Sunday, August 29, 2010

Einsleigh Camping Weekend

Chillagoe smelter


A free weekend! Woohoo!
After the Cape York trip, what we needed was more camping! We couldn’t resist the urge to get away from the recent wet weather Cairns and the coast has been experiencing, and the call was go west. The trip out from the tablelands is really beautiful, lots of changing scenery and history galore, for those who wish to find it. It is all in the landscape from Aboriginal peoples to the pioneer cattleman and miners (Ion Idriess wrote many famous stories of this area) to the Second World War and the modern day eco-friendly wind farm.
I reckon there are places around here that if you stay still and listen really carefully, just on dusk, you can hear all these people still in the bush. The aboriginal kids chasing lizards, the miners yarning as they roll a smoke after another hard day digging rocks. The bullocky’s whip cracking as he swears at his reluctant team to haul the huge boiler teetering above them up the impossible slopes to the new field. The young Aussie soldiers stirring each other up during what is supposed to be marching practice. It’s all here, and most of it is just a short walk from the road.
We traverse the ranges, the little Suzuki motor giving all of its 47kw to get up and over the Great Divide. Loaded with only enough gear to make dinner, a cup of tea and sleep comfortably, the trip takes only a few hours. The landscape changes dramatically in those few short hours though. What was lush rainforest and tall rose gum trees is now low shrubs, grey stumps, brown grasses and ironbark trees. There isn’t a lot of shade, but it’s important not to camp under the trees, as they are likely to drop a limb when you least expect it.
The people out here are very welcoming as well, they really appreciate the effort you’ve made to come out and say hello. It’s a genuine friendliness too, the same we experienced on the cape. People willing to stop for a yarn, to answer your questions, and curious to know where you’ve come from and are going to.

First night is at Einsleigh. We pick a spot near the confluence of the Copperfield and Einsleigh Rivers, just below the Copperfield Gorge. The ground doesn’t like tent pegs, and refuses to even consider letting them in, so we find a reasonably level spot, away from the trees, unfold the tent and put the billy on to enjoy the sunset, and clear star-filled night skies.

The next day sees us back in Forsayth, after being away for too many years. We have visited here before, on the Savannahlander train. The town hasn’t changed much, but the atmosphere is still the same. Faded pictures of the towns’ roaring days displayed in the main street, along with notices for the next RFDS clinic and fund raiser for the hospital.
The road to Georgetown is an easy run. The highway back to Mt Surprise full of construction trucks making the new high level bridge over the Einsleigh River.
We detour down the Ootaan road. We have been here before as well. Things have certainly changed along this stretch. It is now a designated road-train road, and is barely recognisable since we last visited about 17 years ago. Luckily, only one road train had to move aside to let the Suzuki pass, so it wasn’t too scary for them.
We set up camp on the banks of the Chillagoe Creek and headed back to the smelters to take far too many sunset photos, once again. The smelters at sunset seem to have that effect on photographers. We know we have already taken that shot, and that one, but we still take it again.
Another lovely clear night, listening to the wallabies thump through the bush on their way to where-ever it is that Wallabies go to at night.
We pack up and head back into the developing coastal grey, only to find out the weekend we left behind has been OK. There hasn’t been any rain and everyone is feeling much better, including us!
If you get the chance, head west to the old goldfields. You will find history, scenery, mighty rivers, gemstones (if you are lucky and actually look for them, unlike us!), wide open spaces, starry nights and good people.
Einsleigh train station
sunset on the Copperfeild River Gorge
Happy Dog!
sunset Chillagoe smelter


Locals......
The Historic Einsleigh pub


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cape York Adventure Highlights video

Bob arrived back from Heathlands on Saturday afternoon after 3 days of driving.  On Sunday we removed all the packaging from the trike. Bob had wrapped it in layers of heavy duty cling wrap, followed by the heavy duty covers followed by the camp covers and then a tarp. It faired well considering the roads and dust. We vacuumed, wiped it it over with a damp cloth and then degreased the engine.  The wing traveled well and has no folds or creases. She is all brand new again and ready for the next adventure!

