Saturday, 29 June 2013

Fossicking and lorikeets

The supermarket in the town of Sapphire

Firstly, what he forgot to say yesterday, was a) I did a lot of the driving, and despite 9 ½ hours sleep all he did was yawn, b) I stopped for a ‘comfort break’ came out and was told to run, as it turns out to see my 3rd Oz cat, a travelling ragdoll, absolutely beautiful, owned by a woman on a trip with her 2 twentysomething boys, one of which had been walking it on its ‘comfort break’ only for them to get accosted by this ‘nutter’ begging them not to go anywhere till his wife got there! I was grateful! 

Operating the Willoughby Rack
Walked into the town (village) looking like a wild west town with roads like ‘Dundiggin Way’ and decided to go to buy a bag of wash from Armfest, one of many such places, basically a mine digs out huge amounts of stuff, someone goes through it for the sapphires the size of eggs and the rest goes into buckets for $20 for punters like us who can’t be bothered to dig a metre down in a dry stream bed. So you dry sieve some of your bucket through two stacked sieves of decreasing size, then put it in the funny water bath (the Willoughby rack) to clean out the mud. 

The upturned contents
Go through the big sieve (not likely to find much) redo the big sieve, till the small sieve is pretty full, then bounce it in the water just right till all the heavy stones have made their way to the middle of the bottom. Obviously you don’t know whether they’ve done this till you tip it up like getting a cake out of a tin, and there, magically is a pile of things that might be sapphires! I was slow, I can’t tell a lie, but was worried about not recognising something, so B read most of the paper, BUT I’ve come away with two stones she thought would have been worth having cut here at $35 dollars each and 36 it’s worth sending to Thailand where they laser cut much smaller ones, for $2.25 each (on top of your $20 recorded mail postage!) 
This could be a good one....
So all in all this could be an expensive day out, but I really want to send them off having seen the tray of stones one of our neighbours on the campsite have, all amazing, including one they got from here worth $15000! 

The temptation to get a bucket of wash from the campsite this afternoon was huge, it’s really addictive, but then there would just have been more to send away, so thus far I’ve resisted! A happy afternoon was spent with one of the two dozen crosswords I ‘liberated’ from the newspapers by the bbq/fire area (B hates me bin diving, but I just want the crosswords!) 

We were joined by our neighbours from both sides, the ones with the trays of stones in the safe, under the bed in the caravan, and the ones 35 years from the UK but with the Devon and Yorkshire accents you wouldn’t believe! I think the attraction was B chopping veggies for the stir fry (yes a man chopping, is unusual here!)

Suddenly out of the blue the biggest flock of lorikeets appeared, B was in 7th heaven till he tried to poison them with the chilli on his fingers. 

They were the cutest things, half a crust and they were anybodies. Why they had such an interest in his newly washed hair I have no idea! So in our different ways we both had a really good day.

Brian preparing dinner with a lorikeet on his head and three of our neighbours watching on

Dinner rounded off with toasted marshmallows!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Platypuses and fossicking

Waiting at first light for a platypus

We left Carnarvon National Park this morning, but not before we got up at dawn (well, 06:30am) to look for platypuses and, we have to say, it was third time lucky. Just by our camp site was a creek that had them in residence so we crept out at first light to see if we could see them. The map we had which marked ‘platypus pools’ was wrong and after waiting about 20 minutes we moved further along and met some people who were just leaving, having seen them. They told us we were probably too late, but we went down to where another few people were gathered and waited in the half light.
Look at that little cuties swimming by!
Sure enough, we saw ripples in the water by the bank which went on for a while and then, very silently a little platypus swam across the creek to the other side. I took several photos as they swam about, but all of them were out of focus. Their quiet swimming would occasionally change to a little splash and they’d be gone, so it was necessary to keep our eyes on the water all the time. Jackie saw one swimming underwater, very clearly with a few air bubbles coming from it, but I finally saw and captured on film one swimming past. They are cute little things and only 30-40cm long, much smaller than we’d imagined with little legs that paddle away to make them very agile in water.

