Coffs Harbour

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

Coffs Harbour hills horse paddock camp
This is our ‘U Camp’ called Sunnyridge. Last week there were fires on the distant hills in this photo. Up the hill from us is all bush, so we would not want to be here in a fire!
horse paddock camp Coffs
Steve relaxing in our very own horse paddock after the drive down from Byron.
horse visitor coffs camp
This is the view out our window now. These guys are a bit cheeky though. They have tried to eat bits of the xmas decorations and tried to go off with one of my shoes in the night. They smell much nicer than cows and have much more personality.

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

Kedron inside view bedkeddie inside view bathroom washerkeddie inside view kitchen sinkkeddie inside view dinette

We headed into Coffs to do the walk out to Muttonbird Island. We didn’t see any Muttonbirds just pigeons pretending.

feral pigeon coffs breakwater

pigeon pretending to be a mutton bird
This guy was eyeing off the Muttonbird burrow
muttonbird island coff harbour panorama
View back over Coffs Harbour from Muttonbird Island with the smoky hills behind
lookout muttonbird island coffs
The look out to sea of the end of Muttonbird Island
Bindarri nat park swim spot
Near our camp was Bindarri National Park with a pocket of old growth rainforest that was very beautiful. You needed high clearance four wheel drive to get in there and we drove into a picnic spot with a beautiful swimming spot. There was a very strong smell of smoke as we swam and then we heard helicopters going back and forth over our heads. We decided we had better get out of there. There must have been a fine on a nearby hill as the park was closed the next day.
end of the skywalk dorrigo nat park
We spent the morning up at the Dorrigo National Park. This is the view from the Skywalk which looks out over the World Heritage listed rainforest.
cat bird dorrigo np
A cat bird seen on the Wonga walk
white throated treee creeper
White Throated Tree Creeper

crystal shower falls 2

steve behind crystal shower falls
Steve behind Crystal Showers Falls on the Wonga walk

crystal shower falls from behindgrey gerygone

black swan at the bellingen swimming hole
We stopped in the little village of Bellingen for a quick swim in the town swimming hole on the Bellinger River while geese and swans looked on.

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.

urunga boardwalk
Urunga boardwalk
olive backed oriole
Olive Backed Oriole

female golden whistler

yellow tailed black cockatoos
We were looking for Glossy Black Cockatoos but only saw about a million Yellow Tailed Blacks
beach from hungry head urunga
The view from Hungry Head
urunga beach
Looking back to the end of the boardwalk and Urunga Beach. The beaches up here are beautiful and there is hardly a soul on them.
scarlet honeyeater
Scarlet Honeyeater
brush cookoo
Brush Cuckoo
wompoo pidgon
The threatened Wompoo Pigeon has got to be the prettiest pigeon ever!
wood duck sculpture
Wood duck sculpture on the walk around Urunga

 

royal spoonbills
Royal Spoonbills at the Urunga sewage treatment plant

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

 

 

Byron Bay

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

decorated car
No tree to decorate so thought we would do what you see farmers doing in the outback. They decorate their bull bar or their mailbox, as often it is impossible to see their houses from the road.
wolongbar u camp
We camped at a lovely ‘Ucamp’ in Wollongbar called Parker’s Place. It is on the grounds of a wholesale nursery that has made a special area to camp next to a creek, that makes you feel like you are camped in a botanic garden. It was so lovely and peaceful we stayed 6 nights!
eastern rosella parkers place
There were plenty of birds in the trees around us like this Eastern Rosella
superb fairy wren
The Superb Fairy Wren was not far away
lismore xmas tree
We went into Lismore to the Richmond hotel to meet friends for a lovely dinner and a walk around town afterwards. This is Lismore’s town xmas tree. It is made of recycled material with a solar powered reticulated water pump watering the plants. Yes those are old jeans at the bottom.

