Rough Road into Queensland, week 5.

Cover Photo: Burketown, Queensland. Thermal water bore drilled in 1897, it’s 702 metres deep and the water temperature exits at 68C.

  • Week 5.
  • 8/07/21 to 14/07/21
  • Day 29 to 35.
  • Darwin, NT to Glenore Crossing, Norman River, Qld.
  • 1721kms (total since home, 6751kms). 

2/08/21, Hi folks finding it hard to keep up with the blog updates, busy travel schedule, crap phone connectivity in Far North Queensland and slow upload speeds sap your will power. Our trip is still going strong but not without the odd drama here and there. Currently we are camped at the furthest spot we are ever likely to camp at from our home on mainland Australia, it’s been difficult getting here. Nearly time to turn around and make our way back home, that will be an epic journey in itself.

Usually team wiljen take it in turns to blog, on this occasion it seems I am the primary Blogger for this trip. At the end of every day I tap out the happenings and sometimes my thoughts on my mini iPad 4. I also fill in a basic template of distance travelled, spending, weather conditions, fuel usage and other info like camera use that may be helpful in the future.

Primarily Jenny and I write the blog for ourselves, but we’re happy to share the information of our journey with who ever cares to have a read. Often the reader will just skip through the text so we try to upload lots of relevant photos with descriptions attached. Here are the notes for week five of our journey, glad to have you along. Will.

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Day 29, Thursday, Date: 8/07/21

From to where: Darwin (Coconut Grove) to Tindale Comms Tower (35kms south of Katherine .

Distance: 350 kms

Accumulated Distance: 5380kms

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $: 150 @ 149.9cpl

Litres: 100, (=640km , @ 15.5 litres per 100km)

Accom type & cost: Free, comms tower.

Grocery Food $:

Take away food $: 15

Beer/Wine/Soda $:

Other $:

Day Total $: 165

Rolling Total $: 3686

Gopro footage: GP8

DJI Drone Footage: nil

Weather: max temp 33C, sunny, not much wind.

Notes: Back on the road again.

Both of us were up at 6.30am to see off the happy workers, Max and Karen. They hopped onto their bicycles and headed off to their respective jobs at 7am just as the sun was rising.

Once packed up we pulled the camper out from under the carport and I washed it on the front verge while Jenny did some book keeping work. Tilly took Rodgie dog for one last walk, she seems to like Rodgie a lot.

Come 10.15am we’re finally on out way down the Stuart Highway, it’s 35km to the Darwin city limits. There was a lunch stop at a bubbling brook called Coomali. Jenny and I first visited this spot in April 1988 when it was hidden from the roadside and no tourists knew of it. Now there is rubbish lying around and it’s sadly a bit trashed.

Fuel stop in Katherine then our night stop is 35km south of Katherine at a Communication Tower about 80 metres high. We are the only ones here, hopefully it stays that way. It isn’t marked on WikiCamps so there is a fair chance we will not be bothered. There is a smidge of phone reception here as it gets dark that will probably improve.

A clear bubbling Brook at Coomali, between Darwin and Adelaide River.
When we first found this Coomali Brook back in April 1988 it was surrounded by tropical scrub and very hidden. Young, fit and hot we got our gear off and enjoyed the water for an afternoon. No one took the unkept track in or stopped to bother us back then. The road has since been realigned, now it’s a rest stop with rubbish everywhere (even though multiple bins are supplied) and the surrounding tropical scrub has all been cleared for farming & for what appeared to be hay production.
What we are calling the “Tindale Comms Tower Camp” about 35kms south of Katherine. Part of the old Microwave Communication network which dots outback Australia. Fairly sure most of it has been mothballed now.
While still intact, the “Tindale Comms Tower” appears to be unmaintained. It provided a good camp spot for the night on the busy Stuart Highway. Some of the large broken cables running up to the top clanged on the tower during the night. In the morning we could hear what I guess was cannon fire from the nearby Tindale Military Base.

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Day 30, Friday, Date: 9/07/21

From to where: Tindale Comms Tower to Gravel Pit (Carpentaria Hwy, 58kms east of Hi-Way Inn, Daly Waters, NT).

Distance: 288km

Accumulated Distance: 5668km.

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $: 83

Litres: 49L, @ 168.9cpl

Accom type & cost: Free, gravel pit

Grocery Food $: 10, bread and milk.

Take away food $:

Beer/Wine/Soda $:

Other $:

Day Total $: 93

Rolling Total $: 3779

Gopro footage: GP8

DJI Drone Footage: no

Weather: max 28C, NE wind, sunny.

