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The Mighty, Mighty Gibb

gibb-river-rdBitumen, beautiful bitumen, all the way from Kununurra to Emma Gorge. Resort atmosphere abounds. Carved wooden doors, sophisticated building structures, manicured lawns and staff in crisp, smart uniforms reminiscent of airline stewardesses. We walked through to reception in our wrinkled clothes, dirty shoes and ragged backpacks to purchase the El Questro pass and felt right at home among the glamour.

img_7822Emma Gorge is a pretty gorge, then again all of them are. Boulder hopping is the norm for the path to the falls. That’s fine by us as we’ve already done plenty of that on this trip. The kids practically run up the boulders and jump them on the way down. We typically walk in file with one parent in front, kids in the middle and one parent behind, in case of snakes. I’m leading the way and we are almost at the falls when Xavier shouts “Snake!” So I’m not a very good snake spotter. At least he didn’t step on it because it was a small, pissed off, brownish coloured snake.  It was trying to cross the track and too many tourists were stomping their way across the rocks. After a bit of gawking, it turned around and slithered down to the rocks at the water’s edge.

The falls at the end of Emma Gorge were really pretty. We were there at just the right time of day to see sun sparkled reflections from the rippling water bounce across the rock wall. Rain like droplets, dripped through the vegetation creating a second gentle fall. There were no snakes spotted on the walk back out and we were almost at the end of the rock hopping.  I took a small jump from a boulder and went over on my ankle. Shit! Shit, shit, shit! This is the last thing I wanted to do especially on the first day of exploring the Gibb. Thankfully I’d just stretched the tendons and it wasn’t sprained. I had a slight limp and it swelled enough to give me a lovely cankle.

Tyre pressures down and its onward towards El Questro Station, which is the camp ground accommodation not the posh accommodation called The Homestead. We saw three vehicles with blown tyres on the 16km drive over. Seriously! The rocks that litter the dirt road have very sharp straight edges and it was a bit astonishing to see so many vehicles in repair mode on the side of the road over such a short distance. The Station was very nice but a step down in resort atmosphere from Emma Gorge. The perfect environment for the early morning, shaggy haired, rumpled pj, walk to the ablution block.

img_7827After a night in the tent we hit Zeebedee Springs as soon as it opened. Stripping down to swimwear at 7am was… lets just say ‘a little chilly’ but it allowed us to find a decent sized rock depression filled with warm water.  It was lovely to have a relaxing soak for over an hour and get back to The Station in time for the kids to have a horse ride.

After a small amount of nerves, Amelie seemed right at home on her horse ‘Bobcat’. Xavier scored the only Clydsdale, ‘Ben’ who had a stubborn temperament. Interesting, the stubborn leading the stubborn. Off they went with big smiles on their faces. Craig and I looked at each other with the same thought “Uh, oh! They are going to want a horse of their own!” And we were correct, both of them loved the short ride and have tried a few persuasive arguments to scope out their chances of owning a horse. So far on this trip Amelie has asked for a pet fish, pet pig and a budgie who she’s already named ‘Chubby’. Yes, Chubby the budgie. And now she wants a damn horse! Fat chance sista!

img_7844We are still seeing plenty of tour groups along here. APT is the main contender and we’ve since seen a local group called ‘Kimberley Wild’. Craig suggests the name could pass as an adult entertainers name. However, their clientele were far from the R rated stereotype.  The kids weren’t interested in going on another walk that afternoon and I was holed up icing my swollen ankle. Everyone seemed pretty happy to laze around for the rest of the day, reading, and playing in the creek at the El Questro campground.

The next day we decided to tackle a long but shady walk, El Questro Gorge. It was listed as a pretty challenging 5hr walk, so I lead with a slow pace, compensating speed for sure footedness to ensure I didn’t injure myself again. The entire walk was rock hopping and scrambling boulders until we reached the halfway pool. The only way to continue was to climb the small waterfall. There was a small rock climb on the left but it required reach and upper body strength. Either way, you had to wade across.

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Craig ported the bags over the left side, then climbed over to the falls while I swam with the kids over to the waterfall where we hoiked them up to climb over. A family arrived just in time to see me try to scramble up and over the bottom ledge of the falls. Let’s just say elegance abandoned me as I attempted to haul my bikini clad nether regions up and over the lower ledge of the waterfall! They followed suit up the waterfall and we engaged in a bit of chit chat as we put our clothes and shoes back on.  I guess I didn’t put on too much of a show as they could still make eye contact while chatting.

We let them go ahead and continued along the walk which now included more rock hopping along with a cliff climb until we finally reached a couple of swimming holes and the waterfall. I couldn’t help thinking of my mum. She would be freaking out if she saw the narrow ledges the kids were climbing. It was the most technically challenging walk we have done so far but it was absolutely worth it as the entire length of the gorge was spectacular. Craig is claiming it as his favourite walk of the trip to date and I’d have to agree with him. The kids were absolute champs throughout. It probably helped that we found kindred spirits in the other family we met at the halfway point. The boys were off challenging each other’s daring, the girls talked the whole way back and so did the grown-ups.

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We all hung out together for the afternoon, with the boys off catching fish and the girls paddling the river on boogie boards, playing their own games. It was nice to see Amelie have some time with another like-minded girl. Looks like we will catch up with both the family from Gunlom Falls and these guys in Broome.  Meeting up with like minded families travelling the same path, gives us another thing to look forward to along the way.

Craig had a quick check under the car as we’ve had a couple of river crossings and rocky roads. He noticed that we’ve scraped some of the plastic off the wiring to the Anderson plug! The Ranger has been an awesome car on this trip but the placement of the tow ball and bar isn’t well thought out. It’s very low and the wiring for the plug was placed underneath the bar, well and truly exposed to any scraping. Craig taped up the exposed bit and rejigged the placement of the wiring trying to avoid anymore damage. Caz, the husband from the family we met on the walk that morning, had gone out to help a tour bus that had broken down on the Gibb. When he came back and saw our wiring issue, he offered to rewire it for us, ‘no probs’. We didn’t want to put him out and figured it would be okay to still use when we got back to the van. It seems like throughout this trip Caz has been doing ‘in park’ repairs for other campers without accepting anything in return. “Good karma” he reckons. Well, I hope it comes back to him in spades.

An overnighter at Home Valley was hardly worth setting up the tent, the beds and the kitchen, so we splurged on an eco tent to save the set up and pack down. It gave us extra time to explore the local walks. These were less spectacular, very dry and rocky with little vegetation. There are not many places to swim but the campground did have a pool if you wanted to cool off. A large hollow Boab was right next to our tent, there were plenty of birds to entertain the kids and plenty of goathead prickles to remind them to wear shoes.

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Friends from Darwin advised us that the road to Kalumbaru is the road they judge all other 4wd roads by. They should know, they holiday up there a lot. Time and lack of mechanical knowledge and spare parts helped us decide to camp at Drysdale Station and opt for the 2hr plane flight over Mitchell Falls instead.

A small 7 seater Cessna bounced down the runway and bounced through the sky as we flew over the station, rivers, mountains, out to the basin and over waterfalls including the famed Mitchell Falls. Amelie looked very nervous at take off, then was having a jolly old time taking photos out the window. Xavier was the complete opposite. He had “Yee-ha’d” the take off, got real quite around the 15 minute mark and at at about the 1 hour mark discretely deposited his breakfast into a sick bag. Great! Only 1hr till we land again. He looked green and miserable, then fell asleep for quite a while. Woke up feeling and looking much better with about 15minutes of the flight left. Gotta be the most expensive daytime nap ever. He was in good company though. The guy sitting next to me promptly got out when we landed, found a spot not far from the plane and hurled his guts up too!

The flight was great as it was informative and we saw a lot more of the area than if we had driven along the Kalumbaru Road. However, all I wanted to do when we flew over Mitchell Falls was land so we could see and feel it up close. One thing we also saw from the air were the unforgiving corrugations along Kalumbaru Road!

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Miner's Pool
Miner’s Pool

A couple of things we learned from the pilot, dunny rolls soaked in diesel will burn for 45 minutes and are a good runway replacement if you’ve run out of flares and we heard the sad saga of Ginger Meadows, a 24 year old, American model who was taken by a croc at Kings Cascades in 1987.  After the flight we took a drive down the road from Drysdale Station to a small swimming hole called Miner’s Pool. It’s a pretty alternative to camping at Drysdale Station, but very low in water level.

River at Manning Gorge campground.
The river at Manning Gorge campground.

Manning Gorge was a great spot and we wished we had stayed longer than the one night. Lots of shady campsites close to a cool, crystal clear creek and sandy beach. People were sun baking like lizards on a large flat slab of rock in the middle of the creek. A few guys were ripping it up on a tree swing having the best time. Xavier was desperate to have a go but of course he made Craig go first. Craig swings, floats in the air at that moment when you lose outward momentum, lets go and splashes fantastically into the water. Xavier is next with similar yet slightly less graceful form. Amelie didn’t want to try it and I reminisced about the rope swing my sister and I swung on when we went on holidays along the MacIntyre River as kids.

Rope Swing fail
Rope Swing fail

In the end I couldn’t resist so I clambered up the tree trunk, grabbed the rope, not real happy with the placement of the knots and swung out over the water. I quickly lost my hold, let out a high pitched squeak and swallowed a generous amount of river water on entry. I could hear Craig laughing his arse off as I bobbed to the surface coughing and spluttering. I think he asked if I was alright between bouts of laughter. I was okay though.  The only thing that got hurt was my pride.

Other campers had told us the walk to Manning Gorge was a hot, hour long walk, so we decided to hold off until the morning. To start the walk you jump into a little boat and use a rope pulley to get to the other side. Fun! Half an hour later we are at the waterfall. Hot? Difficult? Long walk? Pfft! Not for our mob. Admittedly Amelie and Craig ran part of the trail. Xav was happy to keep his hobbling mum company and we were only 5mins behind ‘the athletes’. We found a comfortable spot on the rocks and jumped in. It was a little cold for Xav so he hopped straight back out again. Craig and Amelie were already on their way back from the waterfall by the time I dived in. It was worth braving the cold water as you could swim right under the waterfall to a small rock ledge. You also get a completely different perspective of the falls up close. I noticed many smaller falls that I didn’t see from the opposite bank. The walk back was a study in nature we noticed different flowers, native bees, and a cool lizard.

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At Galvan Gorge there is a rope swing and a cliff with multiple heights to jump from.  An older boy and his sister were already jumping from the cliff and then showing us how it was done on the rope swing.  So of course Xavier wanted to try the swing out but the cliff was just a little high for him that day.  Craig was already up there with him, so he figured he may as well take advantage and jump in.  He executed a pretty good bomb dive and the other boy immediately pestered his dad to do the same.  Poor guy.  He really, really didn’t want to jump but was shamed into it after Craig’s effort.  It was pretty funny to watch.  He spent quite a few minutes dithering at the top mentioning things like, “it’s pretty high”, “there are a lot of spiders”, and “yeah, yeah, I’m going to jump!”  To his credit he eventually did launch himself off, with a fair amount of arm flapping and a nervous whimper on the way down.

Mornington Wilderness Camp was previously a cattle station that is now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. They are one of the best conservation groups, you’ve never heard of! Their mission statement is “to protect all Australian wildlife”. That’s a big call! However through funds raised by donors and visitors to their open properties, they are achieving great things. The logo they use features an image of the Lesser Bilby which hasn’t been seen since the 1930’s and is probably extinct. It’s a constant reminder of what’s been lost and drives them to continue with their work. Some of the good things they’ve achieve have been increasing the population numbers of threatened species and providing protected habitat to 86% of all native bird species and 71% of all native mammal species.

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Cheat puncture!
Cheat puncture!

Sir John Gorge is within the camp area and we decided to go along the rocky road with a few small water crossings to explore it. Craig has taken to inspecting the tyres pretty regularly as the Gibb River Road can be quite unforgiving. As we arrived at the gorge, Craig discovered our first puncture. After all the corrugations, all the razor sharp rocks and all the water crossings along the eastern part of the Kimberleys, we expected that somewhere along the line, we’d get a puncture. What wasn’t expected was the cause of the puncture. A bloody tech screw! Seriously? We can’t even claim it as a ‘real’ casualty of the Gibb. It’s a cheat puncture! Craig removed screw and plugged the hole while the kids and I checked out the gorge. I’ve gotta say his man brand is increasing all the time!

Cadjaput is a place along the Fitzroy River and also within the Mornington Camp area. The kids were fighting so they got to sit together under a lonely tree while Craig and I relaxed by the waters edge. We jumped in the river, relaxed on the soft grass of the bank and saw quite a few rainbow bee eaters flitting about. The kids played with rocks. Eventually they were released from ‘lonely tree’ boundaries and learned how to skim stones.

Bell Gorge was another quick stop on the way to our next campsite.  It was a pretty walk with a super slippery entry and exit into the water.  It was actually pretty hilarious watching everyone’s strategy for getting in and out of the water.


We Arrived at Windjana Gorge just in time for Census night! A fellow camper approached us with census forms to fill out and return to him in the morning.  It was a bit of an eye opener as the choice for dwellings included caravans, units, homes but only an ‘other’ box for those in a tent or perhaps sleeping in their car or out on the streets. Made me wonder what percentage of the population are missed in the census data who are sleeping rough.

Now we read about this place and how you can spot many freshwater crocs. They were right, the freshies were everywhere and they were a good size too!

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What we didn’t read on wikicamps or TripAdvisor was that the best thing to do out here is to go to the gorge in time for sunset.  As the sun goes down, the sky fills with bats who then dip down to the river for a drink. See where I’m going here? Yep, all those snappy crocodiles are leaping out of the water ready to catch themselves a feed.

I think almost everyone from the campground was there and it was reminiscent of a football crowd. A lot of collective ‘Oooo’s’ as a croc jumps and makes that loud, hollow, snapping sound, while the bat narrowly avoids being dinner. This happened quite a lot until one croc was quick enough to partially get hold of a bat. The crowd went wild, ‘Whoa!” There was a momentary struggle as the bat flapped desperately at the surface of the water but the croc wasn’t letting it go. Other crocs were moving in on the centre of action hoping to perhaps steal the spoils of victory. Another quick snap and the bat was further lodged in the crocs jaws. The crowd cheered and clapped the victorious croc as if it’d just scored the winning goal in a footy match. It was kind of weird to cheer on crocs but I’m so glad I saw these predators in action in their natural environment.

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We also caught up with another family we’d met at the start of our trip across the Kimberley which was awesome. We and another family headed over to their camp after dinner for a get together. The six adults were clustered together and the eight kids formed their own circle of chairs to swap stories and play ‘truth, dare, double dare, kiss, love or torture’, seems the game has advanced since we were kids when it was just the basic old ‘truth or dare’. Anyhow, the kids are laughing and having fun and we are chatting away.

We must have been loud as a posh lady and a young, tattoo’d lady came over separately to ask us to keep it down.  It was only 8.30pm and we were just about to wrap it up but the young lady apparently had “a very early start in the morning”. Fair enough because yes, we were noisy. Well the kids were. Noisy with laughter, not swearing, offensive or drunken behaviour. Just to clarify, our pub loving kids don’t drink alcohol, but you get where I’m going here. It was happy noise. Most campgrounds do have a ‘Quit it with the noise’ curfew of anywhere between 9 or 10pm and we respect that. Chill people, chill! The party is over as we also had an early departure planned to allow enough time for us to make the long trip back to Kuunurra in a single day.

At 5.30am Craig and I were crawling around packing up clothing bags and airbeds. We rolled the kids off their beds onto the hard ground while still in their sleeping bags and they didn’t even notice! Ahhh, one of the many benefits of having children who are good sleepers. Sleeping bags done, quick breakfast and the tent is down and everything in the car including us, just before 7am. As we rolled through the camp and said goodbye to our friends, we noticed ‘tattoo lady’ had just got up to enjoy a hot cup of ‘whatever’ in her pajamas. Hmmm. I guess everyone varies in their definition of ‘early’.

We stopped at Tunnel Creek for a sticky beak. This is the site of Jandamarra’s last stand in 1897.  Jandamarra belonged to the Bunuba people and taunted settlers and police who tried to settle on Bunuba land.  The settlers could not find stockmen or aboriginal guides as they believed Jandamarra had magical powers.  Police recruited aboriginal trooper Micki from the Pilbara who was also believed to possess spiritual powers.

Micki tracked Jandamarra’s footprints near Tunnel Creek and they exchanged gunfire where Jandamarra was wounded and hid at Tunnel Creek while his wounds healed.  Later Jandamarra appeared on the top of a limestone pillar before the opening of Tunnel Creek and exchanged gun fire with Micki who was shielded by a large boab tree.  Jandamarra fell 30m to his death and this marked the end of the Bunuba resistance.

Grabbing our torches we headed to the entrance and walked through the first bit of icy cold creek water, then it got dark. Really dark. We had two torches between the four of us. After a big splash in the dark and seeing a large freshie swim away, we learned to have one torch trained on where we were heading and one on the water’s edge. It was a little spooky and kind of thrilling as we did see and get close to quite a few fresh water crocodiles in the dark.

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Seven hundred and fifty or so kilometres later, we arrived back in Kununurra to get ready for the next stage in our adventure, the Bungle Bungle, Wolf Creek and Broome.

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Lotsa Water: Lake Argyle & Kununurra

We’ve changed states and have moved over into Western Australia.  Leaving the NT was a little sad but we are keen to explore and revisit beautiful Western Australia.

