Travelling around Australia in a motorhome. A story of our travels starting from NSW then through Queensland, across to Northern Territory and Western Australia, then to South Australia, Victoria and finally across the seas to Tasmania. We have enjoyed everywhere we have visited and look forward to setting off again in our motorhome.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Douglas Springs NP 24 -25July 2006

Collected the mail. Caught up with food shopping in Katherine and then drove north. Stopped at Pine Creek for lunch and made a decision to have a look at Douglas Hot Springs remembering our last wonderful experience. We had been told that the road was good however about half way along, we unexpectedly hit a terrible bit of road and Heather swears she became airborne even with her seat belt on! It only lasted 5 mins and as far as we could tell we suffered no damage to the van, however we broke a lovely plate we had bought as a present. Once we arrived at the camp at Douglas Hot Springs, we had a stiff drink (TEA!) to steady our nerves and then went off for a swim. The hot water (about 60oc) came from a spring just a little further up and joined the river at the camp ground. By positioning your body, you were able to maintain a balance between the hot spring water and the cold river water- heaven! It was an art to find the exact spot and vie for breathing space with about 12 other people. Luckily the kids are all mad and loved jumping off the logs into the cold water a bit further away! Explored the hot water part through lots of sandy patches and although careful, we felt like we had burnt our feet. Peter rested his feet on cold packs for a bit! No problems in the end.
Turned out to be a very tranquil spot so we just relaxed for another day. The camp is teaming with lots of birds we haven’t seen before. Great background chatter all day. That night we were awaken by a tremendous roar as a F18 roared overhead at what seemed like tree-top height. We then watched in awe as more jets thundered overhead – much better then fireworks!

Row that barge - Katherine Gorge

Katherine 21 - 23 July 2006

Had a quick dash up to Katherine to pick up the mail, only to find out that the Post Office was shut because of the local show. We walked around Katherine and then went for a swim at the hot springs. It was still very refreshing, although they were not as good as Bitter Springs. On Saturday we drove out to Katherine Gorge and found it busy with tourists. Lots of people just do the cruise for two hours and others hire the canoes. For the first time this trip since Nyngan, there was enough water to launch our boat. We registered and paid the park fee and enthusiastically rowed off. The ranger assured Heather that there were no salt water crocs at present, but they had taken nine big ones out since end of the dry. They said that there are fresh water crocs that do no harm. Heather still thinks this sounds a bit like an OHS problem. Peter thinks it sounds like FUN! The 7km row up and back in the boat was hard work. On the way up the current was strong and the wind in our face. On the way back the current didn’t seem to help and the wind turned around - it was a challenge but worth it. There are really a large number (15?) of gorges on the river and we got up to the second. On the way back we were lucky enough to spot some crocodiles. On big one was sunning on a log, just out of the water – it looked fantastic! It was a fresh water one and supposedly harmless to humans.
On Sunday, we had a quiet day to read and relax. We spent most of the afternoon looking around Katherine and finished back at the hot springs for a late afternoon swim.

Croc at Katherine Gorge

King River (Katherine) 20 July 2006

King River (Katherine) 20 July 2006
Drove Jimmy down to the Bitter Spring car park and had another swim, this time with our face masks, so we could see all the underwater creatures. Another dimension to it all!! Like the Barrier reef under neath with all colours of green and different shaped weed, small yellow faced fish fighting the gentle drift of the current with us, good sized turtles ducking into small caves in the banks, large tree roots with beautiful shapes crossing under the water covered in glorious bright green waster plants. Did a quick trot into town and bought a traditional painting of two barramundi and then hurried back for another swim. It was hard to let yourself get to the bridge because we did not want it to end. We thought the whole trip was worth it just for this spring. Set off north late in the afternoon and settled down in a large bush camp on the side of the road with the usual group of travellers found at these spots. Everyone seems to space out well for privacy.

Katherine - 2005 flood waters came up to this bridge.

