Top End June/July 2009

Sunday, Aug 23, 2009 at 20:20

Member - Min (NSW)

Account of Trip to Top End Jun/Jul 2009

3 June – Coonabarabran (Motel)
Soon after the worst of the peak hour we set off from our home near Canberra through Cowra, Canowindra (resisting the temptation to visit Tom’s Waterhole winery), Molong and Dubbo, past turnoffs to the Warrumbungles, and finally stopped for the day at Coonabarabran. There was some light rain later in the day and the light breaking through the clouds over the Warrumbungles in the late afternoon was beautiful.

It was cooling down quickly and we found a motel where we could park the trailer safely and was within walking distance of somewhere to have dinner.

We will use motels for two or three days until we are in warmer climes.

Our intention is to get within striking distance of Darwin fairly quickly so that there we can be sure of meeting our grandchildren when they arrive by air on 27th June.

4 June – Moree (Motel)
It was raining when we left Coonabarabran this morning and lasted on and off for a couple of hours. Our route on the Newell Hwy passed through the Pilliga Nature Reserve on our way to Narrabri. We intended to stay for a couple of days in Narrabri if the weather was sunny so that we could at long last visit Mt Kaputar NP, something we’ve wanted to do for many years but alas the weather was quite dubious so we settled for a visit to the Australian Telescope (radio telescope) halfway between Narrabri and Wee Waa.

The radio telescope visitor centre was unmanned but there was a good display and a theatrette with a video. There are a number of dishes several of which are on tracks like railway lines and can be moved along up to approximately a kilometre as required. All these dishes can be linked with others away from this complex to give a more detailed view of deep space. John was very interested as, during his 45 years with CSIRO, he had had considerable contact with people who had worked there. It is a fascinating place to visit even for those with little or no knowledge of deep space.

After a huge lunch a busy bakery café in Narrabri we continued up the Newell to Moree where we found a motel. It was only a short walk from the artesian bore baths which people visit for a week or two on a regular for its curative waters. The motel was an apartment complex catering for such patrons. It was weird because the rooms were quite small but it was furnished with red curtains with elaborate gold fringed swags and fitted bedspreads in red silky fabric – too much!

We went for a walk in the lovely green park which stretches for quite a distance along the banks of the Gwydir River. On the town side of the river we watched hoards of children having great fun in a high slide tube.

5-6 June – Roma
Roma is our destination for today so we headed of on the Carnarvon Hwy through Mungindi and St George (Barnaby territory), arriving in the early afternoon to the Big 4. We’ve stayed there before and it’s a bit noisy but we managed okay.

The local country music group gave a concert on the lawn tonight and there was a sausage sizzle. We went along and I prepared our meal beforehand. The music was enjoyable but the crowd showed little appreciation to the point that I felt embarrassed. Why won’t people applaud when people are up there doing their best? Anyway after a while they seemed to warm up and after an hour-and-a-half we felt we could slip away without being rude and we had a good steak and vege dinner.

The next day we went to The Rig which tells the story of oil exploration in the region and much of the machinery of the past is on display. I really couldn’t get too excited about it but John certainly enjoyed himself. We then did some shopping for fresh food for the next few days.

7 June – Blackall
Next stop was Blackall via the Warrego and Landsborough (Matilda) Hwys. I feel happier and more at home the further we head west.

On arrival we discovered that the bolt from the towing chain was missing. That mean neither of us did our job leaving Roma – one does up the bold and the other checks as with all the important tasks. It was Sunday and nothing much was open. Tried again next morning but still couldn’t get one despite a service station that had everything else anyone could have wanted. We used a padlock until we could buy a new shackle or suitable bolt.

We checked out the black stump again to make sure it was still there – it was – but missed out on seeing the wool scour which during the tourist months is driven by steam. We’ll try again next time.

We had a convivial and delicious three course camp oven dinner served on long tables in the rustic camp kitchen. Good fun.

8-10 June – Winton
Continuing on the Matilda Hwy we reached Longreach at lunchtime. It was a public holiday and just about everyone in the town must have been enjoying it because we could only find one place to buy food. It was selling greasy hot stuff but I enquired if they were making sandwiches and with the affirmative I joined the long queue. We ate it on a bench in the main street. I really must get better organised. We have food with us but get sick of pulling everything out and putting it back again to make wraps or sandwiches every lunchtime.

We checked into the Matilda cv pk and felt right at home as we’d been here two or three times before. It was a good site with nice neighbours. Next important matter on the list was a nice cold pint at the pub with table and chairs on the footpath. (Why do men grin and joke when a thirsty woman asks for a pint?) The company at the tables was easy going and the afternoon seemed even better.

I was devastated to find that the general store where about seven years ago I had found goods still marked in pounds, shillings and pence had been cleaned up.

