Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | October 16, 2011

The Run Into Perth

There’s nothing like a rugby game between Australia and New Zealand to get the miles under the wheels. This blog starts over 900 kms from Perth, so when I say “the run into Perth” it’s not really like talking about a run to the shops, more like coming from Brisbane home to Frenchs Forest!

There are so many spots to stop along the coast heading into Tin shacks at Point Quobba, Blowholes camp sitePerth, so this is going to be a very brief, flying visit to just some of them.  First stop was north of Carnarvon at the blowholes at Point Quobba, what a quirky little place, there are corrugated iron shacks cobbled together for about 500 metres along the beach and you find a spot for your tent in amongst them.  The shacks are made by the locals from Carnarvon, but most seem unlocked and available to anyone who happens along.  We opted for the faithful old camper!

We arrived at a perfect time in the tide to watch the blowholes put on Blowholes at Point Quobbaa spectacular display.  The water shooting up through the gap in the rocks as the waves came in was only half the spectacle, the waves made an amazing whooshing and whistling sound as they came raging into the rocks.

We spent a couple of nights here, waiting for Monday to arrive so we could pick up Walking to Quobba Point lighthousesome schoolwork that had been waiting for us in Carnarvon for a couple of weeks.  There was plenty to do to fill the time though.  The kids and I made an attempt to make it to the dizzying heights of the lighthouse hill, we started out on bikes but had to ditch those as the track became sandy and go out on foot, after conquering the third sand dune with a couple more to go we gave up and went home, returning later and taking the sealed road to the top in the car! There’s a little island just off the point here, joined to the mainland by a causeway/bridge of oyster covered rocks. We made the crossing one afternoon, realising that the tide was on it’s way in, so made a hasty retreat back. There are so many clams and sea urchins (kina for those kiwis reading!) in the rock pools amongst the oysters that you have to tread very carefully to avoid standing on any.  The children met up with some friends they had made at Cape Range too, so they spent a fair few hours just hanging out. We also enjoyed a stunning sunset while here, the cloudy sky made some beautiful reflections of the sun as it went over the horizon.

Oyster bridge at Quobba PointSunset at Point Quobba

We had a flying visit through Carnarvon and made the usual stops that we make in any town – in no particular order… supermarket, service Lunch at lookout to Shark Baystation, water tap, bottle shop, book exchange and skate park.  We even managed to meet the Toll man outside the supermarket for the school work delivery – brilliant service!  All stocked up, we were able to get through a few more miles before a roadside lunch stop looking out over the eastern side of Shark Bay.

It’s been a fabulous few days in the Shark Bay area, after considering the bush camping sites coming into Denham we decided to make camp at a more central spot in Denham itself. We had a prime spot right on the beach, just behind the wind-breaking trees. From Denham we were able to take a drive into the Francois Peron National Park, near the entrance to the park is the old homestead from the days of sheep farming in this area. You can wander around the old sheep yards, sheering shed and shearers accommodation then take a dip in the artesian bore baths – I’m sure plenty of tired, sore shearers have soaked there’s weary bones in this bath in the past!

Jake's haircutTobey getting a few dags removedIndi about to be shornArtisian bore baths at Peron HomesteadTobey and Indi cooking up a storm in the shearers quarters

The road to Big Lagoon, Francois Peron PeninsulaFurther up the Peron Peninsula we drove out to Big Lagoon, you can camp here, but it was pretty deserted when we arrived, there was just one couple set up in a little nook out of the wind. The roads that we drove on the peninsula are fairly firm sand tracks, but they must get a lot tougher if you go right to the tip. The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) have a sand driving for dummies board at the entrance to the tracks and even air compressors to reinflate your tyres on the way out – how’s that for service!  We passed several sets of sand graders Francois Peron style too – just drag a big old tyre behind you to flatten things out.

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Tyre station on Francois Peron peninsulaTyre graders

Of course, the major drawcard to Shark Bay is seeing the dolphins come in for Waiting for the dolphins at Monkey Miafeeding at Money Mia, so we were up early one morning to take the 20 minute drive from Denham to be at the ‘Dolphin Interaction Area’ by 7.45am – along with about 100 other people! We were not disappointed though, the dolphins arrived and did their thing. They are such beautiful animals and to see wild dolphins up this close is definitely a special experience.  The DEC staff feed only five individual dolphins a very small amount of their daily fish requirement, so it’s not as if it’s a free for all to every dolphin coming in. What they feed amounts to around 3-4 fish for each dolphin at each feed and if all only one of the five dolphins in the feeding program come in for feeding that is not many fish to share among the crowd of people on the beach!  We were Monkey Mia dolphins waiting for their feedunfortunately not among the chosen few at the first feeding. Although only five dolphins are fed (the same five dolphins all of the time) there are many others in the family groups who come in for a look too.  The younger dolphins are the fourth generation to visit Monkey Mia on a regular basis to be fed, two are currently pregnant and if history repeats they will likely bring their day old calves into the shallows when they are born later in the year – now that would be a brilliant sight to see. There are up to three feedings for the dolphins every day, depending on whether they come in or not, we hung around for a second feeding and were lucky enough to be chosen to feed a dolphin this time. We fed Puck who is 35 years old, the daughter of one of the original dolphins for visit Monkey Mia.  Her two year old calf came in with her and was zooming around in the shallows chasing fish while we were there.

Feeding the Monkey Mia dolphinsPuck - Monkey MiaBeing the school holidays we were able to take advantage of the school holiday program run by the DEC, the fisheries guys ran a program of identifying, measuring and filleting fish and then we all got to pat a bilby!

Jake and Indi participating in the school holiday fish programTobey patting Lilly the Bilby

Red Cliff

The beautiful colours of the Indian Red CliffOcean continue in Shark Bay. We had lunch and a swim at Red Cliff, looking out to the pearling station. It was much more sheltered here  than in Denham from the constant westerly winds that we’ve had over the last month or so.

Time to move on… we have a rugby game to get to!

A journey to Shark Bay would not be complete without seeing some sharks, so we stopped for a look at the highly recommended Ocean Park on the way out of Denham. The signs on the road into Ocean Park were definitely promising – in all sorts of ways!

Sharks at Ocean ParkIce-creams at Ocean ParkCoffee to come at Ocean Park

We had a very enthusiastic tour guide showing us around tanks of all sorts of marine animals from the area, we saw squid, cuttlefish, stone fish, a loggerhead turtle (minus a foot), crayfish, lionfish, lots and lots of different fish that Ben would love to have on his hook and of course the sharks.  There were lemon sharks, sandbar sharks and nervous sharks, all apparently fairly harmless if you were to fall into the tank – I wasn’t about to test the theory though! The sharks are certainly numerous in the ocean too, we saw at least 5 or 6 nervous sharks in the waters below Eagle Bluff.

Enthusiastic Ocean Park Marine BioligistOcean Park sharks waiting for a feed

Shell Beach is just inside the feral animal fence at the narrowest point of Peron Peninsula. Shell beach is made almost entirely of the shells from a small cockle – one of the few marine species that can survive in the super salty waters in this area of Shark Bay.  The shells have been building up for about 4000 years and are about 5 metres deep.

The cockles of Shell BeachDSC_0054 (2)

Shell Beach

The Francois Peron National Park is the home of Project Eden, an ambitious conservation project aimed at returning the national park to how it was when Francois Peron Feral barrier(the naturalist) first visited the area. Eliminating feral animals is a major part of that project and to help that a feral barrier has been created across the narrowest section of the peninsula.  Along with the fence and grates there are motion sensors at the grate which trigger a barking dog recording. If you drive slowly across the grating with your windows down you can hear the dogs going wild! Project Eden has been successful in re-introducing five different species into the wild, including bilbies and malleefowl and the elimination of a lot of the feral animals has allowed other populations such as the echidna and woma python to recover to more sustainable numbers.

We made a quick overnight stop at the Murchison River on the way into Kalbarri and for the first time in eight months were totally overcome by flies!  They were everywhere, doing their best to crawl into every orifice on your head.  If I’d had a head net I would have been sorely tempted to wear it! Our savour came with the setting sun, every single fly left as soon as the sun went down… obviously resting for the daytime attack because they were up and at us again first thing in the morning.

We had originally intended on staying at Kalbarri for a few days and there seemed to be plenty to fill in that time here, but as you know we had an appointment to get to so had to settle for the whirl-wind tour of the Kalbarri sights.  Gorges, raging seas, dramatic cliffs and Jake’s Point were the highlights here.

Natures Window, Kalbarri National ParkMurchison River GorgeJake's Point, KalbarriIndi's pool at Jake's Point, KalbarriIsland Rock, Kalbarri coastlineSurfers at Jake's Point, KalbarriWindy Kalbarri coastlineKalbarri coastlineKalbarri coastline

A journey down the west coast would not be complete without stopping at the Pinnacles, one of the iconic sights of WA. There’s no conclusive explanation as to how the pinnacles were formed, just several theories involving tree stumps, time and erosion.  A great spot to take photos and have a game of hide and seek though.

Hide and seekThe PinniclesDriving through the PinniclesAs we continued down the coast the landscape started to change, we left behind the Grass trees galorebarren treeless plains and started into Lancelin sanddunesgrain country, through forests of grass trees that would make a Sydney landscaper green with envy and eventually to forests with actual trees that were taller than a couple of metres.

The sand dunes of Lancelin must be the playground for every rev-head for miles around. We went out for the kids to have a slide down on their skim board, but ended up watching motorbikes, quad-bikes and 4WDs zooming and jumping through the dunes.

Ben hogging all the turnsLancelin sanddunes We detoured on our final leg into Perth to visit the house in Greenwood which Ben and I used to live in 16 years ago when we first left New Zealand – it’s still the same old dump and obviously still a rental. I wonder if it’s teeming with ten or more kiwis like it was when we were there!

We’ve made it to Perth and the kids are VERY excited to be staying with their cousins for a while… I’m sure it’s the excitement of their cousins, not just the fact that there is also a TV, go-cart, horses and a solid roof over their heads, but I’m sure all that helps with the thrill factor!

As I send this into the ether we are waiting for the much anticipated game of rugby this afternoon. With the kids barracking for the Wallabies and Ben and I in proud support of the All Blacks whatever the result there will be winners… and losers!

Go the Kiwis!

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | October 12, 2011

The Coral Coast

We are a long, long way from home now, in a straight line we figure Vlaming Head Lighthouseyou can’t get any further from Sydney than in Exmouth. According to our GPS it’s 5,104km and 2 days and 9 hours to get back to Frenchs Forest… we may get there before January ends! It’s a shame too because it is so beautiful around here, it would be nice to be a little bit closer so that we’d be able to return more often.

We have had a brilliant time enjoying the Ningaloo Reef and still can’t quite believe that this place is still largely unaffected by big tour operators. There is in excess of 250kms of coastline included in the Ningaloo Marine Park and aside from the little township of Coral Bay the rest is either adjacent to Cape Range National Park or cattle stations which offer access and very basic accommodation options.  Ideal for us, but still amazing that the area can remain this commercial-free.

Our first stop was at Cape Range National Park, The Indian Oceanon the western side of the Cape Range Peninsula, not far from Exmouth.  There are 10 or 11 different campsites in the park, a few of which can be booked online, which we were thankfully able to do from Dampier as the park was full to capacity for most of the five nights we stayed. We were in Kurrajong campsite which was fairly sheltered from the relentless westerly wind that pounds the west coast from now until March or April each year. We generally have a reprieve every morning from the winds, but by mid afternoon things get blowy again. We had the sides of the annex up for most of the time on the coast and had the front up at Kurrajong too as we were limited with how we could position the camper in our site and were facing directly into the wind.

