Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week 7 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Darwin - Kakadu
Kilometres          8755 – 9560 km

Here’s a first for us, we’ve spent over a whole week in the one place and I must say “it’s felt a little strange”. We’d planned to have 9 nights in Darwin and it’s been very relaxing and good to recharge our bodies but having spent the past 6 weeks living the country/rural lifestyle, Darwin is a little overwhelming. There’s too many people, too much noise, too much traffic and the pace of a bigger town has caught us off guard. That aside we’ve continued to see some amazing places in and around Darwin.
Oil storage tunnel under Darwin 
On Monday the kids did a few hours schoolwork where they learnt some of Dad’s bad classroom stories, afterwards we headed into Darwin central to have a look at the old WWII Oil Storage tunnels. This was another glimpse of Darwin preparing for war. These tunnels were built to store the large volumes of oil Darwin had, but they were never used…. From there we went to the Arts Museum to check out the Cyclone Tracy display. Once again the kids were amazed by another piece of Australian history while we relived a piece of our childhood. The kids were keen to know whether Santa got hurt in the cyclone that levelled Darwin on Christmas Eve! (Beautiful)
The BIG bucket was a BIG hit - Leanyer Water Park
On Tuesday I headed out for a bit of a caching run around Darwin, with so many options I concentrated my time on finding the locals favourite caches and I must say there were a few good ones. Once again the fighter planes filled the skies with their ear piecing sounds while the big refuelling planes circled high above. We concluded our lazy day with a swim in the pool and Ethan’s favourite food – cheap Tuesday from Eagle Boys.
A shocking reminder of Cyclone Tracy
 Wednesday morning we did a few odd jobs around the van, I washed the car in an attempt to remove some of that red dust that clings to everything, we put some more of our winter clothes away and since the weather had become surprisingly hot we took the kids to one of the many free waterparks that are dotted around Darwin, we took our lunch and made a great picnic day of playing on the slides, getting smashed by the water cannons and swimming amongst the pools.
Darwin Northline Speedway
On Thursday we headed out to do some more sightseeing of Darwin. We just had to go back to Fannie Bay again, where we stopped at the old Gaol and a QANTAS hanger which now doubles as a museum. After a few more stops we headed back for another dose of Mindil Markets. These were such a buzz last time that we had to get more of the culinary cuisine followed by another beautiful sunset over the ocean.
This salty is about 3.5m long
As Friday was our last full day in Darwin we spent much of the day packing up the extra gear that we’d managed to accumulate over the course of our 9 days in Darwin, we went shopping to re-stock the cupboards, lazed by the pool and then for our last night, we took the kids to the speedway which had been built as a huge 2-day event in Darwin. We all had a lot of fun, especially Ethan who won the half-time raffle of a new BMX bike…. This is just great when you already have 4 bikes and are on the road for 6 months!
The water lilys on Corroboree Billabong
Saturday was moving day and we reluctantly said goodbye to Darwin, but since we’d booked a mid-morning wetland cruise in Kakadu there was no time to waste. As we headed to the meeting point the Kakadu environment catches you by surprise as we seen Water Buffalo grazing in paddocks beside the road and every creek crossing displayed a crocodile warning sign. We’d ebbed the urge to see our first crocodile till we could actually see them in the wild and as we joined the wetlands cruise the guide assured us we wouldn’t be disappointed. However with a local fisherman being taken by a croc only last week not far from where we were, we boarded the small tinnie cruise boat with some scepticism…. The guide gave us the standard safety talk, no arms or hands outside the boat and he mentioned there were life jackets under the seats but went on to say “you won’t need them cause if we capsize I’m sure all of you will walk on water to get out of this croc infested place”. Once out on the billabong the beauty of the area was amazing, flowering water lily’s line the banks, mangroves in other parts, plenty of birds and fish, then bam! We see our first saltwater crocodile, it was probably 2.5m long and the guide managed to get our boat within a few metres of it before the croc slinks off the embankment and into the water where it immediately disappeared. Over the course of the next hour we probably seen 5 or 6 more crocs, both saltwater and freshwater crocs, all of them had us in awe. Just as the guide says its time to head back we spotted a huge crocodile, easily 5m long with a massive head and torso. It didn’t hang around for pictures and we didn’t hang around once it disappeared under the water…. Our tour of the wetlands was well worth the wait. 
By mid-afternoon we were well into Kakadu and had soon found a spot to camp, surprisingly not far from a billabong where signs warn you of the crocodiles. 
