Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199908 Australia-NT WA

Sunday 1 August 1999   Hot sunny day. Steve snoozes and I wonder round aimlessly – PCD (post cruise depression) setting in fast.  Phone Claire and hear David is still in Germany. 
Monday 2 August  Australian bank holiday and Darwin Cup day.  Buy a fancy straw hat from Jeans shop $5 (£2.25) and join Norm and Bev for the drive to Palmerston and free shuttle bus to Fannie Bay racecourse.  $17 (£7.50) admission to the horse racing event of the year. 20,000 people turn out and people watching is great fun with outfits suitable for Ascot down to shorts and T-shirts.  Surprisingly we spot the Dutch family from the cruise.  Our betting is a bit hit and miss but we come out just ahead with a win on the last race.  I even come second in the sweep at the site and win $8 for our $2 a head outlay.
Tuesday 3 August  Make an effort to bring our washing up to date, the only downfall of going on a cruise and having to wear clothes!  News of a shooting near here when both the policeman and the gunman (the character on whom Crocodile Dundee was based) were killed.
Wednesday 4 August  Finish the diary so now I can relax and sunbathe without guilt!
Thursday 5 August  Wake early and wash the van.  Flies are starting to appear again so maybe it is time for us to move on.  David phones from Germany in the evening and sounds happy laying tarmac out there.  The company move out to Spain in October to do more of the same work.
Friday 6 August  As I laze in the pool floating on an air bed a 1m goanna dips it’s head in for a drink.  I leap off the bed and out of the pool at great speed then everyone tells me it is a land lizard and won’t go into the pool.  Silly me I should have looked to see what type of feet it had.  Join Norm and Bev for a meal at the Litchfield Pub.  We arranged it as our leaving meal before they enticed us to stay another couple of nights.  Return to flat batteries on the van.  A definite problem so we resign ourselves to a trip back to Darwin to invest in two more brand new ones.
Saturday 7 August  Evening rodeo at the Litchfield Pub $10 (£4.50) and we hitch a ride with Cath and Lew.  A wide range of events with children a young as 3 years old entering the junior poddie ride.  Circle of death is funny when spectators stand in the arena in a chalk circle and a bull is released.  The last one to leave their circle wins a bottle of Whisky but it is very much down to the bull who wins as the minute he charges the people leave and the winner just happens to be the last one the bull fancies. 
Sunday 8 August    Darwin people are renowned for being heavy drinkers (a Darwin stubby holds 2 litres, normally 375ml)   To clear the streets of all the empty beer cans someone devised a race for boats are made out of them hence the beer can regatta.   $2.50 (90p) gets us onto the beach area where fun races are being held.  One beer can boat has been brought from Katherine 300km away but collapses as soon as it gets in the water.  People stroll along the water front not worrying about their clothes getting wet at all.  A real fun day for all the family.  Pick up a cooked chicken on the way back for our "Last Supper" with Bev and Norm.
Monday 9 August    Back into Darwin where we get a refund on the faulty battery against two new ones and add $100 ($35).  The man says the wiring is so confusing he won’t fit it so we spend ages driving round to find a garage that will and that adds another $25 (£11) to the bill.  Pick up a new camcorder battery at Casuarina and bump into Gaylene and Lee whom we met on 18th June near Kings Canyon.  Leave Darwin at 3.00pm heading out to Kakadu National Park.  $15 (£5.50) each admission for 14 days.  Park for the night at the first information lay by.  We both spot a strange star in the sky which appears to be dancing.  It glows brightly then dims and moves around a circle area.  Brushing my teeth the toothbrush battery fizzles out.  Reckon that should be the 3 battery problems for now!
