Australia 2008 Diary

13341 km travelled

 

N.B. All the pictures on this are very small and they are not thumbnails to enlarge either. The page was written when I knew nothing about photo sizes!!. But David has used my written diary on his site, but has larger photos- thus I would recommend using instead http://www.australia-calling.com/australia-2008.htm

Sunday, June 1st.  Perth

  We arrived at Medina Executive Hotel, Perth, by 1am after a 34 hour journey from Newquay. It was a lovely apartment. Took an 11am train to Claremont and walked from there to Victoria Avenue, finding a great café for a coffee and juice before arriving at Cathy’s and Brian’s at 12.30. Went out for a lunch  by the waterside and then back to their [new] house for coffee and long discussions on Cathy’s Interior Architecture Uni. Course, modern art, ancestors, DNA, etc. Brian drove us back to the city.

 Monday, June 2nd.  Perth

 Willi and Lutz picked us up at 10am and drove us to S. Perth and showed us Willi’s flat there – a lovely ground floor one giving on to a garden and with views across the river. Then we went up to Perth’s highest hill for a view of the city before going to Lutz’s house in N. Beach.:   a great Balinese style of living.

   Coffee, and then a delicious lunch prepared by Lutz, washed down with Champagne. After that a walk through a ‘swamp’ area to the sea, then back for tea and photos of places on our route. Willi gave me a book about her [deceased] husband, George Smith and their joint counselling works: a fascinating and illuminating read.

   Driven back to the hotel by 5 and we were then picked up by Pat & Peter Thorpe [related to David’s Luttrell ancestors] and out to dinner by the river. A good evening of genealogy!

 

Tuesday, June 3rd.  Perth – Carnarvon Beach.

  Out to pick up our Britz van by 9.45: a very bad experience there [not enough staff on duty ] and did not get off until 11.45. Wanting to make up time, we drove as far as Geraldton before stopping at a supermarket: not at all impressed by the choice and wished we had stopped in Perth!! But we got most of the basics.

  Then proceeded via Northampton and stopped at a delightful café/store for a coffee and cake. Then to Carnarvon Beach where we were met by a very grumpy caretaker, but the place was delightful. The sky had been a fantastic purple colour all afternoon, due to a fire, and the sunset was wondrous. Cooked a good meal, but we had forgotten to buy coffee!

 

 

 

Wednesday, June  4th.  Carnarvon Beach – Eagle Bluff.

   Bad night, but soon forgotten. Good breakfast after sorting out of clothes into large plastic bags. Not off till 9.30. We retraced our steps back to the main road and headed north towards Monkey Mia.

  Detoured to Kalbarri and phoned to reserve a camping ahead at Eagle Bluff, near Denham.  We also eventually got through to Britz [in Cairns!] to report the lack of a tent. Had an excellent coffee and cake, filled up with diesel, bought more supplies, also a magnetic light for outside. We observed wondrous large ‘acorn’ trees along edges of road. A lovely place where we wished we could have lingered.

   Bad encounter with the lady at Billabong Roadhouse where we had wanted a coffee: our first encounter of ‘Nescafe only’ at all Australian Roadhouses! Camped by 5  pm and had to use the 4W drive to get us through the sand. Did preparations for meal, followed by a drink and nibbles. Unfortunately we were besieged by mosquitoes, despite Skin So Soft, Cactus Juice and coils. But cooked after dusk and then had melon and coffee. Sprayed van thoroughly and after 10 minutes entered and it was bug free and very pleasant, Fridge and inside light malfunctioning – hoped we would have some battery by the morrow. What fantastic stars and Milky Way!

  Read till ready to drop- in hope of a good sleep!

 Thursday, June 5th.  Eagle Bluff – Hamelin Pool.

  Up before sunrise, but then I was bad and tried to take a picture of the sunrise, which delayed  us 5 minutes or so and, apparently, we needed to have left more promptly to get to Monkey Mia in time for the dolphin feeding. Anyway, did the 40+k in record time, and were in time for the first feeding of them and also saw the second and third  feedings, and that of the pelicans too.

 Had a super breakfast there of sourdough toast and pecan loaf. Then we walked their trail before driving to the Francois Peron National Park. We visited the Homestead there, a sheep station till the 1970s, and chatted to a volunteer there who had been the headmaster of Denham school. Then into Denham where we waited an hour for a mechanic to look at the non-functioning fridge: he diagnosed the problem [2nd battery was not being charged] but did not have the necessary part.

   Drove out to Eagle Bluff Boardwalk, then a walk on Shell Beach [sand flies got David] and then to Hamelin Pool Park where we had a Devon tea . The manager [who had worked for Nasa] got our battery charging {but it did not last for long!]. We had to purchase 2 fly nets [sanity savers!] as loads of bugs, but not mosquitoes. We took our sun downer up the steps overlooking the sea and chatted with some grey nomads before supper and bed.

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 Friday, June 6th.  Hamelin Pool -  road to Tom Price.

   Left Hamelin Telegraph  Office after a hot shower [ the first!], a good breakfast, a walk to the stromatolytes [bacteria growths in salt water ] and a chat, at 9.15, 2 &1/2 hours after the alarm.

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  Stopped at a very good supermarket in Carnavon, also a good bottle store [much more reasonable prices for wine] and filled up with diesel. Stopped at 2 road houses along the road in search of a pleasant break, but only instant coffee! So, after ice creams at one, drove on till 5.30 when we camped along the road to Tom Price at a small free site, well populated.

 Such an  idyllic camp fire, ’expressive’ trees [snappy gums] and a starlit night. Chatted to a couple from Canberra with young children [8 and 10] out of school for a year: came across many more such families – apparently Australian schools fully support this. There were also grey nomads with a trailer of  books.

 

Saturday, June 7th. Road to Tom Price – Karajini.  

  We were on the road by 8.30 and drove through lovely scenery with fantastic light en route to Tom Price. Were neither over impressed by it, nor by its visitor centre, who would not book us into Karijini’s Ecolodge. But we made a telephone booking and rung Britz in Broome about our useless fridge and light.

  Once at the Ecolodge, we were shown a luxury tent [$275/nt] by a lethargic Aborigine [Frances, who lived in a 4 bedroom house!]  : we were astounded at how lacking in charm or comfort it was. So we took their campsite instead, at $25 and no power! We went out to Weano Gorge and followed a Class 3 [moderate] trail: this had its moments down in the gorge with the sunlight disappearing. But eventually we emerged from the gorge with plenty of daylight remaining.

