Bungle Bungles


We said farewell to the Gibb and headed toward Fitzroy Crossing stopping along the way at Tunnel Creek where we traded the thongs for our shoes and headed into the cave. As we made the walk we saw people coming out that had seen a couple of freshwater crocs on the way and we’d hoped to see the same but I think we came just at the end of peak-hour and they’d been scared away.

The cave was pretty cool – both figuratively and literally and the rock formations looked weird and wonderful by the torchlight. Walking through the cave you forgot that it was a warm and sunny 34 degrees outside until you got to the other end. Not content with missing a croc sighting, the kids and I continued to walk further up the creek once the tunnel ended but with no luck. The kids took off their shoes and walked bare foot on the way back and we got in the car and headed to the end of the Leopold Downs Road.


It was here that we farewelled the dirt and corrugations after 13 nights/14 days and traded red dirt for some lush green grass when we hit Fitzroy Crossing. 


By the time we popped into the local hardware store to say g’day to my Dad’s mate, we’d missed a powered site when we checked into the caravan park so it was another night of dim caravan lights. I did manage to do a load of washing in the vain attempt of washing some of the Gibb River red from our clothes before we headed to the pub for a cold beer and some fish and chips. The fish and chip deal was supposed to be take-away but there was a Collingwood match on the TV – the first we’d seen in weeks – so we sat down to eat and watch the game.

The next morning I was up early to put our laundry in the dryer and our shoes that were still wet from Tunnel Creek. We headed off and made our way to Halls Creek for a fuel stop and to book a couple of nights at the Bungle Bungles. We thought we’d be able to get into the Bungle Bungles that afternoon but apparently we still had another three hours driving to do so we stopped overnight at Leycester’s rest stop. The stop was named after a young local boy killed in a car accident near the Ord River and we read the dedication to him and wanted to leave a 5cent piece at the sign (he collected them as a boy) but I had none in my purse.


We were able to light a fire here so I sent the kids off to find some firewood while I finished setting up. They didn’t find much but Master14 did find a dead fallen tree nearby but the branches were too big for him to break on his own. I decided it might be time to get out the chainsaw that I’d bought at the Caravan and Camping Show before I left. I put on my safety goggles and started to cut up the big tree branches and trunk. Miss6 was off crying in the van and I thought that the loud noise may have scared her – turns out she was upset that I’d cut the tree up and cut it away from it’s ‘family’ (there were a couple of trees all growing together where this dead tree had also grown) she’s such a nature lover. She soon forgot her mourning of the tree when we were around the fire and fell asleep on the camp chair.

Up early the next morning and off to the Bungle Bungles. The lady at the information centre in Halls Creek told me the 56km drive would take me two hours – when we hit the dirt road I thought to myself ‘I’ve done the Gibb – there’s no way this will take two hours!’. I let some air out of the tyres and started the drive along the straight dirt road. It wasn’t long before the road became windy and then hilly and then both – the tight curves, corrugations and steep climbs very quickly made the two hour drive more realistic and officially the worst of the roads that we’d driven on so far.


Once at our campground though, the dirt roads were flat and in good condition – like a reward for making it through the entrance road. After setting up camp we headed to the Echidna Chasm in the hopes of catching the midday light at the end of the walk. We bumped into the family we’d met all those weeks ago at Wilpena Pound as we walked into the chasm. We missed the ideal time to see the light in the chasm but it was still a beautiful sight to see. The kids enjoyed climbing the walls like spiderman while I made some Indiana Jones closing walls references that made a nearby older guy laugh and went straight over the kids heads (note to self: get kids to watch Indiana Jones movies when we get home).


After Echidna Chasm we decided to head to Blackwoods to do the Mini Palm Gorge walk but I hadn’t packed lunch so we detoured via the van first before we could begin the 2-3 hour walk. I didn’t think we’d be able to finish the walk as we didn’t start it until 2.45pm and I didn’t want to be walking in the dark so I told the kids we’d just walk for a bit then turn around and go back. This was a challenge they took on with gusto and we ended up making it all the way to the platform at the end in only 45 minutes. The final two-thirds of the walk were on rock with the last third being the most rugged, interesting and picturesque – dotted with tall palms among the red rocky walls of the mountain range. It also smelt of pine and reminded me of Christmas as the soft cool breeze blew (this analagy confused Miss6 who failed to see how a gorge could be like Christmas!).


I set the kids the challenge to beat their time on the way out and they rose to it with great enthusiasm making it back to the car in under 40 minutes. We had enough time to head to the sunset lookout and climb the steep 500mtr pathway to the lookout where we not only got some random phone service as my phone went off on the climb, but we bumped into another family that we’d met at Mount Barnett along the Gibb. We chatted as we took some photos and generally enjoyed the views. The colours over the mountain range were reminiscent of those at Uluru. Sunsets seem so vivacious in the Kimberley and also throughout the McDonnell Ranges with their red and orange and yellow but then a soft hue of purples and pinks over rugged mountain ranges. The colours and mood were just lovely to witness and a great precurser to a lovely starry night dotted with soft, warm breezes.


The next morning we were off by 6.45am to get to Picaninny Gorge to do a few of the walks here before it got too hot. We started with the Picaninny Creek walk which had some spectacular views of the dome shapes of the vast Bungle Bungle Ranges – they are so huge that we pondered their size against that of Uluru.


Next we headed to the Cathedral Gorge walk. Walking through the high walled pathways along the creek, there were remnants of the wet season with some waterholes with fish and a few dead frogs. We arrived at Cathedral Gorge to find a very green body of water surrounded by a sandy bank to one side and rocks to the other. The high walls have traces of waterfalls during the wet and the entire space feels quite serene. Even the green body of water is pretty with its marbled patterns across the surface.

Shortly after we’d arrived, a tour group arrived and Miss6 managed to make friends with one of the tour guides and ended up walking with her chatting about our holiday as we all walked back toward the carpark via another short loop walk.

On the drive back to camp we made a quick stop at the airstrip to see how much a helicopter ride would be for us. As the kids had a combined weight of less than 77kg they were allowed to book one seat to share so we booked a spot on the 1.30pm flight which gave us enough time to drive back to camp, have some lunch, grab my over-used credit card and get back.


Nobody else had booked a flight at that time so the kids got to have their own seat with Master14 up front with the pilot and Miss6 and I in the back. We paid our fare, got our safety talk and met our pilot – all from three good looking guys in their pilot uniforms – I felt like I was on the set of a possible Top Gun sequel. Unlike our helicopter flight over Katherine Gorge, this helicopter had no doors so it was very windy and Miss6 wasn’t scared at all – in fact, I couldn’t wipe the smile off her face!

The flight was 18 minutes over the area that we’d walked through that morning. It was pretty spectacular to see the view from above and appreciate just how big it all is. Just one section represented the same footprint as Uluru but without the height. Back to camp for a quick dip under the solar shower to feel a little fresher before we head off tomorrow for more bush camping.

Before leaving home a friend asked what three things I would miss most and I’d said my bed and my friends and family (couldn’t think of a third). Turns out I’m not missing my family and friends all that much (they’re always in my heart so never far away) but I do miss running water, showering…without thongs…alone, flushing nearby toilets and being able to take the availability of a petrol station for granted.

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Gibbing it a go

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We originally planned to spend about a week on the Gibb but ended up spending nearly two weeks travelling along it and could easily have done more. The Kimberley is definitely a highlight of the trip and an absolutely beautiful part of the world. The Gibb River Road takes in some spectacular views through some pretty big farming stations and beautiful gorges that we’re lucky enough that private and traditional owners are happy to share.

The Gibb itself was in pretty good condition when we drove along it – especially considering only a couple of weeks before we got there they’d had unseasonal rains that closed the roads. The road would change from grey to yellow to white, black and more often red dirt. With corrugations that sit tightly together where you could easily drive 80km/h over and then others that were spread so far apart it looked like waves on the ocean and even with your core braced to impress even the toughest PT, all your parts shook with the bumps.

