Burton's Perth to Cape York Mataranka to Darwin 5-13 June 2011 Day 67-75

Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012 at 14:18

Mike & Amanda

It was only a short hop to Katherine up the crowded Stuart Highway. Long lines of caravans made it difficult to overtake, the grey gonads out in force. The engine problem recurred after the engine warmed up causing me to pull my head in and drive just like a nomad....aagh! We located the shopping centre, it swarming with grey nomads, caravans everywhere, most parking even the verges taken by large vans. After considerably lightening the credit cards we headed out for the thirty k drive to the gorge. They were expecting us and directed us to a powered bush camp site for rigs over 6 metres...our Oddy being nearly this length from draw bar to floor end when open. Besides these sites were less populated and more attractive. The place was infested with feral wallabies that had obviously been fed by tourists and were slightly aggressive, searching for a free hand out. Even the birds swooped down unexpectedly stealing potato chips from the bowl! Sadly, a huge bus much bigger than your average city bus and towing a large box trailer that we later learned housed a large car parked directly behind us. It was a flamboyant guy in a loud hawaiian shirt and his family of four. This thing must use the power of a small city! Soon they were spread out behind us, the disgusting smell of cigarette smoke drifting over, the man talking constantly and loudly into a mobile phone..he must be very important..ha!
I disappeared into town and visited Katherine Toyota. A dreadlocked guy listened to my story, plugged in his handheld diagnostic computer into the OBD plug and proclaimed there was nothing wrong as there were no current codes. He was confused as to where the fuel filter was located only just discovering that my Cruiser was a petrol and not a diesel! All in all a disappointing visit, although I did buy a new air filter just in case. Our canoe hire had been cancelled due to 'crocs and high water' although there was certainly no evidence of flooding. They strongly suggested we transfer our money to a cruise, but the thought of two hours listening to a dialogue about the mythical dreamtime in the company of pensioners made me ask for a refund. We elected to walk around the edge of the gorge only to find that the walking tracks don't actually track along the edge and are mostly inland with the occasional lookout, the actual gorge rarely seen. The 400 metres down to the Southern Rock Hole was steep and difficult. The water hole at the end was worth it, cold, surrounded by tall cliffs and the remnants of a water fall still flowing. We enjoyed a swim bolstered by biccies, milo bars and fresh water. It was a long hot uninspiring walk back, we all agreeing that the layout could have been done much better. It would seem that the whole place is really set up for cruises and is an efficient money trap, probably not worth much of a visit, certainly for our type of travel. We bumped into Mick and Chrissy in their Kimberley Camper back at the camp. We last saw them at Cape York and unfortunately Chrissy had been quite sick with some sort of stomach virus, even having to fly to Darwin for tests.

We headed out to Kakadu via Pine Creek on the bitumen, the Cruiser once again playing up. I'm getting better at feathering the throttle, putting it into manual to get the gears to change up and overall managing to get her up to 100+. We knew that our hard earned Koopin Gorge permit had been cancelled due to the gorge being closed, although I did ask at Mary River for my key. They hadn't received their keys yet from the Parks people and thought that the gorge wasn't open. The aboriginal guy was so apologetic that he wouldn't take our $25 each for the Kakadu Park Pass! We whizzed down the 2WD dirt road towards Koolpin and Gunlom finding it to be quite rough and wondering how a sedan would cope with it. Koolpin was barricaded and marked closed so we turned left instead and headed for Gunlom. The camp ground proved to be great, the generator area quite quiet, grassed and with our own personal campfire ring. The Rangers and Parks Board were having a huge meeting so we were able to meet a board member and Sarah the Park Manager. They were all very apologetic and took time to explain the reasoning behind the closures and late opening. The camp ground was equipped with large solar showers, unfortunately a haven for mossies. The bottom of the falls was a large plunge pool and although open for swimming it was not recommended due to some uncertainty about salties. We did spot a couple of the white croc floats strategically placed around the perimeter. Salties are apparently curious and will chew on anything that catches their attention. These floats are regularly checked and a well chewed one suggests strongly that this might not be a good area for your morning dip! We did cautiously use the pool for our bath and found it to be refreshing and clean. Next day we walked the steep climb to the top to find a series of beautiful rock pools, steeped water falls and a delightful view across the plains and campground far below. We spent hours swimming with our very own infinity pool. If you timed it right the tourist crowds were minimised, the trick was to avoid the 'adventure' tour buses that tend to clog each attraction. That night the Camp Host whilst collecting his fees mentioned Jim Jim Falls opened tonight and that the old Jim Jim Road was also open. This was great news as up until now each attraction we had pegged had been closed and we had seriously contemplated leaving early for Darwin via the boring bitumen.

