Darwin via the Dirt (part 7 -- Sticking Around The Top End)

Monday, Apr 18, 2011 at 15:23

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

Time to leave Darwin but too early to head too far south. We had been told that Gun Point to the East was a good camping area so headed out there via Humpty Doo and Howard Springs. There were a couple of semi permanent camps at the mouth of the small creek where the track in meets the sea, but we back-tracked and found several small camping spots (well used) right on the beach. Not overly attractive but a long wide beach for walking and looking west into the usual NT sunset.
At this stage the election had been called and goodness knows where we were to be on voting day however a small article in one of the local papers mentioned early voting in Darwin so we headed back and voted, getting that well out of the way. After lunch we be-lined for Dundee Beach to the West of Darwin and with a lot of luck took a track that eventually became a 4wd sandy scramble to a small headland with this glorious view .... this will do us was the consensus. The next morning after about a two km walk down the beach it opened up and I came across another track that obviously led out to the main road, we tossed up whether to descend to the beach and drive it to this track but sensibly (I think) we decided to return the way we came in. The area is very pretty and quiet even though there are many large housing blocks, some of them well established. Now I remember it was here, that night that we sat and watched the lights of the remaining seven air force jets fly over heading home (?) with their after burners slowly disappearing, in formation, into the night sky.

From here we eventually found a our way back towards Darwin to Mandorah, stopping off at pretty Walgatt Beach first. A beer at the attractive Mandorah Pub with a view over looking the harbour towards Darwin, and then out the Cox Penninsula Road and back towards Litchfield NP. We intended to bush camp at the bridge on the Finnis River but had to be content to by pass the occupied main camp site for one we located about 1 km in via a little used track. Not ideal but quite satisfactory for the night. We often say that where ever you camp they all look the same once the sun goes down. We had decided that we would return to Litchfield, stop another night at Buley Rock Holes and then head out the Southern end via the Reynolds River 4wd (only) track.
This turned out to be a great decision as we were heading down to the Daly River (Wooliana) for some fishing, but more importantly the park features along this track were really worth the effort. First a morning swim, then a 1.7 km walk at Greenant Creek to the Tjaetaba Falls, reasonably steep (for us oldies) but a very pretty surprise on reaching them. We called in and took in some very interesting history at the Blyth outstation homestead re the Saergent family. Ten children were raised at the nearby Stapleton Homestead and sent out here by their father to work the small tin mine (Mt Tolmer). Quite a story of exploitation and hardship for the wife and children.

Further down the track was Sandy Creek car park with a near 2 km walk to a lovely plunge pool and falls (Tjaynera Falls). Good swimming before the walk back, but I was taken by some of the colouring in the rocks .... beside the falls were several veins of white quartz and on the other side what appeared to be a section of jasper running up the towering cliff. Continuing south we crossed several small creeks and a major crossing of the Reynolds River before entering the small and full (6 -7 vehicles) camp ground of Surprise Falls. Not to be deterred we set up camp in the car park. A quick explore that night on dusk set the scene for a memorable and delightful few hours next morning. Not only is it one of those magic places with a large pool at the bottom and two more swimmable and deep pools as you climb up the rock face, to top it off, a pretty little stream feeding the pools, not mention the large water monitor relaxing in the sun. It was also special because it was Alison's 60th birthday. She always claims that when we travel together that Brenda and I take her somewhere special for her birthday, two years ago it was King Edward River and the Mitchell Falls now it was this delightful place.

Later that day we reached the lovely Wooliana camp on the Daly River where we intended to stop a few days and fish for barra. Not to be .. the river was low and dirty and hire boats were off the agenda as one had been grounded and the motor damaged a few days ago, and the fish were very quiet as well. We stayed and relaxed for a couple of days, taking in Browns Corner sandbar with the ever present large salties, the local community art gallery and a beer at the Daly River pub.
From here we moved across to spend a night at Douglas Daly, seeing their albino wallaby as it came into graze at dusk, visiting the interesting rock formations known as the Arches and a short drive away the hot springs bubbling into the shallow creek bed. Unfortunately the day parking area and small camp ground was a terrible mess with rubbish bins overflowing and spilling onto the ground. A few years ago we went out to Butterfly Gorge and swam up into the plunge pool area, this time however the water was quite green and uninviting and rumours of the presence of a croc, so we were restricted to clambering to the pool opposite the real gorge entrance and then climbing to the lookout area above.

Heading out to the busy Stuart Hwy we realized why we try to stick to the dirt or at least the back roads, everybody is in such a bloody hurry and very impatient with us as we traveled at just under 100 kph. To this extent we were pleased when we reached the turnoff to Grove Hill and the pretty drive through the low hills to the old and largely original hotel. This area has been and still is being extensively mined and many of the pub relics reflect this as well as some very good collections, bottles, barbed wire, tools etc...
A bush camp tonight and then an equally good drive out the circuit road coming in on the Eastern side of Pine Creek. Mid way along this stretch we turned up a narrow winding , sometimes steep track to the heritage Spring Hill Mine and 10 stamp battery site. This is rated as the most complete historical mine site in the NT. It commenced in 1889, and reopened in the 40s and 50s and the again in 1966 when it crushed 58 tons for 11 ounces of gold. I noted the stamp battery was manufactured by Harridsons of Bendigo (close to home that is). Crocodile Gold Co is very prevalent in this part of the country today.

Our destination today is to Umbrawarra Gorge 20 or so kms out of Pine Creek. What a lovely gorge this is. Not spectacular and not all that imposing but just delightful to walk through and quite extensive at that. Several pools of water some large enough for a swim make it a pleasant place to just wander/ scramble through. A small camp ground with a composting toilet exists at the gorge entrance. We were certainly pleased that we had the opportunity to visit here and this was evidenced by the large number of photos down loaded... very picturesque .... and this is not withstanding that a group of 20 well behaved school kids camped almost on top of us for the night.
We are now about 2 months out and heading for Katherine Gorge (having by passed it on the way up) but first a stop off at the supermarket in Katherine itself for what turned out to be a very efficient shop (provisions for the next 3 weeks). Like most other tourist meccas up here today Nitmiluk Gorge has become very busy and the NP camp ground quite up market including a pool and entertainment each night. Still the gorge itself and the walks around it are quite spectacular. The boat trip to the third gorge is a good day out and worthwhile. One of the highlights was an osprey catching and eating a quite large sized fish just across the river from us. The geology of the Gorge is interesting with regular fault lines appearing at right angles to the main gorge. One can also just wonder at the sheer volumes of water that must flow through here in the wet season.

From here we leave the Top End and head off around the gulf.
More photos:-

We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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