The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 22

This morning we got a great start on the day. I didn’t see anyone else at the caravan park up and about, I didn’t even hear anyone else, not even a whisper. It wasn’t that early, but it was a wet outside and quite cold. We hit the road at 6:45am and made our way through the thick fog to the town of Parks. 

Thick fog
Thick fog on the drive to Parks
 

The fog began to lift just in time for us to see ‘The Dish’ off in the distance. Today wasn’t the day for a visit, however, it does make me want to sit down now watch the Australian movie called ‘The Dish’. It’s a true story based around a group of eclectic scientists who are responsible for looking after a satellite dish located on an Aussie sheep farm. No time to watch a movie right now, but there was plenty of time to do some bird watching. There was plenty of bird life to be seen right next to the road. I saw crows, magpie-larks, happy jacks, magpies, willy wagtails, rosellas, grey falcons, galahs and wedge-tables eagles. Which was pretty good for a morning.

I was feeling particularly tired this morning, and consequently took a nap. I typically have a terrible time napping while in cars and often feel motion sick. There is, however, the odd occasion that I am completely exhausted and can manage to successfully nap, and this was one of those days. I stirred from my sleep, raised my head, looked to my right to ask where we were, but instead something caught my eye. ‘Is that a market?’ I said, giving the driver a little fright, not knowing that I was waking. We were in West Whyalong and spent a very short amount of time looking at the market. Unfortunately the ‘arctic vortex’ had hit (it’s what the weather forecaster called it) and was very cold. We grabbed some Hummingbird cake for morning tea and headed back out on the road. Now was definitely the time to be thankful for a warm vehicle.  

 

Delicious Hummingbird Cake
Delicious Hummingbird Cake
 
Along the drive we entertained ourselves with a quick game of alphabet search. Each player has to find the letters of the alphabet, either on signs or on number plates that you drive past on the journey. The hardest part is trying to remember what letter you are up too, and not start looking for letters that your opponent is looking for. It’s rather amusing and can really keep both driver and passenger alert for quite some time.

Today we had a lot more success with getting a free cup of tea at a driver reviver. There were quite a number of them open and often the previous cup was only just finished before arriving at another stop. The people at the driver reviver are all volunteers and are quite lovely to chat to, offering advise on the local area and the roads both North and South.

 

Driver Reviver
Driver Reviver at the local CFA
 
We never stayed for long, and today we didn’t stop for lunch. It was another ‘car oven’ meal for us. A couple of pies from the Fernvale Bakery and we were as happy as a kid on holidays. We put the pies in the pie warmer and took it in turn to not only eat, but also drive. When you finished eating then it was your turn to drive. They were, yet again, delicious and I would recommend popping in, if you’re ever in the Fernvale area.

 

Pies in the oven
Two pies in the ‘Car Oven’
 
Our next great excitement was crossing over the New South Wales, Victorian border. It feels a lot more like home when you’re actually in your own state. We were actually still a long way from home, but it was feeling a lot closer. Border crossings happen so quickly, and if you’re not aware, you will cross them without even realising. There is only one small sign, but if by chance it was the first time you were making the crossing, and you happen to be watching the road, the traffic or generally just looking around, you may very well miss the entire thing. Don’t worry, we saw it, stopped, went back and got a photo.

 

Tiny Border Sign
The tiny sign at the border
 
We had a nice afternoon stop at the Big Strawberry, in the little town of Koonoomoo. Although the temperature was continually decreasing as we travelled further south, we couldn’t resist trying the strawberry ice-cream. We got one scoop to share and were rather excited. The taste… well… to put it simply… it tasted fake. I had high hopes for the Big Strawberry to deliver a big taste, but unfortunately it fell short. It looked like strawberry, but it tasted like artificial strawberry flavouring. It had a strange aftertaste and we didn’t want to finish it. We did a little early Christmas shopping while we were there, but didn’t stay for long. The closer we got to home, the more we wanted to be there.

 

Big Strawberry
Quick stop at the Big Strawberry
 
It wasn’t long before we arrived home, raced inside and said hello to our two little furry animals. I hope they weren’t hungry for the last three weeks. Just kidding! The house-sitter did a fantastic job and no troubles were had while we were away. We arrived home to a beautiful clean house and there was even a bottle of wine on the bench. The usual unpacking, washing and putting away of all things was done, but it didn’t take long for a fire to be lit and the pizza to arrive. Relaxing on the couch, with your wife, a pizza and a furry animal after a holiday. Life can’t get much better than that!