The Hema Maps have the road to Jim Jim as being 4WD only. We found the 60 kilometres to be a dream road, smooth, wide and no corrugations. It was even better than the Gunlom 2WD track! We collected plenty of firewood on the way, occy strapping it to the Oddy before setting up at the Garnamarr Campsite. The research suggested that this place catered for about 200 campers which was not the case. There were two distinct campsites, one for groups and one for the rest of us plebs. Our area consisted of some bitumen loops with open areas amongst trees, the centres being barricaded off with bollards. Each site had a steel box for a small fire or barby. All up there appeared to be about thirty sites, not many suitable for camper trailers. Being one of the first in, we managed to find the one large site and quickly set up very close to the clean, modern amenity block. Most of the people there and those turning up appeared to be Darwin locals, it being a long weekend. We spent a relaxing three days here, the area proving to be quiet and most of the visitors offroaders, caravans not being allowed. Each night we had a great fire, toasted marshmallows with little insect problems. We did one walk to Jim Jim, Twin Falls still being closed. The 10 km track in was a fantastic drive, whoopdies, water crossings, mud, washaways all requiring a slow amble, some skill but not much difficulty. We watched a couple of standard 4WDs bottoming out on a couple of occasions whilst our lifted suspension hardly felt a thing. After parking at the car park and using the drop toilets there was a twenty minute walk through some forest before reaching a billabong with strict no swimming signs. A large croc trap was floating on one side. From here on in, it was a thirty minute scramble over very large boulders through a difficult to discern path, the way only marked by small triangles pointing in the vague direction of travel. This was very hard work and should not be taken lightly! At the end the huge falls were very impressive although the late time of day meant they were mostly in darkness, the falls generating a strong cold wind, the water whipped up, dark green, bitterly cold and not very inviting. There was a couple of sandy edged beaches to one side, however this meant additional difficult scrambles and again the water didn't look that pleasant. In between the boulders we nearly trod on a recently dead snake of some description. The constant jarring, clambering over these car size boulders upset Amanda's already sore neck. We decided that Gunlom was far more attractive and enjoyable, this one not on our to do again list.

The Old Jim Jim Road was a great drive with some superb water crossings, the South Adelaide River being the pick as well as a great spot for some barra fishing and lunch. A large part bisects the Mount Bundey Military Training Area which is conspicuous by its kilometres of fencing and prominent live firing warning signs - not a good area to drive into!

We were booked in to the Hidden Valley Tourist Park in Berrimah. It proved to be very popular, read full so we were thankful we had booked ahead. To add to the misery it was the V8 Championship weekend coming up and most residents were being evicted and told to come back after....Noisy partying backpackers frolicked each evening around the nearby camp kitchen, however the trusty Class 3 earplugs kept them at bay. I drove into Darwin, only 10 minutes away and visited the helpful and friendly Bridge Toyota. The helpful workshop manager suggested that my issue could be the the air box sensor, the only device in the car that wasn't alarmed to the dash. As they couldn't fit me in until after we were leaving he suggested blowing it out and using electronic cleaner on it. He seemed to think that all other issues would result in a flashing light somewhere. Whilst in town I visited the GPO and much to the kid's dismay managed to pick up the long lost Naplan tests. Jaycar provided some electrical cleaner and canned air whilst Bunnings sold me a new and hopefully sharper Fiskar bush saw for the grand sum of $8. Jack and I found a great camping store in Berrimah and he chose a tent. The time has come and he wants his space. He did a great job erecting it on our return and promises to not delay our departures with a speedy pack up. The family drove into Darwin City for the day, walking around, checking out the harbour front and having great barra and chips for lunch. One sad legacy of our Hidden Valley stop was Amanda being eaten by sand flies for the first time. No one else was affected, however A was stricken with the traditional angry red itchy welts for several days that drove her literally mad, making a good night's sleep virtually impossible. I nagged her constantly about not scratching and getting an infection, the next level of discomfort.
Mike & Amanda
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