Fairy Penguin and friend
Its been awhile since I last went walkabout in Australia, 19 years or so!
20th Sept 2011, After having helped both our mums celebrate there 80th birthdays in the UK We flew into Australia, Melbourne from UK via Singapore . Hard to say farewell and see you soon when your 80! still even at a mild 53 you can never be sure whats waiting for you around the next day..p>
As we landed I wondered a loud if I would be arrested on entry for failing to pay an old speeding ticket last time I was here? All went well and our bags tumbled happily onto the conveyor and we entered Ozz with hardly a glance from the powers that be.
The plan was to escape winter yet again and send postcards to all from sunny locations 😉 problem was its winter here.. we have gone to far south and one of the 1st animals we meet is a fairy penguin.
Jumped a train to Marys cousin Peter’s place (he kindly drove 40 mins or so to pick us up) and met his partner Lynn and Rocky the tough Staffordshire Terrier and his pal Flinnie (wire haired terrier, blind and deaf). The farm is an elegant 100yr old white wooden farm house with a white picket fence set in green rolling hills about 2 hr’s from Melbourne, its 80 acres with 100 head of black Angus roaming the lush green fields. Our first chat as we arrive is a warning from Peter about snakes.. they have lots of copper heads and Tiger snakes, mostly they all get along but caution is necessary ! jet lag and tiger snakes are not a good match..
Day 2 we wake to parrots and mina birds at 5.30am. Rocky also has his own special growl for his new house guests. Tea, home made muesli and yoghurt is served and we are in paradise!
Mary And Peter
Peter is keen to take us to a nearby used 4×4 truck centre. Within an hour we met our new truck and 3 days later we plunk down our cash for a 1996 Toyota 4×4 diesel with 310,000 Kms on the speedo, its drives like new and we get a 1 year warranty so what can go wrong..
Rocky the Toyota
Mandarins in the back yard
Next few days are spent collecting tents, camp stoves, jerry cans for fuel, and numerous gadgets and essentials for our trip into the great outback wilderness. In between we lend a hand weeding the veggie patch and herding a few cattle from one pasture to the next. Leaning on a fence and chatting about farming and learning a few drams of info about life on a beef farm is easy and supper is more than generous (ice cream and meringue every evening!).
View from back garden
Sadly our journey must begin and we must leave so that we can return. Rocky (our truck, we could have named him Flinnie, but really a blind, deaf truck?) is packed and stocked with food, 60lit water, fuel (extra 40lit in Jerry cans), tent, cameras, and a lot more.
Escaping from normal life and going bush takes a lot of effort and while our life may appear free and easy we have done the hard work to make it all happen and taken a few risks and dealt with everything from tenants that don’t pay rent to new septic tank pump, and of course bills (which need to be paid online as mail cannot reach me!), dreams can only become real if you ignore all reason and just keep going in the right direction until all the small obstacles melt away the chosen path becomes easy to see and you are on it.
See Marys Blog story for our travels from – Melbourne – Alice.
Bellow a few Photos from travels melbourne – Devils marbles
Parrot with hurt wing
Caterpillar Dreaming Art work
Devils Marbles- 300km north of Alice, We have left the tourist buzz of Ayr’s rock and the central deserts and we are the only campers tonight. One of my favourite photos from my last time in Ozzy was taken here, it was one of a 7yr old Josh standing inside the mozzy net of our tent looking out, safe from the mini vampires that inhabit this area! Not much has changed and although high clouds still follow us and frustrate our need for stunning sunsets we did get a lovely sunrise and photographed the huge round boulders that are perched on top of red sandstone rocky outcrops. Wind was pretty extreme in the night and all our guy ropes were needed! We had breakfast with a friendly Dingo who lay about 30ft from us in the sun hoping for a handout! at one point he ran across the camp site dived into a spinifex bush (very spiky) and ate something , a lizard most likely.
Next day we drove to Mataranka Springs, arriving after sunset we put up the tent in a buzz of insects all intent on eating us a tiny bite at a time.. We are in Crocodile zone for sure and also in a swamp so all my stories of Croc’s and old adventures has Mary ready to climb on the roof of the Toyota at a moments notice. Morning bought sunshine and fly’s.
Our breakfast routine is home made Muesli (we have enough for 3 mth’s!) and of course home made yoghurt. We buy de-hydrated yoghurt designed for yoghurt making machines and at night we simply put 3 table spoons of yoghurt powder in a small one cup thermos, add 2/3rds cold water 1/3rd hot, open the engine and place near engine block, in the morning we have lovely fresh yoghurt! there is no point in buying anything fresh any more as in 40c temperatures it just goes off in a few hours. Fruit is one exception and we find apples and oranges last well in our cooler and so do tomatoes. Best technique with the cooler is to open it up at night and let in the cooler air and then close for the daytime. (ice is not really an option hard to find and it melts so quickly and every thing gets soggy).
After breakfast we wandered along the river looking for a swimming spot.. Mary is dubious even though the signs indicate its safe as long as you don’t go to far up river and even then its “mostly” fresh water crocs this time of year before the wet season. Turns out the river is in fact a massive underground spring that flows all year into the ocean. We chicken out on the swim and head for the hot springs 3km down the road. The path to the hot springs is lined with palm trees all inhabited by large flying foxes, a bit smelly and noisy! The springs were aquamarine and crystal clear. Had fun with the underwater camera and floated around until medium rare.
Fast approaching bush fire.
Back on the road we head for katherine. Marys turn to drive. On route we see billowing smoke clouds and we are headed towards a fast approaching bush fire! stopping on the roadside to take a few photos the fire looks ominous with massive black clouds all the hawks are flying around looking for mice, lizards etc that are trying to escape the fire and suddenly large flames burst out on the nearby ridge, awesome I manage to get two photos before the car lurches and Mary is in flight mode and my pleas for a few more snaps go un heard.. geez I had already prepped her about bush fires, all flame and no fire, just drive straight at them fast and you come out the other side no problems.