Tuesday 10 August  Mamukala wetlands is our first walk (1km) and we sit in the observation cabin amazed by the number of birds we see.  Bowali visitor centre provides more information on Kakadu and shows slides and video.  Bardedjilidji 2.5km walk has a dozen points of interest and we really enjoy it.  Cahills Crossing picnic area proves a good stopping place for lunch.  By the boat ramp a pair of lone shoes sit ominously by the river side near the warning sign for crocodiles.  Manngarre 1.5km rain forest walk seems a bit boring until we get to the raised platform and spot a crocodile sunning itself on the opposite bank.  Call at the Border Store for information on the scenic flights and learn about a company who have a sliding scale of prices dependant on the number of passengers.  If we can find another couple to share with us we will pay $50 (£22) each instead of $65 (£29).  Park up at Ubirr ready for the late afternoon ranger talk and put signs in the toilets and the back of the van advertising for someone to join us.  No luck so we set out on the 1.5km walk and climb which includes 3 ranger talks on site.  Two good art sites which the ranger interprets and a superb view from the top of Ubirr rock at sunset.  There is a film crew and an official photographer who asks if he can photograph our silhouette!  I chat to a couple who agree to do the flight with us.  Monica and Paul are staying at Merl campsite so we drive back with them.  Have fun driving round in the dark as they can’t find their pitch.  A ranger does an evening slide show about controlled burning in the park, a fitting end to an interesting and enjoyable day.
Wednesday 11 August  Into Jabiru to book the "Gunbalanya" flight for 10.00am.  Austrian pilot "Dietmar" arrives a little late and offers us an extra 5 minutes flight as compensation.  Fly over "Ranger" uranium mine then East Alligator River where "Crocodile Dundee" was filmed.  Along the escarpment separating aboriginal Arnhem land from Kakadu, over Mikinj Valley, Red Lilly Lagoon, Cannon Hill, Magela Wetlands, Mudginberry, Jabiluka underground uranium mine and in the last 5 minutes over Gagudju hotel which from the air looks like a crocodile.   Next we head SW to Nourlangie for the 3.4km walk to the little known quiet art site of Nanguluwur.  Not today as a group of people are there taking photographs and video for the Discovery channel and another group are sand blasting some of the paintings clean!  We are however the first tourists of the day.  A quick stroll to Anbangbang Billabong before the main attraction of Nourlangie main art site.  A 1.5km circular walk with ranger talks in three places.  The natural aboriginal rock shelter is incredible with diggings proving human existence here 50,000 years ago.  The art is the best we have ever seen with picture stories about the lightening man.  Another rock climb to a super lookout over the escarpment.  With temperatures mid 30’s we feel we have walked much further.  Return to flat batteries so drive back to nearby Anbangbang Billabong and set the generator going and turn the fridge off.  Will now have to leave early for the Yellow Water morning ranger walk.
Thursday 12 August  Just about to leave when Steve pops out for a pee and notices we have a flat tyre.  Nearly finish pumping it up when the pump breaks.   Return to Jabiru but they want us to remove the tyre and $30 for a repair or $250 for a replacement.  Sounds expensive so we phone Pine Creek who offer us one for $175.  Decide to cut short our time in Kakadu pump up the tyre and head out. Quick detour to Yellow Water Wetlands for the boardwalk alongside the river but the wildlife is not so good which is probably why the walk was earlier.  Quick scan around Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre and then out of Kakadu.  Pull over to pump up the tyres and sell our tickets for half price.  Make it to Pine Creek to find he doesn’t have the tyre he spoke of on the phone nor anything to fit and wants $35 for a temporary repair.  We can’t make it to Katherine before the tyre place shuts so pump it up again then set off with a heated discussion. Do we change to the spare which is a difficult job and a poor tyre, detour 22km to Umbrawarra Gorge, 3km to Copperfield Reserve which we think will be busy, Edith Falls or straight to Katherine.  We planned all these but now must choose.  Just heading towards Copperfield when Cath & Lew pass us.  The have been in Umbrawarra alone all day but a load of kids have just arrived.  Chat and decide we will all go back there as Lew has a compressor.  The 14 year olds have spent the week walking the gorge and are only staying overnight.  It’s a short walk to the first pool for a refreshing swim.  It’s a beautiful spot with clear waters, a sandy beach and steep multi coloured gorge walls.  On return a new problem emerges as the toilet starts to leak or should I say wee emerges.
Friday 13 August  The kids leave and we fix up the windbreak so we can all enjoy a bit of nude sunbathing.  Other vehicles arrive at noon so we hike right into the gorge and find a second pool which we have to ourselves.  Gorge walking can be quite tricky and involves lots of rock hopping and keeping eyes open for other visitors as we walk in the nude.  Manage to duck behind some rocks on the return trip in time to hide our blushes amongst other things.
