- The worse the road, the less people on it
- The less people on the road the more remote the place
- The more remote the place the more we enjoy it!!
We stayed in Darwin for a week, exploring this interesting and diverse city, recharging our systems and restocking our supplies. The public transport system seems to be one of the few government run transport systems that we have used that understands what the term "public' is really about. Cheap fares, free for pensioners, and the bus drivers are happy to accommodate prams, wheelchairs, walking frames and motorised scooters (for the disabled) sometimes on the same trip. It may have been a little chaotic but everyone managed to get to their destinations, safely and in good humour.
My sister Leonie and her partner Phil have a property at Wagait Beach near Mandorah on the Cox peninsula, west of Darwin. To get there you can either drive the 130 kms from Darwin or catch the local ferry from Darwin, a relaxing 20 minute journey across the beautiful harbour. We chose the ferry!! Our delay in arriving in Darwin meant we didn't catch up with Leonie as she had already left to stay with Mum in Sydney. Phil was our guide and showed us around Wagait Beach, where they have their block, and then we had lunch at the Mandorah pub which does a rip roaring trade on a Sunday as lots day-trippers come over from Darwin It was a great day, and we felt as though we had been on a tropical island.
There were great markets, the art gallery and museum interesting and informative, the city was easy to get around and we left Darwin rested and- ready to continue our adventure.
Litchfield National Park
Litchfield had been highly recommended to us by a number of people who thought it superior to Kakadu. Our first stop was at the "magnetic termite mounds" . It seems that no-one is 100% sure how the termites know how to align their mounds in an almost north-south orientation but the colonies are thriving so there must be a good point to it.
Next we stopped at Florence Falls with the intention of cooling down in the waterhole and having some lunch. We soon realised that we have been really spoilt in our travels in not having to share our waterholes and picnic areas with squillions of people. Florence falls were very pretty but there were way too many people to spend any time there. We went for a walk and eventually found a nice quiet place for lunch that had a little bit of a pool in which to cool off. Popped in to anotherLost City for a walk, which did raise a couple of questions: How many lost cities are there? And, who lost them?? By late afternoon we had been to a few more falls and walks so it was time to find somewhere to rest our heads.
The intention was to camp at one of the National Park sites but they have recently been upgraded and now suitable only for caravans or those people who don't mind putting their tent up on sharp stones. We decided to move to a campsite outside of the park and save the floor of our tent. First stop was a ground that had safari tents, the deal was this: a tent with twin share for $25 per person or a double bed for $50 per person. So it is half price if you sleep apart! This sounded like someone was having us on, so we went up the road and pitched our tent! There are a lot of burn-offs happening around the NT and the smoke was pretty bad but the upside was that the sun was a huge, red ball at sunset. Very spectacular.
We explored some more of the park, went for a wonderful walk along the crystal clear Walker Creek and then drove down the 4WD track to Tjatnera Falls and Sandy Creek falls. It was a challenging 4WD track with about 5 river crossings but was lots of fun. Lots of sand and corrugations and at one river crossing Cecily found a snake in the creek while trying to test the water depth! In preference to walking in snake infested waters and frightening both snake and human, Len found an alternate route up and down a very steep sand bank
Fact: On Northern Territory roads if they say that the track is suitable for 4WD's with high clearance, they are serious! The Land Rover is earning its keep and handling the rough conditions really well!
From Litchfield NP to Tennant Creek
We are now heading south towards Alice. We had a couple of days driving where you realise just how big and sparsely populated it is in the centre of Australia, someitmes it seems that you are driving for a couple of days and there aren't any towns, only roadhouses. The maps show that there is a small town but in reality the town consists of one building that is a petrol station, pub, caravan park, motel, grocer etc. And this is the main highway from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south.
We were running low on petrol so we headed to Daly River crossing, another small community that has a beautiful river (where we were told there is a world famous annual Barramundi fishing contest) a Police station, a shop, a pub and a caravan park. At 4pm the pub was already pretty full and noisy and the caravan park was right next door. We decided to move on.
We spent the next couple of days driving towards Tennant Creek. We had a couple of interesting stops and as we got close to Tennant Creek the scenery started to become more to our liking. Low, dense mallee scrub with plenty of small birds and beautiful coloured rocky ranges
We spent a few days in Tennant Creek and still couldn't work the town out! There is a fabulous art and cultural centre that went some way to explaining about the local aboriginal people, the Warumungu's, relationship to the land and the immense disruption and suffering they encountered since the arrival of white man. It was very emotional. There were also displays that covered the Aboriginal involvement in the cattle industry, their land claims and bush foods from the area. Cec went out to the garden and tried what she thought was one of the Acacia seed pods and promptly realised that it was the wrong tree!
