Does everyone else give their car a name? Give it a personality?
Orlando is our 4WD Landcruiser (hence the name adaptation) 😬 He’s worthy of a little humanising. The most solid, reliable, trustworthy, tough, adventurous hunk of metal we have ever had the pleasure of owning. With a little house on his back he takes us the most amazing places and gives us so much joy. We follow remote dirt tracks with complete faith and confidence in his ability and because of that we see some bloody beautiful places. Crawling at a snails pace, windows down, a warm breeze messing up my hair, the fragrance of bull dust and gum trees in the air and sunshine glinting off the windscreen. Our happy place 🤗.
And you know what? Orlando just loves living in Central Australia. He really hates travelling fast on bitumen roads with lots of traffic and he despises big cities. Give him a rough dirt track to follow in the heart of the outback and he purrs like a kitten. Well, actually, with his big V8 engine it’s more like a throaty growl.
There’s no airs and graces. No bells and whistles. He’s not sleek and sophisticated to look at it. Comfort is not his finest feature. It’s what’s below the surface that counts – under the bonnet. Where other people fear to tread he just never lets us down. I like my cars like I like my men 😬.
Yes, we have definitely humanised our car. To the extent that Kevin makes me apologise to him if I dare say anything derogatory. After all, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. It’s a partnership. We look after him and he looks after us and our life sure would be a whole lot less fun without him.
That’s what 4WD ownership is all about. We wouldn’t have it any other way 😊.
These photos were taken around Ross River Homestead in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges.
It’s now been twelve months since Kevin and I relocated from Cairns to Alice Springs. It’s taken me this long to formulate an opinion on the journey from then to now and continue the story I started the night before I left Cairns. A life changing road trip from Cairns to Alice Springs (click on link)
It’s certainly been an interesting adventure from the day I drove myself the formidable distance of 3500km, over 4 days. Despite saying I never would, I actually passed four quadruple road trains (53+ metres in length). They are just too slow for even me to sit behind. Gripping the steering wheel really tight and a line of concentration on my brow, I just put my foot down and went for it. Each time was the longest 20 seconds of my life. I learnt early on that truck drivers don’t like being followed when one pulled over to get rid of me after I sat behind him for at least 100km out of Charters Towers. I stayed overnight in a cabin in Charters Towers, a cheap motel in Mt Isa and a tiny donga in Wauchope and then I was in Alice Springs. For me, just getting here took me so far out of my comfort zone. I was so proud of me and felt so brave.
For a couple weeks we lived in our Trayon Camper in a caravan park. The novelty wore off that very quickly. We bought a lovely modern unit in a nice location as renting in Alice Springs is astronomical in terms of cost and there was no way we could live long term in a Caravan Park – jammed in like in a sardine can, listening to the musical accompaniments in the facilities every morning not to mention the delightful aromas that waft by during the morning shower.
We needed our own little sanctuary. A place to call home and we found that to perfection. No regrets. I have lovely Sturt Desert Pea flowers growing in red sand. My life here is complete 😊.
One thing special about Alice Springs is the abundance of work. If you want a job you’ll find one easily. Within a month of moving here I had a new career. Kevin went from coming here as a truck driver to running the depot within six months. That’s Alice Springs. A guy we knew from our tourism past 20 years ago who was making scones at Mt Ebenezer roadhouse is now the Mayor. Our Chief Minister of the NT worked at Big W. Want to climb the career ladder fast, come to Alice.
So the move wasn’t a step backwards for us. It brought new opportunities. Someone asked me early on if our move here was a permanent thing or just an adventure. I wasn’t sure then but now I know the answer.
There are things I love about life in Alice and things I don’t like.
For people like us who love remote camping, 4×4 adventures, constant sunny blue skies, outback scenery, stunning sunrise and sunsets and the feeling of vast spaces, it’s a fantastic sojourn. Every weekend we have free we are out and about. There is so much to do and see out of town. I’ll never tire of campfires under the most amazing night skies and the sounds of the birds. Just wonderful. Alice Springs for us, is and has always been, about the stunning landscape around it.
The town itself has issues related to the high indigenous population. It’s very much a government town now with a high need for health and other government interventions. This is just how it is. Just little things annoy me, like not wanting to go to the cinema at night and risk my car windows getting smashed by roaming packs of kids. You wouldn’t believe how common this is. Getting the third degree by police going into a bottle shop – where will I be drinking and whom will I be drinking with and showing of ID to prove I’m me? I feel guilty just going in there to buy a fine liqueur to sip. Just a couple of examples. There are quite a few.
The weather here is both wonderful and awful to live with. Most days are so bloody perfect and it’s very liveable. In summer though the temperature can get scorching for a couple of months straight (45 degrees C), dust storms roll in frequently and the damn flies drive you insane. In winter the bird bath freezes in the bitterly cold morning, that all day cold wind gets right into your bones and ugg boots are a necessity. It can be a place of dramatic extremes. There are at least 4 months of the year where we didn’t use the reverse cycle split system air conditioners though. Perfect weather. So perfect. And I must mention how exciting it is when it does actually rain here – especially when it’s enough to make the dry Todd River flow. The feeling in town is pure elation and everyone’s out taking photos of a light sprinkling of rain.
I am so glad we came back here. There’s been times when the rose coloured glasses slipped off and my world became a bit bleak and grey. The Corona Virus situation made us feel trapped and isolated and I miss being close to family. There’s a sense of isolation living here, it’s very expensive to fly out of but overall I feel that I’ve gained a lot. Change, although hard to do, really is good for us as human beings. We grow. We evolve. We expand our horizons and attitudes. We learn what’s important.
