Monday, October 18, 2010

Oct 18

We are now in Brisbane and sorting ourselves out, our holiday drawing to a close - sob sob.  I have been thinking while traveling around about the pros and cons of Australia, how I could best describe it to those who have not had the chance to visit and so far what I have come up with is:-

Australia, a wonderful mix of the UK, USA and the continent of Africa.  The food, language, driving, signs, and general feel (in the East anyway) is like the UK. The open space, layout of residential areas, railway crossings, motels are like the USA and for us, the main thing, the land and the weather felt like Africa in the Northern Territory and top end of Western Australia.  This special country has bits of everything and something for everybody.  The only downfall is the cost, most things are about the same cost as in the UK so it is not a cheap place to live and the further West you travel the more costly it gets.

Would I recommend Australia to anybody for a holiday or work?  I think the answer from my blog is obvious, without a doubt, yes.

Did Australia live up to our expectations?  Again, without a doubt.  We had extremely high expectations that we would at last find what we have been searching for over the past 20 years since leaving Africa - open space, land that had not been ripped apart by humanity, good climate, distance from the shallow world of manicures, branded clothing and commercialism.  This we found in the top end of Western Australia and Northern Territiory (not Alice or Ayres Rock but they really are tourist areas and cater to this to the limit but in an acceptable way).  Our choice of places to visit, and it is only those I can talk about, were places we felt so comfortable, so at home, so at peace with ourselves (with the exception of Western Australia in the flat lands where the removal of all the trees for farming made us shudder and want to leave, and the further East we traveled which lead us to dense areas of population which we are trying to escape from).  In fairness, dense populations and cities anywhere in the world are all the same.  The ability of the Aussies to call a spade a spade, direct language and a brilliant sense of humour was so refreshing.  The 'oneness' of those in the outback, a true community.  The stars, oh the stars, we had forgotten how wonderful the skies looked without the light pollution we have become accustomed to. 

When we left Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Kenya) for the final time 20 years ago we left our hearts there knowing it would be hard to find the quality of life we had ever again.  It was a hard life but shortages of commodities, distance from commercialism, no need try to 'keep up with the Jones's' was what we knew, what we understood.  Unfortunately the violence and corruption drove us away for the sake of giving our children and chance in life.  The outback showed us it all still existed here is Australia.  When we leave here in a couple of days time we will be leaving parts of our hearts behind once again.  This is the only country we have visited that we would love to return to if given the opportunity.

Thank you Australia for allowing us to visit your most wonderful country, words not spoken lightly but from the heart.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oct 17

There is not much I can say about today.  We set off at 8am and were on the road for 8 hours, eventually arriving in a place called Chinchilla, about 300km West of Brisbane. 

Long roads, we can tell we are so close to civilization now, the radio has worked all day, the roads have road markings on them telling us where to drive, the verges of the roads have been mowed, the houses look more expensive, there are more places to stop for coffee etc etc etc.  The feeling now is our holiday has really come to a close and we are both trying to make the very best of the ticking clock.  Sorry there are no pictures, there were none to take, altogether a boring day, especially after our adventure yesterday which already seems a lifetime ago.  The caravan park we are staying in tonight looks like several rows of white cabins that belong by the beach and the lady who welcomed us was not particularly welcoming, maybe my humour was a bit too off the wall for her.  So where are we staying, let me get the brochure out and see what it is called - Cypress Pines.  The cabin is beautiful inside, and has a 48" flat screen TV on the wall so Alan is settled for the night with remote control in hand <g>. 

Brisbane tomorrow!!!!

Oct 16

So is today the day we will make our millions and find a great big sapphire lying in a river bed with our name on it?  In Wilton I bought Alan a lucky stone, so far it has not found us any gems to pay for our holiday.  Mind you, the chap who sold it refused to take my money for it with the comment 'it is a lucky stone, it has not cost you anything' :)

After rain all night we woke this morning to clear blue skies, not a cloud in sight.  How wonderful to see the gray has passed over, it was starting to look too much like the UK for our liking.
The clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight.
A 26km journey ahead of us, much of which was off road and after all the rain was mud.  Alan was in his element spinning the wheel this way and that to avoid the ruts, ditches, cows etc.

