We set off from Melbourne with Alan, a friend from Hobart who also has a
Crossover, his is a Classic and ours an XL. We arrived at Hattah Lake
Campground after a wet and windy drive up from Melbourne. Temperature
dropped to 7 degrees on the Divide, but it was a balmy 18 at Hattah.
There were lots of Yellow Spoonbills and a few pelicans in the water, plus
cockatoos, kookaburras and magpies keeping us company. The rain caught up
with us, just when we were starting to cook dinner.
Next morning the wind picked up and the rain was coming back. Time to pack
up and head for Broken Hill. It rained all the way to Broken Hill and there
was an ugly headwind.
When we arrived in town the temperature was 6 degrees... argh! And it was
We drove out to Silverton and set up in the campground. The diesel heater
did a sterling job of heating the XL.
We went out to the Mundie Mundie Lookout and nearly had our heads blown off
by a freezing gale. We then visited the Mad Max museum - not brilliant - and
the pub and the Old Gaol Museum - which is brilliant.
We left Silverton on a cloudy morning with a bitter wind blasting out of the
south. We drove back into Broken Hill and fuelled up then headed north up
the Silver City Highway. Finally, a tail wind!
We topped up the fuel tanks in Tibooburra and continued
north into new territory. We decided to stay at the Olive Downs Campground
in Sturt National Park, 7 kms off the main road. The Campground is
reasonably small and most of it has small mulga trees scattered about,
making finding a spot to camp a challenge when towing as you have to wiggle
around between the spreading trees.
Next morning we headed off back to the main road and
turned north again towards Noccundra, 200 kms away. We noticed large
numbers of kangaroos along the way in the national park along with a few
emus. We arrived at Warri Gate, a gate in the Dog Fence at the Queensland
border. We opened the gate and drove through, stopping to take a few photos
to mark the event. As we were standing around I noticed a vehicle
approaching along the fence maintenance track on the Queensland side of the
fence. As you are not allowed to drive along that track, I wondered who it
was. As they approached I noticed work gear in the back of the ute.
The ute pulled up at the gate and the driver got out. I wandered over to
say G’Day and discovered it was indeed the “Keeper of the Fence”, Phil, the
fence maintenance person. She was featured in an ABC documentary, called,
“The Keeper of The Fence”. Phil was a lovely lady who chatted away with us
about the life of a dog fence maintenance person. She lives in a house on
the fence with her husband, 17 goats and a few dogs. They are a long way
from anywhere… She commented on the huge number of kangaroos in the Sturt
National Park and how, when on the south side of the fence, she has to spend
more time dodging kangaroos than looking for problems with the fence.
The ABC story on the dog fence keeper http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-24/the-keeper-of-the-dog-fence/5840880
We continued north into Queensland and the weather improved. The dust
increased and became very heavy, requiring us to travel around two or three
kilometres apart to stay out of it. There were even small patches of
bulldust which ballooned out behind us when we drove through them.
Along the track we saw three large dead dingos hanging off a fence at a set
of cattle yards.
We stopped for morning tea under a convenient coolabah tree in a watercourse
beside the road. At this point we noticed that the improvement in the
weather – increasing temperature and less wind – meant one thing – FLIES!
The Great Aussie Wave was the norm as we had morning tea
A bit further north along the track we came across some emus having a drink
at some ponded water. As we progressed there were steadily more cattle.
Eventually we spotted some drovers mustering cattle close to the road.
Seven horsemen, one motor bike and a light plane zooming around very close
to the ground. Not bad for one day – meeting “The Keeper of The Fence”, dead
dingos, emus drinking, sitting under a coolabah and seeing some drovers
working cattle. A very Australian morning.
We arrived at Noccundra Pub around lunch time and selected a spot along the
Wilson River for the night. Ah, feel the serenity… We just got settled
when a ute and a truck arrived at the water pump 20 metres away. They
started up a large, industrial generator and began angle grinding some pipe
ready to weld it. So much for the serenity! After an hour they turned off
the generator – ah, bliss!
Alan ventured over to the Pub to check out tonight’s specials. Apparently
you can have T-bone steak, lamb, chicken or “something vegetarian”. Also,
if you are from Queensland, you can have “crumbed steak”. If you are from
anywhere else, it is schnitzel. He also checked whether chips were on the
menu – two years ago we had a meal here and they had run out of chips. So,
dinner at the pub! We walked over to the pub for dinner only to find that
it was a different cook to last year. The place has gone down many
notches. My “well done” steak was cooked like a tosser city chef’s steak –
RAW!!! That pub is off my list.
Next morning we packed up and headed off on the bitumen towards Eromanga.
The roads were good and we made good time. We set up camp around 3:00pm on
the banks of the Cooper just short of Windorah. This is a popular camp site
with many assorted vehicles scattered around the creek banks.
An 8:30am start saw us on the road to Jundah, which is a great little town
and the shire headquarters of the Barcoo Shire, all 460 residents of it.
The town was a delight, very neat and clean with public showers and toilets
We continued on to one of the shire’s rest stops, Swanvale Jumpup. Fabulous
views and very tidy. From there it was on to Longreach, arriving around
1:00pm. We booked in to the caravan park and caught up with our new travel
companions, Warwick and Caroline with their Bushtracker. The caravan park
has resident brolgas which stroll around looking for unattended food… I got
the solar panels are out and made good use of the sunshine, though it was
only about 16 degrees and there was a cool wind blowing.
We did the tourist thing and went to the QANTAS Founder’s Museum and the
Stockman’s Hall of Fame. The unanimous agreement was the QANTAS Museum was
much better. We really enjoyed the videos and displays and I loved the PBY
Catalina amphibious plane out the back. Camped next to us on the last night
was a guy who had ridden his motorbike from London to Australia. He had
some tales to tell!
We set off north to Muttaburra in the morning, driving through some
incredibly dry grazing country. We saw a hell of a lot more kangaroos than
stock. The road was mainly dirt, but in good condition. Muttaburra was
bigger than expected with a service station/store, school, hall and outpost
library. There were about twenty houses. They have a model of the
Muttaburrasaurus dinosaur made out of barbed wire. It is quite impressive.
After morning tea at the rest stop we continued north towards Hughenden,
again on dusty, dirt roads. A lunch stop was just a matter of pulling off
the road - on the upwind side.
Just before Hughenden there was a lookout sign posted so we turned off and
climbed up onto Mt Wilson. The road up was a 16% grade – very steep! The
views over the flat countryside were very impressive.
We settled in to the caravan park for the night. It is a small park, but
very well set up. The camp kitchen is huge and well appointed. The cost
was a very reasonable $10 per person, unpowered.
In the morning we set off to Porcupine Gorge. Along the way there are a few
tourist spots, like the Postman's Grave. The poor postie was speared by the
locals “sometime in the early months of 1860”.
To our surprise the road was sealed right to the campground entrance. We
drove around to our booked campsites and settled in. There are eight sites
designed for camper trailers and small caravans – sites 1 through 8 – and
the rest – sites 9 through 22 – are designed for tents with small parking
spaces and large, raised square sandy tent sites. While we were there, the
campers and caravans outnumbered the tents four to one…
A bus pulled in to the camping area and 27 French teenagers, three adults
and a bus driver poured out. The teenagers were on a trip organized by
their parent’s employer, Airbus Industries. They were traveling from Cairns
to Brisbane. The kids were well behaved, but, I suspect, a little stunned by
We decided to do the new walk from the campground which heads off to the
north, running parallel to, but a few hundred metres away from, the gorge
rim. It finally turned towards the gorge and terminated at a lookout which
gives a view along the gorge from a small promontory. It was a great view.
After dark we were visited by the local Rufus Betongs, small kangaroo like
marsupials. They were quite cheeky and unconcerned about us. Some shrieks
from the French camp turned out to be from some of the teenagers who had
food stolen off their plates by the Betongs.
