You know how you have an image in your mind of a place, despite never having seen it and not knowing much about it? Mount Isa was a bit like that for me. I had an idea that it was a bit like our home town – a population of low five figures, one or two main shopping streets, a couple of takeaway places. I was banking on it being like home – I needed (in the “first world problems” definition of needing) a Harvey Norman in the hopes of finding a solution to my dead GoPro. The first sign I was wrong was a billboard leading in to town, advertising the Top Tourist caravan park, the park we were aiming for. Turn right at the third set of lights, it instructed us. Traffic lights? Three lots of them? We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The further we got into town, the more wrong I knew I was. This wasn’t a small country town, this was a regional city. Really, it shouldn’t have surprised me, for a mining town. Which leads to the next unexpected discovery – the mine. When I say Mt Isa is a mining town, I don’t mean the miners live there and drive out to the mine, I mean, the mine is right there, in town. On the edge of town, yes, but in town, the stacks looming large, the smoke/steam streaming from the tower in the early morning light, a purple grey smudge across the pink sky, obscuring the moon still winking at us above the horizon.
We managed to score an unpowered site at the caravan park, with all the powered sites taken. I might write a seperate post about our current setup, but the short version is we are now self-powered which continually makes our camping life easier. For an unpowered site, we had a corker of a spot – just on campsite plus a road away from the pool, camp kitchen and playground, and three-odd sites away from the amenities (always a key consideration when camping with small children who don’t seem to get the concept of “you need to let us know you need the toilet before you are busting”). Once set up and with a good number of stick drawings etched into the red dust around our site, we decided to head into town – on our list, BCF, Harvey Norman and a supermarket top up shop.
This is where I’m going to take a slight detour from travel blogging to talk tech & support. As mentioned in my last post, my GoPro died on day three. I was beyond disappointed – a GoPro has been on my vague “toys that look like fun but probably aren’t all that high a priority” semi want list for a while. At Christmas, my cousin showed off his (or more accurately, his brothers, taken without exactly having permission to but still within the bounds of “don’t take my GoPro out of it’s box”) GoPro and what it could do – including a time lapse of their trip from Central Queensland to Northern NSW. What can I say, I’m a photographer and a gadget geek – I was a goner. The GoPro shifted from my vague semi want list to my talk-about-nothing-else-drive-my-husband-crazy list (yes this is an actual thing. Anyone who knows me will vouch for this. I bet Daddy Bug is so glad he married me when I am in fierce acquisition mode). I batted my eyelashes in his direction. He rolled his eyes. Everyone laughed and took pity on him, because they knew what was coming. I believe someone may have even told him to give up on the spot it was a lost cause. But I convinced him to at least come look at what it could do, and he was impressed too. I knew I was on a winner. From then on, it was just a matter of timing and finding a good deal. For the next few months we (and by we, I really do mean we. For a change) scoured the catalogues. We compared prices and models. We debated the pros and cons of a Hero vs a Hero 3+ vs a Hero 4. We thought about buying one as joint Valentine’s Day present (when we don’t really do Valentines Day). Daddy Bug made noises about one for Mothers Day, but in the way we mothers do, I roused on him and told him not to be ridiculous, he wasn’t to spend that much on me. Guess who ignored me and guess what I unwrapped on Mothers Day? A pretty, sparkly, shiny Hero4. SCORE. Road trip time lapse here we come! Until day three, that is, and the darn thing froze, and then when I turned it off to reset it, it wouldn’t turn back on. We tried every trick in the book and then some – we charged it, we tried starting without an SD card, we took the battery out, we tried a hard reset we found on the internet. Nothing. Dead as a door nail. I sent an email to GoPro support, but four days later I had still not received a response, so when we got to Mt Isa, I headed into Harvey Norman. Explaining the problem, I asked if they had battery packs I could try to see if (fingers crossed) it was just a dead battery. They did and it wasn’t. The lovely gentleman that served me then took the camera out the back and tried some of their tricks to get it working, and came back with the prognosis – DOA. Damn. They offered me a replacement, and did I have all the original packaging and receipt? I explained I was travelling, and had only the camera and the few accessories I’d brought with me. It was then a matter of calling Harvey Norman at home, and the manager found out invoice and emailed it through. My dead camera was swapped for a new one – it turned on, the SD card still contained all our photos and footage. I could’ve cried with relief. I didn’t, but I may have been slightly effusive in my thanks. Huge props to the staff of Harvey Norman both at home and Mt Isa, for being both friendly and helpful, and making this gadget geek’s day/week/month. (Epilogue – I finally received a reply from GoPro a week after I submitted the support ticket. The reply was obviously canned and missed at least half my problem. To say I am unimpressed is an understatement) </end tangent>
