The Tip, Cape York, QLD.

For the fifth time in the last 3 days we headed back up north along the Bamaga/ Bypass Rd, this time with the caravan, on our way to Seisia. The drive was uneventful, however the road did get a little worse for wear the further north we got. After a few hours we finally arrived at the Jardine River crossing, a murky croc infested river. Thankfully the Jardine River Ferry takes you the very short distance over the river, making it a stress free occasion, and pretty much the only way you can get across the Jardine, unless of course you had a death wish. The area north of the Jardine River, including the Torres Strait Islands, is known as the Northern Peninsula Area, and is made up of five communities. Almost the whole Northern Peninsula Area is Aboriginal land owned by the Injinoo community. The towns of Bamaga and Seisia being generally populated by Torres Strait Islanders, whilst the towns of New Mapoon, Umagico and Injinoo are Aboriginal settlements. The ferry is actually owned and run by the Injinoo community and the return ferry ticket also doubles as a permit to travel around the area.

From the ferry it is only a further 50km drive to get to the main town of Bamaga, passing through both Injinoo and Umagico. We headed to the Seisia Caravan Park, where we booked in for a few days to power back up and refill the water tanks. We ended up scoring a nice spot with a shelter just opposite the beach, however I’m sure the girls are getting fed up, as its like we are teasing them as they are not allowed in the water. The next morning while sitting on the beach enjoying a coffee, we spotted a few crocs about 20 metres off the shore, they were casually cruising the beach searching for some fish for breakfast….

So finally after 29 months of travelling, today was the day that we got to drive the last 30km to the most northern part of mainland Australia, and in typical Smith fashion it was bloody raining…… SO we decided to take our time and called in at the ‘Croc Tent’, which is pretty much considered the unofficial information centre for anything around the tip. They have a mud map printed out and give you advice on what roads to take and not to take to explore the area, as well as having a tent/ shop full of memorabilia. Whilst nothing caught the eye of the girls and myself, Nik purchased a Cape York tank top as a souvenir from our travels. With the rain getting quite heavy we then decided to take a detour to Punsand Bay to check it out and book a few days there for the following week, this then allowed the rain to pass and we then headed out to ‘the tip’. The drive was not what I had expected, with the first half being through eucalyptus scrub and the second half of it through thick rainforest, which in addition to this morings rain, made for quite a muddy and wet drive. Apparently this area is know as the ‘Lockerbie Scrub’ and is considered an important biological site, as a number of species of the flora and fauna found here have only ever been found in New Guinea, which according to the experts confirms that the two areas were once joined by a ‘land bridge’.

Less than 100metres before the road ends and the last hike to the tip begins, there is a group of old buildings that were once known as the ‘Pajinka Lodge’. According to our research, the lodge was brought by the government at the expense of the tax payer and was then handed over to the communities up here, where unfortunately and for whatever unknown reason, it stayed open for only a few months and then closed its doors for good. These days, as the photos show, it has been trashed, ransacked and damaged beyond repair, we were only able to walk through a few of the main buildings, being the reception, bar, restaurant, kitchen, laundry, a few close by rooms and the pool, that was filled with thick sludgy green water that none of us were brave enough to go near, god knows what was at the bottom…… It was quite sad really, but then it would have been a mammoth, quite expensive task for anyone to keep open, given the remoteness of the area, perhaps the government could have done a bit more homework before going and spending countless amount of dollars on such an ill-fated project.

Arriving at the ‘carpark’ filled with a dozen other cars, we headed out on the 750m rock hopping hike to reach the edge of the mainland, even though we were all prepared and wearng thongs, at least we remembered to put sunscreen on as the sun was buring hot. Thankfully, we were also well prepared to catch the moment with two GoPros, Nik’s, Bec’s, Zoe’s and my phone, as well as the Canon camera and tripod, we did however leave the drone back at the van as it was bloody windy. Whist there was a few people down there, everyone was thoughtful enough to move away, so that everyone else got to have a chance taking photos. In all we were there for about an hour, I’m sticking to my guns and saying we stayed for so long to read the many memorial plaques scattered about the rocks and to sit and soak up the atmosphere and experience of the place, not because of the fact that we could pick up 3 bars of 4G………… One lady, who was in her early 60’s actually spent the whole time ‘face-timing’ her friends on her phone and showing them the sign, whilst taking photos with her Ipad…. we chuckled to ourselves as we recalled many times over our travels the grey nomads giving the younger generation a bad wrap for their use of technology.

We also visited two WWII DC3 plane wrecks which were scattered around the Bamaga airport, it was quite interesting reading the information plaques and it turned out to be quite the history lesson for all of us. After a few days we had packed up and were back on the road to head about 20kms up the road to Punsand Bay campground.

Unfortunately our plans for Punsand Bay never eventuated as we did a wheel bearing on the van, conveniently just as we were driving past the service station and spare parts/ mechanic in Bamaga. After pulling into the service station to investigate the loud screeching noise and burning rubber smell coming from the van, Nik quickly determined the cause and headed off over the road to the mechanic, who was able to quickly ring his supply man in Cairns and get two bearings sent up on the plane to Bamaga, he promised it would be there that afternoon on the 4:30pm plane. So with that promise, we set the kids up on the picnic table doing schoolwork, whilst Nik went about cleaning what was left of the bits and pieces around the bearing (at least thats what I think he was cleaning…..). We should have listened to the few locals we spoke to throughout the day, as we explained to them what was happening, all of them simply replied, ‘I’ll believe that when I see it, it’s TI (Thursday Island) time up here mate!!!’ Needless to say they were spot on and after waiting an hour after we had watched the plane fly over the top of us to land at the airport, we had to admit defeat and go to plan B. Plan B was for Nik to sling up the axle with a chain and drive the relaxing 8km back to the caravan park at Seisia with only 3 tyres………

Whilst the bearings weren’t delivered on the same day, I think we did pretty well getting them the next morning, which allowed Nik to replace the remaining 3 wheel bearings, good as new!!! Once we were all good to go, it was voted on to start heading south again, I think after 2 weeks the girls were sick of being so close to the ocean and not being to swim in it, although we did spot a few crocs lazily swimming along the shoreline early one morning. From Seisia we drove back the way we came, stopping in at Moreton Telegraph Station for a pleasant overnight camp. Moreton Telegraph Station is a station situated on the Wenlock River and is purely focused on tourism, opening for the dry season each year. Whilst here Nik spent the afteroon fishing for Barramundi, whilst keeping a close eye out for crocs, we were also luck enough to spot a Spotted Cuscus. The Spotted Cuscus is cousins of the possum and is found in Papua New Guinea and the far north region of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, it is a spotted orange in color, with a face that looks very similar to a sloth.

From Moreton Telegraph Station we decided to take the short 140km drive east off the PDR to Chili Beach, just north of an Indigenous community of Lockhart. The distance on paper looked quite tame, however looks can be deceiving and finally after 3 hours of gullies, deep water crossings and losing the brakes on the caravan, we arrived at Chili Beach. We had decided to try our luck and not book as we had been told that right on the beach you can get internet reception. So after having a quick walk around we chose a spot that protected us from the wind, set up, then got online to book and pay for the night. That afternon wasn’t too bad, Chili Beach is notorious for being very windy all the time, with a beach that is covered in rubbish from Papua New Guinea, due to the tides, so we had a wander around and a walk along the beach. Just as well, as the rain set in about 5pm that afternoon and did not let up. The poor people who pulled up next to us in a camper trailer struggled through the night and when we awoke early the next morning they were packing up and were back on the road by 6:30am. With the wind and rain settled in for the day and visibility at an all time low, we decided to take a vote about who wanted to stay and who wanted to go. We could handle the wind, but the sideways cold rain was doing our head in keeping us in the van so with a 2 to 4 vote, we packed up and drove the long drive back to the PDR which was made all the more difficult, muddier and wetter due to the overnight rain, thankfully not enough to raise any of the river crossings too much…..

Our final night on our Cape York trip was at Coen freecamp on the Coen river, which is where we had stayed on the way up. Our final day driving the Cape was between Coen and Lakelands and was the worst road we had encountered on this adventure. The 200kms of corrogations were horrendous, we were unable to gain any speed and drive over them as the axle crunching wash outs and bull dust holes left us zig zaging all over the road. Our relief as we drove into Laura, where the bitumen began, was short lived as we discovered that our oven door had rattled off and was lying on the floor, together with half a carton of milk……….

Over the next week we spent many hours cleaning up and fixing bits and pieces as a result of our trip up to Cape York. We were glad we made the trip and don’t regret taking the van, regardless of the few mishaps (bearings, brakes and oven door, all of which Nik fixed good as new!!!), we were proud to say we had conquered the northern most tip of Australia. Would we do it again? No, not unless it was a trip just to conquer the OTT, as we all agreed that the OTT had the most stunning natural attractions of the trip, whilst the rest was just corrugated roads and gorgeous beaches that you couldn’t swim in. We had also decided not to do the tourist day trip over to Thursday Island, as apart from the cost (approximately $700), it seemed to us to be quite ‘set up’ and too touristy for us. Perhaps Nik and I will visit another time as part of a work contract on the island instead. So after updating our map and ticking off another significant geological point of Australia, we headed south onto our next adventure and destination of our OZLAP……….

Abs chilling at Coen free camp

Musgrave Station

Ames relaxing at Seisia

 

 

 

The Overland Telegraph Track (OTT), Cape York, QLD

The drive from Weipa to Bramwell Station was a surprisingly smooth and short one, the road was immaculate and was actually a better run than most bitumen roads we had driven on. Given the distance was only about 150km, we arrived at Bramwell around lunchtime, after setting up we had a wander around the homestead and caught up on a bit of school. Bramwell Station also have a roadhouse on the actual main road where you can camp overnight, however we decided to stay at the homestead about 6km off the road, where they had meals at the restaurant, a talk about the station and live entertainment every night of the season. Bramwell Station is the most northern cattle station in Australia and is relatively small compared to others in the heart of Australia. It only runs 5ooo head of cattle due to the eastern section of the property being mostly marshy unhabitable country that the cattle won’t venture to. The station has an interesting history of ownership, with the original owner gifting it to an immigrant couple and an indigenous couple back in the 1950’s or 1960’s, which was unusual given that back then Indigenous people weren’t allowed to own any land and were considered ‘fauna’. These days it is owned by a Cooktown born and bred woman who bought it at auction back in 2001, she has done an amazing job encourgaing tourism and spent a bit of money to get it up to scratch. We were very impressed with the homestead and the facilities, it reminded us a lot of El Questro on the Gibb and is immaculately maintained.

We had decided to stay a few nights at Bramwell, as it situated only a few kilometers from the southern section of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT), allowing us to head off for a day trip exploring the OTT. Long before this leg of our trip we had decided that we would have ‘a look’ at the OTT, however it was not the reason why we had ventured up to the Cape and therefore we would in no way risk our car or the rest of our Ozlap to conquer this iconic track, that sort of roadtrip could be done at another time in the future. After the usual photos of the car at the sign signalling the beginning of the OTT we excitingly set off to see what it had to offer.

The first crossing, Palm Creek, was only a few kms from the start and we had arrived to find 2 other cars had already crossed it and another 2 were deciding whether to cross or not. The actual water part of the crossing was only a few feet deep and was crystal clear, so no crocs in this one, however the entrance and the exit were the challenge. We got out of the car and went and mingled with the other drivers and spoke to the people who had crossed, given the extensive drop off at the entrance, one of the cars had sustained some damage to their rear and towbar of the car, whilst the other car had to be winched up the exit side and as they were leaving we heard them on the CB saying that they heard ‘a rub somewhere underneath the car’. Together with the other 2 cars we decided to not tempt fate and after taking a few photos we turned back the way we came.

Given that the rest of the southern section didn’t have too many crossings, we then decided to head up the Southern Bypass Rd and cut back in halfway up the OTT via the rangers station and travel back about 10kms to the infamous Gunshot crossing. Once past the Rangers Station it was slow going along the washouts of the track and we eventually arrived at Gunshot just before lunch. The Gunshot crossing is similar to Palm Creek with the water being crystal clear and only a few feet deep, the actual difficult ‘Gunshot’ part of the crossing is absolutely ridiculous and is pretty much a 3 metre 90 degree drop into a pit of mud and water……..the chicken track a few metres to its right however is relatively easily and makes it actually acheivable to any sane person who values their car. Given that it was lunchtime, we drove down into the creek and parked up alongside it out of the way to sit and eat and wait for cars to come through and entertain us, however much to our disapointment, not one car came through, however the girls did have fun cooling off in the creek. Apparently during the peak part of the season, up to 100 cars traverse the OTT every day, however clearly we were too early in the season to be entertained.

We had the decided to leave the van at Bramwell and spend a few nights ‘out camping’ in Eliot Falls, up on the northern section section of the OTT, we had to laugh as the two younger girls were so excited about ‘going away camping for a few days’ in the tent. After strapping everything on and into the car, we headed 110kms up the Bamaga/ Bypass Rd to enter the northern section of the OTT, first heading to Fruit Bat Falls for some morning tea and a swim. As usual the photos we had seen hadn’t done the place justice, we were very impressed with the beauty of it and really enjoyed our swim there before the busloads of tourists starting coming in.

From there we headed to our campsite at Eliot Falls campground, to set up and spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and relaxing in the crystal clear falls. Luckily there was only a few other people camped there as well so we pretty much had the falls to ourselves for most of the day.

The next day, together with some new travelling mates, Darren and Wendy and their kids who we met at Bramwell, we headed off for a morning exploring the rest of the OTT. With our Hema Maps ‘Cape York’ held firmly in my hand (better than digging my fingernails into the dash) we headed into the first crossing of the day, Canal Creek. I will let the photos do the talking but needless to say the crossings weren’t too bad, none of them were too deep, it was more about the very steep entry and the exits and the many washouts and ruts in between the crossings. Thankfully our car was big enough and the wheels were wide enough that we could straddle the majority of them however I was required to walk in front of the car to guide us all through it. All in all it took us about 4 hours to travel 6kms, of course this included stopping for lunch and having a swim in one of the crystal clear creeks. We had crossed Canal Creek, Sam Creek, Mistake Creek, Cannibal Creek and lastly Cypress Creek and decided to call it a day there, we then turned around and went through the whole process again. We had decided to not push onto Nolans Brook, as we had heard of at least 6 cars in the last week, that had attempted the extremely deep crossing and had actually flooded their car and all had to get towed out and up to Seisa, which is an expensive excursion as the tow truck charges start at $1000 to get you off the OTT and just out to the Bamaga/ Bypass Rd. Some of the drivers were able to dry out their cars, but others were not so lucky, including a brand new 200 series Landcruiser. We even ended up chatting to one of the guys who had a fairly new Hilux which he had flooded and written off and was at the caravan park in Seisia when we were there trying to organise to get his insurance payout so he could get his trailer put on the barge and catch a flight home, then buy another car…..

