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.