Kyra and Eli come today so we went to pick up the rental car and baby seat. We decided not to reduce the $3000 excess and take our chances. The car was in the middle of the back row of cars so the lady said she'd get it out for us. She did, by backing straight into the side of a 4wd being backed out by another employee. We said we'd have another car since that one was not dented and broken so she came back with the keys for a 2 door - not with a baby seat thanks so she gave us free upgrade which she smashed into a parked car as she delivered it to us! We took it with practically the whole car shaded in in the pre hire damage report.
We picked up a tired but excited Kyra and a sleepy and wary Eli from the airport and drove them back to the cabin for a sleep, but not until after Eli opened his belated birthday present.
Day one and the first order of business after getting out of the caravan park was to head back to our camper to pick up the oven for Pizza Night! Turns out the car still has an issue and Glen and Sandy had it jacked up and failed to back off the binding brake. We phoned Mark the mechanic who sent us to a local mechanic to do it and he'd pick up the tab. Julie limped the Fun Truck about 10km to Humpty Doo (yes, it's a real place - look it up). Much to Glen's relief (that he isn't totally useless) the mechanic couldn't back off the brake either so we went for a bit of lunch while he waited for it to cool to have another go.
Finally we were underway again but had lost a few hours so after checking into the cabin at Batchelor (also a real place, near Rum Jungle and no, we aren't making them up) we dashed into Litchfield National Park and Buleys Rockholes for a quick swim. Before long Eli was happily playing in the water. Kyra got an early night but the wind had changed direction and fire was getting out of control. They burn off all winter here. The back burn was started metres from the back fence of the caravan park. That night there were fire trucks and police sweeping the fire line and it was all kept under control.
Day two and we started to wonder how we survived without Kyra knowing where things were and even why Glen had a day off work in December! It had again dawned hot and we drove to the far end of the park to see Wangi Falls. Eli got a toy crocodile and Julie were teaching him to make snap snap actions with his hands. After a swim in Wangi we decided to have look at Walker Creek and ended up having lunch and a swim at campsite 1. On the way back to the cabin we stopped at Table Top Swamp and discovered that the water level is higher than where it was last year.
Day three with Kyra and Eli and we once again visited Litchfield National Park and took the obligatory photo with the sign. The information boards at the magnetic termite mounds raised more questions than they answered for Kyra and as expected did not pique the interest of a one year old but the ride in the stroller was nice.
At Florence Falls Eli was not as happy as he had been in the water on previous days but it seems he likes the up-close and personal side of a waterfall. If he has the wind from the falls and the spray in his face he is smiling. When we got out of the water an older man had a fall among the rocks and Glen was again glad we are doing (some) of this now as his younger wife was in swimming and that was beyond him. We are glad we can do most things. We did the stairs down and the creek walk up but Eli hardly saw any of the creek walk as he was fast asleep. :) We had lunch at the top in the shade as it was quite warm but it wasn't until we were back in the car that Eli woke to eat his peanut butter sandwich. A short drive took us to Buleys Rockholes where we visited the lower pools and spent quite some time in the water. Again Eli wasn't all that keen but sat in his swim ring and had lots of photos taken.
On the drive back Eli chatted happily in the back. At the cabin we sat on the grass in the shade and Eli amused himself and us playing with some pegs. Then we pegged them on him and he took them off and put them in a container. There was a peg on his shoulder, just out of reach, and he had us in stitches as he chased it round like a puppy chasing it's tail, spinning on his bottom as he tried to catch it.
Pizza for dinner and Eli helped Grandad cook some bacon and burn some chorizo and he was starting to trust us when Grandad gave him too hot pizza not once but twice!
After dinner we played UNO and had a few laughs, mostly at Julie's expense as she lost (112pts) to Kyra (104pts) and Glen (36pts). We were pleased to have been able to settle Eli without Kyra so we are hoping we may be able to give her a bit of a break for a few days
Day four with Kyra and Eli and we had bacon and eggs (Eli wasn't keen on the egg and Kyra didn't give him any bacon - being Luke's son we know he'd have devoured bacon) before leaving for Berry Springs. As usual this place didn't disappoint even though it was a bit cooler at only 27 degrees when we got there as the water is from deep below the ground and is warm and slightly blue-green but beautiful to drink. We all went in below the top pool and after a while Julie carried the towels etc to the middle pool while Glen and Kyra, with noodles and goggles to check out the fish and avoid the rocks, swam with Eli in his swim ring down the creek to meet Julie. After a little while we got out and cooked sausage sangas for lunch before getting back in and going above the waterfall to the top pool. Glen had a little scrape with a plant and ended up with more little spikes embedded in his arm and the side of his foot but everyone else made it safely. Eli wasn't too happy being in the water today.