So, here is a short video of highlights from the trip.........

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 17 (last day)

Dawn was a beautiful calm sunny affair. Only later did the clouds roll in and the wind start to pick up once again. Things didn't get packed very neatly today. All of us could smell the grass in the home paddock, and were pretty keen to sleep in our own beds again, without water dripping on us in the middle of the night. So everything basically got jammed in, where it would fit and not fall out too often.
The road between Musgrave and Hann River is probably the worst on the Cape at the moment. Very large corrugations, and lots of them, plague the road along the flats. The country here looks like it gets wet and stays wet when the rains come. Skinny, sickly looking stunted trees that offer no shade and shrubs that have large not-friendly thorns struggle to stay alive on the thin dusty ground. As soon as it dries out, the soil instantly turns from mud into corrugations, and stays that way until the next rains.The road isn't actually terrible, it's just that the roads have been so unusually good the rest of the trip that a few corrugations upset us. Called in quickly to Harold at Laura Store to say thanks and then sped along the oh-so-smooth bitumen once it started near Lakeland. The cars got a wash down at Lakeland, through the automatic weed seed washer-offer. Stopped for lunch at the cafe at Mt Molloy. A huge burger each nearly sent everyone to sleep on the drive back to Mareeba.
We got home around 3pm. All our stuff was thrown in a heap on the driveway and sad farewells exchanged. Got started straight away on the de-dusting, sorting, washing and drying out of gear chores.
It has been a great trip, despite the weather dramas and distinct lack of flying (especially for Steve and Tanya) but I'm glad we went.
Thanks to everyone who helped out with gear and services. Thanks also to our responsible adult, Dee. All of those who told us we couldn't (or shouldn't) do it, and turned out to be right, thanks for that advice as well. We went anyway.

Rather be a has-been than a never-was!
All that remains now is to get back in a car the day after tomorrow and drive the dusty 700km back to the top and bring our aeroplane back!

Last brekky, Musgrave.

Bob & Tracey

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 16

Had a peek out of the window when I woke up this morning, a beautiful sunny day! Of course it was! The wind is still fairly strong, but the clouds that have haunted us for the last two weeks have finally gone. Tracey spoke to Heathlands and they reported better, but still not great, weather up there.
It was very pleasent not having to pack up a wet camp again today. Steve & Tanya decided they wanted to see Weipa, so we thought we'd tag along, giving Ted a day off from everyone as well. A plan was hatched to meet up again at Musgrave Station.
The road into Weipa is brilliant and it takes about 1 1/2 hours from Merluna into town. A set of traffic lights and railway crossing gates greets the visitor as they enter the town itself. The traffic lights are to allow the mining trucks through on their road. The port had two ships loading dirt. The town is actually nice and green, plenty of parks and facilities, with a shopping centre and pretty much most things you would need. We stocked up on crap snacks and junk food for the outward journey, as well as checked e-mails and made a few phone calls (pretty sad, really) We took a drive out towards Mapoon, over the bridges, eventually sighting a mining truck to take a photo of. Happy with the days hunting, we headed back to town to fuel up and have a quick lunch.
The afternoons entertainment was provided by Tanya's Ipod. This has many obscure (and many more woeful) 80's hits and misses. It almost became a wish-wish Ipod (that's the noise it makes as it sails through the air, wish-wish-wish) Tracey's Ipod also has some pretty embarrassing stuff on it as well, so we played all of them too.
Coen was the last stop of the day, we went out to meet Charlie, the Mad Maltese Miner. He's actually not mad at all, he is a very friendly and personable bloke with an out of control hair-do and mighty strong arms from years of digging holes. He hasn't thrown anything out, ever. Instead he uses his bush skills and inventivness to come up with machines to work for him, and to make sculptures to display in the garden. He has a windmill made of two 44gallon drums welded together, driving a car alternator to generate electricity. He also has a device that uses three car gearboxes to drive an old fashioned gold stamper, he demonstrates this to those who visit his house. Some of the walls of his house are made from bottles. All different coloured bottles. He has articles displayed on the wall of the many times he has featured in newspapers, magazines, also movies and TV documentaries made about the Cape. Would have been nice to spend more time there, but Musgrave beckoned, so off we went in a cloud of dust.