Some weeks after leaving Winton we were told about the new palaeontology centre about ten ks away and were amazed that we didn’t hear a thing about it in the three days we were in Winton, not even at the visitor centre where we pottered around for ages. We hadn’t gone into the museum in town because we’d been through it very thoroughly on our last visit.

Bladensburg NP called us again and we spent a great day exploring it more thoroughly than previously. With its flat-topped mesas, channel country, Mitchell grasslands, sandstone ridges, saltpans, and history it is a vast and wonderful place. We again visited Skull Hole and contemplated the terrible massacre said to occurred there and then went to Scrammy for wonderful views. On the way to Scrammy we drove through an amazing patch of Acacia that was twisted in fantastic shapes and looked dead until you followed the curves of the plant only to discover the green and healthy tufts at the ends. Must camp there next time.


11 June – Mt Isa
Mt Isa is not my favourite place. We stayed at a cv pk on the way in thinking it would be fairly quiet but because it was on a bend we could still hear the trucks. Oh well, there are not many places you can get away from them. Didn’t bother going in to town.

12 June – Barkly Homestead
The drive from Mt Isa was very pleasant with changing scenery and easy driving, even if there was a roadworks sign for 80kmph for ages with no sign of work today but as there was a cop behind us we stuck to the limit until he eventually passed us. We made it to Barkly in good time and tried for a site as far from the generator as possible. I think the genny has been updated as it made a more constant drone rather than the clanging and banging I remember. It didn’t bother us and neither did the trucks. In fact it was a very pleasant stop.

I watched a huge raptor in a tree nearby for ages. I’m sure it was a wedge-tailed eagle. Perhaps he was checking the place out for a stopover too. I’m furious that we somehow didn’t pack the binoculars. There were lots of different birds around (must learn more about them) and the night sky was brilliant – so many stars it was hard to pick out individual stars/planets/clusters or constellations.

The evening became cool again even though the day had been pleasantly warm. We were glad of the heater in the middle of the night.

13 June – Tennant Creek
I drove from Barkly Homestead to here today – such an easy drive, sat on 106kph all the way. I got that sinking feeling as we hit town; rubbish strewn about but it improved as we came into the town proper. Just followed the signs and found a cv park off the main drag and came in. We are at Outback Caravan Park. It is supposedly 4star but the amenities don’t bear that out. Otherwise it is very pleasant and we have a good site with a concrete slab and the roads are sealed so there’s not so much red dirt around.

We went out shopping and there is one supermarket (Foodlands) which is okay. The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled with limited hours and limited amounts and types for sale at certain times. It applies to everyone. There is everything you need here but not a great variety.

Went for a drive to the Info Centre and the Battery Hill Museum. It was a disappointment as it was not organised in any way and you didn’t know where to go so we wandered around for a while. There was some landscaping with local plants and I got some photos. Then we went to Lake Mary Anne which is the dam for Tennant Creek. It is quite lovely there, very peaceful and attractively landscaped.

There is a very large Aboriginal population and as this is Saturday there has been football not far from us – I would like to have seen the match. There is music close by which is monotonous as we can only hear the drums. There has also been car racing.

14 June – Tennant Creek
Drove to the Devil’s Marbles which was quite fascinating and an enjoyable day. The rocks vary in size and some are split in two, most are spheres but others are rectangular and at certain angles look as if they’re neatly packaged together. It would be lovely to see it at sunset. Camping permitted. We did a couple of short walks.

15 June – Elsey NP
Had a look at Daly Waters and it was like Pitt Street. While we were there two huge semi-trailers with racing cars for the races in Darwin this weekend. Goodness knows where they were going to turn around! We didn’t wait to see, just had lunch by the roadside and got out of the place. No doubt the place jumps at night but not our scene. We pushed on to Mataranka and had the night in Elsey NP – very peaceful, with fond memories of our time there with QE3 (inflatable sit-on-top) on the Roper River. Hot showers! The walks here along the river are a bit disappointing as they are through very soft sand and are hard going.

16 June – Edith Falls (Leylin)
We had been looking forward to camping here and it does not disappoint. We have a lovely grassy site. Went for a walk across the Edith River on the loop path which goes up and crosses the waterfall. Only made it to the top today, just wanted some exercise. Good views. Lots of kapok trees and flocks of black cockatoos.

The ranger gave an interesting talk and slide show in the evening which was very well attended.

17 June – Edith Falls
Set out early to do the loop walk which proved to be a great day out. There are lovely pools at the top and several good lookouts on the route. There were sundews and some tiny cream and white orchids growing by the top pools. There is also a beautiful pink Calytrix in abundance. We chatted to people along the way and walked back with a couple who visit the Top End every year and do lots of walking. They were generous with their knowledge.

It was then time for a cooling swim in the huge plunge pool. Delicious.

