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Executive Summary

Get yourself a cup of coffee and sit down for a god read.  Alternatively, if time is short flip straight to the photos page.  I have updated all the pages to around mid September, and given that it is not yet October that is quite an achievement – well so says me anyway.

After a Month getting to the Kimberly, and a month exploring them we spent a few weeks checking out the western side of the top end before meeting our friends Chris and Flip in Darwin and spending two weeks together mostly in the eastern Top End.  This is where I reached with the last updates.
After NT we continued on our own through the Gulf Country of Queensland.  We zig zagged a bit, but basically followed the Savannah Way as far as Mount Garnet where we took some back tracks and came out on the coast at Tully Heads.  We spent the next week or two around Atherton, Julatten and Mareeba before meeting fellow TLCC member Edmond “Honey” Dutt for our Cape York Adventure.

From Mareeba to the tip and back to cairns took 20 days (Mareeba to Cairns direct is about 50km); this was the highlight of the trip so far.  Awesome driving, unexpected scenery, elusive unique wildlife the peninsular had it all.

Next, we plan to make our way down to MacKay to catch up with friends Lawrence and Sandy before heading back through the middle (drier) bits of Australia.  We hope to get to the Diamantina, Birdsville, Flinders Ranges and Goog’s Track.   Updated 20 Sept 2010

Detailed Rambelings

  • Cape York
  • F.N.Q.
  • Gulf Country
  • Eastern Top End
  • Western Top End
  • East Kimberly
  • Dampier Peninsular
  • Pilbara
  • Gascoyn

Edmund met us at Granite Gorge where we camped together for the first night.  There was probably trepidation on both sides as we had not actually met before, and were going to spend the next 2-3 weeks travelling in each other’s company. 

Granite Gorge is home to the endangered Mareeba Wallaby, and we saw quite a few while exploring the river.   A Davies cooked roast lamb that night set the scene for many a shared meal during the next 20 days.  Edmund hails from India, and has a passion for food that fitted in well with us.

We headed up to the peninsular via the “easy” inland route spending the first few days of the trip at Lakelands National Park.  Here were accosted again by the ridiculous booking system that the National Park folk in this state use for campgrounds.  The camp sites at lakelands did not have to be booked prior to arrival, instead you put your name on a whiteboard for the site you wanted.  Some of these sites were 50 km away.  For our second night we decided on a site in the main camp grounds, and even after finding great, unoccupied sites some distance north we did the “right thing” and returned to our booked sites.  These turned out to be small bollarded affairs, and a Neanderthal Queenslander already occupied one of the sites we had booked.  We told him off soundly and made up for our discontent by catching quite a few large Cherubim at the Kalpower crossing.

The camping at Hahn River is probably the best at Lakefield for any who venture that way in the future.  The sites are well spread out and on the river, though high enough to keep campers out of croc’s way.  Onwards and upwards we went, via a couple of the old telegraph stations, now used as roadhouses to the Iron Range national park.

We were really concerned about alcohol restrictions on Aboriginal land all the way up the cape, however it turned out to be a non-event, and probably just something that is kept deliberately vague and scary to keep alcohol sales to tourists up as they don’t bring in there own.  The upshot is that unless you are carrying more than a case of beer and 2 litres of wine you have nothing to worry about.  We were told at Musgrove that the Pascoe (which we would have to cross) was flooded and uncross-able.  We decided that in the 24 hours after we got that news it may have gone down, and went in to Iron Range to look.  It was low enough to cross and we made it to Chilli Beach for 2 nights.

Fiona and I could have stayed in Iron Range for days.  It was truly awesome, just about everything in one place:  Rainforest, Mountains, Heath land, Woodland, History, Fauna found only there (Cus Cus and Rifle Bird) and a cute village at Portland Roads too.  The spectacle of the Metallic Starlings flocking to the little island at dusk was breathtaking.  

When we dragged ourselves away from Iron Range we made for Morton Telegraph Station as our last stop before the OTL.  This was a great camp site, run by previous owners of Kinberlyland in Kununurra.  When the Wenlock river floods here it reaches mind blowing levels.  It was a great birdwatching place.
The Overland Telegraph Line Track (OTL) is the rough way to get to the cape.  There are about 15 serious creek crossings.  The last one is the Jardine, which few attempt and even fewer succeed in doing.  The best known is Gunshot Creek, which has 10 foot near vertical descents.  These two we avoided, however we did all of the others, including Palm Creek which had the second steepest descent and Nolan’s Brook which is the deepest (although still not much over waist deep).

The OTL is just over 100 km, but it took us two days.  We camped at Eliot falls, which is about ½ way.  It has the welcomed and rare feature of safe swimming which endeared the camp to us so much we stopped there on the way back.  Surely one of the best experiences is to collapse into a refreshing swimming hole with a beer after a long days driving.

We met some great people, mostly on our run down the OTL track: 

  • A bunch of New Zealand bike riders who also did the Frenchman’s track and had to float their bikes across a chest deep Pasco River after a near vertical descent into it. 
  • Another lot of bike riders, young guys from Sydney, one of whom rode his bike all the way to the tip (very rocky and close to the sea).
  • Chris and Pete and their wives Del and Ness (I hope than I have their names right) who were from Albany and Brisbane; the other folk they were travelling with had sustained damage or had unsuitable vehicles for the track.
  • The Master Baiters and Caped Crusaders, a mohawk adorned group of guys from all over the show – they were all in the airforce.

If you don’t want to risk completely wreck your vehicle by trying to drive it across the Jardine then the ferry will cost you $88 per vehicle and another $11 for a trailer.  I guess, as one brave soul found out while we were up there, it is cheaper than an engine rebuild and replacing all water damaged electrical gear.  It is about ten times the price of the longer Daintree ferry though.

