The Wet Tropics

From desert like countryside to rain and mist was a bit of a shock. After brilliant sunshine every day we now had constant cloud but it is called the wet tropics for a reason. We started in the Atherton Tablelands and visited lots of waterfalls so we couldn’t complain about the wet. We revisited all out favourites from previous visits. A highlight was being shown a Lumholz tree kangaroo high in a tree at Millaa Millaa caravan park – it was a long way away but it was in the wild!

We next visited Paronella Park after having recommendations from everyone who has been to this part of Queensland. Built by Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella in 1929-35 it was a popular pleasure garden and the site of the first power plant in North Queensland. It thrived until setbacks saw it closed in 1979 until being revived by the present owners in 1993. It is once again a thriving tourist attraction and very well presented with camping available and tours provided with entry.

We took a couple of inland deviations to Tully Gorge and Blencoe Falls. Tully Gorge was up an easy bitumen road to a campsite where we watched the parade of rafters and kayakers who come to this river every day. Blencoe Falls was over the ranges on a rough dirt road to an amazing waterfall and peaceful campsite by the creek.

Jourama Creek was another favourite campsite that had to be revisited and then we found our way to Broadwater camp in Abergowrie forest with only one wrong turn. It has a huge camping area that we had almost to ourselves apart from visits by goannas. A night at Taylor’s Creek amongst all the fishermen camped there long term allowed us to enjoy modern amenities.

Outback Queensland

After missing Lawn Hill on every trip to Queensland because it was too far out of the way, this trip we made sure we got there. First stop in Queensland however was Camooweal where we stayed on the waterhole with all the other caravanners. Everyone had their water view and the bird life was great with resident brolgas. We drove out to the caves in the national park which turned out to be sink holes and the caves could not be accessed. It was still worth a visit with Great Nowranie cave in particular being impressive.

On the way to Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla NP) we passed through Riversleigh, the site of the first fossils found in Queensland. The information centre is in a man made rock and a walk takes you around the site with some rocks with fossils on display.

We couldn’t book into the national park campsite due to school holidays but Adel’s Grove is not far away and has more services. On our first day we hired a canoe and paddled up the middle and upper gorges. It was a great introduction to the gorge. The hardest part was the portaging of Indarri falls as we maneuvered ourselves in and out of the canoe and then hauled it overland. The next day we helped a large man who was having trouble getting back in and kept swamping the canoe.

Walking gives a different perspective as we peered down on the water from above. It made us hotter too so I had a swim at Indarri Falls.

We headed to Karumba, the winter hangout of fishermen, and quickly left again. At Normanton we visited the empty station and then caught up with the Gulflander as we drove along the road to Croydon. Cumberland Chimney was an unexpected highlight. We stopped for one night and stayed two as we enjoyed the birds brought in by the dam, a relic of mining days.

Litchfield to Limmen

We thought while we were so close to Darwin we’d better have a look though we’re not big on cities. We spent a day looking at the museum which had a good display on Cyclone Tracy and the natural history was well done but unfortunately the aboriginal art was closed for renovations. We strolled through the Botanic Gardens and finished at Mindil Beach night market where we bought tea.

We headed down to Berry Springs and had a day at the Territory Wildlife Park which was much more ‘our thing’. We started with the bird display and then made our way around the various habitats with the aquarium, feeding of the whiprays and the bird aviaries being our favourites. Well worth a visit!

It was then into Litchfield National Park, the alternative to Kakadu but I found it quite different. It was more about waterfalls and swimming. Wangi Falls was very impressive and a great campsite as well as good swimming.  Tolmer Falls are very high but hard to capture. The Cascades were fairly ordinary and Florence Falls was smaller though the walk along Shady Creek to the falls was lovely. Buley Rockhole was a series of small falls and little rockholes – we arrived early and enjoyed it’s charm until the swimmers started arriving and filling up the holes. The Lost City can stay lost (fairly ordinary) but the ranger talk at the magnetic termite mounds was very informative.

We passed Robin Falls on the way to Douglas hot springs (not as good as Bitter Springs) and then headed off the tourist track to Limmen NP. The road reflected that being corrugated, full of bull dust holes and with unexpectedly deep creek crossings. The north part of the park was great for fishermen. We stopped off at Butterfly Springs but weren’t tempted to swim. Next stop was the Southern Lost City which was definitely worth a stop with a walk between the formations of towering sandstone spires. We also visited Caranbarini between Borroloola and Cape Crawford where the spires were much fatter and the path wound through narrow alleyways. Our journey through the Northern Territory ended across the Barkly Tablelands with vast areas of grassland.

