BOGGY HOLE – Finke Gorge National Park, Central Australia

4 x 4 Adventure Trails in Central Australia

The landscape of this beautiful red heart of Australia never changes. Its ancient and timeless and has a feel that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Its the landscape that makes Central Australia remarkable, worth visiting and with a bit of 4 wheel driving and free bush camping, Boggy Hole on the Finke River is the perfect place to experience the heart of Outback Australia.

The Finke River is located to the west of Alice Springs. Like all Central Australian rivers, the Finke is dry but is special because its the oldest, unchanged river bed in the whole world. Its been eroding down in the same course for 60 million years. That’s pretty special. Along the river bed is the occasional waterhole that creates an oasis. Boggy Hole is one such waterhole. Its there we go to find that ‘heart of the outback’ that we are longing for, with the striking outback colours.

Boggy Hole is located in the Finke Gorge National Park to the west of Alice Springs. Following Larapinta Drive, it’s 125 kilometres of bitumen to Hermansburg and then just before entering the Aboriginal settlement there is a sign post to the left indicating ‘Boggy Hole’. A very rough and corrugated dirt road. This is where a little bit of adventure starts and Kevin stops to let some air out the Coopers. We keep following this road straight (don’t deviate) until it reaches the dry Finke River bed where it becomes a two wheel track following the watercourse.

The National Park Gate. Only 9.5 km to go

And there we are. Four wheel driving in the Outback with the windows down. Just the two of us. In complete solitude. Its like a breathe of fresh air. Meandering our 4WD slowly down a dry river bed, around gum trees, over boulders and through soft sand. The bluest of blue skies above and the rich red of towering gorge walls to each side. The clarity of light and colour is amazing. A little bit of outback magic goes a long way.

Although the distance is no more than 15km it takes us a couple of hours to reach Boggy Hole. We have our own private oasis here. Water is the all magic ingredient when camping in the bush even if its just to look at. We explore on foot and then swim through the weeds to reach the deep, cool green water on the far bank. We didn’t have togs on but when you have the place all to yourself what does that matter? It was a most delicious swim.

Lovely shady campsite at Boggy Hole
A nice deep waterhole
For a swim. Maybe even a skinny dip if you have it all to yourselves.

As dusk approaches we prepare for the show and light the campfire. The setting sun is always the most spellbinding show in outback Australia. And it doesn’t disappoint. The sky turned from pure gold to a fire in the sky. The gorge walls glowed with an intensity that was mesmerising. Like a light bulb inside them. And the scene was reflected in the still waterhole giving us a double glorious view. It seemed to last for ages but eventually faded and we sat by the flickering firelight waiting for the encore performance. The star show. The night sky in Central Australia is truly a spectacular sight and there is nothing better than looking at it next to a campfire. Look at the fire, look at the stars, look at the fire, look at the stars……… Its so good.

A lovely sleep followed with a cool breeze and a view of the stars through the windows. A couple of curious dingos wandered by during the night for a drink at the waterhole. Little things that enhance a bush experience.

This is what camping in Central Australia is all about. Complete solitude, blue skies with red rock, green shady waterholes, campfires, clear star filled nights and 4 wheel driving along dry riverbeds. A little bit of outback magic.

A life changing road trip from Cairns to Alice Springs

I’m nervous. But a little excited. This is a first for me. Driving myself the long, remote distance from the Tropical North to the Red Centre of Australia. Its a long way. My husband has told me to stick to the main highway as I’m travelling solo but its still long vast distances.

This drive is not just a whim of fancy. Its life changing. We are moving lock, stock and barrel. Relocating our home base from Cairns to Alice Springs. Our country desert dweller hearts are rejecting the busy city life style. We are heading home. Our boys are doing their own thing now and we are free.

Once upon a time this was an easy thing to do, relocating. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t think twice about it. Just loaded my worldly possessions in my little Holden Torana and off I went to Alice Springs. My worldly possessions were a few kitchen appliances, a little TV and a suitcase brimming with clothes. It was the best thing I ever did. Change was exciting. I caught the Ghan to Alice and loved the unique feel of the place immediately. The rest is history.

As I have gotten older though, such a huge change, that was once a pure exhilarating adventure, now feels kind of daunting. It feels monumental and complicated. There have been obstacles to overcome. The worldly possession list has of course expanded exponentially. Selling our home in the tropics, with its memories, has been an emotional roller coaster and a task of mighty proportions turning it into a modern buyers show case. Painting, cleaning, replacing electrical fittings, de-cluttering, inspections, agents, lawyers, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork…..

It’s important to leave a part of yourself in a place you leave behind 😊. I’ve done that. This huge boulder isn’t going anywhere.

Now its done. The house sold quickly, the furniture is in a container doing a weird lap of Australia and I’m sitting in a hollow, empty space listening to my keyboard strokes echo. By the way, the acoustics in an empty house are amazing.

