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.
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.
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.
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!
A Jabiru right on the van park lake edge!
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.
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.
Along 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.
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!
Wyndham’s big concrete croc
The small town of Wyndham is getting smaller
Croc memorabilia has been moved to the local cafe
Didn’t know Turia was a Kununurra local!
Five Rivers map
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!
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.
Bitter Springs NT
Bitter Springs NT
Bitter Springs NT
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.
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.
RAAF, Navy & Army mates
Camped down near the water. The four of us ‘just’ fit in that tent!
Paddling the first gorge
Fun around the fire.
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 old campground, very unused.
We swam across to that beach. No swimming now.
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.
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.
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!
Waiting for the sun to rise. Nitmiluk lookout
Reading by torchlight
Here it comes!
The fam bam at Nitmiluk lookout
We thought the flat rock poking out of the walls looked like a giant stone croc peeking out.
First light reflected off the gorge walls at 1st gorge Nitmiluk.
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!
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!
ALL the roads are open!
Look out the boy is behind the wheel!
Really get out of the way! Amelie is known for her crazy gene!
The six season aboriginal calendar of the Top End.
This is the way calendars should be! Telling you what’s fruiting, flowering or good to catch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Darwin 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.
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.
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.
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.
Trying to stay afloat at Edith Falls
These three swam across to the falls, Edith Falls
Still some flow at Edith Falls.
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.
Traditionally a women’s place.
The crowded campground. And there were many people packed up heading home.
Playing with friends in the hot water.
3/4 of the family at the hot springs.
The kids lying in the “just right” water of Douglas Hot Springs.
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!”
I’m going to have to warn you straight up, there are going to be a lot of photos of rocks in this one. A lot! Like, seriously lots and lots.
While travelling between the East and West McDonnell Ranges, we stopped through Alice Springs and met a Sunny Coast couple who had relocated to Alice and taken over The Overlanders Steakhouse Restaurant. So we booked a table for the night of our reunion with The Stolls. That booking was then expanded to include The Tafai family, who we met at Palm Valley the day before.
It was great to see The Stolls, although I was reluctant to give them a hug after five days out bush without a shower and mostly two changes of clothes (I had to layer up due to the cold). What a fun night. We laughed till our cheeks hurt, thrust our hips around to the ‘home among the gum trees’ song and tried to pass Sol Tafai off as ‘The Rock’ on social media. A few people fell for it but most saw through my bluff.
We travelled to Kings Canyon Resort and took in the magnificent views from the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon. Rainer did the hard yards carrying Nathan up the steep ascent at the beginning. Craig also ended up doing some hard yards as Amelie decided to run up the climb. It could be that we’ve been watching a few Rocky films and she’s inspired to push herself or it could be that she chose to wear shorts, t-shirt and a flimsy jumper and needed to warm up! The rest of us were feeling the cold especially on the windy sections and were rugged up in puffy jackets, beanies and gloves. As Amelie and Craig reach the top of the steep section, she turns to her slightly out of breath father who had to actually work to catch her and said “I want to be an athlete when I grow up”. She is changing her mind about what she wants to be every week but I’m loving her choices, astronaut, teacher, doctor, scientist, veterinarian and now athlete.
Cotterral’s lookout was worth the extra walk and rewarded us with spectacular views. The other side trip we did was Eden’s Garden. That place was very serene, with remnants of rainforest vegetation a stark contrast to the red rock and spinifex. The Creek walk was blocked so we scrambled around the barricades and boulder hopped along the creek for a while.
Kathleen Springs was just down the road so after an epic days walking already, we made the kids do some more. It was an easy walk with cattle mustering ruins, hairy caterpillars, piggybacking bugs, “what are they doing dad?” along the way. At the end is a small waterhole. I didn’t read the sign and was imagining how much fun it would be to jump down from the cliff into the waterhole. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT jump into the water. I was quickly put in my place by Craig who read the sign about the aboriginal legend where they believe the Dreamtime serpent lived there and if you swam in the water, the water would dry up.
We’re off to The Rock! Craig got a little excited, as did we when he pointed out Uluru and then got on the UHF and pointed it out to the Stolls. About 5minutes passed before it twigged that it was actually Mt Connor. Common mistake apparently.
Uluru a.k.a ‘The Rock’ is impressive. Almost as impressive as the two backpackers in onesies, cooking pancakes for breakfast in the parking lot. Seriously, Uluru has a feeling of ‘something’. I don’t know if it’s the enormity of it or is there a sense of spirituality? Okay, now for the big question – did we climb it? No, we didn’t. The kids really wanted to, Craig had climbed it many years ago and I was in two minds about it. We had a healthy discussion about why the local aboriginals don’t want you to climb it and should you be able to. On the actual day the decision was taken out of our hands as the climb was closed due to forecast rain. The small walks along the bottom were great with informative signs of how the aboriginals used the small caves and overhangs, and explained some legends and stories about the rock. The majority of the base walk did not have much info and was very restrictive about photographing certain sections.
