Adelaide to Kimberley -week 10 plus - Home run!

Sunday, Aug 02, 2015 at 19:46

Member - Carolyn & Peter L

Week 10
Wednesday 22nd July

I’m writing this a week later, so things are a little fuzzy. Our minds are definitely looking towards home!

After leaving Keep River National Park we drove back along the main highway to Katherine, back to Shady Lane resort on the Gorge Rd. We stopped at Timber Creek at the Crock Stop Shop for Devonshire tea (but with coffee). Lovely little spot with lots of good crocodile souvenirs. The scones were massive! We had fruit scones but still got served along with the butter, jam and a huge dish of cream. No need for lunch today! We were kept amused watching the Bower Birds come flying in to scavenge anything left on the tables.

Next stop was Victoria River, just to get a couple of shots of the river flowing under the highway bridge. Very pretty. There is also a roadhouse with reportedly good trucker style food, and a basic caravan park as well.

Back in Katherine we set up in the spot next to where we were before, and got the washing done and hung out. Pizza for dinner as the spinach leaf salad that was meant to go with the lamb and feta hadn’t survived the few days since we bought it.Home made pizza on the weber tho, no takeaway!

Thursday 23rd July

The sun rises so much later in the Territory , more like 7.30 so its hard to get up much earlier (and a bit chilly too). Packed up the kamper and headed north to Darwin, where we were booked in to Hidden Valley Tourist Park. Lucky I had booked a few days before, as the Darwin Show was on and they were booked solid by the time we arrived. Before we left Katherine we returned to Woolies to get groceries for the next few days. Good (not) to see some things haven’t changed despite my interaction with the manager 20 years ago (!!) and you still have to use a gold coin to unlock the Trolleys, but I didn’t see any out-of-date dairy items being marked down for sale like they used to. For those not in the know, when we lived in Katherine I took on the manager of Woolworths at the time for selling close-to and out-of-date dairy items marked down. A bit of research with the Health Department, and a very carefully worded letter to him with a copy to the Australian Manager, and some changes took place. Everyone had been complaining about the practice but no-one did anything about it. So I did. Simple. Anyway, back to today…….

The trip to Darwin was a bit slow at times thanks to the American Military Convoys we kept on coming across that had been taking part in the Exercises in the Top End, backed up with caravans ands campers stuck in between trying to overtake. Travel Jam Top End Style!

By the time we arrived in Darwin and set up, there was just enough time to visit the Visitor Centre for our Kakadu passes before we headed off the the Mindil Beach Night Markets.I Love these markets! So many food smells from so many different countries – Chinese, Thai, Roast, Pizza, and the fruit and fruit juice choices!! We had a mango, lime and orange crush – delicious, we had to go back for a second! Beautiful fresh fruit salad cups for $5.50.

The didgeridoo guy I saw last time wasn’t there, but we were entertained by two different fire dancing acts – so skilled! Lovely to sit and eat our dinner on the grass. Managed to find a couple of jewellery items – Boab charm and pearl pendant – that I couldn’t resist. Used the old “my birthday’s coming up” line! I knew I was safe cause I knew Pete wouldn’t have bought anything already! In between strolling round and getting dinner we noticed the sun going down so while I waited for our juices, Pete took the camera and fought for a position on the beach with everyone else – it was packed!! However, he was rewarded with a hot yellow ball going down very quickly thru pink and purple clouds – very pretty!

Friday 24th July

Spent a warm night – darwin is so much warmer than I remember last dry season I was here. Day time temps of 33, night time probably a bit over 20. A lot more humid for the dry than I remember too. Slow start to the day but too warm to sleep in for too long. Sent Pete off to the Aviation Museum (just up the road) and spent some time with photos and emails.

After lunch went for a drive back through the city and along the port and docks area. Got into a bit of a tangle trying to drive onto the Esplanade as the road was blocked off by the Police due to a suspicious package being found in front of the Justice Centre. Turned out to be Ok I think. Drove back to Mindil Beach just to show Pete how different it looks during the day, then on to East Point Reserve and eventually Nightcliffe to the supermarket. Nothing too exciting!

Saturday 25th July

Packed up and drove about 250km along the Arnhem Highway to Kakadu National Park. The first stop was Bowali Visitor Centre, with some great interpretive displays and coffee! Whilst there I phoned and booked a Guluyambi Cultural Boat Tour from Ubirr for the next morning, and the Yellow Waters Sunrise boat cruise the following day. Then straight on to Jabiru township just a few km up the road. We dropped in to Anbinik Kakadu Resort (formerly Lakeview Park) to book so we could set up and stay in the 1 location, but they had nothing til the next night, so booked ahead for the following 2 nights, and drive just over 30km north to Merl campground and set up before we drove into Ubirr to do the walk and view the rock art and sunset from the lookout. There were heaps of mozzies around (we had been warned) so we layered up the clothes and slapped on Bushman’s and tropical strength OFF for Pete (he worries about the DEET in Bushman’s, I’m more worried about Ross River Virus!!!

