We arrived in Boulia on Sunday the location of one of the highlights of our trip – the camel racing. However, our travels between our departure from Carnarvon on Thursday and our arrival here was not without its dramas.
Our first stop on our dash to get to Boulia for Sunday was the area known as the Gem Fields. Not surprisingly, this area is then source of a wide range of gems including sapphires, rubys and emeralds. There was a time when the area supplied 80% of the world’s gemstones.
Not only that, the towns had appropriate names such as Sapphire, Rubyvale and Emerald. We decided to book into one of the caravan parks in Sapphire.
We stopped in Emerald to find a wetlands area that was described in the tourist information as having a wide range of bird life. When we eventually found it, it was located behind a small housing estate, did not have any proper access tracks and we could not get close to the water. In addition, no birds! This was a big disappointment.
Arriving in Sapphire (a much smaller town than Emerald) early afternoon, we managed to set up the trailer and head up the main street to visit a couple of gem shops. Sapphire is the sort of town that is very laid back and where one finds a herd of cattle grazing at the sides of the main street, very much an outback settlement. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the shops they were closed. One close to the caravan park, however, had an open sign out front so we thought we were in luck, but alas, even that was closed!
We also spotted a directional sign to a wetlands area, but after our experience in Emerald, we gave that a miss and headed back to the camp for the evening.
When we left the next morning, we decided to give the wetland area a go, with a very pleasant surprise – it was very well laid out with proper walking tracks and great signage, it even had a bird hide. That said the birds were absent.
We paid a visit to Rubyvale a few kilometres up the road before heading back via Sapphire on the way to Longreach.
The Commonwealth Bank
It was on Friday morning that K was first notified that our travel card had been hacked and a couple of fraudulent transactions had been made in the US. She received a text from the Commonwealth Bank, followed by a phone call in which she was immediately put on hold, with the line eventually disconnecting. Without relating the whole saga of poor communication by the bank (which suggested the fraud department take the weekend off), we eventually managed to speak to someone, who advised that a branch would be able to assist since we were not at home. How many branches are there in the outback? This is still not resolved, although we hope to find a branch in Mount Isa on Monday or Tuesday.
We struggled to find a campground in our camp book and on Wikicamps close to Longreach and any we did find were fully booked. The only real option being Apex Park, about 5 km out of the town adjacent to the Thomson River. So, we headed there, totally unprepared for what was to face us. We arrived mid-afternoon in what looked like a caravan sales forecourt. There was row upon row of caravans. It only cost us $10 for the night, but even that was, in my opinion, too much. The toilets provision was wholly inadequate and the ground was still heavily rutted from the recent rain. Anyway, enough said about what was probably the worst camp we have experienced.
The main attraction at Longreach is, of course, the birthplace of Qantas in 1920. In the morning, we went to the Founders Museum and could have spent the whole day there, but we had to move on to our next stopover.
The museum was fascinating and very well set up with displays of early Qantas uniforms, jet engines and of course old photos of and stories about the founders, Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh. Of particular interest was the heritage hanger where the first aircraft were adapted for the outback and maintained.
Outside there are retired planes including a Boeing 747, Boeing 707, a Super Constellation and a DC3 round which visitors could take a tour, but, unfortunately, we did not have the time.
Bladensburg National Park
Our next stop was like chalk and cheese compared to Apex Park. It was a small bush camp called Bough Shed Waterhole about 28 km south of Winton. On our way there, we stopped in Winton to find it full of caravans, queues at the servos and travellers visiting an opal festival.
Without spending too much time in Winton, we drove down to the campground, wondering all the way if the detour would be worth it. It was.
We found a secluded and sheltered small campground next to a river that was partially dried up. This was our first introduction to the QLD outback flies! Apart from that it was very comfortable and we could have spent a couple of nights there, but we had to move on, or so we thought.
Our drive to Boulia on Sunday was probably one of the most challenging. Unknown to us the Big Red Bash in Birdsville had just finished and the road we were travelling down was one of the main routes back to civilisation. However, this is not a normal road – it is single track with gravel sides, wide enough for a car. We estimated about 600 caravans, trailers and 4WDs travelling towards us during our five hour journey, most of which we had to pull over for. This did nothing for our fuel consumption or our driving fatigue.
Arriving at the race course camp ground, it became clear quite quickly that we could easily have left our arrival until the middle of the week, even today, Friday, there is still plenty of space for latecomers.
Faced with the prospect of a whole week, we decided to leave the trailer and take our tent for a night’s camping to Diamantina National Park, some 160 km away.
We camped at Gum Hole Campground a small camp with space for 8 campers where the flies came out in force – face fly nets were an essential fashion accessory! The park itself is very spread out with not much to see or do, but after setting up the tent we went for a 28 km drive to the ranger station that has an information centre – unfortunately this was closed due to renovation works.
Our next phase
The rest of the week has been spent relaxing, doing household chores like clothes washing and sheltering from the cold wind that is blasting across the grounds.
The racing finishes on Sunday at midday after which I am sure there will be a bit of chaos as a number of campers will be keen to leave rather than waiting until Monday.
Originally, our plans were to start to move south via Alice Springs, but a couple of weeks ago we decided to go north for some heat – it has been so cold since we left Victoria! So, we are heading for Mataranka Litchfield NP before making our way south.