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The Top End

Katherine Gorge was a new experience for us because we were able to hire canoes and paddle the gorge. This was a great way to travel – it was a good pace to see the surrounds properly, it was quiet, and it was new and different! We were happy to not meet any crocs along the way, and thoroughly enjoyed the 2 hours we spent exploring the first gorge. We decided not to carry our canoes through to explore the subsequent gorges, partly for time constraints, and partly because it seemed like too much hard work 🙂

We hit Litchfield National Park on a friday afternoon. Being spitting distance from Darwin, we soon came to realise it was a popular weekend spot. We were lucky to get a campsite, and it was a great one at Buley Rockhole. This was a part of the Florence Creek, just up from Florence Falls, where the creek dropped in several stages, with individual deep pools between each little waterfall. It was a spectacular place, and a great spot for swimming. We explored some of the other falls throughout the park too, our favourite being Tjaynera Falls, which was 4wd access only, cutting down on the crowds.

After the beauty of Litchfield, and given its fame, Kakadu had some high expectations associated with it! Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because we have seen so much spectacular scenery by now that our brains are saturated, the parts of Kakadu that we saw were lovely, but not magnificent. We decided to just stay down the southern end of the park, giving us a day to relax before beginning the long drive home. We camped at Gunlom Falls, where Crocodile Dundee was shot. The waterfall itself was little more than a trickle, and the plunge pool at the bottom was quite murky. Above the falls, however, was a beautiful series of swimming pools that were definitely worth the climb. They were a magnificent place to end this amazing trip.

All that remained then was a 4000km trip home. For Pete and I, that meant 12 hours and 1000km a day, made infinitely easier with the help of some Tom Clancy audiobooks. Lifesavers!!

We are now all safely home, and Pete is already planning another adventure. All that remains is to try and get some pictures up here…Thanks for reading, hope you have enjoyed. Liz.

The Bungle Bungles Bungle…

Given the classification of the road (low range and high clearance needed according to our hema map), and some reports from fellow travelers, Mum and Dad and the Ryrie’s decided to head to Kununurra and Lake Argyle, and fly over the Bungles rather than risk the road. I know this was a highlight for Mum so I felt sad that they’d miss it. Given that we don’t have a camper on board, Pete and I decided to brave the road and visit the park alone.

Turns out the road was nothing worse than what we’ve done, and the others could have done it if they’d ditched their campers. Oh well, there’s always next time!

We spent one night in the park and just visited the main attractions. Echidna Chasm at the northern end is a long narrow walk through two towering cliffs. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves and it was pretty awesome. You just had to ignore the very large boulders that had fallen down from the cliffs from time to time! We were less lucky with the crowds at Cathedral Gorge. Given its name and fame for acoustics I wanted to sing a tune in there, but was too intimidated by the crowds. I needed Dad there, because he would have done it regardless. Still a magical place in an amazing setting. The beehives all around were good to experience up close, but were best appreciated from a distance, so I think the parentals up in the plane would have got the best view. Crazily enough, we found our car in one of their photos!

Time to head north, to Katherine, Litchfield and Kakadu.

The Gibb River Road

What an adventure this road has been. It’s funny, when I was planning this trip, looking at all the things the Kimberley has to offer I didn’t appreciate the distances involved. There really is a lot to see and do, but what I didn’t appreciate was that there is 200-600km of bumpy dusty roads between each attraction. And 200km on dirt can be like 500km on the blacktop, so there’s a big time commitment. Once I resigned myself to that, I found things more enjoyable! I can see how people spend months up here, taking their time and seeing it all. I’m happy with what we’ve done, and once the memories of the bumps have worn off, I’m sure we’ll be back 🙂

We began at the western end of the Gibb, beginning from Derby. Our first stop was Windjana Gorge. We arrived just after sunset, and discovered we were not alone. The campsite was absolutely packed! Trying to find a spot for all 3 vehicles was a challenge, but we got there. The school holiday crowds are definitely out in force.