We tried several spots, this place was better than Yowah in the there were no signs telling us to keep out or we would be prosecuted for trespassing onto an claimed area, and it was so pretty too being in the hills with trees all around us.  Now for the pretty picture of the day <g>

We tried this place and that, got the spade out and dug here and there, pottered around this gully and that gully but nothing jumped out at us with our name on it.  Time to get back into the car and go look somewhere else, just a well we are only doing this for fun and not for a living!!

Ooops, car decided to go down instead of forward, it would not go back either.  We had somehow managed to land in a bog hidden in the grass.  I suspect it was once a pit that had been back-filled and with all the rain had turned into a rather deep bog, just big enough to get the Land Cruiser stuck in, for all the world it was made to measure.  Out with the spade again along with the Maxtraxs we bought in Darwin and plan to take back to Saudi with us.

Dig here, try, no luck, dig there, try again, still stuck and so it went on for about an hour with me feeding Alan water and Alan digging.

Time to give up and seek help, we were bogged down to the axle and until the land dried out a bit we were not going anywhere.  Time to put our survival knowledge into action.  Lots of water needed, all we could carry, torch and spare batteries, lighters, hats, boots, painkillers, anti-septic wipes, plasters, passports etc and off we went with Alan also carrying the Sat Nav and GPS so we knew where we were going.

Crocodile Dundee heading into the unknown!!!
On the way in we had seen several temporary huts obviously used by fellow fossickers who carried out this work on a more serious basis than us so we knew we were OK and not in any real difficulty.  If the worst came to the worst we would become squatters for the night to keep warm.  About half an hour, after trampsing through long grass, up and down gullies and along tracks we spotted the first residence, fingers crossed somebody would be there with a vehicle and the capability to pull us out the bog.

The first home we called at
Nobody at home, just our luck but we still had three hours of daylight so off we set again up and down more gullies and through the grass up to our thighs.  Not long after, another abode and signs of life, somebody with a pick doing some gardening.  We called out but no answer so we boldly marched on in looking like Crocodile Dundee and his sidekick.  It turned out the lady did not have her hearing aid in and did not hear us.  Another figure appeared and bless his cotton socks he downed his tools and offered to help immediately.  And so we met Tommy and Beulah, a wonderful couple in their 70's.  I stayed with Beulah who put in her hearing aid so we could chat while Alan and Tommy set off to de-bog the cruiser.  About an hour later Tommy reappeared, no luck and another friend of his (the one who lived at the first place we called at) refused to take his Land Cruiser to the area and would not help.  Guess what, he was a Brit!!!!!!!  Tommy packed up some more equipment and headed back to Alan and Beulah and I continued to chat over a beer.

Tommy and Beulah lived about 150km away and for the past 30 years had been coming to this location fossicking for sapphires.  They had a caravan which they left at their 'second home' as they called it and a large corrugated iron roof covering over the top, the carpet was gravel stones to keep the dust and mud problem down, the loo was a long-drop and the bathroom was the creek.  They had gas operated fridges to keep the beer cold and a bed outside in case they chose not to sleep in the caravan.  What a wonderful home, I am so jealous, the views, the trees, the wildlife, all so perfect.

Tommy and Beulah's 'second home'
To end the story, Alan managed to get the Land Cruiser out on his own while Tommy had come back for extra items, the time had dried the mud around the wheels just enough for the Max Tracks to kick into action. Tommy met Alan at the road end and they both came back to us for a beer and a long chat. What a truly wonderful couple, so genuine and in love with the simple life like us, we can't thank them enough for their generosity and willingness to open their arms to us.  We have an invite back too, bring your tent, camp with us, we will show you how to fossick for sapphires and where to look etc.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we managed to take them up on their offer.

