Northern Territory

Alice Springs

Alice Springs beckoned and on a hot and sunny day we set off along the Stuart Highway to a town known affectionately as “The Alice”. Australia’s most famous outback town is in the heart of Central Australia between the East and West MacDon­nell Ranges. In the 1800’s, the tiny settlement of Alice Springs played a major part in opening up inland Australia and today it is the hub of the Red Centre. We checked in to the Wintersun Cabin and Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) then later

that afternoon we drove into town for a look around and on our return had a walk around the park. What a nice place! Lots of shade, lots of grass (too many bindii’s for bare feet though and I found out the hard way!), a swimming pool, and a lot of terrific people. Some had come to the Alice for a few days or weeks and found they couldn’t leave; it gets into your blood, they said.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night in Alice Springs

Alice Springs is home to many places of cultural and spiritual significance for the

traditional owners, the Arrernte people, and the culture and traditions are displayed in the work of local Aboriginal artists. This work is presented in the many galleries and art centres throughout the town and the Alice is where some of the world’s most sought-after Aboriginal artists live. I was really looking forward to doing a little exploring. We had a list of things we wanted to see and do while here but with only a few days in The Alice our chances of seeing and doing it all were pretty slim. Still, we were going to give it a darn good try and that meant an early night so we settled back for a quiet evening with a couple of steaks on the barbecue and our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to celebrate our first night in a new caravan park.

Scenery along Larapinta Drive

Standley Chasm, one of Alice Springs’ most famous landmarks

It turned out to be quite a cold night and after such a hot day it was a bit of shock to the system but after a leisurely breakfast we set out to explore some of The Alice’s best known landmarks in the West MacDonnell National Park, starting with Standley Chasm, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from town. The drive out along Larapinta Drive was really spectacular. The Australian landscape is awesomely beautiful and nowhere more so than here in the Red Centre. I had learned about Standley Chasm in school when I was about 10 and never thought I’d ever visit it or even want to visit it but what a magnificent place! My old Social Studies teacher is probably looking down

Dry creekbed on the Standley Chasm walk

on me right now, wagging her finger, and saying “see, you should have been paying attention!” Truly awe-inspiring, it is called Angkerle by the Aboriginal people and is named for Mrs Ida Standley who became the first school teacher in Alice Springs in 1914. In 1925 when the school moved to Jay creek she became its matron and also the first non-Aboriginal woman to see the Chasm that now bears her name.

Standley Chasm’s dramatic red walls 

We took the path down to the Chasm marvelling at the rock walls rising up some 80 metres (262 feet) above us; they were all of that rich red iron oxide that gives the Red Centre its name. The most dramatic time to see the Chasm is around noon on a sunny day. The sheer walls glow from reflected sunlight and create a breathtaking display.

The Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm is cool, in more ways than one

There is a walking track that links the car park to the Chasm and it follows a creek where there are many spring-fed pools. Because of these pools, the gully floor is lush with a variety of plants includ­ing the cycad palm, a species that is known to have survived from pre­historic times when this whole area was suppos­edly an inland sea. The track is quite rough in spots and we climbed over rocks and through shallow crevasses before finally reaching that deep red cleft in the earth. We were astounded by its beauty and wandered throughout the actual Chasm for ages. The fact that it was also cool in there was a big plus. The Chasm is not very long from one end to the other and is a reasonably easy trek as long as you don’t mind the odd rock or boulder to climb over. Wearing sensible shoes goes a long way towards making it easier, too. I would have liked to have stayed there longer but there were other places to see this day and so, after a nice cup of coffee in the café, we set off for Simpson’s Gap, another beautiful landmark in the Australian landscape.

John and Margaret taking a break inside the Chasm

Simpson’s Gap

Renowned as the place to see the Black-footed Rock Wallabies, the Gap is also remarkable for its towering red gums, standing proudly like sentinels. Located 18 kilometres (11 miles) from town, Simpson’s Gap is a permanent waterhole of the Arrernte Aboriginal people. A scenic, rocky gap containing huge ghost gums and timbered creek flats, it is typical of many gaps and gorges in the region. It was formed millions of years ago when a break occurred in the quartzite that forms the MacDonnell Ranges. As the land surface rose, flood waters cut into the rock scouring out the Gap as we see it today. There was only a little water at the Gap, stagnant, smelly water in small pools but it didn’t detract from the beautiful surroundings.

Take the Ghost Gum Walk into the Gap

We took the Ghost Gum Walk, a short 20-minute stroll along a well-cared-for path and walked back

Simpson’s Gap

through the dry river bed. We didn’t see any of the wildlife supposed to live here and I was a little disappointed at that, not a wallaby, not a bird, not even a snake (thank heavens!) but, as John said, how many saw us! By the time we’d returned to the carpark it was lunch time and we stopped at the Visitors Centre where we found some interesting information on the local flora and fauna and some about finding water in the outback. And, of course, just being able to stand in the shade for a while was good, too. We had planned to continue on to Hermannsburg, the birthplace of famed indigenous artist Albert Namatjira and location of the first Aboriginal mission but as it is approximately 100 kilometres (62 miles) further on we thought better of it today.

Dry riverbed in Simpson’s Gap

Reverend John Flynn

On our way back we stopped briefly at the grave of theReverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Located 7 kilometres (4 miles) from Alice Springs, it marks the final resting place of his ashes. The rock on top of the memorial was brought here from the Devil’s Marbles, to the north near Wycliffe Well, a matter of some controversy with the local indigenous population as the Marbles, or Karlu Karlu to the Aboriginal people, is a culturally significant site.  Alice Springs is a remarkable town, surrounded as it is by desert that is a patch of red dirt the size of Europe. It is more than just an oasis, it is a thriving metropolis, boasting one of the world’s best desert golf courses, its own casino, conven­tion centre, and botanical gardens, and a climate where the sun shines almost every day.

The grave of the Reverend John Flynn

National Road and Transport Museum

Visitors to the Alice are spoilt for choice in things to see and do and we knew from the start that our few days here were not going to be enough. We could have wandered around any of the amazing art galleries and I certainly wouldn’t have said no if someone had suggested it. John was relieved that nobody did, our poor credit card couldn’t have taken it. Instead, we went to see the National Road and Transport Museum, located 8 kilometres (5 miles) from town on the Stuart Highway. If you’ve ever wondered where old motor vehicles go to die, this is the place. It’s a fascinating step back in time for any male, man or boy. There are 2 sections, road and rail and as much as I would have preferred the rail, the guys

Entrance to the National Road and Transport Museum

wanted road. And so, outvoted, we set off to look at cars, trucks, and motorbikes dating back to early last century.

Outback road transport, the good, the bad, and the definitely practical!

Well, it wasn’t too bad; there were several lovingly restored vintage cars, a lot of restored trucks and road trains, vintage motorbikes, and an awful lot of wrecks. This is a rather unique museum in the approach to restoration of the vehicles; there are no vehicles in pristine, brand new condi­tion. No, these vehicles are shown as they were in their working lives, including any of the many modifications that “bush mechanics” had to make because of Australia’s harsh environment. We wandered around for close to an hour and I learned

Display at the museum

everything I’d ever wanted to know, and an awful lot that I didn’t, about said cars, trucks, motorbikes, and road trains! Some of it was actually very interesting but definitely not my cup of tea. The guys, however, had an absolute ball. John discovered a 1962 “R” series Valiant, just like the one he used to own and he was in heaven.

Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame

At the back of the yard is the Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame, a 1022 square metre (11,000 square foot) display devoted to the history of the Australian designed and built Kenworth trucks. The Australian continent is perhaps the harshest and remotest environment for trucks anywhere in the world and the display here highlights the role that Kenworth has play­ed in opening up this vast land. And there is no more appropriate place in all of Australia to have this Hall of Fame than

John and his “R” Series Valiant

Alice Springs. The transport hub for one of the remotest regions in the world, it is more than 1500 kilometres (932 miles) from the sea in any direction and is the birthplace of the roadtrain. By the time the guys had seen every vehicle and debated the merits and mechanical ability of each one, it was too late to visit the area devoted to the railways with its restored rolling stock. A shame because I think I would have really enjoyed that.

Fishing in the Todd River

The sun was well into its downward path when we returned to camp but John decided that he couldn’t come to Alice Springs and not fish in the Todd River. This is stranger than it sounds – the Todd River is dry. Maybe once every year there might be water in it after heavy rains but not at the moment. The Todd River is home to the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, a race held in August each year and it is when seemingly sane, intelligent human beings race bottomless boats in a dry river bed and

Strange fella fishing in the Todd River

all that is required is a sense of the ridiculous. John didn’t catch any fish (surprise surprise!) and the local indigenous population gave him a wide berth – strange man that white fella!!

A visit to some of Alice Springs’ less well-known gorges

The next day we gorged ourselves. That’s right, N’Dhala Gorge and Trephina Gorge in the East MacDonnell Ranges. N’Dhala Gorge is 91 kilometres (56 miles) from Alice Springs, along the Ross Highway before turning onto an unsealed road for the last 11 kilometres (7 miles). It’s a track with several crossings of the Ross River but N’Dhala Gorge is most definitely worth the drive. The road in is 4×4 only and completely impassable during periods of rain. And considering the number of times we crossed the dry river, I can understand that.

Crossing the Ross River on the way to N’Dhala Gorge

N’Dhala Gorge

We arrived at the parking area at a little after 9:30 in the morning but already the temperature was high. There is a well-defined and sign-posted path that leads into the site and so with a few bottles of drinking water in our packs we set off to explore. N’Dhala Gorge has some 6000 petroglyphs (rock carvings), some of which date back thousands of years. The circles and feather designs of some of the petroglyphs tell of a Caterpillar Dreaming story and whereas visitors are always welcome at the site, the Aboriginal custodians ask that respect be shown to the petroglyphs and their culture. There are signs asking that we stay on the paths and not venture into the

Petroglyph (rock carving) in N’Dhala Gorge

rocks. Knowing how much snakes like to hide around rocks there was no way I was leaving the path in any case!

Some amazingly detailed rock carvings

We walked along a rockpool or dry creek bed and could see the waterline on the walls of the gorge from the last heavy rains; the water can get quite deep here. In the gorge the petroglyphs on Caterpillar Dreaming were amazingly detailed and it’s hard to imagine that some of these carvings are more than 10,000 years old. There are quite a lot of the carvings that haven’t stood the test of time; the weather and the forces of nature having taken a toll. But there are several others in very good condition. Stories from the Dreamtime preserved for all eternity. The walk took a little over an hour; it wasn’t an arduous trek by any stretch of the imagination but by the time we re- turned to the car we were certainly hot and tired and a cup of tea was definitely the order of the day! Adjoining the car park is an area with a few picnic tables and a great information booth and we sat there for our cup of tea.

Creekbed in Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge

Our tea finished, we made our way back to the highway and began to retrace our path to Alice Springs. A few kilometres down the road we came to the turn-off to Trephina Gorge. What a lovely, peace­ful spot this is! There are two gorges here in the Trephina Gorge Nature Park and the sheer quartzite cliffs and river red gums are highlights of the pictur­esque scenery. The very best way to explore here is on foot. It’s not very big and we walked to the end of the gorge, to the rockpool, in less than ½ hour. There are a few different walking trails, one in particular

John Hayes Rockhole

takes about 6½ hours and there are also bicycle tracks here.

A stop at John Hayes Rockhole

On our way back to the highway we discovered an interesting track that leads to the John Hayes Rockhole. I say the track is interesting because it makes the Oodnadatta Track look like a highway! At least there was no dust. The rockhole with its steep, narrow rock walls is a very popular swimming hole during the warmer months. Staring up at the top of the cliffs was enough to make a person dizzy but we could hear voices and could see people walking around the rim. I wondered where the path was but we couldn’t find it.