We stopped later at Australia’s “Roswell” a gas station with aliens and newspaper articles of past encounters but no crashed space craft. After an ice cream we headed out ignoring the Gas at $2.15 a litre! Arrived in Katherine just before sunset. “Lower katherine big 4” campsite- Mango trees lined the driveway and green grass and shady trees all around us we were home! $26.00 a nite with a giant blue swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. I asked if it was ok to steal mango’s and received a stern look from the owner! as darkness fell the air filled with bats (flying foxes) 1,000’s no hundred of thousands of them! they flew overhead towards the sunset for at least an hour! We had rented a movie so had a movie and supper just like home! It was George Harrison’s movie biography, totally great with lots of old footage of the Beatles and a real insight into his and the Beatles lives and there time in India. In the morning our usual muesli and yoghurt was wonderfully added to by the owner of the camp site (Mango Queen) who had left a full box of huge mangoes for us! (and other campers but I saw them 1st).
We headed out in the morning not stopping to see Katherine Gorge as we have to come back this way and are worried the Monsoon rains are fast approaching and need to get to kakadu asap or else risk it being closed for the wet season!.
Fuelled up and grabbed some more veggies, apples and cookies (ginger snaps), 160km out is Pine Creek the turn offto Kakadu, stopped to read all the warning signs about crocs, rivers crossings, uranium mines, storms, road closures, well Mary did, I just ate my ginger snaps..
Spent the 1st night at lovely waterfall (Gunlom) with huge plunge pool about 30km off the main rd on a very corrugated dirt road. For some quirk of gravity/ physics nice dirt roads become corrugated very quickly, leaving round ridges in the road every 6 inches or so about 2 inches high (they have dug up roads and found the corrugations go as deep as 6ft!). If you drive them slower than 30km an hour the truck vibrates and bounces so much it would shake apart before you got to camp, however speeding up to 50-70km an hour you glide over the worst of them and now have only to worry about corners or creeks etc, corners are like being on ice. The creeks were all small and ok, your never quite certain how deep they are as walking a creek to check its depth is just another way to feed the hungry croc’s. 2 or 3 others were in camp although it is quite this time of year, the impending monsoons scares of most tourists. Sunset was lovely by the falls, I could not resist a quick duck into the plunge pool, Mary had her camera ready but no crocs here! (to high up and only freshwater ones this time of year) a large black Taipan snake slithered across the path and bought us back into focus as to where we were and what caution we need to take!
Next morning we were woken by the now normal dawn chorus of parrots, Cockatoos, mina birds, butcher birds (that have the sweetest song) and many other characters, waking up in the outback in Australia is like no other place, the birds love to chat and fight and the entire dawn is filled with the gentle melodies of mina birds and the screeching din of parrots chasing each other in circles.
After breaky we climbed the track to the top of the falls and swam in several deep warm pools right to the edge of the falls (200ft drop), not a high flow of water so very safe. Lovely view across the jungle and down into the main park waiting for us!
Next stop was another rough road to smaller falls and lunch! Lunch has become a groundhog day event, yummy red salmon (tined) with cut tomatoes, mango slices and a dash of Chutney ( Sharwood’s), all wrapped in a pita bread! Pita bread is great for road trips, lasts 6 mths (depending on brand) unopened and 7 days opened and is easier to store than bread which tends to get squished and go mouldy!
As we leave the storm clouds are gathering above us although still sunny and hot! Yellow waters is just 50km away and has a fully modern camp area with pool! its set about 1km away from the main Yellow waters Corroboree which is full of large salt water crocs. Last time I was here, no pool just a grassy area by the water side. It was also where my clutch failed and stuck in reverse I had to drive 40km’s to get spare parts in reverse!. This time its all computer check in and map of bar and pool area! After setting up camp we drove 1km down to the boat launch to see the sunset, wow several croc’s are cruising by and we follow one big one that heads along the swamp beside a walk way for at least 1/2km eventually the walk way ends and as the sun is setting he spies a water bird and in one quick snap the bird is swallowed up and he lets out a glorious burp of satisfaction! checking my photos later we are able to see a bird in his mouth feet in the air just about to go down the throat of the 3m salty! On the way back I try to photograph amazing lightning high up in the giant cumulus clouds high above, most success was had by the mozzies that dined and dashed on my blood.
Its off season so the site is pretty empty and the pool is ours at 7pm! The bar is busier but at $ 8.00 a beer we wandered home to have tea and supper under the stars. All night long lightning blasted us from all sides and thunder boomed and cracked but no rain.
Up bright and early we had breakfast and dashed to Book a last minute boat tour of Yellow waters. $90.00 each for a 2hr cruise ouch.. still it was lovely full of wild life, Jesus birds that walk on water, tiny blue king fishers, brilliant green bee eaters, Whistling ducks, fish eagles, giant storks with red beaks, and of course big saltwater crocs, we saw at least a dozen or so some in the water and some on the mud banks, lovely light early in the morning all added up to a great cruise with a very informative ranger.
Best bit was right at the end when we discovered that breakfast was included! expecting a bowl of cornflakes and coffee we were bowled over by a full banquet of Beans, fruit, scrambled eggs, sausages, Bacon, hash browns, more beans, juice, toast+honey, yoghourt, real coffee, oh my we ate until we could not move and then had more real coffee ( not our own de-caffe instant). The rest of the day was a pool day, lounging and swimming in a luxury pool as only the unemployed or homeless can do.
Later down by Yellow waters another lovely glowing sunset with tons of birds crossing the sunset heading home or south? followed by a beer at the bar! where we discovered from a wall poster that you can do a second water cruise for only $20.00! thinking only of the breakfast we decided to go again! That night it finally rained! we had just set up with our laptops and hard drives in the tent, Mary ran out starkers to shut the windows. More thunder and lightning along with a lot of H20.(tent is awesome and nary a leak crossed her bow).