We drove back towards Darwin and checked back in to the Hidden Valley CVP before setting out for the Mindil Beach Markets. We spent a little while wandering round and tested some blue cypress oil on the aches and pains. Glen put some on his wrist to smell it and late that night the scratches he got from the plant earlier in the day that he had totally forgotten about were now raised red lumps. Steer clear of the cypress oil! (post script: it's not the cypress oil as the spines on his foot had also left raised red marks) We then got something to eat and sat on the beach to watch the sunset. Julie and Glen had a crocodile spring roll but Kyra didn't like the taste of the crocodile meat and went for the barra and chips with Eli. After tea what would a one year old want to do more than sit and watch the sunset? Play in the sand of course and Eli loved it! Back at the markets Glen found that there is a national census next week and Kyra told us there is also a local election soon. Both difficult to do while we are on the road. We are enjoying our own little world without knowing anything that is going on in the outside world though. After pausing to watch some street theatre on the way to the car poor Eli woke up vomiting. We haven't worked out why but it meant a bath in the laundry tub for the sleepy Eli when we got back to the cabin.
On their final day we had to put the car in so we spent a while in the city and waterfront before going to Crocodylis Park to see the crocs and other animals like lions and monkeys and cassowaries before picking up the Fun Truck. A bent piece on the brake shoe seems to have been causing us trouble, the mechanic had no idea how it happened and had never seen it before. Mark and Jill from Phil Kerr were wonderful and we'd recommend if you need a mechanic in Darwin that you go there. Vegemite sandwiches for lunch as we drove out to the Adelaide River Jumping Crocs which was very impressive. Eli only got scared the first time the really big croc jumped and then was fine after that.
Eli is now settling for us if Kyra walks away. A relief as he gets so heartbroken whenever she moves away, sometimes even if she is still in the same room. Barby for dinner then we watched the Geelong Western Bulldogs game as Eli slept… Actually he watched a bit of the game from bed so even at one he's a fan of the Sherrin. Soon we have to take Kyra and Eli to the airport and we both are very sad to see them go.
Accommodation $1782.00 Lattes $688.30. The accommodation turns out to be under $9 per day and the latte total would be much healthier if Julie would count the litres of iced coffee milk we buy because it's too bloody hot for coffee. Essentially it's just a cold latte but she won't have it included in the total. When we can free camp there's rarely the opportunity to buy a latte and when we can buy a latte the nightly bill is in the vicinity of $40, so alas, the accommodation is sky rocketing ahead of the latte bill. We lament this…
After sitting around most of the day waiting for news of the car (pinion seal, transfer case seal and wheel bearings all round) we decided to walk out the back of the caravan park and into the national park for a bit of a look around. The rock formations are said to be a mini Bungle Bungles.
Got the car back along with a pink slip and a hefty bill (8.5 hours labour at $110/hour and while I could have done the wheel bearings the pinion seal instructions started with removing a nut and measuring the torque required so that was out of the question) and headed to the shops then to the bottleo. Boy was that an ordeal! In the Kimberley there are alcohol restrictions. We tried to buy a carton of beer and 8 bottles of wine but that’s too much. A person can buy 2 cartons of beer or 6 bottles of wine per day…sounds like wine discrimination to me…should be at least a dozen! Anyway, we had to split our purchases to be able to buy it all. Next morning we left the caravan park and headed to the markets. There we became "Kimberley Toad Busters"… we found out some stuff about cane toads and how to kill them and Julie got a hat. We even went to the supermarket and bought a spray bottle and cheap dettol to kill the buggers. Our first failure was that night. We heard the distinctive call of the cane toad when we'd gotten into bed so we got up, got dressed and grabbed out dettol spray and a plastic bag in lieu of gloves. Armed with headlamps and our phones we headed off about 50m until our way was blocked with long grass… um… we hadn't explored the area before dark as we got in late and had no idea how far the river was or how far the cane toad was likely to be as the literature said their calls could be heard for 5km! Back to bed defeated to listen to the bloody things call all night. :(
Headed to Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles since a Mabo decision in favour a lot of the places have reverted to their original names. All for it, but just not used to the language. In New Zealand where the original names were always used it is now probably easier for people to say them. I struggle ) the next day and found out at Warrum (Turkey Creek) we had to book online by talking to two couples that had just come off the Canning Stock Route. Glen booked online for 2 nights instead of the 3 we wanted and when we got to the visitor's centre we discovered his mistake. Stupidly there is no facility to make a booking at the Visitor Centre and there is no coverage so you have to travel out at least an hour to get a signal, The lady took pity on us and took another day's money but if the campsite fills up we have to move, otherwise it was our little secret.
Arrived in camp and set up. Nice spot except for the mozzies and it's not even dark! Mossies left about half an hour before dark. Not the behaviour we expect but tonight is a bit cool. We are now 17.3 degrees below the equator and inland so it's starting to get a bit cool at night apparently. About 200km north of here last night and it was quite pleasant.