Once above the Jardine we relaxed from a driving perspective. We settled back and enjoyed the scenery, which is varied.  We bought beer at the surprisingly pleasant Aboriginal community of Bamarga (as we had carried little due to restrictions).  We explored early settlements and WW2 historic sites.  We walked beautiful beaches.  We went on a tour to Thursday and Horn Islands.  We walked to the tip (of course).  We spotted heaps of interesting birds, though no non-feral animals.

The drive up the peninsular is long, and we made a few diversions.  The few places that you can pick up supplies are expensive and the supplies are not usually too fresh.  We actually used almost all of the water in our trailer’s tank before we reached our final camp of Punsang Bay, and both we cooked bread a few times, as did Honey.  Honey scabbed some almost ripe mangoes at Musgrave roadhouse and added them to a magnificent curry that he shared with us the night we camped at the bend, just north of Coen, the only town we passed above lakelands.

On the return trip we were going to pay Weipa a visit, but decided not to.  We did however stop off at Munken___ National park on the West of the Peninsular.  This was fairly uninspiring, although our camp site was magic and as far as we knew there was only one other couple in the park, about a hundred km away.  We camped next to Jerry’s Lagoon where we caught red claw (fresh water crayfish) and cooked damper.  We were told at the quarantine station the next day that there was a resident 15 foot saltie that lives in Jerry’s lagoon.  It was a good thing that Fiona was standing guard with a long handled shovel while I retrieved the pots.

Salt-water crocs are a bit of a nuisance at water crossings.  One that we did had a sighting on one the day before we arrived.  It was good having other people with us when we did the crossing.  To my mind you always need to walk a difficult crossing, and if you do it in company it makes you all less of a potential target for a hungry croc.  The alternative of course is to risk becoming stuck in the water and to end up spending a lot longer in the water, with no company while you attempt a recovery.

We returned to Cairns (on the coast near our starting point of Mareeba) via the slightly more challenging route of the Battle Camp Track, Bloomfield Track, part of the Creb track and then on through cape tribulation and the Daintree.  Battle Camp turned out to be an amazing and picturesque route.  Views that appeared out of no-where and made you go “wow”.  We mooched around Cooktown, which is a bit more polished now that last time we were there.  At the beginning of the Bloomfield Track is the Lion’s Den Hotel.  A classic Aussie pub that has been owned by the same family for 5 generations.  Ten years ago we had driven past this icon of Australiana so this time I was determined to at least have a beer there.  We actually camped just down the road and drove there for Pizza and beer – a dream come true!

We saw two new waterfalls in the Bloomfield rainforest – Roaring Meg where photos were banned, but swimming was great and Home Rule.  Home Rule was a gruelling 3km walk through a rough rain forest track on private property.  The reward was a view of one of the most stunning waterfalls we have seen (and we have seen a few recently, trust me).  Once again, time was not on our side, because this area was well worth further exploring.
The next two nights we spent at the same camp spots we stayed at ten years ago – we really could not beat them.  We met interesting characters at the Bloomfield one, stories for another day.  After a brief look at Bloomfield falls and some obligatory touristy activities in the Daintree and Port Douglas we pulled into an up market caravan park in Cairns to wash the car, trailer, clothes, restock, and plan the next bit of the adventure.  The weather decided to put a kibosh on things by raining on and off all the time so we drove to Crystal springs for a swim.

We said goodbye to Honey here, he headed for Melbourne to see his Son before returning to Perth after his six-week sojourn.  It was great to have Honey along for the almost three weeks, company when you are travelling is always a good thing, and vital when you go to remote places in difficult terrain.  That we got on so well and had so many great meals was an added bonus.

The East coast gets quite a bit of rain, especially the bits between Cooktown and Townsville. This is not so remarkable to those who live around these areas, but it makes a huge impact to those who are strangers to the area particularly on a drive in. This is especially true for those of us who arrive after spending some time in the arid interior. Ten Years ago the green hit us at Ravenshoe. This time it was on the drive from Blenco Falls to Tully Heads, down an officially closed road. The effect was even more impressive due to the rugged aspect of where we were.

At Cobold Gorge we met a bloke who told us that the Blenco falls was worth a gander so from Innot Hot Springs we backtracked to Mount Garnett and headed 90km south down unsealed roads and station tracks.  When we arrived at the camping area we were on our own, completely, we had not seen a soul for hours and there was no evidence of anyone having been at the camp area for some time.  A sign explaining the odd Queensland parks booking system greeted us.  Apparently, we should have rung up or used the internet to book a site prior to driving out, despite no information being available anywhere on the park.  We actually had mobile coverage – amazingly Queensland has good cover despite having atrocious conservation and camping management practices.  I spent ten minutes on the phone to a young office worker and paid for the camping via credit card.  He was adamant that I needed to display a tag on my windscreen to show I had paid.  I explained that there were no tags in the box so he said I should write a receipt number on a piece of paper for the ranger to see.  Ranger, here?  Yeah right.

Not counting the cane toad, the dominant animal in Queensland National parks is the cow, closely followed by the pig.  There are 700,000 pigs in FNQ we saw a few pigs on the Cape, and had seen a few in the gulf, but here we saw nothing but cows, more than you would expect on a good station. 

The falls themselves were spectacular, the sheer height of them was breathtaking but the isolated camping really made this place so special.  We only saw one other person during our two day stay despite quite a bit of exploration.  The old chap we met told us that he had come in on the “closed road”  It had been in the same condition for years he said, the shire did not want to maintain it but it was quite drivable if you were careful.  As it would save us a few hundred kms we decided to give it a go.

