Friday, 2 August 2013

West to Mount Surprise and Forsayth

Jackie being shown how to pan for topaz

We’re back in the sunshine and outback again, which is nice (except it gets a bit cold at night) with all its quirkiness! Mount Surprise was a bit of a surprise (apparently it was named by early pioneers who were surprised when they saw a group of Aborigines in the bush completely naked), it’s a typical outback town: dusty streets, flat plains of dry grass, eucalyptus trees and a few buildings making up the town, which includes two petrol stations (one selling unleaded at $1.989/litre, the other about 10m away selling it at $1.689/litre – guess which one we chose! It’s a pity that the one selling at $1.989/l was attached to our campsite) and a general store with chocolate, vegetables and all other perishables in fridges (well, you have to out here, but it all makes it a bit pricey). 

There's one there!
Surprisingly it has three campsites, the one we chose was in our Lonely Planet guide at $24 per night, but now its $16 per night, with power! Apparently the owner said it’s because people don’t have the money now, that and the fact that a few doors away the other campsite was $17 per night. It’s a little oasis once you drive through the gate past the petrol pumps, well watered green grass overlooking fields, with a nice pool with spa (which we tried out and it was pretty cold!), various cages with rare tropical birds in, some of which bite (I found out!), an emu, a tall pecky bird with a big beak, called a brolga, standing over 1m tall that liked attention (every time we went over she came over to us, had a preen then danced about, jumping in the air pecking at everything, including my feet if they were near enough! 
My very good friend the brolga
Apparently the jumping is her mating dance and she only does it for men she likes – lucky me!), some small (really small) ponies that were waist high at the most and, in the field with the brolga, a parrot that continually said ‘hello’ in various ways. The whole place was an absolute joy and, at that price, an unbelievable bargain. It even had a café attached to it and, in the campground, fire pits with free wood and seats for when it gets cold at night. 

By the end of the day there were about 10 vans there including us, but it would take at least double that quantity. We arrived to find only one other van and a couple sitting outside a cabin, who really were like Mr. and Mrs. Crocodile Dundee. She was a Lancashire lass who’s been out here for 35 years but hasn’t lost her accent, he was just like Mick Dundee, telling us about his experiences on various stations in the outback (one 11,000sq miles – can you imagine!) and his visit to the UK to see Liverpool football club, which he described exactly as you would expect Mick Dundee to do.

Who liked to peck everything, including stealing my phone case!
Mount Surprise is well known for its topaz gems and it’s possible to go fossicking there (so that’s why Jackie wanted to go!). No sooner had we set up our van we were off to the gem fossicking area about 200m away. They do day tours to a mine, but it’s fairly costly, so Jackie went for an $8 bucket and, with the help of the very friendly owner (who we told we had come to make our fortune) she was off sifting through it with me lending a bit of moral support and picking out what I thought were interesting bits, but were nothing! Jackie did get 2 small bits of topaz, but she was told they were totally occluded so were worthless.

Mount Surprise High Street on a busy day
Our van in the under vehicle auto wash
Today we went further west along the main east-west fully sealed Savannah Way highway, which is fully sealed, but in some places only a single strip of tarmac with gravel either side so you can get half off when the occasional vehicle comes the other way, or all off if it’s a Road Train. Its arrow straight through the never ending plain and, on the way we went into a roadside automatic under vehicle wash, which we’ve seen a few times as we go from one agricultural area to another. Most of the one’s we’ve seen are for large commercial vehicles where washing is obligatory to remove seeds and insects from underneath to prevent the spread of disease, but this one was for any vehicle. It wasn’t obligatory for us, but we decided to give it a go, so I hopped out to take pictures and Jackie drove it through, being very scared as the jets of water enveloped the vehicle and she couldn’t see where she was going. Anyway, after driving 100km through nothing, we arrived at a place called Georgetown, which is an old gold mining town, but still hangs on to existence, the highlight being the TerrEstrial centre which doubles as the information centre and the Ted Elliot mineral collection, which was a 15 minute video and an amazing display of various minerals that he had collected through his life. The female double act in the information centre confirmed what we’d been told about folk being a little strange out here, but they were a lot of fun, but told us to forget looking for gold unless we have a metal detector!

