A Travellerspoint blog

5 The Bush Part 2

sunny

9th June
We set out for one of three possible free camp sites along the highway, and finally grabbed a couple of spots at Saddle Creek free camp alongside the highway. It was a beautiful (but dusty) spot with a great view of the massive red cliffs around about us. Mary & I had arrived before Brian and Maureen, who had decided to look at another possible site, and we decided to set up for our sandwich lunch.
Shortly after we started eating a 4WD car towing a sizable caravan swooped in along the gravel roadway from the highway. I could hear an unusual sound as it sped into our tight little camp road, and is the driver turned around in a cloud of dust and gravel; I noticed that they had a flat tyre on the left caravan wheel. The driver just continued his rapid spin around at the camp entrance and sped back out to the highway with campers shouting out to the driver, and running after the fast disappearing vehicle. I jumped into my car and tried to radio on the UHF channel but no response as we observed the vehicle disappear up the road. A few minutes later Brian and Maureen arrived with tales of a large caravan, travelling at some speed, past them in the opposite direction, with sparks and smoke billowing from at least one caravan wheel!
We had a pleasant stopover there and enjoyed the magnificent cliff colouring in the sunset.

10th June
We set out early for Keep National Park, situated some 21 Klms off the main highway, and only a few Klms from the border with Western Australia. Having previously checked with the Park Rangers about 2WD access on a road described as ‘a dirt road’ I was a bit reluctant to go in, however, although it was quite corrugated for most of the journey we managed to keep ahead of the great clouds of red dust stirred up by our passage!
On arrival at the camp site we were very pleasantly surprised at the magnificent beauty that surrounded the camp. Different bird species that we were not familiar with were in abundance. There were two bush toilets that were welcome sights, even if not the odours. We set up camp on well-arranged van sites and settled in to a very relaxing two nights stay.

There was one bush walk, however, it was the accepted practice to do the hour and a half walk anti-clockwise in the morning, and in reverse in the late afternoon. This enhanced to effects of the sun on the spectacular rocks and cliffs and allowed more opportunities to see and hear different bird species – of which there were many.
Many photos later we enjoyed our dinner and spent the evening under the black skies filled with stars in all their created glory, although this was somewhat reduced by the fact that the van battery, which we relied on for powering our water pump for drinking and washing water had failed. To add to this frustration was in finding that the spare water container that I had bought in Katherine for the purpose of providing back-up water supply, had leaked about five litres of valuable water into the boot of the van. I was not happy!
Sometime in the very early hours of the morning my bladder decided to insist that I get up and visit one of the toilets, however, in the almost pitch dark, as I started towards the nearest toilet I heard a dingo howl, quite close to the camp site. The first was then followed by several answering howls from the rest of the pack! A very Alfred Hitchcock effect was all the incentive that I needed to head for the close by bush, complete my mission, and dive back inside the van!

12th June
After my rather restless night, we arose to prepare for our departure from the Park. After some confusion about departure time, we were ready to move out of the Park to our next destination.
Imagine my annoyance when the car battery refused to start the car! Brian suggested that I disconnect the power link between the car and the van (the van fridge was connected to the car to power the fridge while travelling), and thus reduce the power load. Fortunately this worked and we got under way, driving very slowing over the badly corrugated road back to the main highway.
Along the very dusty road we suddenly saw a sole brolga flying past us. Normally a part of the local fauna, but as it was early in the Dry Season, not many had yet arrived from elsewhere. A magnificent sight of a very large bird.
Along the way we stopped at a mystery point with a challenge to climb a small hill nearby to observe a most unusual Aboriginal feature. The brief walk revealed a very clever subterfuge employed by Aboriginal hunters to attract different hawk and kite species into a hunter’s ‘hide’ and thus the hungry of the tribe received a meal of reluctant hawks! Very clever indeed.

We made the rest of the way out to the highway and set off for the nearby Northern Territory/Western Australian border where a quarantine base was located to prevent the spread of cane toads and a range of fruit, vegetables and honey into WA. No problems emerged from either of our cars as we had ensured that we had cooked and eaten all potential hazards to WA before arriving at the checkpoint.
Putting our clocks back 90 minutes to WA time, we arrived quite early at Lake Argyle for a couple of nights camping. However, we shortly realized that we could not do justice to this beautiful place and so we immediately booked another two nights! Mary & I booked for the morning cruise to see more of this isolated oasis.
I spent more than an hour hand washing the (apparent) tonnes of red bull dust from the van. Dust was everywhere and literally got up your nose! Finally, having got the bulk of the cleanup done I made my way to the showers adjacent to our site. After three nights on the road and in the bush with no showers, that was one of the best showers that I ever had!
We enjoyed a fairly peaceful night although struggling to cope with the significant time change, especially relating to dawn and dusk.