18 June – Mary River Roadhouse
We decided to have a look at some Kakadu places along the Kakadu Hwy so checked in then went up to Gunlom. The camping looked good there and the plunge pool was lovely and we were dills not to have a swim. We walked to the top of the falls and were rewarded with great views in every direction and another enticing pool above the falls where more sensible people were enjoying a cooling swim. It was a very steep and rocky climb but no doubt did us good. Back at the roadhouse it was quite pleasant with a grassy site and power – until we helped out a tour operator who was not on power but had lost 12 volt power to his fridge, stuffed the power outlet and we had no power for the rest of the night.

19 June – Batchelor
John’s birthday. Had a lay day and cooked a roast leg of lamb in the Cobb and berry and cream pancakes.

Batchelor has a good information centre and not much else for the traveller. There is a service station and general store with decent fresh fruit and veg. We are in the Big 4 park which is quite pleasant, grassy and has good amenities. There are some very fancy cabins and ensuite van sites with washing machines.

20 June – Batchelor
Today we went out to Litchfield and looked at several of the falls and went for a lovely walk at Florence Falls and Tolmer Falls. At Wangi we just looked around and had a drink at the kiosk. All very beautiful places but quite crowded. We are checking things out for a day trip with Rachel and Sophie when they arrive.

21 June – Batchelor
Into the park again. Took the 4x4 track to Lost City – not quite up to others we have seen but still interesting and a good walk. Then to Greenant Creek and Tjaetaba Falls. A good walk and lovely deep pool at the top but I really felt the heat and felt quite sick for a while. It was a doddle coming back. Then on to Wangi again and a very refreshing swim. It’s a beautiful place even though quite developed.

22 June – Shady Camp (Mary River NP)
Mary River NP is in several bits and pieces. We went to a small section on the river north of the Arnhem Hwy where there is a barrage which has been built to stop salt water flowing into the fresh water. Some time ago there was a natural sand barrier there which was destroyed by feral animals and vehicles.

It took us some time to find a suitable campsite but was worth the search as it looked out to the river in the near distance. It is extremely hot and it’s difficult to even think straight. There is a crocodile viewing area which seems to have a pleasant flow of breeze so we sat there for a while and saw one croc not far away. It’s interesting to watch the fish on the fresh side of the barrage crowding around trying to get across to the salt side when the tide is going out. It seems to be just a big tangle of fins. There were a few crocs around on both sides of the barrage. Of course that is where the fisherpeople congregate.

The toilet was some way from our camp and not very pleasant so we decided to try the Porta-poti. We set up the shower tent and put the loo in there and it was quite a success. We had our lovely shower and nice clean loo right at the door.

Cooking dinner was traumatic; insects of every description and size came from nowhere and tormented us mercilessly. It puzzled us as to how they got inside the tent even with the windows closed. We sat having dinner stripped to the waist. Just as well we had such a private site. The night was as hot as the day but we managed to sleep.

23 June – Shady Camp
We decided to stay on for another night despite our ordeal. We had a very lazy day reading and going for short walks and remained fascinated by the action at the barrage. I got chatting to a man who was celebrating his 50th birthday. A few minutes later he caught his first barra. Legal size is 55cm and people will be quick to get on to you if you try to cheat. His was 56cm and he was in heaven. Everyone was congratulating him and wishing him happy birthday.

I learnt my lesson from last night and prepared dinner early before the wildlife got into action. It was quite successful and we had a much more relaxed experience. However, we could not read because the bugs came inside if the light went on so we talked and went to bed early. It was a much more pleasant night and we even had to pull up the cotton blanket in the early hours.

I got chatting to a lady who obviously went to Shady Camp often. She asked if we had been down to the barrage and shone the torch around after dark. She said it would be interesting, so after dinner and covering ourselves from head to toe against the flying armies we headed for the barrage, almost getting lost in the darkness despite our torches. My God! What a sight awaited the beam of our torch – about twenty pairs of orange eyes staring at us. We didn’t hang around long as, being a bit disoriented with the darkness, we began to imagine crocs coming up behind us!

24 June – Howard Springs
After taking photos of fish, jabiru with a beak full of fish, and a croc at the barrage we headed for Howard Springs where we have a good campsite which I hope will be quite suitable when the girls, aged 10 and 14, arrive. The place is unbelievably crowded. We had a barra dinner at the local tavern dining room which was quite good.

25 June – Howard Springs
Went to town, saw Parliament House (very impressive but simple building overlooking the harbour), looked around the city, such as it is, then out to the Museum and Art Gallery which is by the sea. Drove around East Point which is a pleasant drive and lovely views . We bought some fresh barra from a shop down a driveway at the Wharf. The shop only sells Australian seafood and the barra is wild from saltwater, unlike the Mr Barra shop on the main street which did not sell wild barramundi. I cooked it for dinner – much better than the pub – superb is the word.

