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.
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
Forgive me patient reader as I haven't written for some time… Since all of this happened so long ago (it seems ages because we have done so much in the meantime) and because Julie is the biographer of our lives on Facebook you probably already know most of our trip anyway. I'll be brief.
We contacted the hotel and got little joy with my stuffed up booking. Ended up booking a place nearby, not as nice but cheaper, doesn't matter, it's just one night.
The motel in Patong was nice but particularly after seeing the non-tourist Thailand Glen was unsure about why people go there and have so much of their own culture, not just food but language too. You could get by without a single word of Thai and could order western food everywhere - even though at the maccas they had some menu items catering to Thai tastes and the receipts had the company name Mac Thai it was still basically a maccas. How do I know this given my high and mighty statement about culture? A cheap ice cream cone at the end of a hot night is heaven. A notable omission from their menu is a thickshake as after a particularly hot day Glen thought it would go down a treat but nowhere makes thickshakes!! Crazy. Anyway back to the point… some people never leave the motel and to them Thailand could be just a warmer version of the Gold Coast. Glen decided that he needed to speak more (although he has never been a linguist) and when asking for the room key did so in Thai. The girls on reception seemed delighted someone was trying and actually remembered our room number - perhaps they were just saving Glen the embarrassment of murdering their language… Ordering moo (pork) or gai (chicken) added to the fun of ordering food. Glen regretted not learning more of the language.
Walking street in Patong is what the tourists want it to be and the bar prices are high. For 100B (about 4 dollars) you can take a photo with a lady boy. The go-go bars from the outside looked quite boring, the girls looked bored and the men not too much less bored. Of course the older men wanted to be with the youngest girls and it looked quite wrong but everyone has to make a living somehow.
Our favourite day was when we went on the Starlight Hong tour. We were picked up early from the motel and driven to Ao Ho pier where we boarded the boat to Phang Ngah Bay (no, not James Bond Island). We were assigned a guide who was to look after us all day by paddling our canoe and showing us how to make a kratong to release in a cave at night and ask forgiveness. At the first stop we were paddled into a cave and shown some bats before emerging into a hong which is basically cliffs all round inside the island. We saw monkey tracks and mud skippers then went back outside to the waiting boat where we got some free time swimming and had a chance to paddle the inflatable canoe. Glen took up this offer and paddled off to a deserted beach then back to pick up Julie and head there again. Back at the boat we swam and tried to run along upturned canoes. On the boat we met a guy from Perth who knew April! Small world.
After another cave, this one pitch black, we emerged inside the island and saw monkeys We were stoked. After an amazing lunch we started to make our kratong. These are usually only made once a year to cast out on the sea to rid the maker of bad luck and ask for forgiveness. The kratong is made of natural materials, such as a banana tree trunk slice, leaves and orchids and have incense and candles. When it got dark we took our kratongs into the cave lit them and set them afloat. It was a beautiful sight. The water also had phosphorous plankton and glowed when disturbed - also beautiful. As an eco tour we had to collect our kratong and return it to the boat but we were promised that it would be burnt the next morning to ensure our bad luck was gone. Back to the dock and home late but a day we will always cherish.
The elephant tour was depressing. Felt sorry for the animals, especially the monkeys.
Julie was really looking forward to Phi Phi Island (Koh Phi Phi Don) and the ferry ride brought us to a beautiful island much changed since Julie was there. Much more development, and a 20B rubbish tax collected at the dock. We were taken to our motel by long tail boat. Reception is right on the beach and a barefoot porter took us to our bungalow. OMG this was nice. Our view was to die for. We had the closest room to the beach with the stunning view even visible from the toilet! We tried to have a swim but low tide meant it wasn't good and we were disappointed and went into the town while the day trippers were still about. It was far more relaxed that the rest of Thailand's tourist hot spots. At night it seemed far more relaxed. We did a snorkel tour the next day and saw thousands of fish. At the time it was the most fish we had seen. The water was clean and warm. We didn't find out until the last morning that all the fish we'd paid to see were literally at our doorstep when the tide was in. We were blown away. One evening we walked up to the Viewpoint at sunset to see the sun set over the island. Very beautiful and worth the litres of sweat :) That evening we also realised how big the town was. We had no idea it was so big and so much more interesting away from the beach strip that we'd frequented. Travellers tip - ditch the people you re travelling with and strike out on your own with no idea where you are going. Embrace with an open mind and heart.
Eventually we had to leave and travelled to Nai Yang Beach for our last night. Had dinner with everyone on the beach (tables and chairs)
The flights home were much more bearable as it was day time and I didn't need to sleep :)
Julie managed to get a bit of sleep on the plane flights but Glen didn't get much if any. There wasn't much leg room so we were glad for the stopover and Glen discovered Starbucks Signature hot chocolate…not sure if that's a good or bad thing…
We got through Customs OK and were greeted by Harvey at the exit. We went up and changed a bit of cash to Bhat then lugged the bags to the train. As an introduction to Thailand it was a real eye opener.. Were we got on wasn't too crowded but within a couple of stations the carriage was packed with what seemed like half of Bangkok. Glen was separated from Julie and both were separated from Harvey and Pon. Through the sea of groins we kept watch to see when they got off. We changed trains and really struggled in the heat with heavy bags with no wheels and Julie vowed to get a bag with wheels. The Skytrain was 48Bh each and the next train was 28B each. We were quickly at our stop and struggled down the stairs to street level. The footpath was lined with vendors and people going everywhere it seemed to culture shocked Glen. It was about 800m to the hotel - although in the heat it seemed more like 2km. We arrived drenched in sweat and the air conditioning hit us like a refreshing wave when the door was opened. As we untangled ourselves from bags and set them down we were brought a cold glass of fruit punch. Wonderful! Glen was surprised to find that he needed his passport to check in!
