Our first full day in Nambucca and Julie was having a bit of a sleep in after our late night putting the blog post up and writing Christmas cards. Glen went for a walk via the track from the caravan park to the beach below and got back to find Julie awake and wondering where he was. Her first thing is usually to look at her phone, particularly when we have reception, so Glen had sent her a text telling her where he was. Today she didn't look at her phone! After breakfast we went into town, posted the Christmas cards and Eli's postcards and explored the town. The area newspaper had headlines about Shelley Beach, which is at Nambucca Heads. The 2016 version of Top 101 Beaches, which is just out, had ranked Shelley Beach 8th overall and a beach near Coffs as number 3. Shelley Beach didn't even rate a mention in our 2012 version of the book, who knew we should have checked www.101bestbeaches.com to see a more up to date list? Naturally we had to visit it. Luckily it wasn't raining as council has erected signs saying the road is closed in the wet due to the risk of land slip. They'd better fix that if it's to become the tourist mecca now… We had a swim and a walk along the beach to the end of Bielbys Beach where we could see around the point to the headland where the caravan park is and Main Beach below it.
The next day we went for a drive to Dunggir National Park and Kosekai Lookout following information in the free Nambucca Valley visitor book. We only had a quarter of a tank of fuel but with high fuel prices and being the day before payday Glen drove past every servo on the way. From Kosekai we went along Kosekai Rd toward Killekrankie Lookout which took us up the section of road known as Jacobs Ladder. We had to do a bit of track clearing on the way with fallen trees blocking the road. It seems Jacob's Ladder is more popular with trail bike riders as it's so steep it's a very technical ride for them. Not many 4wds seem to pass this way either as the road is narrow and overgrown in places. We were climbing up in 1st low when suddenly the engine died. That's not usual for the Fun Truck, Glen tried restarting it but it just wouldn't fire up. That NEVER happens on the Fun Truck. It always starts instantly. There was no hope in hell of us holding on the hand brake so Glen slipped it out of gear, put his left foot on the brake to free his right foot for the accelerator. It sort of caught with full throttle but then died. Julie got out to see if everything was as it should be under the bonnet and finding nothing obvious spotted Glen rolling back a couple of metres to get the vehicle slightly more level. Glen suspected that the fuel pick up was sucking air as the angle was too steep with only a quarter of a tank. He swapped over to the other fuel tank hoping the pickup was at the other end of that tank so even with only one eighth of a tank of fuel there he hoped it would be sucking diesel not air. It started but died at idle so Glen used the hand throttle (so lucky we have it) to rev the engine, left foot on the clutch and right foot holding the brake until the engine could take us forward. It started and kept going and Julie said to drive - she'd walk up. Glen went 50m up the badly rutted road to the next erosion mound and waited for Julie with the vehicle fairly level. He jumped out to watch her scramble up the track and she was practically panting when she got to the Fun Truck. It's much steeper than the photo looks. We drove to the top of the track with a bit of hand throttle on, just to be sure we wouldn't stall. The 80 made it easily. With the lack of fuel we had to head back to town rather than go on to the next lookout.
We drove through Gumbaynggir State Conservation Area and Mistake State Forest (no, not making it up) to Scotts Head where we had lunch then a swim at the beach followed by the obligatory cold outdoor shower. The following day we checked out of Nambucca Heads and explored a bit more of the area. Although first stop was the post office to post the rest of our Christmas Cards where there was a anchor with a plaque stating that this clock was installed by the Rotary Club to commemorate Roley Graham. Maybe it's a sundial… I guess something happened to it since 1973 and they haven't changed the sign. Amused we went to the lookout at Crescent Head where the stunning views were shared with a number of baby magpies who hung around begging for food. That afternoon we ticked another top 101 beach from our edition of the book. Dunbogan Beach had very friendly flies and the long wide beach was devoid of people. There are so many places around this country where you can feel you are miles from the nearest person.
Our next stop was Forster/Tuncurry with more rain forecast. We had dinner with Paul and Tracey Cook and their children Jennifer and Andrew. Glen used to umpire with Paul in Sydney many years ago and they lost touch until Glen saw a comment from Tracey on the Love Your Sister Facebook page and contacted her. We had a lovely night and will be back to spend bit more time with them and hopefully hit a few tracks. Paul has been four wheel driving and camping for many years as well as being a pretty fair mechanic so it would be great to explore the tracks around here that he knows so well. With drizzle the next day we couldn't do the lookouts Paul and Tracey recommended so we went for a bit of a walk along Wallis Lake, next to the caravan park we were staying in. Pelicans must have sensitive beaks because they were all sitting in the rain with their heads turned around 180 degrees so their beak could be covered by their wings. We also went to the movies and tried to get a Chinese meal but just as we got there we were told that the chef was being sent home sick.
Leaving the twin cities we made our way (with a wet camper again! Four wet packups in a year so we really can't complain) to Seal Rocks. On a nice day this would be a fantastic place to stay. Really a top 101 beach because it was in the book. That night we were staying with Glen's sister Lynette and her husband Rick at Toukley where they back onto the golf course staggering distance from the club house. Rick even has a remote control garage door so he can drive his golf cart straight up to the first tee! We walked up to the club for dinner. Being a Friday night there was a meat raffle. We ended up with a Mega Meat Tray and a ham while Lyn and Rick took home a leg of lamb and a turkey! We drank way too much and after spending the night in a real bed overlooking the golf course Julie woke a little second hand. Rick cooked up a feast of bacon and eggs for breakfast and Lyn took us on a guided golf cart tour of the course. They have a lovely spot to live and play since they are all excellent golfers and have their name in gold leaf on the boards in the club house. We said our good byes and checked out a café that had been recommended to us. The Ark Café did not disappoint and the beach near it was a lovely place for families.
Heading south we called in on our friends from the road, Sandy, Simone, Ruby and Daisy. Due to having to change tenants in their house they couldn't go home and will spend the next 6 months in the van at Simone's parents place. Poor Ruby had even been at school for the last week of the year. At least the last week isn't too hard to take and she renewed her friendships for next year. We spend a lovely afternoon in and by the pool and ended up staying for pizza dinner with them. Thanks guys.
That night we stayed in a rest area next to the Brooklyn Bridge as we were planning on surprising Glen's family at the Hanson Christmas Party. Usually it's at Bents Basin and we'd planned to stay there and wander over (we said we wouldn't be back in time) but with it being at David and Belinda's we had to reassess. We arrived at the party in time for lunch and we did surprise most, although a couple had thought we'd turn up as they assumed we were so close, despite a self-imposed Facebook location ban over the past week. Julie got to meet Glen's eldest niece, Karen, for the first time and we got to remind Eli we exist. Leaving the family we stopped at Tomerong State Forest for the night then moved onto Oaky Beach where we intend to spend some time free camping between new year and our return to school. We watched a Low Range DVD we'd picked up ages ago and found that we were in the background.
On the 20th December we pulled back into home as planned - the only date planned apart from when we booked transport.
Everything was pretty much as expected. The inside fish had all died but the outside ones had bred prolifically. The gardens we planted before we left had failed to thrive and the house needed a damn good spring clean. We were home and needed to prepare for Christmas. Glen posted our totals on the Everything Camping and Caravan Facebook page and got 2300 likes and in the order of 150 comments. They all liked the platypus video… and the most common question was how much did fuel cost. (we estimate about $13k)
From Glen's Facebook post to family and friends here's the trip summary in case you missed it.
Today we will be home five days short of a year since we left to explore our country. We drove 50,000km and spent $3277.50 on accommodation, $1309.05 on lattes and hundreds on ice coffee milk. We did the lap in the direction some say is the wrong way around but leaving at Christmas clockwise is the smart way to go. We saw tassie devils, billies, quolls, crocodiles, sea snakes and killer whales and swam with dolphins, seals, sharks, turtles and whale sharks. We stood at the tip, the Bight, and camped on a sand dune overlooking Uluru. We swam in oceans, rivers, creeks, dams and gorges and even held the Melbourne Cup in outback Queensland. We drove tracks where we didn't see anyone for days and main roads where you couldn't move for traffic. We only packed up wet canvas 4 times (once in the first 11 months and 3 times in the last month). We have gigabytes of photos and thousands of memories of the places we've been, the things we have done and the people we have met. We're so glad we took a year off to do this.
Accommodation: $3235.50 (6 days of caravan parks recently blows out the total)
Eventually it was time to move on and we went to Kawana Island near Mooloolaba to visit with Julie's friend Vita, who almost became her sister in law, and that was near enough for Julie to say she is her sister in law. We got to sleep in a real bed (thanks Abby for giving up your bed for us and sleeping on the fold out bed).
The night we arrived Vita had organised a feast and Vita's daughter Samantha and her husband Davin came over with their boxer, Harken.
In the morning we went for a walk with Vita along the canal and over the bridge for a swim at the beach. It was here a seed was planted in Glen's head that they needed body boards as the waves were pretty hard to catch. After a shower we went with Vita, Abby and Samantha up the mountains to Maleny where Glen had coffee and gelato at Colin James Ice Cream. They weigh the coffee there. The river that runs through town (supposedly) has platypus but we didn't see any. What we did see was lots of water dragons of varying sizes as wee crossed the river to check out the markets. Our next stop was Montville which easily rivals Eimeo Hotel as the best view in Australia. We missed the lunch service so had cake and coffee with an amazing backdrop. That night we had roadkill (flat) chicken and lots of wine.
A school day for Abby the next day so we started with coffee at Vita's new work where she was to start later in the week and when she turned off to take Abby to school we drove up the coast and had a swim at Coolum Beach. Here the waves were easy to catch and a backpacker wanted to know how Glen caught waves as he was impressed that Glen flew past him while he struggled to be carried more than a few metres. At Noosa we went for a walk through the National Park to the practically deserted Tea Tree Bay beach where the waves were again hard to catch. Glen had been hanging out for waves all the way down the coast as we haven't had any since mid-way up Western Australia due to the reefs - and he hasn't had a go at kite surfing which looks exciting and is popular in the areas protected from the swell. It was during our walk through the shops at Noosa that the seed of an idea germinated when Glen saw how cheap a body board could be. Who cares if he rarely uses it?
The following day we jumped in the car to drive 100km to Brisbane to see Glen's daughter Brooke play softball. We hadn't seen her for 11 months so it was nice of the navy to send her (almost) to us. We watched her play 2 games then drove back to Mooloolaba that night. We got back a little late to do anything so had a quiet night with a couple of drinks.
On the Wednesday we attended a presentation for Classic Holidays in the morning and won a weeks holiday for $199 then drove to Brisbane to watch Brooke in the afternoon. She was off for most of the game so we only got to see one at bat and an innings at third before lightning stopped play. It pelted down and Julie got soaked on her way to the car. Back at Vita's we went out for Thai food and had a good night with Vita, Samantha and Abby. More wine :0 Brooke got picked to play in the ADF v Brisbane Reps game on the Saturday.
Brooke's birthday was the next day and we would have loved to spend time with her but she was working playing softball and her time wasn't her own. Glen had a guy come to put on the new gas struts on the trailer At 1400N (140kg) to compress them and the heavy floor of the camper to struggle with it wasn't worth the risk doing it ourselves. Turns out Glen had to use the high lift jack to compress the struts as the guy couldn't do it with his equipment. He did have a tool to hold it compressed but that scratched the paint off the strut… bugger than reminds me I have to touch up the paint so it doesn't rust… After a swim in Vita's pool we went out to the shops and bought a couple of boogie boards! before going out that night for fish and chips in Mooloolaba. Vita's son, Andrew, who went to Moorebank High came for a visit that evening. Early the next morning we set off for Brisbane once again to watch Brooke play. Brooke's safe hands at first made a few outs but the rep players were all so good and after an hour the mercy rule was applied. They all had a good time and softball was the winner anyway :)
We left Brooke with her colleagues and went back to Vita's and introduced the family to the joys of a K-Mart run. Julie set the $2 challenge and Abby embraced the concept. Vita was slow to start but ended up scooping the pool with a number of rounds by having the item voted as best. A fun afternoon where, while many were left behind, a few bargains were acquired as being must haves. It's amazing how you didn't even know you needed it before it was for sale in K-Mart for $2. Samantha actually found things she really needed for more than $2 and came home with three stools for her kitchen.
The next morning we got up relatively early (bloody early for us and did you realise Qld hasn't got daylight saving and it's light before 5am so we wake up that time but thankfully fall asleep again?) and went to the beach to try out the new boogie boards! Julie did pretty well but Glen still needs some practice. We met Vita and family for coffee before stocking up at the shops. Vita was home from work when we got back so we hitched up the camper and said our goodbyes and headed off. We had a great time and stayed much longer than we had originally planned. Our camp that night was at Beenleigh. In the morning we decided to duck into Beenleigh shopping centre which is next door to the free camp as we forgot to buy a couple of buckets for the oil change when we were at the shops the day before. STUPIDLY they have height restriction bars over their acres of open air parking. Why would a place so close to a free camp exclude the grey nomads and their caravans and 4wd owners from their car parks? Surely that's a lot of their business.
Driving down the coast with no real plan as usual we decided to detour to Springbrook as the sign indicated they have waterfalls. Julie is a bit partial to waterfalls after a bushwalk down waterfall way early in our courting… Waterfalls were why we bought a 4WD after the "loved that car but zero ground clearance" Peugeot couldn't cross a creek on our way to see Tianjara Falls via the Wandandian Road but I digress… We drove up into the mountains and found the Springbrook area to be beautiful. There are steep drops giving rise to a number of waterfalls and stunning lookouts with views to the coast and the incredulously tall buildings perched by the sea. One lookout is called "Best of All Lookout" and that's a pretty big call when close by is Wunburra Lookout, Canyon Lookout, Hardy's Lookout and Purling Brook which Glen liked best. Stopping at the old school reveals a stump of a 1000 year old tree cut down by hand in a morning by 2 guys as it was too close to the school built just a year before. Incredibly fit guys but no thought from the school builders who could have moved the school 50m and this 1000 year old tree would be alive today. They were loggers not environmentalists and in most areas of the country our only surviving old trees are the ones deemed to imperfect to log. Interestingly the Queensland Secretary of Forests in the early 1900s purposely set aside vast tracts of land to remain untouched for the following generations of children. Rainbow and Twin Falls were flowing and picturesque but from pictures in flood they can be impressive too. Goomoolahra Falls has the reputation as the wettest picnic area in the country with 3m of rainfall annually. It was warm and sunny while we were there but we had a thunderstorm that night while camped at nearby Mount Nimmel Lodge.
