14 January 2012

The Outback Way – Plenty Highway

Thursday, 12 January 2011

We left Emerald early in the morning and made good way on the Capricorn Highway.
The pies we had for a late breakfast at the bakery in Alpha certainly hit a spot and kept us going. The 'QANTAS Founders Museum' and the 'Stockman's Hall of Fame' in Longreach will have to wait until next time though, we were on a mission.

From Winton we were going to follow the 'Outback Way', a series of remote roads that pass through the central Australian deserts and connect Winton with Laverton in Western Australia.

Since we still had too many hours of daylight left to even start thinking about setting up camp and it was still much more comfortable in our airconditioned 4WD than in the stifling heat outside, we kept travelling on the Kennedy Developmental Road. Another 170km further west on the 'Outback Way' we reached Middleton, our final destination for the day.

Flip had been requesting another night in a hotel, so we thought we'd check into the Hilton for the night. The Hilton Hotel in Middleton is situated opposite the Middleton Hotel.

The Middleton Hotel was built during the Cobb & Co era and served as change station (one of nine change stations on the coach route connecting Winton and Boulia) to replace tired horses with fresh ones. Between 1895 and 1915 Cobb & Co ran a mail service on this route. The distance of 384 km took four days to complete in those days. One of those old mail coaches is still on display outside the Middleton Hotel, this charming little place in the middle of nowhere.

It wasn't quite what Flip had been expecting when the Toms family checked into the Hilton Hotel across the road (no airconditioning, no TV, no pool – no charge). We were the only guests tonight and we'd even brought our own beds!

A little later we joined the publican, his family and a handful of locals at the Middleton, had a fabulous dinner of corned beef, vegetables and white sauce (of course) and watched a glorious outback sun set over the grassy plains.
Dinner was followed by the recital of a number of rather inappropriate poems. Luckily Flip wasn't listening, he was outside getting a lesson in whip cracking by the granddaughter who was roughly his age. A fun night was had by all.

Friday, 13 January 2011

The sunrise was just as spectacular as last night's sunset!
The mail truck arrived just before 6:00, a few minutes ahead of schedule, to drop of the mail and some freight.

There had been no other traffic over night, everything had been really quiet. Just one Barn Owl had perched itself on our tent to swoop down on some little critter a few metres away. As the moon was very bright I could see the bird quite well from our bed.

For a gold coin donation to the RFDS, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, we were welcome to use the facilities at the Middleton Hotel. We donated generously to the Flying Doctors, not just because we really enjoyed the hot shower. Travelling in remote areas makes you appreciate this vital service as one day you could be relying on their medical help yourself.

After having my coffee mug filled we bid farewell to the friendly folks at Middleton and headed west once again.
We stopped just a few kilometres down the track at Cawnpore Lookout where an information board invited us to imagine what the region would have looked like some 98 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period, when the Eromanga Sea below would have been swarming with crocodiles and Ichthyosaurus.

By mid-morning we arrived in Boulia, again, almost 4 weeks after our first stopover in the 'Land of the 'Min Min lights'. But this time we wouldn't head north, recounting our steps, we were westbound. The Donohue Highway which connects Boulia with the Plenty Highway in the Northern Territory had reopened after the rains before Christmas, the creeks in the Channel Country had subsided again, the road was now open to 4WDs with high clearance.

Fabulous country, we passed the red sand dunes of the northern Simpson Desert, crossed the Georgina River and its many tributaries in the Channel Country where majestic gum trees line the creeks, watched the whirly-whirlies do their thing in the wide open Mitchell Grasslands (treeless plains of Mitchell Grass, grasses of the genus Astrebla) and crossed the QLD/NT border in the early afternoon, the same stretch of road now called the Plenty Highway.
Tonight we stopped at Jervois Station where once again we were the only campers for the night.

Saturday, 14 January 2011

I'm glad we didn't drive on to Gemtree Caravan Park further west on the Plenty Highway yesterday. While the small shop is open most days of the week, the caravan park is actually closed between November and February, a piece of vital information that had eluded us until we noticed the handwritten sign on the front gate.
During the winter months this place apparently is bustling with caravanners and fossickers, lots of semi-precious stones can be found here in the Harts Ranges. During summer it's quite a desolate place, customers to the shop mainly coming in from surrounding Aboriginal communities.

The rest of the journey was a breeze, driving the last 90 km of the Plenty Highway on sealed road, arriving at the 'G'Day Mate Caravan Park' in Alice Springs in the early afternoon.

Boh boh!


Daniel from New Zealand said...

Awesome pictures - hope you did pack lot's of sunspray :)
Is $40 for a campsite (gdaymate caravan park) the going rate right now? I remember it was just about $20...$25 when i was here back in 2005.

Anja said...

Thanks Daniel!

We always 'slip, slop, slap, seek, slide', no worries. BTW, it's been overcast and rather cool in Alice today.

The current rate at the caravan park is $35.00 (for 2 adults and 1 child). Managemnt has changed since you last stayed here but the facilities are still very clean and tidy!

Boh boh!