Where in the world are we now? Going home again.

21/02/2021

For those of you that have subscribed and have been following us on our adventures, you may be wondering what happened and where in the world are we, as its been nearly 4 months since our last post. Apologies for being slack but I will explain.

We spent a couple of months making our way from Cape York, at the northern tip of Queensland, to go home and along the way had some great stops. Without going into too much detail, here are some photo highlights, and then I’ll explain what’s happening now.

Lions Den QLD, and Home Rule Campground with the walk to a waterfall, swimming hole

Daintree rainforest swimming, croc tour and wild cassowary

Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge, dinner with PJ, Julie and friends

Airlie Beach, Whitehaven tour

Emu Park Queensland Explorers mini Rally

Croc farm near Emu Park

Rockhampton free camp with Marlies and Lesley after the Emu Park rally

Byfield National Park QLD with Robyn and Paul

Our Explorer service at Clontarf near Brisbane, with Luke and our sparkling Katya

North Stradbroke Island

Stanthorpe QLD, Strawberry picking and the paddock pyramid

Girraween National park QLD, rocks and wildflowers

Byron Bay NSW with Oleg & Heather

Catching up with Vlad & Simone at Raffertys Resort, Leon & Fima at Lake Macquarie

Crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to get home at peak hour

We had been mostly on the road since August 2019, and despite drought, bushfires and a pandemic, we enjoyed seeing some of the most beautiful and iconic places of Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Northern Territory, with a couple of transits of New South Wales thrown in.

After hitting Cape York in Queensland back in late September 2020, we started to get tired and homesick. On top of that, the main commercial tenant in our Sydney workshop building had moved out, and a new one had not yet been found, creating a potential hole in our future cashflow – not something that you want to worry about while you’re travelling.

Since being back home, we’ve been commuting between Sydney and our bush property at Windellama, moving stuff out of the workshop and tidying it up. We’ve found a tenant who has moved in to the ground floor of the workshop, which is a relief.

For the next year or two we’ve decided to stay put in Windellama and put some time, effort and money into that property to make it more comfortable and maximise its potential. The first projects are to re-purpose one of the old concrete water tanks into a sauna, and to build a 200m2 shed on the site we had prepared over a year ago.

To that end, we have also decided to sell our motorhome, Katya. Rather than leave her idle for most of the next 2 years, she would be better off continuing her travels with some other adventurous people. Have a look on caravancampingsales.com.au for the Explorer Pathfinder Motorhome 2019.

It was a hard decision, and one we may regret when we are seeing other people’s travel posts, but we will get back on the road again one day with Katya v2.0. Our travels are certainly not complete as we still need to tackle Western Australia, Tasmania and of course do more of our own state of NSW.

Feel free to let us know when you’re in the vicinity of Windellama, and you can stay either in the house or free camping by the creek. It’s peaceful and there are plenty of birds and animals around.

To the Tip and Far North Queensland

17/9/2020 – 4/10/2020

We were really happy to be finally travelling northwards again on what we hoped would be our biggest adventure yet to the northern most tip of the Australian continent. The rough plan was to go up the fast way via the Peninsula Development Road or PDR and the Bypass Roads of the Old Telegraph Track, because I was worried about the possibility of an early wet season with all the clouds and rain we’d had in Cairns, and then travel slowly, zig-zagging to wherever we wanted to go on the way back down.

First stop was at Mt Carbine where we set up camp under a tree with a couple of tawny frogmouths. We also checked out the rock paintings at Split Rock. More of a simple style than the rock art we’ve seen in Kakadu, but no less beautiful.

We drove into Weipa to get some fuel and groceries but decided not to stay there because it was too early in the day to finish driving and there wasn’t much there that we were interested in. We stayed a night at the Morton Telegraph Station though, which is on the Wenlock River. It’s a large cattle station that also hosts campers with great facilities. The manager told us that the river can get really high in the wet season with flows coming into it from the Jardine and Archer rivers. The rain station there had rain gauges all the way up the banks to the campground with depths measuring up to 17 metres, although currently it was only 2 metres deep. We found a little green friend sitting on our door at night time catching bugs. Moreton also has a caves creek where you can see the water running through a little cave, as well as old mango trees in the campground dripping with green fruit.

