Week 18 | Darwin to Lake Argyle

Day 120: Darwin

Our last day in Darwin and it’s a work day for me before we begin to head south and then make our way over to the West. Andrew is tasked with getting the van ready again for another travel day and doing the last minute running around for supplies.

We recently joined Aussie House Sitters and have today been accepted to do a house sit for 9 weeks just south of Perth at Whitby. We are both very excited and appreciative of the opportunity to look after a lovely rural property.

Wildlife: Horses, corellas, frilly lizard.

Day 121: Darwin to Bachelor

The military exercise was in full swing last night with hornets buzzing around up until 10pm. We’ve had a slow start to our day and the van is already to go.

We’re heading for Bachelor which is the gateway to the Litchfield National Park on the recommendation of new friends Tim and Lyn. It’s a short journey today of 84km and we are checking into the Bachelor Holiday Park before lunch time. We have a lovely unpowered site nestled in the rainforest and at $27 a night we are happy with that.

After setting up we have a quick lunch then head out to the Florence Falls. There is a couple of walking tracks to see the falls and I see a sign that says 430m. Great, let’s head that way. Then there’s another sign saying 135 steps down to the waterfall. Oh well let’s do it, we’re committed to the walk now! Going down was the easy part. I was dreading having to climb back up all those steps. The reward at the bottom is spectacular with an amazing swimming hole right under the two cascading waterfalls. There is a bus load of people swimming and I can’t resist getting in as well. The water is quite cold, but after the steps down to see it, there was no way that I wasn’t getting in.

Heading back up the staircase I am struggling and feeling every muscle in my legs. I stop several times before reaching the top. I am so unfit!

The next stop is Buley Rockhole. There are several small cascades and rock pools. There are people everywhere swimming and diving into the rock pools. You can also walk from here along the creek bed to the Florence Falls. The round trip is about 3.2km. After doing the staircase at the falls I wasn’t walking any further than I had to.

The Magnetic Termite Mounds are intriguing. They are all aligned North to South. This ensures that there is always an area within the mound that stays at an optimum temperature. They are also built on seasonally flooded black soil plains. Unlike the Cathedral Termite that builds its nest in well drained soils. Their nests can be up to 5m high.

Wildlife: cattle, horses, dead pig, sheep, lorikeets, galahs, cockatoos, blue eyed honey eaters.

Day 122:  Tolmer Falls & Wangi Falls

We head off early this morning to the Litchfield National Park to find the Wangi & Tolmer Falls. WikiCamps tells us that Wangi Falls are closed to swimming due to crocodiles being present. Apparently there is a cafe out there so we decide that morning tea is in order.

The falls are about 68km from Bachelor and travelling through the Litchfield National Park there are signs that the rangers are conducting controlled burn offs. The park is smouldering and there is evidence of new growth from earlier burns.

Arriving at Wangi we take the short walk down to the falls to find a group of people entering the plunge pool. They are from a tour bus and there’s lots of chatter and laughter about the recent crocodile sightings. I’m now really disappointed that we didn’t throw our swimmers in! The falls cascade over sandstone cliffs off the plateau into the plunge pool which is surrounded by pandanus palms and rainforest. It’s so beautiful and the water looks so inviting.

There is a short 450m walk to a viewing platform so we head off in anticipation of a spectacular view of the falls. The mosquitoes are bad and we’ve left the spray in the car so the walk is brisk up the hill. Then Andrew spots the metal staircase. Oh no, I’m praying there is not another 135 stairs like yesterday. Our calves haven’t recovered from the Florence Falls walk.

We climb the staircase, about 50 we think. There was no way I was counting them. We reach the top and there is no view to the waterfall. We are in the canopy of the rainforest. A selfie is in order and then we head back down. Our legs are killing us. After all the photos are taken of the waterfall we head for the cafe – closed! Oh well you can’t help bad luck!

Next stop is the Tolmer Falls. From the car park is a 500m return walk to a viewing platform which gives you a panoramic view of the Valley. The lookout walk is 800m return and the view from the platform which overhangs the cliff is amazing. Tolmer Gorge has been closed to the public since the 1990’s to protect the Orange leaf nosed bat & Ghost bats that inhabit the caves.

Our favourite falls in the Litchfield National Park were the Florence Falls and our favourite plunge pool was at the Wangi Falls. Whilst Litchfield National Park is impressive we can’t help but think about how lucky we are to live in a World Heritage listed rainforest area back at Mission Beach. Our rainforest and waterfalls are still the best we have ever seen on our journey so far.

Every day at the park the owners feed the birds.  It’s a spectacular sight to see.

Wildlife: Rabbit, kangaroos, hawk, galahs, cockatoos, lorikeets, dead snake, blue faced honey eaters.

Day 123: Bachelor to Vince Connolly Limestone Creek

It’s time to leave our lovely rainforest setting and head back through Katherine and then west on the Victoria Highway for Western Australia.

