Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gulf Country and Lawn Hill

Lawn Hill National Park is a little gem in the NW corner of Queensland, about 150 km south of Burketown, up near the Gulf of Carpentaria. To get there from Kakadu / Katherine, we had 2 main options: trundle away on the bitumen via Stuart Highway and Barkly Highway and come into the NP from the south; or go cross-country east from Mataranka on dirt road following the Gulf coast (albeit quite a long way inland) and come into the NP from the north. As we drove south from Katherine, watching a flotilla of caravans coming from the south heading for Darwin, most of which would be coming up the bitumen highways, we had no hesitation going for the latter option. Which turned out to be a lot of 4WD fun, for the roads were highly variable and often badly hammered by the big rains during the wet season, and there were a couple of doozie water crossings to boot.

If you draw a line roughly from Brisbane in the east to Carnarvon in the west, then 95% of all the rain water that runs off the Australian land mass runs into the sea north of this line, and only 5% south of the line. But the population distribution is the opposite way round. Australia is not really short of water, it’s just that it falls in the places where no-one lives. But it makes for some exciting off-the-bitumen travelling early in the ‘dry’ season. Our route took us on the Roper Highway east of Mataranka, then south down the Nathan River Road, where we:

- dodged and weaved around the wash-outs on the road
- stayed at Butterfly Springs where the swimming was fantastic and the mosquitos were so thick you could hardly see (bit of advice: DON’T camp at Butterfly Springs!)
- wandered around the sandstone pillars at the Southern Lost City, which is a bit like the Bungle Bungles, only they are pillars rather than domes, and not striped like the BBs. But pretty awesome nonetheless

After Nathan River, the Savannah Way strikes south-east, via Borroloola (a largely indigenous town but great fishing in this area). The Calvert River was the main hurdle, it was only in the 3-4 days before we arrived that vehicles had been getting through consistently. Hard to imagine, but at the end of May (only 3 weeks previously) the water level was 30 metres above the current level – roughly lapping the point where the road dips down to the crossing (see photo). They had something like 500 mm of rain around Easter and another 800 mm of rain in mid May in these parts.

We took a back-road into Bowthorn Station to get to Lawn Hill, via Kingfisher Camp, a delightful camp site on the Nicholson River. This too had been ravaged by floodwaters – see photo of 2006 water level, in 2010 it got to 1 m above this. The road in was pretty marginal. Basically it is a farm track that had been smashed in several places, and only just now being re-built by bulldozer – an annual occurrence. We were the first visitors into the camp for the season, so had the whole place to ourselves for about an hour before others started arriving, including Geoff and Ann from Adelaide who we had met at Hells Gate camp site the night before and we shared a good fire and more than a few drinks at Kingfisher that night.

Then on to Lawn Hill, where there is a fantastic tropical-like gorge of clear, fresh water and no crocs. Highlights here were:

- a BLT sandwich and chips for Chappy at Adels Gorge camp site, after about 10 days in the boonies
- canoeing the Middle and Upper Gorges
- bush walking
- swimming in Lawn Hill Creek

We are now in a little town called Camooweal, on the Barkly Highway in NW Queensland, next to the Georgina River. Tomorrow we plan to head south to a place called Tobermorey which is on the Plenty Highway, and then SW on the Plenty to Alice Springs. About 900 km of dirt road. Bring it on!

Hope all is well for you.


The Chappies

Just over 11,000 km

Butterfly Springs. Looks nice, huh ...

... but look what awaits outside the water. Those are little dots are mozzies

Southern Lost City

Calvert River crossing. Hard to get a perspective from the photo, but water level 3 weeks earlier was to the top of the banks where the road starts to dip

Kingfisher camp. The sign reads 'Water level 2006'. In 2010, it got 1 m above this

Lawn Hill Creek crossing, ranger Jen at the wheel

Adels Grove

Canoeing Lawn Hill Gorge

Lawn Hill Gorge

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