The Rock art was very prolific and quite different to what we had seen in the Kimberley. Unfortunately the spot is very popular and there were large tour bus groups scrambling through, and then. when we went to climb the lookout it was so noisy! After being in WA and seeing mostly other Australian tourists with a few backpackers, I was unprepared for the League of Nations that descends upon Kakadu, thanks to its popularity and accessibility. That would be OK, but I don’t think they read the guide book about respect for country and sitting quietly to think about where you are. It was worse that a flock of corella’s! I wished they would all just shut up! I just had to sit and enjoy the view and block them out.

Once we got back to the campground it was a mad dash to light the mozzie coils and sandalwood sticks, re-douse ourselves with mozzie spray and quickly get dinner and in to the kamper away from the blighters! The air was thick with them. The discomfort didn’t stop there either. Some bright young things had set up camp in the dark, then proceeded to turn up their music top notch. Sound carries so well in a campground. So the first track we were blasted with was Bollywood themed, the next track was a cross between Guns n Roses and Creed. And so it went on. It was hot (still over 30 degrees) no breeze, and we had idiots camped next door. It was only the fact that I would have got eaten alive by mozzies that stopped me from going and asking them to shut it down. Eventually I think that’s what happened as it settled down to a much more manageable level. Not a good nights sleep.

Sunday 26th July

We had to be at the dock for the boat cruise at 8.45, and initially had planned to be up and have the camper packed but decided to just have breakfast and return to the campsite to pack up. We also planned on having a shower, but when we saw the swarm of mosquitoes in the toilets and showers, gave that up as a bad joke. Bird bath!

As we parked the car at the boat ramp, someone pointed out a Jabiru right on top of a large rock formation behind us. The rock formation was over 200m high, and it stood out so clearly on top. We found out later that the name of the rock was in fact Jabiru Rock.

We gave Neville, our tour guide our details and sat chatting while we waited for the others to arrive. He was telling us that archeologists had just dug up some human remains, in which was a femur (thigh bone) much longer than any preexisting skeletons. They believe they could be about 50,000 years old, the oldest human remains in the world, which could re-write the history books.

The boat cruise took us downriver on the East Alligator River first to Cahills Crossing, the road crossing from Kakadu to Arnhem land on the other side, where you can’t go without a permit. We were only in the river for a few minutes when we came across our first salt water crocodile. At this time of the day the water is warmer than the banks, so there were just coming up to float and bask. We were able to get very close, but of course had to keep our arms inside the boat as salties can be vey aggressive particularly if hungry, and can easily jump their body length up out of the water. Neville told us that they were really overpopulated now since hunting was stopped in the 70’s, and there were very few places in Kakadu and Arnhem land that were safe to swim. The Northern Land Council are currently planning crocodile safari tours, to bring in money into the communities, and cull the numbers back down to a Safer level. They are talking about charging $10,000 a person! Guess that’s one tour we wont be doing. But there were indeed over 15-20 salties we sighted during the two hour cruise, and they say for every one you see, there are another five under the water. You can estimate their length by measuring/estimating the length from the tip of their snout to the back of their eyes, and multiplying it by 7, or their tail from the hind legs to the tip, and doubling it. There were also freshwater crocs in the river, but in small numbers, and they often get chased off or attacked by the more aggressive salties.

Neville is a very busy guy. He runs up to four tours a day during the dry, he is a qualified plumber, a traditional artist who owns two of his own galleries, and is also a teacher of aboriginal culture. An amazing man with such passion and humour and an infectious giggle. He drew up to the bank and showed us how he uses the Pandanus Palm to make his own paint brushes. He scrapes off the outer layer with his thumb, and it reveals the fibrous inner core of many single strands of fibre which make perfect paint brushes.

Further up river he again pulled over to the side to allow us to walk on Arnhem Land soil, where he talked more about his people and stories and gave us a demonstration of spear throwing using a woomera. His family still live in the traditional way of hunting and gathering in Arnhem Land. Two of his brothers work with him doing the tours, another works at Yellow Waters further south. He is rightly proud of his Heritage but also passionate about increasing Tourism to make their communities more sustainable, and sharing their knowledge and traditions.

On the return Journey Pete spotted a White Bellied Sea Eagle, second largest bird of prey in Australia (second to the wedge tailed Eagle). Neville turned the boat back and got up real close. Such majestic creatures!

Before we were ready the tour was over. It had been a delightful tour with only a small group – we only had 11 but they only take up to 24 so there is lots of chances to interact and ask questions.