At Flat Rock near Ballina we were pretty excited to see 4 new birds and a few old ones!

wandering tattler
Wandering Tattler
curlew sandpipers
Curlew Sandpiper
common tern and little tern
Common Tern and Little Tern
common tern
Common Tern
sanderling 2
Sanderling

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

three sisters at broken head nature reserve
The Two Sisters
broken head smiths beach lookout
Looking down towards Smith’s beach at broken head Nature reserve. We walked around the rocks in the background and found our own little (keep your swimmers dry) beach to have  lunch.
nudie beach lunch spot
A lunch spot under the pandanus near Smith’s Beach. The ocean temp should never be cooler than what it is here! I think Sydney will be a shock for us now.
limpet island
The gorgeous Limpet Island rock 

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

balsa raft poster
The museum showed this movie which was actually a documentary shot by one of the men of the voyage and interesting. 
balsa raft newspaper
They were supposed to land at Mooloolaba but strong southerly currents carried them down the coast to Ballina. HMAS Labuan followed the rafts south from Brisbane where 2 trawlers helped two of the rafts into the Richmond River. The third was abandoned at sea. The Ballina raft is made up of the best of the other 2 as all were in bad shape in the end.
balsa raft 2
One raft was so water logged coming in that is was abandoned. 
balsa raft 1
A side view of the raft with the wooden toilet bucket that hangs over the side. The sails were made of canvas. You can see where the balsa logs were eaten and rotting. 
balsa raft diagram
The rafts were made entirely of wood fastened by wooden pegs and sisal ropes. These were being repaired all along the voyage. The balsa logs had to be cut from female trees at the time of the full moon as these trees have a higher sap content. This ensured the rafts would be the most resistant to saturation by sea water.
huge goanna
We found this huge Lace Monitor climbing a tree in a another small area of rainforest near Ballina. It looked like it had just eaten something and could hardly get up the tree.
forest kingfisher
While looking for 2 other new birds in this reserve we ended up seeing only this gorgeous new Forest Kingfisher
cattle egret
The area near where we stayed were mostly cattle properties or macadamia farms. We are always amazed how Cattle Egrets don’t seem to be afraid of being stepped on, sometimes walking in between their legs!
poo fairy sign ballina
Sick of stepping on domestic animal poo we loved this sign on the Ballina breakwater walk. Go Ballina council!
masked lapwing chick
A Masked Lapwing chick near the Ballina breakwater.
great egret ballina
Great Egret

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!

byron bay beach
Byron Bay main beach is nice but we swam up at “the pass” all the way around the other end.
wategos beach
Watego’s beach on the walk up to the Byron bay lighthouse.
tallow beach
Tallow Beach from viewed from the lighthouse.
cape byron
In Western Australia we went to Australia’s most westerly point so now we are at the most easterly at this point in Byron Bay.
lighthouse
The Byron Bay lighthouse
evening market
Here we are at the night markets where we ended the day after birding and walking and swimming. You can always find a butterfly a crystal or a dream catcher at the markets!

 

Heading east and home :( :( :(

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

East from Birdsville
1500km east from Birdsville and getting dangerously close to civilisation

 

 

windorah sign
Next stop was the nice little town of Windorah which means place of big fish. We stopped to spend a bit of money in this town refueling and buying an icecream. The temp was on the way to the mid 40’s today and there was a “hair dryer” wind a blowing!
experimental solar farm
Ergon Energy’s Windorah power station. The mirrors reflect and concentrate sunlight in to a high capacity solar cell in a central point at the front of the dish. Each dish generates approx 26kW of electricity. The solar farm of 5 dishes replaces 100,000 litres of diesel used by the towns diesel generators. Unfortunately it is not working at the moment as they “wait for parts”! Unfortunately we have found alternative energy is not that successful out off the grid. There is a lot of diesel being used instead.
solar keddie
The arty shot of us reflected in the mirrors!

cooper creek sign

crossing coopers creek
Crossing Cooper’s Creek. The river felt huge to us after travel in such dry country for so long. It was also running due to recent rain up the line. This is the same river (bed) we were camped in at the edge of the Simpson Desert on the Birdsville track. What a difference a few hundred kms makes and some rain!

 

 

coopers creek swim
The first thing we did in the 40+ deg temp was jump in or rather slip our way in on the muddy banks. It was then a foot bucket bath after we got out!
cooper creek at windorah
It was really exciting to see a river that was running. They had had some recent rain and there was quite a bit of green around too. There were Pelicans everywhere that were happy for us to swim near them. You can tell we are coming into civilisation when the Pelicans don’t mind people.
cooper creek camp
The free camping along Cooper’s Creek was lovely. It was now over 40 degrees and it was great to have water to get into. The creek was lovely but the closer these waterways get to a town the less wild they are beginning to feel. We were the only one camped out here. It is obviously a local’s swimming spot with a boat ramp of sorts but there is nobody around.