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The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 21

The three of us (my wife and her sister) headed down the road to have a lovely breakfast at the Ultra Cafe. It was super small, but fortunately there was something on the menu we were all happy with. The service was quick, the food as tasty and I was informed that the coffee was excellent. For a Melbourne person to say that the coffee in Brisbane was excellent, is a pretty good review, so props to them.

We hit the road and headed south. Well actually, first you have to head west out to Goondiwindi and then South. Today was all about the destination and not about the journey. It was all about reaching the horizon quickly. Really chasing that horizon with a certain amount of speed. Not the usual meandering through the countryside.

QLD border
Our final sights of QLD as we cross the border

We left in such a hurry yesterday morning, and neither of us really checked what the other had packed. This resulted in a number of food items being left behind. One of which was her tea supply. So for the entire day we were chasing the driver reviver stops, to get her a warm cup of tea and a lovely Arnott’s biscuit. We searched online a downloaded the full list of stops that we would be passing by. As soon as we arrived in a new town, we headed straight to the driver reviver stop, but we continue to find them closed. Considering it was the weekend before school goes back, I expected a lot more to be opened.

Lunch was eaten on the road today. We were very thankful to take some leftover roast veggie quiche, made by my sister-in-law, and heated it up in the oven whilst driving. It’s so lovely to have a top notch meal while on the road, rather than picking up some take-away from the servo. We had reached Narrabri by lunch time, and yet again stopped into the tourist information centre in search of a driver reviver stop. No luck again, but we did find a giant cotton picking machine, and I was able to go right up inside the cabin. It was an unexpected sight and I’m not quite sure how they ever got it inside, but it was pretty cool.

Giant cotton picking machine
Giant cotton picking machine

Finally, just 65km from our destination, we find a driver reviver that is open. Thank you to the townsfolk from Gilgandra who volunteered to keep their driver reviver open for those weary travels still trying to reach their horizon destination. It was just what the driver needed to help with that final hour.

The best thing about a long day is that you get to appreciate the sunset. You are literally stuck in a car, with not a lot to do and forced to appreciate every aspect of it. There is no opportunity to get distracted, walk off and miss part of it. As the road wines along you get a different perspective on that angle of the sunset. 

I was saying to my wife, back at day 11, how wonderful the weather had been all this time. How lucky we were to not have any rain. I also said ‘I bet for sure that we will have rain in Dubbo’. I had this feeling that it would all go splendidly, right until the end. That the tent will have stayed dry, right until the end. Then, on our last night, it would pour with rain and we would end up with not only our tent being wet, but a whole bunch of our gear being wet too. Just so we can spend our first day at home, drying everything out and cleaning everything. That’s the feeling I got.

Sure enough when I checked the weather forecast this morning, it was showing rain all night. This was like a nightmare for camping, especially after such a good run. We didn’t want that. It’s frustrating setting up your tent in the rain and the trying to get your stuff inside without getting wet. We didn’t even know how to put the fly on the tent because we haven’t yet had to use it. We splurged, and booked a budget cabin at the caravan park. I want to enjoy the last part of the trip. I want to enjoy my only day at home before I head back to work. I want the last memories made on this trip to be happy ones. I have camped in the rain plenty of times, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much by taking the easy option tonight. We relaxed in the cabin with a warm dinner and some trashy TV.

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 20

So today was the day to devour that delicious loaf of bread, bought at the Fernvale Bakery. We left home early and headed to a best friends house in the beautiful suburb of Westlake. She recently married and they had moved into their new house, which I was yet too see. The bread was our contribution to breakfast and was very happily accepted. We had some delicious and very fun French toast, with all the trimmings, while chatting for a couple of hours. It was great to finally see their beautiful house.

'Fun Bread' from Fernvale Bakery
Breakfast with ‘Fun Bread’ from the Fernvale Bakery

Unfortunately neither of them were on holidays, so we had to say goodbye. Today we were tourists in Brisbane, and on a day with such lovely weather it was perfect for visiting the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. We joined into the free walking tour which went for an hour and a half. We were the only two on the tour so thank goodness it was interesting because I’m not sure how we could have gotten out of it.

Our private tour guide
Our private tour guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens

It didn’t feel comfortable pulling out the camp stove at the botanical gardens, so we found a local park and ate our new favourite lunch. Spaghetti and veggie balls. It’s the vegetarian version of spaghetti and meat balls and is simply fantastic. We didn’t really have any other plans for the day, other than the necessary refuelling of the 4WD. We looked online to find the cheapest fuel in the area, which was important, as both tanks were now empty. The traffic was horrendous, but I can say that I have really gotten the hang of this manual driving now. Well… in most situations.