It was at Mount Nimmel that we packed up wet for only the third time in this year of camping. Heading back to the coast we dropped in to Elephant Rock at Currumbin Beach. It was blowing a gale! We sheltered in the surf club café for coffee and cake as the wind howled at the windows and sand blew down the beach. On top of Elephant Rock the wind was making the uprights in the aluminium railing vibrate like guitar strings and the resonant sound increased with each strong gust. Back in NSW now and following our Top 101 Beaches book our next stop was Norries Head. From the headland the water looked very inviting so we walked down to the beach. As we stood in the water two fighter jets flew low and fast past the headland. The planes would have passed about 20m away from where we stood just 10 minutes before. Bugger, that would have been fantastic! Rainbow Bay Beach was next on the agenda before free camping at Yelgun. The next day we went to Brunswick Heads and visited the bakery on the advice of fellow campers, surfed at the beach then swam in the river where the water was crystal clear BUT the water is noticeably cooler now as we head south even allowing for the rain and wind. Glen would like to stay here in the future and we almost doubled back to stay here but the caravan parks were expensive, not that nice and not on the beach. :(
In Byron Bay we dropped in to Byron Music to see ex Moorebank teacher, Nick Sergi. In spite of him being an inspiring teacher with accolades from staff and students he gave it up and bought a music shop in Byron Bay. Pleasingly the sea change was fantastic for him and he hasn't looked back! The business has grown, he has added a music school and even has a recording studio. Also way cool is the company car - a kombi van! We were also fortunate enough to meet Nick's lovely wife and child while we were there. He seems to be living the dream too, it's just his dream doesn't have a camper trailer attached.
After checking out Suffolk Park beach we drove through to Ballina and had dinner in the pub as it was raining. On our way to the rest area we photographed the giant prawn, which is pretty much obligatory.
Oil change the following morning, luckily it had stopped raining and we were camped on bitumen and didn't have any puddles to contend with.
With rain and thunderstorms predicted for the next few days we decided to hole up in a caravan park with the awning up. But where? Glen wanted to stop at Brunswick Heads but we ended up at Evans Heads. Glen's uncle used to run the caravan park there in the late 60s. Glen could have sworn the river was the other side of the park. It's nothing like what he remembered (assuming we've got the right park as there is only one in town) but the many years since that one day he spent there must have clouded his memory - either that or the quantity of alcohol we've consumed. We spent the afternoon at the beach and that evening we got hammered with a thunderstorm which dumped huge quantities of water on the roof and under it with the wind. We battened down the hatches and, after offering help to fellow campers who's tarp had collapsed, retreated inside where we stayed dry. It was dry the next day and the cloud had disappeared by lunch time. We did the lookout, had coffee and bought some meat. We swam and relaxed. We slept and walked and we surfed the waves on our boogie boards. We even did some baking in the oven in the camp kitchen. Brownies and the best banana cake ever! Being a North Coast Holiday Park we decided to actually plan the next few days as our 7th night would be free if we stayed in one of their parks. Nambucca Heads and Forster here we come! Free camps are few and far between here if you like to stay at a beach.
Sunday we packed up and left Evans Heads. On our drive down the coast we stopped in at Iluka. Nice little town and a fish shop with genuine 1970s prices! $5.50 for fish and chips!
We are currently camped at the Headlands Caravan Park at Nambucca Heads in a lovely shaded spot. It's a fair walk down the hill to the beach but it's a lovely quiet park, well maintained with lots of gardens and grass. No idea why this isn't packed as the park at Evans Head was filling up more and more when we stayed. Fresh prawns and steak for dinner after a walk along the V Wall this afternoon. The V Wall is the breakwater but it is covered in art work from passers-by. Had to put a jumper on at night… We are getting too far south! :(
Arriving at Finch Hatton township we turned off toward the gorge not really knowing what to expect. When we got there we had to turn the camper in the bus turn area and park well down the road with about an 800m walk to the end of the road where the walking track begins. There were quite a few cars. We found from the information board that the walk in to the Araluen Cascades was a few km and the track to the Wheel of Fire was even longer - and we were in thongs expecting a stroll. All the people we passed in the first 400m were in shoes or walking boots. Luckily even though parts were a bit steep and had Julie puffing it was a well formed track and easily done in thongs. At the track junction we decided to visit Araluen Cascades first. We found lots of people there but it wasn't crowded. Many were jumping from the rocks into the water. Impressively one guy even did one of those lay out 360 degree flips to land feet first from a tree branch about 15m above the water. The water was cooler than we've been used to but still quite comfortable. A few locals thought it was cold. After a while we left but didn't go on to the Wheel of Fire.
Driving further down the coast we decided to camp near Ilbilbie at a place called Notch Point. It had been recommended to us by Larry, a guy we met at Mareeba. On driving in Julie chatted to a couple of guys who had been there for weeks and got the lay of the land. They were looking at a tawny frogmouth on a nest. The nest was in a horizontal fork about 2m above the ground. The mother was sitting in the nest surrounded by 3 chicks of varying ages. The male was sitting on a nearby branch. All the birds including the chicks were pretending to be sticks and you could get close without appearing to disturb them. Over the next couple of days Julie got some great shots. We set up camp next to where the water would be because at low tide the water was miles away. The guys assured Julie the area was croc free, but the midgies were an issue and we were visited by the cows at sunset. What they said about the midgies turned out to be true but the croc part was refuted by a guy who'd been there for months and had been going there for years. Apparently a 14 footer used to raid crab pots at the mangroves 50m from us. He said it lived at the other boat ramp a km or so up but he hadn't seen it, only heard it. We explored the point, going to where the ocean meets the point and saw birds that fly in flocks around the rocks where they were perched en mass. Even though we got a good photo of the birds identification has eluded us. That night was the "super moon" and the clouds parted long enough to enable us to get a photo with the iPhone through the binoculars.
The next day we moved on to Rockhampton and found out that the air con pulley that fell of, being the harmonic balancer, was apparently a big deal. Luckily a place just across the road from the shopping centre we were at could do it that afternoon at just over $900. Picked up the Fun Truck and they told us that they had trouble lining the belts up again. We drove out of town, getting water and having a shower on the way, and free camped near the Byfield State Forest turn off. The next day we drove to Upper Stoney Creek and were disappointed so we didn't swim there and drove further. We were heading to 5 Rocks and the track became sandy. We took the opportunity to park the trailer on the side of the track when we aired down with the sign warning us to radio on channel 40 that we were heading up Big Sandy. We had no idea what Big Sandy was but soon discovered it was about a 1km climb up a sand hill. We had to air down further because the sand was soft. There was no way we would have gotten the trailer up there but without it we got up without too much trouble. In some sections of the track after Big Sandy the track had wooden slats chained together to stabilise the dune and allow easier access. At the track junction we went to Stockyard Point instead of 5 Rocks Campground and were rewarded with a spectacular view. There were probably 40 houses in the town of Stockyard Point and their only road access is 4wd through some beautiful forest. As time was getting away from us we skipped 5 Rocks and Nine Mile Beach entirely and went back down Big Sandy to pick up the trailer and head out to camp. Just before dusk we decided to stop and Water Park Creek Campground (no, not really a water park, the creek goes out to Water Park Point at the far end of Nine Mile Beach and there's no water park there either). There we saw Wompoo Fruit doves and spent a peaceful night under the stars and the super moon and spotted a brush tailed phascogale.
We weren't happy with the alignment of the AC fanbelt so we went back to Highway Auto to get it done properly. The owner wasn't happy and tried to put us off several times but after spending over $900 we weren't being fobbed off. In the end the guy we dealt with first put it the way Glen wanted and it lined up pretty close to perfect, much better than the 15mm out of alignment they had it. That done we explored the quay area for lunch before getting the gas leak we recently discovered on the camper repaired and leaving town. Around dusk we arrived at Agnes Waters and had a look at the beach before going to the cheap camp nearby at Workmens Beach. It was full but we were approached by the ranger who allowed us to camp in the day use area overnight. The following day we went for a drive and turned down a track which lead us to a car park and a walk to Springs Beach where the surf was terrible and all the surf schools were just sitting on the beach waiting. Good for a swim though. After a rinse off in the carpark we drove back out to the road and wandered along the Reedy Creek Reserve Paperbark Forest Walk. Highlights were the raised stepping stones and a climbing maidenhair fern. Our next stop was 1770 - the only town name with no letters in it - for lunch and a swim before driving towards Bundaberg where we stopped at a free camp at Sharon Gorge near Gin Gin for the night.
We chose to stay at a caravan park at Burnett Heads while in Bundaberg and after setting up the camper we went to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery to do the tour. Glen was richer but felt poorer when he was given tickets at the seniors discount price without even being asked. The tour was interesting and the tasting at the end was excellent - Glen fairing a little better than Julie as she was driving and gave him three quarters of her tasting vouchers. Of course we came away with a couple of bottles (not any cheaper but you can't buy the liqueurs in a bottle shop) but there are no photos inside the tour as phones and cameras and even hearing aids and pacemakers are apparently a fire risk.
During the next day we went to the beach and explored the coastal area down to Elliott Heads. After dinner we went to the Mon Repos Turtle Discovery where we had to arrive at 6:45pm for a 7pm start. After an intro talk we were assigned our groups and we set about the task of waiting. After a bit of a shop for souvenirs and coffee and a short video and more of a wait we were called to the boardwalk where we expected to go to the beach but the turtle turned tail and returned to the sea. We went back to sit down and wait. At about 10 we were called to the boardwalk again and got lucky as we were taken onto the beach. Without any lights and with the moon not risen it was very dark and we were worried we'd walk right past the turtle but soon we could see two lines running across the beach. It was plain as day so we needn't have been worried about missing it. These tracks were the false start turtle who came up and went back to the water. Further up the beach we were lead into the dune to where a flat back turtle was just completing her egg chamber. Once she started to lay torches were allowed and we could see the eggs dropping about 15 seconds apart. The volunteers and rangers scanned her for a tag and replaced her flipper tags which had been lost. The old fashioned metal tags are still required in case she comes up on a beach without a ranger with a scanner or is found dead somewhere. From the tag information we learnt that this turtle lives nearby in Morton Bay and laid here 2 years ago. Turtles that live close by breed more often as they don't need massive recovery times like a turtle that travels 4 months to their breeding ground. This was the first time she laid this season. She finished laying and started covering the egg chamber then attempted to make her way back to the water. She had chosen the top of the first dune and it was quite steep to get up. She was having trouble getting back down. The ranger guided the turtle with a light to help her find her way. We escorted her to the water and watched as she swam off.
Since flat backs are fairly rare here with only 6 females last year the nest was dug up and the eggs were counted (64) and 10 were weighed. We got to touch an egg to see how soft the shell is. Since it was a good nesting site they just put the eggs back in the same hole and reburied them. They should hatch in 2 months.
The next morning we packed up and left the caravan park but what trip to Bundaberg would be complete without a tour of the Bundaberg Ginger Beer Factory? Ok it's a virtual tour but interesting and the tastings at the end are real. It's also much cheaper as it only cost us $12.50 for the both of us. Of course we ended up buying a few bottles.
For lunch we went to the park near the free zoo and then visited the zoo. The council has done an excellent job in providing this facility free of charge to everyone.
Our next stop was past Gin Gin at Boolboonda Tunnel. Constructed in 1883-4 this 192m of unsupported tunnel through granite was all dug by hand, both ends at the same time and they met in the middle! The tunnel is home to a colony of bent wing bats who took to the air as we drove through on our way to Mount Perry, a really nice little town with a great view of the valley from the lookout. We went back the tarred road to the free camp outside Gin Gin where Glen lowered the cane toad population by 7 or 8. This has been the worse place for cane toads in Queensland which in spite of being ground zero has less cane toads than the Kimberly.
On the road the next morning we stopped for a coffee in Childers on our way out to Hervey Bay where we visited a few beaches along the way. Incredibly low prices for houses. For under $400,000 you can have a nice house next to the beach or a 4 bedroom place with a pool just a short walk or drive to the beach. We took a long walk on the shortened Urangang Pier and camped in the state forest near Poona. It rained overnight.
The following day we packed up wet for only the second time this trip. We were on the road early because we were going to Tin Can Bay to see the Australian Humpback Dolphin feeding. Australian Humpbacks are down to a population of only 80-120 animals. They live and feed in the estuary around Tin Can Bay. For $5 you can watch or for $10 you can feed the dolphins. Glen chose the former and Julie the latter. After the feeding of the dolphins it was the feeding of the humans and we had coffee and a bite to eat at the café there before going on a walk.
We drove towards Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point where we decided to camp for a day - or 3 as it turned out. We camped at MV Beagle Campground which last year made the news as a large sink hole opened up and swallowed a 4wd, caravan and camper trailer. Apparently they are still down there somewhere but the hole has filled in. We camped next to the beach with a view across to Fraser Island which is just 3km across the channel. All at $6.15 per person per night! We had a swim and set up the camper and the shower bag and that night after a relaxing hot shower we sat around the fire. Yep, it was good!
Over the next couple of days we swam, read, relaxed, went for drives and walks and rescued a sea snake. One morning Glen even paddled over to Fraser Island and brought Julie a hand full of sand.
After a relaxing breakfast we decided to pack up and move from Miowera, heading down the Bruce Highway we turned off travelling through farmland over a small creek (with a pull off road that looked like a good campsite for the night) to the Hideaway Bay Road. Our first stop was past Hideaway Bay to the end of the point at a resort called Montes for coffee and cake. It was Julie's mum's birthday, she would have been 75, so Julie was a bit sad. The view from our beachside table was superb and the weather was fantastic, although it was sure to rain on us sometime today, it always rains on us wherever we are on Julie's mum's birthday, always…
As we were leaving Julie took a fancy to the seafood pasta on the dinner menu so Glen booked us In for dinner at the same table by the beach. Julie deserved a bit of spoiling.