  We had a sun downer by the van and went along to their Camp Tucker Restaurant at 7, only to find we were the last to arrive [having been told 7-9]. We had fillet steak and lamb chops, barbecuing these with pieces of potato ourselves, together with a self service salad. We enjoyed it in spite of the commerciality of it! The whole place was managed by the Aboriginal community but it can not get Aboriginals to work there, just the one token one !       We struggled back to the van in pitch darkness.

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Sunday, June 8th.   Karajini - Cape Keraudren.

    We set out without breakfast by 7.30 in order to enjoy the early morning light. But then we realised that the Visitor Centre would not be open before 9, so we drove past it to the Dale Recreational Area which made a very pleasant breakfast site. Then we walked to Fortescue Falls along the rim of the gorge; some gorgeous pools down below when one braved approaching the rim.

After this to the Visitor Centre: this was magnificent architecture, merging completely into the landscape. Inside was an interesting display on Aboriginal history and life and on fauna and flora.

  Leaving just before noon we drove for 5 hours to Cape Keraudren, just stopping for diesel and an ice cream. The Pilbara scenery was most dramatic, especially when the road ran through a gorge. Later on there was lots of smoke from fires and we saw a solitary kangaroo and also bison.

  Once we had paid at the Ranger Hut for the campground, we came across 20 -40 kangaroos. It was a lovely spot by the beach [but with basic toilets only]. We went for a walk along the beach and watched the sun set. It was dark by 6, and so another early night, but not before serving  David a mug of coffee with matches in it!

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 Monday 9th June. Cape Keraudren  - Broome

   Off early and took photos of the myriad of wallabies as we left the Reserve. Stopped at the first Roadhouse and waited for their first bake of sausage rolls! – ate these still piping hot at the next parking area. Past the Sandfire Roadhouse, then a 300km run to Broome with no habitation at all.

  Went to the Visitor Centre to find out the address for Britz, and then located them. They gave us the necessary battery connector to take to a garage to be fitted: this took another hour, but at least there was a man from Cork there!

  We then went to the large hotel, as we felt we deserved a night of relative luxury, only to find that they were full. So went to the MacAlpine Hotel, where the receptionist had to drive in to meet us! She showed us 4 rooms: luckily, we preferred the cheapest, which was still somewhat expensive! A lovely colonial building [like in the West .Indies] and outside our room there was a veranda overlooking the pool.

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 I had a swim, did loads of washing in the tiny sink, only to discover at 9pm that there was a washing machine for guest use. We had a drink of red wine, followed by a complimentary glass of champagne besides the pool. We then went out to Matsos for dinner; mussels and Ocean’n Surf. After this we walked into town but could not find a centre and there was very little activity. So back to the hotel for another swim and a read. Unfortunately the room had an ant problem, and the sand flies had attacked David at the restaurant, so a comfy but disturbed night.

 

  Tuesday , June 10th. Broome - Cape Leveque

Had a swim  before breakfast and put some more washing into the hotel’s washing machine, A  fantastic breakfast of good coffee, fresh juice and fruit, and pancakes/Lord MacSpecial[bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and ciabatta toast. Another swim/internet access and some ironing, then off by 10am. We drove down to Chinatown [3? original buildings from the Pearl Industry started in 1866 by Japanese with Chinese/Aboriginal(often forced labour) with the old diving suits – replaced ~1995 by farming] and shopped in Coles and filled up Roo [thus we had named our Toyota Bush Camper]. We then drove out to Gaunthome Point lighthouse and on to Cable Beach –very beautiful, so I was tempted to swim and got drenched!

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  Then only just over 2 hours to Cape Leveque: we were surprised, pleasantly, to find the second half of the track surfaced. We were impressed by the campsite and decided to stay an extra day, 3 instead of the 2 booked, having accumulated an extra day. We booked in for dinner and then went exploring. We went back to the van to get a glass of white wine [fridge now working!] and fresh bread and cheese for sunset viewing. We chatted for half an hour with some Australians who had done the Tanami.  Dinner was excellent.

 

Wednesday, June 11th.  Cape Leveque.

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We passed a really leisurely day of a couple of swims and a long walk along the Western Beach after breakfast. We enjoyed ham and cheese butties with wine for lunch. We were a bit put out by the mechanical digger and plumber’s trailer that blocked our view for a few hours whilst they dug up the septic tank, covering Roo with red dust.

   We took our drinks and nibbles down to the Western Beach and watched a wondrous sunset behind a small line of clouds. We cooked a chicken supper [took some time] and then ate it on the table overlooking the sea.

    Thursday, June 12th.  Cape Leveque.

 Another leisurely day.  I walked for half an hour or so, to the airstrip and round the campsite until David got up. Then we walked along the soft sand road to the far boating beach and returned along the beach and the rocks . We had breakfast and then changed our position, to be at the front of the site and away from the septic tank workings. I swam and we bought ourselves a takeaway lunch of calamari and chips and a sausage roll for our lunch on the way back

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 After another swim and a shower we walked again to the sunset beach. We had another dinner in their restaurant and had a long chat with the waitress, whose boyfriend was the chef, at the end.

 Friday, June 13th. Cape Leveque – Windjana Gorge.

 Off early and into Broome by 9.30. We did a large shop and had breakfast of super coffee and cake in a café that had been a Japanese store. Then we filled up Roo and drove to a Bottle [Liquor] Store, only to find it shut. Then found another one that informed us it opened at 11. So, back to the preferred original one and were second in that at 11. By the time we emerged there was a long queue of ’drive through’ vehicles buying beer [stubbies] by the crate load.

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 We got stopped by the police as we left town – in sight of the 90k sign- and apparently we were doing 72 kph in a 60kph zone.  $150: a pure money spinner.

  Then on to Derby where we paid the fine in their post office and in the process forgot to look at the town! But we did investigate the Boab Prison tree on the way into town.

Then onto Windjana Gorge, which was absolutely magnificent in the 4pm sun. We walked into it for a km or so and saw several freshwater crocodiles, one of them out on the sand. There were noisy flocks of parakeets. It was a really nice campsite.

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    Saturday, June 14th. Windjana – Silent Grove.

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  Up with the lark and ate a good breakfast. We drove to Tunnel Gorge, 37 km up the road.