Memories of Borneo.  The road was very similar to the one into Maliau basin, though not as wet, and it was daylight.  We started in hilly woodland, full of widely spaced large trees wit a grass understory being well utilised by cows.  As we moved east the road got steeper, the trees taller, closer and greener.  The grass (and cows) disappeared to be replaced by vines, palms and rattan.  We emerged from full on rainforest with relief, from behind the closed sign of a road that obviously had not seen maintenance in decades, though it would have taken a great deal of effort to build in the first place, and had a couple of simply stunning lookouts.  Not only was the lush green strange to us we also emerged into civilisation, the like of which we had not seen in many weeks.  Sealed roads, intensive farming, little hamlets close together, lots of speeding cars – all the trappings.

We met a couple of men pulling a dingo (the machine, not the animal) out of a ditch and had a chat.  They said we would find great camping on the coast at Tully Heads, which we did.  We stopped, but decided not to stay, taking the opportunity to send a text to friends and relatives saying we had just had the scariest drive of the trip to date.  Not far down the track this standard was to be exceeded.  The car was shuddering noticeably after reinflating the tyres.  We stopped to check, but could not find the problem.  We decided that we did need to get some new tyres sooner rather than later, only one of our 6 car tyres was not sporting a Mark repair.  Fiona was just calling a tyre place in Atherton, and I was about to say that I was going to pull over at the next opportunity to swap the back left tyre which I was shure was causing the juddering when BANG (it was heard 400m+ away) and I was swerving all over the road at 100kmph in heavy traffic.  How we did not hit anything, I am not quite sure.  Most of the people we texted though that we referring to the blowout when we said we had a scary drive...  now you know, two in one day!

We spent the next week in Atherton and Julatten, mostly exploring the surrounding area.  We drove Rifle Ridge Range Road and up Mt Lewis (which we found out weeks later required a permit).  We spent a happy day tasting coffee, tea and chocolate and viewing an amazing selection of historic coffee paraphernalia.  We explored rainforest, dams, craters, fig trees, standard forests, dairies and a myriad of little towns.  Bird and Platypus spotting at Julatten is second to none.  We had the car serviced, bought tyres (emergency ones in Atherton and the rest in Cairns a bit cheaper).  We had the car serviced and the front wheel bearings changed.  We did what we could about servicing the trailer but still need to work out how to lube the wheel bearings.  We were marking time, waiting for Edmund to arrive so we could head up to Cape York, but it was a great place to be waiting and there were no shortage of things to keep us busy.

The major bit of excitement that I should tell you about was our houseguest.  For a few nights, I thought I heard noises in the trailer, and dismissed them.  We were in a rainforest after all, and all sorts of critters roamed out camp after dark. Our cool bag left out one night had even had a hole eaten through it as had some of the potatoes it contained.  Then one day Fiona found food containers with holes in them inside the trailer and we knew that we had a mouse in the house.

It was on for young and old that night.  Imagine if you will two adults clad in headlights and night attire (and I don’t wear much) emptying the contents or their camper trailer and chasing a mouse around inside.  To make things interesting it was raining of course (Julatten rainforest, remember) and we did not want to leave anything we took out on the ground in case it attracted interest from small beasts that as yet were not involved in the game.  Our annex began to look like the warehouse area of a Chinese supermarket.

After some gymnastics and sleuth work, we finally tracked the vermin down to a section of flat aluminium that held electrical cables out of the way just under where we put our heads every night.  Out came the trusty Leatherman and off came the screws holding the offending metal strip.  Behind this was a convenient hiding place that allowed the little fellow to access different parts of the camper without unseen.  With the cover off you would think he would show himself however the devious four legged consumer of other peoples flour hung to the previously concealed cables until I manoeuvred myself, not without difficulty so that my face was about four inches away directly under him.  Seeing that I was jammed in and unable to move he made his run, dashing from one side of the trailer to the other while Fiona threw my towel at him repeatedly and said words I had never heard before in my sheltered life.

I managed to extricate myself just as Fiona though that she saw the small fugitive dash up my boxers.  It did not, I am sure I would have known if it had; Fiona thought she had it cornered though.  She had not cornered him and he had disappeared.  You would not think that there would be a lot of places to hide in a camper trailer, but believe me when we started hunting we found that there were little nooks and crannies everywhere.  We stuffed articles of my clothing in most of them, or unscrewed and removed them.  Mr mouse (or Mrs mouse I think it was as it turned out she was building a nest) would disappear and then reappear and we would galumph around her trying to catch her by hand, towel or golf club.  A nearby caravan asked if we would be much longer and I offered a breakfast of grilled mouse as compensation for keeping them up.  They did not complain again.

We eventually had her in the back corner and we were preparing a final pounce from great height when she escaped to the outside world.  She pushed herself through a gap in the canvas of which we were previously unaware.  We hurriedly repacked the trailer, resealed this and other gaps with duct tape, blew a kiss to our friendly neighbours and climbed into bed for an uneasy sleep.

The story does not end there.  Fiona put the food that mouse had not eaten into mouse proof containers.  Everything, that is, except a dehydrated hiking meal that we carry for emergencies.  On our return from an exciting day of adventures the next evening, after just having made peace with the caravaners we had disturbed we found that a mouse (presumably the same gal) finding the rest of the food to be unreachable had declared an emergency and had gnawed her way in to my dehydrated beef and black bean sauce.  Fiona later found that the mouse had missed its home so much that it had chewed a hole into one of the gaps that was not otherwise large enough to admit it.  We took this a declaration of war.  Fiona saw the people who ran Kingfisher Lodge at Julatten and borrowed a scientific marsupial trap – very humane.  She baited it with cheese on a cracker.  Unfortunately, she neglected to stick the bait down, which pleased the rodent no end.  Dinner on the house and no need to get a mouthful of plastic first!

