“He liked fishing and seemed to take pride in being able to like such a stupid occupation.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Apparently, this is a great place to go fishing. I like fishing, but I’m not very good at it. I’m one of the 10% of people who spend lots of money on fishing gear to never catch fish. I think it’s just my way of subsidising friends of mine who do catch fish. Without me and others like me they wouldn’t be able to afford to buy their fishing gear.

camping on the Balonne River at Surat
The welcome sign on the entry to Surat.

My camp spot is on the Balonne River just outside of Surat in South West Queensland. If you want to know how I got here check out my post Carnarvon Gorge to Surat – Day 10.

Camping on the Balonne River near Surat
The bridge over the Balonne River at the northern entry to Surat

Yesterday I rode from Carnarvon Gorge to Surat, via Injune and Roma. It was an interesting ride and very enjoyable to be heading south into a cooler climate. If you’re looking for free or low cost camping grounds in this region also check out the following site Free Camping in the Surat region

Camping on the Balonne River

As I rode into Surat I found this awesome free camp ground. It is well maintained and while they don’t ask for money to stay, they do appreciate a donation to help with the ground maintenance. Check out the following information on the grounds Fisherman’s Park Camp Ground Surat. The place had so many camping spots from being almost on the river to just near the road. I set up my tent as the sun was going down and settled in for a peaceful night. There was enough fire wood for me to light my Biolite stove, so I enjoyed a small fire while I sipped my red wine.

Camping on the Balonne River Surat
Camp set set up for the night on the Balonne River at the Fisherman’s Park.

Some time in the middle of the night

“WTF its cold”, I roll around in my down sleeping bag but no matter what I do I can’t get warm. I sit up and find my down jacket and try and get back to sleep. I look at my watch and its 3.30 am. F&*k, I’m getting rid of this bloody air mat as soon as I get home, I vowel to myself.

But it’s too late, I’m awake now. So I get up, find my head torch and make my way across to the park’s toilets. It’s cold, not just cold in the normal sense, it’s bloody cold. The term “Bloody Cold” is an official rating in the outback, it’s in between “Cold – 2 degrees Celsius” and “F*&King Freezing – 10 degrees Celsius”.

Camping on the Balonne River at the Fisherman's Park near Surat
This is Emu with his camo cover on early in the morning.

Time to get up

Emu had a great night under his camo cover and managed to keep dry even though you could fill a billy with the amount of water that condensed on the cover. I’m lucky enough to have a watch that tells me the temperature, -5 degrees Celsius. I decide not to start my fire this morning, instead I put my bennie on and with my hands tucked into my down jacket I made my way across the bridge and along the walking track into town. Hoping I’ll find a coffee shop and bakery so I can warm up both inside and out.

Camping on the Balonne River at Fisherman’s Park. This free camp site was created for travellers and in particular contestants in the annual Surat Fishing competition.

Outback Fishing

I come across a number of informational signs along the walking track. One of these explains how the local Surat Fishing Club stock the weir. You don’t often think about competitive fishing when you’re touring the South Western Queensland roads. But in Surat it’s a real thing. Every year the river is stocked with fingerlings of Murray River Cod, Barrumundi and Yellowbelly. Each of these fish species are renowned for being great fighting fish and difficult (in my case impossible) to catch.

Mooring jetty on the right hand side of the Balonne River Bridge right next to the boat ramp.

Surat on the move

The towns name is synonymous with the name of the basin on which it sits. The Surat Basin is known for its massive coal deposits and recently its large oil reserves. However, the towns history has alway been linked to beef production, ever since being surveyed by Major Mitchell in his fourth expedition to the region in 1846. The town was established in 1850 and has been a major support hub for most of its existence.

As I cross over the bridge I’m presented with a well maintained walking track, the track includes children play equipment, BBQ’s and various information stands that tell the history of the town. But its still cold so I take a sharp left at the nearest street and walk into town looking for a hot pie and steaming cup of coffee.

History on display

The town is your typical country town with all the shops and pubs you would expect in a regional area. Except it has maintained its heritage. There are examples of yesteryear everywhere from the old pub to the Cobb and Co changing station. Even the old shire hall is maintained as if it was only built yesterday.