Saturday 14 August  It’s a bit breezy and as Steve hammers in the windbreak the head of the hammer flies off.  Into the boot  to get something to repair it and the boot support struts break – have we got our dates wrong I wonder.  No one around so we sunbathe at the first pool.  Lew takes to rock climbing and slinks behind a rock when some people come down the gorge.  We dress and then notice people coming in the opposite direction also which leaves Lew looking pretty ridiculous and furtive! 
Sunday 15 August  It’s a great spot so we stay another day and bathe in the first pool.
Monday 16 August  Lew pumps up the tyre and we head out to Edith Falls.  Called here with Sandra but didn’t do the walks so today we set out on the 8.6km track to Sweetwater Pool.  A tough walk with climbing and scrambling leading to a beautiful isolated pool and falls. We swim and enjoy a natural Jacuzzi under the falls.  Part way back we stop for another swim in Long Pool then link up with the 2.6lm Leliyn trail.  Lookouts provide superb views over the top, middle and main pool.  Evidence of last years floods can be seen in the mangled bridges and stairs.  Head a short way out of the park and find a track to a nice area by the river.  Steve checks the battery and finds we now have one completely dead cell so put battery agents on the list for tomorrow along with tyre garage.  Enjoy our last meal with Lew and Kath as they are heading back to Adelaide and we part in Katherine.
Tuesday 17 August  At the tyre place in Katherine we are fixed up in no time.  The battery proves more of a problem and we waste a few hours and numerous phone calls trying to resolve it.  Settle for the Darwin company sending an alternative one down tomorrow but we’re still concerned they won’t be compatible but it’s all they’ve got.  Camp at Springvale Homestead $12 (£5.50) and pile the dirty washing into the machine to find it come out even dirtier.  It seems they have had a burst main today and mud has got into the water system.  Sod’s Law springs to mind.  Enjoy a swim in the pool before phoning Claire to find our finances are not looking good and Mum had a car accident yesterday and Nic was with her.  Phone Mum and she is OK with a few cuts on her face but had an attack just after the accident.  Nic has a few cuts but not bad.   Puts our problems into perspective.   The site has an abundance of wildlife and wallabies come within feet of the van.  Tragic news of the earthquake near Istanbul.  Recognise a lot of places from our time there just 2 years ago.  Will have to contact our friends tomorrow to make sure they are OK.
Wednesday 18 August  The 1 hour tour and talk on the homestead is very interesting.  Hang around the site making use of the pool in the afternoon until the garage phones to say the battery has arrived.  The garage fits it but say they think the solar panel wiring is causing a problem.  It is wired via the engine battery to the auxiliary batteries and when we are driving it is "tricking" the alternator into thinking the batteries are fully charged.  Suggest a relay system which they can fit tomorrow.  Overnight on their car park.
Thursday 19 August  Don’t know why they couldn’t have done the job last night as it took 20 minutes.  The fishing is supposed to be good at Big Horse Creek so we buy a hand line, hooks and sinkers $6 (£2.50).  By 9.30am we are heading West out of Katherine on the route 1 Victoria Highway.  Find some nice places to stop but the old fly problem is back.  Yes Australia is brilliant and has some great places to park and bathe if you can avoid the flies, crocodiles, jelly fish and on the West coast the wind. The only other thing we can say against it is the huge distances between places.  However the plus list would be too big to mention.  (Do I sound like a whinging pom?).  The scenery changes to hills with rock fault lines which look rather like the great wall of China.  Victoria Crossing and Timber Creek are both places where the road can be closed in the wet season when the Victoria River floods.  Big Horse Creek is a nice camping area in Gregory National Park and Steve heads off with his line.  I hold back on tea waiting to see what he catches – beans on toast for tea.  Ranger Katrina has travelled 100km to do a campfire talk.  Someone mentions the fishing is poor as no one has caught anything so I guess if they couldn’t catch anything with a boat and line Steve had no chance.
