The long drive from NT and safe arrival home

The journey home was 4100 kms and the aim was to see a few interesting things along the way, but to keep moving.  That plan took us 11 days; it felt like a lot of driving and was mostly ‘one night stands’.  After leaving Bitter Springs we headed south down the Sturt Highway, named after an early explorer, John McDougall Sturt.  Stopped to see the historic Daly Waters Pub, established in 1930.  It was interesting and quirky but also crowded so we had our lunch down the road at the Sturt Tree, where Sturt carved his initial ‘S’ into the tree in 1862.  Camped at Banka Banka outstation and then did a full day of driving to a free camp alongside a billabong at Camooweal.  Beginning to get cold in the night as we are moving south, so a good time for the heater to stop working!  Started the day with a lovely visit from a brolga before we drove to Mt Isa and visited the Riversleigh Fossil Center Museum and Woolworths for groceries.  Funny being in a town with a mine in the middle, and three smokestacks the most prominent feature on the skyline.

Had the next two nights at Winton so we could visit the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which was quite amazing as the dinosaur trackways and footprints we saw were formed 95 million years ago.  On the tour they showed excellant videos that told the story of the discovery of the footprints, as well as what it was like there 95 million years ago, including the three kinds of dinosaurs who left those footprints (a large theropod, a small coelurosaur and a small ornithopod) who together left 3300 footprints in the only known dinosaur stampede in the world.  Apparently the small dinosaurs were drinking and then were frightened by the large theropod.  After our tour we had lunch and a van comparison chat with Jude & Pete from Thirroul who have a similar vehicle.  It was a hot sunny day so Dick and I did a 4 km walk around the area, which included a very steep climb down the cliff (no choice as it was way past the half way mark!).  Winton was a fun town and during our stay we enjoyed: 1)the chicken races and listening to the Banjo Patterson story and poems by the bush poet, Gregory North in the North Gregory Hotel, 2)listening to Sax and the Single Girl who played her sax for 2 hours in the Tatts Hotel where we had dinner, 3)visiting Arno’s wall (a 70 meter long fence constructed from concrete and rock and studded with tons of old stuff like hub caps, vintage typewriters and cash registers, motorbikes and car parts and a kitchen sink ) 4)playing ‘The Musical Fence’ (a wire fence that can be played as a musical instrument – the first permanent musical fence in the world) and 5)photographing the Jolly Swagman statute, sculptured by Daphne Mayo in 1959 to commemorate “Waltzing Matilda” and dedicated to Banjo Patterson and the many swagmen who lie in unmarked graves around the country.  Banjo Patterson wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’ near Winton so its a key focus for the town.  We missed a lot of the other attractions there but it was interesting to see how this little town really catered to travellers and made it a fun place to stay.

Next stop was Longreach to see the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, which we visited from 2-5pm and could have stayed longer.  It was well done, telling the story of outback Australia through 6 major galleries featuring artefacts, electronic displays, photographs, films and a video in an impressive building.  Dick was particularly interested in the old stock routes for droving cattle, as they are now 4 WD tracks.  We went all out and also did the Outback Stockman’s show & Spit Roast dinner package.  The show was entertaining, dinner was surprisingly good and we sat with another couple (from Pt Lincoln who know someone I know) so had a social evening.  The other attraction of interest to us was the Qantas Founders Museum, where we did the 747 & 707 Tour and visited the museum.  That all turned out to be more interesting that I had expected.  We spent over 2 hours in the museum and 1.5 hours on the tour.  Lots of info about the two older planes and how they fly (maybe more than I wanted to know), but the most interesting was the Qantas founders story.  They had a real battle to succeed and the museum is a tribute to the foresight and tenacity of a number of people.  They moved the initial Qantas business to Longreach from Winton as the railhead was there and the original Qantas hanger is part of the museum and houses replica models of their early planes.  This was also really well done and one could easily spend a full day at each place.