Next day we explored the South end of the park starting at Elephant Rock…yeah if you use your imagination then the Domes walk through the beehive shaped and coloured rocks to a small pool of water where there were some frogs. They kind of looked like rockhole frogs but they weren't as agile with much smaller jumps and not being able to skip across the water. From the number of dead cane toads in the area we thought they may have been cane toad metamorphs but close examination of the photos revealed suckers on their toes so we aren't sure the exact species. It seems from this and our next walk, the adjoining Cathedral Gorge, that someone has been in there and culled as many cane toads as they could find. Cathedral Gorge leads to a large amphitheatre with a small green pond. The walls must be 50m or so high as they dwarf Julie in photos. Again several dead cane toads but Julie did find 2 live ones. We decided that they couldn't get out of the hole they were in and it was ok to leave them as we didn't have anything to kill them with. We also saw a couple of small, drying water holes that were absolutely full of fish. We don't think they'll last more than a couple of weeks. We left Picaninny Creek and lookout for the next day and headed back to camp where we relaxed for a while before heading out on the walk around camp. Turns out we didn't leave enough time to talk to all the people we met and ended up in the dark so had to turn back.
With an early start the next morning we walked Picaninny Creek to the lookout and saw the rocks and vegetation up close. Of note was a tall red grevillea with almost holly shaped grey leaves. Julie also photographed a small skink which we think would be cane toad dinner if somebody wasn't culling them. We had a date with Echidna Chasm from 11 so we hot footed it out of there and drove the 30 odd km to the northern end of the park. We were delayed by a couple of backpackers on the road who needed a jump start.
Echidna Chasm is long but only a couple of metres wide in places and mid-morning the sun travels from one side of the chasm to the other before disappearing completely. Later we walked Mini Palms Gorge - long way up a loose stone dry creek bed (which must have been hell on Julie's poor sore foot) to a cave at the end of the chasm which you could view from a distance on a platform. Maybe soon you'll be able to travel all the way up because the tour guide I met said that it was no longer a sacred site as the woman who was supposedly born there they found was actually born in Derby Hospital. Another cold night.
Left to travel to Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater and found the road being dragged. Everyone was telling us the road into Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) was terrible, but it was pretty well maintained while we were there. The section of road through Mable Downs Station was a bit corrugated but nothing like the car destroying section of road we'd been hearing about.
Halls Creek was busy with tourists. Vans everywhere. At the bakery for the obligatory sausage roll, chips when Julie can get them, and latte we were lucky to be first in line when the crowd of 15 or so formed the lunch time rush behind us. We thought a coach had pulled in! Last minute visit to the info centre and we were off to the Tanami Rd and Wolfe Creek. Road conditions were again brilliant compared to what we expected, the Tanami Rd was wide and smooth and the majority of the road over Carranya Station was fairly good and the bad bit we'd been told by the Canning Stock Route people at Warmum to take the left track and avoid, which we did. Found a site at the free National Parks campsite and intend to stay a couple of nights. Trying a star trail again as the finger moon has set and there is no light pollution here. Tried F22 ISO 200 but that only captured the really bright stars. In the morning we woke with a view of the crater wall at the end of our bed. Pretty cool. We walked up to the crater later that morning and then to the top of the rim. It's a pretty amazing sight. Inside the crater there is a flat floor and the centre circle is visibly different soil and rimmed with different vegetation. Glen went about 50m along the rim to get a higher view and when he looked around Julie was gone… Thoughts of Mick Taylor entered his head until he saw her on the floor of the crater. Who cares if they recommend not to climb down because of loose rocks? Not Julie who's climbed her way through gorge after gorge! Glen followed her and slipped over on some loose rocks planting his hand in a small clump of spinifex. After the walk Julie would spend an hour removing the fine points of spinifex grass from Glen's hand with a needle and tweezers. Despite Julie's protestations that she didn't want to go to the middle pretty soon that's exactly where we were with lots of photos of plants along the way. Pretty stoked to be at ground zero of a meteorite strike even if we were 300,000 years late. The climb up the crater wall was incident free.
Late that Thursday afternoon a routine inspection of the car revealed a split in the fuel hose. Ha! We were going to avert the Fun Truck Friday Curveball by repairing it Friday morning before we left.
Tried another star trail, this time F11 ISO 400 and got much better results trail wise but not composition.
Replaced the damaged fuel hose, car started fine. We packed up and left camp getting less than a kilometre before an unusual banging had us out of the car. Julie found our awning was loose, in fact when Glen moved it to have a look one bracket broke completely and one wiggle later the other bracket broke. With the awning strapped to the boat loader we continued into town past a guy with an issue with his boat trailer, a Patrol with a fuel problem and a caravan owner we were able to enlighten as to the location of his 2 batteries - 2 km back down the road.
In town for a couple of lattes and we expected some water and some vegies. Decided against the water as the visitor centre was charging 20c/L (it's a matter of principle, not money) and the price of vegies and the location of quarantine check points saw us get a few apples, some mushrooms and a capsicum.
Stopped at China Wall, Caroline Pool and Old Halls Creek (shouldn't have bothered) before camping the night at Sawpit Gorge. Lovely campsite in the riverbed - it's not flowing, there hasn't been rain for ages - only one other person here and the river/pool is full of archer fish. Couldn't find or hear any cane toads (one was dispatched at Caroline's Pool) but the archer fish are pretty active and make a bit of noise.