This is the wreckage of an aircraft that crashed in 1943
We left very pleased, but with a seeming mass exodus from the camp. Everyone seemed to be leaving along the dirt road, throwing up clouds of dust, so we stopped for a while to let the leaders go out of sight before continuing without choking on the dust. On the way we saw some wild emu’s and were on the lookout for more wedge tailed eagles, we saw one on the way in and were very impressed. 

An American plane carrying Australians
It was a huge bird that was sitting in the road pecking at some road-kill and flew off majestically as we approached. I stopped the van and tried to get a photo, but it flew off. It was one of the biggest birds I had seen and a real pity I didn’t get a photo.

This is the memorial
Someones fossicking equipment
We’re now in a small town called Sapphire, so called as it’s in the gem belt. Apparently it’s still possible to find your own sapphires by ‘fossicking’ in the creek bed and it seems to be Jackies intention to do that. I have to say it leaves me a bit cold, I just haven’t got the patience for it, but I’m happy to go along and take photos. We went down to the creek when we arrived this afternoon and guess what, there’s no water in the creek, it’s just a dried up bed, with lots of people down there ‘fossicking’. It’s a serious business with unwritten rules, if you’ve dug a hole no-one else interferes with it. They even leave their equipment there. 
How its done apparently
We spoke to a couple who turned out to be relative amateurs and gave them a hand, but they didn’t find anything while we were there and after about half an hour I was getting bored and tea and cake was calling, so off we went.

Back at the campsite it turns out it’s full of ‘Victorians’. Apparently older people (called ‘grey nomads’) from the southern state of Victoria, now in the grip of winter, travel north to Queensland at this time of year and spend 2 or 3 months in the sun. It seems to be a bit of a problem to people from other states as they say they take over the campsite to the exclusion of others and, I have to say, to some extent it was true. 
Jackie helping out
They were all very friendly, but they had taken over the camp kitchen. The women were playing cards on one side, the blokes were playing darts on the other. In the open air kitchen there was one sink and guess where they were playing darts? I came in wanting to wash some potatoes for baking and when I said I wanted to wash them they had to stop playing darts and remove the carpet covering the sink. ‘Hurry up’ one called, but it was in good humour and we had a good laugh, but I can imagine how others might feel.

Tomorrow then, it’s fossicking! I may just read my book!

Carnarvon National Park

Our slightly ‘out west’ trip so far has taken us through a few towns, lots of wide open space, lots of road works (Australian roads are really not very good!), lots of ‘road trains’ (big macho looking trucks towing one or two trailers, that can be up to 36m long. They take a long time to start and stop, so they don’t like changing speed and are pretty frightening looking on the road coming at you on a narrow road, or right up behind you) and lots of dead kangaroo’s at the roadside. We were told not to drive after dusk as the kangaroo’s wait until a car’s headlights light up the other side of the road and, because they can see, they just hop out, straight into the path of a car! They really are stupid!

The 'Big Rig' evening show
Roma was our first stop, an interesting town stuck in the middle of nowhere. The visitor centre is right next to the ‘Big Rig’ centre, a big museum celebrating Roma’s claim to fame as being the cradle of Australia’s oil and gas industry. Every evening they put on a half hour show and we were told it’s really interesting, so at just $8 each we were curious enough to give it a try. It was good fun, Roma almost made it big, but not quite and they were quite happy to make fun of themselves. It was founded a few years after the pioneer Mitchell first got over the mountains in 1846 and described the area as the most pristine primeval forest and landscape he had ever seen. Within a few years many people descended into Roma and water became scarce so, after drilling for artesian wells several times, they struck gas! Not knowing what to do with it, they let is hiss out for 5 years before someone had the bright idea of using it to light the streets. Everyone came from miles around to see this marvel, except the gas ran out after about 10 days! They drilled for oil with the help of some Americans, but (they believe) they sabotaged it and tried to make the company bankrupt to remove competition. Eventually it was decided that the oil and gas was too difficult to get out so it was all moved elsewhere, leaving Roma as a little backwater. Today the oil companies are back there again, but on isolated compounds, so of no benefit to Roma. Poor little Roma!

