After picking the car up and posting the blog we got back to Keep River National Park and actually saw it in the daylight. We went on a short walk from the other campground and on the way out decided to get the blog URL as stickers from a couple who brought their business on the road with them. (see photo) Glen had to wash the windows, the first time the car has been washed since Sydney, and our new stickers were applied. I'm sure our quest for fame only had a very small amount to do with the Ozlap people we've been running into since Jurian Bay who had an article published in 4WD Action, them with their Ozlap logo on the window… We could do that… Maybe do an article about Gregory National Park… Yeah… lets!
Did I say all fixed?
200km travelled from Kununurra and the shudder was back in the car on braking. This was a real spanner in the works as we had planned to head into Gregory National Park, which is 4WD and consists of lots of low range crawling over rocks - not the sort of thing to do with wheel bearings that seem to come loose. Being Saturday we had the option to turn around and wait until Monday and give them another go at it or push straight through to Darwin and give someone else a go at fixing it. We chose the latter as being the best chance of having it done right.
We did a bit of sightseeing on the way so it wasn't a total loss. We visited the Gregory Tree, a large boab marking the campsite and carved with the dates of the land expedition led by Augustus Gregory in 1855-56. While we were there Julie spotted a large croc on the far bank. (Avid blog readers will remember that Gregory also explored and named Mt Augustus and Kennedy Range in WA)
A short distance, and I mean short, perhaps less than a kilometre down the river we stopped at a National Parks campsite and boat ramp. There were people fishing on the ramp, most keeping what we believed was a respectable distance from the water but one older man - probably had 10 years or so on Glen - was standing right at the water's edge! We considered him croc bait as through the binoculars you could see the crocodile we saw earlier and the tour boat that left from the creek next to the boat ramp had a caged entry to their wharf to keep the salties at bay. Having no desire to watch his demise and since the campground was over full we hit the road, but again a short distance later we stopped, this time to walk over a bridge to a military firing range. Huge 2 lane bridge with pedestrian walkway some 20m above the Victoria River and ends in a large gate with 3 sentries with machine guns, one well back behind the gate and two in the bush beside the road. Real army, not the rent-a-cop you get guarding most bases. A sign on the far side said USMC, but Julie thinks they were Aussies and that is what the sign at the start of the bridge claimed, it just screamed excess like we've seen from the Yanks. We walked right across the bridge but decided not to approach too closely to the gate (even though it's rare to have tourists cut to ribbons with machine gun fire in Oz) and with the sentry well back and in camo you can't see the insignia so we'll probably never know…
Further along the road we came to the town of Timber Creek and headed up to the lookout. A minor issue with signage, there was none, had us headed further up the mountain and, after a while, we consulted the Hema GPS and discovered we were about a quarter of the way to a microwave tower. It would have been great to camp somewhere along that road but alas as law abiding citizens (with our bloody URL plastered there for anyone to dob us in) we headed back to the lower lookout and war memorial of sorts where they paid tribute to the Nackeroos, a small band of troops who patrolled the coastline, mostly on horseback, to prevent an invasion. There was a motorhome there obviously camped up for the night but we moved on and found the sometimes unreliable Wikicamps didn't help much before eventually camping (apologetically) near a couple from Darwin at Steel Frogs Rest. He was a FIFO and had a nicely set up Ford Ranger with a custom canopy and rooftop tent from MFI in Geelong. We shared their fire as it was bloody cold and were introduced to the delights of chocolate coffee Bundaberg Rum, only available at the distillery. We are so going there!
On the road again headed for Darwin, doing some of the tourist stops Glen decided he really did want to see the old Victoria River Crossing. Being uncertain as to what lay beyond the 4WD only sign with regards to turn around room we left the Fun Truck at the top and walked down. There was heaps of room. At the bottom we met an older couple and a young family. While Julie and the older lady were waxing lyrical abut Zebra Rock Mine it came out that Julie had lost her phone on the cruise. "A purple one?" the lady enquired. It turns out her husband stepped over Julie's phone and it was picked up by their friend who handed it in to Kim and Ruth. Julie was, to say the least, over the moon that her phone was found. After refuelling at Katherine we camped at a free camp and next morning went on to Adelaide River where there was a small market of sorts. For the price of $5 Glen scored a small tub of rosella jam, and as Aunty Beryl used to make it - complete with feathers.
We booked the car in for Wednesday and Julie rang about her phone which is to be express posted to the caravan park. Julie can't wait. In Darwin, with needing to put the car in we decided to stay where Kat and Gary were staying. Really nice place, great facilities, quite pricey. Our car woes are nothing compared to theirs. (post script - they'd been there two weeks when we arrived, remember they had to fly to Darwin from Kununurra as their Pajero (cracked chassis) and van were trucked across? They ended up staying 6 weeks in total and had to fly back to Melbourne in the end as Gary couldn't delay his return to work any longer. At the time of posting we still don't know how their car and van will get home. If they knew how long it would take and how expensive it would be I'm pretty sure they would have bought a 4WD and continued their holiday, selling it when they got back to Melbourne.)Picked up some new shocks for the camper.
