On Sunday July 27, we finally set off on our 2014 Queensland adventure leaving the dreary Melbourne weather behind….or so we thought. In fact we had very thick fog until Shepparton, then finally blue sky and the temperature started to climb steadily. We made it to Coleambally not far from Griffith in the MIA. The next day we made it to Cobar by mid afternoon with the sun still shining, and found our way to a fantastic free camp at Newey Resevoir. It is not advertised as a designated camp area but I found it on “wikicamps” (camping ap). The man at the “I” was very reluctant to give us directions and when pressed admitted it was not illegal to camp there, but discouraged. We found out from a local surveying campers at the site that the town shopkeepers wanted it promoted, as campers always support RV Friendly towns. However the owner of the only caravan park in town and his best mate running the “I” were against it, with Council caught in the middle of a bitter town war! Have a look at the photo to judge what a beautiful and inviting setting it is. After all Cobar is just another mining town, so a pleasant spot to stay can only encourage longer stops and more money spent.
Then another solid day to reach Cunnamulla, finally in Queensland and in shorts and t-shirt. We had passed through last year and really liked the look of the place, promising to return and explore further one day. So we did for 2 days, and discovered all about the formation and now management of the Great Artesian Basin, without which western Queensland would be uninhabitable due to lack of consistent rainfall. The Basin contains enough water to cover all of the earth’s land masses to a depth of 1 metre!!!!!! And properly managed will never run out. It is only used for town, domestic and stock purposes, as all the pastures are perennial grasses that regenerate with rainfall…………when it finally comes. Cunnamulla used to be the largest wool producing district in Australia, but only produces 10% of its peak after the collapse of the industry when the “floor price” was withdrawn. Many farmers gave up, some soldiered on, some switched to meat producing sheep, and others to cattle. The “Cunnamulla Fella” written by Stan Coster and immortalised by Slim Dusty prompted a competition and finally a large bronze statue taking pride of place on the main Street.
We then travelled to Quilpie in the “channel country”, so called because it just so flat out here, that when it rains and pours, it floods. So the (often man made) channels help the water escape to the vast, natural, creek and river system, where the fall is so slight that it can take weeks to become passable again. Now the main roads are single lane, so the road trains do become more imposing. I am more than happy to slow down and get off the road to allow them right of passage on the bitumen.
We then went via Windorah and the RED sand hills to Jundah and a magnificent free camp on the Thompson River.
Then another solid drive to Winton via Longreach for a 3 day stop to explore the first part of the “dinosaur triangle”. It is now mid/ high 20’s daytime, and high teens night time…….sorry. Winton is a really historic/ iconic town, real outback, with hitching rails still at the pubs. Couldn’t resist the old pubs, so had “barra & chips” in thongs and t-shirt on the sidewalk outside the bar of the Tattersalls Hotel. They only serve beer in glasses and pints….didn’t take long to get a pint! The North Gregory Hotel is opposite and had to visit to see the spot Banjo Patterson first sang Waltzing Matilda.
We then went to the Waltzing Matilda Centre and confess to a tearful departure from the billabong! But there is so much more to explore here, and the Age of Dinosaurs Centre was the beginning. It is only in the past few years that a local farmer noticed “odd” rocks on his farm while opal fossicking/ mining, and they turned out to be the fossilised remains of dinosaurs from 95 million years ago. The hunt intensified, and the results are spectacular. The research in to the ancient inland sea then set the finds of lots more land and sea based fossilised remains, and the bigger picture soon emerged. The digs continue, but are restricted by the mountain of work to be done by volunteers on the current stockpile of fossils.
Two dino’s, Matilda, and Banjo are around 30% recovered and others commenced, and a replica of Banjo, the largest predatory animal ever discovered in Australia adorns the entrance.
He is dwarfed by the much larger and common sauropods (plant-eaters) like Matilda. When they existed, the terrain was tropical, not desolate like today, but after Gwandaland split, Australia has continued to drift north at 10cm per annum, and 95 million years means a lot of drift, and climate change. Lark Quarry NP is 110km south of Winton, but there is the remains of a dino stampede 100million years ago, when the footprints of a “Banjo like” predator cornered a mass of smaller dinos drinking at a waterhole. The result is 3300 footprints in the mud of the smaller hunted running back past the huge predator with footprints over 30cm round!!! WOW!!! Remember Winton is at the Southern end of the Great Inland Sea of the time so the remains are land based.
So off north to Hughenden where the story changes to mainly marine fossils…..except for Muttaburrasaurus who adorns the main street. The Discovery Centre fills in more of the loose ends with numerous sea based animal fossils from 100+ million years ago. A day trip to Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond completes the dino triangle and our current understanding of what happened around 95 to 125 million years ago!
We also spent a morning at Porcupine Gorge just out of Hughenden, regarded as our answer to the Grand Canyon; and it was both grand and colourful with the sandstone layers at the “pyramid” clearly built up over millions of years.
And finally nibbles and drinks on a cliff just out of town for the sunset.
Almost dinosaured out, we headed to Charters Towers for a couple of days of R & R in a balmy 28c, but we did snoop around the gold mining history of this pleasant big town (city??). couldn’t resist a morning tour on a replica wagon to a mixed cattle farm mainly
Refreshed, we headed north to Undara NP and the lava tubes. These have been known to 6 generations of cattle farmers, but not considered of much interest. The region is scattered with scores of small extinct volcanoes. Then Jim Collins, the current farmer latched on to an election promise by the Goss government to double size/ area of NP’s in Qld if elected….and he was. Extensive scientific research into the lava tubes was undertaken and a compelling case presented for a new NP, and a private/ public partnership to open it up to the public. Govt provided access infrastructure and the Collins’ accomm and guided tours. Tourist numbers have risen from 4000pa to 45000 pa and a full “resort” now exists – not overdone – very eco friendly – tent/ cabin/ train carriage/ CP accomm.
So, about 190,000 years ago in a period of volcanic activity in this area, 30m high Undara Volcano started to erupt, but it was a pouring volcano, not a spewing one, so lava poured out at 1200c for a few weeks. The critical thing was that this volcano was 700m up the Kennedy Range so had around 150km of 2 degree fall and 1550 sq km of relatively flat land to work with. And it did, with enough lava to fill Sydney Harbour 3 times. As it filled one particular watercourse, the surface cooled by air at 850c and crusted progressively, but the insulated bottom flow continued…..for 150km, the longest in the world! Eventually, most of the roof collapsed leaving 69 sections intact, but many too dangerous to explore further, hence the area is closed to the public except for the 3 outstanding tubes the public can visit by guided tour. I’ll let a few pics tell the rest of this absolutely stunning world renowned phenomenon.