Mataranka 19 July 2006

Set off for Mataranka early in the morning looking forward to our first swim since leaving. Settled for a natural caravan park near the alternate spring, Bitter Springs, away from the big advertised one. Great decision! This is a naturally occurring hot spring that meanders along a lush tropical creek. We went for our first swim of the trip and we were delighted with the crystal clear water – it was magic, just like a shampoo ad! Palms over hang the creek creating dappled light and shade. The edges are laced with reeds and flat lily pads with the beautiful pink and mauve lilies decorating the swim. The water is an even 32 deg and deep enough in the middle to swim along. The creek meanders along for about 120 metres and we let the current take us down to a bridge, walked back quickly (2 mins) and did it again. Peter loved just floating down on his back. In the afternoon explored the rest of Mataranka and ended up at the other spring at the old Mataranka homestead - found it fairly crowded with lots of tourist buses etc. This was used by the troops during the war and it had suffered considerable changes from its original condition. It was very shady and we were told that it is often the home of 10s of thousands of fruit this bats, although they haven’t been here this season. Someone told us that they came to the park last year and wondered why a man was BBQ’ing whilst holding up an umbrella! The pool was limited in size and walls reinforced with rocks. Not a patch on Bitter Springs! At last the weather definitely has a summer feel – and everyone is walking around in shorts. We believe it all varies considerably according to the amount of rain each season. Think we hit paradise on its best day.

Bitter Springs

Monday, July 24, 2006

South Warlock 18 July 2006

Had a look at the remains of Newcastle Waters settlement. This is a deserted village that was an important town for the local cattle industry. The original shop, pub and bakery are preserved by the National Trust and it was easy to go back in time. The resourcefulness of building materials is fascinating. The shop included bottles in the walls as fill. Seen it before but here it is pure practicality. Stopped at Gorrie Airfield with the intention of staying the night and went for a long walk along the old tracks. Saw large areas of beautiful bright pink bushes, gum trees with leaves 20cms long and really fat, termite mounds 3 ms high. The remains of the largest WWII airfield are here being the longest airstrip in Oz. There is little that remains of the massive effort put into the airfield but we later drove around the overgrown tracks and remarked that the very long straight road we drove along must have been part of that airstrip. The sense of hidden secrecy was strong. We had seen the first of many little grass fires on the side of the road - totally unattended and in surprisingly large numbers. They had no fury but seemed to be of a burn-off nature. We found was a number of these in the area we were in so we decided it was not prudent to stay. So even though it was getting late, we ended up driving to just outside Mataranka at South Warlock and stopped at a pretty bush camp for the night already occupied by at least 10 other groups. Lots of camp fires which seemed ironic when we had seen so many fires. No firebans despite the high fire danger. Camp fires seem to be regarded as a right up here. If you take into account the Aboriginal use of camp fires it is best not to make law against them.

Daly Waters Pub and Newcastle Waters

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Newcastle Waters 17 July 2006

After picking up the mail (thanks Julie) we set off for the long drive north. Stopped at Elliott for lunch and bought some local artefacts. Elliott was a staging area for Australian troops during WWII and Peter believed that his father probably transferred through Elliot whilst in Darwin, after the Japanese bombing. Surprising how green these little towns keep themselves plus big shady trees. Most watered with water from the Artesian Basin. Car washing is still a normal sight too. Cry Sydneysiders! Stopped at Newcastle Waters Rest Area for the night for a free camp. It ended up being crowded with about 20 groups staying for the night. We noticed that the official Rest Areas in NT are becoming more crowded the further we go north. We’ve meet caravanners who have not free camped before who are also liking it - used to be mostly motorhomers before. Caravan park owners are not happy. They prefer to fence you in to collect $20 - $30 a night, but we don’t want to be fenced in!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Devils Marbles

Peter, Harry and Jack

Tennant Creek 16 July 2006

Up early to watch the sunrise glowing on the rocks next to our home. Breakfast at one of the best views, then off on the road again. Tennant Creek came along fairly quickly. Found the Nyinkka Nyunya Cultural Centre which had some excellent displays on aspects of Aboriginal culture. The Bush Tucker part was really good and now we know what lots of things look like, we won’t go hungry if we can’t find Woolies! The town is pleasant and has a good civic feel despite what some people say. Travelled out of town to the old Telegraph Station and have decided to stay here for the night to remember what it was like in the hard days of the past. Saw a Radio National Reporter doing a story on the Telegraph Line to be broadcast in March next year. The sunset was spectacular. Can feel a bit more warmth too!!

