Back to the North

Sunday, Apr 20, 2014 at 03:53


Well it's been at least 30 years since Hilary and I last ventured up to the northern outback on an AAT Kings 4wd tour from Darwin down to Alice - seriously one of the best holidays ever, camping out under the stars, great company, beautiful scenery and two fantastic guides ( Don and Wendy)
Since then, we have raised two fantastic girls, built a few homes, had a few jobs and career changes,, had a few OS and interstate holidays and the list goes on.
It's now time to spend some time and money on ourselves, so Hil has taken long service leave and I have left work. The kids can now look after themselves at home.
Our plan is to spend 4 months ( May to Sept) Travelling up the centre, across to Broome on the black top, up to Cape Leveque, back to Kununurra on Gibb River Rd, Litchfield, Darwin, Kakadu and then home - east coast if time allows, if not, down centre and perhaps Flinders Ranges.
The Rig!
2012 Landcruiser 200 Altitude V8- accessories include Toyota Bullbar, Runva Winch, Snorkel, UHF radio and satellite phone, third row seats removed and storage drawers ( drawers removed for the trip for weight purposes), car fridge, roof top tent ( for Cape Leveque and Mitchel Falls). The beast has had a GVM upgrade raising GVM limit from 3300 kg to 3800 kg. Towing capacity remains at 3500 kg.
The Van!
2014 Vanguard 23 foot off roader- aluminum frame, cruise master airbag suspension, tyres to match the cruiser, solar panels, generator, 2x 95l water tanks and waste tank, Sat TV to keep up to date with the footy and a few jerry cans- all up weight 3460 kg
The internet is an amazing tool as is forums, especially Exploroz- truly the best forum out there. However, nothing beats words of wisdom from those who have ventured before and we would appreciate any tips or advice. Otherwise, if your interested, please follow us and comment if you wish
Rusty and Hil


Day One- Departed At 430am with intention of traveling to Adelaide. Towing a 3.5 ton caravan, OMG, the fuel is going to kill me- sitting on 100, we averaged 5kms / L. In the end, we bypassed Adelaide and went through the hills to Gawler for our first stop. Travelled 760 Kms- too much, I was exhausted and drank too much coffee and red bull - pupils were like pin points.We have decided to limit travel to max of 500 Kms per day

Day 2. Initial intention was to drive to Coober Pedy where we are stopping a week. After the first day, we took it easy and drove to Woomera stoping at places of interest that of course included Snowtown. Travelled 483 Kms, car and van all going well.

Day 3 Woomera toCoober Pedy. 380kms
Woomera is typical defense facility ( having been in RAAF, I know). There still seem to be quite a few people working up here which surprised me.

Stuart highway is in great condition although with recent heavy rain, has washed away edges in many places and a number of road gangs fixing up the edges. Totally surprised at amount of water on the plains and lakes. Numerous road trains- longest one to date is 4 trailers- so long.

Arrived at Coober Pedy mid afternoon. Caravan site was next to another couple from Melbourne and a couple from the Mallee so we had a good night sitting around. Next few days will be exploring Coober Pedy. I also want to go to Oodnadatta and William Creek ( for a steak sandwich at the Pub)

Day 4 Coober Pedy is totally unique, as if you have landed on the moon. The small town centre is surrounded by mounds of dirt from mines and houses built into hills.

80% of the population live underground!, no one knows the real numbers living here and many people running away from a past life for whatever reason live here- usually under an alias.- no one asks. Many nationalities, many religions live here as well as the indigenous

Day 5 Skip had a big night last night, made a few new friends but also had a few too many drinks. Here he is with Nobby the seal, Choco the dog, Jurian ( little brown dog), Tampa the lion, and Mr Alpaca

Day 6. We decided to go to William Creek for their famous steak burger and a drive along the Oodnadatta track. It had been raining lightly the previous day and were advised all roads were open.

Unfortunately, whist it wasn't raining where we were, it had been at Coober Pedy and the roads back were now closed

So it was a long trip to Marla on the Oodnadatta track and then from Marla to Coober Pedy- a late night. Along the way to Marla from Oodnadatta, we came across a German and French couple who had been stranded for one and a half days. Many people that passed didn't help and the mechanic who was coming out to fix their Nissan Patrol didn't turn up. I rang the police on the sat phone and they were going to organize things. We couldn't tow them as we had little fuel left! On continuing to Marla, we came across the police who were on their way to help them. My good deed for the day!

Day 7 - easy day today, good sleep in, weather still cold- and drizzly- I thought we were in a desert!

Day 8- been on the road a week now, not missing work that's for sure. We drove to Erldunda (487 Kms) which is on corner of Stuart and Lasseter highways- tomorrow onto the rock!

Day 9- drove to Ayers Rock staying at Yulara- afternoon spent exploring Yulara, a swim at the pool, and a few drinks with new found friends. Weather is warming up, nice to see the sun after Coober Pedy. Glad to be missing the Melbourne weather!

Day 10. We lost Skip last night for a few hours and he rocked up in the morning with a new friend

Her names Alice and she has certainly put a 'Spring' in Skips hop.
We went to Ayers Rock aka Uluru today, didn't climb as we had done it 25 years ago and whilst you are allowed to climb, they don't encourage it. Stayed for the sunset- it certainly is impressive and I don't think my photos will do it justice. Tomorrow a walk around the rock and Olga's

Day 11. We walked around the base of Uluru 10.6 km is searing heat OMG. For the first part we had a tour guide who explained the spiritual significance of the rock to the Aborigines. I forgot how shear and steep the rock is and also the many holes, caves with rock art and water holes. There are now many ''sensitive ' areas where you cannot take photos. It's beer and wine o'clock at the moment- sun setting, cooling down, a brilliant time of the day I reckon. tomorrow, a walk around the Olga's then heading for a day or two at Kings Camyon. We have met many members of the Ulysses motorbike club up here as they have their annual meet in Alice Springs next week- really nice people

Day 12- bit overcast today, no real rain though but temp a very pleasant 21. We went to the Olga's ( Kuta Tjuta) and did a few walks

They are about 200 meters higher than Uluru and contain 36 dome heads ( that's what the aboriginal name for it means- many heads)

With the recent rain, the desert is quite green and many wild flowers have bloomed

Having a relaxing afternoon today after the last two days of hiking.