In two days I drive away. To a new life. To join my man who is already there. That inner child in me is rejoicing that I have been courageous enough to make this decision. To go with it in my fifties. To be willing to change a life that was stale. Life is too short to waste it. I feel brave and I feel a sense of anticipation. I feel the sadness of goodbyes melting away and a sense of joy taking its place. I have things to look forward too.

I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, about to embark on a brand new adventure with my whole life ahead of me.

That’s a good place to be.

That long bitumen road awaits. See you at the other end.

It’s taken me a while but here the story continues. This is how life in Alice panned out. Click on the link here Living Life in Alice Springs

Let the crocodile eat the bride first. A remote honeymoon tale.

I’m not sure what Kevin and I were thinking when planning our honeymoon 29 years ago. It was a bizarre destination but we were so excited, so eager and so bloody naive.

Other newly-weds honeymooned at 5 star resorts in tropical island paradises sipping cocktails and taking romantic strolls along palm fringed beaches.

Not us. Its bull dust all the way.

Not a palm tree in sight. I get to pose against a magnetic termite mound on my honeymoon.

We spent our honeymoon in our 4WD travelling to the Kimberley’s up the top of Western Australia. From Alice Springs. Across deserts. In October.

Yes, we were ignorant Central Australian dwellers who had no concept of “the build up to the wet” in Northern Australia. The time of year when ‘mango madness‘ sets in and everyone goes ‘troppo’.

For the clarity of any foreigners reading this post, both terms are Aussie Slang for “the irrational behaviour of a person suffering from the effects of living in tropical heat”.

It was hot up North. It was so bloody hot. We slept in a double swag on the roof rack of our Mitsubishi Triton 4WD. Romantic in a distinctly Aussie kind of way I guess. It was so hot that we would spray each other with a squirty bottle at night and hope for a stray breeze.

Purely luxury accommodations. That’s me up there in the master bedroom. (Sorry about photo quality- 29 year old photos)

Our wedding gift from our work colleagues was a 12V three way travelling fridge, which was perfect and so generous. Except, we couldn’t get it to work on gas. So there we were at night, lying on top of our swag, getting bitten by mosquitoes, squirting each other with water and we didn’t even have a cold drink because the fridge didn’t work. “I’d kill you right now for a cold drink of water” we would say to each other. At least we were both in sync.

I do love that our honeymoon was an adventure though. As a result of our naivety we had a couple of bonuses. Firstly, there was hardly another soul travelling the infamous Gibb River Road in October. We had most places to ourselves because no one else was crazy enough. Secondly, because it was so hot we swam in every glorious, picturesque waterhole in the Kimberley. That was wonderful.

That brings me to Fitzroy Crossing, just after we had crossed the Tanami Desert and visited Wolf Creek Crater. (You know – Wolf Creek, a bloke called Mick Taylor lives there and savagely murders tourists) Fortunately that classic movie came out a few years after our honeymoon.

Fitzroy Crossing is a Kimberley town with character. We booked ourselves on a boat cruise of Geikie Gorge, which was carved by the mighty Fitzroy River. Its a spectacular gorge with towering white and grey walls. The cruise was great but it was just so HOT. The cruise operator told us where we could go for a refreshing swim in the river.

Irresistible. In we plunge, just Kevin and I. We splashed around a bit then were just floating serenely a few metres apart, enjoying the coolness.

Suddenly, right in front of Kevin, two eyes pop up out of water. Two armoured, evil, yellow reptilian eyes that look him straight in the face.

“CROCODILE” he yells, in a highly agitated voice, scaring the crap out of me as I was blissfully unaware. There’s a huge flurry of splashing as he literally runs on water to get back to the bank.

And leaves his new bride in the river to get eaten by a crocodile………

He’s very sheepish when we tell this story now. His excuse is “well, I didn’t really know you very well back then”

What we didn’t know back then was that there are two kinds of crocodile in the North. Very bad ones and not so bad ones. Saltwater crocodiles are real bad and you never, ever want to be in the water with one. They will make a meal out of you before you can blink. Fortunately, Geikie Gorge has the other variety. Freshwater crocodiles are quite harmless unless provoked. He was just popping his head out of the water out of curiosity.

However, my loving new husband didn’t know that. I did make it back to the bank safely under my own steam, just a few seconds after him. It seems that I too can run on water……..

Believe it or not, 29 years later, we are still together. We have a good laugh about that incident. Apparently he has finally gotten to know me by now and finds me quite valuable. We are still in sync. We tried a resort style holiday once and it just wasn’t our thing. Together our hearts still long for dusty roads and remote waterholes. Although we no longer sleep in a dusty swag on the roof rack. Our “Royal Swag” on the roof these days has fly screens, a sink and a really cold fridge. There will always be another adventure just around the corner and that is what my travel blog is all about. Read on……..

