Motorhomes Australia

Robbo's Rambles Part 2
The travel adventures of Ian (Woody) & Julie Robertson, whilst they journey around Australia
CMCA Member V18544


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Sept 6th:
After doing a few adjustments to the vehicle we leave Mareeba after lunch and go to Kuranda so Julie can check out the markets in greater detail. Unfortunately Kuranda markets are geared for the departure time of the last train back to Cairns loaded with rich tourists and by 4.oopm most things are shut. The last train leaves at 3.30., so if you drive up this way get here early.

From Kuranda we shuffle out to Atherton and then down to Malanda heading towards Lake Eacham. Another traveller at Mareeba told us of a camping spot just out of Malanda. It is called Winfield Park, and just on the coast side of the Johnston River bridge. This has to be one of the best spots we have stayed in so far, about 2 acres of grass with the river along one edge and rain forest on the others. The only downside is that it gently slopes and would require some people to level up considerably.

We have realised that we don't have an awning on the right hand side, but is in fact a botanist because it is always collecting leaf and branch samples.

The next bit is for our motorhoming friends, you others can ignore it as it is boring.

I have had a couple of people ask, "Why do I keep making minor adjustments to the truck."

The answer is really quite simple. We finished the truck at 4.00pm on Thurs, were packed and gone by 6.00pm. I hadn't driven this thing for more than 100K before we left. I have never done this before as I like to iron out all the bugs over a few trips, but 8.5 months had shrunk to 6 months because of work commitments getting in the way of finishing the vehicle so it became a neccessity. I would not recommend this path to anyone unless you have the tools and ability to fix things on the fly. We have both. I knew the vehicle was mechanically sound before we left except for the front shockers but did not realise how bad they were until we got on a rough bitumen road. They were replaced in Brisbane.

All other "adjustments" have been working out the placement of the load. Load being all the stuff that one seems to need for a six month sojourn in the boonies of Australia. Tools, spare parts, clothes, food, water, fuel and all the other stuff that one deems as maybe needing but which could probably be left at home. Those that have driven a truck know that the right placement of a load affects the ride, handling, braking and safety far more than a car because you tend to carry more.

Please bear in mind that the Gross Vehicle Mass of this unit is 9 Tonnes so it is well under legal weight.

The dry weight (no food, 20l of fuel, no water tanks full, no house batteries and no gas bottles) of the vehicle when finished was 4.08 Tonnes which was 420 Kilos under what I was aiming for. Just out of interest the cab chassis weighed in at 2.4Tonnes. The loaded weight including Julie and I is 6.6 Tonnes, so, as you can see there is a lot of weight to move around. Julie is a fixture in the passenger seat so she couldn't be moved. She has found out that there is no brake pedal that side also. I find it hard to drive from the back left hand corner so I have to stay put too. The water tanks are fixtures (more about that later) so they have to stay. Fuel tank is definitely a fixture, well one hopes so. The food in the fridge is fixed so ditto. All that leaves is articles of clothing, extra food and the aforementioned "stuff". We have been shuffling that around and now I seem to have it right after altering it numerous times. The truck behaves itself on the road nicely now. It always did but much better now. The driver is a different story.

The smart ones amongst you have worked out that we are carrying 2.52 Tonnes. This is made up as follows:

Fuel: 200L= 200Kilos.

Water: 5 separate tanks spread around the vehicle( more later) of 80L each= 400Kilos.

Extra water in bottle: 20 litres= 20 Kilos.

Gas: 2x9 Kilo bottles= 18Kilos.

House Batteries: 4x20Kilos Approx=80 Kilos

Grey water tank is not much because it is empty most of the time.

As you can see the essential items total close on 718 Kilos leaving a balance of 1.8Tonnes. Now some of you in the motorhoming fraternity (and them that tow Caravans) may say "Holy hell that is a lot of stuff and WE would never have that much," BUT I was talking to a bloke the other day that was unloading his Mazda (GVM 4.5Tonnes) because he had been pulled over at the scales by the RTA. Vehicle weight? 7.5 Tonnes. Gross Combination Mass (he had a car and stuff on a trailer)? Wait for it!! 13.7 Tonnes. It pays to weigh your vehicle in full road trim. You could be in for a shock, a new vehicle and a new licence.

The rest is made up of winter and summer clothes, tools, food and other stuff.