Rain in Alice

Devils Marbles 15 July 2006

Had a long drive to the Devils Marbles. The rocks are like gigantic rounded Rubik Cubes that someone has pulled apart and scattered over the landscape, with boulders balanced precariously on each other. The site is much bigger than expected and it was very surprising that we had unrestricted access to the whole site. We camped that night at the Devils Marbles Reserve at a large designated area in the middle of the marbles and watched the sunset amongst the rocks. The rocks changed from ochre to tangerine to red and then gold. The camera worked overtime and we marvelled at how lucky we were to be that close. Feel sure this situation will not continue, though.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Heather at the Alice Springs Agricultural Show

Peggy Browne

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Alice Springs 2 – 14 July 2006

Set off in the morning and set up in a caravan park for our stay. On Sunday we went to the Todd Mall markets and had a wander around - lots of touristy stuff. We did a mixture of town like activities interspersed with tourist destinations. Went to the movies and saw 10 Canoes, an Aboriginal story wonderfully told and filmed. So appropriate at the moment! Swapped house batteries under warranty and hope that the battery problems will improve.
We visited the old Telegraph Station for lunch and a tour. This area was originally settled because of the need for the Telegraph Station to connect Australia with England. There was nothing in the centre at that time and eventually it became the first tiny settlement of Alice Springs. The spring turned out to be a dud so they moved to the current site a few kms away. The guy giving the talk asked us where we all from and he found three Scots from Aberdeen in the crowd and quizzed them on who they knew as he to was also born in Aberdeen. While we were looking around Heather bumped into them again and asked them did they know Ellon to which they declared that was where they were from. They turned out to be friends of her uncle and aunty in Ellon (near Aberdeen) and their twin sons went to school with Heather’s cousin new husband, Gordon. Alison also worked with Dorothy for 17 years. It was bizarre as they had also gone to Jane and Gordon’s wedding that Heather’s brothers Colin and Neil attended last August. We arranged to have dinner and a chat with them that night. We had a lovely time and all marvelled at the co-incidence.
Wednesday was another town day looking at all sorts of Alice things. We finally caught up with John and Claire and three children after Heathers mum sent a message to say that they lived in Alice. John was the little boy who lived next door to the Duncans in Walgett and Heather has very strong clear memories of. It was fun to chat and try to jog John’s memory. The memory of John telling us about how his new riding boots would hurt if he kicked was strong. And there he was with his riding boots still on! There was also a memory of a few swear words that a 7 year old boy taught a12 yr old girl that she still says under her breath when things go wrong. All so innocent though. We went to the local pub for the State of Origin (say no more!). They had a duo playing country music, except everyone had turned around to watch the (muted) TV screen. However the musicians were a real hoot and they would comment on the state of play while they were singing. It was a lot of fun and we thought we would go again.
On Friday morning we went to the Alice Springs Desert Park. We had been reluctant to go as we thought it might be too touristy. Seems the more you pay the more 'touristy' a place is - but not this time, it was extremely good. The park is divided into three types of landscapes of central Australia and the flora and fauna of each region is very seamlessly presented. We loved the nocturnal display and saw remarkable creatures moving about naturally as at night, totally unaware that we were centimetres away. We also saw an exhibition of birds of prey. The Hobby Falcon’s speed was incredibly fast and could turn on a coin. All of this is set outdoors against the backdrop of the West McDonnell Ranges soaring above us.
On Saturday we went to the Ag Show that is a big draw around here. There was plenty to see with the usual line of cattle, bulls, cats and dogs. It was good to see lots of displays on local issues in the halls and we learnt more about the issues specific to this area. There were a lot of happy, friendly people around. The Aboriginal population was out in force enjoying them selves more openly than we have seen before. Met up with John, Claire and kids for coffee. The evening concluded with fireworks that made a fitting end to the day
Sunday was a long visit to the Cultural Centre which houses some excellent exhibitions of different Aboriginal art. Albert Namatjira was well represented as was the Papunya Movement which was backed up with an excellent video from the 70s. They also had a Central Australia Natural History Museum which explained the geology of the area extremely well. The Women’s Pioneer Museum was another interesting visit. It was started by a local woman to acknowledge pioneering women of Australia. She started it in response to her disappointment to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame that was so male dominated. We wandered downtown and spoke to some aborigines who were selling their paintings. They do not have much to say though! After a bit of discussion we bought two – one traditional and one modern.
On Monday we went to the East MacDonnell Ranges. While not as popular as the West MacDonnell Ranges, they are just as scenic in their own right. Called into Emily Gap that had very impressive Aboriginal art relating to caterpillars. Moved onto the interesting and visually impressive Corroboree Rock. Hiked along the ridge-top walk around yet another gorge, Trephina. It continues to surprise us that we find the countryside so different and beautiful. Lucky we do, as we have heard others say “not another rock”! (There is a search on now for a new slogan for N.T. Tourism and a favourite is “N.T. ROCKS” which we think is spot on!) Found Ross River Homestead and then set off for on a 4WD track to N’Dhala Gorge where there are many artefacts from the Aboriginal occupation, particularly at N’Dhala Gorge, which is reputed to have 6,000 rock carvings. We found about 10! Drove onto Arltunga, an old gold mining village which must have been incredibly isolated in a time before Alice was developed. Everything was carted in 600km from Oodnadatta by camel, horse and foot. It started in 1887 and in 1913 the battery closed. We hear there is some gold mining out there at present. Maybe the old guys missed the big one!
On Tuesday we had another look at some art galleries and in the evening went to dinner with John and Claire. They have previously worked with Aboriginal communities and had some interesting experiences. They both now Alice well and it was lovely to meet them. Spent the next day fixing the compressor and visiting a few more tourist spots around Alice. Finally bought a painting by a local artist that depicts a story of wandering around the waterholes that was affordable. Much of the art work is $500 to $20,000! Art is an industry but many are refreshing and desirable. On Thursday it RAINED!!! It was like a different Alice so we stayed the day to see if the river would run. No such luck! It did look very muddy though. It felt like a totally different place. This was the highlight of the week and front page news was the rain – only 8 mm, but the first time it has rained since April!

