Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 5

Dinosaurs and Brolga

A gliding Black Kite.

All along the highway from about Blackall, roadkill was attended by birds that I thought were a type of Kite and black Crows. Once I got a photo, I was able to identify them as Black Kites. Their appearance and behaviour, such as their swooping flight and that they were in flocks. I posted about Plumed Whistling Ducks and Crested Pigeons in the previous post. So that’s it for Birds at Longreach.

We departed Longreach early to reach Winton in good time as we had a drive of about two and a half hours after Winton, to reach our overnight stop at Hughenden.

Australian Age of Dinosaurs layout. Entrance road is in the lower left hand corner.
The Dinosaur footprints, recovered from swamp country and reinstalled in a temperature controlled building for display and preservation.

The location of The Australian Age of Dinosaurs is on the Longreach side of Winton, so that helped. Part of the success of this attraction is the brilliant sighting on top of a jump up. The top is quite flat, probably a couple of hundred metres above the grassy plains of the grazing area. Huge rocks have broken away around the edge and moved a short distance to where they have become stable. All of the buildings are on the plateau, but some displays have been built on and among those huge rocks around the plateau rim.

March of the Titanosaurs Building where the footprints are displayed.

We arrived about an hour ahead of our tour and presented ourselves at reception. We were given an earlier tour start. The session required a short trip on a shuttle to the Dinosaur Canyon Outpost. This part is relatively new. It is in a large fully enclosed building into which has been moved a large area of fossilised rock that was found in the lower country. It is part of an ancient swamp where Dinosaur footprints of various sizes have been frozen in time. The guide points out some differences between the footprints and what it is thought the creatures were doing at the time.

A board walk extends to the Dinosaur Canyon Walk.
A diorama of Dinosaurs in stampede mode.
Tumbled boulders at the edge of the Jump Up.

The displays that have been built among the rocks on the side of the jump up, are in this area.

About 50 km away on the Jundah Road south of Winton is the site of the dinosaur stampede. We saw it years ago and found it to be most interesting but inconvenient to get to, because of the condition of the road. So to have this display of similar footprints so easily accessible is a great convenience.

Digs, recovery of fossils and storage of fossils awaiting processing.

The next part of the tour required a drive or walk of about 500 metres to the laboratory, where the fossils are prepared for display or further research. We were taken through the detail if how digs for fossils are conducted and the fossils secured and brought back for further processing so that the item can be positively identified. Finally we watched as the workers used a variety of tools to remove foreign material without causing damage to the fossil.

Work in progress
Two volunteers working to on fossils.
Recovered and restored fossils.

Finally, we returned to the museum at the main building for a presentation of how the finished fossils are used to recreate the original creature, or part of a creature, using genuine parts or parts fabricated to replace the missing bit. These are displayed as models, a leg for example, and in photographs or sketches. There is an interesting display of parts that don’t fit with anything else but are genuine.

More recovered and processed fossils.
An example of the use of fossilised parts to recreate a body part,

Since the café is in the same building as the museum, we had coffee and a sandwich and drove into Winton for a petrol refill at $2.02 per litre. But that now seems cheap compared to $2.15 that I saw on a pump at Redcliffe yesterday.

A view from the museum grounds of a distant jump up. Part of Winton about centre left, just below the skyline. The flat topped mountains are a feature of this part of Queensland.
A typical small jump up or mesa in the area.
Corfield Hotel, currently closed.

The drive to Hughenden is on sealed road except for the first 15 km that is currently a dirt side track running parallel with an almost completed new road. We stopped at the tiny town of Corfield for a break. This “town” boasted a pub and racetrack. The pub is now permanently closed but I am not sure about the racetrack. They used to conduct a “Corfield Cup” but a lot of those country events were cancelled during the Covid epidemic and have not restarted.

 There are no real towns along this road, just one other notable locality, Stamford that has a school.

Brolga near Hughenden
Rainbow Lorikeets on our door step at Hughenden.

About 30 km short of Hughenden, we came across a group of Brolga. The Brolga were in a paddock about 30 km south of our destination. I was separated from the Brolgas by a 4 strand well maintained barbed wire fence, when I took some photos. They kept moving away until I reached the fence. Then they turned around and looked at me. I wonder if they knew that I could not get through the fence.

On our arrival at the caravan park in Hughenden, our doorstep was taken up by Rainbow Lorikeets being fed by a resident. Most flew away but some stayed to see if there was more food on offer.

The area at the summit of Mt Walker. All lookouts are joined to the central area by gravel paths.
Lookout to the Southeast.

About 10 km south of Hughenden is Mount Walker, named in memory of the leader of an expedition to find Bourke & Wills. It is about 450 metres above sea level but stands well above the surrounding terrain. It is part of two adjoining stations, the owners of which combined with the local council to install a road and visitor facilities. There are about six lookouts that face in all directions, each one providing panoramic views. We made it our first call of the morning, before heading east.