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Lake Argyle has a nice van park with a lovely infinity pool.  This was a serene environment being enjoyed by many pensioners… until we arrived. The kids rush in splashing and yelling about how cold the water is. I inched my way in, while Craig laughs at me, as I stretch up as high as possible on my toes to get as far into the pool and get as least wet as possible. Amelie decides to join her dad in tormenting me by sending a wave full of water my way. Got me square in the face and over the head, straight onto the pensioner behind me. I apologised to the inadvertent victim, but then Xavier who’s seen the ‘Let’s splash cold mummy’ game rushes over with a war cry and sends another wave my way. Ladies with their styled hair and make-up are glaring but the old boy who copped the spray did have a chuckle, especially when Craig said “The kids are toilet trained, just not pool trained and mummy is going to get them now!” The kids thought it was pretty funny until I got both of them by the tops of their heads and dunked them under water. Not so funny now.

The only way to check out Lake Argyle is by plane, boat or kayak.  We don’t have any of those and opted for a boat cruise.  The guide is funny and informative about the history of the dam, the flora and fauna. Xavier’s favourite part of the tour was jumping off the roof of the boat. Off course Craig did too! Amelie jumped from part way up the ladder and I got to float around in the dam with the fish and take photographic evidence of the jumps. Two species of catfish live in the lake, one large and one small. The large one eats the small one. The large catfish used to fetch $3/kg at market, but after a rebranding as “Silver Cobbler” sets the palate alight at $30/kg in all the best restaurants.

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Second place winners, are grinners!

When we crossed the NT/WA border, we surrendered any remaining fresh produce. The campground shop and only shop for the area stocked a bowl of red onions and one sad looking tomato for sale.  I’m not clever enough, nor inclined to create an onion soup for dinner, so we ate out at the restaurant with the Port Philip family we were chatting to at Gunlom Falls.  That night was also a trivia night.  Bonus!  The kids wanted to play too and got their own table. I love trivia nights as I have the unfair advantage of Mr ‘I remember a ridiculous amount of stuff’ Maskiell as my partner in crime. After a slow start we managed to come in second place, thanks in part to answers to some obscure questions such as, ‘What was John Candy’s characters’ job in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles?’ There’s no reception here so you can’t even cheat with Google! I totally would too, but Craig had seen the film once when it came out and says, “Curtain rings. Shower curtain rings.” For real!

The kids also did well. They escaped being on the bottom of the ladder, answering the majority of questions themselves and were stoked to have beaten a couple of tables of adults. They scored keyrings, placemats and snow globes as prizes and we scored a bottle of wine. The only way to split that was to open it there and then of course. We also shared a lot of laughs (everything is funnier when grog is involved) and made plans to catch up in Kununurra.

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I wasn’t expecting a lot from Kununurra but I was pleasantly surprised. This little town is great! The van park is right on the edge of a picturesque lake, the town has a great couple of cafes and there are a few places to explore not far out of town. There’s a fun water crossing called Ivanhoe Crossing, which still had water flowing over it.  It wasn’t too high and the bollards were visible both sides.  Still, a water crossing is a fun crossing, just ask Amelie.  On our first afternoon in town we ventured out to WA’s only licensed distillery “The Hoochery” to sample the produce. Following this we visited the Sandalwood Factory, sandalwood plantations being a significant industry in the area. There is also a great lookout at Kelly’s Knob and Mirima National Park (mini Bungle Bungle) on the edge of town. The Mango cafe in town has some of the best food we’ve eaten since our Mother’s Day dinner at Mission Beach. Zucchini, chickpea frittata with avocado dressing on a bed of rocket and spinach. Delicious!

At the local markets we got chatting to a group who were very active at trying to prevent the dreaded Cane Toad from entering the Kimberley. I just asked Craig what you’d classify the group as. They aren’t strictly a conservation group or an environmental group but kind of both. He said they were like zombie hunters “The Croaking Dead.” Boom, tish. Bad dad jokes continue. The toads are a real problem for the native carnivores like large lizards and quolls, who eat them and then die from the poison.  Although our Queensland goannas and lizards must have learned they are bad as we still have plenty of them on the coast coexisting with the millions (billions?) of cane toads. Did you know there is such a thing as ‘Super toads’? They’re toads who grow to enormous size that can take bigger, faster jumps and lead the way in populating areas that were previously cane toad free.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done about them.

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Boab trees along Parry Creek Rd, Kununurra.
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Inside the Boab nut

We took a back road to Wyndham, the Kimberley’s northernmost town, which takes you across the Ivanhoe Crossing (yay water crossing), along a corrugated dirt road a.k.a Parry Creek Road. Boab trees are everywhere along this road and we stopped to pick up exactly two boabs nuts for the exactly two nutty children in the back of the car, who couldn’t possibly consider it fair if one got to inspect a nut before the other one! The thin hard shell is covered with velvet like hairs.  The local indigenous guys don’t recommend handling them too much, those boab nut hairs make you really itchy! We cracked the fruit and inside was a crumbly, white, polystyrofoam-like substance.

IMG_7788Along the road we passed a lone chimney stack on a small mound. It was kind of random as there was no evidence it belonged to a larger structure, no info signs to tell us what it was used for, no mention in the guide book and the Internet offered no clue either. You’ll just have to use your imagination like we did. Was it an old school road stop where you could boil a billy or bake some bread? Was it a regular stop for cattle mustering where a camp cook would use the chimney to make up a big feed? Who knows?

The historic Telegraph Hill was an old communications line that still has asbestos at the site, but offers a great view over the land.  We detoured to Marlgu Billabong bird hide spotting many types of birds but no great big crocs.  Apparently it’s a great place to spot a croc.  Not great for swimming though! We saw, Brolgas, a Sea Eagle, Cormorants, a Pelican, Egret, Pied Heron, Whistling Kite, Honeyeaters, Rainbow Bee Eater and another bird of prey that we couldn’t identify.

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There is a lot of flat dry land and the kids enjoyed seeing the dusty willy-willy’s scoot across the ground, throwing dust high in the air.

The town itself is dying.  The mine recently ceased operations, the croc farm closed and the pub was shut.  That’s right the bloody pub was shut!  I don’t know who was disappointed more, me or the kids.  We stopped in a crazy tin shed that was a secondhand store with local celebrity, Pixie, behind the desk. Pixie was a right character and told us all about the town.  She also had some Boab nuts cracked open and was offered it up for a taste. Tastes like chicken. Not really. It tastes like stale, slightly acidic popcorn. Not too bad really. Pixie said she crushes it up and uses it as a coating for her fish before pan frying it. I’d give that a go!

Either side of the Great Northern Highway (Craig would later reclassify sections of this road as the “Not So Great Northern Highway”), the land is white, flat, dried up flood plains.  Plenty of car tracks veered off in the distance, confirming my suspicions that it was a great place to do a bit of circle work in a hotted up car.  At the Five Rivers lookout you could see the Pentecost, Ord, Durack, Forrest and King rivers all emptying into the Cambridge Gulf. Again great and vast views of the area.

Back in Kununurra, we gathered provisions, said goodbye to the van as we head back on the road with the tent to tackle the Gibb River Road.  Adventure awaits!

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Wonders of The Top End

Imagine a giggly girl, hopping on the spot, clapping her hands in glee with a big shiny smile on her face.  Think cheerleader.  There’s no way I’d be caught dead doing that, but it does reflect how I felt coming back to the Top End.  For those who don’t know, I lived in Darwin for two years (1990-1991) and have fond memories of all the places there.  Be prepared for a bit of “Years ago it used to blah, blah, blah.”

There’s not a lot to see or do between Devil’s Marbles and Mataranka.  We broke the trip up with an overnight stay at Daly Waters.  What a cracker of a pub!  This place was full of personality with an overwhelming amount of memorabilia. My favourite thing was the thong tree.  We’ve blown a few pluggers on our trip and it was such a fun idea for that one good leftover thong.  The sign said:

Due to the introduction of exotic species such as Reef Sandals and the Swedish Masseur, the native thong, which can be found throughout Australia, has experienced a drastic reduction in numbers over the last decade.  We at Daly Waters are attempting a captive breeding program.  If you would like to make a donation and assist us by increasing the gene pool, please see bar staff.

Just after we left we read in the news that the pub was up for sale.  I hope that whoever buys it continues to collect, coins, thongs, hats and number plates.

I’d been to Mataranka Thermal Pools in 1991, as I was travelling to my next posting.  This time around we decided to stay at Bitter Springs.  Many other tourists recommended it over Mataranka and we’d have to agree.  Bitter Springs is still in a very natural state apart from a few stairs that have been built to get in and out of the water.  Early in the morning, you’ll see the steam rising off the water.  The water isn’t too hot either, more like a pleasant bath temperature.  Best bet is to grab a pool noodle, get in and float down to the last set of stairs.  Hop out and do the ‘I’m wet and it’s colder out than in jog’ to the start and do it all over again.  The current is gentle but those deciding it’d be better to swim back than get cold walking back seem to find it an effort to go against the current.

Mataranka Thermal Springs
Mataranka Thermal Springs

Mataranka Thermal Spring has a lot more infrastructure than I remember.  I only remember one concrete wall but it could have been two, anyhow these days there is a concrete wall on both sides, with steps, ledge and paved walkways.  It was also packed with people!  We are smack bang in the middle of the NT school holiday period and grey nomad season, so you can’t really expect anything less but I do find the crowds off-putting.  I got in with the rest of the mob, just to say I was there again, but got out shortly after imagining the worst with so many people in such a confined space… in warm water… with suspected poor bladder control.

The creek either side of Mataranka is pretty small and during the war, soldiers enlarged a section to form the pool.  Which was then only for use by officers. Typical!  The landowner opened it up to tourists after that and in the 70’s it became part of NT’s National Parks.  Craig and the kids had a good time there but we all agree Bitter Springs was better.

The new campground pool area
The new campground pool area

I have a really great memory of visiting Katherine Gorge with a group of friends and was very much looking forward to going again. The campground is no longer down near the water of the first gorge.  Because of a couple of previous floods, they moved the campground to higher ground well away from the water.  The new campground, which was nice and had a great pool, could’ve been anywhere.  This was one of the biggest changes from the past.  Okay that and the fact that I was 25 years younger, with a bunch of like minded singles, no kids, more campground pranks, more alcohol and more time in the water.

I imagined being down by the waters edge with the family, jumping in the water and canoeing. Instead it is a turfed area of little activity.  The only time you see people there, is when they are lined up to go on a boat tour.  No canoeing in the first gorge either as they suspected a salt water croc was in the area.  This was based on a photo from the air and traps had been in place for two years with no results. I guess you can’t be too cautious when it comes to Crocs but it was a shame  we couldn’t paddle in the river.

The only way to explore the gorges was to go on one of the boat tours.  The guide was super informative, funny and very open with information.  The Jawoyn People were given back the land around Katherine Gorge in 1989.  It is now called Nitmiluk.  They are doing an excellent job in partnership with National Parks at welcoming, involving and educating tourists.  It was so very different from other places where tourists aren’t allowed to swim in that water hole, or climb that rock, or know the legend and why you can’t take a picture.  On this tour, tourists were encouraged to take photos of everything and many stories and legends were told.  When we got back to a large pool in the second gorge for a swim we were told “the adults of the tribe would not swim in this water due to their Dreamtime legends, but you white fellas can!”  It’s a tricky balance.  It’d be great to be able to experience everything fully, yet many tourists are disrespectful of the place and we later heard about a site at the Bungle Bungle that has been closed to the public because of looting.

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Kapok Bush

One of the main things I’ve found fascinating about traditional culture is how their stories not only teach morals and tribal law, but also teach about living on the land and caring for the environment.  In a previous blog, I mentioned how they use animal totems to prevent overfishing or hunting of animals and on this tour I learned how they take note of changes in the environment with calendar plants.  One of these is the Kapok bush, at the time of the tour it had yellow flowers atop long skinny branches with little to no leaves.  This meant that freshwater crocs have eggs inside them.  When the seed pods grow it means the crocs are laying their eggs, and when the pods open to reveal their fluffy white seeds, the crocs are hatching.  Throughout our time in the NT and northern WA, I would notice the Kapok plant and get excited at the different stages of the croc’s lifecycle.

Jedda's Leap
Jedda’s Leap

Nitmiluk also has a link to the film industry.  There is a sheer cliff face in the gorge that is called Jedda’s Leap.  The story of two young aboriginals who fell in love but were forbidden to marry due to having the same skin names.  They leapt to their death in favour of living apart.  This was made into a movie in 1955 called Jedda.  The other film was Rogue, which was about a crocodile that was terrorising tourists.  I haven’t seen it but apparently the only good thing about that movie was the scenery.

We climbed to the top of the gorge to see the sunrise and stood on the lookout platform in the predawn light.  25 years ago, there was no platform and I distinctly remember standing close to the edge of the cliff and feeling the pull of gravity.  I’m not scared of heights but I do remember thinking I’d just go over the edge without any say in it!  Anyhow, we are standing there as the world starts waking up around us and I heard a bird call down in the gorge.  It sounded something like “War, war, wark!”.  I said “Shhh, listen”.  As it sounded again Craig said with a serious expression “It’s Kevin.”  You know the bird from the movie ‘Up’.  That set us up in a fit of giggles, ruining the serenity for the others because as you know Craig is a loud laugher!

More bad dad jokes on the way back included – What do you call a tree that’s good at spoken word? Poet-tree.  What do you call a polite tree who lays his coat over puddles so ladies don’t get their feet wet?  Gallant-tree.  What do you call a tree in Parliament? Minist-tree.  What do you call a tree that can build a house? Carpen-tree.  What do you call a tree that guards you?  A Sent-tree.  Had enough?  Yeah, I did too but they get worse.  What do you call a royal tree?  Majest-tree.

We indulged in a helicopter tour over all thirteen gorges and the surrounding area.  I got the gunshot seat at the beginning because when we flew over Heart Reef in the Whitsundays, Craig had the front.  I was stoked!  From this birds eye view you could see all of the falls and waterholes, and the walking track that takes you all the way to Edith Falls.  It looked great!  We even landed at the top of one of the gorges to have a look around and Craig called gunshot!  Whaaaat!!!  No fair.  Guess I shouldn’t complain.  I had a seat to myself, unlike the kids who were sharing a seat and each had half a bum cheek hanging over the seat!  We could see a few of the campgrounds, with small tents and people lolling around in the water.  They limit the number of people in there at any one time, so that’s a bonus as it’ll never be busy!  Another walk to add to the list!

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Patsy and her sister with their catch of Magpie Geese
Patsy and her sister with their catch of Magpie Geese

Kakadu is a magic place.  One of my favourite places in Australia.  The environment is still so pristine and the work the National Parks are doing, in coordination with traditional owners has to be applauded.  We bought a DVD from the Info centre called ‘Kakadu’ that we watched in the evening before the kids went to bed.  It showed the work the Rangers do with the land and animals and was pretty funny too.  In particular I’ll remember Patsy the elder who was out shooting magpie geese.  She’s a pretty good shot, but would mumble in frustration if she didn’t bring one down.  I’m sure in those mumbles was a fair bit of swearing.  She aims her barrel toward the sky, pulls the trigger and watches a bird fall to the ground.  She pauses looks toward the crew and says “I don’t eat chicken much”.  I bet she doesn’t!

We based ourselves at Jabiru and took day trips to all of the falls and waterholes.  The walks involved a lot of bouldering and aren’t classified as easy, still there were fair few people at every attraction.  Craig loved the shape of Jim Jim Falls.  We walked over all the boulders and went right to a secluded sandy beach.  I could have happily camped there for a night!  Traversing back around to the actual falls, we saw a heap of backpackers braving the cold water for a swim.

On the way to Twin Falls the car had another water crossing.  Yay!  We love water crossings now.  They had some unseasonal rain so the water level was at around the 800-900mm mark.  Enough to get the bow wave over the bonnet.  The water was still flowing at Twin Falls where I saw a rainbow (representative of the rainbow serpent)  in the spray of the waterfall and a couple of croc traps were clearly visible.  No swimming at Twin Falls!  Ginga (saltwater crocs) are about.

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We went on a Yellow Water cruise and saw an amazing array of birds and animals.  It was an unusually cold morning and we weren’t dressed for the cold.  Kids come first right?  So they took our outer layers to try and keep warm.  I’ve mentioned before, being cold is one of my least favourite things.  However, I was so distracted with spotting wildlife it wasn’t such an issue.  This was the first time Craig and the kids got to see a couple of decent sized Saltwater Crocs up close.  We had a really lucky morning with seeing a lot of the regular wildlife such as magpie geese, egrets and whistling ducks, but also spotting Jabiru, Sea Eagles, Crocs, Brolgas, an Azure Kingfisher and Jacana.  The Jacana are these small birds with crazy long toes.  They traverse across the lilypads and vegetation under the water and it looks like they are walking on water.  Jesus birds.

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At Gunlom Falls we met a family from Philip Island with two boys and have been bumping into each other throughout our travels.  Great for the kids to have some familiar friends and hang out with like-minded people.  The water was very ‘refreshing’ and we chose to swim in a large waterhole behind the pools just above the falls.  It was nice to warm up afterwards on the rocks that had been nicely heated by the sun.