Next day we went with Kat and Gary (in their hire car) to Berry Springs to meet up with Sandy, Simone, Ruby and Daisy (also stranded in Darwin with a cracked chassis (Triton - must be a Mitsy thing…) and we met friends of theirs Emma, Shane, Rose and Taj. We bought a couple of noodles and got in for swim in the warm water. BBQ lunch then another swim. Shane led the boys up to the top waterfall and showed them some cherabin? (big freshwater prawn/small lobster) under the waterfall in a cave. Glen couldn't see them at all with the swim goggles and needed to borrow Shane's mask to see them. He'd been looking right at them but couldn't see them with the blue tint goggles in the slightly blue water. That evening we caught up with Robbo (a teacher from Glen's school) in town, had dinner with him (Noodle House) as we shared travel tales before dropping him at the airport for his 2am flight.
Wednesday the car went in and we caught the bus to Casuarina to do a bit of shopping and latte sipping. Kyra sent a text asking if we could get a cheap pram for their use up here and within half an hour we'd sent her a photo of our purchase. Clever bugger worked out it was K-Mart and online found the price so our it came free with purchase line didn't hold up. We got some looks that day as we pushed a pram around the shops. We'd heard nothing about the car so gave them a call and they said it would be ready. 3 missed calls from them on the bus so headed back to find it wasn't ready (the parts they'd ordered didn't fit and of course were in Sydney! Even though 80 Series Land Cruisers are as common as dirt in Darwin apparently ours runs larger brake drums than all the other 80s. We caught the bus back to the CVP. Great system they have for buses. $3 an adult for 2 hours travel. Apparently it's because NSW subsidises the NT through GST but stuffed if I know why it can't be the same in Sydney. They have frequent cheap public transport, like every capital except Sydney.
The next day we had to move out of the site at the CVP but the car wasn't yet ready. We were waiting with a packed up trailer as a coach load of kids pulled in early. The staff at the park who we warned we'd need to have the camper moved hadn't told the maintenance staff so it took a while then they didn't have a Treg hitch and needed slings and all around us girls were erecting tents. Halfway through the arduous task of moving the camper about 400m Glen got a call that the car was ready so back on the bus to pick up the Fun Truck and move the camper. We paid and walked to the car and Glen pushed on the back wheel and heard a knocking. Back on the hoist and it was found that the lower suspension arm bolt was worn. Julie and Jill raced around Darwin getting parts and we got stuff we needed as well. Finally all done and we picked up the camper and moved to Andrew's, saving $30 per night. (later Lucy's Rest according to the WikiCamps listing) We set up in a nice bush area where there were lots of wallabies and birds. This is where Sandy and Simone told us about at Ningaloo and we'd been passing on the details to selected traveller's we met. They'd been there about 2 weeks and would be there for a couple of weeks more At least they were still able to drive their car though.
Replaced the camper shocks then drove to Darwin to book our Outback Float Plane Adventure. Ended up at The Tap for lunch - $15 for fish, chips, salad and a schooner! That night we were meeting everyone for a drink and dinner at the Freespirit CVP. We played with the kids in the pool -strange the only swim we had in the pool was after we checked out. Always up for a challenge Glen managed to down the 1kg parmigiana then we danced with the kids until it was time to head back to Lucy's.
After some tidying up in the morning we headed to the airport and boarded the sea plane for the short flight to Sweetheat's Lagoon. We landed on the water and taxied a long way up the straight lagoon before turning the corner to see the pontoon where we were greeted by Leigh (an English lady who we learnt had been there for 5 years but recently missed being taken by a croc by a few cm right on the pontoon we were alighting on. We cruised the river on the houseboat type thing as we had BBQ barra and salad on rolls - delicious! Next we boarded the floatplane for a cruise further up the river and into some of the smaller waterways, pushing our way over logs and meeting some of the inhabitants along the way. In the main river were two large males we stopped by and in the creek system an old male with only half a jaw and a female. We also saw a kingfisher swoop down to take a fish from the hand of our guide, Jock. Great experience being in those smaller creeks. Our hot lap in the float plane was up next and Julie took the best seat - the one where she got covered in mud :) After that was our helicopter flight and we got to see the area we'd been in that day and slightly further afield. Stunning. We saw a 5m saltie with a white head and 120 year old termite mounds. When we got back there was one more surprise for Julie. Leigh, knowing how much Julie wanted to meet the owner, Outback Wrangler Matt Wright, had asked him if he could fly in to say hello. He agreed and within minutes a helicopter screamed overhead spun 180 degrees and dropped on the helipad. It looked like a handbrake turn it was so quick. A tall ddg Matt (dark curly hair, winning smile and gorgeous blue eyes) jumped out and came walking up asking for Julie. Turns out he's a lovely person too and had Julie's head spinning and her heart racing. Soon he flew off and we boarded the seaplane bound for Darwin. Back at the camper Sandy had prepared his lemon meringue pie, normally a camp oven favourite but done in the webber. It was delicious! Recipe below with Sandy Mabbott's permission:
Sandy's Lemon Meringue Pie (Bush Style)
Sweet pastry pie base
1 can condensed milk
1/2 cup of lemon juice
Roughly 1/2 cup of castor sugar
Next day was busy with an oil, air and fuel filter change, ordering replacement glasses for Glen under warranty from Spec Savers then, leaving the camper at Lucy's, in to Hidden Valley CVP where we were staying our first night with Kyra and Eli. As we went in to pick up the hire car we passed Betty and Trevor on the road and had a quick chat over the 2-way before we lost range.