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Beyond the Bloomfield Track

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Beyond the Bloomfield Track

It's a day's drive from Cooktown to the 537,000Ha Lakefield National Park, finally setting up camp at Horshoe Lagoon, a serene patch of water covered in white lillies and a favourite haunt of brolgas, parrots and assorted waterbirds.

At the end of the day we meet a group of twitchers camped across the way, having also arrived from Cooktown. "You've come from the south," they ask, eyebrows raised, "from the Daintree, then Cooktown?" We both nod. "You saw the accident on the Bloomfield?" Ah, no. We know nothing of any 'accident'.

Our neighbours are visibly shaken and tell us a vehicle travelling south towing a large trailor-van lost control on a downhill section of the Cowie Range. "You must have seen it!" The driver was badly injured, they tell us, the van and vehicle wrecked, with stunned onlookers sitting around while awaiting an ambulance.

We look at each other but say nothing. As it happens, we did pass an ambulance travelling south that morning... but with no siren and no apparent urgency.

We spend a restless night, our sleep disrupted by wild pigs that grunt and slosh in the shallows just metres from our parked truck... us bothered by thoughts of the Bloomfield Track - with its river crossings and one particularly steep section through the Cowie Range - and us travelling that same treacherous section of the Bloomfield Track uphill, needing low 4WD and 1st gear, maybe minutes before the accident.

The next day we briefly pick up some phone coverage while travelling, a Google search confirming the injured driver was killed on impact.

Postcript - 30 June 2017 - At Laura, Queensland, for the Cape York Aboriginal Dance Festival, a Daintree Parks Ranger tells us there have been 3- Daintree road fatalities in the last 2-months.

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Twenty thousand K and counting

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Twenty thousand K and counting

We arrive in Townsville on May 30, surprised at how quiet the city centre is... and although there are ATMs about, there seems to be a lack of actual banks. We are told the banks have moved out to the suburbs, but we wonder if the city will follow the new Australian norm these days, with an increase in apartments breathing life back to city CBDs.

Anyway, that's another stage of the journey done and dusted - Byron Bay to Townsville. And it's a bit of a fluke that the completion of this second leg coincides with the truck's trip meter ticking over the 20,000km mark.

So now... our chance to reminisce on some journey discoveries, previously unknown and in order of appearance...

The Stanthorpe Granite Belt Queensland Wineries are a pleasant surprise, us previously not knowing much about them - cool climate at 900m elevation, and some unusual grape types to boot... and a STONE PYRAMID FOLLY AT NEARBY BALLANDEAN.

BINNA BURRA sunsets and fairytale forests at the top of the world.

MORETON ISLAND - long sweeping beaches, white sand, wild inland tracks and Castaways Cafe... with chocolate brownies second to none.

TOOWOOMBA perched on a high escarpment, the second biggest inland city after Canberra - great food and positive vibe, a privately-funded international airport... and some of the best street art we've seen.

Spectacular World Heritage CARNARVON GORGE, with ancient chasms, rockface galleries, ridges and river crossings. And our Sandstone Ridge campsite with a spectacular view.

World Heritage LADY ELLIOT ISLAND sunsets, turtles and giant manta rays.

The small TOWN OF 1770 with beautiful beaches, rocky outcrops and the site of Captain James Cook's first landing in Queensland... and arriving in time for the annual re-enactment festival.

The 'TURKEY CREEK MASSACRE' (or 'How we survived the big bog') - where we take the 4WD 'scenic route' from Agnes Water to Turkey Creek, helping out a fellow traveller along the way.

THE CAPRICORN CAVES - a dry limestone labyrinth, privately owned but a National treasure. 

Our lucky first sighting of platypus in the wild, at EUNGELLA. 

CAPE HILLSBOROUGH wallabies on the beach. Quite a sight, with the added bonus of a serene sunrise.

Beautiful BOWEN, with scenic stacks of boulders, a twist of history, quaint coves and sweeping bays.