Back to Merl campground, the place was deserted with nearly everyone having packed up and left. It didn’t take us long to finish off packing up and make the short journey 30km or so back to Jabiru where we set up again, this time with our own ensuite toilet and shower! Bit of a luxury but much appreciated. No mozzies in the shower either!! After showering we spent the rest of the day trip planning for the way home (via Oodnadatta), catching up with emails and phone calls etc and just chilling out – which was hard as it was 34-36, relative humidity of 30-60%, so we sat in front on the fan in the shade and did our best. I even went for a dip in the pool to cool down.

Monday 27th July

The night had been very warm again, we slept with all the windows and doors open and just the screens up, but it was so nice to have the fan hooked up to keep us cool. I had set the alarm for 4.45am as we had to leave Jabiru at 5.30 to make Cooinda and Yellow Water for the sunrise cruise at 6.30. It was great to get up and be able to shower in our own ensuite, no mozzies!

We had to keep the speed down travelling south the Yellow Waters, as the day before we arrived a 4WD had been written off by hitting a buffalo at dusk. Luckily we arrived with no trouble and made our way to the pontoon to check in. It was still pitch dark, and the poor girl at the check in desk on the pontoon was battling with hundreds of mozzies, so many she could barely read her manifest. We had already covered ourselves with mozzie repellant, but had given ourselves a re-coat once we arrived.

While we waited for the others to check in for the cruise, we were able to walk about the boat and I got some great pre-dawn shots of the billabong and beautiful mist. In the end there were 3 boats that pulled out together to cruise the Inlet, into the billabong and further up and downstream on the South Alligator River. Even before we left the pontoon, we were treated to a croc jumping out of the water trying to catch a fish or a bird, and then he just stayed floating nearby in the near dark so we could see his head and the spines on his back.

At the start of the 2 hr cruise most of the crocs were still in the water, very visible and we were able to get very close to them. Later on once the sun came up we saw a few more out of the water on the banks. Sunrise was spectacular, through a thick mist that covered the billabong. Our tour guide, Margaret, had very good eyes and was able to spot wildlife and move the boat closer for some great shots. We were able to photograph egrets, a Jabiru, Two sets of white bellied sea eagles, the amazing little Azure Kingfisher, short necked herons, a yellow tree snake, wild horses, and in the distance, wild pigs and buffalo. It was a wonderful cruise amongst the lilys of the billabong and river, and before we knew it our two hours was up and we headed back to the pontoon.

Breakfast at Cooinda resort was included in the package, so we drove the short distance to the resort for an all-you-can-eat buffet of continental and hot breakfast. Superb! We wouldn’t need lunch today!

After leaving Cooinda we headed back up the Kakadu Highway towards Jabiru, and about half way turned off East to visit Nourlangie rock art site. There was a 1.5km walk up to the lookout, one of the easiest walks we had done – all the paths on the flat were paved! Then it was a short climb to the lookout for beautiful views of the surrounding bush and rock formations before heading back down along the rock escarpment to view the 4 or five rock art sites. Very similar in style to the art at Ubirr, once again with evidence of “contact art” –paintings of the aboriginals first contact with white man, along with other traditional paintings of the crocodile sisters and the Lightning Man. It was once again quite hot, over 34, but there was a strong wind blowing which helped to evaporate the sweat and keep us a bit cooler.

When we returned to the car we found our flexible solar panels had half blown off the roof that we had put there while parked to keep the car freezer going, and indication of how strong the wind was! No damage done fortunately.

After leaving the car park area we drove round past Anbangbang Billabong with lots of bird life and lilies, before once again heading north on the highway to Jabiru.We then discovered the wind had flipped the awning again! Once again we hadn’t bothered to tie it down as there hadn’t been any wind previously. Oh well! Sorted it out and put a few pegs in and spent a quiet afternoon in the shade with a still strong breeze to keep us cool.

Tuesday 28th July

The night had still been warm but cooled off a little in the morning, making it easier to pack up. We headed for Katherine, about 3 ½ hrs away, detouring a little into Pine Creek for a look. Back in Katherine we set up again at Shady Lane, this time for 3 days. We went to the visitor Centre to decide which Katherine Gorge Tour to do. We had done the 2 gorge tour years ago, and had planned to hire canoes this time, but you needed to book a full day to access the second gorge, and carry your canoe across the rocks. In the end we settled for the 3 gorge tour with a swim at the last gorge. By the time we had finished the booking I got a text from Deb and Ron and we met for coffee at the Coffee Club – that certainly wasn’t here 20 years ago! It was good catching up and sharing our stories of where we had been. They were leaving in the morning to go to Darwin for 3 nights before heading south, and would maybe spend a bit of time around Alice Springs on the way home as they wouldn’t be getting home til a week after we were.