Never have we been so keen to see 1st light, we dashed to get our tickets for breakfast, oops I mean cruise only to be told the 2nd discount price cruise does not include breakfast! (would have been an extra $26.00 each) oh well cruise we did, just as good as 1st one and even photographed a large salty swallowing a huge 2ft Barrumundi fish only 5ft from my lens! we hung back from the other 4 people at the end of the cruise as we were not going for breaky with them and wandered along the path looking for more crocs, on a whim we headed for the breaky counter hoping to scrounge a free coffee, the lovely lady told us to tuck in free to the full breaky as they had made enough for 30+ people and only 4 went on the cruise! we ate like Crocodiles who just like us can eat one meal and last a whole week before eating again. Rest of the day was also spent like a crocodile resting, swimming and waiting for our next meal.
The next day we headed for Nourlangie Rock, lovely Cave paintings and huge rock face with a large Corroboree ( lake, pond, swamp, water hole). Had lunch with about 30 white Cockatoo’s all of which were lounging in the shade and making throaty noises like a cross between a wheeze and a gargling, recorded for science. As the sunset a storm blew in and the last rays vanished in a wall of water. Drove in heavy rain the 12kms to camp and by the time we got there the storm had all but passed. Our campsite was bush camp no pool or showers just a pit loo and a few 1,000 green ants. Green ants are unlike almost any other animal/insect they appear to be very aware and peer right at you and clearly are very individual and smart! nesting in trees with a bunch of carefully sown up leaves for a nest they do tend to fall on you when the wind blows, thus green ants falling from the skies.. they quickly occupy your tent roof and after many attempts to dissuade them discovered by accident that they do not like human pee, unfortunately Mary refuse to let me fully protect the tent. (she says think Indian train stations..very smelly).
Green Ants build a new nest!
Any way I later discovered that just using two fingers and wiggling them like ant antenna or feelers made them back away fast! so I spent an hour happily training the green ants to leave the tent! and it worked! they are so bloody smart they did not come back! but carefully walked around the tent after a few reminders from the giant feelers, I can speak Ant!
Most of our camping in Kakadu was all alone! clearly coming here just before the giant deluge of monsoon floodwater that can cut you off from the rest of the world for 3 mths is a great idea!
Rainbow of colours form high in the sky
We spent a happy 3 days and sunrises and sunsets (gradually losing track of days) at Ubuir rock and surrounding area, famous for its cave art and the view from the top at sunset. You walk out of the tropical jungle onto a massive rock that looks across a giant lush green floodplain as far as the eye can see.
One night we managed to cajole the ranger to let us stay in at night to take images of the cave paintings using the torch Rory gave me! As the light faded I was able to illuminate the rock art by waving the torch back and forwards painting the art with a narrow beam of light while the main 30 second exposure matched the dim sky 40 mins after sunset .
The whole site is very sacred to the local Aborigines and the whole kakadu park and much of the far north and large portions of Australia is now Aboriginal land by title and a real lesson to other countries on settling land claims. Some of the cave paintings are older than the present Aborigines occupation 30,000 – 60,000 years, and it is claimed by the locals that older art was painted by mimi spirits, a very tall race of people that the Aborigines even fought with at times.
One other cave art site was on my list to see but it is now controlled by a resort and they wanted $650.00 per night to stay even if you camp ! Australia is very expensive and all the signs point to the rich being the only ones to get to see some of the special sites in the next few years.
We had a half day wander beside the South Alligator river (no alligators it was all a naming mistake), very hot and we ended up in a cool cave that still has Aboriginal grinding stones and fire stones in it. Found a lovely green frog on a very spiky plant nearby and harassed him until he croaked.
Just before leaving Kakadu park we spent a day wandering down a few side roads and crossed a bunch of creeks that are gradually getting a bit deep for our 4×4, we did try to get into a spot called 4 mile hole, the rangers had said the road was open. About 2kms off the road we found a healthy looking river, after a bit of persuasion Mary let me cross.. oops half way across we were still going deeper and we ended up above the headlights (we really need a snorkel for the air intake) with water washing over the hood, we re surfaced and crawled back to dry land, Rocky (our truck) shook himself off and headed 4km for the next river which was much wider and moving fast…
Sense somehow gained the upper hand and even though I pretended I wanted to cross Mary’s firm “no way” let me off the hook and we turned around. We added our table using bungie cords to the front of the truck to keep the water out of the engine and dived back in the 1st river watched by a young Aussie who was smart enough to wait and see us cross 1st, no worries for us but he decide not to cross.. We traded our still valid park pass for some mangoes with the Aussie and headed down the road. The following day we went to see the jumping crocodile’s on the Adelaide river. so cool huge they hang a chunk of dead animal off the top deck on a wood pole, crocs appear as you cruise down river, when one circles the meat they raise it up until the croc gets annoyed enough to jump up for it, really all he/she has to do is swish its tail a bit and effortlessly he/she is almost all the way out of the water just like a dolphin!
Next day we headed for Darwin, checking news at a roadhouse (gas station) we discover Mr world peace prize (also leader of the free world) himself is also going to be in town. Found a great camp site 12km out of town, just as well as most of Darwin is under police lock down and barricades are blocking many streets, it appears ironically to me at least the leader of the free world & nobel peace prize winner is somewhat afraid of being actually among the people. He is in and out in 2hrs, or so we are told as few get to actually see him. He came to put US troops in Darwin and put a wreath on the memorial for a ship that the Japs sank in Darwin Harbour, all sounds peaceful right?
After he left we wandered Darwin enjoying yummy Indian food (only place that was under $12.00 for food), eating out in Ozz is very costly a typical pub meal is around $25.00. Also in darwin we went to a deckchair cinema that was $15.00 each and included free mozzie spray.. It was a weird Indian movie and the Mozzies again got the best deal.