This time of the year at Ningaloo is mating and nesting season for the turtles. We spent a morning watching probably 30-40 turtles in the shallows of a bay chasing each other around.  It was amazing how close they would come up to you near the beach. The females apparently get fed up with the males on occasion and come out of the water for a rest. We did see a few tracks and what Checking out turtle tracks and nestappeared to be turtle nests, so I suppose they have started to lay eggs too. The little turtles don’t stand much of a chance though, once they’re out of the nest they have to survive the dash to the water, avoiding crabs and birds, then they get in the water and need to escape all sorts of predators, including fish, sharks, nets and plastic bags. If by some stroke of luck they make it through all that they will come back to the very same beach that they hatched at to start the cycle again.  They’ll not be mature enough for breeding until they are around eight years old and by then only 1 from 1,000 eggs laid eight years ago will have survived. Pretty slim odds.

Turtle coming up for air

Kids watching the turtlesComing ashore for a restThe brilliant blue water of the Indian Ocean did not disappoint, Jake swimming off Kurrajong, Cape Range NPthe white sand and blue water directly off the coast is like nothing we have seen so far. What I love most about Ningaloo is Heading out for a snorkeljust how accessible the reef is, you can snorkel right off the beach and within a couple of kicks you are amongst brilliant coral and such fantastic fish life. We snorkelled every day we were here, at the various spots along the National Park, and Ben and Tobey snorkelling at Turquiose Baycould quite easily have spent more time doing the same. Both Jake and Tobey absolutely love diving down with the fish and can stay in the water until they turn blue, Indianna is slightly more reluctant, but once she gets going all you hear through the water is her yelling to point out the fish and coral.

We had the Charlie Court Codboat out while we were at Kurrajong as we Scaling the fishwere able to pull it up on the beach just outside the campsite. Ben and the boys went out fishing most days and had a great haul of Chinaman Cod on one trip. The local name for this fish is “Charlie Court”, named after a ex-premier of WA who apparently had a big mouth – just like Scaling the fishthe fish!

The boys also saw dolphins and more turtles while out in the boat as well as rescuing an exhausted turtle who was stranded on the rocks. No photos of course because the camera was left behind again!

The wildlife experiences continue with us all seeing whales (most likely humpback) breeching and blowing out to sea, heading south with babies to their summer feeding grounds and we’ve seen lots of daddy emus and their procession of chicks trotting along behind – very cute.

To the Trying to spot a wallaby, Yardie Creeksouthern end of Cape Range National Park is Yardie Creek, the only permanent creek in the park. If you take a walk up the gorge and are quiet you may be fortunate enough to see some of the shy Black Footed Rock Wallabies that live Black Footed Rock Wallabyhere. We thought we’d give it a go even though Ben and I were not confident that the “quiet” part of the walk would happen. We were not disappointed though, after sitting for a while we managed to see 5-6 wallabies on the opposite wall of the gorge, they are certainly brilliant at camouflaging themselves.

From Cape Range we headed to Warroora Station which has been Coastline at Warroora Stationrecommended to us on several occasions. Warroora is one of a few stations on the shores of the Ningaloo Marine Park, having the park on your doorstep I guess you have a greater incentive to “keep the scene clean”. As a result you are required to have a chemical toilet to camp at Warroora – there is no digging a hole here!  So we have joined the realms of toilet-toting campers.  Disgusting things really, I cannot imagine why anyone would prefer to empty a porta-loo rather than dig a hole or brave some of the worst of the long-drops… a new job for Ben!

Ben and Tobey heading out to fishWarroora has a huge number of camping options and had we had a little longer to spend here we would have investigated more of the real 4WD spots.  We stayed at the very accessible 14-mile camp, tucked in behind some bushes out of the wind, but just off the beach. We were able to launch the boat right there and pull it up on the beach between outings. Ben and Tobey managed to catch a few fish here, but most of Emu and chicks on Warroora beachthem were beautiful Tusk fish so went back into the deep blue. There were plenty more emu families around Warroora too, we even saw a dad bring his two chicks down onto the beach. They were drinkingIndianna at Coral Bay from the sea, so I guess with the lack of fresh water in this area they are able to stand a little extra salt in their diet!

It’s only around half on hour into Coral Bay from Warroora so we decided to make it a day trip rather than joining the school holiday masses at the two caravan parks there.  Coral Bay is a stunning sight with the white sands and blue water, exactly as you are promised in all the brochures!  The couple of snorkels we did there were not quite as good as at Cape Range though, the coral not as colourful and the fish not as numerous. The beach was brilliant for the boys and their new skim board and we even came away without any broken bones.

Skimboarding at Coral BaySkimboarding at Coral BaySkimboarding at Coral BaySkimboarding at Coral Bay

A great phase of our journey came to an end as we left the Coral DSC_0105Coast, we crossed south over the 26th parallel, over the Tropic of Capricorn and out of the Tropics for the last time on this adventure.  It’s very easy to see the why the Grey Nomads make their migration every year to the north of the country. The climate has been absolutely perfect and of course the scenery and the feeling of getting to those isolated areas only adds to the attraction. Who knows when we’ll make it back north of the 26th parallel?

Just a note… On the 12th October we were included in Explore Australia’s “Roadtrip Hall of Fame” shortlist.  I really have no idea how we ended up there, or how the winner gets chosen, but it can’t hurt to have a whole lot of ‘likes’ to our posting on their Facebook page!  Check it out http://www.facebook.com/exploreaustralia.

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | October 7, 2011

The Pilbara

Ben and I have been really excited about getting to the Pilbara, back to the familiar ground of what seems like a lifetime ago – that’s pre-children, pre-marriage, pre-overseas travel… when we were considerably younger! Before we make it to Karratha we have around 850 kms and some beautiful sections of the West Australian coastline still to explore.

Our first stop out of Broome was not all that far down the road at Barn Hill station. Gate girl at Barn HillThis is a place that had been recommended to us on numerous occasions since we’ve been travelling, in fact I think it was one of the very first places we had been recommended, way back on the shores of Lake Hume, near Albury-Wodonga in Victoria.  I loved it at Barn Hill, there was the crystal clear water and white sand beaches, but also a rocky point that was brilliant for exploring for shells at low-tide. The kids even managed to find a cave for a cubby. We’ll certainly be passing on good references for Barn Hill – although the free washing machines that we had been promised now cost the usual $3 per load!

Playing in the sand at Barn Hill StationSwimming at Barn Hill StationSunset at Barn Hill Station

Ben tried a little fishing, but that wasn’t successful, in fact, Ben flying the white flagI found him on the beach with what I think was his surrender flag flying! But it’s not all about the fishing is it!

We popped in to Eighty Mile beach for lunch on our way south and there were certainly plenty of fishermen there. As far as you could see in both directions there were people fishing, and you can see right into the horizon.  We didn’t see anyone catching anything though, so we decided not to stay here, but try our luck further down the line at Cape Keraudren.

Fishermen on Eighty Mile BeachLunch on Eighty Mile Beach

Cape Keraudren was a beautiful spot, although as we drove in to set up camp we were a little concerned at the strong wind blowing.  All the not-so-friendly, maybe been-alone-to-long ranger had to say about that was “Yep, this is normal for this time of the year, helps to keep the midges away”. Righto! So Cape Keraudrenwe found a fairly sheltered spot near to a sandy beach (which is actually the very southern end of Eighty Mile Beach) to make our home for a couple of days.  Unfortunately the wind didn’t keep up enough during our stay to keep the midges away though, we all came away spotty red and scratching. Still, we enjoyed ourselves here collecting shells, taking photos and generally lazing around. The photo below is a fairly common pattern in the sand around here, made when the tidal waters recede on the firm sand, the patterns remind me of boab trees and now that we are out of the Kimberley I guess this is the only boab I’m going to see for quite a while!

Boabs in the tide

We made a flying visit to Port Hedland as we continued our journey south. Many people say to not even bother stopping, that it’s a bit of a dump, but from our brief encounter it didn’t look too bad at all. That said, we made the mandatory stop to look over the salt ponds and carried on, keen to make it to Karratha!Home sweet home

Wow, Karratha has changed! It’s been 15 years since Ben and I were here and we struggled to recognise some of the places.  We searched out the backpackers, where we lived for three months, and it doesn’t look all that different, although it now accommodates mine workers and there’s no room for any backpacker looking for a night to stay. The availability of accommodation in the town is ridiculous, the property prices and the price of rent is sky high. Unless you are on one of the whopping mining salaries I have no idea how you’d afford to live here. There are new housing developments going up everywhere, even a multi-storey apartment building – this in a region which experiences cyclones fairly frequently – I’d not like to be living on the top floor, that’s for sure! We drove around for a Red Dog - The Pilbara Wandererwhile trying to remember where we had worked and finally found Ben’s factory.  Mine was a little harder to find, being on Hamersley Iron (now Rio Tinto) property we couldn’t just drive on-site, but I think I figured out where it was. We stayed at the caravan park in Dampier while here, it’s a fairly basic park, but is just across the road from the ocean and about half the price of any of the parks in Karratha. And of course Dampier was the home to ‘Red Dog’, the Pilbara Wanderer so we had to get the obligatory photo with the statue.

The view into the bay from the caravan park at Dampier is a real Watching the ships come inmixture of natural beauty and massive industry. In amongst the blue waters of the Dampier Archipelago cruise the huge ships carrying tonnes and tonnes of iron ore out of the Pilbara, bound for China. Then there’s the Natural Gas Plant on the Burrup Peninsula burning it’s excess gas out of a stack in a pretty spectacular flame.

We headed out in our LNG Plant letting off steamboat into the bay and really felt like we were in a toy boat among all of the other vessels.  We made a short trip to Sam’s Island, a few hundred metres from the mainland and had our own private island for the morning.  Sam’s Island is named after Sam Ostojich who lived on the island, building a stone ‘castle’ for himself and living there without electricity, but with his cat “Tiger” until he died in 2005. We did a spot of fishing, but really the morning was spent towing the kids behind the boat for a bit of wave riding (thanks to the Smidts for the tip!).

Sam's IslandSam's CastleSam's IslandWave riding in DampierIndianna wave riding in DampierTobey wave riding in Dampier

We made a day-trip outNed's remaining leg - RIP Ned! to Cossack and Point Samson (just north-east of Karratha), where we checked out the sights, did a spot of fishing and headed back to camp.  We lost a very important member of our adventure on the journey back to Dampier. Ned was knocked for six by a bird who then slammed into the windscreen, with the shock of the bird whacking against the windscreen we didn’t even notice poor old Ned was missing until we were too far down the road to retrieve him. RIP Ned!

After reading the blog of some fellow travellers who we met on Cape York the kids and I decided we’d check out a new pastime (new for us anyway) of Geocaching.  It’s Finding the cacheessentially a game of hide and seek, where the ‘hiders’ hide a cache (or treasure box) of some sort, then give you GPS coordinates and sometimes clues for the ‘seekers’ to find it (excuse the inaccuracies of the explanation to those geocachers who are a little more experienced!).  So we had our coordinates and clue in hand – good old fashioned letter swapping for the secret clue – and went in search of our first cache. The downhill run after finding the cacheIt was up a very steep hill on an extremely windy day, so we had to go the last part on foot, but we did find it in the end… very exciting for all – except Ben who thought we were a bunch of nerds and opted to stay in the car! Thanks for the fun Sue and Marty, I think we’ll be geocaching some more in the future. For anyone else interested, check out www.geocaching.com.au.

From Dampier and after about a month on the coast we headed inland again. First stop was Millstream Chichester National Park, this was a favourite spot for Ben and I when we lived here, the homestead was certainly the lush oasis that we remembered, but the rest of the park was not as wonderful as our memories were.  So we moved on to Karijini a little earlier than we’d planned.

Lillies int he pond at Millstream HomesteadPython Pool - Millstream NPMillstream Homestead

A quick plug of a hole in the tyre was required at Auski Roadhouse. DSC_0038 (3)As we were packed to the hilt it was very lucky we didn’t even have to take the tyre off!

Birthday BoyTobey has been planning his on-road birthday celebrations ever since we started on our journey and I can tell you that his idea of a great birthday was definitely not being in the middle of no-where doing a hike. I’m fairly certain that lunch at McDonalds before leaving Karratha, his remote controlled car birthday present and the swimming holes at the end of the walks went a long way to making amends though.