Then it was a mad dash to woolies for a few things before going back to the caravan park to unload stuff in the fridge and change clothes to head out to the Katherine Club for dinner with my cousin Trevor and his partner Meg who I hadn’t met before. They had moved here from Adelaide nearly 12 months ago, and seemed to be enjoying it having survived their first full range of seasons here. Trevor had been working as a diesel mechanic with a company that serviced several stations across the top end, meaning he would be away for days at a time, but he now works for Bohdi Bus company in Katherine, who supply bus services between the indigenous communities and Katherine and Darwin. Meg works as a Real Estate agent for Elders. It was great to catch up and before we kew it it was time to head home for the night – at least Trevor and Meg had to work the next day, even if we didn’t

-------week 11--------

Wednesday 29th July

Cooler night – we needed 2 blankets by the time the sun came up after just starting with a sheet! Since it was cooler we even managed to stay in bed reading til 9 – probably the latest we had stayed in bed for so far. Got some washing done (it never stops) and packed up to take a drive to the Hot Springs in Katherine and Mataranka – to find we had a flat crank battery!

Pete was lucky enough to get someone from the caravan park to jumpstart for him, and after running it for half an hour he went off to Repco to get the battery checked. 2 hrs later he returned – a problem with the C-tek battery charger on the auxillary battery. They thought wasn’t isolating when the auxillary battery ran low as it should, and we think switched to the main battery and drained it. Bugga! Fortunately the crank battery tested fine.

So we started off on our little drive a bit later than planned. Decided to forego Mataranka Hot Springs, and just drive to the Katherine Hot Springs. As expected, it had changed a lot since we were last here. The side walls of the creek on one side have all been cemented and finished off with rock, and steps and ladders have been put in in 3 places.Quite a bit more civilised! There were heaps of people there, plus a few kids diving and splashing. We moved up closer to the source of the springs where all the grey nomads were, and enjoyed it a lot more! They say in the blurbs that the water is 32 degrees, but we thought it was a bit cooler than that, maybe high 20’s. Certainly very pleasant to get into, and even seemed a bit cool after a while. We enjoyed our swim and chat with the other nomads, eventually leaving once school got out and the numbers increased even more.

The next stop was the Low Level, the river crossing further West of the main bridge, and a picnic spot where the kids used to love to go and paddle and splash in the water. Nothing much had changed here, still very pretty and still able to drive over the river.

Leaving the low level we drove south from town to the RAAF base. The residential area there is not behind the security gate, so we were able to go back and look at the pool and chapel – paint faded but otherwise unchanged – and the houses – drastically changed thank goodness! It seems they are stripping them back and rendering them, and putting in double lock up garages as well – they used to only have car ports. Not sure but I wonder if they are making them a bit bigger too or adding ensuites. Anyway it’s a drastic improvement. There is also a large new housing area under development, still putting in the roads and infrastructure. Close to the main gate, the signs showed that there are now 9 different squadrons and units, probably double to what was there 19 years ago.

Thursday 30th July

Early start for our Katherine Gorge/Nitmiluk Tour at 9am. The national park is about 20 -30 min drive from Katherine, along the river. We parked at the visitor centre then walked the 450m down to the boat ramp area, then lined up in a long queue for 20 minutes until it was time to board. Very busy in the morning, they hire canoes, then have a 2 gorge and a 3 gorge tour both leaving at the same time. You just have to line up behind your designated sign til the time comes to board. We chose to do the 3 gorge tour this time, 4 hours including a swim in a lily pond up off the third gorge before retracing our steps. 19 years ago we had only done 2 gorges. As part of the tour we collected a “refreshment supplies bag” as we boarded, with a bottle of water, a muffin, large cookie and mandarin. There was also more water on the boat and water coolers at the mooring points for each gorge and at the Lily Pond

The Gorge was much as we remember it from years ago, with the exception of the freshwater crocs. The cane toads have reduced the population to the point that they believe there are only about 150 in the gorges now. We did see one sunning on the bank, but we both remember them being a lot more plentiful. There were signs on all the sandy beaches in the gorges warning canoeists not to walk on the sand or risk a very large fine, to prevent them disturbing the croc’s nests and eggs. One female may lay 30 eggs, of which only 5 may survive to make it to the water – victim of birds and goannas, but also they may be eaten by their mothers!!!! Tough parenting!!! We both noticed there wasn’t the bird life in the gorges that we had noted in other gorges we had visited. There were plenty back at the visitor centre though.

Chris was our guide, and he took us through the usual cultural tour information that we had heard before, with the addition of a very brief explanation of the aboriginal skin groups and how it affects relationships, which was very relevant as we passed by Jedda’s Leap, which was featured in a film in 1954 – the first colour movie made in Australia I believe – about two young aboriginal people who fell in love, but altho not blood related, they were in the same skin group and rather than face being speared by the tribe as punishment for incest, they leapt to their deaths off the cliff.

Chris told us about the mangrove and how the leaves are chewed and put in the water to remove the oxygen from the water, dope the fish so they float and can be caught more easily (if you’ve been reading all my blogs you would have heard this already). What they don’t need they leave in the water, send the kids in to splash around and generally re-oxygenate the water so the fish left in the water recover quickly. They also smoke the silvery leaves of one of the trees (going to have to do some googling when I get internet coverage to find the name of the tree) to use as a mosquito repellant. I could have used that one in Kakadu!