Standley Chasm

Simpsons Gap

Twin Ghost Gums (Simpson Gap) 1 June 2006

Set off in the morning for Standley (not Stanley) Chasm. Arrived in time for the advised “best time” - midday, when the light streams through the chasm. It is privately run by Aboriginal people, so unlike all the other gorges in this National Park, they charge for entry. It costs $7.50 each to get in. It was worth it however and we were pleased to see that all the people running it were Aboriginal - not like Uluru where we did not see any Aboriginal people working there. The Chasm was really special but because it is recommended to be there at 12 noon, there were 50 or more people crowded in. Forget photography! We stayed on when everyone had left and found some fantastic sections beyond the chasm. We are continually amazed at the different geological features we see in the same region. Sometimes we go to one with no expectations and are pleasantly surprised.Stopped at a rest area near Simpsons Gap for the night – very peaceful watching the sunset over the ranges. That night, we had some visitors who wanted to let off fire works for Territory Day at the rest area. You can buy fire works for 2 days at this time and old memories came flooding back! The 4 kids were 6 – 10 year olds and had a ball. Peter was delighted as he had missed out in the fireworks in Alice. The 2 packs cost $100 each and lasted 1 ½ hours.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ormiston Gorge Waterhole

Ormiston Gorge

Ochre Pit

Sunset at Neil Hargrave Lookout

Palm Valley

Ormiston Gorge (West MacDonnell Ranges) 29 – 30 June 2006

Peter still had his cold hanging on, so we had yet another quiet day. In the morning we saw the Ochre Pits which were actually very beautiful and inspiring. The kaolin is in multiple vertical layers (getting used to the fact that the earth has pushed every thing side ways in Australia!) and the array of coloured ochres available was considered significant enough that Aboriginals traded them all over Australia. They feel beautiful to touch and it is easy to understand why you would want to make dot paintings. Peter left with a few coloured spots on his face to ward off his cold. Surprisingly, this is not a sacred site. Settled at Ormiston Gorge in the National Park in a cute little spot amongst the trees and the birds with quite a few other people. Fitted in a short walk in the afternoon to a lookout. There we could see the massive folds of quartzite that had been eroded away to form the gorge. Everywhere we go, we are amazed at the rock formations – makes you wish you had paid more attention during geology lessons! The height of the gorge is very impressive with the mottle of the brightest orange and white cliffs spotted with yellow and green shrubs and the amazing white ghost gums seemingly glued onto the rock wall! Next day we went to Glen Helen Gorge, all set for a long hike, only to find that the water was still high and that we couldn’t see the Organ Pipes we had heard so much about. However it was great just to see a large body of water with fish and water birds on it. A new experience was to see dead fish in these water holes. Explanation involves bacteria, cold winter temperature, low level of water and low oxygen. It is “yuk” though! Saw (and smelt) this again in upper area of Ormiston. In the afternoon we went along Ormiston Gorge to a large water hole and we were lucky enough to see the rock wallabies coming down for a drink. They impressed us with their rock hopping ability!

Lookout along Finke River

Neil Hargrave Lookout (West MacDonnell Ranges) 28 June 2006

