Lotsa Water: Lake Argyle & Kununurra

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

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

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

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Second place winners, are grinners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonders of The Top End

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

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

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

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

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

Mataranka Thermal Springs
Mataranka Thermal Springs

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

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

The new campground pool area
The new campground pool area

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

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

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

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Kapok Bush

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

Jedda's Leap
Jedda’s Leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumping Croc
Jumping Croc

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Travelling the Savannah Way

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

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

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Cairns Coconut Van Park
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Cairns Coconut Van Park

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

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

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

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Viv meeting the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello everyone,

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

Love Amelie

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

IMG_6852
Cold Undarra mornings

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

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

 

Cobbold Gorge infinity pool
Cobbold Gorge infinity pool

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cape capers continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Thursday Island
Thursday Island

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

TI 23
Dirk from Lax Tours and Charters, Thursday Island.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Beach

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Dinosaur Trail Part 3 – Richmond

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

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

Rich Lake Fred Triton
Lake Fred Triton, Richmond QLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinosaur Trail Part 2 – Hughenden

Winton to Hughenden
Winton to Hughenden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flinders River 01
Flinders River

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

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

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

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

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

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