The next day we had a last swim in Eliot Falls before we packed up, calling into Fruit Bat Falls for a final swim as well, before heading back to Bramwell Station to get the van and do a few loads of washing. Given that it had been a few days since we had run out of and eaten vegetables we decided to treat ourselves and booked into the restaurant for a buffet of Sausages, steaks, Sheperds Pie, mountains of vegetables and bowls and bowls of different salads, topped off with desert of Apple Crumble and custard. We then headed off north again the following day for our next destination and adventure on our OZLAP…..

 

Cairns to Weipa, Cape York, QLD

We finally left Cairns, even though it felt like the universe didn’t want us to, albeit a day late. On the day we were meant to leave, we instead got the car in for a service at the last minute, to fix an idling issue we had noticed the day before we left. Then, on our way out, we also had to take Jess to a doctors appointment to confirm and get antibiotics for an ear infection that had conveniently popped up the night before. Considering we didn’t leave town until after 12, we then had an uneventful drive north to Lakeland, which is about 80km west of Cooktown, where we happily stayed at the caravan park that only charged for adults (as the owner didn’t think that kids cost any extra to stay). Even though she wandered around the park cuddling a pet magpie goose we really like her, she certainly had spunk and we nicknamed her the crazy bird lady, which she quite liked too!!

From Lakeland we finally began our journey on, what is known as the longest and roughest no through road in Australia, to Cape York, or ‘the tip”. We were unsure of how far we would get on our first day as all the research and current reports we were receiving indicated that the road was in good nick for this time of the year, however we were not sure what to expect. The beginning of the Peninsula Development Rd (PDR) which takes you all the way to Weipa, was a combination of bitumen, graded dirt road and nasty corrugated dirt road littered with wash outs and bull dust holes. Our favourite was certainly the bull dust holes which would all of a sudden crop up out of nowhere, we likened it to navigating a road full of land mines, thankfully we were travelling at a very conservative speed and managed to avoid or gently go through them. Not long after leaving Lakeland we stopped off at Split Rock to see the Aboriginal rock art. It was a relatively short walk of 400metres (felt like a NT 400m though….) straight up and along the side of a hill, the girls were so excited……. As usual Bec ran off in front while we all trudged along behind her, yelling out warnings of looking out for snakes……. however Bec was the only smart one in her runners, whilst we were all less prepared for this walk in our Haviana hikers….. The art was awesome and a lot of effort had been made to make it safe and accessible to the public, so we didn’t mind putting our money in the honesty box. The views from the rock were pretty amazing too, well worth the stop and quick walk to get our hearts started!!!

                                 

 

The hike up to the rock art.
Views from up the top.
Haviana hikers!!!

 

We stopped at Musgrave Roadhouse for lunch, which we were orginally planning on staying at overnight, however, with not much else around to explore and still feeling like we could continue on, we decided to keep going until we got to Coen. So finally after 6 hours of travelling only 350km, we drove through Coen and stopped at a free camp on the Coen River, only 10km out of town, with a drop toilet and phone coverage. In true Smith style, as soon as we arrived the rain started, not heavy rain as we have been used to up here in the tropics, but the drizzling rain that normally occurs in Melbourne. Needless to say it ended up being an early night, and even earlier morning as we rose with the birds and were back on the road by 8.

From Coen, we had spasmodic occurences of bitumen then dirt road, much like the day before. We arrived at Archer River Roadhouse for morning tea and to stretch our legs, and was also informed by a lady who worked for Rio Tinto and was handing out leaflets informing drivers, that there were 10 road trains travelling on the road ahead from the Archer River Quarry to a mine site some 150kms and that we had to be aware of them. Luckily for us we never even saw one of them, however we did notice that there was a considerable amount of bitumen on this stretch of the road, a coincidence I’m sure….. Another coincidence had the road pretty much turning to shit, with many a corrugation and wash out, after the turn off for the mine trucks. However, this was rectified about 50kms out of Weipa, where the dirt road was immaculate and smoother than the bitumen we had been driving on.

 

We arrived at Weipa not long after lunch, heading straight to the caravan park, the only one in town, and queued up behind another 5 vans waiting to book in. Thankfully, the customer service was great and we were quickly on our site and setting up for a few days. After setting up and having lunch, we quickly headed to the pool, as the day was hot and humid, where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

Big truck crossing, false alarm though, as no big truck came through..
Sunset at Weipa.

 

The next day we celebrated Nik’s birthday, by relaxing in the morning and spending a hour driving around and exploring Weipa, before returning to the park and having a swim in the pool. We then treated ourselves and had dinner at the restaurant at the Caravan Park, ‘Barramunchies’. The restaurant had gluten free options and considering the price of staying at the park ($$$$), was quite cheap. Unfortunately, the Barra was not sourced locally, so instead, we opted for the house hamburger and chips, thankfully the chips were gluten free too, so Bec, Zoe and Jess for once enjoyed a meal of chips and salt and pepper squid. We skipped desert and instead feasted on chocolate birthday cake that Bec has baked in the morning.

After a few days experiencing Weipa, it was time to pack up and keep heading north on our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP………………..

 

 

Atherton Tablelands & Cairns, QLD

After a few weeks of hot, dry, dusty, desert, rocky and hot (yes I know I said it twice but it really was) weather and landscape, we were all very excited to be heading to the Atherton Tablelands. Not only for the lush green landscape and fresh fruit and vegetables, but most importantly to be visiting our long lost travelling soul mates, the Leeds. The Leeds have for the time being stopped travelling and have decided to set up home in the beautiful tablelands, so of course we had to call in and then had to take advantage of their hospitality and spend a few weeks catching up and exploring the area, sometimes with them and sometimes without.

 

 

  

We spent the next week catching up with the Leeds, as well as exploring some local waterholes where we were able to cool off, as the weather was still very hot and humid. Apart from when the kids went to school and the fact that they were living in house, it was just like the good old days when we were both on the road……

Chilling and chatting

 

We also ventured ‘down the range’ into Cairns and explored the town, frequenting the free swimming lagoon on the esplanade on more than one occasion. We wandered around the shops, explored Rusty’s Markets and as usual the girls got their shopping centre fix, spending most of their pocket money on clothes, make up, books and leggo. Most importantly though, we thoroughly enjoyed getting a good dose of fruit and vegetables, especially the yummy local bananas and avocados. I think we were making and drinking so many smoothies that our blender decided to crap itself.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.

 

Given that we were in Cairns, we couldn’t pass through without having stayed at Cairns Coconut Resort, which is ranked as the number one caravan park in Australia, which the prices clearly indicated……. Given that we arrived just before the start of the busy tourist season, I was able to score a deal in which we got two kids free, which bought the price down to a double didgit number, that if I tried really hard, I could justify spending so much per night….. We managed to completely justify spending 4 nights at Coconut, which coincided with the arrival of Pauley and Queen Jayne (friends and workmates from Darwin), on their next work stop. With so many ‘things ‘ to do in the park, the kids had a ball, whilst Nik and I caught up with Paul and Jayne.  Each morning, Nik, Bec and Zoe did a session at the air conditioned gym, then after breakfast we would head down for a swim in each of the 2 resort pools, before we made our way along the BMX bike track and playground towards the water park, complete with the monster water dumping bucket. After a quick morning tea we would head back out for a quick hit of tennis and a game of 2 on 2 on the basketball court, then back via the pools for a cool off. After lunch we rested…… but not for long, as we still needed to fit in a game of mini golf before we cooled off again in the pools. After quickly shoving down our dinner, we then shipped off the younger 2 girls to the games room where there was a nightly movie, ones they’d seen before, but we still made them go as we had paid good money for it!!!!!

 

 

Given our busy couple of days we felt that we needed to head back to the Leeds for some R & R and for the kids to do some schoolwork, as we couldn’t find a spare minute to do it at the park!!! As usual, they welcomed us with open arms and we spent the next couple of weeks relaxing, exploring waterholes and chasing waterfalls around the tablelands. One of our outings was a day spent swimming and kayaking in Lake Eacham, a short drive east of Atherton, past a gorgeous little town called Yungaburra. The lake is part of the ‘Wet Tropics World Heritage Area’ and is actually an old vocanic crater that exploded many thousands of years ago. Can you picture the girls eyes glazing over as soon as I mentioned volcano….. they just hip and shouldered me out the way as they walked straight past and headed to the water for a swim. However, I still counted the day as a school day, as there was a small amount of education involved………..

Lake Eacham.

Swimming at Lake Eacham.

 

On another day we headed off to follow the waterfall circuit, along with quite a few bus loads of backpackers…. Once we waited long enough for them to complete their quick 5 minute swim before they were bundled back up into the bus for their next destination, we had a ball visiting all the different waterfalls, some we could swim at and some we could only view from the top. I was designated photographer for the day as the water was bloody cold and I was happy just dipping my toes in momentarily before soaking in the beauty of it all.

Another day trip involved a drive up through Mareeba and onto Port Douglas (PD to us locals….) we were hoping and looking forward to having swim in the ocean, however with the development of Cyclone Debbie out in the Coral Sea, the beach had been closed. Although disappointed we still enjoyed ourselves, we took a short stroll along the beach (having a sticky beak at the Lifesaving Club), then a wander down the main street after lunch at the park near the lovely little church. Once back in the car we drove up to the lookout for some amazing aerial views of the beach and coast.

The views from the drive from PD to Cairns.

Views of Mossman and the Daintree.

 

Of course we couldn’t not call into the Lifesaving Club!!!

 

From PD we drove the coast road back down to Cairns, calling in at a few little coastal villages including Ellis Beach and Palm Cove. Fortunately the patrolled beach at Palm Cove was open, although I was a little apprehensive with the stinger nets out and signs warning of the presence of stingers and crocodiles. The kids were also instructed to shuffle walk in the water in order to scare away the sting rays…….. Nik and the girls had a ball finally swimming in the ocean for the first time in over 7 months, however I was less excited as I sat on the sand keeping a watchful eye out for crocs and ensuring the girls were shuffling and dragging their feet, whilst anticipating the blood curdling scream resulting from the unmeasurable pain caused by the many dangerous and life threatening tropical stingers that I was reading about on the oh so helpful information board I was sitting next to…….. After Nik and the girls finally got out of the water, we dried off and headed back into Cairns, calling in for more sticky beaks at the northern beaches suburbs of Cairns.

Mmmm, shuffle feet…..made for a relaxing swim, not….
Shuffle , shuffle.
Whilst the lifesavers kept on eye on Nik and the girls swimming, I much prefered this view from where I was sitting.

 

We also managed to make it to a few markets whilst in the area, the usual Cairns Lagoon market as well as the Palm Cove Markets, both were lovely given it was the same stall holders at both, give or take a few. Whilst another HUGE event we attended with the Leeds and our Darwin mates Jayne and Paul, was down to Innisfail for the successful acheivement of the worlds longest banana split, a whopping 9kms long.

Jess organising her 5 metres of banana split, with Lucy in the background.

 

Rows upon rows of banana split baking in the FNQ sun……..

 

And the winners are……..the crowd went mad when the result was announced, high on bananas and melted ice cream……….

 

Of course we couldn’t leave Cairns without doing the Skyrail trip up the range and into Kuranda. We had hoped to do the Skyrail up and the scenic railway back down, but at a cost of close to $400 I couldn’t justify it, so we saved ourselves $150 and just caught the Skyrail up and back. We didn’t spend much time in Kuranda either, as we had previously been there whilst staying with the Leeds and found that it was not really to our liking. The daily markets were cute but predictable and the general vibe we got was that it was perhaps back in the day a pretty cool alternative hippy place to live and visit. However, these days it was all about the tourism dollars and nothing really seemed authentic, overall the best word to describe it was as a ‘try hard’ hippie place that had lost its way. So after an overpriced coffee and ice cream we headed back to the Skyrail station and headed back down the range. The view and scenery was great, however I did find I was holding on quite tighlty as we noisily made our way back down to Cairns.

Whilst in Cairns, we also did our first house sit for a young couple, looking after their dog, who coincidently looked exactly like our old German Shepherd. We were there for about 3 weeks and the girls thoroughly enjoyed looking after the dog, feeding, brushing and walking him everyday. The poor dog was probably glad to see the back of us, as either Jess or Abs were constantly patting or hugging him. It was great for Bec too, as she was able to go on a few long runs with him by herself. As for Zoe she was happiest talking to him from a distance where he couldn’t slobber and drop dog hair all over her….

Jess, Abs and Valkyrie.

 

Our time in Cairns also coincided with both Zoe and my birthdays, with Zoes falling on Good Friday, we were limited as to what we could do, so we headed off to Goomboora Park for a picnic lunch, play on the ropes playground and a swim in the river. The day was finished off perfectly with a birthday cake that Bec had baked, whilst it was low key we all enjoyed ourselves.

The birthday girl and her posse.

 

The gorgeous birthday girl.

 

I was also spoilt by the girls on my birthday, as they had set up a ‘salon’ and proceeded to pamper me with a facial, hair treatment, manicure and pedicure, even Nik was lucky enough to receive a pedicure… All this was finished off with Bec baking my favourite desert, Lemon Meringue Pie.

Clearly I was excited!!!!

 

Our last outing and hoorah in Cairns was only a short 12km drive from the caravan park we were staying at in Brinsmead to Crystal Cascades, a beautiful place where we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch and a swim in the very refreshing and very cold water, once again I took the photos…..

Chrystal Cascades.

 

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cairns and surrounds. It was great to catch up with friends, whilst also meeting some new ones as well. The weather turned a few weeks after we arrived, so we were able to enjoy some lovely balmy evenings and bright sunny days. We all agreed that we liked Cairns, however given that the beach is a no go for most of the year, we were happy to move on and were excited about our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP……………

 

Swimming at Babinda Boulders.

 

Babinda Boulders.

 

One of the many sunsets from the Leeds house.

 

Off on another waterfall exploration.