Hard to get a birthday kiss!9 years old today!

Karijini was certainly as stunning as we Circular pool from the top of Dales Gorgeremembered and happily for the kids the walks were all far shorter than I thought they’d be! We’ve seen our fair share of gorges on this trip, especially in WA, but the gorges of Karijini are really something else altogether. Squeezing through tight spots, clambering along gorge walls and wedging ourselves against the gorge walls above the flow of the water all made for exciting adventures onto the gorge floors.  Brilliant fun and some amazing sights.

We made an early start to Circular Pool in Dales Gorge and were lucky enough to have the pool to ourselves for a while before the flow of people started in.  The pool itself was pretty cold, but we found that the water flowing out of the rocks was really quite warm, so we sat under our warm shower for a while washing off the red Pilbara dust.

Circular pool, Dales GorgeCircular pool, Dales Gorge

We were camped very near to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool which made a great spot to cool off in the afternoons.

Fortescue FallsWatching the fish at Fern PoolFortescue Falls

The walks through Hancock and Weano Gorges are the more difficult routes that require rock scrambling and wall clinging. We have so many photos of these walks, but here are a few to give you some idea of the beauty and scale of the place.

Weano GorgeWeano GorgeHandrail Pool, Weano GorgeClimbing out of Handrail Pool in Weano GorgeHancock GorgeHancock GorgeHancock GorgeKermits Pool, Hancock GorgeSpider Walk, Hancock GorgeSpider Walk - Monkey Style, Hancock GorgeSpider Walk, Hancock Gorge. Me taking the safe option!Hancock GorgeKermits Pool, Hancock GorgeLadder into Hancock Gorge

The kids all loved the adventure of walking through these gorges and despite the rush to be the leader of the pack they even managed to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings too!

Karijini really is a magnificent place, from the huge gorges right down to the colours and shapes of the rocks up close.  You could spend a very long time here just sitting and looking.

The minerals in the earth are literally right at your finger tips. If you drop a magnet in the dust on the ground you pick up a whole lot of iron. You can see why the mining companies find this area so attractive.

The colours of KarijiniCrocodolite (Blue Asbestos)Rocks full of mineralsThe iron dust you can collect with a magnet

We Mining chickgot up close – well as close as all the Health and Safety regulations allow tourists to get – to the operation of the iron ore mine at Tom Price.  The size of everything is huge. Big trucks, big holes in the ground, big mounds of iron ore and big money! The tyres on the dump trucks cost $60,000 each – with six tyres on each truck needing replacing every three months and each of the 30-odd trucks on site use around 800 litres of diesel per day – makes the running costs of the Disco pretty insignificant!

Indianna really looked the part in her mining get-up, all covered in red dust like she’d been hard at work all day. I’d like to say that the state of her face was like this just on the mine tour, but in reality if there’s dirt around both she and Tobey make sure they get a fair deal of it on their faces.

Off to see some big trucks and a big hole in the groundTom Price MineBig truckWhen I grow up I want to be....

We are starting to come encounter the wonderful wild flowers that Western Australia blooms at this time of the year. I’ve been looking forward to this, much to Ben’s disgust at having to pull over for the photos, so watch this space for more brilliant shots as we head down the coast!! We’re heading for the coast again now to enjoy the beautiful Ningaloo Reef during our school holidays – perfect timing!

Wildflowers, KarijiniStuarts Desert PeaMulla Mulla

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | September 17, 2011

Broome and the Dampier Peninsula

We found a great spot to leave the tent pegs in for a week… Broome! We’ve had a great break from the packing up and setting up routine this past week, but before getting here we did have to deal with some gale force winds on the Dampier Indianna and ben fishing on Fathers DayPeninsula.

In a last ditch effort to bag the big Jake up the treeBarra we left Derby about two weeks ago and spent a couple of nights on the Fitzroy River where Ben could get the boat in. There’s not much to do here except fish, so that’s what he did and there were definitely fish to catch – eight Barra over the two days but each of them just falling short of the 55cm legal limit!  Although the pan was bare Ben still had a lot of fun pulling them in. The boys entertained themselves with a boab tree nearby, climbing it to get the nuts down, carving some and trying out the flesh of those that didn’t make it to the ground in one piece.

Flesh from a boab nutJake's artwork, flying fox and Zebra Finch

Cape Leveque, Cape Leveque, we’d heard so much about Cape Leveque and in particular Kooljaman Resort in our recent travels that we felt almost obliged to go there. It’s a very popular place though, when trying to make a booking from Derby the very busy receptionist informed me that there were no vacancies for over a week and that she’s have to call me back… she never did, so we didn’t stay there!

Our first stop on the Dampier Peninsula was past the protest camp situated at the junction of the Cape Leveque and James Price Point Roads.  The protesters at the camp are trying to stop the Woodside gas hub that is planned for James Price Point from going ahead.  The traditional owners of the area signed over their land to Woodside earlier in the year, but that deal has divided the Aboriginal community. Joining the indigenous protestors are those trying to preserve the landscape and animals of the area.   Woodside have started some clearing work and as recently as last month there were some fairly heated scenes as protesters tried to stop heavy machinery from entering the area.  We didn’t actually go right to James Price Point, but in retrospect perhaps we should have, it may never look the same again if Woodside do go ahead with the development.

Indianna flying her kite on Quondong beachWe stayed at Quondong Point, about 15kms south of James Price Point. Quondong Point and beach were beautiful and there were a surprising number of people camped along the beach, with the dunes we were all able to get our own little hideaway though and were sheltered from the wind which had started to pick up over the couple of days we were here.

There was more fishing for Ben and playing in the sand for the kids. We met up with Chris and Marion here, so was good to have some friends again!

We’d been warned about the road to Cape Leveque being really rough and it Cape Leveque Roaddefinitely was.  It was perhaps the worst piece of road we’ve travelled on as far as corrugations go. The road to the top was about 200kms long and we certainly had had enough of the bumpy ride after about a quarter of that when we stopped to help a couple of guys who’d lost their trailer wheel. There wasn’t really much we could do to help other than letting them use our satellite phone to call for a tow truck. Here’s hoping the Bulloak makes the distance! To our great delight the corrugated road ended after about 100kms and we were back on bitumen again, we thought that this surely wasn’t going to last, but it did – all the way to the top… brilliant!

With Kooljaman Resort not returning our call we decided to stay at Gambanan Launching the boat at GambananCampground which is run by the local Aboriginals near One Arm Point. It was an excellent spot on the water overlooking the entrance to King Sound, although King Sound is so huge that you can barely see the other side of it. We launched the boat and had a beautiful afternoon doing a bit of fishing and looking through the crystal clear water to the coral reefs below.  Tobey managed to catch a Blue Lined Emperor, but that was the total tally for the day.  Far more exciting were the huge turtles we saw poking their heads out of the water and the dolphin I think I saw, although it could very well have been a shark I suppose… it was the Waiting for low tide to reveal the fish trapbriefest of glimpses and I was hoping it was the former! That was to be the end of our fishing in the boat though, the wind picked up after our first night, so aside from a couple of short outings that Ben made himself it was really too rough to be out in the Sound. We had hoped that the fish trap may have some surprises in it at low tide, but that wasn’t to be.  The locals said they’d caught a heap of squid in it the day before, once again we were a little too late!

We couldn’t come all this way without going to Cape Leveque itself, perhaps the wind altered the beauty of the place, but we really felt that all the hype of Kooljaman Resort was a little unfounded. Or maybe we’ve seen so many beautiful places lately that our standards are extremely high!

Kids on beach at Kooljaman ResortCape Leveque, west coast beach

One of the funniest Maintaining the airstrip, One Arm Point stylesights we’ve seen in a long time was a guy mowing the grass around the air strip at One Arm Point. Admittedly it was not a large airstrip, but he was mowing it with a whipper snipper!

We rounded off our stay on the Dampier Peninsula by playing on the sandbar in the middle of the bay that becomes exposed on low tide. The kids had races with a couple of new friends (more from close to home – Narrabeen this time)DSC_0058 while Ben collected the empty crab pots.  We’d been paddling in the water through the afternoon, no more than waist deep, because althoughThe croc's been playing with this there were not supposed to be any crocodiles around this area we were still a little doubtful as to why the many hundreds of crocs from the Fitzroy River and Derby area wouldn’t come out here, after all it is the same body of water. Our concerns were well founded too, when Ben pulled the crab pot in he found that something had been having a little play with the buoy. We then learned that crocs really like white coloured buoys and they are often left out as a type of croc indicator… if there are bites in the white buoys there are crocs around… well, there were crocs around!

WeComing towards the smoke from fires in Beagle Bay had hoped to stay at Middle Lagoon on the way back to Broome, but the looming smoke from bush fires in the Beagle Bay area made us change our minds. Just driving through the smoke for a few hundred metres was scary enough. With visibility down to a few metres it is so easy to understand how frightening it would be to be caught in a bush fire.

We passed a few more roadside tragedies on the journey back to Broome, there was a boat trailer minus both wheels, a camper trailer with the axle screwed around and one wheel coming out the back and another camper minus a wheel… this is seriously the most damaging stretch of road we have been on.

Our timing in Broome could not have been better, we arrived in time for the first day of the Shinju Matsuri festival. The festival celebrates the pearling industry in Broome and in particular the multicultural population of the community, in the words of the festival organisers, it is the only Australian festival with a Japanese name and a Chinese Dragon as it’s centrepiece. We spent the week enjoying the festival parade, markets, family beach day, art displays and the festival of lights.

"Sammy" the dragonOur 'boat' castle at the family fun dayBeach princessFire twirling on the mudflats

The star of the festival of lights is the ‘Staircase to the Moon’, which occurs for a few nights every full moon when the rising moon shines across the mudflats in Roebuck Bay and creates a vision of ‘stairs’ leading to the moon. Unfortunately, on the nights that we were there so was a haze over the horizon which meant the moon didn’t get it’s chance to shine until it was fairly high in the sky. The photo on the left below is what we should have seen and the photo on the right is what we did get to see…still fairly impressive even though the moon was a little high in the sky.

Staircase to the moon - what we're supposed to see      DSC_0011

Of course Broome has a whole lot more to offer outside of the festival. Ben and Chris spent a couple of days out in the boat fishing and we even had fish for dinner two nights in a row! Woo hoo! Indianna and I checked out Anastasia’s pool and the beautiful colours at Gantheaume Point, Indi was disappointed she couldn’t share the pool with ‘her’ Anastasia though (her cousin). Of course we swam and watched the sun go down at Cable Beach and we went to the movies for the first time in eight months at the Outdoor Cinema, sitting on deck chairs under the sky watching “Red Dog” which is based just a little further south of here in the Pilbara.

DSC_0128Cable Beach sunsetCable BeachStarfish on Roebuck BeachCable BeachINdianna at Gantheaume PointTown Beach, Broome

But what visit to Broome would be complete without a camel ride on Cable Beach! We boarded our ships of the desert on the morning we left Broome. Tobey and Jake were riding Waltzing Matilda, or ‘Tilly’ for short. Tilly is the smallest camel of the herd, but she had the biggest attitude – as far as we were concerned this definitely should have been Indianna’s camel!

Camel ride - Cable BeachCamel ride - Cable BeachCamel ride - Cable BeachCamel ride - Cable BeachCamel shadowsCamels heading homeCamels heading home

You see all sorts of things on Cable Beach, see if you can spot what doesn’t add up in these two photos.

Spot the differenceSpot the difference

Departing Broome means leaving the Kimberley area and all of her stunning beauty, just as we expected this has certainly been a highlight of our journey and a part of Australia which everyone should make the effort to get to.  It certainly is a long way away from almost everywhere else, but definitely worth getting here.  We’re excited to be moving on to the Pilbara though and to see just how much things have changed in the 16 or so years since Ben and I were last here.

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | September 2, 2011

Gibb River Road

The Gibb River Road and this area of the Kimberleys has been one of the long awaited items on our agenda, but the reputation of the corrugated road had left us wondering if the bone rattling would be worth it all. Like many of the the nightmare road stories that we have heard along the way this one was over-hyped too.  Certainly there were corrugations and a few holes and dips through creek crossings, but nothing that would stop you coming to enjoy this fabulous part of the country.