Night was setting in and we had to say our good-byes and head back to our rather posh cabin at the Emerald Valley Caravan Park Retreat for hot soup and an early night.

Oct 15

Well today is going to be a very short blog, we woke up to torrential rain in Charleville and wow, so chilly.  Packing was fun a games, we waited for a short lull in the downpour then dodged the puddles and trying not to get soaked chucked the cases etc in the car.  I did take special care with my beautiful pink laptop, it got wrapped up in my shawl to keep it dry. Wouldn't it be dreadful if it got wet and died!!!
A very wet caravan park!!!!
Back on the road, we decided to take the long route and stay on tarmac, just to be safe, no point in asking for trouble by taking the unsealed roads.

It did not take long for Alan to get bored of driving and I was not offering to take the wheel yet.
A very 'bored' driving style - tarmac is not good for the 'off road' driver.
Alan really got fed up with the tarmac and about an hour or so later decided to go for the short-cut on the Developmental road to Alpha. Now the unsealed road was much more fun.

It knocked 200km off the journey and kept us awake playing in the mud, especially when the visibility was almost 0.  Even though we had saved all those extra kilometers it still took the same amount of time as the going was much slower, we did save loads of fuel though as Alan did the whole lot in 2 wheel drive, he did not even bother to lock the hubs just in case.

It rained and rained and continued to rain and was still raining when we hit tarmac again near Alpha.

And it kept on raining
Once through Alpha we headed along the Capricorn Highway to Sapphire.  We were going to Emerald but a bit of quick research on the net gave us the fossicking maps we needed for a field near Sapphire and Rubyvale where - guess what gems are found there :)

We stayed in another superb caravan park, Sapphire Caravan Park Retreat, this one is the best one yet and our cabin was georgous,  stone walls, large enough to live in and a full kitchen where Alan can don his pinny and play at being Master Chef.  The A'la Carte menu tonight is Corned Beef Hash - ummmmmmmmmmmmmm (not sure about this meal but Alan has been assuring me it is lovely).

NB - the Corned Beef Hash and packet mashed potatoes was half eaten and the remainders delegated to the bin. I don't think it will be made again. I have assured Alan it is not his fault, the quality of corned beef has gone downhill greatly since he last made it over 30 years ago :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oct 14

Grey skies this morning to greet us and I don't think any sun is going to appear today.  One advantage of that is when doing exercise one does not get too hot and sweaty (not that I planned to do any).  Alan is on a mission, fossicking for boulder opal and that requires digging big holes.  We planned to go to Duck Creek or Sheep Station Creek where we knew fossicking was allowed but we ended up at Yowah, and what a gem of a place it was too (excuse the pun).  After a visit to the museum it was off to the fossicking fields.
The fossicking field (well a bit of it)
Alan set to with shovel and pick in hand while I pottered around looking for the precious boulder opal on the top soil, just hoping some miner had accidentally dropped a really big bit and not noticed.  Well, it could happen <g>.  I did find some, a tiny wee bit but at least it was something and probably worth the grand fortune of 10 cents.  Alan started digging, deeper and deeper he went.
Alan starting on his hole digging
On my potter round I almost stepped on a snake, seeing it's tail just at the last minute.  I am pretty glad I was keeping my eyes on the ground.  No fear, snake, maybe poisonous may not be but it does not want to attack unless it feels threatened, so stepping backwards I backed off.  Mind you I could not resist getting the camera out and getting a picture, this is the first proper snake we have seen, the first was at Jessica's Gap near Alice and was about 6 inches long.