Interesting sign seen first at Tennant Creek: No loitering, no humbugging! We had to ask what humbugging meant! We'll leave it to your imagination.
[b\]Davenport Range National Park[/b]
We wanted to see some of the land east of the Stuart Highway before we head to the more famous parts to the west. Our original plan was to stop the night at Whistleduck Creek in the Davenport Ranges National Park before moving on to Old Police Station Waterhole. Whistleduck Creek was pretty dry and the campsites were exposed and once again covered in sharp pebbles. We moved to Old Police Station Waterhole where there was a fabulous bush camping ground beside a lovely permanent waterhole. There were hundreds of corellas nesting in the gum trees beside the creek, some beautiful diamond doves, zebra finches, rufous herons and quails. There were also lots of budgerigars, ones that are free to fly around, not locked up in cages and they are also their natural colour of brilliant green - no blue ones to be seen!!. On the first night there were only 2 other campers, after that once again we were on our own. It was so peaceful, if you can call being woken by the corellas first thing in the morning peaceful. We spent our time there walking along the river, looking at the ruins, going for swims and generally keeping busy watching the wildlife. Hard job but someone has to do it! Next Alice Springs.
It was sad to leave The Davenport ranges, not only is the area stunningly beautiful, but we are pretty sure that we will soon have to share the scenery with lots of tourists and lose the peace and quiet of the more remote camping areas we have found.
We had a funny trip to Alice. We drove a lot further than we intended on the first night as the towns that we passed didn't look much and more importantly didn't sound very inviting, as all the camp grounds are attached to the local pub. We ended up staying at Aileron, which also had a pub but the accommodation area was a little bit away from the bar. It turned out that it was pension night and the locals all visit the pubs and hang around outside talking and driving back and forth to who knows where. Perhaps this is what humbugging really is!! Just after midnight, long after beer had stopped being sold, the owner went out the front and at the top of his voice suggested to them that they should all go home! They did!! We thought that was what their wives and girlfriends had been trying to tell them this since 4pm !!!.
Anyway, it was an interesting night and we woke early to get to Alice Springs. The drive down was fabulous. There had recently been a fair bit of rain, so there is lots and lots of wildflowers on the side of the roads. It was so beautiful that we had to keep on stopping to take photo's. The grass at the moment is green, flowers of all colours are blooming and all against the gorgeous red, desert soil. We can't believe how lucky we are to arrive after rain and how amazing it is. The MacDonnell Ranges that run to the east and west of Alice Springs are very dramatic and we arrived in town feeling very enthusiastic about what we are about to see.
Alice Springs turned out to be a really good town. We stayed longer than we had planned (what's new?) as it rained quite heavily for a few days and Len had hurt his foot and we don't want anything to stop us from going on long walks once we leave Alice. The temperature has dropped to a very pleasant 27%C - what a relief from 38%!
The East MacDonnell Ranges
While in Alice we went sightseeing and walking in the East MacDonnell Ranges. Wow. There were some great gorges to visit - the creeks and waterholes are all full from the recent rains and as we said earlier, the flowers are fantastic and there are lots of budgerigars flitting in and out of their nesting holes in the gum trees, they are so cute!!
On one of the trips we took the turn off to the John Hayes waterhole in the Trephina Gorge Reserve. There were lots of warnings regarding the state of the track, telling you that you need a 4WD with high clearance etc. As we drove down what appeared to be a mostly dry creek bed we realised that that was all too true. The only real surprise was when we went on a walk over the range and back through the creek bed. The walk was one of the most memorable walks either of us has been on - there was just the two of us, there were beautiful views from the top of the hills, then we scrambled down and rock hopped our way back along the dry creek bed at the bottom of the gorgeous gorge. Hard going but spectacular. There weren't very many signs telling you the best route to take but with cliffs on either side we guessed they thought we wouldn't get lost. About 2/3 of the way through,we came to an abrupt halt as the creek had filled with water and there was a 75 metre long waterhole in front and sheer cliffs on either side. Len went back a bit to try and find a way out by climbing to the top of the gorge, but when he got to the top there was another gorge to traverse. He scrambled back down, off came the shoes and socks and it was down to our underwear for a wade through the waterhole. It wasn't that bad, only thigh to waist deep and all our stuff managed to stay dry. It had started to rain again so we were thankful that we got through without having to walk back the way we came.
After the walk we drove the few kilometers extra to Trephina Gorge. When we got there we were stopped by a couple of women who were frantically waving their arms and asking us to stop. They had driven over a rock while admiring the red rocks behind them and couldn't move their hire car as it had become wedged on the rock. Len came up with the solution: jack the car up, dig around the rock, tie a tow rope around the rock and drag it out. After a couple of attempts it came free - they were very grateful, wanted to buy us drinks to thank us, instead we swapped email addresses. They were great fun and it ended a very memorable day.