Our first stop along the great Gibb River Road was El Questro Station, although DSC_0181 (2)from most accounts the ‘station’ part of the operation is now very minor compared to the tourist part.  It is a fairly commercialised port of call, but the natural beauty that the station has to offer definitely makes this a must-stop for at least a couple of night. We walked gorges, swam in the hot springs, viewed some amazing vistas and Indianna was very nearly horse-napped by a friendly, nibbley horse!  From Branco’s lookout we could see way down below into the clear water of the Pentecost River and saw a pretty big croc making his way along the river in search of lunch.  He obviously found something when he dived down into the depths and we didn’t see him again.

Zebedee Hot Springs

El Questro Gorge

El Questro GorgeBranco's Lookout, over the Pentecost RiverAmalia GorgeAmalia GorgeAmalia GorgeBranco's Lookout, over the Pentecost River

Gibb River Road, Cockburn Ranges in the backgroundWith the intention of putting the boat in on the Pentecost River we made our next stop a short distance down the Gibb at Home Valley Station. We’d unfortunately missed the high tide necessary to launch the boat for that day and because of the neap tides that occur on the PentecostLazing at Home Valley Station we wouldn’t get another opportunity to launch the boat for a couple of days.  The kids weren’t too upset by the circumstances though as Home Valley Station had the most amazing playground and a beautiful pool to entertain us all for the afternoon before moving on.

Gate boy at Drysdale StationTurning off onto the Kalumbaru Road heading to Mitchell Falls we were told that the bone-rattling corrugations were to get worse, but the road wasn’t too bad.  Pretty dusty, but nothing like the red plumes of the Peninsula Development Road on Cape York. We headed into Drysdale Station to support the locals and fuel up.  At $2.09 the diesel was no more expensive than we’d anticipated and we were Camping at King Edward Riverjust pleased that we weren’t having to pay the Kalumbaru prices – reportedly $3.70 per litre for diesel! We travelled around 350kms from Home Valley to the King Edward River on the Mitchell Fall Road on this day, arriving at camp before 3pm, so you can see that the roads were not too slow going, there were places where we travelled at 40-50 km/h, but there were also stretches where we were up to 80-90km/h.

There is an amazing amount of Aboriginal art in this area of the Kimberleys (and other areas I guess), but we have noticed that you have to be fairly committed to find much of it.  There are information boards and Looking at the rock art near King Edward Rivermaps showing the general area of art, but not a lot of great signage at the actual art sites. I guess this goes some way to reducing the number of people stamping up dust around the sites and protecting the art for years to come.  The age of the art is just amazing, the oldest art, usually depicting humans, animals and plants in an irregular style is around 30,000 – 40,000 years old.  Just imagine if Dulux could make paint that lasted that long! I personally really like the Gwion style of art (also known as Bradshaw Art) which is no less than 17,000 years old. It’s painted mostly in red ochre and the colours are still so very vivid.  The subjects are mostly humans in ceremonial dress and postures. Then there are the Wandjina painting which have a very distinctive head shape and are the youngest style, considered to be less than 1,000 years old, but made famous by that image being included in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

Gwion art, at least 17,000 years oldWandjina Paintings, less than 1,000 years old

From King Edward River we made our way into the Mitchell Falls Mitchell Falls road, driving through Livingstonia Palmscamping area, over a rougher road, so the going was a little slower at times and we hit a couple of dips with a bit of a thud! Everything remained intact though.

Mitchell Falls was definitely worth the extra miles and the fairly rugged walk in.  Even at this time of the dry season the falls are a beautiful sight… they would certainly be awesome in the wet. The walk into Mitchell Falls also Jake sitting in behind Little Mertens Fallstakes you past Little Mertens and Big Mertens Falls, with the first spot being a great place to swim and cool off a little sitting in the dry behind the water fall. There’s more rock art along this walk too, but due to the lack of signage we missed one lot. The highlight of our Mitchell Falls visit would have to be the return to camp though, one and a half hours there and six minutes back… by helicopter! What a fantastic Looking at rock art at Little Mertens Fallsride, we were taken for a few swoops across the falls at a precarious angle before heading back to camp.  The view you get from up in the air is so very different to that on the ground, especially in this type of country which is gouged out with all of the different waterways. This treat has been a long time coming for the kids, we’ve been taking about taking a helicopter flight for a long time now and they were all itching to get aboard. Thank goodness the reality matched their expectation, everyone was absolutely buzzing at the end of the ride.

DSC_0323 (2)Indianna walking to Mitchell FallsBig Mertens FallsLillies on Mitchell Falls walkWalking across Mitchell River to top of the fallsMitchell FallsJake as co-pilotAll buckled upView from the airWoo hoo!

Time to head back to the Gibb, but first a quick fuel stop Drysdale Station burger at Drysdale Station again and lunch of one of the biggest burgers I’ve ever seen. There was certainly no need for dinner that night!

The western side of the Gibb River Road, from the Kalumbaru Road on is stop after stop of magnificent gorges and waterholes to swim in.  We didn’t venture into all of them, we had to pick and choose somewhat to save the kids legs!  Barnett River GorgeWe made a quick late afternoon stop at Barnett River Gorge, negotiating the roughly marked track to get to a great swimming spot complete with rope swing. A few miles further on is Mt Barnett Station and the campground for Manning Gorge where we arrived late in the afternoon. This is a beautiful spot, a little dusty perhaps, but the campground is in amongst big boab trees on the banks of the Manning River. You have to get wet crossing the Manning River before walking into Manning Gorge itself.  We set off fairly early on the walk as much of it is unshaded and over rocky terrain.  We decided to make a day of it so packed lunch and a pack of cards to spend the day swimming, jumping from rock ledges and relaxing near the falls.  It was a great day and for much of the afternoon we had the whole place to ourselves.  We walked back around mid-afternoon and the rest certainly paid off as we made the return journey half an hour quicker than the trip out.

Getting everything across Manning River at the start of the walkLedge jumping at Manning GorgeManning Gorge Falls

Walk out to Manning GorgePoser at Manning Gorge

The boys (big and small) love jumping off any rock ledge that they can find and the water here is so clear and deep that it is all safe enough for cautious-Mum to let them do it, I’ve even been known to get in on the action too – on the smaller jumps at least!

We had hoped to stay at Bell Gorge for our next stop, but the camping at the gorge is currently closed so we had to settle for a spot at Silent Grove.  The facilities at the National Parks along the Gibb River Road (GRR) have been brilliant, with flushing toilets and hot showers, all cleaned daily – but you do pay a decent price for them.  We’re paying $26 a night in the National Parks, on top of the annual parks pass which we purchased in Kununurra, and there are very few options for free camping along the way with most of the land bordering the GRR being private land with “No Camping” signs at most potential camping spots.

Bell Gorge, like Manning, is stunning and we spent a fair few hours whiling away the time here too.  With the very high cliffs to the sides of the waterfall there was plenty of entertainment as various (usually French) travellers hurled themselves off.  This time cautious-Mum put her foot down and directed the jumping Malpass’ to a lower section of the river to jump from! The orange and black King Leopold stone that makes up most of the gorges in this area is extremely hard and dates from billions of years ago. Even with the immense amount of water that passes over this stone there appears to be barely any wearing of the gorge walls.

Top of falls in Bell GorgeBell Gorge falls

Indianna at Bell GorgeThree Malpass boys jumping at Bell GorgeTobey at Bell Gorge

We have not seen a huge amount of wildlife in the last week or so, there are a fair Dingo on Mitchell Falls Roadnumber of birds around, but mostly small birds such as finches, not the flock of big Brolgas and Jabirus as we saw in Kakadu, although we have seen the occasional one.  There must be a lot of dingos around though, we saw a very confident dingo sitting on the road out to Mitchell Falls, he just wandered to the side Keeper of the creekof the road and watched us cruise by.  One caught us off guard one night as Ben and I sat by the fire at Mitchell Falls.  We had all the lights off and no torch handy as a dingo trotted through the camp a few metres away, by the time we managed to find a torch he was long gone.  Then I saw another pass through at Silent Grove as I sat up alone writing our blog, they just saunter through though, not particularly bothered by humans, just on the look out for some tasty morsel from the rubbish. As much of the driving has been bordered by Goanna at Bell Gorgecattle stations we have of course seen a lot of cattle. Goannas are  starting to reappear again too, we have not seen any for such a long time thanks to the cane toad in Queensland and much of the Northern Territory. The cane toad has glands on it’s back that secrete a toxic liquid and are deadly to the goanna and many other toad eating natives.  The cane toad is making it’s deadly march through Western Australia though, with toads being found as far west as Kununurra, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before the goannas in this area are effected too.  We’ve heard stories about the remaining goannas in Queensland learning to roll the cane toads over and eating them from the underneath, thereby avoiding the poisons… clever little things, lets just hope there are enough clever ones to let the species survive and that the other reptiles and birds learn similar tricks.

The highlights of the Gibb River Road itself really ended for us at Bell Gorge, from there we travelled a little further along and then south, through the Windjana Gorge Road back to the Great Northern Highway, missing the last 120-odd kms of the Gibb into Derby, but allowing us to see Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Fitzroy Crossing without a whole lot of doubling back.

Nautiloid fossilWindjana Gorge (like Tunnel Creek and Geike Gorge which are yet to come) is gouged out of the Devonian Reef, which is a build up of the dead calcium organisms that lived on the ocean floor covering the Kimberley area over 360 million years ago.  Over a period of something like 50 million years the remains of these dying little creatures created a reef in excess of 2kms tall in some parts. As the Kimberley region was lifted through movements in the Earth’s crust the reef became the cliffs that we can see today.  Pretty amazing to think that these towering cliffs are made Seven crocs in one shot - Windjana Gorgeup of billions of dead little animals.  Windjana Gorge is also famous for the number of freshwater crocodiles that you can see in the river.  There are certainly a lot, on the 3.5km walk up the gorge we got fairly close to some, (probably could have got a little closer, just didn’t want to scare the little biters!) and we saw probably 25 or so sunning themselves in the early morning sun. Check to the right of Tobey in the photo below for one of our little friends!

Windjana Gorge, look to the right of Tobey

Up pretty close, Windjana Gorge

The gorge walk itself was not all that special, all of the huge cliff formations were most spectacular at the entrance to the gorge.  I think we may have been a little spoilt foWindjana Gorger amazing scenery over the last week or more with the gorges through the King Leopold Ranges.

A little further down the road we had a scenic delight of quite a different kind.  Tunnel Creek is a tunnel (of course!) through the limestone cliffs of this area.  You walk through the tunnel, at times in complete darkness, having to negotiate around and through the creek which runs through the tunnel.  The water gets a little deeper than waist height and it is pretty cold in parts.  There is a fair amount of wildlife around for a dark place, there’s a colony of Ghost Bats hanging at the half way point, there are lots of butterflies at the end and there are those two shiny red eyes in the water in the dark, dark section which belong to the resident freshwater croc. Even though you know he’s highly unlikely to come and take a taste of your legs it’s still a little unnerving walking through waist deep water less than 10 metres from him.

Entering Tunnel CreekLooking back at entryExit to Tunnel CreekTunnel Creek, half way point

Still Whirlwind on Windjana Gorge Roadwet from walking through the creek we made the last 112km RIP on Windjana Gorge Roaddash to Fitzroy Crossing and were pretty dried out by the time we got there! On the road south we saw a huge dust whirlwind, it was mostly over by the time we realised what it was and scrambled for the camera, but had started with a black base as it whipped up all of the ash from burn-offs on the ground.

We also passed a Combi spending it’s last days in the company of a Boab, she’s obviously had a pretty hard life.