In the evening we headed to my wife’s sister’s place, where we are staying tonight. She has a lovely unit on the north side of Brisbane and we are yet again happy to stay in a comfortable bed, rather than on the ground. She is a very good cook, just like the rest of her family, and enquired as to whether we would like a particular dish for dinner, since we had been on the road for so long. Was there anything we were craving, or missing or just simply wanted. My wife chose quiche and quiche is what we had. It was filled with scrumptious roast vegetables and it really hit the spot. The pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance was, however, the dessert. I’m not entirely sure of its name, but basically it was pear stuffed with a nutty, buttery, chocolatey mix, then wrapped in filo pastry and baked till soft. The name was irrelevant because the taste was sensational. We sat down to a great episode of Masterchef and she filled us in on what we missed. Glad to slowly start coming back to the real world, after such long holidays.

Sensational Dessert
Sensational baked pear dessert

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 19

This morning the three of us (my wife and my mum) headed into Ipswich and took a lovely morning walk along the Bremer River. It’s only been developed in the last 5 years and is a great way to appreciate the river that winds through this old city. If you love plant life, there are plenty of plaques describing some local native plants. If you love history, then there are also some plaques telling you about how the area was originally established as well as some information about the floods that have devastated the area over the past 25 years. If you love a bit of ‘what the?’ then there were also some plaques that had a picture of the scenery and one simple word. For example there was a picture of the river and the word ‘Reflect’. I’m not sure why people need to be told to reflect, or why there is a picture of what you can actually see, but I’m sure there must be a purpose to it. At the end of the walk we arrived at an awesome playground, with plenty of different types of swings and climbing frames, and lots of interesting water play features. We had a quick play and wander through the area before heading back.

Have some playtime
Having some morning playtime in Ipswich

We had breakfast at a local cafe, the highlight being my wife’s choice of a tasting plate. The quick background is that she loves breakfast and would be happy to eat breakfast food at any, if not all, meal times of the day. Loving breakfast options so much, makes it incredibly hard to decide from a breakfast menu, which particular item you really want to eat. Especially when you have never been to that cafe before. So the option of choosing a tasting plate, really solved that problem. Muesli with yoghurt and fruit, toast with smashed avocado and haloumi, and a couple of poached eggs. When you top that off with a banana milkshake (shared) you can’t get a breakfast much better than that.

One of the benefits of staying with family, rather than a caravan park, is the free washing machine. There isn’t any need to save all your $1 coins just so you can make sure you have clean undies and socks to continue chasing horizons. Considering my folks had also been away, there was plenty of washing to do. If it wasn’t for the first load drying so quickly, we would haven needed to open a new packet of pegs.

My folks place is in continual need of repair, renovation or upgrade, and we usually help out with a new task whenever we come up to stay. Today the renovation was in the bathroom. We were removing floor tiles. It wasn’t a terribly difficult job, as most of them just lifted off, but it was a job that needed doing. The big question is ‘How long will it take to lay the new ones?’ They are lovely old tiles and I hope they find a new home rather than just end up in landfill.

Beautiful old tiles
Beautiful old tiles

Task complete and now time for an explore. Yesterday we flew through the little town of Fernvale, but didn’t really have time to stop. Today was the day to drive back and introduce my wife to the famous Fernvale Bakery. It’s known for its award winning pies and this year alone, won 11 awards in the Australian baking competition. They sell emu pies, camel pies, crocodile pies and even yowie pies, just to name a few. Actually there are 120 different types of pies to try. I had a delicious chicken and apricot pie, and my wife had the vegetarian pie. We picked up a couple of pies for our drive home and also a lemon meringue for afternoon tea. But… the most exciting purchase was a loaf of bread, but you will have to wait till tomorrow to find out more about that.

Back at my parents house, we had the opportunity to raid a larger selection of board games. We opened the cupboard and there was an old time favourite of mine, although I didn’t often play due to lack of numbers. ‘Home Improvement’ is a board game based on the hit TV show Home Improvement with Tim Allen from the 1990s. It requires 3 or more to play, so we quickly roped mum into playing and within no time we were shopping for tools and supplies and getting jobs completed. The luck of the day fell with mum, who clearly won by a mile.

Dinner time had snuck up on us, and considering I was in charge, it was time for me to get cracking. I can’t say that I’m a particularly good cook, but I can follow a recipe. I was cooking quesadillas and fortunately I had remembered to bring the recipe from home. So as expected, everyone thought they were delicious. Well… actually I have no idea what my brother thought of them, as he never said either way. I would assume since the plate was clean, that it wasn’t too bad.
The best of the day was yet to come. Tonight was the State of Origin decider and it was being held on home turf. Born and bred in Queensland, I’m maroon through and through. From beginning to end, it was just a total obliteration. The blues played a messy game and continued to make fatal errors, simply handing the game to the maroons. I was more than happy to watch an easy win especially when the Queensland team were able to give Hodges the final goal score of the game, at his final origin match. It’s was a beautiful thing. Queenslander!!