Many Aussie bars are a bit far left of normal and anything goes in darwin especially during pride week! One bar gave us free champagne to entice us too watch the floor show! who could refuse..we danced with the wild things and saw another side of Australia.
Next up was Lichfield Park, 90km of rough road only made easier by the large box of mangoes we scored for $6.00 (10 big mangoes!). Rain had made the road borderline drivable, the dirt road s in Auzz very quickly turn to deep mud and hard bottom creek crossing turn to muddy swamps! We made it to camp and our new 2nd tarp became our rain shelter, all very cozy. Lichfield is full of creeks, waterfalls and swimming holes, sometimes open sometimes closed depending on weather mostly but also croc’s on occasion. Had lots of time in the water and enjoyed a kind of mini Kakadu, mostly had the camps to ourselves again but clearly the locales come here in winter (cooler weather 70-80f) along with tourists in large numbers.
Magnetic termite Mounds (thin edge faces north/south to keep the heat out)
We finally headed back to Katherine and camped down at the Gorge, did a short eve hike and walking down the path a large brown snake was curled up on the step below me, Mary had just a second early stepped here and must have almost put her foot on the poor deadly thing. The canoe rental was closed for the wet season and we ended up doing an overnight hike 14km to Smitty’s rock.
Very hot hike as we started a bit late (9am) found a lovely stream to cool down in along the way which stopped our brains from melting.. Smitt rock sits in the middle of the Gorge and this time of year the water only flows down one side of it, on the other side is a large sand bar, our campsite. Alone in the world with huge storm clouds and a lightning show and a crocodile filled river, sheer bliss! It was topped of by a lovely rainbow but no rain. Beans for supper yippie!
Sand bar camp site!
I woke at 5am to hear a strange whooshing sound, in the dark I could make out that the river was in another mood and much higher! (like 15ft or so) the sandbar was being eroded fast and was disappearing into the river! ack ! a quick check of our exit route revealed that the river had almost cut of our way out of the Gorge and water was now flowing both sides of Smittys rock! Luckily watching a marker rock for 20 mins we could see it had stopped rising for now so we packed, ate breaky and climbed back out of the Gorge and hiked home, we had hoped the rangers would wake early and see the river up so high and come rescue us in a helicopter, darn. We were told later that the rain catchment area is 85,000km sq and even a small rain at this time of year can raise the river in the narrow Gorge 6 meters in one go !!
Next day we showed up for a pre booked service for Rocky. oil, lube and rotate the tyres, met to germans in a van, they were waiting for a repair that will take 2 weeks ! cracked engine head, $$$ ouch. Our service cost $450.00 with parts (they brooke the air condition mount arm and charged us for it), it would have been $240.00 for oil and lube etc, still better than Toyota’s quoted price of $700.00 and they would not sign our warranty book which these guys did! (Rocky came with a 1 yr warranty on engine and big bits even though he had over 300,000Km’s on the meter)
Ok this needs a caption.. any ideas?
Before we left our friendly Mango queen bought us more mango’s which have to eaten before getting to the West Australia border as they don’t allow fruit and veggies across the border.
Fully loaded and serviced we head west. The scenery changes to wetter flatter river country with many large rivers which have bridges ! what a novelty. Camped the night at Victoria roadhouse, nice views of river and good beef pies! ($4.50). Tried to camp again 100km’s away before hitting the border but Keep River was closed for season, of course we drove in anyway, trouble was they were doing a burn and clearly it would be smokey and a bit hazardous! headed back out and arrived at the border with way too many mangos. We quickly ate a ton and then skinned and de pipped the rest. (no skin or pips and they are ok).
Once across the border drove past Mary river and Victoria river, stopped at Gregory’s tree, a large sacred baobab that explorers carved there names into!
We then headed for Lake Argyle, a huge man made lake, very spectacularly large! you really need to see it from the air, camped beside the Dam wall in nice site with a truly stunning pool, its one of those zero edge ones and it looked right out over the lake.
Our Pool !
Leaving the Lake we headed west stoping at most points of interest, one river turn off was particularly wild and as the river was not in flood we were able to walk along the rocky/pebble banks fossicking (Gem stone hunting) for diamonds or other such dreams. I did find a firestone tool, its a bit bigger than the size of your hand and has a perfect hole on top where an aborigine would have placed his fire stick and then rotated it to create fire.
As we headed further west Baobab trees became more prevalent and many had definite characters, fat ones thin ones, laughing wildly with there branches in the air.
The topic of the remote Gibb River rd (700km dirt track with large river crossings) was discussed. The risk is real if the monsoons start you could be stuck until the rivers drop in 3 mths time. As we drove through Kunnanara and refuelled we mentioned our route and the gas jockey just laughed and said good luck mate! also advised to take 2 extra spare tyres and a life raft, but he did give me a free coffee to keep me awake.
We decided to give the road a try and if the 1st major river crossing was ok we would drive on and then if the 2nd one 300km further was impassable we would turn and race back before the 1st one flooded to high, great plan eh! Having driven this rd 19yrs ago I knew it was going to be rough and take time and be hard on car & driver. Turning of the Tarmac we bumped our way up the 1st 20km’s, soon the road actually improved ! over the last few years its been upgraded a bit a graded more often. Pretty easy going better than a lot of the dirt roads we have driven so far. In no time (4hrs) at all we were at the Pentecost River, it looked big, 300 meters across and all the guide boulders were gone, deep underwater. we sat and looked at it for a few hrs hoping someone else would come by and plough in and show us just how deep it was. Finally just before sundown a guy in a rental 4×4 showed up, we harassed him until he agreed to try (hey who cares about a rental car), looked good at the start then his front tyres and hood dropped like he drove off a cliff and he backed out before he was swallowed by the river, to bad would have made a great photo.
