Pilbara Jewel

Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge, Karijini NP

We love all of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and different parts have different treasures but the jewel of the region has to to be Karajini National Park. We’ve visited the park several times before but it’s a place you can visit time and time again to enjoy the wonderful country, the colours, the mountains and the deep gorges.

This is an ancient land; mountain ranges have weathered down and while they are still called mountains, Mount Bruce, Mount Sheila, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry, in other younger countries they would simply be called hills.

Precipitation doesn’t occur very often but when it rains it pours. It’s a dry country now but there are still permanent water sources and the flat red earth is cut by deep gorges. From the top you can peer down into deep canyons to see waterfalls and rock pools. Several walking trails take you down into subterranean gorges. Our last visit was nearly six years ago and while Paul still tackled some of the difficult trails on this trip I lowered the bar and settled for moderate walks (up to class 4).

The first gorge we visited this trip was Kalamina Gorge. It’s one of the most accessible gorges and while not as dramatic as some we think it is possibly the prettiest gorge with some lovely little falls and reflecting rock pools. It’s in the middle of the park and on previous visits it’s been very quiet but word of its charm seems to have got out as the car park was nearly full when we arrived. We still managed to have plenty of quiet times to enjoy the beauty as most other visitors walked the gorge, possibly had a dip, and then left.

From Kalamina Gorge we travelled to our first camp at the national park campground near Dales Gorge where we stayed for three nights. The easiest entry into Dales Gorge is via a steep staircase down to Fortescue Falls. There were quite a few swimmers in the pool below the falls.

 From Fortescue Falls it is a short further walk to the idyllic Fern Pool.

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karajini National Park, WA

The other entry into the gorge is via a steep path including a short ladder near Circular Pool. On our first evening we took a very pleasant walk along the rim. The late afternoon light displayed the beauty of the country and the wildflowers were a delight.

Circular Pool was closed due to a recent rock slide but the path through the gorge was still open and was a great walk on the next day.

About 50 km west of Dales Gorge several gorges meet and provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. We moved camp to best appreciate these places and spent the next three nights at the Karijini Eco Retreat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the lookout over Joffre Gorge and Paul returned there for some pre sunrise photography the next morning,

Joffre Gorge, Karijini NP, WA

The landscape and vegetation in this region is amazing and we never tire of it, especially when the sun is just rising or getting low and providing extra drama.

Weano Gorge with Handrail Pool at the end of the accessible area provides amazing rich colours

Another amazing gorge to visit is Hancock Gorge and at the end of a very tricky walk you reach the magical Kermits Pool where light bounces off red and gold walls to create magical waterfalls.

Before leaving Karijini we had one more stop. Hammersley Gorge is on the western edge of the park and has some amazing rock formations we have photographed in the past, This time we hoped to see the Spa Pool, a spot we had missed on previous visits. We reached the bottom of the gorge not long past sunrise and Paul began the scramble up the gorge toward the spa. I decided it was too tricky for me and picked my way up the rocky sides to a spot above the spa. From there I could see we had picked the wrong time of the day to visit as it was half in deep shade and half in strong sun.

Paul had a far more difficult trek to reach a spot where he made the same conclusion. Guess you can’t win them all. Anyway Paul managed a lovely shot of one of the small water falls and I enjoyed the amazing curves in the rocks.

If you have never been to Karijini you should put it on your bucket list and if you’ve only been once or twice or for just a short time it is certainly worth a return visit.

Coastal paradise

Ningaloo Reef in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef should be on the must visit list for everybody travelling in Australia. It stretches for more than 200 kilometres down the west coast of the continent from the North West Cape above Exmouth to Red Bluff not far north of Carnarvon. Much of it is a marine park and there are plentiful and beautiful fish and corals which can be seen by snorkelling straight off the beach. 