 We stopped at the police station where an Aboriginal tracker, a ‘magic man’, had shot an English policeman in the 1890s: he had worked for him on a station and, when this had closed down, the Englishman had joined the police taking the Aboriginal as his tracker. Seven Aboriginals had been rounded up and had been chained up here, en route to enslavement in Derby. The tracker was persuaded to release them, which fact necessitated the murder. 3 years later, the culprit was eventually cornered by another native tracker and was shot in Tunnel Gorge.

  We ventured halfway through the tunnel to the roof fall in, David by scrambling over rocks whilst I waded [up to my knees] in water. We decided our torches were not bright enough to continue and later on we heard that there was a python in the next bit.

We then stopped at the Leopold River at an idyllic little ‘snack stop’. It had a gorgeous position high above the river, which had crocs in, with a lovingly tended garden and good muffins. We chatted to 2 Swiss cyclists who had taken 11 months cycling from Sydney. We had also seen 2 others with a trailer and the Swiss flag the previous day.

  After this there were several creeks to drive through, 18” or so deep at times. We turned off the Gibb River road to Bell Creek and Falls. It was a rocky walk for 20 minutes and then I had a swim/dip in the first shallow pool above the waterfall.

  We walked up the rocks to view the falls and the pool below, but it was a long way to go and I decided that I had stretched myself enough! We camped at Silent Grove by 2.30 and found a good spot. But then 8 noisy Britz campers settled beside us, so David moved us. Then he got annoyed with a loud radio nearby, so we moved once again! We had a nice chat with a couple from Sydney after dinner:  they had been to Antartica.

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    Sunday, 15th June.  Silent Grove – Mornington.

  After a leisurely breakfast we rejoined the Gibb River Road and were at the Mornington turnoff in less than an hour. We used their radio phone [over and out] to establish contact and ensure they had vacancies.

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It was a 2hr drive with a few gates to the Mount Wilderness centre, the scenery coming to life as we progressed. We found a campsite, left the table and chairs, and set off for Diamond Gorge, a 48k return drive. There were several deep crossings and we took photos of kapok flowers at a lookout.

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 It was difficult walking at the gorge, and a dearth of signs, but the views from the highest point were well worth it. On the return drive, we stopped by the river, where I had a lovely swim, David standing guard for the crocs! Then our peace was shattered by 8 noisy  Aussies in their 4 jeeps.  

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  We then did the 28k return Sir John Gorge drive. There was a difficult creek crossing where we needed the 4W drive to exit, but easier walking at our destination. We stopped at the Blue Waterhole and did their Termite Trail – all about the termites [not ants] that created these huge structures that did so much good for the soil. They are trying to de stock Mornington completely [100,000 acres]  -  so as to return it to nature.

Once back to camp we had coffee and cake at the reception/restaurant, and then a short walk to view their safari tents. We returned for their dinner at 6.30 – lamb fillet, potato galette with roast veg.., followed by apple crumble & ginger ice cream: delicious but the main course was lukewarm. There was an interesting half-Laotian waitress.

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Monday, June 16th.  Mornington – Mt. Elizabeth.

 As soon as I got up I walked the Annie Creek Riberian, trail and saw crimson finches and 2 kangaroos.

  Once on the road we stopped at Galvans Gorge, a 1km walk to a beautiful waterfall and pool. We then went on to the Mt. Barnet Roadhouse where we filled up. We started up towards Barnet River Gorge, but the track was bad, so we turned back at a peaceful, fairylike river spot.

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 Then on to Mt. Elizabeth by 12.30, where we were told we could not get dinner because it had to be ordered by midday! .We had a snack and went off one of their tracks, 10km to a pool: what a track, or lack of one! Even with low 4W drive I was really scared. After 9 – 10 km and no car park in view, we turned back. So read and had a coffee  

   Later I set out on their 4km walk which involved 2/3 really difficult creek crossings, so was quite proud of myself. There were an abundance of wallabies. As the sun started to set I had to walk really fast, but once I had negotiated the last creek I felt safe!. David was emerging from the campground to look for me, not too amused, but I reckon I had 10 – 15 minutes to spare.

   We cooked supper over a wood barbecue and enjoyed the company of 5 Australians, one of whom had grown up in Greensborough and had known the Smiths and the Greensborough Hotel.  

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    Tuesday, June 17th. Mt. Elizabeth - El Questro.

 Chatting to various people, a shower and a walk through the red gate to show David the wallabies, all made for a leisurely start.  

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    We stopped for scones and cream at Ellen Brae around 11: it was a beautiful oasis but decided it was too early to stop there [also we were bitten there which did not augur well for the evening], so we continued on.

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 The Cockburn  Ranges were awe inspiring and crossing the Pentecost river [ 400m?] was impressive.

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  We arrived at El Questro soon after 2pm and chose one of their private sites [one of 20] 3km away from reception. It was completely isolated, beside the river and with a chemical loo and basin not too far away: voted top campsite of the trip. We had a snack [discovering that our ciabatta rolls were only half baked!] and went back to reception. We rang Carol and Russell, but only got their answering machine. We did a riverside ramble and then drove out to Chamberlain Gorge, but it was slightly too late for the sunset due to the hills.

   As we cooked some rice we found that the gas was running out, so no steaks, just half cooked onions and peppers, and some ham, followed by biscuits and cheese, lamenting the absence of coffee. But a superb, isolated spot with not a human sound.

      Wednesday, June 18th. El Questro.

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  A beautiful setting for breakfast, even with no gas! We went up to Base camp by 8am, did some washing, filled up the gas cylinder, checked on the Keams [no message], so went out to Zebedee Springs.

 It was  admittedly very beautiful, but so crowded that going into the 28 degree water was not really worth the trouble.

  Then off to Emma Gorge. Quite a difficult scramble up for me, but I eventually made it and it proved really worth the effort. I had a wondrous swim there, ~ 19 degrees?, and was the only person swimming.

 We got down by about 1pm and had lunch in their delightful restaurant, chatting to the restaurant manager, David, and his girlfriend, Ashley.

  When we got back to El Questro we found that Carol and Russell were pitched in the main part: reception had told them that we were not booked in! We had some tea with them and then they came out to Kingfisher, our camp site, to have a sundowner. Then we had dinner in the restaurant with them, ending in a late night of 9.30pm!! We arranged to meet at 4 the next day to talk ancestors.

