We’ve learned not to plan too much but sometimes we just seem to forget. It seemed simple enough, head to Timber Creek, find somewhere to leave Julie’s vehicle and then head into the western section of Judbarra (Gregory) National Park to explore some of the 4WD tracks for a few days. We could then explore some of the walks in the eastern section of the park with unofficial overnight stops at a couple of the starting points for walks up the escarpment. That should get us to Katherine in time to have a couple of days at Leliyn (Edith Falls) then time to explore Litchfield National Park before reaching Darwin in time to attend the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Awards and the Darwin Festival.
From Kununurra we set out east toward Timber Creek and Katherine along the Victoria Highway. As we didn’t start until early afternoon we planned to spend the night at a roadside rest stop. We were amazed how many caravans and motor homes were on the road and a good number of them had the same idea about spending the night at the rest stop so it was well and truly packed out. Scratch that part of the plan, we decided to find a track off the highway we could get out of sight and bush camp for the night.
We found a few likely looking tracks but they soon led to fences so when we reached the turn to an Aboriginal Community we decided it offered more chance of getting away from the main road. A few kilometres along the track Paul loses power and the entire electrical system closes down. A check of fuses and under the bonnet doesn’t reveal any obvious causes and we decide a tow into Timber Creek in the morning will be the best option. First though we have to do a three point tow turn, Troopies are far too heavy for us to push and turn. That accomplished we returned to the highway where we spent the night in a small clearing at the intersection.
The 100km tow into Timber Creek was accomplished with no drama apart from snapping the tow rope and replacing it with a snatch strap. In Timber Creek we found the workshop at the service station is no longer in operation but there was another mechanic in town who might be able to help. As all this is on a Sunday we didn’t expect any action but to our surprise a mechanic was there working and happy to have a look. He had no luck finding anything but an electrician lived next door so the mechanic woke him from his Sunday afternoon nap and he willingly came and had a look as well. By now the afternoon was wearing on so the Troopie was locked up in their workshop for the night and left for a fresh look in the morning.
We spent the night at a very pleasant caravan park in Timber Creek and called back in the morning. They had been hopeful of getting it mobile again but although they found the main fuseable linkhad blown they couldn’t identify the cause … so after being repaired it would just blow again. Definitely a job for an auto electrician and the nearest is in Katherine almost 300km east or Kununurra 230km west. We don’t want to head backward so we can either have it taken on a truck for the bargain price of just over a thousand dollars or we can continue the towing. It’s not exactly legal but cops out here in the Top End recognize sometimes there are not many options and we decide to take the chance.
First though we want to explore some of these 4WD tracks in the area, we’ll just change the plan and take the Hilux instead of the Troopie. The guys are happy to look after the Troopie for the four nights we want to spend in the national park and will push it in and out of the secure area each day. How nice is that! The guy at the caravan park had also said we could leave a vehicle there for four nights at no charge, this is sure a friendly little place.
Four Days Later … and back from our time in the national park (see Tough Country for more about this time) we book the Troopie into an auto electrician in Katherine for the following Tuesday and confirm we can drop it off on Monday afternoon. That gives us three nights to get there so we decide to break the journey at Victoria River Roadhouse. It’s another 100km tow and once again it goes smoothly. We’re lucky with only a few road trains needing to pass us and we only need to pull off the road once to let an accumulation of following vehicles past. The hills as we pass through the Victoria River Range are a bit tricky as the Troopie rolls down the hill faster than the Hilux so a mix of acceleration by Julie and braking by Paul with only the non-powered emergency brakes in the Troopie minimise the slack in the ’snatch strap’.
Once in the camping area at the Victoria River Roadhouse we decide to make the best of the situation and set up in a shady spot for three nights, take the camper off the back of the Hilux, and use the time to explore the area. That’s where the next hitch in the plans comes in. The spot we pick for good shade has a slight side-ways slope. While we know we are best being on level ground to take the camper off we decide this should be OK. Wrong! The slope is more than we figured and as we are winding the camper legs up it starts to move sideways down the slope. We manage to prevent any major problems but by now we are committed and have to continue the job. It’s very tricky getting the Hilux out safely but eventually the camper is wound down to a safe and steady level. Time for a beer or two to calm the nerves and start to debate how we will be able to get the camper mounted back on the Hilux!