We walked through the gorge early, around 7am, which meant it was quiet, the sun was just hitting the red cliff faces, and the freshwater crocs were slowly waking up and heading to their favourite sunbaking spots. It was pretty spectacular. We quickly packed up and headed down the road to Tunnel Creek. I’ve never been caving, and I think this is as close as I would like to get! It’s a 750m walk following the creek through a long open-ended cave. It was dark and wet, but there were magnificent rock forms to see, and a few places along the way where the sun was poking through and creating great colours. It was a perfect place to escape the heat, and I was very happy to not meet any crocs or bats! Altogether an amazing experience.

From Tunnel Creek we backtracked a little back to the Gibb, and headed to Silent Grove campsite, which is just near Bell Gorge. I think this has been my favorite place we’ve visited so far. It’s a nice walk and rock scramble in, and then you find a beautiful waterfall with a clear deep swimming hole at the bottom. It was a much-needed refreshing swim, in the most spectacular place I’ve ever swum!

Our next big destination was Mitchell Falls. People call it the jewel of the Kimberley, so we figured it was a must-see. I tell you what though, you have to want it! It’s a long long road in, and I think it’s the worst road we’ve done to date – and that’s saying something! We got there eventually, and decided to treat ourselves to a helicopter ride over the falls. That was a great experience, there’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of a helicopter, especially one with no doors! We then picnicked above the falls, swam, and walked back out to the carpark. The long drive back to camp, which kept going until an hour after the sun went to bed, was bad, but not bad enough to ruin the fun of the falls. I’m happy to have seen them, but am happy to never drive that road again!!

Next stop was the world-famed El Questro. Arriving here was a bit of a culture shock, with literally hundreds of people milling about. Not to mention a reception desk, tour desk, shop, cafe, bar, restaurant, fuel station, helicopter station, stables, laundry, bathrooms…we felt rather grubby emerging from the dust to this. Luckily we had a private riverside campsite, otherwise we would have been in the middle of the biggest tent city I’ve ever seen. The downside was that our campsite was a 20 minute drive over a very questionable track, complete with water crossings. I think we all agreed it was worth the effort though.

Whilst at El Questro we explored El Questro Gorge, Emma Gorge, Zebidee Springs and Explosion Gorge and lookout. It was a great experience, soaking in the beautifully warm springs, and then trekking up to Emma Gorge to swim in the coldest water in the Kimberley (and it was cold – the kind of water that takes your breath away). Dinner at the restaurant was also top shelf!

So we’re at the end of the Gibb, and the plan was on to the Bungle Bungles, or Purnululu. There have been some terrible reports of the road in though, so we’re assessing if the convoy can make it. Time will tell..

The Gibb River Road – by Geoff

Day 13 (30/7/14) Fitzroy Crossing

Boab trees abound here. Camp sites fringed by native shrubs and short-cut grass were the ideal spots to veg out. I’m sitting here, the strong thought in my mind is ‘I worked 48 years … and now this; life is so good!

Tonight we sat in the front garden of the Fitzroy Crossing restaurant – our first night eating out. The six of us were surrounded by well lit boab trees dwarfing local plants and shrubs. We toasted our achievement of crossing the Tanami; it was indeed a great experience!

Day 14 (1/7/14 ) To Derby then on to Windjana Gorge

Sitting at the restaurant, we were goggle-eyed at the speed of tide rising and moving past the supports of the Derby wharf. It’s a structure having angled pylons holding up a narrow, one way, horseshoe shaped road that’s perched high above the fast moving, rapidly rising waters. Seeing a triple tanker, petroleum road train drive on and around the improbable structure, load to a ship, then drive off was an unusual sight. I really wondered if it would hold.
I found the highs and lows of customer service in Derby. For your future reference, we found the staff of the ‘Derby Auto Electric’ absolutely marvellous. Avoid the ‘Mangroves’ variety. ‘Bridgestone Tyres’ were also excellent. Both really know the meaning of service.

Day 15 (2/7/14) To Silent Grove via Tunnel Creek

Birdwood Downs was full, so we decided to motor on to the National Park at ‘Silent Grove’, via Tunnel Creek. Having the sun behind us as we drove helped vision immeasurably.