At least we were keeping Mrs mouse well fed so she did not need to resort to my beef and black bean again.  The next day (the day that Honey was to arrive) saw us at the hardware store buying a selection of high-tech traps designed to slice and dice their victims rather than confine them to a comfy tubular residence.  For good measure we added a bait.  Mrs Mouse looked at this and did what Saddam Hussein should have done when the US of A began pointing weapons at him.  She decided that she was facing superior firepower and she backed off never to be seen again.  Or maybe she just went for a stole in the jungle while we were packing up and got back to find us gone.

The moral to this story is that if you want to get lots of exercise and no sleep put a small rodent in confined sleeping quarters with you!

When we hit Queensland and three things happened: The temperature dropped, the dominant trees became ones we had not noticed before with big grey leaves, and the roads deteriated. We spent our first Queensland night in a bush camp (seems we do this on the first night in each state) at Hells Gate. In the morning we discovered we were camping at the rock formation for which the place was named.  The roadhouse a bit down the track was a bit less inspiring, only taking cash, of which we did not have much – certainly not enough to fill our tanks.  Welcome to Queensland, we girded our loins in the expectation of more oddities to come... we were not disappointed in this regard.
We had heard a lot about Kingfisher Camp AKA KFC, and it certainly did not disappoint.  There were the grassy, shaded, well spaced, unstructured camping sites that we all love.  There was an amazing long billabong to canoe down with a gorge at one end, birds and freshies all along it.  There was a great gorge and waterholes to explore (full of baby crocs) and many walks.  The drive from KFC back to the Savannah Way was a great track, it took us past Riversleigh fossil site.  Sadly we could not find Campbell’s Camp where we last stayed when we were here.  Along this track we did the deepest river crossing yet – and the first one that we tarped our car for. 
Lawn Hill was, as always beautiful.  This is one of the must see spots of the continent.  It is all the more special because, like Millstream, it is an oasis in a parched land.  Mind you, the land was not that parched anywhere we went as there had been a lot of unseasonal rain.  A very wet dry apparently.  We walked, swam and canoed our hearts out at Lawn Hill, and then had a magnificent meal in the restaurant at Adel’s Grove.  Adel’s has been done up a bit since our last visit, now boasting cabins, safari tents, a bar and single choice restaurant.  While we were there we went to a service taken by the flying padre.  This guy has a parish that is bigger than most European countries.  It was a great experience under the trees by the river with buff breasted robins fluttering about.
We took a detour of the Savannah Way to Mount Isa as Fiona had never been there, it sounded more interesting than Burketown and we wanted to go to Cloncurry which is the next town East on the Plenty Hwy.  The reason for going to Cloncurry was that it was the starting place of the flying doctor and there is some interesting memorabilia there.  Just before Cloncurry we stumbled on the remains of the Mary Kathleen Uranium mine and the associated townsite.  This was incredible.  A town that had just vanished, leaving nothing but the roads and overgrown couch grass.

Once Flip and Chris arrived we took a break from always heading east and spent a while in Litchfield before going to Kakadu, swimming and walking mostly. In Litchfield we went to all the places we had enjoyed last time around, and enjoyed them again, with company. In Kakadu we went to all the places we missed last time and the only bad thing was that we could not spend more time at all of the places. Kakadu like Uluru is managed by the federal Government, and these are the only two NT parks where an entry fee is required, though not policed it would seem. I am not sure what the rationalisation behind the fees is as Kakadu had plenty of wrong signs, missing information and other traps for the unwary tourist. It was also busy. However, Ubir was so much more than we expected and if the pool at the top of Gumlong Falls does not take your breath away you need to check you have a pulse.
We did try to get into Arnhem Land, but could not get a permit. We did drive in a short way but in the end our collective conscience won the day and we turned back. We plan to go back at some point though as we hear that the scenery is the best.

We returned briefly to civilisation at Katherine, where we restocked and cleaned before the push towards Queensland. While there we found that the car had been going roughly, it was not just our imagination. The cooling Fan had a broken blade, probably a water crossing victim. We sourced another fan and at last got around to replacing the spot lights lost on the Kalumburu Road.

A couple of nights in Mataranka allowed us to visit both lots of hot springs. Bitter Springs was voted the best, one gets a pool noodle and floats down the body temperature stream for a few hundred meters before walking half the distance back to do it again. If you have not done this you have not lived. We liked it so much we went down at night with a bottle of red and had the place to ourselves, bar the odd bat and cane toad.

Roper Bar had an amazing store and it was great to hoon across the bar. Butterfly springs had a swimming hole frequented by Merton's Water Monitors who saw no reason to move just because we were there. We used this as a jump of point to see the Western Lost City, rock formations that defy normality. A bit like a fantasy movie - but if you made up something this weird people would not believe you.
On the road between Butterfly Gorge and Lorella Springs Station (our next stop) Chris noticed his bull bar bouncing around. It turned out that two of the three struts on one of the attaching brackets had sheered off. We used fencing wire and rope to support the bar and Chris limped into Lorella Springs to discover he was missing a spare wheel. One rear swing away had sheared off. Felicity's comments were a challenge to the opening lines of four weddings and a funeral. Their bad luck swung around the next day when Fiona spotted the tyre in the bush some 40km back down the road. It turned out that there was a dab hand welder staying on the station and he fixed both the Bull Bar and rear wheel carrier for 1/3 the price it would have cost in Perth. Meanwhile Fiona and I headed out to explore some local tracks and swimming holes.

Our first night at Lorella was beautiful, unfortunately the next night was the start of an NT long W/E so we were a bit over run with local yobbos. This was a shame as Chris and Flip did not get to see much of the station with their car troubles and we decided to defer a drive up the Rosie Creek Track to the Gulf to a return trip and quieter times there. The Station is a great place to visit though and we do hope that the brave young owner Rhett makes a go of it.