You soon figure out however, that the colour of the road only matters in determining how bad the corrugations are, when it comes to the dirt – everything in or on the van is red dirt and it’s all brown when you blow it out your nose or scrape it out from under your finger nails! Each stop you make is another reminder that no matter what you do, the dust will always win and can get into anything.


Your definition of clean also changes the further you drive along the Gibb – the further we went, the more legitimate the Miss6 ‘seven second minute’ rule sounded. I think I even have my own ten commandments of clean after making it to the end:

  1. Has it been driven through a water crossing? Yes – it’s clean.
  2. Do you have clean underwear on? Yes – You’re clean.
  3. Has it been swept down with the broom and shovel (this includes benches)? Yes, it’s clean.
  4. Did you wipe it with a nappy wipe? Yes – it’s clean
  5. Have you worn it less than three times? Yes – it’s clean.
  6. Have you swum in a gorge? Yes – you’re clean.
  7. Can you still see it clearly under the dust? Yes – it’s clean (enough).
  8. Have you brushed it? (teeth or hair) Yes – it’s clean.
  9. Has it been shaken out vigorously or bashed against something hard? Yes – it’s clean.
  10. Does it smell ok? Yes – it’s clean.

The further we drove along the Gibb, the more things broke or needed repair and the more fun we had. You’re reminded that stressing about the little things doesn’t help and that it’s always better to just be grateful for all the good things in the world – I reckon there’s a few people back home that could do with a trip along the Gibb.

I think the thing it forced me to do was to slow down – life at home is always rush, rush, rush and that’s something you just can’t do on the Gibb – a lesson that many others I came across learnt the hard way. There were plenty of travellers also taking on the Gibb and many of these were more cautious than us, while many others showed no caution at all (funnily enough most of these were driving hire cars). As we made our way along we saw a few trucks towing out fully rigged 4WD vehicles, off road and high-end caravans and campers – a few others that we’d seen speed past us on the road we also saw pulled over on the side of the ride further along with broken parts or tyres that needed changing. One guy we spoke to reckons he went through six tyres along the Gibb while some other old guy told us that his tyres were on their last legs and that his spare tyres weren’t much better and wouldn’t last five minutes if he needed to use them (why he was risking the drive is beyond me). We always stopped or slowed down to check on any vehicles pulled over though, you never know when you’re going to be the one on the side of the road needing some assistance.

ELLENBRAE



After leaving Home Valley we stopped on the side of the road at ‘Telecom Hill’ where all of us desperate for some digital connection were standing on a rock with our phones in the air calling loved ones, or in our case, calling ahead to accommodation in Broome to avoid missing out for the school holiday rush. With our bookings all sorted and a quick text to Dad to tell him when we expect to be in Fitzroy Crossing we were officially on our way for a week or so of disconnection with the rest of the world while we explored this most spectacular part of the world.

The drive from Home Valley to Ellenbrae felt almost like a freeway – the dirt was largely grey and smooth until the driveway to Ellenbrae. A few dips and corrugations welcomed us to Ellenbrae though these were easily forgiven with the yummy taste of their home made scones with jam and cream. As we were camping there, our friendly hosts Larissa and Logan, told us of a secret swimming hole that we could make use of. We set up our camp and headed off for a short but fun drive along a sandy, windy 4WD track to a secluded sandy beach with breathtaking views.

Although we were told that the water was safe to swim in – it was so secluded and we were the only ones there so you can’t help but feel an eery sense of precaution and fear that some giant salty is going to come flying out of the water at any moment. With that thought in the back of my mind, we swam in the water anyway while I admired the scenery and kept a vigilant eye on the water around us. We eventually went back to camp where we lit the fire and sat around it to eat dinner and enjoy the outback sunset.

DRYSDALE


While we had checked in at Ellenbrae, Larissa had let me use her phone to call ahead to Drysdale Station, about 59km north of the Gibb, to see if they had any spots available to take a scenic flight over Mitchell Falls. We’d missed out on this experience at El Questro and Kununnurra so Drysdale Station was one of our last options (though it was a detour off the Gibb that I wasn’t sure the RAV4 was up for).

They had saved a spot for us on an afternoon flight the next day so that when we left Ellenbrae Station we detoured off the Gibb up to Drysdale in anticipation of our scenic flight. Unlike the drive to Ellenbrae, the drive to Drysdale Station was rough and heavily corrugated. The ‘drive fast over the corrugations so you don’t feel them’ theory only worked in some spots, while others were so bad that they forced you to slow to around 20km/h – it was on these sections I wished I’d worn a sports bra!

It was along this part of the road that a few others seem to fly past us with one in particular that we saw further up on the side of the road fixing a broken axle. I stopped to check on him (not that I could do much to help), topped up the car from one of the jerry cans and got on my way. We eventually made it in one piece and arrived having to drive around a road train loaded with two broken 4WD and a camper on the back to fill up with fuel and give our details to Will the pilot for our scenic flight either that afternoon or the following morning.


Two others booked a flight also so we managed to take our flight that afternoon up to Mitchell  Falls. It was a two hour flight that took in some of the ever-changing views of the Kimberley. One minute you were flying over great mountain ranges, the next it was vast plains with meandering fresh water systems flowing into the larger salt water rivers and out to the ocean. The kids both spotted a saltwater croc in the waters below before we detoured over to the views of Mitchell Falls – although I was feeling quite queasy by this stage, the view was amazing – what a gorgeous part of the world. Seeing it by air really made us appreciate just how big and remote this area really is.


Back at the station we enjoyed some dinner at the bar/restaurant onsite and some time around the campfire with fellow campers. First we chatted to a couple of young girls who’d been out to Mitchell Falls that day and reckoned the road there wasn’t too bad and that we should just give it a go. The manager later joined us around the fire and also reckoned the road from here to Mitchell Falls was better than the road we took to get to Drysdale – if we left our camper at King Edward campground, about half way from here to Mitchell Falls, we’d be right.

MITCHELL FALLS



Well, as the heading suggests, we decided we were already so close we may as well go all the way. We headed north the next day to King Edward campground and though the road there was better than the road to Drysdale there were still a few rough spots that slowed us down a bit and eventually took their toll on the camper with our overflow tap on the water tank breaking off as we turned off to the campground. Some frantic taping with gaffa tape (one of my regular saviours on this trip) stopped the water leaking from our tank and we were able to make it to the campground relatively unscathed.

We set up camp and were greeted by our friendly volunteer host who offered me some electrical tape to help me patch the hole in our pipe (the gaffa was useful but only a temporary measure). I needed to let the tank empty in order to repair it but with a promise of freshwater to refill, I took off the broken tap, turned the pipe upside down so that the hole was now facing upward, placed some plastic from an old drink bottle over the hole and taped it up with the thinner electrical tape serveral times.


We headed to the day use area for a swim in the clear and calm waters among a stunning backdrop and nearby waterfall – King Edward campground is quite possibly my favourite campsite. The next morning we were up early to make the two hour drive to Mitchell Plateau and National Park through some tropical roadside views along the way. We had been told that we couldn’t swim at Mitchell Falls so hadn’t taken bathers or towels with us and only packed food and water for the day. When we got to the gate we found out that there were in fact several swimming holes along the way and that it’s only the falls themselves that you couldn’t swim in!


We started on our walk stopping first at Little Mertins Falls to take in some Aboriginal rock art over 35,000 years old and right on the path where you could touch it (though we didn’t as you’re asked not to) it’s pretty amazing that these images have been here so long and still look so vivid and clear. We stood beneath the waterfall and watched the water trickle down in front of us while the lush green foliage grew proudly from the rocks behind us.