We decided to have a swim at Dingo Beach and spent the majority of the day there before having a short walk on Hideaway Beach and making our way to Montes for sunset and a stroll along the beach before dinner. They'd moved our table back under cover because they thought it was going to rain, but we got them to move it back out next to the beach as we were pretty sure we wouldn't get rain before dinner was finished. We had a lovely dinner, although they serve their wine in cheap pub glasses which is totally out of keeping with the quality of the flatware and the food.
On the short drive from the restaurant to the creek it began to rain. Julie's mum never fails us. We set up the camper in the dark and a light rain yet by morning the canvas was dry.
After a short drive we arrived at the Airlie Beach Markets. Got some bargains in fruit and vegetables some rosella jam and a latte but by this time, about 8:30am, Glen was baking so we made our way to The Lagoon, the free man made swim lagoon, and cooled off with a swim before wandering the town. We got some information on some tours, went away for a little while, settled on a snorkelling tour for the next day and tried to book but it was now full, so we chose another company, Ocean Rafting.
On booking in at Flametree CVP we learned of deals with Whitsunday Cruises but even with the benefit of hindsight I'm glad we went with Ocean Rafting for the inner reef. We were both going to do an introductory scuba dive and the CVP owner said it was best to dive on the outer reef. We booked our outer reef tour through the CVP and got a free transfer to Hamilton Island worth $120pp thrown in. We set up and hit the pool. Saturday evening at Flametree they have a get together to relax and raise money for charity. We arrived at 5:30 with drink and chair and the finger food started coming around and the music started. After a few wines some of the ladies got up to dance. We hadn't realised it was instead of dinner so we went back to cook while the residents partied on.
Next morning we were picked up and taken to the marina, issued with stinger suits and allocated a boat - Jammin'. We chose the Northern Tour which had 2 snorkel sites and Whitehaven Beach for lunch. At the first stop, Manta Ray Bay, Glen was first over the side and was met with wall to wall fish including some large bat fish, giant trevally and wrasse. We were in the water for almost an hour and Glen was the last one out. At 25 degrees the water was lovely. The second site was one they don't get into often as it's rare conditions are favourable. Today was perfect weather. Sunny and still with no swell. At Mackerel Bay there weren't quite as many fish but more coral and a turtle. Once we alerted everyone to where the turtle was we left them to it as we'd swum with turtles in WA and 18 people following a single turtle is better than 20. in spite of the stinger suit Julie ended up with a jellyfish sting on her neck. A bit painful and annoying but luckily not one of the bad ones. After an hour it was back aboard the boat and after a short ride we arrived at Tongue Bay for the walk up the Hill Inlet Lookout over Whitehaven Beach. Most tours came down the same way but Ocean Rafting has 3 of the 4 licences to land on Whitehaven so we walked down to the beach for a lovely lunch and swam in the clear water over the pure white sand.
While none of the day felt rushed it was soon time to go and on the way back the drivers had bit of a play over each other's wake and came close side by side. Lamingtons were served for afternoon tea and this was new to the British guys on board who had no idea the Aussie icon they had received. When we got back to the CVP we went for a drive. We drove to Shute Harbour and the dock and found where we needed to be at 7am the following day. With the inner reef being so good we couldn't wait for the outer reef.
At 7am we parked at the dock and went inside to find something more like an airport check in than a wharf. There were two airport check in counters complete with the scale and conveyors that go out through the wall. We checked in and booked our times for Hamilton Island the following day. We boarded the Seaflight which picked up more passengers at Hamilton Island and we were soon headed out to Hart Reef and the pontoon moored there - Reef World. Glen had taken his sea sick tablet but it was another perfect day with glass seas and no wind, even two hours out to sea at the Reef. On the trip out we booked in for a scuba dive and of course a helicopter flight over Heart Reef. Our first dive briefing was done as we were still travelling out and we learned the hand signals we would need. As we were pretty booked up as soon as we arrived we orientated ourselves as to where the various things were, checked out the under-water observatory then suited up and got straight in for a snorkel. The water was a pleasant 26 degrees but today we were in wetsuits rather than stinger suits because we were scuba diving later. Keeping an eye on the time we worked our way along the reef and back again enjoying the wider variety of fish and coral than we saw at the inner reef. Back at the pontoon we had to strip out of the wetsuits and dry off as all of the food was on Seaflight. Lunch was a smorgasbord with seafood, chicken and a variety of salads, fresh bread or wraps. With no time to eat our plates were covered in glad wrap, our names written on them and they were put in the fridge for us. Back on the pontoon we had a little time to kill and watched the 2-3m gropers sitting like docked submarines under the pontoon before pulling on the wet wetsuits and fronting the dive master. It was warm so none of the usual discomfort many of you associate with pulling on a wet wetsuit for that first ski after it's been outside all night from the previous afternoon of water skiing. Julie was very nervous but the instructors were very reassuring. There was one instructor to each diver and we had weight belts put on before sitting on a bench while the tanks were strapped to our backs. Obligatory photos were taken and we were then escorted down the stairs to a waist deep "pool" consisting of a floor and three walls of aluminium mesh. We were shown how to breathe and equalise the pressure in our ears then proved we were ok and not going to freak out by putting our heads under then kneeling on the bottom for a couple of minutes. That test passed the three of us were allowed to the edge where the instructor took our arm and swam us just below the surface out from under the pontoon, past the under-water observatory to the edge of the reef returning the OK sign every minute or so as we slowly descended. Julie and her instructor were in front, then the other guy and Glen was last. The tanks which were so heavy on land felt like nothing in the water and at first it wasn't much different to snorkelling but as we descended the light changed and so did what we saw. The coral wasn't as colourful but the fish were bigger. We could see under the ledges and realised what we'd been missing by floating about on the surface all these years. The feeling of air bubbles over our ears as we breathed out was a weird sensation and looking up it looked like we were such a long way down. Much deeper than the 11 foot 6 deep end at Revesby Pool where Glen and his friends would prove themselves by touching the bottom and all without the excruciating pain in the ears. Pretty soon we were joined by Taylor, the underwater photographer, and her entourage of tens of fish including a large wrasse who doesn't mind a pat as long as Taylor feeds it every now and then. With no rush to the surface for air Glen and his instructor could pause and watch the amorous advances of a cod on his intended wife and watch another fish's spots turn brighter blue as we slowly approached before it darted off to devour a smaller fish. We did four passes of the coral wall at different depths then swam back to our entry pool past the 20 or so 1m long giant trevally who were enjoying a rest in the shade of the pontoon. Julie loved it and her apprehension vanished as soon as she hit the water. You can see from the photos and the smile on her face just how much she loved the experience.
Speaking of love it was now time to see the most romantic place in all the world… OK maybe that’s a stretch but it was almost time for our helicopter joy flight over heart reef. Unlike Horizontal Falls and on the Outback Floatplane Experience the helipad wasn't attached to the main pontoon so it was a short boat ride to another pontoon. We'd been talking to two sisters on the boat ride out in the morning and they were on our helicopter flight. Mary wasn't keen to do this but was making the effort however she didn't want the front seat offered to them. We generously offered to swap so they could sit in the back seat and she wouldn't even have to endure a window seat. We ended up in the front with the pilot and a clear view all around. I know, the sacrifices you make so others are comfortable! Maybe it truly is lucky to be pooped on by a bird as earlier in the day Julie got christened by a gull. The other couple on our flight wanted the front seat too but they were already seated so it was offered to us.
We were told by the pilot that the Heart Reef was a little smaller than most people expect, and it did seem small from the air but the manta ray swimming close by was just a speck in comparison so we aren't sure how big it really is. Suffice to say it was big enough to see and we were stoked to see it in real life after all the pictures we've seen of it over the last few years. Our deckie from Ocean Rafting told us that Whitehaven Beach is the second most photographed spot in the country behind Sydney Harbour yet when Julie's photos of Whitehaven hit Facebook few had even seen it before or at least few recognised it. Perhaps it's partly because it looks slightly different after every tide and partly because when you get down to it it's a white beach that could be anywhere. It's not instantly recognisable like Wineglass Bay in Tassie or indeed Heart Reef or the Harbour Bridge. Heart Reef may not get the visitors to make it the most photographed but everyone recognises it. Wonder how many knew it is just a 2 hour boat and 5 minute helicopter ride from Port of Airlie… We could not have asked for any better. We had perfect weather with blue sky and no wind and we had the uninterrupted view from the front seat. Julie rates it as one of the great moments of the trip but Glen isn't asking where the kiss from Outback Wrangler Matt Wright fits in… Postscript - the young lady in the front of the helicopter when he flew in to kiss Julie we have recently seen in a "popular women's magazine" as being Matt's fiancée. Our congratulations to them both.
Anyway back to our highlight day… Our next activity was to catch the last semi-submersible boat tour of the day. Basically it's a glass bottom boat on steroids and while every other trip it has done that day averaged 30 passengers we had 6. I'm not sure how it is propelled or steered so accurately but it makes its way along the reef wall from the snorkel limit for about 100m. It is able to skim centimetres from the coral and we have the benefit of a guide telling us what we are seeing. Julie spotted the one and only turtle they'd seen all day. Back at the pontoon it was straight up the gangplank back onto Seaflight for the trip back to Airlie, leaving only the 9 doing the reef sleep and crew on the pontoon - (we are so doing the reef sleep next time, they spend two days and one night on the pontoon and the weather for those two days was as perfect as you could get, and yes there will be a next time, family in tow we hope). We were given our lunches and soon the photos of the day were being shown on the screens. Prices were great if there were 5 of you but tended to be on the expensive side if you just wanted one or two shots, still we'd paid for the trip, scuba and helicopter so we could hardly quibble and bought 5 photos which came with 100 general reef shots which admittedly we'll probably never look at again. You can imagine the trip back in the afternoon past some of the Whitsunday islands with no wind and smooth seas and then they served muffins! To Glen this was bliss.
That evening on returning to the dock we decided to go for a drive and ended up at The Lagoon. We swam around for a while and asked the lifeguard what time it was open till. She said "I know you, you teach at Moorebank" Yep, Glen had run into an ex Moorebank student, Jessica Simmonds. Of course he couldn't place her at the time and it came to him later. She'd been there for 3 years and we'd come across her on her first shift as lifeguard at The Lagoon. Her day job is in IGA. Remarkably brave these young people who settle thousands of kilometres from their family. You have to admire them.
The next day it was back to the marina and we boarded a boat for Hamilton Island which picked up and set down at Daydream island on the way. Arriving at Hamilton we explored the shops at the port including the artist at the far end of the beach which had some absolutely incredible stuff, much of it in cast marble - you can buy instructional DVDs of the technique. One thing you notice on Hamilton Island is the golf carts. There are hundreds. We chose the free shuttle bus to get around and our first stop was One Tree Hill with it's views of the surrounding islands and it overlooks the Resort area. That's where we went next and pulled up a couple of deck chairs by the pool. It was evident pretty quickly that this is the bogan island, albeit rich bogans but bogans none the less. Of course not all were bogans but there were enough to keep us entertained. There were a nice family where the brothers, one wearing VFL shorts as swimmers were chucking a wahoo footy around. Glen wanted to join them.. They were there with mum, dad and sister. The group next to us were "destination wedding" where it appeared the brother in law was going to absolutely cop it from his wife later. Their child was tired, we assume they'd already had to check out of their room and he went off with his mates leaving wife and child even when asked not to. The groom played with the kid and helped out the mum. Later when the dad returned we were surprised the pool didn't turn into an ice rink - in our humble opinion he deserved it.. The most intriguing group we would pick as being from Punchbowl. A single girl arrived first dropped her towel and revealed her bikini bottoms were inside out. You'd just love to tell her but how could we? No worries she spies her friends and over come a couple, let's call them Lebanese Christian as that's probably the closest stereotype. He with his board short legs tucked up to stubby length jumps in the pool and heads for the pool bar making a loud show of getting them a drink. She is asked by bikini girl to put sunscreen on her back - phew she'll get told now, but no she vaguely rubs a bit of sunscreen on and doesn't notice a 100mm white tag flying out on the back of a black bikini bottom! Seriously? It appears the couple are still smashed from the night before and are continuing. He sits on the side of the pool drinking and chatting to bikini girl as his girlfriend stands in the pool drinking. Bikini girl has only just met them by the sound of his conversation, which everyone could hear. He then tells his girlfriend to jump out and give him the bag. An elderly couple take pity on the girl and give him the bag from which he takes cigarettes and lights up under the no smoking in the pool area sign. Finishing his cigarette he leaves the butt in the dregs of his drink on the very edge of the pool and they leave a towel on their deck chair to reserve their spot. As the elderly couple leave the gentleman picks up the glass with the floating butt and puts it on Neanderthal's deck chair. We then went for a walk along Catseye Beach and unfortunately missed the trio's return. Wonder what he made of the glass on his seat? I hope it wasn't picked up before he saw it. Bikini girl wasn't drinking but the couple were downing cocktails standing in the water with him talking loudly the whole time. At one stage he makes a big show of taking his credit card to the bar to get more drinks, spends ages trying to impress the barman then comes back with his own drink and apologises for forgetting to get a drink for her. She goes to bar while he chats to bikini girl. Along come 5 early 20s people of Indian appearance and they don goggles. All 5 stand in the chest deep water and four of them then seem to try to touch the bottom with their hands while the skinny guy wearing glasses and holding his phone in a plastic pouch takes video of the attempts. One girl finally does a passable duck dive and tries to teach the others who continue to basically splash on top of the water. Really nice watching them have such a good time with lots of splashing and laughing. At this point balding old guy and his younger companion get back into the pool for a final swim before they catch the boat back to the mainland. He begins a game of tip. Glen actually beat Julie this time.
We walked the short walk over the hill to the dock and bought an ice cream - they need a retail assistant… there are worse places to work… With time to spare we went into Trader Joes and found prices very high. Even the newspapers and magazines had a 50c island markup. As we sailed back to Airlie it was pretty clear to us we aren't resort people as even with people watching the day was pretty boring.