We all agreed Kata Tjuta was awesome! Walking in and among such large formations of rock offered great views pretty much everywhere you looked. It was also a fun walk with steep sections and a bit of bouldering. I don’t really know what else to say about this place that would do it justice. If I could whisper in print I would whisper “I liked it better than Uluru”. Shhhh.
At the Yulara campground Laura and I headed off on the bikes to buy groceries. Riding the fat boy bike definitely increased my street cred. Wearing a helmet, any helmet, leaves me looking like a mushroom as I have a small head and long neck so it all evens out. The point is, I felt cool even though I stopped and got off to ‘jump’ the gutters. Riding along however, people were giving the fat tyres appreciative nods and smiles. A gap toothed local gave me a massive grin and said ‘wicked!’ We met basketballer Joe Ingles who I let have a ride on the fat boy. Didn’t know who the hell he was and as usual was being cheeky. Laura found out he was competing at the Olympics and I said “Well, I suppose I’d better get a photo with you. You might be famous one day.” Laura googled him later and he earns over $2million US dollars playing for a team in the States. That and making the Australian Olympic team… yeah he might be famous… one day! Joe (sounds very casual), Mr Ingles (no, too formal), you know who I mean, anyway he loved the bike, so if you see any photos of him riding a fat boy, it’s because of Craig’s bike.
Laura suggested doing a dot painting class with an aboriginal elder. I thought this was a great idea. Alice spoke in her native language, drew and explained the art symbols in the sand while a University graduate translated for us. Each painting pretty much tells a story. At Hermannsberg in the Western McDonnell Ranges, we saw many paintings depicting the story of the ‘Seven Sisters‘. We were told to tell our own story in a painting. Now, I love playing with art but I didn’t do so well at dot painting. I think, I tried to tell too much of a story in one painting. Painting dots of a uniform size was a challenge and I couldn’t believe how long it took to paint dots. The kids really enjoyed it and it was great to see everyone’s story interpretation.
Our time with The Stolls, is coming to an end. We’ve seen so many rock formations together that it seemed fitting our last campsite together was near The Devil’s Marbles. After a pub dinner and kids playing in the starry light display the only thing we had left to do on this adventure with The Stolls was race to see who’d leave first in the morning. Stolls won!
We loved hanging out with those guys and while it was sad to part ways, they were looking forward to an island adventure before heading home, and we were dead keen to visit all the Top End has to offer!
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.
The track and gorge
The 4wd warning
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.
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!
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?
Passing on the temperature to the Larapinta Trail hikers.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
Dodging the waterfall at the Julia Creek pool.
Doing dad demanded laps
The Knowledge Centre, Julia Creek
Beautiful sunset out the back of Julia Creek
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.
Mount Isa Visitor Centre
A large extinct mammal
Comparing modern and ancient platypus skulls
Dem bones, dem bones, keep the kidlets occupied
Mount Isa Info Centre gardens
I’ve heard this story before!
Memorabilia at the Mount Isa Museum
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alice 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.
Alice Springs School of the Air
Observing the teacher teaching
Alice Springs School of the Air
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.
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!
That’s one large wedgie!
The funny looking Bustard
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Walking 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.
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.
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.
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!
Undara Resort in natural surrounds
Train carriages were converted for much of the accommodation
The dining area. Scene of the Georgetown sausage incident
The camping area
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.
Sunrise from Atkinson’s Lookout
Bumps on the horizon are old volcano craters
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.
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.
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.
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.
What’s a quartz blow?
Heading on up
King of the quartz
View from the top
Quartz, quartz everywhere
It was pretty high actually
This blow, blows
On 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!
The 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.
On 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.
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.
Big flat land and big blue sky
Red dirt and more red dirt
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.
Adel’s Grove campground
Creek at Adel’s Grove
Swimming in the pretty cold waters at Adel’s Grove
Creek at Adel’s Grove
Flips and jumps off the pontoon
Even I got in after 5 minutes of blubbering
The restaurant bar area
Sunset at the campground
Our camp at Adel’s Grove
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.
There he is on that log
Getting close and he don’t care
Gary the Freshwater crocodile
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.
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.
Old Telegraph Track. Wakefields crossing in ‘Blue Thunder’
Old Telegraph Track. Maskiell’s crossing in ‘Ecto 1’
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
We 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
The 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
Massive termite mounds
A cyclist eating dust
Mopeds! Fricken mopeds!
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.
More 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!
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’.
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.