Oh I nearly forgot to mention the half time break dessert which mum whipped up at dad’s request. It was inspired by the traditional Eton mess, but also included some freshly made butterscotch ice cream, using some of the syrup we bought form Crows Nest Soft-drinks. A delicious, but sugar filled, dessert to keep us psyched for the rest of the match. My brother had emerged at this time, to devour dessert in all but four mouthfuls. He had risen from his computer chair and had managed to drag himself away from the computer games long enough. Rugby was never going to win over the computer, but dessert always does. Once the loud cheering and buzz of excitement had disappeared from the house, we all tucked ourselves away in bed, ready for an early start in the morning.

Delicious dessert
Delicious ‘Eton Mess’ style dessert

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 18

Gee whiz she was tired! My wife slept for 11 hours. I packed up everything around her, until it was finally time to pack up her sleeping mat. In the end I had to wake her so we could get our day underway. She wasn’t very impressed, but there wasn’t really the chance to sleep the day away. The car was packed, we ate breakfast on the road and were headed to Roma.

The local St Paul’s Church, boasted beautiful stained glass windows which date back to the early 1870s. We headed into the church for a couple of quick photos, but instead we unexpectedly caught in the tour which was just about to start. It was quite interesting, although the one hour of discussion focussed around lead light and religious history was a bit much and not really part of our plan for the day. The latest window was donated back in 2006. A young fella wanted to have a window in memory of his mother who was a nurse in the local area. There are still 7 windows yet to be filled and maybe we can come back in 20 years and see if there is a new one or maybe two.

Stained glass windows
The stained glass windows at St Paul’s Church

The Roma tourist info also mentions visiting the Big Windmill. It’s the largest commercially operated windmill in Australia. The Big Windmill was more of a Big disappointment. It wasn’t really that big and actually looked about the same size as the one at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I just found out that the guy who was performing the ‘Outback Show’, is actually my cousin! Wish I had known that before we went because I would have introduced myself and said hi.

The next destination was the Roma sale yards, which is Australia’s largest cattle selling complex. Upon arrival the auctions were in full swing, and although we missed the morning tour, we managed to take a bit of time and work it out. I would have much preferred going on this tour rather than the religious history tour with a touch of stain glass windows. Anyway, we found out who was doing the auction, what they were selling and for how much. Did you know there are about 920 different breeds of cattle in the world? Neither did I, before today!

Roma Saleyards
Livestock for sale at the Roma Saleyards

A focus of the trip has been to support the local community, so we stopped in at the community cottage at Wallumbilla. The had a selection of handicrafts and baked goods. We picked up a clinkers slice, never having tried it before. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best tasting slice, but we were happy to support the country women.

We took a little detour in Yulleba to try and find the native wells, but to no avail. We were a little disappointed, as the pictures looked great and this was to be out lunch stop for today. We pushed on and had some delicious enchiladas cooked in the frypan (camp style) at the Rotary Park in Chinchilla. We couldn’t stay long as we needed to be at Crows Nest by 4pm and we still had a fair drive ahead of us. We turned on the Tomtom to find the fastest route and then hot footed it. The estimated time of arrival was 4:06pm and we were hoping the backstreets were going to actually work out the fastest. We had all our trust in a little electronic device.

With absolutely no traffic on the roads and a perfect run, we arrived just in time. Crows Nest Coridals has been in operation since 1903 and is the only small town manufacturer of soft drink in Australia. They are now known as Crows Nest Soft-drinks, but their original name is the one that will always be strong in my mind. I remember when I used to orienteer as a young little tacker out in the area, and there would be a small truck that would come out and sell soft drinks. Blue Lemonade was always my first choice. There’s something super exciting about having a bright blue drink.

The many flavours available
The many flavours available at Crows Nest Soft-drinks

Just recently two local guys bought and consequently saved the business. We chatted for a while about the rich history of the business and the continual stories that are told about people’s love of a particular flavour. With over 30 flavours, there is definitely one to suit you. Not only do they sell soft drink, but they sell syrup which can be used in anything. You can pour it over ice-cream, add it to soda water, coffee, cocktails, milkshakes or plain water, you can use it as flavouring in cooking or whatever you can possibly think of. It was very hard to choose what flavours we wanted to buy, but thankfully there were little sample bottles available. We bought a few to try and can always order more after we arrive home.