Woke to bird song and a cool morning to find the pork roast was leaking from it's plastic so we're having a roast tonight and since it's easy to have a fire here we're staying put. Spent the morning watching the birds, feeding the fish and having bacon and egg wraps for breakfast. Luckily not relying on solar as it's 1pm and we've been in shade all day which makes the temperature quite pleasant. Probably another hour or so until the sun moves around past the rock wall. It's a little windy at the moment but still expecting to have a fire.
The roast port was beautiful! Our evening of relaxing was soon disturbed when Julie discovered a cane toad. When she went for the cane toad killing spray bottle she found another and came back to the light while Glen went into the dark at the far side of the camper. He sprayed the cane toad and it just sat looking at him. It then hopped off, not looking any the worse for wear. Glen supposed it would take a couple of minutes so, keeping an eye on the first busted toad, he sprayed the other. The first one still seemed fine so they both received a further spraying. The one we still could find was looking pretty sick but after 15 minutes was not yet dead. More spray. Then Julie found a toad that sat 20cm high. It was huge. Lots of spray, but it looked unperturbed and was hopping off. A couple of big rocks on it back legs kept it from running away until the spray effectiveness could be determined. After several more toads - remember there weren't any here (that we saw, and we were looking) last night - a scan with Glen's headlamp revealed that the big toad had managed to throw off his rock and was heading for the water. Three wacks with the long handled shovel blade and the toad lay broken in the rocks of the dry river bed ready for picking up in the morning with the rest. The first toad was still not dead so was killed by mechanical, rather than chemical means. A short time later when an smaller toad received the shovel treatment Glen discovered the big toad had recovered and walked away. Glen was certain he'd broken it's back but they must be tougher than he thought!
Next morning we packed up from Sawpit Gorge and decided on a last minute toilet break. The hole was dug and a car came down the road! Bloody inconvenient timing people! While they fed the fish some bread Julie used the hole and they were curious turning around all the time. Couldn't work out if they had no idea or were just being annoying!
We drove out, checking out a couple of old dumped cars. Impressive how the chrome work lasts on those old cars. In the last days of chrome bumpers the coating was so thin they rusted well before the car was scrapped. These wrecks haven't moved for many years and have rust all over every body panel and everything that opens and shuts but the chrome work shines on.
We went back up the Duncan Rd a short distance to Palm Springs. Might be nice with a bit more water… Continuing on the Duncan Rd we saw Nicholson Station mustering cattle with a helicopter and then came across three camels on the road. Of course they run away on the road, not left or right, so before we were able to pass the poor animals were running scared next to the car at 50km/h. Julie got a great video on her phone.
Our planned stop that night was at Negri River but it looked terribly uninviting as a campsite with a 50m concrete causeway with the green water not flowing. Luckily we decided to check out further down the river bank and found some nice campsites. While unpacking the camper Glen remarked on a rock in the river. Julie went for the new binoculars and found the rock was in fact a crocodile. No point unpacking further until it was identified as friend or foe. Eventually it was decided the narrow snout meant a freshie and the camper could finally be unpacked.
Another family came in and it turns out they knew Simon and Rachel and had been at Honeymoon Bay with them. That night we caught up on all the 4WD Action DVDs we hadn't got around to watching and then did some trip research by watching a DVD on the Savanah Way. Turns out most of the things we wanted to know about they didn't do and even had to have their 4WD snatched out of a mud hole on Lorella Springs by a Volkswagen! The other campers went croc spotting and saw 9 pairs of eyes and as we left the next morning eagle eye Julie spotted a sign on the northern side of the crossing warning of a croc sighting in December! Lucky we didn't swim!
We stayed at the Zebra Rock Mine for the next two nights so we could do a sunset cruise on Lake Argyle. No the usual tourist one but a wetland safari on the eastern side of the lake. The rock is interesting and beautiful, the campsite was relatively cheap at $10/head/night, complimentary tea and coffee, scones with jam and very yummy cream for only $3, and fish and chips for $15! The sunset tour was on the second, smaller boat with the owner, Kim, a self-made millionaire who was born and raised on Argyle Downs Station but who has a philosophy of not ripping off the tourists and is leaving the majority of the zebra rock in the ground even though he could sell it all now for huge sum as it is the only mineable zebra rock in the world and was only ever in this small part of the Kimberleys. We saw tons of birds and crocs (only freshies because Kim and his father trapped or shot all the salties in the 50s), went swimming in the clear water and walked on the bank before getting back on the boat to watch the sunset. It is at this point that Julie realised she had lost her phone. We think it may have dropped out of her pocket into the water as she was taking pictures with the DSLR. It had been 10 days since Glen had backed up the photos so many, many photos are gone along with phone numbers and lots of lists and notes as that phone was the means of recording almost everything. Julie was very upset.
Before leaving the next day we did the mine tour which was very interesting (it's a small scale) and we could all take some zebra rock home with us as long as it could all be carried in one hand.