Day 13-15
We left Yulara and Uluru and headed for Kings Canyon. The caravan park had a majestic backdrop

The color changes at sunset are similar to those of Ayers Rock. Wildlife was much more abundant and there were wild dingoes ( well not so wild as they had gotten used to humans) roaming around. Howling at night!
In the morning, we did the Rim walk- about 6,5 Kms - initial section was hard on Hil's knees as was the final downhill section but the views are fantastic and the photos just won't do it justice.

I couldn't get over the vegetation, some trees appear to be growing in just rock crevices

Today we travelled from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs- all up about 450 Kms. We were going to take the short cut along Ermest Giles track but with recent rain, chickened out. Arriving at Erldunda to fill up with diesel (2,10 / L) . We got caught with all the Ulysis motorbikes who are having their AGM at Alice this week. A bit of a wait at the petrol station.Diesel is 2.10 per liter. Towing 3.5 tons, I am averaging 5 Kms per litre, diesel will be my biggest expense

Arrived in Alice mid afternoon and had a lazy night.

Day 16
Alice springs is a pretty place surrounded by the mountains which is best seen at ANZAC Hill

The Todd River was dry as usual, I would love to see it when it's flowing. There are plenty of bottles lying around and it's home to many of the indeginious

Past the old Ghan - you could walk just as fast as the old Ghan, new one is a bit quicker I guess.

Tomorrow we are getting to know the town, I have the car going in for a service on Thursday and we will do west MacDonnell ranges Friday as well as a drive down the Finke river

Day 17-19
We have lost Skip and Alice. Since we last saw them on the Todd River Bed, we haven't heard or seen them. Perhaps their instincts took over and they have fled to the bush. I guess that's where they belong but Hil and I will miss them and we are a little sad today
Alice Springs has a population of about 25,000 to 30,000 and it's very transient in nature. You are considered a local if you have seen water in the Todd 3 times. There are a number of indeginous hanging around, sitting in the streets or strolling around as if they have no purpose in life- it's a shame really and due to boredom, get stuck into the grog. We have seen a number of them searched by the police and the liquor shops are regularly patrolled. I don't know what the answer is as they are caught between their old culture that's existed for 40,000 years and our modern western culture.
We explored both the east and west MacDonnel ranges. These have magnificent gorges and water holes.
Firstly we visited the grave site of John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service

Standley Chasm was the first gorge we explored

Ellery Creek water hole is a permament water hole

We visited the Ochre pits, one of only 4 sites where there is Ochre. Indeginous people use ochre for their cave paintings as well as for body paint

I think I have stumbled across something of cultural significance

We called into Glen Helen Homestead for some lunch. The price of diesel here was $2.20. The area is very picturesque lying on the Finke river

Simpsons Gap was my favorite place. There were a number of water holes with fish and other marine life. There is also a colony of rock wallabies, perhaps we might find Skip and Alice here.

There were plenty of tadpoles in the waterholes. During the dry season, the frogs bury themselves and come up when it rains.

The trees are magnificent and if you put your ear up to the trunk, you can really hear the sap and water movement up and down the trunk, really!!

Day 20
I noticed that the caravan was leaning to one side at the park. On closer inspection, ii found that two of the four airbags ( it has air suspension) were deflated- great- is this going to set us back. I inflated the bags with the compressor but they soon went back down. Luckily I was able to track down a leak- one of the airlines had a small split in it - perhaps a stone had flown up and split it, perhaps it was just one of those things. After a few phone calls including to Vanguard, ( the manufacturers) I was able to get a new line and connectors and replace the split tube. Vanguard are going to send me up more airlines, connectors and a spare air bag just in case.- we should pick this up in Katherine.
It's the last day of the Ulysses Motorbike Club today- they keep telling me they are bikers, not bikies, lovers not fighters. Anyway, we have met quite a few of them and they are really nice people. We have been asked to join but I would need to get my motorbike license- after falling off a bike last time, I'm not so sure about that!
They had a parade of their bikes, unfortunately no camera. We were sitting on the train track watching them, guess what, a massive goods train came along so we had to scurry off!.
Still no signs of Skip or Aliice- I guess they are enjoying life in the bush.
We leave for further trekking up north tomorrow- next few days will be Devils Marbles, Banka Banka, Daly Waters pub, and Mataranka springs where we will spend a few days.

Day 21
We were packing up the van ready to leaveAlice Springs when I heard a scratching noise at the door. Skip and Alice are back from a few nights in the bush together, and guess what, Skip and Alice are now proud parents to their new baby- Jillaroo, Jilla for short. AND they have also adopted a baby camel they found on the Todd River, apparently the baby camel was abandoned by his parents. Skip and Alice have called him Todd.

After the surprise of becoming grandparents, Hil and I with the rest of our growing family, drove to Devils Marbles where we stayed the night.

Along the way, we called into Wycliffe- the place where most UFO ' s are sighted. Really it's one of the best marketing ploys as everyone stops there and the small town just down the road is given the flick.

There are still huge numbers of motorbikes- lucky I didn't have to fill up here

At the devils marbles, we caught of with a few friends that we had met at Ayers Rock.
The marbles are majestic, some are in very precarious positions and you would think they would fall down but they don't

The sunrise was magnificent

Day 22
Then we had a short drive to Banka Banka for an overnight stay. This is a cattle station that has diversified and has a small non powered caravan park. We have solar panels so that was ok, but the spring water was fantastic. I filled up all the tanks. The place has kept all the old relics that date back a century or so.

Next stop is the Daly Waters Pub where we are staying the night.

There may also be a small change to our plans. Apparently the Gibb River Rd is being graded at the moment so would be a good time to do it. We might hurry to Kunnunura and do the gibb from east to west instead of the other way. One thing I have learnt on these trips is that you have to be flexible.
Day 23
Daly Waters Pub would have to be the most iconic pub in Australia. We were there 25 years ago, it's changed a little but still as Aussie as ever. The steak and barra dinner was to die for and for where we were, drinks not so expensive.