We headed about 40kms the wrong way (East!) on the Great Northern Highway to spend some time in Fitzroy Crossing and to check out Geike Gorge.  Camping for a couple of nights near the old concrete crossing of the Fitzroy River with a couple who we first met at Barnett River Gorge.  Chris and Marion are not much older than Ben and I and are semi-retired, on the road almost indefinitely and picking up bits of work occasionally when they feel like a break from travelling – nice! The camp spot was pretty dusty though, so two nights were more than enough here, just enough time to allow us to work our way around the time slots which are available to launch your boat on the Fitzroy to go through Geike Gorge. You can’t access the boat ramp in the National Park when the commercial boats are operating – so you don’t impact upon the quality of those tours! Geike Gorge is really very beautiful, especially in the late afternoon sun with the reflections on the glass-like water.  We had a great afternoon motoring up the river, lunching on the sandbanks and trying to catch that elusive Barra… it remained elusive.  We did gather a whole bunch of freshwater mussels though, thanks to our new found knowledge gained from Patsy in Kakadu.

Geike Gorge reflections

Ben and Indi fishing the Fitzroy through Geike GorgeChris and Marion on Geike Gorge

Up close to the gorge walls there was a lot to see, we saw thousands of tiny birds zooming in and out of their mud nests, the ‘high tide’ mark of the summer rains up the walls of the gorge (in these photos it’s very hard to gain perspective of that, but the lighter coloured rock is about 10 metres high) and some of the water and wind gouging of the gorge face reminded Ben and I of Gaudi’s ‘Chimney Pots’ in Barcelona… now we know where he got his inspiration.

Geike Gorge inspiring GaudiGeike Gorge

Before heading out of Fitzroy Crossing we took a quick Crossing Innlook at the student art which is displayed at the Crossing Inn.  The art displays here were inspired by a Fitzroy student winning a national art prize in 2000 which coincided with the Olympic Games. All fuelled up it was time to head west again.  Although we didn’t travel the entire length of the Gibb River Road we are calling our stop at Derby the end of our GRR adventure.

The first stop around Derby was to try toBoab Prison Tree lock the kids in the Boab prison tree, unfortunately access to the tree itself is not allowed, so we’ve had to settle with locking them in the car instead! This boab tree is said to be over 1500 years old, although because it is hollow and therefore has no growth-rings it is difficult to age it. The tree was used by policemen to hold prisoners in the late 1800’s as they were being transported through the area.

We’ve used our fair share of water in Derby to get the GRR dust off everything and are finally starting to feel a little cleaner, Ben’s even had a shave – we hardly recognise him now. I’ve changed my mind about the dust being worse on Cape York, now that we’ve had a chance to clean everything out the GRR dust certainly got in places that the Cape York dust did not.  Maybe everything is a little looser now or maybe it’s just that the dust here is so so fine that it’s hard to keep it out.

The must-do in Derby is to visit the wharf at low and high tide to Derby Wharf at high tideget an appreciation of the huge tides that King Sound has, the day we were here the high tide was over 11 metres and the low tide just over 1 metre – that’s a huge amount of water flooding in and out every six hours or so.  It was interesting to understand just why the tides are so big here. The tides, like everywhere, are influenced by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, when the sun, moon and earth are all aligned you get the high (spring) tides, these occur with a new and full moon, when the Derby Wharf at low tidemoon is a quarter or three-quarters full you get very low (neap) tides because the moon and sun are at 90 degrees to each other, so their gravitational pull cancel each other out somewhat. The ‘Macro’ tides that occur in Derby and in a handful of other places around the world are caused by the shape of the coast. King Sound at Derby is near the edge of the Continental Shelf, so as the sun and moon pull the water from the deep ocean to cause tides in King Sound the water hits the shallow Continental Shelf it is constricted and the tides are amplified as the water makes it’s way up the narrow sound.

DSC_0011 (2)As the sun sets in Derby we are really excited about getting to the West coast, we are all so looking forward to the crystal blue waters of Broome and the Dampier Peninsula, we may even keep the tent pegs hammered in for a week or so if we find the right spot!  That will be a novelty, the last time we stayed a week anywhere was in Bingal Bay, QLD – near Mission Beach and that was in the middle of May.

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | August 30, 2011

Sleeping out in WA

Written 20 August… thanks to Telstra, posted somewhat later!

After leaving Kakadu we had an overnight supply stop in Katherine with the absolute luxury of an ensuite site… ahhhh, what bliss to have our own bathroom Launching the boat on the Victoria Riverright outside the tent door – to have the luxury of leaving our toiletries in the bathroom over night and not having to walk across camp for a midnight pee!

Our final stop in the Northern Territory was on the banks of the Victoria River at Big Horse Creek Camp, just outside of Timber Creek.  Ben put the boat in with a final dash for a big Barra in NT waters.  Ho hum, it was not to be, he did manage to pull in two at 40cm and 53cm fairly quickly after going out and thought he was on the money (Barra in this part of the NT have to be 55cm), but unfortunately there were no other biting beauties. Had he known what was to happen later in the day that 53cm fish may have been stretched a little!

We’ve hit Boab country now, it’s amazing that within the space of about 50kms you go from seeing no Boab trees to seeing them everywhere.  They’re such a beautiful sight on the landscape, the shape of both the trunk and branches are really stunning and at this time of the year they are in fruit, so they look like outback Christmas trees with their baubles swinging.  You can eat the inside of the nut, it has flesh similar to a coconut in that it lines the inside of the shell, it’s not especially nice though, a little sweet I suppose, but not something I’d go out of my way for.

Boab baubles!

DSC_0496

 

 

 

 

 

Not far from Big Horse Creek is a very famous Boab, one that DSC_0018 (2)was blazed by Augustus Gregory on his 1855-56 expedition to Northern Australia.  The expedition party arrived by boat at the mouth of the Victoria River in late 1855 and set out to explore into The Great Sandy Desert (in search of the ‘great inland sea’ which was thought to be in the centre of Australia at this time) and east in to the Roper River area.  The Gregory Tree marks the spot where they set up base camp with the tree being marked with their arrival and departure dates.

After a month and a half and 7,500 kms in the Northern Territory we were again at the state border.  We’ve seen some truly iconic Australian sights in the last six weeks, especially memorable are Uluru and Kakadu, but we have many more memories that will last a long time.

Onwards we go, into Western Australia, scoffing as much of our remaining fruit and vegetables before dumping the rest at the quarantine station on the border.

Hello WA

Trying to eat all our fruit and veges before crossing the border

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Argyle, with dam wall on rightLake Argyle is just over the WA border and made a good spot for lunch (minus any salad on our sandwiches!). Lake Argyle was created in 1972 with the damming of the Ord River, creating the largest man-made lake in Australia. Considering the size of the lake (something like 2000 sq km) the dam wall is fairly small. The irrigation that was possible from the damming of the lake created an agriculture industry on which the town of Kununurra was created.  There is a secondary dam on the western side of Kununurra which creates Kununurra Lake.  Our campsite was right on the shores of Lake Kununurra, a beautiful spot to gaze out upon and we could drive the boat almost to the door.  No fishing attempts in Lake Kununurra, but we did go for a couple of sunset cruises.

Mad driver on Lake KununurraLkae KununurraLkae Kununurra

We really liked Kununurra, it’s setting on the edge of the lake is very picturesque, I remember this from when we were here in 1996 too.  I’m not sure that we’d be able to live with the alcohol restrictions though!  With the midday opening, only low-alcohol drinks before 5pm and no cask wine at all you sure do need to be organised to get a wine around here!

There’s plenty to do around Kununurra, you could Head Lice Dreaming - Mirima NPeasily spend a couple of weeks here exploring the area. Before leaving and heading south to the Bungle Bungles we went for a quick stroll through Mirima NP on the edge of town, the rock formations in here are similar to the Bungles I guess and the climb up offers great views of the area, but what I found really entertaining was the Dreamtime stories of this site.  The prominent rock formations in the area are part of the ‘head lice dreaming’ of the local people! Now my head’s itchy.

We arrived at Purnululu National Park to a haze covering pretty much everything.  Smoke had blown in from wild fires near the NT/WA border, west of Tennant Creek. The Walardi campsite is still about 15kms from the Bungle Bungles themselves, so that sight had to wait for another day. Here’s hoping that the skies would clear for the following day because as it stood we weren’t going to get much of a view of anything!  We had a very friendly Blue Winged Kookaburra hanging around the campsite here, he perched himself in a tree above the car for much of the time we were around.

Walari campsiteBlue Winged Kookaburra

The Bungle Bungles are truly impressive.  When Ben and I were here 16 years ago in our VW Combi we were not able to come in and walk amongst them (4WD track in) so we splashed out and took a helicopter flight over the top.  Now having been at ground level I’m not sure you can say the view by air or ground is any better than the other, both are brilliant, just different from each other.

We ventured first into ‘The Domes’ and ‘Cathedral Gorge’ where we were instantly among the orange and black domes that are the Bungle Bungles.  Cathedral Gorge is spectacular, the kids had a great time playing in the sand there – ever so quietly as every sound reverberated around the walls of the gorge. Jake said later he was so tempted to yell out “Cooee!”.  On the walk up to Cathedral Gorge you pass a series of potholes which have been gouged out by the scouring action of pebbles, sand and water during the wet season.  We saw a lot of these potholes later in our journey up Piccaninny Creek.

The DomesCathedral GorgePotholesWalking into Cathedral Gorge

Inspired by a family who we met in Kununurra, who’d been on a few overnight camps Fresh and ready to hikeon their travels, we decided we’d ‘Bear Grylls’ it and camp out under the stars for a night.  The kids were really excited about our adventure and although we’re not really set up for an overnight hike we managed to cobble together a couple of packs, bedrolls and sleeping bags to get cosy under.  After our little jaunts into The Domes and Cathedral Gorge we headed up the Piccaninny Creek bed in search of Piccaninny Gorge.  It was tough going.  The first few kilometres were ok, where we were walking mostly on the stone riverbed surface, although there was little constant shade, so we were seeking out shady trees and overhanging rocks for our rest stops.  After a while the terrain definitely got a lot more difficult with much of the surface now sand and loose pebbles. We had expected this change in the track, but it didn’t make it any easier!

Piccaninny Creek, early on with stone surface

Piccaninny Creek as the sand and pebbles increase

 

 

 

 

 

We had lots of stops on the journey out, all up we must have walked about 10-11kms to get to the start of Piccaninny Gorge, which after seven hours of walking was as far as we wanted to go!  There is a water hole near where we decided to camp so we could refill water bottles and have a supply of water overnight.  You are able to continue up into Piccaninny Gorge another seven or so kms and branch off into five different side gorges, but that was really something for another time.  We’d reached our limit and were quite happy to set up camp here.

Piccaninny CreekLunchtimeWhen little legs have lots of energyWhen little legs get tiredHard going on pebblesLunchtime snooze

 

 

 

 

 

Camp was in the bed of Piccaninny Creek, just spread out on the sand.  With Waking up Bungle Bungle styledarkness setting in not much after 6pm at the moment we had an early dinner and were into bed.  The shapes of the bungles in the night were fantastic and as the almost full moon rose in the sky you could see a huge amount of detail against the starry sky.  Brilliant! Like I said before, we’d travelled fairly light, so we had a picnic blanket as a ground sheet, two inflatable bed rolls to lie across so everyone got a little bit of sponginess, two sleeping bags (Indi and Tobey who feel the cold got those), three sleeping bag liners for Ben, Jake and me and if we needed them, three foil emergency blankets. The nights have been fairly mild lately so we weren’t expecting to be too cold, especially huddled together as we were, but as the night wore on a cool breeze came down the gorge and we had the emergency blankets out, they work fantastically if you can get past the feeling of being inside a chip packet every time you move!

Dinnertime

Campsite near Black Rock Pool

 

 

 

The sun ensured we were up early the next day and after a hot brekkie Tobey on the side of Piccaninny Creekwe’d set off for home by 7am.  We were hoping that the downhill run, cooler part of the day and shorter distance (not having the extra side walks into The Domes and Cathedral Gorge) would see us back at the car before lunchtime.  We blitzed it, making it back in four hours.  The kids did such a fantastic job making it all the way, especially on the way out when it was pretty hot.  Don’t get me wrong, they certainly had their moments of complaining, needed a few sugar hits to get them through and Indi had a little help from Daddy’s shoulders, but it was a difficult walk.  My legs and feet were certainly feeling the effects by the time we got back.  It will be a night we’ll all remember though, we had a great time and Indianna in particular kept saying how exciting it all was.  perhaps next time we’ll choose an easier hike though!