The second Gorge in Nitmiluk is a sacred place for ceremony. If any aboriginal catches any fish in any of the other gorges and brings them through this gorge they offer them up to the Rainbow Serpent as sacrifice or risk being punished by the Mimi spirits. Nothing living is to be taken from this gorge by aboriginal people. Nitmiluk by the way is the aboriginal name, coming from two words, Nitmi – the sound of the cicada; and luk – pronounced look and meaning the same. In aboriginal language the u in words is usually pronounced “oo”, as in Ubirr is pronounced “Oo-beer”.

Nitmiluk is made up of 13 gorges. The traditional owners of the area are the Jaowyn people, and they wanted to share the area with others, so leased it back to Parks and Wildlife on a 99 yr lease. The boat tours will take you to the first 2 or 3. The boat is moored at the end of the first gorge and then you make your way over a path created around the rocks that takes you to the mooring point and boat in the second gorge, and likewise the third. This was the other huge change in 19 years. A couple of years ago they spent a lot of money paving and putting in steps and boardwalks to make the walks in between the gorges a lot easier. Once the wet season starts and the river rises about 3 metres, the boats are towed out with a more powerful motorboat (the tour boats only have 50 HP motors) over the rocky patches that divide the gorges and removed from the river for their annual marine safety check during the wet.

You can hire canoes to reach up to five gorges, but after the first two (where you can leave your canoe and pick up another one in the next gorge) you have to carry/drag your canoe over the rocky bits to get to the next gorge. You can camp overnight and return the next day. We were planning to hire canoes this time but when they explained you needed a full day to reach the second gorge, we chickened out and took the easier way! The first gorge is 3.5km the second 2 something, similar to the third, so its quite a hard canoe trip, particularly on the way out which is upstream. The Katherine River starts in Arnhem Land, empties into the Daly River which eventually empties into the sea.

Once we reached the third gorge we moored the boat on a sandy beach and made our way up steps on the Eastern side of the gorge and across a small water hole, up over more rocks to the Lily Pond at the top, which was fed by a natural spring falling into a small waterfall. We were to spend about 45 minutes here so didn’t hesitate to strip down to our bathers and jump in. The water was no-where near as cold as some of the places we had swum, particularly when you swam out to the sunny area. It was quite large up to 50 metres across. Not the clearest water we had swum in, with lots of wattle and leaves floating on top and the water a bit on the green side, but we really enjoyed it as our last swim of the holiday!

The rest of the cruise back was quite pleasant, with a stop in between the second and first gorges to hear about the Jaowyn rock art on the cliff wall. Once we returned back to the visitor centre, we had some wraps/rolls for lunch before heading back to Katherine.

Or so we thought. Returned to the car, surprised that the freezer was still running and cold as we hadn’t bothered with the solar panels since we didn’t think the charger was working properly. Got in the car and – flat battery!!! Bugga! Tried swapping the auxiliary and crank batteries around but the terminals were the opposite way round with short leads so that idea was a fail. Resorted to calling the AANT (equivalent of our RAA) and waited just over an hour for them to come out and jump start us. It was quite warm, about 34 but there was a breeze. We were advised to just go for a bit of a drive to recharge the battery, so after returning to Katherine and dropping off at the caravan Park to leave the freezer there on mains power, drove the 15km back out to the RAAF base to take some photos of the housing for friends who used to live there to show them how it had changed. Finally shopping for the return trip home, purchased a pair of jumper leads just in case (we had left ours at home) and back to the caravan park for dinner. Cheated this time – it was still quite warm so we had leftover BBQ chicken and woolies salads with leftover salad from the night before.

Friday 31st July

Packed up early with a planned 650km to drive to Tennant Creek on our first day of the return trip. But you guessed it – went to hitch up and flat battery again! Double bugga! At least this time we could use the jumper leads to start up the crank battery from the auxiliary battery. But then we couldn’t get the freezer to work off the 12V plug. Am I allowed to say bugga again?! Spent half an hour (with kamper and car already packed and hitched) trying to sort it out, checking the fuses but couldn’t find anything wrong. Pete (bless him) eventually suggested we drive to the auto electricians he had visited the day before. I didn’t disagree. It was now 9.30.

We pulled in to CSA Contracting and got them to have a look. On load testing it came up Ok, just like it did the day before. It was only when checking with a hygrometer that he discovered two of the six cells had gone on the crank battery which was the original battery from when we bought the car, nearly 4 years ago. Hence our problem. Easy fix, $300 and a new battery! The other issue with the fridge was a simple mis-wiring when we had tried swapping batteries at Katherine Gorge – the 12V connection hadn’t been reconnected! Oops but very easily fixed, and sort of glad it did happen otherwise we might not have bothered to further investigate the recurrent flat battery, believing it would recharge during our longer drives. So 2 ½ hrs later we were ready to go! Cameron was very reasonable too, only charging us an hour for labour. Shout out to Cameron!