This is me showering ‘honeymoon style’ I coloured this photo in with texta years ago to make it appropriate and ‘g’ rated.

A honeymoon with character that’s for sure in our Triton with swag on roof
Giekie Gorge 29 years ago. The colours in the photo are dreadful now but it is the genuine article.
1989 So blissfully naive but the taste for adventurous Aussie road trips was there right from the start

Diamantina National Park Outback Queensland

Follow the footsteps of the Diamantina Drover in our Trayon…

TURN UP THE VOLUME

Diamantina National Park was a bucket list item for me because of John Williamson’s song “Diamantina Drover”. It was a magnificent adventure and surpassed expectation. You can read about that trip by clicking here https://letusbefree.blog/2017/09/13/diamantina-national-park-is-it-worth-it-the-flies-sure-as-heck-think-so/

Or if you don’t feel like reading just watch this lovely video I created with our photo’s and of course the soulful voice of John Williamson.

Enjoy, and if you have a 4WD I hope I inspire you to visit.

Heading for Diamantina National Park. There is nothing but there is everything.

Woodleigh Station – Camping Around Cairns – North Queensland

Green grass, gum trees, a safe river to swim and a campfire. What more do you need?

Camping, sometimes, is purely about escaping the rat race and having a couple of days of peace and quiet. Its good for the soul. Far away from the drone of highways, the view of concrete slabbed buildings, ticky tacky houses, retail madness and work. Some of the cattle stations in the North Queensland region have capitalised on this market and given us some wonderful camping options. A taste of country life.

Woodleigh Station is just perfect for this and easily accessible from Cairns. A two hour drive up via the Atherton Tablelands and then a turn to the left 20km past Ravenshoe on a dirt track signposted Woodleigh Station.

We had some rain and the track in was a little bit muddy but well maintained

So what do I love about camping at Woodleigh Station? I like camping on grass. I like big shady gum trees. I like being next to a river you can look at, swim in and canoe. I like the sounds of native birds – magpies, lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds and galahs. I like being able to have a lazy campfire all day long. I like stunning sunsets and starry night skies. I like the absolute serenity. I like the cows and horse that wander nearby to chew the juicy green grass. I’m suddenly a country girl again. I love that.

Kind of amusing – more cows than people. That’s country hospitality.
A picture of serenity. nothing to do but gaze into a campfire.

The weather was warm and a little bit sultry in late March so a swim in the river was very refreshing. The water was a shade of caramel, which was unusual. Usually it is lovely and clear but a storm across The Tablelands the previous night washed away a lot of rich volcanic soil. It was still nice.

The colour of the water is due to flooding on the Tablelands. Still a nice swim.

The clouds look a little ominous at times and we did get a little bit of rain during our weekend here but it just added to our experience. The lovely smell of summer rain and the array of colours it created in the sky at sunset were spectacular. This is mother nature doing her thing beautifully. Our campfire didn’t go out despite the rain, so it wasn’t a wash out.

Sunsets are always a highlight.
Those ominous clouds did give us some rain but that’s why the grass is so green.
Amazing colours in the sky late afternoon after a small rain storm

So, our Woodleigh Station experience was pretty much perfect and a great camping destination getaway close to Cairns. As always, just avoid long weekends as then there will be more people than cows. And that would be a shame.

A Crocodile yarn. Should you be concerned about getting eaten by one in Northern Australia?

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“A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.

Until……..

Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.”

The tales of Crocodile attacks in Australia are just spine chilling. A crocodile is a predator and a man-eater and when travelling in Northern Australia you should always BE CROC AWARE.  Not afraid, just aware. Especially in regions that Saltwater Crocodiles inhabit.

A large crocodile, up to 6 metres long, can make himself invisible in knee deep muddy water and remain under for an hour without even a ripple to indicate his presence. He is the ultimate master of stillness – until the right moment. The ultimate ambush reptile. He explodes from the water with ferocity and aggression and if need be he can jump to take prey two metres above the surface. He is quick and deadly and the prey in his enormous jaws will be subjected to the ‘crocodile roll’ which is almost certain to be fatal.

Australian author, Hugh Edwards book, “Crocodile Attack in Australia” contains stories of attacks in Australia that are both fascinating and absolutely horrifying. They all happened in the blink of an eye and not surprisingly a lot of those fatally attacked were locals who should have known better. Locals have a habit of getting blase. The ‘she’ll be right attitude’ just doesn’t cut the mustard in Northern Australia waterways though.

I write this blog to re-count a tale of our own, just as warning.  We laugh about it now as we re-tell this yarn but after reading Hugh Edwards book it sits a little uncomfortably with me, although it gets bigger and better with every telling.