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Sunday drive to Turkey Creek

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Sunday drive to Turkey Creek

No, the above picture is not our truck. But there has been lots of rain, the remnants of Cyclone Debbie rending this Queensland track full of waterlogged potholes and a labyrinth of deep muddy ruts. And there's a flying army of biting midges whenever we dare get out of the truck.

We've come from Agnes Water on the coast, turning off to travel the 'scenic route' - only 20km as the crow flies - the track a winding dashed line on our iPad Hema maps... and it is shown on our truck GPS, so we've decided it really does exist and gone with it. It was odd though, for such a short distance, that the GPS added hours onto our anticipated trip time when we changed from its preferred route to our more 'scenic' pick.

We've been bumping along for hours now, dodging tree branches, ruts and flooded potholes as best we can. Amongst the paperbark swamp there's also the occasional creek crossing to deal with, and a local dry detour if we get lucky. For much of the time though, it's best that one of us walks on ahead to test the lay of the land, the depth of water or mud, and give directions... we like to nurse our precious truck as best we can.

There are hazards walking though, the aforementioned midges, my sandaled right foot sinks in a hole of stinking grey mud that sticks like glue... Sue says giving me the appearance of wearing one grey sock. There are also free-range bovine onlookers for the driver to negotiate from time to time, curious mostly, and tending to wander along the track with an air of nonchalant disdain.

Just here there's another bend on this character-building track we've chosen, when almost to the Turkey Beach turnoff... and the white Landcruiser Workmate ute bogged up to its axles.

Jason and Mack have time off from the mines, with Mack's father running a farm near here. They haven't gotten far though, with Mack seeming a little courageous to city slickers like us. In fact he may have chosen the most challenging route from 3-options right here. Nevertheless, Mack is happy to see us, his diff locks not working his recovery gear limited to a snatch strap, and a hydraulic barrel jack that he has somehow managed to prop under the rear axel but is now jammed stuck. He glances up and down the track.  "There's not much traffic about these parts."

As it happens, we have all the recovery gear, never used till now... and are more than happy to help out, knowing all too well that next time it could be us.

The Landcruiser ute comes out with a roar, a splash and a spray of mud, leaving Mack's hydraulic jack swallowed by the watery abyss, like some murky, muddy time capsule planted for another thrillseeking 4WD enthusiast to rediscover years from now.

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Where to next?

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Where to next?

It's great to catch up with friends, but after 5-days BYRON BAY BLUESFEST is over... so it's back to the road for us. OK, so we often don't know where we are headed... not 'exactly' anyway. As always, our methodology is simple though, in this instance our 'plan' saying 'north'. And it is true our default setting is to follow the coast. For this leg it's Byron to Townsville, about a 15hrs drive if we were to head straight there.

But to beat the Top End Wet, we've allowed up to a month... so we are in no hurry. And on our last day in Byron, a friend asks if we'll be visiting Tenterfield and surrounds in Queensland. It's "beautiful country out there, and well worth a visit".

We look over our maps, then at each other. It's a minor diversion - only 250km to the west, and there is another wine district as it happens. So we change our 'plan' and head inland for now... just because we can.

Once on the road again, we check out 'WIKICAMPS' as per normal, finding a 'rest area' with 4-stars. After the festival, we are keen to keep today's journey short, and this place fills the bill - a rolling grassed site called 'Crooked Creek Rest Area'. It costs nothing to camp, allows campfires, has covered picnic tables and a toilet... all surrounded by glorious bush.

For dinner we share a Kerala coconut curry with salmon, a cask shiraz, a raging red campfire to warm the legs, the last calls of kookaburras and currawongs, then a lullaby of crickets, frogs and a gurgling creek. From our cosy bed in the top of the truck we listen to the intermittent rush of a passing breeze laden with damp bush smells and a hint of woodsmoke.

