Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 77-79 El Questro Wilderness Park– 24-26 Aug 2009

12,414 kms, 36 degrees C

OK, we have now started the fabled Gibb River Road. El Questro was our first stop, just 1m acres, including the uber expensive homestead ($1000 a night), cabins and us at the bottom of the price scale on the campsite! Clever marketing and use of natural wonders have been combined to pull in the tourists and fleece them, er like us.

There are some great 4WD tracks - first we went up Saddleback Radge to see the sunset. Next was the Explosion track but it was so rough that we felt the name might well describe our shock absorbers to discretion came into play. But the lookouts were glorious once more.

The walks are all fantastic – El Questro, Moonshine and Emma Gorges were all wonderful. Plus yet more thermal springs at Zeberdee. All had great views, interesting fauna and flora and most importantly of all supurb waterholes to cool off, as it is getting pretty hot right now, above 35 degrees C, probably hotter between the vertical gorge walls.
It’s a small world – people in the tent by us went to school with Jason Bunn, one of close musician buddies back in Melbourne.

We spent our 19th wedding anniversary at the steak restaurant at El Questro, along with champagne and wine (a real treat from the XXXX Gold that has become our staple tipple).

The Chamberlain River cruise was cool – our guide Buddy, an ex stockman probably well into his 70s had lots of saltie old stories to tell, as well as chatting up the “young” 60-ish year old women at the front, ie the only ones in focus!

The seven spotted anglerfish is quite remarkable in the it traps its prey – by spitting water! It’s accuracy is spot on – check out the video. We were a little worried about its choice of prey – not only will Stuart’s camera not taste to good but it might be a little large!!

We were thrilled to see a few Yellow spotted monitors – but this was a sign of two things. First the wet season might be coming on quicker than normal – the monitors are a month early. Now it is good news that we have seen them but we don’t want to be here in the build up to the wet as it will be hot and horrible. But the second sign is very sad indeed – the cane toads are now on the East side of Lake Argyle. In Kakadu the locals have noticed dramatic reductions in goanna, lizard and monitor populations, as they all live on frogs. When they eat a cane toad they will die, due to the toxin in its back. This beautiful monitor has only the time it takes the toads to get to him and there is nothing that can be done about it. Truly awful.

Day 75-76 Kununurra – 22-23 Aug 2009

12,214 kms, 36 degrees C

We had three nights back at Kununurra – an oasis in the Kimberley. Internet access, cold beer and restaurants – what more could you need?! Our Raison D’Etre was to stock up for the Gibb River Road, our next little adventure, between now and mid September. The blog might be quite for a while as we are likely to be without internet access over that time.

We went to the country races – always a great occasion in Australia. It was a stinking hot day. We didn’t lose our shirt, in fact ended up $30 to the good, thanks to some inspired tipping from some, but others were not so hot (er stick to the radiology Michelle)! There was one fantastic moment when a horse stormed over the finish line and rather then slow down round the course with the rest, found a gap in the fence and kept galloping. The commentator suggested that the horse had, “gone bush”! The fashion competition had to be seen to be believed – but the locals took it all in good spirits.

Michelle’s time finally ran out and she has to leave us for Darwin. It was great to have her as our travel companion.

Our last trip was to the Zebra Rock Gallery, run by Prof Bruce Livitt, ex Melb Uni who decided when he retired he would buy a business up here. He mines, machines and sells Zebra rock – remarkable, along with the cafe and wildlife. Check out the Australian Hobby and the peacock.

And finally, one of the caravans had a bird seed box and the double barred finches were wonderful.

Day 72-74 Purnululu NP, Bungle Bungle – 19-21 Aug 2009

11,814 kms, 34 degrees C

World Heritage Listed Purnululu National Park is home of the striped beehive dome structures known better as Bungle Bungle. The Bungles and the Gibb River Road were two of the highlights of our whole trip, and the first did not disappoint. The photos don’t really do the place justice – the rocks are 200m high, huge and dramatic.