We headed off along the bitumen to Townsville after a lunch stop at Charters
Towers at a picnic area, complete with a family of begging magpies for a
We arrived in Townsville and set up camp in Warwick and Caroline’s backyard
– thank you! Alan headed off to the airport to collect his wife, Gerrie who
had to stay back in Hobart due to a family bereavement. She caught us up
after a journey involving car/ferry/car/plane/car and was pretty exhausted.
Our time in Townsville was been spent doing washing, shopping and getting
organized for the next leg of this epic.
We headed up the Bruce Highway. The Bruce Highway lived up to its
reputation with traffic and maniac drivers – apparently you should only
overtake on continuous white lines in this part of Queensland…
We pulled in to Cardwell for lunch and sat by a beautiful beach with Hinchinbrook Island across the water. Of course, this is FNQ, so you can’t
actually go anywhere near the water… If the snapping handbags don't get you,
the stingers will!
From Cardwell it was a short hop to Murray Falls Campground for a couple of
nights. This is one beautiful spot. The falls are very good and the
swimming holes just downstream are great. The campground has flushing
toilets, a cold shower, rubbish bins and plenty of shady, flat grassy space.
Walks were walked, swimming holes were swum and a good time was had by all.
We even had a small bushfire on the last night – some idiot set fire to the
tall grass on a steep bank between the day and camping areas.
We set off alone to head up to Cairns in time to do the SkyTrain up to
As we came through Tully we could see why it is the wettest place in the
country - it makes its own weather. The huge plume of steam off the sugar
mill has to be seen to be believed – then it falls back on the locals as
We setup in a caravan park, packed in like sardines, and bolted off to the
SkyTrain. At Kuranda the tourist traps were minutely examined by Jenn and
then we queued up to come back down. We picked up a few things at Bunnings
and Woolworths then headed back to the caravan park.
Next morning, after a couple of overnight rain showers, we packed up and
made an early start to Undara. We fuelled up in Cairns and then headed back
over our tracks towards Innisfail. The sky got darker and the clouds got
lower. The mountains were invisible behind clouds. By the time we turned
off onto the Palmerston Highway to head over the divide it was raining
hard. We climbed up to the divide in cloud, at times with less than 30
metre visibility. There were several scenic lookouts along the way but we
decided not to stop at them as we had been driving inside a cloud the whole
way and that is all we would have seen at the lookouts. The road came out
at Ravenshoe so we stopped for morning tea in 16 degree heat and light
drizzle – lovely!
Upon leaving Ravenshoe we joined the formal Savannah Way and were
immediately stopped by roadworks. The next 20 kilometres was a patchwork of
The further west we drove, the better the weather. We drove in to Undara
Resort in patchy sunshine but the cloud banked up and it was soon solid
overcast. The young woman at reception assured us it never rains at Undara.
I’ve heard that one before…
We set off on the Bat Cave Tour – I think they call it the Sunset Tour, how
unimaginative! We climbed into a mini bus with about 20 other people and
set off to a lookout. Along the way some of the locals were co-operative
and we managed to see Whiptail Wallabies, Grey Kangaroos and some Euros. We
climbed the lookout to watch the sunset – a bit of a fizzer – and have
Champagne and a cheese platter.
After the sun had gone we returned to the bus and headed off to the Bat
Cave. This is a lava tube which, apparently, is just right for micro bats.
At present there are around 20,000 bats of five species living in the lava
tube. There are two species of Horseshoe Bats, two of Bent Wing Bats and
one of Ghost Bats. The Ghost Bats eat the other bats if they get the
chance. In peak breeding season around 200,000 pregnant bats go in and
400,000 unpregnant ones and babies come out. It was hard to see the fast
moving bats in the low light but it was an amazing spectacle. We drove back
to base in the dark.
Jenn went to a talk on the local birds after dinner. It was just as well I
didn’t go as the ranger described Apostle Birds as UGLY!!!! UGLY???? I ask
you, on what planet are Apostle Birds ugly?
After a very windy night we decided to do a load of washing - $2 a load! –
and then headed off to the Kalkani Crater, a symmetrical pyroclastic cone.
There is a walking track which sidles up the side of the steep crater and
then circumnavigates the rim. It is a very pretty little cone, about 70
metres high and about 500 metres across.
After lunch we did the Arch Tour. This goes to a section of Lava Tube with
a large arched ceiling. The guide was very informative and showed us around
two different Lava Tubes. We had a good time and learnt a lot about the
One wet season, a few years ago, the tubes all flooded so the marketing
department had to find a way of getting tourists in the gate when they
couldn’t walk through the lava tubes. Swimming Lava Tube Tours were born!
People still ask for them…
We headed off to Cobbold Gorge to rejoin the rest of the party next
morning. The bitumen was easy, but the dirt in from Georgetown to Cobbald
seemed to take forever. Fortunately the grader crew had started work on it.
We arrived to find Warwick and Caroline settled in and we selected a spot in
the unpowered area. We had a relaxing afternoon and the Alan and Gerrie
arrived late in the day, having driven from Cairns.
Next day was my birthday and I had a great time! We had a relaxing morning
before joining the 10:00 am tour. We were driven in a 4WD bus to the Gorge
where we were divided into two groups, one to do the boat tour first and one
to do the bushwalk first. We were in the bushwalk group so we set off for a
walk. Our guide was Stephen, an extremely knowledgeable and informative
gent. We walked up to the top of the sandstone massif and looked down into
the gorge from above, plus seeing an old grave of a local business man who
was murdered 1871. The death was attributed to the local indigenous people,
but the locals all believe he was killed by the local tavern keeper who knew
he was carrying a very large amount of gold and cash – which was never
found. Aborigines didn’t have much use for gold and cash in the 1860’s…
We then walked back down to the start of the gorge to get into the boats for
the trip up the extremely narrow gorge. I made sure I was not in the same
boat as a French family on the tour. The father very loudly translated
everything the guide said to the rest of his family, making it almost
impossible to hear what the guide was saying. The wife, meanwhile, took
endless photos of herself with a selfie stick. Aghhhhh!!!!
The gorge is spectacular and is only about two metres wide at the narrowest
point. The boats are powered by small electric trawling motors, so they are
very quiet. It was great.
We returned to camp where Jenn baked a chocolate cake in the oven in the
We retired to the Infinity Pool up near the bar for a swim to cool off while
the cake cooled. Upon return to camp the cake was decorated and
preparations made for the post dinner celebration.
We had dinner at the restaurant; steaks, mackerel and pork chops. It was a
good meal and we retired to camp for Birthday Cake – complete with candles.
The cake was excellent, rich and moist with a thick frosting.
Next morning it was pack up and head back along the dirt – now nicely
graded – to Georgetown and a fill of the fuel tanks at the Ampol service
station. Diesel for $1.35 a litre out here you don’t pass up! The drive to
Croydon was uneventful – alternating one and two lane bitumen. The only
surprises were one watercourse with water in it plus a huge mango farm.
We had lunch in Croydon then decided to move in to the caravan park for the
Croydon was a pleasant surprise. The council are trying to make the place
interesting so people will stop overnight. There are street sculptures and
a historic walk around the small town. We stayed in the caravan park in the
unpowered area down the back. The pool met Alan’s exacting standards and
the new manager has some great ideas for the town and the park. She wants to
convert the venues around the town which have toilets and showers into free
camps, then make the caravan park all powered sites. I hope she succeeds.
Next morning we headed off to Normanton. The road is good, dual lane
bitumen all the way. As we drove in to Normanton we spotted another
Crossover, an XL, in the first caravan park. This is the first one we have
seen in our travels so far. It was only a month old.
We stayed in the other caravan park which has a huge pool, much to Alana’s
liking, plus a spa. We took the obligatory photos; the Purple Pub, the
model of Kris, the huge crocodile, all 8.6 metres of it, and the Gulflander
Next morning we hooked up, joined the queue at the cheaper service station –
the BP - and hit the grocery store for last minute supplies before heading
off towards Burketown. The road is dirt after the first 30 kms or so.
Fortunately the grader had been out so it was a good surface.