In the morning it's the last of Byron's best hot cross buns, toasted on last night's now flaming embers, surrounded by tiny wrens that dance and tweet at our feet... and we discuss nomadic life  with our only overnight neighbour.

Brisbane Bill wears sandals with socks, has a grey beard, blue eyes, and enjoys a natter. He and his wife are headed "whichever way the wind blows".

It seems there's another great camping spot not far from here -'Tooloom Falls' - also a free NSW State forest site as it happens. We look it up on Wikicamps - '50km NE from you' says my mobile phone app.

*****

A word about WIKICAMPS - an invaluable app for travellers and nomads of all ilks... dependent on public input and loaded with different camping sites, rest areas and points of interest throughout the country - with photos, lists of facilities, candid comments and prices of each.

Filters enable searching a current location, favourites or selected areas. New sites, comments and photos can all be added.

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1st leg done

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1st leg done

We're sitting here on the Sealink ferry, our truck 1600km further along from when we started - the Melbourne to Kangaroo Island leg, signed, sealed and delivered.

Favourites? Well, just setting off was a big one... the roaring endless seas of The Great Ocean Road, those wild ragged cliffs and the ghosts of travellers past... the beautiful desolation of The Coorong, the dazzling white sand and the smell of baking salt on a welcome sea breeze, the crashing waves of southern seas that ebb and flow just over the dunes, the soaring pelicans, and early evening visitations from families of flashing electric-blue wrens that magically appear from surrounding scrub to chirp and dance on impossibly thin matchstick legs... the crystal-clear depths of Piccaninnie Ponds, the tunnels and caves that lie below... the quiet isolation of Kangaroo Island, its dusty dirt roads, its hidden sapphire coves that gleam in the sun and play host to bottle nose dolphins that hurtle, jump and spin in waves that roll to finally shed champagne bubbles on sandy shores.

And having the time, the inclination and luck to absorb it all.

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How do we get anywhere?

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How do we get anywhere?

Will a modest amount of good luck and basic black magic be enough to find our way? Mmmm... maybe not.

I'm at my desk PC starting to plot 'must sees' with the help of newly purchased Hema digital maps and OziExplorer software. And it's obvious this trip won't be as simple as a circle; more like `Oz-all-over'.

I scratch my whiskered chin and shuffle Harry the cat to one side, giving me a better command of the keyboard. Mmmm... we've certainly got a truck that will do the job - the Toyota Troopy of course - but with so many places to go, how the Hell do we actually find our way? I suppose now's the time to start thinking seriously about getting a GPS fitted... yeah... time to move with the times.

Now for an admission here - I'm no IT geek when it comes to the ways of a fast-moving modern world, and in fact it's a miracle I didn't disappear with the dinosaurs. I suppose I've gathered a few bits of info over the years - obtuse snippets, shreds and bibelots, mostly about this and that, while being a master of naught.

The next 3-days I'm lost in a techno haze of Hema Navigators, MotionX, Apple, Bing and Google, iPads, Parrot and Pioneer. But of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg... maybe I need to get out more!

At this stage I'm thinking a single built-in unit with music, reversing camera, Bluetooth and internet. But one thing for sure: the answer really is out there, somewhere. And I soon discover it's definitely not one size fits all... probably a case of horses for courses I reckon. (Thanks to my fellow forum travelers on 4x4EARTH.com for their valued input.)

And the winner is (for the very non-geek me)  - a simple dash inbuilt Alpine INE-W960A with reversing camera, for on-road mainly, some off-road; along with an internet-capable iPad loaded with the Hema 4WD Maps App. Oh... and my trusty notebook/laptop. So... I'll be able to import my initial planning hard work from trusty PC to my notebook - including any Oziexplorer/Hema must-see places and tracks. And THAT will ensure we never get lost. 

Well OK, not so sure about that last bit. Just maybe a dash of luck and magic would not go astray... and I think we'll pack some hard-copy Hema maps. Let's just call that insurance.

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