Thursday, May 29, 2014

Driving and Walking: Mount Isa to Mataranka

I hate everything about driving. The endless sitting, the tedium, the burning of fossil fuels and subsequent destruction of the environment, the boredom of sitting for any length of time longer than about one minute with nothing to read and no puzzle to do (I get a headache). I abhor it all. Conversely, I love walking and could easily walk for 8 to 10 hours a day every day of the year - particularly if I could always walk on tracks and trails that are new to me. Forest, meadow, mountain, beach, it doesn't matter, I love to walk. 

Unfortunately, from Mount Isa we had a lot of driving to do. First to Camooweal, a community of 300 people about 190 km west of Mount Isa and then north on bumpy dirt roads to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. We stopped a night in Camooweal which meant I could walk for a couple of hours on a track down by the Georgina River where 30 or 40 caravans were parked with generators running and the ubiquitous Australian sitters plunked on their backsides in lawn chairs for hours, even days. Apart from the human nuisance, the track was very pleasant along the Georgina River past waterholes green with water lillies, the air filled with the raucous call of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos and the odd haunting trumpeting of Brolgas. 

 Lily pond on the Georgina River

The drive to Boodjamulla was very painful and, at the start of the trip, I had to work hard to calm myself and not panic at the thought of five or six hours sitting. Doug found the entire trip very gruelling as he was worried the entire way that the kayaks would rattle off the roof, the oil pan be unceremoniously ripped from the underside of the vehicle, or all four tires puncture at once. I simply drove as carefully as I could and then did not fret. After all, there was nothing more I could do. 

We stayed three nights at Boodjamulla National Park (the topic of a separate blog post) but then had to endure the return drive to Camooweal. In Camooweal, I finally felt my virus had receded enough for me to return to more vigorous exercise and, our last morning there, I got up at first light and ran sprints down the red dirt road leading out of town as the burning red sun crested the flat red earth and then came back and plunged into the cool water of the swimming pool. 

More driving confronted us. West along the Barkly Highway through the flat and featureless grassy plains of the Barkly Tableland where a line of trees seemed for ever on the horizon but which we never reached. We turned north at Barkly Roadhouse ($2.10 litre for diesel fuel) and drove for long distances each day across the same flat, featureless plains to the Carpentaria Highway at Cape Crawford (a long way from the sea). At Cape Crawford, we detoured east to Caranbirini Conservation Area, though how we convinced ourselves to drive 64 km out of our way is unexplained. 

 Organ Pipe formations at Caranbirini

Caranbirini has about 8 km of marked, not necessarily well, walking tracks and we walked the entire distance impervious to the midday sun we were so glad to be out of the car. The turrets and spires of the sandstone formations (called organ pipes) were tantalising to climbers and, as we wandered along them, we couldn't help eyeing potential routes. 

We had initially planned to travel north for a couple of nights into Linmen National Park but the prospect of almost 300 km of dirt road driving for 2.5 km of walking track deterred us and we continued west to reach the Stuart Highway just south of Daly Waters. The treeless savannah gradually gave way to lightly timbered eucalpyt forest with sporadic waterholes along drying creeks. 

 I could climb this and this and this....

One last push north brought us to Mataranka, a small service town near the Roper River where we turned east again and drove, gratefully, only 12 more kilometres to Elsey National Park where we could finally remove our bodies from the vehicle for a few days and engage in those activities for which humans are designed.

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