We’ve visited the reef, staying in the Cape Range National Park, on every previous visit to the west and this year was no exception. Bookings in the park can be hard to get, especially in the prime season from mid May when the Whale Sharks arrive until late September when the temperatures and the winds are both rising. Apart from odd days here and there the campsites are usually filled as soon as bookings open 6 months in advance. This year all bookings were cancelled when national parks closed when the covid restrictions were enforced and then reopened when the restrictions were eased. We were lucky, and quick, enough to get a two week booking in a small camp ground near two of the prime snorkelling spots. 

On the afternoon before our booking commences we reach the eastern side of the national park and took the road up to the top of the range next to Charles Knife Canyon. There’s no camping allowed but we find a spot to stop where we can set up late and pack up early and Paul can take some sunset and sunrise photos. 

After the photos were taken we stopped in Exmouth to make sure we had enough supplies for two weeks and our gas and water were full then drove around to the coast on the western side of the range. We set up camp on our site in North Mandu Camp, taking the camper of the back of the Ute and putting out our big awning and all our mats and got ready to enjoy two weeks of paradise. The weather was warm to hot, winds variable but only ranging from calm to moderate, and only a couple of days with clouds.

Days were spent snorkelling, swimming, walking in Yardie Gorge and relaxing in camp. The Yardie Gorge walk is not terribly long or difficult with only a couple of slightly tricky descents into gullies and there are some lovely views along the way and at the end. Paul also visited Pilgramunna Gorge at sunset one evening.

The beach in front of our camp was rocky and there was a southerly drift so our favourite swimming spots were Sandy Bay about 10 km south or Turquoise Bay a few km north. Turquoise Bay is also one of the prime snorkelling spots with either a relaxing swim and snorkel in the quiet bay or a snorkel on the other side of the point where the current allows you to drift over wonderful corals and colourful fish.

The best snorkelling however was at Oyster Stacks. These are only about a kilometre north of our camp and there is a significant southerly drift so we could walk up the beach over the rocks and enter the water and just drift back to camp. We had some days of great visibility and the coral is truly remarkable. It’s a fish sanctuary zone and they are prolific with amazing colours and shapes. We also spotted several rays and a turtle.

After our wonderful days we would usually sit at the top of the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean and chat with the other campers. Truly paradise.

Sunset from the top of North Mandu Beach, Cape Range National Park

The Red, Red Dirt of Home

Kennedy Range NP

If you travel in outback Australia the red dirt, which blankets much of the interior of this country, invades your vehicle and, no matter how well you clean your car, you will still be finding pockets of red tucked into crevices and hinges for years to come. The red dirt settles into the blood and soul of some people and I’m happy to be one of them. 

For many years I relished city and urban life then grew to love living surrounded by bush or near the ocean. I still love the bush and the beach and the occasional visit to the big smoke but if I’m away from the red dirt for too long I get a yearning to return.

Winter is the easiest time to travel in the outback when temperatures are more comfortable. Our last few winters have been spent either overseas or on the east coast so as covid restrictions eased and we were allowed to travel within Western Australia my first request was to head inland, camp in the bush and enjoy a good campfire, and see some of that red, red dirt.

Kennedy Range National Park is a couple of hundred kilometres inland of Carnarvon on the west coast of Australia. Rather than follow the highway up from Geraldton where we had spent the covid lockdown period we drove inland and travelled for two days along mainly dirt roads through the tiny settlements of Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Traffic was scarce and it was great to be out of town and away from civilisation.

We found a pleasant overnight spot to camp at Bilung Pool. It’s a permanent water hole which was used by the early settlers and before that by generations of Aboriginals. Paul enjoyed catching the late afternoon and early morning light on the magnificent white gums at the edge of the pool.

We reached Kennedy Range by the middle of the next day and found several other groups in the Temple Gorge camp ground. The range is an eroded plateau and the camp and most walks are at the base of spectacular cliffs that rise 100m above the plains. The best way to appreciate the range is from the air and Paul flew the drone early in the morning, well away from camp, and captured some of the beauty.

Some walks enter the gorges and you pick your way through the rocks and admire the formations and patterns in the gorge walls. Others take you along the face of the escarpment and past huge rocks which have fallen in years past. A Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermal currents above us.