In 2005, Kevin and I, with our three young boys did the monumental road trip along the Savannah Way, from Cairns, QLD to Broome, WA. It was and still is the ultimate Australian adventure drive. Remote, a lot of kilometres on dirt roads and the scenery right through Queensland, The Top End of The Territory and The Kimberley’s in Western Australia is simply stunning. Blue skies, ancient landscape, stunning waterfalls, gorges and waterholes, red dusty roads and big remote distances.

Our philosophy for this trip was “keep it simple”. No fancy caravan or camper trailer for our party of five.  Just our 4WD Landcruiser stacked with boxes, an Engel fridge and five swags rolled up on the roof rack. What a sight we were at camp. Five swags in a line between two trees, a rope extending between the trees and 5 bright orange and blue mosquito nets tucked around each swag. We sure attracted attention and created a few laughs.

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The photo quality is bad but you get the idea. The simple, dag family…….

We tend to free camp a lot when we travel and like to be away from civilisation.  Between Burketown in The Gulf Country to Borroloolla in the Northern Territory we travelled the very remote and rough Carpentaria Highway. Why its called a highway is beyond me. At times its nothing more than a two wheel track with a many river crossings. The 500 odd kilometres takes over 15 hours.

carpentaria highway
The Carpentaria HIGHWAY. Definitely unique to Australia. Slow going but a great 4WD drive.

We decide to stop overnight half way across and we always like to camp by a watercourse if its safe. There’s just something really nice about camping by a creek or river with a campfire and maybe a refreshing swim when its hot.

So late afternoon, after many dusty slow hours of punishing dirt, we come to the Robinson River Aboriginal community.  As we cross the causeway over the river, despite a crocodile warning sign,  there are a couple of adults with young Aboriginal children frolicking and splashing in the water.

Kevin winds down the window and asks if there is anywhere we can camp for the night.  They are very friendly and give us directions to follow a track to the right. “Don’t go left – big crocs that way”.

So, we find a lovely camp along a shallow tributary. Crystal clear shallow water and we all have a paddle to wash off the dust and travelling grime.2004 Kimberley photos 033

We prepare camp in the usual way by lining up all our swags in a row on the shallow bank of the creek, only a couple of metres from the water with Kevin at one end and me at the other. The three boys in their mini swags in the middle. The mighty sacrifices parents make for their off spring. Get eaten first.

A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.

Until……..

Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.

We all wake up instantly. What the heck was that? Kevin has the torch by his head and shines it quickly over the creek.  We see nothing. “I think its just the fish arking up” says Kevin. Back to sleep again. Well a tentative sleep with me. I’m thinking about being stalked by yowies or bush pigs or Mick from Wolf Creek. Finally I doze off.

Then a while later a furious SPLASH, SPLASH,  SPLASH, SPLASH……….

On goes the torch again frantically searching in the pitch black for the culprit.

We see nothing in the placid , calm, peaceful creek.

This happened all night long.  It set us on edge although the boys zonked out.

In the morning its all cheery sunshine again as we pack up and we just brush off the weird goings on of the night before as a glitch.

As luck would have it, as we went to hit the road, Kevin discovered we had one dead flat tyre.  A bit of messing around for us and a couple of the boys were getting antsy, so we gave them a two way UHF radio and said go and explore up the creek a little bit while we change it.

Next thing Kevin gets a call on the radio. “Hey Dad, are there crocodiles in this creek?”

“No, Why?”

“Because there is one in front of us”

“Come back RIGHT NOW!”

YIKES. We slept on the bank in swags, exposed, in crocodile country.  The splashing during the night was possibly the crocodile going up and down the creek.

Kevin went to meet the boys and when they showed him the spot, the crocodile was gone, so we don’t know if it was the saltwater or freshwater variety. But as close as we are to the Gulf of Carpentaria it was highly likely a saltie. Way too close for comfort but I didn’t give it too much thought.

However, when we got to Broome, we bought the book. Hugh Edwards “Crocodile Attack in Australia”. Oh dear, that opened my eyes a whole lot more.croc attack book

Were we croc aware? Well yes, in a way. We live in Cairns. We asked the locals first and got the all clear.  However there are rules to camping in Northern Australia in crocodile country. They are as follows…..

croc sign

  • Observe the warning signs as they are there for a reason (yes, they were on the causeway)
  • Seek local or expert advise before swimming, camping, fishing or boating ( well, we did do that)
  • There is a potential danger anywhere saltwater crocodiles occur.  If there is any doubt do not swim, canoe or use small boats. (Fail, we all had a paddle in the knee deep water)
  • Be aware. Keep your eyes open for large crocodiles and keep small children and pets away from the waters edge (gulp!)
  • Do not paddle, camp, clean fish or prepare food at the waters edge. (gulp again!)
  • Do not return daily or regularly to the same spot. Crocodiles are smart and they will be watching for a pattern.
  • Do not lean over the waters edge or stand on logs overhanging the water (remember they can jump)

And be aware that Saltwater crocodiles don’t only live in salt water. They can live hundreds of miles from the coast in freshwater lagoons and waterways and especially in freshwater swamps.