It’s a long way off – 50km from Kununurra to the Northern Hwy, 200km to Purnululu then 53km on a rough 4WD track that took another 2 hours. Michelle is learning the 4WD tricks of the trade and did a great job in negotiating the Britz van safely to our camp, with all 5 tyres intact. We did our first walk later in the arvo as the temperatures dropped – Mini Palms walk, thro 200m high standstone gorge faces. Awesome.

On Thurs 20th we were up and out by 6am heading South to the Piccaninny Gorge and the famous beehive domes. We had breakfast in the shadows of the gorge, only after Nicky had dragged us around the Cathedral Gorge, Domes walk and the lookout. The photos and videos are very heavily edited! By 10am we were off out of the sun, as it was stinking hot. We had a “siesta” break in the shade before moving onto Echidna Gorge.

And finally, many of our followers are keen on the gory details of camp life – the next instalment is on the video, the long drop loo. This is a bit of an institution out in the bush, but will put the shivers up a few follower’s spines!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 69-71 Katherine to Kununurra – 16-18 Aug 2009

11380 kms, 34 degrees C

We reluctantly left Nitmiluk and returned to Katherine for the third time, for packing, refuelling, restocking, plus the obligatory dip in the thermal pools and a large steak at the stonegrill restaurant.

Then it was off West to Gregory National Park where we stayed at Timber Creek. We had time to run around a few local attractions including Gregory’s Boab tree. The Boab is a bit of a feature of WA, but the first few we saw were still just inside NT. Augustus Gregory stopped at Timber Creek in 1853 to fix up his boat, the Tom Tough, hence the town’s name. He set up camp by the Victoria River and etched the date plus into a Boab, which was probably hundreds of years old at the time, and is now another 150 years older.

The campsite fed the local freshwater crocs at 5pm – the creek looked small an innocuous, like many others, but when the bloke with the feed showed up so too did a dozen or so freshies. We did not need any reminder of the no swimming policy!

Wed 19th August saw us head West once more, and over the WA border to Kununurra. We were greeted by Quarantine inspectors, who checked both cars for cane toads, fruit, veg, nuts and honey, none of which is allowed into WA, especially the toads. We then needed to put our watches back 90 mins (and some would say another 40 years) – this meant that sunrise was 5.30am, sunset 5.30pm. Crazy, but the time zone is set to suit Perth, which is a long way West of us (as WA is by some margin the largest of Australia’s States and Territories), around 3000km by road.

After setting up camp we had time to hoon around to Lake Argyle to see the earth dam and do the lake cruise. It is an amazing place – the jury is still out as to whether the project was viable in the late 60s, but the result is stunning in terms of scenery and wildlife. The tour ended with a dip in the lake and yet another sunset, of course.

And finally, with Nicko in the car we have had to put everything surplus to requirements on the roof of the car, and that includes Stuart! And thanks to the mysterious car sticker dudes (er John and Mimi).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 67-68 Nitmiluk NP – 14-15 Aug 2009

10599 kms, 35 degrees C (but hotter in the gorges, possible up to 50 degrees), 6 snakes

Just when we thought we might be getting gorged-out, we arrived at Nitmiluk. What a wonderful part of the world.

Nitmiluk is the aboriginal name for what was once called Katherine Gorge – 29km NE of Katherine. After a coffee fix we hit the park on Fri 14th August, set up camp and made bookings for our two days there. We had a swim in the Katherine River before lunch (see photo of Nic in action). There is a croc trap opposite the boat ramp, with the door open and a fresh(ish) pig leg inside as bait. We presumed that was good news!!

After lunch with did the 2 hours cruise up gorges 1 and 2, which featured Justin, the 3m freshwater croc (see video). The gorges are amazing – the pictures and video don’t really do justice to the place. Anyone who suffered the film Rogue might recognise Katherine Gorge, as some of it was filmed there. If you have not seen it, don’t bother, its a shocker about a saltie who attacks a tour boat and eats the inhabitants.