There are no individual fire pits at the campsites but a large communal fire was a great place to cook dinner and to sit and chat with other campers each evening. After months of travel restrictions everyone was happy to be back in the bush and the conversations, as always, turned to previous adventures and experiences and future plans. 

North East Tasmania

Bay of Fires

Bay of Fires

We had a staggered start to our travels in Tasmania, Paul arrived in Devonport on the overnight ferry on the 1st of March and Julie flew into Launceston on the 17th March after spending extra time in Adelaide. In the interim Paul sampled some of the north west region, the Western Tiers and the Central Plateau. First on the agenda was a short first visit to Cradle Mountain, then a visit to Susie, a friend who lives just outside Wynyard. From there he headed to Rocky Cape and Stanley on the north coast and Marrawah on the west coast, but then decided to head east again because the rain was moving in from the west and parts of the Tarkine were still inaccessible after the extensive fires which had caused havoc in the area for about three months. Plans to visit the Tarkine were put on hold, but hopefully we’ll get there before we leave and the forest will not be too badly burned. Paul then travelled east along the bottom of the Western Tiers, exploring tracks and waterfalls in the area before driving up onto the Central Plateau and around the Great Lake through Miena and down to Launceston. From there he headed north to the coast for a break in a caravan park before heading back to Launceston to pick Julie up from the airport.

From Launceston we headed north east passing through Bridport to reach some quiet beach camping at Waterhouse Point. Tasmania has numerous free camping sites in many popular locations and this was one of them. It was a great spot to relax together for a few nights before we moved on.

Continuing along toward the north east of the state we reached the Mt William National Park and after looking around the area we spent a night at Stumpy Bay. We could easily have spent more time in the area but were keen to reach the Bay of Fires slightly further down the coast just above St Helens. Eddystone Point and Lighthouse in the southern section of the National Park were worth a detour on our way. The Bay of Fires received its name after early colonial explorers saw numerous fires along the coast, which the aborigines were using for land management, but it could very well have been named for the bright orange lichen which decorates many of the rocks edging the ocean. We camped at three different campsites in the area and enjoyed our walks, drives, swims and most particularly the beautiful, fresh and cheap oysters. Paul braved the water to swim a couple of times but Julie was sensible and realised the water was far too cold.

By now it was Easter and as the area is a popular holiday spot for Tasmanians we decided we should head inland to avoid the crowds. With another dozen oysters in the fridge for later consumption we drove inland to the tiny community of Pyengana. It’s known for its heritage ‘Pub in the Paddock’ and the marvellous cheese factory. As it was Good Friday the pub was closed for the day and we had to shelve our idea of staying in the free camping area nearby and having a counter meal that night but we were delighted to find the cheese factory was open. They make a fine range of cheddar cheeses and we enjoyed all of our samples and purchased some of the prize winning aged cheddar before continuing up into the hills. Columba Falls are not far up the road and they are on the tourist trail so there is a good bitumen road and there were quite a few vehicles around. The short walk down to the falls  passes between ancient tree ferns with amazingly huge trunks covered in bright green mosses. The falls are very attractive and well worth the easy walk.

After lunch we left the bitumen road and followed a gravel road through the forest toward Ringarooma. We climbed steep hills and wound our way down between lush forest and by mid afternoon we reached the carpark for Ralph Falls. At the bottom of the parking area a line of shrubs hid a flat area suitable for camping, perfect for the night’s camp. Before we set up we headed down the trail to the falls. The fungi are amazing, with wonderful colours and lots of varieties. From the lookout at the falls we saw the narrow creek tumbling off the plateau down the sheer and curved cliff and into the valley far below. Turning to look the other way we enjoyed expansive views over a valley with cleared farmland and scattered houses joined by a winding dirt road.