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Ubirr has some magnificent rock art and a beaut view to boot!  The art was everywhere, hence a lot of photos.  Couldn’t help it, it was amazing.  We also played around with the panorama function on the iPhone at the very top which worked out pretty well.  The kids liked to find the art and pick out the images they knew.  The signs were fairly informative as well in explaining the symbolism of many of the figures.

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We ducked down to Cahill’s Crossing to see if we could spot a large croc, because let’s face it, you just can’t get enough viewings of crocs can you?  We spotted some whoppers!  One either side of the crossing.  There were a couple of guys walking around and fishing off the crossing.  Risky!  The croc swimming around on the right looked naughty and up to no good.  Plus he was the same length as a small boat that cruised close for a look.

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IMG_7717Darwin is ‘same, same but different’.  There is a lot more urban spread and the city has been gentrified, yet their still seems to be the old cheeky, ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude.  School holidays and the peak nomad season probably contributed to the number of people around and made town seem crowded.  It’d be nice if all the tourists could bugger off so we could enjoy being tourists in my old stomping ground.

The waterfront is a new precinct that is comparable to South Bank.  Safe water to swim in, hotels, eateries and shops.  Lots of parkland to lay around and enjoy.  Visited some of the old haunts such as the Mindil Beach Markets, Casuarina Beach and Casuarina shops.  We caught up with an ex-Raafie Margie and her family at the markets and Casaurina.  It was so nice to reconnect and Margie and Wade were generous with their knowledge of the Kimberley, our next destination.

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Another new thing we discovered in Darwin was PokemonGo.  I gave in to the hype and downloaded it on my iPad without telling the children.  There I was walking around the caravan park like a plasmatized zombie trying to work out what the hell I was supposed to do to find these bloody Pokemon.  Confusion turned to excitement when I actually caught one, then two, then three!  Time to fess up and tell the kids.  “Kids, I’ve checked out this PokemonGo thing for ‘you’ and you can play it if you like’.  They are ridiculously excited and I let them walk around the park trying to find some Pokemon.  Craig is shaking his head in disappointment at us, until a day or so later he’s got it on his phone and is catching them too.  Thankfully the novelty wore off after a couple of days and it’s no longer even thought about.  It also probably helped that we were in a place where there is so much to do outside anyway without having to catch Pokemon.

Darwin feels like home and I could certainly do another stint living up here.  Although I wonder how I’d cope with the wet season.   Back then I was younger, fitter and leaner, I preferred no aircon in the house as it was too much of a shock walking from a cool inside environment to be hit with the humidity every time you stepped outside.  And that’s the whole point of living up there, being outside!  There is so much to explore.  While we rushed around Litchfield visiting multiple spots in one day, if you lived there you would go and spend your days off or at least a whole day at one waterhole at a time.

Jumping Croc
Jumping Croc

Years ago, I took my sister on a croc jumping tour and back then thought nothing of it.  Now, I feel a little differently about coaxing these beasts towards boats and people.  If you’re not on a tour, the last thing you want is a croc following your boat or trying to jump at you.  That being said, doing the tour all those years ago certainly left an impression on me as to how large they are, how fast they can swim and how powerful there jaws are.  Craig and kids did go on a Croc Jumping tour and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Here are their field notes:
Despite school holidays, there weren’t many tourists on the boat which meant the kids pretty much had the run of the downstairs area.  They started dangling bits of pig off the boat and the crocs started coming down off the riverbanks.
The biggest croc called Agro (6.1m) doesn’t jump but at 90 years old, who could blame him.  Scary jumped out so far you could see his belly.  A brave Sea Eagle swooped in about a foot before the croc’s mouth and stole his bait.  It was a dazzling display of speed, prowess and bravery.  Scary swam up close to the boat and when he jumped he was so close to the boat he was practically rubbing the side of the boat.  A story they were told was of an albino croc called Michael Jackson.  Once a guy who was fishing, dropped a 50c lure and he went into the water to retrieve it, in the process stepping on MJ’s head and the croc ate him!  Unfortunately the only witness was the man’s wife.  To rule out foul play on her behalf, Michael Jackson was caught, killed and dissected to recover the mans remains.  A rare croc was lost all because of a 50c lure.

We spent a day, trying to explore all that Litchfield had to offer.  It was probably too much to fit in, in one day.  A majority of the waterholes and attractions are easily reached from Darwin and holiday makers were everywhere.  The waterholes are still very, very beautiful though and the kids loved jumping in the water and off small rock ledges.  There weren’t too many people at the Lost City, as it’s a bit off the beaten track and mostly accessed by 4wd vehicles.  Craig said he felt like he was in an Indiana Jones movie.

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The last things to tick off the list for the NT were Edith Falls and Douglas Hot Springs.  We camped out at the Lazy Lizard in Pine Creek and that first night the tavern had bikies and bogans at the pool tables, a beat up piano for decoration and the jukebox was pumping.  Looked like heaps of fun and I wanted to go join in!  Not quite a family environment, so I listened from afar.  While I might not have been amongst the fun, I can’t complain.  I was snuggled up with the family in our cosy van and that’s not so bad.

Another really fond memory from my youth, is of a camping weekend at Douglas Hot Springs.  The place has really changed with formal camping areas and the place was a lot more popular than when I first visited!  The landscape of the springs had also changed as I remember a clear division between the cold creek and the hot spring with just one area where the hot water came across.  Floods and possible man made intervention means the division between the hot spring and the creek is no longer clearly defined.  The hot springs were hot!  Really hot!  You could see the hot water bubbling up in various spots through the coarse sand.  It would get too hot in places to sit or stand and we were constantly moving about to find a spot where the water was ‘just right’.  The kids loved seeing the signs about quicksand and their imaginations were running wild with what would actually happen to them if they got stuck in it.

 

Everyone in our family enjoyed the NT and agree it’s a special place that we’d happily revisit.  So, until we visit these wild lands again, we can dream of them… and watch the Kakadu videos.  “I don’t eat chicken much!”

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McDonnell Ranges – Gorging on Gorges

Ruby Gap is actually full of garnets
Ruby Gap is actually full of garnets

Tent, check. Sleeping bags, check. Remainder of camping equipment, check. East MacDonnell Ranges here we come! Ruby Gap is as far east as the Ranges go and we decided to make that our first stop. All the guides advise this track is only for high clearance 4wd with experienced drivers. Our Ranger has stock road tyres and standard suspension. High clearance as defined by the National Parks is 20cm clearance from the ground. We’ve got 23cm so technically we make it even though we are locked and not lifted! The experienced drivers bit is debatable.  After our Cape York adventure we are feeling a little more confident at being able to explore this track.  Now when I say ‘we’, I mean Craig, he’s the one doing all the driving!

Another car arrives while we are filling in the camping permit at the track entrance. They go through first while the kids and I venture down to the riverbed. The kids are picking up garnets that are littered across the top of the sand. There are millions of them, all quite small but the kids have got the fever upon them and are scooping up as many as they can stuff into their pockets.  Hence the name Ruby Gap.  Early settlers mistook the garnets for Rubies.

Ruby Gap campsite

Driving along the sandy creek bed we caught up to the other car so we piggyback the lead along the track, keeping an eye out for each other on the more difficult sections. The track consisted of a steep water crossing, lots of bouldering and sections of driving through deep river sand. I hate to admit that my heart was in my mouth and every time we scraped along a boulder or banged on a rock I either said ‘Shit’ or made a high pitched intake of air sound. I was worried that we would do some damage to the fuel tank or something serious and be a looong way from getting towed out! Mostly it was the side steps copping the bangs as they are quite low. We made to the the end of the track where a sign stated ‘No vehicles beyond this point’. Fair enough. We had a beautiful camp spot uphill from the river and enjoyed the sun reflecting off the red cliffs and the sound of a babbling stream. Note to self, as nice as a babbling stream is, it also make me want to pee more often than usual.  The kids continued to collect garnets and I’m sure Xav was thinking of how much money he was going to make. We had to break it to him that they were all too small to cut and polish therefore not of any value.

Just after the crack of dawn we set off on foot to check out Glen Annie Gorge. We crossed creeks, walked through scrub, mud and more river sand until the water and cliffs cut us off from going any further. Despite the earlier sign, there were car tracks quite far into the gorge. A couple of guys with cameras asked us about the gorge and when we told them it was nice they said with their heavy Eastern European accents “No! We will not walk further!” Okay then. They had parked near our vehicle and as we were taking it pretty slow offered that they could go first “No! You can go first”. Okay then.

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We shifted camp to Trephina Gorge for a night. Who should turn up but ‘The Eastern Europeans’ with wives and teens in tow. Of course I go over and say hi. Why? Not sure if I’m friendly or weird. Possibly a mix of both. I asked the not so friendly guy from yesterday where they are from and he says with his heavy accent “Australa. Why?” Unfriendly and a smart-arse. It was a fine line to remain friendly or flip him the bird. Seeing as we were sharing the same camp ground, best to let it slide. Anyway it turns out they are from a country that borders Russia and perhaps that was why he was a bit cagey.  Probably had some secrets or were on a mission or are in hiding.  A healthy imagination is a good thing okay. Anyway, we then refer to them as ‘The Russians’ and use our best KGB accents.

We get up early to climb around the gorge. The kids are killing these walks. I’m timing them and they are undercutting the estimated walk time with a fat margin!

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Cold, cold nights in the MacDonnell Ranges
Cold, cold nights in the MacDonnell Ranges

Now I haven’t mentioned how cold it was getting a night. Let’s just say, I was waking up grumpy every fricken morning! There is that saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”. I’m sure there’re exceptions but in our case it’s probably true. Planning which clothes to take while still on the sunny, warm Sunshine Coast, I’d probably underestimated how many cold nights in a tent we’d be having. In an effort to get warm at night I was wearing a singlet, tshirt, a long sleeve shirt, a jumper, ‘active wear’ tights, tracky-daks, flanny pj bottoms, two pairs of socks AND shoving my feet down the sleeves of a second jumper, and only then getting inside my sleeping bag. The area was very picturesque and I did want to explore it, so it was just a case off having to suck it up and lasting through a few cold nights.

A hop through Alice to restock on groceries and we are out to the West McDonnell Range. Simpson’s Gap was just a quick stop which ends at a small waterhole and very narrow gap. A cranky ranger yelled at some guys who had climbed the rocks. Fair call, there were signs that asked you not to as they are the habitat of the rock wallaby. One portly fellow was having all sorts of trouble getting back down from atop a large rock he’d climbed and I know it’s wrong, but it made me laugh.  He had none of the characteristics of the nimble rock wallaby.  He was desperately trying to get down after being roused on and was stretching his legs trying to make his feet touch the ground.  His butt cheeks were holding onto the rock.  His friends were trying to assist by holding his hands, but I think he actually needed to use them to lift his butt cheeks up.  Definitely not PC to find this amusing but probably karma for not respecting the wildlife.

Setting up camp at Ellery Creek Big Hole we bump into a group of three families from the kids’ school.  Kids had fun catching up with some old friends.  The Rock pool was really cool actually pretty fricken cold.  In the afternoon the light reflecting of the high walls of rock felt magical.  We met some Larapinta walkers and it was fun to hear of their adventures and discuss lightweight gear.  All of us want to do it!  Kids may have to wait a couple of years but Craig and I could have a practice run.  As long as one set of grandparents would be available for duty.  Anyone?  Anyone?

We ducked into Ormiston Gorge for a walk and some lunch where the local spinifex pigeons were hopeful of a few crumbs. We explored  Redbank Gorge and a couple of times we thought we were at the end but decided to check out what was on the other side of the next set of boulders. We finally got to a point where we could walk no further and a large pool of water that disappeared through a narrow crack in the gorge. If you had a Li-Lo you could probably float through but nothing bigger. While we were enjoying the scenery we were lucky enough to spot two super agile rock wallabies on the other side of the gorge. Walking out, who do we see, none other than ‘The Russians’!   Now I think they are following us.  The fact that they are tourists just like us is more probable but also boring.  So I greet them with “Ah, it’s the Russians!”  This did elicit a couple of grins from a few of them and one of the ladies and I exchanged greeting kisses.  Okay, highly likely they are not KGB.

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There is a free camp opposite to Glen Helen Lodge called 2-mile, which is along the Finke River. It’s mostly driving on coarse sand and you just pick a spot, any spot. It was beautiful and peaceful there, and probably my favourite campsite in the Western Ranges.

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Time to tackle Palm Valley. We set up our tent and get ready to go four wheel driving. We come to the first river crossing and two cars are stopped in front of us. We get out to check it out and it does look a bit sketchy. To get across requires a couple of tight turns that you can’t see as the path is under water. If you venture off the path you risk your wheels falling over the edge and getting stuck. A guy waiting with his family asks if he can follow us through as he’s not very experienced. Ha! It’s the blind leading the blind, or as Craig said the ‘Beginner Advanced’ leading the ‘Beginner’!

Craig and I have a pretty good walkie talkie system going when backing the van into caravan parks so we decide to use this system on the track. I’m barefoot in the water with walkie talkie in hand and he’s on the UHF in the car. “Right, now left, left, straight, you’re clear! Go, go, go.” So we continue this with me talking Craig over the obstacles and then the next family vehicle.  It works well for us but I then have to jog barefoot back to our car to the next obstacle. I suspect Craig was sneaking in some cardio training for me as the distances he was stopping at seemed to get further and further along.  We made it to the end with no complications and see a tour bus with complications. The cabs over and a mechanic is hard at work. We can’t offer any mechanical assistance but did offer use of the satellite phone if needed. No, they are all good, so we head off on our walk. The other family we were with were so nice we ended up walking and chatting the whole way.

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We get back to camp and get a call on the UHF from the tour bus asking if anyone had a satellite phone.  They broke down again!  I bet the patience of some of the passengers was running thin by then.  Craig drove off to take the sat phone to them.  In the end they had to leave the bus and another one came out to collect all of the passengers.

Back at camp the kids of the family we met were of a similar age and all got on really well. We all hung out after dinner and worked out we’d be in Alice Springs together the next night when we planned to meet the Stolls. We made plans for Alice and packed up early after our last cold night in the McDonnell Ranges.

In hindsight, if we did the East and West McDonnell ranges again, we might have set up camp in a central location and drive out to each spot from our base location. It would have saved us much time with set-up and pack down of the tent, airbeds etc. However, like teenagers at their first all you can eat dining experience, we couldn’t help trying out all the different camp sites and staying at all those different camps was pretty good, so maybe not.

Albert Namatjira's house, Hermannsberg.
Albert Namatjira’s house, Hermannsberg.

Hermannsberg was an interesting little town we stopped into on the way back to Alice Springs.  It is also the birthplace of Albert Namatjira.  His story is an interesting one and we visited his little two room home.

Lutheran Pastor Carl Strelow, was one of the first settlers to take an interest in the local aboriginals.  He studied their culture and documented their language.  The locals respected him and his son very much.  So much so, that they gave them tribal skin names.

We are hooking up with The Stolls in Alice for our next adventure to the big rocks!  The Red Centre stories shall continue…

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Onto a town called Alice

Julia Creek was only ever intended to be a stop over. We had just enough time to set up the van and duck across the road, literally across the road, to check out the local pool. Yes the pool tour continues. Julia Creek is a pretty small place but it can boast a really lovely public pool. Clean, well maintained and great water quality. Craig knows a smart guy who grew up here and took a photo of The Knowledge Place. Now we know where he got it! I stayed well clear of it to ensure the gaffs continue.  This flat land is providing a smorgasbord of awesome sunrise and sunset photos, so just like baby pictures, prepare to be inundated with them. (Mum, I don’t know if you know this – but you can click on the pictures to have a larger view of them)

Sundays are a bane to the traveller! Especially in the smaller towns. Mount Isa fortunately has a pretty impressive info centre with the Riversleigh Display, Art Gallery, Museum and gardens all in the one centre! It’s worth stopping in to have a look especially at the Riversleigh Centre where they display ancient marsupial fossils to the modern marsupials skeletons.

My impression of Isa wasn’t great. It’s not a place that I’ve added to the list to revisit. My impression is probably tainted by setting up camp in the rainy weather in an average caravan park, reading notices on the back of toilet doors about how to minimise lead poisoning in your children, and then add to that the change from warm to cold weather.  Worst part of that is knowing it was only going to get colder. Yes, I know it was officially Winter and I shouldn’t complain.  The cold is my cryptonite.  Hate the bloody stuff.

The land here is flat. Very, very flat. As we drive away from Mount Isa, we hit the occasional small rise in the road and are treated to an almost 360 degree view of the landscape. No hills or bumps evident on the horizon, just more wide, flat land.  From beaches, to dry country, rainforests, tropical islands, gorges, waterholes, red dirt and flat land with big skies.  We’ve covered a lot of ground in Queensland.

The trek through Queensland
The trek through Queensland
Crossing the NT border from Qld
Crossing the NT border from Qld

We’ve made it into the Northern Territory!  I was very excited to come back here. I had a two year posting in Darwin about 25 years ago. It was a fond and memorable time and I was looking forward to seeing places I didn’t manage to visit the first time and revisiting some of the old places.

