Friday, July 30, 2010

Kununurra, Wyndham and the Great Northern Highway

Kununurra from the Lookout

Kununurra, an Aboriginal name meaning "meeting of the big waters", and our destination on Monday after the 70 kilometre drive from Lake Argyle. We stayed at Lakeside Park, a pretty setting but oh the red dust and bull dust which the two four legged ones added to 'our' beds. Have you ever heard of anyone sweeping their bed linen, well now you have. Thank goodness for air conditioning in our van with the outside temperatures around 34C. We are so over red dust and dirt! On a happier note, we had visits from Firetail Finches here. Cute little fellows with crimson shoulders and tails. Ade is still looking for Gouldian Finches in the wild.

The town was established in 1960 to service the Ord River Scheme which provides irrigation and power. We checked out the local lookout with glorious views of the river plain encompassing the agricultural industry and the town.There were acres and acres of mango trees, fruit and vegetables and Sandalwood trees. Naturally I had to check out the local shops and of course the most interesting are the diamond merchants featuring the locally mined Argyle diamonds. The Argyle Mine is the third largest diamond producing mine in the world and the variety of colours range from champagne, yellow, amber, pink (the most well known and the only place where they are found), blue and even red. According to the retail assistant 60 red diamonds have been found at Argyle and they are not found anywhere else either. Also on display were beautiful pearls found in the waters around the north west. I had my eye on a black one to have as a pendant - just a little drooling and dreaming!

Port of Wyndham

An easy day trip of 100 kilometres took us north on Tuesday to Wyndham to see the meeting of the five rivers on the Cambridge Gulf . Very scenic drive with beautiful mountain ranges of the east Kimberleys and lots of Boab trees. Passed the Gibb River Road turn off which is a shortcut and dirt road all the way to Derby through National Parks and mountains, gorges and waterfalls. We are not into bone rattling, teeth grinding driving so will give this a miss and travel on the black tar on our way across.

Cambridge Gulf

The views from the 300 metre plus lookout down to where the the Ord, Forrest, King, Durack and Pentecost rivers enter Cambridge Gulf are mind blowing with salt flats visible as the tide was way out. Went down to the Port and toured around the wharf area which services the cattle industry and the mining companies, and checked out the very old historic town and the pioneer cemetery. Cambridge Gulf is home to the largest saltwater crocodiles in the world and the only one I have enjoyed being close to is the giant croc in the park. The crocodile farm with the real deal ones is the local tourist attraction.
My Favourite Crocodile

On the way back we stopped at the Zebra Rock Gallery which has a fascinating display of this striped and marked rock (like Zebras) which is 600 million years old and found near Lake Argyle.

Wednesday time to move on again and our direction was west on the Victoria Highway before journeying south west on the Great Northern Highway and our destination a free camp at Mary Pool on the Mary River. We travelled through the Kimberleys with fantastic mountain ranges continuing all the way to Warmun or Turkey Creek as it is known. Nothing boring about this drive, around every bend another wonderful view. Sadly we bypassed the Bungle Bungles - Purnululu National Park. The formation of black and orange beehive domes and gorges and chasms will have to wait until another trip. Saw the western end of the Tanami Road which is a dirt road through the Tanami and Central Deserts to north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. We didn't realise we would see the other end of the road when we saw the turn off on the Stuart Highway. 905 kilometres I worked out; that's one long unsealed road in my book.

We drove through Halls Creek which has a history dating back to 1885 with the discovery of gold starting Western Australia's first gold rush and 90 kilometres further and a little under 500 kilometres for the day, we arrived at our free camp at Mary Pool mid afternoon. The trick is obviously to get in early for the good spots as there were already about fifty vans set up for the night. A very pretty place with shady trees and the river is a haven for native birds and the grounds a very popular place with "moos". We needed to step lightly.

Mary River and a Local Heron

Thursday morning continued on through rich pasture country and flat plains and then around a bend another magical picture of mesas and stand alone mountains in the distance. We saw a wild dingo roaming along the road side, a first in a remote area. Saw one at Yulara campgrounds but he didn't look too underfed. Diesel stop at Fitzroy Crossing on the beautiful Fitzroy River which is centered in some of our best pastoral country.

Forty kilometres to the turn off north to Derby on King Sound for a couple of days visit. The sides of the road are thick with flowering wattle; a sea of yellow and a sunny welcome to this part.

On our Way to WA

The Harry Potter Tree
We left Darwin heading west on the Victoria Highway on Friday 23rd July for an overnight stay at Katherine and then onto Timber Creek the next morning. Travelled through forest country and rich grasslands with Brahman cattle happily grazing in the paddocks along the roadside. East of the town of Victoria River the highway passes through the first section of the Gregory National Park. Spectacular ranges with dark layers of rock which look like iron ore, dark red soil and an abundance of green growth in the valleys and gorges. Crossed the Victoria River just before the town and a quick stop to take photos of the escarpments bordering the highway. The river weaves through this whole region and in many places is a kilometre in width and is the Territory's largest waterway. This is ooh aah country!

