Crossing closed borders, St. George and Charlotte Plains Station.
On our drive to the Angledool church and then up to the small border town of Hebel last week we stopped and spoke to the police at the border about what we needed to do as Queensland residents to get back into Queensland given that we had spent all of the covid lockdown in NSW. He told us that the border opened to tourists from other states as of Friday (this was Tuesday) and that from what they had been hearing it was going to be a complete madhouse trying to cross on Friday with 250000 other people that had apparently applied for border passes. We were booked to stay in Lightning Ridge until Friday. We hadn’t purposefully booked our stay to coincide with the border, we had simply booked 2 weeks and that was how it had worked out. Lesson learned, I need to pay more attention to dates and what’s going on in the world. We decided there and then that as the cop had said we would be crazy to wait until the same day as everyone else and left a day early on the Thursday.
It was such a crazy feeling, both Joel and I grew up in towns only about an hour and a half from the Queensland border, the closest capital city to us was always Brisbane, Qld and Joel even spent the last few years of his schooling at boarding school in Qld. In fact in our first few years of living together we even lived and owned a business in Tweed Heads which just happens to be literally right on the Queensland border, we literally walked less then 100 meters from our work and we were in Queensland, and for the last 6 years living in Cairns, Qld and still owning businesses in Townsville, Qld it felt very strange to have to apply for permission to cross a border that to be honest we’d crossed so many times before without even thinking about it!
While we were confident we would get across easily, I was still a little nervous that for what ever reason they would turn us around. Lucky for us it was actually relatively easy, I had the correct paperwork so all they did was check that, have a chat to us about how crazy they expected the next day to be and sent us on our merry way!
That first night in Queensland we had booked to stay at a caravan park in St. George. So we drove about 3 hours through the small towns of Hebel and Dirranbandi. If you ever drive this way we highly recommend making the stop at the Dirranbandi Bakery. We had read a sign recommending it back in Lightning Ridge and figured we’d stop and celebrate that we got over the border while we checked it out. Turns out it is owned by a Russian woman and her husband, and she gets up at 3am every morning to make all the cakes and bread herself. There is a whole wall of biscuits done up in ziplock bags, there’s everything from lemon cream filled cannoli to rocky road made with her own marshmallow. And the highlight of the whole lot her traditional Russian honey cakes. If nothing else the honey cakes were worth the stop. They are spicy and sweet and just the right texture, it’s a little heaven in the middle of nowhere!
We didn’t spend a lot of time at St. George, we stayed at the Kamarooka Tourist Park and after setting up went for a walk down along the river, with the kids riding their scooters. It was the prettiest little walk, with plenty of wildlife and pretty views. The kids tried every piece of exercise equipment along the path which there was plenty of and even found themselves a park. We walked quite a long way and the path didn’t end, the only reason we turned around in the end was because it was getting dark and we figured we better head back. The caravan park itself was a cute little park with lovely, helpful people running it. They have happy hour every night if that is your thing complete with bonfire and homemade garlic bread cooked on the pizza oven.
Our next stop was Charlotte Plains Station, about a 3 hour drive along the Balonne Highway towards Cunnamulla. Charlotte Plains is a working sheep and cattle station that gives you a couple of options to stay, there’s the old shearer’s quarters where you have access to power or the sites down at the natural artesian bore where there is a small toilet and shower block but no power and you can park right beside the flowing bore. We chose the bore and man oh man is it a sweet spot!
As we were driving in, there looked to be rain clouds coming in, we told ourselves not to be silly, as we’re in outback QLD in the middle of winter, of course they’re not rain clouds. Turns out about 5 minutes later it was confirmed they were rain clouds when we could actually see the rain falling from them. We’re actually lucky that we got to the campsite when we did because it decided to rain quite a bit and later that night as we were getting ready to go to bed we heard and saw a tractor which we thought was a bit strange. It all made total sense the next morning however when we spotted a camper trailer and car covered in mud that had not been there the afternoon before! There was about 6 other setups at the bore besides us and then the camper trailer. After having a campsite gathering with everyone else the next morning we all decided it had rained pretty heavy last night and wondered what the tractor had been doing. Turns out the family in camper trailer entertained us all with their story of trying to come in at 5pm and getting bogged in the very wet, sticky mud. They had a UHF on them luckily because there is no phone service what so ever and had radioed the farmstead for help. By this time it was black outside and to begin with they thought they would have to sleep in the car for the night until a man in a tractor showed up and saved the day by towing them to the campsite! The ground had literally gone from hard and dusty to wet and sticky in a matter of 2 hours, and then it had poured even more over night. We were all stuck there was no way of any of us getting back to the highway for at least a couple of days when hopefully it would dry up enough that we could all get through! I honestly couldn’t think of a nicer spot or nicer people to be stuck with though, we actually had the nicest couple of days complete with no phone service and no contact with the outside world.
My first reaction to being stuck though was holy shit! We are literally stuck here miles from anywhere for who knows how long! Do we have enough food? I mean I expected to stay 2 nights but can I stretch it out to 3 possibly even more? Joel’s reaction was ‘how amazing is this, how many people can say they’ve been here and seen it rain, seen 22mls of rain turn dry, dusty soil into red mud that’s sticky and unforgiving and swam in the warm bore while the rain has fallen around you?’ That there pretty much sums up our personality’s, me forever worried about food, him forever thinking crazy out of the blue things are awesome!
Charlotte Plains Station has put bath tubs along the shore of the artesian bore and you can choose to swim in the channel or fill the baths with the steaming water straight from underground. They have canoes there for the kids and the water coming out of the 100 year old pipe is a beautiful 44 degrees!!! This place is heaven, Archie and Ashton spent hours and hours in the bore and I’m not going to lie Joel and I spent hours and hours in the bath tubs soaking in the hot water and watching the kids playing, I mean really there was nothing much else to do, we were all stuck there for a few days and we all seemed to get along really well so some fantastic conversations, bonfires and a few small walks was how we spent our days stuck on the station! On the afternoon after the rain (our second night there) the sky put on the most magical sunset, it just kept getting better and better and was one of those moments you feel totally in awe of nature! We met some amazing people here and it made us realise that what people say is true, you really do meet some great people and have some good times living on the road.
Usually you are able to do a farm tour to see the old shearing shed and camel hut however due to the little problem of not being able to use anything but a tractor or quad bike to get around the property because of the rain we didn’t get to do the tour. Although Rob (a son of the 77 year old owner of the station) did come down to help some of our new friends get out as they needed to get back to their homes in Brisbane for work and after he had done that he did give us a bit of a rundown on it all. Mostly I think because we all had plenty of questions! There used to be a nomad who lived in a hut and gave camel rides, and the bore has only stopped running once in 100 years and that’s only because the government brought in new rules and they had to stop it to put new pipes in so it could be monitored. Rob got put on the spot gave a fantastic impromptu information tour, so I’d love to do the actual tour one day.
On the 3rd afternoon, after the tractor had been through and dragged something through the mud to try to spread the water out, we decided we could likely get out the following day. The guys had made us a new track to follow, a different way to the normal entering of the property and it was only a few Kms back to the main road. That night we had a big communal bon fire and enjoyed our last night. The next morning a few of us left at about the same time. After walking most of the track to check entry’s and exits of the wettest parts we actually all got out really easily, even us with our big van. We had such a great time here, even after being stuck there, really it only added an extra night then what we had planned and I’m actually really glad it did.
Charlotte Plains has now been added to my favourite camping spots in Australia list, this list is also my must return here one day list and my I’ve been there but I’d totally go again list! Put it on yours, you won’t regret it!