Aug 30, 2010

Mataranka - Gulf Savannah

At Katherine it was stinking hot and we were running the airconditioner for longer than usual and it's cooling started to drop off, i thought it may need attention from a A/C mechanic and contacted a local bloke who told me that it sounded like it was icing up and to turn back the thermostat a bit, as it turned out he was right and that fixed the problem and it's been working fine since.

We stayed at a van park that was close to the thermal springs and walked down there for a rejuvenating soak, weird huh? 40+ degree's in the sun and we go for a dip in a hot pool, still it was wet and soothing. We did a big shop in town then it was time to head for the Gulf Savannah.

Our camp for the 1st night was at Territory Manor, a lovely caravan park just before Mataranka on the road to Bitter Springs. We had a lovely grassy site and were kept entertained with Anna the Wallaby and Chook the Chook along with numerous Lyre Birds & Peacocks. The Park also has a large lagoon with some large Barramundi in it and the owner gives a talk and feeds the Barra twice a day. As far as Van Parks go it's up there with the best as it is not pretentious and has a lovely casual feel about it.

We took a drive out to Bitter Springs which is a lovely natural swimming hole in the river fed by the warm thermal waters. We also drove to Mataranka Homestead for a swim in the thermal pool, we had stayed there many years ago and remembered it as being dusty and thousands of fruit bats. It was still dusty but the bats were being controlled and mostly moved on with the aid of sprinklers in the tree's.

We spotted Keith & Sandy whom we had camped with along the 'track' to Darwin weeks before, they joined us for a swim in the pool, if your reading this Keith i have your photos to send you.

Next night was at Roper Bar, here it was a camp ground in a bush setting with basic toilet & shower amenities, we had shade and the company of some other travellers who owned a Toyota V8 ute and Ultimate camper so we had something in common to chat about. They were from Albany and fortunately for me had a beer supply in abundance and i was able to buy a carton from him as we had left Katherine without stocking up due to the late opening hours NT have. We also had the company of a little dog that was hanging around the camp, we were told it was owned by Aboriginals from across the river and it's personality certainly confirmed that. It was skittish and aloof but with Vickie talking to it and feeding it pieces of meat it soon started to take an interest. It wasn't untill Vick had gone to bed though that it came closer and jumped on the chair and allowed me to pat it, it slept there all night without a murmer, in fact it never made a sound the whole time.

Next day we had a lazy morning and didn't decide to leave untill the afternoon, we called in to Roper Bar shop and refuled and told them about the dog and they sounded quite relieved that 'Annabelle' had been found and a ute load of locals took off to retrieve HIM. Yes Annabelle was a boy dog, no wonder he had 'issues'.

Next nights stop was along a lovely Lagoon near St Videon Ruins, it was perfect Salt water Croc country but that didn't stop us parking close to the lagoon. We had a roaring fire going and a pleasent evening listening to all the birds and animal sounds the evening brings.

The Road along the Gulf Savannah is interesting, from being corrugated / dusty / stony complete with numerous creek crossings to smooth graded surfaces, plenty of places to just pull off the road and take a break and a walk. We drove 21klms into Limmen River Fishing Camp for a look see, it would be a nice place to camp up if you had a tinny which we did not and we were not about to put the Kayak's in after seing a monster of a Croc at the Town River camp we stayed at. I had been fishing off the rock banks and spotted a huge croc coming down the river, i called out to Vickie and we both watched it cruising along untill it got level with us about 300mts out on the other side of the river, i quickly went and got my camera and a float on a rope and started to throw the float into the water hoping to get some closer photos.

It made a line straight for us but stopped about 50mts away, it just hung in the water watching us, i estimate it was at least 5mt long, it's head alone was over a metre in length. An aboriginal lady who was also fishing along the bank kept calling to us " It's a coming' It's a coming " The Croc hung around for a while and then went under, but two hours later it reappeared in exactly the same spot, the cunning bugger was watching us the whole time, luckily we were up high on a rocky cliff.

Another place we visited was Lorella Springs, this is 29klms in on a fairly good track, Lorella Springs was part of Nathan River Station years ago before being split into two stations, it was then on sold to the present owners parents who basically walked away from it after many years. Rhett the current owner has had control for about 8 years and has plans on how he would like it but not the money to get it completed. We suggested he get the grass greener like KingFisher Camp but was met with reasons why he couldn't waste the water, even though there seemed to be an abundance. The station has one million acres and lots of places to explore, we didn't take the 80klm drive out to Rosie Creek where the fishing is reportably excellent but we did drive 35-40klms out to some water holes and gorges, it was all very nice.