Notes: Darwin diversion done, back on track for Queensland.

Wow what a relaxing night, there was the occasional banging of a loose cable against the metal of the communication tower but apart from that it was quiet. The birds started up at 6am, Jenny and I were awake at sun up, 7am. Jenny got up with Rodgie soon after that. The Field Artillery at Tindale started at 8am, yes cannon fire, Boom, Boom. So I decided best to make a move.

By 9.20am we are cruising south at 95km/h along a very popular Stuart Highway.The maximum speed limit is 130km/h (80 miles per hour) so we were often past by vehicles not towing. It wasn’t that long ago there were no speed limits (changed in 2016 from memory).

Not much to report on today, a couple of comfort stops, topped up with diesel at Hi-Way Inn, Daly Waters (168.9cpl) as from now on the prices will be over $2 per litre until Normanton, Queensland. We have budgeted on fuel for this tour to average out at $2 per litre or less.

After we had travelled 20kms from the Stuart Highway we checked out a couple of overnight free camping opportunities, but they were average and since it was early in the afternoon we continued on. At the 58km mark from the Stuart Highway (2.30pm) we found a half decent gravel pit so decided to call it home for the night. May even have a small camp fire later. My guess is we’ll end up with neighbours tonight but fingers crossed they all decide to keep on moving.

Even some of the rubbish from the pandemic is out here in the middle of nowhere, gravel pit on the Carpentaria Highway.
58kms east of the Hi-Way Inn, Daly Waters on the north side of the Carpentaria Highway we locate a gravel pit and tuck in behind a mound of dirt. During the night cattle Roadtrains towing three double deck trailers thunder along the ribbon of single lane bitumen.
We decide to have a camp fire, Rodgie finds a ball of rope nearby that some unthoughtful person cast off and proceeds to deconstruct it. She’s keen to get Jenny to join in.

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Day 31, Saturday, Date: 10/07/21

From to where: Gravel Pit Carpentaria Hwy to Booraloola 

Distance: 337km

Accumulated Distance: 6006km

Cycling Y/N, KMs: nil

Fuel $: 113

Litres: 68L @ 166.0cpl

Accom type & cost: $30 McArthur River Caravan Park, Booraloola 

Grocery Food $:

Take away food $: 18 at Heartbreak Hotel, Cape Crawford. 

Beer/Wine/Soda $:

Other $:

Day Total $: 161

Rolling Total $: 3940

Gopro footage: GP8 

DJI Drone Footage: no

Weather: 32C fine, SE winds

Notes: Keeping it brief.

Depart 9.20am

Stopped at October Creek and Heartbreak Hotel.

Arrived at Booraloola 2.30pm 

Met Joel and Sharon who have a Reconn4 they’re very happy with.

Heartbreak Hotel, Cape Crawford, NT. The rough dirt road to Borroloola begins soon after here.
To be fair the Caravan Park in Borroloola was reasonable, but difficult to not get the feeling of a siege mentality with the barb wire topped cyclone fencing. You would have to be a keen fisherman/woman to stay here for an extended period. Couldn’t purchase any beer in town as sales have been for a 3 day period because of an indigenous funeral. The locals still got plastered that night until the early hours.
No photos of Joel or Sharon on this occasion (lots of people aren’t interested in being photographed and blogged about these days) but Joel gave me the heads up on a solution to stop your jockey wheel rolling and bending. His strategy is a support base for a Hi-Lift Jack. Later in the trip I do purchase one for $50 and it’s working a treat.

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Day 32, Sunday, Date: 11/07/21

From to where: Booraloola to Robinson River free bush camp.

Distance: 112km

Accumulated Distance: 6118km

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $: 0

Litres:

Accom type & cost: Free bush camp Robinson River (Wollogorang Rd).

Grocery Food $: 61, Booraloola, not much for your money.

Take away food $:

Beer/Wine/Soda $:

Other $:

Day Total $: 61

Rolling Total $: 4001

Gopro footage: GP8 , new SD card first thing in morning.

DJI Drone Footage: no

Weather: 30C fine and sunny.

Notes: Rough Dirt Roads Again.

So far the Savannah Way section between Booraloola and the NT/Qld border is heavily corrugated, possibly as bad as the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley. We are only travelling at 20km to 60km/h. More often than not our average is 40km/h.

Booraloola is a rough town, no dramas, locals friendly but it is a tough place, you’d want to be a hard core fisherman to live here. We were on our way out of town at 10am. We stopped for lunch on the banks of the Wearyan River and arrived at the Robinson River around 1.30pm. 3 hours to drive 112kms.