View to the Northeast. The road to Hughenden can be seen below.
Tables and seats are scattered around the area.
White Mountain National Park near Torrens Creek

There are only small towns on this stretch of road, until we reached Charters Towers with its approximately 9,000 population. We did coffee at Torrens Creek and experienced the “excitement” of a 60-truck fertiliser train passing through.

Memorial to the Completion of the Sealing of the Hervey Range Road.

A geological feature of some note, the White Mountain National Park, is a further 30 km. You need a 4WD to get into the park but some of its signature white stone is visible from a rest stop by the highway.

We continued amid little traffic to Charters Towers, where we arrived at about 1 pm. It was pleasing to see petrol at around $1.70 per litre.

After a restful afternoon and evening, we left next morning for Townsville and the ferry terminal, but went the long way. We drove north-west on the Gregory Highway until we reached a place called Basalt, where we turned east into the Hervey Range Road. We stopped to see a memorial to the completion of sealing the road. Hervey Range Road is part of the network of “beef roads” that criss-cross Northwest Queensland. This one takes beef to the processing works at Townsville.

The Burdekin River upstream of the Hervey Range Road Crossing.
The Hervey Range Tea House without customers. A very present place to stop for a break, Wednesday to Sunday.
Ah! The Tropics! Beach goers relaxing on Townsville Beach.

We then crossed the Burdekin River and stopped at the Hervey Range Tea House. The day was Monday, and this is a weekend drive location for Townsville residents. The tea house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we knew that. There were no coffee stops available until we reached the suburbs of Townsville. Topped up with coffee and with some time to fil in before the departure of the ferry, we found a parking space in The Esplanade where we were able to see Magnetic Island and enjoy the beach, fresh air and sunshine. We caught our ferry with time to spare,

Magnetic Island from Townsville beach.

A Short Northern Safari – The Last of the Dinosaurs & Rivers Through Parched Lands

Australian Age of Dinosaus sign at the Dinosaur museum and laboratory

Australian Age of Dinosaurs sign at the Dinosaur museum and laboratory

We made an early start from Porcupine Gorge. Squally winds had roared through the trees all night so we were awake early and took advantage of the situation. The road back to Hughenden was a downhill run most of the way assisted by a brisk following wind. Refuelling in Hughenden took only a few minutes and we departed this pleasant town for Winton, the remaining corner of the Dinosaur Triangle. From Hughenden it is a run of 212 kilometres over flat grazing land on a single lane sealed road with some wider passing sections. We made two stops, the second of them at a place called Corfield pronounced the same as Caulfield in Victoria. And like its differently spelled namesake it runs, annually, a race meeting with – you guessed it – a Corfield Cup. The town contains a pub, two houses, a rest stop and, of course, a race track.

We had spent time at Winton in 2009 during our Big Lap and although there are still things that we want to do they could not be fitted into this trip. However, we did fill one gap by dining in Banjo’s Bar where the park offers a nightly three course dinner and then enjoyed the entertainment of Suzie the resident comedian bush poet. A great night’s entertainment provided by a very funny lady.

Ruth meets a dinosaur

Ruth meets a dinosaur

The third corner of the Dinosaur Triangle is provided in part by the Australian Age of Dinosaur Centre located about 20 kilometres out of Winton. The other dinosaur highlight is Lark Quarry, the sight of the dinosaur stampede. But we saw that in 2009 and a repeat was not a possibility, or of interest for that matter. The turn to the Age of Dinosaur is on top of a mesa, or jump up, just 13 kilometres on the road to Longreach. Gravel starts immediately you leave the highway, so we followed the dusty road across the flat lands and up the jump up to the very adequate parking area. The facility was quite new and very modern. There is a shop, coffee shop and display at this sight. About 500 metres away there is a laboratory where restoration work is done.

Pastures toward Winton viewed from the dinosaur centre

Pastures toward Winton viewed from the dinosaur centre

The tour covers both locations but takes about 90 minutes and costs $28 each for seniors. This tested the level of our interest in pre-historic creatures. Coffee and cake won out. After partaking we returned to the low lands and made our way to Longreach. It is an easy drive. The road is reasonably wide and quite flat, although we initially climbed slowly from the Diamantina and then descended to the Thomson.

The road from the highway to the "Jump Up"

The road from the highway to the “Jump Up”

At a couple of locations quality facilities have been provided including regularly maintained toilets, spacious picnic shelters and enough space for overnight campers to keep out of each others hair. We arrived to find the caravan park in which we had  stayed last time greatly enlarged. We had a site with the caravan between ourselves and the sun. This was most welcome as the temperature was around the mid 30s by mid-afternoon.

Goos water levels in the Thompson River at Longreach

Good water levels in the Thomson River at Longreach

Our original intention had been to continue along the Landsborough Highway until it became the Capricorn Highway at Barcauldine. From there we had intended to visit the gem fields of Sapphire and Rubyvale before turning for home. But back along the road a bit we had changed our minds and decided to continue south. Well, south west actually. So on departure next morning, after a brief shopping excursion, we called to look at the well known, among its adherents, free camping area beside the Thomson River.

We found a few vans in a spacious area beside a river that contained much more water than we had expected. This is, of course, one of the wonders of the main waterways in the Channel Country. They have an ability to hold large pools of water for very long periods during hot weather.