Morning tea is in the park at Pine Creek. We have 2 inquisitive blue faced honey eaters join us at the park table. We give them some fruit cake and biscuits which they quickly devour. We meet a couple travelling from Sydney who are heading in the same direction as us. Andrew has bought my attention to the slogan on the back of their pop top: The Love Shack, heading down the highway. I love it! One of my favourite songs!  I can’t get it out of my head now…

There are dark plumes of smoke ahead after leaving Pine Creek and it’s evident we are going to be coming close to a bush fire. The flames are burning right alongside the highway and you can feel the heat coming through the air vents as we travel. It’s a surreal feeling and we both hope that we will soon be far away from the fires. The bush is burning all the way to the Cullen River. We don’t know if it is a controlled burn or if it is just a bush fire out of control.

We arrive at the Vince Connolly Limestone Creek free camp and there is no one else here so we have the pick of the camp site. There isn’t much shade so we park out in the sun and take advantage of charging up our solar panels. Within 10 minutes another 3 vans pull into the campsite.

We meet a couple from NSW heading for Broome. They were at the same park at Bachelor last night and tell us of their adventures. He is doing an online course to become a marriage celebrant & has to do a mock ceremony so he approached two couples at the park and married one of them. Apparently they were in tears at the mock wedding! Shame we missed it. The other couple are from Cardwell and heading to the Kimberley’s. It’s amazing how many people we meet from Queensland.

Free camping in the great outdoors

It’s 36 degrees outside so it’s very hot getting set up. The afternoon is spent sitting by the caravan in the little shade that we have. Time for some sketching and colouring in. I’m almost relieved that there is no reception as it is a good chance to digitally detox!

Today’s travel was 262km, quite a big day for us. There will be a few more of those as we head towards the border and over to the coast of Western Australia.

Did I mention the flies are back?

Purple lilly

Wildlife: Rabbits, cockatoos, lorikeets, galahs, horses, cattle, jabiru, black cockatoos, dead pig, blue faced honey eaters, crows.

Day 124: Vince Connolly Limestone Creek to Saddle Creek

Leaving the free camp this morning it’s 25 degrees at 8am. It’s an early start as we were awake before sunrise. Last night we were visited by a herd of cattle feeding in the bush right beside the van, it scared the living daylights out of us at first. We were both sitting on the bed peering out the windows trying to see what was going on.

I’ve started to write my blog each day in Notes on my iPhone and then I can either cut and paste it into my blog site or I can email it to myself and then do the cut and paste to the site on my laptop. It gives me something to do while we are travelling as I don’t need to be connected to the internet.

As usual Andrew is at the wheel. I’ve driven about 170km for the whole trip so far & we have now clocked up over 12,000km. The Victoria Highway is a little rough around the edges compared to the Stuart Highway.

The road trains are out in full force and today one is “up our date” as Andrew describes it. He doesn’t have a load on and finally goes past. He’s wandering all over the road for quite a few kilometres.

What is it with trucks today! Another has just passed us “like a bat of hell” says Andrew and then is wandering into the right hand lane. About a kilometre up the road he puts his breaks on and pulls off the side of the road. He’s got a container & a 4WD Ute on board and one of the straps around the Ute has come loose. Let’s hope that’s all the truck experiences we have today.

The landscape is dry, red dirt, spindly grasses, ant hills and dry creeks. The clouds look like big balls of cotton wool.

And then we enter the Victoria River Region and the escarpment almost immediately changes to rolling Rocky Mountain ranges and plateaus. The colours in the rock face range from deep rust to burnt orange and black. The sun shining on them is intensifying the hues.

We pull into the free camp at Saddle Creek just after lunch time and there are several vans & motorhomes here already. It’s only 60km to the Western Australia border and everyone is talking about what you can and can’t take over the border.

There are two motorhomes parked beside us, both ladies travelling solo. One is heading back home to Perth and the other has come across from Tassie. I admire their sense of adventure and tenacity to be travelling this vast countryside on their own.

The afternoon is spent outside with fly nets on. Andrew is reading and I decide to try to sketch the blue faced honey eater who joined us for morning tea yesterday.

We also meet a couple from Lennox Head who have travelled different areas of Australia over the years. We watch the sun set with them and the moon rising over the rugged cliffs. It’s an amazing site.

With a few veggies on board I decide to grate them all up and make some veggie fritters to go with our steak. I don’t have any bread crumbs so I use some bread and an egg to bind the mix. I manage to get them into a pattie and start frying them off. They just weren’t holding together. The taste is ok, Andrew quickly reassures me and says we are having a Masterchef dinner of deconstructed veggie fritters!

Today’s travel was 281km.

Did I mention the flies?

Wildlife: crows, cattle, dead kangaroos, wild budgerigar, horses, 2 dead cows, doves, galahs.

Day 125:  Saddle Creek to Lake Argyle

I’ve had a restless night, something was biting me. It felt like ants. We also had a vehicle come into the camp site very late during the night shining their headlights. The occupants had been drinking and pulled in to use the toilets and leave their beer cans behind. Some people have no respect for camp sites that provide free facilities for travellers and that’s all I’ll say about that!

We woke up to an infestation of ants in the caravan. Out came the spray and we almost choked ourselves on the fumes. The pantry was emptied and everything wiped over, surface spray all over everything again and the caravan mopped out. An unwelcome start to the day but the benefit of an unexpected caravan clean in the middle of nowhere.