Corroboree Rock

Corroborree Rock

Our next stop was Corroboree Rock, a massive monolith that, as the name implies, has a great deal of cultural and ceremonial significance for the local Aboriginal people. The specific significance is not generally known and the lack of water in the area means that it was probably not used as a corroboree site. Regardless, the size of it was most impressive.

Emily and Jessie Gaps

The Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park was our last stop along the Ross Highway. Only 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Alice Springs in the Heavi­tree Range, these two gaps, worn away by a creek flowing through the MacDonnell Ranges, are of great significance to the local Aboriginal people and contain a lot of rock paintings and, along with many other places in the landscape that are associated with the same Caterpillar Dreamtime story, is part of the “Dreaming Trail”. Emily Gap is probably the most significant as this is where the caterpillar beings originated. We decided to stop for lunch while we were at Emily Gap and it was here that we discovered the first wildlife of this trip. A python was asleep up in the branches

“Sleeping” python

of a gum tree. At least we assumed it was a python and we assumed it was asleep. In any case, it didn’t move and I had no intention of disturbing it! By the time we returned to camp it was getting late and it was time for us to start packing up to leave. There is so much more to see and do in Alice Springs and we barely blew the dust off the surface in our few days there. If we could have delayed our departure, believe me we would have but it was not to be. Having said that, though, we have a pretty good reason, if we even needed a reason, to return one day.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Daly Waters

Even those who have never been to the Northern Territory have heard of Daly Waters. The historic Daly Waters Pub is one of those Aussie icons, like the Oodnadatta Track, and every travelling Aussie wants to see it. Clad in corrugated iron and literally draped in bougainvilleas, it is chock a block full with decades of memorabilia. 588 kilometres (365 miles) south of Darwin, Daly Waters has little to recommend it apart from the pub. One

of the oldest buildings in the Territory, it was originally built in 1893 and holds a liquor licence that has been in continuous use since 1938. The stories these walls could tell . . .

Airborne locals at the caravan park!

We pulled into the Daly Waters Pub Caravan Park ([star][star][star]) and set about getting the camp organised. The park only has twenty sites and they were filling fast; we were glad that we’d arrived early. The amenities were interesting and very . . . outback . . . but they were clean, and the park was filled with lots of green grass and shade trees. While we were setting up camp an aeroplane started buzzing the caravan park. He was quite low and I hoped he was paying attention to what he was doing. Don’t worry, one of the locals assured us, he’s just trying to get our attention. What? He hasn’t heard of a radio? No, he just wants someone to pick him up from the airport when he lands! Airport? Daly Waters has an airport? Indeed it has.

Daly Waters International Airport

Daly Waters International Airport

The Daly Waters International Airport was the first international airport in Australia! We couldn’t wait to see it and drove out there just after lunch. Well, there wasn’t a jumbo jet in sight; in fact there weren’t any jets at all. The runway was made of red earth and the only hangar now held the small aircraft that had buzzed the park. There was no control tower and certainly no taxi-ways but we were to learn that in 1926 this airfield was the centre for the London to Sydney air race and later was used by Australian and American flyers during World War II. It is kept in readiness

The Outback Servo: note the helicopter on the roof!

today to service folks from the outlying areas. Built in 1930, the building is the oldest aviation structure in the Northern Territory.

Exploring Daly Waters

We left the airport and set out to explore Daly Waters. We drove out to the main highway only a kilometre away and that was it, the end of Daly Waters. The pub, the caravan park, and the airport . . .  that’s it. Well, they did tell us that there wasn’t much here.

The Pub, the hub of Daly Waters

Daly Waters, population 23 (most days), is built on an old stock route and in the early days was nothing more than a drover’s rest for the long cattle drives from the Kimberleys in Western Australia to Queensland. It isn’t much more than that today, being merely a stopover for travellers on the Stuart Highway but the pub is fascinating. Amongst the memorabilia in the pub is a wall of bank notes from just about every country on Earth. It seems to be somewhat of a tradition for foreign visitors to add a note from their country. Late in the afternoon we sat in the shade of some big old trees and enjoyed a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine before tackling the nightlife, such as it is, in this perfect outback town.

A dining and entertainment experience in Daly Waters

For our only night in Daly Waters we decided on dinner in the pub; little more than standard pub fare, it was delicious nonetheless. And the entertainment was great. We listened to Sax and the Single Girl, a terrific lady named Annie who plays great sax, and following her was Frank the Chook Man. Yes, Frank the Chook

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Man. I guess Elton John wasn’t available that day. We stayed in the pub until the show was over; not having far to travel the next morning, we weren’t worried about an early night. But you know what they say about the best laid plans . . .

Daly Waters, a must-do stopover

Caravan parks are a world of their own but there are some people in that world who have absolutely no concept of consideration for others. Our neighbours had a conversation, a loud conversation, starting at around 4:30 this morning! And they didn’t stop until around 7:00 when they must have gone back to bed because they became very quiet and their van was all shut up. (I wish they had!) And so we got an early start whether we wanted it or not!  Daly Waters is a must-do stopover; you’ll kick yourself if you miss it. It’s the kind of place where you can walk from one end of town to the other in about 5 minutes and see all there is to see, but it has character by the bucketload, and some very interesting characters in residence, as well, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Darwin

Darwin is hot and humid for most of the year. And so it was when we arrived one afternoon in early autumn. To the locals I imagine it was a pretty normal day, to those of us from way down south it was just hot! We’d been travelling since about 9:00 that morning and already by that time the temperature was moving upwards at a pretty steep rate.

Edith Falls, a beautiful place to stop

About an hour after starting out we noticed a sign to Edith Falls, also known as Leliyn. Everyone we’d spoken to had told us that this was one place we really had to see and, looking for a place to stop for coffee, we decided to see what all the excitement was about. Well, those people were right to be excited, it was absolutely beautiful. Edith Falls is part of the Nitmiluk National Park and is approximately 61 kilometres (38 miles) north of the town of Katherine. There are a variety of walking tracks, including the Leliyn Trail which is a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 miles) round trip that climbs to the top of the escarpment and then down to the upper pools. We’ve been told that the walk offers fantastic views over the waterfalls and the Edith River. There is a longer walk of 8.6 kilometres (5½ miles) that will take you to Sweetwater Pool, a secluded swimming hole on the Edith River.

Can crocodiles tell time?

A little pressed for time, we took the path down to the lower falls and rockpool, a walk of a mere 150 metres (492 feet). There was a warning sign about crocodiles; the pool is closed between 7pm and 7am because the freshwater crocodiles come to feed and frequently their saltwater cousins come in undetected. Swim at your own risk, the sign said. Charming! My question was, since when did crocodiles learn to tell the time? There were some folks in the water and it looked very inviting but no thanks! What’s that old saying about “Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly”?

Lunch at Adelaide River

We made Adelaide River by lunch time and decided that this was as good a place as any to stop for a bite to eat. Located 203 kilometres (126 miles) north of Katherine, this pretty riverside town backs on to the river of the same name. In 1871, the discovery of gold at Pine Creek made Adelaide River a popular stopover for prospectors enroute to the gold fields. Today, it holds the distinction of having the only turf racetrack in the entire Northern Territory and is the site of the third-largest war cemetery in Australia. We decided that a few days here on our next trip might be very interesting but this time it wasn’t on the agenda.

At the caravan park in Darwin

After lunch it was only a couple of hours and we arrived in Virginia on the outskirts of Darwin City. It was still un­believably hot and humid but some clouds were building and I was desperately praying for rain! We checked in to the Boomerang Motel Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) in Virginia and then, after the camp was organised, drove down to Palmerston to the shopping centre for a few supplies. It was when we were 

First night bubbly with Two Tails

returning with our shopping that my prayers were answered and it started to rain. It was a quick, heavy shower and when it was over the humidity returned with a vengeance!  But we took our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and headed for the pool where we toasted our arrival in Darwin.

A midnight (almost) swim

It was way too hot to sleep that night and we found our way back to the pool at about 10:00. A few young people were having a bit of a party there but they didn’t seem to mind “us oldies” going in for a dip. I had a feeling that this was going to become a regular occurrence during our stay here. Set in one of the most extraordinary and colourful regions in the world, Darwin is a tropical paradise with a stun­ningly beautiful backdrop that is unsurpassed. Closer to Indonesia than it is to any of the southern capitol cities, Australia’s most northern city is a unique destination. On the one hand it is a modern cosmopolitan

USS Peary Memorial in Bicentennial Park

metropolis and on the other it maintains a fabulous laidback lifestyle. Rebuilt from the devastation of World War II bombing and the fury of Cyclone Tracy, Darwin is the gateway to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery.

A stroll around Darwin City

For our first full day here we strolled around Darwin City and wandered in and out of a myriad of shops, both big and small, in the Mall. There were shops selling local Indigenous arts and craft as well as basic souvenirs and by the time we stopped at a little café for lunch our wallets were considerably lighter than when we’d started out this morning and we’d certainly given Darwin’s economy a boost!

Darwin Harbour

We wandered along the Esplanade and into Bicentennial Park, a beautiful expanse of green grass, shady trees, spectacular flowers in bloom, and walking paths overlooking the stunning blue waters of Darwin Harbour. Under a cloudless blue sky this is the kind of place where you could simply sit and relax without a care in the world.

USS Peary and Ludwig Leichhardt memorials

The USS Peary Memorial is located here in Bicentennial Park. This memorial is actually one of the guns from the only American naval vessel sunk in Darwin Harbour during World War II. The gun was salvaged from the wreck that still lies at the bottom of the harbour and it is positioned so that it points to the location of the Peary. The memorial is dedicated to the officers and crew who lost their lives in the first Japanese air attack in 1942. Also honoured is a United States Army Air Force pilot, Lt Robert Buel, who lost his life in a heroic attack on the enemy aircraft. Also in the park is a memorial to Ludwig Leichhardt, the naturalist and explorer, who, along with a party of path­finders, left Brisbane in 1845 and reached Port Essington on the Coburg Peninsula, a remote wilderness area on the north-west tip of Arnhem Land, on December 17 of the same year. They had travelled 4800 kilometres (2982 miles) and this was Leichhardt’s finest achievement.

Neither bombing raids nor cyclones can hurt Lyons Cottage

Opposite the park is Lyons Cottage, built in 1925 for the Darwin Cable Company and the first stone cottage constructed of locally quarried stone. There were many cottages built along the Esplanade but all except this one were destroyed either by the cyclone of 1937 or the Japanese bombing raids of 1942. It was named after John “Tiger” Lyons, elected Lord Mayor of Darwin in 1958. Following his death in 1970 the

Margaret at Darwin Wharf Precinct, Port Darwin

property was sold and in 1984 the Museums & Art Galleries Board developed it as a museum of early Darwin history. By now I was ready to move on to somewhere a little cooler; the day wasn’t just warm, it was scorching. And so, at John’s suggestion, we made our way down to the Darwin Wharf Precinct at Port Darwin.

Port Darwin

There were boats, and some more boats, and just for something different, a few more boats. John was in heaven! The Paspaley 4, one of the mother ships of Paspaley Pearls, was docked at the wharf. What a truly magnificent boat! Custom built in Norway, she is 52 metres (171 feet) in length and carries a permanent crew of 55. John was completely mesmerised as he gazed in awe at her gleaming white hull and sleek, clean lines. It was all I could do to drag him away but it was when I said I needed his credit card that I got his full attention!