We went to our rooms and the bags arrived…do we tip? Bugger another thing we didn't Google and we didn't put any time into learning the language. Luckily we had Pon for the hard bits and the staff all had a reasonable command of English. We headed straight out to lunch, Julie was famished! Pon led us down the street and waved of the first of many offers for taxis and tuk-tuks that we would get during our Thailand stay. We went straight into a dark and busy place with all sorts of food Glen couldn't name. Panic set in and Glen expressed his discomfort to Julie who calmly got us out of there and into a quiet restaurant. It was too early and too much for Glen to do street food with all the warnings about don't drink the water and don't eat this or that. (Julie is my rock and understands me and had my back, she is wonderful and I love her - Glen) Turns out it was a place Julie had eaten in the last time she was in Thailand. The restaurant food was good but more expensive than we thought after Harvey's calls during previous trips and recounts of how cheap everything was. The afternoon was filled with a swim in the hotel pool and in the evening we went to the Patpong markets just around the corner. Readers familiar with walking along touristy Thai streets past bars will be aware how often you are asked if you'd like to see a ping pong show. Julie and Harvey were asked frequently but Glen was amused that he NEVER got asked!!! Back to the Hotel for an early night.
We won't bore you dear reader with details but day 2 in this far away land had Glen beginning to eat street food and trying to get his cob khun krap (thank you)and sa wa dee krap (hello/goodbye) working in the right places (turns out krap is said as cup, at least in Petchebun) and getting used to bargaining the price at the places they expect you to haggle. We visited MBK - a big shopping centre by train and had a ball riding in a tuk-tuk to where the girly bars are - as it was quite early in the evening there was little point going in. Dinner in another restaurant then back "home" on the train. It was at this point Glen suspected he had little tolerance for the local beer as it was embarrassingly going straight through him.
Day 3 was an organised tour to the Floating Markets, River Kwai and Tiger Temple, yep, all in one day. To get to the Floating Markets we rode a short distance in a long tailed boat which is basically a long skinny boat with a car engine mounted on a bracket, actually more like an inboard motor speedboat as a forward/reverse gearbox is there too It allows the propeller to be moved in any direction to steer the boat and they can move! The markets were basically like any other markets except when we got a ride in a paddled boat to see the few vendors actually floating. Apparently its pretty much only tourists now as the car has replaced the boat. The River Kwai museum we found disorganised and the bit of information our tour guide gave us before sending us off to explore on our own was about all we got from it. The walk over the actual bridge was interesting but not particularly moving. The tigers were an hour and a half from there. We slept. Once there we walked to the Tiger Canyon, listened to the upsell (from a lady from Fremantle who'd been there for 7 years) then went in to be photographed individually with a number of tigers sleeping. It was so good we did it again then went off exploring the rest of the grounds. We saw a 10 month old tiger playing in the water. A pig wandered too close and the tiger went into stalk mode so they chased the pig away. Soon after a young boy ran down the hill and the tiger went into stalk again. Don't run in the grounds isn't just a suggestion! Although the tiger had been bred in captivity for generations, never killed anything and had never even had red meat the instinct runs deep. There are all sorts of animals living there as the monks are given them for safe keeping. We were looking at the bear cub when our tour guide found us and said it was time to go. We didn't even get to the temple, we take too long looking. We got back to the motel 3 hours later and headed out for "washing machine chicken". The chicken is cooked in a large drum, to Glen's thoughts about the size of our washing machine bowl. It's closer to a tandoori oven being ceramic over a charcoal fire but the name stuck with us.
Day 4 we tried to go to the Golden Palace and had negotiated a fare with "our" tuk-tuk driver (he had 4wd mud flaps so that's who we chose to ride with the whole stay) when we were told we needed appropriate clothing. We had none so whipped over to the markets but found no shoes suitable. We joined Harvey and Pon and headed to MBK again. After a full day of shopping we were ready for the temple the next day. That night we went on a dinner cruise down the river and we got put on the middle deck. Food was OK but the buffet had no flow lines and took forever. On the middle deck where we were the entertainment wasn't that good and we only got to see sideways out the window so we couldn't see the tops of anything. After the food we went to the roof top and found the diners there had 360 degree views and better entertainment. Felt seriously ripped off. Not happy Jan. Then the good entertainment went down stairs and we followed but pretty soon our original artist was back. Made the best of it by joining in and having a dance.
Our final day in Bangkok had us at the tuk-tuk at the booked time and we negotiated that he'd stay and take us back after the palace. We probably paid too much since our fare the day before was to take traffic into account but he was nice young guy and a half day tour of the city for 700B ($A28) is good value to us. We went to the Grand Palace, found I didn't need covered shoes anyway, but picked up a tour guide who took us through in the hour we wanted leading us past queues and to the best vantage points for photos. She used to work for the Palace so she knew her stuff. On the way back we stopped at the Golden Mountain which we loved. The sights we saw on the way back made it worth every bit of our $28. That afternoon it was taxi to the airport to meet up with Pon's daughter, Mai and Harvey's mum and aunty then to Pattaya for a few more days. That night we ate at a restaurant overlooking the beach about 200m from our motel. Julie and I decided to go for a walk along the beach road and finished with coffee at a pizza restaurant. Due to us not being in the land of Oz and it generally being too bloody hot for coffee the latte total has been suspended until we get back as has the accommodation total, even though one motel was as cheap as $A20/night but we have paid up to $156/night with a total of $1156 for the 3 week trip.
Our first day in Pattaya was spent relaxing and exploring as June and Pam recovered from the flight. We booked a tour to go parasailing, sea walking and relaxing on Koh Larn, an island about 7km from Pattaya. It's probably reasonable to note that I don't think we have seen blue sky the whole time we have been in Thailand except for at the Tiger Temple which is well away from anything. The smog and smoke haze means that you can't see far and the sky is a smooth grey. We should have been able to see the island from the beach but we couldn't. We went to Mini Siam in the "bus" (seats like in a troopy but in the back of a ute. Good fun to ride on the back standing up!) They have miniatures of buildings from around the world, but mainly from Bangkok. Very amusing to read the signs with the English translations. Some were indecipherable! The signs also carried pictures - not of the building they copied but of the model you were standing in front of! Highlight of this night was feeding the koi carp with a baby's bottle. Restaurant for dinner. We would have had to blindly accept the bill as it was written in Thai but Mai checked it for us. Pon checked her bill and three times they got it wrong. If it was us we would have paid the high incorrect price and been none the wiser.