We are now on the road and heading for the border. It’s 31 degrees at 9.00am.  The border is only 60km away.  We pull into checkpoint charlie fully expecting to be here for some time.  The boot is up and the caravan open, within 5 minutes we are on our way again.

A further 41km takes us into Lake Argyle.  The scenery is spectacular and I’m busy snapping photos all the way.  On arrival we wait in the queue to enter the park.  I make my way to reception to pay the fees and then we are met by the parking attendant who rides her bike in front of us to our site.  She then proceeds to tell Andrew not to stress and starts instructing him on how to back into the site.  Within no time we are set up and ready to explore all that the Lake has to offer.

Lake Argyle panorama

You simply can not go past the infinity pool, perched on the cliff face.  It’s known as the most spectacular pool in the Kimberley.  We certainly agree, the view is breathtaking.  We take a drive across the Ord River Dam wall, it is an engineering master piece sitting on a fault line between Darwin and the Great Sandy Desert.

The resident musician is Steve Case and he’s playing on the grassed area of the cliff face in the afternoon.  Cinta is allowed to come too, so we take some drinks, nibblies and treats for Cinta and sit back, relax and enjoy the tunes from our era as the sun sets and the moon rises over the cliff face.  We continue on to the beer garden and have an amazing meal of crispy skin salmon and of course Andrew has parmigiana.  Steve plays more tunes and we enjoy quite a few more drinks.  I finally feel like I am on a holiday.  There is no work happening this weekend!

Wildlife:  Brown snake, crocodiles, sea eagles, pelicans, cormorants.

Day 126: 19/05 Lake Argyle

We have booked the lake sunset cruise and head out at 2.00pm for 4 hours cruising the lake.  The cruise also includes a swim.  While it is very tempting we both decide that we are not going in the water.  We have seen the size of the crocs along the banks while cruising and we just can’t do it.  A croc is a croc in our view and not to be trusted, even though they are freshies.

The skies decide to open up and a heavy rain cloud appears behind the cliff faces and then the rain comes.  The guides tell us that it is quite rare to experience a beautiful sunny start and then to experience rainfall on the cruise.  We all get soaked, what an experience.  Then there is a spectacular rainbow.  We stop in a secluded bay to watch the sun set while enjoying drinks and a cheese platter.  This is the life. Where to next?

It’s been a big week this past week, with lots of amazing destinations.  We are ever so thankful that we are able to experience all that Australia has to offer.  It truely is a remarkable country.

Wildlife: brown snake, crocodiles, comorants, sea eagles, pelican, cormorants.

Week 18 total expenses:  $851.57 – not too bad considering the cruise cost of $90 each (seniors discount).

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That’s a wrap for Week 18 of the Lap of the Map.

PS: Don’t forget to leave me a comment!

Week 17 | Adelaide River to Darwin

Day 113: Adelaide River to Darwin

After a slow start to the morning we head off to Darwin, only 112km away and check into the Robbie Robins Reserve.  As we turn into the street I notice the Don Dale Detention Centre on the left hand side of the road.  It’s a Detention Centre for male and female juvenile deliquents.  There are 4 gates into the reserve & we are met by Sonja at gate 3.  There is a small office and Sonja explains that the reserve is an Equestrian Centre and the speed limit is 5km and you must give way to horses.

It’s a lovely big lush green grassy area and caravans are all along the back fence.  There are both powered and unpowered sites and at $37 a night for power and water it’s about as cheap as you will find in Darwin.  The washing machines are free of charge which is an added bonus.  There are no frills here, no swimming pool, camp kitchen or playgrounds for children.  It’s perfect for us under the big shady trees.

Wildlife:  Hawks, cattle, eagles

Day 114-119: Darwin

There are a lot of things to do this week while in Darwin.  Cinta is due her annual vaccinations so we’ll need to find a vet.  The car is due for it’s 30,000km service and is booked into Ford, unfortunately they couldn’t give us a loan car for the day so that means we’ll be stuck at home when that happens.  We need to find somewhere to buy some new wheel chocks for the caravan as the two we have, have cracked and split when we’ve used them on gravel surfaces.  The wire support to the outdoor table on the side of the caravan has broken, so Andrew will have to come up with a solution to that.

The wind is blowing an absolute gale today and overhead there is an impressive array of aircraft flying around.   I’ve checked with my favourite internet source Google and Exercise Diamond Storm 2019 is currently taking place between Darwin and Tindal up to 29th May.  It’s an Air Warfare Instructor Course and involves military personnel from the United States and Australia.

Some of the aircraft involved from the States are: F-15C Eagle and B-52 Stratofortress Bomber; and the US Marine Corp MV-22 Osprey and AH-1Z Viper.  RAAF aircraft participating in the exercise include the F/A-18A/B Hornet, F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, Hawk 127, AP-3C Orion, P-8A Poseidon, C-17A Globemaster, KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, E-7A Wedgetail and C-130J Hercules. It’s going to be a very noisy week!

We are fortunate to have good friends Daryl and Jenny Caesar who have been living in Darwin for quite a few years now and they are picking us up to take us down to the Stokes Hill Wharf for a sunset dinner.  It’s so beautiful sitting on the wharf in the cool breeze watching all the boats sailing in the harbour and the seagulls flying about.  There are so many choices for dinner at the wharf and of course seafood and Thai is on my hit list.

