Thursday 5th August. Vicki’s Birthday! Had the car at the Nissan agents at 08:00 for the new gearbox switch to be fitted. Went for a walk around town whilst this was being done. Picked the car up about 10:00 and returned to our camp at Kairi. Vicki had had a clean up whilst I was in town. By 11:00 we where on the road again.
The car was back to its old self which was just as well as we had some steep and winding roads on the first part of the trip before we dropped down off the tablelands. At one point we were at an altitude of 1100 metres, no wonder it was cold during the night. For awhile now we had been sleeping with only a sheet over us, however, at Atherton and Mareeba we had to use the doona!
Headed west on the Kennedy H’way via Ravenshoe and Mount Garnet. The fields of the Tablelands where lush and green with dairy farms and irrigated crops. After about 180 kilometres we picked up the Gulf Development Road, and an endless procession of caravans. These roads form part of what is promoted as the Savannah Way, a tourist route linking Cairns and Broome.
Stopped at Mt Surprise to stretch our legs. Here we meet up with a couple that we had previously meet at Weipa and then Seisia.
We also saw the Savannalander come into Mt Surprise. This is a refurbished 40 year old train that does a two day run from Cairns to Forsayth via Mt Surprise. She is a very pretty train. We rather wished we could have done the two day trip on her.
From Mt Surprise we pushed on to a free camping spot at Cumberland which is 18 kilometres west of Georgetown. We had now entered savannah country, plains of grassland and stunted trees. This was very dry with little feed for the cattle. Roads are unfenced and careful driving is needed as skittish cattle feed on the green pick on the roadside. Some of the cattle we saw were in very poor condition. A real contrast to the Tablelands.
It is hard to imagine the transformation this country will undergo in the wet season.
Our camp that night was welcome as we had done about 360 kilometres. Far more than we normally travel but after almost a week of waiting for the car to be fixed we felt like we needed a bit of distance.
There is nothing at Cumberland except a brick chimney from a long abandoned gold smelter and a lagoon. There are no facilities, not even a toilet as it is an unofficial camping spot so you need to be self sufficient. It was a pleasant camp spot despite the incessant generator noise of other campers.
Next morning it was only a 120 kilometre run to Croydon, and what a great little town it is. Born of the 18th century gold rush it is now a centre for the savannah cattle industry. Not much in town, a couple of service stations, supermarket, butcher, pub and general store but it is a town very proud of its history. The visitor information centre is well done and includes a theatrette with holographic projections on the history of the area. Some visitor information centres are little more than booking centres for tourist attractions but Croydon’s was the reverse, it was first and foremost a great source of information on the area. At the height of the gold rush Croydon had forty pubs! There is now a heritage precinct comprising some of the original buildings that have been restored. We also visited Lake Belmore, six kilometres from town unfortunately you cannot camp here as it is the local water supply. You can swim as there are no salt water crocodiles (apparently) only freshwater and the signs said these are okay if you don’t disturb them. Vicki reckoned that if she didn’t get in the water she wouldn’t disturb them so that seemed to be the safest course of action. All around Croydon where relics of the gold rush era, including a ruined Chinese Temple. Some of the descendants of the Chinese miners, who are now fourth generation, still live around Croydon others live all over Australia. Croydon also has what is claimed to be Australia’s oldest shop.
We then moved west a hundred kilometres or so to a camping area at Leichardt Lagoon. This is on a property and has camping for $7 a night per person. Plenty of shady trees and a relatively big area so you are not jammed up next to your neighbour. There are toilets and hot showers, courtesy of a donkey boiler. Pretty basic corrugated iron construction but kept very clean. As it is only 20 kilometres from Normanton and a further 70 to Karumba we will probably leave the van here and take a day trip to look at Karumba. We have heard that the three caravan parks in Karumba are full (and expensive) and it can take weeks to get a vacancy. Apparently it is a favourite spot for the “grey nomads”.
Saturday night the Leichardt Lagoon homestead put on a three course meal for $3 a head. About 100 campers attended. At 17:30 we all loaded up our cars with chairs and eating utensils and drove the half a kilometre to the homestead for supper on the lawn. Supper was choko soup followed by rissoles, potato and pumkin and then trifle. Several chook raffles during the night with all proceeds going to the Flying Doctor. This is the one charity that almost everyone supports in the remoter regions. It was a good night. Vicki thought it was a great night as she didn’t have to cook!
If any campers had arrived at the campground whilst supper was on they would have been rather mystified to find about 50 caravans and campervans with no cars or people around. The campground equivalent of the Marie Celeste.
No 3G coverage here so when we go to Normanton, which will probably be Sunday, I will publish this. One of the changes that I will make to the van before next years trip (yes we are planning that already) will be the addition of a high gain 3G antenna to give us better coverage.