The land by the boat ramp is a veritable zoo. We stayed an hour watching the bats, roos then a number of Great Bowerbirds decorating a bower then fighting over it. Apologies for the 2 minutes of bowerbird footage, but we were very excited to see the bower in action, doing maintenance work on his pad to try and attract a mate.

The campsite was just as good – there is a red winged green parrot having a drink.
On our second day we went on a canoe trip up the first 3 gorges – check out Michelle in the canoe. Nicky was stuffed after 15m so became cameraperson for the trip. A canoe is the best way to appreciate the gorge, down at water level, peaceful and tranquil. We saw House Martins in their tiny bottle shaped nests attached to the rock overhangs and a snake slithering along the waters edge. And Justin once more!

The sandy banks on the gorge had signs – Crocodile Nesting Area DO NOT ENTER. And the tracks in the sand backed up the signage – check out the photo. We saw snake no 6 off our trip slithering along half in the water and on the beach – you can just see it on the video.

And what better way to end the day, with Stueys camp fire damper and Nickys beef casserole.

Day 65-66 Lichfield NP – 12-13 Aug 2009

10269 kms, 34 degrees C

The conventional way to get to Lichfield National Park in via the Stuart Highway, to the East. So we did the 4WD tracks to the West. We stayed at the Safari camp not far from Wangi Falls, arriving there from Darwin lateish on Tues 11th August.

Wed 12th was a full on days run around most of the popular spots in the park, just to break in Nicko and Michelle, our new travel mates. We started with a walk to the top of Wangi Falls following by a dip, accompanied by the screeching of bats. Next it was back for breakfast before heading off to the magnetic termite mounds. Clever termites build “magnetic” mounds on close to a N-S axis, so that the East side stays a constant temperature, warmer in the morning and in shade for the hot afternoon sun. Next was Florence fall and the Buley waterhole – the carpark was full so we couldn’t get into Buley and Florence was so full we didn’t swim. But the view from the lookout was awesome, as illustrated in the picture of the four of us. Lichfield is very popular – it is much closer to Darwin than Katherine or Kakadu, and most of it is accessible on tarmac.

After lunch we tackled the Lost City which was much quieter as it was at the end of a 4WD track. The day ended with another dip in Wangi Falls followed by a curry on the camp fire.

We left the park via the 4WD track SW of Lichfield NP that crosses Reynolds River, as one of a number of tricky river crossings.Check out Nicky driving the Britz across one of the many water crossings. Go sisters! Michelle’s 4WD skills are coming along very quickly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 60-63 Darwin - 7-10 Aug 2009

9958kms, 32 degrees C

Darwin is the close of the second month of our trip. We have driven 9958km (6188 miles), or the distance from London to Galapagos. The boy from Manchester, who vowed he would never camp has now had one night with a roof out of 47.

We made our way to Darwin via two great places to see birds - Mamukala and Fog Dam. At the latter we couldn’t do the walk across dam due to large “saltie” being in the region, see the sign! We had been joking about seeing a croc from a bridge from the car, but it actually happened! They are big, nasty looking mongrels.

In some ways Darwin was a difficult time with both car and PC. Dell at first disappointed us in selling me a laptop with a dodgy video chip, but when they got their act into gear they turned it round pretty quickly. A techo fitted a new motherboard (MoBo in the trade) as the previous one melted, literally. Toyota were pretty disappointing too, sending me out on the road after a big service with no air con and a dodgy power steering pump. So it went back in to get them fixed, and we will be on gruel for the next month to pay for the bill! They reckon that NT means not today, not tomorrow, not Tuesday, not Thursdays, no trouble – maybe not so!

