Sunday, July 30, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 3

Distance traveled = 939km

Week 3 commenced at a more leisurely pace than previous weeks, we’d setup camp at Cable Beach for a few days mainly to give the kids a bit of rest from the rigorous pace we’d been moving along at... Saturday was a lazy morning in the van park for us before heading downtown to check out the local markets and nearby attractions. Having only been in Broome 3 years earlier not a lot had changed except for the popularity of the place with seemingly lots of people on the go! After buzzing round town grabbing a few items we headed to Cable Beach for our sunset beach camel ride which provided a perfect backdrop to end our first full day in Broome.

Sunday started with no real urgency. The kids were quickly down at the pool enjoying the warm weather which allowed us to tidy up the car and get the washing up to date. By late morning we’d noticed a problem with the car fridge which didn’t bode well as we were about to hit the Gibb River Rd and the fridge was our lifeline to maintaining our food supply. Diagnosing the fault proved a little difficult but after a short period it was determined the issue was with the auxiliary battery. With not much chance of solving the issue on a Sunday we decided to continue our sightseeing of Broome. Willie Creek Pearl farm was an interesting spot with beautiful views across the turquoise water. From there we headed to the Malcom Douglas Crocodile park where once again this place had me in awe of these prehistoric creatures. With the tour of the croc park coming to an end we headed straight back to Cable Beach where we enjoyed ‘happy hour’ watching a spectacular sunset over the Indian Ocean.

Monday, we were on the road again but not before getting a few last-minute supplies in town. The battery issues weren’t resolved but the prospect of some highway driving would hopefully charge the battery. The drive to Derby wasn’t all that long but with the temp nudging 35deg and a strong headwind we seemed to be against it all the way. By mid-afternoon we’d checked into our accommodation, spending the rest of our afternoon lazing around camp and a bit of sightseeing which included the wharf and the prison Boab tree.

Tuesday was our long-awaited tour to the Horizontal Falls. An early morning 30min seaplane flight soon had us heading north over the Kimberley wilderness to a very remote location on the northwest tip of Australia. Landing on the water was a new and exciting experience. From there we transferred to high speed boats for a very quick trip around the surrounding waterways. By mid-morning the in-running tide was ideal for our first venture through the narrow opening horizontal falls. The 3-metre water drop and fast flowing whirlpools was an experience that’s hard to put into words other than to say exhilarating! After a few upstream and downstream passes that had the adrenalin pumping we headed back to the luxurious pontoons where we were treated to a Barramundi BBQ with all the trimmings. With our bellies full it was time to head back out on the quad 300 horsepower boats for another play through the falls, unfortunately for us the tide levels were starting to equalise which while being a lot of fun wasn’t as good as our passes before lunch. All too soon our day on the water was coming to an end, once again we were transferred to the seaplanes where taking off from the water had us all glued to the windows…. Back in Derby our day was far from over. We enjoyed a stroll down to the wharf where with dinner in hand we witnessed a spectacular sunset complete with changing cloud patterns.

Wednesday was the start of our big adventure along the Gibb River Rd. The first 70km was an easy drive along the sealed road. We were soon airing down our tyres for the next 700km of dirt road. Our destination of Windjana Gorge didn’t take us long to reach. We quickly established camp before heading further down the road to Tunnel creek. This unique location has been forged over millions of years. A creek has scoured a tunnel right through the middle of a hill allowing visitors to walk along the underground creek while being a hundred of metres below the surface. The creek which varies in depth and only illuminated by our headlamps comes complete with its own freshwater crocodiles which keeps everyone on their toes…. Leaving Tunnel Creek, we made our way back to camp at Windjana Gorge where the setting sun provided a perfect backdrop for our walk into the gorge. The towering cliffs were filled with amazing orange and reds which made for a great backdrop to the crocodiles that dotted the waterway. We finished our day at the gorge campground with a perfect meal and a crazy idea to do some night croc spotting….. Needless to say, we seen more fish than crocs.