After more scones and chatting to Mark and Sarah, the travellers we met at Negri River, we headed out to camp at Keep
River National Park AFTER we stocked up again at Kununarrra. As always with us shopping it took longer than expected and organising flights, accommodation and a car for Kyra and Eli in Darwin, since we are now close enough to be fairly certain when we'll get there, we ended up arriving to set up camp after dark and had to go to the second campground to find a spot. The brakes were pulsing badly by the time we got there - and it's only Wednesday.
Glen found the front end wheel bearings were very loose after less than 2 weeks and 1500km after having them replaced. This meant a trip of 70km back into town to arrive unannounced at the mechanic (no phone service out there). They tried to book us in for the next morning but eventually took the car and we had about 4 hours to kill. The Wild Mango Café was nice after a walk around the hardware store and Metaland trying to replace our awning bracket. Metaland could fabricate them for us for $1.30 each plus a bit of labour which brought them to just shy of $60 for 4. We declined. The awning can stay strapped to the boat rack for that price!
We got the car back, he didn't find any issue with the rear and didn't road test it to see if the pulsating brake pedal was gone. As we drove out so did he and (after picking up some booze) we got on the highway and found the whole car shuddered under brakes. Back tomorrow :(
There was a slideshow at the other campground and since it was dark we stopped in there. Very interesting and a lovely park. Too bad we only see it in the dark. We checked the rear and found loose bearings so up before sunrise to head back to town. The shudder was due to the rear and they are fixing them now.
All fixed! Back to Keep River NP NT!
Our first full day on the GRR! Early morning Glen brought the camera inside. The battery had died so he had no idea how the star trail went. Next morning it was cold. The wind was freezing. Winter has struck! Over breakfast Glen changed the battery in the camera and was pretty happy with the result. Good circles, a bit too much noise but he can probably clean that up with Photoshop.
Back on the GRR and we stopped about 400m later to take photos of a large boab tree. Luckily there was a tour group there and we eavesdropped on the guide talking about the tree and she gave everyone a taste of the white flesh of the boab nut which is full of vitamin C.. Can't remember how much more as the Ribena tag keeps popping into my head. Doesn't taste as good as Ribena or an orange but as Mick Dundee says, you can live on it but it tastes like shit. Julie found a dead goanna and bush turkey feathers and shared her find with the tour. Goanna - natural causes, bush turkey - somebody's dinner, they pluck it where they get it so it isn't so messy in town apparently.
Around lunch time we pulled into Windjana Gorge National Park campground and just after lunch Kat and Gary pulled in and were heading to Tunnel Creek. We'd heard you walk through waist deep croc (freshies) infested water in the dark so being chicken we asked to join them. Inside the tunnel made by the creek it was dark but shin deep was the best it got, 95% of the time we walked on dry sand. We didn't see a single croc but thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. On the way out of the cave we found a few rockhole frogs (Litoria meiriana) and boy can they jump for little frogs. They can even skip across water. That night we had a welcome shower and met up with Sandy and Simone from Osprey and their friends Simon and Rachael and chatted around the campfire. Sandy had also tried to get to Poulton Pool and failed. We are all on "the lap" and everyone has primary school aged kids but us.
Next day Julie's foot was giving her some grief after the soft sand the day before but we packed up and walked Windjana Gorge. Just before the entrance we marvelled as a bower bird decorated it's bower. Julie spotted the crocs almost as soon as we were in. Over about 800m we saw lots of freshies. Glen continued further down the gorge walking trail and Julie returned to the car. Glen didn't see any more crocs but the scenery was nice.
We moved on to Leonard Gorge had lunch and Glen did the walk. Julie's foot was too bad. Further along the Gibb and we continued to be surprised by how good the road was and how much there is to see. We camped the night at March Fly Glen which, despite the name, was free of march flies. We had the place to ourselves and cooked over an open fire. Stunned at the number and variety of birds we see and hear. Fun Truck Friday Curveball is that the rear bar seems to have dropped at the back but there is no movement in it that we can tell.
Saturday 11/6/16 and Glen freshened up the fire and we cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast before heading up the road. At the top of the hill we paused at a lookout were we could see a large plain with little dust clouds as cars approached. We were headed to Silent Grove campground and the road in was being graded. At least there was a couple of creek crossings to justify 4WD because so far the Gibb was just a bit of a dirt road. We set up next to Kat and Gary then drove the 10km to Bell Gorge. After about a 30 minute walk in we arrived at the infinity pool at the top of the falls but we were headed to the pool below. Down there we swam and chatted with Kat, Gary and Asha for ages then made our way up to the infinity pool and ran into Sandy and Simone. While the kids played we swam and chatted in the infinity pool before going back to camp to cook a lamb roast and apple crumble in the camp ovens.