Mt Isa was also a good excuse to splurge on some takeaway – one of the good things about travelling remotely is these conveniences are often not an option at all, and when they aren’t there, you don’t miss them. When they are there, though, it’s quite easy to say “bugger it” and ditch the camp food for some Red Rooster. The next morning was a similar story – on the road early, with a plan to stop along the line for breakfast, we had an issue with getting fuel. The first place we stopped at claimed to open at 7. We were there at 7.25 and no sign of life. Fab. 24 hr card machine it was. Or should’ve been – it took $150 from our card and then refused to release the pump, and a call to the help line was less than useful, telling us it was a pre-authorisation and that money would be refunded into our card. In five days. We groused our way to the next servo, filled up and then I pointed the pilot in the direction of Maccas for coffee. By this time it was getting later than we’d planned, so figured we’d get brekkie as well. Big. Mistake. 8am must be shift change or something at the mine because it was insanely busy – the longest I’ve ever had to wait at a Maccas. But finally we had our brekkie and were on the road, heading for the Territory!
Our original plan had been to camp at Three Ways, but chatting to people along the way, the general vibe seemed to be Banka Banka Station was the better option, only an hour or so up the road. We grabbed fuel at Three Ways and kept rolling, and were really glad we did. It wasn’t anything flash, but it was a nice spot, plenty of grass and shade, very welcoming for the kids – we were offered an icy pole for each of them when we booked in, even the littlest who we didn’t have to pay for. We were directed into the camper trailer section, and found a great little spot with shade right near the gate to the amenities. And those amenities. Well. I’m not going to lie, they were your typical bush showers, clean but nothing special, or so it seemed. Then I turned on the water, and I kid you not, it was seriously the best shower I have ever had while camping. The water was strong and hot, and you know those old style shower heads everyone had back in the day? That had no notion of “water conservation” and emptied the entire town water supply over your head in about 30 seconds? That. It was so so good. No worries about piddly non-existent water pressure, or temperature fluctuations. I’d have paid the $25 camping fee all over again just for that shower.
Having made good time, we enjoyed a nice lazy afternoon – we played cards for a bit, we did a little bit in our school work books, we took a walk up to the top of the lookout, and sat and soaked up the wide flat landscape. We watched the “traffic” on the highway and chatted. We followed the progress of a road train as it slowed to a stop, the sound of its blown tyre ripping through the peaceful afternoon. We went back down and talked about generators and power in the bush and pay phones and got ourselves ready for dinner and then headed over to the common lawn area behind the bar/kiosk. The station puts on a campfire of an evening, and again, the children were warmly welcomed, with the offer of marshmallows. I expected they’d be given one or two, but no, each were given a styrofoam cup of sugary goodness to roast at the end of professional standard roasting sticks – complete with wire at the end to hold the marshmallow without getting stick scum all through the ooey gooey goodness.
The nights were mild enough at this point, so it wasn’t too hard to get up and moving early. By now we had a good system in place – we’d get up and start outside, and slowly rouse the children who would get up, get dressed, and once they’d packed away their things, they would grab their pillows and head into the car to snuggle under a blanket in their seats as we finished up the trailer. We got more than one comment at Banka Banka about our early start and how quiet the children were! Our breakfast stop was at a little rest stop in Elliot – “interesting” might be the most polite description for this spot, what with the mozzies in the loos
A quick lunch break at Mataranka and we were in Katherine by mid-afternoon. The unpowered section was large and informal and after setting up, we headed to the pool and hung out for a bit, dangling our legs in the water and generally congratulating ourselves on our good sense in heading north for the winter. Little legs were still restless after a day in the car, and it didn’t take long after returning to camp to find new little friends to play with. The social nature of caravan parks starts early, and the group grew steadily until slowly each little family cluster was called back for dinner. The kids had a blast making new friends and it was delightful watching them play and establish group dynamics with people they had met only 20 minutes before hand. Katherine was also a good stop to stock up on supplies and power through some laundry and get ourselves sorted for our next stop, and, for me at least, the most exciting one – EL QUESTRO!!