We caught on the news that Alice Springs and the surrounding region had a deluge of unseasonal rain. Alice Springs seemed to cop the worst of it and we saw a photo of the police station with a carpet of hailstones. When we arrived at Barkley Homestead where there was no red dirt to worry about because it was loads of red mud. It wasn’t too bad and made a nice change from the dust. The only time it did matter was when you were tip toeing your way to the ablutions block. The layout of the campsites here was great! Each site had an island where you could access power and water, large shade trees and the centre of the island had sections of AstroTurf and large gravel which got any remaining mud off and helped to keep the inside of the van fairly clean. This place even had a pool! Toes were dipped in the water and all agreed the water was probably too cold to swim in. Craig won’t let the kids say the water is freezing unless there are icebergs floating around in it. So a broader vocabulary is being used such as “very, very cold”, “invigoratingly cold” or “incredibly bloody refreshing”. A popular servo and hotel out the front means the fuel is good and so is the food. We didn’t eat there but went over at happy hour to listen to a couple of pretty decent country crooners, have a drink and take advantage of the free wifi!

The information centre at Tennant Creek had a museum that displayed what it was like to live and grow up in Tennant Creek through the eyes of a young boy during the gold rush.  It was a pretty hard life in harsh conditions.  The information presented was lightened up with some funny anecdotes from the time and it looks like they knew how to have a good time despite the circumstances.

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This pool was technically freezing
This pool was technically freezing

This stretch of the trip has a whole lot of not much. We broke up the drive by staying near Karlu Karlu or better known as The Devils Marbles. We set up camp at the Devils Marbles Hotel in Wauchope (pronounced War-cup) where a nice little beer garden complete with pool drew the kids attention. Everyone expected the water to be cold and Xavier covered his bum by bringing a piece of ice with him.  He jumped in after throwing the ice into the pool so he could confidently proclaim that it was technically freezing.  Didn’t stop my crazies from getting wet.

A quick change and we’re off to see the sunset at Karlu Karlu. It’s a pretty set of rock formations and as we walk towards them the kids are pointing out rock ‘bums’ everywhere. They did kinda look like giant rock bums. Lots of people had climbed the rocks and kids were playing around on them. Our kids fell in with another group of kids who showed them a rock cubby house and we enjoyed another lovely sunset.  Told you! Another million sunset photos.

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Just down the road is Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia.  The van park/servo is really daggy.  There is alien ‘everything’ everywhere.  Kids loved it!  All three of them.

IMG_7128Alice Springs is a place where we spent a bit of time shopping and prepping for a tent adventure to the McDonnell Ranges.  We decided to hole up at the Big4 so the kids have plenty to do while Craig and I do the boring stuff.  The kids are pretty much guaranteed a bouncing pillow and pool with waterfall or slide.  The pool was heated which made it feel all the more cold once you’re out! A long line of shivering children waited their turn along the stairwell of the spiral slide.

We managed to fit in a couple of tourist outings while we were in town.  The Alice Springs School of the Air museum was interesting.  You get a great overview of the vast area they service, how the kids on remote stations are taught and we got to sit in on a teacher teaching a kindy class.  She rocked into her ‘classroom’ wearing a neon, green wig and ended up painting a spider and web on her face.  We also picked up an excellent phrase of hers, “Don’t cry. Try!” Feel free to use this on your toddler or adult who hasn’t yet progressed out of the tantrum phase.

The highlight of The Reptile Centre was being able to handle various lizards and a python. Watching the Thorny Devils feast on ants was entertaining and trying to spot the hidden Death Adders was a little nerve wracking.  They are scary little mongrels who are experts at camouflage, and I hope I never, ever, ever meet one in the wild.

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We also spent a short time at the Desert Park. They put on an awesome bird show which showcased their skills.  Whether it was camouflage, silent approach or hunting and speed skills each bird elicited ‘Ooohs and aaahs’ from the crowd.  We raced through the remaining enclosures but spent a little time laughing at the hilarious looking Bustard. He (it could’ve been a she for all I know), reminded me of the bird from ‘Up’.  You know, Kevin!

We’ve shopped, we’ve been tourists, we voted and now we are ready.  Ready to tackle the East and West McDonnell Ranges.  In a tent.  In the freezing cold.  It’ll be alright… I think.

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Travelling the Savannah Way

A little late in posting another blog.  My mum gave me a little kick up the bum with a passive aggressive “Hey, it’s been a while since your last blog!”  So, I’ve been reading a few books instead!  I am supposed to be on holidays.  Anyways, better late than never.  Here are words and photos from along the Savannah Way.  Warning, it’s a bit of an epic, so go to the loo, get yourself a snack and settle in for the ride.

Cairns was our base before and after The Cape York adventure. The van park here is a kids nirvana! Multiple pool areas with slides, water spouts and a giant pineapple bucket of water that comes splashing down every 3mins. It would give the kids a warning with a loud ‘Tick, tick, tick’ noise. The kids would run into place either standing, sitting or lying down ready to be bombarded with a massive dump of water. As if the pools weren’t enough there is also a humongous jumping pillow, tennis court, badminton court, playground, basketball half court, outdoor exercise equipment, indoor gym, pool table, table tennis table, electronic run around game, spider web climbing thingo, mini golf, and this ball whacking thing which I think is called Tetherball.  A Napoleon Dynamite google search told me so.

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Cairns Coconut Van Park
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Cairns Coconut Van Park

Most of our time here before the Cape was spent enjoying the van park offerings and getting more essentials for Cape York. I was however lucky enough to catch up with a friend who was in Cairns for a conference. As much as spending time with the family 24hrs a day, every day has been actually pretty easy and for the majority of the time really pleasant, it was nice to have some solo time with a girlfriend. We had a drink in a trendy bar and walked along the esplanade where we were amazed at the number of people taking part in a free aqua aerobics class in the esplanade pool and marvelled at the large number of parrots rushing to find a roost as the sun started to set. We settled in at a Turkish restaurant and talked each others ears off while enjoying the food and losing count of glasses of wine.

Although we didn’t actually do a lot of tourist stuff in Cairns, we did do some things other than hang out by the pool watching the kids! We visited Mareeba Coffee Worx which has a fascinating museum and tastings of coffee, tea and chocolate. Kids liked that part!  The chocolate not the coffee.

We went to Kuranda and toured on the historical train which was a novelty for the kids… for the first two minutes. The history of the train was interesting in terms of its construction of the railway along some pretty sheer drops, creation of its tunnels, as well as its use transporting troops during the war.  Everyone has a little adrenalin rush as the skyrail cabins take off.  Amidst the beautiful scenery the conversation was uplifting.  The kids were talking about how we would be plunging to our doom any minute.

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Viv meeting the family

Another couple of catch-ups, this time with some ex-military friends, Vivian in Mareeba and Kerry in Cairns. As usual, it’s an easy reunion full of stories and laughter. This trip is in itself an adventure. Meeting new friends was expected and catching up with old friends is the icing on the cake!

A bit of monkey business down on the esplanade finished off our time together with the Wakefields nicely.  Standing over the coloured lights was perfect for creating zombie-esque photos.  Pete started it!

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Many fellow travellers insist that the Undara Lava Tubes is a must see and they weren’t wrong. These are the longest and largest lava tubes in the world! They were formed from the longest lava flow from a single volcano on Earth, and the fact that many of them remain intact today makes this place unique. The only way to view the tubes is to take a tour.  The Savannah guide taught us about the landscape thousands of years ago where we walked through remnants of rainforest, we learned about the settlement of the area and how the tubes were discovered. Some of the tubes were discovered by the children who lived on the property and wouldn’t think twice about squeezing through a small hole on the crumbling rock or entering a dark cave. What the parents don’t know, can’t cause them heart failure I suppose! After posting a photo on social media, a friend told me she grew up there and would also explore the tubes. Another nice thing about this trip is discovering connections with people we know and the places we visit.

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IMG_6831Walking along the Kalkani Crater also let us gain mobile phone reception. Kind of felt weird standing on top of a wonderful natural formation trying to make caravan park bookings for future destinations!

We extended our stay so we could mountain bike along some of the trails that lead out from the Undara campground. We went to Heritage Hut, Flat Rock and Circle View. It was 2hours of soft sand, gravel, rocks, mud, prickly spear grass and bike stacks! Craig was in charge of our bike training and had said keep some distance between you and the rider in front. I was at the rear and Amelie had collected a long piece of grass in her rear wheel. I was mesmerised by it and got pretty close thinking “If I can get a little closer my front wheel will pull it out of her wheel.” Before I know it, Amelie eats dust and is down on the path. I’ve hit the brakes and with no where to go crash into her bike with my body aimed to land squarely on top of her! I broke most of the fall with my hands to keep my weight off her. Fortunately Amelie wasn’t really hurt and neither was I. After a terse reminder from Craig about distance, I was delegated to the front of the pack where I couldn’t squash anyone.

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The campground was nice and has a large dining area where we decided to treat ourselves to dinner. Amelie settles on the ‘Georgetown Sausages’. Unfortunately there was the sausage incident which I’ll use her own email to the relatives to explain.

Hello everyone,

I am having a great time on holidays.  We went to Undara that had a bar and I ordered a Georgetown sausage.  Dad ordered, coming back saying that there were no Georgetown sausages.  I nearly burst into tears.  The next day we went to Georgetown.  We heard there was a butcher that had Georgetown sausages, so we went to the butcher.  He gave us 9 sausages.  My mum cooked.  Yum!  And that was the end of the mystery of the Georgetown sausages.

Love Amelie

Spoiler alert!  We go to Georgetown after Undara.  Also to risk any confusion, you can only buy Georgetown sausages in Georgetown.  They aren’t ‘Georgetown Sausages’, like say chicken thai sausages that you can buy just anywhere!

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Cold Undarra mornings

A chill is in the air during the evenings and early mornings.  On the last morning, I brave the cold and decide to walk out on one of the tracks to see the sunrise. Aitkinsons Lookout provided a really nice vista with the bumps of remnant volcanos silhouetted against the horizon. Feeling pretty good about managing to walk there in good time over the rocks and not get lost in the dark, I thought I’d jog back to camp. All the while I’m thinking about how it would be a bad thing if I sprained an ankle or something. This is likely as I can be a bit clumsy, just ask my sister about how I fell headfirst down the stairs in front of a large audience at Expo88. Anyhow, I’m doing fine with this jogging caper until I catch a rock with the toe of my shoe. You know that moment when you trip forward, you’re over balanced but you’re still taking steps, the ground is not far from your face and you can foresee the moment when you’re about to eat dirt. Well, I don’t know how, but after this slow-mo moment in time I recovered enough momentum to get upright and unscathed. Just goes to prove my theory that running is a waste of time and not good for your health.

After the sausage incident we thought we’d better stay at Georgetown and purchase those famous sausages from the butcher for dinner. It’s a small town that not only has famous sausages, it has a cute local pool and an amazing mineral collection. Ted Elliott collected specimens from the local area and throughout Australia. His collection is now housed at the Information Centre and was completed with donations from other collectors including a generous donation from an American collector.

 

Cobbold Gorge infinity pool
Cobbold Gorge infinity pool

From Georgetown we booked a boat tour of Cobbold Gorge. The lady said come for the day, there’s an infinity pool we could use. She didn’t however tell us to wear enclosed shoes. The boat tour actually included a bush walk, then a boat tour. As the guides addressed the group before we got on the bus they were saying things like “ensure you have a hat, water bottle, enclosed shoes” and pointedly looking at our plugger encased feet. Mate! We’re from the Sunshine Coast, you’re lucky we’re not barefoot! Needless to say, compared to the many boot wearing grey nomads, our little mountain goats ran rings around everyone on the walk, thongs and all.

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The gorge was discovered by the land owner only 22 years ago, and is considered a fairly young gorge in terms of its formation. After walking to the top of he gorge we cruised the narrow gorge in small electric boats.  Interesting to note, the initial walkway and boat launch area are moved every year to prevent damage during the wet season.  Pretty impressive really.

The gorge itself was eerily beautiful, with mostly barren towers of rock looming close either side of the boat. There are a few fish, turtle and fresh water crocs in the water. Other than a few spiders hanging out in their webs it was,devoid of animal life. No bird sounds and I don’t recall seeing any insects. Which gave it a spooky, dead feel to it. Unfortunately there is no known aboriginal history to the place. When the land was colonised, the aboriginals were either killed or relocated far away. There are no known survivors from the original people who know any stories from this place. Their spoken language history about this place has been forever lost. The absence of any paintings or discovery of aboriginal tools suggest they may have avoided the place.

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On impulse, we decided to check out a quartz blow on the way home.  Xavier our resident rock collector was very excited.  Amelie not so much.  As soon as we arrived the boy jumped out of the car and is scaling its heights.  Amelie remarks “Is that it?” I’m thinking, she’s thinking this quartz blow, blows.  What’s that saying? You can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time.


IMG_6915On we go to Normanton with a claim to fame for the largest Crocodile ever caught. ‘Kris’ the big 8.6m croc was named after the lady who shot him. Yes, you read that right. A lady hunter has bagged the biggest crocodile on record. Bet the blokes are spewing!

NormantonThe only other things of note in Normanton are the Purple pub, which much to the disappointment of our pub lovin’ offspring we didn’t visit, and my dream car that was up for sale.  Unfortunately he was asking $2,500 for it.  Double that to transport it back to the Sunny Coast.  I could’ve done the ol’ “Tell him, he’s dreaming!”, yet it was I who was dreaming of how fun it would be to drive that hunk o’ junk around town.

The Normanton campground had a large pretty bloody cold 25m pool with a sulphur smelling hot spa. We jumped in the cold pool and tried to warm up with a couple of laps and chasing each other around, but none of that really worked as well as floating around in the hot sulphur bubbles of the spa.  Sulpher smelling bubbles – cue the fart jokes.  Our children are charming.

IMG_0873On Sunday we took a day trip to Karumba. A Sunday in small towns is the worst day to visit stuff. Never mind, the main thing we came to see was the sunset. There is a pub here right on the water aptly called ‘The Sunset Tavern’. We made ourselves at home in a little section of the beer garden called ‘The Sand Bar’. It had a sand floor and distressed coloured wooden daybeds to lounge on. If they had cushions, I reckon I could have spent a lazy couple of hours there. I learned a great turn of phrase from an old, salty skipper at the pub. He told the kids “Don’t you go swimming in the water, or else the flat dog’ll get ya!”

The drive out to view the sunset was absolutely worth it!  A beautiful beach, novelty (for us East-siders) to see the sunset over the ocean and birds circling as the sun went down.  A few people were out and about to also enjoy the view.  Generally though people were pretty sparse so it did feel like we had a large slice of nature to ourselves.

Before our trip, Craig decided to forego putting a bull-bar on the Ranger as we didn’t plan to drive at dawn or dusk, it didn’t really offer passenger protection and added a heap of weight.  With no bull-bar, and the sun well and truly gone, we drove slowly in case there was the odd roo around.  Holy, bouncing pouches Batman!  Both sides of the road were crowded with roos for about 15mins of the drive.  It was like a mass of roo spectators, crowded close to the road to watch a single car parade.

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The land around here is flat as a pancake which makes for big skies!  The road is a faded, narrow, bitumen road… for a while.  Then it’s red dirt and more red dirt. We are heading to Leichhardt Falls to break up the trip to Burketown and we come across this crazy rooster jogging along pushing all of his belongings in front.  Why it’s none other than Ferris Gump!  Okay, I’d never heard of him before either but he’s running around the country and raising money for a good cause.  We flick him some bucks and continue on to Leichardt Falls. It seemed to be a pleasant place to free camp if you needed to, but the water didn’t look too inviting to swim in.

We got to Burketown pretty early and decided to continue with the pool tour. The system in this town is pay at the Council and they’ll give you the code to get in the gate. Fair enough. Off we trot, pay the fee, get the code, arrive at the pool and its padlocked shut because the keypad is broken. While we were waiting for the guy to come unlock the gate, I walked down the side of the fence to check out the pool. What a cockamamie set up! There were a total of six small pools of varying depths all separately fenced off. There would be no laps swum this day, my friends. The water was pretty cold anyway and I did shake my head as I watched my crazies jump into each pool just to say they’d swum there!

Every man and their dog we met along the way said “you must visit Lawn Hill and stay at Adele’s Grove”.  Lawn Hill is now called Boodjamulla, and seeing as we were passing through we thought why not!  The water from the gorge flows through the campground which makes it a great setting.  There are a few small rapids, a pontoon to play on, bar and restaurant with a great big deck. It’s only about 10kms from Boodjamulla and you can still camp there with access to toilets but little else apart from the gorge itself.

At Boodjamulla we decide to explore a walk that will take us across a small island.  We get to where the bridge was supposed to be… you see what’s coming right?.. there is much disappointment from the children.  We attempt to adapt and overcome by walking downstream for a possible place to cross.  There was a large log that had fallen most of the way across and Xavier is jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of balancing across the log, suspended above the rapids and hidden rocks. Amelie is not looking so confident.  We judged it a little perilous for all involved and thought about coming back better prepared the next day.  We were going to swim and floating our gear across in garbage bags. Instead of the island exploration, we walked up to a great view of the plains and cliffs of the gorge.

On the way back I spotted Gary the freshie! Most fresh water crocodiles are very timid and will disappear into the water at the first sight or sound of people. Not Gary. Gary doesn’t give a sh!t. Gary is the honey badger of freshies. He was sunning himself on a log protruding from the water. One or two of us could walk right to the waters edge and Gary would just eyeball us. It was only when all four of us came down together that Gary bellyflopped into the water with lightening speed.

The local Ranger at Boodjamulla was hilarious to talk to.  We talked about the feral animals.  The Rangers catch loads of feral cats which are really problematic.  If only cat hats were a viable market commodity we might be able to make a dent in the problem!  He also quoted that Australia has around 30 million feral pigs!  And don’t get him started on the buffalo.  Apparently they are feisty!  If you go out hunting buffalo they’ll start hunting you. He inadvertently walked past one and it snorted, so he jumped into the water and started swimming. Fast swimming! Thorpe had nothing on him that day.