The trail continued past the lookout over a rocky section on top of cliff and over a small bridge spanning the creek which formed the waterfall. The grey trees are tall, slender and gently curved and, with little undergrowth to clutter the view, they appeared to be dancing sinuously. When the trail crossed small watercourses the undergrowth reappeared but as we were on the top of the hill the air was much drier and the fungi far less prolific. We reached the other side of the hill top and found a lookout over the gorge below then the track returned to the start by crossing the top of the ridge on timber planks raised above the fragile damp surface. At first we walked between head high shrubs waving in the breeze then the vegetation changed to waist high clumps of grasses so we had views over the top of the hill. We crossed the creek again and soon we were back at our camp to set up for the night. In the morning Paul headed out again before first light to capture some of the magic of the forest and Julie joined him there later. Breakfast back at camp then we set out on the road to see what we could find next.

We were heading for Ben Lomond National Park which is the major ski resort for Tasmania although nowhere near the scale of the ski areas on the mainland. From this direction there are no direct roads, just lots of dirt roads and tracks through state forests. After passing through Ringarooma we turned south and wound our way up, down and around hills until we left the forests and dirt roads behind and reached the tiny community of Upper Blessington. We took the turn toward the national park and began the ascent. Just after we left the farmland behind we reached the national park camp ground. The temperature was already cooler but it was certainly going to be even colder up the top of the range so we were glad to confirm that we’d be able to have a campfire here when we returned later.

The road continued through the bush until we reached the face of the mountain which appeared almost vertical. A zig zag road has been hewn out of the rocky face, it’s known as Jacob’s ladder and definitely not a road you’d take trailers, caravans or large vehicles up. For all that it’s an easy enough drive, just take it slowly and enjoy the views on the way. At the top there is a lookout over the valley below, definitely a place Paul would like to be at first light. A little further on is the ‘ski resort’. There are a few lodges and ski lifts but it isn’t very extensive. We took a walk around the village and we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of wildflowers in bloom … very pretty. The air was quite cold by now but we had enjoyed our short walk around the area before we headed back down Jacobs Ladder to our camp.

The fire at the camp site helped temper the cold night but it was sure cold when we packed up well before sunrise the next morning to return to the top of Jacob’s Ladder. The car heater helped a little and the coffee after photos and breakfast helped as well. The views from the top of the escarpment and the photos in the soft early light made the effort worth well while.

Easter was almost over so we headed back to the east coast with plans to stop somewhere for one more night on our way. Mathinna Falls are a short drive off the main road into another state forest area. We took the short walk along the creek to the falls, a delightful walk but the light wasn’t good for photographs so we decided not to stay for the night. Instead we drove up to South Sister lookout just north of St Marys. A steep track led to a small carpark at a communication tower and an even steeper walk to a lookout with fabulous views over St Marys and the Break O’Day plains far below. It’s certainly not an official camping area but the views were too good to pass up so we stayed the night. Naturally Paul climbed up to the lookout again before first light and the results were well worth the frozen fingers.

South Sister Lookout

South Sister Lookout

From there it was just a short and easy drive down to the coast and we meandered south along the coast road enjoying the views. North East Tasmania has certainly provided lots of variety, next stop Freycinet National Park and the start of our south east adventures.

Round About Route to Tasmania

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Coorong, SA, Australia

It was raining when we left Paul’s daughter’s home in Limeburners Creek north of Newcastle in early January and its raining now as I sit in my sister’s home in Wangaratta six months later looking out over the green paddocks and the swollen river. In between we’ve visited family and friends in Victoria and South Australia during January and February then spent more than three months in Tasmania returning to Victoria in late June to commence another round of visits to family and friends. All this southern winter time is a stark contrast to the last couple of winters spent in northern Australia with its warm temperatures and vivid colours. When we leave Wangaratta we’ll be making a brief return to Robe in South Australia then travelling up to Sydney and Newcastle and finally southern Queensland before we fly out of Brisbane in late August to start our new adventures in Africa.

Photos and tales from our Tassie time will follow in a number of posts but in the meantime I thought I’d fill in a some details about our travels on the way to the Apple Isle.

