Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199906 Australia-NT

Tuesday 1 June 1999    First day of winter with mid 20C temperatures forecast.  The Ochre Pits are about 25km further west.  The local Aboriginal people (Arrernte) quarried this ravine for the natural ochre used for traditional ceremonial body decoration and other paintings.  Magnificent colours of yellow, orange, brown, pink, purple, red, silver and all shades in between.  Heading further along Namatjira Drive we spot a roadside shrine with a motorcycle helmet and pieces of motorbike making the mound – very sobering.  The West Macdonnell ranges are most unusual with many different forms.  Some areas look like green hills with a red wall built along the top whilst others are like ripples with horizontal fractures.  From Glen Helen the bitumen turns to dirt track which deteriorates to rubble.  Red Bank Gorge 30km further on is well worth the effort.  A 30 minute walk along the ghost gum lined creek bed brings us into the narrow, cathedral-like gorge where icy waters permanently block the deep narrow cleft in the range.  We have taken an air bed to enable us to paddle through the gorge but it is too cold.  For about an hour we have the place to ourselves and lie on the sandy creek bed soaking up the sun and admiring the red rock walls.  At the Woodland campsite $2.50 (£1) a head we are the only occupants on a pitch with gas BBQ including two rings, picnic table, two wooden platforms and a sandy beach area.  I’m much better but still need a rest.  Enjoy steak al fresco for tea.
Wednesday 2 June  Yet another beautiful sunny day.  The wooden platforms make perfect sunbathing terraces for a days R & R.
Thursday 3 June  Bacon butties on the BBQ set us up for the days walks.  Glen Helen Gorge is where the mighty Finke River squeezes between sandstone walls at the start of its journey south to the Simpson Desert.  Too much water for us to climb into the gorge and far too cold for swimming through.  Ormiston Gorge and Pound is more commercial and the campground is packed out with very little space between vehicles.  Set off on the 1/2 hour Ghost Gum Lookout walk where we have great views over the waterhole and down the gorge.  Spot a very friendly rock wallaby which kindly poses for photos.  Get a bit lost and end up doing the 3 hour Pound walk which gives us chance to admire the steep red gorge walls.  In the bottom of the gorge the rocks are pink and grey as the water has washed them clean whereas the side walls are orange from rust.  Return rather weary as the walk involves quite a lot of climbing however the campsite showers perk us up. Simpsons Gap is only 16km from Alice and a possible place to bring Sandra.  Steep-sided ridges, huge ghost gums, sandy creek bed, water hole and rock wallabies make this a must for her.  Late afternoon and the black footed rock wallabies come down from the rocks and we spot a very tiny baby no bigger than a squirrel.  Back to Alice after our fabulous 150km trip along the West Macdonnell Ranges. 7 gorges and all worthwhile in their own right.  Nothing like our pre conceived idea of Alice being flat desert country.
Friday 4 June  Business/domestic morning round town.  Rosemary picks us up at 2.00pm for a drive south and along 4WD track to Rainbow Valley where late afternoon sun highlights the multi coloured sandstone.  One particularly weathered area looks like the American monument rock as we reckon we can see faces in it – no we’ve not been on the pop – yet.  Just South of Alice we turn off to a little known conservation park and see the best Aboriginal paintings yet. I cook a meal for us all in the evening and the corner shop helps out by storing a tub of ice cream in their freezer until Steve pops up when we need it.  He tries to buy some red wine there but the white owner says his "regular clientele" wouldn’t appreciate it!  Yes there are loads of Aboriginals around here and although we came with open minds we have only seen signs of drunk and dirty ones hanging around everywhere.  All through the night we hear them shouting.