With the camper off the car Glen took the opportunity to spend his Sunday morning laying under the back of the car loosening all the bolts of the rear bar and trying to lift it by re-tightening the bolts in order. All he achieved was a lather of sweat because the bar looked exactly the same after he finished. We topped up the water tank, had a (much needed in Glen's case) shower and hit the road to see Adcock Gorge. Bugger, at the start of the Adcock Gorge road were two 44 gallon drums with the words "Road Closed" painted on them. They looked like they'd been there for ages and although Wiki Camps had recent comments from people who'd obviously driven on we did the right thing and, checking the map, headed for a 4WD track that ran along a creek that would get us close. Campers on the track right next to the GRR hadn't explored past their campsite so we continued on a few km through some washouts to the end of the road. We were at the top of a waterfall and although the creek was clear and full of life it wasn't flowing. It was a fabulous camp for the night surrounded by boabs and the calls of frogs and birds.
Next morning after checking out the boabs and the flowers and the life in the creek we drove out of camp about 400m and found people with binoculars looking at the birds. Another 100m on and we found their tour bus! The wildlife tour was stopped for morning tea!
Back on the GRR our next stop was Galvan's Gorge which is on Mt Barnett Station but they allow people to access it freely and on the walk in we found some beautiful grevilleas and wattles. The Gorge has a large waterhole fed by a waterfall and we tried unsuccessfully to find the rock art that is there as kids swang on the rope swing and people swan in the pool.
Our camp for that night was the campground on Mt Barnett Station (hot chips for lunch at the Roadhouse!) so we could do the walk to the nearby Manning Gorge. We set up near Kat and Gary who'd already been there one night and headed to the river for a swim. The river has a sandy beach over a rock bottom and beautiful clear water. The beach had hundreds of rosellas, the plant Glen's aunty used to make his favourite jam. We buy rosella jam all the time but it's not as good as Aunty Beryl's was. Freshies were sunning themselves on the rocks 50m way but Julie was undeterred and went in anyway utilising her blow up float chair for the first time. She let on later that she never went past the rope used to pull the boat that keeps the gorge hikers dry on the crossing and had her eye on them… Pretty soon Kat, Gary and Asha came back from the walk and stayed for a swim. It was Asha's 7th birthday and everyone (us, Sandy, Simon and families) was there to sing her Happy Birthday and eat cupcakes. I'm sure it's a birthday she'll never forget.
After a lateish night Julie didn't wake up till 8 and we finally set off for the gorge about 11:30. With Julie's foot so bad she decided to try running shoes which Glen carried across in the boat for her while she started the walk with a swim across the river. Runners turned out to be a good choice for Julie as she was far more comfortable and we did the walk in just over an hour with plenty of stops to marvel at the scenery and the variety of plant life. We made our way past the first pool to a large pool where most of the people were. At 50m across there was plenty of room for the 20 or so there, most of whom were on the edges. Some were jumping or diving into the water from the waterfall and pretty soon that was where we were too, only diving off the lower chicken rocks. We went through the waterfall and hidden from the world we stole a quick kiss behind the cascading water.
The water was beautiful but eventually it was time to go and after some final photos we walked back and swam at the river near the campground with our friends. That night we sat around Sandy's campfire swapping stories from the road.
We had planned to leave early the next day but the campground manager said they were mustering close to the campground and they may come past. Naturally we delayed our departure but when it seemed like we had missed the fun we packed up and left only to be stopped on the road out as the helicopter and a ute tried to drive a few bulls along. Besides what we could see we monitored what was going on on the 2 way and relayed this to the small group of us waiting to get through. Eventually we were waved on by the helicopter and we thought the fun was over until the bull car (driven by a guy who Julie felt compelled to say was a bit of alright) came crashing out of the bush onto the road and sped past us. We could see them darting through the trees trying to head the bulls in the direction of the holding yards.
On leaving Mt Barnett Roadhouse with full water and fuel tanks ($2.15/L) we headed along the GRR for a short distance to free camp at Barnett River Gorge. In the morning we swam in the river and then moved on once more. We were leaving the Gibb and heading up the Kalumburu Rd towards Mitchell Falls. The road was as we expected, horrible. Kilometres of corrugations causing breakdowns and cars leaving the road through bouncing off at corners. Driving to the conditions we didn't get as far as expected and camped in a clearing beside the road some 35km from Kind Edward River. Wasn't disappointed as it was still beautiful. Next morning we decided to head straight into Mitchell Plateau Campground rather than stay at King Edward River and on the way helped out someone stuck with a loose shock absorber by producing the right sized washer from our supply of parts.
We camped at a large clearing with a fire pit never dreaming we'd keep it to ourselves but we did for the two nights we were there. After setting up we booked a helicopter flight out of the falls for the next day then went down to the first creek crossing for a swim/wash and as usual ended up with a chat and swapping stories of the better places to see. Made use of the fire pit to cook and through the night heard the dingos howling and the night birds calling.