Friday 20 August   8.45 start.  More hills with "walls".  11.45 WESTERN AUSTRALIA with clocks back to 10.15 (now 7 hours ahead of BST).  The Kimberley is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. The region covers an area of nearly 423,000 kilometres (three times the size of England) with a population of just 25,000 people.  That’s fewer people per kilometre than almost any other place on the planet.   Lake Argyle was created in 1992 when the Ord River was dammed to produce irrigation for farms.  The original work buildings have been adapted into Lake Argyle tourist village where we book a float plane tour for Sunday morning.  Picnic by the dam wall.  The lake is beautiful with  hundreds of small islands which would have been the tops of mountains.  Rather like Scotland which may account for the name.  Park in a gravel pit just outside town for a nice afternoon of secluded sunbathing. 
Saturday 21 August  Up at 6.00 and on the road for 7.00 and it’s already hot.  Into Kununurra then out to Mirima (Hidden Valley) for 3 walks.  First to rock formations then a flora walk followed by a climb to the spectacular lookout.  At the town tourist office you can watch videos whilst enjoying complimentary tea and coffee.  Market stalls on the village green sell cheap local produce and we splash out on a punnet of cherry tomatoes 50c (22p), small bananas 10c (4p) and corn on the cob 4 for $1 (45p).   Celebrity tree park has trees planted by famous people including Rolf Harris, John Farnham and in 1987 a Yellow Flame by Princess Anne.  Along Lakeside Drive we see some magnificent Bougainvillaea and Lily Lagoon overlooks a hill formation called the Sleeping Buddha.  Back out of town to the race course for the afternoon meeting $10 (£4.50) head.  The caretaker says we can stay overnight so Steve gets stuck into the beers.  A grassy track with a wonderful hilly backdrop.  Very country style and small with only about 200 people attending.  6 races from which we pick 2 winners and just break even.  In the second race one horse doesn’t want to go into the stalls and breaks free to run the course alone – no it wasn’t the one I had my money on.  After the races the caretaker starts a bush 2 up ring.  A man immediately starts to make big bets of up to $50 (£23) on the two coins turning up tails.  He bets with about 6 people and wins.  He continues to do this and 10 spins on the trot come up tails.  His pockets are bulging and no one can believe how long his luck has held.  Two spins of heads later and he’s off.  We reckon he won over $1000 (£450).  We bet our $10 (£4.50) and first win then loose on the next 2 bets.
Sunday 22 August  Up at 5.00 and into town for our Alligator Airways float plane scenic flight to the Bungle Bungles.  $170 (£75) a head buys 135 minutes ride.  Take off on Lake Kununurra by Diversion Dam then over the Packsaddle crop growing Plains and onto Lake Argyle.  Swoop down and skim the water and then fly just above it spotting Euro’s (small wallabies) and passing remote cattle stations and the Bow River diamond mine.  About 1 hour later we arrive at the Bungle Bungles (it’s a bit like flying to Paris to circle the Eiffel Tower and then going straight back!).  Only a tourist sight since the early 80’s the beehive rock formations are fantastic.  The red sandstone is interspersed with black lichen giving it a Zebra effect.  Gorges and chasms complete the picture.  Return over Lake Argyle diamond mine which is currently the worlds largest producing over 35 million carats of diamonds per year.  Along the shores of Lake Argyle we see dozens of small freshwater crocodiles sunbathing then track the Ord River flying between the steep sides.  What a great trip.  Arrive back at 8.30am and head out to Wyndham.  This is the port now used for exporting the produce and the road is being upgraded which necessitates us driving on damp red muddy tracks alongside.  The Grotto is a pretty spot where you climb down 140 steps to a pool said to be 400m deep.  Plan to swim but the oily film on top of the water puts us off.  The town of Wyndham is split into a new town and the old port.  Struggle to find much of interest and Steve reckons the name is a play on the town being a wind up.  The "highlights" are some bronze aboriginal statues and a view of 5 rivers from the hill lookout.  Not worth the 100km+ detour.  The swimming pool $2 (90p) tempts us to linger another couple of hours in the afternoon.  Leave town and park at the junction of the Victoria and Great Northern Highway in a rest area along with half a dozen other vehicles.