Homeward boundTobey - Piccaninny CreekHomeward boundAlmost therePiccaninny Creek bedResting in the shade

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve seen as much as we have time to see of the eastern side of the Kimberley’s, our next adventure is across the Gibb River Road, through to Derby.  With the reputation that the roads have in this part of the country we’ve tightened all straps, checked the spare tyres and made sure the windscreen insurance is all in place!  Here’s hoping we get over the 10 millions corrugations and make it to the other end in one piece!

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | August 11, 2011

Kakadu

Saratoga at 2 Mile Hole

They did it!  We finally had some fish for dinner… not the longed for Barramundi, but a couple of Saratoga.  According to Ben’s fishing bible Saratoga has a very poor eating quality, very poor maybe for those who catch a lot of fish, but for those of us who are fish starved there was nothing sweeter!

The boat has definitely been a worth while purchase, we have used it a lot, not just for fishing, but for getting to see parts of  Kakadu that are inaccessible without a croc-proof boat.

First boat trip - RockholeBen and Jake at RockholeIndi on the boat at Rockhole

 

 

And of course we have been able to see some wildlife which we may not have had a chance to see otherwise.

Esturine Croc, RockholeWhistling ducks, Yellow WaterLily pad hopping bird (not sure of real name!)Yellow WaterWater lilies, RockholeYellow Water, Sea Eagle

Our time in Kakadu had not even started and we were enjoying the beautiful scenery of the tropical north wetlands.  We started out in Mary River National Park, taking Hardies 4WD track into Couzins Lookout camp.  This is the first bit of rough 4WDing we’d done for a while and it was good to get off the beaten track again. We were definitely rewarded with some great sights on the early part of the journey with billabongs, water lilies and birdlife everywhere (although the kids saw little with their eyes glued to a movie screen!). The track did dry out after a while though and the going got pretty dusty towards the end.

Crossing dry riverbed, Hardies 4WD track

What scenery???Jabiru about to take flight, Hardies 4WD track

 

 

 

The mosquitos were out in full force at Couzins LookoutUnder the mozzie net and we were confined to the mozzie net during the dusk and dawn hours.  We had been warned about the mosquito problem, and were not looking forward to dealing with a week or more of the little blighters after this first night, but really, so long as you wore long sleeves and used repellent and a net they were not that much of a problem.  It was only later in the afternoon and first thing in the morning for most of the time anyway.  Certainly not bad enough to consider not coming to Kakadu as we have heard is the case with some people.

From Couzins we camped at Shady Camp for a couple of nights. Shady Camp is on Barrage at Shady Campthe Mary River with the camp right beside a barrage which helps to stem the flow of the salt water from the tidal part of the river into the fresh water area.  The man-made barrage has been built to replicate the natural barricades that Mother Nature once had in place, but which have now mostly eroded away due to water craft on the river.  The barrage allows you to fish either upstream in the fresh water or down stream in the salt water.  It’s amazing to see the change in tide heights too, they get 6 or 7 metre tide differences here, so when the tide is out you can barely see the the water on the sea side.Off to catch some fish Unfortunately the fish were not biting though – and not just for us, everyone was having a poor time of it.

So, four nights in and we eventually make it to Kakadu itself, staying at Two Mile Hole.  A great spot which we had all to ourselves on the night we were there and the spot where Ben and Tobey caught their Saratoga.

Enough of the fishing for now, it was time to move on and experience something different from Kakadu. We spent a couple of nights at Ubirr with the highlights definitely being the rock art and the amazing sunset view over the wetlands.  From Ubirr you can look across the East Alligator River into Arnhem Land. The causeway at Cahills Crossing is a great place to hang out and watch the sights for a while.  It’s a popular place to fish from the side of the banks, but there are plenty of crocodiles around here.  We were there at high tide one day and like the Mary River at Shady Camp the tidal flow is huge (even though we are about 80kms from the sea), we watched as two crocodiles ‘surfed’ up the river, over the causeway on the incoming tide.  It’s a sight I will long remember, jaws open and looking like they were waiting for anything to get near.

Cahill Crossing, tide lowishCahill Crossing, incoming tide in full swing

 

 

 

 

 

"Mother Nature" on the Bardedjilidji WalkThe Kakadu Rangers give a series of talks, slide shows and guided walks throughout the park which are just brilliant.  They provide so much more information than you could hope to take in off an information board and are ready to answer to any question you may have.  We went along to several of these and they helped our appreciation of this country and the way that the Aboriginal people have lived here for around 60,000 years.  Narbulwinjbulwinj - Dangerous SpiritIt’s an extraordinarily long time and to gain a better understanding of what the country means to the Traditional Owners and how they care for and work with their country left both Ben and I in owe of their culture.  The laws and culture are passed on to the next generation through the stories of the people, nothing is written down and there are strict rules (or laws) about which stories can be told to which people.  This makes for a culture which can so easily be lost within the space of a Barrginj - Wife of the Lightning Man Spiritgeneration or two if the stories are not retold. Kakadu is a very spiritual place and you cannot help but feel closer to the land here and look at the bush in a whole different way.  That is unless you are the English family whom we had the misfortune of sharing the sunset view from Ubirr rock with.  Imagine a teenage daughter videoing her father jumping around like an idiot – “oh look at Daddy, he’s an Aboriginal spirit and he’s coming to get me!”.  There really is no educating people like that, but surely there is something called respect!

Sunset from Ubirr

DSC_0087

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many fantastic sights in Kakadu, from the escarpments throughout the park to the waterfalls and down to the wet lands, I won’t bore you with the details of them all, but here are some photos of our highlights.

Maguk, Top of FallsBoat ride to Twin FallsWalk to Twin FallsTwin FallsJim Jim FallsJim Jim FallsGunlom Pools at the top of the fallsGunlom LookputBrolgas flying over Yellow WaterView near NourlangieDSC_0101 (2)Maguk plunge poolEscarpment at NourlangieMardugai Billabong

 

 

 

 

The scenery has been stunning, but the most memorable time we spent in Kakadu and perhaps the most memorable time we have spent on our trip so far has been on a tour called “Kakadu Animal Tracks Safari”. For seven hours we were taught how to gather and prepare bush tucker by an Aboriginal woman called Patsy and  the tour operator, Sean.  Although this tour was fairly expensive it was well worth every cent, we all got so much out of it, especially an appreciation of how time consuming it is to gather food from the bush, but also how most plants and animals in the bush have a use if you know how to use them.  The kids, especially Indianna, follows Patsy peeling the water lily seed podPatsy around like a lost puppy dog, they were all fascinated with what she was doing. The first stop on our journey was to watch Patsy and her sister Jennifer search for lily seed pods while Sean pushed the boat along.  Before they ventured onto the billabong there was a lot of studying the water and water’s edge though – the water was still pretty high in the billabong and a large crocodile lives near-by.  They made it back safely and we got to try the lily seeds, an amazing amount of seeds came out of each pod.  They also use these seeds to grind into a flour to make damper.

In search of lily seed podsJake getting his share of lily seedsPatsy and Jennifer

 

Next we poked around for fresh water mussels, using a metal stake to dig into the softer mud on the dried river banks, we really had little luck unless Patsy showed us where one was!

Indi with her musselsDigging for ffresh water mussels

 

 

 

 

 

Then Patsy pulled some bark from a paperbark tree and made a basket to hold the mussels in.

Making the basketBasket all madePatsy pulling bark from a tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water buffalo is obviously not a native animal to Australia, but was farmed in this area in the early 1900’s.  After the demand for buffalo reduced DSC_0226many of the farmed animals became feral, causing a lot of damage on the fragile wetlands in the northern region.  In the 1970’s the government started culling the feral water buffalo, but conceded that the aboriginal people now made buffalo an important part of their diet and allowed a buffalo farm to be established.  The safari is conducted mostly on this buffalo farm and all profits from the tour go towards the running of the farm and therefore the provision of buffalo meat to the local Aboriginals.  We managed to see just a small herd of buffalo, they are spread over a fairly large area, so not easy to track down…. and not the focus of our tour at any rate.

Another stop in the bush had us collecting palm leaves to Crushed ants anyone?make string with, some firewood and then Patsy happened to find a green ants nest that she expertly scooped the ants out of and crushed in her hands for us all to have a mouthful of.  We have learned previously that green ant bums have a citric taste and can be used to flavour water or food, (a favourite of Tobey’s) but to chew down a handful of crushed ants is another thing – very bitter and a powerful after-taste, but apparently a great vitamin for your general well-being!

Collecting palm leaves for stringCollecting firewood, following Patsy along

Patsy digging for water chestnutsThe last collection for the day was to thump some water chestnuts from the dried mud!  These water chestnuts are only about as big as a finger nail Indianna digging for water chestnutsand we searched for them using a hammer to break away the dried mud from the ground.  Not easy pickings… lets just say that I’m pleased this is not all we had to eat!

 

More paperbark to collect, this time for cooking and then we were on our way to our dinner site.

Paperbark for oven top

Paperbark for oven top

Step 1 - Catch yourself a gooseAt the dinner site the first job was to get the Magpie Goose cooked, which meant plucking it, burning off the down, brushing off the down ash, cutting it up, laying it on the camp fire and then covering it with paperbark to create an oven.  It was all hands on deck!

Also on the fire was some buffalo and a couple of barramundi. Everything was so delicious, including the damper and billy tea to wash it all down with. Our collection of water mussels and chestnuts that we’d gathered through the day were all gobbled up too.

Step 2 - Pluck the gooseGoose Plucked

 

 

Step 3 - burn the down off the duckStep 4 - Brush the down soot off with the goose wingStep 5 - Cut it upStep 6 - Cook it

 

 

 

 

 

While we waited for dinner to cook we watched the sun go down over a part of Yellow Water that is not otherwise accessible and learnt how to make string from our palm leaves.

DSC_0356Making string from palm leaves

 

 

 

 

 

We had such a brilliant day and the icing on the cake was we got to take away a couple of barramundi.  The only ones we were able to keep from Kakadu and not the eating variety that Ben had so wanted, but the painted variety, courtesy of Patsy!Patsy's Barra!

As we move on from Kakadu the words of Bill Neidjie (a traditional owner) really stick in my head…

‘My people…
Not many.
We getting too old.
Young people…
I don’t know if they can hang onto this story.
But, now you know this story
You responsible now.
You got to go with us to Earth.
Might be you can hang onto this story
to this Earth.’
Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | August 7, 2011

Half Way

This post was written a few days ago… very little reception to connect to the internet!

As of yesterday (the 31st July) we are officially half way through our year, with 27,000 kms having rolled by and a quick look at the map we are about half way around too, although running three weeks behind our original schedule.  At this stage we were supposed to be at the Bungle Bungles before heading into the Kimberley region. Oh well, better to spend the extra time here and miss something closer to home that we can more readily return to.

Half way around

We’ve spent the last few days in Darwin seeing a little of what the city has to offer, but generally catching up on all the jobs that needed to be done once back in town.  After 12 days of no grocery shopping our shopping trolley was jammed packed and wallet significantly lighter!

We also have new toys… in celebration of Indianna riding her bike on two wheels New girl bike!!!!!!she was able to choose a shiny new girls bike – her previous one was a hand-me-down from Tobey and affectionately referred to as her ’boys bike’.  The purple sparkler that she has chosen could certainly not be mistaken for a boys bike, but it’s not likely to stay shiny for too long, the bikes get a fair hammering from the dust where we have them stored on the front of the trailer.  It was a momentous occasion for Indi to ride her bike, she has been on the edge for so so long, just lacking the confidence to give it a good try, but on the day that Cadel Evans won the Tour de France Indianna launched into the world of big girls bike riding – maybe a sign of great things to come!