Sadly we parted company with Chris and Flip in Borroloola as we were holding them up, they were half way through their time and had not got to the East coast yet. It was a bad day for us as we had an almost blow out and lost contact with the Rogers, then had a blue with some foreigners at the service station and found that as it was a public holiday all the town was closed so overflowing bladders could not be emptied and Mark could not mail his overdue articles.

Flip and Chris high tailed it to Cairns and we made our way north to King Ash Bay. This is best described as a retirement home for active healthy people. A great place to relax and catch your breath. A very friendly little shanty town cross club cross camp park. The bird life here was awesome. The open air bar and restaurant friendly. We camped 5m above the river and watched Jabirus herding fish in the morning. No-one seemed to be catching much fish or mud crab, but everyone seemed to be having a good time none the less. We did not even throw in a line.

On our way towards Queensland we had to cross the dreaded Culvert River. We had been told lots of bad stories about this crossing by many people and were a bit hesitant. It turned out to be a bit of a non-event, probably having dropped somewhat since those who told us that it was a doozie had past this way. The most memorable thing at the crossing was helping a couple get their bikes across. As it was quite rocky they needed to remove their paniers. Mark helped them acrry these across and then helped support the bikes as they were pushed across. This couple had been on the road for more than three years, having done 170,000km in North and South America and NZ before coming to Aus!

We were headed to Darwin to Meet up with friends Flip & Chris who are also travelling Aus, but only for eight weeks, so their time line is tighter than ours.

Our first stop back in NT was Gregory National Park. We had decided to forgo Wolf Creek Crater as the top of the Tanami was closed due to more unseasonal flooding (the second of three lots we experienced in the area).  Gregory is well known of its four wheel driving tracks.  We rang the park and were told that although the tracks were closed because of the rain they were expected to be open the following day.  A debacle with lack of camp sites, badly laid out areas and poor park planning saw us spend the night in the bush near the Bolita homestead and getting told off by a young ranger.  Apparently we had spent the night next to a historical national monument - akin to camping on the grounds of parliament house.  I later found out that this “monument” was build around the time I was born; I was not sure whether I should be honoured or feel a tad ancient.

Gregory did provide some great four wheel drive tracks once they were opened.  The camping was designed for midget tents though.  We left the park via a track that was not on any map, though it was plainly there and mentioned in some literature.  Straight after Gregory we drove through Jasper Gorge (thanks for the heads up on this one Roger, it was a stunning drive) and then made our way to Flora River where we had magic camp sites with few other people.  The Tufa(sp) falls at Flora are amazing, it is only a shame that you can’t swim there.  On our way in we saw a croc taking in the sun on the causeway of a river crossing and understood why this was the case.

After Flora River we visited a couple of great Gorges and waterfalls. We also spent a few days at Douglas Hot Springs. Unfortunately the Douglas Daily area did not live up to our fond memories of 10 years ago, probably mostly because where we had enjoyed swimming through limestone tunnels with the boys there were now Croc traps and warning signs, making swimming less of a carefree affair. We did have a splendid time at the hot springs though, no Handbags there.

Around Darwin, in places like Fogg Dam the big handbags were out in force. Bird life was fantastic though, and we were also lucky enough to see a water python and lots of turtles. The markets and general ambience of Darwin is fantastic. It is a really vibrant city that seems to be full of young and energetic people. We loved it.

We ate out every night in Darwin: at the various markets; with 4WDriving friends Dennis and Von who were up there staying with their Son and with Flip and Chris when they arrived. Darwin is a bit 3rd world, a laid-back, young and happening place. If those things don't seem to go together you should go visit for yourself to see what I mean. In some ways, it is unchanged from when I was first there years ago, in others it is growing in leaps and bounds.

On Wednesday 9th we headed for the Gibb for the 2nd time. We went via Derby, initially planning to overnight there, but on further inspection decided there was not much to recommend it so turned around and hit the Gibb River Road. As we started late we had to find an overnight camp spot close to the start and decided on May River Crossing - a free bush camp spot. Who should we find there but Ferdinand / Bravna & Andre/Ali and A&A's dog Boss. We had a great social camp there with the cocs watching on from the water.

After May Crossing we went to the more conventional N/P camp at Winjana Gorge. Winjana is a beautiful spot. From here we did a day trip to Fitzroy Crossing, Geike Gorge and Tunnel Creek. A long day, but a good one. Tunnel creek was packed - last time we were here we had it to ourselves. Geike was new to us and very interesting - we went on the info cruise. The roads so far had all been good. We did meet a chap from Vic who was pulling a pop top camper with a Subaru who begged to differ. He thought that they were horrible. and regretted driving as far as Winjana. I am not sure what he had been expecting as the roads were as smooth as an unsealed road could get. Much of the Gibb is sealed to here as well.

Next overnight stop was Silent Grove. We had hoped to get into Bells Gorge creek-side bush camps, but found these had all been closed down. Anyway a great time was had there, and we hit our first rough bit of road, the last 10 KM into Bells Gorge. Swimming in Bell Gorge was just what you needed after a long and dusty day. We had visited Lenard Gorge on the way and discovered that the trail markers petered out on the way back. We followed some danger tape tied to trees. While it led us to interesting places it was not where we were meant to be and it ended up being a long hot walk.
We left Silent Grove quite early and headed to Mornington Station, which is now Old Mornington Widerness Camp. As Mornington is 88 KM off the Gibb and they don't take bookings they have a radio permanently mounted just off the turnoff where you can call to see if they have places (they only take 50 campers). Unfortunately the radio was broken when we arrived. We drove down hoping that there would b e a camp spot for us and there was. We spent three nights at Mornington, which is run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. We spent our time bush walking, canoeing and Bird watching. Fires are not allowed at Mornington, so while there we had a magnificent roast cooked on heat beads. We saw crimson finches and purple crowned fairy wrens while there, as well as a lot of other birds, but unfortunately no Gouldian Finches. There was a great bar and restaurant at Mornington, and the staff were very friendly. We even tried eating boab seedling...  On our travels we passed Galvins Gorge. This was the best swim we had on the Gibb. Ten years ago when we had stopped here a water monitor had been sitting on a rock by the falls. When we stopped by this time, he was still there.