The second day saw us ready early for our adventurous day. We were picked up and taken to the beach to meet the speedboat. Obligatory photos were taken - one girl refused and was told "no photo no get in water, if you have accident need photo to identify"! As we waited the usual line of people trying to sell us stuff passed by. Getting a bit tired of everyone just trying to rip us off but understand everyone needs to make a living. First stop was just a few minutes out at one of the boats moored in the bay for parasailing. There's probably 5 or 6 of these things and they all operate the same way. Ours had 6 speedboats doing the lap of the boat, just the driver in each one, no observer! Changeover from one person to the next was in the order of 10 seconds. You get suited up in a harness and buoyancy vest and stand in a queue on a vinyl covered open deck. You get a photo then walk out near the landing area. The person drops in and you are escorted up as they are released and you walk straight in get clipped in and they tell you hold here and to run. Next thing you are supposed to rise into the sky do a lap of the boat and gently drop to the deck. In Julie's case it didn't quite go to plan as when the boat started she fell forward and was dragged to the edge before being lifted. It went to plan for Glen and when he got down found Julie in a terrible state. Her feet were grazed and burnt from being dragged. Glen got her first aid (water and betadine) and she covered her tears with sunglasses. It was heartbreaking to see as we sped towards a boat anchored off the island of Koh Larn for sea walking.
At the next activity, Julie was understandably reluctant to put her faith in them but the person who did the safety briefing - yes they actually had one - was caring and multilingual and after he explained in Chinese came to Julie and explained everything that would happen and reassured her there were free divers below who would help her if she panicked. She, to her credit, decided to have a go and actually loved it. The instructions below were a bit vague and the visibility was poor but it was still good. She surfaced but was still in dreadful pain.
Back in the speedboat to head to the beach. The traffic on the water was something that has to be seen to be believed. Speed boats, jet skis and jet skis towing banana boats, again no observer, all going in a myriad of directions. We reached the crowded beach incident free and followed the tour guide to our deck chairs. It was very low tide but just before the chairs was a ditch filled with water as hot as bath. You can imagine the pain this caused Julie. Glen refused to sit theatre style on a beach so we went for a swim before lunch. We bobbed in the shallow water watching the parade of people you just don't see on Australian beaches. The back of the beach is one long market and we started to do a lap but thongs hurt Julie and the concrete was red hot so we didn't go far - far enough to miss the start of lunch though and we ended up being seated at opposite ends of the table. After lunch we tried the markets again. Julie was impressed by a lady crocheting a bag similar to the strawberry bag and hat sets for sale. Another swim and a juice smoothie and it was time to go. We got our included CD of photos on the bumpy ride back. I hope our photos are on the disk because we passed up the printed photo and photo plate they tried to sell us when we got back.
Back at the hotel Glen set off to the pharmacy to get everything Julie may need to dress her wounds and also a pair of scuff like slippers so she could walk around with less pain.
That night we went to Walking Street, had street food (kababs) and did a lot of walking and Julie the trooper never complained although she was clearly in pain. We got home pretty late considering the planned 4am leave for Pon's home town of Phetchabun for the wedding.
After a long drive we arrived in Phetchabun - the motel was 2000B for 4 nights (about $A20/night) and headed to Pon's parents house to meet some of the family and a pad see ew lunch. In the afternoon we spent time in the motel pool. It's quite hot here. We discovered that when the key is removed from the slot all the power in the room goes off - including the fridge! Putting their business card in the slot solved that problem.
The next day we did a bit of shopping and the house was prepared for the wedding and the cooking was started. Incredible to see pork being minced by a team of the family armed with meat cleavers! We engaged in a bit of Songkran fun with the kids. They got us good!! The family had prepared washing machine chicken for dinner after we said how much we liked it in Bangkok. We gave the family gifts of breezers for the girls and Thai whiskey for the men. Naturally Glen had a drink with them out of respect irrespective of the fact he can only say hello, thanks and is working toward "I can't speak Thai". The Thai whiskey was $A12 a bottle, and the clear spirit they drink is $A4 a bottle! It's not bad either.
An early start for the wedding day, we were picked up by Harvey at 4:15. Pon had been at the hairdressers for a couple of hours by then and the monks were due at sunrise. The Thai wedding ceremony is not a religious thing. The monks come to bless the couple, not perform a wedding. Thanks to Google we had some idea of what would be happening and the symbolism of this beautiful traditional ceremony. At the house the uncles had Glen drinking a shooter of Thai whiskey at 5:25am! Julie just had a sip. The bride arrived looking beautiful and the groom donned his wedding clothes - see the photos…no really have a look at the photos! The 9 monks arrived traditionally, in the back of a Hilux ute, and sat in order on a raised platform. We took our seat - front and centre between Pon's parents and Harvey's mum and aunty. The bride and groom were blessed as was some string as part of a service/ceremony (we kept watch on those around us as to when we had to put our hands in prayer position and at the end we all "gave merit" to the monks (food, and the family also gave envelopes of money) and we were splashed with holy water. The monks left and we all tied string around the bride and grooms wrists and Julie and I ended up with some from the family too. These string bracelets should be kept on for at least 3 days for good luck. (without the additional luck we'd be in serious strife as over the next day or so we had a few bad luck incidents) :)
Next was the wedding breakfast. By now it was really warm. We took a seat and were honoured that a couple of the men sat with us on the foreigners table. We got food that wasn't spicy. Of course the whisky and Chang beer started flowing and Julie, June and Pam were into the beer. Glen was having whiskey and soda and the locals on our table were ensuring our glasses never got less than half full. By 9:30am after 2 hours of drinking Julie made the call that it had been a big day and she had drunk face :)
A few people had changed out of their good clothes into cooler clothes so we did too - our matching floral shirts signalled the start of Songkran for the day and soon we were respectfully having water poured on us and wished well. We reciprocated and pretty soon everyone was tipping water over someone. We were encouraged to dance by the girls at the "party table" and then it was into the back of a Hilux to cruise the street where the water fights were.
This was incredible fun, cruising on the highway in the back of an open truck then turning into a street and being covered with water in a really fun atmosphere. Of course there was beer, one of the young guys opened it with his teeth and the bottle was passed around the 5 responsible adults who took great care not to let the bottle fill with water as we drained it. We were sitting in a tray of water, getting drenched by people with buckets in passing trucks and people outside houses. We gave as good as we got and the people with hoses would fill us up if we didn't catch enough of what was thrown at us. Tremendous fun! Piece of bad luck/management 1 - Glen's waterproof pouch had come open and his phone had a couple of cm of water over it. Quick get the rice!!!
