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