Nice spot to camp, only moderate traffic today but most of the vehicles are hammering along and they are generally towing. Guess they don’t worry to much about breakdowns, flat tyres or damage. Also met cyclist Jeff from Mareeba Qld.

We’re now deep into crocodile country so when we got our feet wet earlier we made sure it was safe, think shallow rapids with very good vision around you.

Tomorrow team wiljen and Rodgie dog will cross into Queensland.

2 hours and 50 minutes to the Queensland border, that’s BS ! Don’t ever trust Google Maps out here the real time due to road conditions is about 6-7 hours.
Leaving Borroloola NT, hard to believe we are travelling on Australia’s Highway Number 1.
The drive from Borroloola to the Queensland border was seriously rough, heavily corrugated, very slow going. If you have ever travelled the Gibb River Road at the end of the tourist season you would be able to imagine it it was similar.
Wearyan River is nice and there are a couple of viable camping spots but it’s early in the day so we have lunch and push on.
Rodgie Dog cautiously cools off in the Wearyan River, we’re right into Croc Country now so you need to be extra careful.
Jeff has cycled from Mareeba, Qld. Huge and amazing effort. Hardcore traveller, he has the runs on the board and has cycled all over the world, said he picked up his current bike in Nicaragua (Cental America), would prefer to be cycling overseas but that presently isn’t feasible. He also hesitated when I asked to take his photo for our blog.
After a huge 112kms, We camp the night on the Robinson River, the east side of the river is best.
Travellers heading west negotiate the Robinson River water crossing, rhere are signs warning of crocodiles here so we are extra careful near the river.
Nice spot to park up and enjoy the sunset, Robinson River, east side.

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Day 33, Monday, Date: 12/07/21

From to where: Robinson River NT to Hell’s Gate Qld

Distance: 209kms

Accumulated Distance: 6327km

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $: $80 @ $2pl

Litres: $40

Accom type & cost: $24 Hells Gate campground.

Grocery Food $:

Take away food $:

Beer/Wine/Soda $: 44

Other $: 50 dinner

Day Total $: $198

Rolling Total $: 4199

Gopro footage: GP8

DJI Drone Footage:  no

Weather: 30C max, Fine, easterly wind 

Notes: Back Door into Queensland.

Biggest news for the day is the Queensland side has a decent road, combination of very good gravel and some extended sections of bitumen. The Northern Territory side from Booraloola to the border (300kms) is extremely crap and I wouldn’t recommend driving on it with a trailer. You have been warned !

We stopped at the Calvert River for lunch, nice spot, happy to arrive at Hells Gate around 3pm after such a shit road. Hells Gate is your typical outback Roadhouse, quaint, they try hard to please, bit pricey but hey it’s the middle of no where out here. Oh and we’ve run out of beer, wine and cool drinks. 

Tomorrow Burketown but only for one night, it’s packed out apparently and two night aren’t available. 

The Northern Territory/ Queensland border, Jenny and Rodgie check out the signage. The tick sign is concerning.
Happy to complete another border crossing without any dramas, Queensland here we come.
Hells Gate camp ground, $24 per night.

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Day 34, Tuesday, Date: 13/07/21

From to where: Hells Gate to Burketown

Distance: 180kms

Accumulated Distance: 6507kms

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $: 100 @ 196.5

Litres: 51L (unsure of economy, didn’t fully top up at Hells Gate)

Accom type & cost: $28 at CV Park, Burketown.

Grocery Food $: $21

Take away food $: 26 fried crap & ice coffee from Doomadgee.

Beer/Wine/Soda $: 72 block of beer and bar drinks at pub

Other $:

Day Total $: 157

Rolling Total $: 4356

Gopro footage: GP8

DJI Drone Footage: no

Weather: 30C fine, easterly wind.

Notes: Homesick Blues.

Currently not feeling the love for the tour, but we know that from past experience it’s not unusual. Especially if you’re travelling too fast and hard, week 5 is the do it or go home week of long tours. You’ve just settled into some sort of routine but find yourself missing “home”, it’s a weird feeling.

Jenny and I even had our first (low level) barney while trying to reverse the camper into a very tight spot at the Burketown Caravan Park surrounded by multiple helpers. Argh ! That was interesting .

Our day started off slow, due to the 30 minute time change. The sun isn’t coming up until 7.30am so by 8am all the other campers have packed up and headed off, team wiljen are just getting out of bed. Still after a cooked breakfast we were on the road leaving Hells Gate by 9.45am (EST), so not to shabby, in our opinion everyone else is just too anxious to get going.