Pearling in the Top End

The Australian Pearling Exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the pearling industry in Northern Australian waters. It charts pearling history from the days of the lugger and hard-hat diving to today’s modern techniques. The Exhibition has been called a time capsule Australia’s pearl coast and it shows the history and the beauty of this “jewel of the sea”. We stopped briefly at the exhibition and would have been happy to have stayed for a while but we had much more to see on this day.

Fannie Bay Gaol, not really my cup of tea!

After leaving the Pearling Exhibition we set off for the other side of the city, to East Point. Along the way we drove through Fannie Bay and past the famous, or infamous, Fannie Bay Gaol. One of the Northern Territory’s most important heritage sites it was operated as Her Majesty’s Gaol and Labour Prison in Darwin from 1883 until 1979. It still contains the gallows used for the last execution held in the Territory in

Darwin City skyline from East Point

1952. Not that I cared to see them but some people are interested in that sort of thing. The original gaol comprises two blocks of stone cells but in the 1920’s another structure was built to house female prisoners. The gaol discontinued operating in 1979 and today operates as a museum. I must admit, it’s not my cup of tea, so to speak.

East Point, critical to Darwin’s WWII defence

East Point Reserve is yet another marvellous expanse of grass and trees and walking paths, again overlooking the harbour. It offers a magnificent view of the city skyline and at the Point is the East Point Military Museum, a unique display of World War II memorabilia. This Military Reserve was Darwin’s main defence point during World War II and many of the defences, including gun emplacements, anti-submarine boom nets, lookout towers, and searchlight emplacements still stand today. Set in 1.6 hectares (4 acres) of tropical gardens, the museum is housed in the original concrete command post used by the army in World War II. It’s hard to imagine that this picturesque and tranquil part of our country, overlooking one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, could have been the scene of such terrible destruction. There is a lot of history there, and a lot of ghosts too.

Lake Alexander

Lake Alexander, not just any body of water

On our way out of the Reserve we stopped for a few moments at Lake Alexander. A man-made lake with adjacent picnic area and parks, the lake offers safe, year-round swimming. Absolutely no crocodiles allowed or so the sign says. Frankly I think those things could turn up anywhere, even in your backyard swimming pool! But I must admit the water certainly looked inviting after a hot day . . . just not THAT inviting.

A visit to Berry Springs

It had been a long day and we were all starting to feel a little tired as we made our way back to camp but there was still so much to see and so we drove down to Berry Springs on the edge of the Litchfield National Park. The national park was one place I really wanted to see but, unfortunately,

Berry Springs Nature Park

this was as close as we would get to Litchfield on this trip and I, for one, was hugely disappointed. The Berry Springs Nature Park is about 56 kilometres (35 miles) south of Darwin. There are a number of natural springs and rainforest-fringed pools that are open for swimming most of the year. Two of the Top End’s natural wild­life habitats are located in the nature park and there is a walking track that winds its way through both of them. During World War II Berry Springs was part of an R&R camp set up by the armed forces and the ruins of some of the huts can still be seen there. By now the sun had gone down and our stomachs were telling us that it had been a long time since lunch so we headed back to the caravan park and availed ourselves of their restaurant, the Virginia Tavern, for dinner. The food was plentiful and tasty but we didn’t linger; after such a busy day it was all we could do to drag ourselves to our beds and it wasn’t long before we were all well and truly out like the proverbial lights!

Off to Crocodylus Park

The next day was another hot day, of course. I think it’s hot the moment the sun comes up! Crocodylus Park and Zoo at Berrimah intrigued us and so this morning we set out to have a look at, and learn a few things about, the croco­diles that inhabit the Top End. Over 30 years of crocodile research and conservation has gone into this park and it currently has over 10,000 crocodiles from 30 centimetre (1 foot) babies to adults measuring 5 metres (16 feet) and weighing half a ton!

They breed them here!

We arrived early and wandered around inside the museum while we waited for the tour to start. Our guide, Rueben, was terrific. He started with feeding some  of the “girls” in the lake. Well, to say they were being unco-operative was something of an understatement. They just did not want to come to the party and so we moved on to the breeding pens. No kidding, they actually breed crocodiles here. Rueben told us that

The stuff nightmares are made of!

the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service tries to prevent crocodiles from breeding in the wild. They even go so far as to collect eggs and hatch them here. They do this to control numbers. At any given time there are, theoretically, only (only!) 75,000 crocodiles in the Top End. Theoretically. They are also bred for commercial use, shoes, purses, belts etc. I must say, the breeding pens were fascinating.

Dinner time!

Those big male saltwater crocs were in no way reticent when it came to feeding them! Some people in the tour actually got to feed the monsters and it was quite scary seeing those huge males jump right out of the water for a bit of chicken! But it was also funny seeing some of them in trouble with their “wives”, the much smaller female mate, for being on the wrong side of their pen. In spite of the difference in the sizes, the Crocodylus porosus species is most definitely a matriarchal society and the big guys know who the boss is! As it should be.

Saltwater croc. Sleeping? I don’t think so!

Never smile at a crocodile, never tip your hat and stop to chat a while!

Rueben frightened the life out of us when he climbed into the pen with the big fella, known affectionately as Eric and almost tame – well, as tame as a saltwater croc can be! But he explained to us that this old fellow wasn’t about to attack him. Too old and too well fed, I’d say, It was the croc in the next pen who wanted to jump over the fence and have himself a Rueben sandwich (pun intended). When Rueben finally left the pen, he led us along past the American alligators and the freshwater crocodiles to the raising pens. Literally hundreds of young “salties” were crammed into these pens and they didn’t seem to mind that they were lying on top of each other, all blissfully unaware that they were destined to become handbags, shoes, and belts.

Left holding the baby!

At the end of the tour Rueben brought out baby saltwater crocodiles for us to hold – their snouts were

Do we have an understanding here?

taped shut for our protection; we didn’t need to be snapped at by 60 razor-sharp teeth. At first I was reluctant in the extreme to even touch one of these things but once the creature and I had come to an understanding everything was fine. He simply needed to be made aware of the fact that he may not yet be big enough to be a pair of shoes but he’d make a neat purse! The tour over, we took the time to walk through the zoo. There are animals here from all over the world – lions, tigers, monkeys etc. – as well as native animals. The Zoo is now home to Sabre, a Bengal Tiger, who is the mascot of the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Born in 1992, he is 110 kilograms (295 pounds) of very proud beast.

Lunch at Cullen Bay Marina

After walking around under a blazing sun all morning, I wanted somewhere cool and shady and so we made our way to Cullen Bay Marina for lunch at the Boardwalk Café. The perfect place for a lazy afternoon in a tropical atmosphere, the marina has many beautiful privately-owned boats moored in its sheltered

Sabre

bay, protected from Darwin’s fluctuating 8 metre (26 foot) tides by a double-action lock. Only minutes from the Wharf Precinct, Cullen Bay has a much more tranquil feeling and we strolled along the boardwalk, debating whether or not to take a scenic cruise out into the harbour. It’s the only way to truly appreciate the beauty of the tropical coast. As luck would have it, today’s cruises were totally booked out and so we settled for a light lunch before returning to camp to spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool.

Fishing in Darwin Harbour

No visit to the Top End is complete without going fishing, or so the guys informed me. Somehow, the thought of spending hours in a little boat in the middle of Darwin Harbour while they fished did not thrill me

John and his catch!

so I opted out of that excursion. But John and our travelling companion, Robert, were both adamant that they needed to catch a barramundi and so off they went with King Kontis Fishing Charters. The half-day charter in Darwin Harbour visits various reefs and wrecks, including Middle Reef, Fish Reef, and Charles Point. I’m not exactly sure where they went and neither are they except that it was about 5 kilometres out from the marina.

The one that got away?

They did catch a lot of fish, so they said, but threw an awful lot back because they weren’t big enough. Right. And when they did catch something of “keepable” size, the fellow who owned the boat would snatch the fish away and have it filleted before they had a chance to photograph it! Finally John snatched the last one back after explaining that if he came back without a photo he would be the one getting filleted! They did, however, bring 9 fish back with them; unfortunately, no barramundi, only

Sunset at Mindil Beach

the fish they call the grunter. Now I’m not sure if they call it that because it makes a grunting sound or if that’s the sound you make when you’re trying to land the thing; I believe it puts up one heck of a fight.

Mindil Beach and one of nature’s most glorious displays

That night we decided to visit the Mindil Beach sunset markets. The first markets of the season, we expected them to be busy but not that busy! I think at least ⅔ of Darwin’s population had to be there. I have never seen so many people at an open air market. There was entertainment, stalls, and a mini United Nations of food; it was quite amazing! We parked at the Skycity Casino Complex and walked across to the markets. I wouldn’t have minded a visit to the casino and I definitely know how to make a small fortune in a place like that. You start with a large one! But the markets were fascinating and we wandered around, tried a couple of different cuisines for dinner, watched the entertainment, and bought a few trinkets. But, for me, the highlight was the sunset. Mindil Beach is very popular as a place to see a perfect sunset. A huge crowd had gathered on the sand,

Entertainment at the markets

some with their folding chairs, to settle down and watch one of nature’s most glorious displays. The only problem was that it was over way too quickly. Once that sun dipped below the horizon, the darkness settled over us like a shroud. Oh, but then the stars came out. It was a truly beautiful evening.

Decisions, decisions . . . 

We left not long after that and made our way back to the caravan park where we headed for the pool. We were hot and sticky and a swim was the perfect end to the day. The next day would be our last in Darwin until our next visit and it was a lively discussion beside the pool as to what we would see and do on said last day. Of course, a visit to the casino was a must and, finally, with our plans made we returned to our van and settled in for the night.

What a “Sweetheart”!

“Sweetheart”

We set off the next morning for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Located in the suburb of Fannie Bay, the gallery features art, history, and culture with its collections. There is a large exhibition of the greatest natural disaster in Australia’s history, the destruction of the city of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve 1974 when the entire population of 48000 people was made homeless by the strongest winds ever recorded on the Australian mainland. Opened by the Governor General of Australia in 1981, the museum’s most popular exhibit is “Sweetheart”. This was the name given to a 5.1-metre (16½-foot) saltwater crocodile that had a thing for attacking boats in the years between 1974 and 1979. Nothing was safe, including outboard motors, dinghies, and even fishing boats. It was finally caught by a team from the Territory Parks and Wildlife

Skycity Casino

Commission in 1979 but unfortunately, the big beast became tangled in a log and drowned while being transported. Its body is now mounted on permanent display in the museum. Just looking at those very well preserved teeth and the powerful jaws is enough to give you chills.

Dinner at Skycity

The end of our visit had come but there was still one place left to see and that night we went to Skycity where we enjoyed a superb dinner in the restaurant and afterwards spent a little time in the casino, finally leaving a little after 10:00 with our wallets considerably lighter than when we’d arrived. But we had had fun, and isn’t that what it’s all about? It was still hot and I couldn’t leave Darwin without one more swim in that fantastic pool at the caravan park. We had the pool all to ourselves and stayed for a little over 30 minutes before reluctantly towelling off and making our way back to camp. There was much that we didn’t get to see and do in our short stay here but there’s always next time!

2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Jabiru and Kakadu National Park

The town of Jabiru has the distinction of being the only Australian town inside a national park, the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Kakadu is the 2-billion year old jewel in Australia’s crown and the gateway to Arnhem Land. Covering over 20,000 square kilometres (7722 square miles), the contrasts in this stunningly beautiful vista will take your breath away and leave you gasping. From tranquil, lotus flower dotted

waters that hide saltwater crocodiles to areas of monsoon rainforest within the towering escarpments, Kakadu’s landscape is one of the most diverse in the world. More than 1000 species of plant, one third of Australian bird species, and a quarter of all Australian freshwater fish species are to be found here. The name ‘Kakadu’ comes from the Aboriginal ‘Gagudju’ and I believe that means ‘crocodile’!

