to the Gulf of Carpenteria
Upon leaving the Palmer River, we had originally planned
to continue north up the Peninsula through Lakeland and Laura to meet
up with the Burke Development Road, which we had planned to follow across
to the Gulf of Carpenteria and Karumba.
However, we had a quick revision of plans and backtracked
to Atherton to head to the Gulf via the blacktop.
The problem...the 4x4...the Prado, which had only
been serviced in Atherton 10 days earlier.
It was running like a slug and would have had difficulty
in pulling a stick out of mud...let alone pulling nearly two tonnes of
armour plated offroad caravan over a couple of thousand kilometres of
When the vehicle was returned to the Toyota dealer
in Atherton, the culprit was eventually found...a defective electronic
airflow metering device ...housed on the air cleaner.
It got dust into it! One would have thought that such
parts designed for 4x4s would have been the subject of more robust testing!
Looking on the brighter side however, it was covered
by warranty. Luckily, though, as it would have been difficult to justify
the $280 price tag... for the small plastic electronic device that was...and
that probably cost $5 to make.
After the loss of a day and a half in Atherton, we
headed to Normanton, planning to camp a night or two at Karumba watching
the sunsets over the Gulf.
Approaching Normanton, I turned the radio on...to
the ABC...since it was also the only station we could pickup...to be greeted
by the news that two charity bicycle rides, involving over 300 participants,
were also set to converge on Karumba the same day.
Residents and visitors were invited to join them in
a party on the headland at Karumba that evening.
...No thanks...not for these little black ducks...we
were trying to avoid crowds...not get swept up with them.
After a quick refuel and look over the local landmark,
the Normanton Railway Station, which looks a bit like a pregnant Nissan
Hut, and just in time to see the rather quaint Gulflander train arrive...we
decided to hit the dirt....
...over a thousand kilometres of it...and half of
which was marked on the map as suitable for four wheel drive only...and
unsuitable for caravans.
We had almost encountered more caravans and motor
homes along the bitumen than VB cans and decided to head to Kakadu and
the Northern Territory via Burketown, Borroloola, Roper Bar and Mataranka...knowing
that most caravan toting nomads weren't that stupid.
Normanton to Leichhardt Falls
Leaving Normanton, we left the bitumen and headed
west towards Burketown, 222km away, diverting to inspect the site of Camp
119 of the ill fated 1860-61 Burke and Wills expedition.
Located about 36km west of Normanton,
a cairn marks the spot of the most northerly camp set up by the expedition
party - Burke, Wills, Gray and King on 9 February 1861 during their attempt
to traverse Australia from south (Melbourne) to north (the Gulf of Carpenteria).
On the 10th February, Burke and Wills set out from this camp in an attempt
to reach the Gulf...less than 60km north, as the crow flies.
On the 12th February they returned to
the camp ,having aborted their attempt to reach the Gulf. Presumably the
wet season made the land impossible for them to traverse and the very
next day the party set out on the return journey to Melbourne via Depot
75 at Coopers Creek, where all but King perished...tragically, not from
thirst...but from starvation.
King was the only member of the expedition
to survive - saved only by the assistance of a local aboriginal tribe.
Having visited Coopers Creek in the
past and armed with a reasonably good understanding of the tragedy behind
this ill-fated exploration I felt a sense of sorrow for these adventurous
men, who were robbed of their final goal by the elements and perished
as a result of their lack of understanding of the Australian outback;
particularly their knowledge of 'bush tucker'.
Arriving mid afternoon at Leichhard Falls, about 70
km south of Burketown, we decided it was a particularly pretty place to
camp for the night and positioned the van on the cliffs adjacent to the
Falls, with sweeping views across and along the river.
Soon other adventurous nomads were arriving...trying
to ferret out camping spots with similar commanding views.
The branches of the trees lining
the Leichhardt River near the road crossing were loaded to capacity with
white cockatoos...literally thousands of them...all screeching in unison.
The sound was deafening; particularly at dawn when they all departed to
feed... and then at dusk when they returned...jabbering away like a group
of kids at a birthday party, overdosed on raspberry cordial.
Although the falls
were not running, there was a rugged grandeur to the scenery and we thoroughly
enjoyed the spot as a campsite.
It was hot, over
30 degrees, and the water looked so inviting....but I suspect not quite
as inviting as we would have been to its inhabitants, the estuarine crocodiles,
if we had attempted to dangle a limb or two..