Today’s dirt road was in top shape, having been graded only this week. We’d heard ahead, from fellow travellers, of the joy ahead. (We think Pete would have preferred no grading!)
At ‘Tunnel Creek’ we were in awe of the structure, the pools, stalacmites and places along the track where light shafted in. We didn’t see the crocodiles that others had seen; this is a loss I was happy to forego.
During the last hundred km’s to ‘Silent Grove’, Liz and Pete motored ahead to grab a ‘spot’ as it’s school holiday period. We ended up the top of the camp, furthest from showers and toilets, in the National Park. Ranger Charlie signed us all in as Seniors! (Go figure that one!)

Day 16 (3/7/14) Silent Grove, a few hours trip to Bell Gorge

Another great sleep resulted after heading to bed early. The morning was leisurely. We explored the spring-fed creek; water from it was ‘top shelf’ quality for drinking. Leaving our rig at our campsite, we headed off as passengers in Liz and Pete’s Landrover. The ten kilometre dirt track into the Bell Creek carpark was of dubious quality. After a one km walk along a very rocky, challenging rock track, we crossed the creek (shoes off) then it was up and over the rocks -again demanding- but it was worth it! Cool, refreshing water in the huge pool was welcoming. Swimming up to the substantial waterfall was so good and receiving a head and shoulders massage! We stayed for quite a while, enjoying every moment. This was one of life’s lasting moments. Now, back at ‘Silent Grove’ NP, the afternoon is a time to rest, review and regenerate.

Day 17 (4/7/14) Silent Grove NP to Drysdale Station via Mount Barnett Roadhouse

Driving the Gibb River Road is a dream after the Tanami! I think our skill levels are so much better, our ability to foresee sudden changes in road quality better tuned. We have been lucky; road crews are on the job; many sections have been graded within the last week!

The Mount Barnett Roadhouse sold diesel at $2.50 per Litre. Ouch! Soon after leaving it, the road deteriorated, forcing speed drops from 80 or 90 to 20 km per hour. We’ve now arrived; beef and kumera stew is slow cooking on the fire! In anticipation, we sip on various liquids, chatting about so many varied and interesting experiences of the day and of our lives below a glowing star field.

The Tanami Track – by Geoff

Day 11 ( 28/6/14 )
Talk about facing your fears! I’m not what you would class as a devoted 4 wheel drive fanatic. Up till now, I’ve basically stuck to the bitumen and avoided the rougher stuff. But, when our daughter, Elizabeth asked us to join her, with husband Peter ( a 4WD devotee ) as well as Peter’s parents, Soraya and Alan (also 4WD people of experience ) Danuta & I sort of said “Okay”. Setting out on what many say is Australia’s toughest road ( or at least one of them ) was today, a huge challenge. Tonight we are more than half way along the track, tucked away in what is a sand drain which the road grader driver had formed into the roadside bush. With our LED lights, a fire, chilli con carne with sour cream, then damper with butter and honey- all freshly baked in & around the coals … So tasty!

The road conditions served up today are like a packet of liquorice all sorts, at times with teeth rattling corrugations, plus surfaces of all levels of challenge and on occasions -‘for a short time only – smooth conditions. Conditions were so changeable and sudden. Just when I thought: ‘This is okay’ the corrugations would reappear. With some advice it was into it – the school of ‘hard knocks’. To fly over the corrugations, sometimes the ‘sweet spot’ was 70km/hr, 80 km/hr sometimes 90. The intense concentration needed was very tiring. It’s just great to be part of it.

The Tanami roadside has fascinating environments that for us, was constantly changing. I’ll long remember the termite mounds, the dry river crossings (treed, sandy and pebbled), occasional hills and ranges, the variety of grasses, the Aboriginal family we met along the track and the amazing interaction with them.
Tomorrow there’s more. I actually really enjoyed the challenge of today’s track. For now, it’s good night; sleep is needed.

Day 12 (29/6/14) Near Rabbit Flat to Halls Creek

Today we ended up here, in Halls Creek, Western Australia. Yes, that’s about 20 degrees S and on the same Latitude as Townsville.

The track continued in the same haphazard way, serving up challenging, varying surfaces. Some of the damaging surfaces are so well hidden that avoiding them is often impossible. It sounds frightening; at times it is, but it’s also so engaging and enjoyable.

