Emerald, Sapphire and Rubyvale …. they’re all here!

Yes, Emerald, Sapphire and Rubyvale are all names of towns here in the Gemfields of Central Queensland and we have had some fun as novice fossickers. Forget Easter eggs, we went searching for Thunder eggs and found quite a few. Thunder eggs, to the uninitiated, are nodule-like rocks which formed within volcanic ash layers millions of years ago. They come in various shapes and sizes and it’s only on splitting them that you really appreciate what’s inside. As in the movie Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get, but Mike was pretty happy with his!

Next we tried our luck at finding sapphires. We had hoped to get first hand experience of digging and finding sapphire at a Designated Fossickers Area but it hasn’t stopped raining for two days and the area has been closed off. We had to contend instead with buying a $25 Gem Bag of pre-washed grit and using our keen eyes, a torch and tweezers, pick the gems out in the comfort of our motor home. Our wash contained over 30 little sapphire chips, mostly green or blue in colour, but none that would make us rich!!! We aim to go back to Armfest again tomorrow and buy another bag and ask them to check that we didn’t miss any carats in our first lot!

Our pootling adventures this week have been quite varied. We spent a few days in Mackay and whilst out cycling the Bluewater Trail came across a street that could have come straight out of an episode of Wanted Down Under. The houses were all huge, a bit too perfectly manicured, they backed onto the beach and would have been outside most families’ means! Still, one can dream!

We cycled the Pineapple Trail in Yeppoon without seeing a single pineapple but we did buy a tasty one at the Sunday market in Emu Park. This week we have seen a sculpture that sings, poignant ANZAC Memorials, fabulous street art and a huge shell collection. We love the public swimming lagoons we’ve seen at Airlie Beach, Mackay and Yeppoon – the latter having an infinity pool overlooking the beach. We gave Bobby Dazzler’s Cafe a miss in Rubyvale and instead frequented Muggachinos where an Austrian man served his own homemade Apple Strudel! Mike thought it was very good!!!

It may surprise you to know that the dilapidated structure in the next photograph is actually the original East Coast monument marking the Tropic of Capricorn. We’ve spent two and a half months in the tropics – yes it has been hot and humid but we have loved it. Sadly only seven weeks of pootling left to go.

Crossing Capricorn on the East Side

Original Tropic of Capricorn Memorial (East Coast)

Spot the Difference!

I’ve always liked Spot the Difference puzzles. If you were to compare photographs posted three months ago, to those today, I’m sure you’d be able to spot a few differences for yourself. You’ll be too polite to mention that I have put on some weight and my hair is out of shape but you may notice the changing SCENERY.

We have left behind the stunning red dust and entered very lush green pastures. There is no shortage of water in the creeks and lakes and the main crop growing in the fields is sugar cane.

The beaches are attractive, especially fringed with palm trees, but there are warning signs about crocodiles and stingers so very few places for swimming. Most campsites have swimming pools and I continue to make use of these as much as possible but the water is much cooler than I’ve been used to.

This brings me on to the second main difference – THE WEATHER. We Brits love to talk about the weather! Just in case you’re wondering, we are back with comfortable temperatures of around 30 degrees by day, 20 by night. We are still wearing shorts and tee shirts and haven’t needed to get the duvet out just yet. There’s been some rain but it doesn’t last long. We are so pleased to be able to get out on our bikes again. Park Runs are also back on the agenda so hopefully I’ll shift some of the extra weight!

TRAFFIC is another difference we’ve spotted. There’s so much more of it and sadly this means that there is less waving. Mike and I had both perfected our wave to other road users but Queenslanders don’t appear to have the same interest in waving frantically at every passing vehicle!

The other big difference we have spotted has to do with PEOPLE. We were pleasantly surprised at how lovely Townsville was although we weren’t drawn to Magnetic Island (sorry about the pun!). There just isn’t time to do everything but we enjoyed a visit to the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef. We had our own personal guide pointing out interesting facts first and then went to the Predator Dive Show. Whilst in the auditorium listening to a diver underwater talk about the sharks circling him, a child asked him how he lost his finger. I hadn’t even noticed his missing digit but turns out a snake bit him!