Next up was a walk along a flat and exposed grassy area that the Ranger had told us the kids would likely get bored and whinge through. Miss6 soon turned our walk into a 4WD game where she would radio me to warn me of rocky sections that might require me to put my vehicle into 4WD or take a water crossing.


It wasn’t long before we were at Big Mertins Falls (or fall as it was at this time of the season) and stopped to take some photos and admire the view down into the falls and across a pretty little pond dotted with loads of waterlilys. We were nearly at the end of our long walk to the falls and the smells surrounding us reminded me of my childhood and hayfever on the farm – that familiar fresh grassy smell was warm and pleasant (unlike when I was younger and would’ve meant me needing copious amounts of antihisthamine drugs, cold compresses and an immediate evacuation).

It wasn’t long before we were making our way down to the swimming hole near the top of the falls. We’d been advised to wear only our socks when walking across the shallow water section to the shaded swimming hole and, after seeing an older woman fall flat on her bottom trying to cross the water, we were glad we’d heeded that advice. As we didn’t have our bathers with us, Miss6 and I whipped off our shorts and swam in our undies while Master14 was already in board shorts for the walk so simply swam in those.


After enjoying our almost secluded swim we dried off in the sun and walked to the lookout to get our close up glimpse of Mitchell Falls. The view of the falls was breathtaking and pretty exciting to us to be so close. I did think of the two girls we’d chatted to at Drysdale Station who’d encouraged us to come here and felt grateful for their encouragement though I did wonder what they may have been smoking when they’d told us of the rainbow you could see in the water at the middle water fall – how you could see anything reflecting in that water from this distance was beyond even my vivid imagination.

There were loads of oldies at the falls that had taken the six minute helicopter ride in from the carpark and were taking it back out plus a few others who walked one way and took the helicopter back – we did the budget version and walked both ways but we were able to take a quick dip to cool down again just before we hit the carpark and made the two hour drive back to King Edward campground. The next morning it was back to Drysdale Station for a refuel and early lunch before we were off again to our next stop along the Gibb.

MOUNT BARNETT



We arrived at Mt Barnett in the afternoon and refuelled before finding ourselves a carmpsite and setting up the solar panels to try and get some charge into the ArkPak. The kids and I collected some firewood and had camped next to a lovely family with four kids who helped my two to light the fire while I went and enjoyed a nice hot shower on my own. After toasting marshmallow by the fire Miss6 was still exhausted and fell asleep on the campchair so I carried her to bed, grateful to not be turning the alarm on in the morning.

After a slight sleep in we headed to Emma Gorge via the little boat crossing and a lovely walk meandering over rocks and got there in an hour. Miss6 and I took some time to warm up before jumping in the water for a swim but Master14 was straight in there and jumping off the rocks at the waterfall soon enough. There were plenty of fish in the water and our camp neighbours had told us to bring bread to feed them so Miss6 was happy to do this while I had a little swim across to the falls.


The water was deep and we had forgotten to bring a noodle or Miss6’s floaty jacket so when she wanted to swim across to the falls with me I had to be her floatation device when she got tired (which was about half way across). She put her hands on my shoulders and almost pushed me under – I’m a strong swimmer but this was the first time I looked at my swimming destination and thought ‘I may drown before I get there’. With the extra 20kg on my back my arms were burning when I got to the other side so we stayed there for a while enjoying the rocks and the close up view of the falls.

We stayed at Emma Gorge for a few hours swimming and ate our lunch there before heading back to camp in the early afternoon. On the way back we stopped for a swim at the river spot with the boat ferry and Master14 spent time pullying others across the river until a rather large family hopped into the leaky boat, too lazy to do the trip in two shifts (there were about six large adults in the tiny little boat), they got about a third of the way across the river when one of them tried to stand up and the boat very quickly sank to the bottom of the river. There were screams of ‘my camera!’ ‘my phone!” from some of the occupants while the rest of us swimming and sunning by the river had a laugh and applauded them when they managed to get to shore and rescue the boat off the bottom. Master14 will have sore muscles in the morning after that effort I think.

GALVINS GORGE



After leaving Mount Barnett and grabbing a few grocery items we stopped off at Galvins Gorge for a bit of a look. We weren’t sure what to expect so walked the 1km walk with nothing but a drink bottle. When we got to the end we were greeted with a lovely little water hole complete with water fall and swing rope.

Master14 jumped straight from the swingrope without even checking how cold the water was (it was cold) while MIss6 and I sat on the edge and dangled our feet in the water. The kids eventually convinced me to have a go on the swing rope – I figured if anyone was going to complain about some mum swimming in her undies I’d be long gone before they could tell anyone who cared. The water was cold but gee that was fun – so much fun in fact that I had three turns of the swingrope and felt like a kid again.

On the walk back to the car my thongs broke again so I had to walk out with a soaking singlet, wet underwear and bare feet but it was worth it for that couple of hours. Miss6 even jumped off some rocks while we were there and sat on the waterfall with me. We found the most unusual and stunning spider while we were there – it was gold with an orange back and sparkled so brightly it almost didn’t look real.

When we left Mt Barnett I noticed the freezer wasn’t on and that two of the 12v outlets in the car weren’t working so we stopped off at ‘Over the Range’ after leaving Galvins Gorge. We were greeted by Neville, an incredibly friendly and genuine guy who let the kids look through some of his photos while he looked at my car. It was only a fuse which he replaced for me and sent me on my way with a big smile and warm wishes – i was so relieved it was only a fuse and that he’d been so helpful I had to give him a hug (it still seems odd to me that his name is Neville and he’s a mechanic). I got a free stubby holder from Neville and we were on our way again to Bell Gorge.

BELL GORGE



We got to Silent Grove and set up camp again and tried to make the most of the afternoon sun with the solar panels to charge the battery. I was also pretty happy to see there were some showers on site and looked forward to one of those in the morning. We hopped in the car and drove out to Bell Gorge – a pretty little gorge with a swimming hole right at the top of the falls that you could swim in. It was a bit cold for me and Miss6 so we found a nice rock to sit on and just get our legs wet while we enjoyed the sunshine.

We headed back to camp just before it got dark and lit the fire and sat around it for dinner. We were all pretty exhausted and Miss6 and I wanted to watch the sunrise so we were in bed asleep pretty early but not before some star gazing – the skies are so clear along here and you can see the stars in such vivid detail. The Milky Way almost looks like someone has just thrown a handful of glitter in the air it’s so bright and beautiful. We missed the actual sunrise the next morning (surprise surprise) but were up early enough to see the colours of the sunrise on the horizon.

WINDJANA GORGE



The kids decided not to do a second walk to Bell Gorge after brekky so we headed to Windjana Gorge to set up camp. We walked to the gorge after lunch and saw quite a large number of freshwater crocodiles just floating in the water. As we kept walking along the gorge the walls were interesting and remnant of being under the ocean millions of years ago. The walk along the gorge got a bit repititious after a while as there was no real destination or ‘look out’ to get to at the end so we turned around and headed back along the sand where we could get a closer look at the crocs and admire some Brolga’s along the way.

We sat on the shore watching the crocs for a while before heading back to camp for dinner and an evening visit from our friends from Lake Argyle that had also been travelling the Gibb – they’re heading home to Perth soon so we’ve arranged to stop in and visit them once we get there.

This is our last official night on the Gibb and it’s been one hell of an adventure. I’ve lost count of the numnber of water and river crossings we’ve made (though I promised the kids we’d add them all up at the end), we’ve been lucky enough not to blow any tyres and I’ve almost forgotten what colour my car and camper really are under all this red dust.