13th June
Up early and surprised my hair with another shower! Breakfast and then down to the office for a pre-cruise video of Lake Argyle’s very brief history. Lake Argyle was built in the 1970’s to service the construction of the Ord River Dam project that the Federal and State Governments realised it was necessary to provide nearby farming districts with a reliable supply of water from irrigation. The Ord River floods every wet season and all the fresh water raced into the nearby ocean. The result of three incredible seasons of work (only during the seven to eight months Dry Season) was a 300 meter dam that holds back the potential for 80 Sydney Harbour’s worth of water. I have seen a number of dams around the world, and for the A$22 million it took to complete the project in 1972, it was a fabulous investment. A significant electricity generation system provides a full supply of electricity to the nearby Lake Argyle diamond mine – one of the world’s largest.
With a fresh breeze we enjoyed a two-hour cruise over a small portion of this lake that is large enough to be called an inland sea. We decided not to take the swim option when advised that an estimated 25,000 fresh-water crocodiles call Lake Argyle home! We saw several, so sat back, enjoyed the lovely morning tea and the fascinating flow of information from Scott, our skipper. A wonderful time that we all enjoyed.
Back for lunch, then some more detailed van cleanup before dinner. In the meantime we had tried to find a cause for the flat van battery, but decided to go the recharge route until we get to Kununurra, our next stop, where we hope to get this fixed once and for all!!
No TV reception so managed to get this up to date (on my laptop at least) before another attempt at catching a decent fish in the morning – crocs permitting!

Posted by psstevo 06:15 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

4 Going Bush!

National Park Beauty

sunny

Tuesday 1st June (Winter??)
After getting everything stowed away and hitched to the car we raced off and had a shower in preparation for travel to Litchfield Safari Camp, where we were booked for two nights, in the Litchfield NP about two hours drive south of Darwin. An easy ride with no traffic issues made this a pleasant trip, especially after we entered the Park itself and enjoyed winding roads and a variety of flora along the way.
We stopped outside the small town of Batchelor for morning tea, and headed off to our destination.
We drove via the Wangi Falls camp site but were not overly impressed as the sites all seemed to be neatly separated into what looked like a car park with shrubs! Driving on tour destination we arrived just in time for a late lunch. The last, probably one Km, was on a dusty red gravel road that had quite a lot of corrugations, but without incident we arrived at a rather spartan-looking camp site with a lot of greenery. The ‘reception’ office and most of the other ‘official’ sort of buildings all looked very down market. However, we were checked in and asked to select from any of the available sites.
We quickly got set up and enjoyed a brief lunch followed by the logical question - “Now that we are here in the middle of a large National Park, what are we going to do first?” After conferring with our new neighbours we headed up the sealed road to the Bamboo Creek Tin Mine. The mine was abandoned many years ago after attempts to cope with the very dry Dry Season, and the very Wet Season caused flooding over the site making it uneconomic to operate. Back down the road to Walker Creek to explore as the day came to an end. Brian drove us back to camp – very carefully, as there were wallabies crossing the road quite frequently and, having had an ‘argument’ with a kangaroo in a previous trip, wisely took his time. We also saw a wild dingo cross the road and disappear (easily) into his bush camouflage.
One thing that was important was that there was no TV, radio or phone connection to the outside world, so we are totally oblivious to any happenings in the wider world.
Dinner and early night.

Wednesday 2nd June
Another beautiful morning and, after a pancake breakfast we headed to the famous Wangi Falls a few Km along the road. Very beautiful falls to photograph, then we headed off along the increasingly steep climb through the rainforest (jungle) and then along a very rocky ridge and down the quite difficult climb back to the base of the falls. The top area above the falls, like most other falls in the area, was very arid and stony, unlike the tropical greenery around the lower part of the pool area.
Sadly the swimming in the pool at the foot of the waterfall was closed because the water was quite dangerous and still very high, meaning that the dreaded estuarine crocodiles were almost certainly still able to access the pool – and any welcome swimmer for lunch!
Talking of lunch, we then headed back to camp for our lunch, then off down the road to the Tolmer Falls for a short walk. A pleasant place to visit and enjoy, but no swimming here either, so back to camp for a breather after all the fresh air and walking in the heat.
After a very pleasant meal Mary & I watched the WALL-E DVD while Brian and Maureen went to the Wangi Falls ranger’s evening for a talk about the National Parks. Seems that the week prior someone had left their dog in charge of their van for a brief time and came back to see a large python starting to enjoy their lunch of Spot! The same camp had had a deadly adder in the shower/toilet block a few days earlier, so, we certainly watched where we were walking!
A few wallabies came to graze on the nearby vacant camp grass, but weren’t interested in any long-term attachment! Another cool night so we resurrected the doona for the night.