Only one sealed lane but wilh well maintained shoulders

Only one sealed lane but with well maintained shoulders

The Longreach Windorah Road follows the Thomson River between these towns, although most of the journey the river is out of sight. This is grazing country, mostly cattle but with some sheep for wool and meat production. The road is mostly unfenced and there are numerous cattle grids across the road. We saw some stock but not much as conditions are dry out there and areas of pasture are rested regularly and for long periods, so the stock could be somewhere else on the property. Of the 314 kilometres length of this road, most runs through the Barcoo Shire. This remote municipality of just 460 people covers 62,000 km2. The Thomson River runs through its length and is joined by the Barcoo in the south. Jointly they become Cooper Creek which flows, sometimes, into Lake Eyre.

Stonehenge - the entrance to and a large part of the town

Stonehenge – the entrance to and a large part of the town

We paused for morning tea at the roadside and then continued to the mini town of Stonehenge. This tiny community of about 100 people has, of course, a pub but no store, and it has a caravan park. The council has installed power heads, an amenities block with toilets, showers and a washing machine. Visitors may stay by paying, by an honesty system, $10 per night.

Long term Indigenous water supply

Long term Indigenous water supply

Soon after leaving Stonehenge the road rose steeply and levelled to a plateau. There, by the side of the road, is a well that indigenous people used as a water supply for who knows how long. Water is visible about 25 cm below the ground.

Jundah Store with unknown photographer

Jundah Store with unknown photographer

All passengers need a drink

All passengers need a drink

The next town is along this road is Jundah, the adinistrative centre of the Shire. It has about the same population as Stonehenge but appears to be a bit more substantial. It has a small store but no obvious fuel supply. There is a school and a police station. A small caravan park operates providing an alternative to the free camping areas on the banks of the Thomson. Beside the park, which is also the war memorial, the council has built a quality amenities block for the use of campers and other members of the travelling public.

Vans at Windorah. Most are bound for Birdsville races.

Vans at Windorah. Most are bound for Birdsville races.

The road crosses the Thomson River at Jundah and continues through flat riverplains until the Diamantina Developmental Road is reached just east of Windorah. Which, of course, brings us to  the third of the three towns that comprise the urban areas of the Barcoo Shire.

The road out of Windorah to Birdsville. There is 388 Km of it.

The road out of Windorah to Birdsville. There is 388 Km of it.

Windorah is the last town before Birdsville which is 388 kilometres further along the Diamantina Develpmental Road and the Birdsville Developmental Road. The greater part of the 200 kilometres of the Birdsville Developmental Road is sand, dirt and gravel. Consequently Windorah has businesses that offer succor to both traveller and vehicle. Long term blog readers will remember our failed attempt to reach Birdsville via the Birdsville Track in 2011 when we were thwarted by rain. We have not had the opportunity to try again so you can imagine my feelings as I gazed along that part of the road out of town that I could see from the gate of the caravan park.

The caravan park is operated by the council and it is another low cost park. Just turn up and sellect a site and a council employee will find you and collect $10 per van or tent. The amenitius were solid but very useable. Surprisingly it was possible to produce a lather under the shower. Our visit coincided with the annual pilgrimage to the Birdsville cup. Most of our fellow campers were headed there together with most of the several hundred vehicles that we met as we travelled east over the next couple of days. We heard estimates of 8,000 to 10,000 revellers at Birdsville for the Cup. In a town with a permanent population of less than 300 this is not the time of the year that I would want to visit.

Windorah Hotel with parking meters

Windorah Hotel with parking meters

Windorah does not look to be a prosperous town but it must be. Every person who passes through spends money there. Most vehicles would need to refuel and many would top up supplies. The hotel offers rooms and cabins and there is another establishment that offers cabin accommodation.

Windorah shop with fuel pumps

Windorah shop with fuel pumps

The normal flow of travellers south on the Birdsville Track and west over the Simpson Desert grows annually. In addition, increasing numbers are travelling this way to the Red Centre through Windorah to Bedourie and Boulia and then over the Donohue and Plenty Highways to Alice Springs. Councils, understanding the value of the tourist dollar, are putting more effort into road maintenance which means more regular grading. The dust is much easier to take if it doesn’t have bumps under it.

Windorah has a handy information centre

Windorah has a handy information centre

We were were much impressed by the effort by the Barcoo Council to encourage tourism. Not only are the caravan parks inexpensive, adequate and well maintained but the roads are in much better condition than in the neighbouring shires of Longreach and Quilpie. The quality of the roads literally change at the boundary. Barcoo puts great effort into keeping the shoulders graded with soil packed right to the edge of the single lane sealed strip. This reduces the risk of damage to tyres significantly.The only thing missing from the three Barcoo towns that would be useful is mobile phone coverage. With this service available we would return and spend a while. The camping places along the Thomson and Cooper looked quite attractive.

This was to have been the last blog in this series but I have too much material that won’t fit in. So watch out for the final part of the story as we share our trip home from Windorah.