 

 

 

 

The Overlander & Inland Way, QLD

As customary on our state border crossings we stopped at the NT/ QLD border to stretch our legs and take a photo of the state sign, then as was the case on this hot outback Summer day, we quickly retreated back to the cool air conditioned comfort of the car to continue on. As it was only just past mid afternoon, we had earlier decided to push on a bit further, finally arriving in Mt Isa in the later part of the afternoon and after some haggling with the caravan parks we ended up at the Discovery Park, as the lovely Irish lady only charged us for 2 kids and threw in an ensuite site as well!!!!

Yay, we are in Queensland!!!

We then spent the next 2 days exploring Mt Isa, heading out to Lake Moondarra, then visiting the Information Centre where we spent the next 2 hours in the Fossil Centre with a very passionate and enthusiastic caretaker, Alan. Alan really knew his stuff and explained that the fossils around Mt Isa were not dinosaurs but the first ever mammals in which our current day mammals are descendants of. They are quite prehistoric, as well as being big and scary with carnivore kangaroos too. He then walked us through his laboratory and explained the ongoing processes of how it all works and how they extract the fossils from the rock. It was amazing that the whole process of discovering these fossils is still relatively new and is still occurring today. To the girls credit they were polite (even when I kept asking questions 😉) and feigned interest until we said our goodbyes and headed out to a park for lunch.

Lake Moondarra, Mt Isa

 

Standing on the dam wall at Lake Moondarra.

Lake Moondarra

The fossil centre at the Mt Isa Visitors Centre. Alan showed us around and was very enthusiastic.

Uncovering a fossil in the sand pit at the Fossil Centre

 

After Mt Isa there was much toing and froing as to which way we went, we weren’t sure whether to veer south east off the Overlander way to head towards Winton to see the Dinosaur Stampede or keep heading towards Townsville and only do the top part of the Dinosaur trail at Richmond and Hughenden. In the end, we skipped Winton as the girls were quite vocal in their wishes that they simply weren’t interested in fossils or dinosaurs, so it was off along The Overlander Way again where we called in at Julia Creek for lunch and to visit the Julia Creek Dunnart, a nocturnal insect eating marsupial, which as the name suggests is only found in and around Julia Creek. Unfortunately, the Julia Creek Dunnart had taken the day off… however we did get to see his cousin, the Fat Tailed Dunnet, which is housed at the Visitors Centre. He was very cute and the information provided on him and the whole town in general was very informative.

Fat Tailed Dunnet.

 

Lunch at Julia Creek.

 

From Julia Creek, it was only a short drive to Richmond where decided to stop for the night, However, we first visited Kronosaurus Korner, situated at the Visitors Centre. Kronosaurus Cove is touted as being the Australia’s best marine fossil museum and is the home of ‘Penny’, the Richmond Plesiosaur and Australia’s most intact vertebra fossil, as well as ‘Krono’, the Kronosaurus queenslandicus, a 10-metre giant marine reptile. The museum is well set up as you walk around the exhibits with a hand-held audio guide at your own pace. You can also view their laboratory and see how the fossils are processed and prepared.

Penny and the girls.

 

The displays inside the museum were excellent.

 

‘Krono’, the Kronosaurus queenslandicus

 

After a few hours at the museum we headed to the council run Lakeview Caravan Park, which as the name suggests sits right on Lake Fred Tritton, a recreational lake surrounded by picnic tables, kids water park and pontoon and BBQ. Not surprisingly we then spent the afternoon having a great swim and paddle on our lifesaving board in the lake. The next morning, we were up early, Bec decided to push out a few laps around the lake eventually reaching her goal of 10km, whilst the rest of us enjoyed watching some stand up paddle boarders as they cruised around the water. There is also two fossil hunting sites just out of town, where people can go and dig and hunt for more fossils, which they are actually doing very successfully. Unfortunately, the Smith girls were well and truly over fossils and museums, so seeing that I was outnumbered we packed up and headed to our next stop.

Lake Fred Tritton

 

Jess out paddling on Lake Fred Tritton.

Abby and Jess doing a morning yoga session (it didn’t last long)

 

From Richmond, we only had a short drive to Hughenden where I promised the girls that we would have one final museum to see before we boycotted them for a few weeks. The museum was the Flinders Discovery Centre, housed in the Visitors Centre, and was home to a life size replica of “Hughie’ the Muttaburrasaurus herbivore dinosaur. The Museum also showcased the sheep pioneering history of the area and we surprisingly spent an hour walking around and soaking it all up. We also visited the library to join up to ‘Rural Libraries Queensland’ as a tourist member. This membership allows us to borrow books and ebooks at any library in rural QLD and return them to different libraries as we travel. An awesome initiative considering we are spending a small fortune on books that the kids are reading, proud to say though, they are all reading about 2 hours a day, something unheard of a few years ago!!! Afterwards we went for a coffee at the FJ Holden café in the Main Street, a place owned by Mr F and Mrs J Holden and home to a pretty awesome collection of Holden and Rock n Roll memorabilia. The girls weren’t impressed, but Nik and I enjoyed having a look around.

 

Plenty of memorabilia and photos at the FJ Holden cafe.

 

FJ Holden cafe.

Flinders Discovery Centre

Nik and Zoe looking their best at the Flinders Discovery Centre

All the girls learning………

Our next stop was Charters Towers, a unique country town about 90 minutes west of Townsville, which was put on the map by the discovery of gold in 1871 by an Aboriginal ‘horse boy’ called Jupiter Mosman. Charters Towers then became the second largest city in QLD, thankfully for us though it’s not so busy these days and we felt that it had a certain feel to it so we decided to stay and explore few days. After we rang around for a few prices we decided to stay at Charters Towers Tourist Park as they were the friendliest and cheapest in town. As we booked in the owner told us that the Drive in was on that night, so with our night all planned out, we quickly set up, went for a swim and cooked dinner. The Drive In was great value, 2 movies for $8 per adult and $6 for kids. We only stayed and watched the first movie ‘Hidden Figures’, which was a great family movie telling the story of 3 inspirational colored women working for NASA back in the 60’s. Jess and Abs were a bit confused as to why everyone was treating the women the way they did, so it was a bit of an unpleasant history lesson for them (one of many we’ve had whilst travelling….), however we focused more on the good stuff and the positive contribution and outcome as a result of these women, so they were OK with it. We all loved it and considering the mathematical side of the story, I’m milking it for all its worth as we calculate our way through homeschooling years 8 & 10 maths…….

Stranded at the Drive In….branded a fool….what would they say, Monday at school……

 

Awesome night at the Drive In watching an inspirational movie for the girls.

 

The next day we meandered up and down the main street of town, enjoying the old buildings and lovely architecture, then stopped in at the old Stock Exchange building for coffee and milkshakes. We then went for a drive to the Towers Hill Lookout which had some great view of the town and surrounding areas. After a quick geocache find and a look at the many WWII bunkers we headed back to the van for an hour of schooling and spent the rest of the day swimming and chillaxing.

The grand old buildings at Charters Towers.

 

The old ‘Bank of New South Wales’ building.

 

The Towers Hill lookout over Charter Towers.

 

Charlie’s Angels hiding out at one of the many WWII bunkers at Charters Towers.

 

WWII bunkers.

Our set up at Charters Towers Tourist Park

 

We had ummed and ahhed about whether to keep driving to Townsville however we decided that as we would be following the coastal road back down the east coast we would head to Cairns via the “Great Inland Way’. Given it was still quite a few hundred kms away we stopped in at the Undara Volcanic National Park for a few days. We stayed at the Undara Experience, a privately run tourist business that offers all types of accommodation, meals and daily tours to the lava tubes, the only available public access to the park. Given that it’s the ‘green season’ or the quiet season we were surprised when we had a full bus on our ‘Archway Explorer’ tour. The tour took us into one of the sections of the Undara lava tubes, a relatively small area given that they span a distance of over 160kms. We had a very knowledgable tour guide who explained to us about the how the business came about, the history of the family that runs it as well as giving us what I think is a years worth of science information. He had a fantastic way of explaining things and putting them into perspective regarding the age of the tubes and the whole subject of geology. It was a great couple of hours, however I don’t think we have any budding geologists, volcanologists or speleologists in the family.

One of the entrances to a section of the lava tubes.

Inside one of the Lava tubes

Our wedding anniversary dinner, organized by the girls

Cooling off at the pool at the Undara Experience campground.

In hindsight, I think we have completely overloaded the girls with information from fossils to volcanoes in the last week, so much so that I have a feeling they’ll never look at another rock again in their life!!! So just as well our next leg of the journey had us traveling into and over the lush tropical rainforests of FNQ, as we head to our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP…….

The Stuart and Barkly Highways, NT

Finally, after being in Darwin for the last long  7 months working and enduring the humidity and heat we were ready to leave. Added to this there was a cyclone expected to hit Darwin in 2 days time, so we were understandably excited as we packed up. I had finally completed my week at uni, with Nik and Abs doing the majority of the packing up during the week, so on my last day I got home to a packed van and was therefore lucky enough to say our farewells to the people we had met in the park over the last couple of months.

The final pack up and clean up of mould and dirt after 7 months in one spot.

 

Farewell photo with Joel, Sandy and their gorgeous kids. Will certainly catch up with them on the Sunshine Coast after they leave Darwin at the end of the year.

 

The next morning after some terse words and many mumblings under our breath, as we tried to recall how to pack up again, we finally left town not long after 9am. However, we only made it 160km south of Darwin when we heard an almighty bang, Nik had to work hard to control the car and the caravan as the rear passenger tyre proceeded to be shredded to pieces. After what seemed an eternity and lots of going from side to side on the road Nik managed to pull us over in order to get things cleaned up. The tyre had blown and was completely destroyed, so for the next 90 minutes Nik worked hard to change a very hot and heavy tyre on a very narrow shoulder of the road as we were not able to drive any further as we would have stuffed the rim. The fact that the car was on quite a lean and the hot sun was beating down, made it a less than ideal environment for changing the tyre. I did what I could….applied sunscreen and refilled his drink bottle every 5 minutes, while we tried to take the weight of the van off the car and then jack the car up enough to be able to put the new wheel on. Long story short we (Nik) did a great job and we ended up only getting as far as Katherine that night.

Holy Crap!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Absolutely shredded……and bloody hot to touch and get off the car.

 

Being a weekend we ended up staying in Katherine until the Monday so that we could get a new tyre, in the end we bought 2 new tyres (BF Goodrich). Considering we had a day to chill we also had a huge clean out of the caravan, filling 2 wheelie bins for the Salvos and another 2 for the tip. We finally left again on the Monday morning, stopping in at Mataranka for a swim and morning tea. Whilst we clearly did not visit Mataranka in its prime, we still thoroughly enjoyed our swim and could imagine how beautiful it would be during the dry season. The area had recently had lots of rain as the surrounding gardens of the hot springs were full of mud and leaves and grass.

Relaxing at Mataranka Hot Springs.

 

Zoe at Mataranka hot springs.
Enjoying the water with what looks like ET just in front of Zoe……(all good its only the end of a palm frond….lol)

 

From Mataranka, we drove further south and stopped in at Daly Waters Pub for a beer and a rest. It had a great atmosphere, so we thought we might set up out the back for the night. Unfortunately, the backpacker bar lady wouldn’t budge on the price of $16 per person, including the kids, so we decided to drive further south. After another couple of hours and another dodgy caravan park we pulled up at Renner Springs, about 130km north of the Threeways turnoff. Whilst this ‘van park’ was pretty crappy, it was at least a little cheaper than Daly Waters. The lady also mentioned that the pool was in good nick at the moment too……..I’ll let you decide based on the below photo……

The set up at Daly Waters Pub.

 

The lush entrance to Daly Waters pub.

 

Having a quiet ale at the bar at Daly Waters pub.

 

‘The pool is in good nick…’ haha yeh right……

 

After a wet night and an even wetter pack up the next morning we were out of there not long after the sun rose. After turning east, we stopped in at the impressive Barkly Homestead for lunch, remarking on the lush green grass out in the middle of nowhere. Even though this would be our last stop in the Northern Territory, we didn’t hang around too long as it was bloody hot outside and we still had a few more km’s to cover.

A massive spider looking after the entrance to the Barkly Homestead…….

 

In total on our trip we have spent over 9 months in the NT and whilst we may joke about getting out of Darwin quickly, as a whole I think we have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the NT, from Alice to Uluru, to the East and West Macdonnell Ranges, Katherine, Mataranka Litchfield and Kakadu and yes even bits of Darwin, we have quite simply had a ball. But as usual we look forward to our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP…………………….

Darwin, NT, part two.

Darwin City

We also spent a bit of time in Darwin City itself, apart from quite a few visits to the Wave Pool, we also went to the ANZAC Day centenial exhibition, which was held at the Darwin Convention Centre. The exhibition was awesome, it was really well done, taking you through interactive displays which were at times quite sad, especially the last one with all the names of the fallen soldiers. The exhibition was only in Darwin for a week or so and the best part was it was absolutely free.

ANZAC Day exhibition.

 

God help us with this lot on board!!!!

 

Zoe and Nix.

 

Part of the ANZAC exhibition.

 

On another occasion, via facebook we were able to nab some half price tickets for a Darwin Harbour Cruise, well worth the saving of $150!!! We were very excited as the night we went it coincided with the super moon, so we were hoping to get some great photos and have a lovely platter of bickies and cheeses as we cruised along the water. Um, no, not quite how it all went down, as the weather had other ideas and decided to crash the party with thunder storms, constant rain and cloud cover for the entire length of the cruise…… After an hour and half we were more than happy to disembark and head home for dry clothes……..

The sky as we were waiting for to board the cruise…..

 

Our cruise ship.

 

More serene skies as we head out onto the harbour cruise……

 

Looking back at the city from the cruise.

 

If there was anymore rain I fear there would have been a mutiny.

During our stay, we were also lucky enough to have Nik’s brother Kevin fly up for business, so of we went out for dinner at the Boat Trailer club. Thankfully the rain held off and we had a great catch up with Kev, as it had been over 2 years since we had seen him.

Sunset from the Trailer Boat Club.

 

Darwin put on a show for Kev!
Catching up with Uncle Kev.

We had also found a quirky cute little café in town called, Alley Cats Patisserie, which served some amazing milkshakes. Quite often after a little wander down Mitchell St Mall, we would wander in for a dose of their weekly mega shake. Each week they change the theme and post it on facebook, so of course we need to go and make sure that it tastes as good as it looks!!!! Yep, we tried a few mega shakes but favourites were the Kinder suprise mega shake and the Nutella megashake.