Thursday 3rd June
Another cool night, then we headed off to visit Buley Rockhole, adjacent to the famous Florence Waterfalls. We saw the usual wallaby scamper off into the nearby bush and disappear while we drove to the site. As we approached the Buley Rockhole pools we noted an extremely smashed up small car, apparently the accident was a very recent one that resulted in some serious injuries requiring helicopter evacuation.
Arriving at Buley we headed off to admire the beautiful waterfall with cool water rushing downstream. We then set off through the scrubby bush, much of it having recently been burned off in anticipation of a long Dry season. The track was easier than the previous ones in which we had to really clamber over rocks and logs. A couple of young men came towards us from the Florence Falls end and advised us to watch out as they had encountered a snake on the path just a few minutes earlier. Mary & Maureen immediately went into very high alert mode, while Brian and I kept up our normal watchfulness! No snake was seen, sadly!
The Florence Falls are quite attractive as they manifest as two major falls along with many smaller ones up and downstream. Altogether a very pleasant place to visit, however, as at Wangi Falls previously, we observed the various coach tour companies whisk their customers quickly to the nearest photo opportunity, and then back on the coach for the next photo shoot. I observed to the others that these poor tourists were ‘just seeing the beauty, but we were experiencing it’. Sad, but true, as we took time to immerse ourselves in the place and the moment.
One aspect throughout the whole Top End experience was the absolute domination of Darwinian dogma, almost everywhere that we visited, but especially in the many beautiful rock formations. The explanation, at Wangi Falls, on the birth of their Flying Fox young was patently absurd, but it was all written down in humourless pseudo-science. The other, equally, sad point that I noted was that there were many places from which all, except local Aboriginal people, were completely banned. All in the name of Aboriginal ‘spirituality’ which is apparently superior to all others! NO swimming at this sacred site etc. The patent pagan influence over the whole Top End is quite oppressive, I believe, and needs to be addressed – but I doubt this will happen.
After the rigours of another morning walk and climb (135 steps down to Florence Falls base – and I climbed back up them while the others went another route back to the car park), left us enjoying a peaceful time on a very pleasant day to get some R & R.
Please be patient with the updates. This past week we have been completely isolated in Litchfield National Park, and, the Blognow site can be very difficult to get the updates updated. Thanks.

Friday 4th June
As we enjoyed breakfast we noted that three Stone-faced Curlews were standing under the sprinkler system and just enjoying a nice cool shower! They were not so happy when the sprinkler was moved elsewhere. Isn’t nature lovely at times?
Another day in the Park and this time we decided to do the Greenant to Tjaetaba Falls walk. The first part was very easy and pleasant as we walked through patches of jungle followed by drier low level brush. However, the track became quite difficult with many stones that took a while to navigate, but we managed. A pleasant view of the waterfall from a close-by lookout, and then the descent. We did notice that wild pigs had made a mess of the environment by digging up large patches of ground in search of food. As a mandated pest they are controlled by the Park staff by culling, as are water buffalo, wild horses and cane toads.
During the late afternoon we walked around the perimeter fence and saw many wallabies, who did not wait for us to get too close but skipped off into the underbrush along the pathway.

Saturday 5th June
We reluctantly departed from Litchfield NP and headed to Katherine for our next stopover. We booked two nights at the Shady Lane CP as our previous stay had been a good one.
Near to the Adelaide River village we stopped for morning tea and saw the Ghan train heading south from Darwin to Adelaide. We then went to the nearby War Cemetery at Coomalie where several hundred victims of the Japanese bombing of Darwin in February 1942 are commemorated. Many were service personnel but there were several civilians who had been simply in the Darwin Post Office at the time of the first bombing raids and who died immediately or subsequently from injuries sustained in the attack. A moving experience, and perhaps Japanese tourists should be ‘encouraged’ to visit as we visit Hiroshima, for example.
We arrived back at Shady Lane and were allocated the same site as previous, but by now it was very dusty rather than green grass. We made the most of the stopover with getting all the washing up to date and some shopping to get us through to the NT/WA State border in about a week’s time, being careful not to buy too many vegetables as they have a quarantine station at the border for some items.

Monday 7th June
Although we had everything ready for an early start one of our camp neighbours stopped to share his information on some of our future stopovers. Campsites are wonderful places for the exchange of travel intelligence on road conditions, caravan parks and so on. However, we managed to get on the road and stopped in Katherine for a replacement light bulb for the van, an extra water container (so we could have longer free stopovers in Parks), and petrol. Petrol is cheaper in Katherine than we will encounter for many days on the road into the top of Western Australia.
We looked at a couple of free stops but missed out on grabbing a spot to park and stay, so onwards to Victoria River Roadhouse for a couple of nights, where we were given useful intelligence about van sites in Kununurra (WA), as these are often hard to obtain.
Once again, away from the city glare of lights we could marvel at the beauty of the Milky Way in all its splendour.

Tuesday 8th June
I was woken before dawn by some ‘cowboy’ running a forklift around the main complex. After a while I decided to get up and try my hand at barramundi fishing at the nearby bridge. As all rivers contain crocodile warnings Mary was a bit concerned – possibly by the thought that she would have to drive the van back to Brisbane without me!!
A careful check of the river bank showed no recent croc signs so I set about trying to catch one of the local monster fish. After a while I noticed what certainly appeared to be a croc down river so I increased my vigilance, especially as it disappeared from view shortly after! Not a good sign. However, the fish were not interested in my appeals to them to visit with us for dinner so, after a couple of hours, I returned to the van. There I was greeted by Brian and Mary, ready to take the Escarpment Climb just down the main road. So, a quick coffee and off we drove to the start point. It was getting hotter as we climbed up and quite easy, then a much more difficult climb over the rocky path. We made it to the top and were greeted by spectacular views of the Victoria River and the red/brown vertical cliffs in the area.
The journey down was quite slow because of the unstable rocky pathway, but we made it back to camp for lunch.
After lunch I headed off to try my luck at the nearby boat ramp as this was reputed to be a good fishing spot. It was also a bit more dangerous because it was very low-lying terrain along the river banks. I tried for about an hour and a half, but decided that, as the sun was setting and I was a long way from help if needed that I would stop and go home. However, ever the optimist I decided on a few more casts and was surprised to hook a Long Tom fish (a freshwater Gar fish). As it was a rather skinny creature and would not satisfy the hungry mouths back at camp released it.