So, is Alice Springs our forever place? An unequivocal NO. Has it been a wonderful adventure? Hell YES. It feels like we are on a working holiday trying to squeeze as much experience out of living in this amazing landscape as we can before we do move on one day.
I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity. Not for one moment. The photographs below say more than words.
In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.
This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.
Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.
Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.
After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.
For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.
For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.
In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.
Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.
To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.
The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.
So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.
NOTHING BEATS A SWIM IN THE RED HEART OF AUSTRALIA
Hidden throughout the panoramic Western MacDonnell Ranges, to the West of Alice Springs, are a myriad of Gaps and Gorges with pristine waterholes.
These waterholes are beyond a doubt, in my opinion, the most exquisite feature of Central Australia. Tourists worldwide flock to that big red rock, Uluru, which is special, but an expensive and commercialised natural attraction. For me, its the natural and serene gaps, gorges and chasms of the MacDonnell Ranges, the spine of this ancient landscape, that totally capture my heart.
The landscape around the town of Alice Springs is as old as time and visually striking. Its the way the colours change with the direction of the sunshine that makes the magic. The ranges glow like fire at sunrise and sunset, like they are filled with a strange energy source . During the day are stunning shades of red, orange, pink, ochre and purple on the sheer walls of rock framed by an endless blue sky. Clumps of golden spinifex grass and a lonely white ghost gum perched elegantly on red rock paints the scene. These are the colours of Central Australia. The reflection of this landscape in a pristine, cool waterhole is the pure magic of Central Australia.
Nothing is more special than a swim in an Outback waterhole on a hot summer day. A picnic on a sandy beach under the shade of a gum tree. An inviting waterhole with rippled reflections of red rock and blue sky. A little slice of outback heaven. I find the view through a fly net is still lovely too. The little blighters are a bit thick in summer and love to try and get in your eyes and your mouth. I wouldn’t be the first person who has accidentally swallowed a fly here.
Despite the presence of flies, I love all the waterholes and each one is unique. You can do a waterhole crawl and see them all in one day but each is worthy of spending time, taking a picnic, swimming, exploring, relaxing and just absorbing the view and the serenity of the scene in front of you.
To the west of Alice Springs my favourite waterholes are Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and last but not least,the adventure swim at Redbank Gorge, 155km from Alice Springs.
Redbank Gorge is unique and I classify it as the adventure swim. You need swim across the waterhole to enter a narrow cleft in the range. The further in you swim, the narrower and more stunning it is. Its icy cold, crystal clear and just beautiful with gorge walls towering at arms length on either side and a patch of blue sky way up above. This gorge is the furthermost from Alice and the 1.2km walk in involves a bit of rock hopping.
Of course, the best time to enjoy the waterholes is when its hot and you can savour a cool refreshing swim. There is no finer way to cool off in the Outback when its hot. Alice Springs in summer is hot but the waterholes are blissfully cold and picturesque to boot. Bring a noodle, float in the shade and ENJOY.
The road is rough as guts and a bit of a 4WD adventure but the sight of Ruby Gap and Glen Annie Gorge in Central Australia is so worth every corrugation and diff scraping boulder. This is the real Outback of Australia. Red rock, gum trees in dry river bed and that sky that is the bluest of blues.
“ Surely the sky is not really that blue”, I say to Kevin, as on a warm sunny November day, as we hike along the river bed in Ruby Gorge.
We take off our Polaroid sunglasses to check and it was even bluer without them. An incredible shade of deep sky blue, a stunning backdrop to the red ochre walls of the gorge. These are the colours of the Outback that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The clarity of light here is brighter and it’s a special sight to behold.
Ruby Gap Nature Park is a “must see” piece of Central Australia. This part of the far Eastern MacDonnell Ranges will leave an imprint on your soul. I kid you not. It’s a remarkably pretty piece of country in a dry arid region. Only accessible by high clearance 4WD, it’s raw, natural and way less touristy than the Western MacDonnell Ranges. No allocated camping bays, no board walks, no fenced off areas, no caravans and most importantly no crowds of people.
So few other people that you can swim in the nuddy (because you walked 3 km to get to Glen Annie Gorge without togs and didn’t know that the swimming hole would be so amazing). We love a place to camp in the bush in solitude. Just the sounds of the wind, the birds, the crackle of a campfire and the wild donkeys that ee-aw from the scrub. This describes our campsite here to perfection.
Ruby Gorge was so named because of the gems scattered in the sandy Hale River bed. They are actually garnets not rubies as first thought by explorer David Lindsey in 1886. We fossick as we hike the visually spectacular 6km return from our campsite to Glen Annie Gorge and collect ourselves a few.
Glen Annie Gorge is so lovely with a long waterhole framed by reeds and the towering red Gorge walls. It’s peaceful. Just the wind, the ducks and flocks of finches that flit between the gum trees. A swim here is pure magic and just divine on a warm November day. Almost a religious experience.
At the end of the Gorge we find the lonely grave of JL Fox who died in 1888. No idea who he was but there is an eerie quality finding an old grave in such a remote, timeless place, surrounded by ancient sunbaked hills as old as time. And year, after year, after year, time marches onward and the grave of a man who once existed just bakes in the sun on a lonely hill………..
A poignant moment and then we swim in the heavenly waterhole. Because right now we are in this lovely gorge under the clearest blue sky and we are alive. Living the life that makes us happy. What more is there?
Gourmet Pizza at Ruby Gap with a long cool spritz. I learnt on this trip that you can indeed make a magnificent Italian Pizza on a gas burner stove in a tiny camper. Oh the joy. Long gone are the days of a tin of baked beans with mini cocktail frankfurters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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……..
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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…..
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.
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.)
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………..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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……
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.
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.
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.