Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Burketown to Lawn Hill, Riversleigh and Camooweal

The Savannah Way, running all the way from Broome in the West (WA) to Normanton and on toCairns on the east coast, is a wonderful road that takes in some of the most exciting scenery, history, birdlife, to be experienced in the country. During the wet season though it is virtually impassable and this last wet has seen cyclone after cyclone dumping water along the whole route. Only in late March 300mm fell in 3 days and everyone in Burketown was cut off for a month. So the road west of Hell’s Gate at the Northern Territory border remains closed, with river crossings west of there still around a metre deep in places, so our route took us south again, looping back to Gregory Downs by way of the Leichhardt Falls. Here the Leichhardt River runs about a kilometre wide across a flat rock bottom with many rivulets and pools, before tipping over the 200 metre wide sandstone edge into a deep pool below. A large male kangaroo lay dead at the base of the rocks where we stood, about five metres down and three out from the edge. Freshly dead, it must have been chased in the dark straight over the edge, perhaps by dogs. 

We stopped another night at Gregory Downs before moving a short way on to Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla NP) where everyone speaks glowingly of the walks and facilities. The 11,000 station was purchased from graziers in1976 by a Brazilian cattle king, who then surrendered 12,200ha to the State Government for a National park. Under the tribal ownership now of the elders of the Waanyi nation, a substantial slice was excised for the Century zinc mine – the world's largest. You would hardly be aware of the industrial activity going on about 30kms distant, except for the presence of mobile communications and better than usual roads.

Lawn Hill had us for four nights and we were enchanted with the place. About 20kms of walks, mostly gentle, take you through a series of gorges and along the top of the Constance Range. Canoes can be hired and we had a couple of hours going as far as we could. Freshwater crocodiles lounge of the pandanus branches in the shade, with rare Purple–crowned Fairy Wrens above them. Crimson Finches,White browed Robins, Honeyeaters, Great Bowerbirds all turned up for our enjoyment. The facilities are good and new, but if you go you must call the Qld NP booking number and book ahead. There is Adel’s Grove a few kilometres away too. This commercial camp stay is sort of up market, at least their prices are. It is one of the places that the bus tour companies use, and has all sorts of citations on the wall. A somewhat cool lady on reception puts you on guard, but we booked in for the Sunday roast dinner; the canteen style pork closely resembled old shoe leather, but hey, it was good fun.

Heading south again now, aiming for Alice, we stopped first a few kilometres down the road at Riversleigh, which is a World Heritage site where 25 million year old fossils are still being exposed from under layers of banded limestone. The public can walk through a small section and see a small variety of bone fragments of crocodiles and particularly the “Big Bird”, or Thunderbird. Some birds today still swallow small stones to help them digest food. And there, embedded in the rock beside a long legbone are a large cluster of black gizzard stones. Big Bird stood up the 3 metres tall and weighed about 300 kgs. Quite a Christmas dinner really. A free camp south of Riversleigh, with a drink and chat with new young chums Del and John, teachers from Torquay, and today we have motored at a gentle 50kph into Camooweal for a shower and pub meal. Tomorrow we set off along the Sandover Highway to Alice,780kms away. There is one aboriginal township at Urapuntja (known also as Utopia) where some artwork is done, but otherwise it will be a lovely, long and lonely drive. Most mapped roads give some information but this one is a virtual blank; but the RACQ man here tells us the grader crew are down that way and it is a good time to go. We’ll tell you about it from Alice then.

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