You can just see the snake if you look closely
Alan continued to dig and stuck gold, OK not gold, boulder opal.  His find was wonderful, a large piece about 2 inches long and triangle shaped, best of all it was already polished :)

Alan trying another bigger hole and making it deeper and deeper!!
 In the meantime, I spied a microwave tower, could there possibly be Internet access, worth a try, and low and behold, there in the middle of the fossicking field I was able to sort the problems I had yesterday when trying to get the blog done and it all went wrong.  Laptop charging off the car battery, mobile modem fired up and a cup of coffee on the dashboard of the cruiser, sorted.

Laptop connected to car battery and ready to access the net.
Getting a bit bored of digging rocks out of the ground and still no sun shining we decided to set off again and head back up north towards Emerald.  Guess what the fossicking will hopefully yield from there?  We drove up the road to Cunnamulla, odd place, the bank did not even have an ATM, not staying here tonight.  Up the road another 100km to Charleville and to cut a long story short it was a place of lots of accommodation but no vacancies until the very last place we tried and they had one cabin left.  Bed tonight is a rather posh cabin in the Bailey Bar Caravan Park, it is lovely and has just been renovated.  Night night all.

Oct 13

On leaving Longreach this morning we headed southwest towards Quilpie and Toombine.  So what did we see on our way, flat land, fences, tarmac, hardly any trees, a few emus and that was about it.
No exaggeration, flat land so far.
 Longreach is in the Shire of Longreach and I have a query about why the signs to stations are all the same, do all the stations belong to one owner? Are the stations all part of a co-operation and got a good deal on having their signs made with one design? Or is it, the authorities that be had little better to do than to tidy up the shire and ensure organization, uniformity and neatness amongst their rural residents was a priority?
We must have seen about 20 station signs identical to this one except for different names, and all looking clean and new too.
 Alas, this standardization only added to the boredom of the drive, the flat treeless land with short grass was bad enough but even now our enjoyment of seeing how station owners provided comical signs, like washing machines or post boxes painted like cows at the end of their roads was gone.  We were rather glad when we left the Shire of Longreach, sorry residents we don't mean to offend, just a personal opinion.  220km down the Thompson Developmental Road was a place we had to visit, Stonehenge.

Yes, you read right, Stonehenge <g>, with a grand population of 40, hotel come pub and a rather posh looking Community Center, alas no henge here so I take it Druids did not make it to OZ :)  We had a lovely cup of tea and to our surprise a piece of cake each included in the price, thank you Stonehenge. 

The hotel
The Community Center
Back on the road to Quilpie and putting the foot down to get there before the visitors center closed, we needed maps for boulder opal fossicking.  That's right, we are still searching for our millions in the outback.  We got there with time to spare, found the visitors center immediately without the use of the satnav which for some strange reason did not know it existed.  What a difference a happy, smiling face makes to welcome you, take note Winton!!!  The rain had started so once we had maps in hand to guide us to the fossicking fields we asked about accommodation, great, we have all the information we need.  First stop, Quilpie Motor Inn, oh dear, no vacancies, next Channel Country Caravan Park - did we book? no sorry no vacancies, try the Brick Hotel, the pub with no beer.  Sounds, intestine, lots of people waiting outside and a for sale sign.  Oh, the door is locked.  I was asked if I would like to buy the hotel by one of the folks outside, ummmmm no don't think so, no beer no way.  Wow, this is a popular place, next try, the Imperial Hotel, a bit up-market for us but what the heck, we are on holiday <g>.  We were told to try The Brick, I explained it was locked and nobody answered the door and was told I needed to phone them to get them to open the door and was provided with the phone number.  Back to the car, fire up the mobile and give it a go, call failed.  OK so I forgot to put the code in first, try again, no ring tone and again the call failed.  Can't be bothered with this, no room a the inn for us in Quilpie so time to leave and try Toompine.