26 June – Howard Springs
It is very hot and humid. I didn’t expect this humidity at this time of year. There was thick fog this morning which didn’t clear until 10 or so. You could see the moisture droplets floating in the air. Did the washing then went to town again. Walked all around the Wharf Precinct much of which is very new with blocks of apartments and convention centre. There is a wave pool which I have not even seen in any advertising, it’s so new. Looks like fun. I was fascinated by some duck sculptures made of shiny steel with mosaic tiles for the wings. Called in to the Aviation Museum which John enjoyed. Found Palmerston Mall, thought it would be much bigger – Coles, Target, couple of clothing shops, a chicken shop, cigarette shop, and not much else.

Came back to find a camper set up very close to us – a family with a couple of kids, nice people.

We were sitting outside watching television and I was eating an apple when something made me look sideways and a possum was on the back of my chair with his head over my shoulder looking me in the eye. Jumped out of my skin!

27 June – Howard Springs
Set up the tent and beds etc. in readiness for the girls’ arrival this afternoon. They arrived safely but seemed a bit quiet. It was very hot so they jumped in the pool and seemed quite delighted with the surroundings. The pool is large with two spas all nicely landscaped. The girls were their normal happy, bubbly selves in no time. Coming from a Canberra winter I think they’d be happy to stay here for the whole week.

Had dinner at the tavern down the road again, tried tv (we can only receive digital on our laptop) but it conked out but no one seemed bothered. It is wonderful having the girls with us. I hope they enjoy their time.

28 June – Howard Springs
Went to Territory Wildlife Park for the day. It was very hot and humid again but despite that we enjoyed our day. There were some irritations though; the ‘train’ did not run frequently enough and we spent much time walking in the heat or waiting, sometimes in the sun, and when we did get on the wretched woman driving the thing would not stop talking a lot of drivel. There was an aquarium, nocturnal house, raptor demonstration and various wetlands to visit and there was a pleasant area to have a picnic. But it was soooo hot. We missed the aviary because of waiting around so long. The distances between the major exhibits are too long to walk everywhere.

We then headed for Berry Springs, next door where we had lots of fun in the three natural pools. A good end to the day.

After getting back to camp we tried to go to Mindil Beach Markets but it was so crowded it was ridiculous so we had a good dinner in town at Uno. Sophie particularly enjoyed her gnocchi with smoked salmon sauce and Rachel was still finishing her pizza two days later.

29 June – Jabiru
We stopped at Window on the Wetlands on the Arnhem Hwy which was very interesting (the wetlands are the failed rice project near Humpty Doo) with good displays and binoculars at the viewing veranda. Stopped for lunch at the Bark Hut then on to Jabiru. We were delighted with our cv park (Lakeview); lots of grass, open space, a huge slab and pristine ensuite. $30 per site for up to 4 people – excellent value.

After setting up we had to quickly get away for Kakadu Culture Camp. The talk and demonstration on basket making, ground oven cooking, didgeridoo playing and spear throwing were all good (we had a go at the last two). Then we went on the billabong cruise which was very pleasant but there was little wildlife. We eventually did see two crocs and the girls got photos but the roosting birds we were hoping to see were few and distant. It was disappointing at the time but looking back it wasn’t a bad night although it was not worth $300.

30 June – Jabiru
Up early to meet Steve from Top End Explorer Tours at 6.45 for Jim Jim and Twin Falls trip. We set off in the Oka and were given an excellent commentary about the flora, fauna and the people of the area until we reached the dirt road. It was easy going until after the camping area and it became very rough – we could have done it ourselves but it was much better being driven.

The walk to Twin Falls was fairly easy and the boat trip and floating bridge was a novelty and enjoyable. The falls were pumping well and it was a lovely place to have morning tea and spend a while just looking around. Nice sandy beach but no swimming because of crocs.

We returned to the Oka and headed for Jim Jim. This was a different story. The track was easy to start with but got progressively more difficult with larger and larger rocks to negotiate. We stopped and had lunch and a good rest before the worst part. The girls were having a ball, skipping along as if was a walk in the park. They made friends with another family with two girls. We finally reached a lovely pool with a sandy beach and we called it quits there, along with a young couple and a couple a bit younger than us. The others continued on to the plunge pool which was not far on and we could hear Sophie most of the time! We could see the great walls of Jim Jim and I wasn’t at all disappointed at not getting to the end. The pool was lovely, with little fish nibbling my toes as I sat in the cool water.

I was quite anxious about getting back as the rocks we had to climb over for the first 100 m or so were huge, but I did it on my bum with no falls. John managed better than I did although he was very careful not to fall (didn’t want to risk damaging his new knees!). We were very glad of our walking sticks. All in all a fantastic day worth every cent of the $492 (discounted).

1 July – Jabiru
At Bowali Visitor Centre I asked after Greg Sattler, Head Ranger from the Australian National Botanic Gardens, who is doing another stint at Kakadu but he is stationed at Adelaide River so the lady very kindly sent a greeting by email for me.

