We are in Far North Qld, headed west once more along the Savannah Way. This time however we are travelling many of the Development Roads. The Savannah Way is a composite highway that stretches from Cairns on the East Coast (sunrise side) across the continent to Broome on the West Coast (sunset side). It is some 3700 klm long, varying according to the path you take. There is a tar ribbon, which is the most favoured track, but there are also a network of Development Roads which wind their way through the rolling savannah, the Carpentaria or Channel Country, and they are all part of the Savannah Way. The rougher Development roads travel on into Arnhem Land and through vast tracts of wilderness as they wind their way west. These Development Roads to the east of Western Aus’ are those that we choose to explore during this trip into the centre of Australia.
They aren’t the fastest route and certainly not the easiest, but it is never just the destination that attracts us, and so many others, to travel along these roads. The adventure is in the journey, the meandering progress across country. So we have headed out of Cairns on to Chillagoe, which is a place we have visited before and very much enjoyed. From there we ventured westward beyond the tar strip, travelling along what is known as the Wheelbarrow Highway onto the gravelled, dusty and occasionally graded roads that are often riddled with bull dust traps and used by cows as well as the mighty B-doubles.
This is truly savannah country with all the mystery of underground creeks and strange channels of what obviously are in the wet season, fast flowing waters. There are vast scars where water has cut deeply into banks during the infamous Wet season. We are traveling into endless horizons and so much more, as the Bourke Development Road winds its way through the vast Outback stations and wild country. What I love though are the fleeting wildlife, the emu’s, wallabies and the myriad of birds from the majestic eagle to the tiny twit. To me this is quintessentially the Outback… this is Australia.
Camping along the Wheelbarrow Highway is a rough and ready affair. Most camps sit restlessly along the inclement rivers and water courses that change their path with the change of each wet season and if there is water still running… all the better for it. This is the very end of a long Wet season that has lingered well beyond its normal use-by date… bringing the Antarctic Vortex to the southern states and a sprinkling of rain still, to the dry savannah and scarp eruptions of the tablelands, those along the Eastern hinterland.
There is perhaps one, maybe two caravan parks between the little township of Chigalloe and the Gulf waters of the Carpentaria which is 10’w of100’s of dusty kilometres so don’t expect services… but then again is this not one of the charms if not attractions of these Development Roads that wind their way through our wilderness country.
The present milder, warm winter season up here is also that for the ‘Grey Nomad’ and other travellers’ and tourist along the vast length of the coast and outback regions. They still venture into the warmer and more favoured haunts disdaining the southern winter chill. Here, inland, two or so weeks ago, they could be found easily but now with the Dry Season finally arriving and the southern states beginning to warm, they are winding their way back south again leaving many of the favoured inland camps deserted.
The remote Gilbert River camp is one such place, well favoured a few weeks ago by all counts, it now sits quiet once more as the inland sun begins to heat the land. The camp sits just well east of Normanton, which is a lovely little friendly town, and there it waits the promise of the coming Big Wet to flush its banks.
It’s a long run to the Gilbert River camp, one worth it for the riverside delights. You don’t swim here despite the invitation as there are croc’s in the waters. They are difficult to see during the day, but ‘spotting’ with a strong flashlight at night reveals dozens of bright and brilliant eyes … watching. If you’re quiet, as the camp is now, you can easily hear their call, particularly at night and during the dawn hours, which are flushing into the full day.
Delightful also are the antics of the birds that squabble in the trees, they are busy partnering up for the arrival of spring, building nests and establishing old territories. The brolga’s are about too in their hundreds and the privileged will see their courtship dance performed at the dusk or dawn… such a wonderful sight, one often imitated by the dancers amongst the Aboriginal groups of the North. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
I love Far North Queensland in the in-between seasons that aren’t really a season at all… just the beginning of an end to the beginning.
Jan has published a ebook on her recent travels for ease of reading. You will find it under ‘Oldies at Large’