After doing a few adjustments to the vehicle we leave Mareeba after
lunch and go to Kuranda so Julie can check out the markets in greater
detail. Unfortunately Kuranda markets are geared for the departure time of
the last train back to Cairns loaded with rich tourists and by 4.oopm most
things are shut. The last train leaves at 3.30., so if you drive up this way
get here early.
From Kuranda we shuffle out to Atherton and then down to Malanda heading
towards Lake Eacham. Another traveller at Mareeba told us of a camping spot
just out of Malanda. It is called Winfield Park, and just on the coast side
of the Johnston River bridge. This has to be one of the best spots we have
stayed in so far, about 2 acres of grass with the river along one edge and
rain forest on the others. The only downside is that it gently slopes and
would require some people to level up considerably.
We have realised that we don't have an awning on the right hand side, but is
in fact a botanist because it is always collecting leaf and branch samples.
The next bit is for our motorhoming friends, you others can ignore it as it
I have had a couple of people ask, "Why do I keep making minor adjustments
to the truck."
The answer is really quite simple. We finished the truck at 4.00pm on Thurs,
were packed and gone by 6.00pm. I hadn't driven this thing for more than
100K before we left. I have never done this before as I like to iron out all
the bugs over a few trips, but 8.5 months had shrunk to 6 months because of
work commitments getting in the way of finishing the vehicle so it became a
neccessity. I would not recommend this path to anyone unless you have the
tools and ability to fix things on the fly. We have both. I knew the vehicle
was mechanically sound before we left except for the front shockers but did
not realise how bad they were until we got on a rough bitumen road. They
were replaced in Brisbane.
All other "adjustments" have been working out the placement of the load.
Load being all the stuff that one seems to need for a six month sojourn in
the boonies of Australia. Tools, spare parts, clothes, food, water, fuel and
all the other stuff that one deems as maybe needing but which could probably
be left at home. Those that have driven a truck know that the right
placement of a load affects the ride, handling, braking and safety far more
than a car because you tend to carry more.
Please bear in mind that the Gross Vehicle Mass of this unit is 9 Tonnes so
it is well under legal weight.
The dry weight (no food, 20l of fuel, no water tanks full, no house
batteries and no gas bottles) of the vehicle when finished was 4.08 Tonnes
which was 420 Kilos under what I was aiming for. Just out of interest the
cab chassis weighed in at 2.4Tonnes. The loaded weight including Julie and I
is 6.6 Tonnes, so, as you can see there is a lot of weight to move around.
Julie is a fixture in the passenger seat so she couldn't be moved. She has
found out that there is no brake pedal that side also. I find it hard to
drive from the back left hand corner so I have to stay put too. The water
tanks are fixtures (more about that later) so they have to stay. Fuel tank
is definitely a fixture, well one hopes so. The food in the fridge is fixed
so ditto. All that leaves is articles of clothing, extra food and the
aforementioned "stuff". We have been shuffling that around and now I seem to
have it right after altering it numerous times. The truck behaves itself on
the road nicely now. It always did but much better now. The driver is a
The smart ones amongst you have worked out that we are carrying 2.52 Tonnes.
This is made up as follows:
Fuel: 200L= 200Kilos.
Water: 5 separate tanks spread around the vehicle( more later) of 80L each=
Extra water in bottle: 20 litres= 20 Kilos.
Gas: 2x9 Kilo bottles= 18Kilos.
House Batteries: 4x20Kilos Approx=80 Kilos
Grey water tank is not much because it is empty most of the time.
As you can see the essential items total close on 718 Kilos leaving a
balance of 1.8Tonnes. Now some of you in the motorhoming fraternity (and
them that tow Caravans) may say "Holy hell that is a lot of stuff and WE
would never have that much," BUT I was talking to a bloke the other day that
was unloading his Mazda (GVM 4.5Tonnes) because he had been pulled over at
the scales by the RTA. Vehicle weight? 7.5 Tonnes. Gross Combination Mass
(he had a car and stuff on a trailer)? Wait for it!! 13.7 Tonnes. It pays to
weigh your vehicle in full road trim. You could be in for a shock, a new
vehicle and a new licence.
The rest is made up of winter and summer clothes, tools, food and other
Julie and I: me no tell.