Next stop was Barnett River Gorge, a bush camp. Barnett river gorge is one of the secrets oif the Gibb, and a fantastic spot it is. A beautiful gorge lined with rock on one side and tree fulls of bats on the other, and a handy shelf to get in (and out) for a swim. It was an interesting place to camp, a bit more crowded than we expected, and there were tracks everywhere with no signs or anything. We eventually found the gorge and waypointed it for next time.
From there we headed up the Kalumbaru road as far as King Edward River and found the drive remenisent of the Gibb last time we were here. Corrugations Galore. We finally lost a spotlight that had been hanging on by the skin of it's teeth for some time. We also lost a tent pole out of the camper. King Edward river crossing was not very high. The camp site at King Edward river has grown from an informal bush camp to a DEC managed camp complete with host and toilets. The host was very friendly and the toilets remarkably clean.

From this base we made a day trip to Mitchell Falls. The 80Km takes 2 hours, followed by a 2 hour walk to the falls. And off course a swim when you get there.  The falls had lots of water going over them. We once again enjoyed a "shower" at little Merton Falls on the way back. The day was only marred by some fools in matching landrovers who undertook us at a water crossing so that they could do the Mitchell Falls Road five minutes quicker than us.
Near King Edward River there is some magnificent rock art.   Probably the best in the Kimberly that is publicly accessible.  There is also meant to be a burial chamber, but we could not find that. Next on our itinerary was Kalumbaru, on north up the road. We were undecided about this part of the trip. It would make us late for meeting friends from the Land Cruiser club, but having come this far it seemed silly not to go and see this remote settlement. In the end we decided to go for one night, and probably come back to King Edward River camp on the next night. We ended up staying three nights we enjoyed it so much.

Kalumbaru was a real highlight.  It has everything you look for in a tourist destination: history, amazing fishing, great four-wheel driving, swimming holes, picturesque waterfalls, great camping options, interesting people and a quaint community.  The whole place is charmingly 3rd world very refreshing actually.  City life can be a bit sterile and controlled – this place gave us a window into parts of Australia most people never see.  We went on a fishing charter and caught about 12 fish each – keeping a couple.  One of the ones we kept was a 25 kg dhuey that Fiona took about 20 minutes to bring up.  She must be fully recovered.  We ended up with an Engel full of fish.
  
We went exploring and found a water hole that had been visited previously maybe twice previously this year.  On the road in, we had met a chap coming out who was fixing a puncture.  He had been doing some work at the community township.  He told us that one of the elders had been shown him the waterfall.  When they could not find the track, the high profile aborigine threw a match out of the car window.  The grass all burned, and hey presto the track was visible.  For us it was easier, we looked for the burned section just north of the 3rd creek crossing... you know the kind of thing.  The track was quite a challenge to follow, and the recent wet weather meant a few sections were quite boggy.  Probably not the ideal place to be on your own, still we had told a bloke back at camp where we were planning on going.

We did not manage to get out to Truscot air base to find the geocache there; the only access is by air or sea, followed by an 18km walk.  The actual community reminded us of a Malay kampong.  It was expensive to stay there, but apart from the $50.00 permit fee, which I am not sure what they use for, they justify the cost by the fact that everything comes in by barge or light plane.

The road from King Eward River to Kalumbaru is just as slow as the Mitchell Falls road, but not because of corrugations, more because of washouts, ruts & rocks.  All in all a much more pleasant drive.  On the way back down the road we met Andre and Ali again, beside their trailer that had a broken retainer strap on one of the swing arm suspension assemblies.  We stopped to offer what help we could, which was not much.  They ended up putting a chain, then a cable on the arm.  We heard later that it took them 6.5 hours to do the 90 odd kms to Drysdale station where they had some more substantial temporary fix work done.

Our casualties on this road were our spotlights, which had been suffering since we left and a tent pole.  The spot lights had been tilting down on to the bull bar every time we went on a track, and screws had come out of them the one on the right finally cracked and I took the other off.  The tent pole compartment came open and the poles started to slide out, in fact one made a complete escape without us noticing.

We were trying to get to NT as quickly as possible at this stage.  We wanted to meet up with Roger Madison and his 4WD club trip that had come up the centre and spent most of their time in the top end.  We were hoping to meet them in Gregory National Park.  We had one more night on the Gibb (deciding we would come back later and ”finish it off”).  We spent this night bush camping at Campbell Creek.  This turned out to be a great spot, over run by Rosellas (the flower, not the bird).  If we knew how to make jam we would have had a field day.

We left the Gibb, spent a mad 2 hours in Kununurra, stocking up, fuelling up and ringing rellies and shot into the territory.  We decided that Gregory was not going to work for us; by the time we got there we would have to turn around and come back.  We waited in Keep National Park a couple of days for Roger’s crew to get to us.  We had good fun and relaxed in Keep, which is a bit like the bungles without the hype and with more vegetation.
It was good to catch up with friends from the TLCC, and to hear of their adventures.  We swapped yarns and we also found out that we had a new prime minister, as of a week prior.  You step away from the world a while and look what happens!  After Keep we headed back to Kununurra with some of the 4WD folk.  We stayed a bit longer this time  - 3 days. There’s a heap to see around Kununurra, apart from the irrigation / agriculture related things and the magnificent scenery (do not miss Mirama NP if you ever come this way, it may be small but it packs a lot into its little area.