Julie and I: me no tell.

I have 5 water tanks because of space constraints under the chassis. We have 2 behind the rear axle, 1 just ahead of the axle and 2 in a bin just behind the truck cabin on the left hand side. These can all be filled and emptied separately. The reason for this is so that each tank can be isolated in the event of a leak. Remember that this was built to live in for 6 months, had I been using it just for a month of annual holidays 2x80 tanks would have been plenty. Under normal circumstances had I had the time to test the van before leaving I would only have had 2 tanks filled as water is readily available up the east coast. Why cart an extra 240 Kilos around? I didn't so I had to.

What this is leading to is the effect that that many tanks have on the "balance" of the vehicle and it has taken a little time to work out the best way of emptying them. The best way for our vehicle (bear in mind we drive at the speed limits) is to empty the 2 front bin tanks first (takes weight off steering), then 2 rear tanks, drivers side first because the batteries and fuel is on that side, other rear one and lastly the centre one. Works for me.

Back to the trip......

Tomorrow we check out Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine and Yungaburra. It will be an early start as we want to, (HAVE to) be in Ravenshoe by 2.00pm for a steam train ride. I like steam trains.

Sept 7th:
We get up early and head to Lake Eacham. This lake is not a volcanic crater lake as such but where hot lava met an underground water source and boiled it so quick and hard it exploded. Hmm, seem to remember doing something like that as a kid involving a fire and a drum full of water. It really is a pretty spot and as usual there are walks to do. We did a short one, 5 mins.

On to the Red Cedar tree. After negotiating a road that is only used to seeing narrow vehicles we arrive only to find that it is 600 Metres out in the scrub. Oh well it is free so we are not paying for torturing ourselves. It is ominous from the start, downhill with steps worked out by a bloke that takes 2.00 metre strides. Now I know that downhill is good but the return journey is all up hill and that is what is worrying me on the way down. Who says I don't forward plan? We arrive at the Tree, a magnificent old man of the forest dwarfing all around it. It is 500 years old and I sympathise with it because that is how old I will feel shortly going back up. However a fix of that magic elixir disguised as a cuppa fixes all ills.
We also find that our botanist awning has acquired an assistant, the TV aerial but it really gets into its work and snags a sample (tree) that tears it off. I fix.

We next head to Lake Barrine. It is raining when we get there and the tea shop or cruises aren't open yet. There are 2 signs depicting the sites around here. Twin Kauries 80 metres and lakeside walk 5KM, you get no prizes for guessing which we did. The Kauries were 1000 Year old Bull Kauries which are only found in this area and they too are massive. I did a few quick mental calculations and reckoned with the timber from them you could have built all of Seymour and furnished every house too. This phase didn't last long as it was work. We return to the carpark to find things happening, shop open and deck crews cleaning boats.

We inquire about the cost of a cruise and departure times. It is $12/head and there is one at 9.30 so we purchase our tickets and off we go. The cruise is actually good value as it points out the birds, fish and flora of the area. He also tells us that the 5K walk around the lake is level and except for 50metres of rough stuff, a wheelchair could negotiate it. I inquire about a motorised wheelchair but they have none for hire so we skip that. Time is running short so we head off for Yungaburra. It is still raining.

At Yungaburra we drive around the town and look at the old buildings and then head out to the Curtain Fig. This is my style of viewing, 50 metres of level boardwalk, ah heaven. This is amazing and describing it is almost impossible so you will have to look at the pics.

You will remember (if you don't you will have to look back) that when we arrived at Malanda on the way up the Dairy thing was closed. Being close to Malanda and it being early we go for a second try. Yep, open but they only do tours Mon-Fri. We struck out again.

We leave the Atherton Tablelands and virtually the east coast to start heading west.

The following is my opinion.

I will digress here again and probably cop some flak too. I am used to it. We went to a lot of places just for the sake of saying "Been There, Done That" and will continue to do so. We went on tours at most places which were informative BUT a lot of the information was repetitive and had we known then what we know now probably would not have bothered and saved some money. I like the Atherton Tablelands, it is probably my favourite area of Queensland but the same thing (with the exception of vines and strangler figs) can be seen on a tour of South Gippsland in late spring if scenery is all you are after.