Right now the weather decides to take a turn for the hotter so our plans for walks up the escarpment are somewhat curtailed as we seek the shade during the day. Paul heads to the Escarpment Walk for some late afternoon photography and the plan for the Joe Creek walk changes to a drive to the picnic area then a drive down some tracks to the Victoria River in a couple of spots.
Back at camp it’s time to tackle the scary job of getting the camper back on the Hilux. Once again the people are super friendly and helpful and we borrow some timber to help the process. Instead of a half hour job we end up working in the heat of the day for three hours to make sure we keep ourselves, the camper and the car safe and secure. Eventually the job is done successfully, we’ve both well and truly learned the need to make sure we are level before tackling this again. Time for another beer or two accompanied by a huge hamburger and some hot chips.
The next tow is almost 200 km and we have to negotiate a busy town at the end. Although it takes concentration to minimise any slack and try not to be too much of a nuisance to other drivers there are no problems, even when a police vehicle passes with hardly a glance. Luckily the auto-electrician is on the northern side of town so we don’t have to go through the very busy heart of town and with great relief, to Julie at least, we drop the vehicle off with no drama.
A night at a caravan park in town reinforces our desire to be out bush so we decide to spend a couple of nights at Edith Falls, a 70km drive north of town, while we’re waiting for the Troopie. We can ring in from there to check on progress. So with some relief we head north out of town and secure a camp at Edith Falls.
While we are there we call the auto-electrician a couple of times and eventually we get the welcome news the problem has been fixed but when we get back to town we find they have managed to fix the fuse but haven’t identified the cause of it blowing in the first place. After several hours doing some shopping and hanging around waiting the cause of the electrical short has been properly identified and repaired.
By now it is late Thursday afternoon so the earliest we can reach Litchfield National Park will be early afternoon on Friday. Now the one thing we have told ourselves (and others) about Litchfield is that it is well worth visiting but it is always busy and weekends are particularly busy so avoid them. Not only is the weekend approaching but it’s a long weekend and that definitely wasn’t part of our plan. Spots like Florence Falls and Wangi Falls will be packed. To avoid the crowds we’ll spend the weekend in the southern section of the park which is only accessible by 4WD. There are two campgrounds in this section so we figure one night in the first and two in the second should be OK and from there we can head to Wangi or Florence Falls.
The first campground at Surprise Creek Falls is almost empty when we arrive in the early afternoon but later the same day the weekenders from Darwin start arriving and keep coming. Every camp site is soon full and extras are camping in the day visitor area and along the entrance road. OK! So let’s change the plan to move over the weekend, we’ve got a good spot and we’ll stay put until the crowds start to leave. It’s no hardship as the swimming and photography is just excellent, we’ll miss the visit to the other southern waterfall as time is running short but we can always come back another time. You’ll be able to read more about our visit here very soon.
After all our changes we arrive in Darwin on Wednesday afternoon, just one day later than we originally planned. The opening concert is Thursday night, the Art show opening and awards ceremony is Friday, and we book tickets for shows on Saturday and Sunday nights plus the following weekend, we’re all set to enjoy the festival.
Just when we’re all set to go is when the major change occurs. Paul develops stomach pains during Wednesday night, food poisoning he thinks, but soldiers on under the conviction he’ll be OK and we head off to the Opening Concert with him in pain but declaring he is OK to sit and watch. We go early so we get a park very close and we have comfortable chairs. We manage to enjoy the first part of the show but then the pain worsens and a fever starts and we leave part way through. Through the night the pain and fever continue and finally in the morning Paul realizes he needs to go to the doctor. After a short examination there he is then referred off to the emergency department at the hospital with suspected appendicitis.
The 30 minute drive to the hospital seemed to take an hour but we finally arrive. A scan confirms the diagnosis of appendicitis and later that afternoon he’s wheeled off to surgery where the gangrenous appendix is removed. Thank goodness we were in the city at the time and thank goodness there was no further delay in seeking medical advice.
Low blood pressure keeps Paul in ICU for a few days while hefty antibiotics are administered but he’s improving now and starting to get impatient to leave. The care from all of the staff at the Royal Darwin Hospital has been excellent. We may need to stick around civilization a little longer than we planned and lifting and climbing will be off Paul’s agenda for a while but we’re happy they are the only changes we have to make as a result of what could have been a major problem.