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We live in Adelaide, South Australia and enjoy travel in the Australian outback in our Oka 4WD motorhome, hence the blog title.

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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Tracks we've been on - update

This section includes a summary of the outback tracks we've driven on over the years and what we thought of them.


  • The word “Highway” to describe some these tracks must not be interpreted as an indication that they are easily navigable, in most cases that is not true.
  • All these tracks should all be considered as 4WD only, although some may be possible in a sturdy high clearance 2WD. Check carefully first.
  • Distances mentioned provide rough guidance only and don’t include access distance or side trips. Even some of the short tracks are still many 100’s kms away from centres of population and may be days from medical and mechanical repair facilities.
  • All these tracks hold the prospect of vehicle damage and/or becoming stranded after breakdown. Be fully self-sufficient in terms of food, water, fuel, vehicle spares, repair and recovery facilities, and know-how.
  • Carry good navigational aids (eg moving map GPS), long range communications equipment (HF Radio or Sat Phone and EPIRB). DON’T rely on CB or mobile phones. If in doubt travel in a group.
  • Even with good communications facilities, consider the health risks in potentially being several days from real medical assistance (eg personal health issues, accidents, snake bite, heat and dehydration). Ensure all party members know what to do in each situation and carry appropriate first aid equipment and documentation.
  • There are limited fuel and water supplies on all these tracks (and possibly access tracks to them as well) so plan carrying capacity, consumption and re-supply points carefully.
  • Some tracks will require permits where they cross or access Aboriginal Native Title lands, National Parks or private Station Properties.

My degree of difficulty code (as we found them when we drove them, but conditions can change)

E - Easy.

  • Could be done on a bicycle, there are none of these on this list.

QE - Quite Easy.

  • Mainly wide gravel or light sandy tracks with some corrugations, no really difficult sections.
  • Needs a fair bit of planning due to length and/or remoteness.
  • Requires sturdy vehicle but relatively few off road skills.

MD - Moderately Difficult.

  • Could be attempted by an average or new 4WD adventurer with care and planning.
  • Narrow and/or sandy or slippery gravel or rocks with reasonable corrugations.
  • Requires some research on the anticipated conditions and facilities.
  • Requires tough 4WD and moderate off road experience.

D - Difficult.

  • Not a good first outback track to attempt, especially alone, may contain significant challenges or risks.
  • Narrow with long deep sandy corrugations and/or rocky sections and/or difficult sand dunes.
  • Some overgrown sections which might damage paintwork. Some washaways might requiring diversions from the track.
  • Requires very tough 4WD with good experience of outback travel and recovery procedures. Plan for self sufficiency for long periods (days).

VD - Very Difficult.

  • Risky and long and/or challenging, for experienced off road adventurers only.
  • Very corrugated narrow sandy and/or steep rocky sections and/or large sand dunes or very overgrown sections posing serious navigation risks.
  • Significant washaways likely requiring extensive diversions or track construction/repair. Risk of roll-overs and/or vehicle damage.
  • Requires very tough 4WD and extensive off road experience, preferable with another vehicle. Requires full self recovery and repair facilities. Self sufficiency planning needed for long periods (weeks).

RD - Ridiculously Difficult

  • Requires a space shuttle or jump jet to cover the distance, impossible without.
  • There are none of these on this list either or there wouldn’t be a list.

South AustraliaDifficulty
Googs Track


Ceduna to Tarcoola

Great fun and not too difficult. Deep sand and plenty of sand dunes.

Camping at Googs Lakes and Mount Finke.

200 kms, permit needed.

South to North direction recommended, use CB and sand flags on crests to announce your presence.


Oodnadata Track

(several times)

Maree to Marla or Painted Desert

Fairly easy when dry, moderately difficult and slippery when wet, and full of interesting locations: Mound Springs, Old Ghan Railway Line, Plane Henge Sculpture Park, Lake Eyre, Old Peake Telegraph Station.

Other areas accessible are the Painted Desert (west from Oodnadata) and Dalhousie Springs and Mount Dare (to the north east of Oodnadatta).

600 kms, facilities at Oodnadata, Marree and a few camping areas (Coward Springs, Farina), bush camping available at many locations.

QE to MD

Old Eyre Highway

(1975 and 2012)

Border Village to Nundroo via Nullabor Roadhouse and Yalata

The original unsealed section of the Eyre Highway still exists, although it was replaced by the sealed coastal highway in 1976, and is still quite navigable after 36 years. The surface is relatively smooth rocky limestone.

Access is from the Border Village in SA and it runs inland for 200km via Koonalda Homestead (now a National Park headquarters) before returning to the highway at the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

It can then be taken inland again via Ivy Tanks (abandoned ruins) for 200 km passing the Yalata Community (no access) before rejoining the sealed Eyre Highway near Nundroo.

There are plenty of things to see along these sections of track, blow holes, sink holes, caves and wild life. Camping is easy and there is almost no traffic.

At Nullarbor Road house, side trips are available for whale watching at the Head of the Bight and exploring sinkhole caves 10km north of the roadhouse, where the flatness of the Nullarbor Plain is quite awe inspiring.

No permits are required even though the track passes through Yalata Aboriginal land, but the track also passes through the Nullarbor National Park for which fees may be applicable.


Sandover Highway


Mount Isa to Alice Springs

Quite easy, deep to moderate sand and gravel on the NT section. No facilities but quite scenic. Tricky to find the start at the QLD end. 800 kms, nice camping along the dry Sandover River.


Bloomfield Track


Cooktown to Cape Tribulation

Difficult, steep, winding and slippery gravel.

Drainage channels along the sides so there's not much room for error.

Despite the track being along the coast, there are almost no views of the sea due to the dense vegetation.


Cape York Peninsular Development Road


Cairns to the Tip

Fairly easy (some corrugations) using bypass tracks NOT the OTT (which would require a Very Difficult rating).

Long, hot and dusty track (need lights on).

Regular road houses with camping facilities.

$88 ferry return fare (trailers extra) at Jardine River crossing, includes unlimited camping (except at commercial resorts but they can be easily avoided).

Very windy on east coast, calm on the west.

Key places at the tip are Bamaga, Seisia and Somerset. Take a trip to Thursday Island. Good camping at Wroonga Point and Mutee Heads.

Plenty of side trips on the way up or back (Weipa, Mapoon, Pennefather River (deep sand!), Capt Billy Landing, Chilli Beach, Portland Roads, Lochhart River, Lakefield National Park and Cooktown).

800 kms plus side trips. Fuel and food readily available at road houses or small towns.


Burke Development Road


Chillagoe to Karumba

Alternative gravel track to Karumba from Cairns/Mareeba via Chillagoe.

650km, no facilities west of Chillagoe and not often travelled.

Easy going but some river crossings may be tricky depending on the severity of wet seasons.

Very few places to camp amongst unfriendly cattle station properties (“Campers will be Shot” type signs).

Good caves at Chillagoe.


Western Australia
Canning Stock Route (CSR)

(2007 and 2012)

Halls Creek to Willuna

We've done 2/3rds of the CSR in 2 stages on 3 trips, comprising the top section from Bililuna to Well 33 near Kunawaritji (700 kms, 7 days), and the centre section (twice) from Well 33 to Georgia Bore near Well 22 (300 kms, 3 days).

The CSR is very long (2000km) and lonely but a great desert experience and well worth all the the necessary effort and planning. It traverses hundreds of sand dunes (maybe >1000), some of which are quite large and difficult, and beyond the scope of smaller 4WD’s. Trailers also present severe limitations on sand dunes.

A good travelling average would be 100km/day so a full trip would require about 3 weeks (plus time getting to and from the start/end points). So from most population centres, a full CSR trip would require 5-6 weeks minimum.

Be aware that once you start on this track, there is almost no chance of vehicle recovery except under your own own steam, so total self sufficiency is a prerequisite and travelling in a group of at least 2 vehicles is highly recommended.

There is very little access to food and fuel on the CSR so plan accordingly. Limited fuel and food is available at Kunawaritji Store (Well 33) and Billiluna only. Stock up at Halls Creek or Willuna before travel. Plan on very high fuel consumption over very long distances (up to twice normal road consumption).

Fuel drops may be available at Well 24 by arrangement with the Capricorn Roadhouse at Newman.

