Heading for Dinosaur Country
Please note the video link at the foot of this post to the Carnival of Flowers.
We set off on the morning of Monday 26th September to complete our Covid interrupted tour. Instead of going back to Townsville to start where we left off, we travelled inland via Toowoomba and took the opportunity to visit the Carnival of Flowers as we passed through, spending our first night at Chinchilla.
The flowers at Toowoomba were up to the normal high standard. As our visit was late in the carnival, most of the additional activities had finished. The flowers and a few food vans parked down the back was all that remained of the festive area. But we were there to see the flowers and were well satisfied with the offerings on display. The greatest challenge was to take a photo of a flower bed without an Asian tourist in the foreground having their photo taken.
We drove on to Dalby for lunch having skipped morning coffee. In planning I had identified some likely bird locations to try before reaching our overnight stop at Chinchilla. I had no luck until Chinchilla Weir where we found greatly improved camping conditions from those we remembered from our previous visit. And we found a flock of Apostle Birds. I believe these birds are so named because of their practice of flocking in groups of about a dozen. Water was cascading over the weir.
Friday saw us headed for Morven, a very small town where the Landsborough Highway branches from the Warrego Highway. It leads to Longreach as the major town in that direction. This piece of road is also known as the Matilda Way, but that is more for promotional purposes that accurate geography.
We checked for birds at Gill Weir, south of Miles and Judd’s Lagoon, south of the highway, closer to Roma. All that we found in both places was overflowing weirs and long term bush campers, most of which were in their highly equipped caravans. Rising water levels inundate water bird feeding grounds and I imagine, causes the birds paddle harder to stay in the same place. The birds are not silly. Thy go somewhere else.
Roadside, just before Dulacca out towards Roma, we came upon a memorial to the railway fettlers and the women who supported them while building the western railway line from Miles to Dulacca in 1978-79. In those days families had to travel with their breadwinners if they wanted to see them. No FIFO in those days.
After morning coffee at Roma’s Big Rig, we had a look at Roma Bush Gardens, located just off the highway past the town centre. Walking around the lake was restricted by flooding but I did see some Mallards and an Australian Darter, drying its wings in the morning sunshine after fishing excursion.
We took our lunch break at Neil Turner Weir, a water storage on the Maranoa River near Mitchell. Mitchell is probably best known for its therapeutic artesian spars. We have used the camping area at the weir on several occasions but had not seen the dam overflowing before. It reminded us that so much of our travel through Australia’s outback occurred during the drought years.
The Pick-a-Box Motel was our resting place for the night. The motel is a small group of newish iron-clad cabins near to and managed by the Morven Hotel, recently rebuilt following a fire. The only excitement in town was a Royal Flying Doctor Service caravan in the shape of an aircraft fuselage, parked in the street outside.
So, from Morven on Wednesday morning, we turned north-west on the Landsborough Highway. First stop was a call at the first town, Augathella, a distance of about 90 km. The town is quite old and has been supporting the local agricultural community since its founding in 1883. Like many outback towns, it has upgraded its visitor facilities for grey nomads. Artists have painted pictures on its water tower, art silo fashion.
Next, about the same distance further north-west, we arrived at Tambo, another pioneering town (1868) with good visitor facilities. We paused for morning coffee beside the small dam at the entrance of the tow. By the lake there is an information sign providing details of the many water birds to be found in the area. There were very few on display for us, although small birds such as Noisy Miners were busy in the tree.
Continuing, we crossed the Barcoo River and arrived at Blackall, which was built on the banks of that stream. Major Thomas Mitchell explored this part of Australia in 1846. The town developed in the 1860s as an agricultural service centre. Again, it has good tourist facilities. It is surrounded by vast expanses of open naturally grassed pasture, as is much of this area. We had been driving through it all morning.
The next town along this highway is Barcaldine, but about 45 km before that we turned off to the left and drove the 16 km of dirt station road to look at Lara Wetlands. This is a camping area that almost surrounds a large waterhole filled with dead trees, so is probably the result of a dam. Lara Station is an operating cattle station. They run the camping ground in conjunction with the station. There are reported to be 164 species of birds identified in the area. But there is no power and only one cabin. Interesting spot, all the same.
As we drove into the Lara Station, Ruth saw a large grey bird at the edge of the trees. I stopped and got some good photos of a Brolga. It was wandering up and down and seemed quite settled but as I turned back to the car, I heard the whoomp whoomp whoomp of large wings as the Brolga took to flight. I turned just in time to snap it disappearing behind some brush. Not a very good photo, sadly.
We refuelled at Barcaldine, paying for the first time just over $2 per litre for unleaded petrol. At Barcaldine the highway turns left and west through Ilfracombe to Longreach. Scattered cloud meant that the western sun was not too much of a problem. We had travelled quite a distance in pursuit of the setting sun since leaving Brisbane, so the days were ending quite a bit later.
We were able to get a booking at the Woolshed Restaurant at Longreach Tourist Park, where we had a cabin. Last time we were here they were booked out. They were again but we had booked in time. An excellent meal even if the entertainment was a bit loud.
While at Longreach we returned to Ilfracombe and also drove south to Isisford. That drive is covered in the next blog post.