Saturday 5 June  A few clouds have appeared but it is still shorts and T shirts weather.   At the Date Farm we sample different varieties and date ice cream.  In Alice Springs shopping centre the local Air Force are leaving town and the band is set up doing a concert in the street.  The music is excellent with a particularly good girl singer doing a lot of R & B songs.  Back at Diane’s we get our first chance to transfer some tapes from the camcorder.  A bit disappointing that most of the film shot in Western Australia gives the impression that it is always windy and cloudy there and the sound is poor as the wind has blasted over it.  We could have done with a lot of time to edit the tapes and adjust the sound but as the machine for doing this is back in England it is one of those jobs that is unlikely to get done.  Lesson learnt for the future.  Early evening back into town with Peter and Rosemary. A country musician called "Pixie" Jenkins is doing a free concert tonight at the Stuart Arms Pub where we eat with all meals at $10 (£4) and under.  Pixie (five feet nothing) is a brilliant violinist, singer, story and joke teller and performs alone for nearly 3 hours.  He plays at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and has worked with John Williamson of the "Happy Campers" song.
Sunday 6 June  Wake to a short burst of rain. At Diane’s we watch "Species 2" before I cook dinner for us all in the van.  Afternoon video "Dead Heart" with Bryan Brown which was filmed around Alice Springs.  A sobering film about white fellow v black fellow problems. Rain starts just after we arrive at Rosemary and Peter’s for a roast dinner in the evening.
Monday 7 June  Heavy rain through the night which the locals are more than grateful for as the main Todd River through town has dried up.  Delay our plans to head East and watch an Aussie video called "The Castle" – recommended.  Into town but the expected letter from Claire has not arrived.  Steve asks how long mail from England will take as we have previously received mail in about 6 days. She laughs and says it takes that long for mail within Australia to get to Alice!  Loads of E-mail messages which are always good to receive.  Ten pin bowling is fully computerised here at $4 (£1.60) per game and I get my best score ever with 198.  Rain stops late afternoon.
Tuesday 8 June  Back to sunny clear blue skies perfect for exploring the East Macdonnell ranges.  Emily Gap has Aboriginal dreaming paintings of caterpillars.  Corroboree Rock is a sacred site and you climb the rock to a platform forming a natural amphitheatre.  We meet Craig, Sam and Darcy coming along the road towards us and they have been stuck at Alrtunga for two days as the road was flooded.  Select a good pitch at Trephina Gorge Nature Park $2.50 (£1) p.p.p.n. where the ranger is giving a campfire talk tonight.  Taps supply bore water and there are plenty of gas BBQ’s, open fire BBQ’s and tables set up in communal kitchen areas.  A 45 minute walk takes us along the sandy creek bed between towering quartzite ridges then back along the top. Paul the ranger arrives late for the campfire talk.  He has been out all day doing selective burns in the bush and feels embarrassed when he struggles to get a campfire going.  He talks about the conservation in the national parks and has an open question session.  He warns us that after rain you must be careful where the creeks cross the road.  The water may not be deep but sand and debris could be hidden so you should walk through first to check!  The billy can comes to the boil and having brought our mugs along we are served billy tea.  During the talk he mentions many areas which we would have liked to visit but which are now only accessible to 4WD vehicles.  After we return to the van Grantley (45) and Dawn (44) come over to ask if we would like to join them tomorrow in their 4WD.  They have recently retired to travel full time with a big caravan.  Daughter Karlie is 23 and son Troy 21 and both sound very similar characters to Claire and David.  We are the first people they have met in their age group so lots of chatting follows.
Wednesday 9 June   Off at 9.00am with the first stop John Hayes rockhole.  The track is very bumpy and only suitable for high clearance vehicles.  The 90 minute Chain of Ponds walk is great.  We have loads to chat about as we walk along the ridge before descending into the gorge.  Following the recent rain there is quite a lot of water flowing through forming small waterfalls.  We have fun making our way along hopping over the rocks until we come to a point where the sides are sheer and a huge pond blocks our way.  We become climbers and slowly but surely climb the jagged rocks up the side.  Further East the track to N’Dhala Gorge is much worse and the road looks like a river in parts.  The water is just in the "road" area and not flowing across so thankfully no one has to walk it.  Grantley drives through and then tells us it is the first time he has done anything like that.  Following a picnic in the sun we set out on the trail to see some of the 6,000 Aboriginal petroglyphs.  What the book doesn’t say is that when you see the carvings each small part of the picture is counted individually.  We all feel pretty disappointed with the number we see and also the quality of them but the company more than makes up for it.  Driving back along the main road we have to stop to let some camels cross.  They dribble and drool as they amble along and we spot a total of 7 in the area.  I cook us all a meal in the evening and we amaze ourselves with the many similarities in our lives.