Alan called us on the UHF to say there was a Brolga on the side of the
road. We spotted it and did a U turn to get some photos. We saw it was a
pair of Brolgas, their heads sticking up over the long grass like
periscopes. We soon realized there were more, the final count being
We dropped in to Burke and Wills northern most camp, Number 119.
The country along here is very flat, grassy plains. There were many road
kill wallabies and roos, the fresher ones usually with their attendant
ravens, kites and eagles.
We stopped off along the way at a river crossing to have morning tea. One
of the locals, a young Freshwater Crocodile, rose like a submarine through
the weed near the bank and kept an eye on us.
We had planned on stopping at Leichardt Falls for the night, but when we got
there we decided to have lunch and press on. It didn’t impress us at all.
We arrived at the free camp just short of Bourketown and found somewhere to
settle in for the night. There are campsites spread along a few kilometres
of river with a network of confusing tracks joining them up. Our site was
right on the river and we spent time sitting in our chairs, gazing out
across the water, watching the wallabies coming down for a nervous drink.
The wind picked up to a small gale by morning and we decided to move camp
back to join the others. Just as we arrived where the others were, a couple
in a motorhome left so we grabbed their water frontage site. We headed in to town to the Bakery/Butchery/Bait Shop/Jewellers/Key
Cutters/etc. store for some bread rolls and some morning tea stuff. We also
drove out to the Leichardt Tree and were underwhelmed.
The drive to Lawn Hill next morning was mainly into a strong headwind. Hard
work for the vehicles – reflected in the fuel consumptions! Fortunately it
was a sealed, dual lane run to Gregory Downs where we stopped for morning
tea. A guy came over to enquire about our “stretched Crossover”. He had
admired a Classic the night before and noticed that ours was longer.
While we were parked at Gregory Downs our new traveling companions arrived
and spotted the Crossovers. They had driven up from Cloncurry and arrived
at Gregory Dows within 10 minutes of our arrival. We celebrated Ellen’s
birthday with a candle on a chocolate brownie while at Gregory Downs.
We set off to Lawn Hill and drove over the bridge at Gregory Downs. The
freecamp was packed like a sardine can with vans a couple of metres apart
all along the river with generators everywhere. Not to our taste! The
bitumen road ended and was replaced with a dirt road, sprayed with bitumen.
This works pretty well but is prone to breaking up badly in spots. This
surface stopped at the Century Mine gate – what a surprise. The dirt road
had some nasty, huge corrugations but was mostly okay.
We pulled in to Adels Grove to have a lunch to celebrate Ellen’s birthday
properly. A good meal on a delightful, shady deck.
After lunch we continued on to Lawn Hill and set up our camps. The
campground had changed since last year with a few fences removed, sites
increased in size and covered with gravel.
The weather was fine and sunny with days in the high twenties and nights
well into single figures. We all had to dig out extra bedding!
All of the walks except one were walked. The Upper Gorge Walk was closed.
The camp rumour mill has it that there was a rogue Water Buffalo roaming the
area. We paddled up to the Upper Gorge in the hire canoes and I spotted a
definite sign of Water Buffalo presence – no indication as to its state of
It was good to spend a few days in one place and catch up on domestic chores
and just relax. I turned the place into a Chinese Laundry with my washing
drying – quickly! – on a temporary clothesline on our site.
Our favourite swimming hole at Lawn Hill is Indari Falls. We managed to get
there for a dip most days.
We left Lawn Hill with regret, but there was a lot more to see!
We headed north on some very good station tracks through Lawn Hill Station.
We crossed the Lawn Hill Creek – two small crossings, ten metres or so
apart, and continued through cattle country to Bowthorn Station. Morning
tea was a roadside stop along the way. We took the direct road to Doomadgee
and had some fun in deep bull dust holes along the way.
We fuelled up at the roadhouse where I discovered an old Interwebs
acquaintance of mine is now the manager. Unfortunately, he had gone to the
family home in Ravenshoe so I missed him by three days. Some people went in
to town to the small, but well stocked, supermarket. A young indigenous
woman behind the counter in the roadhouse was extremely helpful with
information as to road conditions through to Borroloola. We headed off
along the Savannah Way, west towards Borroloola.
Lunch was in a gravel borrow pit on the side of the road as there were no
nice spots to stop.
We pressed on towards Borroloola, looking for an overnight stop. Nothing
was apparent, so we pressed on to the Calvert River, well into the late
afternoon. We arrived at the Calvert, only to have to wait on the eastern
bank until a couple of roadtrains full of beef cattle managed to uncouple
their trailers and pull them up the steep slope of the west bank, one at a
time. We drove in to the Calvert River camping area to find it was full so
we had no option but to press on into the lowering sun, looking for anywhere
to stop for the night. Just before sundown we managed to find a great
little spot, right on the bank of the Kangaroo Creek. It was a long, skinny
flat area, plenty large enough for the two Crossovers, The Bushtracker and
the “Minibago”, as Ellen and Russell call their ML270 Mercedes. The two
roadtrains of cattle passed in the early evening, lights blazing.
We awoke to a surprise – heavy fog! This is the first high humidity for
some time and it felt very damp! After the low humidity we were used to, it
felt like we had to swim through the air.
We packed up and headed off towards Borroloola, crossing a few more
watercourses along the way. As we were getting the convoy back together at
the Robertson River crossing, a Crossover pulled out of the camping area on
the east bank and crossed the river. It was a couple we had spoken to at
Lawn Hill who had been staying at Adels Grove and commuting to the Gorge. A
bit further along the road another Crossover passed us, heading east. Alan
managed to hail them on the UHF and they asked, “Is Numb Thumbs with you?”
My fame spreads! It seems we had met them last year at Birdsville.
We arrived in town around lunchtime and set up in some nice, shady spots in
the Caravan Park. The entertainment in the caravan park was watching the
owners of Sunland Patriot “block of flats on wheels” caravan. They pulled a
high pressure washer out of the back of their Landcruiser and proceeded to
wash the van, the car and also the concrete annexe slab! Since there is a
few hundred kilometres of extremely dusty road in any direction, the rest of
us are bit bemused by their behaviour.
We headed off from Borroloola after topping off the tanks for the run to
Katherine. The road started out as good bitumen, but we soon turned off
onto a rough dirt road. The speed reduced and the bumping increased. We
stopped for morning tea at Batten Creek. Along the way we passed two
“MicroBagos” – Suzuki Jimminys with rooftop tents - and a “NanoBago”, a tiny
Suzuki hatchback with a roof rack load bigger than the car.
We finally reached the turn off to Lorella Springs. You can’t miss it! The
countdown signs start 100 kilometres away and at the turn off there is a
three metre long, bright blue sign.
The drive in – all 30 kms of it - was about the same as the Savannah Way.
We turned up at reception and filled out the paper work. Here you pay when
you leave – they think you won’t be able to resist the temptations of the
place and stay longer than planned. The friendly local emu came over to
check us out and the owner’s sons, Tristan and Indiana filled us in on where
to go and where to camp.
We drove down a steep access track, through a shallow creek and up the other
side into the campground. There are rough showers and toilets scattered
around the place and, after the usual lap of the place, we chose a spot for
a base. It is nice and shady and not too far from a toilet/shower.
After setup we retired to the warm Magical Pool for a dip. It was bit warm
for my taste – I like to swim to cool off when it is mid 30’s – but Ellen
and Jenn headed upstream seeking warmer water, closer to the spring. They
came back admitting it was bit too hot!
Next morning Ellen and Russell made an early exit, heading back towards the
east coast. The Alan and Gerrie, Jenn and I decided to head for “Nanny’s
Retreat” which came highly recommended by Tristan. It was a 40 km drive
over an alternating corrugated/sandy/bulldust track. From the carpark it is
an interesting walk – said to be 1.2 kms, but we reckon at least 2 kms – to
the pool. It was well worth it. The pool is sensational, running between
towering rock walls with shady and sunny areas. There is also a small cave
nearby and some aboriginal hand stencils under a small overhang. We returned
to camp after having a bit of fun in the bulldust holes and the water
crossing. Once back, we started deliberations as to what to have for
dinner. A small lamb roast won for us!
