It’s a new day: on the Sunshine Coast

The kookaburras were laughing early this morning, so the dogs and I took a walk along the Golden Coast, just one of the beaches here at Caloundra.

We’ve travelled to the coast now, after three weeks inland. It’s great to be at the ocean again.

From Leyburn we drove south, visiting an 8,000 acre station on the shores of Lake Glenlyon. James, the co-owner, showed us around. He’s worked hard, increasing the dams on the property from 14 to 40, so now the station can support 1,000 head of cattle. We learnt that cattle don’t like to walk much further than 500m from water, so in order to use all the grazing much more useable water was needed.

Leaving Leyburn, we stopped at Tenterfield for the Friday night at a great free camp alongside the river there. Setting up camp in record time, we ate a campfire supper of crispy fried bacon and baked beans, and as we were enjoying chocolate cake for afters a friendly Aussie turned up for a chat. Josh lives at Brisbane, he informed us, and often came out to camp on the other side of the river with his friends. This young man was a mine of information about where to travel and what to see. He reckoned we’d enjoy the Sunshine Coast most of all, which corroborated our decision to head for there.

On Saturday morning we continued north via Stanthorpe – which we’re told is one of the coldest places in Australia – then on to Warwick and Toowoomba. Toowoomba is a beautiful town. Quite a surprise, it’s really green and lush, being set on an extinct volcano so catching lots of rainfall and having vast 360 degree views of the surrounding forest and farmland. Toowoomba is known for its great schools – and for the fact that more doctors make the town their home than anywhere else in Australia.

From Toowoomba, we felt like we were back in the westcountry as we were made “Welcome to Somerset”. The Australian Somerset is a large region, with some great farmland and also known for its adventurous activities. We continued on to sleepy Esk. We stayed Saturday and Sunday nights at Esk, visiting the area. On Sunday morning Ed was up really early and had climbed up through the forest and craggy cliffs to the top of the nearest mountain – and back again before breakfast. This place isn’t known as “the adventure centre” for nothing.

On Monday morning, we broke camp as the temperature climbed towards the late twenties. We were heading for the coast!

And now here we are at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast.

Ed, Tim and Amy have been in the sea non-stop since we arrived – and the dogs loved cooling down in the ocean too.

White sand and mangroves on Golden Beach

Wednesday 10th November, on a 12,000 acre station near Leyburn Queensland

We are warmly welcomed by Debbie, Jim, Des and Patrick to their vast 12,000 acre station. They also have feral goats, pigs and deer. Australia really suffers from the imported species which get out of hand and threaten the native wildlife. The countryside here is amazing.

In the afternoon we catch some yabbies. Dinner promises to be good. We’re staying here a few days and the internet access is pretty limited so won’t be posting for a few days.

Tuesday 9th November, Columboola to Millmerran

A morning full of sunshine and the sounds of the bush envelop us as we have our bacon and eggs by the creek at Columboola Country campsite (link to www.columboola.com.au).  The mercury heads towards 30 degrees and dogs and children all cool off swimming in the creek.

After our picnic lunch of watermelon and ham sandwiches, we strike camp and head off.

Leaving Columboola, we pass the adjacent mining operation. Coal falls continuously from the elevator, piling into jet black pyramids, glistening in the bright sunlight. This is a new operation with excavation just started on the big coal seam recently found; there’s a new railway under construction too. I hope the carbon capture we learned about at Blackwater comes on steam successfully.

Thursday 4th November – Tara to Springsure

We have such a great time with Richard and Julie at their Jillibie station that we stay the night. We travel all over the lovely property – seeing goannas, kangaroos, wallabies, numerous birds along with their excellent cattle and racehorses. End up going up the river with Richard in his boat so it’s too late to get away. We stay the night and after a good breakfast on Thursday morning we set off. Driving today up to Springsure, near Emerald.  A long drive – we eventually roll in just before dusk to a very warm welcome from friends David and Pauline.