Posted by psstevo 06:13 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

3 Intro to the "Top End"

semi-overcast

Saturday 22nd May
Well, we are into our third week today! The sun was shining, the mosquitoes were out looking for breakfast and we headed for the ablution block for all the necessary showers etc. Oh joy! No electricity or water for the many toilets. Oh well, we were going on the 9.00am Yellow Water cruise, so we would have plenty of fresh air there! A quick breakfast and off to join the cruise, to find a boatload of French speakers were also on the cruise. Another vessel, so no need to panic!
The two-hour cruise among the water lilies, the many birds and plants, and to everyone’s delight about eight crocodiles, very close to the boat. A most enjoyable morning.
Lunch then we headed out in our car along the road towards Jabiru to do a bit of rock climbing to enjoy the wide panorama before us with the distance escarpment and the flat wetland plains surround us. Further along the road we saw an ‘art walk’ that lead to various Aboriginal art sites. A hot and humid return to Coiinda/Kakadu camp and straight for the very large swimming pool and a most enjoyable cooling off. Showers and toilets functioning OK so managed to get past that hurdle too.
We decided to retain our original 3 nights here so we could enjoy some of the sights on offer.

Sunday 23rd May
Brian drove us to Ubirr, about 50 or so Km from Coiinda, to see some Aboriginal rock art, and to climb some interesting rock formations also. The road was covered by rushing water in two places but no trouble for Brian’s Subaru AWD. The fascinating rock formations along the way, and the infrequent views of billabongs covered in water lilies made for an interesting trip.
Some of the rock formations, covered with greenery and vines, looked just like Incan or Mayan ruins. We climbed a couple of rocky outcrops and were rewarded with fabulous views of the surrounding wetlands. No sign of the deadly rock adders, to everyone’s relief.
The rest of the team insisted on visiting all the art work along the base of the range of hills. I didn’t feel that enthusiastic so took the opportunity to try and get some unusual photos. I did manage to get a nice shot of a very young rock wallaby.
It was another very hot and humid day so we headed to the Border Cafe, on the Kakadu boundary with Arnhemland. Territory of another Aboriginal tribe and we were not supposed to crossover. However, as it was so hot and we were rather hungry Mary and I ordered a Barra pie and Fanta at to famous Border cafe, and were somewhat surprised to be charged $11.00 each! It did taste really nice however.
A rather tired group finally made it back to camp ready for dinner and the next day’s journey to Darwin.

Monday 24th May
We made a reasonably early start for Darwin, via Jabiru and enjoyed the changing nature of the landscape as we journeyed. Mary kept trying to take photos through her open window and wondered why all she got was a blur! There were some trees and flowers to see and we did get some photos when I could find a safe place to pull off the highway.
We hadn’t heard from Brian on the UHF for a while (they had headed on towards Darwin intending to get a replacement food supply as they had had an accident with their fridge and lost all their cold stuff), when the mobile rang to tell us that they were booking the 1300 cruise for the Jumping Crocodile show. We didn’t realise how close to that event until a few minutes later we rounded a corner and saw the sign advising it was only a couple of Km down the road.
Arriving in time to have our lunch and cold drink, we immediately booked for the cruise also. It was an hour on a two-storey boat and was intended to show us how dangerous crocodiles in the wild could be. They used a pole with pieces of pig attached and encouraged the crocs to jump for their lunch, which they did! It was quite spectacular to watch and we managed to get photos of the smaller and a couple of very large crocs doing their thing. One male saltwater croc weighed about one tonne! However, he was recovering from a local battle with another male rival for his lady crocs but had suffered some nasty damage in the process.
However, the highlight of the cruise turned out to be the white-chested (?) eagle who also likes free food. He gradually flew closer to the boat until, suddenly arriving at the precise moment that the croc’s free lunch was being dangled it front of it; the eagle just swooped in a flash and took the lot from the jaws of the unhappy croc. Then the many whistling kites (a local bird of prey) arrived looking for their lunch too. It looked a bit like a scene from a Battle of Britain movie as they surged around and past us in large numbers, and fearlessly grabbing their food morsel as they swooped past, and then eating it as they returned for seconds. The crowd of the boat really had a view of something special that day.
Arrived in Darwin mid-afternoon and headed for an auto-electrician to get the problem with the van brake lights attended to. Found a Peter Brown near to our camp who did an excellent job of finding the problem and fixing it. Safe from prying cops eyes at last!
Checked in and had difficulty getting access to a rather tight campsite, but managed to accomplish it without damage to our gear from the very close and large trees.

Tuesday 25th May
After so many hard days on the road, and with rain at most stopovers, we decide to spend the day tidying up and sorting stuff to minimise changes in the ensuing days. Had a coolish swim in the afternoon to enjoy ourselves as the expected dry season was still to arrive (now three weeks late!) with continuing hot and humid day and nights.