A ‘must do’ in Darwin is the Mindil Beach Market and Daryl and Jenny are keen to take us down to experience it.  Everyone knows how much we love our food and we are in foodie heaven.  There is every nationality you can think of at the market.  I love that you can take a deck chair and your drinks and just find a patch of grass and enjoy the evening.  I decide to try something totally different that I have never had before. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake based on cabbage and vegetables and it is delicious!  Apparently the sunsets are amazing at Mindil Beach, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be the night we were there…

Jenny recommends that we visit the Royal Flying Doctor Tourist Facility at Stokes Hill Wharf.  It is another ‘must do’ in our books.  They also offer discounts on admission for Seniors, it’s $22 each.  The facility has two iconic Territory stories in the one location.  The story of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Bombing of Darwin Harbour.
There are two 20 minute movies to watch; the life size hologram of John Flynn the Founder of the Flying Doctor Service tells his story of the birth and growth of the RFDS and the life size hologram of Rear Admiral Etheridge Grant who was the Commanding Officer of the USS William B Preston narrates his own version of the Bombing of Darwin Harbour.  The movies are well narrated and very informative.
Modern technology through Virtual Reality transports you back to Darwin Harbour of 1942.  You are at the original Stokes Hill Wharf, standing on the deck of the Neptuna as it is bombed to the point of it exploding and sinking as well as sitting on the wing of an American Kitty Hawk, engaging in a dogfight with the Japanese Zero’s.  The staff tell you to swivel on your chair and move your head up and down and around to experience the full reality of the movie. It’s an incredible experience and at times I felt a little motion sickness and had to close my eyes before refocusing.

Botanical Gardens are a favourite of ours to wander around and enjoy the sheer beauty of nature’s flora.  The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens are situated on 42 hectares and are over 130 years old, surviving World War II and Cyclone Tracy.  There is a lovely plant house with tropical orchids and bromeliads, a waterfall in the rainforest, fountains, children’s playground and several themed walks.  Dogs are allowed, so Cinta enjoys a morning out with us too.  I just love how the mosaic is created on the footpath, it reminds me of a necklace.

We take a walk around State Square and view Darwin’s Parliament House which opened in 1994.  Across the road is Government House which is set on 13,000 square metres of hillside gardens.  It is pretty as a picture with it’s white picket fence.  There is a short video on the government website which takes you on a tour through the house, it’s worth having a look at.

I managed to wake up in time for a sunrise this week and it did not disappoint.  We’ve had a great week in Darwin, however we will be looking forward to moving on again next week as we make our way back to Katherine and then head for Western Australia.

Wildlife:  Kookaburras, plovers, ibis, horses, peacocks, black cockatoos.

Week 17 total expenses:  $2177.16 – well over double our budget!  Some extraordinary expenses this week with a car service at $810.20 & Cinta’s annual vaccinations at $125.  Luckily we’ve had quite a few weeks under budget!

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That’s a wrap for Week 17 of the Lap of the Map.

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Week 16 | Mataranka to Adelaide River

Day 106 – 107: Mataranka

Staying at the Bitter Springs Caravan Park has been so relaxing. Our site was nestled close to the rainforest in a quiet spot.  A short walk to the back of the park is the Little Roper River where blacky & whitey the salt water crocs live. The park staff tell us that if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you. They “know the rules”. We didn’t see them during our walks along the creek. I’m not sure if that was a good or bad thing…

The thermal springs are 500m along the road then a further 250m along a meandering pathway. The water is crystal clear in a natural setting, lush and tropical. There are 2 sets of man made steps to enter and then you can float all the way to the end of the springs. Half way along the springs is another set of steps if you want to walk the pathway back. We enjoyed floating down several times.

Bitter Springs Thermal Springs

A couple of people we met told us about the thermal pool on the south east side of Mataranka so we headed out there to check it out. These springs are more like a pool and entry is through the caravan park. It’s a short walk to the springs, there are several sets of steps to enter the pool area. The spring water does flow through from one end to the other. We preferred the springs at Bitter Springs because of the natural environment.

There is not much else to do at Mataranka so these few days have been late starts, a bit of work for me, reading for Andrew and plenty of time to sit back and relax.

Wildlife: Cockatoos, kangaroos, frogs, grasshoppers, warblers, willy wagtails, frogs.

Day 108-110: Mataranka to Katherine

It’s a slow start today leaving Mataranka for Katherine as it’s only a journey of 104km.  We arrive at Katherine by lunch time and check into the Boab Caravan Park which is a short drive from town.  It’s a lovely small park with level concrete pads and lush green grass.  Cinta is in heaven!  It’s hot today, 35 degrees so we’ve chosen a powered site.  The season has now begun so prices have all increased today and the park is expensive at $45 a night.  That was also with a seniors discount.  The staff are really friendly and after chatting with the Manager he tells us his sister lives at Mission Beach!  Its’a small world.

We head off to Woolies to re stock the caravan as we’ve got pretty low on all of our supplies.  We’ve blown a bulb in one of the break lights so a quick stop to Repco to get a replacement.  Back at the park and we spend the afternoon in the air-conditioning as it is very humid outside.