Thursday (day 2 on the Gibb) dawned slowly as we didn’t have far to travel to our next location. The ever-changing landscape and a number of creek crossings had us stopping numerous times for a photo. We soon arrived at Silent Grove where another bush camp was established, but our goal for the day was to be Bell Gorge. Once at the Bell Gorge carpark a short walk opened to a spectacular cascade of waterfalls and numerous swimming holes which provided us with hours of fun as we swam and jumped off the varying rock ledges. The day’s swimming and exploring had us all worn out and wanting an early night but the lure of a campfire mellowed us as we enjoyed a relaxing night under the stars.

Friday (day 3 on the Gibb) had us on the move again. With so much to see we didn’t have far to travel so once again there was no urgency to get moving. The good dirt roads continued and we could easily get along at 90km/hr. We detoured off the main road to Adcock Gorge before heading to Galvan Gorge where a spectacular and very picturesque billabong provided us with hours of swimming in the clear waters…. Back on the Gibb we drove in to Mt Barnett Roadhouse where we had to buy diesel for $2.05/ltr (yeeks). With Manning Gorge being only a few kilometres down the road we pushed on and made this our campsite for the night. The campground offered great a swimming hole which the kids enjoyed, while a few of us took the 1hr hike upstream to the base of Manning Falls where we enjoyed a swim. Returning to the campground a few of us did some minor maintenance on our vehicles while others socialised around the table playing various card games….. With all of us having such a big day swimming and playing in the various gorges we were embarrassingly all in bed by 8.30pm.

Our 3rd week finished with us being so remote we haven’t had internet or power for 4 days. What a great lifestyle. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 2