While we’ve managed the odd hot shower along the way, there’s been lots of bush camping and the beauty routine of cleanse, tone and moisturise with a quick bronzer at the end could almost be replaced with cleanse, tone, moisturise and some Gibb River red dust to finish it off. There are days when you think ‘gee I’ve got myself quite a tan’ before you realise that it’s just the dust and dirt on your skin. Though we’ve had quite the adventure these last two weeks, there’s still so much more we could see and the kids and I have already decided we love the Kimberley and want to come back again.

Home Valley

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After bidding our FCUK friend a final farewell from El Questro, filling up with fuel and buying Miss6 her early birthday present of a genuine Kangaroo leather jackaroo hat, it was time to hit the Gibb and all its corrugations for the next 600 odd kms. We weren’t driving far and didn’t think the road was too bad, sitting most of the time on 60 and often getting to 80. We got to the famous Pentecost River crossing and luckily had already been told that it was very similar to the entrance to El Questro, just a lot wider. I decided that since we were on a real main road that Miss6 shouldn’t stick her head out of the sunroof (much to her disappointment), though in hindsight I don’t think there was much danger in doing so and unlikely that an officer of the law would’ve seen us.

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After the long and bumpy crossing we managed to get to Home Valley before lunch and set up under the shade of a tree, had some lunch and headed to the pool. Our brief wifi access as we’d driven through Kununnurra had downloaded some of my emails and I noticed one from work offering me the opportunity to apply for my own job for a further nine months once I got back to Melbourne – applications closed at 5pm today – it was 3.45pm WA time and I had no phone and no internet service. I paid $5 to make a two minute phone call to work to let them know I’d try to email something through and another $5 for 100MB of data which I hoped was enough to get an email through – it had run out before I could check my sent messages so I just left that one up to the universe and figured when it came down to it – my new attitude was that they need me more than I need them.
The following morning we’d booked a four hour shore fishing tour – we’d been told that we would be walking along the shore possibly in ankle deep mud and sand so we had our thongs on and some super strength Bushmans cream. We met Callum and were joined by a father and son team before we hit the 4WD track down to the river. The Bushman’s came in handy as everyone else was getting eaten alive by the mozzies as we walked along the shore line throwing in the net for some live bait. We were fishing for barramundi and it wasn’t until Callum pointed out that Miss6 and I were walking over a croc slide that I remembered that saltwater crocs also liked to eat barra and didn’t mind the taste of humans either!


Miss6 was very upset when I made her stand back from the shore and let the others volunteer to hold the bait bucket for Callum. The tour supplied us with some pretty good rods but I’d brought the kids cheap Kmart rods with us so that Callum could set them up for us and show us what to do and how to cast off – Miss6 has a hot pink rod that lights up when you reel it in – very practical for barra fishing. Nobody was laughing though when she reeled in a Mud Crab and Spiny Bream on her $7 rod and Master14 reeled in a Catfish on his $14 rod – the other rods simply spent the morning decorating the shoreline!

Miss6 loved casting a line so much that Callum gave her one of the massive rods to use and she managed this for ages without getting tired. It wasn’t until we were packing up for the morning that I learned of the difference between ‘fishing’ and ‘catching’. Back into the 4WD and back to camp. There were a few moments on that drive back I had to hold my tongue for the temptation to remind Callum that he had a mother of two kids in the back – the bumps he was taking at high speed nearly caused a few Tena Lady moments!

After lunch we relaxed by the pool again for a few hours before hiking up to the Cockburn Ranges lookout for sunset and some random phone service. The kids talked to Nanna and their Dad and let them know that we’re on the Gibb and would be without phone service until we got to the end of it in a week or so.


We decided since we’d caught nothing for dinner this morning that we would eat at the Dusty Bar after watchng the whip cracking man for a bit. The venue is pretty impressive – something people would pay a fortune and wait years to book as their wedding venue I thought. The meals were yummy too – we decided after our close call with cros today that we’d give one a try for entree – it was the only native we hadn’t tried yet so we ordered some croc skewers. We all thought they were delicious and Miss6 asked the waitress if we were eating a salty or a freshie – she had to ask the chef and apparently you can’t eat freshies as they’re too tough – she was pretty happy to have eaten a salty.


After dinner we sat with our fishing friends and luckily for Miss6 they had a young daughter for her to play with while we all listened to some live music. On the way back to camp we got to see fisherman dad catch and kill two cane toads near the toilet block – I’d tried to catch one under an empty bin the night before but they move too quick for me so I was impressed at this evening’s catch.

El Questro

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We made a quick stop in Kununnurra for some forgotten grocery items and fuel before we headed off and it wasn’t long before we hit the start of the Gibb River Road. Time for a quick family selfie and Facebook post with our brief access to internet and we were off.


The Gibb was all bituman until we got to the El Questro turnoff where I pulled over and let the air out of my tyres in anticipation of the corrugations and water crossings. At the first water crossing there was a car in front of us so we simply watched them and followed their path. By the time we got to the third and final crossing I was glad I’d watched the other family’s video of the drive as this one was much bigger and there were no other cars around. Miss6 opened the sunroof and stood on the centre console to stick her head out the roof and enjoy the view while Master14 filmed our first ‘real’ river crossing.

Safely on the other side and we paused to give each other some high fives and get back into our seats before checking in for our three night stay at El Questro Station. We got the van set up and had some lunch then decided to head off for a drive to check out some of the sites and local driving routes.

When we checked in I’d gotten us a free night as I’d had my photo taken at the El Questro booth at the Melbourne Caravan and Camping Show and had also booked myself in for a two hour early morning horse ride and Miss6 in for a 30 minute kids ride (both kids wanted to do the two hour but you had to be 10 years old so Master14 offered to babysit for me so I could go on that on my own – what a prince).

At the time we’d asked about some of the other gorges and tracks and the ‘very deep water’ enroute to El Questro Gorge – reception told us it’s really only for 4WD. On our afternoon exploration drive we headed to Jackaroos Waterhole (going back over the Pentecost with much more confidence than on the way in) but decided it looked a little too ominous for a swim so we headed out to the ‘very deep water’ on the track to El Questro Gorge. The kids and I took our shoes off and started walking out across the water – with each step further in we’d double check with each other that there were no crocs around here were there??

The water came up to just above my knees but was firm sand underfoot. We headed back to camp to swim at a nearby spot while we contemplated our plans for tomorrow. While swimming we came across a mum with her young son and daughter who was seven years old – within five minutes the girls were playing like the best of friends and by the time we got back to camp we were all having dinner together at the BBQ that night.


Over dinner we realised we had much the same plans for tomorrow which made Miss6 very happy! The next morning we arrived at Zebedee Springs at 8am to find our new friends in the very top pool saving us some room to soak. The kids all did a marvellous job at acting like abnoxious little sods anytime anyone else got the idea to check out the top pool – it worked a treat as they all very quickly turned back and made their way to other pools. Our FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom – not a typo our new friends were British but lived in France) friends went back to camp for lunch after Zebedee while we decided to have a crack at the 4WD track to El Questro Gorge.

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With a few nerves and the kids out the sunroof, we got through the very deep water crossing and then had to tackle a lot of sand, rocks and windy road to the carpark but once there, we felt very proud to have our little Rav4 parked in amongst the sea of giant 4WD vehicles and all of their getup.

The walk into the gorge was beautiful – very rocky but shady along the way. We stopped at the halfway point to swim in the pool near the giant rock – this was as far as we were walking as the remainder of the walk was another two hours return and required us to climb up over the rock and through more water on the way. Our FCUK family made their way to the swimming hole while we were there and dad and eldest son did the full walk while the rest of us swam and took our time walking back to the carpark which was now far more empty than when we arrived.

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We made it back to camp safely with our FCUK family in convey and had dinner at the camper. A musician was playing again at the bar area and we could hear the music clearly from our camp. We decided we’d go and check it out for a little while and ended up staying for a couple of drinks and until the show was finished – we even got up on the dance floor and joined a whole of staff and guests conga line.