Good quality water is usually available at several wells but do not place any reliance on the availability or quality of well water (or even being able to find the wells) and carry plenty in reserve, especially in hot conditions (September onwards).

No permit is required unless you deviate off the track but the Gary Junction access track will require permits.

In an emergency, the track can be exited at Well 22 west to Newman (800km) on the Talawana Track, or at Well 33 east to Alice Springs (1200km) on the Gary Junction Road or west to Marble Bar, but those are still very remote places. Small indigenous communities in the area might provide emergency assistance.

To reiterate, the CSR must not be taken lightly, extensive planning and full self sufficiency are essential pre-requisites.


Steep Point)


Hamlyn Pool to Steep Point

This track starts as a fairly smooth gravel road (120km) on the Useless Loop road from Hamlyn Pool on Shark Bay via Tamala Station.

Note the gravel used is salt residue from the salt works and will become quite corrosive when wet. Wash down the underside of your vehicle if returning after rain.

The road deteriorates as you approach Steep Point National Park where it becomes a difficult, narrow sandy track (40km) across several challenging sand dunes and along a beach to the Ranger Station and camping area.

The actual Steep Point location and sign board is a difficult 7km drive further on from the camp ground.


Gary Highway


Kunawaritji to Everard Junction on the Gunbarrel Highway

Very corrugated, remote and lonely but quite easy. Small washaways at the southern end.

No facilities, 400 kms from Kunawaritji to Everard Junction on the Gunbarrel Highway, plus another 400 kms to Warburton via the Gunbarrel and Heather Highways.

Veevers Crater and McPhersons Pillar are worth investigation. Permits may now be needed.

See my Wiki entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Highway.


Eagle Highway


Great Central Road to the Talawana Track

Very variable, narrow and very overgrown in places, the track is almost indiscernible and poses a navigation hazard. There maybe large washaway's needing diversions.

No facilities, although the workmen at the sandalwood plant are very accommodating with water.

800 kms from Great Central Road to Kunawaritji (Well 33) via the Talawana Track and CSR.


Hunt Oil Road


Great Central Road to Geraldton Bore

Moderately difficult and seldom used. Beware of a soft section near Alexander Spring.

250km from the Great Central Road to Geraldton Bore on the Gunbarrel Highway.

No facilities but good camping at the caves. Good water at Geraldton Bore.


Talawana Track


Windy Corner on the Gary Highway to the CSR

Very corrugated but quite easy. No facilities except good water at Midway Well.

200 kms from Eagle Highway Junction to the CSR near Well 24. Permits may now be needed.


Kidson Track


Kunawaritji (Well 33 on the CSR) to SW Coastal Highway at 80 Mile beach

This track used to be a very challenging 4wd track from Kunawaritji (Well 33 on the CSR) to 80 Mile beach.

During 2012, much of the western end of the track was graded to allow access for mining vehicles and has become a wide smooth gravel road. The eastern 200km still has demanding sand dunes and overgrown section.

650kms, no facilities.

D to QE

Parmango Road


Balladonia to Condingup (Cape Arid)

This is a useful shortcut (in distance, not time) between Balladonia and Cape Arid (Condingup township, store/fuel).

200 km, wide track but rough in the Balladonia section, better at the southern end. Would be difficult in the wet.

Sign at northern end restricts vehicles to 4WD and 3Tonnes. No signs at the southern end and unnecessary anyway.

Be aware that the Mt Ragged alternative route to Cape Arid (turns off half way along) may be narrow and impassable after rain and Esperance can be a very wet area.


Gunbarrel Highway

(2007 and 2013)

Warburton to Willuna via Everard Junction, Geraldton Bore and Carnegie Station

Len Beadell’s iconic (but not first) outback track. Not too difficult these days but still long and lonely and corrugated.

The Heather Highway section from Warburton to Everard Junction is very corrugated. Almost as bad is the section from Geraldton Bore to the Willuna Shire boundary where the shire’s periodic grading makes the track easier going.

Many pools after rain, bypass tracks are common.

800km, facilities only at Carnegie Station (fuel, camping). Good water at Geraldton Bore.


Holland Track


We’ve only done the western 20km. Stopped by very frequent deep muddy pools. Bypass tracks are also soft, don’t try this track after rain. Narrow, overgrown and probably a very challenging sandy track requiring possible vehicle recovery from soft surfaces.


Connie Sue Highway


Southern section, Neale Junction on the Anne Beadell to Rawlinna

Seldom travelled and very variable track south from Neale Junction on the Anne Beadell Highway to Rawlinna on the Trans Australia Railway line. (Doesn’t include the 250km northern section from Warburton).

The initial 250km section south is smooth, fast and scenic as is the next 75km on the wide Aboriginal Business Road. Heading south, the turn-off left on to the original Connie Sue track is poorly marked with an oil drum and easily missed. The final 200km to Rawlinna is a narrow and rocky track with navigation becoming more difficult as it crosses cattle stations with a myriad of unmarked muddy tracks and gates. Mining operations at Rawlinna has further changed access to the town (which was completely deserted in Sept 2013).

500km with no facilities (even at Rawlinna), but a water tank at the AB road junction.

No permit required for this southern section but permits are required for the northern section to/from Warburton (difficult to get, we’ve tried 3 times).

The final 150km track to the Eyre Highway at Cocklebiddy proved difficult to locate and we went 80km east to Haig (deserted) along the railway access track and took a slow track south from there 120km across the Nullarbor Plain.


Great Sandy Desert


Very difficult navigational challenge, from Cherrabun Station south east of Fitzroy Crossing, south west across mostly trackless desert for 400km of the 700km, with very few significant surface landmarks. The route follows old mining tracks and cut lines where still visible and runs via the McLarty Hills and Dragon Tree Soak to the Anna Plains Track and Sandfire Roadhouse on the NW Costal Highway.

Very slow going, navigating over and around medium to dense desert scrub and 100’s of soft sand dunes.

700km over 13 days (more if side trips are planned, such as Joanna Springs). Average speed around 10 to 20km/h with daily distances of between 25 to 50km. Tracks and cut lines, where they still exist, are mostly very overgrown and impassable.

Very high fuel consumption (allow for 3 times normal road consumption), NO facilities and NO useable surface water. Plan for multiple, severe tyre damage.

Don’t try this route alone or without good comms, navigation and technical support, and anticipate no other travellers in the area.

Must be totally self-sufficient for 2 weeks as an absolute minimum.


Anne Beadell Highway


Coober Pedy to Laverton

Very long (1500 kms), fairly straight but extremely corrugated. This track will test you and your vehicle’s endurance so travel in a small group. Good desert scenery plus a section of sand hills.

No reliable water on SA side, fuel and supplies at Ilkurlka Roadhouse plus 3 rain water tanks on WA side.

Items of interest: Atomic bomb sites, Emu Field and Dingo Claypan, Aircraft wreck.

Several permits needed in SA, WA and from the Department of Defence (crosses the Woomera Prohibited Area).


Sandy Blight Junction Road


Great Central Road to Sandy Blight Junction on the Gary Junction Road

Winding and tortuous but interesting (400 kms and longer than expected).

Deep corrugated sand alternating with rocky gravel. Interesting scenery on the southern section. Permit needed.


Tanami Track

(1994, 2002 and 2014)

Alice Springs to Halls Creek

Long gravel track (1100 kms) but not too difficult.

Reasonable facilities along the way. Rabbit Flat Roadhouse is no longer operating and this can catch people out if you need fuel half way along but Yuendumu and Tilmouth Well road houses are open.

No facilities at the Granites Goldmine.

Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater is well worth a visit, free camp site, no water, crappy corrugated 20km access track.


Great Central Road

(2008, 2012 and 2013)

Yulara to Laverton via Docker River, Warakurna (Giles) and Warburton

Easy going but not very inspiring. The road now bypasses all the native wells along the way, which is disappointing. Giles Met Office is well worth a visit and kms of desert oaks are rewarding.

1000 kms from Laverton to Yulara, +/- a couple.

Facilities at Docker River, Warakurna and Warburton. Stock up at Yulara or Laverton.

2 permits required, for the NT section from Yulara to the WA Border and another from the WA Border to Laverton.