Unusual flavours
Such unusual flavours

As soon as we were back in the car, we cracked into a bottle of soft drink. Portobello was our flavour of choice. Something neither of us had tasted, seen or even heard of before. It was scrumptious and had quite a unique flavour. The new owners described it as a cherry, grape with a touch of creaming soda. I described it as delicious. Pity we didn’t buy any of the syrup, I think this flavour will be going on the order list.

We had a beautiful drive through the mountains, headed down to Esk and then along the Brisbane Valley Highway to my folks place. I grabbed a quick photo, out the window, as we drove over Wivenhoe Dam. The sunset was yet again a beautiful sight to see. We arrive at my folks place and my father was standing out on the front porch waiting for us to pull in. Such a lovely welcome. As soon as I opened the door he promptly asked us if we could move some heavy buckets of rock out of his trailer. Not ‘Hi how was the drive?’, not ‘Do you want a hand settling in?’ or ‘Glad to see you safely arrived’. Never mind old man. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and headed off to bed early, after a really long day of driving.

Sunset
Sunset over the dam

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 17

We both awoke with the same feeling. We wanted to go back to the creek and try another couple of spots. We wanted a few more buckets of wash. We quickly packed up the car, said goodbye to my folks and raced back to the creek. We again, worked hard and worked fast. We knew it was public land, and we were allowed to dig there because we had a permit, but we knew Mr Gem was going to bring through another tour group shortly and we didn’t want to get caught. We managed to get out of there without being seen, but the adrenalin was really pumping through our veins.

 

Dry River bed
Using the dry sieve in the river bed
 

We headed straight to Pat’s Gems and started sorting through all of our buckets of wash, including the one left over from a couple of days ago. After about an hour we were starting to get a little weary and our eyes were tired from continually looking at rocks, so we grabbed a strawberry milkshake. It was delicious. It was just what we needed, as we still had many more buckets to sort through. We washed for three hours non stop, but unfortunately we didn’t find any sapphires worth faceting. We know we dug in multiple spots. We know we dug in the right level of the rock. We know that we put in 100% effort. It obviously just wasn’t our time to find a sapphire, but we were satisfied. They do say ‘If you are meant to find a sapphire, you will find it’. We will just have to come back and try again another time.

We headed out to Rubyvale and called into a place called ‘Fascinations’, which is the best place to get your gems cut. The guy who owns the place is currently rehabbing a dog. My wife got a bit of animal loving, which she is missing, while being out on the road. We left a zircon and one of the garnets, to get cut into an earring stud each. They will just be single studs and won’t match, which is fine considering I often wear two different earrings anyway. He has a long queue of gems to cut, so is hoping to get to mine just after Christmas time. We were now finished with The Gemfields and it was time to continue along our Rocky Horizon Trip.

We headed out of town. Our destination was Carnarvon Gorge National Park. We looked online last night and noticed there were still a few campsites available, but it was now time to call and book. The call to National Parks finally connects but I am placed on hold, finally someone answers but then I get put through to another department, again on hold. A few minutes later another person answers and I ask to book a campsite. She puts me back on hold to check the system. ‘Sorry there aren’t any sites available, was there anything else I can do for you?’ I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be able to miraculously make another campsite appear, or just go and check that no one had left early, so I didn’t bother asking. ‘No thanks, have a great day’. It was time to make a new plan, so we checked the time and worked out that Injune would be the best destination for arrival time into camp.

There wasn’t a lot to see along the drive today, just the same old, same old. The conversation quickly began, talking about which gem field we preferred and which one we would rather go back too. Either Gemtree for garnets or Sapphire and Rubyvale for sapphires. We decided we would like to try heading back to Gemtree and actually digging our own, rather than just finding them in a bucket of wash. The next trip planning may have just begun.

 

Didn't see much
Didn’t see much on the drive to Injune
 

We arrive at the Injune Showgrounds at about 6pm, set up for the second last time and quickly got some dinner cooking on the stove. We were both quite tired tonight and didn’t play any games. My wife went straight to bed, after dinner, while I stayed up and blogged for a little while. Tomorrow we are chasing the clock. Injune to Crows Nest, arriving before 4pm.

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 16

We were booked in to go on a tour with Mr Gem, a local tour operator who will show you the lay of the land, assist in finding a spot and make sure you are headed on the right track. He also includes lunch and allows you to wash all your buckets of wash back at the beautifully set up Pat’s Gems. The tour didn’t start till a lazy 9am, so we were able to head down to the local Sapphire Sunday market. Most stalls were obviously selling sapphires, either set in jewellery, cut but not set, or still in the rough. We didn’t buy any sapphires, that’s too easy, we want to dig ours up out of the ground. Dad picked up a sieve set and we bought a cute little book.