The nights were cool, getting down into single figures, while the days were
in the mid 30’s.
Next morning we decided to do a short drive to some of the closer spots. We
first visited Crocodile Spring. Alas, no crocs. The boat left there for
anyone to use was a small tinny, unfortunately half full of water, and we
were unable to drag it out of the water to empty it. So, no paddling here!
We continued on to Inkspot, a poplar swimming spot. Unfortunately, the pool
was stagnant, much reduced in size and revoltingly green. We passed on the
swim opportunity. So, none for two…
From here we drove to Eagle’s Nest Billabong. The boat here was dry and had
one and a half paddles. There was a freshy sitting on a log in the water
here so we wondered if it had bitten off half the blade of the second
paddle… The croc slid into the water as soon as we appeared on the bank so
we didn’t get a good look at it. We had a short paddle around in the
billabong, not venturing far as the wind had come up and was swinging around
the compass. One small canoe paddle is not much use in a small tinny.
We headed off down the track to Snapping Handbag Billabong. This is said to
have dozens of fresh water crocodiles late in the dry season.
Unfortunately, no one had told the crocs as there were none to be seen. The
drive out to it was fun. It had several bulldust holes, the biggest around
300 metres long and very deep. We had to drive through it twice as the
track is a dead end.
On the way back we stopped off at Eagle’s Nest Billabong again, very quietly
this time. The croc was back, lying on the log, mouth wide open. I managed
to get a few quick photos before it emitted a loud bark and dived off into
the water. I didn’t know crocs barked…
We returned to camp for lunch and started getting ready for tomorrow’s
departure from Lorella Springs.
We came out of Lorella Springs and headed north. A short drive took us to
the Southern Lost City turnoff. This place is fantastic! We drove in and
were amazed at the incredible rock formations. We did the circuit walk,
which is rated at 1.5 hours, in an hour, taking many photos along the way.
After the Southern Lost City we headed up the track to the Butterfly Springs
turnoff. We had heard that this was a beautiful spot, but some said the
water was stagnant. Yep, it was! Green and slimy! Lunch was eaten and off
we went - no swim here!
We got to the Towns River campsite and pulled in to find it is not a bad
spot to spend the night. We walked down to the river and found three crocs
- a small salty, a large freshy and a tiny freshy - lying on a rocky little
island about 20 metres off the shore.
In the morning the reflections and mist were very pretty. Unfortunately,
there were no crocs.
We headed off next morning and stopped for morning tea at Lomareium Lagoon,
a magnificent, long billabong full of birds and waterlilies.
From there we drove to Tomato Island, expecting to stay the night. If you
don't fish and have a boat, don't bother! Lovely toilet block, dusty
campsites with no view of the river... We drove on. The crossing at Roper
Bar proved too attractive, so we turned off and took the obligatory photos.
It washed some dust off the bottom of the car...
We continued on and had lunch in a wayside stop before driving to Mataranka
for the night. We settled in to the Homestead Caravan Park out at the hot
springs. As soon as we were set up we headed down for a soak. I must say,
I prefer cooler water on a hot day!
Unfortunately, the management had hired a loud band to play music for the
two nights we were there. At least they played both kinds - Country and
The next day I spent a fair bit of time doing tours of the XL as people came
up and asked all about it, but still managed to get over to Bitter Springs
for a swim there.
We left Mataranka and drove up to Katherine, a short drive of around 100 kms.
We settled in to the Low Level Caravan Park and did three loads of washing.
Next day was Jenn’s birthday. We got up early and headed off to Katherine
Gorge/Nitmiluk for a Three Gorge Tour. We boarded the boat with 36 of our
closest new friends and set off up the Gorge. Along the way we managed to
see around seven freshies.
We stopped for a break and had a swim in one of the gorges and also managed
to spot a Large Billed Heron, a rare and interesting bird.
We finished the trip by pointing out a couple of freshies to some school
kids paddling past. It is amazing how fast they can paddle with the right
We retired to the café for lunch and kept a close eye on the resident Blue
Winged Kookaburra on the balcony. According to the staff, it managed to
steal at least one lunch a day from unwary diners!
We organized a 6:15 minibus pickup to go to the local RSL - Pedro's Bistro -
for a celebratory dinner for Jenn’s birthday. Ah, it's a hard life, isn't
We left Katherine and headed north to Kakadu. The government has been
cutting back on money to national parks because we tried to buy a Kakadu
Pass at the Mary River Roadhouse/Information Centre - no, you can't. No
more entry gate, so we couldn't buy one there. We went to the southern
ranger station - no-one home so no buying one there! We gave up for the
time being. We eventually managed to get one up near Jabiru. Apparently,
the staff has been halved in the park, and it shows.
We drove in to Gunlom Falls campground. The falls had pretty much stopped
flowing and the path to the top was closed - apparently there was a bush
fire up there somewhere. We went for a swim or two in the plunge pool at
the bottom of the falls. We were starting to notice that the humidity had
increased dramatically, and Alan reported that the Darwin radio announcers
were all talking about the early start to the "transition" - bad news for
us! Increasing temperatures and humidity...
Next, we drove further north towards Nourlangie Rock Art Site and set up
camp at Muriella Park. The walk here was closed by a rampant water buffalo
apparently. The mozzies were vicious.
We drove up to Nourlangie and walked around the rock art sites. Wonderful
From here we moved up to Merl Campground and the Ubirr Rock Art Site. The
mozzies and march flies at Merl made the others look like wimps! They
attacked in their hundreds!
The art at Ubirr is magnificent. We finished up at the top of the rock
where the view is amazing.
We went down to Cahill's Crossing, the road into Arnemland. It is great
sport here to watch the fishermen try to get a barramundi before the crocs
get it - or them!
From Ubirr we headed back to Jabiru and on towards Darwin. Along the way we
stopped off at Mamukala Wetlands for morning tea. The birdwatching was
spectacular! I was particularly taken by a small heron, the Pied Heron. This
is one pretty little bird and one I had not seen before.
Once we tore ourselves away from the birds we drove on to our overnight
spot, the caravan park behind The Bark Hut. This is a good, cheap place to
stay, and close to our next port of call, the Mary River Boat Cruise. There
were regular sounds like thunder, but the clouds were not big enough for it
to be the real thing. We worked out it was live firing artillery at a
nearby army range.
The cruise was excellent. We saw Jabirus, many salties – the biggest a
monster 6.5 metres long – and many other bird species.
After the cruise it was back to The Bark Hut to hook up the Crossovers and
on to Darwin. We setup in a caravan park, plugged in to 240 Volts to charge
up everything and planned our short stay in Darwin. I had to fit in an
intermediate service for the Jeep and we wanted to go to Mindle Market.
We left Darwin and headed south to Litchfield National Park. By leaving
early we were able to get a good site at Wongi Falls, by far the most
popular campsite in the park. Very soon we were having a swim in the large
plunge pool below the twin falls.
We spent four nights at Wongi, mainly lazing around in the plunge pool, but
one day we decided to go play tourists and visit a few other spots in the
park. We walked in to Tolmer Falls and then had a great swim at Florence
Falls and Buley Rockholes. As we drove back to Wongi we thought we might
head down the track to The Lost City. This is a "Mini Me" version of the
Southern Lost City we visited after Lorella Springs. Further along the road
we turned off to Tabletop Swamp and spent some time watching the amazing
population of Pacific Herons, Little Egrets, Royal Spoonbills and other
Upon leaving Wongi to head back to Katherine, we dropped in at the Termite
Mounds. This is where you can see the Magnetic Termite Mounds and a couple
of huge Cathedral Termite Mounds. We also finally saw one of the water
buffalo which have been causing us problems.