Only 178kms to drive today, we didn’t reinflate our tyres after the arduous Booraloola to Hells Gate road because there was suppose to be another 100km plus of dirt roads. That turned out to only be 12kays, so Hema Maps need to update their act. Our tyre pressure aren’t to low at 33psi on the car and 37psi on the camper so we were satisfied to sit on 80km/h as the risk is minimal.

Some other travellers are surprised (shocked) that we’re just running OEM Dunlop Grand Treks highway tread tyres out here on the big Landcruiser ! Compared to them we’re travelling slower on the dirt, carrying much less weight in the car and camper. Contrary to popular believe we’ve both cut our teeth driving & riding on a vast array of gravel roads since our late teens in everything from, Falcon XC Panel Vans, V8 Ford Fairlanes, F100’s and Landcruisers, so we have a few clues.

Finally around noon we arrived at Burketown, fuelled up (196.5cpl) and booked into the local caravan park. It’s very busy and we got handed the last available site. Later we went to the Pub, they even let Rodgie dog come into the main bar today which was a crack. FNQ, gotta love it !

Only one night here in Burketown, we will have more of a look around before we head off tomorrow.

Hard to get somewhere to stay in Burketown, we’re only allowed to stop for one night. Not a bad looking town.
Rodgie is even allowed into the front bar at the Burketown Hotel, very relaxed.
It was tight fitting the camper into this spot at the Burketown Caravan Park, maybe team wiljen even had a little argument during the parking manoeuvre, 😐

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Day 35, Wednesday, Date: 14/07/21

From to where: Burketown to Glenore Crossing, Norman River.

Distance: 244km

Accumulated Distance: 6751km (1350km p/w, get to 1000km p/w will save ~$100 in fuel).

Cycling Y/N, KMs: no

Fuel $:

Litres:

Accom type & cost: Free camp Glenore Crossing, south of Normanton.

Grocery Food $:

Take away food $:

Beer/Wine/Soda $:

Other $:

Day Total $: 0

Rolling Total $: 4356 ($871 per week, over 5 weeks. $171pw over budget. More free camping, no more takeaway food,less booze, slow down travel too spend less on fuel).

Gopro footage: GP8

DJI Drone Footage: no

Weather: actually Hot and somewhat humid. 32C max, build up clouds, not much wind.

Notes: The Gulf County.

Departed Burketown Caravan Park right on 10am after way to much jibber jabber. Jenny walked Rodgie down to the artesian bore, 702m deep, water temperature 68C, drilled in 1897 and has been pouring out mineral rich water ever since. More jibber jabber with fellow travellers then back on the road.

Combination of bitumen and very good gravel roads today. Much of the dirt road had been recently graded. Still slow going for us, we stopped at Leichhardt Falls, Burke and Wills camp 119 (very historic, basically there last staging post for the final push to the Gulf).

Checked out a couple of possible free camps on tidal rivers after stopping at Camp 119 but eventually settled for the Norman Rivers, Glenore Crossing. One side of the road is Leichhardt Lagoon, a payed camping area at $10 per person with showers and toilets. The other side is free, but rough. There are also large salt water crocodiles in the area, we haven’t seen any but heard some strange noises and large splashes early in the night. Very hot and humid for July.

Leichhardt Falls on the road to Normanton.
Stumbled on a piece of colonial exploration history, imagine getting back to your staging camp after a month away, you’re exhausted and you discover that your support team has given up waiting for you and left 9 hours earlier ! The Burke and Wills story is an incredible one.
Norman River at Glenore Crossing, definitely salt water crocs here, we did hear large splashing during the night and our neighbours “Graham and Donna about 200 metres away said they saw an 8 foot Salty.
Sunset snacks and drinks on the banks of the Norman River.

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Epilogue for week 5: Thanks for reading, it’s been one unusual trip so far, travelling during the time of Covid. People are generally still helpful and friendly but there is always an insidious undertone of fear. We have been asked if we’re vaccinated, our honest answer is not yet, we’ll think about it once we get home. Often we’re asked how are we going to get back into Western Australia, we will figure that out at the appropriate time. This trip has certainly been a lot different from our past multi month tours, lots of free camping, not much stopping at Outback Pubs, we seem to be keeping to ourselves a lot more. If it wasn’t for Rodgie I doubt we would hardly interact with anyone. Rodgie dog has a knack of making new human friends. Back soon enough, Will, Jenny and Rodgie.

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