Heading West – part 1

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Shiny clean and ready to go

Saturday, we headed out of Townsville and up over the Hervey range, so at last Grandpa got to ride up and over the hills. We were so excited about the next part of our trip, getting onto dirt roads and finding little places and lots of open spaces. The aim was to follow the Savannah Way, a rugged tourist drive around the Gulf country to NT. It didn’t take long. A bit of a short cut to Georgetown via Einasleigh, 70km of dirt, not too bad. We started to see wedge-tail eagles and boy were they big. No way would I stop on the side of the road for a snooze, they would carry you off.

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Lunch on the dirt

Einasleigh pub was the real deal, not just your touristy outback pub. All 5 locals were there and the publican was drinking with them, so service was slow. It did however, have a fantastic display of models made by the publican’s father.

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We camped the next night at Leichardt’s Lagoon just before Normanton. A fantastic bird filled lagoon on a station. So many water birds making noise until sundown. Even though we were in winter the sun was not setting until 6.30pm, not like at home where it would have been dark for an hour.

We were starting to see termite mounds and they got bigger and more of them.

Normanton’s icon is the giant fibreglass crocodile in the main street, meant to be life size. I know they grow big but that is hard to believe anything could grow that big and scary. We got some supplies and filled up. We need to be prepared because the next place might have a shiny new supermarket fully stocked or the truck might be due in tomorrow and there is nothing on the shelves. I love these places where you just have to wait for the chat to finish before anything happens but at least you know you can ask questions about the way ahead. That is if they get out of the place. The roads going north/south are tar and the roads east/west were mostly dirt. I suppose they figure that if you leave town you just want to get back south to civilisation.

So, on our way to Burketown. The landscape is real savannah grassland and beautiful tropical rivers. They just look like they are infested with crocs.

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120 kms of dirt road to Burketown and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was learning to handle the corrugations OK and the bikes seemed to handle them too. We got to Burketown for a fantastic Barra pie and Roadkill sausages for dinner. Too bad about intending to stay the night, the caravan park was full, but there might be room at the free camp down the creek, they said, “Yeah right, like we are going to camp there!” There was a roadhouse 30km further along the road, Tirranna Roadhouse is just a fuel stop and takeaway in the middle of nowhere but it was the direction we were going in.

Lawn Hill National Park is the place to go when you are in this part of the world but we were not sure how to arrange a visit there without backtracking too much. It would be about 400km round trip or we could stay overnight. There was another track which would make a loop right around and bring us back out onto the Savannah Way further west. So we packed up and set off through Gregory Downs to Adele’s Grove and Lawn Hill Gorge. These places were huge stations now turned into National Parks. Imagine having this paradise in your backyard. It would go some way in compensating for the isolation and heat and dust and flies and hard work of living here in the old days.

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It would have been great to spend more time and paddle along to gorges but a quick walk and a look and we were off early in the afternoon to see what the rest of the track was like.

First we came to gates into another station and then another with an obscure sign KFC? Then a creek crossing…. Kevin ploughed straight through but I had seen that there was no hard bottom on the crossing and I am sure I would fall off whether it was sand or rocks or whatever. He looked back from the other side and I was just staying put shaking my head. He looked at the next crossing and it looked deeper and what about the next one and the next. There were a few crossings still to come. I would have loved to camp there as it was one of those beautiful tropical paradise creeks with crystal clear water, paperbarks and pandanus palms. So, what now? Back to Tiranna Roadhouse and spend the night. Back along the rough, corrugated road to Gregory Downs and put up the tent again. I had had a few scary moments on the way out along this road and another 70km back along the same way made me think that all this dirt road might not be fun after all.

More discussion and talk about the road ahead. It will be OK, we told ourselves, we just need to take our time. We had supplies for 3 days and hopefully enough fuel to keep us going to Borroloola. We packed up again the next morning and set off along the tar for about 80km till it turned to dirt after Doomadgee. The corrugations started straight away and were constant. I had been having increasing problems with my right hand (the throttle hand) going numb and tingling and burning and cramping so that having to hold on to maintain control of the handlebars was getting painful. Everyone has heard the tales of bulldust up north, fine powdery dust which can be really thick. We came across this pretty soon and picking the easiest way along the road became harder and harder. We had probably gone about 10km and I had to stop. I asked Kevin, “Do you want to keep doing this for 300Km??” At least he is not the kind of bloke who has to be tough. He replied “I was wondering when you were going to stop”. Someone coming in the opposite direction stopped and they reckoned the road got worse. SO that was that decision made. We turned around and decided to go back and follow the tar to get to Northern Territory, much safer that way. It would add quite a few more miles but that was OK, we didn’t have a strict schedule to stick to. The bulldust got me though and I made a soft landing and only a broken hook on the pannier.

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We stopped back at Tirranna Roadhouse one last time for lunch and then set off south back through Gregory Downs and east to Burkes and Wills Roadhouse for the night. This is the main road heading north up to Normanton so there were tourists and road trains aplenty. The next day we continued on our circuit heading south to Cloncurry and then west to Mt Isa and Camooweal for the night. We headed further west into Northern Territory along the Barkly tableland. The country was flat as flat and no wildlife anymore. No kangaroos, no birds of prey. Not sure why that was, probably no water. There were cattle and the only fences were on the boundaries from one station to another, so with the speed limit 130k/h you need to keep your eyes open. The most amazing thing was the ‘virtual’ cattle grids painted on the roads. Either the cattle are really smart or really stupid to take notice of some lines painted on the road.

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