Early start for our 7am safety briefing, got ourselves organised and headed off on the walk to Mitchell Falls. First stop was supposed to the be the rock art below Little Merton Falls but just before we got there Julie spotted an animal under a rock ledge/cave. We weren’t sure what it was with it's curly tail but it hung around long enough for a couple of photos. Later the Ranger's wife identified it as a quoll, common here but rare in the rest of the country. The scientists were also in the park doing aversion therapy with the quolls. They feed the quolls a non-lethal dose of cane toad meat. They get sick but they live and they don't eat it again and won't eat cane toads. The most remarkable thing is that this aversion to cane toads passes on to the offspring so they don't eat them either. The cane toad march only seems to be as far as Home Valley Station (HV8 - west of ELQ) at the moment but the quolls of Mitchell Plateau will be ready when, not if unfortunately, they get there. It is hoped that they can save the quolls at least.
The rock art was astounding, and there was a second site on the walk to the falls. The pamphlet said the Bradshaw art which is the thin red figures often dressed in ceremonial dress was 17,000 years old. Equally astounding is that the iPhone picks this up really well making the figures much more visible than how it looks on the rock.
We eventually reached the falls viewing area and chose to look before we cooled off with a swim. We found a great place, directly across from the falls with no trees in front of us and just enough room for 2 so we had lunch with arguably the best view of the falls except from the air. We made our way back to the swimming area above the falls and enjoyed the cool clear water of small falls into the pools. We'd befriended a couple of kids the night before and they came to chat and play with us and all too soon it was time for our 6 minute helicopter ride out. We chose to fly out to get the overall view of the area you just can't get on the ground and it was a good call as we were able to place things we walked past, particularly Big Merton Falls, plus get a great view of Mitchell Falls.
More campfire cooking that night and next morning just around sunrise Glen walked up to the lookout for 360 degree views of the area before we packed up to head to King Edward River Campground a couple of hours back up the road. Just before there is an Aboriginal Cultural Site with lots of rock art but also a little cave with three skulls and some (I'm guessing leg) bones. I didn't buy the book about it all later when we hit Drysdale Station as we'd gone past it and it was $25 PLUS the thing that dead set looked like a quoll was identified as a possum so the author had no idea in my opinion. While there I heard the theory that the Bradshaw art was actually painted by people before the aboriginal people and the aboriginal people painted over them to hide them. They do seem more sophisticated than the more modern art but who knows what happened 17000 years ago? Other continuous cultures know little of the art or writing of their ancestors.
At the camp we were told it would be great to get the kayak off so we did but separately, since we only have one as Glen broke the other kayak. Pretty soon after a swim and paddle we decided to stay another night and chilled the next day with a walk and swim and paddle then Simon and Rachael pulled in in their truck (an actual medium rigid truck), having left the van at Drysdale, on their way to Horizontal Falls and then Honeymoon Bay at Kalumburu because they'd heard about the excellent fishing. They too ended up having a lay day as we headed off down the Kalumburu Rd, calling in at Drysdale and eventually camping where the actual Gibb River crosses. We came across a short wheel base Land Rover that had broken the rear axle housing at the diff. That must've been scary dragging his tail along the road to a grinding halt. We were asked to send the guy's brother back from the camp to get him. Glen did get bogged in the sand before we found a good place to camp but the swim in the river was worth it.
Next morning after a swim and collecting a few rosellas to boil with our quandong and lemon myrtle for our bush tea we arrived at Ellenbrae Station, home of the apparently world famous scones.
Next was a quick visit to Home Valley Station for lunch then the iconic crossing of the Pentecost River… bit disappointing really, nothing to it. Camped up overlooking the crossing then on to El Questro the next morning
El-Questro (ELQ Australia)
First night we went up the 4WD track to Saddleback Lookout for the sunset and over a glass of Dukes 2013 Single Vineyard Shiraz saw the best sunset we have seen ever - big call but true. No cane toads here that we can see but we think we saw a dead one at Bindoola Falls, West of HV8 but on El-Questro land.
Today we're missing Eli's birthday party and we have been away for exactly 6 months and it's our first full day at El-Questro. It started with Julie explaining why she didn't sleep. She was worried we'd get stuck and eaten by a croc on tomorrow's drive. As the washing was drying (regular campers with Julie won't be surprised that there were 23 pairs of Julie's undies in the wash today and there were still plenty in the drawer) and after a latte and a scrumptious piece of cake Julie asked one of the Rangers about the drive and he allayed her fears. We'll see crocs but we aren't likely to get stuck. We headed out to Zebedee Springs (thermal) and chillaxed in the beautiful surrounds and warm water. Our next stop, Jackaroo Waterhole, was a little cooler that the thermal springs but still a lovely spot for a swim. During lunch a private tour from Mt Hart Station rocked up and brought out the mud crab. Jealous! After the cake a walk up El-Questro Gorge, to the midway pool, was in order. It required crossing the Penticost River at the deepest crossing we have done all trip, I think the rock sliders just went under water. Inside the gorge was much cooler than the 35 degree day with the heat of the sun not penetrating into the narrow (10-50m wide) gorge or through the canopy of the Livistonia palms. It was still hot work climbing up the gorge and we enjoyed the swim in the midway pool. To go further required wading across the pool and scaling up the side of a very large boulder, and then it got difficult. Far too late in the day for that and Julie's foot was giving her hell after the rock hopping to get that far.
