The Mighty, Mighty Gibb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miner's Pool
Miner’s Pool

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

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

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

Rope Swing fail
Rope Swing fail

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

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

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

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

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Cheat puncture!
Cheat puncture!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonders of The Top End

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

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

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

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

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

Mataranka Thermal Springs
Mataranka Thermal Springs

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

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

The new campground pool area
The new campground pool area

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

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

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

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Kapok Bush

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

Jedda's Leap
Jedda’s Leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumping Croc
Jumping Croc

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

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

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

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


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

Days of Cape York

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

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

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

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

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

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Cape Trib 03
Cape Tribulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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