Days 24, 25 and 26
A short drive to Bitter Springs - near Mataranka- for a couple of days relaxing. There was so much road kill along the way- cows, kangaroos, wallabies, birds- shame really. Skip was quite upset to see his brothers and sisters all splattered on the road.
There are also numerous termite mounds- each termite mound has a king, queen, soldiers and workers. Each colony can range in numbers from thousands to millions. Some are over 6 feet tall and many have been dressed up by travelers which makes for a laugh whilst driving.

Bitter springs are a few Kms from Mataranka where everyone goes but we have been told that not only is it really busy at Mataranka, but that they have a bat problem and often have to close the springs due to too much bat poo in the ponds.

Bitter Springs is a much more natural environment and you can gradually float down the stream for a few hundred meters, walk back and do it all over again. It's so relaxing, however if your scared of spiders, beware as there are numerous golden orbs 2 feet above the water level- leave them alone and they leave you alone. There is also a lot of bird and insect life

Mataranka, on the other hand is much more commercialised. There is a homestead, restaurant,pun, resort and caravan park . They do have a bat problem but wasn't evident when we were there. Someone said there was a giant python around that ate the baby bats as they fell out of the trees, not so sure about that!

Still, I loved both places and highly recommend a few days relaxation here.

We also saw some barra being fed- they all start out males and change to females if conditions are suitable. We hope to catch a few as we get further north.

I still can't get over how green it is up here, I am also fascinated by all the different trees.

There are also numerous cane toads in the NT. There is talk of trying to create an industry for eating their legs which aren't poisonous- personally I can't see that taking off and won't be investing in it

Next stop will be Katherine for a few days, then a gradual drive across to Broome where we need to be by 10 June.

Days 27,28,29
Katherine, birthplace of Cadel Evans, is bloody hot- daytime averaging 35, nighttime averaging 24

There are a number of nationalities, many airforce people as Tindal is nearby, and of course the Indeginous- I don't think I have seen one working yet.
It's famous for the Katherine Gorges, now known as Nitmiluk. It would seem all the bats from Mataranka have come to the gorges. There are literally millions of them and they are causing some problems for the tourist operators. As we couldn't get into a sunset cruise, everything is getting booked now so we are learning to book ahead a week or so, we did a dawn cruise. Pictures won't do the scenery justice but I'll try

The bats are a massive problem. As it was dawn, they were all coming home to roost. I believe they have little eyesight and rely on sonar- amazing there aren't any crash landings

Apart from the bats, there was other wildlife including numerous birds and fresh water crocs. they do lay out traps for any salties that May get into the gorges

We went for a drive to Edith Falls, we were told the area was clear of salties, so we put our life's on the line and went for a swim.

One day, Skip decided to take his family out for a hop Skip and jump. They seemed to be away a very long time and Hil and I were getting worried. We went for a drive and found them just in the nick of time

I fought with the massive croc and was lucky enough to extract Skip , Alice and the kids from the crocs mouth after offering myself as a sacrifice.

Another rescue on my behalf. I have had a harsh talking to Skip about the responsibilities of being a parent!

Next stops are Timber Creek, then crossing border to WA to Lake Argyle, Kununurra, Bungle Bungles and gradually to Broome.

Day 30
Today we drove from Katherine to Timber Creek- about 280 Kms. The scenery was fantastic, so many gorges, cliff faces and rivers. We arrived at Timber Creek around lunchtime and so we decided to do a cruise on the Victoria River- croc infested, numerous birds, and great scenery. As we were driving to the boat we came across the remains of a car accident, apparently earlier in the day, two people had been killed in the accident. Didn't seem a big deal to the locals though, as if it occurs regularly.

Tomorrow, we go to lake argyle for a few days. I also noticed that the caravan tyres are wearing on the inside and need to organize a wheel alignment- will do in Kununurra
Days 31, 32,33
We drove from Timber Creek to Lake Argyle crossing the WA / NT border. There is a quarantine checkpoint that take all your fruit and veg and honey. We shoved a few things in the freezer because if they are frozen, all is ok. Honey is even taken. They are pretty strict and searched the car and caravan

Lake Argyle is a man made lake completed in 1972. It was built for the agricultural area around Kununurra- initially they tried cotton with no success. Today they grow a lot of sandlewood trees and the Chinese have bought up land to grow sugar- they are going to construct a sugar mill in the area.
Lake Argyle Resort is on the top of a cliff face with magnificent views. The infinity pool has been voted best in Australia

We went on a sunset cruise- this showed a small part of the lake which is 20 times size of Sydney Harbour, we went for a swim - water was 24 degrees out in the middle and had a fantastic sunset.

The deepest part of the lake when we were there was 42 meters. During the wet, it has been known to get much deeper

Today, we are driving to Kununurra. We will do a fishing trip from here, perhaps a plane ride, get the wheels aligned on the caravan and stock up for a few days without the van when we go deep into the bungle bungles.
Day 34
Weather was hot as usual, perhaps not as hot at night as we have experienced in other places. Hil spent the morning lying in her deck chair by Kununurra Lake which is where the caravan park is reading her kindle. I reminded her that the lake is full of crocs, mainly freshies which don't really bother us humans.

Whilst she was relaxing, I was changing the front tyres of the caravan- they have been wearing on the inside rim so I will get a wheel alignment. Bloody hot work, the guy watching me even worked up a sweat.

Later on in the afternoon, after a swim in the pool to cool down, we went fishing on the ord river to catch dinner. It was majestic as the sun started setting but we had to be aware of salties. The little aboriginal kids didn't seem to care but I stood back from the bank a little

Tomorrow we will head to Wyndham for the day

Day 35 I think, losing track of days now
We drove to Wyndham, Parry's lagoon, King River Rd
Wyndham is pretty isolated, it's use by day is up and not much to do up there. It's a very picturesque spot in parts, the town centre is a dive but diesel was cheap- 20 cents a litre cheaper than Kununurra.There is a port that exports live beef and a small amount of iron ore. Numerous road trains were on the road, most passed us as they really put their foot down. I have spoken to a few on the radio and they all seem friendly and cooperative. One road train had four trailers, the last one swinging like a yo yo, I thought he was going to hit me, narrow miss but a few stones attacked the windscreen.