Peter’s turn for a cold, obviously caught from Heather and in full mode. So slow start to day and then off to see the local attractions. Hermannsburg is a former Lutheran Mission established in 1877, abandoned in 1891, restarted by another church which maintained it as a mission until the 1970s after which it was given back to the Western Aranda people. The mission is open to the public with tea rooms and aboriginals selling paintings etc. No matter what views you hold, the mission remains are amazing. There are at least 15 buildings in pretty original order that demonstrate an ability to endure a remoteness that we can hardly imagine. Working with the Aborigines they built a church, smithy, large house, manse (housing the extensive collection of watercolours by the Hermannsburg artists), stockman’s house, mortuary, isolation ward, school house, correspondence school, tannery, shearing house, bakehouse, laundry, store rooms, ration house, dining rooms, meat house, big water tanks, maid’s quarters and dormitories.
This was also the home of Albert Namatjira and they have some of his paintings hung, as well as other artists who painted in the same style. There are some fascinating photos of Aboriginal people from those early times including Albert. It is not until you travel over this country that you can really appreciate his paintings – the striking red cliffs, the yellows, purples, dusty variety of greens, the sandy creek beds and the stark, majestic white ghost gums.
Some of the local Aboriginal art work was on display and for sale but we were disappointed with it – it is obviously painted for the tourists and seemed to lack the flair and vitality of other works we have seen. Drove westward towards Glen Helen sandwiched between two mountain ranges. Jutting out of the side of the mountains were rugged clusters of what looked like razed fortifications. Stopped at Neil Hargrave Lookout for the night. This gave us spectacular views of the sunset hitting the mountains.


Hermannsburg Artists

Hermannsburg 26 - 27 June 2006

Started early to fix a few little things with the motor home and collect the mail that is becoming much slower now. They said mail goes to Melbourne or Adelaide before coming to Alice. Did the food shopping and headed out to Hermannsburg, about 180 km from Alice. The road was fantastic in most places as it had recently been widened. When we arrived we found a typical Aboriginal community of run down housing but non-threatening. The camp grounds were in top order, very well maintained, securely fenced, and free laundry with hot water all for $11. Not many in that night but very shortly Heather discovered that Margaret, the “neighbour” (travelling with her husband John), was a work colleague from the Southern Region Aged Care Group. We had a lovely chat as we both stayed 2 nights. Emailed a photo back to work that we hear will be in our weekly rag. Hermannsburg is a former Lutheran mission that is now an Aboriginal community. In the morning we set off for Palm Valley. It was only an 18km trip, but it took us 90 minutes as the track was so rough! Most of the trip was driving along the Finke River, which varied between sand traps, boulders or rock shelves. But our little 4WD (Suzuki Grand Vitara) did an amazing job of coping with the track. Only problem is the low clearance, which we should be able to fix by raising it 2’’. Peter had the BEST time, but Heather thought it a bit HAIR RAISING!!!!! A few people coming out stopped to offer advice about the track!
Palm Valley was amazing, enveloped in remanent palm trees, small fig trees, citrus trees and cycads left over when the area was a tropical rainforest. The visual evidence of the age of our country is the single most outstanding aspect of the trip. Makes you feel like a single cell!