The Bark Hut Inn

We took the Arnhem Highway into Kakadu and stopped for lunch at the Bark Hut Inn at Annaburroo, an historic icon approximately halfway between Darwin and Kakadu. The Mary River wetlands and Rock Hole billabong are close by and the inn offers accommodation and other facilities for those who want to explore the area. There was a tour bus parked outside when we arrived and the driver was in the mood to chat while he waited for his passengers. He very kindly told us of some of the best places to see and, more importantly as far as John was concerned, where to catch the best fish.

Jabiru, the hottest place I’ve ever been!

Lake Jabiru picnic ground

Armed with this knowledge, we continued along the highway towards Jabiru. Established in the 1970’s as a mining town, the present town was completed in 1982. It was modelled on Canberra and named after Australia’s only stork. And it is most definitely the hottest place I’ve ever been! We arrived at the Kakadu Lodge Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) in Jabiru at a little after 3:00, stepped out of the car (and the air conditioning), and almost melted. I could not believe how hot it was. I thought this was supposed to be the winter! Setting up camp didn’t take long and I wanted to explore the town.

Where’s the boat ramp at Lake Jabiru?

And what a neat little town it is! It has all the basics including a brilliant bakery. We also discovered Lake Jabiru which resulted in a drive around it while John, for who-knows-what-reason, looked for a boat ramp. Finally, after what seemed to be interminable circuits of this body of water, we stopped at the store and

First night bubbly with Two Tails

asked where the boat ramp is only to be told that there isn’t one; boats are not permitted on the lake. Many comments sprang to mind but I kept my lips sealed. It wasn’t easy, though!

First night bubbly in Kakadu

We returned to camp for our ‘first night bubbly’ ritual with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and later on went for a swim in the absolutely amazing pool. Designed like a beach, it is complete with spa and waterfall and is right beside the bar and bistro. Dinner, a glass of wine, and a dip in the pool; what more could we ask? The sun set in a stunning display of colour and darkness settled over the camp and it wasn’t long before I was heading off to bed but during the night I thought I heard a dog barking. This is a national park; I must have been dreaming.

A helicopter flight over Arnhem Land

The best days can sometimes be the ones that are unplanned. With nothing on our agenda for today, we

East Alligator River in Arnhem Land from the air

expected a quiet Sunday here in the park but we discovered that Kakadu Air operates some terrific scenic flights out over the Arnhem Land escarpment and this is quite possibly the only way we would ever get to see this beautiful piece of Aboriginal land without a permit. Having flown in a fixed wing aircraft at Uluru, this time we opted for a helicopter and I was quite excited at the prospect. Arnhem Land, like Kakadu, is a magnificent vista of diverse and ever-changing landscapes and not at all what one expects. The advertising blurb stated that a scenic flight over this timeless land would change your perception of it. It’s not wrong.

Overfly the Ranger Uranium Mine

We took off from Jabiru Airport and immediately turned to fly over the Ranger Uranium Mine. Uranium deposits were discovered here in 1969 by a couple of geologists who had detected some radiometric anomalies during one of their airborne geological surveys. Over the next 2 years several bodies of ore were detected. Energy Resources Australia operates the Ranger mine and commercial production of uranium has been under way since 1981. There were some pretty strong winds aloft and our pilot did a good job of keeping us steady and I think he realised that the mine held absolutely no interest for me because it wasn’t long before we were leaving it behind and heading for Arnhem Land.

Arnhem Land; unspoiled and stunningly beautiful

One of the few remaining great, unspoiled areas of the world, Arnhem Land is made up of lush rainforests, soaring escarpments, and savannah woodland. It covers 94,000 square kilometres (36,293 square miles)

Back on the ground after our flight

and is home to about 16,000 people. The Gove Peninsula, situated at the far north-eastern end of Arnhem Land is one of the last true wildernesses. This land, untouched and rarely visited by white people, is breathtakingly beautiful and we could well understand why the Aboriginal people fight so hard to preserve its pristine condition.

Not a dinosaur in sight!

We circled over Dinosaur Valley and Magela Gorge and were stunned by the extraordinary erosion of this area, the sharpest of sharp contrasts with what we’d seen of Arnhem Land so far, this is an area that can only be seen from the air, and really only by helicopter. I was glad we came. On the way back we had a 25-knot tailwind and it seemed to take only a few minutes before we were landing back at the airport. We collected our gear from the check-in counter (bags, glasses, hats etc are not permitted in the helicopter for safety reasons) and left the airport after the requisite photo call.

A stop at the Bowali Visitor Centre

The Bowali Visitor Centre has a wealth of information about Kakadu, along with a souvenir shop and a café. We drove out there from the airport with the intention of having a bite to eat for lunch and spent the next couple of hours wandering through the gallery and the displays. “Bowali” is the Aboriginal name for the local area and creek on land owned by the Mirrar clan. The galleries are remarkable and very informative with audio/visual presentations that give different viewpoints on Kakadu. We discovered in our wanderings that the “little dog” we heard barking at night is actually a barking owl and it does sound remarkably like a dog. So I wasn’t dreaming!

Warning sign

Crocodiles! They are watching!

By the time we left Bowali I was about ready for a quiet afternoon but John and our travelling companion, Robert, wanted to go fishing and so we drove out to the East Alligator River and Cahill’s Crossing, in the shadow of the Arnhem Land escarpment. We drove upriver a little ways where the Guluyambi river cruise departs and spent some time talking with one of the guides. He told us that there is a very big saltwater crocodile about every 100 metres (328 feet) along the bottom of the river with a few smaller ones and some freshwater crocodiles scattered between them. Never make the mistake of thinking that there aren’t any there, he said. Words I took to heart!

Fishing in the East Alligator River

We made our way back to the boat ramp after the cruise departed and John and Robert settled in for an afternoon of fishing. There were a number of warning signs about the crocodiles and we were certainly

The causeway at Cahill’s Crossing

heeding those warnings and taking extra care although at one stage Robert was right on the edge of the water. One of the locals suggested that he might want to move back from the edge. The river is actually the boundary to Arnhem Land and we were watching some indigenous people fishing on the other side. Now they really know how to catch fish. One lady we were watching was using a hand line and she hooked a small black-tipped shark, dragged it up onto the beach, and then walked away and left it. But she didn’t abandon her catch; she returned after a few minutes with a branch off a tree and proceeded to beat the thing to death! I was beginning to feel sorry for the shark!

Exploring Kakadu

When the sun started to go down we returned to camp. The last thing we wanted was to be on the boat ramp at dusk when the crocodiles are usually feeding. We had a drink at the bar before dinner and, after dinner, another swim in the pool. This is the life! And tomorrow was another day. The next day dawned and by the time we had finished breakfast it was already hot, hot, hot! I am so over this weather! An endless stream of 40°C (104°F) days is not fun! We decided to explore a little farther afield today and drove out to Nourlangie.

Nourlangie and “alien” rock art

This spectacular rock art site has some of the most detailed rock paintings we have ever seen. They are

Alien visitors?

quite beautiful, each one telling a story, and most of them thousands of years old. The 1.5 kilometre (about 1 mile) circular walk passes several outstanding art sites and even an ancient Aboriginal shelter. One of the sites even shows a drawing that certainly gives credence to those stories about aliens visiting us thousands of years ago. Most of the drawings are amazing in their detail but, like at Uluru, some are definitely the worse for wear, so to speak. Rock art is an important historic record of human habitation in this region and some of the paintings are extremely fragile. There are many constructed boardwalks around the galleries to protect the paintings from large animals, including people.

Stories of the Dreamtime

We followed the path and climbed up to the Gun-warddehwardde Lookout, a moderately steep climb but oh so worth it for the impressive views of Nourlangie and Kakadu’s escarpment. There is a solitary boulder sitting on Nourlangie Rock and the Dreamtime story tells of Narmondjok, a Creation Ancestor, who broke the kinship laws with his sister. It represents a  feather

Nourlangie Rock with Narmondjok’s headress

taken from his headress by his sister after they had broken the laws. There is also another Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent, who created passages through rocks and formed waterholes in Kakadu. The Rainbow Serpent is a powerful ancestor and is known by Aboriginals throughout Australia.

“Busy” crocodiles

The walk took about an hour and when we returned to the car we thought we might like to visit Anbangbang Billabong, one of the most beautiful waterholes in Kakadu, but it was still closed from the wet season. We discovered today that many of the places we want to see are still closed, unfortunately. The wet season is also the crocodile breeding season and the last thing you want to do is disturb one of those things while he’s “busy” – or even when he’s not! The Yellow Water region is one of Kakadu’s best known landmarks. The world famous wetlands, the most beautiful we have ever seen, are part of the South Alligator River floodplain. Located near the small settlement of Cooinda, Yellow Water is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including crocodiles.

Yellow Water Wetlands

Lunch at Cooinda

By now we were looking for somewhere to have lunch but we couldn’t stay at Yellow Water; there are no safe picnic grounds to stop at and severe warnings of extreme crocodile danger. We wanted to HAVE lunch, not BE lunch. Gagudju Lodge is located at Cooinda and we decided to have our picnic lunch in the grounds of the resort before continuing on to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls Gorge.

The Falls

Jim Jim Falls features a 2 kilometre (1.2 miles) return walk through monsoon forest to a deep plunge pool surrounded by spectacular 150 metre (492 feet) high cliffs and Twin Falls Gorge, 10 kilometres (6 miles) further on, is reached by a boat shuttle service from Jim Jim Falls. Saltwater crocodiles have been known to enter the plunge pool at Jim Jim and there are warning signs to that effect. Swimming is prohibited at Twin Falls Gorge for the same reason. The Falls are 43 kilometres (27 miles)

Gagudju Hotel

south of the Bowali Centre along the Kakadu Highway and then 60 kilometres (38 miles) from the highway along a track that is suitable only for 4×4 vehicles and only in the dry season. It’s quite a trek and I was bitterly disappointed to discover that the track was still closed from the wet season. I was so looking forward to seeing Jim Jim Falls, at least but, as John pointed out, it wouldn’t do to come face to face with a “saltie”.

Even the hotel looks like a crocodile!

Before returning to camp we stopped briefly at the Gagudju Crocodile Hotel, shaped to resemble the mighty predator that inhabits the Top End. From the ground we couldn’t photograph the whole of the hotel but I did manage to get the “head” and one “eye”. We returned to camp for a quiet afternoon and to catch up on a few things but the heat was oppressive. There were storm clouds gathering in the distance and I hoped we might get something from it. Later in the afternoon the wind came up and the temperature dropped about 10° but no rain fell. By 7:00 the next morning, it was already heating up to what would be another hot day as we set out to explore a bit more of this remarkable place.

Smart termites!

Along the sides of the highway are many thousands of magnetic termite mounds, quite a lot of them over 2 metres (6½ feet) high. These fascinating insects build their mounds aligned north and south to minimise exposure to the sun and maximise temperature control. They may not be the most intelligent little creatures in the world but termites are certainly smart! We stopped briefly at Muirella Park thinking that we might head down to Sandy Billabong but that road was closed too and so we continued on down the Kakadu Highway. The highway stretches 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Jabiru to Pine Creek, three quarters of the distance is inside the national park.