Aboriginal drawings
We finished our week with a real cultural day exploring many of the attractions Kakadu has to offer. We saw some rock art done by Aboriginals dating back 1000 years ago and the caves where many of them lived. We visited the townships of Jabiru and Ubirr where of course, nothing was open as it was Sunday. On a number of occasions we saw crocodiles warming themselves on the banks of rivers or creeks with roadways only metres away (that was pretty freaky). At Cahills Crossing we saw 2 crocs swimming just near the causeway crossing that we drove as we headed into Arnhem Land. As the sun set on our 7th week we took in the vista of the East Alligator River from one of the lookouts at Ubirr Rocks. Simply amazing!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Week 6 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Litchfield NP – Darwin
Kilometres          7750 – 8755 km

There’s something about floating around in the crystal clear springs of Mataranka that says “stay another night – its too beautiful to leave” but as tempting as it was, we were up bright n early Monday morning. We only had some 300km to travel up to Litchfield National Park but it took us all day. We stopped at Cutta Cutta caves with the thought we might be able to do a bit of exploring but as it turned out these were tour guide caves so we quickly moved on to Katherine, which turned out to be the busiest place this side of the equator. I took us well over an hour to grab a few things from Woolies….. By mid-afternoon we’d made our way out to the remote Douglas Hot Springs hoping for a similar taste of what we’d left behind at Mataranka, but we were sorely disappointed. The kids ended up having a swim and we paddled our feet but the detour wasn’t worth it. We eventually, with the sun getting low in the sky, arrived at Litchfield Park where we quickly set up before enjoying happy hour and a swim.
An amazing place
 Tuesday was our first full day in the National Park and we headed straight to Wangi Falls where with much trepidation and the fact plenty of others were already in the water, we swam out to the waterfall knowing that freshwater crocodiles live in the same pool of water. Swimming under the falls was amazing and worth the experience. We visited the old Blyth Homestead which was built in 1928. Getting to the homestead was half the adventure as on 2 occasions we had to drive through watercourses where it was clearly signposted “no swimming - crocs here”. The larger water crossing was easily 80m wide and poor Sam was climbing off the seat with fear. We finished off our day at the Buley Rockholes which is a series of cascading waterfalls and plunge pools. We made sure all of us, including Leonie jumped into at least one rock pool and sat under the turbulent “spa” waters as they cascaded downstream. Needless to say with all our swimming the kids were nearly falling asleep at the dinner table.
Wangi Falls
Wednesday was a double take of Tuesday, we started the day with a swim at the van park before heading back into the National Park where we saw some more of the amazing places Litchfield has to offer. We stopped at the Magnetic Termite Mounds which amazingly only point north-south. We visited the impressive Tolmer and Florence Falls but with the Buley Rockholes being such a success with the kids they were keen to head back there for another swim, so after a beautiful picnic along the Florence Creek we headed to the rockholes where we spent a few hours swimming and relaxing. Once back at the caravan the kids dragged us to the pool again (I’m sure they’re water babies) for one last swim before we had dinner and a relaxing night.
Magnetic Termite Mounds
Sadly we once again had to leave another beautiful spot, but with the prospect of 10 days in Darwin we packed up early on Thursday for the 100km drive into Darwin. The first thing that strikes you about Darwin is the WWII history and how much of it still remains. As southerners we are so naive to the impact war had on Australia. Every few kilometres there’s another sign depicting a piece of war history and on more than 2 occasions we were driving down old WWII runways that is now a busy highway…. Once we were setup, we spent the rest of the day doing domestics around the van and getting accustom to the change in pace that we hadn’t seen since leaving home.
Our 80m crocodile crossing
Our first full day in Darwin started slowly, even at the slow pace of a tourist, “you’ve gotta have a rest some time”. By late morning we were heading into town to check out some of the sights. The girls quickly found the retail therapy area and boom there went a few hours of our day. After security ushered the girls from the shops because they were drooling at the sight of department stores and coffee shops we headed off to see more of Darwin. Leonie and I both commented on our perception of Crocodiles in the top end. We were surprised to see people walking the mud flats of low tide or even some people who stood in the water fishing. Obviously the crocodiles pick n choose who they eat…. By late afternoon it was my turn for a bit of my own therapy as we attended a geocaching event. We met a few of the local geocachers where we shared a few laughs. As the sun was setting we headed around to the Stokes Hill wharf where we watched a beautiful sunset.
Buley Rock-holes
Saturday seen us doing a few odd jobs around the van, we finally took the blankets off the beds cause we’d be overheating most nights, there was more washing to do and much to the kids disgust and complaints as it was Saturday, we made them do some school work. We also got to visit the Darwin RAAF base which had an open day. A joint multi country exercise has been running in the skies over Darwin for the past few weeks and it was the RAAF’s way of saying thank you to the public, and whilst it was too hot to be standing out in the sun we did get to see more fighter planes in the one spot than I’ve ever seen. To complete our day of speed we went to Hidden Valley Raceway where we gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the facilities before being politely told to leave…… if only the V8’s were in town.