 

coopers creek panorama
Our view from the caravan of Cooper’s Creek
welford sign
Next we took a little detour to Welford NP. It looked like we had the place to ourselves and as it was 44 deg at 5pm when we arrived, we jumped straight in the water and kept doing so every time we were too hot. We ended up using the generator at night as it only cooled to 28 or 30 all night. This is only the 4th time this trip and we don’t really like it but sleep is good!
welford flowers
Flowers always follow rain out here.
willie wagtail on roo
The Willy Wagtail likes a soft perch and the kangaroo is too sleepy to notice him!
barcoo river
The Barcoo River at Welford was a big wide brown refreshing swim. You had to keep moving or the fish would nip you though.
barcoo roaming turtle
This turtle came crashed through the bush and jumped into the river.
masked woodswallow2
Masked woodswallows watching the sun go down
spotted bowerbird
A Spotted Bowerbird at the entrance to his bower. Neatly paved with black and white stone fragments with the odd bit of sooty aluminium foil to add an element of high-tech to his love nest.
Red winged Parrot 2
A youthful red-winged parrot.  A sure sign that we have left the desert region behind us.
orion rising over barcoo river
Orion mirrored over Barcoo River at our camp in Welford National Park

 

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

houdrahans waterhole quilpie
The birding at Houdrahan’s Lake near Quilpie was quite impressive.  I counted 40 species of bird there in about 30 minutes.  S
olive backed oriole 2
Olive backed Oriole

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

morven sign

roo ducks galahs and lapwings
We camped the night at the lovely town of Morven on their sports field. This was $10 a night for power and water and our views were of kangaroos and ducks or the bush. In the morning it was a short walk into town for a coffee, mud cake and the newspaper all for just $8. It was a peaceful and quiet town camp all to ourselves. Can you imagine trying to play sport on this field? Running around the ducks and kicking your ball over the kangagoos! This town must have a terrible time!
morven birds
Someone from town had left some buckets of water for the birds and they were sharing nicely.   Pale headed rosellas and a magpie together with the noisy miner on the right.
white throated gerygone
Here at our latest camp next to a dry waterhole just south of Yuleba I spotted bird number 347 – a white-throated gerygone.    From here we will be heading with anticipation to the forests just west of Brisbane where bird life is said to abound.   S

Channel Country

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

channel country sign

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

waddi tree sign

waddi tree with budgies etc
Budgies loved the Waddi Trees
waddi budgie
So much nicer out of a cage!
baby black faced woodswallow
A baby Black Faced Woodswallow called out for her Mum who was on the branch above.
boot tree
On the road to Bedourie we came across this boot tree. There’s a bit more than boots on it these days. I wanted to add Steve’s thongs to this but he wouldn’t let me!
gibber and cigarette
Also on the road was a table and benches in the middle of nowhere on a gibber plain. On the table was a box glued down and in it a single cigarette. Maybe this is a ‘smoko’ stop for road train drivers? Maybe you are meant to leave a ‘ciggie’ behind if you use the table? We didn’t know what it all meant, but I had a scan around for the elusive Gibber Bird while I was there, just in case.
2nd hand shop
This is the so called roadside ‘OP Shop’ also in the middle of nowhere. Before all my op shop buddies get too excited, there was nothing good. OK, possibly the stainless steel 4 slice toaster- but we just didn’t need it.
carcoory sign
The Carcory ruins on the road were very nicely built and were once owned by Sidney Kidman himself. Most of the Waddi wood lintels were still good. All it needed was a roof. It would be nice to see this restored. It is part of Roseberth station.

beautiful but

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

cuttaburra camp
Cuttaburra Crossing camp on Eyre Creek was like an Aviary.
cuttaburra camps swim
Eyre Creek swimming. To avoid the thick clay mud on the bottom one had to “walk the log” to enter and exit. We were in there with all types of water birds with many others in the trees around us. There were a million finches around coming down to drink and raptors flying along on the hunt for food.
cuttaburra bird hide
There were 2 bird hides but we saw more from inside the caravan. I don’t know why Kedron does not market these vans with their bird hide capability?

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.

stubble quail
The stubble quail was another new one for the list. I think this was spotted from in bed!I kept the binoculars handy at all times here. 