The next day we paddled up the gorge and I do see what everyone was raving about.  It is beautiful. The scenery, surroundings, and birdlife.  We paddled through a few gorges with a couple of sections of portage to get to the end but it was worth it.  The kids were fascinated by the Archer Fish who nibbled their fingertips and one spat water in Amelie’s face.

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We paddled past two couples in the gorge on the way back and met up with one of them on the deck at lunch time. Wouldn’t you know it, they are also from the Sunshine Coast. We’ve met quite a few people from the coast. It’s like no one works there and everyone is on holidays! Don’t look at the employment stats! Xavier also had a great time hanging out with a boy his age that was camped next door.  I guess a lot of what can be attributed as to whether you enjoy the place you’re at, are the people you are surrounded by. People have raved about this place and perhaps my expectations were too high. The gorge is lovely and the walks were cool but I didn’t think the place was exponentially better than other gorges and walks we’ve done. The people we met there however will probably make me remember this place fondly.

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The Cape capers continued

Feeding the calves at Bramwell Station
Feeding the calves at Bramwell Station

Bramwell Station is pretty much the last bit of civilisation before you hit the Old Telegraph Track (OTT). It is a working cattle station that also does a bit of road grading and tourism. Being novices at 4WDing, the plan was to mainly stay on the Peninsular Development Road (PDR) and head in to bits of the track we thought we could handle. So first thing we did was have a gander at the first crossing many people were talking about, the Palm Creek crossing.

We start along the track and there is a pretty rough section that had an easier looking side track. We took the easy track with The Wakefields following behind. Craig gets on the UHF and says “I think we made the right choice”. Amelie is sitting in the back, arms folded, wearing her poopy face and says “I think it was the sad choice!” The girl wants action and adventure! To bad if we break the car and end our holiday before we’re even a third of the way through it!

A small tributary possibly from Palm Creek is our first water crossing on the track and there is no ‘chicken track’ around it. Amelie is excited. The creek is a tiny, little stream but the crossing has been reduced to a big, muddy puddle. Craig checked it for hidden potholes and across we went. The kids loved it and were “Woo Hooing” in the back.

After a bit of a bumpy ride we reach Palm Creek. The track descends as a thick, muddy, sludge of road into a shallow, rocky, clear creek. The water itself wouldn’t have been a challenge. The challenge is getting out! There were two exits, one looked impossible and the other looked impossible-er! Very steep, soft and muddy. Craig and the kids start walking down towards the creek and all of a sudden they are playing a game of ‘Stuck in the Mud’ for real! Shoes, thongs and feet were stuck fast in the oozy track.

There was a walking track further around the bank with a wicked rope swing. If you swung into the creek from the bank, it would mean a long drop into some pretty shallow water. I’m talking ankle deep to calf deep! After checking for crocs in the clear water, everyone got busy washing their feet and footwear before we headed back to camp. Later in our trip we met a few people who tackled this crossing and pretty much everyone towing had to use all the recovery gear they had to get out the other side.

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With the rain still looming we opted to use cabins at Bramwell Station for the night. The cabins aren’t much chop, but dinner was good! A great big feed of ‘not just boiled’ veggies along with an assortment of meats. All of the roadhouses and stations here in the Cape employed backpackers to work the season. It was at first a little shocking to see young English girls out in the middle of he bush with limited communications, flies, mozzies and crocs. Welcome to Australia!

A young Isreali girl here at Bramwell let the kids help bottle feed some abandoned calves. They also petted the horses, so now after horses at Hann River and here, every little girl wants a horsey. Fat chance Amelie. It ain’t gonna happen! We spent the night listening to some decent live music and playing card games. The Wakefields also had ‘Elastics’ and Renee even remembered the rhyme that goes with all the jumping, “England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Inside, Outside, Monkey tails.”

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We head north on the PDR for a while until we venture in on the Telegraph Track to have lunch and a swim at Fruit Bat Falls. A short bit of track information for those who have never been – the road to the falls is short and easy with dedicated parking for trailers and ample space for you to turn around. The falls themselves were fantastic! Clear, cool, nice to swim in and pretty to look at. A definite must see up here.

Fruit Bat Falls, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York 2016
Fruit Bat Falls, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York 2016
The Croc Tent, Bamaga, Cape York
The Croc Tent, Bamaga, Cape York

We drove through to Bamaga, passing many wild brumbies along the way. How and why Brumbies are rampant just at this section of the tip, I cannot say. Our campsite was about 30km out of Bamaga and we stopped where the good road stops, at The Croc Tent. It is literally a large white tent with a feral, mohawked and pierced pig statue out the front keeping his croc and domestic pig statues company. The tent is full of souvenirs and doubles as an Information Centre. While it was fun to browse the croc t-shirts, the croc postcards, the croc feet back-scratchers and men’s croc g-strings, the information on the area map and local advice on which roads are worth tackling and which roads to avoid was invaluable.

The road to Punsand Bay is a bit rough but worth the destination. The campground fronts a beautiful sandy beach where you see reflections of both the sunrise and sunset over the water. It’s pretty hot and there’s still a bit of humidity hanging in the air. Once we’ve settled in, it’s togs on, towels over the shoulder and we head to the pool. The excitement ebbed away as we got closer to the red plastic tape surrounding what was supposed to be the pool area. The evidence that it was in fact the pool area, is an empty shell of a pool submerged in a sandy hole. There is no alternative to cooling off, as the beach and creeks are home to estuarine crocodiles.

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I’ve got to talk about the bar area because 3 out of 4 of our family love pubs remember! It’s got a great name, ‘The Corrugation Bar’. Apt after all the corrugated roads and the use of corrugated iron sheets in the construction of the bar. A popular place for the staff, guests and tour groups at the end of the day.

Top of Australia! Cape York 2016.
Top of Australia! Cape York 2016.

The walk to the tip felt nostalgic even though I’d never been there before. Many of my ex-military friends have gone on exercise to Bamaga and walked over the same rocks and stood at the same sign. These people were in my thoughts for much of the walk. The view of the clear azure waters and surrounding islands was pretty magnificent. The islands are so close, the water so inviting, that the temptation to dive in and swim across is hard to resist. Crocs and a few lingering stingers kept that temptation in check. Craig also pointed out the strong current which would have made the swim across to the opposite sandy beach quiet treacherous.

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Some may remember the resort "Pajinka Wilderness Lodge" a little differently to how it looks today.
Some may remember the resort “Pajinka Wilderness Lodge” a little differently to how it looks today.

A few people told me they had stayed at the resort up at the tip and I’m sorry to say it is now derelict. Apparently a fire in the generator shed destroyed the generator building and the resort was abandoned.

 

Somerset is a short drive from the tip of Cape York and is steeped in history.  The Jardine family had a lot to do with the early settlement of the area.  Frank Jardine nick-named ‘debil-debil Jardine’ by locals.  The guide books and historical writings say he was named that because of his ‘ruthless dealings’.  No doubt the man got a lot of stuff done but sounds like he must have been a right bastard too.  Frank and his wife Sana are buried at Somerset, along with many asian settlers.

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Thursday Island
Thursday Island

The ferry to Thursday Island leaves from Seisa, near Bamaga, and took us past many of the small islands and the very large Prince of Wales Island. Thursday Island itself is bustling with 3000 people living on the island. The pearling industry died out after buttons went from pearl shells to plastic, yet it is still a place with a lot of employment opportunity. The large number of residents is due to the many government agencies, a crayfish industry, tourism and the hospital which services all of the Torres Straight islands and much of the Cape York area. The residents of TI seemed to take real pride in their town and homes, which was not so evident on the mainland.

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Dirk from Lax Tours and Charters, Thursday Island.

Dirk from Lax Charters and Tours took us on a personalised tour of Thursday Island which was great.  He was born here and lives on Prince of Wales Island.  A true local!  He showed us through the crayfish factory, talked about a traditional drum, gave us a sample of some pickled fish, talked about their local burial customs and hunting practices.  As I come from European stock and food is a very important part of my culture, of course I asked all the important questions, “what does turtle taste like?”, “what about dugong?”.  Oh, and for all of my relatives the pickled fish was delicious.  Not sure I remembered how he prepared it, but I might email and ask.

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Dirk also taught us how to do the ‘Lax’ hand sign, which uses your right hand’s pointer finger parallel to the ground and your thumb toward the sky.  Show the back of your hand to the recipient so they see the letter ‘L’ and say “Lax” with attitude.  I can see why Dirk has used this for his business name and it pretty much sums up the tour.  There is no polished script or formal program.  He goes with the flow of the group that he has got and we were pretty happy to have been shown around by him. I might even drag Faz around to show us where he was born… probably in the hospital.  It’d be a better story if it wasn’t.

Time to head out of the bush and back to civilisation. We couldn’t resist another swim at Fruit Bat Falls. Found another spot to jump off the rocks and into a deeper section of the pools. It was fun and the adults were jostling with the kids to have a go. The little turtle we spotted there earlier probably wasn’t so pleased about it!

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Sailor Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York
Sailor Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York

Decide to tackle the Telegraph Track down to the northern Gunshot bypass. Most people drive the OTT from south to north so we would be going against the 4wd flow which can make passing tricky on such narrow and rough tracks. We check the map notes and our first creek, Sailor Creek is bridged. Sweet! Should be easy. We get there and are confronted with a picturesque wooden bridge with a great, big, friggen, gaping hole in it!  The photo doesn’t depict the horror, honestly it was way worse than it looks!  The only way across is to guide the wheels over the exposed support beam. Front wheels over, back wheels over, go, go, go! Guiding Pete with the trailer was even more nerve wracking! The responsibility of not stuffing this up weighed on me. I needed a stiff drink and unfortunately didn’t stock up before we left Bamaga! Thankfully Renae over catered with her cans of cider, has a goon bag of wine in reserve and is generous in sharing!

 

Cockatoo Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York
Cockatoo Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Cape York

Onwards along the track to Cockatoo Creek. This one looks a little technical! It’s not deep, but it’s got a very rocky and uneven bottom with big potholes. We walked it several times and decided on the best line to take tomorrow. We set up camp on the northern side where there is a large undercover picnic table area and even some toilets. Unfortunately the small water tank is empty and the pipe to flush the foot pump toilets has been pulled out of the ground and was broken. Nothing a bucket of water or a really, really long wee can’t remedy to get the loo paper down!

Cockatoo Creek 03We had packed all of our camping gear and clothes etc in the back of the ute. Every time the boys were talking about something camping or car related, Craig said “I have one of those” and would pull it out of the car. Pete would say “Really! What else have you got in there? It’s like the Tardis”, which eventually got nicknamed “The Cardis”.

While we were setting up camp we heard a 4wd approach. A guy got out walked the creek pretty carefully and we all stood on the bank to watch him cross. He picked the same line we did and with a bit of rocking and rolling got out the other side okay. Up next a convoy of four 4wds with trailers. This would be good to watch as the Wakefields are towing a trailer and we can see how these guys fare. Everyone seems to be more experienced than us with this 4wding gig and we look on with keen interest. The first few cars came out alright, not great but still okay, but the last guy took a totally different line and was scraping his car and trailer all along the rocks. Just went to show that those guys may be more experienced than us, perhaps not necessarily more wise.

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This was a great camp and a great night. We enjoyed a spectacular light show in the clouds as the sun set. I was singing the praises of paper towel (a staple item to take camping) and said “Paper towel! What can’t it do?” Cue smart-arse older children, “It can’t fly”, “It can’t swim”, “It can’t make you dinner” etc. Noticing how this gave me the sh!ts, they promptly set about writing a list called ’50 things paper towel can’t do’. They didn’t stop at just a list. Oh no, no, no! They made up a story about the failings of ‘Jimmy the paper towel’ and turned it into a book. Bloody kids!

Craig started up a game of slaps with the kids. Now, I am going to blow some wind up my own butt here and say, I’m pretty good at this game. The kids eventually all wanted to challenge me at some stage. Alex really loved the game and he was pretty good at it too. Lauren and Xavier also tried their hand (literally). Slap! Slap! Slap! Take that you paper towel smart arses!

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Another car crossed the creek the next morning and now it was our turn. Craig was so keen to cross he didn’t notice that I was still walking across trying not to slip over carrying the tripod and his iPhone! So no evidence of his crossing but I caught the Wakefields journey across.

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About 95kms before we get to Coen, a road train throws up a rock and smashes our windscreen. One word, starts with F, it ain’t ‘fudge’ and rhymes with ‘bark!’ It’s too big to self repair but thankfully out of Craig’s direct line of vision. We arrive at a free camp called The Bend which is just out of town. It’s got a drop loo, a couple of bins and a creek you can swim in. We decide to cross the creek and camp on what is essentially a sandy, dry river bed. The sand is deep, grainy and very, very soft. Pete almost, but doesn’t quite make it out the other side, the sand is too soft and his rig is too heavy. Max tracks and a shovel to the rescue! The boys had prepared well for contingencies, so it was kind of fun to use a bit of recovery gear.

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This would have to be one of the nicest spots we camped at. Bonus points for actually being able to get into the water! Apart from Fruit Bat Falls, this has been the only place we could swim at. The kids were catching tadpoles, we enjoyed lazing in the water and washed our hair in a bucket on the bank of the creek. Another bonus was we got mobile reception there, so Pete and I were posting some happy snaps of the family in the water on social media.

That night we turned off all of our camp lights and gazed at the millions of stars twinkling back at us. Mars could be seen clearly and we even saw a few shooting stars. It’s one of those nights we will all remember fondly.

Proof of life photo
Proof of life photo at The Bend, Coen, Cape York

Early on the 30th of May, I received a phone call from my sister. It appeared the country was waking up to the news that a woman in her mid 40s had been taken by a croc in Cape York… and my sister was just checking in to make sure it wasn’t me! Remember that just the day before I’ve posted photos of the family swimming in a water hole up at the Cape. Texts, messages and posts on Facebook were all trying to confirm the same thing and provide warnings. “It wasn’t you was it Suarez?” It wasn’t me! After living in Darwin for a couple of years, I have a healthy respect for the prowess and strength of the saltwater croc. You can translate that into I’m bloody shit scared of them and wouldn’t ever put myself in their territory on purpose. It’s a terribly sad event for this woman, her family and friends, however it must be said she was engaging in incredibly risky behaviour.

You can never be too safe anywhere but here was the scenario for us indulging in a dip. The Bend is a known swimming spot that is listed in the travel sites. When we arrived, we saw a large family of locals enjoying a picnic and a swim, and I asked them if the creek was safe which they confirmed it was. I know this is still not a 100% guarantee but it’s as good as you can get. The local guy at the servo who has lived in Coen all of his life has never seen or heard of a saltwater crocodile at that swimming hole. He did say a 1m freshie was found there once, but the locals caught it and ate it! I would too. Crocodile meat is quite delicious. I’m hoping there is still an opportunity to get a croc burger up in Darwin.

Another stop over at Cooktown allowed the kids to have a dip in the pool, access to real showers and toilets, and washing machines. Just in time too, we were out of clean undies. Craig was pretty stoked to have access to a washing bay and hose to get the red mud off the car. The two toned red and white look has gone and the car is shiny white again. It was kind of sad to see all the mud go. Felt like the car lost some of it’s Cape cred.

Removing vegetation on the Bloomfield Track, Cape Tribulation.
Removing vegetation on the Bloomfield Track, Cape Tribulation.

The next morning saw us pack up camp just before the rain came and make our way towards an even rainier Cape Tribulation along the Bloomfield track. We hoped to stay at Cape Tribulation for the night because it was such a nice spot. Neither family wanted to set up camp in the rain and decided to push on straight to Cairns. The Bloomfield track was pretty wet, slippery, it’s got trees and branches down and the last creek crossing almost made us have to change our undies! Just before we hit it, a convoy of three 4wds heading north asked us what the track was like further up. We gave them the run down and they told us the creek was flowing but they got across okay.

About 5 minutes later we get to the creek and it’s flowing alright! We go first and I’m trying to video it through the windscreen. When the water rushed over the bonnet and hit the bottom of the windscreen I started ‘packing my daks’ and my concern for the quality and steadiness of the camera was replaced with thoughts of which side of the car we should jump out of! The car was moving forward but it was also moving sidewards! We were pretty relieved when the front wheels hit the other side and we drove out. Now the worry was transferred to the Wakefields who had to do the same thing but with the added length of a trailer. They saw us cross and allowed for drift. Even so, the trailer came out with only a small margin of room to get passed the tree on the other side. Lucky neither family was in a Yaris. Apparently they float in 15cm of water! I’m guessing that will be our last water crossing for a while and maybe even for the rest of our trip, but who knows our luck in the outback!

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Now that we’ve been up to the top of The Cape and back, we would absolutely consider doing it again. It was a fantastic experience. Maybe once we have a bit more experience under our belt and with a few more modifications to the car. We went pretty easy as we were mindful of not wrecking the car that was needed for the rest of our adventure. Speaking of which, see you at the next blog about the Savannah Way.

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Days of Cape York

CAIRNS was our base for a few days before we left for the Cape and also when we got back. I’ll leave all of the Cairns info for our return journey but will share this little ditty Craig told me on the drive there…

The last time Craig came to Cairns was in 1994 when he was working as the fitness coach for an AFL club. It was an end of season footy trip to Cairns, with an organised boat trip to the reef. You know those bonding type of team things. A large number of players turned up the morning of the boat trip doing the walk of shame, still wearing their clothes from the nightclubs they’d been to the night before. Families were looking on in horror as their disheveled fellow passengers shuffled on board.

