3/07/2015 We travelled south from Gregory Downs via the Gregory Downs Camooweal Road and then the Yelvertoft Road to meet up with the Barkly Highway and west to Camooweal. It was a total of 257kms and took well over four hours; quite a long driving stretch for us but an enjoyable one as we went through some very picturesque countryside and spinifex ridges along the way. About halfway, we stopped for a cuppa and quick leg stretch before heading on. The first 130kms of road from Gregory Downs was gravel that initially had a good smooth sandy surface but soon went to rough corrugated gibber rocks. The final stretch was on bitumen. Car speed was around 40-60kph on the gravel and 80-90kms on the bitumen as the tyre pressure was still set low for the gravel. Both car and caravan did very well, likewise driver and navigator. The Stone Stomper performed well and kept the van surprisingly clean with not too much dust.
We arrived in Camooweal around 2 o’clock and set up camp at the back of the Post Office Hotel Motel. It was nice to be on power and have cell/internet coverage after a couple of weeks in the Dark. We’re pretty frugal with our power use when we’re on solar, so there’s a feeling of decadence from being able to do things on power like quickly boil an electric kettle, leave as many lights on as you like, leisurely browse the Net and have a long hot shower that doesn’t come from your tank. We ended up staying for a few days to catch up on emails, Facebook, Facetime, (all the Faces) recharge all the trappings of technology, and wash a load of red dust off the car and van where it’d gotten into every nook and cranny. You forget that the rear wheel cover on the car is in fact black, and not red.
Camooweal has a population of 310 and is the most western town in Queensland. Just a 13km stone’s throw from the Northern Territory border, it declares itself the ‘Gateway to the Northern Territory and Queensland’.
On the eastern outskirts of town, the Camooweal Drovers Camp is housed in a large shed full of implements and artefacts from the region’s droving past. Camooweal was the droving capital of Australia back in the day. The centre is staffed and administered on a voluntary basis by veteran drovers, who come to Camooweal from where they now live all around the country to do a stretch at the centre. We were given a two-hour tour and talk by veteran drover, Tom Green, a really nice chap who took us through the history of the cattle industry in the northern parts of Australia, and shared some great yarns about what a cattle drive and a cattle camp were like back in the days before the road trains. We felt very privileged to share these experiences with these wiry, slow-talking veteran drovers whose hands and faces reflect a long life of work in the Outback. You can tell these guys were the real deal simply by their hats.
We particularly wanted to check out the sinkhole caves that have evolved over millions of years and are dotted around the area. So, one afternoon, we headed to the Camooweal Caves National Park just south of town. Unfortunately, the sink holes and caves aren’t accessible to visitors except experienced cavers with appropriate climbing gear and a permit, but we were able to view two large holes up close, the Great Nowranie Cave and Little Nowranie Cave, and only guess at what might be awaiting discovery down below. These caves are quite deep and unstable around the rim so we heeded the warning signs not to venture too close to the edge. Surrounding the large cave were numerous naturally bonsaied ficus trees that I checked out with much envy.
On the way out of the park, we pulled up at the Nowranie Waterhole, a very picturesque stretch of water bordered by ancient river gums, and a haven for birdlife. There was movement behind me and the serenity was cut by the whip-crack of the Canon’s shutter. And Di had bagged yet another scalp – first sighting of a Pacific (White-necked) Heron.
“I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places”. – Henny Youngman