Darwin is an amazing place. It is a time of political turmoil – a vote of no confidence by a member switching sides in a government with a 13-12 majority. It’s a small world! But the new wharf is magnificent – the wave pool and city beaches are cool. Two events have shaped the town – the cyclone in 1974 but before that the Japanese bombing in 1942. In some ways the town is still a glorified military base .

Marty, Lisa, Max and Felix were great. Not only did they put us up in their yard but the boys took us to dinner at the ski club (water skiing, not snow, but the former is still pretty crazy when you hear there are crocs on the beaches) and then to the museum. When Nicky said she might be a bit nervous at the Cyclone Tracey exhibition, Max held her hand. So cute. The museum was awesome, so too Mindil Market, but we got bitten to bits by the mozzies.

Our next two playmates arrived. Michelle Fink from Melbourne, one of Nickys colleagues from the Kids. Michelle has hired a Britz 4WD and will be with us until the Bungle Bungles. And Nick Mason came over from the UK. Our last trip with Nicko was France and Spain in 1989, so 20 years on we thought we should do another crazy trip.

Day 59 Ranger Uranium Mine and Ubirr, Kakadu NP - 6 Aug 2009

9577kms, 34 degrees C

Today was a mix of 20th century mining with rock formations and art formed thousands of years ago

Ranger Uranium Mine is a contentious issue in Australia. It generates 10% of the worlds uranium. And its placed right in the middle of sacred aboriginal land, the beautiful escarpments of Kakadu NP (check out the top LH corner of the mine picture). The even more controversial Jabiluka mine is awaiting approval by the indigenous owners – it is positioned in pristine land very close to Ubirr. The mine tour was in interesting combination of information and spin/propaganda. But well worth doing. They have huge toys – the excavators on the video have 14 cu m buckets, carrying 28T. Each bucket has the capacity of 2 and a bit concrete trucks.

Check out the size of the trucks vs the “tiny” landcruiser on the ramp. The mine is Safety crazy – the place is crawling Environmental Protection Agency officers, it is very well run.

Ubirr, could have been a bigger contrast – from the new world for a very old one. It is an incredibly spiritual place with amazing old rock art painted in galleries of overhanging rock. And the view from the top was wonderful – Crocodile Dundee country.

Day 58 Maguk/Cooinda, Kakadu NP - 5 Aug 2009

9473kms, 34 degrees C

Today was a day for going over our tracks, but this time with John and Mimi. First stop from Jabiru was South back to Maguk. There is one walk marked at Maguk, to the main pool, but we noticed a guided tour take another path to the upper pools and falls. We went up and had a ball – check out Mimi!! We then dropped down to check out the main pool – Stuart took his mask and snorkel and the place was full of turtles and black bream. And we saw a Rainbow Pitta.

After an ample lunch of pizza (with emu, buffalo and croc) we returned to Yellow Waters to redo the cruise, but this time in the middle of the day. Once again it was awesome – more crocs, less birdlife. At one point three crocs were fighting for the same patch of muddy crappy bank. And the little one won!

Day 57 Nourlangie, Kakadu NP - 4 Aug 2009

9237kms, 34 degrees C

Our trip to Nourlangie Rock was the first of three days touring Kakadu with our new playmates, John and Mirella Price, our neighbours in Parkville. Nourlangie is one of the most important aboriginal rock art sites in the country. It is almost impossible to date, but probably very old significant. The Anbangbang gallery is a great example of rock art telling a story. The character on the top RHS of the picture is Namarrgon the lightening man. He is depicted as a Leichhardts grasshopper as the lightening season starts with the grasshoppers hatch and start to sing. His lightening is the band around him.

We saw more ranger guides – fantastic stuff. If you come to Kakadu find out when they are on and go along.

The wildlife highlight was the black wallaroo who didn’t seem overly bothered by us.
Later in the morning we did a walk around a billabong and up to a lookout with spectacular views over Nourangie Rock. We thought it was the poms who were meant to be the whingers, but you have never heard anything like Johns attempts to get lunch!!