Gary Junction Road

(2007 and 2008)

Alice Springs to Newman

Long straight and easy track which passes some historic outback locations: Sandy Blight Junction, Talawana, Gary Highway Junction, CSR, Rudall River National Park.

Good camping at Jupiter Well.

Facilities at Papunya, Kintore, Kiwikurra and Kunawaritji (Well 33 on the CSR).

1500 kms Alice to Newman. Alternate route through Rudall River NP to Marble Bar. Permits needed.


Road to Nowhere


Stanley to Strachan

This is an interesting winding track down the western side of Tassie.

Depending on the season it can be cold, wet and cloudy or misty but there is plenty of vegetation, water features, coastal access and green hills.

The surface is gravel which can be slippery, but the steep hilly sections are bitumen.

There is a ferry at Corinna across the Pieman River.

Beware of leeches on the damp vegetation.

300 kms, no facilities between Corrinna and Strachan.


Old Andado Track

(2005 and 2012)

Alice Springs to Oodnadatta via Old Andado

Nice remote red sand dune country, some deep sandy sections.

Old Andado Station is worth a visit for a cup of tea and camping.

Access to Dalhousie Hot Springs (Witjira/Simpson Desert National Park) which is good for camping and swimming, even in winter (100 m long lake with water at 38º all year round).

800 kms, no facilities except at Mt Dare Roadhouse.


The Outback Way

Winton, Qld to Laverton WA, via Alice Springs

A notional highway which links up existing tracks and roads (on paper anyway) into a 3000km continuous “highway” from Winton in Queensland to Laverton in WA.

The tracks are the Plenty Highway, the Stuart Highway and Great Central Road via Yulara. It might include the Mareenie loop road in the future. Only the Stuart Highway and Yulara sections are sealed

Note this highway is promoted on brochures as a “short cut” alternative 3rd highway from Queensland to WA, but is not signposted as such on the ground and exists at the moment only in the minds of tourism planners.

Its length and convoluted nature requires considerable advanced planning, refer here.


Plenty Highway


Fairly easy track but the QLD end is not well marked or maintained.

6-700 kms depending where you end up in QLD.


Sandover Highway


Roughly parallels the Plenty bit further south. More interesting since it is less used and is more sandy, as the name implies. Same difficulty in locating the start in Queensland as the Plenty.


Northern Territory
Old Karanje Track

(1994 and 2012)

El Questro on the Gibb River Road to Wyndham

From El Questro on the Gibb River Road to Wyndham the back way around the Cockburn Ranges.

No Facilities and very variable terrain which changes after each wet season. Can be rocky and slow.

Allow a full day and be croc aware around Wyndham.


Mareenie Loop Road

(2005 and 2008)

Kings Canyon to Hermansberg

Very scenic road from Kings Canyon to Hermansberg, but very corrugated in parts.

200 kms. Permit needed.


Parry Lagoon Road


Wyndham highway at Parry Lagoon to Kununurra

Linking the Wyndham highway to Kununurra, this former highway is now a pleasant gravel track.


Davenport Ranges Track


Links the Stuart Highway to the Davenport Ranges National Park


Gibb River Road

(1994, 2007 and 2012)

Derby to Kunnunurra

Very rough, long and corrugated in places but this is more than made up for by the many scenic gorges, water falls and rivers along the way.

650 kms excluding Mitchell Falls, which is another 600 kms round trip from the Gibb River Road junction, see below.


Mitchell Falls Road


Gibb River Road to Mitchell Falls

Very corrugated track but leads to the beautiful Mitchell falls area so it's worth the suffering. Good camping at Drysdale Station, King Edward River and at the falls, which are a 3km walking trek (or helicopter ride) and water crossing from the campground.

Extra trek to Surveyors Pool (croc warning) is worthwhile on a newly made but re-aligned track, which now starts further north than marked on maps.

Access to Port Warender (no facilities) is also possible but the track is VERY steep and tortuous towards the end.

600 kms return from Gibb River Road junction including Surveyors Pool.


Birdsville Track


Birdsville to Maree

Easy but wide, rocky desert track. Nice mirages when it's hot and sunny. After extensive rain, the Cooper Creek can be very wide and a punt operates for small/medium vehicles.

Can be very dusty (300 kms)


Savannah Way

(1998, 2008 and 2010)

Normanton to Katherine via Burketown and Borolloola

The main gravel highway (National Highway 1, although you wouldn’t know it) from Normanton to Katherine via Burketown and Borolloola.

Long, hot, dusty but interesting, plenty of creek crossings (mostly rocky).

Plenty to see and places to stay. Karumba, Leichart Falls, Limmen National Park, Roper River. Be croc aware along this road.

Diversions to Lawn Hill National Park and Kingfisher Camp are worthwhile.

800kms, some facilities at Hells Gate Roadhouse and Borolloola.


If you have any updated info on any of these tracks please leave a comment below.

Thank you.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Darwin to Adelaide

