Members Trips

the savannah way

the savannah way
july-september 2015
by David Jones


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 pouring. 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

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 available.

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 the environment.

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 change.

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 Kuranda. 

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 rain!

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 road maintenance. 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 local area.

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 Bushtracker. 

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 night. 

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 train.

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 sixteen!

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 mind, though.

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 Western...

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 inspiration!

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 it?

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 stuff!

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 birds.

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 Japanese activity.

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 there. 

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 middle.

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 space.

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 metres higher.

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 beach.

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 swim.

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 got there.
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 agreed.
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 for lunch.

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 many places.
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.
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 windscreen.
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 hole.

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 that night.

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 daily...

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 River.

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 could see.

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 suppose.

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 endless salt.

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 witnessed before.

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.

The stats:
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



























































thanks to David Jones for this article


november 2015