So there you have it. That was the night we were stalked and almost eaten by a reptilian monster. (Told you its gets bigger with every telling). But we all lived by the skin of our teeth to ride camels along Cable Beach in Broome.2004 Kimberley photos 132

Anyhow the moral of the story is ‘be croc aware’ in Northern Australia. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see you and even innocent mistakes can land you in a whole lot of strife.  Don’t be too worried or afraid though. Its perfectly safe to travel and enjoy the North of our wonderful country as long as you observe the rules.

We have travelled and swum in exquisite waterholes all over Northern Australia but only where we know its safe to swim. Its actually rare to sight a crocodile and when you do its exciting (from a safe distance high up the bank of course.)

2004 Kimberley photos 007
Our boys high on the bank watching a monster Saltie. It was enormous. Very exciting to see.

We learnt a lesson on that trip.  Now we don’t sleep in swags on the banks of waterways in the North.  Just in case………..

2004 Kimberley photos 098
Joel sitting in the playground in Broome, reading the Crocodile Attack book. Yes, its that good

This stunning place is Sir John Gorge in the Kimberley. Yes we had a gorgeous swim here. No croc signs and perfectly safe. There are so many wonderful places like this along the Savannah Way. No need to risk it anywhere there are crocodile warning signs.

Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs

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Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park is a National Park located approximately 130 km from Katherine and 200 km from Darwin. Like everything in the Northern Territory, its a little bit remote, a little bit off the main highway. You kind of have to make the effort to go there especially. The outstanding feature of the park is the hot thermal springs in the Douglas River. The river is cold but bubbles of heat rise from the shallow, sandy bottom creating pools of lovely, delicious warm water. On a cool Territory morning this is just the ticket.

Picture a gentle creek meandering through the Aussie bush. Birds chirruping and darting over the natural watercourse.  Clear blue skies and sunshine. And you can wallow and enjoy it lying in a bubbling hot patch of the creek. Magnificent.

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Bubbles of delicious hot water from the shallow, sandy bottom

So we decide to go. I had read on the internet a couple of weeks earlier that the park was still closed as it was early in the dry season (early June). We decide to check it out anyway just in case. There was no closed sign at the turn off so we keep going. A bit down the road we come to the next turn off. The sign was a bit ambiguous. Closed or open we weren’t 100% sure but we thought as we come this far we might as well have a look. We come to the gate. It was also a bit ambiguous – partially open, partially closed but it was unlocked. No further encouragement needed for us Aussies behaving badly. We keep going although we figured it was still closed. No harm in having a look.

 

douglas hot springs 2
What do you reckon? Open or closed? I say with a cheeky grin

At the end of the dirt track we come to a huge campground delightfully crowd free. There’s only a couple of European backpackers camped in a tent. Hooray, we think – that’s a good sign. It must be open.

“So it is open?” we ask them before we set up.

“Yar, yar we ave been svimink and there vas 4 other campers last night,” they reply cheerfully.

Douglas hot springs 3
Just us and the German backpackers in the huge campground.

So we set up camp in the lovely sunshine. Then the magic moment. We have a wallow in the bubbling hot water ALL BY OURSELVES. It was awesome.  Last time we were here many years ago the water was crammed with char broiled, wrinkly bodies all clamouring for a spot. No serenity in that. To have it all to ourselves was an amazing experience. So relaxing.  For me anyway. Kevin was a bit on edge and only had a short dip then watched me blissing out.

The water is below knee deep so nice to wallow in.

Back in the campground I chat to the Germans again about how lovely it is in the thermal pool. I mentioned that we thought it might be have still been closed because of crocodiles.  There’s a lot of them in the Top End and the Douglas River does have them in the wet season.

You know what he said? Very complacently at that.

Yar, there is a croc trap in the creek just over that way a bit

WHAT!!!

But no, he wasn’t kidding. I grab Kevin and we wander along the creek a bit for a look. Sure enough there was a big croc trap waiting in anticipation for its reptilian guest of honour.

Douglas hot springs 6
Croc Trap cunningly disguised as a croc trap

Bloody hell!

Aussie’s behaving very badly indeed.

We packed up and got the heck outta there real quick. We don’t have ignorance is bliss as an excuse like the European backpackers.

So we drive out again and this time we headed right at the turn off, the opposite direction to how we came in. Sure enough behind us was a big sign. PARK CLOSED. We couldn’t see it from the other way.

Well, that’s our excuse….. There were many other signals that we deliberately chose to ignore. Because on this occasion we were bad Aussies. Don’t be bad like us. Be good Aussies.