In the afternoon we went up to the temple for the ceremony where the elders (60+) and all the monks sit down and everyone files past them and pays respect by pouring water into their hands. After that we were coaxed onto the dance floor (aka piece of concrete) to dance while being soaked with a fire hose and sprayed with water pistols from the younger members of Pon's community. At this stage Glen is euphoric and having a ball. Julie is too but is still in terrible pain from her feet. Even so she takes the opportunity to walk home with Mai and Pon's sister in law, Poo, wife of Jung, number 2 brother. On the way we met Poo's parents at their house, just around the corner from Pon's, everyone we met was from the same village. We saw more traditional life of the Thai people in the country. This is what few people see and is the part we most love about Thailand.
At about 6pm we took Pon back to the hairdressers to get her hair undone. They worked incredible hours, 1am to 7pm on a public holiday. As Harvey tells us "only in Thailand". We were supposed to go out for dinner but with Harvey and Pon being smashed tired we sent them home and had dinner at the motel.
A late start the next day had us travelling high up into the mountains, so far up we saw the sky above the smoke haze. We stopped at a steak restaurant before going to Phasornkaew Temple, at the northern end of Phetchabun Province. Here the main Buddha is five buddhas sitting on each others laps in descending order. It is a beautiful, peaceful place (except the queue for the ladies toilet apparently) and although the ground was hot when you had to take off your shoes we are glad we went. Poo came with us as well. In the evening we had a farewell dinner with the family. We took our Bundy and Kahlua and when the home made rice wine came out before dinner we offered up our drinks. Harvey now needs to bring Bundy next time he comes to Thailand. Julie and I decided to walk around the block and got 4 offers to stop for a drink! Julie was spirited away by Pon's mum and got a tour of the village and met people and saw lots of interesting things. She felt very honoured. Glen did as the Thai do for dinner and sat with his drinking buddy on the platform they use so Julie joined them. During dinner one of the people we didn't drink with on our lap arrived on a motor bike and again invited us over so we agreed to go over after dinner for a drink. Half the family came too and we had a great time. Mum (Pon's mum) gave us some little fruits off a tree. They tasted like lilly pilli but were much firmer. Glen liked them much to the amusement of the others. Glen also learnt how to open a beer bottle with another beer bottle. A very useful skill. We reluctantly had to go as we were leaving at 6 the next day to go to Bangkok to fly to Phuket.
6am came round very quickly and Julie's brand new luggage had it's second breakage. (Good luck that it is still useable thanks to the piece of blessed string!) when Harvey, Pon, Mai, Dad (Pon's Dad) and Topp (Pon's niece, daughter of brother number 1) came to pick us up we learnt that Jung and Mum both had hangovers so I think they enjoyed the night as much as Julie and I and they kicked on after we left. Jung was sleeping it off at the farm while Poo worked with their son F4.
We drove to Bangkok airport and the traffic was not as bad as expected so we were there 5 hours early. Glen got some of the blog written. On the plane Glen discovered he accidently booked a hotel for the night of 24/10/15, the day he did the bookings instead of 23/4/16. Idiot!
We arrived in Phuket and Julie discovered it was not the sleepy little place she knew all those years ago. We travelled to Patong and our admittedly very nice hotel right near the beach and at 10pm the streets were bustling and a bit sleazy. 99B cocktails at the bar across the road soon had us feeling good.
Today we organised some tours and had a couple of swims and finished off the blog. Glen was disappointed that his phone didn't make a full recovery but works although his normal good luck text to Ashley before each AFL game didn't go through. We watched the game on TV and didn't notice any timekeeping errors so no harm done breaking from tradition… Glen is worried the replacement they are training will do him out of a job he enjoys when he gets back…
Accommodation: $610.20 (excludes Thailand) Lattes: $453.50 (includes Singapore)
Please forgive the long post dear reader, we've tried to break it up but slow net speeds and too much fun make it hard...
St Patrick's Day 2016 to Monkey Mia
We were up early to a glorious sunrise after being hammered with wind the whole night. The spring loaded poles inside the tent creek constantly and the canvas slaps and the camper rocks on it's suspension each time there is a gust so neither of us got a great night's sleep. We'd prepared the camper to leave it for the day the night before so there wasn't much more than putting the rubbish in the car and unhooking the Treg hitch before we could leave to see the famous dolphins of Monkey Mia.
It took a while to drive out and we finished airing up at the main road at 7:35. Dolphin feeding can start at 7:45… It was roughly half an hours drive away but they feed up to three times before midday so we were pretty sure we wouldn't miss it totally.
On entering Monkey Mia and parking a fair way back in the carpark, which was full of Wicked campers and huge motor homes - it seems this dolphin feeding thing appeals to all budgets - we walked to the entrance and were told that the "first experience was just finishing up". At the water's edge they were 2 deep across 40m of beach as they announced "and that's the signal to the dolphins that there are no more fish so can everyone please leave the water". Oh well there were two more to go.. They announced that even if the dolphins came back in straight away that they wouldn't start the next experience for at least 10 minutes. Luckily for us they did come straight back in (seems our wild animal whodoo had gone) and we would see them. Tiff from CaLM (Conservation and land Management, the equivalent of NPWS) got us all to stand ankle deep in a line and wandered up and down the group telling us about the dolphins in general and the specific ones in front of us. Interestingly some of these dolphins used tools in the form off a sponge. They pick up a sponge and use that to stir up the bottom looking for flathead (who have no swim bladder and are therefore invisible to their sonar but they can see if a mammal in the water is pregnant, even humans) instead of using their bare rostrum (nose). Quite smart as the shells on the bottom of this bay must really hurt after a while. That makes the otters who use rocks and these Monkey Mia dolphins the only tool users in the ocean. Apparently it's only Surprise's family that does it, Puk's family fish for "normal" fish swimming near the beach while Surprise's family fish further out. There were about half the number of people that attended the first experience but we weren't lucky enough to get chosen to feed the dolphins.
The dolphins came straight back in again for the third and final feeding and after about 15 minutes a new person had us standing in the water. There were even less people at this experience. Julie was hopeful to be chosen to feed the dolphins. While Tiff told us about the dolphins this older lady was also talking TO the dolphins. She still told us about dolphins, the pregnant thing and how the fin cuts and scars which is used to identify each dolphin were made came from her, but her obvious affection for the animals meant that Puk, a female who they feed, was actually touching her. No other dolphin we saw touched a human. When the fish came out Glen was the first to be chosen by the volunteer but he gave the opportunity to Julie so she fed Surprise and was thrilled with the experience.