We'd stayed an extra day at Flametree CVP because of our free trip to Hamilton and much to Glen's surprise it was Wednesday and the mozzies and midgies were being fogged this morning. Glen could have sworn it was Thursday so the fogging would have been done yesterday. Between ducking the clouds of pesticide we had breakfast and packed up then restocked on the way out of town headed for Cedar Falls for lunch then Cape Hillsborough. Glen's faith in the GPS took another beating as since it was getting late we decided to check out the free camp first. The GPS said Cape Hillsborough was just 1.5km down the road. Turns out the road was a 4WD track with big wash outs and ended on a beach. No worries we'll put it in 4WD. The end of the beach was miles from the National Park we thought we were going to so after getting stuck we let the tyres down a bit and were able to get off the beach, back up the track and onto the road out to the national park. There was supposed to be kangaroo feeding on the beach but we either missed it or it didn't happen so after checking out the rest of the beach and the CVP we had dinner in the park then headed back to set up camp in the dark.
The next day it was into Mackay and we got the long awaited second season of Outlander from JB HiFi and had a swim at the Blue Lagoon before having a drink at the Eimio Hotel overlooking the beach and ticking it off from our Top 101 Beaches book. We intended to spend the night at Eungella National Park. The drive from the valley floor is 4km of steep climb and once again the car got so hot we had to stop half way up. While trying to cool the car we lifted the bonnet and found that the air con belt was off. After all the money we spent getting it fixed at Mareeba! Since it was now dark we went to the Broken River campground as it was the most accessible. We saw 3 or 4 fireflies, much bigger than the one Glen saw at Wallaman Falls. That night there was a spectacular and prolonged lightning storm which dropped a little rain but it was soon over. Camped right next to the river next morning we could see a platypus from our campsite. After breakfast we went for a walk along some of the trails and ended up seeing lots of turtles and a few birds we hadn't seen before. We came across a large pool in the river and saw a platypus there so we were able to watch it feeding for 40 minutes or so, getting some great shots, before Glen got hungry and we went back for lunch. Glen checked the car and found the driving pulley for the air con had come off -later identified as the harmonic balancer. It seemed to be stuck on with rubber. A bit more platypus watching in the afternoon then some Outlander watching in the evening. Only one firefly tonight. Spent a fairly quiet day around camp catching up the next day and we had a little bit of rain around lunch. Again only the single firefly that night.
Packed up the next day and explored the area and the campsite only accessible by 4wd which looked great. If we'd come in the daylight we would have stopped there, but speaking to campers they hadn't seen a single platypus and we would have missed out on that special experience. The Sky Window Lookout is so high and looks out over a flat valley floor. Very impressive.
We drove down the mountain towards Finch Hatton Gorge.
After putting up the camper in the dark and the rain in Townsville's Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park we went out immediately to see some sights. The Strand was close by so we did mainies in the 80 (translation: we drove up and down the main street in our car) before deciding on the pub for dinner. Being a wet Sunday night there were a few people about and it took us a while to find a parking spot. Good meal, good beer and we were soon headed home.
We woke to our first morning in Townsville and it was warm and sunny. Luckily about the sunny part as we have no way to charge the camper off 240V so we were relying on solar panels. We needed to do some washing but once that was on the line we set off exploring the town Glen spent a weekend in a couple of years ago thanks to the AFL. Ever since then Glen and Ashley have been unable to mention Townsville or Magnetic Island to Julie. Not for much longer as soon Julie would be on Magnetic Island and all will be forgiven!
First stop was the lookout at Castle Hill. It's only 265m high but because everything is so flat you get an excellent view of the city and the island just 7km off shore. It was certainly easier driving up than walking as Glen had done last time. Back to The Strand and lunch (prawns and fresh bread rolls by the water) a walk along the boardwalk, ticking off another Top 101 Beach on the way to Juliette's Gelato and Coffee. We enjoyed 2 scoops each and a latte overlooking the ocean, Magnetic Island and a turtle in the water. Because of the stingers lots of towns have man made lagoons to swim in and Townsville is no exception. We went for a walk around what they call the Rock Pool. We found a lost ball in the water…thank you we'll have that to play with and of course Glen had a go on the flying fox and spinning pole in the kids playground then we played handball with our new toy, Julie winning every game. We even played with the ball on the long walk back to the car. On the way back to the CVP Glen stopped the car and had another climb on the kids playground. At the CVP we hit the pool, which we had to ourselves, a BBQ dinner then a movie on the computer rounded off a great day.
MI Day dawned sunny and bright and we packed light and headed for the wharf. Just enough time for a coffee to be made and we took it up to the fly bridge for the 20min trip to Magnetic Island. We chose the bus ticket with our ferry ticket rather than the topless hire car and when we arrived jumped on the bus headed west for a 10 minute stop over at Picnic Bay. At the advice of a local our next stop was the opposite end of the island at Horseshoe Bay because it was supposedly the best place for lunch options and the bus also has a lunch break so we were going to be stranded wherever we went for an hour and a half. We went for a swim at the beach and they were getting ready to put out the stinger nets. After our swim in murky thigh deep water we went across the road to check out this variety of choices for lunch. Somebody forgot to tell the local that Tuesday is when almost every eatery in Horseshoe Bay is closed. Pub it is then…
After lunch we went back to our towels at the beach but they were winching the nets in place so while we waited we were chatting to a lady from a boat moored in the bay. 7 years sailing around, tiny fuel bill due to sail and no caravan park fees. Too bad Glen gets sea sick. She told us about 3 days in 100km/h wind and 25m seas and that was pretty much it. The bus came so we caught it to Alma Bay. Could have spent all day in the water here. Clean, warm and a small wave. All too soon it was time to head back. What a great day we had.
We left Townsville the next day headed inland. Our first stop was the lookout at Mount Stuart. Stupidly Glen started the 10km climb with the air conditioner on and the car got really hot - 103 degrees C. We don't know if the viscous hub fan is working properly as sitting still with the engine revving lightly didn't cool it at all. We needed to lift the bonnet as well and then it cooled quickly. We continued up the tared road marvelling at the downhill mountain bike tracks on either side of the road. As a council maintained facility it must be a legal nightmare as the steepness, jumps and sheer drop offs had us in awe of anyone who could ride it. From the top it was an amazing view.
Driving further along the Flinders Highway we stopped at a rest area for lunch and discovered a 1 cent piece from 1967 that someone had obviously found on the ground there. It surprises Glen when we come cross things on the ground that have been there for years. It's not that unusual to come across the old ring pulls from cans, some even with the tab still attached to the ring part. All the things that just got thrown away over the years that will be there still long after we are dead and buried. Camped at a free camp called Macrossan Park outside Charters Towers. The council roadside rest areas seem to be more important for towns now and while this one was fairly old (and according to an ex-local who is now on the road but was camped there is no longer maintained as it once was with extensive mown grass by the river. It's just weeds and toilet paper down there now so travellers too lazy to do the right thing, even though there is a toilet and showers provided, are partly responsible) and set up for travellers who didn't make it into town today's overnight rest areas are right next to the town as they know people who aren't spending big on accommodation spend more in the town and the town survives. Babinda is a case in point. There is an excellent free camp right on the highway at the town turn off. $4 coin in the slot hot showers, choice of grass or tar to set up on, the river is great for a swim.
so lots of people every night. Since you need to drive through town to go to their only attraction, Babinda Boulders, many would stop and spend money on something in town. Even if they don't go to the Boulders at least they got them to stop at the turn off to the town. It's only a short walk to the pub too. Many of these also have fire places or free electric barbeques and power points available. Anyway back to our immediate travels…
We stopped in Charters Towers for a coffee and a wee. Impressively restored old buildings including Target Country in the old Stan Pollard Mercer and Draper building with it's lead light walk around display cabinets out front and the ornate awning with skylights. Stan obviously wasn't short of a quid as that was only one of Stan's businesses. His name appeared all over the place around town. On our way out of town we passed a sign for windscreen repairs and not 100m further down the road a council lawn mower threw a rock and we ended up with a large chip in our windscreen. All the kilometres we've travelled on dirt and not an issue then we do one on the tar. Turned back but the windscreen place couldn't repair it (chip too big) and didn't have our windscreen in stock.
On the way to Winton we detoured to Porcupine Gorge and spent the night there then in the morning Glen flew the drone into the gorge before we walked it and had a swim at the bottom. There were some pretty big fish there. Into Winton that afternoon and camped at a free camp called Long Waterhole. Glen changed the oil and topped up the grease on the trailer bearings. The flies were pretty bad until sunset but at night there were millions of little green bugs attracted to our light. Didn't matter if it was white, yellow, red, green, or citronella candle light they flocked to it and we ended up retreating inside pretty early - some bugs made it inside with us. Next morning the flies relieved the green bugs by reporting for their shift at sunrise so we could be bothered by bugs continuously.
As we were doing the dinosaur stampede tracks and it was an hour and a half each way down the road we were on we were in two minds about whether to stay another night but ended up packing up and doing a lap of the town before heading out. The Lark Quarry Conservation Park has fossilised tracks of over 300 dinosaurs. The tracks were all made within a few minutes and show two species of small dinosaur trying to escape from one large dinosaur. Incredible to see these tracks from a moment in time some 95 million years before. Had a swim in a dam on the way back then camped by the road between Winton and Longreach. The night bugs there were the little green bugs from last night and a larger grey beetle kind of thing. They were everywhere. You couldn't even use the toilet the next day because they were everywhere in there. They were all over the bowl and where the water flushes into the urinal they were caked 2 cm deep on top of each other in a 15cm triangle. It was gross.
Into Longreach and we were wondering what all the chairs were doing lined up outside the railway station as we drove to the Qantas Founders Museum. Inside we had a latte as we decided what level of tour we would do. Deciding on the guided tour of the 707 (which was their first 707 and once ferried Michael Jackson) and the 747 that they have parked there as well as the self-guided museum tour. Going through the planes actually turned out to be really interesting and informative and I think next time we fly will be a bit more clued up about the aircraft and even know what arm and cross check the doors actually means. We also found out why the chairs were out - after 100 years of operation they were finally officially opening the railway station. Also that afternoon at 3 they were having a street parade and a market. After lunch we lined up with the 80 or so people lining the main street to watch half a dozen groups walk or drive down the street. Some were throwing lollies to the people. Far more lollies than people. Not much at the markets either. Spent the night at the Lions Park free camp near town and spent most of the next day at the pool swimming, catching up on some writing and had a hot shower before placing a few bets for tomorrow's Melbourne Cup and setting out for Barcaldine and the Tree of Knowledge. Sadly we hit a roo at dusk. Broke a blinker on the bullbar but the roo died instantly.
Barcaldine, or Barky as the locals know it, has a monument to the shearers and The Tree of Knowledge and The Australian Workers Heritage Centre. The Tree of Knowledge was where Shearers formed a union and after a big strike were the union leaders were gaoled the Labor Party was formed. The actual tree was poisoned in 1992 - how stupid are some people, probably the same type of idiot that had removed the names of the politicians from a brass plaque at a rest area commemorating the tarring of the road over the mountains near there. Lot of work to try to remove raised brass letters and you could still work out it was Joh's name anyway. The tree monument is now far more moving than a single old tree and extensively visited so it's probably exactly the opposite effect from that intended by the moron who poisoned it.
The monument consists of the remains of the trunk and above is a sculpture made up of thousands of pieces of wood that leave a negative space where the tree once was. So worth a visit at night to get the full effect.
Barcaldine also earns our respect as a town with the most pubs in the shortest distance, excluding The Rocks. In just 300m there were 5 pubs. Not bad with a population of under 1000 from the looks of it. Set up as the rain started at a free camp and checked out the weather. Thunderstorms lasting 3 days over the outback dirt roads we intended to travel on. We had to change our route as we had experienced what a little rain can do to outback roads and it may have been foolish to travel the roads with the amount of rain we saw on the radar and forecasts of plenty more of the same.
Bright sunshine and dry canvas the next day but the weather app was still predicting bad weather over our route. We went into Barky only to find it was a local public holiday and not even the Visitor Information Centre was open. With almost 2 hours to kill until the Australian Workers Heritage Centre opened we decided to cut our losses and head to our new destination of Emerald.
Lobbed at the Emerald Hotel in time for the running of the 2016 Melbourne Cup - the race for the trophy we held during our visit to Croydon. Obviously holding the cup gave us no insight as we didn't have a single win or place. Eli's ticket came closest with his Mystery Trifecta having the first and third horses correct but being 13 instead of 12 for the second place horse. Would have been worth about $15 so it wasn't a cry into your beer moment. The Emerald Botanic Gardens is that town's free camp. The tracks through here are extensive and would take a few hours to explore even on a bike. Wonderful asset.
Still hot and dry with none of the forecast rain so we headed up the Gregory Development Road and across the Bowen Development Road where we camped the night with the bugs. Rain around but none on us. Continuing on through Collinsville and past the coal mine we arrived at the coast at Bowen. Firstly Queens Beach then snorkelled at Greys Bay and Horseshoe Bay. Well Glen snorkelled and saw lots of large, colourful fish, Julie set up the inflatable lounge on the beach and read. Moving on we stayed at Miowera - $5 per head per night and for an extra $5 you get dinner. Pretty good set up really for a small slashed paddock with the highway on one side and the railway line on the other. Some of the backpackers were mowing, setting up the fire or helping to cook. There's only one toilet and it's in the same room as the shower but it all seems friendly and relaxed. There's even a dope plant in the vegie patch. We can't decide if we'll move on in the morning or use this as a base.
After being rained off The Creb Track the next day was sunny so we again packed up dry, watched over by a large goanna, and left The Lions Den. We paused at a bridge over the Annan River nearby as the water crashes through a narrow gorge. Julie wasn't feeling well so she didn't climb down as she usually would.
We were all driving to Mareeba and Ringer's Rest but we had a few things to get in town and needed to pop in to the mechanic. The plan was the car would go into the auto electrician on Tuesday and the mechanic Wednesday. The front tyre was wearing a bit uneven so we also made arrangements to have the wheel alignment done on Monday. Phil at Mareeba Auto Electrics was going to align our airconditioner (the fan belt driving it was at least a centimetre out and had been since it was put in shortly after we bought it) and fix it too. Sep, the mechanic, was going to find out why we had no auto adjustment on the rear shoes and consequently no hand brake and minimal stopping power.
At Ringer's Rest we set up in the paddock where the horses couldn't get in, Sandy and Simone had set up in the horse paddock. We hand fed the horses and cows (from our side of the fence) then cooked dinner on the hotplate at the communal firepit and met our fellow campers.