Black shouldered kite, Red-kneed Dotterel, Glossy Ibis, Diamond Dove

cheryl and graham
We stopped by and had morning tea (smoko) with our neighbors just down the creek. We were surprised to find Grey Nomads out here in the heat! Graham and Cheryl are from Longreach. They had sold their house and bought a nice caravan and were going to travel until they were sick of it or two old. Then he said they would buy a 5 acre property out of town and settle down. They were both 70 plus years old and Graham had been a Stockman all his life, hardly having any schooling. It was so interesting meeting this couple and hearing their stories. They had no problem being out here in the heat. They had a very fancy Bushtracker caravan, which was a brand we had also considered. They proudly gave us a tour and I couldn’t believe how spotless and glamorous it was, and out here in the dust! Meeting interesting travelers on the road who also love the outback is part of the fun out here. M

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

the bedourie royal
We had lunch at the Bedourie pub and had a chat with 2 ‘locals’ at the bar. One woman worked for the council and had driven from Birdsville for a meeting that day. That is 200 kms one way mostly on dirt! The other was the local church minister from Brisbane who made it out to Birdsville every 8 weeks to do a church service and at the other towns along the way. I asked him how many ‘customers’ he got for his last service. It was 2. It was a very special 2 he told us. It was a couple who owns many cattle stations in the area and the largest private land owners left in Australia. Sidney Kidman used to hold this title. Many outback  properties are now cattle companies.  M
ah the good ol days
I couldn’t believe these boxing matches still take place out here. There are always locals willing to come into town to have a box. They supposedly travel around with a doctor and a lawyer these days. M
why is bedourie famous
Bedourie was a sweet little town and it’s claim to fame is this special camp oven.
bedourie spa pool
After lunch we went for a swim in the town pool which is lovely. It was near 40 degrees. Once we were cold in the normal pool we jumped in the Artesian spa to warm up.
bore number 3 borer
On the road to Windora we stopped at the no 3 bore to check for new birds.
Australasian Grebe 4
This Grebe loves bore water!
dam cows
We were surprised to find water in this turkey nest dam. The cow hung out there and so did a few birds.
final approach
Brolgas coming in to land on the dam looked pretty funny.

 

gibber bird finally
FINALLY A GIBBER BIRD! Just when I was beginning to think they didn’t really exist Steve spotted one right on the side of the road. Mind you, this is after many walks across gibber stones, getting out of bed at dawn and then at dusk on the hot gibber. This bird sat on this rock right on the side of the road at midday in 38 deg. Who would have thought!
gibber bird back
Here is my back view!
gibber bird front
Aren’t I cute? I’ll pose for you!

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.

the nullarbor has nothing on this
This area looked more treeless than the Nullarbor.

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

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

birdsville sign 2
The normal population of Birdsville is 115. It is about 118 at the moment with us and one other in the caravan park here. When the Birdsville horse race is on you can add 7000 more people. When the “Big Red Bash” music festival is on, it is 9000 more. This town is good at going from feast to famine just as the land goes from “boom to bust” between drought and floods. It is lovely and quiet and I get the feeling the locals like this time of year, even though they know they need the tourists. This town relies on it’s tourists to survive.
birdsville races
You pass the famous Birdsville racetrack as you come into town off the track. The Birdsville races are the second most famous horse race in Australia after the Melbourne Cup, even though most people will never get out here to see them!

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

diamantina tree roots
Diamantina River tortured trees

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

birdsvill camp flood debris
Can’t believe this is a caravan park. Not sure if they would let us camp down here in tourist season. Notice the flood debris high in the tree on the right from a few months ago from the Winton floods. Birdsville was cut off like an island for 3 weeks with the first rain event up north and then for a second 3 weeks with the second lot of rain up at Winton. The locals we spoke to said it was lovely to be flooded in- at least for a short while. M
birdsville washing day
We had a lot of washing to do so I used their proper clothes lines up at the laundry but hung a few clothes down near camp. The clothes dried in 15 min. Quicker than if you put them all in a dryer!
birdsville billabong sunset
Our view of the Billabong at sunset. Is this really a caravan park?
birdsville billabong pelicans
The Pelican tree had a few interlopers.
prickles
Walking, you really had to watch out for the prickles and the snakes. Especially since we hate putting on our boots.
black kite
This Black Kite was across the Billabong from us. We watched it swoop to try to get a meal and it often missed out.
billabong pelican
This is what we see out our window or from the front “porch” . At night you heard these guys ‘belching’ out there in the dark.
birdsville billabong plants
Swamp vegetation around the Birdsville Billabong was full of Swam Hens and Native Hens.
birdsville billabong
Walking along Pelican Point across from the caravan park was lovely.