The bypass roads around the Old Telegraph Track are wide and reasonably well maintained, although there are plenty of corrugations, dips and the odd bulldust hole to be aware of.

The Jardine River can now only be crossed by the ferry run by the indigenous land owners. At $100 return for our motorhome, it might seem a bit steep, but when you find out you get use of the indigenous free camps and that money assists with maintaining all the lands and roads, you realise it’s well worth it.

Near the top, we stayed at Seisia campground, which is close to a supermarket, an art and craft store with a cafe and a wharf, and we scored a beachfront unpowered site. We ended up staying 4 nights.

The road to the northern Tip of Australia is pretty good running through a beautiful rainforest, but with a tree down to be skirted around, and more red dirt and corrugations. After a short walk around the beach as it was low tide, we got to the Tip where there is a metal plaque which everyone stands around to take a photo, without thinking that the real tip is about 5 metres on the rocks further back. Mark and I took a photo around the plaque as well as on the real tip. We also took a photo of Katya which, for about hour, was the northern most vehicle on the mainland!

We checked out Somerset, Roonga (or Wroonga) Point and Punsand Bay campgrounds after we left the Tip but were happy with our choice at Seisia. Loyalty campground is just up the beach from Seisia and is supposed to be pretty good but we didn’t go there.

We visited Thursday Island, or TI as the locals call it, by taking the ferry that leaves from Seisia every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8am. On the ferry there was no hand sanitiser before we embarked and no social distancing, which I would have thought would be important to protect the islanders. TI is quite a busy place with people coming and going from the mainland and other Torres Strait islands.

It was hot but a strong cool wind made it just bearable walking around and up Green Hill to the old fort built to protect Australia in 1893 from a suspected Russian invasion. There is also an historic cemetery where we saw graves from the 1880’s as well as the grave of the man who designed the Torres Strait islands flag, Bernard Namok. Many of the graves were beautifully decorated with artificial flowers. We had lunch at Australia’s literal top pub, along with many of the other people that came over on the ferry.

When we returned to the mainland, we bought a shell necklace and a coffee from Simona’s arts and crafts shop. We sat down and shortly a beautiful lady named Rose and her sister Annie came in and joined us. Their father was one of the original Torres Strait islanders to establish the Seisia community on the mainland.  Their island of Saibai is being affected by rising tides and the local indigenous people gave them the land around Seisia to live in 70 years ago. There’s a couple of articles here about the 70th anniversary 2 years ago, when Rose was addressing the crowd at the celebrations and about Rose herself:

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/spiritofthings/naidoc-week-program/9940618

https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2018/09/13/our-people-were-dying-race-celebrating-survival-crocodile-clan

Rose shared other stories with us, including one about a rainbow that their father told them is proof that God loves all colours. The meaning behind the story is to love all colours of humankind and to put a roof over everyone’s head. The campground has individual huts for all the campers to use which reflects this philosophy.

Mark told her that Seisia was beautiful but there is one problem – you can’t swim here (because of crocodiles). Rose replied, “It’s not that you can’t swim here, it’s how fast can you swim?!!”.

Rose, who is in her 70s, was educated in Melbourne, has travelled all over the world, has a law degree and now works in counselling, helping indigenous mainland and Torres Strait people. It’s encounters like this that make travelling so worthwhile.

For the sake of variety we thought we’d better move on from Seisia although we enjoyed it there so much, and we set up camp at Mutee Head, a free camp to the west. Again we got a lovely beachfront camp with some shady trees and an occasional bar or two of phone reception, but had to negotiate a small section of deep black sand. Up the hill there is a WW2 radar still standing and the graves of some of the original Torres Strait islanders who established the mainland community. There are no facilities here but we had a full fridge, a full water tank and an empty toilet so we wouldn’t need anything for a while. We were entertained by green ants that used the 3rd wire on the fence between us and the beach to travel during the mornings and evenings. It doesn’t take much to entertain us these days!

