To the Gulf

Unfortunately, we needed to leave early as we had a 700 km drive across to Karumba.  We stopped at every town on the way – all 3 of them. The road is bitumen all the way, even if in spots it was just one narrow lane.  Fortunately, we only overtook three cars and passed no more than thirty cars on the entire 700 kms.  It really can be lonely out here.  

Goldie preformed to the expected high standard with the temperature never going above 160 deg F on the drive.  Along the way were various road signs indicating the need to tune into channel 40 on the radio as this is the channel the road trains use. They will let you know as they approach one lane bridges or narrow roads, the message being ‘get out of our way as we are not going to stop or pull over for you’. Fortunately, we didn’t meet any!

Arriving in Karumba we quickly slipped into the motel pool – and ‘slipping in’ was all you could do, it was so small that the three children already enjoying the pool had to leave so we could get in!  

Next we headed out. On the way to the Sunset Hotel we passed Ferryman Tours so, as they did not answer their phone and we wanted to take their tour the next day, we dropped in, only to spend the next half hour there as we admired each other’s MGB!  We always find these cars in the most amazing spots and end up having long chats with their owners.

Not ones to sit around doing not very much, we left around we then journeyed to the Sunset Hotel for an afternoon drink.

Goldie looked a little out of place in the parking area!

Then sunset viewing and dinner.  Being in the Gulf we just had to have barramundi!

Next morning John was up in time for a 6:30 am fishing trip out into the gulf.  A great morning catching Blue Nosed Salmon and Silverback.  John was not sure whether to keep the fish or not but realised that he could keep them cold in the car fridge and offer them as part of dinner the next night. There is no cleaning of fish on the river bank (crocodiles, my friend, do not need encouragement!) so he returned to the motel where the very kind owner not only lent him the tools but actually cleaned and filleted the fish!

Four pm came around and we headed off for our sunset cruise on the Albert River, run by Ferryman Tours.  Now here are some very smart folk: it might sound expensive, but the complementary bar is open for most for the trip, cheese and biscuits to start, then a bucket of prawns each, followed by chocolate cake as the sun sets.  Everyone was very happy after three hours!  

Plus, we were shown the native birds. First, the jabiru which wandered down to the river’s edge for their afternoon feed and then the black kites which swept down and took their feed off the back ledge of the boat. We had noticed the huge flock of black kites circling overhead the previous afternoon just after we arrived and now realised that it would have been around 4pm. The birds were waiting for the cruise and their afternoon feed! There was also a white breasted eagle perched high in a tree.

We were treated to a short history of Karumba. The town was a stop-over pre WWII for planes to Europe, a military base during WWII from where the Catalinas took sorties to Japanese occupied New Guinea and Indonesia, a live cattle export base, the site of a zinc mine processing plant, a base for barges which supply nearby Melville Island and a fishing and prawning fleet base. After a trip up the Albert River we entered the mouth of the Gulf to enjoy the sunset and a sunset drink.

It was Sunday night and the AFL final and John thought he had planned it so well. The cruise finished at 7:15 and the final started at 7:30 so we dashed to the pub to watch the game only to discover that it was half time. ‘Damn, I had forgotten that NSW had moved to daylight saving.’  As it was a bit of a one sided match, it didn’t really matter!

An easy day on Monday as we only had 280 km to drive from Karumba to Burketown. There was 70kms of dirt road to travel, far better than many of the dirt roads Goldie has traversed, 80kmh + was no problem. We did stop at Camp 119 – the last camp of Burke and Wills as they dashed to the coast after travelling from Melbourne. There is not much there now as the 6 trees with axed blazes on them have now perished and there are just pictures and drawings to describe the area. However, what a timely reminder of the incredibly intrepid nature of these early explorers.

Now to the reason for this drive, Burketown and the Morning Glory.

On some days in September and October (ah yes, we did this trip in 2022 but it has taken us awhile to upload!) a rare weather event takes place where the Morning Glory cloud, a rare meteorological phenomenon consisting of a low-level atmospheric solitary wave and associated cloud, occurs above, principally, Burketown. The wave often occurs as an amplitude-ordered series of waves forming bands of  clouds that roll in from the sea.  These are a glider pilot’s delight as the front of the cloud provides lift and indeed allows the glider to fly above the cloud – usually gliders fly below the clouds.

Altogether there were 15 people in the group, arriving in 3 cars, 4 planes and a motorised glider!  The main team left Lake Keepit, near Tamworth, towing a glider in its trailer accompanied by one sedan, a RV10 4 seater aircraft, a powered Ximango glider and a RA-AUS Allegro. We arrived in Goldie a bit later and, soon after we arrived, two further people arrived in their owner-built RV4 planes.

I ventured out to the airstrip in the afternoon of Day 1 (it’s only about 1km, but who wants to walk in this heat?) to watch the later arrivals. It is an unmanned strip with self-service fuel and a warning not to be on the airstrip on Tuesdays between 2:30 and 3:30pm when the weekly commercial flight arrives! 

