Sunshine, Glow Worms, and a Ghost Town

Thursday morning broke bright and sunny much to our amazement. We said goodbye to Sheep and his hospitality and got back on the open road. Van life is definitely a lot sweeter with a clean set of sheets that isn’t chronically damp from endless rain. Our destination was Goulburn River National Park but we went a long way around checking out the coal mining towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook. I continue to be amazed at the ridiculous number of coal mines there are in Australia, it is truly absurd. Our park up for the night was the serene Spring Gully in Golbourn River National Park. I set up my hammock and spent the afternoon lying in it and reading a booking with the sound of the flowing river soothing my senses.

Due to the horrendous weather and flooding, we hadn’t been able to make any concrete plans for a couple of weeks. We knew vaguely that we were heading towards the Blue Mountains but we had no knowledge of what was on the way or where we would stay which was a bit of fun and landed us in our first ghost town of the day in Upper Bylong. The road we picked was littered with old houses that were numbered and covered with Keep Out signage, the further we went the worse the houses looked and the rougher the road got until it was nothing but a track through severely overgrown grass. When we got phone service back I looked up the town and discovered that the entire place was bought out for a coal mine by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.  Fortunately, the High Court of Australia rejected the project due to the severe environmental and agricultural impacts the mine would have caused so the valley will remain unspoilt. That night we pulled up at Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground where we did our first naughty free camp for the trip. The issue was that there were very limited campsites in the area we were travelling through, the biggest one being a national park site. I went online and tried to book but the park was coming up as full and I couldn’t reserve or pay for a spot. We decided that with the shit weather some people wouldn’t bother showing up and sure enough that evening there were so many empty sites it was a joke. We picked the worst one we could find to soothe my guilt a little and set up.

The next morning we cooked a reasonably early breakfast and then popped the van into the day use in case the park ranger did the rounds and sure enough 30 minutes later a ute rolled in and started checking all the overnighters. I rumerated about online booking systems and how much better the NT was with their first in, best dressed, cash payment system. I guess at the end of the day the people that didn’t show up or cancel still paid so the park didn’t lose out on any money but we wont be making a habit of that style of stealth camping that’s for sure. There were a few nice walks around the park and we picked the short but challenging Pagoda Lookout and then went down the other side to see the impressive Long Cave. I took my big camera lens and managed to get a couple of bird photos along the way. At the end of the walk Matt decided to go for a swim in the river to freshen up before we continued on our way to Glen Davis and then further around the corner to Newnes where we decided to spend the night.

Newnes was incredible, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it before or the rich history of the abandoned town based around the creation of a oil shale mine. Construction of the main works site began in 1906 and was completed in 1911 becoming one of the largest shale oil schemes in Australia and supplying the country with crude oil, paraffin and benzene. The site closed in 1932 leaving behind ruins of the immence mining, processing, and distillation buildings as well as a huge line of coke ovens. Matt and I drove over to the site in the morning and spent a good hour wandering around the area. When we’d had our fill of shale oil we drove back over the river and then around to the Glow Worm Tunnel walk which was part of the railway used to transport goods to and from the mine. It was a bit of a hike to the tunnel through wet forest but was definitely worth the trouble as the walls were lined with little blue specs. We spent the night at a little free camp down in the valley of the Blue Mountains.

Campsite Reviews

Spring Gully Campground – A gorgeous free camp in a little known national park. We had the entire place to ourselves and camped up on a little hill overlooking the river. $Free – 7/10.

Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground – If you like watersports this is an amazing place to stay. There is a beautiful river and lagoon system where you can swim, kayak, boat and fish to your hearts content. $34.85pn (or free if you do the wrong thing) – 7/10 it was nice but definitely not $35pn nice.

Newnes Hotel – Unfortunately the free camp was well and truly booked out and we couldn’t even sneak in so we forked out for the hotel campground. It was very pleasant next to a little stream with lots of birds all around but I was a bit miffed to discover our camping fee did not include showers which were an additional $5pp. $25 for one night, $40 for two, $50 for 3 and so on – 6/10.