He left back the way he came and we decided to camp the night up on the bluff and see what tomorrow bought. Lovely to be out in the wild not a soul for miles, huge high ancient sea cliffs surrounded us to the east and the stars were like fire flies all around us.
Pentecost River crossing
Next day we sat by the rivers edge and had our breaky still hoping for some brave traveller to turn up and show the way.
Eventually after peering at the river through polarized glasses I could see why the other dude had dropped into a hole and figured if we kept to the right it was ok…, again strapped our trusty table (pice of plywood) across the front of the car to try to keep out most of the water. Theory is if you enter the river at a good pace and don’t stop or slow down you maintain a bow wave and keep the engine dry ! if you let the engine rpm drop to low the water pressure will stall the engine. We climbed in and set the manual rpm lock for 1,600rpm to keep the revs high enough and just right in low range 4×4 to pull us across the river. Once you go there is no turning back..
Rocky turned to the right on entry and avoided the big hole, we quickly sank beneath the comfort zone and we held our breaths as rocky ploughed on gradually we gained back some depth and settled in to a nice river cruise, the river was just under 3ft deep around the top of the wheels, half way across it got shallower and we were only a foot deep, then the faster moving water approached and we sank deeper rocky just purred along as if it was a sunday drive, approaching the far bank we climbed back out and sat in the sun. Then we did it two more times to take photos and film it! 2nd crossing felt deeper going back to the other side, but the 3rd to return to the far bank was just right. Having got the worst crossing out of our way we felt far more confident about the the road ahead.
The road its self was in great shape and far better than 19 yrs ago! Our aim was to get to Barnet River and get the 2nd bad river under our belt. We stopped at every nook and cranny peering into small gorges and hugging most of the large baobab trees. After several small creeks one more river appeared, the Durack river, it was about 100ft across and running fast. but overall we cold see a few rocks sticking out and a walk in for a few meters had it pegged as a bout a 1ft or so deep and rocky bottom, we engaged the 4×4 low range and did not bother with the table this time, rocky got on just fine and we went no deeper than 2ft at most., a nice easy one. Had lunch at the turn of to the north and Mitchell Falls, I really wanted to go but given the potential for Monsoon arrival any day it was to risky to take a 300km road north which ended in a very difficult sandy/muddy 50-70km later on near the falls. Wild Donkeys!
The road was a bit muddy after the turn of and had some really bad ruts where some poor soul must have been struggling on a wet day to make it to Barnet. Lovely trees lined the road for miles. We tried to go up to Mt Elizabeth to see some cave art sites but after about 12km’s on a very very rutted road we gave up and turned a round before poor rocky shook his doors off. Back on the main track the road was getting rougher and smaller then suddenly we rounded a corner and two aboriginal children were playing on the far side of a very deep looking sandy river. The parents of the kids were in a 4×4 and waved to us yelling out, “its good” and waved us over, the river was about 75ft wide and had some ominous looking sand bars, we aimed straight for the tyre tracks on the far side, the kids quit playing to watch, although we felt the drag as our wheels sank into the deep wet sand, rocky never hesitated and we arrived in no time at all feeling like we had beaten the worst the Gibb river rd had to offer.
We fuelled up at the road house $2.05 not bad considering where we were. Had a chat with the manager and he said 3-4 days ago the river was 6-7ft deep ! we are lucky it filled in with sand and dropped a bit usually, it takes a few weeks or so to drop if it does. Headed down to Manning Gorge about 7km away, set camp camp beneath a huge fat Baobab tree! Manning Gorge
The gorge is more of a billabong and very clean with gum trees all around it, chatted with two locals fishing and they said there has never been a croc sighted here, a few minutes later they yelled look theres a croc! think they were winding us up as they later swam with beers in hand.
Had some fun in the evening taking images of the Baobab at night.
Next day we were up early and hiked to a Waterfall about 7km, had to balance on some broken logs to cross the stream, and ended up wading the last bit, hot and sweaty we arrived at a mini eden, cascading falls, deep water pools and very large lizard tracks (not crocs), within seconds we plugged in starkers and swam 200ft to the next pool, slipped and slide across the rocks and dived into a very deep plunge pool just in front of the waterfall, so warm it was only just refreshing. On our way back we discovered that the tiny pools in the rocks were full of leeches.. baby leeches never the less I wished I’d had a camera when Mary discovered her new found friends!
They washed of easy and I had trouble keeping up with mary as we swam back to the far end..
Lunch and water, then back to home base over the hot dry plateau. took the shortcut to our lovely corroboree and I swam over and got the keys for the small row boat and rowed back to save the longer hike around the corroboree. Such a awesome place I could live here for a while. Next day we were back on the road much more relaxed about road conditions and loving the fact we had the entire place/road/rivers/gorges to ourselves as no one else appears to be nuts to try it this time of year.
The road wound its way up over some “jump ups”, small hills, and we had great views to the west. Trees and scrub with miles of low spinifex grass, a very spiky plant that covers most of Australia so far! It is used by Aborigines for basket making and they also cook the roots to make resin which is like super glue, awesome for making spears and arrows!
About 90km after Mt Barnett we turned off to Bell Canyon (Part of Leopold Range park), it had a large road closed for season sign & “DANGER” tape across the entrance but we were sure it did not apply to us.
We made camp and hiked down the rocky 3km path into the canyon, small finches chirped and lizards dashed for cover, small streams babbled beside the path and frogs plopped in to the water as we passed.
The path ends on a slab of rock with a shallow pool about 60ft long and 40ft wide, the whole world is reflected in its mirror as it drops lazily over the falls and then tumbles over a series of steps for 20ft drop pinto a giant plunge pool that is deep below us and over 400ft long and disappears around the canyon wall.