Next morning I was up early and headed off to the stables while the kids slept. With the exception of my massage in Alice Springs, this was my first two hours of ‘me time’ since we’d set off in April. There were only five of us on the trail ride which took us down some steep river banks, across sections of river and roads, along mountain ranges and through some pretty bushland. It was incredibly peaceful with moments of nice conversation with other riders and then moments of blissful silence where I just rode with my horse enjoying the view.

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I was on a horse named Shazam – aptly named I thought as he either had no patience and wanted to trot to the front or he was busy farting loudly during the ride. As the ride concluded we came close to passing our camp so I yelled out to the kids who came out waving to me – I was only gone two hours but I’d already started to miss them.

Miss6 met me at the stables all ready and excited for her ride. I think we were both happy that the ride wasn’t one where someone was holding a rope and leading the horse in circles around a yard but a ride where the kids had to be in charge of their own horse as they all went off and rode through the big nearby paddock for half an hour.

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After our rides I packed us some lunches and we jumped in the car ready to head to Emma Gorge. I started the car and went to put it into gear but the gear stick wouldn’t budge – I couldn’t get the car into any gear and suddenly thought ‘oh shit what have I done to my car?’. I walked over to the workshop to see if anyone there could help me – I’d figured that if I needed a new clutch, there were worse places to be stranded!

The guys at the workshop were very helpful, turns out all of the water crossings I’d been making the day before had rusted my clutch so I just needed to start it already in gear and bunny hop it until it came unstuck. Slight delay, but we were soon on our way to Emma Gorge for another beautiful walk. This was yet another rocky walk but the gorge at the end was just gorgeous with high walls leading into the gorge covered in rich green plants and water trickling and raining down into the large pool at the bottom of the gorge.


The water itself was a bit on the cool side and the sun wasn’t shining down into the gorge now that it was afternoon. Master14 braved the water and went for a swim while Miss6 and I walked slowly through the cool water only going so deep to enjoy the pool. We made our way to the thermal pond at the small waterfall behind a large rock and sat there in the warm water for a while. By the time we were ready to get out, the idea of going through that cold water again wasn’t appealing at all so we clamboured up over the large rock instead and avoided getting wet.

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As we got ready to leave our FCUK friends arrived so we stayed longer and walked back with them via another pool and swim by the boys. At the carpark Miss6 wanted her new friend to come in our car so I drove both girls with me and they both got to stick their heads out of the sunroof over the water crossings. Back at El Questro we all headed to the bar and had a couple of drinks together as we were all heading off the next day in opposite directions.

Though you meet lots of families and fellow campers along the way on a long trip such as this, I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent with our FCUK family and connected well with their Mum – Miss6 and I are certainly putting a mental diary appointment in the memory bank for a trip to France to visit them in the future!

Lake Argyle and Kununnurra

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The plan was to head to Lake Argyle for a sunset cruise so we decided to break up the drive there and make an overnight stop at Timber Creek on the way. Enroute to Big Horse Creek campground I came across my first feral cat as it ran across the road – it was huge! We set up in the last spot at the campground and turned on the battery fan – it was around 37 degrees and not a breath of wind to be felt. The fan soon ran out of battery power leaving us dripping with sweat and limited cold water to share. Of course I made the ultimate sacrifice and let the kids have the cold water and settled for some very cold beer instead!

We tried to cool down with a walk down to the boat ramp at the Victoria River – there wasn’t much shade but the river was spectacular – so huge and incredibly still. Back to the van for burgers and a night of restless sleep under our bed fans with the temperature not dropping below 28 degrees all night and a loud camper nearby that sounded like a car idling all night.

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We missed out on the sunset boat cruise and booked the lunchtime one instead. Leaving Timber Creek around 8.30am we stopped at Gregory’s Tree on the way out of town, a large boab tree, significant for the local Ngarinman Aboriginal people and Augustus Gregory’s 1885 North Australian expedition.

We hit the NT/WA border and gained ourselves an extra hour and a half despite having to wait in a fairly long queue at the quarantine check. Some very efficient men with clip boards and blue shirts who took their job very seriously had a thorough look through the van before we were able to wind it back up and get on our way.

Arriving at Lake Argyle 15 minutes before our tour began I managed to outwalk the grey nomads ahead of me to reception and secure us a powered site before parking the car and van and heading on the bus for the tour. Our tour guide and bus driver was Jack and he and the rest of the crew were great – funny, informative and genuinely lovely. Lake Argyle itself is so incredibly vast with some great history and impressive stats to match – we weren’t sure what was more impressive, the stats themselves or Jack’s ability to roll them off his tongue as he did.

As we made our way to a lunchtime stop we cruised past a freshwater croc (one of around 30,000 in the lake), a pelican floating on the water and a lonely Jabiru. Apparently the males build the nests in the same place every year and the male and female meet there to breed but his female lifelong partner hasn’t been seen since the floods of 2011 so he keeps building their nest each year and sits there waiting for her to return. It was a little heartbreaking to hear.

We also got to see a whole family of rare black footed rock wallaby’s on an island on the lake and Miss6 got to throw some pellets out to them to eat – that’s twice now we’ve been lucky enough to see them on this trip. At our lunch break the crew got busy cooking up our silver cobbler (aka catfish) for lunch while we jumped into the 27 degree waters of Lake Argyle with noodles and I even got an icy cold beer.

Master14 was encouraged by Jack to jump from the roof of the boat which he happily obliged before we enjoyed a very tasty fish and salad for lunch.

After the tour we were allocated a campsite (our car and van were parked out the front for the tour) which was at the end of a long ‘road’ and the only way to get there was to reverse all the way down it to our campsite – lucky I’m a truck driver’s daughter and know how to reverse my camper well enough to get the job done. The site meant that we didn’t have to unhitch and could head off easily the next day.

After setting up we went for a swim in the infinity pool – nestled in among the rocky ranges the view from the pool was spectacular. The water however, was freezing and I wanted to hop back into the water in the lake but stayed in the pool to watch the helicopter take off for a scenic flight and come back again then I was out.

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We’d eaten so much for lunch that we had a light dinner and went to the beer garden to hear some live music for a few hours before bed. Our camp neighbours were a lovely older couple from Perth who were about to set off along the Gibb also and encouraged us to stay an extra night and take a look at Kununnura and the old Durack Homestead down the road. I slept on the idea and booked us an extra night in the morning. The WA time difference is playing havoc with my body clock though so I was awake at 5am and had to wait until 7.30am to book the extra night.

We unhitched the van and headed to the Durack Homestead to take a look. The Durack family once owned the farmland surrounding the Ord River (that was dammed to make Lake Argyle) and had built the homestead off one of its subsidiories called the Behn River. The kids were pretty happy with that fact as the river shares their dads name. The homestead was relocated as its original site is now under water in Lake Argyle. They’d anticipated it would take nine years for the lake to fill but it only took three and we heard the story of one of the station keepers who went to bed one night with the river looking full only to wake up the next morning with his bedroom a foot under water – he had to crawl onto his roof with a few possessions and get rescued. Needless to say, there’s a lot more sitting at the bottom of Lake Argyle than originally planned!

Our day trip into Kununnurra began with brunch at the Ivanhoe Cafe where they also farmed Chia seeds so we bought a pack to add to our camp kitchen pantry before we headed to the Indian Sandalwood farm. The products there were amazing and I could’ve bought so much more but we settled for the nicest smelling hand sanitiser I’ve come across and some bath salts for when we get home and need a good soak.

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Next it was off to the Hoochery Distillery for some taste testing and a look around. I figured if the drinks were no good at least I liked the name of the place! I tried their whiskey and liquers (couldn’t do the rum) which were delicious and treated the kids to softdrink to keep them happy.