Underwater Lecture

Cool Lecture


Fish at Reef Aquarium

We didn’t so much enjoy the bus driver who didn’t have a good word to say to anyone getting on the 204! Cranky pants criticised Mike for not speaking loudly enough, I was told off for turning my back on the approaching bus as he could have taken by head off with his wing mirror, an elderly lady with a shopping trolley was told off for standing too close to the kerb and a student was told not to push her bus pass into his face! You know when things are so awful you eventually find them funny – I started giggling when the old lady began making faces behind his back and zipping her mouth shut with her fingers lol.


Welcome to Townsville

Airlie Beach was one of the places we stopped at after leaving Townsville. It was very busy and seems to attract a lot of young backpackers. Not our cup of tea as very touristy. There is definitely an honesty issue round these parts with petrol stations requiring you to hand in ID before filling up. Some even state wives are not accepted as ID because drivers have been known to fill up and drive off without them – honest truth! Other signs that people can’t be trusted included the barber requiring you to pay before he cut your hair and the padlock arrangement in this public toilet!

Preventing Theft

You can only steal the new roll!

Overlanders Way

Welcome to Queensland

Speed limit back down to 110 after 130 in NT!

We’ve travelled over 1,000 kms since the last blog and once again have the ocean to our left as we’re now in Townsville. It wasn’t the most inspiring route but if you’re into dinosaurs then there are plenty of replica’s around on the Dinosaur Trail plus some nice windmills. Following the recent flooding we also came across lots of roadworks as well as hundreds of locusts that didn’t jump out of the way in time and covered Jura in yellow splat!

We could have added another 70 kms onto our journey and visited the Walkabout Creek Hotel at McKinlay which featured in the Crocodile Dundee movies but chose instead to stay at Julia Creek and enjoy the Artisian baths. Having a bath in the open air with drinks and nibbles was a lot of fun and helped soothe our aching muscles after our first Park Run of 2019 at Mount Isa.

Mount Isa is another mining town – predominantly copper. The powers that be decided some years ago that it was a bit risky taking tourists down an actual working mine where blasting happens daily at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Instead the town received funding to construct a mine specially for tourists. There are no seams of copper, zinc or silver but we got to dress up, descend 17 metres underground, see some of the obsolete machinery they used to use, have a cup of tea and eat a Cornish pasty! Black Jack, our tour guide was entertaining otherwise I’d have said save your money!

Copper Mine Tour

Does My Bum Look Big In This?

Charters Towers was an interesting city and when gold was discovered there on Christmas Eve in 1871 quickly grew to become Queensland’s second largest city. The mines no longer operate but the architecture still mirrors its former grandeur and there are some interesting displays at the Zara Clark Museum. A replica school room had two notices up which demonstrate the difference a Century can make.


So long Northern Territory (NT). We cross the border into Queensland tomorrow appreciating that to have fully explored NT we should have done a 1,000 kms round trip down to Alice Springs before turning East. We’re saving that for another trip! This week’s adventures go under the various vowel sounds ………

A = aaaaaahhh

We gave a very big Hurraaaaaahhh when we learnt our bikes were finally fixed and we could move on from Darwin. Seems the cure was a good ol’ Aussie trick – applying sandpaper to the contact points! Nice as Darwin was, we felt we were stagnating having spent two weeks at the same campsite. Mind you it gave us the opportunity to visit the fabulous Museum and Art Gallery of the NT and meet up again with a lovely Norwegian couple we’d become friends with in Broome.

The sound aaaaaahhh could be heard as I floated around the thermal springs in Mantaranka. Just as well I brought more than one bikini! Bitter Springs was first. These pools were more natural (i.e. less concrete and more algae) and the water temperature was a ‘cool’ 34 degrees. We then drove on to Mantaranka Thermal Pools where the pool was surrounded by palm trees and the colour and clarity of the water was incredible. Loved it!

The next watering hole we visited that day was one of Australia’s great authentic pubs known as the Daly Waters Pub. It has a lot of character including knickers and bras hanging from the beams, signs warning about unattended children being taught to swear and an interesting happy hour. Being British we ordered pints (or schooners as they’re called here) and made no saving at all! Turns out if we’d ordered a “pot” which is a half pint we could have saved $1! This would explain why so many big burly men were standing at the bar drinking halves!