Now, if you want the quirky, Toompine is a must on your places to visit, it has a population of 2, and is know as  'the pub with no town".  As we pulled up we noticed it called itself a hotel so could they have a room for two people who did not fancy putting up their tent for the night and it was raining.  In luck, there was a room available, in face several.  We were shown round the property by a lovely German girl on a one year work visa who had just started working there a few days before, ducks, goats, a camel, a couple of pacus, birds, dogs and the puppies all to be seen.  The landlady was a corker too, great conversationalist and kept us going for a few hours over a couple of beers and a stir fry.  One other visitor stopped by, a truckie for tucker and a coke, he had a few interesting stories under his belt too. Time for bed and it was a long day, tomorrow and early start on our journey to become millionaires <g>,  No sunset tonight, only rain so I will end with a few photos of Toompine, a great place where we were made very very welcome.
Brilliant signs all over the place which put many smiles on the faces.
The bar, no doubt a place for many a conversation, we loved it.
The shower, too cold to try it out but I am sure there would be plenty hot water.
Our room, #6.  May not look much from the outside but inside, all wood, comfy bed, A/C and power, everything we needed for a great nights sleep.
A view of the tennis court and basketball court after a night of rain!!!  Yep all very soggy outside.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oct 12

Getting the blog up to date before leaving Boulia
 We left Boulia at about 9am heading along the Min Min Way to Winton.  The Min Min Way is famous for the Min Min Lights, we didn't see them, maybe that was because we traveled during daylight <g>.  However, we did see emu's and several strange effects with the odd mountain or two probably due to the flat land and heat rising from it. 

We stopped off for another coffee break at one of the roadside stopping places, this was a fun one with loads of messages written on the water storage container by fellow travelers.  Somebody has a sense of humour, is this ET on the Min Min Way I wonder <g>.

Next stop for coffee was at another view point, this one was explaining how we were traveling across a sea which used to exist many moons ago.  One of the activities mentioned on the blurb written there was to 'Imagine you are standing on an island in the middle of the huge Eromanga Sea with crocodiles and Ichthyosaurs around you looking for a meal.  Enjoy the view'.  So here you are, you can now do the exercise too.

On arriving at Winton we went to the Tourist Office located in the Waltzing Matilda Center to get our fossicking permit for Queensland, yes we are still trying to find our millions.  This area has a abundant supply of opals, I wonder if we will be lucky.  It is going to take us a day or two to get to the opal fields near Toompine.  Winton was not an overly friendly place, we really felt like visitors who were in the way, we did manage to get a lovely cup of coffee and then made a rapid exit.

I did learn today that Winton is also the birthplace of the famous song, Waltzing Matilda, by Banjo Patterson and also the birthplace of the Quantas Airline.  Quantas then moved it's location to Longreach which is where we now are, tucked up in another motel called Jumbuck

More straight roads and flat land, it just seems to go on and on.

The rain (left overs from the Brisbane floods) is on it's way and what a fabulous sky, a rainbow that seemed more like a wide prism with the sunset bouncing of the clouds.

 Wonderful, when I looked in the bathroom there is a bath, I have not seen one of these inventions since leaving Woolongbar some 6 weeks ago.  Guess where I spent some time after we had eaten dinner!!!!!!

Back in our room before having my bath we sat outside with our friendly visitor <g>

In closing the blog for today another sunset picture, this one was taken at the same time as the clouds and rainbow picture above, just looking in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oct 11

What a wonderful night last night under the starts, it was cold but that made it all the more fun snuggling up under the sleeping bags, and the rain stayed away thankfully.  Being caught out in the McDonnell Range was not fun.  We were woken at about 5am by the most wonderful bird song, I think the bird was in the tree above us it was so loud, shame it was too dark to get a picture but Alan did record the 'wake up alarm', alas I have not transferred the video over yet.
Too comfortable to get out of bed
Lonely cloud in the sky catching the rays from the rising sun
Early riser!!
We have looked around the mine here and there is nothing of value, just loads and loads of mica so we headed back down to the main campsite we saw.  There are another three mines located in that area which we knew we could walk to but first another cup of coffee was on the cards.