History on display, the Shire Hall, Surat
History on display, Cobb and Co changing station. Main Street of Surat

I finally found a coffee shop and settled in for a “Warm” breakfast, finally getting out of the -5 degree cold. It was a large coffer, one of those cups you can get both hands around. I took my time sipping the coffee as I ate my beef pie. Occasionally a hugh cattle truck would rattle its way through town. A reminder of the grazing history of the area.

Camping on the Balonne River, enjoying a coffee at the local cafe.
Large coffee for cold hands, at the coffee shop in Surat

Walking track

At last I can move my fingers freely again so I go outside and continue my journey down the walking track. It’s still cold but the morning sun is burning off the dew. The bird life down by the river is fantastic and the walk immensely enjoyable. It’s only two kilometres from the town to the weir.

Bird watching platform, an amazing spot to sit and relax

The Balonne River flows down to St George and then across the border to New South Wales where it eventually joins with the Darling which meanders down to the Murray River in Victoria. The town’s water was initially managed through a weir. Today this weir backs the river up into a large deep pond and creates one of the best local fishing spots around.

Weir on the Balonne River at Surat.

After my four kilometre walk I finally get back to my camp site, many of the overnight guests are packing up getting ready for their next journey. I do the same and it’s not long before I’m on the road again. This time I’m back tracking slightly and taking an an adjoining road from Surat to Dalby and then onto Toowoomba for the night.

Second last day of my outback adventure

I back track slightly to a tee intersection and turn right, I’m now on the road to Tara. My outback and regional motorcycle tour is almost complete. I will head into Toowoomba today and then drop down into the Lockyer Valley on my way to the coast. But today, I’m still in regional and country Queensland, so I sit back into my seat and enjoy the view while scanning for Kangaroos.

A magnificent animal

Just as I round a corner, my breath is taken away by the site in front of me. One of the biggest eagles I have ever seen is crouched over a small wallaby on the road. As I come around the corner he/she gets startled and pushed out its wings, with two hugh thrusts he/she is in the air with the wallaby still in its talons. Another two pumps of its wings and he/she is airborne.

I slow down and pull over as I watch the magnificent animal veer to the left and drop down on the paddock about 300 metres away where it can eat in quite solitude undisturbed by annoying motorcycles. I have seen big eagles before but to be so close and exposed as you are on a motorcycle, it takes your breath away and of course by the time I realise I have a camera, and get it out it’s too late.

It’s not the first time I have been in awe of Mother Nature on this trip, from the formation of Cockatiels on the ride to Kynuna to the giant Willy Willy on the grass plains on the trip to Winton. There is no doubt in my mind that these experiences are heightened on a motorcycle.

At first you just laugh and then you realise

As I rode slowly through the town of Glen Morgan I saw the rusty old cars and trucks and casually looked at the sign A1 Used Cars. I couldn’t help but have a chuckle to myself, what a great sense of humour the owner must have. Something in my mind yelled out “Hang on” when was the last time you saw a 1969 Holden Station Wagon in that condition, these are collectors items, I wheeled around to take another look and get a photo.

Glenmorgan A1 Used Cars.

The township of Glenmorgan is about half way between Surat and Tara. Tara is my lunch stop before riding onto Dalby. So I thought it was time to stop, pull the billy out and make a cup of coffee. In a car, I might have just driven though but on the bike solo I have the time to explore a little. Parts of this town are a living museum such as the old petrol station

Monty’s Garage and petrol station, just like it would have been 60 years ago.

The Sunset Way

This ride has been one of the most interesting of my trip so far as I pass through small towns that have done amazing things to stop tourists. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but these local towns have come together and promote this road and the “Sunset Way”. After I pack my billy and get back on the bike it’s and continue on my tourist drive up the “Sunset Way”. If you want to know more about this area I have found the following link: https://sunsetway.com.au/towns/meandarra/.

It’s not long before I pass through another interesting small town on the “Sunset Way”. The town of “The Gums” comes into view with its quaint railway station and botanic gardens. Unfortunately I don’t stop long enough to get a feel for this town, its becoming obvious on this trip that I am more focused on the destination rather than the journey and I make a note to try and slow down.

