Travel: Australian Outback Adventure in a 2010 Land Rover Defender 110
Four-Wheeling, Fossils, and Fishing on the Way to the Gulf of Carpentaria
Deserts make up a large part of the Australian Outback. These deserts have been dangerous and hard to access in the past, but today more and more people travel to the Outback to experience the deafening silence, the brilliant sunsets, the magnificent night skies, the stunning scenery, the vibrant colors, and the spectacular birds and wildlife. The Australian Outback is extremely harsh and dry. After Antarctica, Australia is the world's driest continent; it is also the flattest and lowest. A quarter of it is officially uninhabitable, which means that thorough preparation for Outback journeys is of paramount importance. Sensible precautions must be taken against dangerous and poisonous creatures, bush fires, and extreme heat.
We had two weeks to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Queensland from our home near Sydney on the east coast of Australia. This epic trip mapped approximately 3790 miles, most of that on dirt roads. We carried spare fuel, fresh water, a first-aid kit, and two spare tires in our 2010 Land Rover Defender 110, an ideal vehicle for a trip like this. Ours has been fitted with a computer download, a 33-percent-larger intercooler, a 2.5-inch exhaust, and airbags in the rear springs to assist with towing, performance, and economy. On board, we have a tool kit, tow strap, Hi-Lift jack, extra fan belt, and fuel filter. We tow a UEV440 Conqueror Trailer with a dual battery, two double beds, 42 gallons of water, a diesel heater, and plenty of storage. Heading north, we took the Matilda Highway, named for of the famous song "Waltzing Matilda." Sheep and cattle roam this part of the country, and the earth is rich with minerals and ores.
A highlight of the trip was the Riversleigh fossil site, a land lost in time, where the flat plains of the Australian savannah stretch all the way to the ocean at the Gulf of Carpentaria. Riversleigh has been described by Sir David Attenborough: "Only in one or two places on the surface of our planet, in the course of the last three thousand million years, have conditions been just right to preserve anything like a representative sample of the species living at any particular time. Those places are the rare treasure houses of paleontology. Riversleigh is one of them."
"Our Land Rover Defender 110 was the perfect vehicle for this kind of trip."
This incredible location houses fossilized remains of prehistoric animals from the last 25 million years. We saw the fossils of a huge freshwater crocodile and a large flightless bird. The concentration and variety of deposits here have contributed to an understanding of prehistoric creatures and the changes that have taken place over millenia.
It was a long and dusty drive to reach the pinnacle of our trip, Adel's Grove, near Lawn Hill National Park. It was an incredible feeling to jump into the cool, clear, fresh water of this beautiful oasis. In the deeper parts of the Lawn Hill Gorge, the water is emerald green and the limestone walls seem to touch the sky. The vegetation is lush at the water's edge. Birds, wildlife, and many, many snakes are attracted to this site.
There are plenty of walks to take and cultural sites to visit in the area. Adel's Grove is a small, lesser-known site with a very interesting history. It was originally taken on by plant collector Albert de Lestang in 1920 as an experimental botanical garden. He planted more than 1000 species of exotic plants, shrubs, and trees here. He also supplied the world with the seeds produced by the garden. Although a fire destroyed nearly everything here in the 1950s, Adel's Grove has stood the test of time. It is a special place and a monument to de Lestang.
From Adel's Grove in the Gulf Country, we continued north toward the ocean to Burketown to do some barramundi fishing. After a few days, we turned south again and headed to the little town of Julia Creek. The next highlight of the trip was the remote location of Lark Quarry, the site of the only recorded dinosaur stampede on earth. As the guide at Lark Quarry Conservation Park explained, evidence suggests approximately 95 million years ago, a herd of small dinosaurs was stalked by a large, heavy dinosaur. A chase sent the herd stampeding across the muddy flats to escape, and a record of the event is cast in some 3000 fossilized footprints. Scientists have deduced that the environment was cooler and wetter when dinosaurs roamed. Not long after the incident, the water level began to rise and the tracks of the stampede were covered with sediments that were later compressed to form rock.
Traveling south, we passed through the tiny town of Toompine, located just off the Dowling Track. The Toompine Hotel is a historic structure built circa 1893 that used to be serviced by Cobb and Co. transportation. Some people call it the pub with no town, because the Toompine Hotel makes up what is the "town." Toompine provides facilities and amenities for the local stations and opal prospectors, called "fossickers" in Australia.
The Dowling Track is 352 miles in length and is a journey of great historical significance. It can be a long and lonely drive, but nothing in comparison with what was experienced by Vincent James Dowling and other pioneers who explored this area more than 100 years ago. There are tales of people walking the track in the blazing, unrelenting, perilous heat. Even the Australian author Henry Lawson is said to have walked from Bourke to Hungerford and back seeking work some decades ago. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for the Dowling Track. Even though it is mainly hard-packed red dirt, when conditions change, the Track can become hazardous and impassable in some places.
Further along, we found Kilcowera Station, a large privately run organic cattle station with a total area of 120,000 acres. We enjoyed the peace and quiet here. The land on the station expands across the ranges as far as the eye can see. There are creeks and lagoons as well as gorges and caves on the property.
Remote and vast with enormous natural beauty, Kilcowera Station is well-known to nature lovers. One of the most famous stories documented here is the one about the Murderers' Bore. We took a drive out to the bore, which was the site of a grisly murder in the 1940s. The story goes that the bore contractor murdered his assistant rather than pay him wages, and that the contractor burned the body and disposed of the remains in the bore to hide the crime. He was eventually caught and sentenced to life in prison.
This was our last stop before heading back home to Sydney. The trip had been filled with adventure. We were reluctant to leave the peace and tranquility of the Outback.