Thursday 10 June   We all drive out along the 35km dirt track to Arltunga.  I look like Michael Jackson as I have made a dust mask to cover my face.  The visitor centre is excellent with photos and a slide show explaining the history of this turn of the century gold mining town. Rubies were also found near here but when shipped overseas turned out to be garnets and the miners were out of pocket resulting in a suicide.  The ranger does an interesting talk and crushes some quartz in the government battery to enable us to pan it for gold.  It’s lucky we came here with Grantley and Dawn as the historical buildings are spread over a large area and the tracks are flooded.  Police station, goal, stone ruins, scattered workings, cemeteries and old machinery can be seen.  We climb down into an old mine and through a very low tunnel and up another shaft.   Ruby Gap is cut off by the river and would entail a 5km walk to get to it so we all change our plans and drive back to Trephina.  Dave does the ranger talk and has lots of information about the stars and how to treat snake bites.
Friday 11 June  The 4 of us make the panoramic walk before lunch.  Make tentative plans to meet Grantley and Dawn next week. Back in Alice mail has finally arrived from Claire.  We join Rosemary and Peter in the evening for the Starlight theatre show.  Andrew Langford plays appropriate music on the didgeridoo to accompany slides of the region before talking about the aboriginal culture.  Follow this up with Cappuccino and Pizza at the local Italian restaurant.
Saturday 12 June  Back to dull drizzly weather.  Get up at 10.00am and leave Steve in the pit until after 12.00.  Grantley and Dawn call round unexpectedly mid afternoon and we arrange to meet for a meal in the evening.  The Overlanders steakhouse features the famous "Drovers Blow-out".  When we sit down they ask where we are from and put the appropriate flags on the table.  It’s a country and western theme pub and sit by the log fire listening to live country music whilst ploughing our way through the food.  Mushroom soup with damper bread, tasting platter of camel scotch fillet, crocodile vol au vent, kangaroo fillet, emu medallion. Main course of barramundi fish or scotch fillet followed by apple pie or pavlova, tea or coffee.  A good deal at $37.50 (£15) a head but what is even better is you can have more of anything you want.  Steve and Grantley ask for more barramundi and are surprised to be served with the complete meal again.  I have more camel but kangaroo gets the vote overall.
Sunday 13 June  Out at 6.00am to catch the old Ghan train $30 (£12) 4 hour breakfast trip.  The 23rd Finke desert race is run today on a dirt track alongside the railway.  Stop at the start point to watch the buggies set out to travel over 200km to Finke.  Bush breakfast (like an English cooked breakfast) on the train whilst we travel alongside the race track.  Loads of people are camped in the bush to watch the races.  Ewaninga station is where the track runs out and we hop off to look around and see more of the cars coming through.  The first car has already arrived in a record time of 1hr 19min meaning speeds of over 200 k.p.h. were achieved.   Normal vehicles start after the buggies and when we get back to the start/finish section the motorbikes are just lining up.  Everyone stays down at Finke partying overnight before doing the return trip tomorrow the Queen’s Birthday bank holiday.  Call in at Archie and Sue’s ostrich farm on the way back.  "Toy boy" is their prize specimen and huge.  He does a kantow to warn us not to come close.  They did well a few years back but have now diversified and own a canteen with a van delivery service.  Drop Steve at the casino to watch a Black Jack competition whilst I go back to sunbathe.  Watch "Mad Max" in the evening and recognise at lot of the terrain.