I have 5 water tanks because of space constraints under the chassis. We have
2 behind the rear axle, 1 just ahead of the axle and 2 in a bin just behind
the truck cabin on the left hand side. These can all be filled and emptied
separately. The reason for this is so that each tank can be isolated in the
event of a leak. Remember that this was built to live in for 6 months, had I
been using it just for a month of annual holidays 2x80 tanks would have been
plenty. Under normal circumstances had I had the time to test the van before
leaving I would only have had 2 tanks filled as water is readily available
up the east coast. Why cart an extra 240 Kilos around? I didn't so I had to.
What this is leading to is the effect that that many tanks have on the
"balance" of the vehicle and it has taken a little time to work out the best
way of emptying them. The best way for our vehicle (bear in mind we drive at
the speed limits) is to empty the 2 front bin tanks first (takes weight off
steering), then 2 rear tanks, drivers side first because the batteries and
fuel is on that side, other rear one and lastly the centre one. Works for
Back to the trip......
Tomorrow we check out Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine and Yungaburra. It will be
an early start as we want to, (HAVE to) be in Ravenshoe by 2.00pm for a
steam train ride. I like steam trains.
We get up early and head to Lake Eacham. This lake is not a volcanic
crater lake as such but where hot lava met an underground water source and
boiled it so quick and hard it exploded. Hmm, seem to remember doing
something like that as a kid involving a fire and a drum full of water. It
really is a pretty spot and as usual there are walks to do. We did a short
one, 5 mins.
On to the Red Cedar tree. After negotiating a road that is only used to
seeing narrow vehicles we arrive only to find that it is 600 Metres out in
the scrub. Oh well it is free so we are not paying for torturing ourselves.
It is ominous from the start, downhill with steps worked out by a bloke that
takes 2.00 metre strides. Now I know that downhill is good but the return
journey is all up hill and that is what is worrying me on the way down. Who
says I don't forward plan? We arrive at the Tree, a magnificent old man of
the forest dwarfing all around it. It is 500 years old and I sympathise with
it because that is how old I will feel shortly going back up. However a fix
of that magic elixir disguised as a cuppa fixes all ills.
We also find that our botanist awning has acquired an assistant, the TV
aerial but it really gets into its work and snags a sample (tree) that tears
it off. I fix.
We next head to Lake Barrine. It is raining when we get there and the tea
shop or cruises aren't open yet. There are 2 signs depicting the sites
around here. Twin Kauries 80 metres and lakeside walk 5KM, you get no prizes
for guessing which we did. The Kauries were 1000 Year old Bull Kauries which
are only found in this area and they too are massive. I did a few quick
mental calculations and reckoned with the timber from them you could have
built all of Seymour and furnished every house too. This phase didn't last
long as it was work. We return to the carpark to find things happening, shop
open and deck crews cleaning boats.
We inquire about the cost of a cruise and departure times. It is $12/head
and there is one at 9.30 so we purchase our tickets and off we go. The
cruise is actually good value as it points out the birds, fish and flora of
the area. He also tells us that the 5K walk around the lake is level and
except for 50metres of rough stuff, a wheelchair could negotiate it. I
inquire about a motorised wheelchair but they have none for hire so we skip
that. Time is running short so we head off for Yungaburra. It is still
At Yungaburra we drive around the town and look at the old buildings and
then head out to the Curtain Fig. This is my style of viewing, 50 metres of
level boardwalk, ah heaven. This is amazing and describing it is almost
impossible so you will have to look at the pics.
You will remember (if you don't you will have to look back) that when we
arrived at Malanda on the way up the Dairy thing was closed. Being close to
Malanda and it being early we go for a second try. Yep, open but they only
do tours Mon-Fri. We struck out again.
We leave the Atherton Tablelands and virtually the east coast to start
The following is my opinion.
I will digress here again and probably cop some flak too. I am used to it.
We went to a lot of places just for the sake of saying "Been There, Done
That" and will continue to do so. We went on tours at most places which were
informative BUT a lot of the information was repetitive and had we known
then what we know now probably would not have bothered and saved some money.
I like the Atherton Tablelands, it is probably my favourite area of
Queensland but the same thing (with the exception of vines and strangler
figs) can be seen on a tour of South Gippsland in late spring if scenery is
all you are after.
To do the "tropical" thing and to learn as much as possible about the flora
and fauna of the area in a limited time and restrictive budget (it will
still cost) this is my suggestion:
Base yourself at Cairns or Mareeba.