We walked one morning up to the Jardine River mouth, 8km return from Mutee Head, over mostly soft black sand. Thankfully there was some cloud cover and it was not as hot. There was a mysterious small grass fire near some huge ant mounds that we couldn’t work out how it had started. The river mouth is very wide with sandbanks dotted across it making it look shallow, but we’ve heard that people catch barramundi here and there are crocodiles, although we didn’t see any.

Beautiful as Mutee Head was, you still can’t swim and the need for a good shower and air conditioning had us moving after 3 days up to Alau Beach campground with powered sites for $30 a night.  It’s on the beachfront in the community of Umagico, which you have to drive through to get there. We asked for a quiet spot, and ended up on a dirt patch away from the beach. The campground is basic but has a swimming pool and there are a lot of abandoned or locked up infrastructure like sheds and amenities blocks, I presume due to Covid-19 keeping many travellers away. It was Yom Kippur and Mark spent the time praying while I busied myself washing everything inside that had a red tinge of dust.

The time had come to leave the communities of the Tip and head back south, back over the Jardine River by ferry and we headed into the middle section of the Old Telegraph Track where Fruit Bat Falls and Eliot Falls campground is. It’s a National Park so we had to book ahead while we still had internet access, and booked 2 nights at site 23 close to ‘The Saucepan’ which is one of the larger waterholes in the river. In fact, this campsite also had direct access to the river rather than having to go around to the main track, and we almost felt like we had the river to ourselves up there! There’s also Twin Falls further down which was also beautiful to swim in.

We could have stayed another couple of nights easily, but without internet you can’t book more nights. We walked to Canal Creek which was 1.5km away and caught up with Andrew and Janelle who run a 4WD coffee truck business Espresso 79 while they’re on the road! The road into Canal Creek was a bit rougher than the one to Eliot Falls, but I’m sure Katya could have made it if we’d tried. What do you think?

 To complete our tour of Cape York we spent a night at one of the free camps on the Coen River and another night at Lakefield National Park at Kalpowar campground. The Coen River was very low and didn’t look very inviting although I believe people do swim there. We managed to get the Kalpowar campsite for free as there were no campsites available in the whole park due to Queensland school holidays still being on, and when we talked to the ranger she told us we could use one of the corporate campsites which are not currently in use.

We drove in to Lakefield National Park from the north which didn’t give us a great first impression, as a lot of it has been back-burned recently, but further south closer to Cooktown there was more forest and creeks where people were camping. The main reason for going to Lakefield is fishing with 9 out of 10 vehicles towing some sort of boat. You can’t go swimming as per the usual Croc-wise advice, and so unless you’re a fisherman there’s not much to do. We did stop and have a look around the listed Old Laura cattle station and Isabella Falls before we left the park.

Having only been allowed 1 free night at Kalpowar, we left for Cooktown the next day, happy to get back to a town with phone reception and internet so we can catch up with things, only to find there was a bushfire close by that had taken out the phone tower! You can see the smoke in the previous photo at Isabella Falls. Phone reception was rectified by the afternoon though.

At this point we are looking forward to getting back down south. It is an experience to see how different life is up here, with beautiful turquoise waters and rugged bushland and rainforest, where people live much more simply and freely, albeit also with the heat, dust, crocodiles and mosquitoes.

Katya did well with the corrugations and rough tracks, although we didn’t push her too much. Do you like her new red pinstripes? If we come up here again by ourselves, we would just have a normal 4WD vehicle and camp in a tent. There’s plenty to see without getting into the really difficult terrain, although it would have been fun to be able to do the harder 4WD tracks.