Onwards to Timber Creek through scrub country before entering the next part of the Gregory National Park and once again magnificent scenery of mountains and vistas. An overnight stop only and onwards the next morning to the border with the road running parallel to the Victoria River for a few kilometres. It looks so inviting with Pandanus palms dripping over the banks and sandy inlets but guess what inhabits these waters. Yep - crocodiles!

Victoria Highway at Victoria River

Apart from that revealing information we are now seeing the Australian species of Boab trees in all their funny shapes; fat ones, skinny ones, doubles, triples and multiple quantities standing together with their arm like branches ready to reach out and grab you, like the tree in the Harry Potter movie.

The remainder of our journey to the border was through the beautiful mountains of the Spencer and Pinkerton Ranges. Quarantine check at the border as no fruit and vegetables, as well as honey, seeds and nuts can be taken over to WA. The honey is an interesting one and the Quarantine Officer explained that the untreated variety in the eastern states contains spores which can have devastating effects on the "bee" industry in WA and of course no bees, no pollen, no flowers and no honey!. Jerry Seinfeld should have set his Bee movie here.

Instead of a half hour difference to Queensland we are now two hours behind and it really feels strange. It has taken a few days to get ourselves in the routine of the sun going down early and the dog wake up call around 5.30am when the birds chatter at sunrise. Ade wanted to start happy hour two hours early - I told him that is not a good idea!

Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle, our destination for a couple of nights, is 70 kilometres from the border and wow, what a stunning drive through the Carr Boyd Ranges to the Lake Argyle Tourist Village . The Lake was formed by damming the Ord River in 1971 and reclaiming a one million acre cattle property known as Argyle Downs which was owned by the Durack family. Michael Patrick Durack, came across to Wyndham from Darwin by boat in 1882 exploring this area before settling with his family. The original Durack family home made of local stone, along with headstones of family and faithful friends, was relocated before the flooding of the property. The family history comes alive reading the headstones and I liked the story of Pumpkin an aboriginal who travelled with Michael Durack from Darwin and remained his faithfull companion until his death. Dame Mary Durack, one of Michael's daughters and a noted author of numerous publications, wrote "Kings in Grass Castles" the story of the family history beginning with their mid 19th century migration from Ireland. I will have to add that to my must read list.

Infinity at Lake Argyle
My favourite part of our Lake Argyle stay was hanging out at the wet edge pool overlooking the Lake. Glorious sunshine and perfect temperature for swimming in this 'right out of a Hollywood movie' setting, and the water was freezing. One of the locals explained that the wind was blowing from the surface of the lake below and cooling the water as it spilled over the edge. Around 16 to 18C - somewhat bracing! I braved it and swam until my ears ached.

Next stop Kununurra only 70 kilometres to travel and one of Australia's largest salad bowls.
Dead Horse Spring

Friday, July 9, 2010

Darwin and the Top End

John McDouall Stuart Memorial,
Esplanade on Darwin Harbour

Lee Point Caravan Park on the northern point of Darwin was our camp site from the 6th July. 800 metres from the Timor Sea and we actually could see the water from the hill behind us and smell the sea - wonderful!

This area is part of the Casuarina Coastal Reserve, an area of indigenous cultural significance for the traditional custodians of Darwin and its surrounds, the Larrakia - Saltwater People. The sandy beaches and sandstone cliffs are fringed by Casuarina trees, mangrove and paperbark forests and beautiful blue water. The tides here can vary in height up to eight metres. Year round temperatures in Darwin are consistently around 32C degrees which is no hotter or more humid than Bali and Singapore, and this is our coldest month!
Darwin Harbour
Darwin (named after Charles Darwin,a scientist and evolutionist) is a modern city with a colourful past having been rebuilt after the devastating Cyclone Tracey on Christmas Day 1974, and prior to that it was almost completely destroyed by the Japanese during WWII. Darwin was first sighted by John McDouall Stuart in 1863 on his fifth attempt to travel from the south to the north and then settled by Europeans in 1869. The woofs had a day with "The Furry Godmother" (seriously that's the name) doggy day care on the Friday and we went exploring.
The waterfront precinct on Darwin Harbour which encompasses historical Stokes Wharf (that was featured in Baz Lurhmann's movie 'Australia'), is part of a recently developed area with a wave lagoon, bathing beach, Darwin's Convention Centre, high rise apartment complexes, and alfresco eateries set in beautifully landscaped streets and gardens. The new Parliament House which opened in 1994, and Government House are located nearby and have stunning harbour views. Government House was reconstructed in 1883 of stone after the original timber structure was destroyed by white ants and is referred to as The House of Seven Gables with louvred verandahs and tropical gardens. Many original style inner city buildings such as Lyons Cottage constructed in 1925; the Court House and Police Station built in 1884 (and rebuilt in 1981 after Tracey) featuring local "hammered" stone and in 2010 used as the administration offices for the Northern Territory Administrator; and Christ Church Cathedral with the front the original stone facade and the remainder a modern addition, are outstanding examples of the early architecture of our most northern city.
The Waterfront Wave Lagoon
The Old Courthouse and Police Station