It would have been easy to spend lots of time at the Visitor Centre with its wonderful design and good amenities. We had to settle for an hour or so looking at the displays explaining the ecology from both cultural and conservation perspectives, watching a video, window shopping at the gallery, and selecting info leaflets. No time for eating and drinking.

It was with great anticipation that we reached Nourlangie as I had looked forward to this for months. We did a circuit walk which took us to a series of galleries including the famous Anbangbang Gallery which was repainted in the 1960s by the respected artist, Nayambolmi, and includes Namarrgon, Lightning Man, and Namodjok who committed incest with a clan sister and broke the law. Finally we reached the lookout with a view over the escarpment – what a sight!

After lunch and drinking gallons of water in the picnic area we headed for Ubirr. Again we were treated to a feast of rock art. By now the girls were really into it. John went on his merry way as usual while we had a wonderful time mesmerised by the variety of art, from large x-ray style animals and fish to depictions of European men with clothes on and one was smoking a pipe, and another was riding a horse. The paintings cover a period from 20,000 years ago to 20th Century. We dragged ourselves away and came across more galleries one of which was quite low with paintings of the roof. There was a big flat rock that you could lie on and then you could see everything so much better. Eventually we reached the large expanse of flat rock on top and Rachel exclaimed “Jurassic Park, it’s just like Jurassic Park!” as we gazed out over the vibrant green floodplains and then around to woodland and the red escarpment. We looked and looked and took heaps of photos before leaving reluctantly.

There was a young Aboriginal man wearing a park uniform who was wandering around the galleries and up the top while we were there. He seemed very shy but I said to him was we were leaving, “You must never get tired of being in such a beautiful place.” For a moment his face and eyes lit up with a huge, proud smile. That is one picture I didn’t need to take as it will remain with me forever.

Ubirr was magical. I did not realise that kids could appreciate art and scenery to such an extent.

Before heading back we looked over the East Alligator River at Cahill’s Crossing and I watched enviously as vehicles crossed the causeway into Arnhem Land. Another time…

2 July – Howard Springs
On returning to Howard Springs the girls and I went for a swim after setting up. Once again we headed for Mindil Beach markets but it was hopelessly crowded so we found dinner in town and headed back.

3 July – Howard Springs
We were off reasonably early (for us) to Litchfield. Sophie was quite taken by the model castle in Batchelor, built in a small park by a Czech immigrant, so we stopped for photos then made a bee line for Wangi where we told them they could stay as long as they liked. We swam and messed around for ages and I was even talked into climbing up the rocks and into the hole near the falls. I knew I could get in but wandered how I’d get out because it is quite deep and the sides are straight. At 65 I can’t heave myself up like I used to. However I made an inelegant exit and had some fun.

Rachel and Sophie reasoned that if we had lunch at Wangi we would be ready for another swim by the time we got to Florence Falls. After the 132 steps down (and stopping to watch the little wallaby in his home in a cave beside the stairway) we were certainly quite ready. It is tricky getting in to the water safely at Florence, especially with so many people clambering over the rocky outlet from the plunge pool but we managed well. After another long spell in the water, much of it spent watching people climb up the rocks high above the water and ‘bombing’ in, we climbed the stairs again and headed for Buley Rockholes.

If the other places were crowded this was ridiculous. People were sitting on the track which made it very difficult to get past but we eventually found a pool that wasn’t too crowded and had another soak. I watched fascinated as a large monitor made his way between the people and slipped into the water near me. We even were able to get under the small waterfall for a few minutes before giving it up so others could have a turn.

4 July – Howard Springs
The girls were keen to do some shopping in Darwin and we wanted to show them the museum so we headed there first. They were very taken with the shells, stuffed birds, insects, and minerals so beautifully displayed in cases on the walls near the entrance. We watched the video on Sweetheart’s (huge croc) capture and death prior to being stuffed and displayed in the museum.

The Cyclone Tracy exhibit was also interesting. It shows how houses were built before the cyclone, what happened to them during the cyclone and how houses are built now as a result of the cyclone. It is also interesting, very frightening for some, to go into the dark room where the furious sounds of Tracy are played. These were captured on tape at the time.

We enjoyed lunch at the museum restaurant overlooking the beach with its palm trees, white sand and beautiful turquoise water. Once again, Rachel was entranced with the scenery.

It was time to hit the shops but there was a surprise in store – the shops in Darwin close from about 1.00pm on a Saturday. However the souvenir shops were open and we did the rounds of them, making a few purchases they were happy with and after a look at Parliament House we headed back to camp.

Sophie had seen a statue of a huge dinosaur a couple of times as we were driving between the city and camp and she wanted to take a photo of it close up but we kept missing it. This was the time to find it and so we did. It was in a garden centre and as it was late afternoon there was no one there but the gates were open so in we went. There must have been ten or so different, beautifully made dinosaurs. We had lots of fun posing with them and taking heaps of photos.