 

 

Kakadu

I’ve heard all the talk about Kakadon’t and Kakadu versus Litchfield but we went anyway to see for ourselves. As long as you have the time to visit all the different highlights we found it was full of variety and amazing places but if you don’t have time to see it properly, by all means go to Litchfield which is beautiful too. Kakadu has more variety with natural scenery and cultural sites as well.

First we stopped off at Umbrawarra Gorge, a pretty little gorge off the beaten track. Then it was in to Kakadu to visit the escarpment at the bottom of the park. This provided the swimming holes and waterfalls lacking in the north. We stayed at Gunlom and were wary of the bottom pool until we saw others swimming there, but the best place to swim was at the top of the falls in the small pools with a sensational view. The host campground manager told us about Motorcar Falls so we ventured there while driving out. The falls were pretty but low in water but the swimming hole was one of the best I have seen. We sat on a big rock at the edge with the waterfall trickling opposite surrounded by this big, green pool.

A visit into Maguk gave us another waterfall and huge pool. We also found the track to the top of the falls where the stream makes its way through a narrow gorge. I wasn’t brave enough to swim through as others had but admired it from the rocks. I was a little nervous at our campsite as there were fires in every direction but this is standard for the dry season in the Northern Territory and they don’t pose a threat, just give glowing red sunsets.

Next stop was Nourlangie Rock with its galleries of rock art. It is certainly more extensive and vibrant than anything we see in southern Australia. More  crocodile warnings meant we couldn’t complete the circuit around the lagoon.

We elected to take the sunrise cruise at Yellowwater for the bird life but we got our share of crocodiles as well with one swimming by and later as they sunned themselves on a bank. One freshwater crocodile gave us a chance to compare their relative sizes. The jacanas were fascinating with their oversize feet allowing them to stride around on the lily pads and dad hid the chicks under his feathers when we got too close creating a comical bird with many legs.

At Ubirr Rock there was another impressive display of rock art and we sat on the rock with everyone else for the sunset. We then returned to our camp and cooked in the dusk swarmed by mosquitoes before retreating to the tent to eat.

Jatbula Trail

I would highly recommend any bushwalkers persist through the booking woes and walk the Jatbula Trail. Every campsite is paradise. It has been on my wish list for a long time and when we knew we were heading up the centre I tried to book. Only 15 walkers are allowed to depart each day and when I tried in April it was full until September. When I looked at the websites of the guided walks I found they only had one or two people booked when they had up to eight spaces. There seems to be an unfair advantage for the guided companies as against individual walkers, especially ones who don’t jump on when bookings open. However they have devised a fallback system where you put your name on a reserve list and they let you know when there are vacancies. We were pleased to be offered spaces when we had been on the road for a couple of weeks. It meant we had to leave Alice Springs sooner than we would have otherwise but we didn’t want to miss out.

We caught the boat across the Katherine River early on the morning of June 6 and pushed our way through the tall spear grass. When we were unsure of the route we looked for the trusty blue triangles and we needed to search a few times in the trip. The Northern Rockhole was the first attraction but we were advised not to swim as they weren’t 99.5% sure it was free of crocodiles. We then had the biggest climb of the whole trip as we ascended to the escarpment but it was done very gently on a four wheel drive track. Soon we were at camp where we quickly met the other walkers as we set up tents and then made for the water. Pools above and below the Biddlecombe Cascades were suitable and refreshing. Another couple of walkers arrived in camp late having left at 1.00pm and walking in the heat of the day after taking up a vacancy at very short notice. The eating of dinner with a view was popular.

Due to temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s we were advised to start early so we were up before the sun and walking by 7 each day which meant we were in camp by lunchtime. The 2nd day meandered amongst the rocks and we spotted some of the rock art. Another pool was admired but we waited to camp for our swim. We had to cross the wide Crystal creek to see the impressive falls and used it as a rehearsal for the next day with packs. Luckily an easier crossing place was found and one of our new friends helped us across. We all bonded over shared stories and experiences.

More easy walking across the plateau dodging termite mounds and following blue triangles. A highlight of the walk is to visit the Amphitheatre, an enclosed gorge with rock paintings. It was made easy with a staircase leading us down. A view across to 17 Mile Ck Falls and we knew that camp was near. We spent the afternoon exploring up and down the creek and invading the Gecko (guided group) camp. We had the best views over the falls and down the valley watching the sun set and the full moon rising.