We made our way back to the Gibb via Windham.  We made our way to Wyndham via a bunch of water holes and waterfalls, parry creek road and Mambi Island where we bumped into Ferdinand and Bravna unexpectedly and ended up staying the night.  The next day Ferdinand took us fishing in his dingy, among the Crocs.  We did not catch anything, but had a magic time going up and down the mighty Ord.

After Mambi we took a run down the old Halls Creek Road.  This was paved on the edges about a century ago and you can still see the paving in places.  The paving was to stop flood damage.  It looks like it worked.  We spent a night at Parry Creek Farm, one of the best commercial caravan parks we have been to, before looking at Wyndham.  We had a Barra Burger at the place by the warf – very tasty!

It is getting a tad late now so I will leave the last week until next time.  Stay tuned, it will be interesting.  Travelling to length of the Karungie Track to find it was closed.  Breaking a shockie, cutting a break line.  Idiot mechanic putting in the wrong bolts and more Richard Craniums giving us bad advice on how to fix damaged suspension mounts.  We are off to Darwin Via Wolfe Creek Crater (if the rain lets up) and Gregory NP so the next update should be from there, and maybe I will tidy this one up a bit

On the way from 80 Mile Beach to Broome we helped out a couple who had cut it a bit fine with petrol. We had them follow us up the road to the next fuel stop that was on our map (there was none on theirs). Unfortunately the first stop was closed Sundays. We also stopped by a couple more camp grounds to check them out. Port Smith Lagoon was lovely, and we swam next to the mangroves there. It sounds weird I know but the mangroves were growing out of white samd, and the water was crystal clear. Barn hill was not so inviting. 14 Km off the highway through four gates, (with abrupt signage) and some unfriendly large speed humps we were greated with a sign saying that there was a $10.00 charge for day visitors. We decided that as we were only planning a 1/2 hour stop we would just turn around and drive back to the highway where the sign should have been.
Broome is amazing, such a great culture and architecture. Like WA's own little Bali, just a bit more expensive. Unfortunately I think that Broome is best experienced on a holiday town basis, and whenever we have visited recently we have been on a self sufficient trip, using it as a jump of point for more remote areas. One day hopefully we will get here and stay in a hotel for a week or so. There are five commercial caravan parks in Broome and we know for sure that at least two of them don't cater for our kind of traveller. They are possibly fine if you are staying for a few weeks or more, retired or a family spending most of your time in town, on the beach or lounging around camp. We decided to stay at the Broome Bird Observatory (BBO) which is a small camp run by Birds Australia. Birds Australia is the oldest conservation society in Australia and the observatory was built primarily to study the migratory shore birds that come each year from around Siberia.  It was a great place to stay. No generators, our own a shower and toilet which was big enough to swing a cat.  Fantastic bush surrounds and knowledgeable naturalist experts everywhere.
We explored China Town, checked out Cable Beach, enjoyed a proper coffee, picked up our mail, had a fantastic beer or two at Matsos and stocked up supplies a bit and checked out the status of the Gibb River road. The Gibb had been closed recently due to unseasonal rain. We found that it had reopened, and the day before we rang the camp site had all been opened too. Great news.
Next stop was to be Kooljarman. We stopped by Beagle Bay on the way where we were delighted to see that the church had been restored after it was damaged by a cyclone in 2001, the year after we were here last. We also enjoyed a pie and danish from the Beagle Bay Bakery. They won't be a threat to Miami backhouse any time soon, but it was fantastic to see that they had a bakery that was open to the public. Beagle Bay was pleasantly tidy and it looked like the residents were taking some pride in their little community.
The road to Cape Leveque was a shock. Last time we were here it was scary, graded deep, with steep banks and serious corrugations. Now it is mostly sealed, and most of the remainder is quite drivable too. Amazing what a little gas exploration will do. We arrived at the camp site at 2pm. It was just as we remembered it. By 2:30 we were down on the West Beach, Fiona fishing and me snapping away. By 3pm Fiona had our dinner caught, very tasty it was too.

 

Kooljarman was as pleasant this time around as it was last time we were here. Scenery, Swimming, Fishing, Beaches, Sunsets - all good. From here we drove to Middle Lagoon for 2 nights via One Arm Point. At Middle Lagoon we had a camp site on a small ridge overlooking a magnificent beach. We swam and fished and explored to our hearts content. Fiona caught a Queenie that was more than enough for dinner once filleted, and a beautiful fish it was too. If we keep going like this our food costs will be right down. We met and got to know a heap of other people at Middle Lagoon. Most people seem to be headed for the Gibb River Road, so we are expecting it to be crowded. It would be good if we managed to catch up with a few of these fellow travellers further down the track too as we all got on well.
We left Middle lagoon we took a little used track to Beagle Bay, it was a very picturesque drive, though a little boggy at the southern end. We (or more precisely Mark) had been looking forward to driving the Back Track from Beagle Bay to the Great Northern Highway just short of Derby. On the HEMA map there are warnings that this track is not maintained, and is difficult to follow so it may void your insurance policy if you drive down it. At Kooljaman we were told that a bulldozer had been bogged there last year, and that it was a very hard track. At middle Lagoon the manager thought it had been used since the wet, but he was not sure. This all sounded a bit dire, not very promising, but then we found an old aboriginal bloke in a brand new Dockers hat. He was standing outside the General Store at Beagle Bay. At last, someone who could be trusted, especially when he said "yea, ya should be right mate. It only rained a bit and that was last month anyway."
So off we went, and it turned out to be a magic little drive. So much better than the corrugated main road. A few washouts and steep creek crossings, but it was mostly dry and a pleasure to be on. It took us a few hours to do, took us closer to the Gibb River Road and showed us some amazing scenery including magnetic termite mounds. When we reached the highway we sighed (Mark in contentment, Fiona in relief) and took the opportunity to have a cup of coffee and cake. Problem was when decided to leave, the car would not start. Batteries looked charged, jump-starting from the deep cycle would not work and Mark discovered that one person cannot push start a Land Cruiser, even if that person puts shoes on.
After a while a couple of stockmen came along in a ute (there was a station building at the end of the back track). They pull started us and we decided that as it was Friday we should head back to Broome as that would be a better place to be stuck than Derby. Good Call. It turned out to be a long week end. We managed to get a spot at Roebuck Bay CP and had to hang around Broome for four days - it was a hard life. The problem turned out to be the alternator.
But the bad luck did not end there, when transferring photos from his camera to the laptop Mark did not realise that the disk was full, and lost all the Photos from Middle Lagoon and the Back Track!
While in Broome the first time we had bumped into some Geocaching Legends. Liz and Bruce have been on the road for six years, and have not made it once around Aus yet. We got on very well with them, and through them met a few other travellers. Andre and Ali & Ferdinand and Barvna. All of us were planning on heading down the Gibb and to the points of interest off it at about the same time.