E = eeeek

You’d think I’d have got over my fear of insects and creepy crawlies by now but no! I still jump and squeal at the sound of rustling in the bush despite it usually being a lizard. This week I also had to contend with grasshoppers landing on my chest, frogs leaping out of the toilet, bats swinging from trees above and being careful not to disturb Olive Snakes and Salt Water Crocodiles! At least the spiders at the Spider Exhibition we paid to go in and see were all safely behind glass and ‘Sweetheart’, the crocodile was stuffed. Interesting fact – spiders have blue blood.

I = ay yay yay

The highlight for me this week was seeing the indigenous rock art in Kakadu National Park. Some paintings have been dated back 20,000 years. The quality of the art and the natural setting we were able to see it in made it a really moving experience. Photos depict animals, rituals and tales connected to the Creation Ancestors (aka Dreaming). For example, the last chap, Nabulwinjbulwinj (pronounced Nar-bull-win-bull-win), is a dangerous spirit who eats females after striking them with a yam!

O = ooooooohh

We did a number of walks with views this week including a climb to the Mirrai Lookout and up to Katherine Gorge, hence the oooohh’s.

Humpty Doo wasn’t that inspiring – so no eggs cracked there but we did take a couple of photos to prove it exists! Goodness knows why it needs a Park and Ride though for a journey of 450 metres!

U = uuuh oh

Just over two months left on the road so we’re starting to think about all the things we need to plan for including selling the van, organising storage for those things we’re hanging on to and making sure we give ourselves enough time to see and do all the things left on our pootling around Australia lap. Did I really say I was going to attempt a Sky Dive?

The Lap So Far

The Journey So Far!

Cyclone Trevor what an endeavour!

We’ve only travelled twelve metres away,
Cyclone Trevor ensured we extended our stay.
Thunder, lightening, rain and a breeze,
We took the precaution to move from the trees!

Cyclone Trevor’s put a spanner in the works,
However Darwin has offered some lovely perks.
Whilst walking around aimlessly, ready to drop,
We made a discovery – The Cheesecake Shop!

Strawberry, lemon, blueberry as well,
Choices, choices, my kind of hell.
Hang on a minute, two dollars a slice!
Why have one, when three would be nice?

The Deckchair Cinema is closed right now,
But the Wave Lagoon was a definite wow.
I mounted a boogie board to surf the waves,
As activities go, this was one of my favs!

Wave Lagoon

Darwin’s Wave Lagoon

The Aviation Centre, entrance fee paid,
Some bits unfortunately we would describe as “staid”.
The B52 Bomber was the highlight for us,
It’s wingspan alone created a fuss.

Mike has kept busy by visiting the gym,
Weights and cycling to keep himself trim.
Sewing and knitting that’s been my thing,
Making teddy costumes with sparkle and zing!!!

Materials are sourced from each charity shop
Some beautiful dresses are next for the chop!
My daughter has said she needs a dozen,
For Sophie’s friends and even her cousin.

Next for the chop!

Next $2 bargains for up cycling

Apart from that, our bikes are still broken,
It’s chucking it down and my washing’s now soakin’.
There’s a notice gone up, ‘Beware of the snake’
Jings and crivvens, just give us a break!

Staying In!

Staying in after dark!

We’re still on target to complete the lap,
So no need to panic or get in a flap.
Humpty Do plus Kakadu are next on the list,
That’s unless Trevor does a three sixty twist!

Soggy Bottom and Itchy Bites at the Top End

The ‘Top End’ is the name given to this area of Australia and it is the most northerly part we will visit. We are currently in Darwin and may need to extend our stay as Storm Trevor is making its way over from the east coast. The Northern Territory has only had half its average rainfall this wet season which has allowed us access to all the National Parks. We just hope Trevor doesn’t plan to dump the second half whilst we’re here! On the way up to Darwin we stopped at Edith Falls where I enjoyed a beautiful solitary swim whilst being mindful of any crocodile escapees!