We then went for an off road venture on the King River Rd, a run down track that takes you out to the boab prison tree. This tree is truly magnificent, it has a large hollow in it that goes the whole way up the tree and prisoners were held or hid in - we weren't game to hop in!

We the called into Parry's lagoon which is like an oasis - a wetland out in the middle of such harsh country

Day 36
We had a few hours to kill this morning whilst the wheels of the caravan were aligned- they were way of alignment which caused the tyre wear. So of course, Hil went shopping in all the souvenir places, I bought a few things- fans, battery's, you know, practical stuff, as we are going to rough it for the next few days in the roof top tent in the bungle bungles. Not sure what Hil bought will help us in the bungles, although she did find out about an insect repellant- equal parts of baby oil, detol, and metho. She had to ask for the metho at the service desk for obvious reasons. Not sure we are going to smell so good the next few days and certainly will stand back from the camp fire!
Once the caravan was fixed, we drove to Turkey Creek - about 200 Kms - where we are stopping the night and then leaving the caravan there and trekking into bungle bungles. I'm looking forward to a flight over the bungles

Days 37,38,39
We drove from Warnum ( Turkey Creek) to the bungle bungle, only a 50 km drive. We decided to take a helicopter flight 40 minutes for 2 people = $875- expensive but not likely to do it again.
Well words and photos won't do the bungle bungle justice, I thought they were more majestic than Ayers rock.

There's not much to these choppers, it weighs 670 kgs and has a maximum take off weight of 1000 kgs including fuel and passengers- needless to say it struggled a little getting of the ground! The pilot looked about 12 but assured me he had plenty of flying experience.
We zigged and zagged amongst the domes and gorges, we rode the thermals so it was all pretty exciting. Even Hil enjoyed it after the initial fears were forgotten

What I didn't know was that there were numerous gorges and chasms in the area as well. We would have a lot of exploring to do when on the ground.

We then drove deep into the bungles to the visitor centre to register as we were staying overnight. This was a 53 km off road and numerous creek crossings. It took almost 2 hours to get in. Once we registered we went to the Waladi camp site - as we had a roof top tent, we had nothing to set up so we went and did the dome trail walk and cathedral gorge walk.

Cathedral gorge really surprised me, it lead into an area like an amphitheater- I could just imagine sitting listening to a band - Neil diamond hot august night would be brilliant!

There were certainly plenty of wild flowers around

As it was getting close to 3.30 pm and it gets dark here around 5, we decided to head to Waladi camp and set up. Waiting for us was a beautiful kookaburra- don't wake us up too early!

There was a camp fire which a few of us sat around , having a few drinks, spinning a few yarns etc. before you knew it, we had dinner and was time for bed. Well sleeping in a roof top tent is interesting, climbing up the ladder on top of the car. Hil has a strong bladder, for me, I had to go 3 times during the night- up and down the ladder. It actually got cold and we needed the sleeping bags but all in all, we had a good nights sleep.

The next day, we drove to Echidna, the northern part of the bungles and did the Echidna look out walk and Echidna Chasm walk.

We walked along a creek bed to Echidna Chasm

We came across a bower bird nest

Echidna chasm

As we had done most of the walks by lunchtime, we decided to drive back to turkey creek where the van was rather than stay another night in the bungles. The car had a good clean out, I found that the third battery wasn't charging due to a broken wire and fixed that up, and had a nice long shower
Day 40
We drove to Halls Creek, only about 160 Kms and had an easy day by the pool. Not much happening here in town, once again, numerous indeginous just lounging around.
Tomorrow of to fitzroy crossing for a couple of days and then broome.

Day 41 and 42
We drove from Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing where we stayed 2 nights. There's not much to the township of Fitzroy Crossing - IGA, post office, hardware store, pub and of course Centrelink. The caravan park was a real surprise- lovely green lawns, great pool, fantastic restaurant., plenty of wildlife including goannas, wallabies.
Peter ( a guy from NSW that we have been following each other) and I went fishing - firstly we went to catch some live bait- little bream- I got a few. Then we went off road, down a few bush tracks and found some great holes on the fitzroy river to try and catch some barra. The locals had told us the spot but advised us to be out by dusk as the salties come cruising by at this time. We had a few casts but no luck- both a bit weary of the crocs.

The next morning was a lazy one by the pool.

In the afternoon, we did a cruise on the Geike Gorge- very interesting and intriguing area. Geike gorge is going back to native title in next 12-18 months and will result in the name changing to what it was originally known- Darngku

Day 43
As we packed up the car and caravan and doing all the checks, I noticed a stowaway on the caravan wheels.

Little fella would have had a rough ride if he stayed there for 400 Kms

We drove from Fitzroy Crossing to Broome- close to 400 Kms" .we set up in the caravan park- a little disappointed to find out it didn't have a pool. Whilst it's on the beach, it's not recommended to swim there . There are also a lot of permament residents here so it's a little clicky and seems not to be as friendly as other caravan parks we have been to
We stay in broome for about 10 days and will do a few tours, fishing charters etc.

Days 44 to 50 in Broome
Did some shopping in the morning, went to visitor centre and in afternoon we went to Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Farm- Malcolm was accidentally killed in the park, not by a croc but crushed by a car. The family still runs the park.
Fascinating and educational tour and croc feeding exhibition. I was surprised to hear that if a salty has a good feed, they don't need to eat for months. They get no cancers, no infections, very little disease, iif a limb is damaged, they can alter the circulation to it- so a lot of studies are now being done

Salt water crocs suffer from sun burn if left out in hot sun. The water is full of a algae that also attaches to the crocs back reducing sunburn risk

There were also a number of American alligators. These can live in cold climates, in fresh or salt water, and adapt very well to most environments. They are bred for their skins. There are tight restrictions on breeding as we don't want them to get into southern waterways- they could easily survive in the Yarra river.
We went to the outdoor cinema to see the other woman- very funny movie. It's an amazing cinema- deck chairs and on the broome airport flight path- there you are watching the movie and suddenly a jet flies by- adds to the character of the place

Cable beach in morning and early afternoon, for Hil's sake- sun baking and a swim or too. Lifeguards were there so we felt safe from crocs- the beach is closed every now and then due to crocs- last time was last week.
That evening, we went to the outdoor cinema again to see Tracks- the story of Robyn Davidson, who trekked from Alice Springs to WA coast with a few camels.