The thermal springs bubble out of the ground near the camp ground and i spent some time soaking and chatting to other campers, Vickie kept them entertained for a few minutes with yelps & screams as the tiny fish bit at her mossie bites on her legs before she vacated. Lorrella Springs is worth a visit but it's fairly basic and has lots of potential.

Aug 21, 2010

Darwin - Katherine

Left Darwin and for a moment considered travelling into Kakadu, we had been there 10 years ago and the people we have spoken to told us that there was very litle water flowing and not worth visiting. We thought the same thing 10 years ago so gave it a miss. I am sure we will now hear how great it is and what we missed out on.

We camped a night in the bush at Harriet Creek [CAW5 #184] the area was filthy with full bins and rubbish strewn around. Vickie spotted a track on the opposite side so we drove down there and found a lovely spot behind some large rock mounds complete with tropical livingston palms. I soon collected some fire wood and got the Kimble pot fired up, turned up the iPod and settled in to the camp chair listening to some great music.

Later in the afternoon another Van pulled in but they stayed over in the 'dump' area and later on again a motor home also pulled in over that way, that suited us as we had our piece of bush all to ourselves.

We called in at Edith Falls [CAW5 #134] a very nice swimming spot but the campground was another tight dust bowl really only suited to car's or camper's. At $18 to camp we gave it a miss and instead got ripped off $9 for two icecreams at the kiosk.
In the car park was the largest motor home we have seen, a Kenworth with the full pan trailer converted to living space. Some interesting graphics down the side of the rig made it stand out, Bazza's Lifestyle was certainly eye catching, and i think Bazz'a knew that.

Hitting the road we headed down to Katherine Gorge where we camped in the Gorge Camping area, $33 per night with power was better value than Lee Point's $40.The 1st day we spent in and out of the swimming pool, humidity is starting to rise here in the Top End though i'm sure locals would laugh at that suggestion. The walk trails were registering 45 & 50 degree's out in the direct sun so we gave that a miss during the day. The 2nd day we got the Kayak's ready and headed to the Gorge, but 1st we had to pay $5.50 per Kayak to allow us the priviledge. I stuffed up by setting up our Kayak's at camp and walking to the Info Centre as we had to negotiate door's and steps prior to getting the Gorge.

Once on the water it was all worth it, at 1st we had a head wind as we peddled up the river but it eased off as we got around the bend and we just enjoyed ourselves looking around the Gorge. All the relaxation ended though once we got to the end of the 1st section as we had to carry our Kayak's 400mts over rocks to get to the 2nd section. It was hard work and even though we shared carrying each Kayak it involved walking back & forth and the heat & weight was taking it's toll on us. We were both relieved to be back on the water and able to cool off by splashing ourselves. The 2nd Gorge is stunning with high walls and interesting caves, I had bought along my small compact camera and was very disspointed to find the battery was flat and i didn't get to take one single photo of our trip up the Gorge.

We peddled to the end of the 2nd Gorge and thought about tackiling the 3rd section but choose not to as we had more rocks to clamber over and we were not looking forward to tackling them all again on the way back. Instead we turned around and with the wind to our back we peddled and cruised back down the Gorge. Same deal as the 1st time we had to manhandle our Kayak's back over the rocks and narrow walkway, i took a tumble and cut the sole of my foot on some rocks and again it was with great relief we got the kayaks back on the sand and we collapsed into the water exhausted.

On the home stretch back to the boat ramp we passed lots of tourists in the hire canoes and at $75 per canoe someone is making a heap of $$$$, they all seemed amazed at us peddling our Kayaks rather than paddling them, some yelled out other's just looked fish-smacked and you could see them thinking why didn't we get to hire those.

Back on land it was now the hard slog to cart the Kayak's back to the camp, Vickie's knee was playing up again so i had no choice but to pull both of them back, all up hill, it certainly was a work out and the 1st thing i did back at camp was head for the pool and stood under the small waterfall, once i had recovered enough the 2nd thing i did was get a freezing cold Scotch & Coke. The rest of the evening we sat around the pool listening to Greg & Julie Evans the entertainers and chatting to some other camper's. It was a nice end to an energetic day.