9" Guns that protected Darwin
Our sixth week on the road concluded with a lovely day sightseeing around Darwin. We visited the “Defence of Darwin Experience” (museum) where we learned so much about the bombing of Darwin in WWII. This was certainly a moving experience and one we all enjoyed. We stopped at Lake Alexander and Fannie Bay before ending our day at the famous Mindil Beach Markets where each Thursday and Sunday a section of Darwin foreshore comes alive with an array of cultural cuisine and a variety of arts n crafts. The markets have a real party vibe and many of the visitors flock down onto the beach to watch the beautiful sunset over the ocean. We spent our time at the markets catching up with an old Wollongong SES friend (Karla) who now calls Darwin her home.
Mindil Beach Markets
Once again we’ve been blessed with more beautiful weather. Sorry to rub it in to those back home but temps have been in the low 30’s every day and this is still winter.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Week 5 - Purposeful Meandering Around Oz

Alice Springs – Banka Banka Station – Daly Waters – Mataranka
Kilometres          6127 - 7750 km

After our beautiful night under the stars to finish last week, we woke on Monday to our coldest morning for quite some time. The van thermometer said it was a very chilly 0deg, but as with every day so far the day quickly warmed to yet another beautiful day and after a few hours driving we were back in Alice Springs. Setting up camp in the van park our first priority was washing. We had red dust through everything and after our 4 loads I’m sure we’d clogged the pipes with all our dust n dirt.
Back in Alice Springs
After a lazy start to Tuesday we caught up with an old friend (Mark), who offered to show us around his work, which I might add is as a pilot for the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service). So for the next few hours we were treated to a behind the scenes look at the planes and medical equipment which saves so many lives in remote Australia. Ethan especially loved sitting in the pilot’s seat while Sam was happy to be the nurse on their maiden voyage….. To finish off a beautiful day we went out to dinner with Mark n Narelle at the Lasseters Casino.
Pilot Ethan
Nurse Samantha
 As we were heading north on Thursday we spent our remaining day in Alice restocking the van. Our cupboards were desperately low, the gas and water needed to be refilled and of course there were happy hour supplies to think of. All this couldn’t happen without the kids visiting their favourite ice cream shop for one last time and me finding the 2 millionth published cache.
Tropic of Capricorn - north of Alice Springs
Thursday was moving day and we’d planned to cover a lot of distance so it was a very early start. Leaving Alice for the last time we both agreed that our time there had been most enjoyable. Once on the road we were quickly reminded of the sparse open areas and straight stretches of highway. At one point we stopped as we crossed the “Tropic of Capricorn” to show the kids. Regrettably our visit with an old Wollongong friend in Tennant Creek didn’t eventuate so we pushed onto a place called Banka Banka Station. Here we enjoyed a nights camping on a rural property, the kids quickly met the local farm kids and weren’t seen again till well after dark while Leonie and I both enjoyed sitting round the campfire.
Dinner at Daly Waters pub
 Friday started a little slow for us, the kids had obviously worn themselves out the previous afternoon and opted for a bit of a sleep-in, but with more places to see we were soon packed up and on the road again. The roads were once again flat and boring but at least this time the vegetation had brightened a little. By early afternoon we’d reached Daly Waters and our stopover for the night. The local pub which is decorated all forms of paraphernalia rocks each night with live entertainment and a fantastic meal of “Beef n Barramundi” which we thoroughly enjoyed. To ensure the kids aren’t left out, the pub provides them with activity books where they have to find answers relating to various things around the beer garden. Once they get it all right they get free paddle pops.
Entertainment at Daly Waters
Saturday and Sunday would have to be the highlight of our long week of driving. We arrived at Mataranka just before lunchtime Saturday and quickly established camp. With the temperature nearing 30deg we headed straight for the natural spring. This oasis of warm crystal clear water shrouded by palm trees and tropical vegetation seems to appear from nowhere and looks like a scene from a jungle. With our pool noodles under our arm we were soon bathing in this tropical oasis. The Bitter Spring is a 200m section of thermal water that boils from underground at an average 34deg and with the current assisting you it makes a great way to relax and spend the afternoon.
Bitter Springs - a great way to relax
We thoroughly deserved our lazy Sunday morning around the van. With many others having checked out we seemed to have the place to ourselves. By late morning we headed across town to the Mataranka Spring where we once again bathed in the thermal waters which Mataranka is known for. Over the remaindered of the day we shared ourselves across the 2 thermal pools. It truly has been a relaxing way to finish the week.