Alley Cats Kinder Surprise megashake.

 

Alleycats Nutella megashake

 

Mitchell St Mall

We also took a drive out to Nightcliffe Beach for a wander around, calling in at the Darwin Lifesaving Club, with Nik doing his usual looking around for places that he could peek in and see their gear and set ups. Once again though, as it was the wet season there was not much too see, apparently the place rocks over the weekends during the dry season and it is a great place to hang out and swim, however all the kids (and I) agreed that we sure as hell wouldn’t swim here, too many gingas lurking underneath!!!!

Nightcliffe Jetty

 

Nightcliffe Beach

 

Big tides up here in the Top End.

 

 

Nicghtcliffe beach with the tide out and Nik in the foreground.

 

Darwin Lifesaving Club.

 

The beach at the lifesaving club.

In between the exploring and the working, we were also in town for Christmas, which turned out to be a very low key but relaxing day. Whilst we did miss family and friends immensely, we got into the spirit of it and decorated the caravan accordingly. Thankfully, Santa did manage to find us, the girls were afraid he would go back to Perth where we were last Christmas. We were lucky enough to be invited up to share the day and lunch at the park/ resort’s pool and outdoor restaurant (which was closed) with Donella and Alistair, owners of the resort and Nik’s boss. Earlier on we decided that each of us would contribute to Christmas lunch and each make a course, so with courses prepared and Jess all dolled up as the waitress we spent the day at the pool filling our bellies, lounging around and swimming in the pool. The meal began with Abby’s Garlic Prawns for entree, main was cold ham and chicken with Bec’s Quinoa salad and for desert, Zoe whipped up some chocolate cups and ice cream. It was delicious and made the day lots of fun!!

Nik and Santa

 

Getting into the spirit of Christmas with a spot of origami.

 

Yay, Santa found us!!!!

 

Yes Chef!!! Abs and her Sous Chef in the kitchen.

 

Waitress Jess, hope she didn’t want penalty rates for working Christmas Day.

 

The table setting

 

Abby’s garlic prawn entree.

 

Tucking in after saying grace……

 

Nik and I also had our annual date night, assisted by a gift voucher for the exclusive Pee Wee’s restaurant at Lee Point. The voucher was our Christmas present from Mum, so given that she had given the girls other stuff we then decided to leave them at home!!! It was an amazing meal, as usual I ordered the local barra and Nik ordered the duck, thankfully we had the voucher otherwise we would still be there cleaning dishes out the back….

Local barra at Pee Wee’s

 

Date night at Pee Wee’s.

 

Darwin wrap up

All up we were in Darwin for close to 7 months, it was certainly a long 7 months, especially for the girls as they got quite bored with Nik and I working a lot. Given that this was a ‘work stop’ we tried to refrain from spending too much, so we bypassed tourist attractions such as Crocodylus Park and Crocosaurus Cove, which would have cost us over $200 in entry fees each. We just couldn’t justify the money, especially after having seen crocs and many other wildlife in their natural environment, the girls in particular, were not interested in seeing the animals behind cages!! We enjoyed experiencing the wet season, especially from the comfort of our 24 hour a day air conditioned van, for the most part, the periods of monsoonal rain, where it rained for days and days, was not too bad and the van survived with hardly any leaks. Although we have all stated that one wet season was enough!!! The rainfall count just after we left was a staggering 2000mm and quite often we would have deluges of 100-200mm in 1 hour, it was certainly different to the rain down south!!!

This was after about 20 minutes of rain, however no one was heading out to empty it. So everytime we had rain we joked that we had about 60mm.

 

Nik and I both enjoyed our jobs and the experiences that came with them and the girls, in hindsight, didn’t think school was too bad. We have met some more amazing people, that we can now call friends and stay in touch with in the future, whether we call in on them on our way down the east coast or catch up with them as they continue their big lap too.

Interestingly, the majority of people we have met have raved about Darwin and their time holidaying up here, however we unfortunately don’t feel the same passion. I think in part because our stay wasn’t a holiday and we were busy working, and we saw both sides of Darwin, the good tourist parts and the bad local parts. Through our work, Nik and I experienced some unfortunate accepted local norms, myself in the hospital and its 90% Indigenous population all suffering horrific effects of chronic disease and poverty and Nik in the tourism/ hospitality industry. I think this acceptance of ‘long grassers’ and the way most ‘white fellas’ just ignore it with their head in the sand attitude had quite an impact on our stay. Having said that, I have absolutely no idea how it can be changed for the better, I think it’s so much bigger than what I can grasp.

The girl’s opinions are from a much simpler perspective, individually they have said that not one of them will ever come back, it’s boring, it’s hot and there is nothing to do, apparently it’s pointless having a beach as it’s too dangerous to swim in!!! Playing devil’s advocate and in Darwin’s defence though, we have explained to them that we did not visit Darwin when it is at its finest and that one day they need to come back during the dry season for a week, perhaps then they won’t be so hot and bored!!! On the other hand, in the girl’s defence, they are beach and lifesaving/ nipper kids and love nothing better than spending a day at the beach and IN the water!!!! Clearly Darwin is not for everyone, in all our time here I only met one white fella who was born and bred in Darwin, and people tend to stay for about 10 years and move on, it’s quite the transient capital city of Australia. However, we wouldn’t change the last 7 months for anything, we have had some great times exploring the areas, importantly though it’s been more about the people that we have met, that we have enjoyed the most, just like on most other parts of our trip.

One of the many friends we made, this is/was our neighbour Maddie, who coincidently is from Pearcedale/ Somerville, where we used to live. She has since gone home with her parents, Dave and Gemma to welcome a new baby sister. She calls Nik ‘neighbour’ and hopes to visit us again one day……

So after 7 months and quite a few weather warnings, we have packed up and are leaving town the day before a cyclone is forecast to hit Darwin, needless to say I’m a bit relieved, but more than anything we are all very excited about our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP…………..

 

Darwin, NT, part one

With the weather warming up and a few birthdays coming up we decided to head straight for Darwin. We did contemplate going to see the Jumping Croc cruise, but then we all didn’t really like the sound of going in a boat and seeing wild crocs jumping up right near us. It just seemed unnatural after what we had seen at Cahills Crossing in Kakadu and I personally didn’t think it was a good thing that they were training these crocs to associate boats with food and approaching them all the time, a behaviour that rangers consider aggresive and constitute killing or relocating a croc…..

Anyway off my high horse and onto Darwin, we first stayed at the Big 4 in Howard Springs to say hello to our travelling friends from Alice, the Boardmans. It had been over a year since we had left them in Alice, so it was great to catch up with them. After discussing our change of park plans with them, they decided to swap caravan parks with us too and head on up to Darwin Freespirit Resort in Palmerston, about a 20 minute drive to the city of Darwin.

Our first 8 weeks being in Darwin was busy, firstly we had 3 birthdays to celebrate, Bec turned 15, Abby turned 11 and Jess turned 9. Presents, cake and outings were all enjoyed and appreciated.

Bec and her birthday cake.

 

Abs and her birhday cake.

 

Jess’s birthday.

 

Jess was also diagnosed with Coeliac Disease after a gastroscopy at Royal Darwin Hospital, whilst I had my university practicals to complete, followed up with a 4 week placement at the Royal Darwin Hospital, what an eye opener that was!! I learnt a lot there, so much chronic illness, especially diabetes and kidney disease, however one thing that blew me away was the term ‘long grasser’…a term used to describe the many Indigenous people simply living in parks, paddocks and anywhere else where they can set up a lean to and create a home. This word wasn’t just slang, it is actually recognised as a valid address by government departments…… We had a group of long grasses in the land next to the caravan park, we forgot they were there as they caused no trouble, but after 2 months the powers that be came in and moved them on. Apparently a lot of the long grassers are either in town for a few weeks/ months to visit other relatives long grassing or they have been kicked out of their community for doing the wrong thing, mainly alcohol and drugs.

Jess in her presurg get up.

 

Mum and daughter selfie.

After we were set up and settled in at Freespirit, we also enroled the kids in term 4 at the local schools, more so for them to hang out with new friends and have a change from us as teachers. They all grabbed the oppurtunity with both hands and whilst they didn’t overly enjoy the experience they embraced and tried their best. They were all a little bored with the schoolwork, not so much in that it was too easy, more so in that they have been so self directed and organised with the home schooling that they finished well before everyone else in the class and got bored. Abs and Jess enjoyed Durack Primary School, where they were enrolled, quite a few of the kids from the park were going there so they already knew lots of kids, their teachers were nice and they fitted in well. Bec and Zoe went to Rosebery Middle School which is years 7 to 9, and in their own words it was ‘interesting’, adding that the kids up here a different to the kids at home…… Now, I’m not too sure whether that is true, or its just being ‘newbies’, or perhaps being exposed to these year levels for the first time, perhaps all year 9 kids are like the ones up here……….eeek. Aside from that, Bec did make some wonderful friends and was able to go to her year 9 formal, she even managed to get a job waitressing at the restaurant ‘Elements’, within the resort. We also had some pretty wild storms at Freespirit while we were there, one resulting in many trees falling, thankfully noone or thing was hurt or damaged!!

Bec all dressed up for her formal.

 

Niks drone photo of the pool at Freespirit.

 

The beginning of the wet.

 

Very lucky caravan owner.

 

That was one hell of a tree.

 

The clean up.

Bec also did some investigating and found a netball competition that her and Zoe could compete in, so every Thursday night for 8 weeks we would head up to Marrarra sports complex to watch the girls play netball. The girls loved this, Bec and Zoe made some great friends and so did Abs and Jess as it was very much like the Saturday morning comps back in Vic, with lots of younger siblings roaming around in their wolf packs!!!!

Zoe playing WA

 

Bec playing centre.

 

The sunsets were pretty awesome too.

Nik also did well and within 2 weeks of arriving in Darwin he had a job at the van park we were staying at, he was ‘night watchman/ manager’ and even dabbled a bit in the daytime groundsman duties when they needed him. He quite enjoyed himself in this role, even though it was tough work with the humidity and heat. However, the fact that his job kept him in the park allowed me to do agency work and eventually also a job at Darwin Private. Whilst we both worked a lot of hours we also explored Darwin and surrounds, whilst the girls kept themselves busy swimming and hanging out with the other kids in the park.

Nik taking Bec to work in his work buggy.

Litchfield

We had contemplated heading down to Litchfield for a few days, but being the wet season and bloody hot, we decided to go for the day. Friends of ours from the caravan park, Joel and Sandy and their 4 kids, also decided to come for a day trip, which was great for us as they had already been there and knew where to go. Once again given the season we didn’t take our bathers, you never know whats lurking below the surface, so our day consisted of mainly doing the short walks and being amazed at the scenery and also the volume of water. We also had to take the main route from Darwin, being down th Stuart Hwy and in via Batchelor, which was a very easy relaxing drive. First stop was the Magnetic Termite mounds, a very short stroll along the boardwalk to a clearing dotted with termite mounds. Whilst we had seen termite mounds before, here there were actually a different type called magnetic termte mounds which are built by the termites to be aligned north to south to minimise the exposure to the sun.

Magnetic termite mounds.

 

Boardwalk at termite mounds.

 

Mega magnetic termite mound

Further on from the mounds we called into Florence Falls and Bluey Rockhole for morning tea and a walk. These were both awesome places and would be wonderful places to swim in during the dry, we managed to get some great photos and as usual appreciate the natural beauty of our surrounds.

Blueys Rockhole

 

Florence Falls from above.

 

The walk into Florence Falls.

 

Trying to peak around the corner to see Florence Falls.

 

For lunch we stopped for a picnic lunch and sausages at the infamous Wangi Falls. The info centre was still open however the falls had been fenced off to swimming as the water level was quite high and half the BBQ area was underwater. We were still able to walk out onto the boardwalk and see the falls from a closer viewpoint, they were absolutely roaring. Quite clearly going by the debris on the boardwalk the water level had actually subsided quite considerably.

The boardwalk at Wangi Falls, think the water level has dropped a bit.

 

Family shot at Wangi.

 

Wangi Falls.

 

The fenced off BBQ area at Wangi Falls.

After lunch on our drive back we were hoping to explore further into the park, however all of the dirt side roads had been closed due to the water, so we missed the Lost City and also Blyth Homestead ruins, something for next time!! Our last stop was at Tolmer Falls, which was a massive long drop waterfall, it wasn’t accesible close up however a short track and lookout platform allowed us to take some great photos.

Tolmer Falls.

 

Dundee Beach

We also took a drive out to Dundee Beach about 100km south west of Darwin, the first time we went with the Boardmans for a sticky beak and swim at the caravan parks pool (once again it was bloody hot). Whilst the girls swam , Nik, Mark and the boys tried their hand at a spot of beach fishing, unfortunately to no avail. We sat and had a picnic lunch and marvelled at the bright blue skies, sunshine, palm trees and enticing blue water and the fact that we simply just could not get in, something the girls really struggled with, they seemed to think it was unfair that the crocs had all the fun!!!

Dundee Beach, so enticing!!!

 

The beach at Dundee.

 

Looking back towards the pu at Dundee Beach.

 

Picnic in the shade at Dundee beach.

 

Tomfoolery in the pool at Dundee beach.

Dundee Beach was also a great place to launch the boat and go fishing, which luckily for Nik, his new mate Joel just happened to have!!! If the weather allowed and neither of them were working at the park, they often went out for the day fishing with another mate, Paul. Bar one occasion, where the weather and water didn’t play nicely, the fishing trips were very productive, resulting in many evening meals and lots of fun, particuarly if they concluded with a counter meal at the Dundee Pub.

Nik and Paulie out fishing off Dundee Beach in Joel’s boat.

 

Nik with some of his catch.

 

Daily haul from fishing at Dundee Beach.

 

Gunn Point

Another expedition out of town was to north to Gunn Point, once again first with the Boardmans where the weather turned on us half way home and the second for Nik and the girls (I had to work…). With the Boardmans we explored the Gunn Point Prison Farm, which was built to help with the overcrowding at the Fannie Bay Gaol back in 1973. It only closed back in 1996 as it cost too much to keep open and going by how hot, humid and wet it was during the wet season, it would certainly have been tough doing time there!!!! Perhaps they should have kept it open 😉. On our way home, the weather turned nasty, which made for one hell of a ride, think we saw the Boardman’s patrol going sideways at one stage, although I think Mark did that on purpose…. We also called into Howard Springs Reserve for a run around before we headed home.