Government House
The most interesting for me personally has been to learn more about the bombing of Darwin and particularly February 19, 1942. 115 tonnes of bombs were dropped on Darwin by the same Japanese fighters who devastated Pearl Harbour just ten weeks before. 250 people were killed and many more wounded. My father was here having just returned from fighting in the middle east and so was my Mum who had travelled to meet his ship. Darwin was the target of 64 air raids in 1942/43 and the first mainland site in Australia to come under attack. Lookout sites, gun placements, oil storage tunnels, bunkers, military airstrips and other significant memorabilia are well preserved around the city and the northern part of the Territory. Driving into Darwin we saw two original airstrips running parallel to the Highway.
Government House
A mate of Ade's, Keith Wyness (an Uncle Ben's old boy) introduced Ade to the Trailer Boat Club at Fannie Bay on a previous outing so of course I had to check it out. Our lunch, well I'm not sure if it even rates a mention. You know the scene, plastic tables and chairs which have seen better days; set under palm trees swaying in the idyllic breeze; the sand well a little courser than we are accustomed to on the east coast but it will do; the sound of lapping waves on the beach; yachts moored just beyond the shore in the bluest of blue water which goes on as far as the eye can see and the food, well what can I say. Salt & pepper calamari for me; I was so hungry I had to eat it all and Ade's seafood combination, I had to help him finish it. Suppose I should mention the bottle of Chardonnay to wash it down. As I say not even worth talking about!

We took a drive out to Wagait Beach via Berry Springs on the western side of the Port of Darwin. The surrounding areas are all flat like Darwin with thick undergrowth of tree ferns, spindly low growing palms, Pandanus trees set amongst shabby gum trees, not very exciting. Then when you get to the beach and the signs which are everwhere in the Top End, 'Crocodiles, Stingers, Jelly Fish Inhabit these Waters' - not very inviting. On the positive side, beautiful blue water, lovely sandy beaches and the most interesting coloured rocks of reds, pinks, yellows, oranges, greys which I recognised as the same colours in the original stone buildings in Darwin.

Keith, who is a Territorian of 28 years standing, joined us for lunch at our "Vagabond Camp" just before we left and we owe him a big thank you for his helpful advice on places to see and things to do in the Top End.
We extended our stay to get a service on the car and van. It's been tough hanging in here with the pool a short walk away, grassy areas for the dogs, shady trees and sunshine every day. Someone's got to do it!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mt. Bundy Station and Adelaide River

Lilly and Friends

We continued north from Katherine, a very boring drive through blackened country, once more due to controlled burning. Mt. Bundy Station for the night on the Adelaide River which is 100 kilometres south of Darwin.

As we passed by Pine Creek which is one of the entry points to world heritage listed Kakadu National Park, the scenery improved with green growth and mountains in the distance. Kakadu will have to wait until another journey as it is such a large area to see and the dogs would need to be in kennels again. We had heard of the giant termite mounds and at two metres in height they are very different from all the ant nests which have been a common sight on our travels. The mounds' thin edges point north-south minimising their exposure to the sun, and keeping them cool for the termites inside.

Termite Mounds

Resident Guinea Fowls

Mt. Bundy Station is near the township of Adelaide River and once settled we decided to extend our visit to four nights. It's a different set up to previous Stations we have visited as we are camped within the working area. The Station is predominately a 20,000 hectare cattle property and offers farm stays, homestead accommodation, camping and caravan sites. The stockmens' quarters and workers cottages, the holding stalls for the house animals are nearby as well. Lilly a ten month old Brahman calf who is housed in the stalls, is a big sook and very affectionate and she has no hesitation in bellowing her objections to the world; then there is Bindi a 3 year old quarterhorse mare who is very small, chestnut in colour with a white blaze on her forehead, and Nibbles who looks like he has Shetland in his make up and with his round tummy lives up to his name. Nibbles has a reputation of stealing food out of tents as well, and we witnessed his thieving ways when he stole potatoes out of the back of a car next to us. Took our two four legged ones out to the gate for their morning walks and Brie wasn't sure about the very big "dogs" in the paddocks. Naturally being city bred they haven't seen horses before.