Apostle birds on our campsite (look like they are wearing a mask!)
Carnarvon Gorge
Another long drive north took us to Carnarvon National Park, a huge gorge gouged out by water action over millions of years. The ranger who gave a bit of a talk round a campfire on our campsite set in the bush told us it’s the biggest artesian basin in the world, feeding water into five of Queensland’s major rivers. An impermeable base of shale has two thick layers of sedimentary, porous rocks, overlaid by a thick layer of volcanic basalt, put down 10 million years ago. Water seeps through the ground into the sedimentary rocks, but can’t get through the shale, so seeps out sideways, carving out the gorge. 

It’s something like 35km long, of which 11km is accessible on foot and there are a number of side valleys making the whole thing very picturesque. There’s also a 6 day ‘great walk’, going along the gorge but then up into the hinterland and right round the high ground. 

Various lengths of walk are possible, but we decided to do the longest day walk possible (at least should I say, I decided!). 

3000 year old Aboriginal rock art in the 'Art Galley'
22km in all, it went as far as we could go to the ‘Big Bend’, taking in ‘Cathedral Cave’ (a huge natural feature covered in Aboriginal art, said to be over 3500 years old), ‘Boowinda Gorge’ (a very narrow twisting gorge with no path), the ‘Art Gallery’ (a significant Aboriginal rock art site), ‘Wards Canyon’ (a short steep walk to a small waterfall), ‘The Amphitheatre’, our favourite (a narrow slot canyon that opens out into a large chasm, all hollowed out by water and accessed by a ladder) and the ‘Moss garden’ (a picturesque little spot with a waterfall and mosses dripping with water where the different rock types and how the whole gorge was formed is really shown).

A brief stop for a snack break
Rock art in Cathedral Cave

Boowinda Gorge, the narrowest side canyon

The ladder entrance to the Amphitheatre
The weather forecast was good, with zero chance of rain, so after learning from Paul we didn’t take the waterproofs. Had a bit of a scare halfway through when it started to rain – but only a few spots so we were OK. Jackie had a sense of humour failure when I said I wanted to go right to the end (we had gone most of the way, with only ½km remaining, so I went on my own while she sat and watched some swifts flying about). After meeting the captain of a super-yacht (owned by a Melbourne millionaire) having a few days off to walk the gorge, we bumped into him several times in the various side canyons throughout the day and got to know him fairly well (Jackie said we should have invited him to dinner as he’s staying on our campsite on his own).

Looking back out through the slot of the Amphitheatre
Inside the Amphitheatre chasm

The 'Moss Garden'. Apparently that water hasn't seen daylight for 10,000 years (according to the park Ranger)
This wierd Eucalptus deformation round a rock I saw at the 'Big Bend'
Anyway, with fairly tired limbs but a nice feeling of having had a good day out, we’re just about falling asleep (at 8:15pm!). Tomorrow we’re off again to a sapphire mining area, Jackie wants to go ‘fossiking’ for sapphires! We also hope to find an internet connection, there is nothing here. I’ve typed this tonight knowing I won’t be able to post it, but hopefully we’ll find somewhere tomorrow. 

Free wi-fi courtesy of Springsure Library, a little town we stopped at on our way north. Must dash now....

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Giraween National Park with Paul, Catriona and Aaron

Look who's van is fullest!

On Friday morning we drove south back to Paul and Cat’s for the planned weekend away in Girraween National Park, another approx. 250km south-west of Brisbane right on the NSW border at the northern end of New England. It was a pretty miserable drive back as it was raining and we wondered whether they would cancel it - we’d be OK in our van, but they will be in their tent!