Then it was back to camp to cook barra (from the same shop as previously) for dinner. I cooked the fish on the electric frypan and roasted potatoes and steamed veges in the Cobb. It was a superb, simple meal. It’s great to have a family who appreciate food and discuss it endlessly!

5 July – Howard Springs
Sad day – our beautiful granddaughters are going home this afternoon.

As they don’t appear to be ‘croc-ed’ out yet we decided to check out Crocosaurus Cove right in the centre of the city. It is a fairly new attraction and I thought it might be a big take but we were pleasantly surprised. There a several large crocodiles there, each in their own enclosure and with their own story displayed. They can be seen through glass at the lower level and by looking down from the open air. There are seething heaps of baby crocs, a large room with skeletons of different kinds of the croc/alligator family, a reptile house, a large pool with a glass side where fish, rays, etc are fed by a diver. We were quite impressed with the innovative displays.

We went to Sky City Casino for lunch at the buffet. The food was not particularly good but we sat outside looking out across the pool to the beach which was just through a gate so we wandered out there for a while and then it was time to go to the airport.

Eight days went very quickly but Rachel and Sophie had a ball and so did we.

6-8 July – Douglas Daly Tourist Park
There is so much more we’d like to do around Kakadu and Mary River but will leave it for another time so we set off to see Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs and Butterfly Gorge.

Stocking up again at Woolies supermarket and service station at Coolalinga (on the Stuart Hwy just south of Howard Springs) was the main item on the agenda before we turned west north of Hayes Creek. We decided to camp at Douglas Daly Tourist Park which has access to the Douglas River Esplanade Conservation Reserve and took a powered site as it’s not too crowded, it is shady, and there are flushing toilets, hot showers and even a bar and restaurant. There are wonderful swimming holes and a natural thermal pool.

We were underwhelmed on our visit to Douglas Hot Springs. There was a large number of people trying to find a spot in some very shallow running water, which apparently is the renowned hot springs. I think the area where visitors are allowed may have been reduced and hence the crowd. But the camping area was a dustbowl with only the odd skerrick of shade and we were very pleased about the choice we had made.

Our visit to Butterfly Gorge was very enjoyable. After a short bushwalk along the Douglas River we came to a rock ledge where some folk had left their belongings but others had climbed up and over the outcrop to get closer to the gorge. We had met some people on our way in and they said it was easy to swim from the rock shelf to a sand bar, cross it and get into the big pool where you could see the gorge leading further upsteam to other pools, so that is what I did. Very easy and great swimming places. I didn’t go through the gorge because I had left John behind at the rockshelf as he was not confident in deep fresh water because his metal knees drag him down. Unlike me who floats like a cork, he was negatively buoyant even before the new knees so it has made quite a difference. In future we will bring small fins so he can enjoy the pleasures of the waterholes more fully. Unfortunately you can’t see the gorge slit from where he was waiting.

School holidays are now fully upon us and it’s getting a bit noisy here so will be ready to leave tomorrow. Having had long discussions with our neighbours who had just come along the Savannah Way from Normanton we decided we would go home that way. It’s a trip I’d long wanted to do.

9 July – Mataranka
More stocking up in Katherine and a visit to the Info Centre. We are staying at the Manor cv park as we were later getting here than usual and worried that Elsey NP may be full and we’d have to make the trip back to town and not be able to get in here. The other cv pk is full and so is this one now. There is a restaurant here for those who don’t want to cook.

As usual had a chat here and there before turning in for an early night. The neighbours opposite the park had other ideas – partying slowed down at around 4 a.m. and began again at 6!

10-11 July – Lorella Springs
The Roper Hwy is sealed for a good deal of the way to Roper Bar where we had a look at the river, the bar and the store before turning southeast on the Nathan River Road. We thought we’d camp at Lorella Springs if we were travelling well as it had been highly recommended. Indeed the going was much better than we expected. There was lots of dust and corrugations here and there. The dust was very fine but not true bulldust as I understand it. The 30km into Lorella was worse with much more deep sand.

After Roper Bar the road entered the Limmen NP. There are many options for bush camping by the river, Tomato Island for some reason seems to be the most popular and the most crowded. We also looked at the lovely Lomarieum Lagoon behind St Vidgeon Homestead – what a lovely but lonely place to try to make a go of it. We had such a wonderful first day on the Savannah Way with lots of rivers to cross, none of which posed any problem and all were beautiful places. We could easily have stayed at peaceful Butterfly Springs but decided to push on to Lorella.