The usual omnious skies up at Gunn Point.

 

Grafitti at the old Gunn Pont jail.

 

The drive back form Gunn Point.

 

The lake or road…..

 

Hmmmm

 

Oh my

 

The lake at Howard Springs NP

 

Part of the playground at Howard Springs NP, all free to enter.

 

Playground at Howard SPrings NP

 

Flying fox

 

The car after Gunn Point.

 

The second time we went to Gunn Point, we also went with our mates Joel, Sandy and their kids, along with their quad bikes. Needless to say, they all had a great time on the beach with the bikes, there were a few sore bottoms from mishaps and donuts, but all in all a great day.

The rat pack on Joel’s quad bike.

 

Abby on Joel’s kids quad bike.

 

Lunch set up at Gunn Point, with Joel and his trailer of toys!!!!

Darwin Museum

A month after arriving in Darwin, my Mum decided to fly up for a visit, and given the cold weather back in Melbourne, a good dose of vitamin D. Whilst she was here, we went to Darwin Museum, as I had heard a lot about it from others, and we weren’t disappointed. From the marine display to the Cyclone Tracey display and the boat museum, we ended up spending a few hours in there, which was lovely as it was bloody hot outside!!! We had a great week with Mum, as we hadn’t seen her since Christmas, we also spent a day at the Wave Pool in town, visited Mindil Markets (featuring on the channel nine news) and had fish and chips at the Wharf, fresh NT barra!!!

Nanny and Bec at the museum.

 

Mum heading back to Melbourne, with yet another storm rolling in….

 

Wave pool.

 

The beautiful Darwin Waterfont and Wave pool.

 

Mindil Markets.

 

Checking out the wares at Mindil Markets.

 

Family shot minus Bec at Mindil Markets.

 

Zoe laughing at the ‘fun parent’.

 

It was great having Mum up however, we all had work to get back to work while we patiently waited for our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP in 2017……………….

Kakadu National Park, part three, Northern Territory

Jabiru, East Alligator and South Alligator regions

The drive from Cooinda to Jabiru was one of our shortest trips, a mere 48km, however we did chuckle as not long after we left Cooinda we passed a sign saying Jabiru 48km, then after travelling a further 5 km we passed another sign stating, Jabiru 51km………. welcome to the NT!!!

After the stories we had been hearing about the mossie population up at Merl campground up near Ubirr, the crazy itchiness of the 50 mossie bites I had acquired on my legs and the fact that we had run out of our you beaut mossie repellent, we changed our plans and decided to base ourselves at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park in Jabiru, once again getting all the bells and whistles of a caravan park for only an extra $8. Then at the end of the day with the heat bearing down on us we could swim in the resort pool, which just happened to have the bar next to it…….

After we arrived and encountered one of the nicest, friendliest and helpful park managers, we did a quick set up and then headed over to the Bowali Visitor Centre, where we joined in on the traditional painting and cultural activities. After an hour and a half of activities we retreated to the coolness of the interactive display in the centre, walking through and reading about the wildlife and history of the region. This display was more a national parks focus, teaching us more about the wildlife and ranger activity within Kakadu, compared to the Aboriginal cultural display down near Cooinda, so once again we spent a while working our way around. We ended up finishing in the wonderfully air conditioned theatre room, where we surprisingly ended up sitting and watching 1 1/2 episodes of an ABC 6 part documentary all about Kakadu, the ranger program and the joint partnership between the traditional owners and the federal national parks department. It even explained how they got the park ready for tourists and how they transported the steel floating walkways into Twin Falls by helicopter, something Nik and I had asked each other as we were walking across them a few days ago!!! Whilst I had only faint memories, Nik distinctly remembered watching about 3 episodes of this documentary series on the ABC quite a few years ago, especially about the rangers training the endangered Quoll species not to eat the dreaded cane toad. As we sat in the info centre and enjoyed the documentary that much, we decided to try and get a copy of it whilst in Darwin and watch the whole 6 episodes again (cue groans from the kids….hehe). Later that night back at the caravan park there was a very fun and interesting wildlife talk from Christian, one of the national parks rangers, covering every aspect of the different regions and highlighting the unique biodiversity of Kakadu and its importance for the abundance of wildlife that call Kakadu home.

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Traditional painting at the Visitors centre.

After the info centre we went for a drive into the shopping centre in Jabiru to pick up some fresh fruit and veges before scurvy set in, stocked up on a few of the kids magazines at the newsagency, then went to the Northern Lands Council to apply and pay for our day permit across Cahills Crossing and into Arnhem Land. The permit cost about $30 for Nik and I and was very specific in allowing us only to drive to Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) community to visit the Injalak Art Centre, we were instructed to NOT stop along the road, we were NOT allowed to enter any side streets in the community and were NOT to go any other route other than what was on the map. However, the next day, before we headed over into Arnhem Land, we spent a good hour sitting at Cahills Crossing at high tide watching the Ginga (salties) swimming downstream of the crossing, opportunistically catching all the fish that the high tide pushed down the river. Cahills Crossing is another infamous crossing, renowned for its Ginga population and high tides which make the crossing often uncrossable, still that doesn’t stop a lot of stupid people who have attempted to cross at high tide and therefore been rescued and earned their spot on the photo wall of shame back at the Northern Land Council offices back in Jabiru. We oohhed and aahhed as we counted at least 15 ginga’s waiting at the crossing, however god knows how many more were underneath……

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Lunch time at Cahills cafe!!!
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Crocestrian crossing!!!!
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Rather large alpha male ginga, succesfully catching fish for lunch……
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Mmmm, gutsy move.
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A car crossing over from Arnhem Land.
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The crocs just waiting below the lookout, 2 minutes before I took this a parent had let their child stand on the rock in the centre of the photo, sure he was 2 metres above the water, but all it would take was for the kid to fall and there would be no saving him. Once again pure stupidity!!!
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And he was one of the smaller ones…..

Our personal crossing of Cahills was a much more subdued affair, with the water only being slightly more than a puddle over the causeway, therefore thankfully we didn’t qualify for the hall of shame. From Cahills we drove to Injalak Art Centre, at times driving very slowly as we took photos of the amazing billabongs and surrounding stone country, apparently one of the reasons you are not allowed to stop is that the area is very concentrated with areas of cultural significance, so with that in mind we followed the rules and didn’t stop, even though at times we perhaps only just moving at walking speed, but we never stopped….

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The drive into Arnhem Land.
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Beautiful billabongs along the way, with smoke from a burn off in the distance.
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Lots of rocky outcrops.
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Beautiful Arnhem Land.

We spent a bit of time at Injalak, having a really good look at all the paintings and weaved baskets inside, they also do panels and lengths of materials out the back in the screen printing area. All the art and products were beautiful, expensive but beautiful nontheless. Unfortunately when we were inside nothing really took our fancy, so after a while we went out the back to watch the women doing the basket weaving, using the leaves of the pandanus palm. Its amazing how the different roots, leaves and seeds can be crushed and boiled down to create the purple, brown, yellow and black dyes that they use to dye the dried pandanus leaves and then start to weave the basket. We then went and had a look at the screen printing workshop and then watched as a few of the men were painting. One young bloke was painting a picture that caught my eye, it had a brown and orange background and he had painted about 6 turtles on it (turtles are very important to the Aborginal people of Kakadu and Arnhem Land). We watched him for another few minutes, he had such a steady hand as he was painting very fine lines and patterns onto the turtles, it was quite mesmerising to watch, he even had the girls and Nik entranced. I then decided to head back into the store and ask if I could buy the painting he was doing, so I left Nik to take a photo of the painting and also the artist, Tyrone. Thankfully they were very accomodating, saying sure but lets let him finish it first!!! LOL, after giving them my details, they said they will call me in a few days, where I can pay over the phone and they will ship it to us in Darwin, fantastic service. In their brochure they said they also have a stall at the Mindil Market and online, but those prices were at retail prices, whereas buying onsite you only pay wholesale prices. The whole set up is quite professional with at least 2 non indigenous people in the sales department, very arty people too. Obviously they get asked a lot of questions about how its all run, as they have a FAQ brochure explaining why non indigenous people work in the gallery (the indigenous people from the community often find so many white tourists intimidating and therefore won’t work in the gallery) and how much of the sale price goes to the artist (50% of the wholesale price), then all the profits, after overheads are paid, gets put back into the community. Have a look at www.injalak.com

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The local ladies weaving baskets that are then sold at the arts centre.
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Our nearly finished art work that we purchased.
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Our artwork and its very talented artist, Tyrone.

Later on that afternoon we then headed to Ubirr, where we walked around and had a look at the numerous amounts of rock art, we even spotted a painting of a Tasmanian Tiger…….. just makes you shake your head in amazement. After we spent a while looking at the art we climbed up to the Nadab floodplain lookout where we had an intimate sunset sitting with about 150 other people……. thankfully, the lookout was big enough so that we didn’t feel like everyone was on top of each other. From memory this lookout was also the spot, where in the movie, Crocodile Dundee (not sure if it was 1 or 2), Mick Dundee stood up there and was swinging around a thing that made the whirring sound…….. not sure if I’m right on that one though, so thats another 2 films we will have to watch when we get to Darwin, just need to make sure they are appropriate viewing for the kids too……

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Photo bomb at Ubirr.
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The sunset over the floodplains of Ubirr.
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Family shot at Ubirr.
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Stunning.

On our last day in Kakadu Nik went and played 9 holes at the golf course then we went for a drive across and down to Red Lily, Bucket and Alligator Billabongs, along the old Jim Jim Road. This drive had been recommended by Christian the ranger from the wildlife talk and slideshow. It was a beautiful drive in, however it was really heating up so we didn’t stay too long at each spot. It was quite funny how still and quiet the billabongs were, however later on at the croc talk run by ranger Christian, he informed us that those billabongs were highly satuarated with many gingas…………… lucky, I found that out after we had been, otherwise no one would have been allowed out of the car!!! Especially at Red Lilly, as the bank and ‘picnic area’ was relatively flat and easy ground for a croc to move about on, and believe it or not we found people camping here with their swags within about 4 metres from the water……

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Alligator Billabong, so peaceful, however full of ginga’s….
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Red Lilly Billabong.
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Red Lilly Billabong, lots of bubbles were seen coming to the surface…..

After spending 11 days in Kakadu National Park, we felt that we had plenty of time to see most of the sights along with a few quiet days in between, something that is needed considering the amount of hard yakka walks and humid heat. As a family, we enjoyed Kakadu, obviously the girls and Nik enjoyed all the swimming in gorgeous waterholes a lot!! We had decided to not do any schoolwork whilst here, so that we could emerse ourselves in the walks and cultural destinations, stories and history. We attended as many ranger led talks as possible and spent alot of time in the Cultural centres and info centres reading all of the information regarding the area, including its management of animals, landscape and occupancy. Personally, I LOVED Kakadu, for its ‘feel’, culture, beauty, biodiversity and affordability for everyone. I felt that we didn’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money to do cruises or cultual tours or talks in order to experience what Kakadu is. The cultural and info centres are well set up and the numerous ranger talks are free to attend, all available thanks to the $100 family parks pass. Aside from this intial outlay the most we then spent whilst in the park was $25 on ice creams, money very well spent according to the girls. We were all very pleased that we visited Kakadu, its no wonder that it is heritage listed, there are so many facets to the park and Arnhem Land to its east that it is a place that we could keep coming back to and keep finding and learning new things about it. Fingers crossed, we are able to come back and visit during the wet season, to sit on Ubirr (only accessible by boat during the wet) and watch the storms roll in would be the ultimate!!!

However, the girls were itching to move on, after not seeing a decent sized shopping centre since we left Perth way back in March, they were more then keen to spend their pocket money, that had been burning holes in their pockets. They also had a long awaited reunion with some travelling mates that we were meeting at out next destination and adventure on our OZLAP………

Kakadu National Park, part two, Northern Territory

Yellow Water, Jim Jim Falls/ Twin Falls and Nourlangie Regions

With the weather really starting to heat up and the swimming opportunities really starting to wind down, we decided to stay at the Cooinda Lodge (fancy name for caravan park, really!!) instead of one of the many national park campsites around the area, and for only an extra $8.00 per night for electricity, water, washing machines, bar and a pool, we found it more than worthwhile!!!

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No croc test recquired here!!!

From our base at Cooinda, we decided to make the 50km dirt road drive down to the Jim Jim and Twin Falls region and boy what a disgraceful road it was too. We decided the condition of the road, due its corrugations, was nearly as bad as the Kalumburu Rd off the Gibb, so after dropping the tyre pressures down to allow for a less rattling, bone jarring ride we finally made it to Jim Jim Falls, a long 90 minutes later. From the car park, the hike was a relatively short distance to the falls, however the rock hopping over huge boulders turned it into quite a strenous hike, thankfully, we were rewarded with a dip in the ‘beach pool’ area near the falls at the end. From here, we had the best views of the falls, that as people had told us, were not running. The lack of flowing water however, did not take away from the absolute awesomeness and sheer size of the escarpment around us and together with the palms and monsoon forest, it was a wonderful place to visit and peacefully sit and swim away from the crowds. If you sat still and quiet enough you could actually hear that the falls were in fact still running, yes the amount of water resembled the flow from a garden hose, however in my book it still counted!!!!

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Starting the walk into Jim Jim Falls.
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The croc trap on the way to Jim Jim.
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Beach swimming area at Jim Jim.
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Jim Jim Falls. Obviously as the rocks are wet, there seems to be some sort of water falling……from somewhere….
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Jim Jim Falls panorama.

From Jim Jim we headed further south to Twin Falls, crossing the Jim Jim Creek, which was sitting at 0.8m, with many 2wd and 4wd cars not being able to go any further due to the need of high clearance and a snorkel. After sitting and having lunch and surveying the creek with another car of people, we hopped back into the car and headed through the crossing first, as per the other cars request…… With me staying back to take photos, Nik and the girls went through, then they came back again to pick me up, then we headed back through again to head toward Twin Falls!!! I have a feeling if I hadn’t put my foot down, Nik would have found another reason to go back through again.

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Heading into Jim Jim creek crossing on the way to Twin Falls.
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We were told cars needed a snorkel for this crossing….I wonder why? 😉
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Safely through with no crocs hanging off our tyres!!!