Sunday we went to Wyndham to get fuel and few supplies. Julie had a hidden agenda to visit the seafood place and Rusty's Café so the seafood place was the second place we went (some barra wings and a mudcrab) and the third was Rusty's Café for the sausage rolls. With full Vodafone coverage we were also able to re-register the Echo… how to register the Fun Truck in a couple of weeks is at this stage a mystery. We needed to hit the track and with some info from the servo we headed out across the mud flats following wheel ruts. It seemed to work as the Hema said we were on the track. Within minutes Julie was not getting out of the car (because of crocs) taking photos of jabirus but the classic vista of boabs she's been searching for the whole Gibb had her cautiously step out of the car. She again bravely stepped out of the car…eventually… at the aboriginal rock art site, even though the creek was quite close, and again at the dam but no bravery here, the carpark was completely fenced to keep everyone out of the dam. Further down the track and Julie spotted our first ever wild croc, and it was a beauty. She saw the croc 100m away on a beach as we went over a crossing lined with trees! Amazing!Without leaving the safety of the car she got a great shot of it. Glen couldn't get anywhere near as good a photo even though he, despite Julie's pleas, was out of the car. Minutes later at the Prison Boab Tree Julie wasn't leaving the car again some 250m from the monster but Glen needed her spotting skills to try to find the arrow and date carved in the tree that designate this one as an actual prison tree. As she gingerly approached over the wide clear dirt carpark a loud noise of big rocks moving came from the creek. Julie backpedalled and Glen jumped but said it was a cow. A little later there was a moo… of sorts, I think it was a moo. What noise do crocs make?
Even eagle eye Julie couldn't find the arrow and date (proportedly 1896) amongst the proliferation of names carved in the tree. Really quite disgusted with the number of people who feel their immortality can be achieved by defacing a thousand year old tree.
The rest of the track was very scenic, even the mud flats. There were a few sections in the last 6km that weren't smooth with rocks or washouts but without doubt we could have towed the camper even though the doomsayers said the track is too rough. With the current dry spell in the Kimberly the track has no traction issues. Really wish they'd just tell it like it is rather than try to talk things up so the clueless keep away. Arrived back at camp after dark as the track took four and a half hours. Fish and crab for dinner. Another good day.
Our final full day at ELQ and we sat in the bird hide looking for the rare and endangered Gouldian finch until about 30 minutes after Glen got bored. We didn't see one. We went on a 4WD track to Pigeon Hole Lookout and saw one there! On the way down the Fun Truck was making funny noises and after the very long and rocky but dry Branko Crossing we pulled up at Explosion Hole and found the pinion seal dripping oil. The mechanic here said it would be fine until we got to town but it was a bit of a downer on the day. Realised later it's probably the same as its been for ages so not too worried now, but still booked in to have it changed Thursday. Packing up tomorrow. New facilities here at ELQ just opened a couple of days ago and they are really excellent. Very impressed with most of the things at ELQ but a bit annoyed that certain tracks are closed unless you do a tag along tour or you are staying at the actual homestead.
On the way out of El Questro we aired up and headed for Emma Gorge, also on El Questro land but more upmarket accommodation at the resort there. We walked into the gorge and found a beautiful pool fed by a hot spring and a waterfall. It truly was a beautiful place and we swam her in the cool water for an hour before walking back. On the way back Julie did the snake dance for a 50cm tree snake. It ignored her completely.
We headed into Wyndham for a coffee and the café was closed. Why don't cafes stay open for afternoon tea? They seem to close just before afternoon tea. Insanely disappointed at missing out on a latte Glen suggested checking out the huge concrete croc. After the photo Julie suggested a 6 pack of beer. She got asked for ID - it's a Kimberly thing, but Glen is pretty sure they thought she was underage.
Outside we were approached by Henry with a boab nut carved by "mum", his wife. At $30 it was a bargain and all the money went to the artist - she took the money from Henry as soon as he walked over! Henry told us he was born in Wyndham and he climbs the tree and throws the nuts down to someone as any nuts that fall from the tree break. Mum carves them. He also told us about the 5 Rivers lookout and if we were going he and mum wouldn't mind a lift up. We would have gladly obliged but we only have 2 seats.
The lookout was amazing, rising so high above the flat surroundings. We enjoyed the sunset (and a beer) there before making our way to a freecamp on the side of the road. In the morning we headed to the bird hide at Parry's Lagoon early and were rewarded with lots of birds and 2 large crocs on the bank and one in the water. After a stop at Telegraph Hill and Parry's Creek Farm for a latte, where we saw Tom and Katie, we headed toward the Ivanhoe Crossing and after a flat tyre we crossed it to the applause of the tourists taking photos as we crossed…weird!
Bridgestone tried to stiff us by quoting, starting work then trying to charge extra for balancing so Julie set them right and we booked in for a couple of nights at Hidden Valley to get the car fixed. Turns out it needed a bit more work so we had no car overnight.
Skyped Eli for his birthday