The power is going out at the park today for a few hours so I get straight into my work. Later in the day we are heading into town for our flu vaccinations and a bit of retail therapy. It’s hot and humid, how quickly we have forgotten about the humidity after travelling through areas which have a dryer heat.

The Managers are putting on free drinks and hot chips due to the power being out for most of the day.  Happy hour turns into 3 happy hours socialising with everyone in the park. It’s a great night hearing about other travellers adventures and telling them of our journey so far.

The alarm goes off this morning at 5.00am. That’s a very early wake up call for us these days. By 6.00am we are on the road out to the Katherine Gorge for the Two Gorge Dawn tour.  There are 13 gorges in all and they can be explored by either foot, canoe, boat or helicopter.  The sun is beginning to rise as we take the short walk from the entrance down to the jetty. Tea, coffee, watermelon & cake are provided prior to departure. Tom is our tour guide and he is only a young bloke but has a great sense of humour.

The colours in the rock face are absolutely amazing. Tom explains the black markings are from where the rain has fallen and created waterfalls. He also explains the red floats in the water. Before the season opens the gorge is checked by the rangers for crocs. There are many freshwater crocs in the gorge but it’s the salties that have to be removed. Crocs are curious about things floating on the surface so the floats are placed in the gorge and checked regularly for bite marks. The rangers can tell whether it’s a fresh or salt water bite. Traps are then set to catch and remove the salties.

The boat docks at the end of the first gorge.  There is a short walk where we view some aboriginal paintings high up on the rock face.  The walkway is concreted amongst the rocks and meanders alongside the rapids.  We then board another boat for the second gorge tour.  It is equally as stunning as the first gorge.  Two hours seems to pass so quickly and in no time we are walking the pathway again, boarding our first boat and heading back to the jetty.  It’s a “must do” tour in our opinion.

Wildlife: Galahs, black snake, comorant, blue faced honey eater, goats, dead kangaroos, willy wagtail, warblers, corellas.

Day 111- 112: Adelaide River

We are packed up and ready to leave Katherine by 9.30am and it’s already a hot and humid 28 degrees.  We’re heading for the Adelaide River for a couple of nights.  The drive is twice as long today at 232km.  We are meeting up with new friends that we made at the Temple Bar Caravan Park in Alice Springs.  It’s great to catch up with Tim and Lyn again and we have promised a roast dinner night again!

We spend the afternoon chatting about what we have done since we last met and Tim has told us all about the beautiful waterfalls in the Litchfield National Park and the photos are amazing.  There is a great park at Batchelor where we can safely leave Cinta in the van while we do some exploring.  We’ll do that after our trip to Darwin on the return leg to Katherine before we head into Western Australia.

The Adelaide River Showgrounds camp ground is really lovely with beautiful lush green grass and Cinta is just loving rolling around in it.  We’ve got a powered site with water at $27 for each night.  We don’t need the water as we’re trying to get our tanks low enough to give them a flush out when we get to Darwin.  There is a community pool at the camp ground and the locals have come in to use it and the washing facilities.  The amenities are old but clean and that’s all we need.  The race track is also within the grounds and there is a lot of water around as they had a tropical storm two nights before we arrived and had 100ml.  There is also several large shade cloth areas for vans to park under, but we’re under the trees and the breeze is steady and cool all day.

We have bid farewell to Tim and Lyn this morning as they head back to Katherine and out towards Western Australia.  They’ll be in touch with any “must do’s” along the way and to let us know about free camps and parks too.  We probably won’t catch up with them again as they plan to be back in NSW by christmas so we will probably see them on our return journey sometime in the New Year.

Here’s a short video of the caravan park that I took today while having some drone practice!

A visit to the Adelaide River War Cemetery was a very moving experience.  There are 435 burials from the Second World War.  The War Cemetery was created for the burial of the servicemen who died in Darwin and surrounding areas during the World War in 1942-1943.  The Cemetery contains the burials of 18 sailors, 182 soldiers, 215 airmen and 19 merchant seamen of which 407 are Australian, 26 British and 1 Canadian.

Long exposure of The Adelaide River

Wildlife: Brahma bulls, hawks, jabiru, crows, eagles, galahs, hawks

Week 16 total expenses:  $978.42, still under budget.  Some extra expenses this week including the Katherine Gorge Dawn Tour at $99.00 each and a flu vaccination at $25 each.

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That’s a wrap for Week 16 of the Lap of the Map.  Check in again next week to see what we get up to in Darwin.

PS: Don’t forget to leave me a comment!

Week 15 | Alice Springs to Mataranka

Day 99-101: Alice Springs

Time to catch up on some baking before we head off on the next leg of our journey. I’m baking a batch of chocolate chip muffins and decide to try putting them on the bottom shelf of the turbo oven today. Winner, they have turned out much better!

I’ve picked up some Lebanese cucumbers and I’m making a batch of pickled cucumber.  My niece Belinda gave us a bottle when we left Ararat and they were amazing. I’ve never tried to make it before so here’s hoping they turn out ok. Mmm they are pretty good!