We scoped out the charter boats that take you to see dugongs and had lattes before getting some postcards and heading off to check out the campsites of the Francois Peron National Park as we intend to stay there a couple of nights.
To get into the campsite we wanted to we would have had to work the Fun Truck hard and bounce the camper over a fair bit of the road, nothing beyond what it is capable of but since we were already at a beautiful spot (that as a bonus was free too) we decided to stay where we were until when we wanted to stay at Monkey Mia. We spent a few more days being the only people in the world with our own private beach and loving every minute… although it was a little windy in the evenings and we ran out of gas cans… If it hadn't been for the sunset cruise we may not have moved at all but heading an hour back to camp after a few relaxing drinks wouldn't have been good.
On packing for Monkey Mia we found the poly block (the trailer hitch) was split. Luckily a mechanic in Denham was able to order one and we continued in to Monkey Mia for what we expected to be one night. BUT thunderstorms were expected in the afternoon so the cruise to see the dugong was cancelled for the day. We were able to stay a second night but we got out on the sunset cruise the first day and the animals cruise the second day - the sunset cruise is free with the animal cruise. The evening cruise was very relaxing. Shotover (the boat) allows you to take all your food and drinks on board so it turns out very economical.
Glen got to feed a dolphin in the morning (Julie was chosen and paid it back) then we saw dugongs from the boat in the afternoon (and turtles and dolphins including a mother and small calf) The second dugong came up a few times and looked at the boat - apparently they usually only show their backs as this is the toughest part and they present their back to sharks if they can't get away. Julies photos don't actually show how good a look we got at these shy herbivores.
Although people were catching massive fish off the beach we didn't really rate the water at Money Mia. In contrast to "our" beach which was crystal clear there is almost no visibility at Monkey Mia. Both beaches were shallow for a long way out and had a lot of shells on the bottom.
Back into Denham to get the trailer fixed and when we mentioned that we couldn't get into Steep Point (the most westerly point of the mainland) the mechanic suggested we go to False Entrance instead. And it was free… We'd been listening to "Mailman of the Birdsville Track" as a talking book and some of Tom Kruise's bush navigation skills must have rubbed off as without the GPS we not only found False Entrance but the exact campsite he described to us even though there were kms of unmarked sand tracks.
We were on a small ridge at the south west end of a long beach. The far end had surf but our end was protected by a reef. There was a deep water fishing spot close by and at low tide we could walk the reef and see the large brightly coloured clams. Cray fish were available in the right tide and a few were thrown up on the beach. We spent two wonderful nights here.
We packed up from our glorious spot at false Entrance and found the blue kayak was a bit loose. Glen tightened it and refused to let Julie occy strap the back as we didn't have one the right length to just bind it to the boat loader. Glen was worried he'd forget to release it and it would overstretch, break and hurt someone (him) when he set up. Needless to say an hour later the blue kayak was no more, having come off the boat loader and dragging along the dirt road for a while until it wore a large hole in it. Prior to this, on the way out of camp, the shovel came off the roof (on purpose, it didn't fall) to get us over a sand dune but we haven't needed the maxtrax or help with recovery while we've been by ourselves and only once in Tassie.
Our plan was to take two days to get to Dryandra to see the bilbys. That night we intended to stop at a free camp in Dongara yet being Good Friday they wanted to charge us $30 to set up in a paddock with no toilet, water or view and we needed to contain grey water as well. The ranger advised us that we could camp at Arrowsmith 65km down the road. We were watching reports of a severe weather warning to the south but the campsite was just out of the severe area, but we'd been coping rain on and off all afternoon. We had to call off the bilbys because of localised flooding and severe storms in Dryandra. By the time we got to Arrowsmith we set up in the dark and when we got inside the rain hit. Luckily it didn't last long and by the morning the canvas had dried. Still only one wet pack up since we started Christmas Day
Yesterday (Friday 1/4/16) we headed to Dryandra Conservation Area for the second/third time to try to see a bilby. Having the Hema GPS back made the trip much quicker than when we headed to Perth from here before and we were soon having our pick of campsites. As I write this is it is about 7am, the sky is light blue as the sun has not quite reached the tops of the trees as it rises and the birds are calling all around. The trees here are predominantly mallet. The have thin brown trunks (the bark was used to tan leather) and although relatively sparse I can only see 100m into this previously logged forest before the trees block my view. I can't see into the forest for the trees :0 The campsites here are about 20m apart around a large loop so from here I can only see my adjoining campsites as trees and distance prevent seeing more. Having said that I'm fairly confident that there is no other campers here.
Anyway back to yesterday… It was a lovely afternoon weather wise and we set up and opened all of the canvas to look out on the bush and catch the breeze. As the sun began to set we drove about 15mins to Barna Mia, which translates roughly to "animals home". There we joined the tour, which started with a slide show about the animals of the park, their status on the endangered list and their past and present range. The only animal to have increased it's range was the feral cat which has a distribution right across the mainland. Cats don't need to drink apparently as they get enough moisture from their kills so they aren't stopped by anything except the ocean. They are also not taking the 1080 baits and teaching their kittens not to take them either. It's also unlikely that they will take the newer Eradicat baits so feral cat predication remains an issue.
After the slide show some of the people are given large red light torches and the tour sets out into the enclosure to view some of the animals at 3 feeding stations. They have two 4ha enclosures. The enclosures are fenced from the rest of the park with 4m high electrified wire fences to keep foxes and cats out. The people sit on logs in a circle and the food (only 10% of the animals requirement) is placed out. Almost instantly the animals appeared, first the bravest, last the bilby and not at all for the barred bandicoot. As you can appreciate under red light photography is difficult but you will see Julie got some excellent shots. We thoroughly enjoyed the night with the animals with the stars above also being stunning so far from light and no moon at all. A boy of about 7 from America had never before seen the bright band of stars that is the Milky Way. No doubt many city dwellers even in Australia have never seen it in it's glory either. Very sad.