We sat down with another family and got chatting to them only to find they’d just come off the Gibb River road and El Questro which was our next stop. Nobody had warned them that there were three water crossings on the way in to El Questro so when they reached the biggest one at the front gate they’d stopped and waited an hour for someone else to go through first. Luckily for me, they’d filmed their drive through it so I got to watch it and was well prepared for what was in store for us tomorrow.

After our drinks we headed to the Zebra Rock Gallery for a look around and as they were closing the manager gave us some bread to take down to the jetty to feed the fish. There were so many catfish (aka silver cobbler), archer fish and turtles – the kids loved it – especially when one of the archer fish spat at me and managed to get my necklace with a precision shot! Next up was the supermarket to stock up for our time along the Gibb so we didn’t get back to camp until dark for dinner and some prepping and packing away before we set off in the morning.

Katherine NT

We managed to get to Katherine in enough time to drop the van at our site, plug the power in and head to Toyota. We’d been told good things about Katherine Toyota and I mentioned the recommendation to the service guy – somehow I don’t think Toyota do ‘mates rates’ but with any luck they make an extra special coffee for Tracey next time she’s here.
Our first full day in Katherine and we’d already booked some things to do at the Information Centre yesterday, including a visit to the local Saturday morning markets. Miss6 had some spending money she’d got from Nanna and managed to find a gorgeous amethyst necklace to buy with it – a fitting way to spend money from Nanna I thought. It even came with a free crystal that the stall lady let her choose. It seems Katherine is getting set for ‘winter’ and most of the stalls were selling beanies and other such items – we’re officially in winter denial so decided to skip these stalls. 


We’d booked in an Aboriginal cultural experience out at Top Didj so headed there in the afternoon. I’d met these guys at the Melbourne Caravan and Camping show and they were very friendly (the NT had the best stalls at the show I thought). Manuel shared his culture and some music with us before teaching us some traditional painting techniques (with lines instead of dots), how to light a fire (or at least how to attempt to light a fire for most of us), and spear throwing. Most of the other participants didn’t want to try their hand at spear throwing but we loved it. 


After the workshop we hung around the art gallery and grounds feeding all of the baby wallaby that had been orphaned and now looked after by the park. Miss6 was in her element and got very excited when they showed her a tiny baby that they’d got only two days before.


Master14 had sent his biological father a text to find out if he still lived near Katherine – turns out he lives around the corner from our caravan park and wanted to see him. He came to pick up a pretty nervous 14 year old from a very nervous mother after work for dinner and a movie – it’s been nine years since he last saw Master14 though they’d spent some time texting each other over the past year. From all reports they had a good night and my mind was put at ease (it was eased earlier in the night when Miss6 and I had a girls night at the Big Fig restaurant on site and Mummy enjoyed a mango dacquiri!).


The next morning we were off to the Katherine Gorge for a four hour boat cruise. We got chatting to a lovely family with a little girl in the queue before boarding the boat with a very friendly and informative guide (and very easy on the eye). The cruise took us through the first three gorges where we took in some breathtaking views including Jedda rock (note to self: watch the movie even though the final scene in the movie was re-shot in the Blue Mountains in NSW after the film was damaged returning from the NT!), a freshwater croc casually swimming past our boat and finally a lovely little watering hole that we all got to swim in (no crocs here) with a waterfall and the little girl from the queue in a matching floaty jacket to Miss6 – instant bonding! 


Apparently the NT have cottoned on to a thing called OHS – some folk thought it was the name of a royal ship or something like that, while others thought it might’ve meant not risking the lives of backpackers and grey nomads. Needless to say, the tours no longer include cruises of the fourth and fifth gorges so it was back to base for us. 
We did have to wait on the boat for a while for a missing passenger who apparently ‘took a wrong turn’ walking back from the watering hole (there was only one track – the rather large camera and equipment bag over his shoulder gave me the idling suspicion it may have been deliberate…).

We followed up the gorge tour with a helicopter flight over the rest of the gorges, including a landing atop of the gorge for a quick photo and look around before boarding the helicopter for the return trip. On the flight to the gorge landing Miss6 was very excited, on the way back she got a fright at the angle they took off and her face told a different story! 


Once back at the caravan park I was sitting outside and watched a motorhome reversing into a site only a few spots down from us – it was the family we’d met in the queue. Turns out they’re from Victoria too and we ended up having a drink together while the kids played. 

The girls had discovered some weird looking tree with pretty foliage and berries on it – soon there were screams from Miss6 as her hands and legs were burning and bright red. I applied some ice to her legs and antihisthemine cream before putting an antihisthemine tablet on a spoonful of yoghurt for her to swallow. Not sure what those berries were but they left Miss6 with legs that looked like she was covered in purple freckles. We spent the evening with our new family friends and plan to go camping with them once we’re back to Victoria.


The next day we headed to Edith Falls for a swim and explore and our new family friends turned up later to swim with us. It was too hot for us to walk up to the top pool so we stayed at the larger bottom pool and swam all the way out to the water fall and played near the entrance with the archer fish and others that enjoyed nibbling on your feet. The swim out to the water fall was a pretty big one and I was proud of the kids efforts getting there and back. 

Master14 got a message from his biological father asking if he could have a sleepover and spend the day together the following day – we both agreed to this and off he went at the end of the day.

Miss6 and I decided to have a girls day out at the hot springs after dropping the car for its actual repair with Toyota (the first visit was to check what was needed). The springs were within walking distance of the caravan park so we headed there with our noodle and towels. The water was crystal clear and there were a number of pools to swim in so we walked around to check them all out first. People were filling up some of the lower pools so we thought we’d try there first as the current wasn’t too strong. 


As we were about to get in we noticed a ‘Caution: croc sighted here’ with yesterday’s date on it! The sign included a phone number on it so I gave them a call to find out more – there was a large agressive saltwater croc in the nearby river that the springs fed into but he doubted the croc would swim up too far into the warm spring water. 

We took our chances after thoroughly inspecting the crystal clear water and hopped in as far up as we could. Funnily enough after we hopped in, all the other swimmers began asking what I’d been told on the phone – none of them had bothered asking before they started swimming!

I got another message from Master14 – he was going to have a second sleepover with his father so Miss6 and I had a quiet dinner together at the camp kitchen where we sat with another woman and her kids and shared dessert. Miss6 did the dishes for me and we headed off to bed before Master14 returned in time for pack up in the morning.

