Queensland and warmer days in Hebel, St George, Lake Murphy and Wuruma Dam

Monday, May 05, 2014 at 10:00

Member-Heather MG NSW

In cloudy skies, we packed up our camp in the Warrumbungles and headed for the Queensland Border via the Castlereagh Highway, passing through Coonamble, Walgett (where we bought fuel) and past Lightning Ridge. We’ve seen ‘the Ridge’ before and it’s a fascinating place but we did not see the need to call in again. The road surface was pretty awful, with dips and rough patches and along the way we passed a van which had a broken A frame and a vehicle which appeared to have a collapsed tow ball, so although these may have had nothing to do with the road surface, it was a reminder not to try to hurry.
We had no real plans as to where we would stay the night although we did begin to look for a place where we could pull off the road a bit after Lightning Ridge. In the end, we decided when we arrived in the tiny village of Hebel, just over the border, to take advantage of the campground/caravan park there behind the General Store, paying $10 to stay unpowered. Barb, the friendly owner showed us to our site and made us feel welcome. The amenities are very basic but had a clean flushing toilet and hot shower, although I used our shower, knowing that we were planning on staying the following night in a van park. We took a stroll across to the Hotel where John had a beer while I took photos of the quirky furniture and signs inside and out, and the General Store, where he tried to buy a newspaper (they don’t have them so I guess the locals all watch Satellite TV or internet) and emerged instead with an ice cream! The café there had some good reviews on Wikicamps but I was very unimpressed by the overpowering smell of deep frying oil when I went in to pay for our site. I guess it depends on what type of food you eat but that is certainly not for me, regardless of how generous the portions are!

Having had such cold mornings in the Warrumbungles, I retrieved the gas heater from under the bed and, when I woke up early on Tuesday, put it on to warm up the van. It was very welcome and does a great job but I am careful to have a couple of windows slightly open, and the van vents clear so we don’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Also we do have a CO2 detector hard wired into the 12v system!
North of Hebel we saw plenty of places where we could have pulled off the road and bush camped, and in fact a camper trailer had set up camp just a few hundred metres from the town, alongside the river. We stopped in Dirrinbandi for me to take a couple of photos but were in St George by about 11am and by midday I had done three loads of washing and had it pegged out on clotheslines to dry. We stayed in Pelicans Rest Caravan Park, a Top Tourist park, which cost under $30 with my members discount and has some of the best bathroom facilities we have come across, plus generous sized grassed sites. It was brand new when we stayed there years ago and was a good base for us to stay overnight to do the necessary chores, as our site was close to the Laundry. They also do gas refills which is handy.
After lunch we grocery shopped, bought diesel and a newspaper, also beer…and I had a very busy afternoon packing everything away, folding washing and re making the bed. John topped up the water tanks before we left the following morning and we were set to enjoy some unpowered camping.
Lake Murphy Conservation Park.
Our destination for the next couple of nights was the Conservation Park at Lake Murphy, a small lake where Ludwig Leichhardt made camp on his exploratory trip from near Brisbane to the north Australian coastline east of Darwin. It only fills when the creeks nearby flood as the land is higher than the surrounding area, but when it does, is a haven for waterbirds. We were surprised to find the smallish camp ground vacant but after selecting a site with at least partial sun(tall trees shad much of the campground) and setting up camp we walked to the lake and the reason was obvious. It is currently dry.