We came back to camp about 8:30 for dinner thrilled to have seen the animals up close. It sparked discussion of the whole concept of the enclosures for people and why Tim Faulkner doesn't have a similar thing with his tassie devils and bilbys in NSW. Very few people know of his work with endangered animals and the enclosures he has for reintroduced animals on the Central Coast and in the South West of NSW. We guess that the devils may pose a risk to humans or vice versa and if you can't get up close you may as well be at a zoo. Glen still is of the opinion that if people were allowed to keep and breed native animals, even under strict controls, there would be far less chance of extinction and more animals available for reintroduction at a much lower cost to the government. It astounds him that he can keep native birds or cats or rabbits or European mice and rats yet the only native mammal he can keep is a dingo (it's done, is it legal?) What harm would there be in keeping a desert mouse in a terrarium or even a chook run of common bandicoots? Yes, he is aware of the pest status of the galah where it was released from an aviary when the people got bored with it and how it is adversely affecting endemic birds and has an argument for that too…
Perth with Trudy and the kids is always too busy to write anything :) There's always stuff to do through the day and at night there's good food and wine to be had highlights would be the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail and the free Belmont Autumn Festival by the river.
Now we're an a plane to Bangkok after our Singapore stopover (3 hours). The first time Glen has left the country!
Accommodation: $511.00 Lattes: $378.60
Our last night in Geraldton we went to Tropcanos Restaurant (fish) - great place next to the lighthouse. The owner (originally from Manly) suggested we stay in the car park across the road rather than drive toward Kalbarri late at night. We were going to but it seemed every 10 minutes a new mob of hoons would drive their cars in, hang for a while then drive out. Didn't feel the safest place (and it was illegal so we didn't feel right about it anyway) but most importantly we found that the fridge was defrosting as we hadn't driven much the last couple of days and it had been very hot. This made the decision for us and we drove on even though we were tired. This got the better of us and we pulled over in a rest area to (illegally) camp for the night. (although technically we were resting and only there for 6 hours in total)
Friday 11th March - Fun Truck Curveball Day
Next morning we discovered that government waste is not a new thing as we toured Lynton Station Convict Depot. It ran from 1853 so local land holders could use convict labour on their farms and to build roads for the mining company. Trouble was it wasn't located in the best place with no natural water or building materials and was poorly managed. The convicts were sleeping in tents for so long the walls wore out and when there was an inspection they were made to put rocks up for walls. The canvas roof was considered OK for a few more years. Work was started on a large building to house them and this was completed in early 1856 and could have housed four times the number of prisoners that were actually stationed there. The number of prisoners never met the quota they were supposed to have but there wasn't much demand for them anyway and the whole complex closed in 1856, just 3 years after opening and 6 months after the large building was completed. We did see a fox come out of the ruins of the old lock up and found out that the heroine of "The King and I" (the real life governess to the children of the King of Siam not Julie Anthony or whoever played her - forgive me patient reader as I have no internet to check facts - was the wife of one of the overseers and lived at the Convict Depot for some time.
We decided not to bother with the historic Lynton Station homestead but saw it from the road as we drove on. That is one very impressive building so if you get the chance drop in for a look.
Closer to Kalbarri and we arrived at a coastal area with very dramatic red sandstone cliffs that contrast with the turquoise water. We visited Grandstand, Shellhouse, Rock Island (yep, it's a rock and an island) and Natural Bridge. We headed into the town to book into a caravan park as we were worried about not finding somewhere due to it being a weekend. Needn't have worried there were lots of vacant sites but since the shire doesn't allow camping outside the caravan parks we didn't want to take the chance. That afternoon we visited Eagle Gorge, Pot Alley and Mushroom Rock where Glen decided to do the whole loop track. Lucky for him Julie drove to the next headland over as he missed a turn and ended up there. The iced coffee milk went down a treat because it was very hot (a cold latte Glen thinks but Julie won't allow iced coffee milk to be included in the latte total - she's such a purist :)
Next stop Chinaman's Beach where Glen got nipped by a crab when he stood up when swimming so it was feet off the bottom the rest of the swim. After a walk along the water's edge we went back for our first shower in a few days and celebrated the event with a beer and sunset at the pub (and watched couple of quarters of footy on TV) before heading "home" for dinner.
Although it was a Friday there was no Fun Truck Curveball this week :)
Saturday 12th March Fine Feathered Friends and Gorges
One of the "must do" activities is to watch the pelican feeding. At 8:45 a full contingent of we tourists gathered expectantly and the volunteer began his spiel as his partner wandered up and down the shore with a bucket full of fish. Somebody forgot to tell the pelicans it was time for a feed as they were a no show. Wild kids and animals are something you should avoid working with if you want predictable. Glen was ready to call it early but Julie was too polite to be the first to leave. We seem to have issues with wildlife being a no show after the Orcas, although… Julie has a knack of finding snakes lol.
We had intended to go to the gorges in the National Park next but as it was already hot we changed our plans and went first to Rainbow Jungle Parrot Breeding Facility. Basically it's a few parrots in cages that also happen to breed but it was enjoyable, particularly the walk in aviary where there are lots of beautiful birds all around at a good height to see and photograph as they perch in the bushes.
After a coffee and a muffin we drove into the Kalbarri National Park to see the gorges carved out by the mighty Murchison River. The river we saw was a series of billabongs as although the catchment area is larger than Tasmania there hadn't been a great deal of rain along it's 700km length. The gorges were spectacular, the flies thick and the temperature oppressive. Luckily Glen had decided he wasn't up for a 6 or 8km walk as the heat had us guzzling water at a great rate of knots. Signs warn that people have died and that it can be up to 10 degrees hotter in the gorges. We did 4 lookouts and finished with Natures Window 1.4km return and Julie was really feeling the heat so we decided to leave the rest of the gorges until the next day and go back to town for a swim.
Not unusually we got side tracked on the way back and went past Murchison Home Station towards the river. First turn off required 4wd but we got to the river and found that here it was flowing and full of fish. Julie contemplated wetting a line but we settled for airing down and exploring further along the river. We eventually ended up in town following the river.
Sunday 13th March Moving on
We packed up in the morning and left Kalbarri with the intention of checking out the last of the gorges. We arrived at Ross Graham Lookout where there is a walk to the river. From the lookout the water looked wonderful so we headed off down the track even though it was quite warm and we were only wearing thongs (on out feet). Ross Graham was the local school headmaster with a passion for the park. He died at just 32 years old and the lookout honours his memory. At the bottom there was no water, just a rock crossing. Downstream was the large inviting pool we saw from above so Glen went upstream to find water, he did and lots of small fish too. Julie stayed taking photos and met two doctors from Bankstown Hospital. They were on their way home to England via WA and South America. The warm day was taking it's toll on Julie by the time she reached the top. It was going to be another day for guzzling water.
