El Questro to Kununurra (Saturday, 22 May)
We were both up reasonably early. Jean wanted breakfast, while Eric wanted photographs. While she ate a hot breakfast, he walked to some lookout points on the Emma Gorge trail. This time he was able to take photos of the other side o the cliffs surrounding us, in the morning light. Just as he started, the mist started rolling in, so despite it being too early in the morning for great light, he had to get my photos while he could.
Back at the resort, we packed pretty quickly, hoping to escape before rain made the road more difficult. We were on our way by 08:35. We were lucky with the drive out. The road was in better condition than when we entered. Only a few minor mud holes to negotiate. We also did not have to dodge construction equipment for the roadworks. We stopped at several places for photographs, whenever sunbeams broke through and lit the hillsides.
We turned north once we left the Gibb River Road. Since walking into the Grotto involves many steps, we decided we did not need a return visit. About 20 km from Wyndham we had good views of the surrounding countryside and took photographs there.
Wyndham itself, and the port area, looked somewhat more rundown than we recalled. Even the pub where we had eaten once seemed less kept than ever. The tidal area had one ship loading. There was also a small and very neat three decker that appeared to be a tourist boat. We took a variety of views from the Anthon Landing site. Some Aboriginals wandered along. One of them was wanting to sell painted tree nuts.
On the way out of town, we stopped at a park with a large crocodile status. Some Aboriginals there also tried to sell us a painted tree nut, remarkably similar to the previous item. We left Wyndham at 10:45 for the 100 km drive back to Kununurra.
Jean’s iPhone had a just about flat battery, probably from trying to pull a non-existent signal in at El Questro. We tried our car to USB charger for the first time. We also discovered that the tray in the centre console on our Subaru exactly fitted an iPhone and connector. The charger worked fine, and Jean declared it the first time she had ever used a car charger, despite having owned them for Nokia phones.
We passed through Kununurra briefly at 11:50 on our way to The Hoochery. This is West Australia’s oldest, continuously operating, legal distillery. After what seemed a long drive we were settled at a table there, eating chocolate rum cake and having our beverage. Then came the rum tasting. Eric started with their whiskey. This was a trial for them. Alas for us, it had been so popular that they had completely sold out the previous day. He did get to have a taste of what was a fine sipping US style corn mash whiskey. It will be three years before the next batch is ready for sale. Eric would be willing to pre-order right now.
Then we tried their premium barrel strength single barrel rum. This is not blended at all, nor is it watered down. It is what comes out of the barrel after ageing. The workers all taste the rums, and vote on which barrel is the best of the bunch. That becomes the single barrel. However at $125 a bottle, it is not a cheap nip at all. The alcohol content is enough to knock your socks off, being something between 65% and 72% alcohol (whatever comes out of the barrel). It was also by far the smoothest full strength rum we have ever tasted.
Neither of us were taken much by the melon liquor, although I could see it as a mixer. Jean outright rejected the aniseed liquor. That left her ordering a half dozen of the chocolate coffee rum liquor. We also got a half dozen bottles of our regular 40% Ord River rum.
We dropped in at The Sandalwood Factory near the Hoochery. That was an interesting upmarket sales point for sandalwood products, various trendy fragrances and the like. They had been open only a month, with the original site being in Perth. It is amazing how glamorous you can make an old tin shed look with paint, and decent interior decoration. Someone did a really excellent job. They also had a small, but unfortunately noisy, cafe on the premises. One of the staff told an interesting tale of how sandalwood is a parasite on other tree, and how they plant appropriate companion trees (initially fast growing), then slower growing trees, as the sandalwood matures. You could see the two lots of trees planted nearby, and we had seen some (but not recognised them) at other places in the Ord River irrigation area.
This time we were staying at the Kununurra Country Club resort, near the Tourist Information place, and across from the Police station. The room was conveniently located near the pool, and there was even easy access from the car parking area. The room was large, with sufficient space to put all our stuff inside.