Monday 23 August  Up at 5.45 (and so is everyone else) and away at 6.20.  Putting the clocks back an hour and a half just doesn’t work well as it is hot by 7.00 and dark at 5.30.  Will do as we always do and follow our natural instincts and not the clock.  We pass a long distance round Australia runner whom we previously saw a month ago in Darwin – someone even crazier than us I think.  Detour east on the dirt track out of Halls Creek to visit old Halls Creek which is a joke and consists of rows of plaques showing where the houses used to be.  Caroline Pool nearby is too muddy to swim in but the China Wall come up trumps.  It is a subvertical quartz vein which projects above the surrounding rocks and is believed to be part of the largest single fault of its type in the world.  Back through Halls Creek which like all the small towns in this area is full of Aboriginals sitting around in groups.  Stop between Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing on Margaret River cattle station on the banks of the May River.  A recognised free camping spot there are loads of people here and also loads of cows who wander round looking for a hand out.  Louisa invites us to join their camp fire and we sit with about a dozen people exchanging stories.  Some recently went on a 4WD "tag along" tour in the outback driving over rocks and taking 2 1/2 days to cover 215km.
Tuesday 24 August   Up at 6.00am away at 6.30am.  Arrive at Geikie Gorge just North of Fitzroy Crossing in time for the 9.30am $17.50 (£6) 1 hour boat tour.  The gorges in this area are part of the 350 million year old Devonian Reef.  Sharks, sawfish and stingrays have adapted to these inland waters.  Small crocodiles abound but the star of the show has to be the fabulous rock formations.  Washed white by the wet season flood waters the caves and rock shapes amaze us.   Quickly through Fitzroy Crossing having failed to find it’s "highlights"!  A track now cuts through from the Great Northern Highway to join the Gibb River Road.  First stop is a disused quartz quarry which has flooded to create a wonderful swimming hole.  It’s such a great spot we stop for the rest of the day and enjoy an early evening stroll around the top of the quarry exploring interesting caves.
Wednesday 25 August   Further on the track Tunnel Creek is pretty scary.  The water runs through a dark cave tunnel for 750 metres.  You wade knee high through the crocodile infested waters (freshwater harmless type) using torches to light the way.  Part way through is a landslide where fruit bats congregate in the trees.  The rocks are good and we see fish but no crocodiles.  Don’t know what will happen if we see one as I am nearly pooping myself already.  Return the same way which doesn’t seem quite so bad as other people start to arrive and shine their torches towards us.   Windjana Gorge further on is another part of the Devonian Reef.  Opt for the 7km return walk which starts interestingly when we spot a 1m venomous brown snake slithering towards us down the dry creek bed.  Fortunately we are on a bridge and it glides under a rock nearby.  We get very close to the noisy white "Major Mitchell" parakeets in the tree branches.  Dozens of large freshwater crocodiles sunbathe on the far bank.  Food is scarce here as they are stranded when the river forms into individual creeks so they eat the smaller crocodiles and anything else that comes close enough!  Lots of butterflies flit past us as we trudge through the jungle like undergrowth.  We come upon an area with thousands of fruit bats in the trees.  Steve throws a stick at the tree which makes for an interesting sight as they all fly off.  It’s really hot in this region and the temperature gets up to the mid 30C early in the day making walking hard going.  Continue driving along the track and join the Gibb River Road heading towards Derby (pronounced durby).  Pull off to go 10km down tracks to the Mary River which has almost dried up.  It’s a huge area where we find a secluded spot to sunbathe – say no more.
Thursday 26 August  Arrive in Derby at 7.30am and catch the low tide.  King Sound has the highest tides in the tropical regions of the world at over 10m.  Remains of the old wooden jetty can be seen which has now been replaced with a concrete and iron one to withstand the storms.  The modern loading jetties are designed for the road trains to drive out on and deposit their loads then continue driving round in a loop.   The Prison Boab tree on the outskirts of town is over 1000 years old and enormous.  Aboriginal prisoners used to be contained in it’s hollow trunk.  Myall’s Bore built in 1911 is the longest in the southern hemisphere (120m) and 1,000 head of cattle could water together before being shipped out.  Exit Derby on the Great Northern Highway (1) towards Broome.  Again a 10km dirt track just west of Willare Bridge Roadhouse takes us to the secluded spot of Telegraph Pool on the banks of the Fitzroy River.  The boot lock jams again and after a couple of hours once we have emptied it all out and eventually repaired it the strut that holds the boot open breaks.  Begin to realise what it is like for people working here as we are drinking gallons of squash and sweating buckets.  Finally get round to a spot of sunbathing and enjoying the view.