We’ve got two new neighbours at the park tonight and both are fellow Queenslanders. One couple from Gatton and the other from Rockhampton. We immediately strike up conversation with them and enjoy hearing about their travels.

Wildlife: Galahs, warblers, kangaroos, rock wallabies, No 28 parrots, finches, black cockatoos, magpies, flies.

Day 102: Alice Springs to Devils Marbles

It’s time to leave Alice Springs today after a 9 day break, the road is straight and the speed limit increases to 130km. It’s hard to imagine travelling at that speed. We were hoping to stop at the Tropic of Capricorn however the roadworks made it impossible for a caravan to negotiate the entry point.

We have to pay extra attention to dead wildlife on the road as the eagles won’t leave the carcass until the last minute. On the verge is a dead kangaroo, we count 7 eagles around the body, the most we have ever seen on our whole journey.

I haven’t driven much on this trip, today is a big day for us (407km) so I take on 90km of the journey and bring us into Barrow Creek for lunch. It’s not terribly inviting so we have a quick snack inside the van away from the flies and then we are back on the road again.

The landscape is dry, red dirt and in the distance are the Davenport Ranges. We are staying at the Devils Marble Hotel Caravan Park tonight on an unpowered site for $10.  It’s Anzac Day and as I enter the pub to pay for the site, it’s packed with people watching the footy.  Entry is around the side of the pub and we pull up close to the gate.   A hot shower is always welcomed after a long drive.

It’s been sometime since we have enjoyed a dinner out. The reviews on Wikicamp are very favourable for the hotel so we decide to have a date night. Dinner did not disappoint. Andrew had his usual Parmi and I had the grilled barramundi with chips and a delicious Greek salad. It was amazing! Three pieces of Barra! Who would have thought in the middle of nowhere a little pub could put on a great meal. It was worth every cent.

Wildlife: dead kangaroos, eagles, crows, 2 dead cows, corellas, plains turkey, flies.

Day 103:  Devils Marbles to Renner Springs

Departing the Devils Marbles Hotel and the flies are sticking to us in the hundreds. My new job is to try to kill them with the fly squat. We have a method of leaving all the windows down, picking up speed, wind them up & then I kill the hanger-ons with the fly squat!

Only 8km further along the Stuart Highway is Karlu Karlu more commonly known as Devils Marbles. Karlu Karlu is a provider of bushfood including meat and plants. The elders passed down to their children what to eat and when, where to find it and how to hunt or harvest it.

Devils Marbles

I am in photographic heaven and climb to the lookout which is only 300m along a meandering pathway. To the south of Karlu Karlu is a significant cultural area and no photographs are allowed in this area. There are plenty of other amazing photographic opportunities and I am stunned at the natural balancing act of each and every formation. Absolutely breathtaking scenery. I couldn’t pass up the selfie opportunity!

The Stuart Highway is a long straight highway and surprisingly in very good condition. The scenery is the same every day, red dirt verges, tufts of spindly grass, native trees and red ant hills are becoming far more prominent. Travellers are stopping and putting clothing on them, it becomes an amusement.

Worthy of a mention is Morphett Creek, the first creek we have seen in quite sometime with water in it. Not actually flowing but water that doesn’t look stagnant.

We are camped at the Renner Springs Desert In and it’s pricey at $28 for an unpowered site. The amenities are old however clean and the staff are friendly and we have a patch of grass to park on. There really is a lot they could do with this place in regards to general upkeep. There’s a pool, but one look at it and it’s forget about it!

We spend most of the afternoon inside as the flies are a real nuisence. The geese, rooster and chickens are hanging around the van so Andrew can’t help himself and feeds them our stale bread. We had to come out for sunset as it was pretty special. Andrew is teaching me to play Jin Rumi as there is no mobile or tv reception we play well into the night.

Today’s travel was 260km.

Wildlife: Dead cows, eagles, horses, Willy wagtails, chickens, roosters, corellas, cattle, peacock, geese, minor birds, flies.

Day 104: Renner Springs to Daly Waters

Neither of us has had much sleep. The wind has blown up overnight and the trucks coming and going has kept us awake. There are some places you want to stay forever and there are some that you just can’t wait to leave. This is one of them. We are on the road by 8.30am.

Yesterday we passed a guy on a push bike on the highway. He was camped at Renner Springs overnight. He must have been up early this morning as we have passed him again 40k to the north. Imagine the impact of the road trains passing him.

The scenery is slightly different today with a chocolate coloured dirt along the verge and the trees are more dense and much taller. Some are full of yellow flowers. There are clumps of pinky purple flowers growing along the edge of the roadside.

We arrive at Daly Waters around lunch time and there are vans lined up along the roadside. There’a an old helicopter perched on top of an old tin shed, there are tin bushranger sculptures and an old army truck parked up beside the pub. Then there is the iconic Daly Waters Pub.  Stepping inside to pay for a site, the bar is covered in business cards and coasters pinned in every nook and cranny. There are bras, nickers, shirts & hats hanging everywhere.

The staff are all backpackers and really friendly. The guy serving me immediately new Mission Beach as he’d done a couple of days banana picking in Innisfail. The campground is spacious, mostly gravel with a green spot for tents. Powered sites in the middle and unpowered around the perimeter. The amenities look like little dongas each with a toilet and shower. We take an unpowered site for $20.