Once at Twin Falls, its a short walk to the river where you purchase tickets ($12 per adult, kids free) from a park ranger and hop on board the boat shuttle, which then takes you as far up the river as possible. Due to the cultural significance of Twin Falls and Jim Jim Creek, entering the water is not permitted and comes with a hefty $5,500 fine…. Back on land, we then walk a further 400m over a steel pontoon walkway complete with 2 hand pump showers to cool you down from the heat (we learnt later on that these walkways are helicoptered in and out of the falls, all for the sake of the tourists), and over more rocks to get you to the stunning sandy beach of Twin Falls. Yes, these falls were still running, no, they weren’t running spectacularly, but once again this didn’t take anything away from the raw beauty of the place. What amazed me, was that you could walk up the sand to one of the falls and touch the water cascading down the cliff face. As with Jim Jim, the walk in through monsoon forest and the towering escarpment surrounding us, made me literally walk around in a daze, trying to take it all in……

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All aboard the Twin Falls boat shuttle.
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Boat trip to the falls.
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Cooling off shower along the walkway.
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Floating walkway, clearly no expense is spared for the tourists, these walkways getting helicoptered in and out each dry season…..
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Croc trap with croc enticing pigs hind quarters.
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One side of the Twin Falls.
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Walking up and touching the flowing water, pretty special!!!
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Looking towards the second water cascade.
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Twin Falls panorama.
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The hike back to the boat.
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Our cruise awaits……

Only a stones throw from Cooinda was the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, it is very well set up with a very informative interactive cultural display and gift shop. By the time we read our way through the display we ended up being there for over an hour, with Nik, myself and the older girls literally reading every plaque and display, totally absorbed in the stories and history. While Abs and Jess went straight for the animals display and continually kept coming back telling us the Aboriginal word for all the different animals, the favourite of course was the Ginga….saltwater crocodile. Staying at Cooinda, we were also able to watch the sunset just around the corner at the Yellow Water billabong, where we spotted countless birds and even two buffalos, who are considered feral pests of the park, in the distance.

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Yellow River Billabong.
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Sunset at Yellow River.
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Feral buffalo in the distance at Yellow River.

Another day out from Cooinda had us travelling a short 30km to the  Nourlangie region, famous for its rock art. The walk at Nourlangie takes you up to Gunwarddehwardde Lookout, where you have an extensive view of the surrounding woodlands and escarpment and then back down along ancient Aboriginal shelters containing numerous amounts of rock art. We attended the ranger talk here, which was very informative and took over 2 hours, first explaining to us the use of fire management in the park, then also about the cultural significance of the surrounding rock (Burrunggui) and woodland area (Anbangbang) and the role they played as Creation Ancestors in the creation time. The main story the rock art told, was the story about the Namarrgon (Lightning Man), who lives there at Nourlangie. The ranger then went on to explain that during the many electrical storms over the wet season the Burrunggui rock would experience up to 100 bolts of lightning per minute, which explained why it was known as the home to Namarrgon. However, for those of us with a more scientific way of thinking, the ranger then explained that the large amounts of lightning activity were due to the large amounts of uranium present in the surrounding rock…..

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Lookout from Burrunggui, home of Namarrgon.
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Namarrgon, lightning man.
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Rock art at Nourlangie.

In total we spent 4 nights at Cooinda, exploring the surrounding areas and also relaxing after some very long and hot walks earlier on in the week. We were also lucky enough to catch up with our travelling friends, the Hamiltons, who we first met back on the Gibb, we had quite a bit to catch up on as they had been to Darwin, Litchfield, down to Adelaide to pick up their new caravan (their other van caught fire in Port Hedland), Alice Springs and Uluru. We were very happy for them with their new van, after toughing it out in the tent all the way from the Pilbara to Darwin, they deserved to get back into the swing of travelling with a little more comfort. After a quick catch up they had to keep on moving eastwards towards the cape in QLD, very excited to hear how they go!!! We also spent a lot of time in the pool and perhaps a bit more time in the surrounding bar area….. this heat really makes you thirsty….. however we were looking forward to moving further north towards our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP…………..

Kakadu National Park, part one, Northern Territory

Mary River Region

Over the years we have heard mixed reviews about our next destination, Kakadu National Park, more then often people would use the term ‘Kakadon’t’. Even as we left Katherine, we had people saying not to go as it’s so dry and there is no water, etc, etc. So of course, taking on board all that advice we decided to head straight there, with our eyes and minds open as to what to expect. After we had paid for the parks pass at Katherine I set about reading the information booklet to work out our plan of attack. We would enter the park from the south, hopefully going the opposite way to everyone else, and we would work our way through the many regions and landscapes.

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largets national park, covering over 20,000 square kilometres, and is listed twice on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its amazing natural landscape and its cultural history, with archeologists having uncovered proof that Aboriginal people have lived here for over 50,000 years. The biosdiversity within Kakadu is one of the reasons for its world heritage listing, with the landscapes ranging from the dry savanna woodlands and stone country, to the monsoon forests, mangroves, rivers and billabongs. All of these habitats are broken up into the different regions, starting from the south where we entered the park, there is the Mary River Region, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls Gorge region, Yellow Water region, Nourlangie region, East Alligator region, Jabiru region and lastly the South Alligator region.

Gunlom Falls, our next campsite, is situated in the southern end of the park and is part of the Mary River Region, with the traditional owners believing that the Creation Ancestors (Dreamtime) rest here in this region and that they should not be disturbed. The campsite at Gunlom was well equipped with solar showers, running water and flushing toilets, with the camp host coming around each evening to collect the camp fees, which for us was the family rate of $38 for the night.

After waiting out the hottest part of the day by about 3pm we decided we had had enough sitting around, so filled up our backpacks and did the 2km return hike to the top of Gunlom Falls. It was a tough hike and pretty much just went straight up for about 1km, with the track resembling a goat track, however we had read and heeded the warnings and were prepared for the heart racing climb. It was well worth the effort as the pools above the falls were amazing, even though the falls weren’t falling that much, it was enough of a trickle to keep the water from going stagnant. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring around the pools, taking the customary photo of us in the natural infinity pool and enjoying afternoon tea up there. We even ventured further back to about the 3rd or 4th pool, where we were by ourselves and Nik and the girls were happily swimming until I noticed that we couldn’t actually see where the water came from ‘upstream’…… I rather hurriedly asked them all to hop out, because as far as I’m concerned ‘upstream’ could have been croc city and all the crocs were heading on ‘downstream’ for some afternoon tea….. So with that they scurried out of the water and we moved back up the rock embankment a few metres (at least 10!!!!).

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The steep hike up.
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The customary Gunlom Falls photo.
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Views from the top of the falls.
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OK guys, you can all take 2 big steps backwards please, except for Zoe you can keep moving forward please……
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Chillin in our own private oasis.
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The hike back down….

Back down at camp we also went for a swim (with about 20 other people, safety in numbers….) at the plunge pool at the foot of the falls, it even had a lovely big sand area with which to sit and relax on. The camp host told us later, that for some reason, the Creation Ancestors had decided to deliver the sand to the area during the wet season back in February this year, as apparently before that it was quite a muddy entrance to the plunge pool, I didn’t believe him and thought the park management had it trucked in, but he was adamant it had happened naturally.…….. As we were walking back to our van we couldn’t help but notice quite a boisterous group of Indigenous kids and adults camped not far from our van, they were having quite a good time. Later on that night though, we then had the pleasure of listening to them as they played the didgeridoo, clapping sticks and sang some songs. After an hour sitting mesmerised by the didgeridoo, they then stopped and began playing the guitar instead, with all of them now joining in and singing their ancestral songs. The sounds coming across the campground were captivating, together with the smells of the surrounding campfires and the stars and milky way above, it made our first night in Kakadu very surreal, as we were not expecting such a spontaneous natural cultural welcome.

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The plunge pool at the bottom of Gunlom Falls, home to a 3 metre freshwater crocodile.

Not far from camp, we set off on another hike at the Yurmikmik Walks, this one was a 8km return to Motor Car Falls. To beat the heat of the day we set off early, this time being organised and on the trail by 8am. The hike was relatively easy and we were rewarded with a gorgeous swimming hole and water fall that was still flowing, only just though. We spent a few hours there swimming, exploring and taking photos, the girls weren’t game to try and touch the bottom of this waterhole as the water got quite dark the deeper it went. As we were early we had the place pretty much to ourselves until just before we started the hike back to the car, which turned out to be a little harder with the heat and sun belting down, however we still managed to do a quick detour to the lookout for some great views and photos.

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Amazingly clear waters of Motor Car Falls.
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Motor Car Falls.
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Motor Car Falls panorama.
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Nik and I at Yurmikmik lookout.

The rest of the day we spent exploring a few secret spots of Kakadu which the camp host had told us about the night before, he had to give us directions on how to get there, as neither of them were mentioned in any of the tourism books, info centres, signposted or even on Wikicamps (the traveller’s bible). The first one we found was Fern Pool and was absolutely wonderful, the water was crystal clear and it even had a sandy bottom and a 3 tier waterfall for us to enjoy. We ended up staying here for a few hours, swimming, having lunch and even spotting a turtle, whilst we were there we didn’t see another soul. Of course the camp host had told us we could swim here, but I just wanted to be doubly sure so we conducted our own 2 point ‘croc test’, first we threw decent sized rocks in the grassy shallows and any black holes we saw and waited for things to move…… once happy with that, the next step was simply to send Nik in first and wait a few minutes by pretending we were all scared to get in. If he was still happily swimming, then the water was given the all clear for the rest of us.

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Our own private oasis.
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Searching for turtles.
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Clearly the best way to get in!!!
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Counting the fish.
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Speechless.
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Fern Pool panorama.

Our next secret spot involved a spring fed waterfall falling into yet another deep bottomless hole, surrounded by huge rocks. Once the croc test gave the green light we jumped and spent the next hour swimming and keeping cool, as the day had certainly warmed up. As usual Nik and the girls found some rock cliffs to jump off, either for the fun of it or just to stress me out a bit. As we were getting out we also spotted a water monitor who tried to evade us, he was a decent size and much to our disappointment was able to hold his breath and stay under water for quite a while, so much so that we got sick of waiting for him to come back up to the surface so we left. What an awesome day exploring, hiking and swimming we had!!!! We were extremely exhausted and water logged but pleased that we had been ‘wowed’ yet again. Considering before we came we hadn’t been overly excited heading into Kakadu, so far I can safely say we are loving it!!!

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Natural spring fed waterfall.
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Crystal clear water.
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Trying to get shot of the girls gliding together……
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Bec and Abs.
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Resident water monitor trying to hide from us under water. Can you see him….
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Pano shot.

From Gunlom we packed up and headed further north, first taking a 12km detour off the highway to a stunning gorge and waterfall called Maguk. We arrived around 9:30am, found a shady spot to park the car and caravan and hiked in on a diverse tropical, rocky creek track for about 1km to be met by a stunningly large plunge and waterfall. Thankfully the tour bus that was there were leaving as we arrived, so bar another 4 people we were able to have the place to ourselves for a bit. The water was once again crystal clear, inhabited by many fish who were not afraid to come and nibble on our toes if we sat still long enough.  We soaked up the beauty of the place as we swam, once again finding some nice rocks to jump off in the warm water. We also saw some people who had hiked up the top of the falls, a hike we had decided to pass on as we were all a bit exhausted from the 20km we had hiked in the last 4 days. So instead we let our muscles relax as we floated in the beautiful water. Unfortunately our peaceful swim came to an end as more and more people started arriving, so figuring that was our cue to get going, we had a quick bite to eat and headed back, passing at least 50 people walking in and arriving back to a very full car park. Just in the nick of time too, as a car tried to park right in front of us blocking our way out, to which we politely told them to move their car…… Manoeuvring our way out of the carpark we headed back to the highway, heading north towards our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP……………….

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Maguk Falls.
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Of course if we find a high rock, we must jump off it!!!
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Crystal clear water.
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Zoe in her element and soaking it up. We think this girl has gills…..

Katherine & Edith Falls, Northern Territory

After we left Keep River NP, we decided to continue driving all the way to Katherine as we needed to refill the fridge and the gas bottles. We stopped in at Victoria River Roadhouse for lunch and arrived in Katherine about mid-afternoon, setting up camp at the Big 4. Immediately we weren’t impressed with the Big 4, the staff were rude and obnoxious and the site they gave us was very small and stuck between 2 big trees. As we had paid for 2 nights, we waited out our stay and then packed up and headed to Riverview Caravan Park just up the road, with much nicer staff, bigger sites and only being a stone’s throw from the hot springs.

All up we were in Katherine for 5 nights, mostly to do schoolwork and shopping, however once they were done we also ventured down to the Katherine Hot Springs to spend a few lazy afternoons, soaking up the beautiful spring waters. The crowds weren’t too bad as we often went down there about 5pm, when everyone else had headed home. It was also handy for a geography assignment Bec started for school, one based on the students backyard………

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Nik, Abs and Jess enjoying the hot springs.
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Katherine Hot Springs.

Whilst in town we also saw a sign advertising the Katherine Cup, so of course bringing back memories of Oodnadatta, we just had to go. The lady at the Information Centre had told us that it was the social highlight of the year for the locals, so something we couldn’t miss. As usual, the day was sunny and warm, the beer and wine were flowing and the locals had gone to a lot of trouble to get all dolled up, complete with fascinators, short sleeved and short trousered tux’s. The races themselves were good, I think Nik broke even in the bookie ring, which was pretty good considering the races only had maximum 6 horses in them. For the kids, there was a jumping castle come inflatable slide, which they played on all day. We also met up with a couple we had met at the end of the Gibb, Bernie and Russ, we ended up spending a lovely afternoon with them, with Russ and Nik having a flutter with the bookies and Bernie and I sitting in the shade chatting and supervising the kids. As we drove past the racecourse the next day there were plenty of cars still there and we chuckled as we saw a young lady still dressed up in her racing attire, getting dropped off to her car……

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The stockhorse race.
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Big turn out by the locals.
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Dressed up to the nines!!!
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The running of the Katherine Cup.

On our last day in Katherine we decided to head out to Katherine Gorge just out of town. Unfortunately, as we were late getting going we didn’t get to attempt the long hike to Butterfly Gorge, only doing the short 4 ½ km walk to the lookout and back. Still the views were lovely and we got to see a crocodile from above. When we were in the visitor’s centre at the gorge we were in line behind a trio of women who were just about to start the Jatbula walk, a 5 day/ 60km hike up to Edith Falls, it sounded awesome and gave Bec, Nik and I some inspiration for future adventures. The rest of the day was spent touring around town finding Geocaches.