I had already paid for two nights at the self registration board ($22.30) and it was a quiet, peaceful place with many birds; a really lovely retreat in brigalow forest. We set about making a fire as there was wood near the fireplace/barbeque and enjoyed observing and listening to bird calls, especially the delightful butcher birds) as they went through their evening repertoire and the setting sun turned the tree trunks to a fiery orange between us and the lake.
After a blissfully quiet night alone, we woke to a clear cool morning. Our day was occupied re doing the short 4 kilometre loop walk through the Dawson (cabbage) palms and forest, across grasslands, where the grass currently is well above my head and almost as tall as John, and along the steep banked, narrow, chocolate coloured waters of the creek. After we returned, I baked a chocolate cake and a pumpkin fruit cake, both recipes from my Favourite Healthy Chef Teresa Cutter who replaces flour with almond meal or coconut flour, and sugars with honey or pure maple syrup, butter with virgin coconut or macadamia oils, and chocolate with raw cacao. The ice cream I make using frozen bananas, macadamia nut butter, medjool dates , vanilla and ice in the vitamix is addictive, especially when topped with the healthy chocolate fudge sauce! I am on a continuing quest to lower my cholesterol levels and these foods have already helped enormously, along with a good daily dose session of brisk walking up and down hills where possible. I now also try to only use pure and organic ingredients and always check labels meticulously as what seems to be that way often has a great list of additives (eg shredded coconut)! They are more expensive but to me that cost is worth it for my health. And these foods are delicious..no junk food so everything is ok if not eaten to excess of course! I have lost a few kilograms and improved cholesterol to healthy levels in six months. However, I digress!
John tackled crosswords and sudokos and we both read and generally lazed around during the afternoon. Both of us separately also walked across to the creek as we were sure we heard the calls of sea eagles. John was successful in finding them, sitting high in a tree above the water.
Late in the day two couples around our age arrived and set up camp on the other side of the campground for the night. Their sounds were muffled by the distance and we were all happy to keep it that way. While sitting around the campfire, we heard a pack of dingoes howling not too far away but there were no signs that they had come into the camp during the night to us.
Wuruma Dam
On Friday morning we packed up and continued on our travels, going north on the Leichhardt Highway to Theodore where we turned onto the TheodoreEidsvold road, past Crakow Hotel and through the small village. It must have once been a thriving town as old dilapidated buildings, long abandoned, line the road sides but more recently a mine has begun operating and there are also a couple of camps with demountable buildings. The road is being upgraded to a B double route and we were delayed in a couple of places where the gravel surface is being widened and sealed. The men holding the Stop – Go signs were happy to talk while we waited and must find it a very boring job as there was little traffic.
It was around midday when we reached Eidsvold where we had to dump the toilet waste and replenish our water. We were able to do this in the one stop and I made our lunch while John did the necessary chores. We forgot to buy diesel but will have plenty until we reach the next town in a few days as we are still carrying an extra 20 litres.
Because of the time, we decided to continue to Wuruma Dam to see whether we could find a park close to the water, expecting to see a very busy place with water levels of 87%, and accepting that we might have to park closer than we usually choose to other campers.
We first stayed here about 6 years ago when the water level was around 15% and parked alongside the small river on the flats. My memories of it are that it was quiet with probably only a dozen campers, and nights and early mornings were very cold, so it must have been later in the year, in winter. It is vastly different now, higher water levels meaning kilometres of shoreline, and every suitable place along it is packed with vans, camper trailers, buses and even huge motor homes and fifth wheelers. We reckon there must have been between 50 and 75 when we arrived so we parked the car and went on foot to find the quietest place suitable for the van. Most campers choose to park close to the toilets and this place is no different.
After a 10 minute walk we finally discovered a place where there were only about 4 other camps, set apart by at least 100 metres, and there was a gently sloping site right on the waterfront free. I stayed there to claim it, while John went back and retrieved the van. It took a while to get level and entailed digging a deep hole for the top side wheels and putting the lake side ones up on chocs and levellers but we finally did it.
John was eager to get the boat into the water so as soon as the awning and shade cloth were erected, and all the outdoor gear in place, we put on the life jackets and got out on the water. Red claw and bait traps were dropped with great anticipation, then we tried to fish for a while and also collected some firewood from the opposite banks.
On our return to the campsite, we soon had a fire going and enjoyed our dinner outside with the close to full moon reflected on the water, and watched the stars as they appeared in the darkening skies. Our sleep was interrupted when a cow woke us, rubbing its neck up and down one of the awning ropes, a sound which took me a while to identify despite growing up with cattle, and it wasn’t a bit concerned when John tried to chase it away, having no fear of humans! I guess it is their territory and we are the invaders but they just roam through the campsites and to the edge of the water to drink
The few days spent at the dam tended to take the same format roughly, (ground hog day) with John up quite early to take a short run out on the water to check the red claw traps, return with them to cook (only once this stay), and then go back out to do some fishing for a few hours. On our first morning here, we managed to trap six smallish red claw but there were none after that. I went out for a look around, to take some photos a couple of times and also half-heartedly tried to fish, although it was hard o keep interested when I didn’t get so much as a nibble until the last afternoon.
We used the dam water for hand washing clothes most mornings, also washing up and for most other non-drinking purposes which really conserved the water in our tanks and meant we could have longer showers, a luxury when we are unpowered and using tank water.
I did a walk to the top of the hill and back each day with my mobile phone, to check emails, face book and make phone calls and send text messages, one morning walking out to the dam wall to take photos before it got too hot, and another morning walking part way along, deviating off the road both sides a bit to have a look around. I discovered wrecked ancient car bodies, a burnt out corrugated iron shack and other signs of long gone humans. By the time I also stopped to make the calls and send messages it was mid morning.
I fired up the generator to make coffee a few times a day, and used it to run my ‘Kitchenaid’ blender/ stick mixer to make hummus, and one afternoon because it had been intermittently cloudy, and also because we were partially shaded by a big tree, I used it for a couple of hours to top up the van batteries, and charge other battery powered appliances. We had only hd partial sun at Lake Murphy as well so each day the morning the level started to drop by 1 point and the last day it was on 12.4. Time to stay in a powered site again to give them a boost again, we thought!
We were surprised at how mild the temperatures were overnight and early mornings as on our previous visit it was very frosty when we woke, and there was ice in the boat. Maybe last time we stayed it was June or July.
Evenings were quite noisy with other campers sounds amplified by the still conditions and the water between us, but once we went indoors, we didn’t hear anything much. Other campers came and went but we didn’t have anyone park too close to us and invade our personal space thankfully. After four nights we decided we were ready to move on.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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