Next morning we were woken by Ted as Julie had expressed interest in seeing the hot air balloons that sometimes land in the horse paddock. There were 7 balloons in the air and 2 were landing.
After such an early start we decided that a trip to Coffee Works for coffee, chocolate and liqueur tasting and a visit to their coffee museum which was very interesting but even though we tried all the coffees, chocolates and liqueurs we couldn't get through all the pieces in the museum. As amazing as it was there was just too much to see in one go. No wonder they offer a free return visit! While we were in town we picked up some carrots for the horses who were very grateful.
Each morning at Ringer's we were greeted by balloons and horses. At least we weren't greeted while still in bed like Sandy and Simone with a skewbald mare peering in their door. Today is Saturday and we all went to the Mareeba Markets then the Mareeba Wetlands Reserve and finally to Golden Drop (mango) Winery. Incredible that the wetland was man made. The white liped tree frog from the toilet door was a favourite with the girls. They are actually reintroducing Gouldian finches into the wild with a good chance of success since they control such a large buffer zone. That evening we had a visit from a bandicoot and a betong.
On Sunday Sandy, Simone and the kids left Mareeba and we went for a drive towards Atherton and visited Galo's Dairy for cheese tasting and a latte (best tasting fetta!), the Curtain Fig, a number of waterfalls and Lake Escham. Amazing how less than 50km down the road it's lush and green but Mareeba is dry and brown. We also washed the car so it would be nice and cleanish for all the people working on it over the next few days. That night we were able to get a stand-by ticket on a hot air balloon ride for the next day. Dave, the owner of Ringer's Rest can get cheap flights for his guests so we need to be at the Info Centre in town by 4:30am.
We arrived in plenty of time and checked in. Julie got the passenger seat and Glen piled into the back of the Troopy with a number of other guys. Soon we were standing in a paddock in the dark as they sent up a helium balloon with a red led attached to test the wind. It was all good so we were walked to a safe place as the balloon was unloaded and the large fan inflator was started. Glen was glad he had jeans and a warm jumper as it was a bit cold, something we aren't used to. Once there was enough air inside the burners were used to warm the air and we were able to move around to take photos. The three balloons glowed in the pre-dawn light and petty much as they stood upright the coaches from Cairns, filled predonimantly with Asian tourists, arrived. They missed a pretty special part of the experience. There was just the two of us with our balloon but another 18 arrived making 20 plus the pilot for our flight. We were first into the air. It wasn't in the least frightening as the balloon was very stable. We flew over the horse paddock and could see our camper and a lady from a van near us but she didn't see us. We landed in the paddock across the road and all of us got to help pack the balloon into the bag ready for tomorrow. Our trip back into town was in the coach and once there we got a couple of lattes from the coffee van and headed back to the camper for breakfast.
When we went for the wheel alignment we learnt that when the Fun Truck was lifted by the previous owner they hadn't put in castor correction bushes and the tyres were wearing badly because our shock absorbers are too light for our larger tyres. We discovered that without the correct bushes the vehicle could tend to wander - yep it does, can he fit them? No they are in stock but he couldn't do it for a couple of weeks. A call to Sep and we arranged for him to fit the bushes. Later we went to the Skybury Coffee Plantaton where we saw a short film and saw nothing of the actual plantation because a couple of years ago they planted bananas and because of some disease nobody is allowed onto the farms in case they bring in the disease. Total waste of money going there.
On the way 'home' we detoured to Emerald Creek Falls. We didn't see the falls but had a lovely swim in the river. Julie even saw a snake in an adjoining pool but didn't freak out.
We spent a quiet day waiting for the car from the auto electrician but when we picked it up he found we have very little air flow and probably our evaporator was blocked. Never mind he'd work in with Sep.
The next day we'd arranged to hire a car and drive to Port Douglas. After it was already arranged Dave organised for us to have his sister's car for the following day. Although only $5 cheaper we had no worries about a $2500 excess and liability for any tyre or windscreen damage which is really no fault of the driver. Luckily we got neither in either car BUT driving out of Charters Towers we got a large chip in the Fun Truck windscreen from a council mower. We have unlimited free windscreen claims on our insurance policy. I would have been very annoyed if I'd had to pay for one in a hire car.
Port Douglas was OK but a bit too Gold Coasty/pretencious for us. We swam at the beach in our Top 101 Beaches but really it was just like Thailand with their little hired deck chairs in rows. The water was murky and of course there were no waves. It's better in a pool. On the way back (we went in a loop) we stopped in at Ellis Beach for a latte and the road and carpark were covered in fallen mangoes. Further down the coast we came to Palm Cove at sunset. This place we liked, at least at night. It seemed nice and everyone has an ocean view.
Returned the hire car the next day and drove to Tolga and Lake Tinaroo. Lovely coffee shop in Tolga (Sweet Moments) but the lake was almost dry and not worth the drive really. Pretty much just waited around for the Fun Truck to be ready and wasted all the next day as we didn't get it until after 5. All the stuff we wanted done was done and we are pretty confident it was done properly. The Fun Truck drives so much better with the new castor correction bushes its amazing.
Friday night we went to the drive in again but didn't stay the night this time.
Saturday we were booked on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyway. Of course it was raining there, they even got a bit in Mareeba while we were gone. Enjoyed the improved handling through the mountains to the railway station just north of Cairns.
We bought our tickets and waited for the train looking through the museum and trying to download the app on the free wifi. Couldn't do it so used our data to do it. On the train we found that they tell you everything the app does over the public address system so that was a waste. The train carriges are all old but have been refurbished. Ours was just done by the look of it as the seats were pristine. There were a number of sights along the way (if you want to find out more download the free app!) but the highlights would be just being in the rainforest and high above the plains to the coast and where the train turns on a trestle bridge with views along the train one side and waterfall the other. The train stops at Barron Falls Station for 10 minutes so you can see the falls then continues onto Kurandra.
Once there you basically walk up the couple of streets of shops - irony would be the aboriginal art gallery in a building shaped like the sailing ships that brought the British to invade their country, or visit the Rainforest Markets or the attractions like the Butterfly Farm, Bird Enclosure and wildlife park, of course at additional cost. Aboriginal kids were street performing traditional dances. Just mild drizzle all this time. We lunched at the French Patissire in the markets and decided to head down on the Skyway cable car earlier than our booked ticket.
Our view from the cable car was pretty much the cables and fog most of the way but we bet the view is stunning. Midway at Rainforest Station we got off and joined a tour along the boardwalk with a ranger. It was really interesting (and they supplied umbrellas) and we learnt a lot about the rainforest. On the cable car down we saw a little more than just fog, enough to tell that as good as it was up with the tree tops, frogs and birds a clear day would be even better. We returned home to find the camper as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and enjoyed the music from the wedding at Ringers Rest that night. Ringers Rest is also a reception place and had 2 weddings while we were there. Great spot for it.
Sunday morning we went for a drive that Larry suggested through the rainforest and he was right it was totally worth it. Glad we didn't leave as planned. Beautiful. That afternoon we got ready to leave and the next day slowly packed up. All the stuff we took out of the car for it's week in the hospital had to go back in and really we weren't in any hurry to leave. Subconciously I think that it signified the start of us going home and we are having too much fun still. Julie made pumpkin damper from a pumpkin given to us and shared it with everyone at the campsite and Dave the owner.
Left late the next day and went to Cairns, swimming at The Lagoon then having dinner at the night markets, doing a bit of shopping and getting a massage... Yes, very Thailand like but nobody asking if we want to see a ping pong show. We then drove on to Babinda and free camped there the night. It was very late when we arrived.
Next morning we went up to Babinda Boulders and went on the Devil Pool Walk before having a swim. Lovely place, just keep the march flies from devouring you. That afternoon we drove on to Paronella Park, a must see. Jose Paronella, who built most of it in a short time, achieved amazing things.
Our entry to Paronella Park included a day tour, a night tour, a hydro electric tour and a powered campsite and a free return visit within 2 years so in reality was good value. After coming to Australia with nothing and earning his fortune by developing and selling farms Jose built the park pretty much by himself out of concrete he mixed himself. He had a ball room, picture theatre, picnic area, boating and the state's first hydro electric generator in 1933. He also planted lots of rainforest plants but died young. Super interesting story and place. Go there if you get the opportunity. We did all the tours and looked through the museum and really enjoyed our time there. One downer was that we fried the 240V battery charger on the camper. Big drama with Campomatic over that where they wanted us to pay over $400 for a charger we could get for $270. Miscommunication or something but they expected us to pay when we believed it was a warranty thing. Anyway after Glen's email we don't expect they'll want to do any more work on the camper.
Heading down the coast we stopped in at Kurrimine (Cowley Beach) and saw fig birds and a few other species then further down to Garners Beach, where we saw a large goanna on the rocks, Bingil Bay, Narragon Beach and Glen did the Bicton Hill Circuit Track with views out to Hinchinbrook Island before we eventually hit Mission Beach for an afternoon stroll at low tide and Glen went for a swim.
That night we set up camp watched over by a large cassowary at the Tully Showground. There were dozens of metallic starlings nesting in a tree near the giant gumboot where we had a shower the mext morning. Later we did the sugar cane mill tour. Glad I don't work there. Pretty hot, dusty and uncomfortable place but interesting to visit.
We visited Murray Falls on the way to Blencoe Falls - turns out it was a 2 hour drive there so we arrived at dusk :( Next morning after a visit to the falls we called National Parks to book another night and went for a 4wd explore of the campground when National parks rang us to tell us the campground had been closed due to a nearby fire. We told other campers because they hadn't registered and we drove 2 hours to Murray Falls and arrived at dusk and lit a campfire. The next day, day 300 on the road I think, after a swim and a fly of the drone we headed south and hit the spa pools (maybe if the creek was flowing) lunched at Cardwell and swam at 5 Mile Swimming Waterhole (aka creek). At Ingham we found we were close to the longest single drop waterfall in Australia so we drove out to Wallaman Falls and camped as it got dark. See a pattern here? Glen saw a firefly! In the morning Glen walked to the bottom of the falls and swam in the pool below. He was just as wet when he reached the top because it's a fair climb up! Julie took the sensible option and stayed up the top to catch up on some writing. On leaving there (after a shower at the campground) we headed to Townsville. There was a massive storm on the way and we set up in the rain. Would we keep our record of only 1 dry packup this trip? Stay tuned...
From our camp beside the river at Coen we continued up the Peninsular Development Road (PDR) past Archer River Roadhouse and the Bill Hanson Bridge - and Glen's late brother in law was worried about being forgotten… and turned right toward Lockhart River. We decided to camp at Chilli Beach, a stunning white beach in the National Park. This is what you imagine tropical island beaches to be like - perhaps without the threat of crocodiles. We spoke to ca couple f guys who said they'd just done Frenchman's Track in the reverse direction to what we intended and the advice was we'd never make it across the Pascoe River. The water was OK but the climb out couldn't be done with a Triton and would be tough with a trailer. Then there was a long bog in the middle he guy (lifted and muddies) just made it through and the chicken track on this one was harder than the main line. Julie spoke to a couple of local women who'd been fishing from the beach at low tide using handlines to catch snapper in the weed. She got the Ok for us to swim there when the tide came in. It still wasn't more than about knee deep where we dared to go but it was nice to get wet.
That night over a beer and the maps we decided to take a look at the Pascoe crossing, the guy told us there was turnaround room for the trailer at the top and it was only 12km in. We set off the next morning with no intention on our part of doing the crossing… Sandy possibly had a different agenda.
At the crossing we caught up to some people. The had a new stock Fortuna towing a camper and a Hilux towing a trailer as well as a beast of a 105 (Land Cruiser). Sandy and Glen looked at the track and both thought it was very achievable even though the Hilux had trouble and the Fortuna did some damage to side steps. To be honest we just thought they drove it badly. They were a nice group and offered to assist us it we needed it on the track. We decided to do it and Sandy, about 500m closer than us had almost completed airing down before we even got back to the car. He made it up with only a small stop and retry and then it was our turn. We walked up effortlessly. At the next obstacle, the bog hole, even though somebody must've drained a lot of water compared to what the guy at Chilli had said, the first trailer needed a snatch out, almost bogging the 105. The second just made it through and Sandy with not very aggressive all terrains hit the middle and sank in somebody's wheel ruts. He almost pulled the 105 in but got out in one go with some foul smelling water in the car. Determined not to get caught Glen powered the Fun Truck in in third low, regretting his decision about three quarters of the way through when we ran out of steam but she kept turning over and climbed a high section in the middle then powered out. No water in the car :) The Wenlock River crossing was uneventful and we said goodbye to the people in the other cars as they were headed to Weipa. We had a swim at this crossing… well WE didn't include Julie who took up unofficial croc watch instead. At the end of the Frenchman's we turned right onto the Telegraph Road. We camped by a dam about 20km south of Bramwell Junction, the start of The Old Telegraph Track (OTT) proper. (found out later it's the end of the track and we missed the start of it, Cable Beach at The Tip where the under-sea cable comes out of the water. Apparently you can still see it.)
Next morning after to obligatory "we're doing The Telly Track" photos we were off down the actual OTT, an iconic 4WD track often featured on the DVDs of 4WD Action and on many 4 wheel drivers bucket lists. Not far down the track is the first creek crossing. Palm Creek, dry when we were there so without doubt much easier, features a steep drop off and a 30m long vertical walled car width groove as the entry and a steep climb out. No troubles going down but up the other side was harder. Almost made it out but when Glen put his foot on the brake the car and trailer slid about 4m backwards with Glen able to do nothing but hang on. With the locker and a bit more oomph on the second attempt we climbed out fairly easily. Turns out this was the only time we needed a second attempt on The OTT. Sandy's Triton made it up third go with it's centre diff lock. Pretty impressive.
North Alice Creek was dry but the Dulhunty River had claimed a victim when we arrived. Two young guys had a couple of cans and decided the Cruiser could do that vertical wall exit easy… They'd been digging it out for a while and were getting nowhere until Sandy's winch pulled it back easily. Over a beer they shared their story and Julie dubbed the guy "Vertical". We had lunch and a rinse off in the river and Sandy also rinsed the dirt off his car.
We swam then decided to camp at Bertie Creek (Sandy's car was still clean and shiny). Glen got the drone out and took a couple of shots and videos. He even took it off beginner mode and freaked Julie out with the drone going much further than 30m away. Bit of water in the camper so out with the silicone.