Ted had managed to snaffle the last cabin at Musgrave, so we set up camp down near the creek at Musgrave. A meal and TV watching (it's mesmerising!) rounded out the days adventures. The sun has shone all day and it is nice to be dry. We have the fly on the tent tonight, as there will be a dew and it would be a shame to wet everything again, so close to home.


Weipa traffic

moving house...near Archer River.

Charlie's artworks, using recycled materials.

Bob & Tracey

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 15

Well, today was D day. The weather only needed to clear for two hours, giving us enough time to get to Merluna and clear of the coast with it's low cloud and harsh winds.
It was not to be....
The wind and rain kept up all night. The clouds actually seemed to be lower than they were yesterday, which I did not think was possible. The decision was really made for us. We have no choice but to leave the trike here and head for home in the vehicles.

I took a few deep breaths, but it didn't stop the sense of disillusionment at the weather. All we needed was a few hours of relatively good weather, not even great weather, just reasonable weather and we could have been in with a chance of flying back.

I am gutted that we have not flown any of the areas we wished to fly, seen any of the things we wanted to see from the air, nor taken any of the others flying at all. This has been a terrible let-down for me, as I had planned and would have dearly loved to take the others on scenic flights, and give them a chance to see the amazing view from the air. I know we have flown very close, and it has been an incredible effort, but I still feel a lingering sense of what might have been, given a fair fight with the weather.
No amount of jumping up and down, shaking your fists and yelling bad words at the clouds changes anything, in fact it just hurts your throat...so I am told.....so instead I sullenly packed up the wet, soggy camp and we again turned away from Heathlands, this time heading south. The rain stayed with us all the way to Bramwell Junction, and eased as we went further south. By the time we got to Merluna Station, it was only fully overcast, with only 20 knot gusts along the airstrip that we should have been landing at.
Merluna is actually a great spot. Cameron and Michelle are lovely people and made us feel very welcome. Cameron gave us a rundown on the property (over 140 species of birds) and the local area, as well as fishing spots and local sights. They mentioned that they have not seen it this windy at this time of year in the 6 years they have lived there..... Typical.
We settled into our converted workers cottage and dried out wet camping gear, charged batteries (both human and lithium) and explored the house area. Steve spotted a windmill that just cried out to be photographed, so that's where he spent the rest of the afternoon. Dinner was cooked by Michelle and devoured by all. We hung around the dinner table, just enjoying the atmosphere and chatting away. No star trails tonight, still cloudy. At least the rain has stopped and we are nice and dry.

Steve and the windmill....


Bob & Tracey

Day 14

A time of sad farewells to Punsand Bay and it's unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) weather. We packed up double-time, as showers rolled through camp soaking all the things that were just about to be loaded into the cars. Sun would come out, so more stuff would be stacked ready to load....shower wets every thing in the new stack! Thus, we managed to get everything soaked before it was loaded.
We bounced down the driveway just after 8 oclock. At Bamaga, we turned left and went via the short cut to the PDR. This was pretty corrugated, but much shorter. Still not sure if it was worth it. The Jardine River Ferry is the next chance to stretch the legs, and a quick photo before scuttling across the river. Stopped for fuel ($2.40cpl for diesel). The road south is a chance to stretch the legs of the cars. The weather hasn't improved, and chased us south towards Eliot Falls and Heathlands.
Jardine River Ferry


We decided to head out to Captain Billy Landing, as it looked like we'd get to Heathlands too early. We had been warned about the road out there, so we cautiously drove down the track, expecting at any time to have to turn around. As it was, the road is fabulous and driveable in a normal sedan. Cpt Billy landing is a beautiful point on the coast. It is very exposed, and cops the full brunt of the weather. The vegetation has been sculpted into amazing shapes by the wind. Not only that, the rocks of the actual point are layered, so they lend themselves very well to being photographed. There are caves that run into the cliffs, and hidden in them are bat colonies. We caught a glimpse of the bats as we peered in, but didn't want to disturb them, so left them be.