Long Pitstop in Cairns

17/9/2020

There are a few routes to choose from when travelling up to Cape York, and your decision on which one to take depends largely on how much time you have and how well prepared you are. We have an abundance of time but as we were not yet prepared, our decision landed on going to Cairns first via the sealed Gulf Development Road from Normanton. There are more camping spots along there too.

We decided against going to the Cobbold Gorge which was on a dirt road too far off the main road, and we’d had our fill of dirt going across the Gulf. We also didn’t go to the Undara Lava Tubes because at $60 per person it was ridiculously overpriced. Instead we walked around the Kalkani crater for free. I am getting a bit more tight-arse these days!

We stayed at the Innot Hot Springs Caravan Park for a night and made the most of the relaxing pools, with around 39C temperature, it was lovely. The creek next door also runs warm if you want to try it for free, but I’m not that tight-arse!

We got to Cairns and walked around the Esplanade, and found our favourite icecream shop. We pigged out on the 2x510g tubs for $25 special.

The Cairns Aquarium is at least as good as the one in Sydney. Beautiful exhibits including the underwater tunnel.

The Aquarium has a nice café attached where we met up with our old friends Vlad, Simone and their son Josh. We also had dinner a couple of times, and went to the Atherton Markets and Crystal Cave together. It was great catching up as we hadn’t seen them for many years.

I don’t often post food photos, but the food on our last night in Cairns at the Tamarind restaurant was pretty great and photo-worthy!

For some reason the tyres on Katya aren’t easily acquired and we had to fill in time waiting for tyres to be sent from Brisbane. So we spent a couple of days going back through the Atherton Tablelands seeing the Curtain Fig Tree, Millaa Millaa Falls and other waterfalls.

Another day was spent at Kuranda but with the lack of tourists around, there weren’t many market stalls open on a Monday, so we went to Birdworld instead. Birds absolutely love Mark, especially when he’s wearing a cap with a button on top!

Paronella Park was magical but also sad to see so much hard work done in the 1930s by Jose Paronella, being eaten away by the rainforest and the weather. There have been 3 major cyclones and a fire that have also caused serious damage, along with the general decay over time. Yesterday was Jose and Marguerita Paronella’s 95th wedding anniversary, but of course they have both passed away. Their descendants apparently do still occasionally come to the park, but it has been sold since the parents died. The place has a mystical quality about it, and we will come back when we’ve finished the Cape, to stay overnight. The entry price includes being able to come back for 2 years for free!

With Katya clean, new tyres fitted on the front and shopping at Rustys Markets done, we’re finally heading north again. Our first stop out of Cairns is at Mt Carbine, and the caravan park owner’s rhetorical comment was “Are you going to Cape York in that?”, looking doubtfully at our Katya. How dare she!

The Gulf Savannah Way, NT to QLD

5/9/2020

Our first campsite on our way around the Gulf of Carpentaria was at Old Roper Crossing. Its not on the Wikicamps app. A traveller at a rest area told us about it. It was magic. I’ve sent the site details to Wikicamps for the admin to add it, but on 2nd thought wish I hadn’t. Too many people here might ruin it. The Roper River runs over the weir, making a continuous waterfall sound, and spreading placidly through the eucalypt forest on the other side. A white heron has its favourite spot to sit, and two whistling kites are building a nest in the tree next to us. Some indigenous people came down to the river to have a wash at night, as did the lady traveller Lorraine who’s been here for 4 nights so far. She’s been travelling for 34 years, and is the 2nd one to tell us we shouldn’t be taking our vehicle through the Limmen National Park road because its too rough.

Well the road was not great that’s for sure, with bulldust craters and horrendous corregations but we made it. We also brought plenty of the road with us!

While in the National Park we visited the Southern Lost City and Butterfly Falls. The different rock formations never cease to amaze me. Mark got his drone up for some great photos. The pool at Butterfly Falls was a bit low but good for a dip.