Monday 14 June   Steve stays in bed whilst I drive into town to the laundrette and to do some shopping.  The main supermarket here is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week except Christmas Day.  Rosie takes us out in the afternoon to a little known waterhole and gorge just north of the town.  Surprisingly there is actually some water in it following last weeks rain.  Call at Archie and Sue’s "Honk and Holler" drive through.  They are baking pies, bread and cakes ready for tomorrow but it all looks like very hard work and reminds us of when we collected our pies from Stanley’s each morning.  We take one of their pizzas to eat at Rosemary’s then stay at the Alice Springs Resort for a coffee when we drop Peter off for work.  It’s one of the top hotels in Alice and very nice too.  We sit by the log fire (yes it’s cold tonight) looking out over the floodlit pool with fountain.
Tuesday 15 June    Back into town to clear up the last few bits of business before hitting the road again.  We planned to travel the Mereenie loop round to Kings Canyon but following the rains it is 4WD only.  Head South on the Stuart Highway and then decide to cut across on the Ernest Giles road which only says 4WD recommended.  A short detour takes us to the Henbury meteorite crates where we see the huge craters.  The road is not good but we speak to a vehicle coming towards us and they assure us the road gets worse but we will get through.  In parts it resembles a red sandy riverbed with deep corrugations and we struggle to average 40km hour.  Late afternoon I spot a track going off between two hills which turns out to be the gravel pit.  Park in the nice flat horseshoe shaped area surround by banks of gravel which we guess is for road surfacing.  They use machines here called graders which cut the surface of the road level and then sprinkle gravel on before compacting it.  Shame it hasn’t been used here recently.
Wednesday 16 June  Sleep well through a warm and totally silent night under the beautiful clear sky.  Apparently the stars are bright in the outback because there is no human or light pollution.  We can now recognise the Milky Way, Venus, Mars, Scorpion and the Southern Cross.  On the track before 8.00am and with relief join the bitumen road an hour later.  Slam the anchors on and back track as we can’t believe our eyes when we see a dead animal on it’s side but with it’s limbs all stuck up in the air.  Close inspection reveals a horse but we cannot understand it’s position.  Check into the camp site at the rather posh Kings Canyon Resort $26 (£10.50).  Swimming pool and gravel pitches with lawns with tables alongside.  We have a direct view of the canyon from the front row.  Grantley and Dawn have just arrived and we chat to them.  Discover that the Mereenie Loop road is the best ever as it had been graded just before the rain and the wet has dampened the dust.  The coaches have been travelling at over 100km on it!  We also find out that the horse was such a funny shape as when it was killed the skin didn’t break and now the stomach contents are fermenting and the gas distending it’s body prior to exploding!!  It’s a hot sunny day perfect for sunbathing on the lawn.  Get together for a steak BBQ in the evening.
Thursday 17 June  Pile into Dew Drop Inn and head out to King’s Canyon.  The 4 hour rim walk is fantastic.  Grantley and Dawn like the same things we do and walk at a similar pace so we stay together.  We see weathered sandstone domes in the "Lost City", the lush "Garden of Eden" with a rock pool and wonderful sheer multi coloured rock faces.  Although much smaller it compares well with the Grand Canyon and is the best thing we have seen so far on this trip.  Return early afternoon for a sunbathing session.  Happy Hour between 5.30pm and 6.30pm with Guinness at $5 (£2) a pint and a large glass of wine at $2 (80P).  Chat to a Canadian/Australian couple and end up having another drink before heading to Dawn’s for the Tuna Mornay she has prepared.
Friday 18 June  Return to the Canyon for the 1 hour creek walk and then further East for Kathleen Springs trail.  Retracing our steps we pass the dead horse which hasn’t exploded but smells foul.  Pull over early afternoon at a roadside rest area.  Dawn wants to try cooking a lamb roast in their bedourie camp oven so we start a fire.  Once the wood has turned to coals (embers) you put the pot in a hole with the coals above and below. Our camp oven sits in the fire and we roast potatoes and pumpkin to go with the broccoli. We are joined by Gaylene and Lee and sit round the fire till late just chatting.