Our camp on Saturday morning
Paul had checked the weather forecast and assured us the weekend would be great, so we began the task of packing for an Aussie style camping weekend, where everything is taken. Our little van was crammed with camping stuff, leaving Cat’s 4x4 (I don’t know what sort it is, maybe a Honda or something – very nice car!) (It’s an X-Trail, but I still don’t know what that makes it!) for Cat and Jackie to pack with food and stuff later.(I thought that was the plan, but they’d still managed to half fill it before we tried loading food, bedding, clothes, us…..) Cat was working on Friday so would follow us down with Jackie and Aaron later (Jackie had to collect Aaron from school and apparently he trotted out, waving to Jackie and happily grabbing his scooter from the bike sheds and scooting home with her), so Paul and I left around 2:00pm to set up camp.

All ready for our walk on Saturday
It’s a 3.5hour drive and it gets dark around 5:30pm, so we got there as the last glimmer of daylight faded and in the pouring rain. Following Paul’s instructions and getting as many torches and lights on the space we had chosen, we assembled a 24’ x 20’ tarpaulin (7.3m x 6m) on 7’ high poles to form a roof, lit his charcoal fire can to try and keep warm (it was not much above freezing point) then erected his 6m long 2 bedroomed tent with huge living area in the middle (they don’t do things by halves!), got out the chairs, table, thick duvet jackets, satellite phone (there was no mobile phone coverage), opened a bottle of wine and awaited their arrival.

A King Parrot in our campsite
Aaron leading the way over the granite slabs
They arrived about 8:15pm, after the rain had stopped and the moon came out and accused us of being tipsy (the very idea!), warmed the sausagemeat risotto Jackie had cooked and had a great evening eating and drinking. (We had no rain from when they left to us arriving on site, so were they going for the sympathy vote or what?)

Aaron and Jackie share a moment
Its no good, it won't budge
The night was very cold, the coldest we had experienced in Australia, but it dawned clear blue sky and warmed quickly when the sun came up, to the dizzy height of at least 17 C! We had set up camp in the Castle Rock camping area, right in the middle of the park which is an 11,800 hectare area of massive granite outcrops, precariously balanced boulders, colourful rock slabs and soaring stone arches all covered with a eucalypt forest, sedgelands and heathlands, (guess who’s been reading the brochure?) it was an amazing place, a scrambling and walking paradise in fantastic scenery, what more could we ask! (But it was an amazing place!)

The pyramid
The very delicate ascent
The Pyramid was our target for the day Paul told us. The three of us would do it direct, Cat and Aaron would go up the side, so off we went in blissful ignorance through the forest, over granite slabs next to the creek with every turn producing a great photograph of perfect reflections in a still water and occasionally rapids over the granite, until we came to the pyramid. That’s what it is, a huge granite pyramid about 300m high with sides angled from 45⁰ to at least 60⁰ (maybe more).
Were we glad to reach the top!
The granite was very grippy, but there were almost no holds, except the odd depression and it was damp from the rain the day before! Some younger ‘go for it’ lads told Paul they were going to do it direct, but one by one they moved out to the sides (still very steep and exposed, but less so). 

Paul, Aaron and Jackie on the summit
Paul however, followed by us (without us really thinking this through) went straight up through the middle. The first part wasn’t too steep and we walked steeply up. Then it got very steep (and damp!), we were now a long way up on nothing but a rough surface angled at 60⁰! Paul slipped a bit, but steadied himself and it slowly dawned on us that if we slipped we would take each other out and slide 300m down a rough granite surface!

Cat and Jackie on the summit
The best hand holds were like holding a coin glued to the ground and it was necessary to place the feet onto the bumpiest bit, hoping it doesn’t slip while looking for the next bump to hold with fingers. What kind of an insane idea was this!?! No wonder we were virtually the only people to go ‘direct’! Paul did admit afterwards that that was the wettest he had done it direct and I think he was probably a bit worried!  Only one of the ‘go for it’ lads made it fully up the direct approach looking quite ashen faced, ‘are you climbers?’ he asked, ‘yes’ we said, ‘that explains it’ he said. ‘Look up and smile’ Paul said after announcing he had got to a relatively safe bit, mmm! 