 

Nankeen Night Heron juvenile
Nankeen Night Heron in green leggings.
red kneed dotterel 2
Red Kneed Dotterel with arthritic knees- poor thing!
horsefields bushlark
Horsefield’s Bush Lark- a new bird! A bit brown and boring but we are not complaining.

cooling pond sign

birdsville water works
It is weird to see water gushing from underground at such pressure. Here Steve is checking out the cooling ponds for birds. It is amazing how many birds can handle the warm water. You don’t need a hot water heater in this town you need to cool your water to take a shower.
cooling pond
This is the town’s water supply being sprayed into cooling ponds before being pumped up into tanks.
cooling pond egret
This Egret LOVED the Birdsville water supply cooling ponds!
birdsville bore
This is the source of the Birdsville Billabong which then runs all around the town in an open drain which grows plant life all along the way. The further from the “tap” the cooler the water becomes and the birds come to it. So we saw new birds at the drain.
birdsville bore drain birding
Birdwatching at the Birdsville GAB drain.
banded lapwing
A new bird seen. A Banded Lapwing loved the drain!
old geothermal sign
The town outgrew their first thermal power station and it was replaced by this one. This one was shelved because it was too expensive, so now the town uses a big diesel generator. We have not see alternative power sources working very successfully out here due to the expense.
burke and wills sign
They think Burke and Wills passed through here on their travels and “blazed” a tree near the Diamantina.

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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

royal hotel birdsville
The Royal Hotel didn’t make it, but it is being restored. Built as a hotel it was even the ‘hospital’ for awhile.
birdsville hotel
Still going strong and the meeting place of the town.
inside the birdsville hotel
We were early for lunch but eventually every car in town was parked out the front. All 4! These looked to be all locals except for us. The owners seemed to be around and busy but it was a French backpacker serving us at the bar. Amazing where backpackers turn up to work! REALLY nice to be able to get a salad for lunch here. Love the outback but sick of burgers and chips!
birdsville hotel and planes
Every car in town at the only pub and watering hole. It’s right across the street from the “airport” so you just fly in, in your Cessna and go through that gate and cross the street. Not that long ago there was not even a fence. The day always started and ended in Birdsville with only one plane on the tacmac. Planes came and went throughout the day. The caravan park was on the flight path!
tom kruse bust
The bust of the legendary Mailman of the Birdsville Track Tom Kruse at the information centre. He and his wife lived at Maree and he drove the mail (and other supplies) from Marree to Birdsville from the 1930’s-1950’s every 2 weeks. He stopped at the stations along the way. This was a time when the track really was only a track and a REAL adventure. A film was made about him called “Back of Beyond’ and is where the term came from. It was made in 1954 by John Heyer and was one of the most awarded films in Australian history and is included in the list of 100 greatest films in Australian Cinema. It brought modest Tom, into the limelight and resulted in him being awarded an MBE in Jan 1955. He lived until the ripe old age of 96. Link to Back of Beyond film

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

 

inland mission sign
The old inland mission building was not open for me to have a look in unfortunately. In the “off season” is when work is done on buildings so one disadvantage of travel here in the summer.
bakery wheel rim sign
We are amazed how many people do this to their wheels and tyres on the tracks around here. Steve doesn’t want to jinx us by me saying this but I am proud that we have gone nearly 11,000 kms on dirt roads on this trip without ever having burst a tyre. Our only punctures were in towns from roofing screws left on the road. M
yet another warning sign
Next we headed 35kms out of town and into the Simpson desert to the famous ‘BIG RED’ sand dune.
little red sign
First you come to ‘Little red” you can go over this one if you don’t want to tackle Big Red.

big red sign

big red dune
The top of Big Red. This is the biggest of all the sand dunes on the Simpson desert crossing. It is the first dune you cross if you do the Simpson from the Birdsville end. We went into the Simpson Desert to Purni Bore last April  from Dalhousie Springs so we have now been to both sides of the Simpson desert, just not across it.
dune climbing
We walked up Big red for a sunset drinks and dinner.