Time for lunch

It’s been about three hours since I left Surat and I’m feeling a little tied. I arrive in Tara which has alway been my lunch destination. I’ve been to Tara a few times back in the early 2000’s when I worked at the Dalby TAFE college. The town back then was trying to more forward and clean up it’s image. Whether that image was justified or not there were a large number of alternative life style shanties in and around the town which tended to give it that hillbilly feel.

Commercial Hotel, Main Street of Tara in South West Queensland

Tara has alway been a commercial hub for the local grazing, agriculture industries. It really never seemed to get into the emerging tourist movement. When I was there I could not find a place to park up and eat my lunch. I was used to small parks that had BBQ areas or water fountains. Having a placer to stretch out and relax for lunch would have made all the difference in my fatigue levels. However, I did manage to find a small park area of about two tables in the middle of town, but it was hardly the relaxed comfortable place to have lunch that I was looking for.

Emu parked at the tiny lunch spot in the middle of town, not very tourist friendly.

There was a big pond on the outskirts of town and a lot of construction work happening. I assume this was the new town “Lagoon”. It looked like it has promise as a place to stop and rest. However, I felt that Tara wasn’t really that welcoming. So as soon as I had finished my lunch I hit the road again for Dalby.

Main Street of Tara, a typical regional support town.

Destination Dalby

As I rode I started to see more agricultural plantations rather than sheep and cattle grazing. This area was the beginning of the Darling Downs wheat belt, thousands of acres of Soggen and Wheat. Long flat cleared pastures over 30,000 acre farms, ploughed by gigantic tractors with blade ploughs and seeders all guided by GPS satelites equipment to reduce overseeing and save money. This area is big business and as I get closer to Dalby more and more agricultural aviation businesses pop up with their own air strips.

Dalby is a busy town, it is a major support centre for the agricultural industry of the region. It is also one of the biggest manufacturing hubs as well. The total export of resources and equipment in the western Queensland region is estimated to be $65.5 billion dollars. Much of that is channeled through Dalby. Dalby itself produces equipment that supports that revenue including agricultural equipment, steel pipes of all sizes, seeders, hydraulic equipment, GPS movement electronics, Clark tanks and plastics and even the humble “Dingo”, to name just a few.

Trucks and more trucks

The town of Dalby is one of the busiest I’ve ridden into so far. I look around for a place to relax but their people everywhere and not really park spots. Eventually I find the local weir and a table to sit at for about 30 minutes. But there’s no chance to relax. In my early teaching career I had once worked in Dalby. It was a quieter town back then. The road to Toowoomba was one I knew well and I was expecting a lot of truck traffic. If I could have found a quiet place to camp near this town I would have.

Putting on my glasses, helmet and gloves I fired Emu into life and took a deep breath. This was probably one of the most dangerous roads I would ride so far. I was tired and the sun was getting low on the horizon. I would need to be extra careful. Pulling out into traffic I gunned the engine and slipped in behind a truck.

Toowoomba

The road to Toowoomba from Dalby is packed with trucks carrying all sorts of equipment and supplies. There are three dog road trains carrying cattle to the abattoirs and big mining trucks on the back of even bigger trucks. It is the most uncomfortable ride I have had to far. It’s a constant battle to wrestle Emu into the left side of the left lane The pressure waves from giant machines only feet way is a very disconcerting feeling.

Eventually I get to the entry to the city. It’s not what I remember, there are massive earth works and a cross section of roads similar to spaghetti junction. This is the city and range bypass and while I had heard about it, this was the first time I had seen it.

The city itself is beautiful as always and I’m lucky to be here just before the Carnival of Flowers. I know a couple of the motels in this town so rather than hunting for a place to camp I opt for a motel. Where else but the Swagman motel on the Southern Outskirts.

Looking out over the Lockyer Valley from Picnic Point in Toowoomba.

I unpack my gear, then quickly go up to Picnic Point for a couple of sunset photos. Looking down over the Lockyer Valley at my destination tomorrow. Getting back to my room as the sun sets and after securing Emu under his camo cover just outside the room, I’m quickly asleep.

Tomorrow I ride to the Gold Coast. Hope you enjoyed this blog, please leave comments …. Safe travels …..Swaggie:)

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Gary is a travel writer, educator, training specialist and part time adventurer. When not paddling rivers, diving on the Great Barrier Reef or riding down some dusty outback track on his trusted KLR650 "Emu" he likes to explore historical areas and look for the back story.

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