All set up so we head over to the pub for lunch and a cold beverage. Andrew has a steak sandwich and I can’t go past the Barra burger. They were both huge and the chips were yummy.

I’m watching the cowboy across the street get his horse out of the float. He’s a short guy, jeans, checkered shirt, Akubra and bare feet. He rides bareback over to the pub, dismounts and tells us Elvis is keen for a beer. The barmaid leads Elvis to the bar and there is no chance I am missing this photo op! Elvis was under age so there was no chance he was getting served a drink, he had to settle for tickling the ivories on the piano. Where else would you see a horse in a bar playing a piano! The great Aussie outback that’s where! Another highlight of our adventures, one never to be forgotten.

There a lot of Queensland number plates in the park and our neighbours are from Ingham, what a small world. They are doing the real outback along the Savannah Way and then off to the Gibb River. They are travelling with their boxer Sally, she’s three and a real cutie. There is a lot of dog sniffing going on between her and Cinta.

Dinner is out under the stars after dark, after the flies have said goodnight. We listen to the music from the pub, it’s live music every night and it’s our type of music from the 60-80’s. What a great night and not a bad sunset either.

Wildlife: Eagles, dead cows, dead kangaroos, crows, minor birds, flies.

Day 105:  Daly Waters to Mataranka

Leaving Daly Waters it’s 27 degrees at 9.00am and there is plenty of fresh road kill on the highway. Three dead cows, it must have been a bad road strike.  Todays drive is 184km.

We’re staying at the Bitter Springs Cabins & Camping ground on the banks of the Little Roper River.  It’s a large campground with many sites nestled in the rainforest.  The staff here are really friendly and the amenities are really rustic.  We feel right at home and choose a lovely site.  We’re offered a 10% discount to stay for 3 nights.  The first thing we notice when setting up is that there are not many flies!  The fly nets can stay in the car.

We can’t wait to explore the thermal springs, make sure you tune in next week to see what we get up to.

Wildlife: Dead cattle, dead kangaroos, crows, eagles, hawks, cattle, frogs, kangaroos, warblers, grasshoppers.

Week 15 total expenses:  $ 830.78, under budget!

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That’s a wrap for Week 15 of the Lap of the Map.

PS: Don’t forget to leave me a comment!

Week 14 | Uluru to Alice Springs

Day 92: Uluru to Erldunda

Departing Uluru it’s 26 degrees and we are heading back to the roadhouse at Erldunda for the night.  There are not many options for caravans between Uluru and Erldunda which is why we have decided to travel the 246km again.

We have a leak in our water pipe, it’s only a pin hole however it needs to be repaired as soon as possible.  We spend the afternoon googling caravan repairers in Alice Springs and find a mobile service.  We’ve organised for Jason to come out to the park when we arrive tomorrow.

I’ve come down with a head cold so the remainder of the day is a rest day.  Later in the afternoon we are relaxing outside and another caravanner pops by for a chat.  What a small world, he is from Kelso and lives just around the corner from my sister.

Wildlife:  Dead kangaroos, crows, emus, camels, rooster, No 28 parrots.

Day 93: Erldunda to Alice Springs

We are up early today and leaving Erldunda by 8.00am so that we arrive at Alice Springs in plenty of time to meet Jason the mobile caravan repair man by 1.00pm.  The journey is 202km. We travel between 80-90km an hour as Andrew feels comfortable towing at that speed and we are not in any hurry to get to any destination.  We are often passed by other caravans, many vehicles and the massive road trains.

Today we are shocked by two incidences that we encounter on the highway.  The first is a single axle caravan that overtakes us and it’s managed to get a real sway up.  They are obviously travelling too fast and single axles tend to sway a lot more than a double axle.  The second is a truck that overtakes us and watching him in the distance he slowly moves to the right hand side of the road and travels there for quite some time before moving back to the left hand side.  He was too far away to zoom my camera in to get his number plate.  He was obviously fatigued and needed to take a rest break.  It’s a startling reality of how easy an accident can happen.

As usual, we have found the Temple Bar Caravan Park through Wikicamps.  The reviews are really amazing and we are looking forward to arriving and meeting Trish and Molly (the caboodle).  The park and the service does not disappoint.  When you arrive at the entrance you are instructed to call a mobile number.  Trish arrives on her golf cart aptly named; “My Office” and Molly is by her side on the seat.  We booked for 4 nights but decided on the journey that we would like to stay for 7 nights so that I can recouperate and catch up on some work.  No problem at all and Trish escorts us around the park to our site.

The sites are large, beautiful green grass and drive through.  Perfect.  The bonus is that when you stay 7 nights you only pay for 6.  This park is a hidden gem about 15km south of Alice Springs and it’s only $24 per night.  Power is an extra charge and averages out about $2-$3 a day.  The amenities are spotlessly clean and there are many shady trees at each site.

We are all set up and a quick text to Jason to advise we have arrived.  Jason is here in no time and fixes our pipe within a few minutes for $20.  What a bargain.  Andrew now knows what spare part to pick up and how to fix it himself.

