We left Byron Bay and are slowly heading down the east coast towards Sydney. We drove through burnt out areas left and right of the pacific highway today. This is the first sign of the fires other than smoke that we have seen. We stopped at Mullaway beach for lunch and a swim. The water is still warm enough for us thankfully. We are camped at a beautiful camp spot for the next few nights near Coffs Harbour. We are camped in a horse paddock overlooking a dam and it is gorgeous here. We are glad that with this being one of our last nights “on the road” that it is such a beautiful spot. M
But it’s not all fun and sitting around drinking cocktails and bird watching. When we arrived we took some inside photos to advertise the caravan to sell. Steve’s photos make it look great but we have looked after it and it really does look in near new condition! We have yet to properly wash it too! M
We headed into Coffs to do the walk out to Muttonbird Island. We didn’t see any Muttonbirds just pigeons pretending.
Next we headed to Urunga on the coast to do the boardwalk walk over the mangroves. We didn’t see any new birds but it was a pretty birdy town.
Today we drove through more burnt out areas on either side of the pacific highway near Taree. The signs on the highway were melted so you couldn’t read them. It looked terrible and scary for the houses that were only sometimes a few hundred metres away from the fire blackened dead trees. M
We have always loved the north coast of NSW around Byron Bay, so thought it would be nice to spend a few days around Byron and catch up with an old university friend who moved up here many years ago. It was now Dec, so thought a bit of Christmas cheer on the road would be in order. M
At Flat Rock near Ballina we were pretty excited to see 4 new birds and a few old ones!
We went for a nice coastal walk in Broken Head Nature reserve which has an area of coastal subtropical rainforest or littoral rainforest. Originally, the area between Byron Bay and Lismore contained the largest area of tall subtropical rainforest in Australia. This 75,000 ha forest was almost totally destroyed for agriculture in the latter part of the 19th century. Today only isolated remnants like this area remain so they are like little gems of bush. We walked past the The Two Sister’s rocks to the lookout over Smith’s beach. We then walked down down to Smith’s and around the rocks and found our very own beach to have lunch and a swim. M
After reading about the voyage of the Kon Tiki” a few years ago, I was keen to go to the Ballina Naval Museum to see the raft from the Las Balsa’s Expedition which went from Ecuador to Australia in 1973. The original expedition with Tor Heyerdahl in 1947 was supposed to prove that a western migration across the Pacific from the west coast of South America took place. The success of the trip never completely convinced some anthropologists of this. Even without the science I thought this trip was fascinating! Las Balsa’s voyage was led by Vital Alsar and was twice as long as Heyerdahl’s at 8,600miles. M
The second big prawn on this trip. We decided the Ballina prawn was a much better prawn than the Exmouth Prawn. Just look at the little legs and eye detail on him! Sorry Exmouth!
From Bedourie we headed east towards the coast. After the 500+ kms of dirt road of the Birdsville track there is another 500 ish before we are back on the paving. This is sad for us, as it means less wild places to see. We love the wild parts of the outback and soon this will end. We are heading home but it feels like home is wherever we are now. We pull up to some beautiful place for the night, put up the clock, the thermometer and the calendar, put out the chairs and table and we are home. We wake in the morning somewhere new and it’s exciting to wonder what we will see this new day and where we will be the next night. Can see why some Grey Nomads just keep going! M
The next day we arrived late to the little town of Quilpie to stay the night at the caravan park. More very hot weather and storms were expected. First though, we headed to the very nice town swimming pool and did a lap or two to cool off. There was only one other person in the caravan park at this time of year and they were late grey nomads heading south. The next morning besides getting fuel we headed to the local cafe to spend some money. On the way to the car we stopped to chat to an artist on the town’s median strip who was sitting on her bottom laying a mosaic art installation in 39deg. Quilpie is trying hard to get people to stop here and part of it is all the lovely art around town. We even met the Mayor who came along to view the great works. M
This restless flycatcher is a new bird and number 346. While I had probably seen one when we were in SE Queensland earlier on our trip, I ignored them because my older bird book described it as being the same species as the northern slightly smaller paperbark flycatcher. However from my new field guide, I see that this is now considered a separate species, so I was keen to get another look and officially count it. The right hand photo proves that it is indeed restless. S
The Channel Country is a region in Outback Australia. It’s name comes from intertwined river channels which crisscross the region. The Principle Rivers are the Cooper, Diamantina and Georgina Rivers that all drain into Lake Eyre in South Australia. That is if there is enough flood waters. Otherwise, the waters just evaporate into the hot dry land. With the Winton floods of last year enough water came down the channels and into the rivers all the way to Lake Eyre. It is an arid landscape where rivers flow intermittently, so this happens every 10 yrs or so. M
We left Birdsville heading to Bedourie and passed another stand of Waddi Trees (Acacia Peuce). We saw these same trees on the other side of the Simpson desert near old Andado earlier in the year. They can live up to 1000 yrs out here in the baking desert with little water. Amazing! M
Lunch was on a wetland near this bore, which was being used by a road gang. One of the workers came over to us on the wetland outlet to have a chat, while we ate our lunch. He was from Port Augusta and drove up the Birdsville track whenever he worked up here. Imagine taking the Birdsville track to get to work? They must think tourists are silly!