We returned back to the Stuart Highway and drove south to Adelaide River
where we visited the WWII War Cemetery. This is a moving place where many
of the victims of the Darwin air raids are buried.
We continued on and dropped in to Pine Creek for morning tea before
continuing on to Katherine and booking in to the caravan park for the
night. A bit of shopping - a new watch Battery for Jenn, a pair of bathers
for me, some replacement mesh for the toaster and a fuel up before we
returned to the caravan park for a quick swim in the pool to cool off!
Next day we drove to Kununurra, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the
way, and stopped at the quarantine station to be searched for contraband.
Fortunately, we knew all about it so they got nothing from us!
From Kununurra, we visited Wyndham for a day, calling in at the Five Rivers
Lookout to take in the very impressive views and wander around the museum,
which was fascinating, with lots of information about the WWII history,
aboriginal history and general information about the town’s rises and
falls. The museum had maps showing how the military had decided much of the
Kimberly was considered safe from invasion as the terrain was simply too
difficult. There was a heavy reliance upon indigenous observers to report
In the 1800’s, the police officers were paid a “stipend” to feed prisoners
and many police officers used this to boost their pay. They would “arrest”
any aborigine they could find and pocket the bulk of the “stipend”,
sometimes more than doubling their pay. This helps to explain the huge
number of aborigines in custody during this period.
There was also an eight foot long snake skin and all sorts of memorabilia,
including phots of the old meatworks with people on the cutting floor,
working with no protective gear at all, not even footwear! There is a photo
of Russian Jack who, during the gold rush in the 1800’s, wheeled a sick mate
30 miles in a bush wheelbarrow in summer heat.
On the way back to Kununurra we took a detour to a waterhole to watch the
birdlife. A sea eagle had a good go at catching a duck while we were there,
but unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo. It was all over in a flash.
We also drove out to the old Ivanhoe Crossing, which unfortunately is now
closed. There were several fishermen standing on the crossing, knee deep in
water, trusting that the saltwater crocs weren’t around. We also visited
the Sandalwood Farm, the local vegie stall, the Growers Co-operative fuel
pump – cheapest diesel in Kununurra – and watched the sunset from the knob.
While at Kununurra we decided to do the overnight Horizontal Waterfall trip,
managing to get on two of the last berths for the season. This meant a
change in plan as we now needed to be in Derby sooner than planned.
We headed off alone towards El Questro and the start of the Gibb River Road.
Near the start of the Gibb we pulled up to take a photo of the view and a
WWII jeep with two guys in it and towing a trailer drove past, heading for
Kununurra. That is doing it the hard way! If they drove the Gibb the dust
must have been fun.
Since it was quite early we decided we might as well do Emma Gorge on the
way to the El Questro “Settlement” as it is before the turn off. We parked
and paid our seven day Park Permit - $20 each – put the sticker on the
windscreen, changed into our bathers and headed off up the trail.
The walk in isn’t too hard with a few sections of rock scrambling along the
way, the hardest near the end. The plunge pool is magnificent. A thin,
rain like fall of water plummets into the pool from a high, semi-circular
wall with water dripping off about half of the wall as well. There is even
a warm spring entering the pool from the right hand side. The water was
cool and clear and great swimming.
We reluctantly set off back down the track to the car and headed off along
the Gibb River Road a few kilometres to the El Questro turn off – and the
end of the bitumen. Strangely, in WA, they have END 70 KM/H, END 90 KM/H
and END 110 KM/H signs, but only at the end of bitumen. Does this mean you
can do warp speed on the dirt???
We paid for two night’s accommodation and set off to pick a spot to set up.
There were sprinklers going on some of the best spots, but, fortunately for
us, a staff member came along and obligingly turned them off just as we got
While there we managed to do El Questro Gorge, Zedebee Springs and have
several swims at Moonshine Gorge as well as take in a sunset at Pigeonhole
Lookout. We saw some bright yellow snakes with grey heads, very thin and
about 400 mm long, lying in the water in the gorges. I asked one of the
guides what they were and he said they were Golden Tree Snakes. They are
not aquatic, they just cool off in the creeks.
We departed El Questro at 6:30 am and headed west. We crossed the Pentecost
– what a disappointment! About 200 mm deep and 20 metres wide. The
crossing into the El Questro Settlement was deeper and longer. Not even
worth a photo! We continued on to Home Valley Station and dropped in for a
look. Nice looking spot.
The next stop was at Ellenbrae Homestead for some of their famous scones.
They are fantastic and the managers are very entertaining as well. The male
was sporting a spectacular bandage on his ankle. Turned out he injured it
around the homestead and after it didn’t improve after a couple of days of
work, he figured he better do something about it. He jumped into a Toyota,
automatic, fortunately, and drove himself into Kununurra – fixing a flat
tyre along the way – and hopped into the Emergency Department. They X-rayed
his foot and diagnosed a broken ankle. Within hours he was on a plane to
Perth for surgery. He got back to the Kununurra hospital after a couple of
days and, yep, drove himself back to Ellenbrae…
At Ellenbrae there was a G-Wagon with German number plates and some maps of
epic travels on the windows. Turned out they were part of a group of 15
G-Wagons, driving from Darwin to Sydney via Broome over eight weeks. The
speed some of them were driving, I think they could have done it in eight
days… We played leapfrog with some or all of the group as we traversed the
Gibb River Road. We nicknamed them “The Panzer Division”.
We drove on to the Mount Barnett Roadhouse, being passed by five of the
G-Wagons doing at least 120 km/h. We paid for a night at the gorge
campground and drove in, selecting our patch of dirt and shade. The toilets
and showers here are old, but clean and in good working order. There is a
swimming hole at the campground and a live in caretaker. We set up and had
lunch then a swim. Next morning we crossed the swimming hole using the
tinnie and rope provided and set off on the walk to the Gorge.
Fortunately, we made an early start as the track is fairly exposed, but easy
walking. At the end there is some rock scrambling, but not too hard. The
Gorge is another beauty with a huge swimming hole below the falls. The
falls were just a trickle.
We walked back, crossed the swimming hole and immediately threw ourselves in
to cool off. We returned to our campsite to relax, have lunch and then
another swim. We caught up with the caretaker and paid for another night.
He informed us that the scrub bulls were to be chased around and carted off
the next day. We missed the fun, but did get to see the WWII vintage, left
hand drive, ex-US Army truck they were going to use. I’ll bet that has a
few miles on it.
Next morning, another early 6:30 am start had us driving past the campground
while people were having breakfast and at Bell Gorge before the hoards. The
walk in is relatively short and easy with a lot of rock underfoot. This
gorge is magnificent. The falls were still running strongly and the plunge
pool was fun with extremely slippery rocks. There is even an infinity pool
at the top of the falls.
Back out on the Gibb River Road we passed Queen Victoria's Head after
keeping an eye out for it for quite a few kilometres. From here we drove to
Windjana Gorge for the night and discovered all 15 of the G-Wagons camped
there for the night.
Next morning, we walked in to the gorge. The ranger had told us there were
around 160 freshwater crocs in the large pool in the gorge. We saw at least
40 of them, lying around the edge or cruising like submarines out in the
An easy drive on good dirt and bitumen saw us arrive in Derby by lunchtime.
We booked in to a caravan park and arranged to leave the car and van on site
when we head off on the overnight Horizontal Waterfall trip. I left the car
plugged in to 240 Volts to keep the auxiliary battery charged and run the
fridge on power. The Crossover was also plugged in with the 240 Volts
running the fridge while we were away. We went down to the Derby Pier to
watch the sunset. It is quite spectacular.
We were picked up by a minibus at the caravan park at about 2:15 pm, along
with eight other people going on the trip. The eleventh person was
collected on the way to the airport. We arrived at the airport and waited a
short time for the morning day trip group to arrive on the plane. Once they
had disembarked and the plane had been refuelled we boarded. The pilot
looked us over and allocated seats so as to balance the plane. The plane is
a Cessna Caravan amphibious aircraft. It has wheels and floats so can land
on the runway at the airport and on water at the houseboats.