Springsure, Emerald, Rubyvale, Sapphire – vast farming, mining and precious gems

We have a wonderful time with our lovely friends David and Pauline. True country hospitality – with barbeque parties, visits to mines and tours of the excellent farmland. The cotton crop is very promising with prices exceeding $700/bale. Wonderful “black soil” in this part of the country – very fertile and productive. David is an excellent farmer and we are delighted to meet Don and Jerry who are busy working the 10,000 acres.

Ed and Tim get up at 5am one morning to go fencing with Jerry – or Willow, as he is called. They do a good job, by all accounts, and enjoy mustering the cattle into the next paddock. A single “paddock” (as fields are called) here is often bigger than an entire farm back home.

The next morning the boys get up even earlier to go out shooting. At 4am they’re up and out with PJ, a great boy from South Devon who’s out learning about farming “down under”. They are successful and PJ has duck for dinner.

Eventually we leave and set off south again.

Wednesday 3rd November; Nindigully to Miles via Moonie and Tara

Beautiful, beautiful day. Fishing from 6.30am pays off with a beautiful yellowbelly (golden carp) filleted and in the trailer fridge ready for supper tonight. See a young kangaroo as I head towards the showers at the Gulley. The showers have a great sign: “Please remember to switch off the light for 2 reasons,
1 To save electricity
2 Bugs like light
Frogs like bugs
Snakes like frogs.
Enjoy your shower.”

Didn’t see any snakes here, although during our evening skype board meeting with Crealy when we were at White Cliffs, David saw just a little one under the chair I’d been sitting at.

Invited to lunch by Richard and family, who keep cattle on their 6,000 acre station near Tara. We strike camp and set off towards them under the cloudless blue sky, once again listening to the twang of guitars on Outback Radio.

on to Nindigully via Walgett, Lightning Ridge

We passed the harvester boys, who’d set off before we were up this morning.

We’ve also just passed the 2,000km milestone.

Outback Radio has played some great tracks: James Brown’s “I feel good”, the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, but sometimes it just goes too far. “Rawhide” is a good roustabout travelling song – then “Convoy” was played! First time the kids had heard of Rubber Duck’s battle with the bears..

It’s Halloween tonight so we’ve also heard “Werewolves of London” (new one on me) and “Monster Mash” of course.

Arrived at Walgett dead on eleven. Ideal timing for coffee – except that the town is shut. So it’s just the flask and cakes on board till we reach Lightning ridge, 75km north.

Lightning Ridge


Since ancient times opal has been sought. Mark Anthony and Pliny through to Queen Victoria. It was included in the crown of the Holy roman Emperor. But 95% of the world’s opal is found in Australia. The most valuable black opals come mainly from Lightning Ridge and can fetch prices equivalent to a good diamond, per carat.

A large portion of Australia inland was once covered by a sea, leaving deposits and creating an environment suitable for the deposit of opals – along with other gems, precious metals and minerals.

Lightning Ridge attracts large numbers of tourists and fossickers – some of whom strike lucky. In the “Inland Sea Opal Store” we hold a beautiful A$10,000 opal – but don’t buy anything, today. After reviving tea and coffee at the cafe next door, we set off for Queensland. Only 30km to go ’til the border.

Halloween afternoon

Have just crossed into Queensland – as “Queensland Calling” was playing on Outback Radio.

Stopped for picnic lunch of salami, ham and Brie on Turkish bread with Ranch, Sweet Chilli and Mayo. Thanks, subway, for teaching us about multiple taste combos.

It’s 28 degrees under high blue skies. Walk along a red sand track and discover a shallow gravel quarry. Dogs love their swim in the cold, clear waters within, topped up by last night’s rain. Someone asks when the crocs appear, now that we’re in Queensland. David says at 3 o’clock 🙂

Setting off after lunch, suddenly there’s a flurry of roos crossing the road in front of and all around us. We miss them all thanks to the driver and good ABS. A joey was alongside the truck, right under Ed’s hand, just avoiding impact with the deadly hard metal. “Everything’s wilder in Queensland” someone says. We’re glad of our roo bars – hitting an animal that big at any kind of speed would be Goodnight Vienna for all concerned otherwise.