Our camp for the next two nights was at Cuttaburra Crossing on Eyre Creek, which comes off the Georgina River. It was a beautiful free camp and an amazing spot for birds. We could also get in the river when we were hot. It was just under 40deg, so it was great to cool off. We were amazed to find some Grey Nomads camping there for a few nights out there in the heat and trying to catch some fish from the river. M
An exciting new bird was the Flock Bronzewing which we failed to see in Birdsville. A strange looking pidgeon. This flock left this one behind.
Black shouldered kite, Red-kneed Dotterel, Glossy Ibis, Diamond Dove
We stopped in Bedourie with a population around 140 for a break, a swim and some lunch. Bedourie is famous for it’s camel races in July. We had lunch at the pub and were served by a young German backpacker couple from Hanover. They were running the hotel and caravan park for the owner who didn’t like working at his pub and preferred to be out with his camels. Later we went for a swim at the local pool and the only people that were at the pool- were the German couple having a two hour break and some exercise. Funny how you can get to know half the town in a few hours out here. M
We have not tried very hard to find birds on this trip. There were very few very early morning bird runs. We just go out looking when we feel like it. With the gibber bird we really tried hard, as it was bugging me that we had seen so much gibber, but not this bird. We had cocktails at camp that night to celebrate!
These gorgeous horses were on the side of the road. This was a very new foal still a bit funny on it’s feet.
This area must not have so much of interest as they had no less than three signs to advertise this hole in the hill. One was complete with pointer in case you still didn’t see it. Do you see it?
It’s quite a business loading cattle onto a double decker road train and getting them all to stand in the right direction. All the stockmen worked with a cigarette in their mouths just like the ‘Marlborough Man’.
Birdsville was once known at Diamantina Crossing from 1881. It was located at the border of South Australia and Qld and was a customs depot to collect tolls from the droves of cattle being moved interstate. In it’s heyday, at the turn of the century, there was a population of 300 and there was a school, cordial factory, market garden, police station, court house etc. When the tolls were abolished in 1901 at federation, the town went into decline. The state school opened in 1899 and closed in 1948. It has since reopened and the town has been reborn due to tourism. M
Our first night in Birdsville was spent at a lovely free camp just outside of town on the Diamantina River. Birdsville has many nice places to free camp just on the outskirts of town. They must be set up like this as they would not be able to fit 7000 or 9000 people in this little town. M
The next day we came into town and checked into the caravan park to fill up with water and do some washing. There was only one other camper and we were told we could go anywhere we wanted in the park, so we filled our water tanks and then headed down to camp right on the billabong. It was just as quiet as the night before. The views were even better though. We could not believe we were in a caravan park! It would be very different in winter. M
The cemetery always tells a people story. This area has always had a mostly good relationship with the local aboriginal people right up until today supposedly. What did they do differently here? There were people buried here that were in the Tom Kruse film. M
I had seen this film a few years ago after reading the book about him on a previous trip to Marree. I had it’s images in my mind as we started the Birdsville track and it is amazing how easy the ‘track’ is today. It is hardly an adventure in comparison. M
The Birdsville track became a legendary stock route in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century as pastoralism established itself in the arid centre of Australia. Before that, is was an Aboriginal route following a succession of watering places. They did and we all still do, rely on the water from the ancient Great Artesian Basin beneath the surface, to sustain life. The Birdsville replaced the Strzelecki as the preferred route as it had a better water supply. It is one of the most famous outback drives and although much improved in recent years it still remains a remote track with very limited services.
We left Marree, lowered our tyre pressure and headed out on the track . We saw one other car day 1 and then only a couple of triple road trains. This was and still is a cattle route. Instead of drovers on horse back, it is now men in road trains moving cattle around these days. The drought in this area has seen no rain for 3 yrs. Only the properties bordering the Warburton Creek that got the Winton flood waters, have something for cattle to eat. Cattle from the dry stations away from this area are trucking their cattle to these “wet” properties to feed them up, so we are seeing this movement of cattle on the roads at the moment. M
Lunch on day one was at the lake Harry Ruins where there was a hot Artesian water shower. Steve inspects the shower. It was a bit too early in the day and not hot enough believe it or not! The site was once an oasis of date palms planted as an economic enterprise. By 1897, there were 2622 palm trees progressing well. Crops were then damaged by crows and cockatoos and many dry years saw it fail by 1912. Nature always rules! M
A road train passed us at the dog fence. The dog fence used to have big double gates. Now there is no gate, just ear piercing alarms when you get near the grid to scare the dogs off. It doesn’t slow these big rigs down. Well not much anyway. M
We stopped next at the Dulkaninna Wetlands, which are artificial Artesian bores flowing along creek lines that supplement surface water collected after rain. These provide a permanent habitat for many birds and so lovely to see in this dry land. They used to run unchecked but now are only supposed to be running at 8 litres/min to try to protect the GAB and it’s natural springs elsewhere. Well finally there were some birds. All you need is water out here. In about 30 min we saw 2 new birds! Australian Spotted Crake and Little grass bird. We also spotted what we thought to be the biggest Emu we had ever seen and then saw that it was an Ostrich! It wasn’t a wild one, so we couldn’t add it to the bird list. It looked very well fed by the station nearby.
