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.
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.