John at a termite mound

Down the road to Pine Creek

Pine Creek was established in the late 1800’s and is the Top End’s only remaining original mining town from the 1870’s gold rush. We stopped at Mayse’s Café there for a cup of coffee before heading back to Jabiru. I have to admit that it wasn’t the best coffee we’d ever had but it was good to get out and stretch the legs for a while. Our last day in Kakadu, we explored the town of Jabiru, not that there was much to see, but it was interesting nevertheless. The design of the town is such that it blends in with the natural environment as much as possible. It’s small but it does have a shopping centre that includes banks, supermarket, and post office. The town even has a golf course. We had a picnic lunch beside Lake Jabiru before returning to camp to begin packing up. To really see and appreciate Jabiru and Kakadu National Park would take more than the few days we had here. The phrase “jewel in the crown” is understating that magnificence of Kakadu. There is no place on Earth quite like it and if you only visit one region in Australia, it really should be Kakadu.

2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

 

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Katherine

Katherine, in the Northern Territory, is known as the “Crossroads of the North”. The Katherine region stretches from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Western Australian border and is an area steeped in pioneering and Aboriginal history. The town of Katherine is 317 kilometres (197 miles) south of Darwin and after the Overland Telegraph was established at Knott’s Crossing in the 1870’s the settlement became a service centre for

the surrounding cattle industry.

The Katherine Icon

The Katherine Icon, a magnificent bronze statue, greets you as you drive into Katherine from the south. The project of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, it was erected in 2002, the Year of the Outback and pays homage to those who work the land, past and present, and to those who will face the challenges of tomorrow.

 

Arriving at the caravan park in Katherine

We arrived in Katherine on a hot and sunny day in April and checked into the Shady Lane Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star]). And shady it certainly is, with its magnificent palms spread throughout the park. It didn’t take long to get our camp organised and have a bite to eat while we decided what to do first. A visit to the information centre after lunch was first thing and we learned there that the Ghan, Australia’s most famous train, is in Katherine today. John wanted to see the train – considering we had seen so much of the old Ghan in South Australia, he wanted to see one that actually works – however we couldn’t get close enough to it. We drove around to the station and managed a few photos but it was a little disappointing. High wire fences separate the road and parking area from the train.

Low Level Nature Reserve

A swim with the crocodiles?

Leaving the station we decided on a visit to the Low Level Nature Reserve on the banks of the Katherine River. 5 kilometres (3 miles) from town, it is a popular swimming, picnic, and fishing area for locals and visitors alike. There were signs all over the place warning of saltwater crocodiles but people didn’t seem to care and went swimming anyway! Not for me, thank you very much! I don’t fancy being any crocodile’s dinner! Colonies of Flying Foxes can be found in the trees lining the river and their constant chattering created an awful racket.

Fishing in Katherine?

On the way back we made a quick stop at Knott’s Crossing so that John could see what the fishing was like. The site of the original settlement of Katherine, today it is a popular place for fishing and relaxing.  There is a weir with a shallow crossing here that is reputedly very good for fishing and a man was standing on the weir but whether he was catching anything or not, we couldn’t tell.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly in Katherine

It was late in the afternoon when made our way back to camp and our “first night” bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. This tourist park is a lovely spot and really is, as the name suggests, a shady lane. Beautiful grassy sites set among palms and many other trees. The only real sticking point is the cane toads. These ugly things are all over the place here, especially the bathrooms and laundry at night and I shudder just thinking about them.

 

A breakfast cruise

We were out of bed long before the sun came up the next morning and off to Nitmiluk National Park – formerly Katherine Gorge. The Gorge itself is 29 kilometres (18 miles) from Katherine and we had arranged to take the Dawn Break Breakfast Cruise. There are not many things that can get me out of bed before sunrise on a Sunday morning but the chance to see the sun come up over Katherine Gorge is definitely one of them. Seeing the sun come up over those magnificent rock walls, the water so calm and clear, and the soft sounds of birds chirping as the gorge awakened made this the most perfect morning imaginable. The mist was rising above the smooth surface and the sun’s rays created rainbows.

Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park

Cruising the Katherine River

The cruise takes in 2 of the 13 natural gorges that have been carved through sandstone by the Katherine River over eons. The gorges are on different levels and so at the end of the first one we walked about 600 metres (about 1970 feet) to the next boat for our cruise through the second gorge. We took our time on the walk with cameras working overtime, not just us but everyone there. A big Aussie breakfast had been served while we’d cruised the first gorge and, more than pleasantly satiated, the walk did us good.

The “Rockadile”

We saw a number of interesting landmarks including Jedda Rock, the site of the final scene in that classic Australian movie “Jedda” (circa 1950), and the Rockadile, a rock that resembles the head of a crocodile. Our guide, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, claimed that this was the inspiration for Elton John’s famous “Crocodile Rock”!

The Rockadile

Sleeping crocodile? I don’t think so!

It was in the second gorge that we also saw our first crocodile in the wild, a freshwater crocodile – he was supposedly sleeping but I think he was checking us out! Then again, he could have found it all very ho-hum; boatloads of tourists would not exactly be a novelty to him! The cruise lasted for 2 hours and our guide, who was also the boat skipper, and the girl who served us breakfast were terrific and very knowledgeable and it was a perfect start to what turned out to be a very hot Top End Sunday. We left the Gorge and wandered off to see Springvale Homestead, the oldest original homestead in the Top End. Located 8 kilometres (5 miles) south west of Katherine, it was established in 1879. The four

The “sleeping” freshwater crocodile

huge South American Raintrees that surround the homestead were planted by the original owner’s wife; she wanted one for each of their children. The homestead is open to visitors and I found the history really interesting.

Historical Katherine

Later that afternoon John went for a walk to the Katherine Outback Heritage Museum. Located at the old Katherine aerodrome, it was originally constructed as an air terminal during World War II. Today it houses artefacts and information that provides an insight into the history of the Katherine region. During the 1930’s Dr Clyde Fenton became the first Flying Doctor, providing medical assistance to remote stations and the major exhibit at the museum is his original De Havilland Gypsy Moth. This and most of the other displays are housed in the original terminal building. John said it was fascinating but I thought he was crazy to walk all that way in this heat!

It’s school, but with a difference!

One of the places we missed seeing, much to my disappointment, was the Katherine School of the Air, the first independent School of the Air in Australia. It has been in operation for over 40 years and covers an area of approximately 800,000 square kilometres (308,882 square miles) in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The School of the Air is a correspondence school catering for students in remote outback Australia. Until 2003 classes were conducted via shortwave radio but these days are mostly by video

The Katherine Icon

-links or internet. So we made use of the pool this evening and it was fantastic! The water was cool but not excessively so like some of the others we’d been in. The days have been very hot and the nights warm which I suppose is not unusual for this part of the country at this time of year but it’s not something I’m used to and have had quite enough of it. Give me a cold, miserable, and blustery winter’s day any time!

Katherine, the Crossroads of the North

Katherine is the hub of the Katherine Region and is the third largest town in the Northern Territory. In the 1930’s the town had a population of around 250 but it became a major supply centre during World War II and today welcomes over 300,000 visitors a year. Positioned between three of Australia’s outstandingly beautiful areas, the Gulf Region, Kakadu, and the Kimberley in Western Australia, the town of Katherine is a perfect base for exploring the Top End. The Katherine River flows through the township and for millions of years it has been the centre of life and recreation for the local Aboriginals, the Jawoyn people. A pleasant and friendly town, it’s one I could go back to again and again.

2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon in the Watarrka National Park, 307 kilometres (191 miles) from Uluru, is one of the Northern Territory’s most remarkable natural wonders. We left the Stuart Highway at Erldunda Roadhouse and proceeded along the Lasseter Highway for 95 kilometres (59 miles) until we reached the intersection with Luritja Road. Very little traffic meant that we travelled at a steady pace and some 2 hours after setting out we stopped briefly for a coffee break in a

large, clear area just off the road at the Luritja Road turn-off to Kings Canyon.

Australia’s “Grand Canyon”

The road into the Canyon is sealed all the way which was surprising as we’d been told that the road was unsealed and rough in parts. Situated in the Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon is Australia’s Grand Canyon, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. The canyon is a sandstone chasm that plunges 270 metres (886 feet) and the canyon floor boasts luxuriant cycads around a waterhole in the aptly named Garden of Eden, an exotic oasis in the desert.

Kings Canyon at sunset

Caravan park at Kings Canyon

We checked in at the Voyager Kings Canyon Resort ([star][star][star][star]) and were given directions to the camping area where we had our choice of campsites. Choosing a site facing the canyon wasn’t difficult as, we discovered, they all face the canyon, and we soon had the camp set up. The Resort is a great place although we were surprised to discover that there is no mobile phone or internet service other than satellite. Not that that bothered us, it just seemed strange.

Red walls that glow

It was way too hot to do much of anything this afternoon but we drove up to the sunset viewing platform for a closer look at the Canyon. As the sun started to go down the canyon walls glowed with that red iron oxide that is so prevalent in the outback. A light breeze sprang up that evening as we settled in with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for our first night bubbly but it was still uncomfortably warm.

Dingoes and shoes!

Kings Canyon Resort is somewhat quieter at night than Ayers Rock and nowhere near as crowded but there is a lot more wildlife. Dingoes will come into the campground on a regular basis and will take

First night bubbly with Two Tails

anything not nailed down. They’re particularly fond of shoes and always the right one; don’t ask me how they know the right foot from the left foot but they always take the right shoe. Feeling very enthusiastic, I got up early to photograph the Canyon at sunrise but I think I was a little too enthusiastic and a little too early; the shots weren’t that good.

Exploring Kings Canyon

There are a number of different walks into and around the canyon including the famous Canyon Rim Walk. This is the one in all the travel brochures where people are standing right on the edge of the canyon rim to have their photo taken. Not really my cup of tea and we decided to do the 1.5 kilometre (approximately 1 mile) Kings Creek Walk instead. Kings Canyon and Kings Creek are part of the George Gill Range and Kings Creek, in particular, is of special significance for the Luritja Aboriginal people who are the Traditional Custodians of Watarrka. How spectacular it all is! At the start of the path there is a memorial to Jack Cotteril who opened Kings Canyon to tourism in the 1960’s.The path wound past the start of the Canyon Walk and I was so glad we weren’t doing that one; that climb was almost as bad as climbing Uluru! Definitely not for me!

The start of the Canyon Walk

Kings Creek Walk

But the walk we were on was stunning. The path meandered up the centre of the canyon beside a dry creek bed and we marvelled at the walls of the canyon towering above us. The large rocks scattered around were chunks of Mereenie Sandstone that had tumbled down from the sheer cliff face above us. It is said that the last major rock fall was in 1930 and I hoped they weren’t due for another one just yet!

An outback rainforest

We climbed over the rocks in the dry, rocky creek beds and were amazed at the rich plant life and the abundance of ferns. There is a theory that this part of Australia once had a somewhat more tropical climate and this section of the canyon certainly had a strong “rain forest” feel to it. At the end of the walk there is a

Mereenie Sandstone in a dry creekbed

bridge and some stairs leading to a viewing platform with seats and as we crossed over the dry creek bed we literally felt the temperature drop several degrees; it was enough to make us shiver!

The rim of the canyon 

We sat on the platform and watched the people from the Canyon Walk up on the rim, far above us. Some of them were walking right out to the edge and even sitting there with their legs dangling over. I wondered if there was a safety fence and if there is, then those people had to be outside of it! You wouldn’t want to suffer from dizzy spells! The viewing platform really is the end of the walk; the sheer walls of the canyon stand in front of you and there’s nowhere else to go but back the way you came.