Saturday 19 June   Joining the Lasseter Highway towards the rock we pass dead cattle and also 3 dead camels.  Many people mistake Mount Conner in the distance as the rock but it still merits a photo stop.  Curtin Springs roadhouse offers free camping with showers for $1 (40p).  It’s a very friendly place with lots of funny notices in the bar and unusual birds outside in aviaries. 
Phone Sandra to check everything is OK and her son winds me up by saying she left yesterday!  Not sure who is most excited her or me.  She has not done any route planning and is leaving it to me to put one together but would like some sunbathing time.  No problem as we can strap her on the roof whilst we are driving.  Camp fire time again and I cook us all chilli pasta in the open bedourie on the coals.  Sunset on Mount Conner is pretty impressive but I reckon we have better to come.
Sunday 20 June  Early start for our drive to Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort).  At first sight Uluru (Ayers Rock) looks enormous and exceeds our expectations.   The whole area has now been handed back to the Aboriginals on a lease and they charge $15 (£6) for a 5 day visitors pass.  Check into the campsite before heading out to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) 42km beyond the rock.  Equally impressive these dome rocks provide an 8km walk through the Valley of the Winds.  Unlike Uluru which is a solid rock these masses are made up of conglomerate rocks which look like lots of boulders cemented together.  Complete the 4 hour walk in 2 hours before tackling the 1 hour gorge walk.   This gives us a better idea of how high the rocks are and at the end of the gorge the water collects in an area of lush green vegetation.  Reckon we must be pretty fit now and ready for scaling the rock.  A short drive to the sunset area where we have tea before walking to the view point to drink our wine and beer.  The sunset produces different colours on the rock and pink and blue bands in the sky.  Back at the campsite the phone is active and Claire phones and tells us the good news that she is expecting another baby on 8 January.  A welcome call also from  Mom and Dad in response to our "Happy Father’s Day" one.  I stay up late (too excited to sleep) planning Sandra’s route and bringing the diary and paperwork up to date whilst Steve watches the world cup cricket final until the early hours.  Reckon we will have sympathetic jet lag.
Monday 21 June   Head  round to the airport for the 10.30am flight armed with video to watch the plane land.  Arrive at 25 past and find Sandra just picking up her case from the carousel following an early arrival.  It’s great to see her and she is wide awake and raring to go.  Amend the tour plan and pop back to the resort to the visitor centre and then out to the rock.  It’s size becomes even more apparent as we get closer and the people climbing it look like ants.  The first part of the climb is very steep and you have to pull yourself up on the metal chains.  Sandra needs to keep stopping for a breather and shortly after the jet lag (alias lack of fitness) catches up with her and she tells us to go on whilst she returns to the van.  It’s unbelievable how sheer it is with the last part almost 90degrees which without the chain would be impossible.  Above the chain a white intermittent line guides us across the top taking us up and down deep crevices  some so deep you have to slide down one side and take a run to get up the other.  The views are outstanding both of the distance and within the rock with different shapes and colours.  Reach the top in about 90 minutes.  Apparently 32 people have died in 32 years climbing it and 15 of those were in one day.  We are climbing in the heat of the day which is good at this time of  year as there are hardly any people around.  The climb down is much easier and we make it in 30 minutes and feel quite proud of ourselves.  Reckon our training must have gone well.  The aboriginal cultural centre has some interesting exhibits and this leads is on to the sunset viewing area a long car park about 100 metres long with angled parking  facing the rock.  People are arriving early with some putting chairs on the roof of their vehicles and most having a snack and a drink.  The rock gradually changes colour from red to orange, pink, grey, fawn, and brown.  Shadows move across it as the pink and blue sky rises behind  – just beautiful.  Back at the resort the Outback Pioneer restaurant offer a BBQ it yourself meal and all you can eat salad bar.  We have kangaroo, crocodile, emu sausages, fillet steak and chicken washed down with a jug of beer.  A guitarist sings traditional Aussie country songs making it a good all round introduction for Sandra.  She settles down for an early night and we join Grantley and Dawn for a night-cap. 