We have been asked to go on a 4 day luxury cruise from June 24- apparently there were some cheaper cabins due to slow sales. We will fly from broome on a sea plane up the dampier peninsula to the 31 meter cruiser , cruise around the area, jet boat up horizontal falls, fish in remote areas, swim in the reefs etc- all meals , drinks and excursions included-
so looking forward to it. We have had to juggle a few things around but will be well worth it

Staircase to the moon occurs when there is a full moon and it's reflection on the sea and mudflats causes an appearance of stairs leading up to the moon. It occurs on June 13, 14 and 15 whist we are here.

Given that we are going on a cruise and now have this unexpected expense, I decided I needed to work out how I was going to pay for it. The obvious solution was the Broome races which were on today, I would lay out a few dollars and get plenty more in return. Unfortunately things didn't go quite to plan and I ended up being down a few dollars - only about 30. Hil, on the other hand, with her big spending place bets, managed to pick a place bet every race and came out ahead. Our respect for jockeys has increased dramatically- each time they mount a horse they are putting their life's at risk. Unfortunately, at race 3 as the horses were leaving the mounting yard, one horse reared up, threw his jockey to the ground, the horse fell on the jockey and rolled all over him. I hope just a few broken bones but seeing it ( we were literally 5 meters away) made us feel a little sick in the guts and dampened the day a bit. We hope he makes a speedy and full recovery.

Another staircase to the moon tonight, a bit later and bit darker. Plenty of markets on as well so Broome is abuzz at the moment.

Near the race track and on the rocks, at low tide you can see prehistoric dinosaur prints

We did a sunset camel ride- not high on my agenda but Hil wanted to do it. The camels appeared very docile and obedient, the ride was a bit rocky but the sunset was fantastic

As most of you know, you can drive on cable beach at either end. Seriously, it was like Bourke st and they need traffic lights.

Cable beach is rated up there as far as beaches go. There is no sea weed and I can't get over how far the tide goes out- I would say over 500 meters. The water is so warm, no stingers this time of the year, occasional croc appears at the beach and it was closed a few days ago.

Fishing hasn't been overly successful as yet. It's been very windy at times and I think this is affecting things- not many are catching anything. We have tried the jetty and off the rocks. Not leaving broome until I catch one!!

Hil went for her first fish today- bloody hell, she caught a good size trevally within a minute of casting- I was still setting up- I had to reel it in as it was too heavy for her- cooked on BBQ tonight- yum. I'm still yet to catch one.

Day 51 ( I think- losing track now)
I wasn't leaving Broome until I caught something of the jetty- well I did, on our last day- won't say what as I'm a little embarrassed

We are going up to Koolajamin Camp at Cape Leveque. We had heard the road was very bad and stored the caravan in Broome. The camp doesn't allow caravans anyway as they draw too much power. Its a 200 km stretch, 99 Kms unsealed, rest sealed. The unsealed was corrugated sand- worst road ever been on, quite a few wrecks along the way and plenty of car debris- hoses, panels, lights, tyres,etc along the way on the road. We made it with just a loose aerial which was easily tightened. We did drop tyre pressures which I think helped, will drop even more on the way back.

We called into Beagle Bay on the way up. It's an aboriginal community with also an Asian component ( from the pearl days). We had previously met the owner of the Beagle Bay store at a caravan park in Fitzroy Crossing and he told us we had to call into see the church. I'm not really a church person but this church was surely different- it has a pearl shell altar.

Kooljamin is the aboriginal word for Cape Leveque. It is owned by the aboriginal communities but managed by white fellas. The aboriginals did have a go at managing but it lost money, I think they would be they first to admit that they can't manage a business but can the land.
As we have left the van at Broome, the roof top tent has on e again come in handy. I can only take about 3 nights in this, the caravan is spoiling me

Friday night is wood fire pizza night so we didn't have to cook anything- garlic prawn pizza- yum

The next day we did a tag along tour with Brian Lee ( a very westernized aboriginal). He was able to take us to areas that are not normally accessible to white fellas. We learnt about the culture of the communities up here, showed us how to spear fish, went mud crabbing and got 4 mud crabs and a claw of one that wouldn't come out, a few swims.

I managed to get bogged in the sand , as did a number of others, even though I had dropped pressures down to 18 psi. Hopefully I don't end up like this

The story is that the couple driving this car entered sacred land without permission and the spirits were upset. They caused the car to get bogged and tide to come in and destroy it. Luckily I had permission to enter the sacred land and lowering the pressures a little more allowed me to get out- no snatch straps, no tracks needed!
We went mud crabbing and caught a few

Once again, the sunsets are brilliant and worth seeing

For one of our meals, we tried happy camper food for the outdoors that don't require refrigation and can be stored for 18 months. We had bought some at the melbourne caravan and camping show. I had lamb shanks and mashed potato- not a bad meal I must say and wouldn't know it had all been precooked and all I did was heat it up in boiling water.

Tomorrow, 23/6, we return to Broome for a night and then off on a 4 day/ night cruise to horizontal falls, talbot bay, dampier peninsular, buccaneer archipelago and some deep see fishing!

Days 58 to 62 24/6 to 28/6
An early departure from Broome saw us take a sea plane to meet our cruise ship, the Lady M for a few days.

It's about an hour flight to where the lady M was moored up near Montgomery Reef. Flight was smooth and scenery spectacular

After boarding and settling in, we had our first meal which was lunch- mud crabs of course- delicious

In the afternoon, we took the tender to an island to view some aboriginal art work. A decent climb up but worth the effort ( it was bloody hot). The one thing that is frustrating is that you would love to jump into the water but can't because of crocs.