One of todays highlights was visiting the Wolf Creek meteorite crater. What a sight! It’s massive, oval in shape, so deep and dwarfs any stadium I’ve ever seen. Some 300.000 years ago , when formed, it was another 100 metres deeper; wind blown sediment has changed that.

From the WA border, the Tanami Track has stretches of flat, very drivable sections. One such stretch, near the two mining lease areas, may well use it for flights in and out … it’s that well formed. But … just around the corner and just over the next hump … the worst is served up again.

We’re all glad to have been along the track, this once. Will anyone be back? Who knows; it may well be all a black top by then. To have seen and been a part of the many and varied environments, has been a valued moment in time. Cheers!

From the Highlands to Uluru – by Geoff

Here are some events that will easily remain strong in the memory for quite a while …

On Day Two, Thursday 19/06/2014 …
Having passed Hay we pulled over near two other travellers in a ‘Rest Area’ mid way en route to Balranald. Because we could, it was soon ‘lights out’ and again, peaceful. About an hour or so later, I was woken by a loud motor and air brakes; not so bad I thought. A truckie needs sleep, just like us. Sleep returned quickly. Not long after other unsettling sounds began … thumping, bumping, other noises with which we were not familiar. This made sleeping impossible. I went to investigate. The strength of moonlight outlined a triple bogie road train of not so happy campers / cattle! After that new knowledge, it was easy to settle, so we managed to sleep through, despite our noisy neighbours!

On Day Three, 20/06/14
The evening was spent at Burra Tourist Park. Rain was imminent. Hastily, water was connected, power … oh no, no cord; it seemed our cord had decided to stay home. Rain of varying intensities fell throughout the night, lulling us to sleep. (The missing cord surfaced the next day, in the storage area, below floor level). Now we have two which may come in handy when we have to distance ourselves from … whatever!

Day Four, 21/06/14

Soon after 8am we headed into the main street, fuelled, added tyre psi & purchased a power cord. We were soon at Coober Pedy. Mounds of scree litter the landscape for Kilometres around the town; so much more since I was there in 1969 with a Year 11 & 12 boys group.

With such a high risk of colliding with a kangaroo or a free-ranging cow, we called it a day.

Some highlights that are standouts are scenes of Spencer Gulf with surrounding hills and slopes. It was all stunningly beautiful. In town, stopping beside Spencer Gulf at Port Augusta, walking along the shores seeing healthy mangroves and clear water was also a memorable moment.

As we drove north from PA, the vegetation changed often, revealing firstly stumpy trees on what appeared to be poor soil, then fields of grain crops. Soon though, sandy conditions prevailed; then the soil appeared to improve in fertility again.

This is a beautiful land. Tonight we’re free camping at Ingomar ( 82 km south of Coober Pedy ).

Day Five 22/6/14

Our destination is Uluru, specifically the Ayers Rock Campground. We left at first light, 7.15am & drove into the campground at 5.15pm. The odometer showed 832 km! Quite a feat it was. A real highlight was driving along the last 60 km, Danuta at the wheel, while watching the changing colours as the sun set on Mt Connor, Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

Memories that will stay with us are probably the rolling tumbleweed that came diagonally across and under our vehicle (at 90 km/hr), the cow that almost walked out in front of us (the entire road is unfenced), the colours of the early morning sunrise, the purples and pinks of the sky, the stand-out red sands among the greens of the varied shrubs and grasses, beautiful flowers on the side of the road, the seemingly growing and endless piles of scree coned through and around Coober Pedy, the welcome sights of the Uluru district coming into view, plus much more.

On day 7 Tuesday 24/6/14
While heading to the ablutions block at ‘Ayers Rock Camping Ground’ for an evening shower, I chatted to a fellow traveller from WA. Along the shower cubicles he went, stopping near the end of a dozen or so. Seeing some red sand on the floor tiles he cleverly grabbed the mop to spruce it up before stepping into the shower. “Good idea” I volunteered; he passed it to me. As I was giving my cubicle a few strokes, a dad came in with his two sons. He asked, sounding somewhat hopeful “Are you working your way down through these other cubicles?” I just smiled and handed him the mop!