Back on the road and once again it was so hot that the air conditioning had to be turned off again to lessen the chance of us boiling over. We are listening to the talking book The Mailman of the Birdsville Track as we drive. The air conditioned Billabong Roadhouse was a welcome stop for lunch and to add to the latte total. Not far north of that we turned off for the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive. We decided to skip the stromatolites at Hamlin Bay and do them on the way out. We did stop at Shell Beach, where billions of small cockle shells are the beach. The shells are up to 10m deep in places, extend over 12 kilometres and in the course of time have pushed the coastline out 200m.
The water is very salty, which allows the cockles and stromatolites to survive because not much else can.
We camped at Goulet Bluff, no facilities but a wonderful view of the ocean. It's the other (Western) side of the peninsula to Shell Beach so less salty but still far more salty than we are used to "over East". In the morning (after coffee and a chat with the Ranger, Matthew, 41 from Wales been in Denham 12 years, married, past jobs included…. Lets just say in a brief time we learn quite a lot about Matthew :)… anyway, in the morning we went down to the water and saw lots of shovelnose sharks (yes we know they are actually a ray) a couple of stingrays (spotted rays I think) and a 1m shark. Matthew was terrific with suggestions of where to camp and what to see and do and gave us a National Park map. He was also quite OK that we didn't have a camping permit before we camped. We headed into Denham and paid the $15 camping fee at the information centre.
There are emus in the main street. Just walking around like they own the place. Exactly as the Americans envisage I imagine. :) We ducked into IGA to get phone credit, no Vodafone here, and came out with iced coffee milk, orange juice and 5 little bubble gum packets with nail tattoos. We went back in got a hand line, frozen bait and plastic lures. We went back in a third time and got the credit we actually went in there for!
Next stop was Ocean Park Aquarium who have a good collection of what is in the waters around Shark Bay. Nice to know what we may find before we see it in our face mask. They have an interesting way of doing the tours. Each tour lasts roughly an hour. You join whenever you get there and stay with the tour until you get back to the tank you started at. Guides just take over from each other after an hour and continue on. Really good from a tourist point of view. We started at the elegant sea snakes. Julie stood well back as Glen watched them swim around the tank and pop their head out of the water. We found that just before we arrived they found one on the ground and put it back in the tank. Apparently they don't know how it's getting out yet but since it can't move on land and breathes air it just waits to be put back. Despite being the most venomous snakes on the planet they are not aggressive and are very inquisitive and will actually swim towards divers and wrap themselves around you. We also saw stone fish, puffer fish that have been known to bite off toes with nail polish, trevally, cod, turtles and sharks up to 2.7m. Suffice to say Julie has vowed not to go in the water and is removing her toe nail polish.
We followed Matt's directions to a campsite by a fishing shack on the Eastern side of the peninsula and camped within 50m of the water of L'haridon Bight roughly half way between Monkey Mia and Shell Beach.
Accommodation: $418 Lattes: $365
We packed up and headed out of Margaret River. Based on the advice received from a couple of kids at Canebreak Pool we stopped in at Gabriel's Chocolate for tastings and dark hot chocolates and a brownie. Yes, we indulged ourselves… again..
Next stop was Smith's Beach, Yallingup, one of the beaches in our Top 101 Beaches book. It's a famous surf beach but to us Yallingup Beach held far more attraction. The southern end of the beach was protected by a reef and looked like there was a good sized footy (Aussie Rules) field of shallow reef to snorkel right next to a beach with small waves and with the foreshore park (complete with sculptures and grass, even the bins had historical surf photos on them) and shops (café and surf shop) it had everything. No wonder so many people appeared to just come there to sit and watch the ocean and the kite surfers.
Our next port of call was Meelup Beach, tick off from the book and a very pretty, protected bay. We went snorkelling and swam the entire length of the beach (twice as we chose the wrong end and had to swim to the other to find where the fish were)
Julie's phone needed replacing and we were told that could be done at Busselton so we headed there next and discovered our first traffic light since Port Lincoln SA! Busselton Vodafone was in Retravision, but wasn't trading until the following week so they referred us to Bunbury! Julie got on the phone, found they couldn't help us anyway, and lined up new phones for both of us at Mandurah the next day.
We stopped to watch the sunset at Buffalo Beach and set up camp in a rest area for the night. Getting in after dark we didn’t notice until the next morning that the area was covered in banksia and grass trees.
Julie was pretty crook the next day but we headed into Mandurah to get the phones. With a new phone and a coffee and something to eat Julie was feeling much better. Glen's phone was going to need to be posted out. In the afternoon we headed out to Dryandra Woodland. It was the wrong day for the nocturnal tour so we headed out at night to try to spot some of the rare and endangered animals this place is famous for on our own, but unless an owl and a couple of kangaroos counts we missed them. We didn't spot any numbats during the day either. We plan to go back there again to do the tour. The battery was very low and Glen found it was low on water. Topping it up seemed to make no difference so we came to the conclusion it was the alternator. Once started we don't need a battery so as long as we didn't turn it off we were OK. Over the last couple of days the Hema GPS had begun to play up and that seemed to be battery related too. We decided to head straight to Perth. It seems that every Friday we get thrown a curveball in the form of some sort of breakdown. Many have been electrical issues in some way or another. We got to Trudy's and turned off the car to see if she was home. We couldn't start it again so called the RAC. The RAC came, started the car and Glen followed him to the auto electrician. He could replace it the next day (for a premium).
We had arranged with April to meet her and her partner Damon at the Fremantle Markets on Saturday so, without a car we headed there by public transport. For $4.50 each we could travel anywhere on the Transperth network for 2 hours. It baffles us how smaller cities can have cheaper public transport than Sydney. You'd think with a smaller population it would have to cost more but Sydney is the most expensive public transport we've found. The trip to Freo (heave ho) was very pleasant and the markets were lovely. We ended up buying some native fruits to make water more interesting then left with April and Damon for a short, but very warm, stroll to check out the seafood festival. After a few tastings, Julie found her way to the Broome Brewery tasting and Glen ended up at Ironwood Wines tasting. We each relented and did both tastings and bought both wine and beer! Another short stroll brought us to Little Creatures Next Door (next door is the actual brewery, right on the dock). On the way we saw a ton of fish in the harbour around the dock. We ordered the special of the day (Rogers Amber Ale) and sat out on the deck with a lovely view and brilliant company. The next round was to be at The Left Bank Hotel for lunch with Trudy and the kids. Everyone had a great time and Julie got her lobster Glen promised over a year earlier. On the way home with Trudy we stopped at the beach for swim.