New tinny on the roofBen also has a new toy, after the uncertainty of entering the water in our Zodiac on the Daly River we decided to bite the bullet and buy a tinny.  Nothing too massive, enough for us all to fit in and easy enough to handle to put on the roof of the car.  We may look at having it on the trailer at some stage later, but for now it’s perfect on the roof.

And to the sights of Darwin, in no particular order we:

– ate up a storm at the Mindil Markets.  Ben even got involved in the street performing.

Strolling around Mindil MarketsBen helping out the fire jugglerMindil Market treats

– spent an action packed afternoon at the free waterpark at the Leanyer Recreation Park.  This is a fantastic facility with a big pool, younger kids water play area and three big waterslides to rival those of Wet ‘n’ Wild in Queensland – and all free.  Indianna was so much braver here than four months ago when we were at Wet ‘n’ Wild, she went on the big slides with no problem at all and they were pretty fast.

Leanyer ParkLeanyer Park

– strolled around the Museum and Art Gallery that had all sorts DSC_0008 (4)of interesting things to look at, in particular the effect that Cyclone Tracy had on Darwin in 1973.  Then finished the day off riding the waves at the wave pool on the Darwin Waterfront and totally enjoying a pizza dinner.  How we miss our pizzas!

Ben eating his camel T-bone– stopped at a road-side van and picked up some croc and camel to put on the barbie.  The croc kebabs were great, we’ve had those before and they’re really worth having again.  Much to my surprise though the camel T-bone was amazing!  So, so tender and lean and just a really nice flavour, will be having some more camel when we can that’s for sure.

Just a short post this time, but a significant time point for us at the half way stage.  We’re now fuelled up, watered up and fooded up and heading towards Kakadu to give the tinnie a run, it better be a good omen for the fishing!

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | July 28, 2011

Swimming in the Top End

Ahhh, how nice it has been to pack away the winter woolies and to get the swimmers on again!

Our 1000-odd kilometre run from Alice Springs to Mataranka was broken only by a couple of pit-stops for fuelAboriginal Woman sculpture at Aileron and a nights rest at Bonney Creek.  We passed through the small township of Aileron which had a massive sculpture of an Aboriginal man on the hill above the town and another of a woman, child and goanna which was in construction near the art shop.  From Aileron you head further north to a spot which John McDougall Stuart believed to be the dead centre of Australia, although there are many theories on how to calculate this and it seems that now the most commonly accepted ‘Centre of Australia’ is Lambert’s centre , much further south, almost at the South Australian border.  Which ever, we’ve been to Stuart’s Centre of Australia and not all that far from Lamberts!  Heading further up the Stuart Highway strange things start happening and all of a sudden you are in Wycliffe Well in amongst the aliens!  Apparently the UFO sightings in the area are so common that you’d be unlucky not to see anything if you stayed up all night.  We didn’t stay, so I have no idea!  We tried our luck for a late afternoon campsite at the Devils Marbles again, but it wasn’t to be… 4pm and all full up, so we continued on and found an almost as pleasant sunset scene at a roadside rest stop near Bonney Creek, all rested up we made the final dash north to Mataranka and the first of our swims.

 Fuelling up at Wycliffe WellBonney Creek, roadside overnight camp

Bitter Springs at Mataranka would have to rate in the top five things we’ve seen so far, it is stunning.  The warm thermal spring flows into a deep creek that washes down amongst lilies, pandanas palms and paper bark trees.  Swimming at Bitter SpringsYou get into the water and float down the warm, crystal clear water for about 100 metres, climb out, walk back up the track and do it all again, over and over and over!  There are lots of little fish in the water, the kids saw a fair sized turtle and there is a lot of birdlife. Because the water is so clear everything is very easy to see.  The springs at Mataranka Homestead (the site of Elsey Homestead from the book ‘We of the Never Never’, which I have just finished reading and totally recommend) are not nearly as nice in our opinion.  The water is just as clear and warm, but not flowing nearly as much – more like a pool than a creek.  It’s obviously more favourable to the older generation though because as you approach the water you do wonder whether on entering you suddenly age 30 years… after all, everyone in the water was at least over 60!

While at Mataranka we stayed at Territory Manor Park, a great campsite with loads of grassy, shady sights, but also home of Territory Manor Barramundi Feedingthe famous Barramundi hand feeding.  The owner of the park gives a twice daily chat about Barra and feeds his 7 or 8 ‘pet’ Barra by hand.  If he’s lucky (and he was at both the feedings we attended) he can get hold of a fish by it’s mouth and then lift it out of the water.  The fish don’t seem to overly mind and once they are lowered back into the water they will come back for their little fish ‘reward’.  The kids get a chance at catching a Barra too, although with the bait just tied loosely to the end of a piece of string I’m sure there’s never been a successful fisherman in that pond.

Indianna 'catching' a BarraJake 'catching' a BarraTobey 'catching' a Barra

We are now entering territory where Ben and I have travelled before, about 15 or 16 Nitmiluk - Katherine Gorgeyears ago and that time in a VW Combi.  It will be interesting to see what has changed in that time and what we can remember seeing before! Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk, meaning ‘song of the cicadas’ to the Aboriginal owners) was just as spectacular as I remembered it, although I have no recollection of the facilities as they are at the gorge now, so I guess they are vastly different.  We hiked up to the top of the Flying Foxes in the treesfirst gorge, just out from the campground. To walk to any of the further gorges was really beyond the reach of the kids, still we had a brilliant view. There are thousands and thousands of flying foxes hanging from the trees at the bottom of the gorge.  We managed to be swimming just as they were getting ready to wake up for the evening too – check out the sky behind the children in the photos below.

Swimming with the bats, NitmilukSwimming with the bats, NitmilukSwimming with the bats, Nitmiluk

After Katherine we stopped at Edith Falls for what seems like the first of a million Edith Fallswater falls, I’m sure my retelling of all that we stopped and looked at will quickly become very tedious, but rest assured they were all impressive in the ‘flesh’ and all the better when we were able to swim right under them.

I’m amazed by the amount of thermal pools in this area, I had naively thought that the springs at Mataranka were all you got. We ventured out the the Douglas Daly Hot Springs, party with the hope of being able to get out to the reputedly spectacular Butterfly Gorge, but the track was still closed to the gorge when we went through. We camped for a night at the hot springs though, with what must have been every bogan from Darwin.  We’d unknowingly timed our stay with the first long weekend in the NT for a month (apparently that’s a long drought for long weekends here) and the campsite had only just been reopened again after theDouglas Daly Conservation Park wet season, so all the locals were desperate to be here.  Needless to say it was packed.  The hot springs themselves were ok, far too shallow to swim in and the water temperature varied a huge amount depending on how close you were to a spring – you either got burned or had cold stream water.  The idea of wallowing in a few feet of still water with a stack of rev-heads could not really compare with the clear flowing waters of Bitter Springs!  A little further down the road at the Douglas Daly Conservation Park was a far nicer spot to camp, but we only discovered that the following day and by then Ben was itching to get to Daly River to get his fishing rod out again.

Our journey to Daly River ended up being a little disappointing in the fishing department, not for the lack of catch (although there was none of that either), but for the lack of ability to fish safely in waters that were supposedly teeming with Barra!  Ben had hoped to get a fishing charter from here, but everything was booked out for the next 4-5 days.  So we pumped up the zodiac and thought we’d go ourselves, but began getting a little nervous about that when the old timers from the park started telling us about the 5 metre crocs that were in the water at the moment.  In the end we took the safe route and packed the boat away again and the boys, big and small, had to be content with a little fishing from the banks of the Daly.  Very frustrating, but perhaps for the best as we did see a croc lurking in the shallows while we were at the rivers edge.

Crocodile near shore on the Daly RiverFishing from the banks of the Daly RiverTruck Crossing the Daly River

Robin FallsWe struck a little out of the way gem on the way to Adelaide River when we took a 10 minute walk to Robin Falls.  Not expecting to be able to swim here we were a little unprepared, so it called for a bit of getting back to nature for the kids.  Too cold for Ben and I in the early morning shade!

At Ben enjoying at NT StubbieAdelaide River Ben picked up a cold stubbie to enjoy at the end of the day.  At two litres each, they sure do stubbies in style in the NT!

Litchfield National Park was far more extensive than I remembered from our previous visit, after a bit of scouting around we ended up camping at Bluey Rockhole.  This was a great shady spot, nice and near the river for more swimming, but the pit toilets have to be the worst smelling we’ve experienced so far… was definitely a matter of holding your breathe as you went!  We spent three days in Litchfield NP hiking and swimming and generally having a bit of down time after some fairly busy weeks lately.

Bluey Rockhole

Florence Creek

Shady FallsLoving my brotherFlorence FallsElmo's turn to come walking todayIndianna leading the way

I love my brother!We’ve had a few words of wisdom from Tobey over the last week or so, but the most quotable would have to be when he was explaining the concept of speed to Indianna. It went something like this: “Flash (from League of Super Heros) is so fast he can get to the other side of the world in a few seconds and it takes a plane two whole days to fly to the other side of the world and it takes a car a whole year to drive around Australia!”. Nothing more to add to that!

Posted by: Malpass Oz Adventure | July 20, 2011

The Red Centre

Our first NT stop was at Tennant Creek for the Cultural Centre (Nyinkka Nyunyu), this was an excellent stop in a town that was not all that inviting to stop at.  Nyinkka Nyunyu is a display of the Aboriginal culture in this area with information about the history of the people, how their kinship and family systems work, art displays and a great garden walk showing the various plants and trees that are used by the Aboriginals – all accompanied by an audio tour.

Smoke cloud south of Tennant CreekWe had planned to meet the Hurt family again tonight at the Devils Marbles so had to push on the next 140km to set up camp. On the way we passed an incredible smoke cloud coming from a line of burn-off to the east.  It looked as though the smoke was trapped under the cloud cover and couldn’t escape.

Thankfully the Hurt’s had saved a spot Sunrise over a very busy camp sitefor us at the Devils Marbles, pulling in at 4.30pm was certainly pushing our chances of finding a spot at this very busy camp site.  There were caravans, campervans, buses, camper trailers and tents squeezed into every available spot.  The attraction was definitely worth all the fuss though, these massive slabs of rock seemingly piled on each other by some freak of nature are an amazing sight and the colours against a blue sky are brilliant.  In reality the rock formations are caused by different rates of erosion of the rocks and their surrounding earth.

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Sunrise at the Devils MarblesSplitting a Devils MarbleWe spent two nights here which allowed us to enjoy a couple of sunrises and take a walk amongst the boulders. We even managed to spot the local rock wallaby a few times. The nights are still pretty cold at the moment, as soon as the sun goes down the temperature really drops and we’re looking for a fire to warm up around or an early bed to climb into.  The days are a great temperature though, sitting around the mid 20’s.

The Hurts had a hot tip from their Lonely Planet book that the mango ice-cream and wine were definitely worth trying at the Ti-Tree Mango Farm, so we pulled in there for morning tea.  The place was packed. Although it must be said that the shop was tiny and our arrival happened to coincide with two car loads of the locals who’d come to pick up a couple of kangaroo tails – frozen with the skin on (I didn’t check, but I guess you can get the skin-off variation too!).  The ice-cream was definitely worth the stop, not sure about the wine though, there was no tastings happening on the day we dropped in. A short afternoon stop in Alice Springs to restock groceries, water and fuel allowed us to get a little look at the town.  Alice is not what I expected at all… although I’m not sure what I did expect! It’s a really big town that’s a bit of a nightmare to navigate around.  The main shopping area is off the Stuart Highway and very busy, full of tourists doing the same as us or Trephina Gorgeseeing the sights of the town – whichDSC_0055 doesn’t make it easy looking for a park with camper trailer in tow.  We had a couple of nights to fill before we needed to be back in Alice for a car service so we ventured off to the less popular and therefore less busy (than the West MacDonnell ranges) East MacDonnell ranges. There appears to be enough to keep you occupied for a good week out this way, but as we only had two nights went as far as Trephina Gorge to camp (110kms east of Alice). This is a gorgeous spot, but sites are at a premium, we managed to get the last couple available when we arrived at about 4.30pm.