Wednesday 26th May
Mary & I headed for town to look at the sights. I should have expected that the multiplicity of T-shirt shops would have required so much time and attention!!!
Finally started to look at the historic sights such as the underground tunnels that were built to protect Darwin’s oil supplies following the vicious Japanese air attack on Darwin in February 1942 that destroyed many buildings and ships, and cost hundreds of lives in deaths and injured. A range of historic war sites made an impression on the memory that will last for a long time.
I can’t overlook the good news that Darwin Buses provide FREEEEE travel to Seniors!! Oh what a civilised city – at times.

Thursday 27th May
Had a swim to cool off. Did a few easy chores. (We were on holiday you know) and then drove to the Mindil Markets for our evening meal and the sights and sounds, and, their famous Sunset. What would we do without our faithful Tom Tom? Enjoyed a huge Indian beef something and the large crowds of fellow dawdlers for a relaxed evening. Didn’t buy much however, so we watched the free sunset and then some clown who did dangerous things with large fiery sticks as he pretended to be a whirling dervish. Home to sleep in the infernal heat again!

Friday 28th May
We all walked to the nearby (adjacent to Darwin Airport) Aviation Heritage Museum, famous for having one of only two B52 bombers as lead item if interest. The fascinating story about these very famous, and large, aircraft, together with political and historical data went an hour longer than the thirty minute talk that was scheduled. Here was an aviation enthusiast to beat all others. A most fascinating Museum and worth the visit. Highly commended.
Then it rained, and kept raining for some time. Sorry about the dry season!

Saturday 29th May
Mary and I drove towards East Point district and enjoyed a long walk along the low cliff top, even in the heat. We returned along the beachfront and were greatly impressed with the amazing rock colours, so we took some photos as proof. Accidently ran across the old Fanny Bay Gaol and were saddened by the awful place it must once have been.
Tom Tom then took us to the very large Casuarina Shopping Centre to see Robin Hood, the movie. Just missed the 12.50 session so wandered around the shops until the next session. We enjoyed Russell Crowe’s version, although of the scenes seemed more fiction than fact! Never mind, we were entertained. Tom brought us safely home by another route!

Sunday 30th May
We were up quite early for the 0845 church service at Darwin Baptist Church – not too far from our camp. Sadly the signwriter had not yet reflected the 0900 service change! Not to worry, as we headed towards the building a lovely lady greeted us as we realised we were very early – an unheard of event in Baptist Churches! No problem – fresh brewed coffee was made for us, and we learned that Tony is the Associate pastor there and was scheduled to preach in a few minutes!
The service was lively, but ordered and very ministry focused with excellent singers, numerous announcements and special prayers for other ministry workers involved in the community. The impression was of a very dynamic and caring church – a pleasant change from some.
Mary and I managed a few light chores and a swim.

Monday 31st May
The day dawned fresh and relatively cool – the Dry may have arrived!
Major washing was completed in preparation for our departure for Litchfield National Park tomorrow. Mary & I headed off to Casuarina for major food replacements as we were not likely to enjoy reasonable choices or prices for some time as we make our way slowly down the WA coast. Had another swim!
However, our day was marred by a call from our John that his doctor had sent him to QEII Hospital to try and resolve some very serious head pains. Frequent text messages and calls resulted throughout the day as we wondered what the outcome might be. Obviously if it became a serious issue then Mary would fly home (and David would have to drive the van), however, late in the day John called to say that he was now back home and would need some specialist advice about some eye troubles that appeared to be the source of the pain.
We went out to top up with petrol and then tidied up the storage of our stuff in the van and the car in readiness for the departure in the morning.
Another cool evening, which made a very pleasant day. Pity that we seem to have missed the cooler Dry Season by only a few days.

Posted by psstevo 06:10 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

2 Heading West

semi-overcast

Thursday 13th May
Slightly cool breeze when we arose but managed to get going.
Shifted some of the gear around to reflect the warmer weather and changing supply situation. Replaced a blown brake light to ensure we didn’t incur the wrath of any local police, if they existed. Mary decided to take advantage of a laundry facility at the camp so we had clean clothes to last us another few weeks. Hey, we are on the Nomad Trail so we don’t HAVE to change into fresh clobber every day!
Had a nice morning tea and homemade scones that Mary had brought with us and planned the next couple of travel stages.
After lunch we all went into town to see the Waltzing Matilda Centre. It was generally good value and had a huge range of both historical artefacts but also many modern productions of the towns historic past, one video item I considered was in very poor taste. What a pity such a good and informative tourist attraction should be stooping so low in their vain attempt at bush jokes. Not only was Waltzing Matilda written and performed in the area about one hundred years ago, it is also a major part in the founding of Qantas Airways. Heaps to see and well worth the hours spent looking around.
Topped up with petrol for the next day, and enjoyed a home-cooked dinner before Mary, Maureen and Brian headed to the evening’s entertainment here at the camp. From the frequent laughter they sound like they are all enjoying themselves.

Friday 14th May
Set out quite early for Fountain Springs Rest Area a few Km before Mt Isa. There a now a lot of these free overnight camping sites along the highways. Very popular, although Fountain Springs was similar to sleeping under an airport flight departure route as a serious volume of 3-5 trailers being towed between Cloncurry and Mt Isa mines. Had good chat with ‘Chris’ a Brisbane to Mt Isa truckie having his tea break. A very helpful chap.
Again, it was long straight roads that seemed almost endless until nearing Mt Isa where we started meeting a few hills for a welcome variety! We pondered how the ancients might have thought that if they travelled too far they would fall of the Earth! Petrol becoming increasingly expensive.