  Thursday, June 19th. El Questr

We had a leisurely breakfast of steak, which needed to be cooked, now that we had a new supply of gas. We drove out to Moonshine Gorge, a superb 5 km walk, although difficult over the rocks on the way, and we fell in whilst trying to avoid wet feet! Bur the boots soon dried out and I was rewarded by a lovely swim with no one about

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    After this we drove towards Explosion Gorge, and, after a long river crossing, we came to Branco’s lookout and waterhole, quite fantastic and all by ourselves. We continued to Explosion Gorge on a difficult track over limestone pavement. We sat in the shade by the river with a glass of wine, bread, cheese and ham – bliss!

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  On the way back to the township we diverted up the Saddleback  Track, parking  Roo halfway up, as we thought it might be too steep, and continuing on foot. 360 degree views but nothing outstanding.

  Back in camp we had a ‘Connoisseurs’ chocolate ice cream, a dip in the river [nothing special] and a shower [best cubicles of our 6 weeks]. Then we had tea and a discussion with Carol on our Parchment ancestors. This was followed by nibbles and sparkling wine before another delicious dinner in the restaurant.

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    Friday, June 20th.   El Questro -   Bungle Bungles.

     We left our little piece of wilderness paradise, bid farewell to Carol and Russell [they will be seeing us in Melbourne in a couple of years!], and proceeded to Kununorra, where we drew cash, stocked up and filled up. Striking scenery on the way.

  Thence the Great Northern Highway to Turkey Creek [Wurnum] where we found that Halls Creek was apparently out of diesel  until Monday [and we had intended filling up there on Sunday for our long Tanami Trail run ], so we filled up as an insurance policy and had some scones.

  Then on to the Bungles: the approach road of 2-3 hours was quite good [compared to El Questro tracks] and it only took us an hour and a quarter, the scenery becoming more interesting as we approached. We checked in at the range station and then drove to the nearer campsite, set up camp and had a snack. Then we drove back 4 km to a lookout and watched the sun setting with its effect of lighting up the ranges.

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  Once back in camp, David lit a barbecue and we cooked sausages with sliced potatoes with ratatouille. The moon rose to diminish the wondrous Milky Way, and we savoured our Turkey Creek cookies with coffee.

 Saturday, June 21st.  Bungle Bungles. Purnululu.

   Off by 6.40 am and drove to Echidna Chasm. It was less than an hour’s walk, not too difficult, and we were completely by ourselves. There was an almost   enclosed vault at the end. 

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 Then we tackled the Mini Palm Gorge., which was a 5km track. There were ladders to 2 viewing platforms, the final one over an amphitheatre.. The tracks went along river beds and just bits were challenging.

  We breakfasted / brunched in the almost empty car park. Then we drove back to the visitor centre to enquire about the diesel situation in Hall’s Creek. On to Cathedral Gorge and the Domes – the heart of the Bungles. We passed many interesting formations along the way. Cathedral Gorge was most dramatic, but, unfortunately we will also remember it for the 50 odd people [ APT coach load] eating their packed lunches there! We then did the Piccaninny trail to a lookout, another km or so.  

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  We were back to the Walardi campsite by 2.30. I did some washing and we had tea in the company of a kookaburra. Had a walk and watched the sunset and sat around a campfire.  After dinner with a wondrous sky, we sat chatting round the fire with a family of 4 from Mornington and a younger couple, originally from Newcastle. We enjoyed toasting marshmallows.

 

 

Sunday, June 22nd.  Bungles – Wolfe Meteor Crater.

 Left by 7.40am and stopped at the Visitor centre to see if there was any update on the lack of diesel at Hall’s Creek: no. After less than 10 km of driving out of the park we caught up with a tag-along tour of 8 vehicles, 2 Apollo vans and assorted others, travelling at a maximum of 30 kph. Somewhat frustrating! The tag along stopped at the main road but we were not able to pass all the rest on the return to Turkey Creek and there was a queue of 10 vehicles for diesel there!

   The it was back south  to Hall’s Creek [and indeed there was no diesel there] and on to the Tanami. We passed ~20 vehicles going in the opposite direction, but I think these were just  day traffic to the crater or roadmen. A really corrugated [worse road of the whole trip] turn off for the crater, [~ 30km], which we reached  by mid afternoon. We found the campsite [free, but with a toilet] and walked up to the crater.  This was 300,000 years old, 850m across and 50m deep. Inside was a salty pool. Impressive in size, but not convinced it was worth the corrugations!, but we needed it as a camp break anyway.

   We decided it would get really cold once dark, so cooked supper and made coffee before sunset. Then retired inside the van and read, wrote and had a roll and cheese.

        Monday, June 23rd.  Wolfe Meteor  -   Tilmouth Well.  750km.

  Up at the crack of dawn and off by 6am.  We stopped at 9am for some cereal [ no time for coffee]

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and a couple of hours later got to Rabbit Flat, the most remote roadhouse in Australia, population 2. These two, Bruce and Jacqui, were delightful and had been there since ~1970. David bought a Rabbit Flat T-shirt plus a little diesel, 2 fig rolls and some mango and pawpaw chutney. 

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      Then on to Tilmouth Well where we arrived at 4.15 on our clock, but actually now 5.45 on Northern Territory time, having crossed the state frontier well before Rabbit Flat. After so much anticipation of this unsealed Tanami Trail across the Tanami Desert, we felt a bit of an anticlimax since it was a good wide road and did not really even pass through desert as in my definition! We had probably passed about  5 cars all day, and 3 road trains. We also had to pass a road train in the late afternoon,[or take an extra 40 minutes for our journey], and this was done blind!, because of the dust it was throwing up.

We also passed ~10 kangaroos, a lot of horses, 1 camel, 3 Aboriginal ladies, a family of dodgy Aboriginals with 2 broken down cars [we had been warned about them by a couple from Adelaide who had stopped whilst we were having breakfast].

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    The campsite was somewhat scruffy, beside a dried up river. We had dinner in its roadhouse: the cheese and herb bread was excellent, but the steak and vegetables were not, but at least we were out of the cold! We looked at their shop of Aboriginal Art before retiring.

                                                 

Tuesday, June 24th.  Tilmouth Well – Alice Springs.