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many gang gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Perpetual Bundaberg

We didn’t plan on staying in Bundaberg for nearly a week, I like to think that no one would plan to be there for a week, but when you travel the way we do only thinking a couple of days ahead sometimes your schedule gets a bit whacky. We arrived in town on Saturday afternoon which gave us the opportunity to have a quick look around, book in our tour at the Bundaberg Rum distillery, Lady Musgrave Island Cruise, tour of Mon Repos, and then fill up our water tank in a park with some fairly illegal van manoeuvring (there is almost no free potable water in town). We spent Saturday night at the local Scout Camp and got up reasonably early to drive out to the turtle sanctuary. Unfortunately our timing for turtles wasn’t fantastic, we were a couple of weeks too early to do the evening tour to see the turtles laying their eggs but we were also too late to be allowed onto the beach after hours as the mothers had just started coming in but the Mon Repos centre made up for it. At the entry were greeted by a ranger who took us into their theatre and conducted a talk about the turtles of Australia, there was an entertaining projected display across the grounds and walls and we got to watch a turtle lay its eggs and then the babies hatch out and swim into the sea. After the lecture we were set loose in the education centre which was just brilliant. Our favourite part was seeing how we compared to the size of each of the turtle species, some of them were absolutely massive. On our way back into town we stoped at a strawberry farm and had a delicious berry ice cream and then a little further down the road we pulled into a farm gate store and bought a heap of fresh produce. That afternoon we visited a tropical wine and cider distillery and had some of the strangest cider flavours I’ve ever tried including kiwi and ginger. They were nice but we weren’t inspired enough to take any down to our campsite at Kinkuna Beach.

I woke up the next day full of excitement because we booked in to visit Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Bundaberg Rum. I absolutely adore Bundaberg ginger beer so I was beyond happy to discover there was a great little museum and tasting room specifically for their range of fizzy drinks. Entry was $15 per head and included a 6 pack to take home. After tasting every flavour Matt decided his favourite was the sarsaparilla and I was tossing up between blood orange and Christmas ginger beer. It turned out that the Christmas ginger beer was the drink of the month (unsurprising for December) and was on sale, of course I couldn’t resist buying a case. We had a bit of time to kill before going to our rum tour so we drove to the local art gallery and had a wander through the exhibitions. The curator was a very friendly bloke and heading to Tasmania for an arty holiday so we had a chat about the best places to see. We reached the Big Bundy Bottle just before lunch time and occupied ourselves in the museum learning about the history of the factory and it’s tendency to burn down. I really liked how the entire venture was created as a solution to the waste molasses being produced by local sugar refineries and the amazing wall display of rum bottles. The tour ended up being just as interesting as the museum and we were both amazed at the 7 billion dollars of rum being stored on the site. Our guide informed us that 95% of that product was sold in Australia and 50% of that was Queensland. That’s a lot of rum! To finish off we were offered two free drinks, I had a dark and stormy and banoffee rum liquor with cream which is the first time I’ve had dark rum, I loved it. We walked out of the gift shop with 3 bottles. In the afternoon we went down to the botanical gardens and took quite a few bird photos, turns out with a few rums on board I can still take a decent shot.

On Tuesday morning we were meant to go on our tour of Lady Musgrave Island and had planned to leave Bundaberg on Wednesday; however, it was not to be as a nasty swell had brewed up and the tour was cancelled until at least Thursday. The company were really good and offered us a full refund but we were both happy to keep hanging around so we rebooked for later in the week. We’d almost exhausted things to do in Bundy so we decided to head further afield to the historic town of Childers, which turned out to be a lovely spot. Having nearly run out of clothes we found a laundromat and headed down the street to a brilliant little cafe that did a great flat white. Once our things were washed and dried we walked up and down the historic main street, stumbling upon a historic pharmacy about half way down. If you are even remotely interested in health, history, or medicine, it is well worth going out of your way to visit this amazing museum which has one of the largest displays of historic pharmacological items in Australia. Entry was $5 and included a guided tour where we learnt all about the owners, how the shop developed, and of course the insane 1800s medicines, morphine, heroin, and chloroform cough syrup anyone? Before we headed back to camp in Kinkuna we popped into the local swimming pool to do some laps and have a much needed shower.

Wednesday was a bit of a write off because we were twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our reef tour but we did visit the macadamia nut factory where one of Matt’s friends had helped them to design and implement a machine that half cut the shell of the nut enabling people to open them with a little metal tool rather than having to smash them with a mallet.