Saturday 15th May
Drove the 60Km in to Mt Isa for some supplies and a coffee. Of course some of us had to buy more than that! Petrol much cheaper. The massive chimney stacks loomed over the whole town, so no one could be confused as to whom it belong! Foodstuffs and meat at Woolworths seemed fairly expensive and the store was rather dowdy.
A rather easy day today as we travelled northwards again to our next free overnight stop at WWII airfield memorial road. Quite peaceful with necessary toilets and BBQ area, so we had a reasonable night until it started to rain! The light rain on the van roof sounded much heavier than it was in reality, however, it was the start of unseasonal rains that lasted for some days.
During the afternoon, we all went for a very pleasant stroll along the old pre-war road that parallels the current excellent highway. Many interesting plants, some new bird species (for us) and some interesting termite mounds were observed.

Sunday 16th May
Starting off for the distant Barkly Homestead van park in light rain was a bit depressing. We experienced some heavier rain from time to time. Not so much road kill but did see some magnificent birds of prey looking for a target for lunch, or taking advantage of the supply along the road side. We did have a near miss with one white large Eastern Grey kangaroo, who, wisely for all concerned, turned back of the road in front of us. After a tiring trip we arrived at Barkly Homestead for our stopover and managed to get wet setting up. That beautiful red countryside on postcards is an absolute disaster when stuck to clothing, footwear, water hoses etc. Petrol at 179.9C per litre brought us rapidly back to reality! Managed to cook outside in the light rain some potatoes and rather yucky mango and chilli sausages of indeterminate animal origin that Mary bought on special at Mt Isa! I tried for some time to get a Telstra phone/mobile/internet connection to book a Darwin van park as this is their busy season. Fat chance until late when I managed to get an email request sent. Spent a happy hour finally getting our expenditure spreadsheet in order to ensure we didn’t kill the budget too soon! Petrol prices were the scary bit of news, but all up to date and correct now.

Monday 17th May
As our van is easier to get ready we were ready to roll on time but because of the overnight rain Brian and Maureen had a real hard time readying the van due to the persistent light rain and the damaging red clay.
We headed west again towards the Three Ways junction between the Barkly and Stuart Highways – a long journey in the rain. We looked at a morning tea break after about two hours but it was as muddy as Barkly Homestead so we kept going. Some very beautiful but wet and miserable birds of prey were observed along the roadsides. Again it was very long straight roads that brought thoughts of the Never Never to mind. Dorathea MacKellar’s famous poem about our Sunburnt Country was also in our thoughts as we saw hundreds of kilometres of almost nothing.
Bought yet more petrol, slightly cheaper than previous couple of spots, and had a coffee break before heading to our next (almost) free overnight stop at Banka Banka pastoral station about 74 Km north of Three ways on the Stuart Highway. All set up, then lunch, then a bright idea to climb the rocky path to a nearby high ridge. When we got there we saw, too late, the approaching showers, so, dampening by the minute, we stumbled over the rocks and back to camp.
Tea before dark as we were on battery power only. Banka Banka was a very reasonable $16 per two adults and their showers and toilets were better than in Winton!

Tuesday 18th May
Up early and had the trek to the loo in the dark and a shower for David (at last said Mary!). Had breakfast and observed a very strange phenomena– an actual sunrise – that was a pleasant start to the day.
Travelled north on Stuart Highway planning to stop at a free site near Mataranka but after a couple of roadside breaks we made a slight detour from the highway and ended up at Daly Waters Hotel. Mary & I ordered a Barra Burger for lunch and decided that the sandwich lunch would do us for tea; however, we have never seen such huge burgers, not even in Texas USA!

They were delicious and about four times the size and taste as any commercial rubbish you buy elsewhere. In fact, we were so taken by the rather off-beat ambience that Brian suggested that we book into the rapidly filling caravan park. Just in time as it is a very popular stopover from those in the know. A must see again place – but avoid the toilets and showers as they are quite substandard. Just hope that we can sleep tonight when the entertainment gets started!