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Katherine Gorge from the lookout.
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Can you spot the croc….
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Gorge lookout.

After our time in Katherine was up, we decided to go to Edith Falls, which is located about 70km north west of Katherine. Edith Falls is part of the Nitmiluk National Park which stretches down towards Katherine, encompassing Katherine Gorge. The word on the travelling street was that you needed to get there early in order to secure a campsite as they fill up fast, so with that in mind we rose early, packed up and were waiting in about 10th  in line at the Edith Falls kiosk at 8:30am ready to book in for 2 nights.  Luckily we scored a decent sized campsite, it was lovely with a shaded grassy area behind where we set up our table and chairs. That afternoon we did the short 2.8km Upper Pools hike, it was a nice waterfall and swimming area, but we were not wowed, perhaps in part to the crowd that was there, plus the water was a little chilly. We finished off the day by swimming down at the plunge pool, the size of a large dam, which was only 500m from our van.

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Views of the upper pools from the hike in.
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Edith Falls family selfie.
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Swimming at the upper pools at Edith Falls.
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Scrambling over the rocks for a swim.
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Swimming over to the falls at the lower plunge pool.
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Just about there…

The next day we got up early and headed out by 8:30 to tackle the 9km return Sweetwater Pool hike. The hike wasn’t too bad, rocky in places, but for the most part gently undulating. Sweetwater Pool at the end was lovely to swim in, not too many people and beautiful scenery to boot. This hike was actually the end of the Jatbula trail that started at Katherine Gorge and took the hikers down into Edith Falls, we even saw quite a few hikers loaded up with their huge and heavy packs. The walk back to camp was a bit more difficult as the sun was directly overhead and was very hot, however we made it back by lunchtime, spending the rest of the afternoon lounging around, swimming in the plunge pool and catching up with Nik’s best mates brother and his family who were on their dream trip across the top of Australia.

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Zoe at Sweetwater Pools.
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Gorgeous spot!!
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Tempting Jess into the cool water!!!
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Playing around riding on the backs of crocs…..
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Waterfall massage!!!

We also met some grumpy, stingy grey nomads, who were quite proud of the fact that they hadn’t paid the park pass for Kakadu and told us we shouldn’t either…..another couple then whinged and complained about having to complete the census whilst we were there….. We could only shake our heads in frustration, as it would be these sorts of people that would be the first to complain when the facilities in Kakadu were downgraded or the roads not graded!! Aside from the minority grumpy travellers, we were also lucky enough to meet twice as many happy and enjoyable grey nomads. We enjoyed Edith Falls, even though it didn’t have the wow factor for us, I really enjoyed it for the hikes, waterfalls, plunge pools and well set out grassy camping sites complete with central hot showers and flushing toilets and would definitely recommend it. After 2 nights at Edith Falls we headed out, at a much later time than when we arrived and turned northward towards our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP……………….

 

 

Keep River National Park, Northern Territory

Almost a year to the day when we left way back in August 2015, we have reentered the NT and quickly reset our clocks forward an hour and a half, thank god the sun now rises at 7am not 5:30am!!!!!!  Central Australia impressed us immensely when we were there last year, so there is a bit of pressure on the ‘top end’ to live up to its reputation.

We arrived at the border and took the customary shots of the sign, changed our watches and then only drove another 21kms to our next campsite in the Keep River National Park. We laughed, as to travel only about 50kms it had taken us nearly 2 ½  hours…..we left at 9am WA time and arrived at 11:30am NT, just as well really as the girls told us they were ‘starving hungry’, so we had lunch.

Keep River National Park is a very small national park in NT only 3kms east of the WA/ NT border and about 40km east of Kununurra. Although the park is in the NT it is very much the same landscape as the Kimberley and Mirima National Park in Kununurra, as it has the same sandstone rock formation as the Bungles. We ended up setting up camp at Gurrandalng campground, which had picnic tables, fire pits and drop toilets and some amazing scenery that can be viewed only 5 minutes walk from the van.

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Our campsite at Keep River NP.
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Cooking dinner over the fire.

As we had arrived just before lunch we decided to wait out the hottest part of the day and at 4:30 head out for the short 2km walk at our campground. The walk didn’t waste any time and straight away we were walking through some amazing sandstone rocks, quite like the beehive domes at Purnululu. The walk was fairly easy, although it was very hot in the sun, thankfully the afternoon shade created by the domes gave us some much needed coolness and relief.

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The hike near our campsite.
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The scenery was amazing.
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Awesome rock formations.
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Panorama of the walk.

We woke the next day as the sun was rising, it was a beautiful sight against the surrounding sandstone and one we hadn’t seen for a while (unless we got up at 5am) due to the time difference. Even though we had planned to get up early, we actually slept in to 7am, but as the kids keep telling us it was technically 5:30am…….. I must say though that it was much nicer waking up with the impending daylight and knowing that it wasn’t ridiculously early, at the other end though we didn’t eat dinner until well after 7:30!!!!!

So eventually after we got ourselves organised we headed into the park a further 15km to the Jarnem campground to do the Jarnem walk. This walk was a 7km loop with shorter optional walks, however as usual we did the whole loop as we didn’t want to miss out on anything. The walk first took us to the lookout then back down and along the foot of the sandstone domes to view some aboriginal art and abundance of birdlife. Whilst we couldn’t really see the birds we could certainly hear them, they were loud and everywhere as we walked through the dry water course. Further on we came to some rock art, some of which were very hard to spot, but the main emu drawing was impressive. Along here the scenery was beautiful, the colors of the domes together with the green tropical palms and bright blue sky were incredible, unfortunately it made me fall behind as I was busy taking photos here, there and everywhere.

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Amazing views.
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The view from the lookout.
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More views.
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Aboriginal art on the walk.
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The rock and trees were beautiful.
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Spectacular.
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Nik and the girls getting sme relief from the heat.

The rest of our time here we did really try and fit in with the central time zone but we were unsuccessful as we ended up having lunch at 2pm, with dinnertime and bedtime being much the same, the girls finally getting to bed well after 9pm!!! Timing aside, the Keep River National Park is an impressive park, we even voted it better than Purnululu, and were thankful that our predecessors, the Mol’s and the Leed’s families had both recommended that we stop here for a few nights on our way to Katherine. So, with much excitement, we arose the next day at god knows what time and headed off either very early, on schedule or very late towards our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP……………….

Western Australia wrap up!!!

Our WA stats are:

  • 9 1/2 months or 295 days
  • 31,492 kms,
  • 59 camp set ups
  • 16 national parks

Our top 5’s are (in no particular order):

Nik –         Steep Point, Karijini National Park, Francois Peron National Park, Gibb River Road and Esperance.

Amy-        The Gibb River Road, Steep Point, Margaret River, Broome (for the life saving club and visits from family and friends back home)   and our stay at Mandurah (purely as we got to spend time with my family xxx)

Bec-           Karijini National Park, Ningaloo, The Gibb River Road, Margaret River and Broome for the life saving carnival.

Zoe-           Ningaloo, The Gibb River Road, Margaret River, Lucky Bay National Park and Steep Point.

Abby-        Karajini National Park, The Gibb River Road, Margaret River, Esperance and Steep Point.

Jess-          Ningaloo, The Gibb River Road, Lake Argyle, Karajini National Park and Red Dog at Dampier.

The scenery and places of WA have been more than we could have imagined, however we are a bit wary now as we think it will take a lot for mother nature to impress us anymore, as what she has created in WA is beyond spectacular.

We have also met some fantastic, warm and friendly people who have also made our stay enjoyable. Whilst we all believe the scenery is what impressed us the most, a lot of our top 5’s were made all the more special because of the people we spent time with, my Mum and her sisters Rob, Peta and Carol and their respective other halves and families down in Mandurah, having coffee with the Cullen/Berrimans in Lucky Bay down in Esperance, the Leeds for the top half of WA and especially The Gibb River Road, the Mol’s in the Pilbara, the Fredin’s in Karratha and finally the McClymonts, the McFarlanes, the McAuleys and Nan and GP (Niks parents) in Broome. As well as all the other travelling families and people we have crossed paths with as we made our way through the state.

But having only covered half of Australia we think we are up for the challenge to try and be ‘out wowed’ by the rest of this country, so farewell WA and G’day again to the Northern Territory. We are very excited and looking forward to the next chapter, adventure and as always destination on our OZLAP…………………

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The Northern Territory welcomes us back!!!

 

 

Lake Argyle, Western Australia

Our next destination after Knx was Lake Argyle, only 70kms down the road, therefore we arrived nice and early and securing our spot in the usual caravan line up. We had heard on the grapevine and from fellow travellers that you had to get there early in order to secure a powered site and thankfully we were, so we scored a nice big powered site not far from the infamous infinity pool.

After we set up and had morning tea, we went for the usual walk around the park and sussed things out. The infinity pool looked awesome but the temperature didn’t impress me, so we decided to wait for the next day to take the usual photo with the lake in the background, as I think I need to psyche myself up for it. Instead we went for a drive up to the impressive dam wall, down to the picnic area below and along to a few lookouts. From one of the lookouts we were able to view the water below the dam spotting a crocodile cruising around, not sure if it was a freshie or a saltie.

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The dam wall at Lake Argyle.
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The lake from the lookout.
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The girls at the lookout.
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View of the dam wall from downstream.
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View of the wall and downstream. Nik is fishing down there somewhere, with a croc swimming in the shallows to keep him company.

The next day Bec, Abs and myself went for a hike along the St Georges Terrace- Bluff Lookout walk, which had us walking around past the old the homestead and onto the bluff, where we were able to take some amazing photos. The walk was great, we didn’t stray off track once and it wasn’t too steep!!! Later on that morning we went to the Durack Homestead where we wandered through and learnt about the history of the Durack family and how when the Ord river was dammed it flooded the majority of the Lake Argyle Station. The bricks from the homestead were saved and transported to Knx where they were in storage for many years until they were finally able to receive some government funding and relocate and reconstruct the original homestead to where it stands today, using the same bricks it is an exact replica of the Durack’s homestead that was built in the 1880’s.

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The start of the bluff walk.
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Rustic sign keeping us on the right track.
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Pesky child ruining the view.
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Me and my hiking buddies!!
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The view from the bluff at the end of our hike.
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Durack Homestead.

After our history lesson we went and found some geocaches and also stumbled upon some aboriginal art at a place called Crocodile Rock. We were surprised that this little landmark wasn’t passed on to visitors as it was located in a pretty cool cave, however it was nice to have it to ourselves!!!!

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Aboriginal art at Crocodile Rock.
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Aboriginal art.

Another walk across from the caravan park had us climbing up a fairly steep hill to give us some pretty amazing views of the Lower Ord River and the dam. After lunch we got ourselves ready for our sunset cruise that we had booked in for with Lake Argyle Cruises. We were picked up from the park at 2:30 by the bus and taken down to the boat ramp, where Matt our boat skipper drove us around the lake for the rest of the afternoon. Matt also got us up close and personal with some Short Eared Rock Wallaby, freshwater crocodiles and some Archer fish (which spat the water at us). The cruise was a bit of a history lesson too, with Matt talking to us about the history of the land, known initially as Argyle Downs Station, and founded by the Durack family way back in the late 1800’s. Geography was also covered as Matt pulled out the overhead map and showed just how little of the lake we had been on and how small was the amount that you could actually see. Considering that back in the 1980’s the whole dam project was considered a bit of a white elephant, it is now supposedly doing quite well, as it supplies the water for the agriculture farms in Kununurra, with the biggest user being TFG (who grow Sandalwood, a product used for perfumes), and it produces the electricity for Kununurra, Wyndham and Lake Argyle township. I assumed that it was also the areas main drinking water source, but no, not one ml is used for drinking. The cruise concluded with a chance for the brave to jump in and have a swim, whilst beer, wine, nibbles and afternoon tea was handed around, both on the boat and on the water via a floating esky. All up the cruise was great, although a tad expensive, but we all had a good time and enjoyed ourselves.

 

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The view from the hill opposite the park of the Lower Ord River and the dam wall.
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Bec, the queen of selfies, and myself on the cruise.
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Ready for our ship to sail!!!!
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One of the 25,000 freshwater crocodiles and the many catfish of Lake Argyle.
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A swim with drinks and nibblies. Note the smoke from the fire in the background.
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Sunset on the cruise, looking west.
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Sun disappearing behind the ranges.
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Looking east at sunset, the sun on the rranges behind us.
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Lake Argyle at her best!!!

We enjoyed the scenery and history of Lake Argyle, they were both interesting and amazing and we learnt a lot about the last 120 years of the area, however we now start a new and exciting chapter and look forward to our next destination and adventure on our OZLAP…………………………..

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Yes, finally I got in the pool for the photo and my god it was ridiculously cold, not that you could tell by my body language and clenched teeth!!!

Kununurra, Western Australia

The east Kimberley town of Kununurra was our next destination after our trip along the Gibb, we were looking forward to setting up on some grass and restocking the fridge and pantry. Kununurra, or Knx as the locals call it, was established back in 1963 as the main service hub for the Ord River Irrigation Area and has a population of around 6000 people.

We stayed at the Lakeside Resort Caravan Park, which had a great resort style pool and, as the name suggested, it was on the banks of Lily Creek Lagoon only a kilometre from the town centre. We decided to book in for a week in Knx as we wanted to have a good look around as well as get some school work done.

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Sunset view from the caravan park onto the lagoon and the resident Jabiru.
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Ah the serenity.
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Sunset.
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The resident Jabiru, he was so still I thought the park had gone and put a fake statue in the shallows.

In between the schoolwork, our first adventure had us heading north/ west along Parry Creek Rd heading towards Parrys Lagoon Nature Reserve, but first we were lucky enough to have to cross the infamous Ivanhoe Crossing. The Ivanhoe Crossing is a concrete causeway that takes you across the Lower Ord River, home to many saltwater crocodiles, but has been closed for the last couple of years due to consistently high water levels deeming it too unsafe to cross. However, luckily for us the local council had quietly reopened it only about 6 weeks ago, so naturally after word had filtered through to us (via facebook of course) it was our first point of call in exploring Knx. After taking the customary photos and assessing the depth and flow of the river we jumped in the car and drove across with absolutely no hassles whatsoever, our side steps didn’t even get wet!!!

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Ivanhoe Crossing.
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Away we go!!!

After the crossing we continued along towards Parrys Lagoon where we first stopped in at the Mambi Island boat ramp, spotting at least one decent sized saltie sunning himself further up the river along the opposite bank. The campground was quite dusty and also offered limited shade so we didn’t stay long.

