was much taller with a large canopy and the shearer used to meet here in the shade during their strike against the squatter. In the end the government sent the military to suppress the strike. It was only the second time in history, that this happened against White Australians. In essence from this movement the Australian Labour Party was formed. On that Sunday afternoon only one pub and the fuel station was open, the rest of the town was closed and it was quite quiet. Next to the gas fired combined power plant a new solar farm was constructed a bit east of town. Unfortunately, it was fenced off a bit, so you only could spot it from a few metres distance.
Jericho is a very small town, and the only shop in town was closed, and there was only one bloke in the pub. Nevertheless, they had a nice campground near the creek with a free outdoor shower, but a lot of mossies around. Hence, I decided to head off and went to Alpha. In order to get to Alpha, I needed to pass Beta. The Alpha town is a main centre for collecting cattle and deporting them on the railway. When I walked through the empty town I met the former butcher by accident. He told me that he had to close down his business, as there was no longer enough demand. I also told me that the best sheep come from the region around Blackall. As I already discovered earlier (but actually I didn’t realise back in that time, that I would drive through), Alpha is also in the centre of the Galilee basin, where all the new coal mines are supposed to open in the future.
Saturday two weeks ago I went South of Winton for about 100 km in order to visit the Lark Quarry Conservation Park. The landscape to the south changed rapidly and I directly felt like back into the outback. There were shrubs and small trees everywhere. The area was used for grazing cattle, even as there was not much grass left for them. The area around Lark Quarry was discovered first in the 1960’s but actual research begun 10 years later. The site shows footsteps from a dinosaur stampede, and all this was done in about 3min time…95 Mio. years ago! One large dinosaur (like the size of a horse) was chasing a smaller dinosaur type (maybe like a cat), but also the tiny ones (like chicken), which were also present on that former creek to get some water, went into panic. So the large dino run in one direction and the other smaller dinos literally in all directions in panic mode (so no longer rational thinking, just emotions) creating a chaos (no, I’m not talking about panic shopping of toilet paper, that’s another story 😏). All this happens in a butterfly blow and now we can watch the evidence of that million years later. After the guided tour I headed out for a walk around and on top of the mesas. From the top there were nice views to the surrounding landscape, but again I was accompanied by several hundreds flies. So at least I didn’t run out of protein. When I returned to Winton in the afternoon I stopped at the former Willie Mar’s Fruit and Vegetables Shop. His farther, also a Chines bloke, started growing veggies about 100 years ago. And the son continued that business until the year 2000, when a flood took away his mango tree, and all the refrigerated trucks brought the veggies from the east. I headed out of the town in the late afternoon in the direction to Longreach.