Well! From the earnest recommendations we had received from other travellers we thought that Lorella was going to be a low key but comfortable resort (not that that is what we look for) surrounded by lush tropical gardens. It isn’t. But we were met by Nan, a quiet but enthusiastic member of the family who owns Lorella, who shook hands then sat us down in the shade and told us all about Lorella and what we could do here. There is plenty of space to camp, flushing toilets, and cold showers, unless you get the chip heater going. I had a hot shower thanks to someone lighting the fire earlier, but you don’t really need hot showers in this part of the world. And there is luxury at Lorella – a deep, warm, inviting spring right near the homestead.

For anyone who loves fishing and roughing it there is an 80km track leading to a camp on the coast where by all accounts the fishing is incredible. On our second day a couple and their two boys arrived back after six days (they had intended staying for two days) and they were as high as kites on their experience. They couldn’t believe the fish they caught. After six days without one all they wanted was a long fresh water shower, even if it was cold.

We did a couple of the drives to waterholes that Nan suggested but they were either getting very low and sludgy or we couldn’t work out how to climb down to get in for a swim. However it was still interesting to see the property and the variety of landforms there.

12 July – Near Settlement Creek
Today we passed through Borroloola where we stopped for fuel. The town looks in better shape than when we were last here. By mid afternoon all the best camp spots were taken – no point being crowded in a bush camp – so we continued and had a look at Wollogarang thinking there may be some camping there even though the roadhouse was closed. The sign on the gate made it clear so we went back across Settlement Creek and camped in a property just off the road after checking with some workers who were leaving for the day that it would be okay. No problem. We eat very well when we are camping but I don’t know what came over me that night because dinner was terrible. But the stars made up for it.

13 July – Burketown
We were in Burketown in time for a late-ish lunch after which we did some much needed cleaning. Fortunately we had minimal dust inside the trailer, in fact it was the first time that we have ever had dust inside. It happen going in to Lorella Springs because a seal was not sitting properly. The car did not have dust inside at all but it was all around the door seals, bucket loads of it. After I brushed as much as possible off John took it to the designated place and gave it a reasonable wash. We have always been amused by people who spend most of their holiday cleaning the car but we did feel quite good driving around Burketown in an almost clean car.

The caravan park was very good, clean, green and well organised. It is frequented by passionate fisherfolk.

We spent quite a while in the local museum looking at the memorabilia but also listening to the manager talking about life in Burketown past and present. There were a good few yarns worth writing down. The pub was decidedly not salubrious but an excellent dinner was served in a room behind the bar that was decorated with a quirky mural of undersea life that covered two walls. The pub dog seemed to know who had ordered steak and patiently positioned himself for scraps even before the meal was served. He didn’t like fish.

14 July – Julia Creek
The road out of town is sealed for about thirty kilometres but it is wavy which is understandable as it’s under water quite a bit. Our next stop was Leichhardt Falls and we were quite delighted to find that the falls were still running. I thought they stopped soon after the wet. We walked about 500 metres across the rocky slab and looked back towards the road and could see four separate falls. It must be amazing in full spate when I imagine all four become one. It made our day.

From the falls we left the Savannah Way and went south on the Nardoo Burketown Road then southwest on the Wills Developmental Road to Burke and Wills Roadhouse for the obligatory burger. We continued on the Wills Dev. Rd to Julia Creek.

Thus far on this whole trip we have never been bored with the scenery which is ever changing, unlike some drives close to the east coast that pass through kilometre after kilometre of the same variety of tall trees that block out the sky. We muse about what life is like for people living in the homesteads beyond the gates we pass. It is something we can never come close to understanding. Homestays on station properties cannot convey the long-term experience of concern for stock/pastures, drought, flood, isolation, or the planning and skills required for self-sufficiency.

At the Julia Creek cv pk we were directed to a site of deep mud covered by a thin layer of dirt. He must have known what it was like. We moved after breaking through with the front wheels. Those who came later were not so lucky to find a site out of the mud.

15-16 July – Hughenden
Our main purpose in coming in this direction was to see the fossils in Richmond and Hughenden so we were a bit disappointed to find that half the Richmond museum (Kronosaurus Korner) was closed for renovation. However the disappointment was short-lived once we were given audio gadgets and ushered into the half that was open. Displays showing whole skeletons were laid out in shallow sandpits on the floor that gave the appearance of a palaeontology dig. It was quite a thrill listening on the audios to the local people who found the fossils describing where they found them and how they were excavated and about the excitement it caused throughout the palaeontologist community worldwide.

There is a bakery restaurant beside the museum where we bought food and drove to the large manmade lake to eat it.

It was then on to Hughenden via a very indifferent, wavy road (Flinders Hwy). Although bitumen you could only travel at 80 or less because of the poor condition.

After setting up in the cv pk we went to the museum expecting some good displays of fossils but were a bit disappointed on that score. However there was a good video on the formation of the Porcupine Gorge, a minerals display, and local history with photographs.