So, Douglas Hot Springs? Highly recommended. Its a wonderful place. Only when its open though and that will be highly obvious. Do go – you’ll love it.

Will you get to have it all to yourselves like we did?  Highly unlikely. In fact the chances are virtually zero.

So I intend to take the positive from the experience and remember how blissful it was when I was ignorant and wallowed in Douglas Hot Springs all by myself.

And I humbly promise to only visit parks that are open in the future. You European backpackers should do that too……

 

Check out another blog post where we saw them flirting with danger. We had learnt our lesson by then….( THE GIBB RIVER ROAD: Why the Kimberley’s should be on every bucket list. ) Stay well clear of those handbags with teeth…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we love to visit Chillagoe in Far North Queensland and why you should too.

Chillagoe is one of my happy places. Its a tiny little town on the edge of the Outback. Blink and you’ll miss it. Its special though and always recharges our batteries. Its a little off the beaten track but definitely worth visiting on any holiday to Far North Queensland.

The reasons why we find it special are as follows

THE NATIVE BIRDS – the silence in Chillagoe is only broken by the symphony of native birds. Some melodic, some loud and raucous but all together music to my ears. No airport or highway noise continually droning in the background – just birds. The joyous sounds of Galahs, Red-tail Black Cocky’s, Budgies, Apostle Birds, Butcher Birds and our favourite the Magpie.

THE WEATHER – Blue skies and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. Hot in summer so perfect for swimming, mild in winter and perfect for exploring. Dry weather always means great campfire wood.  We love having a campfire in Chillagoe.

THE CREEK – Such a gorgeous, idyllic, refreshing, wonderful place to swim. Chillagoe Creek is just on the edge of town and walking distance from the campground. Most outback creeks are murky from silt but this creek is special. The region is rich in limestone and the lime in the water disperses the sediment quickly. Most of the creek is quite shallow but there is a couple of deeper holes with water cascading over rocks. Its beautiful and shady fringed with trees and ferns.

Who says you can’t be a mermaid in the Outback?

THE CAVES- The main attraction that draws tourists to Chillagoe are the caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. The spectacular karst landscape hides a mysterious underground world. The Savannah landscape here is dotted with limestone outcrops that were the living Coral reefs in a shallow sea 400 million years ago. Inside these outcrops are a myriad of cave systems. Ranger Guided Tours are available to explore a few of them. You can also do some self exploration. We go to the Archways and I love the absolute silence and the coolness in these underground worlds.  We feel like we are in a scene of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” when we explore. It would be so easy to get lost and it feels mysterious and a bit eerie.

THE FREE FISH SKIN CLEAN THERAPY – If you sit really still below the weir in the creek, the tiny fish , start darting in and nipping at your skin.  Its such a weird but quite delightful sensation. Totally free and with a view like this absolutely a priceless experience.

THE CAMPING IN TOWN THAT FEELS LIKE WE ARE OUT BUSH – We always stay at the Eco Lodge Campground in Chillagoe itself.  Its a huge campground with room to spread out and feels just like a bush setting. The bonus being that campfires are allowed. Very affordable at $10 per person unpowered and the birds here are just amazing. The sounds in the morning are just wonderful. So its like camping out bush but with the bonus of hot showers, a small restaurant and walking distance to the pub for a quiet ale or dinner.

Our camp site in town. Who could ask for more?

THE STARS AT NIGHT in Chillagoe are exquisite and mind blowing.  Clear, dark skies are amazing. The Eco Lodge Campground has an Observatory with a powerful telescope and night sky tours. The opportunity to look at far distant galaxies and the rings of Saturn through the high power telescope is not to be missed. The tours operate on moonless nights during the tourist season.

Honestly, for us bush romantics, Chillagoe ticks all the boxes for all the right reasons. It does get very hot in the summer wet season though, so if you have an aversion to high temperatures, come in the dry. Also avoid public holiday long weekends when it gets crazy busy with locals escaping the city.

I guess what I’m saying in this blog is that you don’t have to drive thousands of kilometres into the vast Outback regions of West Queensland, the Northern Territory or West Australia to get away from it all. Its not about the distance travelled but about the state of mind that changes as the landscape changes from coastal fringe Rain-forest to the dry Savannah. Three hours to achieve that is just brilliant. We love Chillagoe.

Karma Waters Station on the Mitchell River – Camping around Cairns – North Queensland

Complete solitude and relaxation by a remote Gulf Savannah River. An all day lazy campfire, the sound of running water and sunny blue skies. That’s camping at Karma Waters.

We have two reasons for coming out here. Firstly, to recharge our depleted mental batteries in a way that only being by a campfire next to an outback river will do and secondly, to test out our new Trayon on a Trailer configuration a little bit off the beaten track. How adventurous can we really go now?