Next morning we found a huge pile of rubbish, including many bottles and cans. Soon after the National Parks people arrived and started their annual clean up before the wet. Couldn't believe that this was just one season's rubbish. Why do the ferals leave their rubbish and for that matter why do they bring bottles? Crush the cans and take them out with you you pigs. While you're at it bury or burn your toilet paper too.
We had a swim and moved on headed for the most famous crossing of the OTT Gunshot Creek. After inspecting the vertical drops, less vertical drops but slushy mud at the bottom and the pretty easy slope in, deep water, tight turn options we chose the latter and 47 point turned the car and trailer in the creek to get out while National Parks watched and pondered how to get the creative markers people leave out of the tree.
The rest of the crossings were fairly easy with the only challenge being wheel placement on the bridge at Sailor Creek. The OTT then joins the PDR for a short distance to Fruit Bat Falls where we spent quite a bit of time cooling off by jumping into the water exploring the upper falls and getting massaged by the water.
Back on the OTT and Scrubby Creek was the next crossing. Fairly deep and a bit of an angle which was fun and the camper stayed dry inside! We went past Eliot and Twin Falls and camped at Canal Creek, a nice place for a swim.
Next morning we drove back the short distance to Eliot Falls and Twin Falls. Glen had a play with the drone and everybody swam in Twin Falls then jumped into Eliot Falls. These two falls are about 100m apart and both were beautiful. The jump into the small canyon at Eliot Falls is brilliant.
After crossing Canal Creek we saw our first, and so far only, frilled neck lizard - without the frill up.
The Cape cont... Please forgive any typos (the r, s and u keys stick and the a key sometimes doesn't work) and spelling errors as One Note has stopped working because it can't verify my Office 365 subscription without the internet. Grrrrrrr!!!
Sam Creek has a little swimming hole below the crossing so we had a swim there in the clear water before we muddied it up. Sandy's capable little Triton edged into the crossing at an angle and made it easily. The crossing looked straight forward enough for The Fun Truck but straight on it was a bit larger drop off than Glen thought and the rear bar and the back corners of the camper ended up crunching pretty hard on the bank. Minimal damage but still not good.
After a few more uneventful creek crossings (the camper didn't even take on water - Glen claims it was his silicone sealant that did the trick but maybe the creeks weren't high enough) we arrived at Bridge Creek, the infamous Nolan's Crossing or Nolan's Brook which is usually deep and drowns cars. Parks told us there was a 4m croc just past the drop off but people were swimming in a clear section so, with safety in numbers, we too took the plunge! The crossing was shallow, Sandy took a side track and Glen, learning nothing, took the straight down route. Camper slid sideways into the wall, minor scrape, no dramas. We set up camp for the last night with our "tour guides" and the girls helped Glen to gather and cut the wood for a camp oven meal.
After a swim the next morning we discovered that the people who we swam with the day before were ferals. They'd left empty bottles, half eaten food containers and unburied poo when they left. I'd name and shame if only we could remember thee company name on their car. Sandy ran across them later that day as they were broken down. Needless to say he didn't offer help.
We said our goodbyes and we all took the bypass road back to the PDR. Sandy, Simone and the girls turned left and we turned right, bound for the Jardine River Ferry. We knew that the Jardine was driveable at the moment but on our own we couldn't risk it.
At the ferry crossing we got service and a text from Ashley that he was appointed to the AFL Grand Final.. We were so pleased for him we had to ring.
After the ferry we drove to Loyalty Beach Campground near Seisia, set up then headed for the tip via Seisia. The kids were jumping off the wharf and swimming and it was very tempting but we wanted to head up the tip. At the Croc Tent we picked up some souviners and were advised to do the 5 Beaches Track since it was low tide. Stunning views along the coast then into Seisia for fish and chips and prawns which we ate outside our camper, metres from the water, as the sun set.
The next morning we were off to The Tip via a 4wd short cut to the main road up and before long we were there! We walked the track to the actual tip, Glen flew the drone and found he had no photos because the memory card was full so he walked the track back, cleared the card and walked the track again to rejoin Julie. Another successful flight resulted in some photos that not everyone gets. Of course we took the usual photo with the sign too. Frangipani Beach is near where you park so we had some photos of us and also the Fun Truck on the most northerly beach on the mainland. Our next stop was the resort at Punsand Bay for lunch. We drove the Roma Flats 4wd track to get there. Punsand Bay was very nice and we had a swim in the pool after lunch and got chatting to a British doctor and his girlfriend who we first met at Eliot and Twin Falls. We got out when the old people with sores on their legs got in...
The Cape has a few plane wrecks from WW2 so we drove to a couple of those to check them out. Back at our camper Glen flew the drone along the beach and we saw a palm cockatoo in the tree near our camper.
The next morning was AFL Grand Final Day. Our intention was to pack up early, catch the ferry and go to a place with the game playing. OK we got up early but Glen rang Kyra, we spoke to the people from the Frenchman's who were now here and the people in the caravan next door were chatting to us so we got to the ferry at 9:30. Today of all days the air conditioning stopped working again. (turns out we had lost a bolt and yesterday's bumps had worn a hole through a pipe and we lost all the gas! We didn't find this out until we got to Mareeba again.) The day was quite warm and it was taking quite a while to bump down the PDR so we had to push it to the speed limit. The car was getting pretty hot (apparently the viscous hub on the fan wasn't working either at only 12 months old, again discovered and fixed at Mareeba) so the air conditioner would have had to be off anyway!
We made it to the Archer River Roadhouse at 2pm and the broadcast was showing the pre game entertainment. We paid and ordered lunch and got the sound turned up - we'd rung to make sure they'd be playing it as the other roadhouse we were going to stop at wasn't going to show the game. The other guy watching left when his food arrived and two more people came at quarter time so there was only 4 of us actually watching the game. Set up in the campground after the Swans lost and the Western bulldogs had all been presented with their medals.
We had arranged to meet Sandy and Simone back at Elim Beach so we headed off early next morning. We were on the right road after turning off the PDR and Glen decided to put the GPS on with a setting of Hopevale. Bloody Hema took us to the middle of nowhere 40km from Hopevale on a road that consisted of a couple of indents in the grass. The route it planned to the street which is actually where Hopevale is took us to burnt out bridge so we had to do a river crossing to continue. Eventually we got back to Elim Beach to stay 2 nights as the girls wanted to show Julie the starfish at low tide.
We travelled to The Lions Den Hotel where we were basing ourselves to do some 4 wheel driving with Sandy and Simone. We had dinner at the pub and followed the tradition of writing on the wall. Early next morning it rained a little. The Creb track is notoriously hard in the wet and is usually closed but undaunted we set off. It continued to rain. We got to the gate and it was open so we went in but not far down we met a guy coming the other way. He wasn't hopeful for us. We went up a few hills and Sandy was having a little trouble with slipping but the Fun Truck had no problem. On a big hill it was taking ages for Sandy to call us up and it turns out he went sliding backwards down a section and almost went over the edge. We went up and got stuck on the same section as him but we only slid halfway back. It was so steep that when Julie got out to walk back down the hill her feet slipped from underr her and she ended up on the ground. We decided to call it as this was the first real challenge and there were many more so we'd be winching all day. No point. As we drove back the light rain was making the track very slippery so it was probably a good decision to turn back. We made our way to the Bloomfield Track and drove down to Myall Beach and Cape Tribulaation before heading back to the Lions Den. A really nice day out with the Mabbotts even if we didn't complete The Creb.
We were sad to leave Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park on 10th September but we'd probably done most things and we have a date. We need to be in Cairns on the 17th or 18th to leave Elim Beach on the 20th as we are travelling to the tip with Sandy and Simone. Having 2 vehicles and this being Sandy's third time up it will be much safer.
We left Yalara on the tar and joined the Stuart Highway to travel North. We decided against the shorter, but being dirt probably slower. Ernest Giles Road - next time…
We arrived in Alice at 7:15pm and went straight to the town centre for the Desert Song Festival Opening Night Concert. It was a fairly small affair and we only got to see the last two artists but it was still interesting. That area seems to have some nice restaurants but we went to KFC for the speed and convenience and after a quick bite we went 10km out of town to the free camp we stayed at last time and got an early night. Next morning we packed up early and were at the shops before 9! We stocked up on food and booze and we were off. Heading out of Alice we stopped into Terrain Tamer… Closed… :(
The Plenty Highway is part of what is known as The Outback Way and that's the route we chose rather than the Barkley Highway which is tar all the way. The Plenty started out as a single lane of tar so when oncoming vehicles approached you have to put wheels into the dirt. Pretty soon it was a nice wide dirt road, although fairly rough in places it wasn't too bad. We camped by the side of the road where Arthur Creek becomes Martha Creek.
We drove on and took the less frequently travelled Urandangi Tobemorey Road, which runs up the border, and Urandangi North Road, which has long straight stretches of road through the Mitchell grass plains. We then met up with the tar again at the Diamantina Development Road which took us in to Mt Isa. Our experience with the mining town at Tom Price was that even though it was a small town because of the shift work shops were pretty much city hours. Mt Isa is bigger and has a Coles, K-Mart and a Woolies so we weren’t worried about pulling in to town at just after 5pm on a Sunday. WRONG! The servos and the pubs were the only places open! Even in much smaller towns in WA we'd grown used to the supermarket being open until 10pm. Oh well we didn't need anything critical so we drove on to Corella Dam, deciding to spend two nights to be able to catch some red-claw (a type of yabbie).
We ended up in a campsite well away from everyone else and spent a peaceful relaxing night just us the stars and the night birds. Sandy Mabbott you recommend some cracking spots! Just beautiful and so live with birds. Next day Julie got none of her diary writing caught up as she was always finding a bird to watch. Glen got around to hooking up the remote control to the lights he fitted in Darwin. Late in the afternoon Glen paddled (apparently risking life and limb because of the blue/green algae) the opera house net over to the spot Sandy suggested and we sat around the fire as we wrote. Next morning Glen paddled over to find a small tortoise - about 3cm across, thankfully still alive so it hadn't been in there long enough to drown - and a single yabbie about 7cm long. No red claw, but that means we don’t need to clean and cook them so it's really a win.
From Corella Dam we headed towards Cloncurry and spent some time in the town as the blog uploaded. Nice sausage rolls from the bakery. In Queensland the food seems to be much cheaper than the Northern Territory. Leaving Cloncurry via the Burke Development Road we stopped the night at a camp by an old river crossing, but about 100m from the water. In the morning we went across the old causeway to re-join the main road which now crosses at a high bridge. In the water we saw 4 salties, so staying away from the river was a very good idea.
We soon arrived at Normanton, a town known for The Purple Pub and the life sized statue of Krys the Croc who was the largest crocodile ever shot at 8m. We decided to do a quick trip up the Karumba to actually see the water of the Gulf of Carpentaria. There were very large flocks of brolga that could be seen from the road, a hundred odd birds in each flock and probably 10 flocks in the 75km trip. In Karumba it was over 30 degrees at 10am. We went for a walk from the boat ramp and chatted to an annual visitor and before long we were walking on the mud flats looking at the birds while a guy was casting a net to catch poddy mullet for bait. Glen at this stage had failed to see the attraction of the place, since we'd seen more of a river than a gulf, but it seems to be a fishing Mecca. After a trip to the bakery for Julie to sample their sausage rolls we drove to the other part of town and drove along the back of the beach next to the landing strip. From here we could see "The Gulf" and a myriad of birds which had Julie reaching for the binoculars and her bird book.
We drove back to Normanton and checked out the Info Centre before stopping at the train station for lunch at their picnic tables. The Gulflander is a pretty famous train that twice a week travels to Croydon and back so we had a look at the museum. The train had left at 8:30 am and takes 5 hours to travel the 155km. This week the train had a special payload - the 2016 Melbourne Cup and it's minders. The station master, who opened the museum for us said we could see The Cup at Croydon Rodeo Grounds at 6:30 that night Since 150km takes us less than 2 hours we'd arrive about 5pm so we decided to do it.
We arrived at the Croydon Visitor Information Centre at 4pm and it should have been open, but it wasn't. There was a poster on the door as to The Cup's itinerary for the day so at least we knew it was true. We went to the free pool, which should have been open but it was locked. Seems everyone had shut up early to see The Cup. A quick trip to the Rodeo Ground about an hour before The Cup's arrival found it deserted and locked up so we went 4km out of town in the opposite direction to the dam and had a shower there. At least we'd be clean even if we didn't have race day finery to wear. On the way back to town there was The Cup - in the bush with some aboriginal elders and the newspaper photographer. After getting fuel we led the cup into the Rodeo Ground carpark which had 30-40 cars in it now. The party was in full swing with a band playing, people chatting and drinking and kids running around playing. To fit in we made our way to the bar and bought beers for $4 each. We soon found that anyone could hold The Cup and have their photo taken so we joined the cue and lined up the person behind us to take our photo. The town police officer was there to keep an eye on things and handed Glen the white glove so he could hold it as well as Julie. Hold it by the stem, not the handles, smile for the photo and put it down for the next lot. Then the lady gave us Emirates caps and some printed info about what to hashtag on instagram. We were going to make an exit then but $5 for a plate of food (salads, green as well old school rice salad and a piece of steak - pick your own as some were huge) made it just too good to leave. While we ate we chatted to a local - lived here all his life and now works at the info centre - yes he saw us pull up but he was going home to get scrubbed up for the night. We were stunned that little kids probably 6 and 4 were able to don the gloves and hold The Cup. $178,000 worth of gold cup and the lady in charge didn't even look worried. We left but as we got to the car the speeches started so we felt rude and went back. The guest speaker was Wendy Green, owner of 1999 winner Rogan Josh. Her speech was a delight. She was a school teacher from Darwin with one horse and rubbing shoulders with the late, great Bart Cummings and the Sheik of Dubai who had 700 horses in his stables. Her trip from Melbourne back to Darwin was reported in the papers so it took 3 months as she and her husband were stopped in every town and people drank from the cup. The evening concluded with about 5 minutes of very impressive fireworks. In whole a bloody good night and thanks to the town of Croydon Qld for their wonderful hospitality. I'd have to say it seems like a lovely place to live. How did the cup get to a tiny town in Outback Queensland? They have a connection with The Cup. Archer, the winner of the first two runnings of The Melbourne Cup was trained by someone from Croydon.