25 Aug
We are at the Manbulloo campsite in Katherine planning our trip up to Darwin before starting the long journey home.
Had a lazy morning so far, managed to access the internet for what to do in Darwin that we haven’t already done.
A day trip to the Tiwi Islands seemed like a good idea but when I searched for info all I got were confusing and misleading stuff about Aboriginal Tours (the only kind you can get and need a permit to visit anyway), and nowhere to book an economical tour ($250 by ferry or $450 by air, each) either. So I looked at Trip Advisor and all the comments were negative, waste of a day, no culture (no dancing, no art sites, no scenery etc), all time spent in one arts place, childish paintings, expensive arts, money, money, money etc and basically waste of time and money.
So that’s off the agenda, in favour of a $30 per 24 hours hop on-hop off double decker bus tour. It got tons of good reviews, even though we’ve done most of the places before, not having to drive, park, walk about in the heat seems a more and more attractive option.
In the afternoon we went shopping in Katherine for food, fuel and gas, all successfully, plus Janet bought some shorts in Rockmans as she always does. It was stinking hot but the counter girl in Rockmans was wearing jeans, a long jumper and a woolly scarf and still complained of feeling cold. Must have had hypothermia or ebola or something else exotic.
26 Aug
In the cool of the morning I did a spot of maintenance, checked the gearbox and transfer case oil, all OK, and greased the rear drive shaft UJs.
In the late morning we set off north stopping for lunch at Pine Creek and then a leg stretch at Adelaide River.
We had decided not to reach Darwin tonight as it’s a long hot drive and fighting the Darwin traffic to find a camping place would be hard to bare. So we spied a camping area at the Manton Dam Wall, officially a picnic area, about 70km short of Darwin and stopped here. It was a bit noisy but there were a few other campers here, some more happy with the arrangements than others:
So it wasn’t too bad and we cooked and ate outside since it’s darn hot (mid 30’s during the day and it doesn’t cool off much until the early hours).
27 Aug
Not a good day in Darwin, which is a pity since our previous visits have been very relaxing and friendly.
The drive up wasn’t too bad, 70km over fairly good roads, choked with road trains though, and ended up on a big freeway right into the city centre. We diverted to the waterfront, an area we hadn’t explored much before and stopped on Stokes Hill Wharf for a look at the sea. It’s a bit like a mini Glenelg with lots of eateries and a few souvenir shops. The menus make interesting reading but how can you be sure you’re really getting a camel burger and not a piece of horse meat?
Nearby in a small park were a pair of stone curlews nesting. Their habit is to freeze when alarmed which makes them easy to photograph but also easy prey for dingos and raptors:
But mostly Stokes Hill Wharf was good because it has free parking. Make a note of that, it’s now the only place in the city where that’s still possible.
Fishing restrictions:
Interesting news from the NT:
From there we drove up to the Esplanade, the main touristy section of park lands along the foreshore and opposite the parliament buildings, and all looked much the same except for the plethora of blue parking pay machines which now smother the city at around 10m intervals, and at $2.40 an hour (no notes or 5c pieces) it’s no longer the welcoming place for visitors it used to be. On our last trip this area had free visitor parking. We tried visiting the visitor centre to find out what else had changed but there was nowhere to park there either. In frustration we headed north to the East Point Military Reserve where there are excellent free car parks and good walking tracks along the cliff tops with plenty of memorabilia to visit too.
Later we trundled though the busy traffic and hectic road works to Lee Point where we had camped in the caravan park there quite economically before. But horror of horrors, it’s now charging $50 per night for an unpowered site. I remonstrated that it was a ridiculous cost for a patch of land for a night and twice the price we had paid in Katherine only 2 days ago but we were told, “well you could drive out of the city and park on the road side somewhere”. So I explained the lady how to clinically dispose of her offer and we did drive out of town, and saved $50 in doing so, along with quite a few other travellers. On the way we called another CP and was told the same story, $50 a night, and more for a powered site.
Strike me lucky!, Darwin has priced itself out of the Value for Money criteria. Worse than that, fuel is 10-15c a litre more than in Katherine (and there’s a lot more competition here), and the whole of Darwin is undergoing rampant development with industrial and housing estates now going up in every spare hectare of land across the city. This makes it a hot, dry, dusty as well as frustrating place to be.
There are no RV friendly facilities in Darwin, as there are now in many other towns and cities, and the government has failed to grasp the economic benefits of the huge number of self sufficient wealthy travelling nomads. By way of example these signs have sprung up all over Darwin:
Given that tourism sustains the economics of the NT, it’s very surprising and sad that they are paying scant regard to the needs of tourists, to the point that we won’t be spending any of our tourist dollars in Darwin anymore, and we have heard the same story from other travellers. Presumably their eyes and cash registers are firmly pointed in the direction of China, and bugger the rest of us.
We did think Broome would be the economic low point of our trip but Darwin has firmly taken the lead, by a long way. Broome was actually very affordable as well as being a lot nicer, freer and more relaxing.
We stayed in the same place for several more nights, the slight inconvenience and addition fuel costs far outweighing the $250 in camping cost we’d otherwise have incurred.
28 Aug
Well I feel a bit better today. After a late start caused by talking for too long to a lonely old fellow in a small Winnebago (who had formed the same opinion of Darwin as we had), we drove back into Darwin and “lunched” on the Stokes Hill Wharf.
There are lot of plaques around commemorating the first bombing raids by the Japanese in February 1942 which killed around 300 people in the docks area and sunk 21 ships…
So it was a bit ironic to see a Japanese naval ship tied up alongside RAN ships on the wharf.
This is our outdoor cinema day, which I’d booked up earlier, so in the afternoon we awaited darkness by revisiting the MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery of NT) which is icy cold inside and free and quite good. It still has the same exhibits as on our previous visit, the Cyclone Tracy exhibit, which is very good, and a wildlife section and a lot of indigenous artworks and some from the SA Asia region.
We pottered along past Mindl Beach which they were setting up for the sunset markets and back to the cinema carpark which (as all parking areas are in Darwin) is mercifully free after 5pm, Saturday arvos and all day Sunday.
The Deckchair Cinema is a 50 year old, volunteer-run, not-for-profit Darwin tradition. The earlier Star Theatre was destroyed by cyclone Tracy and replaced by the current outdoor theatre at the waters edge beneath the Esplanade. It’s surrounded by palm trees and shrubs to give it a sheltered aspect.
The deckchairs are metal and canvas affairs (they do provide cushions, plus we took our own), similar to the Sun Picture Theatre in Broome.
Meals, (like a “help-yourself BBQ” and which are provided each day by a separate fund-raising charity) and drinks can be bought and eaten at tables prior to the movie, or in your deckchair if you’re careful.
Films change every day and the film we saw was “Tracks”, a new all Australian movie recounting Robyn Davidson’s 8 month solo trek (with 4 camels and dog) across the western deserts of Australia from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977. Her story was published in National Geographic in 1978. We don’t know why it took 35 years to turn into a movie but it was very well done.
Since we had done almost the same trip last year from Alice Springs via Docker River and Warburton and along the Gunbarrel Highway right out to Steep Pinot on the west coast, it was quite meaningful and familiar, although quite a lot of cinematic licence was taken with locations (it was all shot in SA and the NT), the scenery, the story and her obvious love of her camels and dog Diggity was extremely effective. It does have some sad moments but overall a good experience in a very different movie environment. It got cool but not cold and there were a few external distractions, like a ship passing by with lights blazing, and a few mossies, but it was a good night out for $12 each. See the trailer here.
Late at night we drove back to our Manton Dam campsite in the dark and along the way called Scott who is leaving for his European adventure/honeymoon on Saturday, meeting up with Tash who’s on a business trip in Croatia. It was the usual long call and halfway through our credit ran out, so he called back and then the signal disappeared as we drove out of range. But by then all had been said that needed to be said, and more.
29 Aug
Instead of traveling back into Darwin today, we (that is I) decided to divert up the Arnhem Highway to the Mary River NP for a couple of days where we knew we could get up close with large crocs, we’d been there before, in 2008. Then we could head back to Darwin on Sunday, refuel or what ever, visit the Mindl Beach markets in the late afternoon and make our exit from Darwin and head south.
However the Arnhem Highway is not the nice country drive it used to be, for a start the sides of the road are infected by commercial advertising signs for everything from Water Tanks to Bottl-O’s to Dig Your Own Power Pole Holes, second there are a plethora or 3 of road trains and army vehicles roaring down a not very wide road.
We stopped for lunch at Fogg Dam reserve, built in the early 1900’s as a rice growing area for export to SE Asia, but failed to survive due the Asian’s developing their own rice industry.
This heron had caught something but it didn’t look very fish like, maybe a small eel:
Janet on a hot forest walk:
We are camped in the Mary River NP at Couzens Lookout, a free campsite overlooking a large billabong in the Mary River.
It was hot so we sat outside in the evening computing:
30 Aug