Charleville was our next destination, via an overnight stop at Lara Wetlands where we managed  a quick dip in the thermal artesian mineral hot pool before dark.  The Charleville Cosmos Center & Observatory was the attraction so we could do a Sun Viewing Tour.  We learned about the life story of our Sun (which is a star) and the relative small size of our sun compared to the big stars in the sky. Then we looked at the surface of the sun through a solar telescope where we saw solar flares (hot ionized gas swirling off the surface).  Dick knows a bit about this and had hoped for a closer, more detailed view but he still saw more than he had seen before and was happy we went.  On the other hand, my preferred attraction was The Bilby Experience, but we couldn’t wait 4 hours for a tour so we missed seeing a live bilby.

Crossed into NSW on another long driving day and saw lots of animals on the drive; more dead kangaroos than live ones and more live emus than dead ones. The large number of animals requires constant surveillance/animal watching all the time. Spent the night in Barringun which has a hundred year old pub, one cafe/CP and a population less than 10; but lots of sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and emus.  More driving got us to Trangie via a coffee stop in Bourke and a photo stop in Nyngen.  Thanks Paul and Margaret for recommending Trangie CP,  where the owner supplied dinner for all around the campfire as it was ‘hot potato’ night.  In keeping with the way we started our trip, visiting friends along the way, we spent our last night away with Kevin and Jen at their large bush property in the foothills of the Barrington Tops.  Enjoyed a lovely meal celebrating Jen’s birthday.  A very pleasant transition to being back in Sydney.

Home safe and sound after 90 days on the road, 17,000 kms behind the wheel of the Lestervan (which looked after us well), and an even greater appreciation of this magnificent country.  In addition to the three highlights of Cape York, Savannah Way and Kakadu we saw so many amazing places, learned more about the history and aboriginal culture, enjoyed lots of challenging walks and managed to catch up with lots of old friends along the way.  For any intrepid travellers who are interested in trip statistics Dick did a couple of summary charts on the expense breakdown and types of camps as follows at the end of the photos.

Thank you all for joining us on our travels vicariously and for your comments along the way.  Its been fun sharing our adventure and keeping in touch.

Sending best wishes and love to all,

Pat and Dick

 

Daly Waters Pub

And the pumps at Daly Waters

Large spiders at Banka Banka station

A free camp at the billabong near Camooweal

Our early morning visitor, the brolga

Having a chat/dance with a brolga

Mt Isa from the town lookout

 

Dinosaur stampede footprints

A closer look at the footprints

The building that houses the dinosaur footprints

The country where the footprints were found

Climbing down the cliff on our walk

Winton’s chicken race in the pub

The bush poet in the pub

Sax in the pub

Arno’s wall in Winton

The Musical Fence in Winton

The Jolly Swagman sculpture in Winton

Dick at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Longreach

We are standing in the jet engine of a Qantas 747

The original Qantas hanger – from 1922

Dick enjoying the Lara Wetlands thermal spring at sunset

Sun viewing thru a solar telescope at Charleville

How’s this for a fancy looking campground in Barringun?

Having a beer in the 100 year old pub (now for sale by the way)

 

The friendly emu in the campground at Barringun

 

With Kevin and Jen (and Crackers) in front of their house

 

Trip statistics for 2017 & 2016

 

 

KK – Kakadu and Katherine Gorge (aka Nitmiluk NP)

 

Kakadu NP was one of the three major areas of interest for us on this trip.  These aboriginal lands are a jointly managed Commonwealth Reserve covering 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) and they are on the UNESCO World Heritage List in recognition of both outstanding natural values and as a living cultural landscape. Aboriginal people have been living in Kakadu continously for more than 50,000 years so a visit to the park is a learning experience about aboriginal culture and art as well as the diversity of plants, animals and landscapes in the park.  On arrival we were sold a 7day park pass and as it turned out, that was how long we stayed there.  We worked our way down from the north to the south so our first stop was Merl campground near Ubirr Rock, one of the main aborignal rock art sites in the park.  The park offers Ranger Guided Rock Art Talks or Walks at key locations so we joined the Ubirr Art Talk.  Unfortunately our guide was a 25 year old non-aboriginal who was working from a script, so the passion and feeling were missing.  The art was ok but not the best we have seen.  We watched the sunset from the top of the rock and then returned to our campsite in the dark and were overrun with bugs and the heat.  It was not a nice night especially as I was already covered with midge bites from Darwin.