The reference to my ‘soggy bottom’ has nothing to do with The Great British Bake Off and everything to do with being in an out of water. Swimming pools at the various caravan parks are getting lots of use and at Litchfield National Park I was diving in to the various water holes at every opportunity. I actually had some people company for a change so didn’t feel quite so nervous about lurking crocs! Mind you the sandflies, mosquitoes and ants are having a field day and I’m covered in itchy bites at the moment.

We came across some interesting ant structures whilst in Litchfield National Park. The first was the Cathedral termite mound which dwarfs Mike. An impressive achievement for a mere 5 mm long termite. The other mounds, slightly hidden from view behind the long grass, are made by the Magnetic termite. These clever little insects align their tower from north to south to ensure one side is always in the shade and they therefore have optimum temperature control inside their mound. Wish we could do that with Jura!

We loved lorikeet feeding time at Batchelor Caravan Park. We considered going on a jumping crocodile cruise but manipulating these wild animals to perform by dangling a carrot/meat on a stick just doesn’t do it for us.

We have enjoyed Darwin’s street art, the harbour area and Charles Darwin National Park. Darwin played an important role during the Second World War and we’ve yet to visit the Aviation Museum which is just along the road from us. Getting around Darwin has been a bit more tricky with our bikes still in for repair. We have hopped on and off local buses (avoiding the rear as they can be a bit smelly) and done a fair bit of walking.

Aussie humour is something else. I have kept back the offensive logo about seeing you in the Northern Territory. The two included here wouldn’t be tolerated in Blighty, would they?

Two New Favourites!

By the time you read this blog we will have left Western Australia and entered the Northern Territory. We have spent four months driving from South to North and notched up over 10,000 kilometres if we include the 1,200 kms done on our bikes. It has been amazing. We had not expected Western Australia to keep the best till last – but it did! Lake Argyle has just shot to the top of the list which surprised us as we drove through some pretty dodgy places en route from Broome to get here. It was a case of vroom vroom from Broome.

Lake Argyle is in the middle of nowhere. It is 70 kilometres away from the nearest town and all that’s located at Lake Argyle is a Caravan Park, a Boat Cruise Operator and a Museum (that was closed). At $44 (or £25 a night) the caravan park was not the cheapest we’d stayed in but it did have the best pool and the grounds were beautifully kept. I loved the fact that this whole area is so under developed and with only a handful of other guests staying here I had the whole infinity pool to myself for over half an hour first thing in the morning. It was sheer heaven in my opinion and photographer Mike captured it perfectly!

All to Myself!

Can it get any better than this?

Heaven Again

Here Comes Heaven

We also took a sunset cruise operated by Lake Argyle Cruises with Greg at the helm. The boat set off at half two and we got introduced to some of the lake’s inhabitants including rock wallabies, Jesus birds (so called because they appear to walk on water), fish that spit water at you from a metre away (we checked it was water and not urine!) and fresh water crocodiles. We had the opportunity for several swims off the boat in water that accommodated said crocodiles!!! The water temperature was 33 degrees which is a bit hot for the crocs and so they tend to swim quite deep down, thankfully. The one captured in my photos just came by for a snapper or two!

The sunset over the lake was beautiful and we got to enjoy it whilst floating in the water drinking champagne and eating cheese and biscuits! There was beer for those who preferred and by the time the boat returned to dry land four hours later we had all become best friends and no one was dry!

Argyle Lake is the largest man made lake in Australia and is 70 kms long by 40 kms at its widest point. We heard the story about the construction of the Ord Dam in the late 1960’s and how over the years the water level has been increased to meet demand. The volume is now equivalent to 21 times the size of Sydney Harbour – in case you were interested!

My other new favourite (pushing the Giant Tingle into second place) is the Boab tree. They are unique to this area and are recognised by the swollen base of their trunk. This makes them appear short and stumpy – a bit like me some might say! I couldn’t resist purchasing myself a little wall hanging as a reminder. It was either that or a rare Lake Argyle pink diamond but the jewellery shops were all closed. Mike meanwhile is quite taken by the unusual zebra rock which is mined here and is making enquiries about getting a piece cut for a future retirement project!

The road down to the Bungle Bungles is currently closed but I did take a picture of one of the rocks you might find down there – aka Brexit Rock!!

Mini Bungle Bungle

Brexit Rock