Mataranka Springs
As for the weather, we once again have been blessed with no rain. The cool nights of Alice Springs where we had the heater on some nights have given way to balmy days in Mataranka where yesterday we had the fan on to cool the van down. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Week 4 – Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Alice Springs – Uluru – Kings Canyon –Lasseters Hwy
Kilometres          4673 – 6127 km

Having a few nights in the one spot is like a holiday in itself. We spent 4 nights in Alice Springs and I must say we all really enjoyed the place, I’m not sure if it was the constant attraction of the MacDonnell Ranges with its striking cliffs, red rocks or the endless variety of hikes that I could have seen myself doing or the variety of other attractions around town.
At the Road Transport Museum 
 On Monday the girls were hanging for some more retail therapy and coffee so as willing males, Ethan and I dropped the girls downtown before heading straight to the “Road Transport Museum”. Here we saw trucks of all era’s and various professions. Ethan got to drive the school bus, climb over fire engines and hang-off brand new Kenworth prime-movers…. In nutshell “we had a trucking good time”.  Later in the day with a few hours spare I buzzed around town grabbing a few local caches.
Standley Chasm
 After a cool night Tuesday dawned with clear skies and we were out the door early, we headed over to the old Telegraph Station where we seen the beautifully restored buildings and surrounding parkland. We did a couple of nice walks in the area before heading across town and out into the west Macs (a bit of local jargon there) where we went to Standley Chasm. This deep sided gully, ravine, canyon (chasm) was another example of the beautiful colours that can be found in the rocks out here, but while the colours were nice this place has been over commercialised with much of the chasm closed off limiting our exploration of the area. Back in town we made good use of the woollies as we restocked the van before we headed out of town tomorrow. Since it was (cheap) Tuesday we let Ethan have his favourite meal before retiring for an early night.
Sunset at Ayers Rock
Any day that we’re moving from town to town we’ve nic-named “moving day” and the kids have become very proficient in helping us with what jobs needs to be done so we can make this transition quicker and easier as we like to be on the road by 9am. Heading south towards Uluru the terrain quickly became the same repetitious flat arid land that we’ve seen for much of our journey so far. None of the creeks or rivers have seen water in months and the further south we went the redder the soil became. We detoured off the highway to visit the Henbury Meteorite Craters, which was impressive example of what happens when something from space collides with earth.
Sunset at Ayers Rock
By late afternoon we’d arrived at the Ayers Rock resort and after setting up camp we were just in time to watch the sun setting over Ayers Rock (Uluru). Pictures of the changing colours don’t do this justice and are truly amazing. The following day we woke early as this was to be the day we were going to climb the “rock” and to start with the weather conditions were fine and we enthusiastically set off up the chained climb. We got about halfway up the chained section when we noticed a few people returning to the base. They’d not made it to the top as the wind had increased making the higher sections of the climb dangerous. With this in mind and 2 young kids in tow we opted to return to the bottom. The disappointment on the kids’ faces was inconsolable but we knew we’d chosen safety over success. Back at the van the kids were itching for a swim so while we relaxed, they swam, all be it for a fleeting minute.
An 11th Birthday - traveling style
 Friday was Sam’s 11th birthday and she’d a requested a sleep-in, which doesn’t really happen when you’re in van-park but we did try our best and we gave her favourite breakfast of loads of bacon and hash browns. By mid-morning we were heading out to see the Olgas (Kuta Tjuta). Some people say this is a more impressive sight than the “rock” but after spending a few hours walking around them and wherever possible we both agreed that seeing the Olgas is probably best done from the air, but that would have to wait for another trip….. For our last night at the red centre we once again watched the sun set over Ayers Rock.
Part of the Olgas
Moving day again, this time we were off to Kings Canyon. On our last trip out here we didn’t get to see this place so were eager to see what everyone raves about. After a few hours driving which gave Leonie time to read up on potential camping spots we opted for a basic bush camping spot just off the highway. We found a nice spot and by early afternoon we’d decided the rest of the day was best spent enjoying “happy hour” (or hours). The kids built a fire and we spent the night eating dinner by the fire, toasting marshmellows and watching the thousands of stars that filled the night sky.
Kings Canyon (from the bottom)
Kings Canyon (from the top)
 Our last day of week 4 was spent exploring Kings Canyon, but first we quickly checked out the resort accommodation and all agreed we’d made the right choice in where we’d stayed the night before. The canyon was very impressive with its towering orange and yellow walls and its dry creek bed running through the middle. We all did the valley walk while Dave also did the rim walk which highlights the ripple rocks and gives another perspective and dimension to Kings Canyon.
The Garden of Eden (part of Kings Canyon)
Tonight as I finish off the week’s blog we are once again camped under the stars in a small free camping spot just off the Lasseters Hwy. There is no power, no internet, no tv, no radio and no running water, just a couple of other people experiencing the same thing as us. We have once again been blessed with another week of clear skies, warm days and cool/chilly nights.