Our small luggage bags were stowed in one of the floats and we each had to
wear a fold up lifejacket. The pilot gave us the prefight briefing
including such useful information as, “If we have to make an emergency
landing on water, don’t get out of the plane – it is a sea plane. Remember
what lives in the water around here – sharks and crocodiles. However, if
you see me swimming, try to keep up!”
The flight out was a bit bumpy as the afternoon air tends to be a bit
rough. We flew in a straight line to the waterfalls, crossing over some
great Kimberly scenery. The pilot then made a very exciting slow approach, weaving between the
hills, and dropped suddenly into the bay where the houseboats are moored.
They had just been moved to the cyclone season mooring which is in Cyclone
Creek. The creek is considered one of the safest shelters in a cyclone –
hence the name.
There is quite a little village floating in the bay. The main houseboat
can sleep up to 30 guests, plus staff and the mobile houseboat was also
moored alongside. Then there is a pair of long landings for the boats and
seaplanes, a floating bar, two floating shark cages and a shark feeding
pool, the generator pontoon, a floating fuel storage tank and a couple of
other general purpose floats.
As soon as we got off the plane we spotted a couple of the nurse sharks
which hang around to be fed. They can have up to 20 sharks at a feeding,
but we only saw three. The plane loaded the morning tour group and took off to head back to Derby.
We were instructed to remove our footwear for the duration of our time at
the houseboats. Our bags were handed back to us and we were allocated
rooms. We had “Crocodile Creek”…
The rooms were small, but all you needed – a queen size bed and a small set
of drawers. The bathrooms are ensuites – toilet, basin and shower - spread
around the houseboat. The upper deck was the communal area and dining
We next donned inflatable life jackets and climbed aboard the small boat,
which seats 12 people in six pairs of seats, shaped like saddles. You hold
on tight with your thighs! This boat has two 300 horsepower Yamaha
outboards – the larger boat seats twenty-four and has three, 300 horsepower
outboards. According to the staff, they are all a lot of fun and exciting
to drive at 50 knots…
We took off to the Falls and raced backwards and forwards through the outer
fall before heading to the inner fall for a look. It was running too fast
to navigate and had about a three metre drop across it. In full flood it
has a 10 metre drop and the boats can’t even approach it.
The ride was rough and exciting with the water throwing the boat around.
There are whirlpools and upwellings plus random, sudden currents all the
time. Taking photos was interesting as you had to remember to hold fast
with your thighs. Everyone had a great time and there were more than a few
squeals from the passengers.
On the way back we motored further up Cyclone Creek to look at the
spectacular cliffs. The high tide line was around 10 metres over our heads
and the skipper explained that the spring tides manage to go another two
We raced back to the houseboats for fish feeding. A couple of people jumped
into the shark proof float to see the shark feeding up close but everyone
else opted to take photos from the deck. The sharks get the leftover
barramundi steaks to eat. The small fish were fed leftover bread rolls and
splashed about excitedly, keeping well away from the sharks.
Once the feeding frenzy was over, we retired to the top deck for drinks and
nibbles. Soft drinks were provided, BYO alcohol. Next came dinner,
barramundi steaks – I had a real one – bread rolls and salad followed by an
excellent chocolate cake. We sat around chatting after dinner with people
wandering off to bed when they felt like it. I didn’t sleep too well – too
many red cordials I suspect.
We had an early start next morning with breakfast starting before 6:00 am.
There was plenty of food again – cereals, toast, eggs and bacon. Three
people decided to do the helicopter flight so they raced off and had
breakfast when they got back.
We boarded one of the bigger boats after breakfast and tore off to do some
more runs through the falls. It was close to low tide so we could run
through the inner falls this time. The water was like glass. The gap is
very narrow – maybe two boats wide if that - but the skipper handled it with
ease. The outer falls were taken with a bit of speed as the water was
relatively calm and, when you have 900 hp on tap, you use it!
We raced back to the house boats to watch as four planes came in to land,
delivering the day visitors. We said thanks and farewells to the staff and
boarded our float plane for the return trip. This time we took longer and
did a scenic trip past the Buccaneer Archipelago on the way back.
The trip was fantastic and well worth it. We had two scenic flights, two
exciting boat rides and dinner and accommodation.
Once back at Derby airport we boarded the minibus and were delivered back to
the caravan park. We packed up the Crossover and headed off to the Prison
Boab and on to Broome.
We had a few days R & R in Broome before driving up to Middle Lagoon. The
road is "interesting"... It starts out bitumen, then soon changes to a sand
covered clay capped road, but for much of the way, you are actually driving
in a trench, about a car deep. This has been dug as they have worked on the
road. In some places, the bottom is curved quite dramatically, so if you
have to pass an oncoming car, you both have to drive up the sides as it is
very narrow. It is quite an entertaining experience. Once you reach the
aboriginal land, the road miraculously turns to bitumen again.
We turned off the bitumen to head in to Middle Lagoon. I stopped to drop
some air from the tyres as the sand became deeper. This road is arrow
straight for about 21 kilometres before you come to a turnoff and then run
up to Middle Lagoon. Just before the turn there is a stretch of about a
kilometre where there are a series of 42 woopdi-dos, averaging about a metre
high. It is like a scenic railway as you climb up one side only to drop
down the other. All along the dirt roads there are sudden small woopdi-dos,
often several in sequence. If you have too much speed they can be very
exciting, or somewhat dangerous, as the car can start an up and down
harmonic which could result in loss of control. There were the usual
selection of wrecked - usually rolled - vehicles littered along the way,
nearly always near one of these bits of road...
We arrived at Middle Lagoon and called in to the office. We were allocated
two sites on the clifftop, overlooking one of the beaches and facing due
west. This area is called "The Ridge". Great spots as you have fantastic
views and only have to run down the dune to the beach.
The birdlife was great. We had frigate birds, Brown Boobies (that is what
they are called - look them up if you don't believe me!), Brahminy Kites,
Sea Eagles and even a Jabiru, just to name a few. During the day the
Peaceful Doves and Collared Doves wandered around the campsite and once the
sun set, it was an invasion of Hermit Crabs. We also had a huge, orange
wasp come inside for a visit.
The weather the first day was glorious - a light breeze and no clouds. We
swam and snorkelled and sat watching the whales. We saw many whales passing
by, blowing and breeching, but most were too far out to sea to photograph.
One young whale did a sudden breach only a few hundred metres off shore,
but, of course, I didn't have my camera handy!
Next morning we decided to head up to the Cape and Kooljamon. The wind was
picking up as we left - a portent of things to come...
You pay to be a day visitor at Kooljamin, and you don't get much for it! If
you camp there you have a bit of a walk to the swimming beach, which is
nice, but not a hell of a lot better than at Middle Lagoon. The resort is
actually at the Cape, not where most maps show it.
We got back from Cape Levique to discover that the wind - well, gale really
- had been blowing all day. It kept up all the next day, too, blowing
clouds of sand and fine grit around the place and into everything, including
kitchen runners and the sheets in the XL. It even blew the sand out from
around and under the tyres on the Crossover. The Crossover was about 50 mm
lower than when we had arrived. It didn't stop us from swimming, snorkelling
and enjoying ourselves, though.
The sunsets were stunning, all lurid oranges, yellows and reds. As our camp
faced due west all we had to do was sit in our chairs and watch the show as
a huge ball slowly sank into the sea.
The day time temperatures were in the high 30's and the overnights were down
to around 20. When the wind was off the land it was a very dry wind - a
slice of bread was as crunchy as toast before you could eat it - and the
onshore winds were moist. The last morning we awoke to some fog around the
place and a soaked awning.
We reluctantly said farewell to Middle Lagoon, the furthest camp site from
Home on this trip, and turned our heads for home.
We dropped in to Beagle Bay to see the pearl shell altar at the mission
church. It lived up its reputation. We then headed back down to Broome and a
couple of days R & R before heading off to the Tanami Road.