Bindi the Quarter Horse

The working horses in the nearby paddocks are a friendly lot and used for guests trail rides. There was a lengthy discussion between Adrian and one of the owners re quarterhorse lines and breeding and as it happened the horses had similar lines to Adrian's stallion, Billy. There were so many animals - guinea fowl, peacocks, peahens, geese, water buffalo and Ade spied Corella's in the trees (he's the bird man), and a four metre crocodile (salty) and friends patrolling the river bank as the Adelaide river runs through the property. No toe dipping for this girl.

We took a drive out to the Daly River Crossing renowned for its barramundi fishing and boating, and scenic surrounds. Ade describes this as a blokes fishing spot - not for sheilas! Well done Ade - how Aussie can you get!

The town of Adelaide River played a very important role in the military presence during WWII and was the location for a huge military base with thousands of personnel stationed here and surrounding areas. I visited the Adelaide River War Cemetery, a moving experience, which is the third largest war cemetery in Australia, the resting place for some 63 civilians and 434 service personnel.

On our third night we had an unfortunate incident with our Bere. I was taking him out for a necessary walk at 4 am and something spooked him before I could get his leash on properly (for those who don't know, Bere is blind and he never runs). He took off like the wind and then I heard this awful howl and knew that was our boy. Torch in hand I found him in the horse stable so I had to crawl under the fence to get him and yes he had been hurt and was limping badly and totally disoriented. Boy, did I stink. I had rolled in horse shit and the pair of us were on the nose! End of this story is that we kept him totally quiet for the day, he was in shock anyway, and had him to the vet as soon as we arrived in Darwin the next day. He has a badly bruised and swollen wrist and thankfully no broken bones. We aren't quite sure whether he had a meeting with one of the horses or exactly what happened. And, Ade reckoned Jean and Bere were much nicer to be close to after a meeting with soap and water!

Next day, Darwin our destination and the most northern capital and the furtherest north both of us have travelled in Australia.


Springvale Store & Homestead
We arrived mid afternoon in the pretty town of Katherine to 33C degrees and high humidity - and I was looking forward to being warm. Careful what you wish for! To hot to do to much plus after three days of driving we needed to stop.

The Katherine Hot Spings, natural thermal springs, is right near the park so of course I had to check them out.. The temperature maintains a constant 32C and there are several crystal clear pools winding through the trees and then out to the Katherine River. Pandanus and palms and grassy banks create a tranquil setting (out of a Hollywood movie) and I'm told the water travels all the way from the New Guinea highlands and takes over 1,000 years to reach here. Sounds good to me.

Knotts Crossing

The oldest original homestead in the Northern Territory is a beautiful stone construction called Springvale Homestead and was constructed in 1878. Its set in park like surroundings with a wonderful canopy of South American Raintrees and near the Katherine river a few kilometres out of town. Well worth a visit. Also we had a look at Knotts Crossing a very beach like setting on the Katherine River with so much sand you would think you were on the ocean and a popular spot for fishing and swimming (watch those crocs) with the locals.

The Climb Up to View Katherine Gorge

We put the woofs into doggy day care so we could go out to the Nitmiluk National Park - Katherine Gorge. The Jaywon people, traditional owners and the Northern Territory government jointly manage this park which is 30 kilometres east of town. The 13 separate gorges are sculptured from sandstone over millions of years by the Katherine River which winds along for 12 kilometres. The gorges have sheer rock faces of more than 70 metres in height. We undertook a hot and rugged climb to the Baruwei Lookout and had fabulous views along the River and rock face.

Katherine Gorge from up above

It was interesting to learn about the dry and arid climate that exists here in the winter months or from April to October before the wet season begins. According to the Jaywon people the seasons are not defined by weather but into a time to hunt, a time to harvest and a time to roam combined with the flowering and fruiting of plants and mating and birthing of animals.

Back into town and drive north another 40 kilometres to access the Edith Falls or Leliyn in another part of the Nitmiluk National Park. On the way we saw a wonderful sight of the very large red tail black cockatoos flying right in front of us with their red tails clearly visible. This is not a pretty drive as controlled burning has turned the country into a black and charred landscape. The Falls are not in full flow in the dry season but still very pretty with pandanus and paperpark fringed pools. Crocodiles are found in all these areas, both the saltwater (salties) and the less aggressive variety of freshwater crocs. Personally, I wouldn't be hanging around to prove which is which if you know what I mean!

Friday morning time to leave and we hope to find greener pastures. Our only complaint about our stay in Katherine was our very dusty and dirty van site. The "Grim Raker", (I named him) would start raking leaves about 7am from those previously mentioned South American Raintrees which are everywhere in Katherine, and kicked up the most unbelievable amount of dust. The day before we left there was another one raking as well! We are over it. The dogs are now the grey heelers !