 This was a perfect day after a leisurely, chilly start.   We will not be breakfasting before 10am around the Alice area again – we needed the coffee just for the heat of the mugs for our fingers, and the pear with our cereal was like ice. As we drove away about 8.45am one of our neighbours was sitting in the sun knitting, well clad in woolly hat, mittens and multi coloured cardigan! 

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We got into Alice by 11. 30 – a lovely place in daytime. We got a permit for the Mereenie loop from the Information Office, plus brochures. We did some shopping, then we revelled in a civilised cappuccino before doing emails and buying some Aboriginal paintings, place mats and a t shirt. We filled up one tank and then drove to the School of the Air. I spent ~45 minutes there and was most impressed: I emerged glowing with happiness. I also learnt about the pedal radio.

 

 We then drove the 16 km back north along the Stuart Highway to Bonds Spring Retreat, where we had decided to taste a bit of luxury for a night.

 

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  We stayed in the Wurlie Cottage, a restored and renovated Stockman’s cottage. I did some washing in its machine and we had a barbecued bacon sandwich out on its terrace with coffee. This was followed by an invigorating swim and walk at sunset.

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Then we barbecued a rack of lamb after eating the station's fresh baked bread which was meant for breakfast.      I could get used to this way of life! P.S. All the Hislop children that grew up here were educated by the School of the Air.

Wednesday, June 25th. Alice Springs – Redbank Gorge.

 We enjoyed a leisurely start with a shower and hair wash. Then a delicious breakfast of stewed fruits, cereal, fruit juice, and savoury soufflés. After we had packed up and paid, we were shown the schoolroom where the children had received their Radio of the Air [no computers then] lessons in the 1960s.

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We stopped in Alice Springs for money and fuel. On the way out we stopped at Flynn’s grave – 1951: he was the pioneer of the Flying Doctor Service and of the School of the Air. After this there were a series of scenic stops. Whereas at  Simpson’s Gap, where we were lucky to see a rock wallaby, there was hardly a soul around, at our next stop, Stanley Chasm, we encountered the world and his friend: 11-1 was the best time for it to be lit up and indeed by 12.30 only one side of it was still brilliant.

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      At Ellery Creek Big Hole we talked to the ranger and we discovered how icy cold the water was. Further on, at Ochre Pits, we observed all the different shades of ochre: these are used by the Aboriginals for decorating their bodies.  

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    We wondered about camping at  Ormiston Gorge. It was a half hour walk to the lookout and the scenery was magnificent. But the area was too enclosed by hills and was about to lose the sun at only 4pm, so we went on to Glen Helen. Although the pool here in its gorge was splendid [before invaded by youngsters], the campsite itself was decidedly scraggy.  

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   So we finally camped in the Rockcliff area of Redbank Gorge and we could not have chosen a more magnificent spot. We made a fire and had a great supper round it: definitely one of our best camps.

 Thursday, June 26th.  Redbank Gorge – Kings Canyon.  250km.

    As it was so cold, we moved off without breakfast. We found that there was tarmac a lot of the way to the Mereenie Loop – a nice bonus! When we stopped for breakfast at Ginty’s Lookout we saw a camel. We arrived at Kings Canyon by noon, installing ourselves in its campsite before starting on the 6km, moderate to difficult, walk around the canyon rim.

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  After a steep ascent, it was not too difficult afterwards apart from one detour loop, which, to compensate, did offer fantastic views. An easier detour down to the Garden of Eden Pool was glorious in its tranquillity and lushness.  Our opinion of the Canyon was just fantastic. After 2 stops for tiffin we were back to Roo by 4pm.  

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    We had a drink and nibbles back on the campsite after investigating the hotel and its restaurant and the Silence by Firelight dinner site – none of which appealed. We then walked along the boardwalk to watch the sun go down over the ranges, with many others!  

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    There were dingoes roaming through the campsite at dusk. After supper, we wandered to the Outback Barbecue [which had not appealed in daylight], had a glass of wine and watched the Roadies family show: such audience participation that this suddenly made the campsite [not well thought out] attractive, and we were really glad we had stopped here.

       Friday, June 27th.  Kings Canyon – Ayers Rock.  ~350km.

   We left about 8 and stopped for a cappuccino and bacon sandwich at Kings Creek Resort: we had  no regrets at not having stopped there. We looked at the camels that they breed there and also at an enclosure of kangaroos.         

   Once on the Lasseter Highway we stopped for cereal and juice – it was still chilly even though 11am. Mount Connor loomed up – was this Ayers Rock??!  We arrived at Ayers Rock Resort [Voyages] soon after 1pm. There was a long queue at the reception of the Desert Sands – too many coach tours! It was a lovely room with views of the Rock, but the balcony was in the shade. We had lunch in the room and then explored the resort – the upmarket hotel had a heated swimming pool!

 

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     We then drove to the Uluru National Park and spent an hour or so in the Cultural Centre- bits of it were good, like the film on bush tucker – but on the whole we felt they had missed a golden opportunity to explain Aboriginal culture [ and they certainly had one] to millions of white Australians. We drove round the rock and then watched the sunset over it, with different hues to its colour,

   We arrived back to the hotel to find that they had not booked us in to the Sound of Silence dinner on the 28th. Thought they might have tried for the 29th, which they could not do now in the evening, but initiative was obviously not high on their list of priorities! Anyway, we walked quickly to the ’village’ and found that we were still able to book direct from there.

Once back we enjoyed biscuits, pate, cheese and wine in the room.

 Saturday, June 28th.  Ayers Rock.  110km.

   41 years of marriage!

  The room was still icy when we got up[and we had been frozen all night] so we complained to reception. After our own breakfast, I had a swim at the Sails in the Desert hotel.  

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   Then on to Mt. Olga around 11am. We did the 8km ‘Valley of the Winds’ walk through the domes, very difficult at one stage, but a whole hidden world beyond. We then drove to Warpa Gorge and recovered there for half an hour in our armchairs outside the van. There were rather too many coach youngsters around when we set off on the easy Warpa Gorge walk, but they did not detract too much from the striking  high and vertical gorge walls: such intensity of colour. We sat on a bench for half an hour enjoying these cliffs and the balmy, late afternoon sun..

   Then we drove to the Sunset/ Picnic area and cooked supper, finishing just in time to view the sunset, with a difference in colours even more spectacular than that at Ayers Rock. 