We went to the open air cinema and really enjoyed the ambience – planes and
helicopters fly low overhead as the cinema is at the end of the main runway,
fruit bats and microbats fly across the screen and it is generally great
fun. They really should prune back the tree branch which casts a shadow
across one corner of the screen…
We did the pearl lugger tour, which was informative and entertaining. The
guy talked about the history of pearl shell and pearling in the area and
showed the amazing gear the divers used.
We drove to Town Beach for a look - underwhelming. We continued on to the
unpronounceable Gantheaume Point. Pretty spot but the tide was in so no
dinosaur footprints. The lighthouse did have an Osprey nest, though, with an
adult standing by and the sounds of offspring in the nest.
From there we drove to the southern Cable Beach vehicle access track and
joined the locals. We parked up and set up the awning to have lunch on the
Back to camp to collect the jerry cans and I filled them and the car ready
to head off the next morning. We then went down to the beach for a last
We left Broome around 7:30 am and headed off to Halls Creek, arriving around
3:30 pm, 679 kms later.
We passed a few fires along the way plus the spot where a fuel tanker had
crashed and burnt a large hole in the road. We stopped at the aptly named
Boab rest area for morning tea. This was one huge Boab! We were delighted to
discover a large flock of Red Tailed Black Cockatoos busily stripping every
gum nut from a couple of gum trees. The ground was covered with chewed up
gum nuts and there was a constant rain of them.
We stopped for lunch at the Ngunpan Cliffs rest area and had a chat with a
Department of Main Roads worker who was there. He informed us that the
highway was actually now closed because of one of the fires we had passed.
Good timing, huh? We would have been stuck on the side of the road for
hours as, according to the sign at Halls Creek, it was still closed when we
We left Halls Creek at 6:00 am and headed off down the Tanami. The road was
in great condition and we soon caught up with a large cloud of dust from a
cattle road train heading south. We caught him just before the small range
of hills before Ruby Downs Station. Fortunately he pulled over at the
station and we were able to get past. I tried calling him on Channel 40 but
got little response from him,
Next, we caught an oversize low loader with a huge crane on the trailer.
This guy was up for a chat and wanted to know where we had come from and
where we were going. He let us pass on the left so the strong breeze blew
his dust away from us and we could see. We told him we were going in to
Wolf Creek Crater so he asked if we could show him the photos when we caught
up to him again. Since he couldn’t really take his rig in to the Crater, we
We turned in to the Wolf Creek Crater road and opened the gate. This was
easily the worst bit of road we have been on so far. Some of it was okay,
but a lot of it was very heavily corrugated. We drove through the stockyard
gate and there was a mob of cattle being moved down the road. The stockmen
and women obligingly moved them off the road so we could creep past. The
cattle had churned up the road so it was even more interesting to drive on.
I still have baked on cow pat on the front of the Crossover…
We got to the crater and discovered that some wit had modified the sign with
a bright red hand print, smeared down the sign. Very funny!
We climbed up to the crater rim and were amazed at the view. From the
bottom it is underwhelming - it just looks like a small hill. From the top
WOW! The bottom of the crater is actually 10 metres below ground level and
the outside walls are around 25 metres high. The wind at the top of the rim
would have blown a dog off a lead, so we didn’t stay long.
We drove back out after checking out the campground. It isn’t bad: lots of
room and a pit toilet.
After driving back out we continued along the Tanami Road and soon caught
the crane truck again, this time on the short bitumen section at Stuart
Creek. We pulled over and had a chat with the driver and showed him the
photos. He had driven up from Perth to Tom Price with a load, then loaded
the crane there and was driving it to the Granites Mine. It was obvious he
was not used to dirt roads.
We stopped here for morning tea, the driver continuing on slowly. He was
doing around 30 km/h where I was doing around 80. We continued on, the road
surface still being good, and soon caught him again. This was turning into
a game of leap frog. We continued on to the WA/NT border where we stopped
The road in the NT was still good. There was even a grader crew working on
it. The only rough bit was just after the Granites Mine where it was
heavily corrugated for a few kilometres before we found another grader crew
turning it back into a billiard table.
We passed a few more trucks and one of them supplied us with suggestions for
a camp spot, where we spent the night, a grader bay off the road, just at
the southern end of the 10 km bitumen stretch, near Refrigerator Bore.
Next morning we continued on down the Tanami. The road was still pretty
good, but the closer we got to Yuendamu, the rougher the sandy bits got.
The sand had formed some serious corrugations on top of the clay base is
We saw the first cow for a while, a Hereford! We had only seen Brahmans and
Droughtmasters for many weeks so it was a bit of a surprise to see a white
face staring back at us.
We stopped in at Tillmouth Well Roadhouse where they have an extensive
gallery of local aboriginal art for sale. After much looking, we bought
two. From Tillmouth Well the road is sealed to the Stuart Highway, but
unfortunately, the vast majority of it is single lane, my LEAST favourite
Road kill is very scarse along the Tanami, probably because there is not too
much night traffic and what there is is mainly roadtrains which only travel
slowly. We came across a dead roo which had four Wedge-tailed Eagles
feeding on it. They all flew up just in front of the car, narrowly missing
The roadtrain drivers on the Tanami were a very helpful and friendly lot.
If I caught one up, all I had to do was call them on the UHF, “Southbound
roadtrain, you on channel?” and they would move over to the downwind side of
the road so I could overtake safely without having to drive into a huge,
blinding cloud of dust. It was delight to overtake them!
We arrived in Alice Springs to be reacquainted with the delights of traffic
and traffic lights again. Oh, joy! We camped out at Temple Bar Caravan
Park, a rather quirky place... It is in a great spot for scenery, but is a
long way out of town.
We spent a day at the Desert Park. This is a great place to see some of the
desert plants and animals up close, especially the nocturnal ones in the
Nocturnal House. We went to the Aboriginal Bush Tucker and Medicine talk
which was very entertaining and informative. The presenter, Jeremy, was
very knowledgeable and funny. Among other things, he showed us how to make
fire with a mulga wood woomera and a length of corkwood trunk. It took him
about 15 seconds of vigorous rubbing to get smoke.
We wandered around a few aviaries and the Nocturnal House before seeing the
free flight bird show. If you go to the Desert Park make sure you see it.
One of the keepers introduces the audience to a selection of the local birds
which fly or walk around in front of you. We saw Black and Whistling Kites,
a Wedge tailed eagle, a Stone Curlew, Boobook Owl and Australian Hobby. It
was a great show and the birds were stunning. A great day, finished off by
eating the ice cream I had made that morning.
For our last day in Alice we drove to the top of Anzac Hill to take in the
views and the information signs. We then visited the Botanic Gardens for
lunch. The bird life in the Gardens was great. We spent a while watching a
Spotted Bower Bird showing off in his bower, dancing and singing away.
Next morning we headed off south at around 9:30 am and drove down the Stuart
Highway for 70 kms before turning off on the 24 km dirt road to Rainbow
Valley. It travels through varied country – some Mallee scrub, some Mulga
and some lovely Desert Oaks. We picked our spot in the main campground so
we had a view of the ridge. Then they started pouring in… A couple set up
their caravan near us and as we chatted we discovered they had been
travelling for nine years, happy itinerants.
The sunset was good, but not spectacular – no cloud or smoke to give it some
real colour. We shared home made ice cream, strawberries and blueberries
with our new itinerant friends.
Next morning, we headed off south again after driving back out to the
bitumen. We topped up with fuel at Stuart Well and continued on to the Hugh
River Stock Route. This was an easy dirt road until we crossed the Ghan
railway line where it became windy and rocky with the occasional bull dust
We came out onto the South Road and turned down to Maryvale. We enquired at
Maryvale as to the track conditions. We were told it was, “a bit rough, but
nothing like the old Ghan line track down to Finke”. ”A bit rough” was
right. The roughest thing we have driven down so far this trip.