Tuesday 22 June   Steves up at 6.30am for the drive to the rock whilst Sandra and I stay in bed.   The sunrise viewing area is very busy with coach loads of people shivering outside.  They peer in at us sitting in the warm drinking coffee as the sun creeps up behind us and illuminates the rock.  Interesting but not as impressive as the sunset.  On the main car park we enjoy a cooked breakfast before the 10.00am ranger guided walk.  The Mala aboriginals used the natural caves around the bottom of the rock for ceremonies and we see carvings and paintings.  The rock shapes and colours are marvellous and the gorge very high and sheer enclosing a waterhole making the area very green.  Head east on the Lasseter highway and pull up at Curtin Springs for a couple of hours sunbathing.  Grantley and Dawn call in as they pass to say Goodbye yet again!  Set off again towards Kings Canyon with Sandra snoozing on the bed.  Collect some firewood en route before stopping at the same rest area as before.  There are already a few vehicles parked up with fires alight and in no time we are sat around ours sipping wine.  The jacket potatoes and peppers stuffed with mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce cook well on the coals and we feel like true Aussies sitting in the bush pointing out the stars.   
Wednesday 23 June  Another early start up at 7.00 and on the road for 8.00.  Suggest Sandra puts her watch forward a couple of hours so she can get up at 9.00am and go to bed at 11.30pm!  The fermenting horse has exploded and the guts are well splattered for the birds to feast on – yummy.  Return to Kings Canyon and set off on the walk the easy way round planning on skipping the 3 additional side walks we did last time.  After struggling a bit on the initial climb Sandra soon gets into her stride.  We were concerned about her ankle which she broke a few years ago as she cannot wear flat walking boots and has on a pair of sling back stilettos disguised as sturdy shoes with a chunky heel.  2/3 of the way round she stumbles and legs flailing lands un ceremoniously on her bottom.  A passer by gives her 8.5 for artistic impression.  Her other ankle is injured so we pause to eat our sandwiches whilst assessing the damage.  Nothing seems broken but it may be sprained and she hobbles on slowly.  At health centre the nurse confirms a sprain and straps the ankle up advising rest for a few days.  Time to amend the tour plan again.  Now I know Sandra wanted to sit around and sunbathe but it’s a bit of an extreme way to get out of walking.  Don’t think she will even be able to climb the ladder to the van roof now.  Sunbathe at Kings Canyon Resort site followed by a BBQ tea.
Thursday 24 June  Purchase the Mereenie Loop pass and get a warning that it is 4WD only and a $1000 (£400) charge if you breakdown.  This put us off before but the coach driver at the first rest area assures us there is no problem.  Generally a good surface but with some areas of corrugations, some sand, some subsidence and lots and lots of red bull dust.  A much better road than the Ernest Giles one we came on.  Hit the bitumen at Hermannsburg an aboriginal community.  Usual dirty town with people, dogs and rubbish lying around everywhere.  If a person dies in a house the building is abandoned never to be lived in again and no attempt is made to move dying people out to hospitals.  Return to Alice Springs to visit Panorama Guth a huge circular panorama which you view from an elevated central observation point.  Painted by Dutch Henk Guth it depicts all the points of interest around Alice.  Sandra hobbles through the pedestrianised shopping centre whist I do the grocery shopping.  Leave town just before dark heading North towards Darwin on the Stuart highway and park 15km further on in a rest area.  Claire phones to tell us she is considering our offer for them to fly to Darwin next month.  Fingers crossed it comes off.  Sandra also gets a call from daughter Pip.  