People on the Canyon rim

A place of beauty and awe

We took our time on the walk back; there was such beauty here that it really needed to be appreciated with a slow walk but it wasn’t long before we were back at the carpark. The afternoon was quite hot and other than a walk around the resort we didn’t do very much. However there seemed to be a change in the weather overnight and a stiff breeze started blowing. We awoke to the sound of raindrops on the roof of the van but it wasn’t many raindrops and I thought we were lucky if it was a dozen or so. In fact I wondered if we had imagined it but a few more drops started falling as we packed up. Kings Canyon is a stunningly beautiful place but other than the canyon itself there’s very little to see and do and, in any case, our time here was very limited. Even so, as we drove away in the early hours of the morning I was glad we’d come. We’d heard and read so much about Kings Canyon that we would have been hugely disappointed if we’d missed it. As it is, the beauty and awe of this place will live with us for a very long time.

2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Kulgera

 

The SA-NT border crossing is more than just a line drawn in the sand. The site includes a free campground, barbecues and picnic tables, toilets, and an information bay. And a mere 21 kilometres (13 miles) north of the border is Kulgera, the Northern Territory’s southernmost town. It was early in the afternoon as we made our way towards the Kulgera Roadhouse for our first night in the Northern Territory.

A real outback caravan park

We checked into the Kulgera Roadhouse Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) and were pleasantly surprised by what we found. This is a real outback caravan park, red dirt by the acre and plenty of wide open spaces but it is far superior to some others we’ve seen. There are cabins and motel rooms as well as the powered sites, the amenities are very clean and there are a few patches of green grass here and there. And there is even a pool.

Artic in the Outback!

We made good use of said pool in the heat of the afternoon. Dived right in and discovered that it is the coldest water this side of the Antarctic! I had never been in water so cold – been in hot water a few times in my life but this was definitely the coldest! How do they do that? In the outback where summer temperatures often top 50°C (122°F) they have a pool that has freezing water! Amazing! Refreshed, if not quite frozen to the bone, after our swim we decided to do a little exploring, not that there was much to see.

Kulgera Roadhouse

A pitstop in the Outback

Kulgera is a small bush town surrounded by literally thousands of kilometres of cattle station. Although gazetted a town, it really is no more than a stopover along the Stuart Highway. Established as a sheep farm in the 1920’s, it was converted to cattle in the 1960’s. In 1955 a store was built on the site and over the last 50 years that store has evolved and expanded into the Roadhouse it is today.

Kulgera, the centre of Australia

This whole area is Pitjantjatjara Country and Aboriginal rock paintings can be found throughout the region. The only buildings in the town are the roadhouse and the police station but a few kilometres away is the Pioneer Museum, housed in a 1920’s outback homestead, and the Johnston Geodetic Station. Kulgera Roadhouse has actually been pinpointed as the geographical centre of Australia.

First night bubbly in Kulgera

Having seen almost all there was to see in Kulgera we returned to camp and went for a walk around the park before settling down with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to toast not only our first night in a new caravan park but our first night in the Northern Territory and the start of a new adventure. Kulgera is a great stopover point for travellers in the long journey from the bottom end to the Top End in Australia, a welcome oasis in that sea of red dirt. And I still don’t know how they keep that pool water so cold!

First night bubbly with Two Tails

‘Im n ‘er

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Mataranka

“Where lone Mount Desolation lies,
Mounts Dreadful and Despair
‘Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
In hopeless deserts there.”

So wrote Henry Lawson in is poem “The Never-Never Land” and whenever these words are spoken, they evoke the image of the ‘never-never’, a term meant to convey the meaning as

‘the most extreme area of the outback’.  The township of Mataranka, known as the capital of the Never-Never, is about an hour’s drive south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory.

The Never-Never

The whole area was made famous in the novel by Jeannie Gunn called ‘We of the Never-Never’. Written in 1908, it is the story of the nearby Elsey Station and the Elsey Station Homestead in the national park is an authentic re-creation of the original. 21 kilometres (13 miles) southeast of town is the Elsey Memorial Cemetery . The cemetery  is a significant part of Australia’s heritage. There are graves dating back to 1926 and it is the final resting place of many of the characters made famous in “We of the Never-Never”, including the author and her husband. The town was once described by the writer Sumner Locke Elliot as “this lonely strip of barren and seemingly endless sandy waste of ant-hills and stunted trees – thick, hot red sand in the winter time and a sea of mud during the dread Wet”.

Caravan park in Mataranka

Termite mounds in Elsey National Park

We arrived in Mataranka on a sunny late autumn afternoon and checked into the Territory Manor Caravan Park ([star][star][star]).  We were, unfortunately, too late to see the barramundi feeding but we were told that there were plenty of other things to see and do including the national park and thermal springs.

So much to see in Elsey National Park

In Elsey National Park, about 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Mataranka, the Roper River meanders through the park and flows through waterholes. Inside the park are some of Mataranka’s famous thermal pools. Korowan or Mataranka Falls is also located inside the national park. Water is redirected into the falls from the tufa dam. A tufa dam is created by lime build-up on the rocks from the spring water. Unfortunately, with only a few hours in town, the 4-hour return trek to the falls was out of the question this time. Instead we opted for a visit to Bitter Springs, a short walk down the road from our caravan park.

Bitter Springs Thermal Pool

Swimming in the thermal pool

Ringed by paperbark and palm forest, the pools of Rainbow and Bitter Springs bubble at a constant temperature of 34°C (93°F). We went down to the springs for a dip in the thermal pool late in the afternoon. They were not quite what we expected, not that I knew what to expect, but interesting just the same. The water, of course, is pleasantly warm and it is as clear as crystal. I’m not sure how deep it is but we could quite clearly see the bottom, even though we couldn’t touch it. The only down-side was the smell of rotten egg gas and the slime around the edges and on the ladder.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

What? Not fishing?

The water at Bitter Springs flows from Rainbow Springs at an amazing 30-million litres (793,000 gallons) a day. This tropical, spring-fed thermal pool is just 3 kilometres (approximately 2 miles) from the town and is set in a tropical woodland. The up-side was that John didn’t even suggest throwing a line in!

First night bubbly in Mataranka

After our swim we returned to camp and settled in for our first night bubbly, this time a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. It was a pleasant evening and we sat outside in the warm air long after the sun had set. Mataranka is often referred to as being nothing more than a couple of roadhouses and a pub on the highway but there is more than meets the eye. The history, heritage, and cultural diversity, as well as some amazing walking trails entice visitors to stay for a few days and explore this ‘Never-Never Land’. And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll be back and do some exploring of our own.

 2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Stuarts Well

90 kilometres (56 miles) south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway, Stuarts Well is the perfect base for exploring some of the Northern Territory’s most beautiful landmarks. The caravan park at Stuarts Well Roadhouse ([star][star][star]), also know as Jims Place, is lovely. It’s not 5-star and there’s an awful lot of red dust, and the amenities might be very old but they’re also very clean. There are lots and lots of marvellous gum trees for shade, there is a sparkling pool, a dam that is full to the brim

(and guarded by an emu, no less!), the staff are terrific and friendly, and on top of all that, there is the star attraction, Dinky the singing dingo!

A visit to Henbury Meteorite Craters

Our time here at Stuarts Well is limited and there is a lot that we want to see and do and so this afternoon we drove up to the Henbury Meteorite Craters. Along the way we stopped briefly at the Cannonball Run Memorial. Two competitors from Japan and two officials were killed in a tragic accident during the inaugural Northern Territory Cannonball Run in May 1994 and this memorial to the four men was erected on the exact spot where they died. Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been another Cannonball Run. It’s not far from the memorial to the craters but there is 11 kilometres (almost 7 miles) of unsealed road to negotiate first. It wasn’t that bad, more dusty than anything else and we arrived at Henbury little the worse for wear.

Henbury Meteorite Craters

A big hole in the ground!

There are 12 craters and most of them are small but the main one was truly amazing. A huge chunk of iron, weighing several tonnes, hit the Earth at an estimated speed of 40,000 kph (25,000 mph), over 4000 years ago. It fragmented before impact and the fragments were scattered over a wide area, the largest leaving a whopping great hole in the ground! This crater is 180 metres (591 feet) wide and 15 metres (50 feet) deep and there’s an eerie feeling as you stand on the edge, a feeling that you are seeing something alien. And that’s precisely what it is; it travelled from the interstellar outback and came to rest here. Man can only dream of making such a journey.

Another unsealed road

There is only so much time you can spend looking at a hole in the ground, no matter how amazing it is, and so we left the craters and made our way out to the Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve. Along 22 kilometres (14 miles) of yet another unsealed road, we passed some amazing examples of Central Australian flora, including desert oaks and grevilleas.

Rainbow Valley

Rainbow Valley, spectacular and majestic

Rainbow Valley is breathtaking; there is no other word to describe it. The claypan stretches over a kilometre (0.6 mile) in length and the spectacular sandstone cliffs of the main formation stand right on the edge. Nothing quite prepares you for its majesty. The free-standing formation is made up of some dramatic rocky outcrops and is thought to be around 350 million years old.

Exploring the sandstone cliffs

There was not a breath of wind and the silence was broken only by the buzzing of the flies. I think they lie in wait for unprotected faces; yes, I forgot my fly veil! We walked across the claypan to the base of the cliff and even climbed up a few of the rocks. There is a climb to the top but we thought better of it. Rainbow Valley is very isolated and we were the only people there. If one of us should be hurt climbing to the top, it’s a long to get help.

A golden glow in the setting sun

The colours of this saw-toothed ridge extend from a bleached-white sandstone at the base though yellow and orange to a deep red capping at the top due to the iron oxide that is dissolved by water in the artesian basin and drawn to the surface and higher rock levels. The bluff is most impressive at sunrise and sunset when it takes on a golden glow but unfortunately this day was overcast and so we missed seeing it in the setting sun. Even so Rainbow Valley is still a truly magnificent sight and something I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world.

Dinky the Singing Dingo

Dinky the Singing Dingo

By the time we returned to camp the day was well and truly on the wane and we stopped at the roadhouse bar for a drink where we were treated to a show from Dinky. Dinky is the world’s only singing dingo and he’s been serenading tourists at the roadhouse for over 8 years. Dinky’s owner, Jim Cotterill, also owner of the roadhouse, has owned Dinky since he was just a pup. He does actually sing along when someone plays the piano. A young girl, a tourist, sat down and started to play and the dingo jumped up onto the keyboard and started howling. He was terrific and looked like he enjoyed singing along. Of course, he could have just been a music lover!

A trip out to Chambers Pillar

It was still overcast the next morning and we’d had the odd drop of rain through the night but that was not going to deter us today. One of the 4 places that John had really wanted to see on this trip is Chambers

The road to Chambers Pillar

Pillar, approximately 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Stuarts Well. We took the Hugh River Stock Route, an unsealed road, which is a far better road than any other tracks we’ve been on (see previous entries for the Oodnadatta Track) and even though it was one long stretch of red earth, some of it loose, soft sand, we made good time.

Titjikala Aboriginal Reserve

Eventually we turned on to Old South Road which was rougher and sandier and after another hour reached Maryvale Station. There is a store and fuel supplies here but we decided not to stop and continued on through Titjikala Aboriginal Reserve. Titjikala is an alcohol-free zone and the Aboriginal Elders are quite strict about this. There are no fences around the reserve, that we could see anyway, but the piles of empty beer cans showed just where the perimeter is! Having said that, we found the few folks we talked to, when we took a wrong turn, friendly and helpful and we couldn’t ask for more than that.