 

one other vehicle on big red
There was only one car up at the top of the dune and it belonged to the Birdsville hotel. It is here on the area to the right that the ‘Big Red Bash music festival is held each winter, bringing 9000 people to town.
rsz_big_red_bash-2-1024x683
This is what a music festival in the middle of nowhere looks like. This is Big Red in the winter with 9000 people!

 

big red view
Big red was more big pink really. There are redder dunes in NT. It was  a lovely dune though and much better not being covered in vehicles and car tracks everywhere which is more the norm.

maddy at sunset

big red sunset drinks
Sun set dinner and drinks at ‘Big Red’,Simpson desert.
birdsville washdown
As we left Birdsville we stopped at the washdown station at the bore to give the car and caravan a clean with warm GAB water from the big “firemans” high pressure hose before heading out for another 500 kms of dirt.

The Birdsville Track

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.

weird birdsville track sign
Like many road signs on the Track this one has been cooked by the sun and heat and sand blasted by the wind.

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

warning sign birdsville
The first part of the track is open.
dust machine
Full of cows, so not moving so quickly. When these triple road trains with cattle come past, you can see the dust for kms!

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

camp one birdsville
First camp we stayed at was Clayton’s Wetlands campsite which we had to ourselves. It is so strange, to be so remote and find a flush toilet and hot shower. It is all compliments of the Artesian water that comes out of the ground here for free and at 50degC. It seems farmers can have an unlimited supply of this water, so we had a shower and a bath at our disposal. This is owned by the nearby station. M

the gabgabsi

looking for the wetlands
Looking for the wet in the wetlands! I think they turned off the tap. Possibly as part of the Artesian Sustainability project! There was no water except for the end of the pipe which emptied the “spa bath”. We also could not find a bird! Very bad for a track called the “BIRDS VILLE” ! We want a refund! M
artesian spa at claytons camp
Now this is a bath! Artesian water comes out naturally at 50deg here. It is good it was a cool day on the Birdsville track! Just empty when you are done please or it becomes a stock watering station. The Artesian water made me feel 10 yrs younger! Who needs an expensive European Spa. This one cost us $10 to the farmer. M
roadtrain dust
Day 2 began with a double road train and we saw only 2 other cars all day. The great thing about this was there was very little dust, only your own. In the “season” you would be driving in dust all day following people and passing them. It would be terrible! We were camped this close to the road but there was no traffic all night and probably 2-4 vehicles during the day.  M
oasis of dulkaninna
Not quite!

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.

 

biggest emu ever
Biggest emu ever!

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

drop your dust
This road train slowed down enough so he wouldn’t hit crazy birdwatchers on the road, dropping his dust from his wheels!

 

little grassbird
Little grassbird

 

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.

birdsville track view
View on the track.
great artesian basin hair
Steve suffering from Artesian Bore hair! Who cares as there is nobody to see you out here!

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!

mv tom brennan
Steve driving the MV Tom Brennan. This punt used to take people and supplies across the flooded Cooper Creek in days gone by. Now there is a one car ferry when required.
birdsville track sign
In the middle of nowhere this appeared!

mungerannie station

really on the birdsville
Really?  Out here?

And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.

mungerannie hotel

old truck mungerannie
One of Tom Kruse’s (The old mailman of the Birdsville Track) old trucks sits out the front. He wore out a few in his time.

 

bus stop
The bus stop at the Mungarannie Hotel/Road house said to hail the bus! The owner of the roadhouse likes a joke!
mungerannie tyres
Mungerannie is the only place on the Birdsville track to get a tyre fixed. The side of the road all the way along is littered with dead tyres. These are the one’s that made it all the way to Mungerannie Road House.
inside mungerannie pub
Mungerannie Hotel

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!

another sign
Just ignore the road closed sign we were told. So we did!
steve and phils camera
Steve trying to work out how to use Phil’s camera very quickly.
grey falcon p
And there it was. Just where he said it would be. It was a young grey falcon waiting for it’s parents to come home with his nest just above him. Very exciting, especially for Steve as the birds had made their home on a communications tower of all places!

gorgeous birdiegrey falcon p3grey falcon back

grey falcon screech
After awhile he decided he wasn’t too sure about us and started calling out for his mother. It was a sign it was time for us to go. We could have watched it for hours he was such a big beautiful baby.

grey falcon p 2

grey falcon
It stood on one yellow foot and had the other tucked into it’s feathers.
moon falcon
Is was pretty exciting to see such a rare bird and we would have loved to stay until his parents came back to see a full grown bird, but we felt he had had enough of us after awhile and we left him alone. We headed back to the pub for dinner with Phil who then asked us to manage the pub/roadhouse while he took a break. Failing that did we want to buy it, as it was up for sale?