We took a fairly long walk around town, with food shopping as an excuse, but the humidity bothered us both, so we returned to the spacious room and turned on the air conditioning.
We dined at Kelly’s, in the Kununurra Country Club resort. Good service. Eric’s rack of lamb was excellent, and Jean’s barramundi received no complaints either. Eric had the New Zealand Momo Pinot Noir. After all that eating, we basically sat in the room reading our books and did not do much else.
Kununurra (Sunday, 23 May)
Eric’s early morning walk through Kununurra did not reveal anyone selling a newspaper (or anything else). He went for another walk around 10:00. The humidity was draining, but he did get photos of much of the town. Even the camera did not like the humidity, and it kept baulking at actually taking the photo. The IGA only had Friday newspapers. The Coles had a Weekend Financial Review, so some papers had reached town. He got us some honey for breakfasts, since we had lost ours crossing the border into West Australia.
We drove out to check the lake and Ord River views, and we also took photos of more parasitic sandalwood trees destroying their host trees.
The good luck was Bruce and Dianne Livett’s Zebra Rock Gallery Cafe on Packsaddle Road, 14 kilometres south of Kununurra. We saw the sign and decided to investigate. This did turn out to be the shop we had last dealt with in 2004. Still had the stone cutting workshop out the back, and the peacocks wandering around the gardens. We had Devonshire tea while we considered how much rock we could fit in the car. A couple of packets of the rocks from the workshop for carving and final polishing. Two very nicely selected roughs already shaped as fish, which we would use for bookends. A half round piece with slots that I thought would fit an iPad as a stand.
In the main gallery, Jean kept returning to an elegant tall and thin piece giving the impression of a wading bird with upraised bill. We both thought that would work well in our art niche. Jean got a pair of stud earrings. Then she kept returning to one of the tall carved vases that had really nice detail in the rock. Eventually Jean decided that we needed that as well. It was an expensive day by the time we had all that packed in bags and boxes. Good thing we’re in the car, not that we had any idea how we would manage to arrange all our luggage now.
On the way back into Kununurra we refuelled the car ready for the morning. We also bought another half litre of the Chocolate Obsession ice cream we like so much, since that service station stocked it. That did not last very long after we got back to the room. (Without a good freezer, it would melt, so we had to eat it, didn’t we?)
For dinner in the country club’s restaurant, Eric had the tomato and capsicum soup of the day (well, actually soup of the week), while Jean had the rack of lamb, which seemed entirely different to the rack of lamb Eric got the previous day. We had the New Zealand Momo Pinot Noir again, since it had been excellent.
The poltergeist in the bathroom turned out to be a green tree frog. It had knocked the small containers of shampoo and conditioner off the shower stand onto the floor of the shower. Eric caught the frog and took it outside to a large pot plant, in the hope it would find that a more congenial home. We have no idea how the frog managed to get inside the bathroom, as there is no window.
Kununurra to Katherine (Monday, 24 May)
We were up early and away from the Kununurra Country Club before 07:00 for the 510 kilometre drive to Katherine. The West Australian portion of the drive has a speed limit of 110 kph, but we were at the border by 07:30. Change our clocks to Northern Territory time, by moving them up 90 minutes.
There is not much to say about the drive. Plenty of spectacular scenery. Keep River National Park was closed. We crossed Pint Pot Creek, and Quart Pot Creek, but never found a gallon pot. The weather cleared up soon after we left West Australia. In the Northern Territory we encountered four verge mowing tractors, which seems a lot of equipment. A quartet of motor bike riders passed us, but had to stop frequently for fuel. We saw one lone bicycle along the road. We also saw a recently burnt out trailer.
We stopped at midday at Victoria River for a small amount of fuel, and large chicken and salad sandwiches for lunch. Back on the road at 12:30.