Friday 25 June  A little further North we cross the Tropic of Capricorn and pause for photos.  Sandra is desperate to see a kangaroo but not the dead ones we are seeing all too many of.  The problem is the live ones keep moving which makes them harder to spot.  The road kill is getting pretty varied with camels, horses, cattle, sheep, emu’s, dingoes, eagles, kangaroos all being spotted to date.  Barrow Creek pub is interesting with an outdoor shower made out of a car radiator.  Pull into Devils Marbles camping area mid afternoon and sit our under our fly hats.  Late afternoon stroll through the round precariously balanced boulders with some fine examples of ones recently split in half.  Sandra’s hobbling better but not up for any long walks as yet.  She now has a problem with a sore eye, not sure if it’s the draught from the window or an allergy to the fly coils we have been burning. 
Saturday 26 June   Tennant Creek first stop with internet at the library.  Sandra signs up for hotmail and we send a few messages.  A good visitor centre at the old gold mine with a short video of town highlights (emphasis on short as there aren’t many highlights!).  The first miner here only had one eye and his partner was blind.   Steve drops out of the town historical  walk after seeing the celebrity footpath.  The most famous hand print is John Farnham.  Sandra and I enjoy the walk as it gives her the feel of a typical outback town.  Mary Ann dam just outside the town is a good picnic area.  The water is cool rather than icy cold but still too cold to swim in.  Steve and Sandra sunbathe whilst I wash the red mud off the van.  Free hot showers are provided and we all make use before leaving just after 3.00pm.  Pull over a little north of Renner Springs at 6.00pm when we see a caravan tucked down a lane.  It is dark around 6.30pm and there are no more official rest areas for over 100km.  Colin and Dot are glad of our company and give us information on places to visit further north.
Sunday 27 June  Looks like the clear blue skies are going to be the norm from now on – yippee.  Newcastle Waters is an historic droving town just off the main road.  The drovers used to move the cattle around the country via the known water holes but this is now done by vehicle.  Rodeos were held here each year.  Lots of abandoned buildings which you can wander around reading information signs.  Daly Waters is famous for the first international airport in Australia where Amy Johnson landed.  The historic pub claims to be the oldest one in Australia and is full of memorabilia.  Outside is a traffic light stuck on stop and said to be the most remote one in Australia.  The pub has a swimming pool and is also the Police station, Post Office, Motel, shop and camp site.  Check onto the site for only $10 (£4) and book for the "world famous" barra and beef meal tonight $14 (£5.60).  Very hot sunbathing weather with the breeze keeping the flies away – perfect.  The site fills up late afternoon with caravans squeezing into every available gap.  Whilst lying down sunbathing a shadow falls over Sandra and I as a caravan backs in over us, no rest for the wicked.  Early evening Colin and Dot save us a seat in the restaurant and we enjoy a very good meal whilst listening to the entertaining comedian/singer.  He makes lots of jokes about how cramped the camp site is and how the caravanners only put the legs down when they are planning on having sex.  Guess everyone will be checking that out whilst walking back through the site.    
Monday 28 June   A quick look around the museum at Larrimah where the pub has an enormous pink panther sat outside.  The scenery is changing fast and getting much greener.  Termite mounds are everywhere and vary in shape, size and in colour.    On the 11.00 ranger guided walk at Mataranka homestead we learn about the flora and the Roper River.  On 27 January 1998 it bust it’s banks at 6.00am and by 6.00pm the water was over 12 foot high through the homestead.  The town of Katherine just North of here was completely underwater.  One of the main attractions here relates to "We of the never never land" a true story based on a lady who lived in a homestead near here.  A film has been made and the replica homestead is here on display.  At 12.00 we enjoy watching the film in the bar followed by a dip in the hot springs.  In the war the soldiers dug out this area to provide a natural hot pool for the officers.  A track leads off towards Stevies Hole.  Steve stops abruptly as a massive monitor crosses infront of him.  Now this is not a Glen exaggeration but we are talking at least 4 foot long.  It ambles along and pauses whilst we take pictures.  The path takes us just over 1km to a small waterfall with grassy banks.  Steve and Sandra take a quick swim and I am glad I don’t as another couple arrive with bread for the dozens of catfish which appear.  Back towards the van we hear another waterfall and Steve goes to investigate saying he will call us if it is good.  We hear a shout but find out he has nearly fallen over another monitor and was shouting in shock.  A short drive to Elsey National Park camping area $5 p.p.p.n (£2) where we meet Dot and Colin again and park by them.  A pleasant stroll to the river bank where the sunset is wonderful.  Hold an evening planning meeting and Sandra still cannot do much walking and we are also short on time to do all the interesting things between here and Darwin.