I was glad that dad bought the sieves because we still had a bit of spare time before the tour and were able to sort through some of our left over bucket from Pat’s. We picked out a few more sapphires and were feeling exited about our tour. After putting our lunch order in with Mrs Gem, we followed Mr Gem out to the digging site. It was the first time that any of us had dug in a dry riverbed. He showed us the layers of rock and explained about how the land was formed so that we could decided where we wanted to dig. I found a spot on the side of the riverbed under a very prickly sapphire bush, that was recommended to us. The sapphire bush often has sapphires hidden under it, simply because no one has spent the time digging through all its long prickles.

We spent a couple of hours digging in our own spots, collecting buckets of wash to take back to Pat’s for processing. It was really hot, dry and dusty and there wasn’t really any shade. Although I was quite thirsty and later got quite hungry, I didn’t stop for a break. We only had a certain amount of time to get as many buckets of wash as we could. We were under the pump. We needed to work hard and work fast. Almost all the buckets were full, people started to pack up their buckets and head back to the trailer. I hadn’t quite finished yet. I just wanted another couple, so I ignored them and kept digging. We had 10 buckets between the both of us and quickly walked them back to the trailer, while everyone else collected up the picks and shovels. Thank goodness it was time for lunch, because I was starving, but not ‘third world country’ kind of starving, just a regular ‘I’ve missed morning tea and now it’s gonna be a late lunch’ type of starving.

Digging Site
One of the digging sites in the side of the riverbank

Lunch took forever to arrive, and by forever I mean the small talk between ourselves and the other family that came out on tour, had pretty much fizzled out and now there was a fair bit of awkward silence. Thank goodness for the young fella. Mr Gem and his wife have a cute little kid about 5 years old who I happened to befriend in the morning. He was carrying around pack of cards, and while we placed our lunch order at the start of the day, I showed him a magic trick. This long waiting time was the perfect opportunity to show him how to do the magic trick. He was a star pupil, and learnt quite quickly. This trick has multiple steps and is quite particular, so I was pretty impressed that he, of just 5 years, was able to pick it up so well.

Finally the food arrived! Delicious, generous meals that filled out bellies. Thank goodness I didn’t waste away to a shadow! The young fella spent his time wandering around to other people in the cafe showing them his trick. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t, but he was having a great time. After lunch we got to work on our buckets of wash. Washing, shaking, flipping, checking and sometimes plucking out a sapphire or two.

The father in the other family was quite vocal. At one point he pulled out a sapphire and then proceeded to tell everyone about it. He first started with the people just around him that could hear and then started to call out to other tables close by until his table was surrounded in people. But that wasn’t all, there were some people fossicking over in a separate area who weren’t really able to hear him. Don’t worry, they didn’t get missed. He walked over to each table with his sapphire and made sure he told everyone about it. After his return he continued talking about it, loudly enough for everyone to hear, until finally he realised that no one was paying him anymore attention and he went back to his wash to search for more. Just 20 seconds later he found another one and called out so everyone could hear. ‘Wow, this one’s a beauty!’ It sparked the interest of a few people who again swarmed like flies around his table. At the end of the day, not many of his were actually worth faceting. They had too many cracks, were too thin, or were just too cloudy. Better luck next time mate!

Mr Gem, who is a real country guy, stuck around and made sure we were doing it properly. If you don’t yet ‘have your eye in’ then it’s easy enough to just toss out a gem or two among your rocks. He was such a caring guy, and just wanted to make sure you had a great day out regardless of success. Mrs Gem, who conveniently works at Pat’s will often have a little sticky beak over your shoulder and help out wherever she can. She is a very bubbly and bright person, full of energy and always happy to have a good long natter.

We had collected more buckets of wash than we had time to search through, and had only been through half our buckets before the sun had set too low. We packed them up and headed back to the caravan park. It was such a relief to be able to come back to a cabin. To be able to just walk to our very own shower, with super hot water and be able to wash the layers of mud, dirt and dust off our body. It was time to start to relax after a really hard day of digging, as we were truly exhausted.

We had leftovers for dinner, for two reasons. Firstly, we are too exhausted to cook and secondly there were heaps of leftovers that needed to be eaten. Perfect opportunity to clean out the fridge before packing up and heading back on the road tomorrow. We played a few games with my folks between dinner and dessert, and then crawled into bed ready to snore the night away. We were definitely looking forward to a more restful day tomorrow, without any more digging.