Presently at Katherine where we will re-stock and fuel up before heading to Mataranka and the Gulf Savannah. Whilst not looking forward to the heat & humidity I am looking forward to being out 'bush' again and visiting some places we haven't been to before.

Aug 15, 2010

Kununurra - Darwin

Wednesday we had the tow bar fitted, it's certainly a lot stronger than the previous version but it would still benefit from having a plate welded to take in the threaded bolt holes on the chassis for added strength. We treated ourselves to two meals at the Kununurra Hotel which were nice and Vickie cannot leave Kununurra without a visit to the Lovell Art Galley, we already own a few paintings by Nadeen Lovell & Kimberley Kohan and we have just added another to the collection. Both artists have different styles and it's hard to decide which we like the best, the predominant theme is Boab Tree's and the Kimberley colours. This time Vick choose a Nadeen Lovell Ltd Ed print, #3 of 50.

I felt bad i didn't let a mate know we were in town, sorry Dick if you read this, we were not intending to stop in town untill we realised we had the tow bar to replace. As it turned out I did bump into another couple of blokes i know, Phil who bought our 80 Series Cruiser many years ago and Doug a bloke i know through the Western Angler Forum.

Heading onto NT our destination was Katherine & then Darwin with stops along the way. We free camped along the way untill we got to Litchfield National Park where we camped at Wangi Falls, we were lucky we scored the last camp site and we only just fitted in, $6.60PPPN and we had the beautiful Wangi Falls just a couple of hundred metres away. We went for a couple of swims whilst we were camped there, unfortunately so did a few hundred other people!! Bloody amazing so many people came out for a swim, it was like Bondi Beach without the Surf or the lifeguards!

When we left we travelled the loop to Berry Springs, no camping here but the springs were beautiful with crystal clear water holes and small waterfalls, water temps were warmer than at Wangi Falls.

Had a roadside camp and met Allan & Rosemary [ Bushtracker owners ] who were friends with Heather & Lloyd whom we know from Streaky Bay, small World when your travelling. Another couple Keith & Sandy joined us around the campfire for a night of chat & yarns.

We were thinking of staying a week in Darwin but have reassessed and decided 4 nights is plenty, neither of us are into tours, we are at Lee Point Caravan Park and though its a fairly casual van park, at $40pn we would rather be out in the bush.
We visited the Museum which we thought was small but interesting, we were given a talk on what it was like living through Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and also a talk about Sweetheart the rogue Crocodile that had a habit of biting outboard motors, an attempt to relocate Sweetheart failed when the Croc drowned after being aneathesised. A visit to the Skycity Casino was worth it for the fantastic buffet meal on offer, best value buffet we have been to with a large variety of food on offer including prawns & crabs. Of course they also took $50 of Vickie as she attempted to bust the bank on the pokies.

A visit to the Mindil Markets hasn't changed much in 10 years, great for tasting some Asian food but not so good for the art's & crafts. And that was about the extent of our stay in Darwin, we are reknown for doing things over and i'm sure we will be back one day and 'Do Darwin Proper'.

I keep telling myself we are moving too fast as usual but just can't get my head around staying in places that are either too busy, too expensive or are dust bowls, we will know that special spot when we find it and hopefully / maybe stay around longer.

Aug 9, 2010

The Gibb River Road

Another trip along the Gibb River Road has been completed, this is the 5th time in 10 years we have traveled this iconic road in the magnificent Kimberley. Our trip started with an overnight stay at Derby Caravan Park, there was quite a queue up as we waited in line to be attended to, and Ian the Park Owner oozed efficiency and it was pleasant to see his unflappable attitude as he processed the many travelers’ details and sorted out sites for them. We had a nice site for the night, no grass but the lovely shade trees were welcomed, we did have a 240v power problem with the main circuit board tripping out but after resetting it a few times it then behaved itself.

We refueled, drove down to the Jetty, bought an ice cream and watched some people fishing off the Jetty. The tide around here can be 11 metre’s high and it was high and ripping through when we saw it, unfortunately I had left my camera back in the van so it was for our eyes only. Not much else to report about Derby, we have been here before and seen all we wanted to.

