Music, Art and Food

Darwin

Darwin City Skyline from Fishermans Wharf

Darwin City Skyline from Fishermans Wharf

We’re not really city people but Darwin has a lot to attract us, especially at this time of the year when the weather is perfect and the Darwin Festival and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Competition are on. Paul’s appendicitis wasn’t the best of starts to our time here but once he was out of hospital he bounced back very quickly. Life on the road helps keep us pretty fit so recovery times are less … too many places to go and things to do to waste too much time being unwell!

Festivals in the other capitals are no doubt bigger but there was plenty on offer for us to enjoy. We made it to the opening concert in the Botanic Gardens which included the delightful Clare Bowditch but Paul’s appendicitis meant we had to leave early. The Railway Club is a great venue and, once Paul was on the mend, we made it to a session with three bands from Darwin and Melbourne. A night at the Convention Centre was a dressier occasion and we watched a very entertaining performance of Dangerous Liaisons. A lot of the festival performances took place in the city and an area under the fig trees on the edge of the CBD was transformed into “Festival Park” with lighting and food stalls and long tables where you could eat and meet and enjoy the atmosphere.

The standard and variety of art in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards at the Museum and Art Gallery was inspiring and we also loved the entries which didn’t make the awards but were displayed at the Salon de Refuse in an art gallery on Darwin’s Wharf precinct. Several other art galleries around town had exhibitions as part of the festival and we made it to as many as we could as well as to some exhibitions at Darwin University.

The Darwin Festival is a very casual, but well run event and we thoroughly enjoyed the music and performances as well as the festival atmosphere in this tropical city with its balmy August temperatures. We’ll be back at some time in the future!

Away from the festival the coast between Lee Point and Cullen Bay Marina provided some lovely spots to visit, beach walk and take photos with rocks and cliffs of all manner of shapes and a wide spectrum of colours. East Point has lots of places to explore and we enjoyed a barbecue after the sun set at Dripstone Cliffs on Casuarina Beach. Late one afternoon we strolled along the beach under the cliffs at Fannie Bay and watched a wedding on the sand near the boat club. Along with the wedding guests we enjoyed a cool drink in the comfort of the boat club as we watched the sun set over the Arafura Sea, very civilized as well as beautiful.

Watching the sunset at Dripstone Cliffs.

Watching the sunset at Dripstone Cliffs.

A favourite past-time in Darwin has to be attending the markets and we managed to visit three of them. Parap market is on Saturday mornings and as well as a number of fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing, jewellery and craft stalls they have a mouth-watering array of choices for delicious snacks. By sharing we managed to sample a very good range as it was just too hard to pick one or two. Mindil Beach market is the best known market and it operates on Thursday and Sunday evenings. We visited on a Thursday and while it has less in the way of fresh produce they have a larger range of craft and souvenir type stalls and a huge number of food stalls to feed the crowds who attend. We joined the hundreds on the beach for the sunset and enjoyed the free music and shows throughout the evening while we grazed on the food.

Both Nightcliff and Rapid Creek have Sunday morning markets and as we ran out of time for both we visited the Rapid Creek market as it reportedly has the best range of fresh produce. This was spot on!  There were heaps of stalls with a huge range of freshly picked vegetables, herbs and fruits. Our fridges were loaded up but because it was all so fresh we managed to use it all while it was still in excellent condition. The only problem is having to go back to buying from supermarkets after eating the delicious market food.

Our visit to Darwin this time was longer than we expected and stretched to almost three weeks. Maybe next time we make it here it will be during a wet season and we can see a totally different side of the place.

The Best Laid Plans

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.

Comings and Goings Along Dusty Tracks # 4

Our Latest Dusty Track – Our latest travels included many more miles of sealed roads than usual but we managed to find some pretty rough and very dusty tracks to break the journey and provide more driving interest. We also had some vehicle and camper issues which added some spice to our journey. The Best Laid Plans post outlines the various hiccups along the way.

Leaving Kununurra we travelled east along the Victoria Highway to Timber Creek. From there we explored a couple of very interesting 4WD tracks in the western section of Judbarra (Gregory) National Park. Further along the Victoria Highway near the Victoria River Roadhouse we enjoyed the beautiful scenery in the eastern section of the park before continuing on to Katherine.