Do the Skyrail: take the walks and guided tours. This tells you most of the
plants and trees of the wet tropical rainforest.
Go to Kuranda Markets (free to browse): the craft and stuff sold here is
indicative of the craft sold all over Qld. It is also interesting studying
Go back on the Scenic Railway: because you have to get back again but they
give a good commentary on the way down.
Drive to Daintree: do the River Train cruise. This will give you a brief
history of the rainforest, some more flora and fauna and an understanding of
mangroves which constitute 75 % of the north coast.
Hartleys Croc Farm: all you need to know about crocs and close up views of
them plus great shows.
Go for day trips around the Tablelands and look at the free stuff. A cruise
on Lake Barrine is also good value.
If you want to include "the reef thing", go on Quicksilver to Agincourt Reef
for the day. Big biccies but you will learn about the reef, coral, have a
great lunch and a nice sea cruise. Pick the weather though.
If you want a nice drive and wish to go further afield, pay the ferryman and
drive to Cape Tribulation.
Enough raving or rambling from me, back to business.
At Ravenshoe we have lunch and then board the steam train to Tumoulin 7
kilometres away. I love the smell, power and noise of a steam train (it
beats walking) and the journey is very pleasant. We stop at our destination
and have afternoon tea. Because it is Fathers Day they have chocolate cake
for all the fathers (very sexist but I love it) in addition to scones with
jam and cream (bugger, another 5K walk now). The bonus was that the crew
took passengers in the loco while they were shunting. Even Julie thought
that was great.
On arrival back at Ravenshoe we mount our steed and head West to Undara Lava
Caves. It is still raining.
Whilst driving I muse about a lot of things and one thing that has been
intriguing me for quite a while is this; most places these days rely heavily
on tourism to survive. Queensland in particular. If you are in a small bus
type van parking is easy and they will fit in most parking spots. With the
exception of a few towns they make no provision for caravans or slightly
larger vehicles. Perhaps someone should tell them.
We stay the night at Undara to do a tour next day.
The rain has stopped. We board the tourist bus at 8.00am and head out into
the savannah (this whole area is called savannah Country)and tour the lava
caverns and learn how they were formed. These are massive underground
caverns and perhaps some one should tell Jeff (Kennet for you interstate
heathens) that he could fit 4-5 Crown casinos in them and not need air
conditioning but they would need the tunnel builders to seal them because
they get wet when it rains, (they may do better with water coming from
above). Victorian joke.
We shove off after wandering around Undara complex for a while. More info
can be found on their website. We head towards Normanton and the Gulflander.
We have lunch at Georgetown and afternoon tea in Croydon. We wandered around
Croydon and I caught up with emails at the tourist office. The young lady
that works there has tremendous energy and knowledge about this town. This
is another town where they are restoring the buildings and doing a damned
fine job of it too.
We reach Normanton and head up to Karumba to photograph the sunset over the
Gulf. We need fuel and try to locate the Mobil depot there. Like the Scarlet
Pimpernel we seeked here, we seeked there but to no avail. We ask in the
pub, no go. I ring the number listed in our Mobil book (for those that don't
know, we use Mobil cards for our fuel and get a discount) and it gives an
after hours number, I ring (bear in mind that it is 6.45pm and NOT 2.00am)
and this feller answers, I ask him what time he opens and his location. I
cop heaps of abuse and told that I won't get fuel until the morning, some
vague instructions and then asked who is setting him up. This is a precis
with the colourful, descriptive parts deleted to spare the innocent. Talk
about outback hospitality!
Everything but the pub is closed so we look for a campsite. Not much around
except a caravan park and a truck stop at the edge of town. We check this
out and boy, are we glad we did. It has the best toilets and showers that
are cleaned every morning. It says no camping but hey I drive a truck (says
so on my rego label), I have a truck licence and this is a truck stop, we
At about 9.00pm a road train pulls in. Guess what? It is a Mobil tanker (or
tankers) so I ask him where the depot is and relate the previous story (with
adjectives and verbs) and he cracks up and nearly wets himself. He points to
the depot. Guess where? Round the corner from the pub. Local knowledge sure
is abundant in Karumba. He explains that the bloke who owns the depot is
really a good bloke but gets wound up real easy and has a bad temper. We
talk about trucks and other things. He said that this is a good spot to stay
except when they are bringing cattle in for live shipping overseas from the
wharves because there are a lot of trucks and even more flies and neither
would like vans being there. The flies might.