Tom Price was a quick stop to refuel and restock, but we did take the opportunity to drive up Mt Nameless, the highest drivable peak in WA (There is a geocache on the top). After that we were off to Karijini for 3 days - we camped at Dales Gorge, a nice if large DEC camp area. The last time we were here was 25 years ago, the gorges are the same, but there are lots more people and more facilities / development.  Karijini is stunning, as well as the usual gorge lookouts and climbs / walks we went to Mount Bruce and walked some of the way up.
We left Karijini heading east, and doing an almost full circuit of the park taking in Wittenoom.  The government has closed down the town.  No water, power or phone services supplied, so it was interesting to see that there were at least five residents still there.  We drove around looking for the pub and camp ground we remembered from 25 years ago, but had no luck.  We also revisited Hamersley and Rio Tinto Gorges.
Millstream was next on our itinerary.  We stayed at Crossing Pool, a beautiful spot.  Our trailer was right on the edge of the permanent pool.  The corellas were plentiful and noisy, but departed faithfully at 6pm so we had a daily happy hour to farewell them.  Fiona caught a couple of silver cobbler ( AKA catfish) from just next to our trailer and we ate one and put the other away for a latter date.  Delicious.
A quick visit to the Northern Chichester Ranges was very rewarding.  A 10KM track that took 40 minutes took us to Georges Ravine where the scenery was just stunning!  Someone had let the plug out at Python Pool, so it was a little disappointing.  We could have easily stayed a week at Millstream, but we needed to replenish stocks as apart from a quick shop and refill of the water tanks in Tom Price we were still on initial stocks.
From Millstream it is less than two hours to Karratha (Or Damper really) where we had been booked into a great little caravan park by Terry & Geraldine.  We were taken on a tour of all the local sights by T & G, including petroglyphs, Cossack, Point Sampson, Woodside and Rio operations.  The whole area around here has grown hugely since we were last here.
After three nights in Dampier being looked after extremely well by Terry & Geraldine (Terry even washed the camper!!) we pointed ourselves North again. We were planning on spending a night or two at cape Keraudren, a shire camp site at the bottom of Eighty Mile Beach. We left late and were quite slow, checking out Port Hedland on the way so arrived after dark. Morning showed us a delightful spot, with amazing views and friendly "locals" who lived op there in caravans for up to six months! We had a choice of re setting up the camper to cope with the wind we had not noticed or moving on to Wallal for the next two nights. We decided to move on after exploring Cape K thoroughly.

We Left Perth a few days earlier than expected - because we could. We found a great little spot for the first night. Jibberding rest area, 300 ish kilometres from Perth. We had originally hoped to stay at Mount Gibson Station a bit further up the Great Northern Hwy. The Australian Wildlife Conserancy, a public company that buys properties around Australia and endeavours to rid them of introduced animals, owns Mount Gibson. We had stayed at the camp area on the station previously and found it a fascinating place. Unfortunately the caretakers had left, and so the station was closed to camping.
We woke to an overcast morning, and rain threatened so we ate a hurried breakfast and packed quickly. The highway was teaming with roadtrains and other traffic so it was a relief when we turned off onto secondary unsealed roads. Took in Dandarangan meteorite crater and Jokers tunnel during the Drive to Walga Rock, our 2nd nights camp spot. Rock art at Walga was worth a gander. 
Third Night was at Mt Augustus, the "resort" is back in action, though the pub is not operational & lots of work is needed. We went on lots of walks and Mark climbed to the top. On the drive in we got our first puncture, which we noticed while watching some Emus in the bush and repaired before it completely deflated.
We took the back road from the Mt Augustus Station to Tom Price (Through Doodly Downs). This was the roughest bit of to date, but amazing and ever changing scenery. Land was very dry and flat until we got closer to Tom Price when the station country started to look a bit more viable. There has not been much rain out here, and it has been late.

We are travelling for about six months without too many rigid plans. Mainly just taking the road less travelled. Below is a quick overview of the trip to date and current future plans. The tabs below have more detail on each section of the trip. some of these rambelings are better written and more complete than others. Depends on when I got time to do them and if I ever got around to tidying them up. The tabs above let you see photos, download google earth tracks of the trip understand why we are gorged out etc. The maps page is actually lists of things, I don't have the technoligy to rename this tab on the road...
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