Draw Something
Our drawings from the game of ‘Draw Something’

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 15

I woke up feeling lucky. This was going to be a great day. Today we wanted to try a new digging site, so after looking at the maps we decided on Graves Hill. We read through the description and found exactly where we should be digging. The ground looked like virgin soil, whereas yesterday it looked as though someone had already dug through it quite extensively.

We used a stick as a divining rod and walked over the ground till we got a reading. I got a strong reading and then handed it to someone else to see if they too could get a reading. Same spot. It was then handed to someone else and checked again, until all four of us had tried and all four of us got a reading in the same spot. Surely it was going to be perfect. Like I said I was feeling lucky today!

Today dad dug, all day, without phone calls and us women worked on shaking and washing the rock. We could see the layers in the soil just like the description said, and we were definitely in the ‘sapphire bearing wash’ area, yet we weren’t finding anything. We were persistent and continued to dig the whole section that we walked with the divining stick, but found nothing. No sapphires, no zircon, and no spinel.

 

Digging camp
Digging camp setup for the day
 
We were tired and disappointed, but I still had this lucky feeling inside. We set up for lunch, enjoyed a feast and chatted about our next move. We were all keen to go to Pat’s Gems and have an easier afternoon. I finished lunch and promptly packed up around my wife who was eating rather slowly today. Everything went back into the trailer and we left Graves Hill. Getting off this fossicking area proved rather difficult, as we continued to get stuck by all the fences. We drove down to a cattle yard and managed to get through even though we were now on private property. This is not something you really want to be doing in Sapphire. People out here are very protective of their land and won’t hesitate in scaring you off with the sight of their shotgun.

  
Arriving safely at Pat’s Gems we bought two buckets of wash and started to pick out sapphires quite quickly. Yet again we were happy to finally see some sapphires in our sieves. The light was disappearing quickly and because we had the second bucket we didn’t get time to finish. We took our little dish of gemstones over to Pat (yep! Pat still works here) to check if any were going to be any good. I still had that lucky feeling, although not quite as strong as it was when I first woke up, and sure enough we were lucky to find a bright red zircon that was worth faceting. You little beauty!

We took our left over bucket of wash back to the cabin ready for us to sort through when the sunlight was good enough. The four of us had a delicious dinner and then relaxed in the cabin and played one of the board games that we found in the camp kitchen. It was a game of ‘Draw Something’, which originated from an app and has since been made into a board game. It was loads of fun and we played until both sides of the paper were so full that we couldn’t fit much more on it. After a great night of laughter and silliness it was finally time to head to bed. We are all looking forward to tomorrow and hoping to find ‘the big one’!

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 14

We were all up early to get a good start on the day. We hired our gear from a lovely couple at Blue Hollow Mine, Pete and Deb. After chatting for a good 10 minutes, Pete loves to chew your ear off, we headed out of town to the fossicking area called Glenalva. We have had success here in the past, so it seemed the best place to start.

We took our time selecting a good site and started digging. We did one quick sieve of the dirt to check and see if it had any sapphire. Sure enough we found a little yellow sapphire. Happy with our chosen spot, we set up for the day. Fossicking equipment, water drums, shade tent, chairs, esky, and drink bottles. We all got a job and got to work. My wife was digging, mum was on the shaker, then I washed the rock and handed back to mum to put through the Willoughby. The final step was to flip them out and search for the sapphires. That job was mostly left to me, as I have the best eyes in the group, and also have quite the nack for finding gemstones. Oh wait I missed one of the group… Dad… oh yeah he spent most of the morning on the phone. We didn’t get to really hear the sounds of our surroundings, through the phone conversations.

Occasionally I found another little sapphire, or some small pieces of zircon, but nothing worth faceting. Dad would often walk off and try and find a better dig site. He would came back with a bucket full of dirt, just enough to put through the sieve, but also came back talking, yet again, on his phone. He even had a teleconference at one point.

We met a couple who had been camped on the fossicking site for the past 2 weeks and will probably stay another 4-6 weeks. They left home in February and have been travelling around Australia to lots of different fossicking areas looking for different gemstones. Amethyst, zircon, garnet, topaz, and now sapphires. They said sapphires are the hardest to find and that they have noticed a big change in the land since they first started coming 14 years ago, and have been back every year since.

Overall we were quite disappointed that we didn’t find anything, but we had heaps of fun and really felt like true fossickers. We were out there doing it ourselves. I’m guessing it would have been tough for mum, because it was her first ever day of fossicking, whereas the rest of us had been here before, been out on a day tour, and knew what to expect.