Along the way you climb over the Charlotte Range - a low gear job. You get
your first view of the Pillar, which makes the drive worthwhile. Once you
drop off the range, you enter the dune section. I attached the sand flag as
it is a very narrow track with many crests.
We arrived at the campground and set up, only to discover that a group
nearby were heading off, so we closed up again and moved to their spot.
That took all of 60 seconds. Cars just kept on coming. The bush camp area
was empty when we arrived, but I suspect it would have a few people there
We walked to the view point and got our first, close up view of Chambers
Pillar. It is spectacular! We walked over to the Pillar and did a lap as
well as climbing up the steep stairs to the walkway to look at the graffiti
carved into it – old and new.
Sunset photos are obligatory, so we wandered over to the sunset viewing area
and took a few. Well worth the effort! The Pillar just keeps changing colour
– a bit like Uluru. I also managed to get up and take a few sunrise shots.
We decided upon retracing our tracks and heading down the bitumen to Marla,
then turning onto the top end of the Oodnadatta Track. All reports of the
Ghan line to Finke were horrendous and most people had taken well over five
hours to drive from Finke.
We drove out to Maryvale and stopped in at the indigenous art gallery so
Jenn could do some more shopping. An hour later we continued on north back
to the Hugh River Stock Route. Along the way we stopped to check out the
“Multi-purpose Utensil”, a toilet/telephone combination on the side of the
road where the old Ghan line comes in. You will have to go to see it.
We came out onto the Stuart Highway and re-inflated the rubber before
heading south on the bitumen. The traffic was much heavier than we have had
before – something to do with school holidays I guess! Tales of huge crowds
at Yulara bore out the holiday problem. We checked the fuel prices at the
roadhouses when we had a brief phone signal and I could check the “Fuel Map”
app. We discovered that they varied from $1.59 to $1.86 – we chose $1.59 at
Marla to fill up!
Along the way we saw a few eagles on fresh dead roos, a woman driving along
with her right foot out the driver’s window and a lot of vehicles headed
north. We also saw the cleanest 4WD and TVan ever at a wayside stop. They
pulled in while we were having lunch. I needed sunglasses to look at it.
It can’t have been off the bitumen and must have been polished at least
We decided to stay at Marla in the campground. The world’s cleanest TVan
pulled in to the campground a while after us so we got a close look at it.
Boy, is it clean! Not even a dead bug on it. They must be using Teflon.
Next morning, it pulled out before us. They must have been working really
early to polish it before heading off down the bitumen…
We left at a civilized 7:30 am and headed off down the Oodnadatta Track.
The section to Oodnadatta is very flat with alternating gibber plain and
mulga scrub and the occasional jump up to relieve the boredom. We only saw
two vehicles on the whole stretch.
We pulled in to Oodnadatta and were surprised on two fronts. One, the place
had really been cleaned up since our last visit in 2010 when I described it
as: “The place old rubbish goes to die.” The place was spick and span! The
second reason for surprise was that I had four bars on my phone, but no
connection. According to a local, Telstra wouldn’t give them a tower, so
Optus leapt in and built one. When was the last time you were somewhere
Optus had signal and Telstra didn’t?? In the bush???
We had morning tea with about 5,000 of our favourite flies and headed on
down the track. This was the first place flies were a problem. There were a
lot more oncoming vehicles on this section.
We pulled in to Algebuckina Bridge for a look. It is a remarkable feat of
engineering. We also checked out the campground across the road. Not a bad
spot with some river front sites on the Algebuckina Waterhole on Neale
We pulled off the track at an old windmill for lunch. Here, about 20,000 of
our favourite flies wanted in on it. Ms Numb Thumbs fled inside the
Crossover to escape them. The Ravens had built a nest on the windmill – so
I guess it won’t turn anymore! A couple of Corellas landed on the blades
and put on a show for the Raven sitting on the nest.
Close to William Creek – from about 70 kms north - the grader crews had been
out and the road was great. You could cruise at 90 km/h for a fair bit of
it. Just before William Creek we passed a very slow and unusual road
train. A grader was towing two large residential trailers at about 30 km/h.
We pulled in to William Creek to ask about the track to Halligan Bay. The
reply was, “A bit corrugated”. What an understatement! We tried to pay our
fee at the self-registration bay, but there were no forms so we continued
on. The road was horrible. The corrugations were beyond belief. There was
simply no speed that even approached comfortable. I tried everything from
10 to 70 km/h, all rattled your teeth out. We came across a tilt tray tow
truck which had just loaded a dead Jayco windup camper. The axel had broken
off and the camper ceased to proceed. The gouge mark in the road and bank
was quite spectacular. The family – two adults and two young kids – said
they had been stuck there since Sunday – and it was late Tuesday afternoon!
They had around 30,000 flies trying to get into their car for the trip home
to Tweed Heads – without a camper I suspect.
We continued on to Halligan Bay, stopping at the lowest point on the track
where it runs along the edge of the lake. At that point you are 12 metres
below sea level. We arrived at the camping area and had it to ourselves so
we set up with the wind to our backs.
Last time we were here in 2010 there was water - the lake was nearly full in
fact. A different sight this time. Bone dry and glary salt as far as you
We waited for the sunset, huddled inside away from the dreadful flies. Even
fly nets didn't stop them completely. About an hour after sunset, the flies
finally gave up and went to bed. We could be outside without them trying
desperately to get up our noses and in our eyes, mouth and ears.
Last time we were here, the only wildlife we saw was three seagulls - so
much for Lake Eyre's famous birdlife. This year I couldn't believe it when
the only wildlife we saw was, yep, a seagull!
Well after dark, a set of headlights appeared in the distance. A black
Jeep we had seen in Marla raced in to the day use area, did a fast lap and
raced out again, headed back towards William Creek. Strange...
We had a very peaceful night at Halligan Bay.
We set off back out next morning as the flies cranked up to warp speed. As
we got to the low point we were stunned to see the Jeep from last night,
camped ON the lake. He had a dog with him in Marla, so I guess he had it
here in the national park, too. Oh, well, rules are for everyone else I
We called in to the Mound Springs for a look at "The Bubbler" and “Blanche
Cup”. Mound springs are amazing things, mounds scattered across the desert,
up to 20 metres high, with springs on the very tops of them. Quite bizarre!
We drove on to the Lake Eyre South viewpoint where the flies were still
unbelievable. We walked down to the Lake edge and took a few photos of the
We stopped in Marree for lunch, where, surprisingly, there were virtually no
flies. We continued on to Leigh Creek and ended up in Hawker at the caravan
park. Along the way from just north of Leigh Creek to Hawker we saw dozens
of large Bearded Dragons on the side of the road, on the road and on fence
posts beside the road. It was quite a spectacle and something I have never
Next morning we drove down to Victor Harbour to spend the night with some
friends who have just moved there from Adelaide. It was a great night and a
change to sleep in a normal house after 12 weeks in the Crossover. From
there we drove across to Swan Hill for the next night and then down to
Bendigo for a look around before camping at Malden. We wandered around the
town before heading out to the old cemetery. What a rough life on the
goldfields. One gravestone listed ten children from one couple. Two made it
past 20 years old (27 and 57), the rest dying by 6 months of age.
From Malden it was a short run home to Melbourne and the shock of Melbourne
traffic. Then the emptying and cleaning up started
The Jeep and Crossover left Melbourne on July 10th, all white and shiny. We
returned 12 weeks later a lovely shade of orange. Our Crossover ended up on
the Vista RV stand at Leisurefest a few days later, all covered in orange
dust, but with none inside.
Time = 91 Days - roughly 3 months
Distance Travelled = 16,510 km
Average Distance per Day = 181 km
Fuel Used = 2389 litres
Average Consumption = 14.47 litres/100 km
Total Fuel Cost = $3,108.40
Average Cost per 100 km = $18.83
Dearest Fuel = $1.85 at Doomadgi
Greatest Distance between fills - using 2 x Jerry Cans = 1513 km - Halls
Creek to Alice Springs
The car: 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, CRD
The camper: 2015 Vista RV Crossover XL