Captain Billy Landing
We got into Heathlands about 4pm. The trike was as we had left it, much to our relief. Nothing has moved or been blown apart in the wind, and everything looks un-marked. We left it as it was, with the weather the way it was, we decided to leave the covers on until morning. Cloud base was even lower here, less than 200ft, and showers constantly moving quickly over the landscape. Here we can see the showers moving in from the coast, and have gotten pretty good at judging if they our coming for us or will miss us. Camp was a discreet distance from the trike. We set up a tarp in a vain attempt to keep dry. All this did was re-direct the water gathered in the tarp and strategically dump it on the person who bumped the tarp as they walked under it. This, as you can imagine, did much to improve everyone's sense of humour.....
We will see what the new day brings....

Bob & Tracey

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 13


Time for something different. Instead of going to the tip of the country at sunset, this time we went at Sunrise!
Into the teeth of the howling gale, we walked over the rocks to the tip once again. Once again, the wind tried to blow us into the water. As the waves crashed into the rocks, the salt spray washed our cameras and lenses in grimy, misty fog.  Steve got big bertha out, his ultrawide angle panorama camera and lugged it to the tip, in the hope of a decent sunrise. I don’t know if the camera is called big bertha or not, I just made that up. It is a huge contraption that demands to be delicately carried along with about ½ a ton of accessories and tripods and who-knows-what-else. This is Tanya’s role. Then there is the taking of the photo itself. Luckily, the cape is only moving northwards at about 3cm per year, otherwise the photo would be blurry, it takes so long to get the shot. As for our sunrise, we got a sort of half-hearted sunrise, the sun shyly hiding behind big banks of showers and cloud scudding off the coast until almost too late. Once again, we had the place to ourselves. Hard to believe that it is still possible to be in such an iconic place and not have anyone else around. Not just once, but three times!
Sunrise (kind of) at the tip.
 We witnessed a remarkable phenomenon on the walk back. The tide was low when we reached the tip, and had started to come in as we headed back. The tidal water rushing through the small gap between the mainland, Eborac and York Islands created a massive upwelling of water just the other side of the channel, right near the beach. The area under the surface must be a real obstacle course, judging by the force with which the water was surging to the surface. The surging created a huge flat area of bubbling, heaving water, while at the sides was a series of whirlpools, waves and wash-back currents that looked incredible and probably just hinted at the forces that were actually at play under the water! Not a place to be in a dinghy or tinnie. Really glad to be watching that from dry land!
 A visit to Somerset on the way back wasn’t quite as inspiring. The light was ‘all wrong’ so we didn’t linger.
Teddy caught the fishing bug this afternoon, and roped Tanya in. I had a go as well. Ted, our esteemed and newly appointed fishing guide, decreed that manky meat left overs was the bait of discerning fish everywhere, but it soon became apparent that even Punsand Bay fish don’t like past-it’s-used-by-date meat, so some squid was purchased from the shop. The results however, remained pretty much the same. Not so much as a nibble. Our fishing efforts caused some amusement to the kids on the beach, but spectacularly failed to motivate the local fish population into chomping ferociously onto our delicately baited hooks. So rather than a mountain of fresh local fish for tea, caught by our own hands, we had pasta
Tried to book a helicopter scenic flight for tomorrow morning, but the pilot doesn’t do mornings apparently. He refused a booking for three people for a half hour flight (over $900 worth) because it was ‘too early’. So we won’t get our aerial shot of the tip after all we have been through. Not to worry, a good excuse to come back some time. We did watch the helicopter take-off and land on the beach a few times this afternoon, taking 10 minute ‘scenic’s’ but we all thought conditions were pretty marginal for flying and we wouldn’t get good photos if we went this afternoon. So we stayed on the ground. Couldn’t see the point of paying to take photos from inside the cloud! Showers scudding through camp again this evening.
 Logged on to the weather, rather pointlessly, again tonight. I was going to say the forecast was the same, but it wasn’t. Tonight it had 20-30 knots, as has been usual the last two weeks, but with the added bonus of ‘showers extending inland’!
The plan at this stage is to head back to Heathlands and stay the night, to see if we can get a window of a couple of hours to fly to Merluna station. Plan ‘B’ is to drive back and then come back with the trailer at some stage. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.
Thus ends our last full day at Punsand Bay.