In an attempt to maximize our enjoyment of the park, we decided to check into the ensuite caravan park in the town of Jabiru so we could have air conditioning and minimize the number of bugs in the van.  On the way there we stopped at Cahill Crossing which is a notorious crossing over the East Alligator River (due to crocodile attacks and flooding) and is the border to Arnhem Land, which was declared an aboriginal reserve in 1931. Access to Arnhem Land is restricted and visitors need a permit to enter this pristine area which comprises 91,000 square kilometers of unspoiled wilderness.  We did see one large crocodile in the water at the crossing and still there were people fishing on the rocks there. We enjoyed cooling off in the CP pool and using AC.  Our next stop was Nourlangie Rock, another art site, where we made a big effort to leave Jabiru before 8am so we could catch the guided ranger tour at 9am, and as luck would have it we got the same ranger as before (disappointing….).  Spent 2 hours in the heat at 3 sites, some rock art, some stories, culture and history.  Moved on to Cooinda/Yellow Waters Wetlands for the sunset cruise and we were not disappointed.  This was one of the highlights of Kakadu, especially for Dick as he wanted to see crocodiles.  Had a good aboriginal guide on this tour in a 50 person boat through the Yellow Waters billabong and the South Alligator River.  In 2 hours we saw thousands of ducks and birds and 20-30 crocodiles (up close!).  Our guide was very good at spotting birds and crocs and making sure all could see and get photos, including a sunset croc photo.  Earlier in the day we visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre which had a lot of displays about the traditional lifestyle but it felt like something was missing, (probably the fact that there were no people working there).

Next stop was Jim Jim Falls, only accessible in the dry season by 4 WD.  We aired down (reduced tire pressure) for the drive, and booked in to Garnamarr campground on the way to the falls.  Decided to go to the falls later in the day to avoid some of the worst heat so left at 2:45 for the 10 km drive on a very rough 4WD only track.  Met lots of cars coming out and about 3 km in we saw lots of black smoke from a large bush fire.  Stopped the next car we passed leaving and they thought it was ok.  Smoke was looking worse so we stopped another car and they had turned around after only starting the walk to the falls.  It had taken us half an hour to do 5 kms of the 10km drive and then there was a 3 hour return 2 km walk to see the falls.  Didn’t take much more deliberation before we decided it wasn’t worth risking being caught in a bush fire and turned around.  Good decision as we later met others who had seen flames at the side of the road.  It was a hot and smokey night and our 12 V Transcool AC did a good job.

The next day we tried again but left at 8 am, and the fire was not an issue.  We thought that allowing 3 hours for a 2 km return walk seemed excessive.  We found out!!!  It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes and we didn’t swim at the falls. The falls were spectacular and the plunge pool and sandy beach looked good but it was still a bit cool for a swim. We found the walk quite difficult – lots of huge rocks to scramble over, but we did it without a disaster.  That came soon enough. I volunteered to do the 10 km, 4 WD rough track out to give Dick a rest and to get some 4 WD practice in.  Big mistake!!!  FULL DISCLOSURE now – I was going along fine and then I hit a tree with the side of the van and smashed our awning.  A few minutes later we met someone on the one lane track and I had to back up and try to take a side lane.  Didn’t back up enough and got us bogged in the sand, one wheel off the ground.  Within minutes there were 6 cars there going both directions and I was blocking the track!  I got out of the driver’s seat very quickly. Dick couldn’t drive us out so the guy behind pulled us out with a snatch strap.  Everyone seemed to take it in their stride but I felt bad.  Dick said he was glad it was me that did it and not him.  We stopped back at the campground to regroup and have lunch and Dick managed to re-align the wrecked awning a bit and tape it up with gaffer tape.  I hope it stays on until we get to Sydney.  Just as well we don’t use it much.