By now it was 12 noon so we drove back to The Coffee Club for lunch and to revisit our driving plans. We thought we could make Dunmarra easily in 3 ½ hrs, but once we got on the road wanted to keep driving to Tennant Creek, so phoned them when we were in Dunmarra to see if we could still come in at about 8.30pm, which they were happy to do. We would just have to drop the speed on sunset and after dark to avoid hitting roos and cattle.

We were very relieved to finally arrive at Tennant Creek just after 8.30pm. Dave met us when I rang the bell at the office and came out to direct us into one the pebble sites near the front entrance, that you can drive straight through and stay hitched up. Bargain! He pointed out where to find the amenities and power supply and went back to his cheese and onion sandwich that was all he could be buggered making for dinner. Ten minutes later he popped his head out on the balcony from the residence overlooking our site, to check we were all set up and everything was OK. Saluted us with his glass of wine and went back to his sandwich! Only 30 minutes later some two other lots of late travellers had arrived and he came out in his PJ’s this time to direct them to their sites. What a character! He was saying lots of people arrive late after breakdowns, he’s had people arriving at 2.30 in the morning and ringing the bell! Bit rude I reckon to drag anyone out of bed at that hour, they should have just slept in the car and waited til morning!

Being so late we just had noodles and a cuppa for dinner.

Saturday 1st August

So easy to pack up in the morning when we haven’t used the awning and the car is still hitched. The caravan park was very tidy in the daylight, the showers old but clean and blessedly hot water. Had a lovely chat to the partner of the manager about their life on the road and managing caravan parks. Also met and chatted to the lady who had taken our booking the day before. Her and her husband had been working at the G’Day Mate caravan lark in Alice (where we normally stay) but had agreed to help out at Tennant Creek for a month or so, the parks were owned by the same people.

Arrived without event at Alice Springs and set up back in the Palms area of the caravan park, this time on the left hand side instead of our previous spot on the right hand side! Right in front of one of the only clotheslines in the park and the outdoor washing machines – time to strip the bed and put through the towels!

Sunday 2nd August

Bit of a sleep in, we had arranged to meet Sarah (old schoolfriend of Pip and Gem who works in Alice Springs) for brunch. We were to meet in the Mall – they had their fortnightly markets on and Sarah thought it would be a bit too crowded, so we met in the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and the café. It was great to catch up and the gardens are set up as a native garden. Very peaceful with lots of birdlife and still warm enough to sit outside we woke up to 5 degrees at 8am when we dragged ourselves out of bed, heaven knows how cold it really got).

Then it was a mad dash back to the Todd St Mall to meet Peter’s cousin Pauline and her husband Klaus. Pauline has a stall there, and is also the convenor of the market stall holders. I was just sorry to be arriving as all the stalls were packing up, I didn’t get to do any damage to the credit card! Eventually we left Pauline and her hubby to pack up their stall and did a bit of window shopping (well, not just windows, I did come across a couple of scarves for a very reasonable price that I had to add to my collection!). We grabbed some subway for lunch – no Tuna tempters today!- and headed back to the kamper.

Later in the afternoon we drove out to Anzac Hill Lookout where the view is just amazing. They had plaques and information on all of the conflicts that the Anzacs have been involved in up to the present day. Very sobering.

Back to town to get the last lot of groceries for the trip home, then back to camp for a yummy dinner – lemon chicken with couscous and off to bed after packing up the awning ready for an early start the next day.

Monday 3rd August.

Alice Springs to Cadney Park Homestead. Stopped for lunch and a break at Erldunda, the turn off for Uluru /Ayers Rock. Uneventful, thankfully. The day had been very cold with a top of 15, so by the time we arrived at Cadney Park it felt like an arctic sink was blowing. Quick dinner of all the leftover veges (that I really should have gotten rid of at the border) and whatever else I could throw in, then into the tent to rad and keep warm before an early night.

Tuesday 4th August

In the morning I found the last of the veges and donated them to some other travellers heading north, and we were on our way. We turned off the bitumen just south of Cadney Park to head for the Painted Desert, past Arckaringa Station and up to Oodnadatta.

After stopping to let down the tyres again for the unsealed road, we headed into the desert. The road was fairly good, but for lots of it, was just a track through station land and quite narrow and windy through the creeks, with no road posts T all, just a few signs. It was lovely. So quiet, so pretty. We could already see some of the beautiful orange, cream and reddish colours in the rock formations. We passed Arckaringa Homestead – where you can camp if you want to – and arrived at the Arckaringa Hills and walks. We came across the only car we saw throughout the whole 130km til we turned north on the Coober Pedy-Oodnadatta rd.