We were told about Lorella Springs and thought we’d better check it out. It is a million acre property with enough things to do to keep anyone interested for a week, with fishing on the coast or rivers, rock formations, warm and cold springs, 4wd tracks, bush walks and a lot more. We stayed for a couple of nights and met some great people, Blinky, Teeny and Greg, at the hot spring and then continued on at the bar later.

We enjoyed the warm spring pool near the bar, but the open air cold showers were actually welcome in the heat.

We crossed into Queensland without any border checks, stopped briefly at Hells Gate roadhouse, and then stayed at Adels Grove which is the campground near Lawn Hill National Park.

The drive was again dusty and dry, but was worth it for the oases around Lawn Hill. It gave us an excuse to get the inflatable kayak out of the rear storage and paddle up the creek to the Middle and Upper Gorges. Despite there being freshwater crocs in the creek, they don’t bother anything too big. Archer fish inhabit the waters here. They get their name because they can accurately spit water at insects that then drop into the water for them to eat.

The Gulf Savannah roads pass close to the Gulf of Carpentaria, but you only get to see the gulf itself at Karumba. It’s a fishing town with boats large and small in everyone’s front yard. We didn’t stay because it was too windy and the caravan park was too full for our liking, but took some photos of the Gulf of Carpentaria water to prove we’ve seen them! Normanton is close by and has a replica of a crocodile that was shot by a woman in 1959. The croc named Krys after the woman, was 8.6 metres long, a world record.

After talking to the information centre at Normanton about the road condition up the peninsula to Musgrave, we decided we will take the road more travelled and interesting, traversing across the Gulf Development Road to Cairns to replenish supplies before heading up to Cape York.

A week in Kakadu

Corroboree Billabong is on the way to Kakadu National Park, and is the subject of two paintings that we bought at the Mindil Beach markets in Darwin the day before we went on the billabong tour. It was great to see the subject of the paintings for ourselves. We got our first look at real crocodiles as well as lotus flowers and lilies, jabiru, barking owls, a sea eagle, cormorants, a jacana (aka Jesus or Lotus bird) and its tiny chick, wallabies, horses, pigs and buffaloes. Evan, the tour guide, gave us a safety tip that if the boat is sinking we need to form circles around him and swim to the nearest shore! He assured us that women can form the inner circle!

The same joke was used by the Yellow Water billabong tour guide, so they must have gone to the same tour guide school! This tour, which we did a few days later, turned up the dial on the number of animals, including a 6 day old croc kill of a buffalo, with a number of crocodiles still keeping watch over the carcass. The smell was overpowering by that stage! The finale of our Yellow River tour was the sunset, but we’ve been told that the sunrise tour is very different and well worth doing as well.

We stayed a couple of nights at a free camp at Bucket Billabong. Within a few minutes of arriving we saw a croc in the water near us. Thankfully, we were on a vertical 2 metre high embankment. I was on croc-watch for the next 2 days, as we couldn’t resist setting up the fly annex close enough to the water to be able to keep an eye out for them and to check out the fish jumping and birds gliding around the water. The mozzies and midgies are cruel here, and my legs were starting to look like pincushions.

The aboriginal rock art in Kakadu is one of the highlights, and was abundant in Ubirr and Nourmangie where there are also walks with views of the surrounding landscape. Can you tell what the subjects of these paintings are?

They are a long necked turtle, a white man with hands in pockets, a thylacine (aka Tasmanian Tiger before they were made extinct on the mainland) and the Rainbow Serpent.

Cahills Crossing is a cement weir over the East Alligator River (called that by an English guy who didn’t know the difference between crocs and alligators) where lots of crocodiles wait until the tidal water rises up over the weir bringing fish with it, that are more easily caught. We saw at least 15 crocodiles on one side, and probably that many on the other side. As the water gets higher they fight with each other to get the best position, although they didn’t fight with the largest croc, closest to us.