There is a lot of wildlife here (but fortunately no other campers), kangaroos, noisy kookaburra’s, cape barren geese, pheasant coucals (see pic).
And a cormorant drying its wings
Under the Oka this morning is a pool of fluid, fortunately only radiator coolant. There’s been a drip from the thermostat housing for some time but now it’s worse so now it needs a new gasket, which I’ve got a spare one of. When the engine is hot the leak seems to subside so it’s not as bad as it looks. It’s only lost less than 2 litres of water so I can top that up daily.
But to make things easier I’ll leave replacing it until we are at a more civilised location lest something serious goes wrong which I can’t fix here, a small leak is better than an avalanche, and replace the gasket in Darwin or Katherine in a few days where help is nearby if needed.
Off to look for crocs this morning and we’ll return here tonight.
So we looked around the Mary River here at the lookout but there had been a lot bigger wet season than the last time we were here and the river level is a lot higher and there were no river flats for crocs to lie on.
We headed north and stopped off at Mistake Billabong for a lunch and look for wild animals but on the walk in it was me that made a mistake. There was a bitey fly buzzing around my head so I snapped off a small leafy eucalyptus branch as you do, for use as a fly whisk. Unbeknown to me green ants had constructed a nest on the branch, made of leaves bent over and glued along the edges, and they don’t like being disturbed, especially if being used as a fly whisk.
After a couple of waves of my whisk the bitey fly was quickly forgotten as I was covered in bitey green ants instead, inside and outside my shirt and up my shorts and all over the camera case I was carrying. I had to strip off and remove each of the hundreds of ants one at a time as they bit me, the camera case, my shirt and ultimately Janet who came to my rescue. It took a good 5 minutes but fortunately the bites are not venomous or long lasting, just annoying.
These are the little blighters:
And instead of dangerous crocs we saw a feral water buffalo. These creatures can also be dangerous but this one was on the other side of the billabong. I thought they had been almost eradicated in the NT, Crocodile Dundee style, since they cause so much damage to waterways, but obviously not.
After lunch we drove north to Shady Lagoon, where we knew from past experience is where to find crocs, lots of crocs, and we were’t disappointed.
At the viewing platform we could see at least 8 or 9 crocs sunning themselves at various places on the far bank, and a few more cruising around just beneath the surface.
It was at this very spot that in 2007 I dropped 2 rechargeable batteries through this grille on to the mud as I was changing them. Sadly they are no longer there but just like last time, I wasn’t intending to brave the croc river to retrieve them.
A while later we spied a large croc, probably 4-5m long and weighing 500kg, heading slowly towards the nearby boat ramp so we went round to check it out.
It cautiously approached the ramp, just like we did.
I walked tentatively towards him to about 10m away and he heaved himself a bit further on to the ramp and watched me. I bravely and sensibly backed away a bit.
Look at those interlocking teeth (which they are born/hatched with) with 10 tonnes per sq inch of crushing power.
We watched him (or her) for 10 minutes or so and he was definitely eyeing me up as a potential feed. I was a good 10m away up the ramp, but he obviously knew the boat ramp meant a potential meal, and this is probably why, at the very same spot. People are advised not to enter the water when launching boats, which this fellow did.
After we moved on he slid back into the river, a sure sign that we meant something to him. Perhaps he just wanted to be my friend?
Actually these are extremely dangerous creatures, they are Australia’s number one predator and not to be messed with. More people are killed by crocs each year than by snakes and sharks combined. The may look slow and fat out of the water but they can move at lightning speed when they want to, we witnessed that on our last visit when we surprised a croc laying on the bank. It surprised us too….
There’s a law in the NT prohibiting boats from approaching within 10m of a croc, and the same common sense applies to foot traffic too. While you’re focussed on one croc, another could be creeping up behind you…
Subsequently we went to Mindl Beach markets in Darwin where a young lady from the Crocodylus Park (where you can take home a “Crocodile BBQ Pack”) was showing off a small one year old hatchling, which Janet had a hold of (the young lady wasn’t allowed to let go of the croc as some people have be known to run off with them):
Actually they feel like a cold sausage, but all smooth on their underside (the valuable part, aren’t they all?). If it was in the wild, this one could have grown as large as our Mary River specimen (even at one year old it could snap your finger off, their jaw muscles have a mechanical leverage mechanism like bolt cutters). But sadly this one will have long since become handbags and shoes.
That night I invented a better way to keep my beer cool between sips, using second stubby cooler as a lid. Worked pretty well.
31 Aug
Today we left our Couzens Lookout camp on the Mary River and headed 140km back for a last look around Darwin before departing south.
We “lunched” on the Esplanade where parking is free on Sundays, and walked around the many military memorials along the shady grasslands on the top of the cliff overlooking Darwin Harbour. Commemorative wartime plaques are still being erected there, the latest being in 2012 in memory of Canadian Signals and Communications forces who operated here in the latter stages of the war.
This the memorial to the USS Peary, sunk with the loss of 91 sailors during the first Japanese bombing raid on Darwin on 19 Feb 1942, the first ever raid on Australian Soil (other than the European invasion of 1788). At that time invasion was far from expected and there were only 2 fighters (US Kittyhawks) to protect the whole of northern Australia. They were both destroyed on convoy protection and their pilots were lost, but due to a news blackout of the raids, the bravery and sacrifices of the defenders was never disclosed or commemorated until after the war. Neither was the plan disclosed to abandon the northern half of Australia in the event of full scale invasion and defend only across the Brisbane-Alice Springs-Port Hedland line, roughly across the 23rd parallel.
Over the next 3 years a large number is airstrips and military facilities were constructed in WA and the NT and particularly around Darwin and many can still be visited although sadly some are now on private land and only informative plaques remain. A pity because they are useful camping areas where you can immerse yourself in history. Just recently the site of the secret Z Force commando regiment, whose exploits have never been fully disclosed to this day, was ploughed up for an industrial site. The NT Govt considered a plaque was all that was needed.
We paddled in the sea off Mindl Beach so technically we’ve been in the sea in Darwin, something you are not supposed to do due to deadly crocs, jelly fish, sharks, cone shells etc. but we did paddle between the flags.
We mingled with all the young and beautiful people in Mindl Beach markets where we sampled spring rolls and a fruit salad and Janet bought some more earrings, as normal.
But there were a few new stall types:
Eco-Nappies. Actual cloth nappies you don’t have to throw away. Well who’d have thought of that? But they do come in colours other than white.
And the iSmashed.com stall where you can have your broken iPhone screen replaced in 30 mins for only $149. 2 guys twiddling miniature screwdrivers on microscopic screws from a magnetic pad, but there’s probably more to it than that.
Halfway through, everyone departed over the sand dune to the beach and just sat there looking.
At this, more photons from outer space. Moisture and smoke which hangs in the Darwin air always causes spectacularly colourful photons:
Our last Darwin sunset, for a while:
After the ball was over we drove back to our our Manton Dam Campsite for the night, which is on the way to Litchfield NP anyway.
We’d spent 6 days in the Darwin area at a camping cost of $0, but it did cost around $50 in additional fuel costs. So we had an extra $200 to spend on other things.
There are still good things to see and do in Darwin that don’t cost a fortune,
but caravan parks and street parking are not ones of them.
When we got to know the new Darwin a bit better there are still lots of good things to see and do there. We liked:
  • Stokes Hill Wharf,
  • The Esplanade,
  • The Deckchair Cinema,
  • The Museum and Art Gallery,
  • East Point Military Reserve,
  • Coolalinga Shopping Centre,
  • The Mindl Beach Markets and
  • Cullen Bay.
On previous trips we also enjoyed:
  • The Aviation Heritage Museum,
  • Casuarina Shopping Centre,
  • The drive out to Gunn Point and Fright Point,
  • Fannie Bay beach,
  • The ferry to Mandorah or
  • The drive around from Darwin to Mandorah to visit the 1945 Milady Liberator crash site.
1 Sept
This morning we took the Old Bynoe Road west to the Litchfield Park road to cut off the corner. It was so old some of it has disappeared and we had to do a bit of skilful navigating to get on the correct road.
We stopped to lower the tyre pressures for the 40km or so of gravel on the back road to Litchfield since it was a lot more corrugated than we recall from previous trips.
We called in at a couple of sites where magnetic termite mounds had been built, flat on the east/west side and thin on the north/south side to minimise the heat from the sun.
We checked one out and it was built exactly magnetic N/S within a degree or 2, to minimise solar heating. Moreover, the mounds were slightly curved, and leaned towards the west to further minimise solar radiation since the sun is more powerful later in the day. Damn clever these termites.
Photo taken at 10.30am. By noon the mound would be almost exactly in line with the sun.
Further on we stopped for lunch at Walkers Creek where Janet dangled her toes in the creek.
We arrived at the Wangi Falls campground in the early afternoon (only $6.60 each and excellent facilities, plus a pretty good water feature out the back), but by then it was fiercely hot, so a quick swim in the pool was called for.
Me relaxing in the warm water:
In the wet season the whole of this rock face would be covered in a raging torrent and hidden by spray (I’ve seen the photos), but it’s comforting that the park authorities are fairly certain there are no salties in the pool now (like there was last year and they had to close the pool for swimming, 3 weeks after they declared it free of salties). But they still maintain crocodile traps in the creeks.
Flying Foxes (fruit bats) were roosting in the trees around the pool.
After our swim we had a $5 ice cream from the kiosk and chatted to a girl from Finland who was working there. She’d only been in Oz for a couple of months and was feeling the heat. She was cleaning out a freezer cabinet so we said “Why don’t you jump in it, you’ll feel at home?”. We repaired to the Oka for a cold beer since it was way past I don’t care when and I needed a cold drink.
Bower birds mimicked and whirred their noisy songs all around us.
We had a nice tuna salad outside tonight since it was so hot, followed by strawberries and cr ème anglaise (custard) with red wine (since I’ve finished up all the white stuff), and we played our Farm Day music and reminisced about music practices. Maybe the bower birds will start mimicking our Farm Day music?
Just on dusk, thousands of flying foxes left their roost around the pool and made their way silently overhead to wherever they go to feed at night. Smaller bats flitted around below treetop height catching some, but definitely not all the bugs which were/are annoying us.
Whilst sitting out in the still of the evening, a black feral pig clomped and snuffling its way noisily passed our campsite looking for food scraps. There was an advisory notice about it on the way in and rangers have being trying to catch it. But we caught an image of the beast as it passed by our campsite for a second time. They are heavy creatures and can be dangerous if cornered.
2 Sept
We went for a morning swim in the falls again since it got quite hot quite early but it’s not as good as in the later afternoon. The sun casts shade over the falls and most of the lake, there are fewer people about and the water seems a bit cooler in the mornings.
After packing up we drove out to the highway and down a corrugated track to the Blyth Homestead. It was built as an outstation on the Stapleton Station in 1928 and housed 2 adults who eventually had 14 children there.
The mother schooled the children and was cook on the main property, the father who was fiercely independent, ran the rural aspects and the elder children ran the market gardens alongside the creek and a tin mine near the small homestead. It was a tough life and none of the children left the homestead or saw anyone else or knew what money was until their early 20’s, they just worked for their father almost as slaves and for no pay.
Mining tin was extremely hard work, they dug down 27 feet and then tunnelled outwards following the tin seam. Tin ore is heavy stuff, the large normal rock on the left weighs 22kg, the smaller lump of glittery tin ore in the centre weighs 43kg.
Then they had to break it up manually with large hammers, then pass it though several ore crushers and sluice the fine dust with water through hollowed out logs to sieve out the tin.
Still, their father had the right idea about useful scraps of old iron:
During the war they had a bit of excitement when a Japanese plane was shot down nearby and they got some useful info from it for the intelligence services.
We had lunch at the homestead, which was much easier than mining tin, and then moved on to the Sandy Creek (Tjaynera) Falls for an afternoon swim.
However, there was a tough little 1.7km walk to the falls so we were pretty hot when we got there and the water was colder but more refreshing than Wangi Falls.
Janet taking a dip in the pool:
Since it was getting late we decided to camp here but it’s not the best campsite around, for the same cost as the Wangi Falls campsite there is no rubbish collection so there are bags of garbage all around and only one loo with a cold water shower. But it will do for one night.
3 Sept
Not such a good day today. Visited the Tolmer Falls but they weren’t that impressive with little water flowing over them.
There is a nice rock arch though which water would come in the wet season with a substantial force.
We bypassed Buley Rockholes since there were a lot of tour busses in there and we’ve done it all before and headed out to Batchelor for lunch, and access to the internet for the first time in several days.
There was a message from Scott who had arrived in Split (Croatia) all OK and with Tash they’re starting their European vacation/honeymoon, so that was a positive.
After lunch we set out for some WW11 airstrips that we’d been to before for another look around and somewhere to stay. However I got extremely angry that they were now in private hands with locked and barred fences and gates so we couldn’t visit them anymore. So much for the NT government’s much proclaimed WW11 Heritage campaign. Their multi-coloured signboards still show Fenton Air Base as a W11 Heritage Site:
Fenton in particular was my favourite with a graveyard of broken and wrecked aircraft to fossick through and runways to drive down. Sadly this is a trend all over the NT with WW11 memorabilia being lost for ever.
And for good measure the countryside around here is shit as well, all burned out and looking terrible. Much the same all over the top end so no more top end for us for a while. We’ll stick to deserts. You can’t burn deserts.
With this frame of mind I wasn’t about to stay in any Big4 crapsite so we turned off the highway at Hayes Creek to an historic mining pub (Grove Hill Hotel) and are camped out the back for $Big4/3. Very outback as it happens with country style showers and loos in tin sheds.
And our wine stocks from Adelaide have finally run out after 6 weeks. I knew I should have filled another jerry can.
Tomorrow we’ll trundle down an historic mining area through the Bonnie Ranges to Pine Creek and thence to Edith Falls to camp.
4 Sept, my grandma would have been 132 today.
And down we trundled on a very smooth gravel road to Pine Creek and since we made such good time we carried on trundling to Edith Falls for lunch.
It’s quite a few years since we’ve been here and it’s quite nice so for $18 we are camping here for a swim or 2 in the pool. The falls have very little water flowing since we are getting towards the end of the dry season and a huge gravelly sandbar has emerged from the depths, swept up by wet season storms:
The water was cool and dark and you can imagine all sorts of creatures from the deep rising up to do unspeakable things to your appendages:
As it happens after my swim I was leaning on a bridge, as you do, looking at the Edith Creek:
When something caught my eye:
A crocodile trap had been subtly set up the creek. It’s either very encouraging or very worrying that they have to set up such things. At least it was empty, and that’s a good thing, I suppose.
There was a report in yesterday’s paper of a man being bitten by a fresh water croc only last month in Wangi Falls in Litchfield NP, where we were a few days ago. They had to close the swimming area while rangers caught and removed the offending creature. Last year they found a saltie in there too...
5 Sept
A cool night but there were a couple of small kangaroos with joeys feeding in the campground early this morning.
By 8 am the sun and the flies had both risen as we ate breakfast outside, rather quickly actually.
By 10.30 it was hot and we reached Katherine and sought out the laundromat. While the washing was well, washing, we went to refill a gas bottle. While the washing was drying we had lunch and when it was all folded and put away we headed for the supermarket for a week’s supplies and 220l of fuel.
Things I hate about Katherine (and many other places which do the same thing):
        a) Having to pay to go to the loo in the shopping centre ($1).
        b) Having to pay for a shopping trolley ($1 or $2 although you do get it back upon return of the trolley, but it’s still a drag).
        c) Having to queue for 10 minutes to pay for groceries, when there are lots of empty checkouts. And the trashy magazines on the stands just make the time go even slower.
        c) Having to pay for water at the visitors centre ($2 for 5 minutes on the hosepipe, easily 100 litres). Although we could have got it for free at the servo but it’s not so convenient.
[Interestingly, I spelled “ALthough” with a capital “AL” and the spell checker offered “Although” as an alternative obviously, but also “donut”. Why?]
Heading off down the highway we realised that we had missed out the bottle shop so our 1 can of beer and 2 cans of cider will have to last several days. Still, I did put a bottle of sherry in the fridge since sherry at 40º doesn’t have the same effect somehow. Might have to do the same with the port although we don’t seem to have much of that left now. We still have 1/2 a bottle of Serge’s red wine left which is also in the fridge. Is there a trend emerging here?
        d) Having to wait until the bottle shops open in the afternoon and then only getting 1 or 2 litre casks at 5 litre cask prices, which we forgot anyway.
Camped tonight at the Leach Lagoon Rest Area, 50km SE of Katherine. However there is no sign of a lagoon here, which is tanto montare to misleading advertising.
6 Sept
One of our favourite swimming spots in all the world is Bitter Springs creek in Elsey National Park just 50km down from our campsite.
The water there is incredibly deep, clear and warm (33º all the year round) and it’s in a natural tropical wetlands area of pandanus and palm trees. Steps have been added to reduce erosion of the creek banks. Because the water is high in minerals and low in oxygen very few creature live in it making swimming a real pleasure, and it’s free.
Me lazing around in the warm water:
You can swim/drift about 100m along the creek through a primordial swamp to a bridge and exit point. Janet found it too warm for a long swim.
The palms here are the kind that dinosaurs fed on, in fact you can still see their bite marks on the leaves.
After lunch we checked our emails at Mataranka and turned east on the Roper Highway heading for the Limmen NP about 200km away near coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The road is a single lane piece of bitumen which I find more annoying than all gravel roads as you are continually slowing down and putting 2 wheels in the dirt to pass other vehicles.
Anyway, 70km down is a nice rest area (Mt Price) with a large mountain of rock in the centre that you can hide behind and be protected from other campers (there were none) and traffic noise (of which there was none all night).