That evening there was a communal dinner for fifteen under the tree canopy with watermelon bruschetta (the watermelon was specially flown in by one of the day’s arrivals), my fish, followed by steak and complemented by red wine.  Good food, good company and a lush, green oasis setting.

As an aside, the story of the gin.  One of the team had arranged for 6 boxes of wine and a box of gin to be sent from Sydney to arrive some weeks before. All the wine arrived, but the box of gin went on its own adventure: first to Adelaide, then Geelong, Brisbane, Townsville and then back to Brisbane. As a result we received a call while in Atherton with a request to visit a liquor store and stock up on gin. On the second last day of the 2 week visit the gin finally arrived, so the trip home should be interesting!

Each day is an early morning start: depart for the airport at 5:30am to prepare planes and gliders for a sunrise departure (6:19am). Then there is a scramble of planes and gliders lining up on the airstrip to take off. We are not the only people at the airstrip, there must be another twelve or so pilots preparing their aircraft in the predawn half light, including some seemingly very fragile ultralight trikes which are like a hang glider with a lawn mower engine attached.  Once in the air I thought, at first, that one of these trikes was coming towards us until I realised that he was so slow we were overtaking him at about three times his speed.

Day 2 we were very fortunate to be invited to ride in the RV10, a 4 seater plane, and were soon in the sky watching the Morning Glory arrive.  Pictures tell the best story.

Also exciting is seeing the Gulf country from above: winding rivers and creeks, tidal flats, empty spaces of sand and dirt, mangroves and the occasional cattle.  More pictures!

In the afternoon we joined a fishing trip on the Albert River. It’s about 1 hour from Burketown to the mouth of the river (it’s probably 3 or 4 times longer on the river than in a direct line as the river has numerous twists and turns). At the mouth we disembarked and wandered around the sand flats while one of the crew used a throw or casting net to catch bait fish (small mullet).  We then motored back down the river and into a side creek, where the brown waters of the river met the blue sea water, for some serious fishing.  Ros did well, catching the first two fish, a Queen fish and a Jewel fish. Overall, the five of us fishing caught enough fish to feed all fifteen that night.

Day 3 was a slow day – no Morning Glory this morning, so while Ros did a 6:30am walk to the Albert River, John made a date with another lazy guest for breakfast!  Then it was washing (isn’t it always an event on the trip) and shopping for that night’s dinner.  

So what’s in Burketown?  A petrol station with small general store, also a shop (open 9 till noon and 1:30 to 4pm, which is ok if you live here, with once a week deliveries, mainly or hopefully on Tuesdays. Except that as Monday was a public holiday, this week’s delivery had not even arrived by Thursday, so options are getting low. There is a primary school, the local council works depot, a small hospital and … well that’s about it.  A scattering of homes plus (I forgot) the pub with no chef and the café run by a Philippine lady resulting in an interesting mix of food from hamburgers to spicy dishes.  And an airport, at this time of year this is probably the busiest spot in town.

And, fortunately for us, the Savannah Lodge (we are after all on the Savannah Way) an oasis in the town.  While everything else is hot, dry and dirt, Savannah lodge is a cool green temple. This small oasis in the middle of the stark Australian outback is truly a small paradise. Huge trees provide a wonderful shady canopy across the entire resort, beautiful gardens abound and boardwalks link the accommodation cabins. Plus, these is a beautiful bar area, a pool and a delightful outdoor dining area. Birds abound in the trees above you and come to drink and bath at various sized bird baths across the resort. There is even an area od lush green grass. Amanda and Paul have spent 30 years creating this beautiful resort. They started with saplings that are now tall trees, lavishing water on the garden and building up the resort as a destination in itself.

Day 4 we were again lucky to be invited for a flight in the RV10 out to Adeles Grove and the Century Mine.  In 1920 Albert de Lestang took up the property as an experimental Botanical Garden (hence the name “Adele” arose from Albert’s initials). Albert planted many species of trees and shrubs and supplied the Botanical Gardens of the world with the seeds produced by his nursery.  The property extends from Lawn Hill Creek at one end to Louie Creek at the other with river boats and canoes for hire.

The Century Mine has been in operation for many years, owned by many companies and produces zinc with some silver and lead.  The current owner is not mining the open cut mine, but is mining the tailings from prior owners: as time and technology has progressed, the tailings of earlier extractions can now be processed to extract the zinc remaining in the tailings. The actual processing of the tailing is done in Karumba: the tailings are mixed with water and, as slurry, is piped the 304 kms to Karumba in an underground pipeline! We had seen the processing plant on our Ferryman cruise.

1 thought on “To the Gulf

  1. Wow! I was left exhausted just reading your blog. What amazing travellers you are( and writers, photographers) and what wonderful memories you are accumulating. Safe motoring ( and boating and flying…) Brenda and Garry

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