Road Trip: Airlie Beach to Darwin

Trip Start Jan 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Thursday, April 8, 2010

The big day finally arrived…road trip baby yeah!!

The first day saw us travel the coast up to Ayr before turning inland towards Charters Towers and on to Richmond along the Overlander's way, which links Townsville in the east to Camooweal on the state’s western border.

The big flat plain that comprises the Queensland Outback is a driving endurance test with small dusty towns the only punctuation between scub as far as the eye can see (except for the occasional cow on the road!). Most towns are taken in from the car at 60 km/hr as you drive slowly through the highway that doubles as the town’s main drag for a few hundred meters, but some are worth a quick stop or at the right time of day, a nice rest stop for the night.

Richmond was our first overnight stop. Located on a dammed lake fed by the Richmond River, it offered a large grassy campground on the edge of the lake, popular for fishing and boating. The town is also home to (drum roll please) Kronosaurus Corner, a museum housing Australia’s most complete dinosaur fossils and a must see for archeology buffs and anyone with a vague interest in life long before humans!

After a good sleep in cool weather under an amazing night sky we packed up the two man tent, paid our $10 each and undertook a tour of the museum. First up was a hilarious introductory video narrated by one of those deep voiced blockbuster advertisement types before a wander through the museum filed with fossils found in the Richmond Shire. Dating back 100 million years when this region was submerged under an inland sea, the exhibits include a replica of the armored dinosaur Minmi, and almost complete real fossils of the huge marine creatures Ichthyosaurs and Pliosaurs 

Next stop was Mt Isa, which we reached at around 2pm that same day. We drove up to a lookout over the town and took in the beautiful view of the massive coal mine dominating the city skyline. Nothing quite makes a landscape like the huge machinery and smokestacks of a mine! It does have to be seen to be believed though, but after a bite to eat and refueling we moved along. Unless you’re here to make some fast cash working in the mine there is no point in hanging about this place that’s for sure.

We made it as far as Camooweal a town of 310, or so claims the town’s sign as you enter, where we set up camp for the night in a campground nestled between the pub and an Aboriginal settlement. It was the perfect people watching spot. We were also cleverly enticed into the pub by having to pay our fee there as the camp office was unattended, which of course ended up in a couple of rounds being had.

Encephilitis carrying mosquitoes meant we were in the tent right after the pub though, so it turned out to be quite an early night.

Day three was a day of driving broken by funny photos, the most expensive re-fuelling of the trip so far at $1.80 per liter (OUCH!) and the occasional leg stretch before reaching Daly Waters. Home to the famous Daly Waters Pub, we couldn’t simply drive past the turn off without popping in for a beer and seeing it was four in the afternoon, we decided to spend the night.

The pub IS the town in Daly Waters, a place where kitsch meets the outback with the sense of humour so often found in remote places of such nothingness! Outside the pub, the now closed store and the petrol station that form the Daly Waters facilities are a number of funny signs, faux traffic lights and and a helicopter, mannequins and a crocodile lashed to the roof of the general store in a depiction of Australia.

Inside the pub is chocker-block with the souvenirs left by travelers to this wild place including (but not limited to) bras, ID cards, photos, rugby jerseys and undies. The place is packed with paraphernalia and it’s hard to believe they have space for any more stuff (although they’ll take your keepsake and find a place for it).

To one side of the pub is an open air restaurant where they serve their expensive but tasty (so I am told) Barra and Beef, along with "bumnuts on toast" and “ambuggers”. On the other side is a shady pool where at 5.30 in the afternoon we find all the patrons cooling off with beers in hand. There were two grey nomads couples and a group of Aussie guys who had cycled here from NSW. Then there was Carlos, also on a bike, a huge one that he had brought with him from Spain.

The lads had been there since noon so were quite a few beers in. In a matter of minutes they’d nicknamed the Spaniard “Carlos the Love Machine” and asked him about how much he pulls, admitted to peeing in the pool all arvo and asked me to show them my tits. Oh, Aussie males. No wonder I ended up with an American.

The night was an early one for me having been a bit crook all day, but Matt ventured up after dinner at the campsite and shared a few ales with the Canadian couple and English couple that we were camped near and had befriended. The highlight of the night was the presence of an Irish girl who used to work at the Daly Waters pub who had returned from Katherine to celebrate her birthday. There was cake and shots all round, which just goes to show how attached some people get to this place.

Bright and early the following day we packed up and headed towards Mataranka, home to Elsey National Park and some hot springs rumoured to be a fantastic experience. We arrived mid-morning and took the short walk through thick palm forest to Rainbow Spring.

It is not a true thermal spring in that it is not heated by an underground source. The water supply instead rises to the temperature of the soil – a lovely 34 degrees Celsius. The water is then pumped from the underground aquifer at a rate of 30.5 million liters per day, issuing crystal-clear waters that have to be seen to be believed.

Rainbow Spring was so cool, relaxing and beautiful that we decided on the spur of the moment to spend the day here. We set up camp on a spot right next to the entrance to the national park and went straight back to the springs for more swimming. We did a short hike in the afternoon to see where the spring fed into the river and then out to a place called Stevie’s Hole, which we thought would take us through more lush vegetation. Unfortunately it didn’t – it took us straight into red dirt and scrub. It was mid afternoon and unbearably hot outside of the spring-fed oasis, so we turned back after about fifteen minutes; hot, sweaty and burning under the white hot sun.

Needless to say we spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming!

Dusk and dawn were interesting times as the Flying Foxes that inhabit the park leave and return, filling the huge sky with the beating of thousands of bat wings and chattering at an earsplitting level in the trees. In between we headed up to the pub for a beer and did some local people watching (they were all locals) before spending a ridiculously hot evening fitfully sleeping.

Litchfield National Park was our destination the following day for what we hoped would be some good hiking and swimming. Unfortunately we arrived at the hottest part of the day and due to lack of information prior to found the following: 1) there was quite a big distance between sights, 2) most of it was only accessible via 4WD and 3) the landscape was rather scrubby and desolate.

So we stopped at the massive termite hills for a quick peek and took the short walk to Florence Falls to look at the gushing water tumbling down a huge rock face, but left it at that and got the hell out of there! We were ready for some civilization, so it was on to Darwin!
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