It was wonderful to have the whole place to ourselves. From the top of the hills you could see for miles and miles. It was sunny but very cool, still only about 14 degrees, which was good because we soon warmed up clambering up to the top of the shale hills which were very steep and slippery with the shale rock. The whole ground was just completely covered in shale rock – such uniform small pieces in every shade of orange, brown, cream and burgundy, it looked like it had been put through a crusher.

We spent about an hour walking and climbing and taking photos, just soaking it all in. We were treated by the arrival of two kangaroos grazing below the hill we were on, which then continued to leap up the hill, giving me some great action shots! Back in the car, we continued on towards Oodnadatta and stopped at a lookout which really showed from a height patches of colour like the shale really had been painted in dabs of colour. Magnificent!

Arriving at Oodnadatta we had to stop at the Pink Roadhouse, a local icon! It was actually very well set out inside for such a tiny place with colourful tables (pink patterned cloths) and a large menu to choose from. We couldn’t go past the Oodnadatta Burger (very similar to the Kimberley Burger I think), and asked for it to but cut in half so we could share it. When it arrived, they had put each half on a plate with its own side of chips!n. Yes, it was delicious! Thank goodness we had only decided to share one!

Heading south on the Oodnadatta Track towards Lake Eyre, the road continued to be excellent with a few patches of corrugations and a couple of spots of road works. Unfortunately they were watering the road for the grader, which covered the underside of the car in the only mud of the trip! Ugh! The wildflowers were wonderful, being only a month since the desert had received soaking rain. Pete kept stopping for me so I could photograph the different flowers. The white poached egg daisies looked like suspended snow from a distance as they carpeted the ground, alternating with carpets of yellow daisies and smaller numbers of purple and red pea shaped flowers.

We stopped at Algebuckina to photograph the old Ghan Bridge over the Neale River, and the waterhole. The bridge was built by 352 men and cost £60,000! All along the track we followed the old Ghan route, with ruins of the railway sidings and water tanks built to support the steam train. Some people had left their names (and some other words!) formed out of the abandoned railway sleepers on the sides of the slope built to support the railway tracks. Warinna was another ruin we stopped and photographed along the way.

So much more traffic on the Oodnadatta track! We didn’t go very far at all without passing more vehicles coming in the other direction, or passing us when we had pulled over to photograph yet again more wildflowers. We covered the 201km to William Creek before we knew it. We booked a site in the caravan park through the delightfully unique William Creek Hotel. Still having some more food to cook up, we declined the choice of having dinner at the pub and set up the kamper. There were only eight or so other rigs spaced out round the park, and then a mini bus arrived with a young tour group and pulled up 50m from us as everyone piled out and into one of the bunkhouses, eight rooms, four on each side facing each other with a verandah in between the two sides. Before long they were gone, we assumed to the pub for dinner.

Unfortunately the night went drastically downhill from there. After dinner we retired into the van early because it was bone chilling cold. I decided to go to bed as early as 7.15, just to keep warm. Pete sat up reading for a while. I awoke suddenly at 10pm to the sound of loud voices counting backwards from 10, and a load roar and cheer at the end…….repeatedly. Interspersed with lots of laughter and shouting. Oh no! The tour group was back and playing some game that involved drinking shots. Obviously not Australian from all the accents we heard (at top notch). Hadn’t their tour guide explained about campground etiquette? Guess not? Believing it would be over soon, we lay in bed, wishing they would just go away. Well they didn’t, they just got louder and rowdier, foul language came into it, with lots of squealing and even screaming a few times. Later on we even had some vomiting. Soooo entertaining. Not. More than a little incensed by this time, we really wanted to go and ask them to shut it down, but realised it wasn’t really safe to go and confront a group of drunk tourists, who knew what they would do? We were stuck there, no onsite camp manager, no phone service, no police, and presumably no tour manager. Suck it up baby, which we did – until after midnight!

Wednesday 5th August.

Morning came. We discovered the tour bus parked at the back of the park near another bunkhouse – this turned out to be where the tour guide was housed. He didn’t hear anything! We talked about what to do, and eventually decided to talk to the tour group guide and explain what happened and how inappropriate and inconsiderate it was. Pete tried talking to him first without much positive response or interest – all he wanted to know was why didn’t we ask them to quieten down? Yeah right! Then I went over to try and talk to them. We didn’t really get anywhere with him, felt it was totally our responsibility to approach the group and ask them to quieten down, didn’t believe he had any responsibility to other campers or to instruct his passengers to behave in certain way. All I could do was try and explain to the group gathered (some of whom were they guilty party) about respect for themselves and other people, who come to visit the outback to enjoy the beauty and peace and quiet. Talk about feeling like an old Nana!

It put quite a damper on our last camping night of the holiday, but there you go. We resolved to follow it up with the company once we got home and tried to put it aside and not allow it to spoil what was left.