The boat gets out into the open water and a few guys start to look seedy. One of them breaks ranks, runs to the end of the boat and starts heaving his guts up. Well, that starts off a couple of the other players and it’s a case of ‘one in, all in’. One guy was so crook, he was begging the boat captain to help him charter a helicopter to get him off the boat!

The boat trip finally ends and the players all disappear to their rooms to recover. One player wasn’t seen for 24hours while another, who was sick for the entire boat ride, turned up after an hour, freshly showered and with a beer in hand. That’s a fine example of backing up!

Mossman 03The Wakefield family arrived in Cairns to join us on this leg of the journey with a schmicko looking camper trailer. Seriously, that thing had a nook and cranny for all the gizmos and gadgets. It was kind of impressive. We headed up to MOSSMAN GORGE for a swim and a lunch stop.  It’d been 29 years since my last visit to Mossman Gorge. I remember how beautiful it was and how cold and refreshing the water was. It’s still very beautiful and the water is still cold.  By cold, I mean inhaling sharply as the water reaches critical heights on your body. Best bet was to plunge in like the boys and kids did.

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Cape Trib 03
Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation is really quite stunning. There’s no mistaking you are in the tropics and the place is as they describe it, ‘where the rainforest meets the sea’. We arrive at our campsite and the Wakefields have lost the Anderson plug off the back of their trailer! Sound familiar? It was kind of a vital repair as it was needed to keep the battery powered to keep their fridge cool. We shift to Plan B where we cut our stay at Cape Trib from two nights to one, and push on to Cooktown where we would have more chance of getting repairs completed.

So we spent our second night’s worth of camping fees on wood fired pizzas instead.  I cannot tell you how much I love the no cook, no clean nights!  Sunrise on the beach the next morning was picture perfect. The secluded beach, with palm trees fringing the sand, rainforest behind it and scattered coconuts on the sand, made me think of Gilligans Island and want to break out into song. “Well sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” you know the rest.  The kids admired the view for about two seconds by saying ‘wow’ and then went scavenging for shells, coconuts, leaves, flower pods etc.

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Back at camp I noticed a sign about an RACQ mechanic a few beaches away in Cow Bay. Pete organises to meet the guy just before lunch. The mechanic wasn’t there but his wife says, help yourself to a plug and a crimping tool. So the boys set about doing a self repair which Craig had actually studied up for by watching YouTube videos after we lost our Anderson plug in Hughenden. Time to put that knowledge to the test!

Meanwhile, the mums and kids were across the road at the homemade ice cream place buying up big. Repairs complete we are about to tackle our first bit of 4wd road but not before we see a ginger boar cross the road. It did make us ponder, ‘Why did the boar cross the road?’ If you have a better punchline than ‘He was hamming it up’, ‘He liked to go for a trotter’, ‘No snout about it, he was bristling with energy’, or ‘He thought there was a chance he might get porked’, let us know!

We hit the BLOOMFIELD TRACK, our first bit of ‘kinda’ 4WDing. Not long into it we come across the first creek crossing. It was flowing and only about 40cm but still kind of exciting and the kids were loving it! The drive is really beautiful and the road is pretty narrow with some steep ascents and descents. It wasn’t too bad to drive with just a 4WD but towing something up the hills and around some tight corners increased the degree of difficulty somewhat.

Across the new bridge over the Bloomfield river at the Wujal Wujal aboriginal community is a gallery and cafe overlooking the river. A great place to stop for lunch. The fish was barramundi of course and looked so fresh I can only imagine it was caught that morning! The government spent big bucks building that bridge which ensures this community are not cut off regularly with the flood waters. The resident 4-5m crocodile Brutus even turned up to the bridge opening ceremony and had taken a dog just a week prior to us passing through. Needless to say we didn’t venture down to the banks to see if we could spot him!

We stopped at COOKTOWN on our way up to the Cape and on our way back. It’s a pretty big town and a lot of travellers seem to venture as far north as Cooktown and then head off either south east or south west. We also saw a few trucks that had obviously just returned from the cape as they were carrying their orange coat of dust with pride! The kids loved the pool with lots of games of kids being crocodile and chasing the adults around. There was a teeny tiny creek flowing through the park and the kids built tiny canoes out of bark, vines and leaves, and floating, or attempting to float them down the creek.

The James Cook Museum is worth a visit with many old artefacts and stories. The kids had a treasure hunt of things to find within the museum. Cue five kids tearing from room to room, shouting “it’s over here!” and “I can’t find the trumpet!” The other museum visitors must have been enjoying the serenity while browsing serious artefacts.  There was an old children’s rhyme on the wall that is sung to the tune of Jack and Jill, “Captain Cook chased a chook, all around Australia, lost his pants in the middle of France, and found them in Tasmania”.  Couldn’t get that little ditty out of my head for ages!

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It was a close sprint race to the views at the top of the Cooktown lookout. I can’t actually remember who won, so I’ll say I did. The views were great and you could work out where Captain Cook’s ship hit the reef and where they came around land.

Travelling along BATTLECAMP ROAD with the Wakefields meant we had a bit of UHF chit chat. They came up with an appropriate call sign ‘Blue Thunder’. The usual warnings of oncoming trucks, potholes, creek crossings made up most of the chatter but as the days wore on we ended up having music trivia quizzes. One car would play a snippet of a song from their playlist and the other car had to guess the song title and band.  Craig and Pete were really good at it.  Craig was also adding a heap of additional trivia such as that song came in the top 10 in 1998, but I think he was making it up and no one had reception to check on Google!

While we had a roadside picnic lunch at LAURA the kids found an old jail cell prompting a game of ‘Jail’. The good guys outweighed the bad who were chucked in the cell and had the door shut on them.  Funny how it worked out that the younger kids were the ones who were chucked in the clink!  The Old Laura Homestead was pretty cool.  Apart from all the old history, buildings and structures, lessons were provided on having a bush wee behind a tree.  Knickers to the knees and squat!

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We detoured to SPLIT ROCK to view the aboriginal art. The open mouthed looks on the children’s faces were hilarious as I pointed out the difference between the male and female art figures. If you don’t know, well suffice to say sideways boobs or dangly bits. Craig and Alex raced to the top and now it was a race to the bottom. This was interspersed with conversations about who was the loudest and where they each get in trouble for their excessive volume.

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Our camp for the night was at HANN RIVER ROADHOUSE where Craig and Pete bumped into Michael and Angela who work with them in Nambour! Small place huh? There were a heap of resident animals at Hann River Roadhouse such as Ossi the emu, a peacock, guinea fowl and a few horses. The kids collected feathers and tested their bravery by feeding the crazy, one-eyed horse who was labelled as ‘unpredictable’! Craig was having running races with Alex. I’m not sure who was tiring out who!

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We were still travelling on the Peninsular Development Road (PDR) and here is a list of some of the things we saw along the way; roadkill – that’s a given, cows – on and off the road, a caravan with a steer stuck under it -not something you see everyday, a cyclist – Craig had cycle envy but not dust envy, and of course a gang of moped riders. That’s right mopeds in Cape York! Complete with high pitched, whinny engine noise. Fricken mopeds! What the? I thought mopeds struggled to go over a speed hump let alone tackle Cape York.

With rain on the way we abandoned the idea of camping and headed for some cabins at MERLUNA STATION just north of ARCHER RIVER. It’s a cattle property with cabins and camping grounds. We head on up to reception where the proof that it’s a real cattle property is in progress, a large leg of beef is being being butchered on the counter.

This place even had a pool! The kids on approach weren’t too impressed. Kid: “It’s not a real pool”, Me:”Yes it is! It’s an above ground pool and you’ll still get wet”, Kid: “It’s very small, we won’t all fit”, Me: “Yes you will! And it’s the perfect size to make a whirlpool!” Craig arrives and so does the fun. He’s got a kid under each arm, one on his back, and the last two end up grabbing on to make a long chain. Craig charges around the pool, with all the kids hanging on and before you can say “whirlpool” the kids are flying around caught up in the current having a great time!  Now most of you know Craig was an endurance athlete and he’s still got some long range stamina. However, whirlpool trains can be exhausting and Pete happily took over the whirlpool duties.  Kids didn’t care,”This pony’s broken, get the next pony in!”  The pool table was another source of entertainment, where the kids proclaimed the mums were ‘having a pool battle to the death!’  After giving Renae a few technique tips and talking myself up, she kicked my arse! Luckily I lived to tell the tale.

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Weipa 10More rain is on the way and fortunately we had booked a couple of cabins in WEIPA. It rained and rained. The people camped in tents and camper trailers, looked sad and soggy. Thanking our lucky timing for the cabins as there is nothing worse than setting up or packing up a wet tent. We went on an eco tour keen to spot some crocs. The boys met Anne who they also knew from Nambour.  Again small world.  I was kind of disappointed at the size of the crocs we saw, they were only about 2m from head to tail and in the scheme of crocs that’s not very big. Never mind, being out on a boat was fun and we saw a fair bit of bird life including many herons, a pair of Jabirus and the elusive Greater Billed Heron.

Between the rain showers we made Mandalas on the beach, which are not called Mandelas apparently! The kids swam in the pool, we dipped our toes in the water at the beach, and tried to spot a big croc by driving to Red Beach. Apparently a favourite hang out of a 5m croc. We didn’t spot him as we crossed the bridge, so ventured down to the river edge! Stupid bloody tourists!

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There was no turning back now, even if we wanted to (not that we wanted to anyway). There’s 1m of water flowing over the crossing at Archer River, north was the only way to go. After the rain, the road out from Weipa wasn’t as smooth as we remembered on the way in, but we made it to BRAMWELL STATION and the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) without incident.

Will they lose another Anderson plug? How much of the Tele track will they do? Will they eventually see a decent sized croc! Will someone tell them to get off the UHF radio and shut the hell up? Stay tuned for the next episode in ‘The Days of our Cape York Adventures’.

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Mission Beach

Another gorgeous location to base ourselves and explore the wider region.  Mission Beach is Cassowary country and despite signs everywhere, we didn’t spot one.  It’s a pretty place.  The beach was just across the road from where we stayed with a clear view of Dunk Island.  Mothers Day dinner was an indulgent affair at Miller’s restaurant right next door.  The food was amazing and probably on par with some of the best restaurants I’ve been to.  Treated myself with a Mother’s Day gift by sipping on a Cheeky Coconut cocktail or two, while watching the sun set.

We planned to see many sights in the surrounding Atherton region and started with a visit to Paronella Park.  At first glance it doesn’t look like much but the story tells of a grand vision realised by a crazy Spaniard.  Anyone know of any other crazy Spaniards?  No?  He must have been one of a kind then.

There is a lot to the story but essentially, Jose Paronella comes to Australia to make his fortune before going back to marry his fiancé in Spain.  It took about 12 years of working on cane farms, saving his money, purchasing land, improving it and continuing this pattern until he becomes quite wealthy.  He purchases his ideal piece of land complete with waterfall and is ready to go back to Spain to bring his bride back to Australia.
In these 12 years he never writes a letter to his family or his fiancé and on arrival discovers that his fiancé, believing he must be dead, has married and has a son!  Never mind, her sister Margarita, at this point Xavier chimes in with “just like the pizza”, is single, so he marries her and brings her to Australia instead.  He builds his first set of castles, a family home and a ballroom.  He constructs it out of concrete and steel, and to save money collects many of the materials locally.

Sounds like someone I know and all of a sudden I feel like calling my dad.  Anyhow, on with the story, he has worked out how to generate electricity using the power from the waterfall and is one of the very first homes in the area to have electricity and running water in the home.  His wife Margarita can make and sell ice cream at the ballroom, which you can imagine, cold ice cream is a real treat in North Queensland when refrigeration is scarce.  On with more construction, he creates a tunnel of love, another castle which overlooks tennis courts, bocce courts, and a water feature.  Most places have a view through to his beloved waterfall.  He worked bloody hard his whole life to realise his dream and create a good life for his family.  Well worth the visit.

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Paronella 08Mamu Tropical Skywalk is a nice way to see the rainforest from a different perspective.  This place also offers headsets to guests for self guided information along the walk.  We only took two sets so to keep Craig informed, I performed interpretive charades.  He got some of the housekeeping stuff, like ‘there are no toilets on the track’ but couldn’t quite understand much else.  Amelie changed her mind and wanted to listen too, so now the kids both have headsets and Craig and I had one of the most peaceful walks in a long time!  The information/story boards were interesting.  I didn’t know that Ma:my indigenous clan used totems.  When a person is born they are given an animal totem and they aren’t allowed to hunt or eat their totem.  If that particular animal was low in numbers or hadn’t been seen for a while, then the ban would extend to the whole clan.  Pretty smart conservationists!


Herberton 02Herberton was just up the road and we had to visit! One of our friends held the title of “Tin Queen of Herberton” and we needed to see the road where the parade would have taken place.  It was beautiful country and I can see how she has so many fond memories from days ‘on the farm’.

The day is getting away from us and we decide to do a speed tour of Millaa Millaa, Zillie, and Ellinjaa falls. We’d race down to the falls, take a quick pick and race back to the car with “last one in the car is a rotten egg”.  Fun!  I think we all got a turn at being rotten.

The van park we stayed at was at Wongalin Beach.  Mission Beach was about 6kms to the north and South Mission Beach was obviously, to the south.  One morning we jumped on our bikes and cycled up to Mission Beach for breakfast.  No cars, no bitumen, means no helmets.  Woo hoo!  Craig got to test the ‘fat boy’ for its intended purpose and apparently it was a joy to ride along the sand.  Must do more beach rides when we get back home.

A lot of people sky dive here and we saw a few people float down to land at Mission Beach.  This peaked Xavier’s interest who is keen to jump but has to wait until he is 16yrs old to do so… and has to save up for it!  We loved this place and would happily return.

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Towers and the Ville

CTowers vanparkCHARTERS TOWERS

This caravan park felt like a resort! With tropical landscaped pools, potted plants in the amenities and great facilities. We met a family who were camped near us straight away. Truth be told, the guy was admiring Craig’s fat boy bike prior to saving us from backing the van into a pole. Surprise, surprise our saviour does triathlons and was a little happy about having a test ride on the Fat Boy. You triathletes are fricken everywhere!

They are a nice family from Townsville with a son around Xavier’s age. They came to Charters Towers to have a weekend away and go to the drive in. Yep, a Drive In! We couldn’t miss the opportunity to give the kids a taste of our childhood so we tagged along. The kids were stoked they could rug up in the back seat ‘without wearing seat belts!’ Xav particularly thought it was ‘old school cool’.  An outdoor cinema listening through the speakers. Amelie also liked having the option of going to sleep if she wanted to. Not that either of them did fall asleep! Which meant we couldn’t hang out for the second movie which wasn’t PG. No doubt you’re itching to know what we saw. Superman Vs Batman. It was better than the reviews led us to believe. Probably didn’t matter what was playing the novelty of the drive in outweighed any acting deficits.

Our full day here was a Sunday. Not so great for touring the town as many things were closed. I loved that the library was once an old pub, and many of the buildings were quite architecturally pretty. So back to camp where the kids had a great time riding bikes, playing on the walking talkies and mucking around in the pool. We planned an antipasto dinner together up on Towers Hill Lookout, watched a beautiful sunset and listened to an old timers stories and video about the Ghosts of Gold, the history of Charters Towers.

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There is plenty to see and do here in Charters Towers, and while we didn’t do too much, it was nice to meet a great family. Both our families were heading to Townsville and we planned to catch up in their home town.

TOWNSVILLE

TvilleWe arrive in Townsville and I’ve made plans to catch up with an ex military friend, while Craig and the kids cycle around the Strand with our new found friends. I really enjoyed my catch up and four hours chatting at Longboards just flew by. There is just something about old military friends that’s easy. It might be that we all lived and breathed the same supportive environment and you relate to each other no matter how long it’s been.

Meanwhile Craig and the kids went for bike ride with the Father and son we met in Charters Towers to tour the sights along The Strand and surrounds. We spent a bit of time here taking advantage of the urban setting and picking up some items to complete our camp set up.

A trip to Magnetic Island was a must.  We hired a retro, yellow, mini moke. The kids loved it and so did we.  I kind of imagined how much fun this Island would be if you were a young backpacker who’s sole agenda was to have as much fun as possible.  Xavier seriously loved it, he was working out how he could actually buy one when he gets his licence.  The sad thing is that it’s getting harder to source parts to repair the Mokes when needed and there are only a handful left on the island.

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We decided to do the Fort walk first up to beat the heat as it was turning into a hot and muggy day.  You’ve got to admire the diggers of old, who would have busted their butts to get all of the concrete, water and building supplies up that hill.  The conditions would have been crappy at times, but I’d bet they had the best fun!

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We visited all the bays, made our own swings, followed the red-tailed black cockatoos and had lunch in the pub. Yay!

Our new friends invited us to their house for our last night in town.  Indian food, a few drinks, great conversation while the kids got a Minecraft fix was a great way to end our stay here in Townsville.