Sapphire searching
Picking out the sapphires

We packed up our dig site, put everything back in the trailer and headed to the best place in Sapphire. Pat’s Gems! We bought a bucket of wash, which is just a bunch of dirt that has come out of the open cut mine. You are guaranteed to find a sapphire in your bucket. We found about 40 sapphires, maybe 15 zircon and half a dozen pieces of spinel. Unfortunately none of them were worth faceting. We didn’t mind, it was nice to finally see some sapphires in the sieve. We were starting to worry that we were doing it wrong. The sun had now dropped too low for sapphire hunting and it was time for a shower.

We all got dressed in our fancy clothes, put on our jewellery and even a little perfume and headed back to Pat’s Gems. We had a reservation at ‘Scrub Blush Cafe’. This was just a cafe, in a small country town, not usually warranting such fancy attire, but we hadn’t really had the chance to get all dressed up, so we took the opportunity.

The waitress was a typical country girl, but seemed nervously excited for some reason. She had to read the menu to us, because the printer had stopped working that morning, and the menu changes depending on what food they have left in stock. Our expectations of the food were not exactly high, but matched the feel of the place. The food however, far exceed our expectations. Such a delicious meal. Very impressed! We later found out that it was the waitresses first night of work. No wonder she seemed a little trepidatious.

Seafood Platter
Hot and cold seafood platter

After we all felt completely stuffed, from our giant delicious meals we headed back to the cabin and crashed into bed, exhausted from a big day out in the field, but ready to do it all again tomorrow. We drifted off to sleep, dreaming of sapphires… well I know I did!

The Rocky Horizon Trip – Day 13

This morning I awoke to the sound of my phone. Text message received. This was quite novel as we didn’t often have phone reception on the other parts of our trip. It read ‘We are on our way, left right on time at 6am. Ring us when you’re up and about’. After a quick phone call to my folks, our morning plans changed and instead of driving straight to Sapphire, we headed to see ‘The Stockman’s Hall of Fame’. Thanks folks!

This morning was all about giving time to my partner to relax and enjoy her morning. I cooked her favourite breakfast of egg sangas! and made a pot of tea so she could sit there and enjoy the morning sunshine. The stars must have aligned cause WORLD LOOK OUT! I washed the dishes! It’s quite a rare occasion.

 

Egg Sangas
Delicious Egg Sangas
 

After packing up camp we headed over to ‘The Stockman’s Hall of Fame’ and spent a few hours learning about the different areas that we had just travelled through and how it has changed over the years. As we watched a short film about ‘The Stockman’, there was one part that really resonated with me. The guy mentioned that when you drive through the outback, you always give, and get a little waves as you pass someone. Even if it’s just a couple of fingers lifted up off the steering wheel. Then as you leave the outback and head towards the city, there seems to be a cut-off point that people stop waving. I personally experienced this yesterday as I drove into Longreach. All of a sudden people stopped waving back. I continued waving for a while occasionally getting one back, but it had pretty much dried up. My passenger said ‘You may as well stop waving, cause no one is waving back’. Fair call.

The highlight of the centre was ‘The Stockman’s Show’. It was a live show where we met a real stockman and his animals. He spoke about life as a stockman, how to work the land, train your horses and dogs, the different types of dogs used, and the roles played by the different horses to assist the stockman to do his work.

 

Stockman Comedy
Comical stockman, cleaning his horses shoes
 
 
Sheep muster with dogs
Stockman using dogs to muster the sheep
 
I also really loved the section devoted to the Royal Flying Doctors Service. We were able to listen to calls made into the RFDS from some of the homesteads, sit in the cockpit of the plane, and also look at what the inside of the plane looks like. We listened to each of the perspectives from the pilot, the nurses, the doctors, the psychologist and the CEO each telling their story. We learnt that because of the rather large ‘Grey Army’ within Australia, the services of the RFDS are often diverted to assist them whilst travelling to remote areas on their travels, rather than helping outback residents, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to get themselves to a doctor, dentist or hospital. There is a growing focus on broader issues of health now, including the mental health of people who often live in isolated areas of our country. We had a wonderful morning exploring the museum.

 

RFDS Plane
Inside the RFDS aircraft
 
We hit the road and travelled to Sapphire, stopping to check out the view of the Drummond Range. Whilst we were stopped, in rode a couple of cyclists. One from Poland and one from America. I’m not quite sure what inspires or possess someone to get on a bike and ride from Melbourne to Katherine, even after talking to them.

 

Drummond Range
The Drummond Range
 
Tonight we are living the life of luxury. We have booked a cabin to stay in while we are here in Sapphire. No tents for us! My folks arrived, we all sat down, had a good long natter and a delicious dinner. We planned our first day of digging and have packed up most things ready for a quick start on the day. Tomorrow we become true blue Sapphire Fossickers !!