What was even more of a surprise was to see a 2 wheel drive Holden Captiva drive up and a man step out of his car with binoculars. He then opened his folding chair and sat down to have lunch on the road next to the wetland, as a road train swerved around him! More rare than finding water out here is finding birdwatchers in the summer in a 2WD with only one spare tyre- and it was in a hire car! He turned out to be a Swiss teacher named Jacques and he was seriously into birds. He was only in the country for a few months to see birds and he knew all about Aussie birds. When I asked him if he had seen this or that rare bird, he told me exactly where he had seen them, like they were not that hard to find. He even told us he had seen not one but two Grey Falcons. We were not sure whether to believe him, as these are very hard to find supposedly. Anyway, I was hoping this guy had enough water etc and made it out of the desert alright. I did tell him to be careful as it was often the Swiss and Germans that died out here in the Summer! He is posting his bird sightings on the “e bird” website, so we will continue to watch where he gets to. M
It was nice to see horses still being used by a few of stations out here. Horse mustering has been mainly replaced by motor bikes, quad bikes, light aircraft and helicopters these days. You hardly see a horse any more.
Next stop was the Mulka homestead and store ruins and the lonely grave of 14 yr old Edith Scobie nearby.
We only saw 2 road trains this day and they caught up with each for lunch together. I don’t think they got out of the aircon!
And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.
We were not there more than 5 min when Phil the owner of the Pub/Roadhouse said “not MORE Crazy Bird people”. He had met the Swiss guy the day before. He asked what WE wanted to see and I said “Grey Falcon” as a joke. He told us to drive 20kms down a road off the Birdsville track, don’t worry about the closed road sign. He said we should hurry as the sun was going down. We were stunned. We didn’t know if he was serious or not. Then he laughed at Steve’s camera, came out with his big camera, gave it to us and told us to be quick. This is about 15 min after meeting us. We got in the car and drove fast down the road with his $4000 camera wondering if he was back at the pub laughing at us while having a drink with the station owner from the next property!
We stayed 2 days at the roadhouse campground which had one other person staying and which was right on the wetlands. These were produced by a constantly running GAB Bore which was pouring into the now dry creekbed of the Derwent River next to the roadhouse. It was an oasis and bird magnet.
The next morning we were up early to look for a Gibber Bird which we still had not seen on this trip. We hit the “gibber pavement” with our camera and binoculars and found not a Gibber Bird but a Cinnamon Quail Thrush.
Our next free camp we were told about by Phil. He said to take the Simpson desert track to the Warburton Crossing. We were to go through the gate even if it said the road was closed. So we did.
We thought there may still have been water at the crossing due to the floods but there was none. It was a lovely camp in the river bed. There was plenty to show that there had been a lot of water though. There was ground cover for a start and green and flowers in areas. There were even birds around and nice fat cattle to be seen.
In the evening we watched huge flocks of budgies come in and land to feed near the caravan. Once they landed they all but disappeared in the grass. They were very skittish though and didn’t like us around. They are the favourite food of the Grey Falcon, so I don’t blame them. So much more impressive out of a cage.
Mt Gason Wattle Project is a fenced area where these rare acacia trees discovered only in 1978 are protected from cattle grazing.
Some of the first signs of the flooded areas from the flooding 7 months ago. This little flooded channel had a group of about 100 pelicans feeding in concert.
We pulled over to check out the old car and found out it was the best shade around for these Cinnamon Quail thrush.
18km from Birdsville, we entered Queensland and the Diamantina Shire. No fan fare and no border security taking away our honey like in Western Australia. Steve was relieved!
We have both always wanted to see the Birdsville track and last year the track was flooded by the Winton flood waters, so we had to miss it. We have returned to this area to do the track now. Most people do this track in the winter months of June July and August because it is too hot (for normal people) but we are looking forward to doing it out of season and we prefer heat to cold anyway. Marree is a tiny town at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and once called Hergott Springs. Once a thriving centre for transport and communications, relics of bygone years remain. Afghan Cameleers, Aboriginals and Europeans lived in relative harmony as the fortunes of the town came and went over time. We arrived in town on a Sat and we saw only one person out on the street. It felt like a ghost town. Also it was cold. Not what you would expect! M
Before the railway line camel transport was widely used in central Australia and most cameleers were from the middle-east (although they were often called Afgans, apparently many came from India). A replica of the original mosque used by the cameleers still stands in Marree.
Marree was the home town of the legendary outback mailman Tom Kruse who features in the movie “back of beyond” which follows the challenges he faced as the mailman on the Birdsville track in the 1940s and 1950s. One of his old trucks is on display in Marree.
Some of the artefacts, signs and murals in Marree including some diesel locomotives from the old “ghan” railway line that closed in 1980 after the rail was re-aligned about 300km westward. Also a camel shaped sundial made from old railway sleepers