Later we had diner, drinks, a spa and an early night as we were all quite tired. At diner, the fisheries officers came aboard. They accused Captain Bill of setting a long line whilst we were viewing the aboriginal art. The crew were irate and a heated argument followed. The fisheries officers were unprofessional and their actions were bordering on harassment. We had numerous photos showing both tenders were at the back of the boat whilst we were climbing but of course fisheries officers didn't ask us. We will give Bill the photos for evidence.

The following day we took the tenders up a river to a waterfall and water hole and had a swim. The crocs can't get up above the rock ledge, so we are told, and that swimming was quite safe

We also took the tenders out to do some fishing. Two tenders went- anchored only a few meters apart, one tender caught heaps of fish, the other very few. Luckily Hil and I were catching quite a few- Spanish flags, finger mark, red snapper, grunter

Diner that night was obviously fish - cooked on the BBQ
That night, a few of us went fishing from the stern of Lady M. We were catching mainly salmon. Now your not going to believe this but I was dangling a salmon I had caught on the end of the line as I knew a croc was floating by. The croc grabbed the fish and my line and took off and the reel started screaming. "Bil, Bill, I've caught a croc!" Captain Bill just laughed- no you haven't, he has caught you!, the croc did a few rolls and spat the hook out!. Nevertheless, a great thrill

The next day, we woke up early to view the sunrise over Montgomery Reef. This reef is exposed at low tide and under water at high tide. It's a national park and so there is plenty of sea life- turtles, fish, sharks, rays etc.

Later, we cruised to Talbot Bay where the horizontal falls are.

The horizontal falls are formed due to the significant tidal difference and when two or more bays are joined by very narrow openings, water gets caught and rushes out. At Talbot bay, there were two narrow openings- one 24 meters, one 7 meters. The difference in water height was over 4 meters from one bay to the other.! Jet boats scream through the narrow openings and up the raging falls- very exhilarating.

Bill has helped the company running horizontal falls by towing up various infrastructure and fuel. As a result, his passengers get extra trips. We did a few trips late afternoon and early in the morning. The infrastructure is amazing for such a remote area- pontoons, seaplanes, helicopters


When anchored at Talbot Bay, a number of lemon sharks appeared at the stern. They are used to the boats as they get all the fish bones etc. They are quite harmless as they only have very small teeth - we were able to feed them, pat them and swim with them - we were in a steel cage to protect us from crocs and other types of sharks.

Captain Bill noticed a golden trevally swimming around, got a line and caught it for another meal. It was great to see an experienced angler in action.

I noticed what I thought was another golden trevally and Bill gave me the rod and immediately hooked on. I stepped onto a tender which was let go so the fish didn't get caught under Lady M. It pulled us out 200 meters or so, I finally got it in - it wasn't a golden trevally but a shark- about 1 meter long. This happened on 3 separate occasions and landed two of the sharks. I was pulling in the third shark, once again about a meter long when this 3-4 meter shark attacked and ate the shark I caught. The reel went ballistic, the weight increased dramatically and I fought it for about 10 minutes and the line broke. My arms were like jelly.

Day 60. Sadly our cruise came to an end and we flew on a sea plane back to broome. It felt funny as we have finished a great cruise and feel we should be going home, but we are still on holidays.
We had our van in storage in Broome whilst we did Cape Leveque and the cruise, picked it up and drove to Derby where we will spend two nights and stock up the van for the Gibb River Rd- the next adventure. I have had reservations about taking the van on Gibb River Rd despite it being an off road van. The manufacturer assures me it is built like a brick bleep house and will take me anywhere. We shall see over the next week or so. It's still under warranty!

Days 60 to 72
Well we have survived the Gibb River Rd- we didn't do a few gorges as it was too rough to take the van- eg we missed out on Drysdale Station and Mitchell falls
Highlights for us were Winjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Charnley River Station, Manning Gorge, Ellenbrae, crossing the Pentecost River.
Lowlights- the road was rougher than I expected and we did 2 tyres on the landcruiser despite dropping pressures from 40 psi to 28 psi. If anything, I had expected the tyres on the van to give me problems as they were cheaper tyres. On the positive side, one puncture was 5 Kms before over the range tyre repair on the gibb and I was able to nurse the rig to get the tyre fixed, and the other was about 25 Kms after. So I got to know Neville who repaired a couple of tyres. In the end, I lost confidence in the Dunflops and have replaced them with Bridgestone Dueller light truck tyres.
Its interesting what some people call a good or bad road. A lot said the Gibb River Rd was like a highway- that may be so when you can travel at 90 Kms and ride over the corrrugations, but when your towing a 3.5 ton off road caravan, you can't go that fast and you sure as hell get a rough ride. At some point, I would like to go back without the van.
The road to Wimjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek was one of the worst I have been on. It was on a par with the road to Cape Leveque. Whilst only 19kms, it took ages as we had the van this time. Tunnel Creek has been formed over millions of years with the water forming a tunnel under the ranges. You can walk the length of it- some sandy bits, some wading through knee deep water and you need a torch as it's pitch black.

Winjana gorge had many waterholes and as a result had many fresh water crocs.

Unfortunately we didn't get to Bell Gorge as there was a weight restriction on the road- 4 ton limit and for us, the car and caravan weigh close to 7 ton. Later we were told there wasn't much water in the waterfall and the road was worse than that to Tunnel Creek. In the end, we were glad we didn't go.
Charnley River Station was about 43 km of the gibb river rd but the track was pretty good. This place is a little oasis and had plenty of wildlife.i had also noticed one of the protective plates on the undercarriage of the van was getting loose so this was a chance to replace a few screws that had come loose with all the vibrations on the road. There are a number of gorges and water holes on the station which we were able to explore after doing some 4wding to get there.

Driving from Charnley River Station to Mount Barnett Roadhouse and Manning Gorge was where we did two tyres, in parts, the road was made of shale which was sharp as a knife. Funnily enough, this is also where the Over The Range Tyre and a mechanic business is- outback business offering basic service. $65 for a patch. Speaking to Neville, he has been as busy as this season. A good little business he has for 6 months.
Changing a flat tyre in 30 degree heat is no fun, more so when you realise your jack won't lift the car high enough as I have had the suspension upgraded and lifted for better clearance. Note to self- new jack needed! I had to dig a trench under the tyre to get it off.