Wednesday 19th May
After Breakfast Mary phoned Sonia with 40th birthday greetings.
There was the possibility of improved weather when we rose to get ready for departure for Katherine. However, dark clouds prevailed for the first part of the journey, and, having had trouble getting the van brake lights to function we headed north somewhat carefully. The good news was that we soon had the lights functioning properly along the way – don’t know what happened so just thankful for small mercies.
Then the UHF radio started playing up with transmit OK but we could not receive. We carried on anyway and hoped for the best! There was a real change in the local flora as the trees got taller, as did the ant hills! A few corners among the trees added variety to the trip, and that made it quite enjoyable.
We diverted to the Mataranka Hot Springs at the Mataranka turnoff. Mary, Maureen and Brian went for a dip, but the gardener was hosing off the pavement dirt from a recent big flood and the yucky water was trickling into the pool – so I declined to enjoy this delight! It was very obvious that this Roper River flood of only a few weeks previous had reached a height of more than 12 meters and caused damage to the many palm trees. Had morning tea and later lunch at the ‘Never Never; house used in the film of the same name. A number of most interesting stories and exhibits for all to view. Well worth the small side trip from the Stuart Highway.
Back on the Stuart Highway I checked how much fuel we had in the tank and there was more than enough to reach Katherine. However, about 23 Km from Katherine we ran dry and were stranded on the highway for almost an hour and a half while we waited for the angel from RACQ/AANT to arrive with the petrol rescue. Brian and Maureen had continued on their merry way unaware of our predicament with the faulty UHF radio. We finally made contact via SMS and they made sure that we held our booking at the Shady Lane Tourist Park.
We finally made it to Katherine town centre and immediately topped up with a full fuel tank – better late than never! As we did the U-turn from the bowser the UHF radio burst back into life.
Not happy Jan!!
However, on arrival at Shady Lane we immediately noticed that this is a very pleasant spot to stay, so we booked for two nights! Mary managed all the washing while I set up so that, a little late, we managed to enjoy a quick swim in the pool and then dinner.
We did notice that we were definitely back in the tropics with high humidity with the beautiful weather.

Thursday 20th May
A slow start to the day! About 10am we headed back towards Katherine and the Katherine Museum located at a former airport site on the Katherine Gorge Road. We enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours looking at the many historical exhibits. The ABC TV sourced DVD on the 1998 floods was very moving. A restored Gypsy Moth aircraft added to the great displays.
Had lunch under a massive tree (nice and cool there!) and headed into the CBD for some top-up shopping. The streets were crowded with many apparently unemployed Aboriginals, along with many campers doing their shopping. After getting a replacement windscreen wiper to replace the new, but useless one I got from a well-known motoring supply store in Brisbane, we headed back to camp for a few chores then a swim in the nice pool. It continued to be hot and humid, but, after dinner Mary & I packed up the majority of our gear in preparation for an early start as we had to be at Katherine Gorge by 6.45am for a sunrise cruise.
The day ended pleasantly, at least for Mary, when she finally found her lost set of van keys!

Friday 21st May
Departed Katherine for Kakadu. A brief stop at Pine Creek for lunch and a petrol top-up; we’re not planning on getting caught short again! A pleasant little stop just off the Stuart Highway – with expensive petrol.
The journey saw a significant change in the flora along the highway. Previously we had a few small shrubs and grass, with lots of ant hills, but gradually the flora became larger. Of particular interest was the beautiful apricot coloured gum trees that we noticed because they stood out from the rather standard green of everything else.
The trip along the highway to Kakadu showed more changes in the landscape with more of a winding road with pleasant vistas. We also noticed the increasing number of rain clouds, and copped a few as we travelled which made it quite unpleasant. We had been in the habit of having at least one car window open rather than using the aircon, mainly because the aircon cost more money to run, but also because the fresh air kept us awake in the increasing heat and humidity. However, the heavy squalls meant frequent window closures, so, the aircon became necessary.

We arrived fairly late and had an arduous check-in as all the paper work seemed to take quite a time to complete. When we finally brought both cars into the van park, Brian found that he had been allocated a very bad site that was virtually impossible to set up on. He had some difficulty getting thought the various natural and man-made obstacles and was virtually stuck between these impediments. With a bit of careful manoeuvring we managed to get car and van free and Brian decided to set up on another site instead, just in time for another shower to leaves all very wet and a bit less than even-tempered as we all struggled to beat the rapid onset of darkness, the showers, and the murderous mosquitoes who appeared to have been starved of nourishment for who knows how long.
We decided to only stay for two instead of three nights that had been booked, however, after a seriously humid night we changed our minds.

Posted by psstevo 06:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

1 The journey begins

Departure

8th May
Departed Brisbane at 0725 and headed for Toowoomba, and then on through Dalby and Roma for Mitchell. The climb up the Great Dividing Range is a bit of a challenge, however, the car and van managed everything beautifully. Met up with our friends Brian & Maureen at the top of the Range and we moved on.
We stopped for a lunch break at a very small village (Warra) in pleasant and tidy surroundings.
From Toowoomba to Mitchell the roads were either good, or had lengthy portions that were very undulating and not in good repair. We were reminded of the cowboys on Professional Bull Riding show as we were never sure what to expect next. Perhaps it was more akin to moderate air turbulence in an aircraft! Following one van for some distance, between Dalby and Roma, we could observe the ‘dancing devil’ as they swerved and swayed along the highway.
After a second fuel top-up at Roma we headed into the setting sun towards Mitchell. The combination of sun in front, variable road surface, and a real concern for kangaroo’s negligently crossing the road in front of us we were not able to maintain a very fast road speed. Especially difficult were the portions of road that became increasingly shaded in deep shadow.
One brief bright spot was when we sighted a wedge tail eagle enjoying his dinner close to the roadside. About 300m down the road I was confronted by his mate enjoying her dinner – right in the middle of our lane. A quick blast on the horn encouraged it to take off, albeit rather slowly, as it made its fortunate escape!
However, we made the Major Mitchell Caravan Park on the banks of the famous Maranoa River and checked in just as the sun was setting, so a quick job of unhitching the car and laying on the electricity and water supply soon saw us settled in. We soon found that the inconsistent road surface had, just like the aircraft arrivals announcement, “be careful when opening the overhead lockers as some items may have moved”, was true for us also!
The park staff were very helpful and friendly, and invited us to the ‘bush poet’ evening that had just commenced on a site close to ours. Sadly, we had too much setting up to get finished in time to enjoy.
A chat with Brian and Maureen, and then to bed as it was getting cold quite quickly.
Slept well until 0630!
Distance travelled 559 Km.