Distance traveled = 2826km

Week 2 started with a day at the races, the Boulia Camel races actually. Our trip schedule conveniently coincided with this annual event and apparently so did thousands of others that decided to make the pilgrimage to this remote rural town to share in the festivities that is the Boulia camel races. We spent the morning looking around town before heading back to catch the six-race program. These crazy jockeys risk life n limb as they sit right on the camels’ rump in a makeshift saddle as they thunder around the track. The kids were totally amused by the spectacle which was complete with bookies, amusement rides, sideshow alley and stalls. Halfway through the day the racing paused as some of the enthusiastic spectators played sheep chasing or camel tagging, the latter being rather dangerous as camels can kick out at 90deg sideways. By days end much of the crowd had partaken in too many liquid refreshments but that didn’t stop everyone enjoying the fireworks and the live music.
Sunday had us back on the road tackling our first serious outback road, the “Plenty Hwy” which joins outback QLD with Alice Springs and makes up part of the largest “shortcut” in Oz. The rains of the past week had cleared allowing the road to re-open to 4WD vehicles only and we could quickly see why. The soft boggy red soil and numerous mud holes provided plenty of fun for all of us. A long day behind the wheel had us cross into the Northern Territory. As we trekked west we drove past a number of huge cattle stations include the Jervois Cattle Station where we took the opportunity to buy fuel at pricey $1.89/ltr. By days end we’d almost made it to the Sturt Hwy before pulling up stumps at a cool fossicking area for the night.
With some of group having pre-booked vehicle services in Alice it meant an early start for some of us, while the rest of us we enjoyed a leisurely drive in to Alice Springs where we quickly sought our accommodation for the coming 2 nights. With the kids pestering to visit the local ice creamery we headed into town for dessert and a bit of sightseeing. As dusk fell on our first night in Alice we headed out to the Royal Flying Doctor Service base where an old school friend gave us an up-close tour of the planes and facilities with all the kids loving the fact they could sit in the pilot’s seat or play the role of treating nurse.
Tuesday was a lay down allowing us all to enjoy a sleep-in and lazy morning. Many of us took the opportunity to get caught up on washing, minor maintenance and grocery shopping. Throughout the day most the tourist attractions were visited by all of us. The Kenworth and Ghan museums were a big hit while the Telegraph station provided a glimpse of how communications were undertaken in yesteryear. While the ever dry “Todd River” had us perplexed as many locals call it home till water flows. With daylight fading many of us spent the remaining hours preparing and packing our rigs for the next days’ trip along the Tanami Track.
Moving day started as a chilly 3deg with a cold wind making it feel a lot worse. Once packed up and with last minute supplies grabbed we were soon heading out of town to start the 1000km long Tanami Track which heads from Alice Springs to Halls Creek WA. The first section of the track provided easy going and we made quick time to Tilmouth Well roadhouse where all of us took the opportunity to top up our tanks with fuel ensuring we’d make the remaining distance to halls Creek with what jerry cans we had onboard. For much of the day the dirt road was in good condition allowing us to make good progress northwards. The trick being to get at a speed allowing us to skim across the tops of the corrugated road. As the day faded we chose a small clearing just off the main road to setup camp. Surprisingly we were only a few km’s from the Tanami Gold mine and thus Telstra service for the night. The star lit night sky providing a beautiful backdrop to our time around the campfire.
Thursday started as chilly as the previous morning which ensured we’d packed up and were in cars in record time, however enthusiasm to get warm was soon dulled by the endless kilometres of dirt road that seem to go on and on. Changes to the landscape and the ever-increasing animals beside the road kept us vigilant of the road ahead. On a number of occasions, we’d slow to a near stop as a Road-train numbering up to 4 trailers would hurtle towards us making visibility near impossible.  Our first excitement for the day was the NT/WA border crossing which due to our remoteness was merely a small sign beside the road. By lunchtime we’d reached the small outback community of Billiluna where we took to exploring the town and meet the resident camel. Detouring off our intended route we found an isolated billabong which made for a great lunch spot and a fun time as the kids played on the muddy banks. Pushing further north after lunch we made it to the Wolf Creek Crater and the ensuing wise cracks relating to the movie of the same name. The crater which is some 300,000 years old is a massive dent in the earth’s surface as a result of a meteorite colliding with Earth. With our sightseeing adventure over we pressed further north and into what was some of the hardest driving of the day, setting sun, rough roads and dust that made visibility near impossible at times meant the last 100km of the Tanami track was by far the worst of our trip so far…. Reaching Halls Creek with the sun setting our intended destination still seemed so far away but with revitalised energy supplies we pressed on into the darkness before deciding to pull up stumps on the day deciding to stay in a roadside rest area.
Our last day of week 2 dawned very early. Stopping short of our intended overnight location meant we had to make up time if we still wanted to catch the early morning Geikie Gorge tour at Fitzroy Crossing, but alas that’s what we did. The river cruise and baking sun providing a welcome relief to the effort we’d put in to be there on time. Leaving Fitzroy Crossing opinions were divided on where to spend our next night, for us we opted to head to Cable Beach where we’d had an enjoyable stay on our last trip to Broome. The 4hr drive west once again meant we didn’t arrive till late in the day but the kids didn’t waste any time hitting the pool for a refreshing swim on a day where the temperature topped 34deg

Week 2 concluded as every night has so far with a relaxing beverage under a beautiful star lit sky.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 1