On the far side is a Baobab I have dreamed about often since I last met it 19 yrs ago. Its not a large Baobab and not old but has a symmetry and elegance that is reflected in the pool appearing as if it was about to dive in but is waiting to see what we do. somehow it became ever present in my dreams and it feels like I am seeing an old friend.
we watched a 3ft lizard swim without a ripple and walk slowly up the rock shelf just two paces from us, its tongue flickers and its eyes sparkle as it try’s hard to ignore our presence, but heck you try ignoring two canon 5DII’s with 70-200mm lens attached, its the paparazzi run! he slid back into the pool and swam to the quieter side.
The sun turned the walls of the canyon gold and we were again transported to that time where there were no taxes and no politicians, and no bills.
Back at camp tea and supper magically appeared and sitting inside our 10ft x 5ft by 8ft high tent ( its awesome it has a peg in each corner and a single pole in the centre, pops up in less time than it takes to swot a fly) we were safe from the vampire hordes.
At 1st light we pour coffee into the thermos and take our break and lunch with and descend again into eden. We spent a happy day photographing the light and shadows as the earth turned and the sun sat still.
I swam at the top pool and the lizard watched flicking his tongue hungrily. The sky had been a bit odd all day and after lunch it was clear some where nearby a bush fire was burning and the smoke was coming our way, we headed back to camp and uprooted ourselves not wanting to be in a narrow valley if fire was about. Heading out there were signs of spot fires but the main fire was some ways away. ( “ways away” is further than you can chuck a rock maybe further than you can see from large jump up)
Back on the Gibb river rd we tidily put back the danger tape and head west again. Stopped to check out Lennard Gorge and drove downhill through rolling grass lands and past a huge rock formation with a chunk that looked just like queen victoria head! 90km’s on instead of wisely heading for the nearest tarmac about 60km’s straight on, hung a left down the Leopold downs track, only one river crossing between us and Windjana Gorge, a massive ancient reef that protrudes from the desert floor like the walls of Mordor and had rolling storm clouds above it just like the movies! of course it had the normal “park closed for wet season” but we drove neatly around it and again had one of Australia’s remote parks all to ourselves.
we set up the tent with a view of the main wall and then wandered down to the Gorge, the gorge wall is mostly dark grey but has brilliant orange lines that give the wall a fashionable appearance. It looks like an underwater coral reef but its about 200ft high and the old grey coral protrusions at the top make it look like a fortress, the wall runs as far as we can see from left to right. just in front of our tent the wall parts and a river has cut through the ramparts, our path in leads through a side door/ cave about 5ft wide and 30ft high and as we walk through 1,000 of butterflies take to the air, this is where they hide from the intense heat of the mid afternoon 42c and humid. out thorough our portal we arrive in another world birds make alarm cry’s and announce our presence. Like a lost world its full of life and has left a long billabong (water hole) that goes at least 2 km,s as far as we can see before it turns a corner. Walking at the base of the reef you really feel like a scuba diver, large white caves swirl along the edges and you can imagine huge prehistoric fish peering out at you from the shadows. Down by the waters edge Lizard tracks are every where criss crossing the sand and large dragging marks closer to the edge tell a tale of crocs!
Strange prints about 6″ long that look like one giant finger with fine etched lines like finger prints mark its surface, maybe a large stork? Some of the prints are set in clay that has dried thick and chunky, easy to see how fossils start. The sun is setting as we wander back to camp and we dash around the outside of the gorge walls like only photographers can do looking like a dog thats lost its bone as the light illuminates smooth skinned Baobab trees against the grey reef wall. I was hunting the elusive Baobab in the sunset while Mary got so close the baobab’s got cross eyed looking at her. Finally the sun let us go home and we trekked back through a path cut in 4ft high long grass. Tea and supper under the stars while the last light faded from the looming ever present cliff of Devonian reef.
Breakfast was guzzled down and we left fully armed for a trek up the gorge, the butterflies were already gone for the day and the cool air of the cave gave way to the warmer air inside the gorge. Expecting to see the sand bank alive with lizards we were disappointed with a deserted beach.
A huge white rock sits in the middle of the water looking like a giant dropped his marshmallow. The light is golden and not a breath of wind disturbs the liquid mirror, not far away a dark shape sits still and then it sinks, a croc! then another is spotted and soon 4-5 crocs are slipping away from shore, such shy critters these fresh water crocs, unlike there salty cousins. most appear to be about 2 meters long, and hard to get close enough even with our longest lens. As we walk along the bank we can see them swimming underwater along side us, not a ripple breaks the surface as they pour through the water at great speed.
Herons squawk at some indignity and sound like a pterodactyl in this weird and wonderful lost garden. Elevenses’s are served on a log around 8 am due to the heat, melted chocolate, oranges and water. The heat is building and we drag our hungry hot bodies, or is that hot hungry bodies hmm anyway we head back out through the cave where butterflies are already settling in for a siesta tell at least 4pm when the heats drops a bit.
My 1st mission was a hot shower, yup the park may be a long way from home and deserted but it does have solar showers and they work! (most of the toilets have had the doors locked for some reason). Breakfast is served as usual on a orange tea towel with aborigine designs printed on it, two bowls of muesli with apple cut up in it and our freshly made engine yoghourt, one pot of coffee and a sliced orange. We took a drive east to see what the road looked like and tried to get to tunnel creek 30kms away but the sky went black and we retreated before we were cut off from our tent. We set up our tarp and sheltered from the rain and watched the storm gradually swallow the sky. Two young Aussies in a jeep showed up and we exchanged stories , they had come from the west and had decided not to attempt the Gibb river rd, later they headed off for tunnel creek. That night the heavens did far worse than Kakadu the intensity of the lightning and volume of the thunder was enough to wake the dead.
After an hour or so we put out a bucket to measure the water and by morning we had 4-5 inches plus what we missed means most likely 6 inches or more! The camp site was an inch or more deep in most places and rivers appeared where paths had been, by luck and pure skill we had placed our tent on the only high ground in the area and although we got very little sleep as we worried about flash floods and lightning strikes less than 100ft from us we did manage to stay dry in our Auzzie tent.