Mount Barnett Roadbouse is one of only 2 places to fuel up on the gibb river rd. I was carrying a couple of jerries just in case. A good place for a coffee and milkshake as well. Manning gorge is also close by and we camped about 7 Kms off the road for a couple of nights.
To get to Manning gorge takes a good hours walk - many rock climbs, valleys to be crossed and pretty rugged country. The walk was well worth it in the end to see the waterfalls and have a swim.

We decided not to go to Drysdale station and Mitchell falls as the road was very rough. Next stop was Elendale Station- campsite very basic and wood fire heated hot water for a shower. Whilst we have a shower in the van, we had run out of water. We found a nice little spot to set up for the night- getting out in the morning was interesting- so many trees and branches that would have damaged the van- the axe sure came in handy!

One of the last hurdles was crossing the Pentecost River. After watching a couple of cars do it to determine the best path, we hopped into 4wd and low range and got over safely and easily. Hil had her eyes closed the whole way! Not too adventurous is our Hil!

We finally hit bitumen at El Questo and headed for Kununurra where we stayed for a few days- cleaning and restocking. We will go back to gibb river to see a few of the things we missed but this time, without the van and just the roof top tent. Would I take the off road van again- I think no. The van held up quite well, couple of small issues- eg wood work around microwave came off- easily re screwed, shower door fell off hinges- easily put back on, and the small amount of dust that got in was easily cleaned. However there is a big difference in driving just a landcruiser and driving a landcruiser and 3.5 ton van on the gibb river rd!!! The driving wasn't easy and was quote stressful in places.
From Kununurra, it will be over to Katherine, up to Adelaide River, Litchfield, Darwin, Kakadu and then work our way home via outback QLD and NSW, not staying at many places as that will be a separate trip?

Days 72-78
We tried to book into Darwin as our next stop but it was booked out. So we decided to do Kakadu before Darwin. Kakadu would have to be one of my favorite places- it has everything- history, culture, wetlands, escarpments, water falls, 4wd tracks
We haven't heard from Skip and the family lately- the parents have been teaching Jilla and Todd how to survive out in the wild. Here, Skips teaching the family about fire- a bit too close for my liking

The rangers are currently doing slow burn offs around Kakadu, they light a fire about 3pm and leave it- with little wind and still moist undergrowth, it doesn't get fierce and dies out during the night.

Getting to Twin Falls is no mean feet - plenty of 4wding and river crossings- I don't think Hil enjoyed the drive in but falls are well worth it

Jim Jim falls are near twin falls- we decided to give it a miss as there was very little water

Yellow waters wetlands are full of wildlife- birds, fish, crocs and various forms of plants. They had a good wet this year so water levels have been quite high generally.

Ubirr is an area that has some fantastic Aborginal artwork as well as some great views over the wetlands. One of the aboriginal rangers was giving a talk on the dreamtime and stories passed down. I'll let them believe their stories.

We stayed to see a magnificent sunset over the wetlands

We did a ranger tour at Nawurlandja rock today. It was one of the most informative and I got a small insight into the Aboriginal culture. I didn't realise that Aborigines can have up to 4 names- their white fella name, their skin name, their dream name and one other. Blood brothers and sisters cannot talk or share things at all ( from the time the boy get facial hair until the time facial hair turns white). The brother cannot give the sister food during this time. They have many parents based on skin name and other brothers and sisters based on skin name. They may even have sons and daughters based on skin name. Blood parents rarely discipline a child but aunties and uncles are the ones that discipline young kids. They have to share things with relatives - if they work and earn money, it must be shared amongst others. It gives a real disincentive for them to work- why would you when you have to give it away.

Here we are building traditional 3 bedroom homes for them when brother and sister can't be in same room, can't cook together, can't talk to each other- if they do, it's bad luck. Perhaps this is why they destroy the homes we build for them.

We learnt about the meanings of some rock art and how Aboriginals pass down history, stories and culture via art and song. That way, language is no barrier and stories don't get mixed up.

Arnhem Land is separated from Kakadu by the East Alligator River. You need a permit to go into Arnhem Land and need to cross the river at Cahills Crossing- this is a tidal river with up to 7 meter tidal many a car has been caught stranded or washed away. There are numerous crocs around, even at the crossing, and I just can't understand people fishing knee deep in water with crocs around. A 12 year old Aboriginal boy was taken earlier this year.

We did a trip along the east alligator in a boat- crocs, snakes, turtles in abundance

Next stage is we drive to Darwin where we are staying for 10 days, then Litchfield, adelaide river and working our way home via QLD and NSW

Days 78 -88
We arrived in Darwin and are staying at Free Spirit Caravan Park, it's about 15 Kms out of darwin cbd but most of the caravan parks are at least that far out. We plan to do Mindil beach markets, crocodiylus park, adelaide river cruise, outdoor cinema, WW11 history, harbour cruise and more.

Darwin's weather is the same every day- 32-35 in the day dropping to 20 at night. I feel for the poor folk in melbourne as we have been hearing about the wind and cold weather.

Crocodiylus Park has over 1000 crocs and a myriad of other wildlife. To be honest, I was a little disappointed and it wasn't as good as Malcolm Douglas park in Broome.

Hil had been given some gift vouchers by her workmates for Cullen Bay Day spa. I dropped her off and had a look at the real estate and marina of Cullen Bay. It's one of the better suburbs of Darwin and is very appealing ( well during the dry season that is). TheY have a lovely marina with waterfront homes- my style of living! About 2.5M for a good waterfront home.

Due to the large 8 m tidal difference, the marina is protected by a lock to let boats in and out

Whilst Hil was being pampered, I went to the aviation museum. As a former RAAF member,might was quite interested in seeing some of the planes of past years. I couldn't get over the size of the B52 with its 8 engines, it took up the whole length of the museum. The F111 was also impressive- I almost got to fly in one when in the RAAF.