To do the "tropical" thing and to learn as much as possible about the flora and fauna of the area in a limited time and restrictive budget (it will still cost) this is my suggestion:

Base yourself at Cairns or Mareeba.

Do the Skyrail: take the walks and guided tours. This tells you most of the plants and trees of the wet tropical rainforest.

Go to Kuranda Markets (free to browse): the craft and stuff sold here is indicative of the craft sold all over Qld. It is also interesting studying the people.

Go back on the Scenic Railway: because you have to get back again but they give a good commentary on the way down.

Drive to Daintree: do the River Train cruise. This will give you a brief history of the rainforest, some more flora and fauna and an understanding of mangroves which constitute 75 % of the north coast.

Hartleys Croc Farm: all you need to know about crocs and close up views of them plus great shows.

Go for day trips around the Tablelands and look at the free stuff. A cruise on Lake Barrine is also good value.

If you want to include "the reef thing", go on Quicksilver to Agincourt Reef for the day. Big biccies but you will learn about the reef, coral, have a great lunch and a nice sea cruise. Pick the weather though.

If you want a nice drive and wish to go further afield, pay the ferryman and drive to Cape Tribulation.

Enough raving or rambling from me, back to business.

At Ravenshoe we have lunch and then board the steam train to Tumoulin 7 kilometres away. I love the smell, power and noise of a steam train (it beats walking) and the journey is very pleasant. We stop at our destination and have afternoon tea. Because it is Fathers Day they have chocolate cake for all the fathers (very sexist but I love it) in addition to scones with jam and cream (bugger, another 5K walk now). The bonus was that the crew took passengers in the loco while they were shunting. Even Julie thought that was great.

On arrival back at Ravenshoe we mount our steed and head West to Undara Lava Caves. It is still raining.

Whilst driving I muse about a lot of things and one thing that has been intriguing me for quite a while is this; most places these days rely heavily on tourism to survive. Queensland in particular. If you are in a small bus type van parking is easy and they will fit in most parking spots. With the exception of a few towns they make no provision for caravans or slightly larger vehicles. Perhaps someone should tell them.

We stay the night at Undara to do a tour next day.

Sept 8th:
The rain has stopped. We board the tourist bus at 8.00am and head out into the savannah (this whole area is called savannah Country)and tour the lava caverns and learn how they were formed. These are massive underground caverns and perhaps some one should tell Jeff (Kennet for you interstate heathens) that he could fit 4-5 Crown casinos in them and not need air conditioning but they would need the tunnel builders to seal them because they get wet when it rains, (they may do better with water coming from above). Victorian joke.

We shove off after wandering around Undara complex for a while. More info can be found on their website. We head towards Normanton and the Gulflander. We have lunch at Georgetown and afternoon tea in Croydon. We wandered around Croydon and I caught up with emails at the tourist office. The young lady that works there has tremendous energy and knowledge about this town. This is another town where they are restoring the buildings and doing a damned fine job of it too.

We reach Normanton and head up to Karumba to photograph the sunset over the Gulf. We need fuel and try to locate the Mobil depot there. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel we seeked here, we seeked there but to no avail. We ask in the pub, no go. I ring the number listed in our Mobil book (for those that don't know, we use Mobil cards for our fuel and get a discount) and it gives an after hours number, I ring (bear in mind that it is 6.45pm and NOT 2.00am) and this feller answers, I ask him what time he opens and his location. I cop heaps of abuse and told that I won't get fuel until the morning, some vague instructions and then asked who is setting him up. This is a precis with the colourful, descriptive parts deleted to spare the innocent. Talk about outback hospitality!

Everything but the pub is closed so we look for a campsite. Not much around except a caravan park and a truck stop at the edge of town. We check this out and boy, are we glad we did. It has the best toilets and showers that are cleaned every morning. It says no camping but hey I drive a truck (says so on my rego label), I have a truck licence and this is a truck stop, we prop.

At about 9.00pm a road train pulls in. Guess what? It is a Mobil tanker (or tankers) so I ask him where the depot is and relate the previous story (with adjectives and verbs) and he cracks up and nearly wets himself. He points to the depot. Guess where? Round the corner from the pub. Local knowledge sure is abundant in Karumba. He explains that the bloke who owns the depot is really a good bloke but gets wound up real easy and has a bad temper. We talk about trucks and other things. He said that this is a good spot to stay except when they are bringing cattle in for live shipping overseas from the wharves because there are a lot of trucks and even more flies and neither would like vans being there. The flies might.