The land is still flat though more tropical. Huge, irridescent black and red butterflies flutter by as we pause at roadworks. It’s the main road, it’s Sunday, and there’s minimal fuss as half a dozen men and women with big machinery re-metal the road. We slowly drive across a few hundred yards of red earth.

Now huge cornfield on one side, tall mixed grasses and stands of trees on the other. Queensland feels lush and expansive.

Staying at the famous Nindigully Pub – www.nindigully.com. Oldest pub in Aus. Camping here alongside the river for 3 nights, visiting the area incl some stations and fishing before going to stay with family friends about 5 hours north of here, at Springsure.

Invited for a cup of tea by Cate Stuart on her 5,000 acre cattle station. Beautuful cattle, wide open spaces. Cate says that she misses the far west though, where there’s “more room”. Ask what size her other station out west is: 50,000 acres! Cate runs Brahmans, Hereford, Black Angus and the popular Droughtmaster.

Treat ourselves to a great meal at the Gully. Ed orders the famous “Roadtrain Burger”. This “oversize” meal features a 1.2kg burger inside a massive, freshly cooked bun loaded with cheese, lettuce, beetroot, gerkins. Served on a tray with home made chips on one side and tempura-fried onion rings on the other. Ed made a valiant effort and we took the remainder home in a doggy-bag. The five farmhands at the table nxt to us shared one between them.

Halloween morning, Sunday 31st October, leaving Bourke

We’re on the road early this morning, having stayed at the Riverside Motel in Bourke last night due to rain forecast. A good move as it turned out, with a heavy storm in the night.

Driving through unending flat plains this morning, with knee high grasses beneath stands of varying trees. Just crossed a bridge over a creek swollen with the night’s rain. We can see these flat plains stretching across the horizon for 360degrees, beneath the high blue Australian skies, this morning laced with ribbons of white cloud.

Scattered groups of dark red cattle lie beneath the trees’ shade, lazing in the morning’s warmth.

We’ve passed nearly 100 wild emus already this morning, sometimes solo, sometimes in groups of maybe 20 of the huge flightless birds; the most we’ve seen together so far. Enjoying the spring grass along with the Hereford and Black Angus cattle.

Several farmsteads – “stations” out here – appear along the road, the homesteads dwarfed by the huge machinery sheds.

Two young lads staying at our motel last night were harvesters, their dark red combine parked outside the Motel when we arrived. Aged late teens or early twenties, they tell us they’ve driven up from Victoria and are due east of Walgett to begin combining in Queensland on Monday. The youngest drives the white Ute (pick-up truck), still displaying his red P plates.

It’s quite a task to pass the driving test out here. To get a learner licence entitling you to learn to drive with a qualified driver in the passenger seat, means attending the test station with 100 points of ID along with taking a computer test. Ed passed his before we left Melbourne so can drive the Land Cruiser – but learners aren’t permitted to tow so he can’t pull the camper trailer. We’ll have him driving whenever we park up the trailer and go exploring from base. Once 120 hours of accompanied driving have been logged, Ed can take his test at age 18. He’ll then have to wear red “P” plates for 12 months and green “Ps” for 3 years. So the young harvester is probably 19.

The truck bowls along under the blue sky, “Outback Radio” playing the Eagles and country rock. “Don’t forget me when I’m gone” implores the husky baritone; hope this helps u to think of us.

Leaving Riverside Motel, back on the road.

We’re on the road early this morning, having stayed at the Riverside Motel in Bourke last night due to rain forecast. A good move as it turned out, with a heavy storm in the night.

Driving through unending flat plains this morning, with knee high grasses beneath stands of varying trees. Just crossed a bridge over a creek swollen with the night’s rain. We can see these flat plains stretching across the horizon for 360degrees, beneath the high blue Australian skies, this morning laced with ribbons of white cloud.