In the library John noticed a sign for the International Year of Astronomy and asked the librarian if there was anything planned to mark the event but to her knowledge nothing was happening. It sparked an idea for a future trip – to take the telescope and visit remote areas to have viewing nights (perhaps through the local school) for anyone who is interested. No charge of course. It may awaken an interest for people especially where they have such wonderful night skies. Unfortunately rough roads would be out unless we could leave the telescope in safe keeping while we went off for a day or three.

The next day we visited Porcupine Gorge. On the way there were a couple of good lookouts before reaching the camping and picnic area above the track going down to the bottom. The gorge is quite a sight: rugged, with banding of different coloured rock. We walked the track and wandered up and down the sandy beach by the stream at the bottom. A good steep walk to get the heart beating.

17-18 July – Charters Towers
Charters Towers has been on my radar for a long time, not that I knew much about it other than that it had some interesting old buildings.

We found our way to the Big 4 a bit out of town and requested a concrete pad. I have a feeling that some cv pks seem to think that camper trailer owners who ask for a pad are getting a bit above their station even though no questions are asked. We had an excellent camp kitchen on one side and a ginormous fifth wheeler with bits extending in all directions on the other side. Should have taken a photo of the two together. The facilities were excellent although it’s a damn nuisance when the loos are quite separate from the showers.

The town was different from what I expected. It is not flat and the streets are not wide (even so, you take your life in your hands crossing the main street) but the buildings a certainly worth seeing.

Charters Towers was built on gold mining and wherever there is big money there is skulduggery. The man who actually found the first gold was never credited with doing so and was excluded from any recognition, monetary or otherwise. He was Aboriginal.

… a twelve-year-old indigenous boy named Jupiter Mosman made history. Jupiter, a stockman, was travelling with the prospecting team of Hugh Mosman, George Clark and James Fraser and while Jupiter located the horses sheltering at the base of what has come to be known as Tower Hill he accidentally stumbled across a bright glimmer of gold nestled in a nearby stream. It was 24 December 1871 a pivotal year that marked the beginning of a new era of gold discovery in the greater Charters Towers area. (citigold.com/charterstowersstory.asp)

Hence, Jupiters Casinos.

Tower Hill has good information boards on the history and processes involved in the mine and the remains of the crusher and extraction plant are still evident. There are also extensive views of the surrounding area.

We enjoyed driving around the town seeing the great variety of architecture, from great public buildings to fine homes and more humble dwellings. Bicentennial Park is a pleasant place to wander around and look at the sculptures, and the 12km drive to the dam is worthwhile. There is camping on the river above the dam wall but not in sight of the dam (which in my opinion is good – I think dams are a blot on the landscape).

At the cv pk we enjoyed the music each evening of Tom Routledge, country and western singer. He really can sing.

19-20 July – Emerald (Lake Maraboon)
We are definitely on the homeward run now. We have covered most of the places we set out to see and now it’s time to draw breath before the dash home.

Lake Maraboon is another damn dam but we can’t see the wall from the cv pk so that’s okay. This place seems to be another fishermans’ paradise. Boats everywhere. It is a huge park but we seem to have one of the best sites as we are right at the end backing onto bushland. There is a restaurant with set 3 course meals for $20 which is excellent value as the food, presentation and venue are top notch. Not open every night. On Monday nights there is a show put on by the owners/staff and includes a meal sized sausage sizzle for a gold coin donation which goes to a nursing charity. Strangely, some people unashamedly front up with their plates, accept all the food they can get and not make the donation. And joke amongst themselves about it.

21 July – St George (Motel)
It’s getting too cold to camp in comfort so after a long day we pulled into a motel in St George we’d phoned ahead to book. It has a very pretentious restaurant with prices to match. We just had a main course which was very good. At least the room was comfortable, quiet, and we could park the car/trailer safely without unhitching.

22 July – Coonamble (Motel)
We went south through Dirranbandi and Hebel to see Lightening Ridge. We must be getting jaded or just didn’t spend enough time there but for whatever reason did not find it at all interesting but at least we know what it and the surrounding country looks like.

There are signs that this area has had decent rain and it is looking good. We are in the Cedars Motel on the southern end of town and once again we have a restaurant in the motel where we had a wonderful meal. This was a real surprise.

23 July Forbes (Motel)
The country we passed through today was looking very green and there was plenty of stock, including sheep. Long may it continue.

Forbes is an interesting town. There are some lovely old buildings and town park. The shops are up-to-the-minute and whole places seems to have an air of hope.

23 July – Home
A beautiful drive home through magnificent, green and lush country with contented cattle and large flocks of sheep. If only Canberra could share in that lovely rain.

We have a busy month ahead full of medical, dental and optical appointments in Sydney and Canberra, and lots of work on the trailer and car to prepare for WA on 4th September.

I have learnt a hard lesson in compiling this log: be disciplined and write every night. It was quite taxing to go back and fill in the many great gaps I had left. I have no idea of the names of most of the motels or cv parks we stayed in, so that information is lost for our future trips.
John 'n' Min
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