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   We drove back in the dark. Discovering that our a/c was still faulty, we returned to reception and they called maintenance, who arrived at once[ they had not been called am!]  What a shower of a hotel!  An hour later the room was still freezing, so David rang the duty manager, Andrew, at 10: this only made matters worse as he accused David of lying and also added that the heating for all the resort was down?

Sunday, June 29th. Ayers Rock.

We decided that we were going to move on, but after meeting the manager, David Brill, about 9am, we took his assurance of a warm room, and a ‘brilliant’ Sound of Silence and decided to stay.  

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 So we packed up the room so that we could be moved and set off to walk the 10km around the Rock. We enjoyed watching the climbers going [vertically!] up it: it had been closed for climbing the 2 previous days. Different parts of the Rock were very different and I really enjoyed the easy walk.

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 We returned to a new, warm, room – lovely, but a trifle overdue. We had some wine and biscuits. I then went for a swim at the Sails in the Desert, followed by a coffee in the Town Square. We went off, well wrapped up and with a sleeping bag, to the Sound of Silence at 5. They served champagne and canapés during the sunset and we then went on to the dining tables. We got chatting to a lovely  group from Melbourne, Cynthia, Murrie and Danielle, then an American couple, Harvey and Mary from Philadelphia, and to Ricardo and Lesley [Spanish and Canadian origins] who got engaged that evening.

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It was a great night, but we could not see what we were eating [plus the gas heater for our table was out of gas!!], and the lady who gave the star talk did not hold the silence!

 

 

 

Monday, June 30th.   Ayers Rock – Devils Marbles.  831km.

    We left before sunrise and saw lovely cloud colours for the first 15 minutes. We also saw several camels, including a black one. Also saw the sun rise.

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   We stopped for fuel on reaching the Stuart Highway. We had a breakfast stop about 150 km out of Alice, and saw emus at Jims Place.

    We were in Alice by midday, got fuel and then I did the shopping whilst David did the emails. After a short wander we were away by soon after 1pm. Then  we resumed onto the drag north. We stopped for some lunch, with our fresh rolls!, and again at the Red Centre Mango Farm where we bought 3 bottles of wine, one of mango and 2 conventional, and had some mango ice cream.  

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    After pausing at the UFO Centre of Australia, Wyville Springs, we got to Devils Marbles by 5.30pm: a wondrous place, just a pity that there were so many campers. But we had a good supper, coffee and pecan pie [Cynthia’s 60th birthday cake] and chatted to an Italian couple beside us in a Wicked van. Then there was a talk, around a campfire, by a half Aboriginal ranger from Alice, with a ‘bit’ of help from the local, fully Aboriginal ranger.  A good evening.

Tuesday, July 1st.  Devils Marbles – Edith Falls. 830km.

 We were away at sunrise, having seen the effect over the Marbles. We got diesel in Tennants Creek [not obviously run down as we had been led to believe] and later stopped for breakfast at the Renner Springs Roadhouse: David spoke to a Russian cyclist [who had travelled 30,000km!] and we both chatted to a couple with a Kiwi Group Tour with 8 Britz vans.

   Our next stop was at Newcastle Waters, where we explored the N.T. properties of the Junction Hotel [made fro the bits of old windmills] and the store and school. 

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Then on to Daly Waters where the colourful pub and its surrounds were obviously a commercial success. Just south of Larimah we investigated the site of a WW2 hospital, not much to see, and we had lunch there. Immediately afterwards we came across Fran’s Devonshire cream teas and could not resist this. Fran was a real character and ordered the customers around. Nevertheless, she served miraculous scones and dough bread, and good coffee. We were travelling in capoc  tree country again.  

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    Finally got to Edith Falls, 60km beyond Katherine, about 5.30 and did an hour’s walk to the waterfall and pools. The campsite was very well laid out. Then showered and watched a slide show given by a not too articulate ranger. Whilst we were eating supper a large curlew wandered by.

                   Wednesday, July 2nd.    Edith Falls – Ubiri.  330km.

 A leisurely start with a swim after breakfast in the lower pool, remarkably near the campsite but undiscovered the previous evening,, which was glorious.  

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  Then a drive to Pine Creek, where there was a lack of a supermarket, but we did buy some pecan pie. Once into Kakadu N.P. we stopped and picked up some information. Further north the Jabaru Information/ Cultural Centre was nothing special, but we did enjoy a decent coffee and sandwich there and bought some mouse mats. We found a supermarket in the town, but with prices nearly double of anywhere else.

   It was then 50 km to the Merl campsite just before Ubiri. We established ourselves with table, chairs and a washing line, and then went on to the Rock Art Site: this was most impressive, as was the climb up to the lookout, over wetlands and jagged ranges as far as the eye could see.

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     We then watched cars skating upon the Cahills crossing, across the East Alligator River into Arnhem Land [for which one needed a permit and only 25 issued per day].  We went on to the Upper Boat Ramp and did the Bardedjillidji Walk around eroded sandstone structures, once part of the seabed. 

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    Back at camp we had some sparkling wine before a shower. We lit a fire but were besieged by mossies. We cooked on the gas [also outside] but it was a difficult meal and we had to retreat, plus mossies, into the van. So we decided to skip their 8pm talk on saltwater crocs rather than suffer more bites. This was definitely our least successful campsite.

Thursday, July 3rd.  Ubiri - Jim Jim Falls. 200km.

 One or two mosquitoes had stayed in the van throughout the night, so I was really glad to leave early. We drove to Nourannnnjie, another rock art site and listened to a fascinating Ranger talk about Aboriginal  kinship: in their system there are basically 2 groups and one has to marry into the other group. And everyone has lots of brothers and sisters depending on  their skin type, of which there are 8. Also a 5 yr. old can be the father or grandfather to a 50yr. old!, which system encourages respect and ensures that ‘oldies’ are   looked after.  Why can not  they explain some of this  in their Cultural Centres, rather than concentrating on the Rainbow Serpent, etc and bush tucker over and over again. After this we climbed up to another lookout.

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The drive to the Twin Falls was an hour up a corrugated dirt track and another 45 minutes over real 4W drive tracks: loads of seemingly speed humps, but they were actually constructed to prevent water eroding the track. There were several river crossings.  At the end, we took a short, very scenic, boat trip and then a 15 minute walk over rocks to the double falls which were quite magnificent.