You can see a video of this here:

The pools and air conditioning at the two caravan parks we stayed at, in Jabiru and Cooinda, were what drew us there, but they also had pretty good bar bistro areas, and Jabiru even had a guy on a guitar one night.

The waterfalls and natural pools we visited in Kakadu were each very different, and were welcome respite from the heat. Jim Jim Falls is iconic as the highest falls at 150m, and despite the falls not flowing, it was still spectacular to swim under these tall vertical rock walls. The issue here is the walk in requires you to have the balance of a tightrope walker and the agility of a mountain goat to get over the increasingly larger boulders. Some people we passed, didn’t make it all the way to the falls, even though its only 1km.

Maguk Falls was my favourite in that the water is crystal clear and just the right temperature, the walk from the parking area is easier than Jim Jim, and there is some shade to sit under.

Gunlom Falls plunge pool has a resident 2.5m freshwater crocodile, and was tinged a little green, but after the 40-odd kilometres of corrugations we endured to get there, nothing was stopping us from cooling off in the water. There is also a natural infinity pool but this is currently closed by the traditional owners, a small sign having been posted at the beginning of the road advising not to try to get up there.  We were very disappointed by this but stopped wondering why there were so few people in the campground! At night there was a dingo circling around after Mark went to have a shower. I assume it smelt our beef stew on the campfire. No photos as I was too busy putting food inside and ensuring I had a camp chair and axe between me and it. If its not crocodiles and mozzies, its dingoes that want to attack you! Only joking – it really wasn’t very menacing and kept its distance.

We’re now back in Katherine, stocking up, and cleaning and repacking Katya, before we head east along the Gulf of Carpentaria towards Queensland. The Katherine Hot Springs are not hot, more like tepid, but very relaxing after the heat of each day.

Despite it still being winter, the temperatures have been ranging between 35-39C each day since we hit the Top End, and the predictions are for an early wet season. With this in mind, knowing that we need to come back again earlier next time in the dry season when there is more water around, and when the virus is over and the cultural centres are open, we’re going to get to Cape York and ensure we tick that off the bucket list this year.

Things we never knew about Darwin NT

19/8/2020

Did you know Darwin was bombed not just once or twice, but 64 times over nearly 2 years and the Japanese got as far south as Katherine? I am ASHAMED to say I never knew that. But more later.

We needed some civilisation again after overdosing on the beautiful Litchfield National Park. It was pretty hot when we got to Darwin, but we walked around the city to the waterfront which has been upgraded to include a safe beachfront and wave pool, inside the original Stokes Hill wharf.

The city also hosts an annual street art competition and as a result has many murals adding colour and life. The car in front of the kangaroo mural is actually a painted electricity box!

There is an election coming up. It will be interesting to watch whether the Monster Raving Loony Party makes it into the government building.

We were recommended to have fish and chips at La Beach at Cullen Bay as the sun sets one night, and so glad we did. While we missed the actual sunset that night by a few minutes, the meal was great and there was still plenty of colour in the sky. We went back to Cullen Bay the next day to see the marina and surrounds in daylight.

We also checked out the nightlife in the city and walked around the Darwin Festival grounds.

On the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 in the Pacific, which was 15th August 1945, we went on the Bombing of Darwin tour which has been run by Garry for 13 years. He has so much knowledge about the events in the war and the people involved, as well as many stories, some true, that keep everyone entertained. We went to a house that had been built in 1939 and suffered minor damage in WW2 with some bullet holes in the original metal fence posts. I was wondering why they had restored the house but left the old fence there! It also survived Cyclone Tracy because it is near a cliff that controls wind updrafts away from the house.

We saw the gun from the USS Peary which was sunk on the morning of the first air raid, as it points out to where the ship lies in the harbour.

The Aviation Museum is worth a look too, with the only complete B-52 outside of the USA in the hangar. Later we went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum, where there is also a Bombing of Darwin virtual reality experience. No photos of the VR obviously, but along with the information about the RFDS, it is a couple of hours well spent.