From A to K

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After a wet and chilly pack up in Alice we were off to Devils Marbles with a few small stops along the way. First up was the Tropic of Capricorn which, when Master14 asked me what the big deal was I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything about it other than learning something about it in high school and that we could have a photo and Google it later!
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Next photo stop was at Aileron for the giant statues where we met a very muscular boxing kangaroo who was just a little too happy to see us (Master14 noticed what I’m glad Miss6 didn’t!) and posed for us showing off his physique.
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Our final stop enroute was at Wycliffe Well, where I’m sure Miss6 was disappointed that there weren’t any actual aliens there to look at, before we arrived at Devils Marbles. This was our first official ‘free camp’ where we had no power an running water to the van (and practically free at $3.30 per person).
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We wondered around the various ‘marbles’ and even found the white boulder that had originally been taken (without permission from traditional owners) to be used at Flynn’s Grave memorial in Alice Springs. While in Alice we’d heard the story of some drunken locals that went out in the middle of the night and painted the rock which then needed to be sand blasted clean. Eventually returned to the Devils Marbles (and replaced with a more local rock), it now stood among its rusty counterparts looking quite pale in comparison.
With a long drive between Devils Marbles and Daly Waters we thought we’d pack plenty to eat enroute, including a thermos for some cuppa-soups as it was a little chilly in the morning. While filling the thermos, Master14 spilt boiling water on his hand – my first aid training was limited to running a burn under cool water for 20 minutes however, after pumping water by hand from our tank for a few minutes we swapped it for some ice to keep it cool and got going. Little did I know that ice on a burn is a big no-no so it wasn’t long before Master14 was nearly sobbing from pain the back seat.
Our petrol stop at Tennant Creek soon turned into another hospital visit for the team kickarse family. I was struggling to find a car park near the hospital with the camper on the back until a man pulled up beside me to see if we were ok and offered to let us park on his empty block just up the road from the hospital. At the hospital, Master14 was ushered in pretty quickly however, even they couldn’t run his hand under cold running water as their water runs warm! While his hand was put into a bowl of ice water to cool, our doctor contemplated giving him a tetanus shot and wondered when he’d had his last one. I knew he was up to date with his immunisations but had no clue what I’d signed permission for him to be jabbed with. Turns out even real doctors use Dr Google and while I found this amusing Master14 was glad Dr Google advised that the Victorian immunisation schedule means that he didn’t need a shot.
Back on the road and the weather had gone from a cool start to the day to a warm and sunny 36 degrees – it was at this point, knowing we had a long day of driving still ahead of us, that I was starting to regret my choice to wear skinny leg jeans.
There were a lot of army trucks on the road today and most of them gave us a friendly wave along the way – the regular convoy certainly impressed the kids.
We eventually arrived at the Daly Waters pub and as I parked to sort out a campsite I heard someone shouting my name – my hot pink rear window sunshield, easily recognisable by our friends from Uluru.
Although we’d had around 8 hours in the car with all of our stop offs today, our Arkpak hadn’t charged at all and we’d only managed an unpowered site for the night. All of our lovely Uluru friends offered to charge things for us and even borrow generators if we needed for our freezer.
Once I had camp all sorted it was off to the pool for a quick cool down then happy hour where I was pretty happy to enjoy a few middies of Carlton Draught for $3.50 before our huge servings of barra and beef – no wonder people rave about this pub – the food and atmosphere are great.
The evening looked like a sea of silver with all the grey nomads having a grand old time rocking along to the live musician playing golden oldies into the night.
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Our Uluru friends advised us to get out early to get to Mataranka for a powered site so we did our best to pack up quickly and head off.
STOP THE PRESS!! We actually managed to get to Bitter Springs before 10am – people were still checking out! It was high fives all around in our little crew as we secured a shady powered site and took our time setting up, enjoying some lunch and then heading off to Bitter Springs for the afternoon.
We floated down the springs for hours with noodles, thongs and floaty jacket in tow – it was so relaxing among the water lily’s, crystal clear waters and the odd backpacker who’d jump in excitedly without shoes or noodle making the realisation part-way along that it was a long way to the other end to float solo and then walk back up the rocky path back to the start without shoes – some even opted to swim upstream rather than make the barefoot walk back.
The next day we headed to another local park for some barra fish feeding where we bumped into some families with kids that we’d met along the way and stayed for lunch with one of them. While eating we saw some local brolga’s dancing for each other – a rare occurrence apparently. When the kids went to have a closer look, the sprinklers came on (another rare occurence for Melbourne kids) so they spent the next hour running around under those having a great time.
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In the arvo we decided to check out Mataranka and the springs at the caravan park – they were supposed to be more kid friendly as they’d been fashioned into somewhat of a pool. The water was deep so you still needed your noodle, but the current wasn’t strong so you didn’t necessarily float anywhere. The edge of the pool had a man-made edge that formed a small waterfall. Miss6 wanted to check it out but I didn’t realise that the man-made edge abutted some natural rock with a small gap in between – this gap created an extremely strong current that my skinny little munchkin nearly got sucked straight through! Luckily big brother was on hand to drag her back and I managed to save the noodle from disappearing down the spring.
Heading back to camp, I may or may not have been daydreaming and drove straight past the caravan park entrance, so I kept driving the extra 500 metres to the Bitter Springs carpark. We thought we’d enjoy a sneaky last float before we headed home, knowing that we had to pack up and leave the next morning. It was 5pm and only four other people were at the springs when we got there plus three turtles that we could see. It was so peaceful and quiet that we decided to have a few floats down the spring before heading home – we all decided that Bitter Springs was definitely our favourite of the two springs.
We only had a two hour drive to Katherine the next day so I’d booked my car in at Toyota for 12noon – my confidence in our packing up had risen significantly since we started this trip. On the way to Katherine, I noticed a sign that said ‘Cutta Cutta Caves’ and thought ‘that sounds familiar’ and very quickly decided to take the turn off and check it out. The cave could be seen by official tour only so I called Toyota and pushed back my appointment and we took a tour of the caves.
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Cutta Cutta means ‘place of many stars’ to the local Aboriginal people and after walking around inside I could see why. Miss6 especially like the sparkly rocks while both kids were impressed with the bats that lived there too. I’m glad we detoured to check out the caves – I hope it’s not the last unexpected detour we make this trip, the next destination will always be there so it won’t hurt to wait.

 

A town like Alice

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We stopped for fuel at Kings Creek again on the way out of Kings Canyon, though this time we didn’t blow our budget on food. It wasn’t long before we hit the Ernest Giles turnoff and I pulled over to let some air our of the tyres for the 100km dirt road. We set off along the dust red road and after the first 25km I was cursing our bus tour mate and wondering what he’d got me into. The road had sections that were washed away and others that were flooded, a reminder of the recent rains they’d had. I managed to manoeuvre around the wet and sandy section of the road and the next 50kms weren’t too bad.

It was after this that we found ourselves following another 4WD and had a few moments where the bright red brake lights up ahead gave us plenty of warning of some of the hairy driving I had in store. I think the worst was a dry river crossing with a very deep rut right across the road that we had to cross – after some pretty rough corrugations and this tricky section I was almost ready for a Tena lady (a comedic reference lost on the kids).

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Towards the end of the road we saw the turnoff to the meteorite site and decided this would be a great place to stop for some lunch and a walk around. We boiled the kettle for some cuppa soups (it was after this extra long lunch stop that I decided to buy a thermos for these such occasions) and walked around the rim of the meteorite before we hit the road again, stopping when we got to the bituman to pump up the tyres again. It was at this point that I realised that the air hose was a bit short to reach from the bonnet of the car to the wheels of the camper – luckily our Ark Pak has the right terminals on it to attach the air compressor to pump up the camper tyres.

Not long later and we finally hit Alice and the Big 4 Caravan Park where I was easily convinced to book 7 nights with a 10% discount (I’m a salespersons dream when I’m tired). The caravan park had a great pool and waterslide area plus playgrounds and jumping pillow so I figured we’d get some R&R time in while we were here.

After we set up it was quite late and I couldn’t be bothered cooking so we took our bus tour friends’ offer up on a night out of pizza and some night-time sight seeing around Alice. It was good to get the guided tour for the practical things like supermarket, laundromat and hairdresser for the next day.

The next day was a lazy day where we slept in before hitting the shops for some laundry washing and grocery shopping. Miss6 also wanted to get her hair cut so after being quoted $35 for a haircut and told that ‘this is normal and what I’d pay if I were back in Melbourne’, I found another hairdresser to cut it for $18. Back to the caravan park for some swimming and relaxing and I’m feeling more energised for the rest of our week here.


I’d booked us onto a tour to Palm Valley as the recent rains had flooded the Finke River only a week or so ago and the drive in was for more serious 4WD than our little Rav4. It turned out that our bus tour friend was co-driving the bus we were booked on and he’d told us we’d get picked up at 7am. I got a text at 6.25am to say “we’ll be there in 5 minutes to pick you up” – the kids were still fast asleep! Me and my kids are not morning people at the best of times but we managed to get out of bed, get dressed and run to the front gate in the 5 minutes it took for the bus to arrive.