We sleep, we shower and head around to the depot. I am treated like a
celebrity. Bob (truck driver) has related the story of the phone call and
the staff are in hysterics. This is even funnier because the boss has had to
take drums of fuel out to a station 200k away in an older truck with no air
con over some really bad roads. They say he was not in a good humour when he
left. I said that I was going to ask for a discount and they nearly fell off
the loading dock laughing.
We go back to Normanton and the tourist office, we book on the
Gulflander (the main reason we came here) and then check out the sites
around the town while we wait for our train trip.
At 1.30pm we are on the Gulflander for our short trip of 30k and return to
Critters Camp. They have other trips in the tourist season comprising BBQ
trips and tea and damper trips but the Robertson luck continues and we are
one week too late as they have stopped. They also have the usual weekly trip
to Croydon, stop overnight and return the following day. Trust me that if
you have driven from Croydon you have seen it all as the line parallels the
Whilst this train is an interesting beast more like a truck on rails I think
that 60k's is enough time spent on it. The commentary is excellent and gives
a good overview of the countryside, the properties adjoining the line and
some local gossip as well. If you look at the rails you wonder how it stays
Worth doing? Yep, but only once.
We head south towards Cloncurry. This will mean that we have now driven the
Matilda Way in its entirety albeit in 2 trips.
We have tea at the 3rd listed roadside stop (Qld Main Roads Guide map)
because the 1st 2 have no shade. It is hard out here to get shade. I am
entertained by some German backpackers putting up a tent. The putting up is
easy but trying to drive tent pegs into rock hard ground is impossible. They
give up and weight the inside with packs. We drive into the night.
Driving at night is not everyones cup of tea but I love it. There are
certain criteria that have to be met though.
1; Good eyesight.
2; Very, very good lights.
It also helps if you have a navigator that stays awake (they generally do
after the first sudden stop) and also has good eyes.
The reasons I like to travel at night are: the vehicle runs better, it is
cooler in the cab and you can see most things that are coming. We have those
"shoo roos" fitted and whether they work or not is open to debate but we
have not seen many roos at all and any we have seen have always moved away.
However as in human beings there is always a deaf one and we found it but
the roo bar on the front did its job and no harm to the truck.
I better state here that although I may sound flippant I do not like hitting
any wild life at all but sometimes it is impossible to miss. Wedgetail
Eagles are perhaps the slowest moving bird I have come across. Graceful and
speedy in flight, they take a while to get airborne and where possible I
will slow down. So far I have not hit one and hope I never do.
We stop at no4 on the map. I chat to some campers and the sand flies attack
again. This time with a vengeance. My legs are covered in sores the next
day. Sand flies don't bite, they urinate on you and it causes blisters. I am
used to people doing that to me, but they leave no scars.
At Cloncurry we went out to the tourist office which also has some
buildings that were used at the now defunct Mary Kathleen mine. We decided
against doing the museum but had a look at the old machinery outside.
Another cuppa and on the road to Isa. (the Qld govt. could save a fortune on
signs if they used what people call them).
Our intention was to do an underground mine tour as they weren't running
when here 2 years ago, but on arrival were told that they were not running.
They have spent a fortune on the tourist precinct (new terminology now)
which houses Riversleigh Fossils, a mining museum and a mine with
underground tours. We ask about the mine tours. not running yet. We can't
Julie went to the Riversleigh Fossils ( I only have to look into a mirror to
see one) while I chatted to a German couple who were RIDING BIKES around
Australia. The bikes were the reclining type where you sit back and ride.
Nice machines imported from Germany but still not my style.
We leave the Isa and head towards Camooweal with trepidation. The last time
we came through here (2 years ago) the road was abyssmal. They had had rain
and the road was like driving on bluestone pitchers laid on the ground
spaced about 300mm apart. SURPRISE! SURPRISE! They put in a whole new road
from Camooweal to the border with a brand new spiffy bridge to boot, good
Something must be said about the roads. A lot of people we have spoken to
have complained about the roads in outback Qld., and in some cases I have to
agree but considering the distances and conditions involved that these roads
cover they are not bad. They are laid in areas prone to massive temperature
fluctuations, severe flooding and a base that is never stable and I reckon
that the road crews who maintain them deserve a pat on the back. Sure, they
are one lane bitumen roads but generally the sides are good gravel that is
easy to pull off to and get back on again.