What there was however, was a pair of donkeys who put up a terrible racket for about 10 minutes while we were eating dinner outside in the dark and scared us sh*tless.
7 Sept, my LXIX birthday
This time last year we were at an Oka gathering in Harrismith, SE of Perth, and the weather was cold and wet. Today we had our hottest day on this trip so far, the external thermometer read 40.1º but it felt hotter than that in the Oka. Fortunately the a/c is working fairly well and there are several lily lagoons along the road which make things feel cooler even if they’re not.
We stopped off for a look at Roper Bar, a man-made concrete causeway across the Roper River. Nice and calm now but impassable in the wet season.
A family of Aboriginals were having a fun day out in the water which is safe to swim in around the causeway.
We stopped at a lagoon we had camped near before for lunch and to check our emails.
This area is not noted for it’s mobile coverage but just near here, on the other bank of the Roper River is the Aboriginal community of Ngukurr and we piggy backed on to their Telstra network.
I had the usual gaggle of birthday emails from all the websites I subscribe to plus one from Charles and Fred in the UK and a message from Scott who is in Rome and just as we were leaving a call from Alan. Soon after we were out of range again so apologies to those who might have sent messages but we’ll collect them when we are next in phone range, probably Tennant Creek in a few days time.
We passed by a number of brand new campgrounds in the NP, none of which had any campers in and made for St Vidgeons, the ruins of a former Lomarieum (don’t know what that is but it sounds serious if it has to be as isolated as this). The usual Aussie disregard for authority was evident:
The main attraction here however is the nearby huge lily filled lagoon with plenty of camping opportunities (but no swimming due to croc risk), so since it was so hot today and there’s a nice cool breeze blowing here, we are camped alongside it.
Water lily leaves with turned up edges:
Tall water lilies on the far side:
A duck in cunning disguise:
Relaxing in the cool breeze on a very hot 40º day:
We took memorial photos of the birthday drinks, dinner (tuna salad) and dessert, just as the sun was setting:
Dessert consisted of strawberries and yoghurt for Janet, and strawberries, custard and slices of Mars Bar (because it’s my birthday and they were my pressie) for me.
The sunset over the lagoon was pretty special too.
8 Sept
Today is Charles LXX birthday,
Happy birthday Charles, we celebrated your anniversary with an ice cold glass of sherry under a full moon on a warm evening in the Southern Lost City in Limmen National Park.
We left St Vidgeons still ignorant of the meaning of “Lomarieum” (the informative plaques had all been burnt out), and motored down the worsening track to the Towns River. There is an excellent campsite there and the river always looks beautiful and inviting…
From there to the Cox River Crossing the corrugations got worse so we stopped for lunch just past the crumbling causeway and 3 guys (1 English from Guildford and 2 Germans) in a petrol Pajero with no A/C pulled up and asked if they were still on the Savannah Way. Well there’s only one road in the area so we are all on it.
They were heading for Cairns but only had a flimsy paper map and were amazed at our moving map system. We had a chat for while about the availability of LPG in Borroloola and it seemed to us they were ill prepared for such a trip, one of the roughest tracks across the top of Australia, we’ve done it several times. Still, they were young and nothing much worried them.
The Cox River where they were going to do some fishing.
On the way further south, we came across these confusing signs:
It turns out we were crossing a mining company haul road from/to an iron ore mine. But this is in the middle of a National Park! What is happening in the NT? This is not the first time we’ve come across this on this trip (there are new mine sites all along the Roper Highway and there has been a uranium mine in Kakadu National Park for many years) and they seem to be putting economics ahead of any environmental considerations.
We called in at Butterfly Springs where we have swum before (the only place where it’s safe to do so) but this year the pool is almost dried up and the waterfall has long since stopped flowing.
There was a water monitor clinging to the side of the rock sunning himself:
We are camped tonight at the Southern Lost City, an amazing place of crazy leaning rock formations which we’ll have a look around early tomorrow morning before it gets too hot.
9 Sept
We did our morning walk and most of the area had been burnt out. However that was a bit different and allowed a better view of the rock formations.
After our 7am walk, the clouds were burned away by the sun and it started getting very hot so a shower was called for. The wire in the large antenna got very tangled up as I was lowering it and I couldn’t get it apart in the hot morning sun so I left it until later to sort out.
Then the A/C stopped working on the way down the track so we stopped to fix it at Batten Creek. The compressor fuse blew and a few minutes after I replaced it the replacement also blew.
I confirmed that the compressor was working OK and found that one of the connections on the pressure switch on the front condenser was causing the problem (something on that other wire was dragging the voltage down from 12 to 9 so it’s a heavy current partial short circuit which slowly blows the 30A fuse) but not the additional fan I had fitted, so I replaced the cable from the switch to the compressor and all was OK again, I thought, so we had lunch.
The original evaporator fans wasn’t working on that circuit so I assumed that might have been the problem but possibly not. A few minutes later the rear A/C didn’t seem to be working indicating that the solenoid allowing cooling fluid to the rear evaporator wasn’t functioning and then the rear fans stopped working as well presumably a fuse problem too, but maybe a thermal cutout issue since it was OK the next morning.
Rather than buggerise around any more we carried on using the front A/C only and one condenser fan, which was just up to the job, and I’ll investigate further tomorrow in the cool of the morning.
The Nathan River Road through the Limmen NP got gradually and very frustratingly rough and corrugated as we drove south and we could barely manage 30kph. And there were quite a few creek crossings and causeways to negotiate.
When we got to what I thought was the Carpentaria Highway and a bitumen road, I was sadly 50km out of place and it took another hour to reach the relative comfort of the Cape Crawford Road and Tablelands Highway.
These are sealed roads but only a single lane and very undulating to the point of seasickness. Eventually after 2 hours of lonely driving though reasonably attractive cattle country and “hill covered trees”*, we reached a rest area only to find several other caravans already here, but here we will stay after a long gruelling day in the saddle. This road, although sealed, is very rough and narrow and not really suited to caravans. It’s also nearly 400km between fuel stops.
* Janet didn’t see anything wrong with this statement.
There was a nice looking big windmill along side the rest area with a water tank.
We sat outside but the cicadas were absolutely deafening, like severe tinnitus turned up 100dB.
10 Sept
The “nice looking” windmill woke us up several times in the night with it’s screeching and rattling as the breeze varied from nothing to light.
Fairly uneventful today if you exclude the indicators which stopped working. That turned out to be a fuse with dirty connections which I refitted yesterday. A quick clean up and all OK again.
There was the usual Aussie humour(?) along the way…
And a couple of reminders of just how big this country is:
Just endless vistas of dry Mitchell Grass from horizon to horizon.
The front A/C worked pretty well during the morning session but struggled in the 36º heat this afternoon. Tomorrow I’ll check if the rear solenoid is the faulty item and if not, I’ll rig up a connection from the compressor so we can use both systems again.
325km today over the single lane, undulating Tablelands Highway south to the Barkly Highway and a fairly crummy but just adequate rest area about 150km east of Tennant Creek.
11 Sept, anniversary of 9/11.
This morning I tested the rear a/c solenoid and it appears to be OK so I wired it in to the compressor circuit and both front and rear a/c systems now seem to be working, but I am keenly anticipating disappointment. The solenoid should actually be connected to the rear fan switch so it only comes on when the rear fans are on but that will have to wait until I can find the right wire.
The remaining 150km 0f the Barkly Highway were fairly forgettable but we were quite surprised by Tennant Creek. It’s a mostly Aboriginal town but unlike many similar towns, the locals were more friendly and approachable and many of them are working in supermarkets or similar.
Grog limitations are still annoying though, only low/mid strength beer before 3pm and no cask wine before 4pm, and nothing after 6pm. Anyway we got some beer and cider which will do us until we get to Alice.
We checked our emails and called Mark, all is well in Adelaide. We called Troy who is house sitting for us and arranged our homecoming on 20 Sept. We also had a message from Scott and Tash who are in Rome. They just went to St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum tomorrow and are loving their European vacation.
After refuelling and refooding at a very expensive (except for veggies surprisingly) IGA in Tennant Creek we drove down the very quiet Stuart Highway to a small track we found several years ago about 70km south of Tennant Creek, and are camping about 1k off the highway.
Very hot again today, 36º but the A/C is working fine, but I sense the temperature trend will now be downwards.
12 Sept
The drive today took us past the Devils Marbles, always a good place to stop and frolic amongst huge stone boulders.
It also took us through Barrow Creek, the centre of the sad Peter Falconio murder and Joanne Lees assault some years ago (2001 actually).
But has someone been reading my blog??
A couple of years ago I reported in these very pages that although Barrow Creek had a Telegraph Station as early as 1872 it didn’t have a mobile service in 2010. Well today, in 2014, I am able to report that Barrow Creek now has a new shiny phone tower and megawatts of solar power:
The 1872 Telegraph Station and its contemporary high tech wiring system:
The 2014 mobile phone tower and solar farm:
On the section of the Stuart Highway south of Barrow Creek, the speed limit has been de-restricted, in fact removed all together, it’s an “open speed zone”.
So this road could be one of the very few places in the world where you can legally travel at 500kph, (or more if you had the technology) and it’s not an autobahn or an autostrada or a freeway in Dubai, it’s just the main 2 lane connecting highway between north and south Australia. This section is around 40km, dead straight.
But as you accelerate though the 200kph point you are required to read this informative sign. We couldn’t even read it at 70kph.
Althoiugh, it does have several 30 or 40km long dead straight sections, it’s not all straight, and because of the speed potential, bends are supplied with copious arrows. The average is around 12 per bend, but this long slow bend has 33 double sided arrows to guide speeding motorists around the corner:
And continuing with the motoring theme, another notable thing of note that happened today was that our odometer passed the 700,000km point, of which we’ve done around 170,000 of them on our travels over the past 10 years. We’ve now lived in our Oka for nearly 3 years total out of the past 10, that’s over 1000 campsites on tracks which have criss-crossed the country.
Mind you the reading is a bit academic since I manually reset the readout to a random value when we had the odometer replaced in 2004 after we bought the Oka and it wasn’t working . The actual reading could be +/_100,000km from the current reading, and even that 100,000km estimate could be wrong too…
We are camped tonight at Prowse Gap rest area, a reasonably OK rest stop about 150km north of the Alice, and the temperature is dropping as the number of flies increases.
13 Sept
I made a pot of tea this morning as is usual, and I’m amazed how well I can consistently and accurately underestimate how much water is needed in the kettle. You’d think after all this time I would know and adjust my tap control process accordingly.
From our commendably average Prowse Gap campsite the drive into Alice was a lot more interesting than the previous 1000km. Some wild flowers were in bloom but not as many as previous years and the landscape was more hilly and tinged with green.
It was also noticeably cooler as befitting our no longer tropical latitude. We passed though the magic Tropic of Capricorn with barely a murmur.
After refooding, regassing, refueling and rewatering, we set off on the Ross Highway to Trephina Gorge for a day in a very nice area about 70km east of Alice in the East McDonnell Ranges..
The setting sun burnt up the rock face above Trephina Creek.
14 Sept
And the sunrise also lit up the bluff:
As proposed we did the 3km cliff-top walk today and it was quite a view.
We are now almost exactly in the geographic centre of the Australian Continent and the sky hasn’t been this blue for a long time. It does’t have the impurities and water vapour in it that you get in tropical skies, just pure, unadulterated UV rays.
The gorge from the cliff-top walk.
After our hot walk we had a cooling shower and decided to stay here for the rest of the day since it was so peaceful and pleasant.
As we were preparing tea, a dingo trotted along the creek bed to an old campfire area, picked up something, probably a chop bone, wandered back to a patch of grass and sat down to chomp it. She did this a couple of times and even circled us as we were eating our tea outside.
She obviously knows where food is to be found, but feeding them is not encouraged or permitted as they can become demanding and aggressive, even though she did remind us too much of Bella.
They may have the manner of a domestic dog but dingos are wild animals, descended from wolves, who have a well established position in the natural world as Australia’s dominant land predator. This status quo should not be disrupted since without them many introduced pests, particularly rabbits, would not be effectively controlled.
So it’s sad to see so many 1080 warning signs all over the country indicating the planned and systematic destruction of an Australian native species using strychnine, a particularly nasty poison.
Even worse is to see a tree adorned by the carcasses of dead dingos in trophy arrangement, which we’ve seen a few times. Imagine the outcry if you saw a tree full of the corpses of dead koalas?
The 5000km long dingo proof fence which runs from the Queensland coast to the Great Australian Bight in South Australia is a much more responsible approach at problem management in sheep country. Unfortunately 1080 poison is cheaper.
15 Sept
Leaving Trephina Gorge we went to see a nearby 300 year old Ghost Gum which is heritage listed. Ghost gums are common in the red centre, quite often on the side of red rocky cliffs.
This one is growing on a flat plain and is quite spectacular, they don’t normally grow this large.
On the way back, we called in to Corroborree Rock, an Aboriginal sacred site:
The surrounding hills are dotted with ghost gums as if they’d been planted.
Then it was back into the Alice, if she’ll excuse the expression, for more supplies and fuel, after which we bade her farewell and set off south, but not too far, about 100km, to Rainbow Valley.
This is an ancient but spectacular set of rock formations which must be one of Australia’s best kept secrets. It’s protected by quite a tough 22km corrugated 4WD track in, but there are also some good walks to do and a campsite to boot, if only the flies weren’t so friendly.
Along the boardwalk we startled a large lizard soaking up the warm sun.
The track to Rainbow Valley passes though a large grove of Desert Oaks and a carpet of wild flowers, but not as colourful or prolific as previous wetter years.
16 Sept
Time now to start heading south seriously if we are to be home on Saturday. The SA border at Kulgera is the first step.
We stopped at Erldunda to check emails but there were none of note. Quite a bit of traffic here but most was turning west towards Uluru.
Passing the first and last pub in the NT at Kulgera and into SA, we met more quarantine signs than “Welcome to South Australia” signs, but at least we got a bit of warning on this one.
The traffic was almost non-existent for 80 odd km and the country appeared to be completely terra nullis, so much so that I contemplated emulating a certain Lt Cook and claiming this land a new country, called SOD OFF (South of Darwin On the Finke Floodplain), or maybe SOD ALL (South of Darwin All Lost and Lonely). For a brief moment I did consider Foetid Utopian Colonial Kingdom but I feared the spelling might prove too difficult for some citizens who might resort too easily to the abbreviated form.
We saw no caravans at all and only one motorhome this afternoon. Did they know something and were staying up north in the warm?
We passed 2 empty rest areas whereas normally at 3pm they’d be chockers with caravans vying for the best of the worst locations.
After 320km today we have stopped at the Agnes River rest area where there was one camper trailer and a big bus towing a small 4WD, and camped near the nonexistent river amongst the maximum number of flies. Actually all rivers and creeks in northern Australia are real rivers, they are just upside down, dusty dry on the surface but deep down they are still moist, which is from where the river red gums extract their water through the dry seasons.
17 Sept
411km today, basically down the very lonely Stuart Highway through Coober Pedy and into the arid treeless plains of mid South Australia.
Coober Pedy was the same flat dusty terrain covered by neat mountains of white spoil from the opal diggings.
We topped up our water tank from their very professional 20c per 30 litre slot meter public water pump (which is much better than their previous hose hanging on a wire fence model) and then carried on since we’ve seen dusty outback towns before.
Leaving Coober Pedy, not a single “Thank You for visiting Coober Pedy” sign to be seen, every sign was facing the other way.
We camped last night at the “Major” Ingomar rest area, although quite why it’s so defined is a mystery. It has no toilets so the desperate have littered the rear of the site with paper products, it’s very exposed on the top of a bluff and isn’t very scenic anyway. No matter we (I) were knackered after 411km so it was fine for us, and we were the only occupants.
18 Sept
Up with the larks or what ever to carry on down the Stuart Highway first to Glendambo (Population: People - 3, Sheep - 22,500, Flies - 2,000,000) for lunch and to check our emails, and then on to Lake Hart.
This is a very pretty salt lake where there’s a 4WD a track we discovered several years ago from the new to the old highways and where camping is quite secluded.
The so called poached egg flower (Myriocephalus stuartii) which abound and all face the sun at the same time. They are paper daisies with everlasting (relatively) papery flowers.
We wandered down to the lake, and in the process crossed the Ghan/Indian Pacific rail line which skirts the lake edge. The lights were red and no trains came, so we walked along the track to tempt fate but fate wasn’t paying attention, fortunately.
There were emu and kangaroo prints in the salty edge of the lake.
A stick and a moth frozen in ice and snow? No, captured in salt.
With a few clouds around, the sunset was quite spectacular. Yes, I know they are only bloody photons, but they are very colourful photons, nonetheless.
19 Sept
Our last day on the road, we should be home tomorrow morning.
2 freight trains came past early this morning, from different directions. I wonder how that happens? There must be a nearby passing loop or railway roadhouse they can stop at.
Unlike yesterday, today is a blazing blue sky day with a burning sun. Even a rusty exhaust system has a summery glow to it.
And the lake was glistening in the morning sun.
20 Sept
Camped last night in a small reserve at Clements Gap near Crystal Brook. It’s our normal secluded campsite, in a 10 sq km reserve of bushland in a huge arable landscape.
We arrived home knackered just after mid-day and the sun was shining from a clear blue sky and the temperature was around 22º. Good for Adelaide at this time of year but a lot less than we had been experiencing.
We wandered around in a bit of a daze, the garden looked pretty good really (it always does under a clear sunny sky) and not too many weeds.
We did a bit of unloading, a lot of washing and gradually things became more familiar.
Then we were back to normality once again after another good trip. 2 months, 9,000km and a major desert crossing.