Friday 27 August   Broome is heaving with people as the annual Shinju Matsuri Festival "Festival of the pearl" starts today.   Established as a pearling port in the 1880’s Aborigines, Japanese, Malays and Koepangers dived for pearls whilst the Chinese became the town shopkeepers.  The normal 8,000 population is now swelled to around 80,000.  Cable Beach is classed as the 3rd best in the world and with sunny days and balmy nights it’s a great place for people from the south of Western Australia to winter.  Receive a phone call from Mike Daniels in Sydney confirming that they will do a swap with us.  They have a 28′ Gulfstream american motorhome which is bigger and better than ours so we are delighted.  We get their vehicle next June for 6 months and they will take ours at a later stage.  Head for the Post Office where surprisingly we only get mail from Claire and Malcolm (fellow travellers from England) and Grantley and Dawn from Adelaide.  Catch the opening ceremony for the festival then drive around the coast to check into Cable Beach caravan park.  Bob and Noreen from Perth whom we previously met at TENRR are here and they invite us to a BBQ at Helen’s sisters house.  Helen is a naturist who we met when we were in Perth and she is visiting her sister who lives here.  I drive us all there in the van so everyone else can drink.  Banjo and Gwen (we also met them in Perth) join us and we are introduced to Ivan and Glenys.
Saturday 28 August    Up early with the washing done and dried before 10.00am.  Wally whom we met on the cruise calls round to see us as he is on the next caravan park with his wife Fran.  Arrange to meet for a BBQ and photo viewing session.  Just closing the boot to leave when the repaired strut snaps.  Spend the morning trying to get it repaired but Monday is the earliest anything can be done.  Wander round China town then take up a street side position for the float parade.  Very much like an English town Gala with the floats ending up on the town field for a Mardi Gras.  Early evening to town beach for the "Stairway to the Moon".  When the very low tide and the new moon coincide the rising moon reflects on the mudflats to create a spectacular stair effect.  Tonight and for the next two nights this may happen.  Sit by Wally and Fran and a few hundred other people waiting for the great moment.  Sadly it is a damp squib as they have been burning crops and the smoky sky obliterates the moon.  However lying on a rug looking up at the stars is pretty amazing in itself.
Sunday 29 August   Town beach for the dragon boat races where four teams race against each other with the drum bonging the rhythm for the oars.  Hang Seng ceremony is being held at the Chinese cemetery and this is a time when the living feast with the dead at the graveside.  Visitors are invited and we enjoy free drinks including beer and a Chinese meal.  They make a collection for the Turkish earthquake victims which pleases us.  Out to Cable Beach itself which is over 20km long and naturist North of the rocks.  They have 8m tides here and apart from at high tide hundreds of cars drive onto the beach.  We prefer to leave the van in the car park and walk as with our luck at the moment we would get bogged in or get the tides wrong!  Back for the "Stairway" with market stalls and street performers tonight and a moon obscured by clouds!
Monday 30 August  Daniel’s 2nd birthday.  Where has the time gone, wish we were there to see him.  Out to Gantheaume point at 6.45am as it is low tide and the dinosaur tracks can be seen.  Clamber down slippery rocks to the edge of the sea and sure enough we see three areas where the 3 pronged footprints can be seen.  The wet rocks are incredible as they are part of a reef and you can see all the coloured coral.  Part way up the cliffs is Anastasia’s Pool dug by the lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife.  The cliff rocks are just beautiful in bright red, orange and yellow.  The garage say a part is need for the boot and should be here on Wednesday.  On the beach before 10.00am to spend the day in the water more than out as the waves are great and we are perfecting the art of body surfing.   Stairway to the moon is partly obscured and the best so far and gives an indication of how good it would be on a clear night.
Tuesday 31 August  End of another month.  Can’t believe we have been in Australia for 7 months already.  Enjoy our time on the beach using the "Boogie board" which Fred put in the van.  It’s like a polystyrene half surf board and you lie on it and surf the waves.  The water is warm and there are plenty of waves which is great.

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