I can’t end this post, without mentioning the caravan park we stayed at.  The thing that was unique about this place was the country music that was piped through the amenities block 24hrs a day!  The lyrics were hilarious!  The last memorable one was  “money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a boat.”  I know a few people who would agree with that!  My version of happiness, is this trip with the ones I love most.  Even with all the fights and farts!  Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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Dinosaur Trail Part 3 – Richmond

The road from Hughenden to Richmond is a bit of a shocker when towing. It’s like driving over wavey bumps. If you didn’t spot them in time to slow down, it was quite a bouncy ride. Having a tail wind was a bonus though and bought the average fuel consumption for this stretch down to around 12ltrs per 100km.

Grocery shopping had been limited in the last couple of towns. So with little food in the fridge, I suggested going to the pub for dinner. Amelie pipes up with “Yay! I love going to the pub!” Xavier shouts “Me too!” I chimed in with “Me too!” Craig however could only groan and shake his head.  With all his efforts and lectures on healthy food and looking after your body, this trip may turn our kids into bar hopping booze hounds!  I’m kinda sick of being the parent the kids get all their bad habits from, so I’m going to point the finger elsewhere, I’m blaming genes from the grandparents!

Rich Lake Fred Triton
Lake Fred Triton, Richmond QLD

The Richmond Caravan park is probably one of the nicest we’ve been to so far out here in Central Queensland.  Well organised, clean facilities, well maintained grounds and right next to Lake Fred Tritton. For a very small town they do tourism well. They seem to have events and activities organised every week and visitors were kept up to date. We were lucky enough to have arrived in town just as the Richmond festival was happening. We would be in town for the main fossil events and rodeo.

The Kronosaurus Korner Museum was fantastic! It had a really good display of primarily marine fossils, as the area was 60m under water millions of years ago. When you enter the museum you are given a hand held phone info thingy (technical term). Punch in the number on the display hold the thingy to your ear and hear all of the relevant info. There is also an amazing the plesiosaur which was the most complete prehistoric marine reptile ever found. It’s not yet typed but is possibly a type of elasmosaur. Also a dinosaur which has been called Mimni but is going to be renamed to a name that includes the local aboriginal word for shield. This dinosaur was pretty amazing as you could even see its skin texture. They think what happened was it became mummified on land and then got washed into the sea where it became fossilised.

I’m going to call it and say this was our favourite dinosaur place. Not necessarily because it had better fossils, but because it was so experiential! We went out to a dig site and searched for fossils with the resident palentologist, Patrick. The good thing about searching with someone in the know was learning which areas to sift through and what to look for. Poor guy had his named called every minute “Patrick! Is this anything?”, “Patrick, can you have a look at this?” “Patrick, what’s this?” He had the patience of a Saint and our family were probably the worst! Okay maybe Xavier was, but let’s just say he had exuberant enthusasium for  the task. A 7yr old girl found a vertebrae of a Kronosaur and the Palentologist at the time said “sure you can keep it, we have heaps of those.” She kept digging and found the skull and half of the body! She wasn’t able to take it home anymore. I think the pressure was on and Xavier was desperate to make an amazing find.

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Even though we’d been through the museum already, we went back for a guided tour with Patrick. It was the third day in a row that we had hung out with him and we were starting to feel like science nerd groupies or weird stalkers. Same thing I guess. Anyhow, it was even more interesting than going through with the ‘hand held phone info thingies’. We got to tour the lab for the second time and the kids even got to get on the tools and help prep a fossil! How good is that!

Apart from fossils the other discovery we made were the ‘Goat’s Head’ prickles.  Craig was amazed!  He’d never seen anything like them!  He was racing the kids around the lake on their bikes and tried to overtake Xav by going slightly off track.  Twelve punctures later in the ‘Fat Boy’, we were back at camp and searching the town for green slime!  All four bikes ended up having punctures.  Craig was carrying out repairs over two days!

Probably the only thing the town is lacking is a really good place to eat. The museum cafe was very popular and we also tried lunch at Treats for your Table and of course dinner at the pub with our pub loving kids. The meats were cooked well but the veggies and salads were pretty sparse. It does highlight the conveniences we have back home compared to these towns that are so remote from other towns. Fish is delivered to the town once a week. Bread is stored in the freezer at the grocery stores as they don’t get it delivered daily.  Seeing as water is such a problem it doesn’t  look like the type of place where fresh fruit and veg would grow let alone survive easily. If you come this way prepare in advance for your fruit, veg, eggs, bread and fish. Don’t worry about your meat, they have a great butcher in town.

We headed out to the Rodeo on our last night. None of us had ever been to one before. I was a little reluctant to go as I’d heard some negative things about how the animals are treated.  We decided to see for ourselves and took a spot on the hill. The girls were already in full swing with the barrel racing. Their skill with the horses was seriously impressive!  A display of fearless, competent, strong women and girls. I really liked that.

The bull riding was almost the polar opposite! It didn’t look like there was much skill involved trying to hang onto a riled up bull.  Looked like a bunch of Cowboys wearing their ‘fancy’ pants, strutting around with their chests puffed out. Guys were coming off pretty fast and usually nursing a suspected injury to a shoulder, elbow, wrist or leg joint. Seemed pretty stupid really. The rodeo clowns were impressive!  They were lightening quick and kept the bulls well away from the downed riders. I kind of liked it when the cranky bulls wouldn’t participate in going back to their stalls quietly.  It was like an “up you” to the riders and clowns. Streams of snot hanging from their nose, pawing at the ground and charging at anything moving.  I can see how a rodeo is a way of showcasing skill and a traditional form of outback entertainment, but I think they could do without the bull riding.  The animals seemed to be in good health with the only the cocky riders sustaining injuries!

That brings us to the end of the dinosaur trail and I’m really glad we got to see it all. If you decide to head out this way and see it all, I recommend the family ticket for all four sites, it’s the best value for money.  We will start making our way out of the dry and back to the East Coast now.

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Dinosaur Trail Part 2 – Hughenden

Winton to Hughenden
Winton to Hughenden

Craig did quite a bit of research into what vehicle and van would work best for our needs on this trip. Gotta say, he did a great job. He loved the car from the get go, and towing the van has been pretty easy. Typically we average between 14-15ltrs of diesel fuel per 100km. Towing the van with a roaring headwind all the way from Winton to Hughenden wasn’t fun and our average fuel consumption blew out to 20ltrs per 100km.

Hughenden Anderson
Oh where, oh where has my Anderson plug gone? Oh, where oh where can it be?

On arriving we discovered our first problem. The Anderson plug to the van has been wired to top up the battery in the van as we drive. It however, was missing in action. All that was left of it were some sheared off cables with the copper hanging out! I can only imagine the journey it would have had. Holding on and slowly but surely losing it’s grip on the connector to bounce and drag along the harsh bitumen of the Kennedy Development Rd. Made me think of watching Westerns with my dad, where some villian or poor hero has his hands tied and is dragged along behind a horse, loosing bits of flesh along the way. Luckily, we were camped right next to a helpful retired auto mechanic. He gave Craig some good advice and now we have a shopping list to repair it.

The second thing we lost on this leg of the journey was a tightening screw off the caravan awning. We lost one previously and they are expensive (for what they are) and tricky to replace. You also have to buy them in pairs! So we had a single spare handy for the one we lost this time. I usually put the awning away… soooo it’s probably my fault. No more spares! Must remember to tighten these screws properly!

Hughenden is 300m above sea level. That’s like living above Mt Coolum. The days were a little cooler reaching a maximum of 32 degrees during the day and we had one morning were it was a crisp 16degrees.  It was a bit of a novelty to reach for a jumper or extra blanket. In a rare show of solidarity, the children snuggled together to keep warm.

The whole reason we came here was to continue the dinosaur trail so I’d better get back to gas-bagging about fossils. The Flinder’s Discovery Centre has a life size replica of Hughie the Muttaburrasaurus. The original bones were found in Muttaburra and another skull, a few teeth and some additional bones were found in Hughenden. The Centre has a vast array of fossils and gemstones, a good video explaining the formation of Porcupine Gorge, a sheep industry display and a collection of items from years gone by. While this Centre has a lot of stuff, it lacked explanation of what was there and hence, my attention span was pretty limited. I wasn’t the only one! A few groups of people came and went in the time we were inside and I imagine the average length of visit would fall short of the one hour mark.

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The town has many dinosaur related installations throughout.  It also has locusts!  Winton has flies, Hughenden locusts, I can’t wait to see how big the pests get at our next stop!  Oh, also be careful of the Hughenden cows.  They eat cars apparently.

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Flinders River runs through town and at 1004kms, is Queensland’s longest river. It was almost bone dry. A small puddle under the bridge and a muddy section near the bank was all that was left of it in Hughenden. It was kind of surreal to see bike tracks along the riverbed and is yet another reminder of how desperately these towns need a decent drop of rain.

Flinders River 01
Flinders River

A walking trail winds its way along the bank of the river, includes an eco walk and, according to Craig, one of the best public fitness trails he has seen. That being said, he did think it was lacking lower body exercises… for his liking. Never skip leg day! There were also quite a few windmills, and windmill memorials around town. Thanks to Krissy, we now strain our eyeballs to see if they are Southern Cross windmills.

Heading to the local Chinese restaurant was a novelty and we figured the kids could practice their language skills. They only really said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, which is not nearly enough to warrant calling it a Chinese class. Amelie was fascinated with all of the Chinese decorations and told us the story of why the Chinese like the colour red. Well, she tried to. She gets a bit muddled with the details (as do I frequently enough), so Xavier corrected the story (as Craig is often left to do) and Craig and I learned a little something from the kids.Another interesting place to visit was the FJ Holden cafe. It is owned by Frankie J Holden and his wife and was a real step back in time. Juke boxes, Elvis memorabilia, Coca Cola collections and of course an extensive collection of all things Holden. The burgers were good too!

Porcupine Gorge 05.jpgThe absolute best thing about Hughenden, (in my humble opinion) was heading out to Porcupine Gorge.  This is where a pyramid section of rock is exposed and reveals the layers of earth as it formed.  It was a pretty hot day when we ventured there and I was looking forward to cooling off once we hit the water at the bottom.

It’s spectacularly beautiful in the gorge with caves of all sizes carved out of the softer sandstone and while their was water in various pools, it wasn’t flowing.  The stagnant water had a lot of ‘stuff’ growing in it.  You know, the plants and algaes that make swimming unappealing.  That stuff.  Most of the remaining pools were in the deepest parts of the river bed and the sides of the rocks were mostly vertical.  This made it difficult to even sit on the edge and dangle our feet in the water.

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Porcupine Gorge 10A steep walk into the gorge meant a steep climb out!  It took a lot of sweat with a few complaints after seeing false summits but we made it back and treated ourselves to cold fruit and yoghurt.  Hooray for a car fridge!  I also had to explain what these dragonflies were doing.

So, that pretty much sums up Hughenden.  Wait!  Just in case anyone was waiting with baited breath to hear if the pool tour continues… yes, for the record, Craig and Amelie swam in the Hughenden pool.  Now, we head towards our final destination on the Dinosaur trail, Richmond.

 

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Dinosaur Trail Part 1 – Winton

Winton flies1
The main reason we headed out this way was to explore the dinosaur trail. First stop, Winton. This small country town mostly known for it’s dinosaurs, also has links to Waltzing Matilda, the Great Shearer’s Strike, Qantas and copious numbers of flies!

Going back a couple of days in Longreach, I spied an elderly, yet spritely couple sporting wide brimmed hats with head nets and a camouflaged neck flap. My thoughts went something like this, “Geeze Louise! They are taking adventuring to a whole other level! I mean, we are in the Main Street of Longreach, not the inner jungle of the Amazon! They look like right dorks!’ Judging others without really knowing anything about them is something I hate to admit doing.  I try not to and writing it down makes me feel spiteful. My only saving grace is that I did not voice this judgement to anyone else at the time.

Winton flies2Fast forward two days when we are encamped at Winton. Without trying, I’ve swallowed one fly and snorted two up my nose. Amelie also swallowed one and snorted one. Amazingly, the boys got off fly ingestion free. Craig has an old growth forest of nasal hairs protecting his airway but I’ve no idea how Xavier got away without the pleasure of eating flies. This situation had me slightly torn. Do I lose any sense of dignity and invest in a fly net or continue to eat flies? The realisation that I’m neither stylish nor dignified, promptly had me hunting for nets. Museums were sold out and the shops were shut. Karma for judging the smarter oldies I guess!

The locals told us they were having an unusually hot week with temps in the low to mid 30’s and the flies had made a resurgence. The best thing for us to do was continue the tour of public pools. Our timing is excellent, the pool is closing just after we leave town. Apparently a company my crazy Uncle Michael worked for, built this pool. It might have been before his time with the company, but Craig liked to point out it was only 24m in length and slightly crooked. Despite the shoddy construction, it was very refreshing (Disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with the construction of the pool, we just like to give my Uncle a hard time.)

This tidbit is for the families that mentioned Winton is on their bucket list of destinations – bring drinking water! The caravan park is managed by the Tattersall Hotel located across the road. It has grassy sites, free use of the washing machines and did I mention it’s across the road from the pub? Cold drinks and pub meals within walking distance is a bonus! The water however is bore water, complete with strong sulphur smell. Drinking it ‘as is’ was a challenge. Boiling it first made it a little more palatable but still, it wasn’t awesome. The kids made a big song and dance about the ‘stinky’ water and we had to explain the town was lucky to have any water at all.

Winton’s Musical Fence is out the back of town and sits amongst industrial sheds and vintage car wrecks. First impressions are that it’s not much of an attraction, however we had great fun there. The hollow plastic tubes from the drum filled with ‘found things’ were the best at making big sounds! It was a percussionists dream bashing all the old bits of metal objects and twanging the wire fence. You could even have a go at playing Waltzing Matilda. The drum kit was everyone’s favourite. It was loud fun! Probably the reason why it’s located at the back of town away from the houses. We’re claiming that experience as an on the road music lesson.

One of the nice things about travelling is meeting new people, hearing their stories and learning from them. There was a really nice family from the Sunshine Coast staying at the van park with children the same age as ours. It was great getting to know them. The kids all loved having bike races around the park together. Fearless warrior Amelie took the corners on the gravel at high speed and certainly held her own against the older kids. Even Craig had to warm up with a few laps to try and catch her. He gave them some tips on bike cornering so we’ll call that a HPE class.

Their son had an avid interest in girls, which Xavier couldn’t understand and at the same time found hilarious. One of his sage words of advice to Xavier was ” if you like someone you have to ‘plug into them’ and if they decide to ‘turn on the switch’, then that’s when you have a love connection.” On a more serious note, I scored their home made midge/mozzie recipe, which is sure to come in handy when we head north.

Winton Age of Dinos1
Australian Age of Dinosaurs – Winton

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is just out of town and where all the fly eating and snorting took place. Firstly they take you on a tour of the facility where volunteer technicians and palaeontologists are actually working away on fossils. We found out that people can volunteer to go out on digs there when you are 18+ years old. What most excited Xavier was that you can volunteer as a technician to help prepare the fossils when you turn 12. He’s counting down the days!

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Back in the museum we saw the fossils from three dinosaurs, Elliott, Banjo and Matilda and a video presentation. Elliott was named after David Elliot, the farmer who stumbled upon a strange rock which turned out to be part of a giant Cretaceous period Sauropod, Elliot. This farmer was super lucky! Years later, a meteorite crashed to earth in the area and those who saw it believed it landed on David Elliott’s property. So David visited all the people who saw it, took bearings of where they thought it went down using a ‘wooden hinged stick contraption thing’ (that is it’s technical name) and estimated it did indeed land somewhere on his property. He gave up searching after two weeks, and around two years later found it!

Millions of years ago the Winton was a swampland forest on the edge of the inland lake. Hence, a great place to find dinosaur fossils. Banjo is the most complete carnivorous dinosaur (Theropod) found in the Southern Hemisphere and Matilda was another Sauropod.  These two dinosaurs were found together and there are a number of theories about how that came to be.  It’s just as exciting as the theories about future Game of Thrones episodes.

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Winton Lark Quarry 01.jpg
Lark Quarry landscape

It’s a bit of a drive to get out to Lark Quarry to see the dinosaur stampede. A 110kms drive on sealed and unsealed road took us about 1hr 25mins. The sealed sections are interspersed with the unsealed sections, giving you and the car a bit of a break from the corrugations. The landscape around the site is quite harsh yet spectacular. It’s an arid landscape with sparse, gnarly vegetation. Driving up the ‘jump up’ to the museum opens up the vista and I can only imagine how beautiful the land would look under the light of a full moon.

Winton Lark Quarry 02.jpgThere are a few fossils on display and to see the stampede you pay for a guided tour. As we finished our tour a retired couple who’d just arrived, got in their car and left because they didn’t want to pay for the tour. So that’s a 220km round trip to refuse to pay $22 see the stampede. Really? The girl who conducted the tour is stationed out there for 5 days on her own, does up to 5 or 6 tours a day and has other duties such as watering gardens, cleaning etc. How can they run the place if there is no fee?

Different people have reviewed the attraction varyingly. Some say ‘it was the best thing ever’ to the other end where people thought it was ‘crappy to go all the way there to see some muddy footprints’. Personally, our family really liked it. I’m in awe that something from 95million years ago survived to tell us a story today. It is also the only one of its kind in the world. A stampede of three kinds of dinosaurs. Two smaller dinosaur types (Coelurosaurs and Wintonopus) are minding their business probably just having a drink and a bit of a gossip at the waters edge, when this big, trouble making, meat eater (Theropod) comes in and says “I think I’ll have some of that!”