Our Lady Musgrave Island tour day broke sunny and clear with a slight wind and a bit of visible chop on the ocean. We made our way down to the marina where we were greeted by our crew. Matt and I went all out when we booked and upgraded to the VIP experience for an extra $85 per head which included access to the fancy top deck, merch, wetsuit hire, and multiple meals. It turned out to be amazing value simply because the rest of our tour was made up of a huge noisy school group who spent most of the journey being sea sick while we luxuriated upstairs with our coffee machine and one other guest. We reached the pontoon in the breathtaking coral cove and jumped onto a glass bottom boat which wizzed us over to the island where we went on a guided walk and learnt about the animals that live there. We’d arrived just in time to see the black noddy chicks sitting in their nests made from sticky leaves and poop. On our way back to the pontoon we watched some turtles having an orgy…ahhh nature. Lunch was a delicious buffet of salads, cold meats, prawns, and for an unknown reason miso soup. Matt and I asked if it was ok if we ate our lunch in the underwater viewing area which the crew said would be fine. It was surreal eating surrounded by fish in the blue light. Feeling very satisfied and full we got kitted up in our snorkelling gear and jumped into the lagoon. We’ve been snorkelling before in Vanuatu and further north in Queensland but it had nothing on this. The colours of the coral and fish, the variety of wildlife, being approached by huge green sea turtles, it was like nothing we’ve ever done before. Matt and I stayed out for the entire allocated time and explored the furthest out of all the other guests, towards the end we spent 15+ minutes hanging out with this one turtle that just wanted to swim around us, absolutely magical. Our ride back was some how choppier than the way out which was highly entertaining. We had a cheese board and drinks for afternoon tea and of course half of it went flying but we were too happy to care.

That evening our second failed attempt to leave Bundaberg came to pass when we noticed on social media a lot of our cycling friends from Brisbane were posting about how they were coming up to Bundaberg. I contacted a couple of them and it turned out there was a cycling carnival the next day. We ended up catching up with our friend Red Dog for pizza for dinner and then the next day popped over to the Bundaberg track and spent the afternoon and evening watching our friends go around in circles really quickly. A few of them were together for an Italian pursuit and I kid you not they pulled off the most outstanding race, it was just beautiful to watch. On Saturday morning, exactly a week after we had arrived we were finally let go by the City of Rum and could make our way to Brisbane.

Campsite Reviews

Wyper Park Scout Camp – Great cheap spot close to town. The amenities are pretty basic and a bit run down but it really reminded me of camping when I was a Girl Guide so that was lovely. $10pn – 7/10.

Kinkuna Beach – Situated in the Burrum Coast National Park this stunning beach side campground was the perfect place to stay for a few nights. No ammenities but it was worth it to walk down the beach each morning and enjoy the birds. $6.85pp/pn – 8/10.

Catch Up Time

Hey everyone,

Sorry that it has been a bit quiet on here recently. Matt has being doing a lot more work on the road, I mean like every night so I haven’t had any capacity to update the blog on his laptop and try as I might I can’t type it on my phone. Good news is that he bought me my own laptop for uni work which means I can also use it for the blog. I’ll do my best to catch up over the next few months, in the meantime here are some bird photos. PS: I really appreciate all the views and support I’ve been getting on here, in the first month of 2022 I’ve had almost as many hits as in the whole of 2021 which is pretty exciting.

Onto the Sunshine State

On the map the drive to Queensland looked boring. More tarmac up to Three Ways then turn right at Tennant Creek and continue along the highway to the border, snooze city. We looked for an alternative and found a route through the Davenport Ranges including a section of the Binns Track and then maybe an exit to the highway in the north along a private station road. On the map this detour looked tiny, like a drive to the shops and back, so it was with a degree of dismay we came upon a sign that indicated our campsite was a whole 160km away turning it into a 340km drive on corrugated dirt roads, oh well, still better than the highway! On our way to our spot for the night at the Old Police Station Waterhole we stopped in at Epenarra Station for initially some petrol which then turned into some travel advice, some lunch, and having some local indigenous kids play with my hair. There is something joyous in coming upon what looks like a shed on Google and finding friendly locals and good food in literally the middle of nowhere.

We set up camp much earlier than normal because we made reasonable time so we put on our swimmers and made our way down the sketchy track to the waterhole which contained water that wasn’t freezing. We spent a couple of hours swimming around and enjoying the huge numbers of birds flying around the banks and as the sun set went back to the van and started on a tasty dinner of bugs. Well…it was meant to be curry but by the time I’d finished cooking there were so many insects in it the ratio was definitely swinging the way of the bugs. The next morning rather than driving back out the way we came in we decided to take the 32km Frew River 4WD track through the National Park. It was a nice drive, a lot of the reviews online said it was challenging but there were only two hills where I had to move a couple of rocks and jump out to give Matt directions, the rest was a nice stony track through the, well I guess they used to be mountains but they were eroded to the point of being low lying mounds. Spinifex grass and ghost gums dotted the landscape and occasional lizards ran across in front of the van, it was quite, beautiful and looked like we were the only ones to drive the track in a long while.

