Our long run down from Winton’s dinosaur trail ended at an unpowered site in the Sapphire Caravan Park on the Central Highlands, which turned out to be more like a bush camp given we were on fringes of the hilly park amongst ironbark trees, which suited us perfectly.
The gemfields of the Central Highlands has been a drawcard for over a century, ever since the first sapphires were found in the late 1800s. After an early boom the area stagnated for much of the 1900s and was revitalised by renewed mining late last century, mainly on the back of hobby and tourist fossickers.
Several gem fossicking guides operate on the fields, and by tagging along with one you save yourself the trouble of getting a permit and hiring equipment, and hopefully they steer you onto good paying dirt as well. We had arranged to meet Keith from Fascination Gems, our instructions were to look for “a bloke with arse out of his pants with an old trailer full of junk”, and that’s exactly what we found at the Anakie cross roads this morning.
After grabbing a decent coffee from the espresso van in the cross roads rest area we followed Keith’s rig into a mining lease where he had his gear set up. Keith was a gruff old bugger without a sense of humour and when I mentioned his trailer lights weren’t working he replied “well you shouldn’t drive so close behind me then!”, hmmm, this was going to a long day.
Keith had led us into an area that looked well worked over, with rubble piles where other hopefuls had already scratched and cleaned their diggings. He showed us and another couple who joined us for the day where the local gem bearing wash layer should be, about 300mm under the surface, then demonstrated the home made trammel and washing gear before setting us free to try our luck.
I’m sure when mentioning to Suzzanne that we were off to get her a sapphire the image was a little different than this – but she was in there with me digging and scratching together the dirt that was meant to hold the precious gems then helping with the dusty job of grading the dirt to size using the rotating trammel. We then sieved and washed what was left before inspecting the rubble for glimmers and sparkles that might be our targeted stones.
We ended up with a few specks of colour for our luck, one of which is a reasonable looking zircon, we didn’t make our fortune in the Gemfields but it was a fun day that has given us some more great memories in our story book.
We wrapped up the day with a look around the gemfields area then hanging with the locals.
From gemstones to gems of places, our travels continued the following day – from Sapphire we headed into Emerald to restock with groceries and grab lunch, plus it gave me a chance to show Suzzanne around the town where Lachie was born and I lived for most of the 90’s. After that we headed down the Dawson Highway toward Springsure followed by Rolleston, then turned toward our next destination, Carnarvon Gorge National Park.
On the way into the park is a memorial to one of the many USAF aircraft that crashed in Queensland during World War 2. It was nicely set out and a peaceful place, serving as a wonderful reminder of the sacrifice that many have made for peace. It reminded me of Beautiful Betsy, the crashed bomber I visited at Kroombit Tops, six months earlier.
Firewood is always at a premium near popular camp sites so a little further along we helped to reduce bush fire risk 😉 by harvesting some from the roadside. The Exorack on top of the X3 is great for carrying logs and extra gear, especially anything too dirty or bulky to be carried inside.
There are few camping options in the main section of Carnarvon Gorge but we were happy with our choice of the newest establishment, the Sandstone Park Campground just outside the National Park boundary. The grounds are still under development and are presently operating with temporary Portaloos, but they are kept clean and the camp sites are large and well spaced.
A fire was certainly welcome, with the temperature dropping as soon as the sun fell below the ridgeline. The vista was pretty good too, sandstone escarpments in both directions and a wide valley dipping to the east over which we watched the moon and sun rises.
The following morning the weather was was sensational, a perfect day for our planned hike into the gorge. We headed out to far end of our hike first, to the Art Gallery about halfway into the main gorge. Right from the beginning the hike involved crossing streams and walking amongst the giant gum trees and sandstone cliffs that make this park such an attraction. The Art Gallery was worth the hike in, I’ve never seen such a large amount of painted indigenous art in one place. Its easy to imagine the artists sitting up here on a protected ledge with the overhanging rock face providing a cool retreat while they worked, amazing.
One the way back we diverted into the Moss Garden walk, a stunning little gorge that was aptly named, lined with dripping moss covered walls and a cascade gurgling through it.
Every part of the park was breath taking, and I mean literally due to the steep stairs and elevated tracks along the way, phew! If our hike wasn’t enough to get the heart racing a fat little death adder on the track would do it if you came across him unexpectedly.
Hiking in and around Carnarvon Gorge is amazing, the country is so beautiful and immense you could spend years and still only see a fraction, in our short visit we could only hope to visit the main tourist section, but we’ll be back to see some of the more remote parts for sure.
Our last day at Sandstone Park was wet and grey, a perfect excuse to chill in camp after being on the go for the past week. It also gave us a chance to reflect on how our travelling had evolved over the past year in response to my changing health situation and treatment schedule. Added to this are some niggly features of the X3 that make it less ideal for our needs when travelling…
The prospect of changing campers is not an easy one, I love the overall package of the Patriot Campers X3, but reality is, its not doing the job for us. We had plenty to talk about while driving back home, what would our ideal camper look like? We have some ideas, stay tuned for more news.