The next day was the big 17km day and we were all up super early with some of us leaving by torchlight. The problem with that is we found ourselves following the triangles to the helipad. Clouds had come over in the night and provided a glorious sunrise. They also hung around and blocked the sun making for a much cooler day. We enjoyed the walking as we left the plateau and walked through greener countryside as we approached Edith River. We were surprised when we arrived at the crossing at 10.30. Some had an early lunch and we continued on downstream. We finished walking through boggy grass but it was only half way up the boots and never bottomless holes like Tasmania. We had to cross the river above Sandy Pool on a rock bar which quickly became notorious claiming three of the walkers slipping while crossing. A huge pool beckoned for swimming while the rock pools at the crossing were also popular.

Our group that started as five groups of walkers and had become a group of 11 was starting to break up the next day as two had to leave and miss the last camp. More grass, scrub and bogs led us to Sweetwater Pool, another huge pool by rocks. We had to share it with day walkers and people who had walked in to stay the night. We were farewelled with an amazing sunset and then a very easy last day before final goodbyes at Edith Falls.

From Alice to Katharine

We headed on north up the Stuart Highway aiming for the Devil’s Marbles which neither of us had seen before – only photos to whet our appetite. Every 2nd caravan on the highway mast have had the same idea as at 3.00pm we found we had to squeeze into a space between two others and late comers ended up at the day area. It was worth it all as we strolled among the vast array of boulders as the sun caused them to glow. Sunset wasn’t enough as I headed out again for starlight and sunrise.

We stopped at Daly Waters which is a classic outback pub but a crowded dusty caravan park and I wouldn’t bother again. On the advice of the lady at Standley Chasm we headed for Bitter Springs instead of Mataranka and she was right. We walked from the park to the springs where we could float down through the clear water with our mask and snorkel studying the underwater world and spotting fish and turtles. We had a look at Mataranka but the concreted pool wasn’t as nice and was much more crowded. Morning was even nicer without the crowds as mist rose from the water.

We stayed at the gorge at Nitmiluk (Katharine Gorge) and after walking to the lookout in the evening, we were up early for the sunrise cruise the next day. The flying foxes were returning from their nightly forage and made sure we didn’t sleep in. The sun gradually lit up the cliffs as we headed up the first gorge. We had to get off the boat and walk to the second gorge to continue our trip. We then returned back to the beginning.

The Red Centre

We headed back to Uluru after having been there only two years previously because we’d seen and heard good reports of the Field of Light. It certainly draws in the crowds with Canapes or dinner on the dunes and busloads of viewings each night. I went for the canapes so I could be there at sunset and up on the dune with a view of the rock behind. The food was good with bubbly to drink and the light show was spectacular. We watched Uluru change colour and then the lights slowly start to glow.

I went to Uluru for sunrise but they have put the viewing area so hardly any of the rock receives sun and I had to drive around to better viewpoints. We then headed for Kata Tjuta which we find much more interesting. We repeated our favourite part of the Valley of the Winds walk.

Rainbow Valley was another place that deserved a second visit though we didn’t get our burst of sunlight at sunset this time, only an hour before which was nearly as good.

We had broken our back window on the Oodnadatta Track so had to visit Alice Springs to get a new one inserted. Unfortunately our arrival coincided with the weekend but it was no hardship to go out to Trephina Gorge and redo our favourite walks again. Chain of Ponds was still a highlight and there was a little water in Trephina Gorge this time for reflections.

Back in Alice we got our window fixed and stocked up to do section three of the Larapinta Trail, another interesting section after completing the best bits – four and five – two years ago. We left our car at Standley Chasm and climbed up with packs this time to enjoy the views that so impressed us and had drawn us back. The ups and downs are beautifully stepped in this section, harder to walk but less chance of slipping on loose rocks. Leaving the chasm area we climbed to a saddle to give us a view of the terrain ahead. The trail led us quickly to a creek bed where we had to negotiate a ten metre waterfall. Luckily it wasn’t as hard as it looked. On down the creek bed we continued, a  feature of this section of the walk. We stopped for lunch and decided to bypass the harder alternative route along a ridge as we were already weary. A kilometre of walking down a bouldered creek bed didn’t help but the track did improve after that. We wearily reached Fish Hole, a lovely waterhole, and then plodded up the sandy creek bed to the welcome sight of camp, a luxurious shelter complete with table, sleeping platform and frisky mice that emerged after dark to try and get our food.

The next day we returned along the same route and it didn’t seem as bad, I think because we knew what to expect.