Travelling north from Katherine along the Stuart Highway we detoured in Leliyn (Edith Falls) in Nitmiluk National Park for a couple of days swimming, walking and relaxing. The next side trip on our northward journey was west into Litchfield National Park entering from the south along the 4WD Reynolds River Road. We hid from the long weekend crowds at Surprise Creek then spent a couple more nights at Wangi Falls and left the park along the northern road to complete our journey to Darwin.

Photos and stories about our time in the National Parks will be posted soon.

Where are we now? – We’re in Darwin for at least 12 days with tickets booked to various Darwin Festival shows and lots of Indigenous art to view. Right at the moment we’re in the Royal Darwin Hospital where Paul is recovering from removal of a gangrenous appendix. That certainly wasn’t part of our plan but if you’re going to have appendicitis it’s certainly far better to be here than out in the bush! More about this in The Best Laid Plans post.

Where to next? –Paul will be out of hospital soon and we can see some of the art and catch a couple of shows. We’ll probably stay around a bit longer than we originally planned and see some of the surrounding area on day trips until Paul gets the all clear and feels fully fit to travel further afield and back into the remote bush.

When we do go we are planning on heading into Kakadu National Park and up through Arnhem Land to Cobourg Peninsula but we still have to organize our permit for that travel. Kakadu will then need a couple of weeks of exploration before we head south toward the Gulf country and eventually the east coast.

A Nice Surprise

 Litchfield National Park

Wangi Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

Wangi Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

We have both visited Litchfield National Park before but this visit included an unexpected jewel in this busy national park. The main entries to the park are along the sealed road through Bachelor in the east or via a partly unsealed road from Berry Springs in the north. This time however we are entering from the south via the 4WD track from the Douglas Springs road in the Daly River region. This section of the park is new to both of us and we’re not sure what to expect. There are a couple of campgrounds along this track and we’re planning on checking them both out for a night or two.

There are a couple of easy dry creek crossings in the 17 km to the first campground at Surprise Creek although the sign advising vehicles be fitted with a snorkel as at the Roper River suggests it could be a very ‘interesting’ crossing at times. As there is only one camp site occupied we pick a nice shady site and head for the falls for a swim hoping the surprise at Surprise Creek falls isn’t the lack of water. We meet a few people are on their way out and they have been swimming so that’s a good sign, even better when we are told we’ll have the place to ourselves.

We come to a large pool only a ten minute walk from the camp that looks inviting and soon we are cooling off in the clear water. Water trickles over the rocks to one side although marks on the rocks show the waterfall is much larger in the wet season and early dry season. Other marks show where numerous feet have climbed the rocky slope and after our dip we follow suit. Another very beautiful pool is a pleasant surprise and soon we are having a dip in this as well. The rocks leading up from this pool are a bit steeper but still fairly easy to negotiate and after we climb up higher we are even more pleasantly surprised by the sight of yet another good sized plunge pool with a view of the valley below so we just have to have another swim. With no one else around this is sure close to paradise in the bush! Further up a chain of small rock pools eventually lead to a creek emerging from the bush.

Suprise Creek Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

Suprise Creek Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

We happily head back to camp deciding we’ll have two nights here so Paul can capture different views at sunrise and sunset. We pass a couple of other groups of people on their way in and we agree that we were lucky to have had the place to ourselves for a while. By late Friday afternoon the campground starts to fill up. It’s a long weekend in the Northern Territory and by dark all camp sites are occupied, some campers are set up along the road and more have driven in and then out again to try elsewhere. We decide we won’t move until the long weekend crowd are packing up again so that means three nights here, certainly no hardship.

Over the weekend our return visits to the pools bring a very different atmosphere with happy families and groups of friends sharing the cool waters. Kids climb the rocks above the middle pool and jump into the deep pool below. One of the dads says he once tested the depth with a rock and a rope and the pool is over six metres deep. Some of the kids are nervous and stand on the edge plucking up their courage before taking the big step out to drop five metres into the water. When they bob up to the surface they beam with happiness at their achievement. One group of four brothers add a ball to their jumps and line up aiming to flick the ball between themselves as they are in mid-air. They often make the first couple of passes successfully but I didn’t see them make it through the whole routine. No doubt they’ll be back trying on future visits.