Wildlife:  Emus, dead kangaroos, horses, eagles, crows, No 28 parrots, galahs, kangaroos

Day 94 – 99 Alice Springs

We are both looking forward to having a week here at the park and this morning we head into town to restock the pantry.  We have been advised where to park and to be alert of our own personal safety whilst in town.  We notice that most of the buildings have high fences topped with barbed wire and there are a lot of cctv cameras.  We felt so safe at the park and yet feel uneasy in the township.  We are both glad that we chose to stay out of town rather than at one of the parks in town.

We’ve met some of the other caravanners at the park and are enjoying ‘happy hour’ exchanging stories of our travels.  There are quite a few residents at the park and they are all extremely friendly too, it’s a great atmosphere out here and very relaxing.

Some of the locals advise us to take a drive up to Anzac Hill to get your bearings and to take in the 360 degree view of Alice Springs. It really is amazing.

Anzac Hill Lookout

There are some creative art works around the town of Alice including a recent wall mural by Jimmy DVate depiciting the life cycle of the Yeperenye caterpillar.  It was painted on the wall of the Yeperenye Shopping Centre during the Festival of Street Art in October 2018.

It’s time to have a look around the gorges outside of Alice and the first one that we visit is Ormiston Gorge, 135km to the west, travelling along the West MacDonnell Ranges.  It’s a very scenic drive, however, there has been a recent bush fire through the whole area and it’s devastating to see the loss of flora in the area.

Arriving at Ormiston Gorge we decide to have morning tea in the kiosk hoping to escape the onslaught of flies.  The kiosk is air-conditioned and after waiting at the counter for some time we are finally attended to by an elderly gentleman.  His wife is busy making coffee for another couple and he apologises for the wait.  He is a real character and finally our order is taken (red or blue jam?) and no payment required at this point.  It takes some time to get our coffee and scones and she explains that they are flat whites as she doesn’t do froth!  They are clearly out of their depth in the kiosk as several others arrive and the service is a bit like waiting for a bus…we queue up again to pay and wait…

A short walk of about 500 metres along a paved pathway and the gorge is in sight.  We are told that there is water all year round and at the southern end it is up to 14 meters deep.  The colours in the rock formations are absolutely amazing, the water is freezing cold and the flies are in full force.

Panorama of Ormiston Gorge

Heading further west another 4kms is Glen Helen Gorge which protects a significant waterhole along the Finke River which is home to nine species of native desert fish.  The walk in is sandy, rocky, hot and fly nets are the new fashion accessory of our trip.  The gorge is breathtaking, spectacular walls of jagged ochre coloured rock with the occasional tree jutting out from the most obscure places.

The gorge offers powered van sites, camping and backpacker accommodation.  We couldn’t imagine staying here as you would have to spend most of your day indoors away from the flies.

Glen Helen Gorge

Heading back towards Alice is Ellery Creek Big Hole, the largest permanent waterhole in Central Australia. Thousands of years of massive floods have carved out this waterhole, which is recognised as an internationally significant geological site.  A short walk in along a lovely paved path way and another spectacular gorge appears right before your eyes.

Standley Chasm is next on our “to do” list.  Aboriginal owned and operated a fee of $12 is payable, $10 for seniors.  The chasm has been gouged into tough quartzite by the floods that, over millions of years have surged down a narrow tributary of the Finke River system.  The craggy slopes rise 80 metres above the floor, it’s a spectacular sight.

Standley Chasm operates a cafe as a training facility for local indigenous families.  Camping is available and there are picnic tables and bbq areas.  We chose to have coffee and it was somewhat disappointing when our coffee was delivered with overflow all down the sides of the mugs, an apology was given but still placed on our table with no saucer or serviette to wipe up the mess.

In January of this year (2019) fires burned across a 100km length of the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs right out to Ormiston Gorge.  Whilst it is devasting to see it is equally pleasing to note the new growth that is sprouting up already.

Panorama of the walk in

A short distance from town is Simpsons Gap, with a visitors centre, picnic areas and several short walks.  It is one of the most prominent gaps in the West MacDonnell Ranges.  We were fortunate to spot a black footed rock wallaby sitting high on the rock face.  Swimming is not permitted in the waterhole here.

We have been unfortunate this week to have a stone chip in our windscreen which has travelled over the Easter break to a large crack.  Our stay in Alice has been extended by a further two days so that we can have it repaired before heading further north.  The caravan has been washed and Andrew is pictured below showing off the new tow vehicle – I don’t think it’s going to make the grade somehow!

We’ve made some great friends here at the park and it was sad yesterday to bid them farewell as they head off on the rest of their journey.  I’m sure we will meet up again sometime to reminisce about our travels.  We all celebrated with a combined lamb roast buffet dinner where we all contributed to the meal.  Andrew was in charge of the lamb roast and it was cooked to perfection!  We had an awesome night, great company, delicious food and a few cold beverages too.

Back on the road again tomorrow to another unknown destination.

Wildlife:  Kangaroos, No 28 Parrots, galahs, black footed rock wallaby, black cockatoos, warblers.

Week 14 total expenses:  $693.02, under budget!

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That’s a wrap for Week 14 of the Lap of the Map.

PS: Don’t forget to leave me a comment!