nothing to see here....our fishing guide hard at work.

Helicopter flying anyone? The view from Punsand Bay beach.

Nice flying conditions.....


Bob & Tracey

Day 12


Steve and Tanya booked a ferry ride to TI today, so they left nice and early to get to Sesia by 8oclock. The ferry to TI wasn’t big enough for Tracey, especially as the weather forecast was 25knts, so we stayed on dry land. The weather hasn’t changed, still windy and showery and cloud base of only 300ft. We did get a text from them later saying the weather on TI was fine and sunny, but we didn’t believe them. Our day was spent bouncing over the corrugations back into Bamaga with Teddy, then out to Somerset for a look around. Hard to believe that anyone thought Somerset was ever going to be the Singapore of the North, as the Albany channel is really narrow and the current swirls and rushes through when the tide turns.
It’s an atmospheric place; the ghosts of broken dreams and lost opportunities can be seen and heard all around. To think of the work and sweat and blood and sheer bloody effort that the Jardine brothers went to just to even get to Somerset, walking hundreds of cattle across the rivers and gullies and swamps from Rockhampton all this way, only to have their dreams crumble in a few years is a salient reminder for those of us lucky enough to live in this day and age, to never start anything too hard or try anything that might fail! It certainly brings into perspective our efforts to get to the Cape. Here we were complaining about how hard it has been, yet we haven’t spent weeks on a horse, or swam any rivers, or been attacked by anyone (apart from the weather).
We did try to walk around the point to see some cave paintings that are there, but the tide was edging closer to our path, and might have cut us off coming back. So we chickened out.  Any swimming done around here, by necessity has to be world record speed or better. Even then, it won’t be quick enough.  Instead, we wandered about the bay, taking photos, looking at the various graves that dot the area behind the beach, and generally just pottered about.
Teddy got us bogged on the tracks to the lakes. Luckily, a bloke was behind us with all the gear and we were out pretty quickly. We turned back to Somerset and then back to Punsand Bay.
Steve and Tanya had a great time on TI, they really enjoyed the day.   Despite their glowing reports, Tracey was still glad she didn’t get on that boat!
Dinner tonight was at the resort. Tracey put on a surprise birthday cake for me, and everyone in the restaurant joined in, despite not knowing me from a bar of soap. There was an embarrassing pause from everyone who wasn’t at our table when it came to ‘happy birthday dear……’ but other than that it was all good. The birthday cake was cooked by the chef at the resort, and caused Tracey much angst during the day, especially when we were bogged and she thought we’d be there all day! The BBQ was nicely done, plenty of good food and good company, all you could want on a birthday really! Late to bed tonight, well after 9pm!
Bob & Tracey      

At the intersection between Punsand Bay and the Tip 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 11