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.

yellow and royal spoonbill
Yellow and Royal spoon bill

 

spotted harrier flying
We watched this Spotted Harrier come in for a hunting session.
drought cow
These are dead cattle from Mungerannie station. They died of starvation due to drought. This is the reality out here. There were many of them further away along the wetlands area, away from where we camped thankfully.
mungerannie wetlands
Mungerannie wetlands are pretty dry at the moment.
white breasted woodswallow
A very hot White Breasted Woodswallow near camp.

 

spotted crake
Spotted Crake a new bird seen at Dulkannina wetlands, but I got a photo here at Mungerannie
f__k
This guy was swearing the whole time!

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.

mungerannie gibber
Gibber pavement.
searching for gibberbird
There were mirages everywhere but it wasn’t as hot as it looks.
cinnamon quial thrush
Cinnamon Quail Thrush

 

phil
Phil tried to shock us city slickers at times while we were here, but by the end of our stay we were mates. Despite the look, he was a real sweety. You just had to watch his hands! We left the Roadhouse and headed up the track.
mungerannie gap
The view going through Mungerannie Gap
emu on birdsville track
Emu on the gibber plain
bull dust sign
Strange signs
mitta mitta bore signs
Mirra Mitta Bore is a bit warmer than the previous bores. The have now had to fence it off due to silly tourists that don’t know what hot means. This bore was sunk in 1901 to a depth of 1076 metres. This is a place where you can see the Grey Falcon but were there at the wrong time of day.

mitta mitta bore

pink eared duck
The strange beaked, Pink Eared duck seen at a lunch stop at road side bore dam on the track
variegated fairy wren males
Fairy wrens hanging on in the wind.
lunch time bird hide
Lunch time bird hide. The caravan has turned out to be an amazing (expensive) bird hide. We see so much more inside than when we put our chairs outside. The birds just don’t seem to notice us. This is an area that was flooded and their were many small birds around.
desert flowers
Very tiny wild flowers growing after the flood

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.

Simpson desert sign from the other side
In another 2 weeks the Simpson desert would be closed for the summer due to heat. They had not bothered to fix the road or take down the sign.
road closed
It looks locked but you just lift the chain up and replace it again.

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.

warburton creek
Warburton Creek. Who would know this was flooded not that long ago! How do these trees survive!

 

mudmoss
This looked like something you would see in constantly wet Tasmania!
fried egg flower
Tiny and gorgeous wildflower in the creek bed.
chestnut and dusky whiteface
They seemed shocked to see us. We were shocked to see such fat cows.

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.

high tailing roos
There were not many roos out here but these one’s were not hanging around.
sturts stoney desert
Sturt’s stony desert.
sad tyre and wheel
I think this guy drove on this one for a bit too long.  Dead tyres litter the roadside all the way along, but it was exciting to see a whole rim!

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!

rufous songlark
While the first 100km of the track was birdless, things got better once we started passing artesian bore overflows.   Although we passed hundreds of kilometres of gibber and never saw a gibberbird, we did end up adding 5 new species to the list including the amazing grey falcon sighting, not to mention this rather drab little rufous songlark seen a few km before Birdsville. S
birdsville sign
We made it! 519kms of dirt from Marree and it’s only a few hundred more until we get back to a paved road!

 

 

 

 

Birdsville Track-Marree

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

map birdsville
This sign makes it look pretty easy. Just skirt in between a few deserts and some salt lakes and sand hills and you are there!

road sign birdsville

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

lake eyre yacht club
The nicest building in town was the Lake Eyre Yacht Club. Lake Eyre is a salt lake that floods every 10 yrs if you are lucky! That’s looking on the bright side!
kidman info
Kidman- Australia’s biggest cattle baron and rural property owner had property  all around this area. He used to drove his cattle on horseback across the Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks and load them on the train to go to market. Now it is road trains that do all the work. It is one of these old stock routes that we will now drive across. M