Gunlom Falls were the next stop and their lovely plunge pool was next to the campground.  A ranger talk was scheduled for our two  nights there and guess what – it was the same ranger we had before so we skipped his slide show/talk.  This time the walk goes to the top of the falls and its a 2 km return walk straight up the cliff to the top of the falls. On the way up we saw a sign that said in this area there was a correlation between the location of deposits of potentially harmful minerals such as uranium, mercury, lead and arsenic and areas of aboriginal sickness country (that they traditionally avoid). Seems like the more we learn about aboriginal ways the more we value their knowledge of country.  More climbing over lots of rocks in the heat of the day but we made it to the top and enjoyed a nice time swimming in the infinity pools at the top of the waterfall.  Took 50 minutes to climb to the top and 30 minutes to get down.  It was relaxing just to sit on the rocks in the water and chat with others there.  Finished the day with another swim in the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls.  Overall a good day in a beautiful place, one of the nicest parts of Kakadu in my opinion, and a nice finish to our time there.

Because we had not seen enough waterfalls or climbed enough steep cliffs in the heat, we camped at Edith Falls (Leliyn) which is part of Nitmiluk NP (Katherine Gorge) and we’re glad we did.  You will be noticing how all the old english names are being replaced with the original aboriginal names, which do take a bit of getting used to.  The large plunge pool is also next to the campground and there is a 2.6 km round trip walk that climbs to the top of the escarpment and the upper pools, which of course we did.  On the way we stopped at a lookout where I got phone coverage and talked to Amy for about an hour.  This walk was also quite steep and it was a hot day, so we were glad we wore our hiking boots and sorry we left our poles behind.  Had a lovely swim in the Upper Pools and we both swam across one pool, climbed over some rocks and got to another pool under a waterfall.  It was a big accomplishment for me, as the swim was ~100 meters. We stopped at some great lookouts on the way back so in the end we were out in the hot sun for 4 hours.  I went for a quick swim in the plunge pool at bottom of the falls when we got back to the campground.  That marked our third consecutive day of strenous walks/climbing/swimming in 30+ C heat and we were both feeling quite tired and hot from the sun.

For a change of pace we went to Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk NP and did a scenic helicopter flight for 20 minutes which took us over all 13 gorges.  The 13 natural gorges have been carved thru sandstone by the Katherine River, with rocks and boulders separating each gorge.  The commentary was good (pilot was from St Ives in Sydney), and the gorges were impressive from the air. We had lunch in the visitor centre and saw thousands of bats in the trees there along the river, and that was all that we allowed time for at Nitmiluk NP.  Moved on back to Bitter Springs so we could pay another visit to the thermal springs we had enjoyed on the way up.  Arrived late and floated down the creek on our noodles until dark.  As we were staying close to the springs we went back in the morning for our third swim/ float in the thermal pool.  Then we started on the long drive home.

 

Rock art at Ubirr, Kakadu NP

One part of Ubirr Rock

Waiting for sunset at Ubirr

Sunset from Ubirr rock

 Cahills Crossing into Arnhem Land

Nourlangie Rock

Rock art at Nourlangie showing how the signage is done

 

Inside one of the rock caves with our guide

The Yellow Waters cruise and our first croc sighting

A closer look at a croc

And another one

Look closely and you’ll see a baby bird and its father (known as a ‘Jesus bird’ because they walk on water)

The waters were lovely as the sun was setting

The crocodile sunset picture

The climb into Jim Jim Falls

It was a beautiful walk in to Jim Jim Falls with smoke from the previous night’s bush fire

Lots of climbing/rock scrambling

Jim Jim Falls

The plunge pool at Jim Jim Falls

BOGGED in the sand

Being ‘snatched’ out backwards from being bogged

 

Gunlom Falls and plunge pool

Climbing to the top of Gunlom Falls

At the top of Gunlom Falls

Pat in the infinity pool, top of Gunlom Falls

Relaxing on the rocks

An end of day swim with the noodle in Gunlom plunge pool

Edith Falls from the lookout

We swam across this top pool at Edith Falls

 

And a late afternoon dip in the plunge pool at Edith Falls

Easier than doing a hike!

Some of the 13 gorges at Katherine Gorge

 

Dick on his noodle in Bitter Springs thermal pool

Bitter Springs was a magical place