The rain had stopped but the sky still growled so we packed up. Heading east as the way west was most likely not an option due to the river about 10km’s east having a deep ravine and a clay bottom.
Exiting the camp was like driving up a stream and when we hit the main track Rocky had a hissy fit and drove all over the place, turns out the road was pure clay and we were digging in 2-4 inches, dropped Rocky into 4 wheel drive and he settled into to ploughing down the road, only 127km to go! steering around a herd of cattle that was in full stampede mode we worked our way towards tunnel creek. The dips and gullies were running but it sure looked better than we had expected, the road improved after about 20km’s or so. At Tunnel creek we met the boys again and they were hunting for flashlights to hike down the tunnel. Its an old lava tube about 2km long with a roof cave in half way down. I hiked it last time I was here and had to wade through waist deep water with fresh water crocs visible in my flash light beam. After all that rain there was no way I was going down there. The boys decided like us the road west was no longer do able. We compared notes on gas supplies etc and they lamented that there poor Jeep only did 10 mpg! Rocky on the other hand easily does 30mpg or better on flat good roads. The road followed a long ridge line covered in Baobabs, we took a few photos but the light and the storm behind us kept us moving on. After a few hours the sun came out and we relaxed and stopped along the way for some nice shots of roads and trees.
Around lunch time we hit tarmac and the main highway to Derby! In no time we past Fitszroy crossing and headed for Halls creek, stopped to help a family of Aborigines with a dead battery, our nice new jump leads failed to start his truck but his mangy old ones with a clip missing worked great! (fixed them later, manufacturer had not connected the wires to the clips). Halls Creek arrived very fast as Mary drove and she likes to fly.
Checked in to camp in town, had a pub lunch, well actually we shared one as it was $32.00 for Fish (Barramundi) & mash potato! crazy expensive to eat out in Oz (food portions are small too). Last time I was in this pub we/some friends I had met , accidentally started a bar fight (mostly Aborigines) by leaving the pool table when our food arrived and screwed up the carefully unwritten rules about who plays next! The cues were cracking and the snooker balls flew around the room, we had to eat under the table.
Now its all changed the pub has been revamped with big screen tv, slot machine and security staff, if fact all the staff wear a head set in there ears and respond to any issues very fast, Aborigines are tightly controlled and get given water instead of beer as soon as the staff see the need. All bars in auzz have gone this route of security and pro looking bouncers.
I miss the good old days of bar fights and a huge portion chicken and chips for $5.00. We stayed an extra night at camp to swim in the pool and do our xmas cards and drop them in the post tomorrow, monday.
Checked at the park info centre and the Bungles is open!, they had heavy rain a week or so ago but its dried out enough to reopen.We booted up the road 100km and hung a right in to the park, lovely orange sand roads and small flowing creeks, only one counted as a river crossing. We bumped our way over some rocky sections 52km to park HQ, closed.
Made camp by a dry river bed with lots of shady trees. We appear to be the only ones in the park as normal. At sunset we headed out to catch some light, its 15km from camp to the main interest point, lovely beehive domes of old sand stone once ancient mountains now the tallest dome is about 100ft high and most are only 20-30ft. It looks a bit like a kid used a jelly mould on a beach and cast tons of jellies all up a hillside. This time of year sunsets are hard to find as clouds often form at the end of the day and given a chance will chase you back to camp in fear of a mini deluge. We have spent 3 nights so far in the park and have not really had any stunning sunsets yet but some interesting clouds and keep our fingers crossed. Mornings are much better, the sky is normally clear and a nice pink glow usually appears. In among the domes we get golden light and recent rain has left pools of water in the Picanny creek along with a lot of tadpoles!
There is a lovely 3km hike into Cathedral gorge, a narrow path winds its way between the domes crossing creeks about 2ft deep of cool clear water. Around the last bend a magical place appears, the gorge ends in a giant overhung curved cave with a central plunge pool and a sandy beach rings the edges, from inside the roof arcs about 100ft high and light dances across the pool reflecting the most wonderful ripples on the cave walls, this last only about 10 minutes and then its gone as the sun clips the edge of the cave roof and cuts of the light show. We played and dropped stones in the pool sending waves of light from the floor to the roof, as the stones enter the water the pools reflection goes dark and then light pours back and moves out in waves. The water was a bit orange in colour but clear and full of tiny fish I dived in the cool waters to enjoy a place that has been a safe heaven for 60,000 years or more for aborigines from storms, lightning and bush fires. The beach has a layer of burnt branches 3ft deep most likely carried in for many years to keep them warm in winter and cook with, it so easy to imagine this place full of children’s laughter as they swim and play and parents cook and chat about the last hunt.
The overhang has a dark stain where water flows over it into the plunge pool, none is flowing now and perhaps one day we will return and see the final brush stroke that some artist in the sky has painted hear in this hidden corner far from the ravages of modern man that seeks to change so much of his world with cities and roads and focuses on growth instead of stability. Aboriginal Dreamtime is a fine blend of law, myths, history,teaching, and spirituality, it moves effortlessly back 60,000 years and dances through today with a teaching of whats right and how to care for the people and the land, in it the law decrees no change should be made to the land as this would upset the spirits, some of them peaceful but others powerful and dangerous if disturbed.
Perhaps they are the most environmental people on the planet. Who is to say if one mans way of living is the way to follow but clearly our western world is young and needs to learn form such cultures of harmony and stop carving up the planet for personal gain and instead respect the land and leave it the way we found it for future generations to enjoy and care for.
I am not impressed when the ranger we meet proudly tells us all the money from visitors goes back into park roads and improvements, clearly the Australian goverment has not understood a word the Aborigines have told them about not changing the land. Simple sand roads and paths are all that was here before and now we have a large visitor station and car parks with steel posts around them, improvements? I think not. If you want to enjoy wild places they have to remain wild and untamed or the.