Once again, the wind and showers kept up all night. We have a couple of Papuan Frogmouths in the trees here that make a racket all night long.  They are probably complaining about the weather as well. All the locals we speak to can’t believe it either. Someone said they are surprised that Thursday Island harbour is still open, due to the wind. All the boats have been sheltering wherever they can. It seems incredible that we have had 10 continuous days over 30knts, with more to come it seems. I have never seen so many strong wind warnings as I have seen in the last two weeks. Our usual perfect timing!
We decided to head into Bamaga and get something to eat and check out Sesia as well. We rattled and bounced our way into town. The mobile reception is very selective, it works in the main st of Bamaga, but drive 1km towards Sesia and it drops out completely. There isn’t a huge amount to see at Sesia, but it’s always nice to just poke about, going exploring.
This evening we got organised and went back to the tip for another sunset, taking Ted with us. We walked along the beach rather than up and over, as the tide was well out. Trace and Tania organised everything so we could have dinner before we went back to camp. Dinner was at the Ch√Ęteau de Nissan X-trail a la carpark, and lemon chicken was the only main and melted Bavarian was the only dessert. A memorable meal in a memorable place. We watched the tide come in along the beach as the light went from the sky and generally soaked up the atmosphere of being about as far north as it’s possible to be in Australia without going for a swim.
 We have re-jigged the schedule to stay an extra night here, to give the wind another day to die off. We will head back to Heathlands on Saturday and try and fly from there Sunday morning. The weather forecast hasn’t changed really, 25-30knts SE, isolated showers….

Bob & Tracey
On the wharf at Sesia


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 10 (we get there!)

Day 10
The wind and rain show continued all night. The wind is something that has to be seen and heard to be believed. Even at first light, the wind is at ground level, gusting ferociously through the trees. It cycles in bursts every few minutes, each gust seemingly getting stronger. We haven’t seen any trees blown over, but the way they thrash around it is surprising any are still standing.
We packed the cars and re-arranged things yet again so that everyone can fit. Ted wasn’t up to driving today, so I did the honours. Tracey is wedged in with Steve and Tania, and has a tiny viewing porthole with which to see a small part of the passing scenery, she just needs to stretch her neck to the left, whilst tucking her right shoulder under her left ear, and the view is tremendous!
Steve proposed a different way out of camp, back to the bypass road. He wanted to avoid the deep creek crossing on the way in. We turned right and followed the old telegraph road for about 100m until the first obstacle. This was a deeply potholed creek crossing with a sharp steep exit. Really nasty. So we executed a 27 point turn and headed back out the way we came. The creek crossing we were trying to avoid was a non-event and before we knew it, we were back on the bypass road.
From the Eliot Falls turnoff north, the road is like a highway. It is easy and safe to maintain 100kph with no problems. Jardine River ferry was our first stop. A quick fuel stop, soft drinks all round, over the ferry (the ride takes about 45 seconds) and back on the road. Injinoo doesn’t have much to stop for, but Bamaga was a pleasant surprise. We stopped for sandwiches at the bakery before heading to Punsand Bay. We got settled on our site only a few metres from the beach. Punsand Bay is one bay to the west of the tip. It’s a long sweeping beach with Casuarina trees backing onto the white sand. The water is pretty murky, not surprising given the wind the last week or so. Everyone here cannot believe the wind, they are all talking about it and cannot believe it has continued for so long (neither can we!)
Ted was out of action, so the rest of us decided to head up to the tip for sunset photos. We left Steve to navigate, and he discovered a ‘short cut’ over the Lockerbie road. It is basically two wheel tracks through the forest, sandy and deep. It was actually lucky we went that way, because about ½ way along, we came across a couple stuck in a creek. Their HRV (?) had bellied on the sandy bottom of an ankle deep creek. The bloke had done all the right things, walked across first, and then drove straight into the two deep ruts that he had walked between! They’d been there 2 ½ hours, and the only one having any fun was the dog! We used our snatch-strap to pull them out. The Nissans clutch wasn’t happy, but did the job nicely, albeit a bit overheated. Seemed to work OK on the way back out, so all good.
We had to cross deep creek crossings, move trees off the road, navigate using only a map,  scare the local pigs out of the way, turn around a couple of times,  but in the spirit of adventure, we pushed on and made it. We eventually got out to the car park near the old Pajinka resort. The resort has been abandoned and looks terrible. The buildings are all derelict and it’s a real shame it has been left to be wrecked. We walked out in the howling gale over the rocks towards the tip of Australia. It took a lot longer than most other people, as we kept stopping to take photos. Surprisingly, when we got there, we had the place to ourselves! Every other person in the country was to our south! There was a terrible amount of pixels burned while we were there; we got some great shots of the sunset over the ocean.  It just peeked out behind the cloud banks scudding across the water, right on time.
Dinner was bread rolls back at camp. Ted is feeling better as well.
Bob and Tracey 
Jardine River Ferry Crossing