After a relaxing weekend at Surprise Creek Falls we pack early to see a little more of the national park. There are several more creek crossings as we head north on the 4wd track and one of them in particular is about 50 metres long with a sandy bottom that winds between the Pandanus Palms. Very pretty. The water is only about half a metre deep and we have no problem here.

We only have a couple of nights before we need to get to Darwin so we decide to skip Sandy Creek, the other camp on the 4WD section and spend our nights at Wangi Falls. We’ll have to miss Florence Falls and Buley Rockholes. Although they are both lovely to camp and swim at we have both been there before and they don’t offer the same photographic opportunities.

Wangi Falls is the most visited part of the park and the campground is large and always busy. We’ve arrived reasonably early and quite a few sites were vacated this morning so we have no problem getting a good spot but the whole camp fills up every afternoon. There is very easy access to the large pool at the base of the falls and we are soon enjoying a refreshing swim. Good light hits the rock face in the late afternoon so no prizes for guessing where Paul spends sunset time.

Wangi Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

Wangi Falls, Litchfield NP, NT

The morning sees us leaving camp early to drive to the Lost City which is about 10km down a dirt track off the main road south east of Wangi Falls. The towering slabs of rocks are impressive and the early morning light brings out all the details. We wander around the short walking track for almost an hour before enjoying our breakfast and coffee.

Lost City, Litchfield NP, NT

Lost City, Litchfield NP, NT

Our first short detour on our drive back to camp takes us to Tabletop Swamp where a large billabong is surrounded by paperbark trees and the ducks are busily foraging amongst the reeds and water lilies. Next we take the short walk to Tolmer Falls, a very impressive drop but not much water flow at present and no access to the green pool at the bottom.

We are back at Wangi by lunchtime so we have plenty of time for more swims and photography and in the morning we take the northern road out of the park and up to Darwin via Berry Springs. As we’ve said before, Litchfield is a great place to visit but try to avoid the weekends (or head for Surprise Creek as early as you can).

An Old Favourite

Leliyn / Edith Falls, Nitmiluk National Park

Last light on the lower pool at Leliyn

Last light on the lower pool at Leliyn

Having arrived in Katherine and safely delivered Paul’s Troopie to the auto-electrician we have a couple of days to fill in so we decide to spend them at Leliyn (Edith Falls), about sixty kilometres away by road.

After stops in town for supplies and gas we head north and manage to secure a camp site at this very popular location in Nitmiluk National Park which includes Katherine Gorge and shares a border with the much larger Kakadu National Park. We have both visited Leliyn several times before but it’s a place we visit for at least one night anytime we are close by. Over the years it has become more and more popular, and for good reason. So much so that there is now a stand selling food, coffee and ice creams which you can enjoy in the nearby shade.

A short walk from the camp ground is a natural swimming hole, about 100 metres in diameter with a beautiful angular rock face and a small waterfall which is very pleasant to swim under. There is easy access to the water and it’s great to stretch out and swim across to the falls for a ‘waterfall massage’. Needless to say it’s one of the first things we do after we have set up camp. After our swim, we check out a few possible locations for a photo shoot.

The next day we take a stroll along the 1.7 km, 1.5 hour walk up to the Top Pool and then around the back of the main pool before returning to the camp area. After the first climb there are a couple of high lookouts with views down to the waterfall in the Top Pool and back down to the main pool. There are far fewer people up here but it’s still quite busy. From the lookouts we descend to the rocks around the Top Pool, take a few photos and then it’s time for a cooling swim and lazing around on the warm rocks. It’s heading for lunch time so we continue our walk and Paul has another dip in the main pool on the way back to our camp. Not a bad mornings work!

Our two days here pass very quickly with some early morning and late evening photo shoots as well as a few more swims during the middle of the day. The weather is starting to warm up quite nicely. Our camp has a little shade and a grassed area nearby so we are pretty comfortable!

We get some reading done and generally relax after the trip along the Victoria Highway. Paul gets a report that his car is ready so after two nights we head back to Katherine to pick it up. When we get there we find that the report was somewhat optimistic and it takes another full day to locate and fix the electrical fault. It’s getting late by the time we leave Katherine so we camp off the side of the highway a little north of town.

The next day we drive into the southern end of Litchfield National Park where we intend to spend about a week exploring and taking more photos. There will be more about this beautiful national park in another post.