Distance traveled = 2840km

18 months after a hair brain idea to drive across Oz tackling many of our great dirt trails was conceived, we headed off on our 8-week adventure across Oz with 4 other like-minded families in convoy. Our first day on the road saw us push three quarters of the way across NSW as we headed to Bourke.  Leaving Wollongong at 3am it was a cold chilly traverse across the Blue Mountains before stopping in Bathurst where sub-zero temperatures greeted us for breakfast. Needless to say, our breakfast stop was a very quick affair.  Back on the road the towns quickly passed us by and the kilometres added up, the kids who are season travellers now didn’t seem to mind the long day that was unfolding. Frequent stops and a plethora of animal life beside and on the road kept us all on our toes. Just as the kids started to get restless we drove into Bourke where accommodation at the Kidman Camp was settled upon. Throughout the rest of the afternoon our fellow companions filtered into camp where our days driving ensured an early night was had.
Sunday in Bourke doesn’t have a lot to offer the traveller as we quickly found out, with only the bare essential utilities open. Much of the days banter centred around the weather pattern that was building over western QLD and the impact it'd have on our coming days. Heading around town the old wharf on the Darling River reminded us of yester year when much of the town’s produce was transported by river. A flock of corella’s numbering into their hundreds kept us amused as they buzzed the trees above us and late in the afternoon we sat by the river watching the paddle-steamer make its daily trip down the river.
Monday saw us setting off in convoy towards Charleville. The aridness of NSW was quickly on display with much of the land desperately needing a good drink. The road-kill outnumbered the living and the flat barren ground offered little to see. Our first stop was the obligatory NSW-QLD border crossing where a few emus tried to share our photo moment. Pressing on to Cunnamulla for lunch we felt as though we were in the Southern highlands not sunny Queensland as once again the chilly conditions meant we spent more time in the car than outside. A few photos with the Big Fella and we were heading north again. A further couple of hours up the road and with rain threatening we rolled into Charleville where we made a beeline for a camp-spot we’d discovered a few years back. With a few hours light remaining we did a bit of exploring before settling into our first campfire of the trip.
Tuesday dawned to clear skies and virgin roads for us. Heading west from Charleville we found ourselves on Australia’s longest road, not that we planned to follow it to the end but what we did traverse offered amazing variety of Australia’s landscape. By lunchtime we’d made it to the small town of Quilpie where lunch recharged our energy supplies. Back in the saddle we pushed further west towards Windorah but just shy of our intended destination a perfect bush camp on the banks of the Cooper Creek was too good a location to drive past. A perfect backdrop of the sun setting over the water and another campfire was a perfect way to end a long day in the car.
It was only Wednesday of our first week but we’d already got ourselves into a good route of breaking camp and being on the road 90min after waking up. The day’s adventure would see us finish in Birdsville watching the “state of origin” but before then a lot would have to be achieved. After 30km on the road we struck our first dirt roads of the trip, airing down tyres and preparing for the countless kilometres ahead was all part of the adventure. By our standards the first 50km of dirt was reasonably rough our max speed never getting over 80. A bit further west we took a detour southward where after more and more dirt roads had us arriving at Haddon Corner, which is where the SA and QLD borders intersect. The comical photos of us standing in 2 states at once provided some light entertainment. Back on the road and retracing our tracks we were soon heading towards Birdsville again. The only relief to the dirt roads was the occasional emergency airstrip of bitumen which dots the countryside out this way. By late afternoon and with the sun setting on a long day we finally pulled into Birdsville where we opted for caravan park accommodation so we could walk into town for the nights festivities………… Don’t mention the footy.
Thursday dawned as our first lazy day since Bourke. Many of the families took the opportunity to do some washing, tidy up their rigs or dust off the kilos of dirt we’d collected along the way. For us, we took the opportunity to have a look around town. Birdsville is essentially a meeting point of many roads, either for those who’ve just conquered a major outback quest or those who are about to set off on one. The town has a little bit of everything but not a lot of much. By lunch time we’d headed out to the “Big Red” sand dune to see the highest sand dune in the Simpson desert. For many the challenge is to drive up the steepest sections of the soft sand. We preferred to watch others cook clutches and bury their cars…. Back in town we checked out the only licenced bakery in NSW where we indulged in a camel pie.
Friday seen us on the road again heading north towards Boulia where excitement was building for the anticipated Camel races. Much of the day offered more dirt roads and flat endless plains, we stopped occasionally to look at old ruins and one point we passed over the Tropic of Capricorn. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived in the bustling township of Boulia. The sleepy population of 200 had swelled into the thousands as the races and a car rally converged on the town. For us this provided a flookish opportunity for Leonie to catch up with her brother who was in town for the Road Boss car rally…. As the sun set on our first week of travel we once again found ourselves sitting around another campfire under star filled skies.