After such a lovely evening we would have liked to have a look around. They have a wonderful heritage display behind the Info Centre and a free pool and an old pub but we were under time constraints to get to Elim Beach so we needed to move on and camped at a roadside stop headed east.
The next day our journey continued, firstly to the Cumberland Chimney, the site of an old gold mine outside Georgetown where the council has put in shelters, information boards and (free) binoculars to view the birds on the dam Up to 600 species have been recorded here and it was certainly rich with life when we saw it. Would have been great to camp at the free camp there and see the place at dawn and dusk. In Georgetown we visited the mineral exhibition and had a swim in the free pool before heading out to Undara to do a tour of the Lava Tubes there. Julie was not keen but ended up loving the tour and Undara accommodation and philosophy so we'll be back.
Stopped at a rest area/national park for a quick dinner and drove on to Mareeba War Memorial Park as there is a free camp there, arriving at 11:30pm. Without the time constraints we would have stopped well before that as there was heavy fog over the ranges.
At Mareeba/Tolga/Atherton we intended to stock up, get car bits and pieces and see a movie. Because it was Friday we naturally spent a fair bit of time in workshops. Let's try to get the electric brakes on the trailer fixed - the brake place suggested maybe an auto electrician so we rang Mareeba Auto Electrics and he said bring it around. He checked it and said we'd need a mechanic, so he rang Sep's Mechanical Repairs and Sep said he'd fit it in for us, but we have to leave the camper with him. No worries, dropped it off and took the car to Tyre Power to get the tyres rotated - 4 tyres removed from rims, refitted and balanced for less than the price of a puncture repair in Kununarra, and we didn't get called whingers. While that was being done we walked into town, had latte, of course because they grow coffee here! but a phone call had us headed back to Sep's. It was bad, naturally… Bearings and brakes but he was able to source some new electric brakes (only $160 per side which we considered cheap) and the drums looked OK. Back in town the cabin fan stopped working - a semi regular event but it didn't come back on with the next bump so we thought we'd take the auto electrician up on his offer of "if there's something you need me to do drop back in", besides the air conditioner hadn't been working for a month or so now anyway. We felt bad he did all the diagnostic work this morning for free then helped us get into another place today. Luckily we did because the plug to the fan was melting the plastic and may have started a fire! He also found a loose bolt and advised us over another issue. Out of there with a very cheap $106 bill. Meanwhile Sep wasn't having a lot of luck. He'd found that the bearing race was moving in the drum after finding we don't have the usual trailer bearings but he was able to source some and we kept our spare set. The drums he was having no luck finding in town and even further away could only find 1. Looked like we were going to be without a camper over the weekend but the guy next door had a whole new axle and said Sep could take the drums off there and replace them later… he tried but they didn't fit. After some discussion to get us on the road that day we decided he'd Locktite the race in. Half an hour after the normal closing time he and an apprentice were working frantically to get us on the road. After a road shake down he checked the bearings, taught Glen how not to overtighten them again and we were off with a very moderate $600 bill.
That meant we hadn't had time to get all the bits and pieces and groceries we wanted but we were in our camper and not a motel for the weekend with a chance of it being even longer. Could not fault the people we dealt with with our repairs here in Mareeba,
That night was one of the most unusual free camps. We camped at the drive in. For $50 for the two of us we got 2 movies (Absolutely Fabulous and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) a hamburger, chips and a drink each. And we got to stay for the night! OK technically to access the place we would have had to pay $14 each for the movies but I'm still calling it a free camp as to stay cost no more. We had the best night.
Next morning we got our washing and shopping done and Glen got extra spares and parts from Terrain Tamer and Repco to do an oil change and upgrade the diff and gearbox filler plugs. We even got the new drone Glen wanted at only a little more than the on-line price! Changed the oil on the way out of town in the afternoon. On our way back down we'll be stopping here longer.
Arrived at Elim Beach at 9pm, promptly getting bogged outside the "office" on arrival. Way to make an entrance!
We were collected by Sandy and Logan and got the camper set up probably about 10m from high tide level right next to a "Crocodiles are regularly sighted in this area" sign. Seriously? We must be insane. Spent an hour or so chatting to Sandy and Simone before hitting the hay. Next morning we woke with a view worthy of a tropical island with the water lapping gently on the sand and a mangrove tree standing out in the water. We relaxed in the morning and caught up with Simon and Rachel and also had a shower for the first time in quite a while and although cold water. with it so warm up here it isn't necessary to heat the water. There was insufficient phone service to use the internet but Julie could use the phone. In the afternoon we followed the Mabbotts 4 wheel driving across Cape Bedford to a beach Ruby and Daisy have christened Treasure Beach. The most detailed maps I have don't have a name for this beach and I forgot to ask Eddie, who owns the caravan park and is a 91 year old traditional owner of the land, what it's name was. Treasure Beach seems to collect all the flotsam and jetsam and is littered with driftwood and all manner of things that have fallen from boats. Lots of plastic bottles, rope and a plethora of rubber thongs. This beach is also the place to collect nautilus shells and Julie got a couple about 20cm across. Before leaving we fired up the chainsaw and took advantage of the abundant driftwood. We had Ruby with us for the first half back then Daisy entertained us on the way back to camp. We enjoyed another night beside the fire. The following day we went fishing with Sandy and Ruby in their boat, trawling with a shallow diving lure. Before long Glen had the first fish, a 40cm barracuda and handed the rod over to Julie to try her luck. Quite some time passed then Ruby landed a barracuda, yes bigger than Glen's. After a fairly long time Julie finally had a strike and landed an even bigger barracuda. After that Julie was just reeling them in one after the other. Ruby had a couple of strikes but didn't manage to get them to the boat, Before we went to check the crab pots Julie had caught 7 fish, 6 barracuda and a grunter while Ruby and Glen had just one each. Crab pots were also successful and we brought 3 in.
Fish dinner by the fire. The following day Sandy led us and Simon through a 4wd track to Cooktown so we could all do washing and shopping. Strangely Glen got lost when we hit the tar and we relied on the Hema GPS to get us there. Despite being on the main road into town we were told to turn left. Since it was only 7km we followed the road it led us down. We continued to follow when it became a 4wd track first through the bush then along a single lane raised dirt track through the mangroves with wet mud both sides. We stopped following it when the road abruptly ended where perhaps many, many years ago a bridge may have stood. We then had to reverse for a km until we were out of the mangroves and could turn around. Back on the main road we drove the 13km into town on actual roads. Glen was able to get service and do the required updates to allow him to use the drone. With the girls having no new books Glen is reading them a couple of pages of Bollygum each night.
Back at Elim there were a few teething problems with the drone that Simon was able to sort out over the next couple of days and Glen finally had some useable footage - but it's 3GB and unedited so maybe on the blog later. For the rest of our time at Elim we drove out to the coloured sands beach where the girls, Lachlan, Sandy and Glen climbed a large normal sand coloured dune and slid down it on a boogie board and Julie, Glen, Ruby and Sandy went out fishing with no luck whatsoever.
For our trip up The Cape Sandy is leaving the van so we decided to take off the boat loader and leave a few things like solar panels and excess clothes behind. With preparations compete we left Elim Beach at 9am on the 22nd September and drove via Lakefield National Park camping at a gravel pit 100km south of Coen and then moving on to The Bends about 5km north of Coen today. Arriving before lunch gave us a nice day by and in the river and time for Sandy to cook a roast chicken dinner for us all in the camp oven. Glen had a couple of flights with the drone and we all spent the afternoon in the water. After dinner we checked out the maps of the Frenchman's Track which we will be tackling tomorrow or the next day. It seems to crossing at the Pascoe River will be the most challenging part with steep banks and deep water. Speaking of tackling the Swans v Geelong Prelim Final is on tonight and we are close enough to Coen to have internet access. Swans have just won by 37 points, so let's hope GWS can record a win tomorrow. What an amazing thing it would be to have two Sydney based teams in the AFL Grand Final!
Glen's birthday arrived and Julie cooked a cake in the portable oven. We had phone coverage so he got to speak to those at home for the first time in quite while too. Sandy and Simone and the girls arrived and we took a canoe trip up Lawn Hill Gorge for a couple of hours enjoying the sights and the sunshine and the water for a refreshing swim before porting the canoes up to the next section of gorge for more paddling before returning.
We followed Sandy back to their free camp on the banks of the Gregory River and stayed there for 3 nights enjoying their company and the warm river. It truly is a beautiful spot to camp and even has a town with free showers within walking distance. The best part about the river was that we could walk 500m upstream and float down to get out outside our camper. Very special. Julie took her damper making to the next level with a bacon and cheese damper, then did a roast and topped it off with apple crumble - all in the camp ovens. On our last night Sandy cooked up some redclaw (caught at Corella Dam) for us. Delicious :)
We were not in any hurry to leave and after washing the mud off the camper Sandy made us lunch and they finally got rid of us about 2:30. We drove until 9pm and camped at Wonarah Bore on the Barkley Highway.
Got away early the next day and made Tennant Creek by lunch to pick up a few supplies. We spent quite a while in the cultural centre before heading out to Kuta Kuta (Devils Marbles) to camp. Interesting to wander around and we saw a small headed black goanna but Glen thought the marbles would be bigger. Still they were impressive, particularly in the changing light.
Sunny the next morning but by the Ti Tree Roadhouse it was pouring (see, we never should have washed the car and camper…) and by the time we hit Katherine they'd had about 20mm of rain. We shopped then set up at a free camp with little hope of packing up dry as we watched the roads website have more and more roads closed due to flooding but miraculously after a foggy start the day turned sunny and hot. By the time we'd changed the oil and emptied all the stuff from under the bed that had gotten wet it was so late and we'd seen nothing and still needed to stock up on supplies so we decided to stay an extra night. Armed with a plastic chopping board, his new saw and a tube of silicone Glen fixed the design flaw so no more dust or water (or mice as we found in WA) will get under the bed.
A dry pack up the next day and we headed out to the West Macdonnell Ranges seeing John Flynn's Grave, Simpson's Gap and Ellery Creek Big Hole where it was raining again so we camped for the night.
Dry again the next morning so we did Serpentine Gorge and lookout, the Ochre Pits and camped at Ormiston Gorge. Next morning we walked to the second pool and Glen went back via the Ghost Gum Walk along the ridge line. That afternoon we called into Glen Helen Gorge for a quick look and to pick up our permit for the next part of the road. We drove on to Grosse Bluff and onto Morris Pass Lookout to camp for the night. The wildflowers on the roadside have been impressive carpets of white, yellow and purple. The view and sunset from the lookout was amazing. We could even see tomorrow's destination, Kings Canyon, lit up red in the sunset.
At Kings Canyon (Father's Day) we saw wild budgies!!!! and walked the Rim Walk. The first bit is straight up! The walk is just over 6km and it took us 4 hours because of all the photos we took and the views. We marvelled at the gorge views with the sheer cliffs and flat landscape below and the contrast of the Garden of Eden section with the rest of the walk which is basically rock which without the recent rain and today's freezing wind up top must be very hot and dry. After the creek walk we drove about 100km to a free camp at Salt Creek where we had a nice fire and a peaceful night.
The following day we saw it for the first time… Mt Connor didn't fool us, we saw Uluru! After so many failed attempts we were here. We camped on a dune 3km off the road and had an uninterrupted view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Olgas) for sunset with a small fire to keep us warm. Soon after we set up 3 women got bogged on the road next to us. They happened to be French and had no idea how to put their car into 4wd. Glen showed them and got their car out but then they stayed!!! Luckily (for them) only to watch a bit of the sunset then they left.
Next day we left the camper and headed into the National Park. The sign recommended seeing the cultural centre first so after paying our $25 each (apparently there are now two NT National Parks with an entry fee…) we drove there instead of straight to Kata Tjuta as we expected. How unusual we spent three hours there… Julie had last night taken a photo of a lizard and the rangers were unsure so asked her to email the photos and location to them. We also watched a couple of artists painting before driving the 45km to Kata Tjuta where we did one of the walks. The information said 5.4km return and 2.5 hours to the second lookout and 7.4km and 4 hours for the entire loop. It was a nice walk but had a few harder sections so Julie returned from the second lookout but Glen wanted the challenge of the loop. Turns out the rest of the loop was actually not difficult at all, just a bit longer, and was well inside Julie's capability with her sore foot. We then did the walk from the other carpark, just 2.6km before heading back to our camper. Back at the camper we decided to drive on and explore and at the end of the road 3km further on walked up a dune on the edge of the National Park to find someone camped there. We apologised and left and got back to our camper to find 4 people camped 40m from us. They happened to be French. Julie told them the error of their ways that if the nearest neighbour is 500m away you don't camp on top of someone but they didn't care. Glen had just cleaned all the toilet paper off that spot this morning and now there was probably going to be more :( Why can't they all have a camping etiquette test before they get their visa?
The next day we packed up and drove to Uluru for the 10am Ranger Guided Walk. We learnt stories from that part of the rock but Anangu culture says you can only tell a story at the place where the story happened so if you want to know about it you will have to go to Uluru and go right around so you get more of the story. Off to the caravan park after that as we needed to be in town to be picked up for the two special activities we were looking forward to. After setting up we drove into Yalara township for a look and when leaving saw a thorny devil on the road. A local picked it up and gave it to Glen to release in a safe spot. They are incredible creatures to look at (and hold).
That night we were picked up by bus and taken to the Field of Light art installation. In the desert is 50,000 lights powered by 144 projectors connected with 380km of optic fibre. We wandered through the changing pulsing lights for over an hour and found it quite beautiful.
Our last day at Uluru we hired bikes and rode around the base walk. (Thanks for Glen's birthday present Kyra, Luke and Eli) It was a wonderful experience. Although the summit climb was open we decided not to climb out of respect for the traditional owners, the Anangu people, and their beliefs. Glen had always wanted to climb the rock as all the documentaries and even the Leyland Brothers said no trip to Ayers Rock was complete without climbing it but since the wishes of the traditional owners are now known how could we disregard them? Even without climbing, Uluru is a wonderful place.