We sleep, we shower and head around to the depot. I am treated like a celebrity. Bob (truck driver) has related the story of the phone call and the staff are in hysterics. This is even funnier because the boss has had to take drums of fuel out to a station 200k away in an older truck with no air con over some really bad roads. They say he was not in a good humour when he left. I said that I was going to ask for a discount and they nearly fell off the loading dock laughing.

Sept 9th:
We go back to Normanton and the tourist office, we book on the Gulflander (the main reason we came here) and then check out the sites around the town while we wait for our train trip.

At 1.30pm we are on the Gulflander for our short trip of 30k and return to Critters Camp. They have other trips in the tourist season comprising BBQ trips and tea and damper trips but the Robertson luck continues and we are one week too late as they have stopped. They also have the usual weekly trip to Croydon, stop overnight and return the following day. Trust me that if you have driven from Croydon you have seen it all as the line parallels the road.

Whilst this train is an interesting beast more like a truck on rails I think that 60k's is enough time spent on it. The commentary is excellent and gives a good overview of the countryside, the properties adjoining the line and some local gossip as well. If you look at the rails you wonder how it stays on them.

Worth doing? Yep, but only once.

We head south towards Cloncurry. This will mean that we have now driven the Matilda Way in its entirety albeit in 2 trips.

We have tea at the 3rd listed roadside stop (Qld Main Roads Guide map) because the 1st 2 have no shade. It is hard out here to get shade. I am entertained by some German backpackers putting up a tent. The putting up is easy but trying to drive tent pegs into rock hard ground is impossible. They give up and weight the inside with packs. We drive into the night.

Driving at night is not everyones cup of tea but I love it. There are certain criteria that have to be met though.

1; Good eyesight.
2; Very, very good lights.
It also helps if you have a navigator that stays awake (they generally do after the first sudden stop) and also has good eyes.

The reasons I like to travel at night are: the vehicle runs better, it is cooler in the cab and you can see most things that are coming. We have those "shoo roos" fitted and whether they work or not is open to debate but we have not seen many roos at all and any we have seen have always moved away. However as in human beings there is always a deaf one and we found it but the roo bar on the front did its job and no harm to the truck.

Truck:1 Roo:0.

I better state here that although I may sound flippant I do not like hitting any wild life at all but sometimes it is impossible to miss. Wedgetail Eagles are perhaps the slowest moving bird I have come across. Graceful and speedy in flight, they take a while to get airborne and where possible I will slow down. So far I have not hit one and hope I never do.

We stop at no4 on the map. I chat to some campers and the sand flies attack again. This time with a vengeance. My legs are covered in sores the next day. Sand flies don't bite, they urinate on you and it causes blisters. I am used to people doing that to me, but they leave no scars.

Sept 10th:
At Cloncurry we went out to the tourist office which also has some buildings that were used at the now defunct Mary Kathleen mine. We decided against doing the museum but had a look at the old machinery outside. Another cuppa and on the road to Isa. (the Qld govt. could save a fortune on signs if they used what people call them).

Our intention was to do an underground mine tour as they weren't running when here 2 years ago, but on arrival were told that they were not running. They have spent a fortune on the tourist precinct (new terminology now) which houses Riversleigh Fossils, a mining museum and a mine with underground tours. We ask about the mine tours. not running yet. We can't win!!!

Julie went to the Riversleigh Fossils ( I only have to look into a mirror to see one) while I chatted to a German couple who were RIDING BIKES around Australia. The bikes were the reclining type where you sit back and ride. Nice machines imported from Germany but still not my style.

We leave the Isa and head towards Camooweal with trepidation. The last time we came through here (2 years ago) the road was abyssmal. They had had rain and the road was like driving on bluestone pitchers laid on the ground spaced about 300mm apart. SURPRISE! SURPRISE! They put in a whole new road from Camooweal to the border with a brand new spiffy bridge to boot, good stuff.

Something must be said about the roads. A lot of people we have spoken to have complained about the roads in outback Qld., and in some cases I have to agree but considering the distances and conditions involved that these roads cover they are not bad. They are laid in areas prone to massive temperature fluctuations, severe flooding and a base that is never stable and I reckon that the road crews who maintain them deserve a pat on the back. Sure, they are one lane bitumen roads but generally the sides are good gravel that is easy to pull off to and get back on again.