Actually that could describe the GRR for us, having driven the road previously we knew what we had seen and wanted to see again and also there were a few stations that had opened up since our last visit. Places like Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Leonard Gorge, and Galvan’s Gorge are all lovely places to visit but we didn't bother stopping, instead we headed to Mt Hart Station where we heard that they were looking for some volunteer Camp Hosts. Even though we haven't done this type of work before we have house & farm 'sat' and thought this could be interesting and suit our style of travels, we know the pride we take in looking after other people's property and the chance to stop and really check out an area would be a good opportunity.

Unfortunately we arrived two days late as the position had just been filled, there was a chance that should we hang around for nine days until the current hosts left we could then have our chance but we decided to stay two nights, get a feel of the place and perhaps in the future look at staying for a month or two next season.

Mt Hart is a 50klm drive in to the Homestead, the road is dirt but in excellent condition when we visited, the camp ground area is large and has basic amenities that were clean. Sprinklers were operating for most of the day light hours trying to get the grass established and there were many large shade trees, a lovely creek abounds the camp ground and a rough jetty and ladder enabled a relatively easy access for a swim. Freshwater Crocs are around but no Salty's at all, there is a Canoe available to paddle the short distance up the creek.

The Homestead and gardens are lush & green, it caters for travelers wanting accommodation and has a restaurant and bar, we went across for an evening meal on our 2nd night and enjoyed a lovely 3 course meal for $35 each. They have some pet dingo's and one came and paid us a visit in the bar. The day was spent driving around some of the million acre property, checking out some of the water holes and small gorges; it would be interesting to see the Station after a decent wet season.

The GRR was in excellent condition, the best we have seen in the times we have traveled it, we were thinking about stopping for a coffee and came upon March Fly Glen, we remembered this place from one of our first trips and we were literally attacked by March Fly's, we thought it was still worth another visit to boil the kettle. We were pleasantly surprised to see the area was March Fly free and the area had spread a bit with some lovely flat clean grassy area's to park the van. It was only around 9.30am but we decided to stay the night here. I set about finding some firewood which wasn't that easy as most had been scavenged by previous travelers, I just walked further into the bush and eventually came across a large fallen branch that I was able to roll end over end and get it back to the camp, there is used the chain saw and cut it into good sized pieces in preparation for our camp oven roast that night.

The day was spent going for a few walks, but mainly we just relaxed and read, a mate had given me a lot of books to take with us and it was nice to do nothing and just relax in the bush and read a good book. A few travelers drove in for their smoko stops during the day but it wasn't until late arvo our peaceful little camp was overtaken by others, majority of them stayed down around the main area but late in the day we had another Car & Camper arrive and I waved them down to a spot past us, they actually had one of the better area's if only the other's had known.

Matt & Kylie and their 3 kids were from Newcastle, they were traveling quickly and apart from a visit into El Questro they hadn't stopped anywhere else on the GRR. After our delicious roast lamb dinner we had an evening around the campfire with Matt giving me some harmonica lessons, I need many more to get to his level ... like 20 years worth!

Next day everyone vacated and we called into Imiji Store, diesel was $1.95 per litre. We had heard that Mt Barnett's fuel was dearer and they were empty and waiting on a delivery so we topped up a tank and I bought myself a Kangaroo Pie which was nice and meaty.

Our next stop was Mt Barnett and Manning Gorge, fuel price on the pumps were $2.05 a litre so we did save a few dollars; we spent that saving plus some for the $12.50pp per night camp fee. Another place we have been before but enjoyed the river so worth another stay, we paid for two nights and headed down the track to set up camp. No grass here, just fine red dust, not many other campers when we arrived so we found a nice spot to camp up and got the Kayak off the Ute, we decided to share the one Kayak as the swimming area wasn't that large to warrant the effort getting the inflatable set up. I must add that so far we haven’t met many other friendly travelers other than Matt & Kylie, we have only seen 3 other caravans and we got the distinct feeling that most camper trailer people wouldn't be seen dead taking to a caravaner even if it is an Off Roader and in the 'outback', certainly different to other trips we have been on where we have met many wonderful people.