The desert certainly helped to distract and entertain us with still abundant flowers and green areas, old ruins along the railway line. With only 256km to go to Roxby, we enjoyed the good road with the exception if a couple of roadworks areas, and arrived into Roxby shortly after midday. The Borefield Rd brings you into the town from the Oodnadatta track, south of Lake Eyre and East of Maree. You come in from the north, through Olympic Dam, the mine being visible in the distance. We drove round Olympic Dam a bit so Pete could point out where he had stayed before when doing shutdowns, and where Tim used to work.

We arrived at Carmel and Davids house to have a late lunch with Carmel, Pete’s sister. David has been working at the mine now for 3 ½ years, at first FIFO with Carmel continuing to live in their hometown of Loxton, but early this year Carmel joined David in Roxby and they are now settled in a lovely home. Carmel is busy working and volunteering in the community, while David now works Monday to Friday with weekends off, but still 12 ½ hr working days, hard work! We spent a lovely afternoon with Carmel catching up and sharing our adventures, and later when David arrived home enjoyed a delicious meal of lasagne followed by peach cobbler!!!Home grown peaches of course! We had to force ourselves to break it up so that David could get to bed – he leaves for work at 5.30 in the morning! We had earlier set up the kamper in the driveway so didn’t have far to go to retire!

Thursday 6th August

This is it! D-Day has arrived and the time has come to return home. Exciting and yet a bit sad too. David having already left for work we shared breakfast with Carmel before heading our after a stop at the bakery for lamingtons and coffee.

Just 30km south of town we were reminded that the adventure wasn’t over yet, as we found an amazing huge display of Sturt Desert Pea that we had heard about, firstly through South Aussie with Cosi on facebook, then pictures that Carmel and David had taken themselves the week before. A carpet of vibrant red and black flowers, it was something I have never seen before on such a scale. The largest patch was probably ovee 100m across from one side to the other! Like a kid in a lolly shop, we carefully walked around and through the display, snapping endless photographs and close-ups. Taking our time, we even found some dark pink, light pink and coral Desert Peas, and one that the bottom petals were white with Red stripe on them. That was one way to spend nearly an hour! Money can’t buy an experience like that! It doesn’t happen very often, but then to be in the right place at the right time. Very fortunate indeed.

We arrived at Pt Augusta just after 1pm to refuel then further south turned off at Crystal Brook to travel through Clare to catch up with Pete’s Mum and Dad. Nan of course had some delicious scones waiting for us. Before long we headed out on our final leg. Sort of a bit weird cause we’ve done that bit of the trip so many times before.

It was just after dark when we arrived home after 6pm. Relief that we had made it, exhaustion at the thought of all the unpacking and cleaning of camping equipment we had yet to do. It was good to be home, but sad to leave all the adventure behind us til next time.

So I’m signing off for this trip, thank you all for diligently following the blog and sharing our adventure with us. I hope it has encouraged some of you to consider the same trip, and if that’s not possible, I hope you have enjoyed seeing a part of Australia that it absolutely stunning. Til next trip,I will just leave you with a bit of a synopsis of the whole thing, sharing Peter and my reflections:-

Best thing about trip:-
1 Meeting people
2. Big caravan and camping show – different ideas
3 Carolyn's cooking!
1. Flexibility, changing itinerary as you go, rest days
2. Amazing diversity of different places we visited
3. Improving my ability to do difficult hikes
4. Great food!
5. Travel blog and Scrapbooking – don’t have to do when we get home altho it was demanding at the time
6. New friendships

Worst thing about trip
1. Mosquitoes & flies
2. Heat at bungles
3.Queensland cane toad
1. Sometimes needed time alone (there are so many people out there!)
2. Mosquitoes
3. Heat at Bungles and Kakadu

Best place/attraction
1.Mitchell Falls
2.Manning Gorge
3. Karijini
4.Cape Range
5. Kunununurra, Lake Argyle
1.Manning Gorge
2. Karijini
3.Mitchell falls
4.Broome & Kununurra

Worst place/attraction
1. Bungles over rated
2. Merl campground in Kakadu - Mosquitoes!!!!!
3. Larawa Nature Stay

What I would do differently:
1. Be more solar smart, sort out electricals
2. Leave some stuff home
3. Take spare shockers and jumper leads & wheel bearings
4. Leave inflatable dinghy
5. 3 months a bit too long (lack of pay)
1. Better bathers to wear when hiking/swimming in water holes
2. Leave Breadmix at home

Places to go back to:-
Peter & Carolyn
1.Ningaloo Reef

Best tour:-
1. Horizontal Falls
2.Lake Argyle
1. Horizontal Falls
2. Guluyambi

Worst tour:-
1. Short helicopter flight at Mitchell Falls - 6 min for $135!
1.Katherine Gorge – only in comparison to others, we did at the end and it wasn’t unique, lack of wild life, had heard all cultural info before,also we had done the tour 18 years ago

Take me back to my home
To the spirit of the land that calls me
Colours and textures, light and birdsong
There I can breathe, and restore my soul
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