Scattered groups of dark red cattle lie beneath the trees’ shade, lazing in the morning’s warmth.

We’ve passed nearly 100 wild emus already this morning, sometimes solo, sometimes in groups of maybe 20 of the huge flightless birds; the most we’ve seen together so far. Enjoying the spring grass along with the Hereford and Black Angus cattle.

Several farmsteads – “stations” out here – appear along the road, the homesteads dwarfed by the huge machinery sheds.

Two young lads staying at our motel last night were harvesters, their dark red combine parked outside the Motel when we arrived. Aged late teens or early twenties, they tell us they’ve driven up from Victoria and are due east of Walgett to begin combining in Queensland on Monday. The youngest drives the white Ute (pick-up truck), still displaying his red P plates.

It’s quite a task to pass the driving test out here. To get a learner licence entitling you to learn to drive with a qualified driver in the passenger seat, means attending the test station with 100 points of ID along with taking a computer test. Ed passed his before we left Melbourne so can drive the Land Cruiser – but learners aren’t permitted to tow so he can’t pull the camper trailer. We’ll have him driving whenever we park up the trailer and go exploring from base. Once 120 hours of accompanied driving have been logged, Ed can take his test at age 18. He’ll then have to wear red “P” plates for 12 months and green “Ps” for 3 years. So the young harvester is probably 19.

The truck bowls along under the blue sky, the local radio playing the Eagles and country rock. “Don’t forget me when I’m gone” implores the husky baritone; hope this helps u to think of us.

Packed up ready to go

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White Cliffs to Cobar, heading for Bourke

After a spectacular thunder and lightning storm last night, it’s still raining this morning. With an average rainfall of just 8″, it’s welcome here!  All the dirt roads are closed so we adjust our route and set off along the tarmac.

We pass kangaroos, one with a joey in-pouch. The scrub here is more lush, with some waist-high shrubs and dwarf trees.

We come across some bush melons, yellow fist-size fruits protected by long thorns. The story is that these were planted by Afghan camel drivers for their camels to eat back in the 1800s gold rushes, and now they grow unchecked save for the feral camels, the only creatures which eat them.

Saturday afternoon, Cobar to Bourke

The land is much more fertile now. The silver and green low shrubs threaded across the red and purple desert soils of this morning have given way to green carpets either side of tussocky grasses, white flowers, creeping purple plants and 10meter-tall stands of trees, the dark trunks black against the soft greens.

We pass some big red cattle, half-hidden amongst the vegetation. For the past two days, every few hours  we’ve driven across cattle-grids in the dual-lane tarmac road, as we cross from one station into another. Stations here run to several thousand acres. In the Northern Territory they can be even bigger. There’s a new hit tv series out here just started called “Keeping Up with the Joneses” about a family farming 1.2m acres – maybe you can take a look online for it

Friday night, staying underground

White Cliffs Underground Hotel is within old opal workings. “The world’s largest underground motel”, www.undergroundmotel.com.au, its 32 rooms are an oasis in a hostile environment. We escaped from the 35 degree heat into the cool warren, where it’s always 22 degrees all year round. With temperatures outside ranging from freezing on winter nights to 50 degrees in summer, that’s wonderful!

Bob our host gave us a tour through the domed-ceilinged, twisting wormholes; the rooms have high skylights, like the holes Alice fell down chasing the white rabbit.

Dinner was served at 6.30pm to all 11 of us guests. We got to know some great Norwegians at the Hotel. Frode and Ellen are hoteliers, taking a year out to travel around the world with their two teenage daughters, Marie and Louise.

Frode was skyping with his staff back home. David and I also joined a board meeting online but with intermittent signal it was a challenge. Note to self:  check connectivity before next board meeting. Good reports of HallowFest at the Parks this halfterm, with record numbers of pumpkins and the new trick-or-treating sweet stations a big hit. www.crealy.co.uk