Amazing boulders around the summit area
Still around the summit area
Anyway, we got to the top without incident making a mental note not to go down that way and heading onto the summit where the views were spectacular. We were looking over to a second pyramid and the granite landscape beyond where improbably perched boulders and outcrops called ‘The Sphinx’, ‘Turtle Rock’, ‘Castle Rock’ and ‘Mount Norman’ all looked fantastic. There is so much to do here, you could go back time and time again and still not do it all.

The view of the second pyramid from the cave. There's climbing on that flake apparently
After scrambling around, following Aaron, who seemed totally unfazed by the exposure, we had a snack and headed down the ‘normal’ route, which was just as exposed, but perhaps slightly less steep with rocks here and there you could hide behind to take away the continual exposure of the ‘direct’ route. Aaron was in the lead, ambling down sometimes with his hands in his pockets prompting Paul (and us) to tell him to be careful! 

The natural rock arch
It was quite nice to get down, taking a detour through the forest to look at the natural stone arch and then heading back to camp greatly exaggerating our stories! (nothing new there then?!)

A camp kangaroo with her little loey. Can you see its legs hanging out of her pouch? Its in the wrong way round, normally the head pokes out, but not in this case. Jackie got a picture with its head out, but it was too blurred
We saw this outside the pub while shopping
Catriona’s ready prepared Chorizo and lentil stew needed no attention, so while the boys went off looking for new charcoal and white wine, (not to mention giving the van its little ‘boost’) we had a quick spritzer each to tidy up the remains from last night, what do you mean it’s only 15.30? Aaron went and introduced himself to the boy next door, who despite probably being only 6 months older than him was twice his size, but they seemed to get on famously. On the boys arrival back, nibbles and mulled wine were on the cards (well we had bought Queenslands last packet of cinnamon sticks on our journey down the previous night, so rude not to use it, but yes mulled wine in June, decidedly odd, but yummy and good for warming the hands!) 

Night badminton. The blue light is the moving shuttlecock
A game of boule followed by a quick game of badminton with illuminated, colour changing shuttlecocks was enjoyed by all (well us, but possibly not the neighbours!) obviously helped by the mulled wine consumption. Once darkness had fallen we decided to go to the creek looking for Platypus (again) however we were too noisy and too cold to really make an effort though, but we were then ready for dinner and yummy it was too. 

The walk out on Sunday morning
A slightly earlier night, warmer too due to the addition of our third sleeping bag (and the loan of a hot water bottle) meant a slightly earlier start. Heading off to Castle Rock with the intention of some climbing, another great walk with fantastic views from the summit, however not really suitable for climbing (even on a top rope as the roundy razor sharp granite would have trashed the rope) we set up to teach Aaron to abseil. Three different routes were done ranging from a very gently slope to a vertical drop. Aaron loved it, everyone else had a go (except me) and onlookers were very impressed. 

In front of the 'Devil's Backside'
Aarons first abseil
Aaron did really well, full of confidence, so that is all to the good. Back to dismantle camp and start the journey back home, it felt just like being at home – dashing away on a Friday night and dashing back on a Sunday afternoon. ‘SuperCat’ had cooked bolognaise in advance so once the vehicles were unpacked we all just collapsed, until it was our turn to read to Aaron who apparently had been very upset on the way home, not wanting us to leave! (We’ll miss you too sweetie). 

With a bit of encouragement from dad...
What a great way to spend a day!
Now its getting serious for Aaron


Paul packing up his tent

At that point also had to say farewell to Cat, the only one amongst us going to work Monday (up at 05.30!), that was really hard as she has been such a star, looking after us so well, Paul also put in a lot of effort, recce ing our first w/end away, and organising someone else to do his open houses on the second Saturday. We’ve loved being with them, it’s been a real home from home.

Bye bye Paul, Cat and Aaron, we're going to miss you!
After abusing the washing machine, and getting a little bit organised, our flights Cairns to Melbourne are booked, along with a hire car and a hotel for our last night in Oz, we finally left, heading inland, to try and see some ‘outback’. Toowoomba last night and Roma tonight, after a long drive (to us) today, only stopping briefly in Miles at the information place for a coffee, where there was…… a cat! My second in 5 weeks!