We pulled into the shopping centre at Katherine before 15:00. To Eric’s delight, the newsagent had The Weekend Australian. However here instead of $2.20, it cost $4.80. We refuelled the car. Second last cheap fuel for three days, we suspect. Then off to the All Seasons motel outside Katherine, where we stayed on the outward trip.
The All Seasons Katherine has lovely large rooms. Alas, someone had cleaned the carpets very recently, so it was damp and smelled of chemicals. We ran the ceiling fan at high speed and did other tricks to try to dry the carpet. We did not like the fumes we encountered.
Had dinner at Galloping Jacks at the All Seasons. Jean again had the plain (giant) pork cutlet. Eric had his first steak of the trip, their rib fillet. That was very nice. Jean’s A-Club card again got us a very substantial discount (50%) on the meal (although not the wine), which was nice.
Kununurra to Renner Springs (Tuesday, 25 May)
We went to breakfast around 7:30, once again getting a 50% discount on the $11 All Seasons hot breakfast. We were well fortified by the time we left on the long and somewhat boring drive along dead straight roads. With the Northern Territory main roads being signposted at 130 kph, we made good time. Were it not for all the stops to get the kinks out of our bodies, we would have made excellent time.
We left Mataranka at 09:40. We took most of our rest breaks at little rest areas along the Stuart Highway. However we also stopped at any interesting looking roadhouse. We took a rest break at the Highway Inn near Daly Waters, where there was a five bar Telstra 3G phone signal. There were cattle, mostly brahmen, wandering alongside the road. Also, unfortunately, one dead cow along the road. We saw a couple of eagles eating roadkill, or soaring, as we have on many days.
We had lunch at Dunmarra. We should have refuelled there, as we discovered that fuel was much more expensive 100 km further south at Elliot. Fuel was even more expensive at Renner Springs, almost $2 a litre.
We were stopping overnight at Renner Springs, despite arriving mid afternoon, as we just can’t ride in the car for long hours without wrecking our backs. We went for a walk to the springs and lagoon. Jean got attacked by bull ants. Jean’s shoes got partly eaten by the mud. It seems it has been raining for the past three days. Eric was all set with my camera for Jean to be menaced by the gander and a few large geese, but she wisely ignored my invitation to visit the large birds.
Jean had a steak sandwich (bread made on the premises) with the lot, while Eric had steak sandwich with salad. Both were large. Jean got additional bacon, eggs and pineapple in her steak sandwich. We got a bottle of cleanskin South Australian cabernet merlot to complement the meal. Total cost $35, which is not bad for a meal for two.
Internet access was not so easy. No Telstra phone connection. NomadNet had a $10 for 20 MB card, which Jean bought. At least she caught up with her mail. We are not really expecting another Telstra connection for a day or so.
Renner Springs to Camooweal (Wednesday, 26 May)
The cloud cover had reached the ground, with a low mist that covered the place in white. We decided we had plenty of time to get a hot breakfast. The bacon and eggs were gigantic, with tomato and hash browns and a bunch of toast. We did not leave Renner Springs until around 09:00.
We refuelled at ThreeWays, so as to have a full tank for the long stretch to Queensland. We stopped at a few bores, basically to stretch our legs. Unfortunately hit a large wading bird that flew in front of the car, about 60 km before Barkly Homestead. At Saudan bore, the trees and ponds seemed full of willy wagtails. It sure has rained a lot around this area. It was not until we approached Queensland that the country again appeared dry.
At Avon Downs, an isolated Northern Territory police station, the police were breath testing motorists. No need to pull off the road for testing, as there was not enough traffic to worry. The timing would have been about right for people having a liquid lunch at Barkly Homestead, and then continuing their drive. We had wondered why one vehicle had flashed lights at us about 50 km previously, but had seen no police nearby. We never drink at lunch if we are even possibly going to drive, and we use the cruise control extensively while driving for speed control. The Avon Downs police did have a message for our Avalook web site readers: Don’t steal their driver reviver coffee. Don’t wash your cutlery in their hot water.