Termite hills in the barren plains
On their advice we turned off the main highway south to a place called Forsayth, another gold mining town. It’s 60km, of which 13km is unsealed, but we headed off, going slow over the bumpy corrugated bits of gravel and arrived at an even smaller town of about 20 people. There’s a railway line from Cairns that finishes here and has 1 train per week, that’s used to ferry in tourists here and to nearby Cobbold gorge that’s supposed to be really nice, but also very expensive (over $100 each for transport and entrance). The train leaves tomorrow and they arrange a bus back and we’re told it’s something not to be missed (but at that price, we’ll miss it!).

We took a walk round town, which took us all of 10 minutes, but that was enough in this heat and met
The main railway station in busy Forsayth
a couple of other campers, one couple are retired and are keen gold fossickers with their own very expensive metal detector and his own secret place to find gold. He showed us two small pieces of gold he found today weighing about 1.5grammes, which he says is about $60, but then showed us a 2.5ounce piece he found recently that he reckons is worth about $3,000. Previously he had found a 7ounce piece that he used to buy his metal detector and, in all he reckons to have found 70 ounces in the 6 years they’ve been doing it. He reckons gold is worth about $1300 per ounce, so a quick calculation tells us they’ve found the best part of $100,000 (£60,000) in 6 years! Not bad for a hobby for a retired guy! He’s so enthusiastic and loved telling us all about it, what a great thing to be doing and it’s keeping them young – good luck to them!

That's a 2.5 ounce gold nugget worth $3000 there!
Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, it does look to have cleared up on the Cairns coast now and the wind has dropped so we may hang around this area until after next weekend than head back to see if it’s good enough for us to get out on the Great Barrier reef for a snorkel, before catching the plane to Melbourne to catch up with Bill and Marilyn Lingard. We’re looking forward to seeing you Bill and Marilyn!

After that we’ve settled on Thailand and Malaysia for our final 2 months in SE Asia. We fly to Singapore on 16th August, then onto Bangkok on 19th August, where we’ve booked into the Atlanta Hotel again (same one we stopped in when we first came out last November). Our aim then is to gradually work our way south through southern Thailand and then Malaysia by train, ending up back in Singapore ready to fly home on 28th October. Not sure how it’s all going to work yet, but I’m sure it’ll all work out! We’re both looking forward to both the lower cost of living and the food – Thai red curries, can’t wait!

Looking out from the old Havelock mine
It’s Wednesday 31st July now, but this won’t be posted for a day or so as there’s no mobile reception whatsoever here, we’re really in the sticks!

Our pecky brolga and a miniature pony hanging round our van at Mount Surprise
Thursday 1st August: We got up this morning and drove out to see the old Havelock mine, about 3km along a dirt road from Forsayth, now just ruins, but watch out for the vertical shafts, some of them 400 feet deep apparently! After the 160km drive back (13km of dirt road where we thought the van would shake itself to bits unless we did under 20km along the very rough bits), we’re back in
Their pet emu
our Mount Surprise campsite where, in the time we’ve been away they’ve reduced the price of unleaded down to $1.619/litre (must have found out that the other garage were much cheaper than them!). We’ve parked in a different spot this time, right by the field we’re the pecky brolga is. She’s already been over, hanging her head through the fence and having a good peck at my shoes, knees and watch, plus a few sticks we’ve given her. She loves attention and I can’t resist giving her plenty! Jackie won’t let her into our van though, probably a bit big really!


  1. Morning both, thanks for sharing your plans for the rest of the trip - we'll be thinking of you! Really like your pet Brolga Bird - cutey! Helen xx

  2. I think I seen that nugget too and met the chap who found it. The area around Georgetown has quite a charm. Anna had a chuckle when she read about the brolga. We have found a beautiful spot at Hydeaway Bay. The weather is great so we are staying for 8 days using only our solar panels.

  3. Hi Des and Anna, god to hear from you. Doesn't surprise us that you've met him, he's a bit of a character isn't he. We enjoyed it out there, the outback has a certain charm all of its own, can't wait to come out again and do some more! We'll have a look where Hydeaway Bay is, have a great time there. Have a look at our latest entry, we went back to Granite Gorge yesterday to see the wallabies again. It was just as good as last time, although of course the company wasn't as good!