It was only a short drive to the campsite, about 6 km, hair raising at times and took us about half an hour.  Once again the bug spray was applied, water bottles filled with cranberry juice and the walking boots donned.  Alan had the GPS sorted so we did not get lost scrambling through the bush saying as there were no sign posted paths to follow.  Would today be our lucky day, garnets, smoky quartz and rose quarts on the menu.  We walked for about 4km to the nearest mine, interesting to see how the miners from years gone by tackled the wilderness in order to make a living, what a hard life.

Although our millions were once again elusive, I guess with the map being so old and the campsite looking like it had never been used these mines were cleared out long ago.  We had a lot of fun poking around on the tailings and along the river bed (I remember from school being told to look in river beds for gold which was washed downstream so worth checking that out).  Excitement set in, a twinkle of red, well I think it was red <g>.  I am not sure what I found, either 4 teeny tiny garnets about the size of pin heads or fragments of beer bottles but I picked them up anyway and now have them wrapped up so they don't get lost.  If any of them turn out to be garnets I won't bother getting them polished as there would be nothing left but I will try to get them mounted and made into a pendant just for memories sake.  There was another miners residence and this one had an arga and a safe in it and beer bottles, so many beer bottles lying around.  Were the miners party animals or just bored drunks <g>. I can tell you the guys acquired their beer and stove from Adelaide!!!!!
Miners house #2
The safe
The stove
Time to head back to the car and decide what to do next.  We had done a 9km walk and felt there was  not much else to explore here so time to move on.  We have been told rain is coming and the Plenty Highway is a rough road, best be off it by Wednesday or we may well get stuck and have to wait for it to dry up.  It is approximately  400km to Boulia in Queensland where we decided to spend the night.

I forgot to add here when writing the blog about me taking the wheel of the Land Cruiser.  Giving Alan a break for a while I took over the driving for a couple of hundred km.  I was doing pretty well dodging the ruts and soggy patches in the road and keeping a steady 80km to conserve fuel when I came to yet another 'floodway'.  Most of the floodways have been of little concern and this one looked fine too except it was a bit sandy, slowing down a bit would be all that was needed.  Yep, fine, through the sand and then .............. the last few feet of the crossing, the ground changed and oops a big dip.  I was doing about 60km and nose dived into the dip then took off, and I mean took off, 3 and a half tons of flying car.  Alan laughed as I held the wheel tightly, pointed in the general direction of the road and closed my eyes.  If we had been in any other vehicle I would have trashed it but the Land Cruiser is built to take just such events. This was one place we would have appreciated the warning signs that we see in bad areas but there was nothing.  All safe and sound on landing apart from me jarring my wrist and I kept on going for another hour and a half before handing back to Alan.

We reached the Queensland border at about 5:30pm

The landscape changed quickly as did the road, from wide open muddy tracks we now had single track but better conditions and the wildlife appeared.  So far  we have seen a handful of kangaroos but once over the territory border we saw loads, probably around 50 in all.

The only other wildlife was cows.  We lost the hills and the trees and found ourselves in flat country with very little of interest (apart from the kangaroos) to keep us interested, no Aboriginal Communities either, very strange.

On and on the road went, flat land as far as you could see with the occasional washing machine or some equally strange object marking the entrance to a station.

What does the word 'Highway' bring to mind, 6 lanes of tarmac or just a long road <g>.  The Donohue Highway is single track and well the picture says it all lol.

We checked into the Desert Sands Motel in Boulia exhausted with only sleep on our minds.  The lady was so concerned that we had arrived when all eating places in Boulia were closed but we told her not to worry, we had sausages in the vehicle and our stove along with other items we could feed ourselves with, but we really were not hungry at all, shower, coffee and bed were all that was needed.  Nice place and if you ever pass this way worth staying at.

So, to finish the blog for Oct 11 here is another sunset, taken on the Plenty Highway which had changed it's name to the Donohue Highway when we crossed the border.