The day was so good the next day we decided to do Freo (heave ho) again. With the kids we substituted breweries and alcohol tastings for watching the street performers and lunched on Pizza, but another good day.
On Monday we went to the movies (Dead Pool) Tuesday we went over to April's to kick the footy with her, and have dinner so we stayed the night… we went through a bit of wine… Wednesday we got our shots for Thailand, Thursday we changed the oil and Friday we once again hit the road to adventure. Thanks Trudy for everything while we stayed with you. We enjoyed the late evenings over a wine or two. :)
I know it doesn't sound like we did much in Perth but every day was busy, too busy having fun to write the blog so now we are catching up.
Our first night back on the road, a Friday, we should have known would not be plain sailing. We drove to Lancelin and the Nambung National Park (The Pinnacles) and had dinner in the carpark there. That was where the Friday Curveball hit. We noticed that a bracket had broken a weld It was reinforced by a good old ratchet strap - what you use when duct tape and fencing wire just won't cut it - and, since we still had no idea where we were camping even though it was after 8pm, we decided to head towards Cervantes in hope that the larger town would have a welder available on the Saturday of the long weekend. We pulled up in a free camp (rare in this part of the world apparently) and hit the yellow pages on-line. According to the yellow pages the nearest welder was at Jurien Bay - about 30km north. We rang the next morning but the phone had been disconnected. Undeterred we set off to the address and behold in the same street was a welder, rang the number above the door but he'd given up welding in favour of mowing lawns. He gave us the number of the welder in town, we arranged to meet at his workshop and problem solved.
Jurien Bay is a lovely town so we hit the Tourist information Centre and got the good oil and by the way it’s a long weekend in WA so the only accommodation is the overflow camping at the footy oval for $25 per night. We started out on the town's snorkelling trail, lunched by the beach, headed out to Sandy Cape, a lovely beach/bay and camp area (full) then back into town for dinner on the foreshore again. We weren't unhappy with our free camp 20km out of town so headed back there to one of the best nights of stars we have had… all the cameras were not ready for star trails since they had low batteries!!!
Next morning we headed to Lake Thetis, near Cervantes to the stromatolites. Next! Glen wanted to spend the day four wheel driving so we headed out to Mount Lesueur National Park - interesting fact, 1080 poison is derived from a native plant. All the native animals are resistant but not the ferals. After that we headed to Stockyard Gully Cave - about 450m of cave carved by the creek through limestone. Sandy floor (creek not running at all) and pitch black for a fair way through the middle. After the cave, instead of heading back the way we came we went inland along Pearson's Track and ended up free camping at Lake Indoon. The track was supposed to be challenging but although slow going was very easy but hot, especially for Julie who was sitting on the sunny side the whole time. Lake Indoon was free because of the high risk of meningitis from the cyanobacteria in the water. It was alive with water birds, many black swans, black and white ducks, wading birds and even some pelicans. It had toilets and free warm showers. Bonus, especially after a few days in the heat!
At night beautiful sunsets brought the onset of thousands of tiny night insects and Glen tried star trail photos - unsuccessfully.
The next day, Monday morning (HAPPY BIRTHDAY KYRA BETH MORRIS), most people went home which upped the flies for us. It was also very hot and since this was going to be a lay day we found a shady spot, put on our fly veils, necessity not a fashion statement by any means, and had a couple of fully clothed cold showers to try beat the heat.
That afternoon Glen decided to walk the lap of the lake (about 3.5km) while Julie read and we both finished the day with one of the beers we bought at Fremantle. They certainly went down well.
More unsuccessful star trail attempts that night (all night the swans softly honked, it was beautiful) and an early start to beat the heat so we could head back to the coast.
We arrived in Leeman, Julie fished from the wharf but apart from that and "the cheapest fuel on the Baird Highway" the place had little going for it so we moved on to Port Denison where Julie almost stood on a 30cm baby brown snake! She is so lucky with snakes :) Glen was sent back to take photos.
We spent the afternoon on South Beach, us the car and camper as the beach is firm and everyone, 2wd included drives on the their little piece of heaven by the water. Kite surfing is huge along this whole coast as the coast is protected by an off shore reef and the waves are mostly small.
Since we were finally in a coastal shire that allows free camping (and funds are tight the day before pay day, no lattes today :( we are currently camped at a beach, Flat Rock near Greenough and as I write this in the shade of the camper a gentle breeze is keeping us cool and we are looking out over the ocean with the sound of waves and the sun sinking into the ocean.
OK it's taken a few days to upload so there is now more to say.
We headed toward Greenough and saw the horizontal trees. The wind blows so hard and so consistently that the trees actually grow horizontally. It's a very historic town but we just passed on by to Geraldton.
Geraldton is a nice town built around the harbour. They have upgraded all of the Western Foreshore and just behind the Tourist Information building is the Youth Precinct. The areas for children/youth here are amazing. Geraldton's youth precinct has free wifi, a rage cage (hockey, basketball, indoor soccer all inside a big cage), electronic games that you stand up to play (move to touch buttons) and table soccer and table tennis tables as well as interesting climbing apparatus and swings and merry go rounds. All towns should provide facilities like this.
Today we visited the HMAS Sydney II Memorial. We took the free tour with the volunteer guide and it put a whole new dimension on the place. The whole ships company was lost after an encounter with a German warship and sunk. No trace was found except a dead sailor on a piece of flotsam that washed up on Christmas Island. The memorial was completed in 2001 and in 2008 the ship was found 120 nautical miles off Steep Point (the most Westerly point of mainland Australia). This led to the expansion of the Memorial to recognise the final resting place. Well worth the visit if you get to Geraldton. We spent last night at Coronation Beach and were awake until after midnight chasing a mouse that we had picked up at Flat Rock the night before. Mouse eventually dispatched :)
Still having wonderful time.