In Camooweal, we were staying overnight at the Shell Roadhouse. It’s a good thing we booked well in advance, because the other motel-type rooms were all taken by a painting crew staying onsite, changing all the signs to BP green. They offered an overspray of Jean’s car, which she declined. Meanwhile, the BP service station in town is about to become an independent.
We had stayed in Camooweal at least once previously, across the road at the Post Office Hotel. This was when we parked out motor home in their camping ground. Luckily Telstra had phone connections in Camooweal, although the signal strength at our motel was low. The connection dropped out frequently. No Australian newspaper available. As the agent said, someone had bought the copy. Was that perhaps the Tuesday issue? No, that was the Weekend Australian.
We were somewhat saddened to notice that the museum and the old fashioned general store next to the service station are now closed. So is the independent service station a little further along. Many country towns now seem to be supported economically only by travellers and grey nomads. It is a real pity.
The room was comfortable enough, and had bright lighting. Bit of noise from the painters surrounding us, as State of Origin was on that evening.
Camooweal to Richmond (Thursday, 27 May)
We were late arising, and had the small bacon and eggs for breakfast. I asked about the difference between the $9.80 small and the $11.90 large breakfast. They waved their hands vaguely, and explained it was bigger. More bacon was mentioned. The only way they could have fit more bacon on our plates would be to change to an even larger plate.
We got another $25 of unleaded fuel (about 15 litres) at Camooweal as we left, to ensure we could reach Mt Isa. Jean was concerned the fuel gauge did not budge. Fifteen litres should have moved it by a quarter tank. It seems likely something is now wrong with the fuel gauge calibration. The fuel gauge also had hardly changed when we reached Mt Isa, 190 kilometres further east. We refuelled, and filled the tank at Mt Isa. Fuel at Mt Isa is $1.30 a litre, far different to the $1.99 in the middle of Australia.
We continued on to Cloncurry, around 125 kilometres further east, arriving just after 13:00. We knew there was a very nice bakery there, where we got lunch. The countryside is fairly dry, and very boring. Mitchell grass as far as the eye can see. Very few scrubby bushes, mostly scattered and isolated, except by dry riverbanks. There is cattle here, and it has obviously rained fairly recently, as the cattle are putting on weight pretty well.
Continuing on to Julia Creek was fundamentally boring. There are a lot of road trains on the roads, but speed limits tend to be 110 kph, so you move along fairly well. Continuing on to Richmond there is a fair bit of road construction. This leads to slow travel. By the time we reached Richmond after 17:00, we were tired of driving, tired of boring Mitchell grass, and tired of avoiding road kill. About the only interesting item was overtaking a road train that we could see was loaded with copper anodes from Mt Isa Mines. We had seen the red hot copper anodes being loaded during our surface tour of the mine in Mt Isa.
We checked in to Entriken’s Pioneer Motel, where we had stayed on the outward trip.
Richmond to Townsville (Friday, 28 May)
It got cold again so far inland, despite being in the tropics. We did not really want to brave the shower. The sulphur fumes from the bore water were also a distraction early in the morning. We made a hasty breakfast from our fridge supplies, and were on our way before 07:30.
112 kilometres to Hughenden, where we refuelled at a pretty reasonable price. There were a lot of road crews out, with flagmen and traffic lights, so it was a bit of a slow trip. At Hughenden, we came upon an entire goods train loaded with copper anodes from Mt Isa Mines. Another 243 kilometres to Charters Towers. We reached Torrens Creek at 10:00 and took a short break. Another very short break at Homestead at 11:00. Refuelled in Charters Towers at midday. We finally reached Townsville just after 13:00.
Our mailbox was crammed with material and there was a note on the front door from TNT, to say Eric’s iPad parcels had been left at Reception. Eric collected them a bit later, very happy to have arrived in time to get them before the weekend—one reason we didn’t dawdle on the trip from Richmond.