Gates on the stock route

Just past Titjikala we turned onto the road to the pillar and this is where it became interesting. Deep sand drifts and tall sand dunes on a slightly narrowed road meant staying very alert for oncoming traffic. There had been, since we first started on the stock route, many gates to pass through. Now you always leave a gate as you find it. If it’s closed when you approach it, close it again after you pass through; if it’s open, leave it that way. On the last gate we’d passed there had been a sign warning us to keep our CB on UHF10 for oncoming traffic and to call on the general band as we approached each dune. As luck would have it we encountered a couple of 4×4’s towing camper trailers. They hadn’t called ahead but we were able to pull off to the side to let them pass.

Chambers Pillar

The magnificent Chambers Pillar

Finally we arrived at Chambers Pillar and what a magnificent sight! The main feature of the Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve, it is a 50 metre (164 feet) high sandstone column that has been eroded by forces of nature into its present configuration over 350 million years. We followed the path to the pillar and walked around the base. Amazing! It’s a long climb up the stairs to the viewing platform but well worth it when you get there. We had some outstanding views of other sandstone monoliths, most notably Castle Rock, a mere 500 metres (1640 feet) away.

A landmark in the desert

In the early days of exploration, before the coming of the railway, the pillar was a landmark in the desert on the long overland journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs. There are a number of names engraved on the pillar from the early explorers, some as far back as 1870. They did this to keep a record of their visit and to mark the pillar as an important landmark. The more recent engravings are just graffiti and are very illegal as it lessens the historical significance of the area.

A story from the Dreamtime

This entire area is also a Site of Aboriginal Significance and the following is an interesting Dreamtime story about the pillar.

“The Gecko ancestor Itirkawara left the Finke River and journeyed north-eastward. As he travelled he grew into a huge and powerfully built man of super human strength and extreme violence of temper. On the way home to his birthplace he successfully challenged and killed a number of unfortunate ancestors with his stone knife. Flushed with the ease of his successes he then disregarded the strict marriage code and took a wife from the wrong skin group. His enraged relatives promptly banished him and the girl.The two retreated into the desert, Itirkawara raging in fury, the girl shrinking from him in deep shame. Among the dunes they rested and turned into prominent rocky formations, Itirkawara into the Pillar, the girl, still turning her face away from him in shame, into Castle Rock to the north-east.”

Historical graffiti

An historically and culturally significant place

It was now late in the day and we didn’t think it would be too long before the tourist buses started arriving for the sunset viewing; like Rainbow Valley the pillar glows gold in the setting sun. But as it turned out, there were no buses this evening because an Aboriginal ceremony was scheduled to take place at the pillar. Chamber’s Pillar is of huge historical and cultural significance both to the white man and the Traditional Owners of this land. To them, it is a symbol of the need to observe the kinship laws and as a mark of respect we decided to leave early. With more than a 3 hour trip back to camp, that wasn’t such a bad idea anyway.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

See a photographic history of tourism in central Australia

We arrived back at camp in the early evening and sat out by the pool with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for our “first night” ritual. Now, I know it wasn’t our first night but we wouldn’t have missed Dinky’s show last night for anything.  We decided to have dinner in the roadhouse that night. Owner Jim Cotterill has a photographic history of tourism in Central Australia that is most interesting. The Cotterill family are well known in this area and have been running tourism businesses around here for over 50 years. In fact, the Cotterills cut the first road to Kings Canyon and ran the original resort there for a number of years.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves that evening; a delicious dinner, a fascinating conversation with Jim, and, of course, another serenade from Dinky.

Camels, the ships of the desert

Right next door to the Stuarts Well Roadhouse is a camel farm. Camels Australia, set on 3.6 hectares (9 acres) of natural bushland at the foot of the James Range, offers camel rides from only a few minutes

Camels Australia

duration to 5-day safaris through the outback. Seeing the heart of Australia from the back of a camel would be an interesting experience, to say the least. We wandered over to the camel farm for a few minutes as we prepared to leave Stuarts Well the next morning but, unfortunately, we were too early and they weren’t open; it might have been fun to have a ride so perhaps we’ll put that on our list of things we must do if we ever come back. Or not. Stuarts Well Roadhouse. What you see is what you get, basic and very outback. But it is also one of the best places we’d stayed at on our travels in the Northern Territory. There’s an underlying magic here and much more to Stuarts Well than meets the eye.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Threeways Roadhouse

Threeways Roadhouse is at the junction of the Stuart and Barkly Highways in the Northern Territory. From there you can head south towards Alice Springs, north to Katherine and Darwin, or east to the Queensland border. Hence the name ‘Threeways’. We were heading for Queensland and Threeways was to be our overnight for our last night in the

Territory. On our southward journey down the Stuart Highway we stopped at the village of Dunmarra for coffee. This is not much more than a roadside stop along the highway and got its name from a man named Dan O’Mara who went missing in these parts many years ago. His body was never found and the local Aboriginal people who helped in the search couldn’t pronounce his name. They called him ‘Dunmarra’.

Renner Springs, an oasis in the Outback

Our coffee stop over, we continued on our way towards the town of Elliot. A shady, outback town, Elliott was a staging point for convoys during the Second World War.  We didn’t stop in Elliot but continued on to Renner Springs.  This is more than just a roadside stop. With accommodation, hotel facilities,

Attack Creek Monument

restaurant, and fuel, it’s an oasis. During the building of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line in 1872, Doctor Frederick Renner, the medical attendant for the team working on the line, noticed a large gathering of birdlife and discovered the springs that now bear his name. 11 kilometres (7 miles) south of Renner Springs you will find Attack Creek and a monument marking the place where explorer John McDouall Stuart encountered hostile Aborigines on his first attempt to cross Australia.

The trucks are BIG in the Northern Territory!

We arrived at Threeways early in the afternoon and checked in to the Threeways Roadhouse Tourist Park ([star][star][star]). We set up camp and then set off to do some exploring. There were a few road trains parked at the Road-house and when you see them close up, you understand why they are called “trains”. The trucks here in the Northern Territory come in four sizes, small, big, bigger, and OMG (that’s oh my God!), depending on the number of trailers they are towing, and with a general

They’re called “trains” for a reason!

highway speed limit of 130kph (80mph) it’s best to stay out of their way! If one of those OMG ones passes you at that speed I think it would create a pressure wave that would just about blow you off the highway! And if you happen to come up behind a slow one (rare but it has been known to happen – once in 1965, I believe), well, you had better hope that there’s about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of straight road ahead because I reckon that’s what it will take to get past!

The Devil’s Pebbles

Approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Threeways Roadhouse is the Devil’s Pebbles, known to the Aboriginal people as Kunjarra. It is, as the name suggests, a smaller version of the Devil’s Marbles that we had seen at Wycliffe Well. The Pebbles are a ceremonial site of women. Here, dancing and healing rites of the Munga Munga Dreaming

Kunjarra, the Devil’s Pebbles

take place. These are important ceremonies for the Warumungu people who have been in this area for thousands of years. I particularly wanted to have a look at the Pebbles and we drove out there this afternoon but I must admit that I was a little disappointed in them. I don’t know what I expected but they simply don’t have . . . I suppose, the magnetism or the allure of their larger cousins.

Memorial

With a few photographs in the camera we left the Pebbles behind but there’s not a lot to see and do here. We drove a few kilometres to the north of Threeways where we stopped briefly at the memorial cairn to the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Inland Mission before

First night bubbly with Two Tails

returning to camp where we settled down by the pool with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. This was a little sad because instead of “first night bubbly” this was also for our last night in the Territory on this trip. The sun was setting on another beautiful day and tomorrow we would be on our way to Queensland for the next chapter in this adventure of ours. But for now we watched to sunset, listening to the sounds of the night as darkness settled over us like a blanket.

THE place to stop

Threeways Roadhouse is the perfect way-point. With accommodation ranging from camping sites to motel rooms, a swimming pool, and a restaurant/ takeaway with a licensed bar, it is THE place for weary travellers along the endless kilometres of the Stuart Highway.

 2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Uluru

Uluru is synonymous with Australia. Think of one and the other comes to mind. 96 kilometres (60 miles) north of the Northern Territory-South Australian border the Stuart Highway intersects the Lasseter Highway, the turn-off to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park and Yulara where the Ayers Rock Resort is located. With 244 kilometres (152 miles) to travel before we reached the Resort, we knew we were in for a long day and so after a quick stop for coffee we hit the road again.

Stations along the road to Uluru

Along the way we passed through Mt Ebenezer Station, the first Central Australian station to be owned by a person of Aboriginal descent. Located 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of Alice Springs, the station is one of the few Aboriginal-owned roadhouses in the Northern Territory. Apart from the usual offerings of fuel and meals, the roadhouse boasts an impressive art gallery with a range of local indigenous art.  Further along we came to Curtin Springs, 85 kilometres (53 miles) east of the National Park entrance. This looked to be the best place for lunch. A working cattle station, it was founded in 1943 and taken over by the Severin family in 1956. They’ve opened up the homestead as a stop for passing travellers. We found the food prices a little expensive with $13.00 for a hamburger but they are remote out here and freight would have to be factored into their pricing. And, of course, it’s the only place for a hundred kilometres.

Curtin Springs Roadhouse with resident emu

Emus at Curtin Springs

But what a delightful place! It has camping and motel units as well as the café, takeaway, and fuel, not to mention the acres of green grass, but it was the emus that fascinated me! They wandered around through the parking area and past the fuel bowsers without a care in the world. As you would if you were an emu. They weren’t bothered by cars or people and as long as we didn’t approach them they just went about their business. There were sprinklers watering the lawns the whole time we were there; they must have a terrific bore tapped into the artesian basin that runs under this country.

The road to Uluru

The “forgotten wonder” of the outback

The cattle station is also the location of Mt Connor, a 700-million year old mesa that is 3 times the size of Uluru. It is often called the “forgotten wonder” and the station organises regular tours and bush camps at the base of the mountain. Mt Connor reaches 859 metres (2818 feet) above sea level but only 300 metres (984 feet) is above ground.

Back on the road to Uluru

But Uluru was what we came to see and so after a quick bite to eat we were back on the road. We were still some 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the Ayers Rock Resort when we got our first glimpse of Uluru. How truly spectacular a sight that is! 348 metres (1142 feet) high and 9.4 kilometres (6 miles) around the base, it is the largest single-mass monolith in the world. These figures are impressive enough on their own but it is estimated that at least ⅔ of the monolith lies beneath the surface.

The One and Only, Uluru

Yulara, a purpose-built town

I couldn’t wait to see it up close and personal, so to speak. But first we had to settle in at the resort. What an amazing place is the Ayers Rock Campground ([star][star][star][star][star_half]) at the Ayers Rock Voyagers Resort at Yulara. It is huge! There are hotels, apartments, a campground, a shopping centre, police station, fire station, medical centre, and a whole lot more that we didn’t see as we drove through the town. We checked in and set about organising the camp before heading off to the local shopping centre. And what a surprise that was! The town might be remote but the folks here are certainly not doing it tough! Built to support the tourist industry around Uluru, Yulara was born in 1970 and proclaimed a town in 1976.

Dining in Yulara

The weather has been glorious and quite hot during the day although the nights are a little cool. The resort swimming pool is, understandably, a very popular place and we wandered past to check it out on our way to dinner at Gecko’s Café. I might have been tempted to try it out but, after all that travelling, the heat, and such a good meal at dinner, all I wanted was an early night and it wasn’t long before I was tucked up in my bed and fast asleep.