Back at the station we tucked into a slice of moist chocolate cake and worked out a plan for the next few weeks in Queensland, we’d initially planned on meeting my sister in Rockhampton but the flights and timing didn’t work out so we had a bit more time to play with than we had thought we would. I was sad not to catch up with family but excited to see a bit more of outback Queensland. With permission from the station owners we got back in the van and continued up to the highway, turning left and making the long drive across to our first stop in the Sunshine State in Camooweal. The highlight of the sleepy town was the campground, a number of free sites nestled along the most beautiful waterlily filled waterhole. We went to sleep listening to the weird trumpeting call of brolgas.

The next morning it was hot, 30 degrees at 7am hot which only means that it would be pushing 40 when the sun got higher. We filled up with fuel and left the town in our dust continuing down the highway for 40km until we came upon a man waving with disturbing enthusiasm at the side of the road. We pulled over and he ran up to us explaining that their coaster bus had a tyre blow out and would we be able to help? Keen to assist a fellow traveller we went and looked at the bus and what was left of the tyre. Matt asked the guy if he had a spare, he said no, Matt then looked under the back of the bus and found that they did have a spare (which the couple didn’t know about) but the tyre looked like it hadn’t been replaced since the bus had been built (1970). Matt then went about trying to get the spare down while I talked to the woman and discovered that they were also from Tasmania! How good! Unfortunately they were missing part of the mechanism to get the spare down so that wasn’t going to be an option and we decided the best course of action would be to get them to Mt Isa and arrange for either a tow truck to pick up the van or a tyre person to go out and fix it. We hailed down another couple of cars to see if anyone had a spare seat, they didn’t so we ended up driving the woman the 130km to Mt Isa lying in the back of the van, the bloke had a slightly more comfortable ride sitting in the boot/back of a 4WD containing a family travelling from the NT. We reunited them in the town and went to find lunch.

Because it was so hot, and we had arrived much later than we’d intended to due to the flat tyre issue we didn’t end up seeing very much of Mt Isa. Just the visitors centre, the main lookout, and then the local pool where we hid for 2 hours and partook in our first shower in longer than I’d like to say. From what we saw of it though it was a pretty interesting town, I couldn’t get over that they had a massive mine in the CBD, it was pretty surreal. We decided to keep travelling and set up for the night in the fascinating ghost town of Mary Kathleen. In 1954 a significant uranium deposit was discovered by local prospectors following a trail of radioactive boulders, the mining licence was sold to Rio Tinto Mining which created Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd and the architect designed service town for the large mine. The life in the small community seems to have been ideal with nice houses rented at a cheap cost, no bills for the tenants, and local pool, cinema, school and hospital. We drove in and explored the remnants of streets, gutters, roundabouts and foundations. Here and there was an abandoned front yard filled with flowers, scattered power poles and other various pieces of town infrastructure. By far the weirdest thing we saw was a bloke in a caravan with a full karaoke set up singing a number of songs at full volume, fortunately he was really good.

The next morning we woke up and drove to the mine site to explore. The building slabs in this area were much bigger and more industrial looking, there was also a lot more left. It was interesting that there was such a lack of rehabilitation, Matt and I were able to walk up to the open cut mine and over the tailings and even though the last ore was removed nearly 50 years ago it was very obvious where everything was. The pit was the highlight with the vibrant blue waters and towering cut cliffs it was impressive and slightly vertigo inducing. After we’d finished poking around we took a weird track back to the highway which lead us into a private mine road, we only discovered what it was after we drove out past all of the no entry signs. Because it was another boiling hot day we ended up spending most of it in the car driving to Julia Creek. We stopped briefly in Cloncurry to visit the bakery and have a quick walk around town but there wasn’t much to see or do so we kept moving. Julia Creek Caravan Park is on the bucket list for a lot of travellers because of the fancy baths but it was another stinking hot day so we opted for a free entry to the community pool and floating around there until dinner time.

That night after dinner we ended up hanging out with our fabulous neighbours and having a good chat, unbelievably karaoke guy from Mary Kathleen had followed us to Julia Creek and completed an hour long performance for the caravan park.

Campsite Reviews

Camooweal Billabong – Such a well set out free camp on the edge of the river. Beautiful birds, waterlilies, and considerate fellow campers. $Free – 8/10.

Mary Kathleen Town – I doubt that there is a more interesting campsite in Australia and I can’t recommend visiting enough even if you just pop into explore and don’t stay the night. The area is huge and hundreds of people would be able to camp there with reasonable space. $Free – 9/10.

Julia Creek Caravan Park – Not an amazing unpowered area as there was next to no shade and not many sites but the amenities block was really clean, owners were lovely, free access to the community pool, and the washing machine didn’t put stains or more dirt on our clothes so definitely worth the stop. $28pn – 7/10.