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Mambi Island boat ramp, we only saw one saltie and he was too far away to spot with the naked eye.

From Mambi Island we then entered Parrys Lagoon Nature Reserve and stopped in at Marlgu Billabong. Marlgu is the local aboriginal word for ‘wild bird’, so naturally we were able to sit in the shady bird hide and marvel at the abundance of wildlife. There were catfish swimming under the hide, birds such as egrets, pelicans, spoonbills, herons and whistling ducks, and less than 100 metres away we spotted 4 salties sunning themselves on the banks of the billabong.  We ended up staying there for at least half an hour as we were spotting different animals with the binoculars.

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Amazing birdlife at Marlgu billabong.
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Can you spot the 3 salties sunbaking on the far bank?

It was getting towards morning tea time so we headed to the Rusty Shed Café in ‘Old Wyndham’ down at the port. I had a very decent coffee, whilst Nik enjoyed an iced coffee and the girls shared milkshakes and gluten free raspberry cheesecake, yummo!!! $40 later we left and dropped Nik down at the jetty to have a fish while the girls and I went to do some more around town sightseeing. First we headed to the main attraction being the Five Rivers Lookout, which enables views of part of the Cambridge Gulf as well as the beginnings of the Ord, King, Pentecost, Durack and Forrest rivers. We were even able to spot Nik down on the jetty with his fishing rod.

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Five Rivers Lookout. Nik is the dust spec on the jetty in the middle….
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The girls at the lookout.
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Five Rivers lookout panorama.

On our way back down to town we called into the Warriu Aboriginal Dreamtime statues, we couldn’t find a plaque explaining the story or the statues, but they were massive and towered above the girls and I. After we headed back to the port and picked up Nik we had some lunch at a nice shaded park, took the customary photo standing in front of the oversized crocodile and started to head back to the van at Knx. On the way back we also drove past an area of controlled burning, there were hundreds of birds of prey and crows circling the burn off and as we wound the windows down, we were struck by the extreme heat and the fact that there was not another soul around…… Controlled burning like this is common place in the Kimberley this time of year with lower temps and not much wind, unlike the Summer months where the temperatures are often above 40.

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The giant croc in the centre of Wyndham.

 

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Warriu Aboriginal Dreamtime statues.
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The girls at the Warriu Aboriginal Dreamtime statues.
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The burn off we drove past on the way back to Knx.

Whilst in Knx we took a drive up to Kelly’s Knob which afforded some nice views of the town below, it actually reminded us of the views of Alice from Anzac Hill. The rest of the week was spent taking it in turns of doing schoolwork and geocaching. The geocaching took us all around town, including the dam on the Lower Ord River and even the crapper farm…….. However our best day of caching was when we spent the morning in Mirima (Hidden Valley) National Park, only a stones throw from the centre of town. In between the kids giving Nik and I funny looks, as we were quoting Top Gun and ‘sending you 2 clowns to Mirima’ we did the few awesome walks and found some geo’s. Mirima is very much a mini Bungle Bungles, with the same beehive shaped sandstone domes, albeit on a much smaller scaler. The general concensus in the car on the way home was that it was one of the best parks we had been too!!!

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Knx from the Kelly’s Knob lookout.
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The diversion dam just outside of Knx where Nik had a quick fish before we left.
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Very Bungle Bungles like.
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Very beautiful.
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Views of the town from the lookout, the national park is that close to town.
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Another sneaky view from the national park.
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Nik and Zoe looking for a geocache.

The girls and I also had an enjoyable morning at the Saturday markets in town, we didn’t buy anything but it was fun looking around. Abby and Jess also nagged me about going to the library, so the 2 of them and I headed there after finishing school one afternoon. After we were there for an hour I hadn’t seen them for a while, so I went and had a look in the kids section only to find them curled up on bean bag watching the TV……..we left 5 minutes later!!!!

We had a ball in Knx for the week, we explored in and out of town, swam in the pool and enjoyed some amazing sunsets sitting on the banks of the lagoon watching the resident Jabiru searching for food. But, as usual, our feet started to itch and we were ready to move onto our next destination and adventure on our OZLAP……………………

 

The Gibb River Road Again, Western Australia

Finally, after spending the morning doing all the last minute jobs like collecting meat from the butcher, filling the gas bottle, checking the post office one last time for mail, filling up with diesel and most importantly grabbing a decent coffee we headed out of Broome for the last time. Our jobs had taken that long that the girls were too engrossed in their movies to bat an eyelid, so just like that we cruised on out, heading east towards the Gibb.

We had decided before our last GRR trip that when we headed north again we would travel via the GRR instead of the highway and visit the few places we didn’t get to see on our first trip across with the Leeds. We stopped for lunch at Willare Roadhouse, in between Broome and Derby, managing to find a free car park next to yet another tour bus. Being back in Broome we had forgotten all about the countless tour buses and their passengers and have since decided that we have a love hate relationship with the tour buses. On the one hand we hate the masses of people they bring into the not so large gorges when we are there, making them noisy and overcrowded, however we also realise that with these tourists comes tourist’s dollars, something that is very welcomed up here in the seasonal Kimberley. We also hate the way the tourists bitch and moan about the lack of facilities and their run down qualities out here in the remotest part of Australia, however we love it when, like today, we end up parking next to them and scoring 3 huge containers of 5 star cuisine consisting of a bean, pecan and pepitas salad with a delicious soy sesame dressing, a tuna and corn salad with crunchy noodles and lastly a chicken Caesar salad complete with anchovies, croutons and real chunks of chicken!!!!!!! Bingo, lunch, dinner and tomorrows lunch sorted!!!! After we bade farewell to the tour bus like we were long lost friends we finished our gourmet lunch and headed to our next destination, a free camp on the Lennard River, just near the Windjana Rd turnoff.

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Our freecamp on the Gibb.
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The view of the river from our campsite.

The next day we headed 20kms down the heavily corrugated Windjana Rd to explore Windjana Gorge and see the hundreds of freshwater crocodiles we had been hearing about. We had arrived early and set off on the walk by about 9, the morning for once was overcast, making it good hiking weather. We kept our eye out for the crocs, but on our way in only managed to spot 2 right at the beginning, so we kept walking and looking, assuming they would be at the end, until finally we arrived at a sign that told us that the last 1km of the walk was closed due to track damage from the previous wet season and ongoing weed control…. Disappointed we turned and headed back the same 3km we had come. The walk we all thought was a pretty cool walk, taking us on the dry river bed and then through the forest sides of the river, with the girls saying it felt like we were in a rainforest, as usual there was some rock hopping and lots of ups and downs. It wasn’t until we got about 500 metres before the end of the walk that we saw the freshies, sunbaking on the opposite side of the riverbank, all up we counted about 39 of them, big and small. We were pleased that we had finally spotted them, not in the mass numbers that we had been told about, but nonetheless we saw them in their natural environment.

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The walk into Windjana Gorge.
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Views along the walk.
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The first croc we sighted.
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Heading back we then hit the jackpot.
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There were at least 39 freshies on the opposite bank.
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Crocs sunbaking.
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Abs the official photographer.

From Windjana Gorge we headed east a further 35km to Tunnel Creek, along the very corrugated road, spotting quite a few up turned, looted and burnt out vehicles. We got a good look at them as we cruised on past doing our usual speed of about 50-60kmph, wondering just how fast they had been travelling to crash and roll like they had. Arriving at Tunnel Creek we headed in prepared with torches and prepared to get our feet and shorts wet. The tunnel was pretty cool, after some rock scrambling we entered a huge cavernous area and proceeded into the dark huge space beyond. The walk in was not too bad, yes we got our feet wet but the wade through the water was only knee deep at its worst, so we managed to stay dry. We saw and heard lots of bats, but unfortunately (or not) we didn’t spot any creepy red eyes peering out at us from the dark depths of the cave.

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The entrance to Tunnel Creek.
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Head torches ready.
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The cave in half way through the tunnel, plenty of bats here.
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Can you spot the bats? We could certainly her them.
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Heading back into the tunnel for the last half.
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Coming out at the other end.
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The river beyond the tunnel.
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Heading back into the tunnel for the walk back to the car.

That afternoon we headed back to camp for a lazy afternoon sitting in front of the fire and having fun spotting more freshwater crocs in the river about 50 metres away from camp. The next day we were on the road by about 9:30, with today’s drive being a long one for us, about 200kms along the GRR, back to one of our favourite spots, Manning Gorge campground. We arrived right on lunchtime and were expecting to see the campground chock a block, however we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that it was in fact quieter than when we were there last, only 4 weeks ago. After a very busy past few weeks, we spent the next 2 nights at Manning Gorge campground chilling out, swimming and catching up on schoolwork.

From Manning Gorge our next stop was about 70km up the road, Mt Elizabeth Station. Mt Elizabeth Station is predominantly a cattle station that dabbles on the tourism side of things during the dry season. The campground is pretty basic, however it is a large open space that we enjoyed after the busyness of Manning Gorge and the facilities, whilst, dated offered clean flushing toilets and awesomely hot showers, bliss!!! We found a bit of grass away from the main campground and enjoyed the peace and quiet in front of the fire.

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Enjoying the fire at Mt Elizabeth as the nights were freezing.

Mt Elizabeth Station has 2 main attractions, Warla Gorge and Wunnumurra Gorge, both only being a short drive from the homestead. After we set up we had lunch and then headed out to Warla Gorge only 30 minutes away, where we spent the afternoon having a quick dip, lazing in the sun and trying our luck at fishing (of which we only caught a few little ones.) The next day we had yet another sleep in and then headed off to Wunnumurra Gorge, only 10kms away, however it took us over 45 minutes to get there due to the rocky slow going drive. The Wunnumurra Gorge is actually on the Barnett river, where only a few days ago we were swimming in downstream at Manning Gorge campground. The gorge here was fantastic, complete with an awesome waterfall, chilly swimming water and a few little fish. We had the place to ourselves (something unusual this time of the year on the GRR) and spent most of the day here, ate lunch, swam, fished and then tackled the slow rocky drive back to camp, where we set about lighting the fire in anticipation of another fresh chilly night. The last couple of nights we have noticed the evenings getting a little chillier, but last night we were all literally freezing, layers of clothing and blankets were required in order to get a comfortable night sleep. This weather had us all thinking back 12 months ago to the freezing nights we had whilst staying in Alice Springs. After surviving yet another chilly 3 degree night we packed up early an headed off by 7:30 for a long day of slow GRR driving.

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Warla Gorge.
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Wunnumurra Gorge.
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Wunnumurra Gorge.
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Having a swim at Wunnumurra Gorge.
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Having a fish at Wunnumurra Gorge.

The road this morning was not too bad until we got to the Kulumburu Rd turnoff, from here on as well as corrugations we had to contend with sharp shale rocks as well. Travelling about 50-60kms an hour our drive took a few hours, we passed a few cars that had pulled over after shredding their tyres and after making sure they were OK we kept going and as per our plans we reached Ellenbrae Station about mid-morning, just in time to have scones for morning tea. After we enjoyed coffee and scones we then set off for our next destination, Home Valley Station, but not before we had to pull over and help a couple from Melbourne who had shredded a tyre and punctured their spare within an hour of each other. The couple were in a Thrifty rental car and had no more spare tyres so were just sitting on the side of the road waiting…….. One tyre was completely blown out on the side wall, whilst the spare they put on was not far behind, however Nik was able to locate the hole on the spare and managed to patch it back up after using  3 plugs. We advised the guy that he needed to drive a bit slower to Home Valley as the side walls of the spare tyre were still looking a bit iffy. Whilst he was putting the spare back on Nik checked the pressures of the other tyres and noticed they were all sitting at around 40psi, so after he lowered them to 28psi they headed off very wearily to get a replacement. It’s amazing the difference tyre pressure and speed make to the tyres, too much pressure and it’s like rolling a balloon over rocks, they are going to pop and shred. Too much speed on high pressure tyres and driving over corrugations then results in the side walls buckling and therefore blowing out. Whilst we do tend to harp on about tyre pressures, we religiously change our pressures both on the car and the van according to the conditions and have never had any issues whilst driving dirt and rough roads. After having travelled the Oodnadatta Track twice, the Birdsville Track, the Plenty Highway, Cape Leveque Rd and now the Gibb River Road twice we figure we are on to something and the only time we have had a blow-out was actually on the bitumened M1 highway….

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The completely blown side walls of the tyre. Nik checking the psi of the rest of their tyres.

After our little stop over we finally arrived at Home Valley Station around lunch time, where we set up and proceeded to the pool for a very refreshing dip (I opted to sit and watch and have a ‘real coffee’). We spent 2 nights at Home Valley Station, relaxing, swimming and doing laundry. We sat on the banks of the Pentecost River and watched the sunset over the Cockburn Ranges, the best view I think I have ever seen. Then the next morning Nik went back down to try his hand at fishing, unfortunately the fish were off the bite (again) as the water temperature was quite chilly, however he did spot 2 big salties on the other side of the river eating what looks like the barra that Nik was going to catch…… The next morning, he took the drone back down to the river in the hope that the salties were around again, but unfortunately they weren’t, so instead he got some awesome footage without them.

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The iron boab tree gates at Home Valley Station.
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The entrance to Home Valley.
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The Dusty Bar.
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Sunset over the Pentecost River at low tide and Cockburn Ranges in the background.
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The Pentecost River at high tide at 8am.
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Playing chess at Home Valley.
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The saltwater pool at Home Valley.

With the word around camp saying the road from Home Valley to El Questro was pretty rough, we took a deep breath and headed off to complete the last bit of the Gibb. After another awesome crossing of the Pentecost River, with even less water in it than last time, we arrived at El Questro by mid-morning. After setting up, we headed off to do the Saddleback Ridge track and Pidgeon Hole lookout, both offering awesome views of the valleys and Pentecost. We then spent the late afternoon swimming in the swimming hole and catching up with fellow travellers at happy hour, with Jess and Abby participating in the ranger’s activities at the stables, according to Jess they played awesome games and also found a cane toad which then wee’d on the rangers hand……. We also ventured out to Explosion Gorge for some sightseeing and fishing. Also on our very last day we were lucky enough to be doing a horse ride, the girls were very excited, so much so that I awoke at 5:50am with a start to open my eyes and find Jess sitting and staring at me with a big smile on her face. She was ready to go, however still had another 3 hours to wait…….

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The water crossing heading into El Questro.