Friday, 24 June 2011

Darwin Delights

After Katherine we stopped a night at Edith Falls giving us time to do a couple of good walks along the river to picture perfect swimming pools before heading north to Darwin. Peaceful Mt. Bundy station made a good base from which to explore the extensive Litchfield NP with a range of short walks to various waterfalls and gorges.

Pine Creek a former gold mining town led us on to Darwin the capital city of the NT and subject over the years to destruction by cyclones, WW2 bombing raids and in 1974 almost complete destruction by Cyclone Tracy. We spent a few very enjoyable days at the excellent museums, military displays and newly developed wharf areas and were surprised to learn of the extent of military activity in the area as the nation feared a Japanese invasion. The oil storage tunnels and massive gun emplacements were remarkable and the conditions at Fannie Bay Gaol thought provoking whilst another exhibition conveyed and recorded the enormous destructive force of Tracy which almost wiped the city off the map.

We enjoyed our dose of civilisation including a stroll round cosmopolitan Mindil market and stayed an extra day so now head off to the more natural wonders of Kakadu which will loop us back to Katherine in a week or so.

Latest photos here and locations here.

The slides come from NZ once more.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Top End Treats

From Kununurra we travelled the short distance to Lake Argyle - Oz's largest man made body of water currently several metres above its normal level and covering a vast area with islands, coves and headlands stretching away in all directions. A massive torrent was pouring down the main spillway as we arrived at the camp ground for a couple of nights giving us time to enjoy the sunset cruise courtesy of Triple J Tours and their knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. A few freshwater crocs were seen plus marsupials on the islands and birds of prey overhead all set against a setting sun and rising full moon. A walk to the relocated homestead provided an insight in to the former station's harsh beginnings when cattle were walked here several thousand miles over three years from Queensland as well as the more recent changes when following the dam's completion the lake filled far more quickly than anticipated during a very wet 'Wet' season.

A night at the excellent Victoria Road House camping area brought us to Katherine and its gorges where we stayed in the national park and enjoyed a couple of good walks out to viewpoints over the dramatic main gorge and down one of the side gorges. A wind had blown away the smoke from bush fires and cooled down the days which were reaching the high 20's whilst at night it was pleasantly cool to enjoy the spectacle of thousands of flying foxes or fruit bats leaving their tree roosts.

Katherine's museum filled us in on much of the area's history and the damage caused by extensive floods in 1998 and 2006 whilst its shops enabled us to fill up with food and fuel, enjoy lunch out and then stay here at Spring Vale Station where Elvis the freshie lives apparently benignly in the billabong - quite a cool character.

The van is booked to leave Perth on August 26th and we fly out the same day so return to the UK in ten weeks time giving us plenty of time to finish off up here, drop south through Alice Springs and meet up again with friends in both the south and west before we leave.

Photos at this link, locations at this one and the slides come from our journey through SA and WA back in May.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Kimberley

Our stay at Barn Hill was topped by a trip in a tinny for some conservation fishing courtesy of Mark and Kerren before we set off on a longish stretch north towards the Kimberley region. The ancient baob prison tree near Derby was fascinating and we enjoyed a night at Birdswood Downs Station which gave Sarah a chance to enjoy a ride early the following morning.

We then skirted south of the Kimberley as the Gibb River Road had only just reopened after twice the usual wet season rains and the crossings would have been beyond our scope. Such has been the extent of the danmage that none of the side trips are yet open and remote Kalumburu will not be accessible until next year at the earliest.
Two nights at roadside rest areas were made memorable by the company which included a night of music around the fire courtesy of four other van based travellers. At Hall's Creek we took a side road to view the Wall of China quartz outcrop before turning on to the northern end of the Gibb River Road to approach the million acre station of El Questro.

The station was reached by a rather challenging crossing of the Pentecost River which was 100 yards of submerged slippery stones with the water at the far end rising above the door seals - a very loose last few yards and a steep climb out nearly saw us scuppered but again the van rose to the occasion and we pulled up at reception with water draining out all round - not surprisingly we were the only two wheel drive vehicle around!

Staying was relatively expensive as the station charged a daily admission fee on top of camp fees and considering that they had a million acres the camp area was small and rather busy. However it was in a wonderful location and provided some good walks over the next couple of days with a memorable last night as we met up with a couple we'd first met in the Pilbara who are on a trip to Europe by dirt bike. Whilst a great place to stay at this time of year the whole place shuts down for the wet season when torrential rain, high humidity, soaring temperatures and damaging cyclones make life much harder.

After safely negotiating the Pentecost River a second time we did both Amelia and Emma Gorges before dropping in at Wyndham to admire the view from Five Rivers Lookout with river deltas, estuaries and flood plains extending way in to the distance and the rugged ranges of the Kimberley reflecting the hot sun off their striking red flanks.

A commercial site in Kununurra has given us a chance to chase up our shipping and flight arrangements and catch up on news from home.

Photos sit here this time and our positions here with slides coming from Tasmania

Monday, 6 June 2011

Balmy at Barn Hill

Following the successful resolution of our braking woes we pushed on northwards calling at Port Hedland to thank the Repco manager and Savannah Engineering staff for their help and stopping down at the waterside to watch two vast ore carriers being loaded and a bulldozer shifting a vast stockpile of salt for export.

Cape Keraudren provided a good spot to stay the night with simple coastal camping on a scenic shoreline - croc warning signs were posted but the beasts themselves remained elusive.

A long stretch of mostly empty road took us via Sandfire Roadhouse to the turning for Barn Hill Station which provided camping at the end of a sandy 9km long track. To our complete surprise it was a large set up with around 300 pitches - many tucked under the shade of trees, others with perfect sea views and for us some quieter spots further along that had good views but no power. The station must have had a good water supply as flush loos, hot showers and a washing machine were available as well as water at every pitch. Hook ups were also available even though the place was off grid and although some 100 miles from Broome an internet signal appeared intermittently.

Just after setting up a couple we had met at Coral Bay hailed us as a result of which we have spent the last five days here enjoying good company, perfect weather, refreshing swimming and walks along the beach. A 200 mile round trip to Broome was required for shopping but that merely reflects the scale of WA where distances between centres are huge.

We have really enjoyed the break from moving on almost constantly and the chance to meet and make new friends but will be on the road again tomorrow and heading for Derby. Local advice seems to be that the Gibb River Road will be beyond our scope so that and many other adventures will have to wait.

A few pics and the spotty Spots as ever.

The slideshow returns to SA.