It’s a lovely drive from tropical rainforest into the drier Gulf Savannah. Two hundred kilometres northwest of Cairns, Karma Waters Station is just over a three hour drive. We travel for 2 hours on sealed road up the Kuranda Range to Mareeba, Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine before turning off 10 minutes past Mt Carbine onto the dirt station track sign posted to Karma Waters and Hurricane Station.

The next fifty kilometre stretch of dirt takes just over an hour. On the left, 10 minutes after turning off the bitumen, is the short track to Cooktown Crossing. We take a quick detour to check it out.

This causeway on the Mitchell River is a free camping spot and is popular (because it’s free) but doesn’t have many ideal sites. It’s much better at Karma Waters despite the $25 per night camping fee. The drive from here follows the Mitchell River and is slow going with dips, creek crossings and cattle to avoid but lovely with nice views in the distance.

Karma Waters Station is private property and they have nine camping locations on the banks of the Mitchell River. The beauty of camping here is that you have absolute privacy and solitude. The spots are a considerable distance apart. After checking in at the station homestead we head for camp site number two, through our own private gate, go over a sandy, somewhat dicey, 4WD only crossing into a lovely canopy of shady paperbark trees right along side the river.

This little bit of sand would be not a problem with just the car but add a trailer and its a whole new ball game. Going in was fine but getting out again a little bit more challenging.

There is the option here of canoeing down the river, swimming, fishing and catching a few cherubin (yabbies) in opera house nets. Or you can just be lazy and sit on the banks with a good book and enjoy the views. We choose option two as the river still has the after wet season flow and is flowing very wide and strongly. Too strong for our inflatable kayak. We did have a refreshing dip or two though.

Just sit and read a book while enjoying the view and the sound of running water.

So we learn some things about travelling with our new trailer while at Karma Waters. On the open road it tracked behind us beautifully with only a slight difference to fuel consumption. On a dirt road it’s great and it handles the bumps and dips really well but there are limitations we need to be aware of now. We realise that we are now the length of a bus and need a very wide turning circle. We realise that this will create situations where we will need to unhitch the trailer and manually push it around because there is no other way to avoid low overhanging branches. We realise that two thick sandy bumps close together with jagged rocks to the side can be a bit perilous with a trailer. Being bogged and wedged between them in a V shape is not much fun and serious off road stuff should be avoided. There is no way we’d take it through the Simpson Desert. We learnt that we are virtually a mini caravan now. Gotta love those adventurous learning curves.

Ummmmm. No room to go forward, no room to go backward, too many low branches. Lets just unhitch and turn the trailer around manually.

However, we were still able to access a remote site that would be completely inaccessible to a caravan. We were able to unhitch easily and be independent of our living quarters. We were able to stop on the way and collect heaps of firewood and just chuck it in the back of the ute and we had storage space in abundance. Empty cupboards in the Trayon is unheard of. Amazing.

Nothing beats an all day campfire with all that firewood

Karma Waters is a nice weekend escape destination from Cairns, especially if you want to a break from the coastal humidity and need a dose of outback scenery. You do need to book ahead though, especially on long weekends. Some rules apply as well – there are no facilities so they request you bring a chemical toilet, no weapons or hunting dogs allowed, no motorbikes and quads. This is all good as it makes for a much more pleasant camping experience for all.

Did I mention the flies got a little annoying.

Some enjoy the views from a chair, others from a tree. Each to their own.

A shady home amongst the paperbarks

Love an early morning campfire with campfire vegemite toast. Yum.

Another great cattle station camping option in North Queensland is Woodleigh Station. A bit more easily accessible and very lovely. Click on this link to see Woodleigh Station – Camping Around Cairns – North Queensland

If you have a taste for remote station camping, check out my post on Lorella Springs. Now this place is truly amazing Lorella Springs Station – Savannah Way, Northern Territory

The Waterfall Loop from Cairns Nth Qld

Michelle’s guide to Waterfall sightseeing in Paradise

Cairns and water go together. Like strawberries and cream. Add the mountain backdrop and it’s a recipe for a green paradise. As local residents we tend to get a bit blasé towards our own natural scenery. On occasion though we do take off the blinkers and really appreciate this place we are lucky enough to call home. You just cannot possibly ignore the beauty of nature when viewing falling water up here in the North. So over two days at Easter time we do the Waterfall loop.

We have had an incredible amount of rain in the last week of March. I love our wet season rain. Its not a gentle pitter, patter of raindrops. Our rain is torrential and really loud. It’s like the pendulous storm clouds just dump the whole lot all at once. Like those wet playgrounds with the bucket of water that drops it’s load when it reaches tipping point. Tropical rain is truly a wonder of nature in itself. It takes the edge off the steamy humidity and creates a vibrant green visual feast. ‘Rain’ forest is called that for a reason I guess.