We made it!

Day 9

Day 9
Someone wise once said that you should know when you are beaten. The weather has beaten us, and we are wise enough to know when we cannot win. We rang our designated responsible adult this morning (thanks Dee) and via the satellite phone, she gave us the forecast for the next few days. Strong wind warning, Strong wind warning, Gale warning. 25-33knts.
So we have decided that with less than 65nm to go, we cannot fly to the tip of Australia.  The weather was always going to be the major player in our trip and so it has come to pass. All our plans and planning included the phrase ‘depends on the weather’. It is simply not safe to fly our little aircraft when the wind is half as fast as we are!
We have flown 90% of the way, over some astonishing country and through tough conditions. We learned a lot about ourselves and our abilities as well as our limits. All of this has combined to make the decision to stop flying for the next few days an easy one. We will repack the cars so that we are a little more comfortable than yesterday. Some gear has been left at a secret location that looks a lot like Heathlands airstrip, but probably isn’t. This will give us enough room to fit two more bodies in the vehicles.
Teddy generously allowed us to use his car to drive the 70ks back to Heathlands from Eliot Falls so we could secure the trike. With the winds as they are, I was not confident that even 8 different tie down points would be enough. When we got to the trike, it was sitting serenely in the howling wind, not moving at all. It was nice to see we predicted the wind direction correctly, but didn’t change our decision that we needed to fold the wings up so that it cannot go anywhere if the wind changes direction. This took a bit of trial and error, as we have never done this before and is probably something we should have thought of before the trip. Anyway, it all went well and soon enough the wing was de-tensioned and the battens pulled out. We folded the leading edges in behind the spats and wrapped them in tarps and secured them with duct-tape. With the trike tied down safely once again, we reluctantly turned back for Eliot Falls. We stopped at Heathlands ranger station and let them know what was happening.
Back at camp, we headed for a swim to cheer us up. The water is just beautiful and it’s so nice to just sit back and soak a little while. The cameras came out blazing again as the sun set over the falls. The sight of the flying foxes heading out was again spectacular, they are just amazing animals. Luckily, Steve forgot to bring his guitar, so he couldn’t sing a song around the camp fire to cheer us up. This probably would not have improved things, I’m guessing. Instead we sat around inside the vestibule of Steve and Tania’s tent chatting, eating chocolate and listening to the rain showers scud across the country. The wind can be heard gusting through the trees from hundreds of metres away. It will be quiet and serene, then the wind starts to rise in pitch as it can be heard coming closer and closer through the trees, the hiss of the leaves rubbing together as the air swirls around the them, branches bending to take the strain then the gust hits camp, blows any loose items over or away, messes up everyone’s hair leaving us looking like we’ve been dragged backwards through a bush, and then everything is serene again for another few minutes. Every 15 minutes or thereabouts, a burst of rain will be added to the cacophony of the wind, wetting everything under the tarps that has been blown loose by the wind and just as everyone has settled down and got their hair organised, away we go again….
Bob & Tracey
On the way to Heathlands

Wrapped up safe (we hope)

Heathlands, as far as we will fly this trip.