The one and only, Uluru

There are some days that you know will live in your memory for a very long time, if not for the rest of your life. Our first full day at Uluru was one of those days. When I think of the number pf people who expressed dismay that we wanted to come here I just shake my head. Uluru? Ayers Rock? What do you want to see that for; it’s just a rock. Well, that rock is the most magnificent sight you will ever see. It is not only one of the greatest wonders of the world but is a treasured icon to the local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, traditional owners of Uluru. For both these traditional custodians and the many hundreds of thousands of travellers that flock here, from all over the world, this is the physical and spiritual heart of Australia.

Mutitjulu Waterhole and caves

Rock paintings in Uluru

We drove out to the National Park in the morning and no matter how many pictures we had seen of Ayers Rock, nothing had prepared us for seeing it for real. We were awe-struck by this astounding sight. You can almost feel its ancient spirit and it’s not hard to understand the depth of feeling that the local Aboriginal people have for Uluru. Uluru can’t be experienced from the confines of a car; it was almost as if we were drawn to the Rock. We took the Kuniya Walk down to the Mutitjulu Waterhole and the caves where we saw rock paintings that were, quite literally, millions of years old. Some of the paintings were amazingly detailed and some had not stood the test of time and for reasons unspoken, the majority of people there tended to speak in hushed whispers, lest they disturb the spirits.

The path to the top

The climb to the top

Walking around The Rock is an experience that shouldn’t be missed and another one is the climb to the top. The Mali Walk leads to where the Rock climb starts. The climb is physically demanding and it is recommended that if you’re not reasonably fit or if you have any health problems, that you don’t attempt it. The Anangu ask that people not climb the Rock but, of course, some do. Personally I think they’re crazy – that path is almost vertical and since the climb was first opened some 35 people have died while climbing the Rock. That sort of thing can really put a dampener on your holiday!

Kata Tjuta means “many heads

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre is located at the end of the Liru Walk and there are several cultural and environmental presentations held there. It’s the best place to learn more about the significance of Uluru in Aboriginal culture. We could have spent all day at the Rock and the Cultural Centre but decided to visit Kata Tjuta, The Olgas, and come back to the Rock later. The name “Kata Tjuta” means “Many Heads”.  The 36 steep-sided domes are approximately 32 kilometres (20 miles) west of Uluru and along the way we passed the road to Kaltukatjara and the Western Australian border. This is all Aboriginal land and to travel that road requires a permit.

Walpa Gorge, a place of sacred men’s business

There are a number of fantastic desert walks through Kata Tjuta and you don’t need to be super fit to tackle them. The Valley of the Winds walk is renowned for its icy winter chill and the Walpa Gorge walk is very popular. We walked up the track to the Walpa Gorge but as it is a place of sacred men’s business, I felt

John in Walpa Gorge

that it would be disrespectful for me to continue. In fact, Kata Tjuta is sacred to the Anangu men and Traditional Law is still learnt and passed on today. Under these laws, detailed knowledge of the area is restricted to certain people within the tribe.  The name is pronounced ‘warl-pa’ and it means wind. Throughout the gorge there are many rare plants, some of which occur nowhere else in the world. John decided to go further along the rocky track into the gorge but he didn’t walk all the way to the end; it was a very hot day and he had no drinking water with him but he did go some distance into the gorge where it was definitely cooler in the shadows of this gigantic rock formation.

Uluru at sunset

Later that afternoon we returned to the National Park to photograph the Rock at sunset. If I’d thought the Rock was magnificent in the morning, sunset was spectacular! Unfortunately, the sun was

John and Margaret and the Rock at sunset

shining directly on the face of the Rock and so we didn’t see any of that deep rich red colour. In fact, for us it was a little insipid. Not that that made any difference; just being there was all that mattered. There was quite a crowd gathered at each of the viewing points, many with their folding chairs and snacks, prepared to stay until the very last rays of the sun faded from the sky. The Uluru sunset is known throughout the world as one of the most spectacular sundowns that you will ever see and the National Parks Service has made sure that there are plenty of vantage points. Even tour operators arrive with busloads of eager sightseers and the cacophony created by thousands of cameras clicking and whirring was enough to even drive the insects away!

First night bubbly at Uluru

We left the viewing area before the sun had completely set and returned to camp to settle in with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for our “first night” ritual. This had been a fantastic day and, yes, it will long live in my memory as one of the most amazing and moving experiences of my life. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Uluru from the air!

One of the best ways to really see Uluru is from the air. Whether you fly in a fixed wing aircraft or a helicopter, flying over the rock is another of those experiences not to be missed. We chose to fly by light plane with Ayers Rock Scenic Flights and they sent their shuttle bus to pick us up from the resort a little after 11:00. Our pilot, Josh, met us in the airport lounge and escorted us across the airfield to the plane. There are laws that prevent anyone from walking onto an airfield unescorted and the Federal Airports Corporation is very strict about upholding those laws. It really is for your own safety, after all. After the mandatory safety instructions we climbed aboard and buckled up and before too long we were

Uluru from the air

climbing to our cruising altitude of 1220 metres (4000 feet). Uluru is even more magnificent from the air than it is at ground level. We flew right around the Rock and photographed it from every conceivable angle, and even a few inconceivable ones. We could see some climbers but didn’t get too close; the last thing we wanted to do was startle someone. Although, John jokingly suggested that we buzz them and the pilot, not so jokingly, suggested that John might like to walk home!

The views were magnificent!

We overflew the Resort and had a close-up look at the exclusive executive tent resort where celebrities, including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, are reputed to stay from time to time. And this was as close as we were ever likely to get; there are security guards and fences to ensure that no one gets in uninvited.

Uluru with the Olga’s in the distance

Obviously celebrities, in spite of their public persona, need their privacy too. In the distance we could see the Olgas and behind us was Mt Connor. At a certain angle the Olgas, the Rock, and Mt Connor are all in a straight line giving credence to the theory that they were all part of an undersea mountain range millions of years ago, long before the water dried up.

Our names on the aircraft!

All too soon it was time to return to the airfield and there was a feeling of disappointment mingled, for me, with relief; I’m not a good flyer. It’s somewhat of a tradition to sign the side of the aircraft after your flight and so we left Ayers Rock Scenic

Signatures on the aircraft

Flights with a memento of our visit and, of course, we posed for the obligatory photograph with the plane before thanking Josh for a great flight, brilliant commentary, and a very smooth landing.

Uluru; it seeps into your soul

It was late that afternoon when we returned to camp and John and I went for a walk up to the Naninga Lookout. Our stay was over for we were leaving the next morning but we simply could not leave without one more look at this magnificent rock. I can well understand why some people make the trek here many times; the powerful spiritual presence that is Uluru seeps into your soul. I know we’ll be back someday, I feel it in my bones.

 2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well is not a town. It’s not even a village. But it was number one on my list of places to visit in the Northern Territory. We set off from Alice Springs along the Stuart Highway travelling through endless stretches of seemingly flat land. Harsh and beautiful, this is the real Australia. In the early days life was tough out here and I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for the pioneers who opened up this country. One

thing is for sure, it must have been one heck of a shock to the system!

A stop at Barrow Creek for lunch

We passed the Tropic of Capricorn marker about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Alice Springs and then stopped at the Barrow Creek Roadhouse for lunch; the temperature had climbed both inside and outside the car and it was good to let it have a rest. Barrow Creek was an important point of the Overland Telegraph Line and the Telegraph Station, built in 1872, is still standing today. Of course these days Barrow Creek is more famous, or infamous, as the site if the disappear­ance of British backpacker Peter Falconio in 2001.

Australia’s UFO Capital

Finally, after 308 kilometres (236 miles) and several hours on the road, we arrived at the Wycliffe Well Roadhouse Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]). To say we were impressed is definitely an understatement. Since World War II there have been countless sightings of strange things in the sky here at Wycliffe Well and in fact the area has such a reputation for the unexplained that even the Royal Australian Air Force has conducted investigations. The owner of the park has capitalised on those sightings and turned Wycliffe Well into the UFO capital of Australia.

Sign at the caravan park

Interesting amenities for Maliens and Femaliens!

Everything about the park is UFO-oriented, from the sign warning that you are entering a UFO landing site to the green aliens that greet you at the front of the park, and the amazing murals on every wall. There is UFO or space-themed things around the whole park, even in the swimming pool with its paintings of aliens on the pool bottom, and the amenities for “Maliens” and “Femaliens”. The park has a licensed restaurant in the Galaxy Auditorium and Lake Wycliffe, a lake covering 4 hectares (10 acres) was under construction during our visit. When completed the lake would hold 150 million litres (32 million gallons) of water and will be well stocked with fish and red claw crabs. Enough reason for John to want to come back!

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Indulge in a little UFO-spotting!

We made good use of the pool that afternoon and the water was refreshingly cold, although not as cold as some we’ve been in, and this evening we sat outside in the surprisingly warm air and toasted our new adventure with a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. Later that evening we indulged in a little UFO-spotting. I had heard that if you didn’t see something then you were unlucky. Well, between us, all we saw was 4 shooting stars, including one that fairly streaked across the sky. Does that count?

Plenty of beer and no UFO’s!

The bar here is reputed to have the greatest selection of beers of any bar in the world. That probably has a lot to do with the UFO sightings but, then again, this place is pretty close to Pine Gap, a satellite tracking station and defence research facility operated by the Australian and US governments, and who knows what they get up to there! In any case, by the time we went to bed my sore throat and dripping nose had become a full-blown cold and if any aliens had landed and said “take me to your leader” I probably would have said “yeah, yeah, whatever!” I must admit I was disappointed not to have seen at least a moving light or something. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow night.

Aliens at the park!

The Devil’s Marbles

After a night that was very warm and noticeably devoid of UFO activity we set off early the next morning, before the heat of the day, for the Devil’s Marbles, known as Karlu Karlu in the Aboriginal Dreaming. According to the stories from the Dreamtime this is where the Rainbow Serpent laid her eggs. Located 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Wycliffe Well, this outstanding geological feature consists of granite boulders scattered over the plain.

Karlu Karlu, the Devil’s Marbles

 

The Bunyip!

There is a network of walking tracks throughout the marbles and we walked through the boulders totally amazed at the way some of the rocks just balanced on top of each other. It didn’t look like it would take much of a push to have the whole lot tumbling down but these rocks have stood like this for millennia so, truthfully, it would take an awful lot to shift them. The whole area is part of the Davenport Range and in all the literature we’d read not once was there any mention of the mythical “bunyip”. However, I was certain that I saw one; he even posed for a photograph! It was when that “bunyip” asked what was for lunch that I reminded him that we’re not supposed to feed the animals!

The “bunyip”

Stories of UFO sightings

Karlu Karlu is well known for its diverse range of wildlife, particularly birds and it provides a secure breeding ground for Fairy Martins and Zebra Finches and a lot of different breeds of lizards. The flora in the area includes native Rock Figs. The day was really hot and after we returned to the park John and I went for a swim and later wandered around the wonderfully air-conditioned park office. There are a number of newspaper articles about various UFO sightings covering the walls. We found these really interesting and even for a non-believer some of the stories can’t be explained away as natural phenomenon or man-made. A couple of the stories were weird and some even sent a chill up my spine, especially the one where some people claimed that a strange light chased them along the highway late one night. We had planned to leave before sunrise the next morning but now I was beginning to wonder if that was a good idea! We spent some more time sitting outside in the evening but I guess we just weren’t lucky this time. The sky was enormously beautiful with all the stars in the heavens on show but absolutely nothing was moving up there, no planes, no helicopters, no flying saucers, not even a kite! Nothing, zip, nada!

Maybe next time!

When we left in the wee small hours there was no traffic, Earthly or otherwise, but I made a firm resolve to return one day to this “otherworld” patch of ground they call the UFO Capitol of Australia. And, of course, John wants to fish in that lake.

2009

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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