So after a week of torrential, flooding rain we decide to enjoy our most wonderful natural splendours at their finest – the Waterfalls. We are literally surrounded by them in Cairns – all beautiful, all different, all glorious and it’s easy to do a loop and not a huge distance. It has to be the best place in Australia to do a waterfall crawl.

Barron Falls just up the Range at Kuranda is our first stop. The power of these Falls is immense when the Barron River is bulging at the seams. It’s a long drop and there is nothing delicate and dainty here. The water plummets a long distance bouncing from boulder to boulder with the sound of thunder. Its a worthwhile short stop with a lovely rainforest walk to the falls viewing platform.

Barron Falls

Between Kuranda and Mareeba off the Kennedy highway are Davies Creek Falls and Emerald Creek Falls. Both these lovely falls are unique as the Northern portion of the Tropical Tablelands are characterised by open eucalyptus woodland, with granite outcrops and clear flowing streams. The smell is gorgeous – that eucalyptus fragrance of the warm Aussie bush. Both of these Falls are similar, plummeting with a thunderous roar over a granite escarpment. From the top the views of the Tablelands are magnificent. Below each fall is a fast flowing stream being channeled through granite boulders in continual cascades. You can find a quiet calm pool for a refreshing swim. I did just that at Emerald Creek and it was delicious.

Davies Creek Falls

Emerald Creek Falls

A refreshing swim in Emerald Creek

Coffee time. The Northern Tablelands are famous for coffee plantations and most offer tours and serve scrumptious barista made coffee. We stop at one of our favourites, Jacques Coffee. A delicious treat.

Jaques Coffee Plantation Cafe

We then turn South at Mareeba toward the rolling green hills and rainforests of the Southern Tablelands. The quaint, idyllic village of Yungaburra is our destination for the night and we arrive with time to wander around on foot and try to spot a platypus in the creek. A misty rain makes our motel room a cosy haven.

In the morning it’s only a short drive on to Malanda Falls. There is a bit of perfect symmetry in the low natural cascade. The water has a brown tinge due to recent flooding. Usually folks swim in the clear pool beneath the falls but today it’s closed. The current is too strong.

Malanda Falls closed over Easter for swimming

We continue driving south in misty rain through rolling green hills of the Southern Tablelands, very reminiscent of being in Victoria, except the weather is warm. We head to my favourite of the three sets of falls on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit. Millaa Millaa Falls. This is misty waterfall perfection. Perfectly manicured by Mother Nature. The exquisite tropical tree ferns frame a photo beautifully.

The perfect Millaa Millaa Falls

Zillie Falls, a further 8km on, took me by surprise. These are usually a bit ordinary after the exquisite perfection of Millaa Millaa Falls but with the wet season flow they were powerful, intense and even pretty as the water plummeted over the abyss pummelling the rocks below. The walking track down to the bottom is a bit hazardous though in the wet. Tree roots, mud, slippery rocks and a steep descent through tangled rainforest.

Zillie Falls flowing strongly

Elinjaa Falls, 2km on is very pretty cascade. Like a lacy curtain. There’s no better place to find yourself, than standing by a waterfall listening to its music and this one had a lovely melody.

Elinjaa Falls

From Millaa Millaa we head down the Palmerston highway toward Innisfail back on the coast. We stop at Henrietta Creek to walk the 4.4km rainforest walk leading to Silver Falls and Nandroya Falls. This is our first time here and it was truly incredible. The trail to the falls took us deep into the beautiful tropical rainforest. A long walk but nothing strenuous and the reward was the gob smacking view of Nandroya Falls. Silver Falls were just stunning. Delicate and very pretty but Nandroya Falls were in a league of their own. An absolutely amazing spectacle. The sheer power, the noise, the mist. It was an incredible sight. Violence and beauty thrown together in spectacular fashion. Definitely worth the walk.

Beautiful rainforest trail to Nandroya Falls

The petite and gentle Silver Falls

The many layers of Nandroya Falls

The spectacular and powerful Nandroya Falls cascading from pristine rainforest

After a spot of lunch in Innisfail we head North toward Cairns and detour shortly after to Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park. Its a 700m stroll through stunning pristine rainforest. So pretty to look at but you can sense the foreboding and danger when you reach Josephine Creek. So many have died here, lured into the water by its beauty and clarity. Its so clear, deep and inviting with natural fun filled rock slides but the churning water is powerful, turbulent and will suck you under the boulders with its fury. I don’t swim here, especially with flash flooding warning signs. Crazy, but others still do. Spectacular waterfall though.

Another lovely rainforest stroll

The clear water of Josephine Creek is inviting but deadly

Say no more

Josephine Falls

So waterfalled out, we head back home. It’s been a lovely two days and just the tip of the iceberg. It has renewed our sense of appreciation for the joys of living in this paradise we call home.

With love from Cairns