Tuesday 29 June   Leave  Sandra in bed at 7.30am when we set out on the 9km return walk to Mataranka waterfalls.  The early morning mist looks great on the river.  The birds are very noisy as we walk through lots of sand and hop over streams.  The falls are wide but low and following the flood the bank is strewn with debris and broken trees.  It’s incredible just how high up the trees the debris is scattered indicating the flood level.  Arrive back before 10.00am and head into Mataranka town.  The largest termite mound in Australia is here and we reckon it must be over 20 feet high.  At territory manor you can see the Barramundi being hand fed and it is quite a sight.  At one stage the fish is hanging onto the mans hand as he lifts it right out of the water.  Katherine is really busy and our chosen campsite full.  Stop at Riverview site $17 (£6.80) where we take a short stroll to Katherine hot springs which are lovely.  Claire phones to say they can’t get a flight out to Darwin which is very dissapointing.  She also tells us she has had to change their phone number to 655618.
Wednesday 30 June  Into town to collect thie tickets for the Katherine gorge trip but I have the wrong information and we need to be at the gorge visitor centre for 8.30am and not the ticket centre in town.  Bomb down the road with the van taking off over the speed ramps.  3 minutes to 9 as I pick the tickets up and instructions to run to the boat deck.  No joke for Sandra who hobbles on behind as we first head in the wrong direction.  She is delighted however to see 3 kangaroos en route.  Steve reaches the boat deck first and the boat comes back in to pick us up.  There are numerous gorges in the Katherine river system and we are going to visit 3.  The entails disembarking at the end of each gorge and scrambling over rocks to climb into the next one and onto another boat.  Some good aboriginal paintings are on the walls at the end of the first one.  It takes some time to transfer boats as there are quite a few oldies on the trip.  The second gorge is also spectacular with the highest point on one of the corners.  A scramble into the third gorge where we disembark to climb up to Lily Pond waterfall.  Part way up a lady takes a tumble hurting her knee and has to be taken back to the boat.  The pool is a gorgeous clear turqoise blue with a high waterfall in one corner.  The swimming is good followed by fruit cake and squash.  Just as we are climbing into the last boat back a man falls forwards over the rocks and bangs his head.  He’s OK but shaken up.  The tour guide tells us this is a bad trip as it is uncommon for anyone to fall.  Just before we get back a sister ship hails us over as they have run out of fuel and need us to tow them back.  What an exciting trip in more ways than one.  When the town of Katherine flooded last year the high street was 2 metres underwater and a crocodile was found at the Red Rooster drive in.  Hard to believe when the river level is so low now.  In the "Top End" they only have two seasons classed as the wet and the dry.  Both very extreme but we are glad to be in the dry.    Edith Falls is a pretty spot further north with a small but pretty waterfall pouring into a swimming hole.  Time and Sandras ankle prevent us staying to do the walks so we head further north.  The rangers organise a lot of cold burn forest fires at this time of year and we travel through quite a few.  Charlie the bufalo of Crocodile Dundee fame is the star at Adelaide River.  We stop a bit further north in a rest area by a babbling stream and full of fellow campers  It’s a very hot evening but now the flies have been replaced by little bugs which come out at dusk and invade us through the fly screens..

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