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The site is now protected and we were inventing ways tourists could have a closer view of the prints. Craig suggested snow shoe like apparatus with sponge soles. I went down a more mission impossible route with getting strapped into a trapeze system that’s suspended from the roof so you could travel the path of the larger sauropod or for the thrill seekers, get thrashed around following the flight of a scared chicken type dinosaur. Tip: take food and drinks. Previously they had nothing available and now have a small section of long shelf life foods, such as bags of chips, lollies, ice creams and soft drinks.

We took a look around Bladensberg National Park on the way home. Dry creek beds, dusty roads and twisted trees formed much of the landscape.  We stopped at Scrammy’s Gorge for a bit, but stayed away from the crumbling edge with no hope of getting to the bottom in search of a bit of water. Scrammy Jack was a hermit who came out to this place, built a small shack and pen for his horse, and died out here. He was called Scrammy because he lost his hand (I’m assuming his right) when a wagon rolled over it and an old English term for left handers is ‘Scrammy’.

Winton Anzac DayANZAC day arrived, so a Winton dawn service it is.  They did a good job and had a RAAF representative from Townsville do the ceremonial address. The MC for the service was funny as he kept mumbling “bloody terrible” in the background whenever a small glitch occurred.

After the ceremony a couple approached me and I recognised them as past employers of mine. One of the first jobs I had when I left the RAAF was working for their advertising company on the Sunshine Coast, and here we are years later at the same dawn service in Winton. Australia is a large country and at the same time a small place!

Off we go to destination two on the dinosaur trail, Hughenden.

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Ilfracombe is a small town just outside of Longreach. Reviews on TripAdvisor and Wikicamps were favourable for the Ilfracombe camp site and I’m glad we decided to stay there. Exploring the little town was a great addition to all that Longreach has to offer.  Krissy if you’re reading this, that IS a Southern Cross windmill.  You’ve started something now!

Walk past the Wellshot Hotel at 9am and the publican sends out a cheery “G’day!”, the post office doubled as a clothing store, the 20m swimming pool was the place to be after school let out and a soak in the heated spa after a few laps in the 20m pool felt super relaxing.  The tour of public pools is back on track!

The camp site happy hour was well attended and as our van doesn’t have an oven, the oven baked veggies with dinner were a real treat. Very tasty! We met a family from Emerald who have left everything behind to hit the road and are not sure if and when they will stop travelling.  Pretty brave!  The kids enjoyed playing together and running off steam around the park.

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Many old trucks, wagons and farm machinery are lined up along the main road of town. Our kids liked pretending to drive these old vehicles. A few small museums are also located along this strip and I’m always amazed at the quality and quantity of items that have been preserved. The bottle collection was a novelty and the 116 gun collection had the kids amazed. Why the Nazi flag was included in the display is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps to represent a time in war history?

Longreach is a large outback country town. I asked Xav to check out the size of the balls on the fake bull positioned in the back of an old time truck.  This had the kids in fits of giggles, so of course we had to take it too far and Amelie started walking down the road imagining that she had a set of balls that size.

No way to segue from bulls balls to planes, so I’ll just move on. The Qantas museum had many interactive exhibits which the kids really enjoyed. Flying in the simulator was a real buzz for them. Craig loved seeing the old hanger where it all began and the kids liked discovering the first on board dunny.  Xavier’s class are currently studying forces and it just so happened that there was an info panel on aerodynamic forces of lift, thrust, weight and drag so he read that and then experimented with roll, pitch and yaw on a interactive display.  Schoolwork done!

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The museum was very informative and I loved that they included some of the antics these pioneers got up to.  They were pretty funny and had me thinking about some old timers that I knew who would have fit right in with their gang!

A QANTAS pilot saw that his two passengers were asleep and took the opportunity to perform a loop.  The passengers awoke at the top of the loop.  They were still screaming when they landed.  The pilot was fired.

Russell Tapp was flying a photographer from Brisbane over Moreton Bay.  Just after take-off, Tap saw a commotion in the front cockpit and yelled to the photographer to sit down.  The photographer shouted, “There’s a snake in the cockpit!”  It had emerged between his legs.  He tried to bash it with his camera which then promptly fell overboard.  The frightened snake went into hiding and on landing, was found coiled tightly inside the guard covering the plane’s front throttle.

Other things I learned from punters back in the day:

  • Bartenders tested their drunk patrons medical need by shouting in their ear “Have a drink!”  If they didn’t stir, the doctor was called to come in by plane.
  • If you write an IOU on paper that had been baked in an oven on low temperature for a time, the paper becomes brittle, turning to dust in pocket of the unwary.
Stockmens Hall
Stockman’s Hall of Fame

The Stockman’s Hall of fame is fascinating with very extensive displays.  While interesting it is not as interactive or geared towards the kid’s interests.  Needless to say, they enjoyed watching some videos, playing in the wool and listening to the Royal Flying Doctor’s emergency calls.

We managed to get a last minute berth on the Outback Sunset Cruise and as we boarded the bus to get out to the river, I thought “Uh-oh! This could be interesting, a bus full of retirees and us.”  I kind of knew that we’d be ‘touristing’ with grey nomads and I don’t know why I expected people from other demographics, but I did.  Just a few at least. The lady at the van park said “get used to it honey, it’s all grey nomads!”  It ended up being a really great night and probably the most representative of Longreach and its people.

Xavier likes to pull statistics out of his butt and thought we had a, and I quote, “0.5% chance of seeing turtles in the river”. By the end of the cruise he counted nine turtles and like the smartarse I am, asked if that now bought the percentage up to 4.5%.  The stubborn little bugger is sticking with his first prediction despite his own evidence to the contrary.  Wonder where he gets that from!

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We were blessed with a glorious sunset and the the captain of the boat was really informative about the history, flora, fauna and indigenous culture. The other guests were welcoming and the couple who joined our table for dinner were interesting, unlike the oStatler-and-Waldorf-2ld curmudgeons camped next door to us at the van park (I swear they were Statler and Waldorf from the muppets).  The captain even let the kids have a go at steering the boat home, which was nice as all the passengers had a good tour of both sides of the bank on the way home.  The captain is probably out of pocket for all the extra fuel we used coming back!

After the cruise we settled in at Smithy’s for dinner and a show. Now while the singer John Hawkes didn’t have the best voice ever, he was super entertaining. His stories and original songs were funny and the kids were having a great time! Might have some explaining to do about B&S balls, backs of utes and finding your dress in the morning, but at the moment that is still pleasantly sailing over their heads.  Billy tea and damper afterwards finished the night off nicely with the kids going back for seconds!  Nearly forgot about the special appearance of Henry the working dog.  The kids are missing our schnauzer, Jake.  Henry got lots of cuddles to the point where he was giving his owner the side eye.  I’m sure he was thinking “Too much! Too much!”

Stockmen's hallWe are outta Ilfracombe, but not before a visit back at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame to finish off the last floor of the museum.  Blow me down, who’s out the front?  Bloody John Hawkes, who entertained us last night at Smithy’s!  He’s brushing the most beautiful, affectionate cow and we got a chance to stop and say gidday.  We left knowing all about the cow, his front garden and the police.  Don’t ask, it’s a long story.

Okay, now we are really hitting the road and are on our way to Winton!

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Barcaldine or Barcaldine?

Barcaldine TOKBarcaldine is more commonly known as Barcy (bar-key) by those who live in this region. It’s correct pronunciation is, Bar-cawl-den. I liked to pronounce it Bar-cul-dine, which made Craig grimace every time I said it. Why? Because I like to be annoying sometimes. I don’t know why I actually try. I don’t have to, it comes naturally.  Anyway, it’s best know as home to the Tree of Knowledge, and birthplace of the Union Movement and Labour Party.  More on that later.

Along the journey from Emerald to Barcy we passed over a lot of creeks, and just like the one called ‘Toogood Creek’, they weren’t too good. Bone dry, mini grand canyons, with exposed twisted logs littered along their length. They would make for beautiful photos, but I bet the locals don’t see it that way.

You may wonder how we fill in the 3hr drive to our lunch stop at Jericho. We told the kids to look out the window. Hey, it’s what we did before iPads and electronic games! They are allowed limited time on the iPad and usually play Minecraft. Otherwise, Xavier will usually read, Amelie will colour in or read and they have some school type workbooks they can do.

We’ve banned ‘I Spy’ in the car. There’s only so much stuff you can spy within the car and we are out of new stuff to spy! Instead we find shapes in the clouds and play a ‘What am I?’ game. This game can be pretty tricky as sometimes the clues don’t fit the answer. For example, I am a thing, I am man-made and you take it camping. The answer, an apple. What the?  Science class, here we come.

The area either side of Jericho has a crazy amount of termite mounds! I think they were termite mounds.  They were only about 500mm to 1m tall and they were everywhere. Some of them were wearing t-shirts! Yes that’s right, I said t-shirts. Ladies t-shirts, mens t-shirts and kids t-shirts.  It was a pity we couldn’t get a photo. Towing the van with no shoulder to pull onto doesn’t allow the luxury of coming to a quick stop for a photo of a t-shirt clad termite mound.

We pulled up right outside the Jericho drive-in which is old school cool! It could probably hold about a dozen cars and there are canvas swing-back chairs up the back for peak crowds.  The take away shop next door was full of dusty bric-a-brac with daddy long-leg spiders in every nook and cranny. If you ever stop there don’t let this first impression fool you, the burgers were delicious and the chicken chips were moorish! Most people head on past through to Barcaldine. If you have time, it’s worth stopping at Jericho and they look like they could do with the trade.

Thanks to Xavier, we were laughing our asses off coming into Barcaldine. He was talking about the author that came up on his Kindle ‘save screen’. Our boy may read very well and very fast, but the downfall of not reading out loud is incorrect pronunciation. Xavier called author Alexandre Dumas (Doo-mah), Alexandra Dumb-ass.  Dumb-ass!  Still makes me laugh.  School kid humour, but still humorous!

It may be hard to stop for photo ops with the van, however it only takes about 15mins to set-up camp. Bonus! This gave us heaps of time to go see The Tree of Knowledge in the daylight and check out the Australian Workers Museum before heading back to camp where damper was on offer and happy hour was in full swing.

Tree of knowledge day
Tree of Knowledge – Daytime
Tree of Knowledge night
Tree of Knowledge – Night time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of which political party you are partial to, the story surrounding the Tree of Knowledge is really interesting. It may have remained a very old tree, however there was nothing special about the tree other than the events that unfolded around it.

The story goes, that in 1891 the shearers staged a strike against low wages and poor working conditions.  Well, the pastoralists were having none of that!  Serious shenanigans ensued with the burning down of shearing sheds, shot outs and unionist imprisonments.  This was happening all over the place, not just in Barcaldine!  The tree was significant as it was the place where influential members met and formed the labour union movement and eventually the Labour Party. Henry Lawson even penned a poem about these events called Freedom on the Wallaby.

Tree of Knowledge memorial

In 2006 the tree was poisoned with Roundup!  What seemed a bastard act, resulted in a pretty magnificent memorial which has won a multitude of architecture awards and cost the Australian people $5million.  Bet that idiot is kicking themselves now!

When the memorial is lit up at night, the reflections off the timber chimes and the void glow green, representing the canopy of the tree had it been living.

You need more than a few hours to visit the Australian Workers cottage!  There is so much to rediscover about Australia’s history and the exhibits are very detailed.

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There is too much to write about here but I just have to share my favourite story:

At the Ravenswood gold diggings in 1872 there were 42 licenced ‘pubs’ (shanties) within a three mile radius.  The police had no proper lock-up so they chained prisoners to a big log outside their tent.  One night, a giant Irish miner was arrested and chained up, but later he was found in a shanty carrying the 150kg log on his shoulder.  He was made to carry the log back to the ‘lock-up’ and threatened that if he did not behave himself he would be charged with theft of the log!

 

Barcaldine should be renamed Bar-crawl-dine.  Five pubs stretch out along about 500m of the main street!  Not a bad way to have a few drinks without having to travel too far between venues, but imagine how you’d be at the end, when the town held 14 pubs in its hey day!

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Our tour of public pools hit a wall. Barcaldine Public pool was shut two days before we arrived!  Two!  Not only did they shut it, they drained it.  We couldn’t even jump the fence for a sneaky swim!

Onwards to Ilfracombe and Longreach.  We’ll swim there.

 

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The best thing about Emerald is…

Sunsets out west are best

The sunsets are pretty awesome, but the best thing about visiting Emerald is seeing Lizy, Barry and Mikayla.  My sister and I have always been close and it’s easy when we visit each other. Relaxed and no expectations. Easy.

We had a belated birthday gift giving with our Pokemon obsessed niece Mikayla. A plush Pikachu toy was the most cherished gift. She slept with it and left instructions for Xavier and Amelie to train him, feed him, bath him and tell him stories while she went to school.

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Fairbairn Dam, the Big Easel, Botanic Gardens and historic train station are the main local attractions in Emerald, and a trip out to the gem fields have all been done in past visits. This trip we were happy to go to places we haven’t seen before. First up, traditional homeland to the Ghungalu people, Blackdown Tablelands.  A place of sandstone cliffs, gorges and rock pools.

Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze
Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze

As we drove through Comet, Blackwater and Dingo, it gave us a chance to test our UHF set up. We settled on a channel and used the call signs, Wookie-1and Ecto-1. I should explain. Barry is a pretty big Star Wars fan and Craig and I relived the 80’s last Halloween by dressing up as the Ghostbusters. Our ute is white, same colour as the Ghostbusters vehicle. Coincidence? I think not! We are contemplating naming our van Ecto-2. What do you reckon? Yay or nay?

It was a beautiful day. Big blue skies and a comfortable 28 degrees. As we approached the Blackdown Tablelands, which I kept incorrectly referring to as the Blacktown Tablelands, there was a huge amount of grey smoke billowing from the top. Burn off! Okay, so the vistas might be a little hazy but we were looking forward to visiting the rock pools.

 

School on the roadThere are no formal school requirements that need to be fulfilled while the kids are away for two terms but we do ‘school of life’. Craig is a nerd and great at explaining things to the kids. The top of Blackdown Tablelands is 900m above sea level, for every 100m you rise above sea level you drop approximately 1 degree in temperature. Our outdoor temp reading according to Ecto-1, was 28 degrees at the bottom and got down to 22 degrees at the top. I’ll have to google the elevation at the bottom to see exactly what height we were at to begin with. It also took us about an hour to get to the top after stopping to check out the view along the way so it’s likely the temp would have increased within that hour. We worked out that we definitely lost 6 degrees, possibly 7, maybe at a push even 8 degrees. Close enough to the prediction. Boom! Science class dismissed.

8It’s only a 2km walk to the rock pools, yet it will test you. The path is covered with tiny round rocks that brought back memories of roller skating at the Argonaut Rollerdome. Amelie was nervous about falling on her recently healed wrist, so we walked down hand in hand. Too many times to count, I did single arm bicep curls while Amelie was doing side splits, front splits and diagonal splits. Thankfully, we didn’t both get wobbly feet at the same time. It was pretty funny walking back with a large group of teenagers walking down to the pools. Every one of them had a little ‘slip and recover’ moment. I read ‘shame worthy’ on their faces. Could have been that teenage stage where everything matters, or it could’ve been because I was laughing at them.

A trip down a set of stairs brought us to ‘Rainbow Falls’, a ro7ck pool with waterfall, giant ferns and palms. The guys and kids all braved the refreshing (code word for freezing bloody cold) water. While it was fine for the guys and kids to strip off with discrete towel placement, change into their togs and brave the water, Lizy and I stayed high and dry. The logistics of getting naked and changing into togs under the cover of a towel was not worth the probability of flashing body bits to strangers and their children. Everyone else loved jumping off the rocks and ducking under the falls.

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Rainbow Falls Blackdown TablelandsBack up the 240 stairs, my trainer’s voice echoed in my head, counting the step-up reps. “That’s 50. That’s 150, less than 100 to go!”. Sadly, I have to admit being puffed at the top. A short walk further down the track brings you out to a few smaller pools and the creek. Xavier braved the jump into the largest one. There were a group of younger guys and gals, drinking, playing music, bomb diving into the pool, sliding along their bellies into the smaller pool below and braving the jump into the smallest of pools which would have been the size of a floating ring. They were having a great time and I was expecting one of them to miscalculate at any minute and crack their heads on the rock. How things have changed! No doubt a decade or two ago, I could have been any one of those kids!

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The next day we headed out to Theresa Creek Dam which is not far from Clermont. There’s a large campsite with a great playground for the kids and small shop doing decent takeaway food for lunch. The wider area is pretty dry but this camp site was lush and green. A benefit from being right on the dam’s edge.

Theresa Creek Dam
Theresa Creek Dam

Emerald PoolWhile we were in Emerald, Craig conducted swim squad for us. The fact that Xavier is better at backstroke than me overcame any earlier grumblings. I don’t remember disliking backstroke quite so much, but I do now! I’ve always sucked at swimming. Our races were pretty close except for backstroke, and swim squad was actually fun. Craig would like to do a public pool tour of Northern Australia. We should all be better swimmers by the time we come back!

The cousins had a ball hanging out together. Eating ice cream at the movies, playing endless games of Pokemon (Miky’s rules), laughing and mucking around way past their bedtimes. It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to my sister and Barry. Not so much for our niece Mikayala. She was ready for us to leave and was looking forward to getting back to her usual routine. I appreciate her honesty. It’s refreshing.