The drive to Palm Valley included a stop at Hermannsberg first – while the history of this place is interesting, as a morning stop off it was a little bland and took time away from being at Palm Valley. The drive into Palm Valley was pretty hectic in some parts and I was glad that I hadn’t taken my car into this area. We arrived at Palm Valley and it was like a tropical oasis among a rugged mountain range with bright colours, huge green cycads and crystal clear waters. The pathway was still being repaired after the recent rain but the workmen assured us that we could do the 2km trek around if we wanted.


Unfortunately, I was the youngest adult on the bus by a few decades and our other passengers seemed more keen to get back to the bus to eat their packed lunch than to take a walk around the very destination they’d paid to see. Our main bus driver seemed pretty happy to herd us back onto the bus for lunch too so we were left pretty disappointed at being so rushed – it seems to be the norm for some of these bus tours and I’m glad we’re taking ourselves around most of our destinations.

The next day we’d booked in to do a sunrise hot air balloon ride so it was early to bed for an even earlier morning – two early starts in a row – what were we thinking?


The mini bus picked us up at 5.45am and we happened to be on the bus with a couple who live in the next suburb back home in Melbourne. I wasn’t sure how to describe what we were going to be doing to Miss6 as I’d never been in a hot air balloon before and wasn’t really sure what to expect. We clamoured into the basket in the dark of the morning and our pilot let off a burst of gas which frightened the life out of Miss6 who then clamoured out of the basket so fast crying I couldn’t stop her.

I thought I was going to have to get out too and stay with her but our bus driver told me to relax and he’d look after her. She went and sat in the front seat of the bus and I could see her crying. Just as the basket started to move I could see she’d changed her mind and put her hands up for me to get her – by now she was crying hysterically and it broke my heart.

I started sobbing and the other couple in the basket told me to look away and enjoy the ride, she’d be fine. I felt like the Wizard of Oz taking off without Dorothy – the bus driver reminded me a little of the scarecrow and it wasn’t long before the two of them were on the radio to the balloon being silly and laughing and I knew she was fine.

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We landed safely and Miss6 met us for some champagne and OJ to celebrate. It was at this moment that the pilot asked for my credit card to pay and I remembered that I had to pay for Miss6 anyway! If I’d remembered earlier I would’ve held onto her tighter in the bloody basket.

With such an early start to the day, we were back to the caravan early enough for lunch and a swim at the pool. I managed to sit by the pool after having a swim and actually read my book. I’d brought my reclining camp chair and a few novels on this trip with visions of me just kicking back reading and relaxing the whole way when in reality, this was the first moment I’d actually sat and read.

The kids eventually convinced me to go on the water slide so my R&R finished off with some juvenile fun with the kids – that’s what this trip is really about, the book can wait. I managed to get in for a last minute remedial massage so after our swim I left Caleb in charge and had my first hour alone since we started the trip. It wasn’t the best massage but it did the job and the lady giving me the massage had spent two years travelling Australia so she talked the whole time about her travels and tips for good places to check out on the rest of our trip.


After a few days already in Alice we thought it was about time we headed to the Information Centre in case we’d missed anything from our personal tour guide. The only additional recommendation was to head to the Desert Park so we added that to our itinerary for the weekend and set off for the Women’s Pioneering Museum. Master14 and I found it very interesting and luckily for Miss6, there were activity sheets and audio displays to keep her amused and entertained. Next up, we went to the Reptile Centre which, for around $35 it only took us about an hour to get around it all (and that was reading every single placard for each display). Luckily the kids also got about half an hour of handling some of the reptiles including a large Olive Python which impressed Master14. Miss6 and I had already had a similar experience at a crocodile park in Darwin previously so we weren’t as enthusiastic about what they had to offer. We decided against fitting anything else in and to have an early night before our big day of gorge touring on Saturday.

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We left early in the morning (though, as is the norm for us, never as early as we would hope) and headed straight to Glen Helen Gorge followed by a real coffee at Ormiston Gorge (by Melbourne standards I’m a coffee novice but I’ve realised since travelling that I am in fact now a coffee snob and that ‘mocha’ is much like a foreign language!) and some hot chocolates for the kids before our walk along the gorge. We hiked up to lonely tree hill and took in the spectacular views of the gorge before venturing down into the gorge for some possible wet feet and rock scrambling. On the way down we were fortunate enough to spot a rare black-footed rock wallaby playing on the other side of the water. Our descent into the water soon scared it off but faced with the prospect of taking of their shoes and scrambling through the water and over rocks, the kids disappointment soon faded. The gorge was an adventurous and pretty way to spend our mid-morning before we headed to the next sight on our trails.

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The Ochre Pits were only a short walk to look at but also a nice spot to enjoy some lunch of fresh rolls, roast chicken and salad that I’d packed for us. From the Ochre Pits we headed to Serpentine Gorge and the sign said it was only a short walk so we thought we’d get it out of the way pretty quickly. As we headed along the track, a man casually said ‘it’s worth the walk’ – we chuckled quietly thinking ‘this is a pretty easy walk and we’re nearly half way already what’s this guy on about?’. It was just after the halfway point where we saw what he was talking about, the flat pathway suddenly became quite vertical and meandered up the rocky hillside. I was impressed with Miss6’s approach to the challenge, she channelled her inner ‘tour guide’ and provided running commentary on the rocks, wildlife and a promise of afternoon tea on the ‘bus’ once we’d finished the climb! Master 14 did his usual speed walk ahead where he could spot any potential dangers or tough spots for his little sister to get over (such a thoughtful prince he is). The man was right, the view from the top was worth the vertical walk and we stood there and enjoyed the meandering valley below with its cycads growing among the red rocks.

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Back to the car (aka tour bus) to head to Ellery Creek Big Hole which we’d been told was a great swimming hole for the kids. The weather was a little cool the day we were there so swimming wasn’t really an option but we could just imagine this place on a hot day, with tourists and locals alike sprawled on towels all over the grass, taking to the beach entry water for some cooling refreshment. Today however, we settled for some volunteer tourists taking our photo (complete with blurry finger over the camera lens!) and a little walk around before we made our way back to the car.

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Coming to the end and next up was Standley Chasm. Though we’d missed the midday sun photo opportunity, the walk in and chasm itself were still picturesque and as Miss6 had fallen asleep in the car on the way in, the bribe of some free biscuits from the lady at reception (this is the only gorge you need to pay an entry fee for) made the walk a very sweet treat as she woke up!

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The day was fast coming to an end but we managed to make it to Simpson’s Gap just before sunset for some random phone service (the phone suddenly went off as I parked the car) and some late afternoon colours on the water and rocks as the sun slowly retired for the day.

We finished off the day with a quick stop at Flynn’s Grave before it was home for dinner and bed – I think we were all a little exhausted after a very long adventurous day.
The next morning we headed out to the Desert Park for what I thought would be a few hours so that I could head back to camp for some blog writing and early pack-up before we leave the next day. For a single adult family rate I paid around $50 and we ended up spending around six hours there! We started the day with a bird display where a large hawk flew so close to my head that I’m sure I felt it touch me! In the words of Master14, it was an amazing show and a great start to the day.

Next we headed to their reptile display which had more to look at than the reptile park we’d spent time at earlier in the week. I think the highlight for us all though was the 45 minute bush tucker survival workshop with Damien, a local Aboriginal guy that taught us how to find food and water in the bush. Miss6 got to volunteer out the front as a traditional Aboriginal woman with her imaginary baby under one arm, digging stick in the other and her basket on her head.

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Our ‘few hours’ ended up being most of the day so cleaning and pre-packing was done mainly in the dark with a lovely visit from our personal tour guide to help entertain the kids while I packed up. When we left the next morning the rain had started and we thought we’d picked a good day to leave – it’s been a great week and we’ve enjoyed ourselves. We may even have to come back to visit!

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