9th May
Awoken to a cold morning with a need to visit the toilet facilities, with the sound of roosters crowing in the distance. Rapidly realised that it is was cold! On checking the thermometer I read 4C.
Rushed back to bed for a longer sleep, but was woken at 0800 by Mary’s mobile ringing with Mothers’ Day greetings from John.
As we had agreed to attend a Mothers’ Day breakfast at the famous Artesian Spa Pool we made our way over the walk bridge to be very pleasantly surprised by the excellent paintings of local scenes and events on the road bridge pillars. We noted with surprise the large logs lodged just under the roadway, part of the debris from the recent floods. The flood height was over 7m – about the same height as the bridge!
The breakfast was a fundraiser for a local church and a large crowd of locals and tourists attended. We were pleased to be entertained by Garry Lowe, a Bush Poet, who, coincidently, was parked on the van site adjacent to us! We all enjoyed it, however a group of locals talked and laughed among their group the whole time of the presentation. On concluding the poet made a point of commenting pointedly to them about their lack of courtesy!
Then a stroll around Mitchell to enjoy the beautiful morning sun and some interesting shops, which were mercifully closed, much to Mary’s chagrin. An interesting local point of interest was the cultural walkway adjacent to the local Council offices, depicting an interesting and vibrant community. Well worth a look.
A lazy afternoon doing not very much we decided to stay an extra night to get a decent break after the tiring long journey from Brisbane.
At 1600 a Country Music session on the nearby grass went for two hours, interspersed with numerous poems by Garry Lowe. What a pleasant way to watch the setting sun and then head off for dinner.

Monday 10th
Breakfasted and then cleaned up the front of the caravan of all the expired insects that had attached themselves there on the long drive up. Mary did some clothes washing while David managed a few other chores, then Brian and Maureen joined us for the pleasant stroll over the pedestrian bridge across the Maranoa River to the Great Artesian Spa Pool for a very pleasant session in the spa water. Garry Lowe was also there and has us all entertained with another string of his poems, to our enthusiastic support. Mary bought some bread and meat for future use and then time for lunch. We then had a planning meeting with Brian and Maureen for the next stages of the journey to Barcaldine and Winton.
A quiet evening before departure, except for the total power failure for the whole region so it meant an early bedtime.

Tuesday 11th
We departed Mitchell for Barcaldine in beautiful weather.
The road was rather better than the previous few hundred kilometres, however, considering the serious flooding of only a few weeks prior, and the incredible cost per ratepayer, the roads are still in very good condition.
We took advantage of the reasonable roads and light traffic to experience her first time of driving a car with a caravan attached. She managed pretty well for the 80 or so kilometres that she drove.
Stopped for petrol at Morven and had a break further up the road. Considering that we had to find a safe parking spot on the open highway for two cars and caravans, we managed well. We had a picnic lunch at Tambo by a very well maintained picnic spot on the outer town limits, complete with very fat ducks! Mary & Maureen made a quick visit to the Tambo Teddies shop. Apparently the teddies were rather expensive so no sale.
We ran into (literally) several swarms of locusts as later afternoon approached prior to arrival at Barcaldine. The made something of a mess of the front of both car and van so that had to be cleaned off before they became permanent fixtures.
We arrived at Barcaldine just on sunset and quickly set up camp. Mary then announced that we had no power from the van battery system. That meant that, although we had half a lighting system on the 240 power supply from the camp, the other half of lighting etc was now non-existent. Made a call to RACQ for help! The chap came round and after some scary oohing and aahing, managed to find that the fault was simply the mains cut-off switch had been bumped somehow and he reset that and everything was fine. We then all walked the one kilometre to the junction of the Matilda and Capricorn Highway in the balmy evening air. We did not sleep well that night.

Wednesday 12th May
Slightly later departure from Barcaldine to Winton than planned but all went well with all the preparations so off we headed for Longreach for a bit of shopping for supplies and a very nice coffee and cake treat.
The road was good, if rather tedious with many very long straights followed by yet many more! Saw four emus watching us watching them. The usual kangaroo/wallaby road kill was observed. Not a bad drive however on the long trip. Very few trees and therefore the horizon seemed forever far away. Which it was!
Had lunch stop about 40 Km from Winton, and then caught up with Brian and Maureen at the next one having theirs. Must have been a bit of a communications breakdown I think. We all travelled on to Winton, and checked in the afternoon hot sun and set up in time for a quiet dinner. Except that the many galahs had other ideas. I couldn’t count how many that called the Matilda Country Tourist Park home, but they certainly greatly outnumbered the campers in number and in noise!!
We went to the historic open air cinema (built about 1918) which specialises in very old films and advertisements that we enjoyed immensely. This a must for any visitor to Winton, however, the films are usually only on a Wednesday evening. Don’t miss it!

Posted by psstevo 23:01 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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