 Indianna at top of Trephona GorgeTrephina GorgeWalking all finished

The scenery is stunning around here, those typical red banks and blue sky shots keep the camera working overtime.  We took a day trip to N’Dhala Gorge, up a 4WD track to another little oasis in the desert, this one significant to the Aboriginal people with rock engravings on the walk.

Crossing the Ross River bedThe boys rock climbing in N'Dhala GorgeIndianna and Baxter climbing in N'Dhala Gorge

Over the last week or so we have been hearing stories of the mouse plagues in the NT and South Australia and in Trephina Gorge we experienced it first-hand. We’d had a loaf of bread inside the tent overnight which was obviously far too tempting for one little mouse who chewed a big hole through the floor of the tent to have a little feast! The kids were out to catch the little blighter the Mouse hole in tent floornext night and with the help of the SAS handbook rigged up all manner of traps, the most sophisticated being the old “rock propped with a stick and pull-sting” beauty (reminded me a lot of catching sparrows at my grandparents as a child). After much patient waiting after the sun had gone down all of their efforts came to fruition and a little mousey was caught, only to be released and chased by a mob of mad children trying to stomp the life out of it. Tobey managed to grab hold of the mouse, the mouse promptly bit Tobey’s finger and Tobey hurled the mouse into the air, but the mayhem could not have been more poorly timed, for just as the mouse took flight our neighbouring camper emerged from the toilet track announcing that the mouse being pursued was a native marsupial mouse and not one of the plague mice! Opps!

Another stop in Alice Springs to refuel and with the car service over Crossing Finke River bed heading into Palm Valleywe headed west to Palm Valley, about 130kms from Alice, but with the track after Hermannsburg getting fairly rough as we drove along the Finke River this journey took 2.5 hours. Brilliant scenery once again, so the extended drive time was not really a bother. The campsite at Palm Valley was again really busy, this time full of families from everywhere – SA and WA mostly, with school holidays at the moment – and far noisier than Trephina Gorge… I don’t think anyone would have blinked an eye at five kids running after a half dead mouse here! The rangers gave a fireside talk to a huge group of people around the raging fire with any topic open to question and plenty of armchair experts to throw in their opinions too!  The weather has really turned cool now, even the day temperatures are not at all balmy. It’s not getting much warmer than the mid-teens through the day and still very cold at night. We’re dressed in long pants and jumpers for most of the day and the beanies and gloves have been unpacked too.

This area is significant for the Red Cabbage Palm trees that grow in the valley (hence the name Palm Valley!).  The specific, sheltered habitat in Palm Valley allow the palm trees to grow in this mostly arid area.  The palms’ nearest cousins are in Adels Grove, over 500km away (and from where we have recently come!). With a big breakfast in our tummies we set off on the 5km Mpulungkinya Walk up through the valley and climbing to the rim before a steep decent back to the car park. Again, the scenery and colours were amazing and it didn’t take long before it started to warm up and we shed our jumpers.

Tobey in Palm ValleyRed Cabbage Palm TreesView from top of Palm ValleyView from top of Palm Valley

We headed back to Alice Springs again (third time in a week, this place is going to get tired of us) with another date to make… the Camel Cup. DSC_0065What a hoot that was, plenty of arms and legs flying everywhere, a few spills and plenty of laughs. There’s no betting on the Camel Cup, with the temperamental camels often not starting the race and sometimes racing backwards, I guess there’s far too much scope for a rigged result.  Along with the camel races there were the usual Miss and Mr Camel Cup and the not so usual Honeymoon race where the groom starts off aboard the camel and races half way around the track to his waiting bride who then has to launch herself aboard the beast and off they go to the finish.  You can imagine the mayhem of hooves and veils in the pick-up zone.  A great day, but I’d recommend getting there a little earlier than we did so as to not miss out on the kids races.

Hudson, Tobey and Jake at the Camel CupIndianna waiting for the camels to come aroundBridal 'pick-up' zoneComing around the first bendGo, Alice, Go

With all of our Alice Springs events over we were ready to head to the DSC_0076 (3)biggest attraction of the red centre – Uluru.  At 450km from Alice Springs it’s a pretty significant drive though and I wonder just how the tour companies manage to make it a day trip.  On the road south you pass through Stuarts Well, home to the world famous Dinky, the singing dingo. Dinky’s “dad”, Jim Cotterill tells Dinky’s story of fame as Dinky paws out a tune on the piano and howls away to the laughter of the audience.  He’s pretty reluctant to take a rest too, having to be encouraged more than a little to leave the ‘stage’. Jim is a fairly significant figure in this area himself, along with his father they pioneered much of the tourism in this area and are responsible for beating the first track to Kings Canyon which we will drive in a few days.

You often read about how the nothing prepares you for the first-hand sight of Uluru and I have to say we all totally agree with this. DSC_0094 (3)We have all seen hundreds, if not thousands of photos of ‘the rock’, but pretty well all of those photos will be from the same view – which in itself is very, very impressive in the ‘flesh’. However, what struck us so much over the next three days was the close up views of Uluru, the deep chasms that are worn by years of water (or the pythons marks from the Dreamtime for the local Anangu people). The weather continued to be pretty cold and became rainy during our time around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), so we were fortunate enough to see Uluru on a fairly blue-sky day and then again the following day with water cascading down it’s sides.  The sunset was a bit of a non-affair though as the skies had clouded over by then. Because of the weather the walk to the top of Uluru was closed on the days we were there, although we had planned not to climb (in respect to the Aboriginal people who have many sacred sites around the rock) it was good not to have that temptation either. As you can imagine we took literally hundreds of photos with Uluru as the star, these are some of the highlights for me.

UluruUluruUluru and the moonUluruIt's raining on the rockGuess where?Indianna standing on UluruThe Malpass's and Hurt's at Uluru

Jake holding Uluru in his handThe many shades of Uluru

Around 50kms from Uluru is the lesser known, but certainly equally impressive Kata Tjuta (Olgas).  There are 36 massive rocks that make up Kata Tjuta, the highest of which is 200m higher that Uluru and are thought to be around 500 millions years old.  We visited on a very cold and cloudy day and ended up cutting our walk short as the rain looked like coming in and the kids whinging started in full force!  The sights were incredible though and the numerous photos we took really do not show the grandeur of the place.

Rugged up ready for the Valley of the Winds walk

Kata TjutaKata TjutaKata Tjuta

We’d seen the sights and were getting keen to get back into the warm The Red Centre Wayweather again so we headed out to Kings Canyon, hoping that the grey skies would clear and we’d get to see some of these big red gorges with the benefit of a little sunshine. Although that was not to be, at least we weren’t overheating when we tackled the 6km rim walk of Kings Canyon.  This walk was definitely a highlight of the Red Centre, the walk into the canyon itself the day before did not over impress any of us, but once on top of the canyon you could see the rock formations for miles and really appreciate the 270m drop down the canyon walks to Kings Creek below.  There were a few opportunities to throw the kids over the side, but we managed to come back with all five of them – not for lack of “don’t run, don’t walk too close to the edge, don’t skip, don’t push” warnings though.

Crazy Hair at King Canyon

Walking up to the canyon rim

Should we throw her off?Kings CanyonKings Canyon

Crossing to Cotterils LookoutKings Canyon

270 metres to the bottomWalking down into the Garden of EdenBridge over the Garden of EdenKings CanyonKings Canyon

I did try to push them off!Jake and Tobey near a 400 year old cycad

Crazy Hair riding camels at Kings Creek Station

The kids had their big chance at the camel races too when they had a camel ride at Kings Creek Station. They loved it, and in typical form Indianna was leading the way with Crazy Hair and Tobey was trailing at the back.  There were no speed records broken this day though, just a lot of laughing and bouncing around on the saddle.

The Mereenie Loop Road through Luritja Aboriginal Standing in the middle of the crater, hills in the distance are the centre of impactland allowed us to go from Kings Canyon to the western side of the MacDonnell Ranges (Redbank Gorge) without having to back-track through Alice Springs, saving a day or more and hundreds of kilometres of travel.  On the way we stopped in at Gosse Bluff, the site of a meteorite blast a little while ago… like 142 million years ago! The inner rings of the blast is all that remains visible today with the outer rings from the shockwaves having been eroded away.

Waiting for the mist to clear at Redbank GorgeWe arrived late in the afternoon at Redbank Gorge and grabbed the last two camp spots left. The last two, but the ones with the most glorious view, that is once the mist cleared in the morning, it is still very cold at night (around 2-4 degrees), but has started to warm up again through the day, I even managed to break out the shorts again after a couple of weeks of having them packed away.Redbank Gorge

There are a couple of permanent water holes in the West MacDonnell Ranges that are good swimming spots, but even in the middle of summer the water can be pretty cold as it shaded from the sun and very deep in parts.  Redbank Gorge has one of these water holes, so we set off with wetsuits at hand in search of a swim. Unfortunately the cold water had also been a little too much for the fish and the water hole was covered with dead fish.  The fish dying off is a regular occurrence in the winter-time when the weather gets cold, doesn’t make for such a great swimming spot when that happens though. Lucky the scenery of the gorge was special enough on it’s own and we also managed to spot a dingo which was probably feasting on a few of those fish.

We spent a day travelling back to Alice Springs from Redbank Gorge, stopping in at some of the sights on the way.  This stretch of road really needs much longer than a day to have a decent look at everything, but we were keen to move on and get to warmer climates again. Ormiston Gorge was pretty spectacular, there are several walks you can do here, one loop walk requiring you to swim through the river to get across the gorge… considering the fishy predicament at the moment we opted for the lookout walk.

Ormiston GorgeIndianna and Rosie bear leading the way in Ormiston Gorge

Heading back down the hill, Ormiston Gorge

The Ochre Pits further along Namatjira Drive were a Ochre Pitsmass of colour, the different colours result from the different levels of iron ore, clay and haematite in the soil.  This particular ochre pit has been used by the local Arrernte people in many ways, the most obvious use is for body painting, but the ochre is also used for medicine when mixed with fat or grease or eucalyptus, depending on your ailment. It can also be used on hunting implements to protect them from termites and as an emergency food storage unit when food is rolled inside a ball of ochre and stored for Ellery Creek Big Holelater use.

Ellery Creek Big Hole is the closest camping site in the West MacDonnells to Alice Springs and we had read that it was a nice place to camp, but nowhere near as good as Redbank Gorge in my opinion.  Again the swimming hole was a bit stinky from the dead fish, but Standley Chasmwould have been a wonderful oasis on a summers day.

We made Standley Chasm our last stop for the day as time was getting on and the kids were getting tired. The sheer walls of Standley Chasm were definitely worth the stop and the $20 entry fee that is charged by the Aboriginal owners of this area was more than reasonable I think, considering that all of the other areas of the National Park are free to visit.

We have better understood the significance of the land to the Aboriginal people in our journey so far through the Northern Territory. The various parties who have an interest in the land do a fairly good job of trying to educate travellers on the significance of some areas and the meanings behind many of the customs and ‘ways’ of the indigenous people. We are limited though in how much we will ever learn about certain Dreamtime stories as there are strict ‘laws’ that allow only certain people to tell these stories and the stories can only be told to certain other people.  Lets just hope that there are enough of those certain people in times to come that these stories are not lost forever.

We’re now back in Alice Springs, 'Mala' walk at Ulurufourth stop this time through and the third stay at Heavitree Gap Camp ground, they’ll be getting to know us by name here soon.  We have all had a wonderful time in the Red Centre, but do wish it had been a little warmer in the day.  There is still so much to see here, especially further to the east, heading into the Simpson Desert, that I think we will be back here again one day in the not-to-distant future.  For now, though, we’re moving to the warmth of the north, getting on the Stuart Highway and driving for about 1000kms to make it to Mataranka for a hot swim.

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