Our next stop was to be Ellenbrae Station but 30klms before we came across Russ Creek and decided to stay there the night, it took us a while to work out where we would camp with Vickie making the decision easy by saying HERE, so that's where it was. A quick collection of firewood and a walk around the area and then it was relax and open the book, later in the afternoon we were joined by a cyclist, Alexander was from the Netherlands and was riding down the Gibb River Road, he had been in Australia two months and already had traveled 5000klm along the Great Central Road and Sturt Highway, he was averaging 60klm per day and absolutely loved what he was doing. Alex was a nice guy and we had him over for dinner that night, Vickie was a bit embarrassed to offer him Spaghetti Bog as Spaghetti noodles was his main energy food and he eats them nearly every day. BUT not like Vickie makes and he devoured two large bowls, he told us the next morning it was the best he had ever had but even with that amount of food in his 65kg frame he awoke at 2AM and ate some more food. Traveling on a mountain bike uses up a large amount of energy and his body needed all it could eat.

Another two couples also camped in the area and we had a chat with them in the morning, they were heading to Kulumburu with a 4.5mt Boat and older Jayco Camper, they were concerned about rough road conditions on the Drysdale road but were going to attempt it anyway. Alan was a Cop from Tennant Creek and made the offer to call in should we get that way.

Ellenbrae Station was an easy 3-5klm drive in, the Homestead was different to how we remembered it 10 years ago when we called in. Lush green grass and lovely maintained gardens, they have a small cafe offering Scone's Jam & Cream and toasted sandwiches, we paid our $12.50 pp and got directions to the camp area. We were disappointed in what we found, another dusty dead grass camp ground. Surely it cannot be that hard to water the grounds, there is no shortage of water in the area. If I hadn't of got the Kayak off the Ute and paddled up the river I would have given it the thumbs down but the river was lovely and I saw a half dozen freshwater crocodiles and plenty of bird life.

Once the GRR went past the Mitchell Plateau / Kulumburu Roads the road did become corrugated and rocky, compared the road near Mt Barnett which could only be described as a 4 lane highway with the amount of road works going on. We hope that the GRR is never bituminous completely but we do think it's just a matter of time before it is.

Home Valley Station is another of those places we previously tried to visit but was closed at the time, 6 years later it is an oasis in the bush, a true resort Aussie Bush Style. It is owned & managed by the Indigenous Land Council and is well worth the visit. Dusty Bar is the main eating and Bar area and is large and full of character with rustic use of materials. We had a couple of drinks at the bar whilst listening to the entertainers singing and playing the didgeridoo. HV8 has two camping areas, close to the main restaurant and pool and another 4klms out along the banks of the Pentecost River, we choose to stay the two nights on the green grass and drive out to the river a couple of times to watch the sunset which was beautiful.

We were camped next to a nice family, John & Bronwyn from NSW; they had a Windsor Rapid Caravan and well set up Land cruiser. They had some problems with the van with some welding work needing down at Drysdale Station, the welder must have been very inexperienced in welding as the job looked very amateurish. John was going to buy an Inverter welder and complete the job himself. As we chatted we realised that we were almost neighbours back at Ningaloo when they were camped in the same area as us, it's a small World.

The final drive crossing the Pentecost River and driving past El Questro was some of the roughest stony sections on the road, pleased to say we had no punctures though we spoke to many travelers that had multiple blow out's, I always lower the tyre pressures by 10psi on Car & Van when driving on dirt roads and has proven to work for us. Hitting the bitumen we decided to drive to Wyndham and refuel and have lunch at the Bakery, Fuel was $1.49 per litre but the Bakery had now changed to a Cafe and sourced all their pies from Perth of all places, The person serving told us they had a cook but not a baker, wha-tha ... how hard can it be ? A Cook cannot make Pie’s?? I just couldn't understand it.

We are now at Kununurra, staying at Kimberly Land Caravan Park; it's ok but not as lush as we remember it from previous stays. I have been to the local Toyota dealer to get our cracked tow bar looked at; this is a fairly common problem with many being reported on the forums of the internet. Of course the service person I dealt with had never heard of it and I had the feeling they were going to make my life hard in obtaining a new 'revised' tow bar under warranty. It wasn't until the man in charge came and looked and stated that he has seen 3 bars cracked and he would get it replaced. What is it with the front line staff? Do they have instructions to try and fob customers off if they can? Why it is thousands of owners can know about these problems but yet when you make an inquiry the Dealers service staff do not.

Yesterday afternoon we got both Kayaks out and spent a nice hour peddling around the dead tree's that make up a large area on Lake Kununurra, it was lovely and relaxing with many Cormorants on the branches. Today it's windy as hell and the water rough, not inviting at all, the Internet signal though high is dropping in and out and making it difficult to even catch up on our web site and answer emails.

Three nights here and its head to NT.