One 4wd owner that came into a campsite with headlights, driving lights and
windscreen smashed to smithereens was bitching about road trains. No bloody
driving manners, hogging the bitumen and having no concern for other
motorists were amongst his complaints.
When asked how many road trains he had met?
1 so far and it did this damage.
Did you pull over? No, why should I?
After telling him that it was obvious why he should and that he was bloody
lucky they didn't run him over, I also explained that the roads were
primarily built for road trains and the dangers involved should a road train
have to pull over on to the gravel and a back trailer whipping across the
road on to his side and maybe flipping the truck I thought he was starting
to see reason. Wrong!!! Arrogant a'hole was going to write to the Main Roads
and complain. Where was he from? Toorak, naturally. His 4wd experience?
Driving to the tip. Ignorant twit.
We cross the border into The Northern Territory at 6.00pm, set the calendar
forward 30 years and our clocks back a 1/2hr. We stop at Avon Downs rest
area with about 30 others and chat to some of the Big Rig clan.
At Barkly Homestead we turn right to head towards Borroloola. Typical
outback road, one lane bitumen with good edges. In the 377K to Heartbreak
Hotel we meet 2 oncoming and pass 3 other vehicles whom we chat to at
lunchtime. One was concerned about the slight temperature rise in his 4wd, I
have a look and find he has blown a hose off his turbo, HE FIXES.
The outside temperature is really starting to climb now with 35-38 being the
norm. The truck temperature is also rising about 5 degrees. I will not
mention how hot the cab is but people pay good money to have a sauna. We
travel in one. I am certainly glad that we have a little Waeco (free plug)
fridge in the cab. It gets a hiding.
Usually when I buy another vehicle the first thing I do is fill it with
fuel, fill a 20L jerry can and drive till it runs out, record the mileage
done, put jerry can in and refill the tank. I then know how far I can travel
and the capacity of the tank but I didn't have a chance to find out before
we left so we decide to do it now. We filled the jerry cans in Isa. At 930 K
we ran out of fuel, filled from the jerry cans, bled the system (diesel
truck, took 5 minutes) and continue on.
We reach Borroloola and fuel. Now what can I say about this town to describe
it? It is hot, dusty and is split in 2 by a bridge. The caravan park has a
chain mesh fence around it with front gates designed to keep out tanks. Very
security minded. we did not stay there but continued on to King Ash Bay
which we had been told was delightful by some other travellers.
We turn off the main road after negotiating a road that could be used by GMH
as their dust sealing and suspension testing unit, we arrive. This place is
a fishermans haven and as such is probably fantastic but for us heathens
that get fish by easier means it is not worth the trip. Overnight fees are
$10/site with an additional $10/night for power. This is justified because
they run off a generator.The camp spots are good but as with most popular
fishing places there are fisherpersons.
I will probably get into strife here with the next statement but in most
places we have camped with groups of fishermen present we do not get much
sleep due to generators running, drunken talk that gets louder and cruder (I
am no prude) with every can consumed, cars and trailers moving at all hours
and rubbish left every where. Some motorhomers and campers are the same. I
know that this is a minority but they stuff it up for all.
We decide that whilst here we will have a look at Batten Point. We only
got halfway as the road was getting deeper and deeper in sand. I did not
wish to try out my expertise at extracting a 9 tonne truck bogged to the
axles so prudence was justified.
We had seen a sign to Bing Bong on the main road. With a name like that you
just have to have a look. Referring to the map it is right on the Gulf. The
road is fantastic, super 2 lane highway. We find out why. Reaching Bing Bong
(no town, a port) there are barriers across the road and fences that bar
access to the beach BUT the mining company has erected a lookout tower so
that you can SEE the beach. The Macarthur mining company have a lease on the
land and it is their bulk loading facility for ore. The reason for the road?
It is used for road trains to bring the ore up.
Been there, done that and not doing it again.
We leave and head towards Daly Waters stopping at Heartbreak Hotel for a
drink. The poor bugger there has to fill every vehicle out of 44gallon drums
as their pumps have stopped due to heat problems. There are 3 vehicles
waiting in line and he has a nervous breakdown when he sees us pull up but
regains his composure when I tell him we don't need fuel.
We continue on.