Mornings are filled with early starts 4am! the sun is up over the ridge by 4.35pm and the light along Picanny creek glow magically for only 50 mins or so and then the heat of the day begins and we retreat back to camp to have breaky, yummy chocolate pancakes with maple syrup today! The midday is usually restful and blogs and sewing are caught up with. But today we head for Echidna gorge, 30km on the north side of the park, the 300ft massive mountain is actually all that remains of a really ancient mountain range, today it is completely made up of a pebble conglomerate and the gorge cuts through it mostly only an arms width apart.
We meet a friend in the car park , an aboriginal dog who we called violet (turns out her name was hippo), a young pitbull but very gentle and she insisted on showing us the way. Climbing up a dry pebble stream bed the walls gradually narrow and you pass beneath tall palm trees and as a gentle rain falls like mist we enter the narrow dark gorge.
Light can only enter at midday and then it illuminates the red rock walls as if they are luminescent. Not a place to be when a storm drops 4″ of rain in 15 mins as happened the other week! That evening we go to a grassy lookout and have a 360 degree view of the park, light and shadow is all around us as the sunsets, a storm cracks dark and threateningly in the far north, to the west the sky is clearer and this late light sends beams high into the clouds making them glow from behind.
We went back to play in the Cathedral and set up a time lapse at 5am, one exposure every 45secs- set it up then abandoned my $3,500 camera & lens, hiked the 3km back to see what Mary and the morning sun were up to upstream at Picanny creek. When the magic light had waned and the heat was billing we went up to the far end of the creek where the water gets deeper and swam for about an hour and felt just like a page from “The “Water babys” (Book my mum use to read to me). Hiked back to the truck and head breaky about 8 am’ish. Finally at 9.30am we hiked back up to the Cathedral to see if the Camera was still there. It was still clicking away so we played in the cave and became part of the time lapse movie.
We met a lovely Lady Sandra in the cave who like us is on a journey of place and spirit which weave together and become one. We chat like we have known each other all our lives and it is times like these you feel some guiding hand has gently encouraged our spirits to meet at such a unique remote place.
The 5 days we spent in the park were so peaceful and it seems to take no time at all to find the patterns around us, where the ants live and what they eat, the hum of the tiny Aussie bees that inhabit the tree branch next to us, the favourite places that each bird likes to hang out in, to see the territorial battles for space and recognize the pattern of life in this wild place, we too are fast becoming part of this garden and it will be hard to find a reason to move on.
Our photos will never show you what its really like they will only ever transport us back to this our dreamtime.
We head out of the park on the 80km rocky red road, crossing one very symbolic river that guards this corner of the world and will soon rise and cut it off from all for at least 3 months.
Heading West at last we drive the 350km back to Fitzroy crossing hoping ( the weather has been clear and no major storms are brewing ) to head back up the Leopold track and connect on to the Gibb River rd for a short way and head to Derby on the North Coast.
Well we headed up the Leopold and the weather was ok at first, by mid afternoon the clouds were burping and flashing & building darl and ominous like. by the time we got to Winjana we were faced with a major storm rising over the top of the reef walls in all directions, lightning flashed and thunder boomed while matt took his time as getting photos of the last rays of sun reflecting in a lovely storm, wait whats that noise, honk, honk, eh? Mary is in the car a bit storm weary and wanting to get the hell of this track before we spend the winter here. We made tracks west, stopped at one really bad creek to inspect the clay creek bed and in the flashes of lightning we were able to see huge ruts made by some truck, must have been a few days back as the bed was dry and crossing was ok. At the Gibb River rd junction we turned sharp West and While the storm drew closer the road improved and we drove in the dark 70km+ in front of an angry storm trying to stay out of its rain front and avoid the forks of serpent tongue all around us. The map marked this road as tarmac but it was 50/50 tarmac/dirt and just 30km’s out of Derby the smell of smoke hit, Bush fire! (probably a lightning strike) we were on a heavily tree and bush lined section with no turn offs a bad place for a fire. We passed an Ambulance going the other way and a fire truck but had no problems and were soon on the outskirts of Derby.
As we wandered the streets slowly looking for a camp site the cops puled us over and gruffly asked “What are you doing?”, cops in Ozz have a bad reputation from just about everyone we have talked too, I just asked where the campsite was and they begrudgingly gave directions, I’m sure they would have rather locked us up for fun on a slow sunday eve.
Camp manager came out to meet us and was very gruff also, making a point of saying he wanted the money now so we don’t leave without paying! guess we are starting to look a bit rough and road warrior like.
Its almost 10pm and when you get up at 4am and drive 400km in 90f heat with high humidity cooking a meal seems like climbing everest with one hand tied behind your back, still beans and instant massaved the day and we were soon fed and asleep.
Next day we went down to the pier to see the low tide, Derby has one of the highest tides in the world. No crocs were around and the tide was coming in fast. Later we headed out in search of Baobab trees facing into the sunset far out on the marsh land mud flats. Driving on the flats we could see a few tracks of 4×4’s and the surface was dry and hard, still we worried about bogging in and hoped the local RAAF had a heavy lift helicopter. Found a few young baobab tree groves but not the old huge ones we were hunting, came back along the edge of the flats and stopped to catch the last rays at a famous baobab tree “Dinner tree”, lovely huge old tree. Met Greg who told us of a few other huge trees and how to find them.
Diner Tree Baobab
Came back into Derby around 8pm and everything was shut! no snacks or beer tonight.
more beans and mash, yummy. The sky was flashing and dark clouds were gathering but no rain fell, at one point I had to get up and tie the tent to a tree as the wind was really hammering us. The build up to the monsoons brings so many extremes in the weather its like a giant washing machine on the hot setting.