We went to Mindle beach markets- they were a lot bigger and busier that when I was last in Darwin 7 years ago. Good variety of food and other stalls, Hill bought me a croc wallet and belt, I bought her some insect repellant as she was getting bitten! The sunset on the beach was magnificent

We did the Adelaide River jumping crocodile cruise- crocs cam jump out of the water naturally , it's surprising how high they can get

Hil was excited to see all the crocs - again!. To be honest, I am a little crocced out! But happy wife equals happy life!
There were also numerous kites following the boat. These are amazing birds as they can catch prey and eat whilst flying. They also follow the bush fires to get escaping rodents etc. they have been known to pick up embers in their feet and drop them in an unburnt area to start a fire so they can catch prey.

We did a sunset dinner cruise from Darwin Harbour- buffet dinner- yum. Cruised out towards Mindel Beach and then around the harbour- full of activity.

It was time to leave Darwin but before we did, I wanted to go their wave pool for a bit of fun. I guess you have to be careful taking photos in pools these days

We arrived at Litchfield Park and plan to stay 3 days here. It's our last place on the agenda, then sadly, a long trip back home.
People compare Litchfield to Kakadu- I think they are totally different areas- Kakadu has a lot of aboriginal cultural, rugged with the various landscapes, very expansive, and has salt water crocs. Litchfield on the other hand, is very condensed, has a lot of more accessible waterfalls and ponds to swim in, little aboriginal culture and few salties.

On the day we arrived around lunchtime, we did a quick drive to Adelaide River. My dad, who is 92, served in WW2 and was largely based here. He had given me a map of where he camped, just near the old bridge and wanted so photos. I offered to fly him up but he said photos were fine. There is a large war cemetery and memorial there. We found the spot where dad camped but there wasn't much there- a few remnants of old buildings

It was quite moving really, some of the fallen were only 19 pr 20 years old- such a waste of life

At Litchfield, we did the termite mounds- there are the cathedral termite mounds and magnetic termite mounds, the latter running north- south to protect from the extreme heat. The magnetic termite mounds are only found in flood plains

We then did Bulley Waterhole for a nice swim

We went to Florence falls which is near Buley Waterhole but the carp ark was full. We decided to do it later in the day.

Wangi falls is probably the most popular of the falls, easy to get to, lovely backdrop, cafe for a nice ice cream. It certainly was Hil's favorite, mine was Florence as it was a bit more rugged.

There are two ways to get to Tolmer Falls- the easy and the hard. Unfortunately I misread the map and Hil and I did the hard way in- 1.6 ks of rock climbing up and down along the way. Once at the falls, we saw the easy way- wheel chair accessible and about 600 m long. I was not in the good books considering Hil has a dickey knee

We went to Florence Falls later in the day and it was a lot quieter. To get to the falls, there is a boardwalk which has 135 steps- not Hil's cup of tea!. There were a few younger than me jumping of the cliff- 20 years ago, I might have done it but not now

We also did Cascade falls the next day- there was a warning sign stating that although rated as moderate, there had been numerous injuries. I can understand why- slippery rock climbs, tree log creek crossings- once we got there we had a swim - not worth the effort in my view.
We also went back to Wangi falls again for another swim and just to take in the beautiful waterfalls.

So we now have left Litchfield and currently at Daly Waters on our way back home, we are going home via QLD ( mt isa, long reach etc) then NSW ( Bourke, Griffith). I will probably drop the van into the manufacturers on the way home- he has asked to see it- as I want to get a few things done and a couple of small things repaired after the gibb river rd.

We expect to be home early to mid Aigust all being well, back to freezing Melbourne and Williamstown. It will be a shock to the system, trying to get back into old routines. Katie is flying home from Bond Uni mid August so it will be good to see her- we were going to drop in on her but she has already booked flights. Meg keeps asking about the date we get home- I think she has been having a few parties despite no longer living at home and wants to know when she needs to clean up by!

The Finale

We have arrived home back in Melbourne. In some aspects, it's nice to be home to see family and friends, in other aspects, it's a little sad - we will miss the warm weather, the friends we met along the way, the places we visited and the overall lifestyle. Many travelers we met are doing it full time, sold up houses and bought the car and caravan. Don't think I could never have a house or apartment to return to, but I could sure spend longer away. We will start planning for next year - probably west coast but I'll let Hil decide this one.

Skip, Alice, Jilla and Todd are not happy campers and wondering what the hell we are doing in freezing Melbourne. They want to go back north but they will have to wait until next year!

The landcruiser performed brilliantly. We went through 3 tyres on the gibb river road and the beast has a small bruise on the front- I hit a cow on the Oodnadatta track- late at night and the stupid thing just jumped in front of us- bull bar bent, left headlight broken, front fender damaged- nevertheless, the beast managed to continue on the journey and I'm organizing to get her fixed back here in melbourne

The Vanguard off road caravan also travelled brilliantly- very easy to tow despite being 23.5 feet and weighing 3.5 ton.. I soon learnt we had to be careful which petrol stations we went into and which pumps we chose- I tried to get the truck pumps when I could. There was some very minor damage courtesy gibb river road- woodwork around microwave fell off but was easily re screwed and a protective plate under the van was getting loose but once again was re screwed. The dust covers we had were a savior on the gibb. I am going to get a few small modifications which the manufacturer has agreed to.

And finally Hil and I had only 3 fights- bloody good considering we were living under each other noses. All goes well for future travels!

For me, the highlights were
Kimberley cruise
Cape Leveque
Bungle bungles
Daly Waters
Mataranka and bitter springs
Katherine gorge
Kings canyon

We were away just on 100 days
18059 Kms travelled
Diesel expense $6,612
Caravan park accomodation $3,480
Cruise $4,800
Tours $2,200
Tyres 4 new car tyres $2200
2 new caravan tyres were purchased but manufacturer will reimburse due to faulty wheel alignment

In signing off, I hope you have enjoyed reading our blog as much as I have done writing it. I hope it inspires others to travel more within Australia- we so readily go overseas but Australia has it all and it's such a large continent
Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today
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