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 8

Day 8
I think GPS technology is amazing. The ability to be able to see where you have been and which direction you need to go via a tiny little box of electronic trickery is almost magical. The scenery we tracked across on today’s flight from Moreton Station to Heathlands is pretty much featureless. It has no mountains to track towards. There is only one road that is followed for a short distance. There is only one cattle station on route. So we were relying on the little black box of tricks more than we normally would and it almost led us astray…
Take off from Moreton was around 10 to 7am. Steve and Tania came up to video the take off. The strip is so long it took us ten minutes to taxi to the other end! As soon as we lifted off, the wind was trying to push us back again. The route to Heathlands was crosswind so our speed was around 60knts across the ground. It was clear all around when we left Moreton, but soon enough the clouds came in, forcing us lower than we would normally be comfortable with. We still had plenty of options, so we continued on over the trees and termite hills. Moreton is around 150ft elevation and Heathlands is around 450ft, and it is very noticeable when you reach the plateau that Heathlands sits on, as the trees get smaller and large areas of grass and termite hills start to dominate the landscape.
The GPS ticked off the miles and around 45minutes after leaving Moreton, we spotted the Heathlands Ranger Station. Problem was, the GPS told us we had another 8 miles to go before the strip. We thought that maybe it wasn’t Heathlands after all, but the area ahead was shadowed by clouds, so we couldn’t tell if there was an airstrip there or not. We knew which direction the strip should be facing, and it was right across our path. We flew on another few minutes, keeping an eye out for anything that looked like an airstrip. Tracey spotted it just off to our left, about 2k’s away. The GPS was still stubbornly sticking to 3NM (6km) in front of us. So a good example of everything we have read about cross country flying, which basically says look out the window and don’t rely totally on the magic box!
The landing at Heathlands was interesting. The wind sock told the story of strong wind on the ground, but coming straight down the strip. We sort of hovered over the end of the strip a little while, and then gently set down at the Western end.
We tied down near the windsock, carefully choosing the angle so the wind flows across the wing; this stops the wing from being lifted by the wind from either the front or rear. I have been very impressed with how stable and secure the wing is when the base bar is on the ground.
Grevillea trees and termite hills surrounded us as we used just about every rope on the tie-down kits and every peg. The trike is tied down in eight different places. We put the Billy on and waited for our support team. When they arrived, we had to re-pack the cars. The plan was to camp for two nights at Eliot Falls, so Tracey and I needed to fit in the cars. We eventually got in, although it was pretty uncomfortable (not as uncomfortable as walking, so not complaining too loudly) the bypass road has the worst corrugations of the whole trip. This section of the bypass road isn’t particularly scenic, so it’s not as though the scenery distracts you from the bumps. They are doing a lot of work near the Captain Billy’s Landing turnoff; but the rest of it was rubbish. The campsite at Eliot falls is anything but rubbish. The falls have been a real highlight so far and just the tonic we needed. Everyone has gone a bit berserk with the cameras, so the results should be amazing. The water in the creek glows it is so clear, and cascades over the rocks into beautiful sandy beaches just perfect for swimming and lounging about. There are even Venus Fly Trap vines growing in the trees beside the creek. Delicate ferns and sundews grow in the gaps in the rocks. It’s amazing how quickly the vegetation changes once you are near water. This river is spring fed and the whole area sits on a sandstone rock base that soaks up water and then releases it slowly, so the rivers flow all year round. Away from the creek; the environment is very dry and quickly changes to Eucalyptus woodlands.
The fruit bat colony that lives on the banks of the river put on a spectacular show as they left for the night. Tania took some video of the bats swooping down to the river to drink. There are thousands of them; we think they are little red flying foxes. There are plenty of people here, but the camp is well set out and very quiet. 
So we have two days for the wind to die down while we camp here. Hopefully we will be able to get to Bamaga and leave the trike there and see what the weather does next.
Bob & Tracey
Leaving Moreton St

Heathlands

Eliot Falls.