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 We retraced our steps to the Jim Jim parking. It was then a 15 minute walk to a lookout poll, followed by a supposedly 30 minutes to a ‘swimming pool’, free of crocs! There were huge boulders everywhere and we must have wandered off track at times, especially in trying to reach the ‘beach’ pool. But I had a good swim, followed by some tiffin. And, somehow, we got back, both mentally tired by getting me over this obstacle course and then I was physically exhausted too by all the ‘humps’. Back at the campsite, bed quickly followed a shower and supper. We tried our mango wine: interesting, but we did not down the bottle in one go. The campsite ranger was a volunteer pensioner: he had done 5 years of 6 month spells

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Friday, July 4th.   Jim Jim Falls – Katherine Gorge. 394km.

   After a good nights sleep, we had breakfast and were on the road by 8am. We drove to Yellow  River and walked along the Board Walk, seeing several nesting birds similar to storks and egrets.

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Unfortunately the circular walk was closed, as it was swamped, there having been late rains. We went into the Cultural Centre there and that was a bit more informative: it covered the clan and the kin system and provided more history of the area [and not just the creation myths and bush tucker!].

    Then on to Gunlom, where David decided I was capable of the difficult walk! I thought it was just to a lookout, but once up high there were a whole series of pools and I had a most glorious swim.

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 After clambering back down, I had another swim in the large pool [lake like] there, but this was nothing special. We sat and had a roll before leaving the park and driving on to Pine Creek – to stock up on pecan pie: imagine our disappointment on finding that the shop hours were 7 – 3 and it was 3.25!

We also seemed to have missed the passing of the Ghan by about half an hour too!

    We drove on to Katherine Gorge and camped. Then we booked a lunch time cruise, the breakfast one that we had wanted being full. We wandered down to the Boat Ramp to see the sunset and there were fruit bats in the trees and lots of wallabies playing. 

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    We decided to treat ourselves to supper in their restaurant with a view. A lovely experience, eating barramundi, salad and chips!

 Saturday, July 5th. Katherine – Daly Waters.  300km.

 We set off at 8-10km ‘medium’ walk at 8am. This was fine to Pat’s Lookout, but then the 400m descent to Southern Rockpool got a bit hairy! So I gave it up – and David said I would never have managed to clamber from the rocks into the pool anyway. We returned via another walk and its superb impressive lookout by 11.20. We moved the van , had a swim in the river and were then first in the queue for the lunchtime cruise. The Buffet lunch was nothing special but the gorges were beautiful.

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 We walked, with such ease [due to the concrete over the boulders!] ,between the gorges and then got into another boat for the second gorge which was quite dramatic. Back on the original boat we were served a fruit salad and it was 2.15 by the time we got back. We were both very glad that we had altered our plans in order to take the cruise. The guide on the boat was Marc, who originated from Barcelona but was married to a Jawoyn.

   We rushed to Katherine, found the ATM, shopped and filled with diesel and arrived at Daly Waters by 5.50 [having to give the Mataranka thermal pools a miss].  The campsite was very basic. We had a pleasant supper of a Barrimundi roll, wine and coffee before going over to the pub where, over several glasses of wine, we listened to Frank, the ‘Chook’ man [due to the wedged tailed eagles that perched on his hat], playing, telling jokes and involving the audience. Did Carol and Russell take his photo?  

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 Sunday, July 6th. Daly Waters – Hells Creek.  695km.

 We breakfasted with our coffee and ‘bacon and bum-nuts in the pub where there was a fire alight. We had a long chat with the lady owner. We were still off by 8.20, filling up with diesel at Hi-Ways Roadhouse. It was then a single track road to Cape Crawford [miles from any sea!] and we stopped just short of this for some cereal; a couple from Brisbane  were spending 2 nights in this remote lay by [admittedly with glorious views], just knitting, reading and doing their washing.

 In the South African run Borroloola Roadhouse we stocked up with more diesel and were then on to a corrugated, dirt road. We found an idyllic lunch stop at Lily Lagoon.  

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  The road was fairly good to the Queensland  border, although there were some creeks to cross, but then deteriorated. We saw about a dozen kangaroos –of which one large red – after 4pm. The Wollogorang Roadhouse was closed up, so thoughts of camping there were squashed, and we crossed the State border and did the extra 60km to Hells Creek, making it by 6pm. The shop and garage were also closed here, but the campsite was operational. I encountered a problematic shower, but there were no mosquitoes, and we enjoyed our supper in view of a neighbour’s camp fire.

Monday, July 7th.   Hells Creek – Adels Grove.  310km.

 I had a chat with the owner, a man persecuted by bureaucracy and a dislike of psychiatrists! We left by 7.45 and had a long drive, almost 5 hours, via Kingfisher Camp [where we stopped, bought a book, and walked to their delightful campsite] to Lawn Hill. This route had countless gates to open.

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 We saw kangaroos and  erred in our choice of breakfast stop; it was fly ridden!

   We settled into the Grove – a very pleasant pitch by the river being found. After lunch we ventured off to Riversleigh, ~50km, a World Heritage Sits for its fossils. But we were somewhat disappointed: there were just small bits of croc, thunderbird and turtle on show.

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 Back at camp we had coffee and cake, read, had a swim in the river, a shower and then drinks before dinner, which was at 7 in the restaurant. They put us on a table with Andrew Hanson, who was a Vet from west of Orange, who made his own wine too: he knew our friend Elaine Mortimer. It was an interesting evening but the food reminded us of school dinners! Afterwards it was difficult to get back to the van in the dark.

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  Tuesday, July 8th. Adels Grove.  20km.

 Overslept, had brealfast and set off for Lawn Hill. We went on the 8km walk to the Far Gorge – fantastic views at times. I swam by the cascades in the Middle Gorge and we then returned to the van and took our lunch down to the creek. After this  we went on the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’ walk, 3 km, to see Aboriginal Art, but there was not much of this to see: on the other hand the scenery was fairy glen like – polls, palms, water lilies and shafts of sunlight – quite idyllic. Then onto the cascades where I had another dip – with a couple from Melbourne: he had lived in Harold Street, Greensborough [and now lived in Plenty].

 Back to the camp for coffee and cake and a read, followed by a swim and shower. We succeeded in getting our table for 2 for dinner, which was a much better meal than the previous night.  2 Aboriginals came in with 2 paintings and we bought the one we liked for $100. Later we chatted to a lady from Sydney who was in a group of 10 private planes. We then watched their film show, not wonderful photography. Back by the van we lit a campfire and sat round that for half an hour.  