One 4wd owner that came into a campsite with headlights, driving lights and windscreen smashed to smithereens was bitching about road trains. No bloody driving manners, hogging the bitumen and having no concern for other motorists were amongst his complaints.

When asked how many road trains he had met?

1 so far and it did this damage.

Did you pull over? No, why should I?

After telling him that it was obvious why he should and that he was bloody lucky they didn't run him over, I also explained that the roads were primarily built for road trains and the dangers involved should a road train have to pull over on to the gravel and a back trailer whipping across the road on to his side and maybe flipping the truck I thought he was starting to see reason. Wrong!!! Arrogant a'hole was going to write to the Main Roads and complain. Where was he from? Toorak, naturally. His 4wd experience? Driving to the tip. Ignorant twit.

We cross the border into The Northern Territory at 6.00pm, set the calendar forward 30 years and our clocks back a 1/2hr. We stop at Avon Downs rest area with about 30 others and chat to some of the Big Rig clan.

Sept 11th:
At Barkly Homestead we turn right to head towards Borroloola. Typical outback road, one lane bitumen with good edges. In the 377K to Heartbreak Hotel we meet 2 oncoming and pass 3 other vehicles whom we chat to at lunchtime. One was concerned about the slight temperature rise in his 4wd, I have a look and find he has blown a hose off his turbo, HE FIXES.
The outside temperature is really starting to climb now with 35-38 being the norm. The truck temperature is also rising about 5 degrees. I will not mention how hot the cab is but people pay good money to have a sauna. We travel in one. I am certainly glad that we have a little Waeco (free plug) fridge in the cab. It gets a hiding.

Usually when I buy another vehicle the first thing I do is fill it with fuel, fill a 20L jerry can and drive till it runs out, record the mileage done, put jerry can in and refill the tank. I then know how far I can travel and the capacity of the tank but I didn't have a chance to find out before we left so we decide to do it now. We filled the jerry cans in Isa. At 930 K we ran out of fuel, filled from the jerry cans, bled the system (diesel truck, took 5 minutes) and continue on.

We reach Borroloola and fuel. Now what can I say about this town to describe it? It is hot, dusty and is split in 2 by a bridge. The caravan park has a chain mesh fence around it with front gates designed to keep out tanks. Very security minded. we did not stay there but continued on to King Ash Bay which we had been told was delightful by some other travellers.

We turn off the main road after negotiating a road that could be used by GMH as their dust sealing and suspension testing unit, we arrive. This place is a fishermans haven and as such is probably fantastic but for us heathens that get fish by easier means it is not worth the trip. Overnight fees are $10/site with an additional $10/night for power. This is justified because they run off a generator.The camp spots are good but as with most popular fishing places there are fisherpersons.

I will probably get into strife here with the next statement but in most places we have camped with groups of fishermen present we do not get much sleep due to generators running, drunken talk that gets louder and cruder (I am no prude) with every can consumed, cars and trailers moving at all hours and rubbish left every where. Some motorhomers and campers are the same. I know that this is a minority but they stuff it up for all.

Sept 12th:
We decide that whilst here we will have a look at Batten Point. We only got halfway as the road was getting deeper and deeper in sand. I did not wish to try out my expertise at extracting a 9 tonne truck bogged to the axles so prudence was justified.

We had seen a sign to Bing Bong on the main road. With a name like that you just have to have a look. Referring to the map it is right on the Gulf. The road is fantastic, super 2 lane highway. We find out why. Reaching Bing Bong (no town, a port) there are barriers across the road and fences that bar access to the beach BUT the mining company has erected a lookout tower so that you can SEE the beach. The Macarthur mining company have a lease on the land and it is their bulk loading facility for ore. The reason for the road? It is used for road trains to bring the ore up.

Been there, done that and not doing it again.

We leave and head towards Daly Waters stopping at Heartbreak Hotel for a drink. The poor bugger there has to fill every vehicle out of 44gallon drums as their pumps have stopped due to heat problems. There are 3 vehicles waiting in line and he has a nervous breakdown when he sees us pull up but regains his composure when I tell him we don't need fuel.

We continue on.


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