That night we indulged ourselves with the Tali Wiru, billed as a lifetime experience of fine dining set atop a remote southern desert sand dune with magical views of Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta. "Intimate ambiance in the stillness of the desert night". We had to get dressed in smart casual - which compared to what we've been wearing over the last 8 months was more like formal wear for us. Julie even got to wear makeup and perfume! We were picked up from the campground in a 26 seater 4WD coach, given a bottle of water and then picked up the other 13 diners from Sails in the Desert - the most exclusive accommodation in Yalara. We were driven out into the dunes and met by the maître de, Telina, a well-spoken young aboriginal woman, and offered a refreshing towel - a rolled up moist flannel not the lemon scented tear open ones from KFC. We were escorted to the top of the dune where we indulged in French bubbly and canapes of scallops, emu, crocodile and blue cheese as a digeridoo was played as the sun set over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Next we were escorted to our open air table further up the dune. With 3 waiters and the maître de serving just 15 dinner guests at 4 tables we could hardly complain about the service. Dinner consisted of amuse bouche, a choice of 3 entrees, 3 mains and 3 desserts with each dish having a matching wine. For entrée Julie had Poached king prawns with lemon myrtle scented green pea buttermilk, jamon iberico and confit fennel salad accompanied by a glass of 2014 Frogmore Creek Fume Blanc Sauvignon from Tasmania. Glen had Premium grade Puroo kangaroo rillettes with dehydrated beetroot, smoked bunya nut puree, mountain pepper tuille and seablite accompanied by a glass of 2014 Yabby Lake "Single Vineyard" Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula. And no dear reader, even though we've eaten it and it tasted delicious we have no idea what half of those things are either.
Neither of us had the courage to choose the Glacier 51 toothfish, caught at a depth of 2000m in the sub-Antartic as a main, but as you can guess no expense is spared in the menu prepared by the two chefs.
Before dessert we were educated and entertained with information on the stars and planets and stories from indigenous culture and after dessert we sat around the campfire with hot chocolate and cognac that almost everybody traded in for 20 year old Grandfather Port (which Glen had previously had in addition to his botrytis Semillon with his rosella verrine for dessert. We were all quite merry as we were driven back to our accommodation. Throughout the entire dinner Julie was beaming with an even brighter sparkle in her blue-green eyes than usual and I'd have to say that this was the best dinner I've ever had and even at the price was worth every penny. Also well above expectation was the drop toilet. We've seen many in our travels but none with original artwork on the walls (graffiti doesn't count as artwork) scented candles and flowers.
Our last day at Yalara so we had a look at the camel farm before leaving with 10 days before we meet Sandy and family to do the Cape in convoy.
After dropping off the hire car - she didn't even look if there was any new damage - we met in town for a coffee. A quick trip to Casuarina to pick up supplies ended up with us getting a new GoPro under warranty, just for a broken housing mount. The guy even got our receipt from the Liverpool store to do it. We thought we'd have to buy it or they might exchange the broken bit at best. After all this time in Darwin we ticked Casuarina Beach off from our book before heading back to celebrate Simone's birthday with cake, sparklers and drinks around the fire.
The next day we had the company of Ruby and Daisy as Sandy and Simone packed up as their car was fixed. We were just hanging around the camper, Glen finally after 7 months got around to fixing the lights he didn't quite finish before we left, with a little help from Daisy after she and Ruby and Julie had done their diary writing. We read their diaries and were impressed with the things they'd done. You might think that this was some sort of imposition but they are such lovely girls they are an absolute pleasure to be around. Ruby is also our go-to source for information about birds, she is seven but is a wealth of knowledge… That afternoon we made a quick trip to Bunnings. As usual we came away with more than what we went in for BUT we did actually get the awning brackets we went there for. Best bargain was the $15 LED rechargeable work light. It only needed half an hour of modification before it actually worked as intended, now I know why they were in the clearance bay. Dad, you'll be pleased to know that it's now easier to work after sunset because I've got a great light.
August 1st was a day of goodbyes as we farewelled Sandy, Simone and the girls and met up with Kat, Gary and Asha for drinks at the Trailer Boat Club. There was still an issue with the brakes and, after consultation with Wayne Grey, it was decided that we take the car back to the mechanics. Needless to say they were shocked to see us. They gave us the loan car and had another go at fixing the rear brakes… Even with all the hassles I'd still take my car to Phil Kerr Service Centre if I was in Darwin. Movies that night - cheapskate Tuesday - to see Jason Bourne. Armed with his new work light Glen changed the D rubbers on the rear anti sway bar and sheared off the last bolt!
The following day after a visit to the doctor and an x-ray for Julie's foot Glen went to two Toyota dealers and got the last anti sway bar bolt in Darwin. Thank goodness for easy outs and the bolt was replaced and we are good to go to Kakadu. That night we met up with Iggy, and umpire from Sydney and his wife Lisa and friend Deb for dinner at La Beach. Next day we met up with Lyn our good friend from Sydney , her daughter Sharyn and were joined by Iggy and Deb for a pub lunch at Darwin's Waterfront area.
Good to go doesn't imply ready so we got away quite late after a frantic morning of packing up. On the way to Kakadu we stopped at the Window to the Wetland information Centre run by National Parks. We found it incredibly interesting and spent quite a bit of time there until it closed. We camped that night near the banks of the Mary River, apparently the river with the highest population of estuarine crocodiles in the world. We were a good 150m from the bank and had a French couple from Singapore between us and the water. Next morning we were surrounded… by agile wallabies and the calls of birds. Our trip to the river at night with our brightest torches and in the morning with our brightest eyes and bushy tails failed to turn up any crocs. More attempted repairs, this time to the trailer brakes which Glen adjusted but still couldn't get the electric brakes to do anything other than hum. Flicked the little lever that lets the piston slide in so we now have some braking on the trailer at least.
A visit to Bowali, the Kakadu Visitor Information Centre near Jabiru for a latte and parks pass - Kakadu is the only park in NT that charges an entry fee ($40 or free if you're a Territorian). We elected to stay at the caravan park in Jabiru as we needed the camper batteries charged, and did Ubir Rock art and sunset, Cahill's Crossing and the bakery. We then based ourselves at Sandy Billabong for four nights and that's where we were counted for the Census. From there we did Anbangbang Billabong, Nourlangie and the art there, Jim Jim and Twin Falls, Yellow Waters cruises for sunrise and sunset and Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Julie slipped and smashed the front glass on her iPhone on top of Ubir Rock for sunset. Luckily we got all the photos off it even with the smashed screen. Also found the reason I couldn't get the new GoPro to charge was that there was no battery! Called the store and they are sending one in the post to Katherine for us.
Julie tells the following story to anyone she meets:
We got to Anbangbang Billabong and started the walk around the edge. Julie was worried that there might be crocs and Glen assured her they'd all be cleared from the tourist areas particularly so late in the season. Three quarters of the way around there were some plumed whistling ducks on a little island so Glen said he'd just walk the 10m to the edge take the picture and come right back. Julie said "What about the crocs? No way." Glen replied "There won't be any" Julie then spied a 2.5-3m croc and said "you're not going, what about THAT croc?" As we watched it came a bit closer and as we pointed it out to some fellow tourists it turned and came right towards us, stopping about 5m from the bank watching us.
The trip to Twin and Jim Jim Falls is 4wd with snorkel only, at least the last bit to Twin where you have to cross a 0.75m deep possible croc river. Up to the campground is corrugated badly and takes about an hour. Beyond that is 4wd track occasionally needing careful wheel placement. The trip to Twin requires a short boat ride and about 400m of clambering over rough ground and rocks to a floating walkway. Even without much water flowing it is a beautiful place and well worth the trip. Jim Jim is about a km of climbing over rocks to get to a couple of water holes to swim in. Not as attractive as Twin but still worth the effort.
The Yellow Waters cruises were very scenic and informative with lots of wildlife to see. 3 jabiru chicks in the one nest was a rare sight, a daddy red capped jacana with 8 little legs dangling under his wings as he carried his babies before putting them down so they could forage on the lily pads was special and the warradjan (pig nose) turtle we saw get taken by a croc, escape and then get taken again and the sound of the shell crack as it was being eaten is something few see and we won't forget in a hurry but perhaps the most special time was spent under the trees at the back of the Cultural Centre as Jessie and Violet, elders and traditional owners, taught Julie how to weave a bracelet out of dyed pandanus. Their stories inside the centre showed how life has changed for these people.
Another interesting thing is that the tribes that inhabited the Kakadu area had a marked area called sickness area. They limited travel and didn't eat the animals or drink the water there. Thousands of years later this is where the uranium deposits were found and mined.
Moving on from Sandy Billabong we stopped for a swim at Maguk, a spring fed waterfall where with a mask and snorkel we saw many large fish as people swam in the cool clear water. We camped at Gunlom for our last night in the park and swam in the pool at the bottom. That night we witnessed and were invited to join indigenous children from around Jabiru participating in a cultural camp as they danced with the elders. The children and adults were warm and inviting and all the time were thanking us for joining them when it was us who felt privileged to be able to share the culture they were learning. This was part of the Children's Ground www.childrensground.org.au
We walked to the top of Gunlom to swim and the sign at the top showed it was in sickness area! Oh well we weren't there long… Lunch and a shower and we hit the road bound for Edith Falls where we got the absolute last campsite thanks to the people before us taking pity on us and squeezing onto one site to allow us to have it. That evening we went to the bottom pool for sunset and watched the rocks turn (more) orange and reflect on the large pool (probably 200m x 100m) Glen went for a swim and Julie struck up a conversation with a couple, Max and Ros from Bute SA. They'd forgotten their camera so Julie sent them the sunset photos next time we had reception. Turns out we now have a place to park up the camper whenever we pass through there. People take to Julie so easily but it's still surprising how many offers of accommodation we get.
The next morning we packed up, moved to the day use car park and set up the solar panels while we went for a walk to the top pool. About a 2.5km loop and a lovely swimming spot at the top. A woman with her phone in the water soon had us wanting a Sony Xperia particularly as Julie's phone was still broken from the first day at Kakadu. After a bite of lunch at the car we headed into Katherine and the info centre before free camping across from the university 15km north of town. The place was a mess, particularly near the backpackers across from us so in the morning Glen made sure he was seen doing his usual clean up and the backpackers followed suit and cleaned up around them. Nice to have a win.
In Katherine the next day we checked out Low Level Bridge and the Katherine Hot Springs. They were clear and warm and we made our way to the top pool where the water comes out of an underground cave. Into town for a latte and lunch before heading south to Bitter Springs. Bitter Springs is a natural waterway fed by a hot spring. It's blue clear water is nutrient rich and therefore has an abundance of algae. It looks yuck in places from above but below the surface it was beautiful. We had our snorkels and noodles and explored a little way upstream looking at the rainbow fish and drifted downstream to where you get out, catching sight of a few turtles as we went.
That night, camped at WWII Stirling Mill, Glen took it upon himself to educate some backpackers - who happened to be French - about firewood needing to be collected before you get to the free camp sites and how you shouldn't cut down green trees because they don't burn anyway.
Drove back to Katherine and got Julie's phone fixed at UFARKIFIX and did a walk at Katherine Gorge. Still no parcel from JB-HIFI containing our GoPro battery. :(
Next day we were still waiting for the battery and finally chased it up at the Toll Office. At least we caught up on some washing and added to the latte total while we waited so were late heading off. Naturally we collected some wood before we got to camp and used the hand saw we bought instead of the chainsaw. After working up a sweat cutting the wood to length back at camp Glen needed a shower not a fire.
With the GoPro powered up again first stop was Bitter Springs to film the fish and turtles then to Mataranka thermal pools. They have a replica of the house from 'We of the Never Never' and some info about the author and the movie which they play every day at the caravan park bar. The pools have been concreted so they look quite artificial now compared to the postcards. Still that gets the oldies staying at the caravan park.
Taking the Roper Highway we began our drive along the Savannah Way. First camp was at Tomato Island, just in time for happy hour. A lot of the people there apparently stay for months to fish but with poor fishing this year not many of the long timers were still there. The campsite has space for 1000 people easily and has a nice new and large amenities block. Hot showers and flushing toilets all for $6.60/person/night.
At Butterfly Springs the next night we found a salamander in the water and enjoyed sharing our beer and some Pizza with Felix, a civil engineer who'd been working in Darwin and was now cycling unsupported on his mountain bike with no suspension from Darwin to Cairns and eventually he hopes, Melbourne. The next morning we took a 4WD track to the Western Lost City and drove to Lorella Springs Station that afternoon. Lorella Springs is pretty close to paradise. It's a 4WD mecca for amazing waterholes and fishing in the Gulf. It has over 1000km of track and we saw just a small amount but loved it and want to go back for longer than the 2 nights we spent there. The road in was a bit rough and it shook the screws holding the camper fridge out but that's all fixed better than new now :) One track we did late one afternoon was in to Scary Things Swamp. The track petered out to become just two tyre imprints and as we travelled along it carefully manoeuvring the Fun Truck between the trees which at times were only just wide enough to allow us through with millimetres more clearance than the width of our mirrors, our GPS was showing us travelling further away from the swamp into nothing. Eventually we called it and turned around. On making enquiries it turns out the trail we followed was blazed by 4WD Action a couple of months before and we were the first people to do it. The owner hadn't been through it or had it graded yet. You can see this track on the DVD with 4WD Action #257 out 22-9-16.
We continued along the Savannah Way stopping in at lagoons and campsites and pausing to photograph plants or animals that interested us. Top of the list would be a white weeping grevillea that was covered in jewel beetles.
Our next stop was two days above the Calvert River camped next to a spring fed creek which was crystal clear. We were visited daily by crimson finches and lorikeets and Julie made her first ever damper. As always she triumphed.
At Hells Gate (apparently you had police escort to a gap in the range (in Qld) and were on your own until Katherine about 400km away and most people were on foot. The country, crocs and inhabitants were generally all inhospitable so it would have been like walking into hell) we had the most expensive coffee. $5 for half a small cup of Nespresso!
Although we didn’t get any rain they did between us and Lawn Hill and the camper and car were covered in layers of mud!
Arrived at Lawn Hill without being able to find Sandy and Simone and patchy phone service hindered us further so, thanks to a friendly ranger we were able to stay in the overflow at Lawn Hill even though it was supposedly full according to the online booking system.