  

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 Wednesday, July 9th.  Adels Grove - Georgetown.  695km.

 Not too interesting a day but a wonderful campsite.

    We left at 7.45 and photographed all the wee aircraft lined up on the runway. It was then a dirt road to Gregory Downs [nothing there], but then hard surfaced but single track [a so called Development road]  to the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.  

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 We had bacon and egg and a muffin there. We then headed north to Normanton where there were a couple of interesting old buildings, a store, the Council [shire] Office and the bank, dating back to ~1880. Then we followed the Gulflander Railway line to Croydon, the scenery becoming more interesting. Although it was a pleasant town with some heritage, we decided to keep trekking and some time later stopped ~20 km short of Georgetown to investigate a sign to Cumberland Chimney. This was just a chimney with no indication as to its history, but it was next to a large lily pond with lots of birds on. So we decided to camp there.  We enjoyed supper round a campfire that burnt till 9pm. Even with a half moon there was an impressive night sky.

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Thursday, July 10th. Georgetown – Atherton.  320km.

  The sun was up by 7am and we were off by 7.30. We had hoped to go to Tamaloo Hot Springs, but these were closed. Then we tried to fill up our gas bottle, but unsuccessfully. We arrived at the Undara Volcanic Park by 10am to find that no tours of the Volcanic Lava Tubes were available that day and that there was not a single campsite either!

   So we continued on to Mt. Garnet, where again we could not fill the gas. We also went through a carwash to prevent weed seeds being spread. At Innot Hot Springs I paid for day use of their thermal pools: enjoyable but no beauty like with natural thermal pools. We finally found a supermarket that supplied camping gas, only to be told that the bottle was not empty! We stopped in Ravenhoe’s Visitor Centre and had lunch outside it.

aus441  It was a delightful , spacious town surrounded by mountains . I investigated the Railway Yards camping area, but decided to move on as it was still early and you could not see the mountains from the campsite anyway.

   We drove through Atherton but did not fancy the commercial campsites there, so drove out to Timaloo Dam – gorgeous, but again a commercial site. So we drove out and up to a lookout [with no ‘No Camping’ signs], cooked supper and then returned to the lake for a walk. Then back up to our site for coffee and cake and a long read. There was a lovely sunset.

 

Friday, July 11th. Timaloo – Cape Tribulation.

 Due to the very low clouds over the hills it was not as cold as we expected at dawn. We drove through the Atherton Tablelands and reached Mossman by 10. Then we headed for Daintree and took the ferry north.

  We drove down to Koala camp and decided we would be happy camping there if we did not see anything even better. After walking along the beach we drove to Cow Point in search of its café by the sea, but our map was wrong.  After another beach walk we passed the café we were searching for 8 km inland but continued and found a genuine Café by the Sea at Thornton Beach.

 

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     We had cappuccinos and a ‘big breakfast’ between us. Another walk and then found the Cape Tribulation camp site. Deciding it was really nice we settled in and had lunch, reading for a while. We then drove up to the Cape and walked to the lookout and along the beach. We saw lots of crested turkeys [and not the endangered cassowaries]. Following this we went back to look at the Coconut Beach Restaurant and Hotel.

   On arriving back at the camp site we found 8 motorcyclists [but not too near] and a German motor home rather too near , and with loud voices!. A central camp fire was lit, so we had supper and then took our glasses over to it, discussing the Aboriginal problem with some Australians.

        Saturday, July 12th.  Cape Tribulation – Coconut Resort.   10km.

      We took our chairs and breakfast through to the beach [Luxury *2], where we were all alone except for 2 canoeists who were having a lesson on how to ride the surf. We then went for a walk south along the beach and across pebbly mangrove bush country: but were soon defeated. We then packed up and booked in to the Coconut Resort, sorting the contents of the van at the same time. I swam in the cascade pool outside our room and had a luxurious bath before going for a long walk along Coconut Beach to the Myall river/creek but there were no crocs to be seen.  

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 We drove up to Cape Tribulation in the hope of cooking lunch there, but it was too crowded even to park. So we backtracked to the Dibuju boardwalk car park where we had a section all to ourselves. So we had our ‘last supper’ undisturbed in very pleasant surroundings. We then did the boardwalk before driving to the Café on the Sea: but their coffee machine had given up the ghost since yesterday, so our cake was accompanied by a synthetic milk shake.

    Back in the hotel I had a swim in the restaurant pool, followed by coffee on our balcony and a read. Finally we took another walk round the grounds and to the restaurant and bar. Although it was by now dark there were no lanterns lit like the previous night [no tour group in!].

   Then we enjoyed wine, in decent glasses, and a cold supper on our balcony with candles. Then read and listened to very pleasant music.

 Sunday, July 13th.    Cape Tribulation – Cairns.

         ‘Hot buffet’ breakfast was a disappointment, but not a surprise! We were away soon after 8am. It was a beautiful   drive – a real coastal road – down the coast to Cairns. We found ‘Il Palazzo’ hotel and stopped nearby and packed everything up, leaving it all off at the hotel.

 We drove the 4km back  to Britz, and the check in process was infinitely better than the checkout had been in Perth! We walked back along the coast and were surprised to discover that Cairns does not have a sandy beach, apart from a few minutes at high tide when the tiny mangroves and mud are under water.

    We were delighted with the hotel suite: a super living/dining room and kitchen, plus an attractive bedroom. It was on the ground floor and I was able to walk straight from our terrace into the pool for a swim. Then we went out and had a pizza and a glass of wine on the front, soaking up our last little bit of tropical living. After a walk around the huge lido [necessary due to the lack of beach] and the Pier Shop Centre, we read, had another swim  and made coffee. I washed my hair and then we walked around the Port area – some very noisy bars and a Sling Shot machine with mind boggling g forces!. Then we perused the interesting Night Market, a reflection of Australia’s multi ethnic population, There were Asian food stalls, Chinese masseurs by the parlour load and with plenty of customers, clothes, didgery doos, anything.

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 On repacking I found that I had slung the wrong trousers in packing up the van! We enjoyed a cold supper and that was the end of a wondrous holiday.

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[Next morning we left on flights to Ayers Rock, Perth, Singapore and Heathrow, and 43 hours later made contact with Newquay].  

Chris Grant Front Page