Mamu 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!
Self guided headphones. Silence is golden!
Herberton 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.
Millaa Millaa Falls
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.
This place couldn’t be more on the beach if you tried! Van and campsites literally sit at the top of the small dune. Palm trees and green grass mark the point where van park begins while rocks and sand slightly slope away to meet the tide. We were advised not to swim in the ocean as a resident salt water crocodile lived nearby in one of the creeks and would occasionally swim up along the beach. The kids, and Craig affectionately named the croc Mister Snappy. I would unaffectionately call it ‘a bloody croc!’
We chose a site slightly back from the beach edge as Craig was hoping to escape the worst of any bad weather, while I was ‘not so secretly’ happy to be well over 15m away from any croc activity. This fear could be a hangover from the croc tours and stories told by fishing mates while living in Darwin or I could just be getting soft, either way I’m super wary of them!
After setting up, we decided to hang out at the pool. It was refreshing, had a waterfall and was beautifully landscaped. Soon enough we were joined by an ex-army guy. He seemed a bit loose with whatever he went through in his time, but was friendly enough. We talked a bit and I was in fits of laughter over a few of his stories. One in particular involved taking some US soldiers through what was included in the Australian ration packs. Now I may not do the story justice if I tried to tell it again as he did, suffice to say it involved; Vegemite being described as ‘hoop snake’ and ‘drop bear’ repellant, the explanation of what hoop snakes and drop bears were, disbelief from a US soldier that this was the truth and it was perhaps a type of food because it was in a ration pack, screaming about insubordination to a superior rank and confirming that toilet paper and matches which are also in ration packs are not food, ordering the US soldier to eat the Vegemite, reluctance to eat the Vegemite by the soldier, strong emphasis that it was a direct order, eating and then spitting out of the foul tasting Vegemite and the ‘dabbing of Vegemite behind the ears technique’ used by the US soldiers. Still makes me laugh. Maybe you had to be there!
Rollingstone was our base and we took day trips out to visit the local sights. Crystal Creek Falls was very picturesque. A beautiful stone bridge covered a cascade of falls down to a larger pool. A leech tried to befriended me as apparently I have juicy blood. Just ask the mozzies. The kids were fascinated and simultaneously grossed out, as I picked up the leech on a large tropical nut and it did it’s fastest leech lap around and around the nut in an attempt to get a hold of my skin. The kids overcame their fear of those slimy little suckers and discovered the joy that is nature’s slippery slide, the waterfalls.
Paluma Dam was a quick stop with an impromptu family game of tiggy. This is not my favourite game. I’m not a fan of running very much and Craig is impossible to catch. He will keep up a slow jog just out of my reach for ages! Insert expletive here. It also doesn’t help when you have to run in thongs. Inevitably I end up targeting the children as I can outrun them for now. Only just!
We stopped for lunch at a cafe up the top where a ‘Bird Life of Paluma’ DVD was playing. While spotting wildlife is great, we do kind of pull the mickey out of the serious bird watcher. I’ve got to say though, the DVD had us all fascinated at the amazing variety of bird life found in just this one place. They even had a humpy pigeon. That’s not its real name but the name we gave to a crazy pigeon in Coolum who took a fascination to humans during its mating period and had me running and ducking for cover and my sister trapped in her car!
We had one of our first rainy days so what better to do than go to Wallaman Falls, which is the largest single drop waterfall in Australia. It was a 2km slippery yet very pretty walk down to the falls. We were lucky enough to see a rainbow through the mist and the rain. There is a barricade a fair distance from the pool at the bottom of the falls and this disappointed Xavier greatly. He was pretty keen on hitting the water. I wonder what it would be like under the fall? Probably pretty full on and probably wouldn’t get back up from under it!
On our way back up, for what must come down 2kms must go back up, a couple of young guys alerted us to the fact that they thought they saw a red-bellied black snake on the track. I swapped places with Xavier to take the lead just in case it was still on the track. With the pressure of the lead I set a steady pace but one that slightly pushed my comfort level. I could hear Xavier behind me puffing and panting but with little to no encouragement he stuck with me. The pace was starting to take its toll, my breathing was becoming more laboured and I was sweating from everywhere. I swear there was sweat coming out of my eyeballs! With Xav up my butt, I couldn’t stop. My pride was on the line! Where ever my fitness went, I still don’t know, but it up and bloody well deserted me! By the end, my son was giving me encouragement and I was holding him back. I could see it in his eyes, the moment he realised what was once my strength, is now his. He is the strong one, the fit one. It’s going to be hard to keep up with them now.
Mother’s Day morning was spent having cuddles with my munchkins, breakfast made for me and flowers stolen from the campground gardens. A perfect end to our stay at Rollingstone.