Travelling in two vehicles was very useful in some of the more remote areas of Australia but with our plans for Africa and the type of travel we’d be doing up until then it made sense to part with one of them and we decided that’s we’d have to part with Paul’s Troopie. It’s been a great vehicle and tackled some extremely rough tracks so was sold with reluctance but also anticipation of the new adventures ahead.

We avoid highways and motorways when we can and had planned a route south from Limburners Creek which would lead us through the edge of the Blue Mountains but the torrential rain and flooded roads back in January defeated us. After reverting to the motorway our first night was spent in southern Sydney catching up with the ‘Unimog Mob’ who we met on the Canning Stock Route last year. After 18 months on the road Jim and Julie and their two kids have settled back into city life and it was good to yarn about the rest of our travels since we last saw them in Halls Creek and hear about their plans for the future.

Finally leaving the built up areas behind we headed into the mountains with a night at the Wombeyan caves and three peaceful nights in the stunningly beautiful Eucumbene River Valley in Kosciuszko National Park. It would have been very easy to spend much longer in the area but with so many people and places to visit we had to continue our journey.

Our next stop was a catch up with Andrew in Khancoban. We met Andrew last year while we were camped on the remote Cobourg Peninsula in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Andrew and his wife spend part of each year in Darwin but the rest of the time they live in Khancoban on the edge of the mountains not far from the Victorian border and we had an invitation to visit when we were in the area. They own the Queen’s Cottage apartments and cabins which are perched on the side of a hill looking over the lake and valley in this lush green slice of the country.

Khancoban, NSW, Australia

Khancoban, NSW, Australia

We spent an enjoyable evening with them before heading on to Wangaratta to stay with my sister Dawn and brother-in-law Graham and to visit my Mum. The north east of Victoria has plenty to offer so while we were in the area we did some sightseeing and were also lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Opera in the Alps concert in the  nearby town of Beechworth.

Opera in the Alps, Beechworth, Vic, Australia

Opera in the Alps, Beechworth, VIC, Australia

Another family visit followed with my daughter Bec and her family in Adelaide. We had a few days to get there from Wangaratta so we took a meandering route avoiding main roads and finding some great spots to camp on the banks of the Murray. We temporarily left the river to bypass some of the bigger towns and followed some rough tracks through the Murray – Sunset National Park. It was reminiscent of some of our outback tracks especially when a detour to avoid a fallen tree meant we lost sight of all tyre tracks and had to cast around to rejoin the track.

A long weekend in Adelaide passed very quickly with sightseeing in and around the city including visits to Chinatown and the Central Market, the Art Gallery, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens and several beaches. Venturing further afield we accidentally ended up in the middle of the Tour Down Under bike race in the McLaren Vale wine region. Our visit with Bec, Erik and family continued with a stay in a holiday house in the pretty town of Middleton on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The weather was cool but it was great fun digging into the sand in the shallow water searching for the seasonal Goolwa Cockles. We enjoyed a few meals of this delicacy cooked with garlic, wine and pasta. As well as the time spent on the beaches the kids loved the visit to Victor Harbour for the camel ride and the horse drawn tram ride out to Granite Island.

Middleton, SA, Australia

Middleton, SA, Australia

From Middleton we had four weeks to slowly travel along the coast to Melbourne in time to board the ferry for Tasmania at the end of February. The first section of the trip was into the Coorong National Park, a very special slice of the coast on either side of a long narrow water course commencing at the mouth of the Murray and extending for over 100km. Our favourite camp site was at Tea Tree across a shallow section of the lagoon at the base of tall sand dunes leading to the ocean.

We made it further down the coast past Robe and Beachport to Mt Gambier to visit my friend Carol when plans changed. Guess we should have realised our plans rarely get followed. We returned to Adelaide where I stayed with Bec until mid March to give her a hand while she convalesced after a back operation. After a short stay Paul continued his journey along the coast past Portland to the Great Ocean Road and reached Melbourne in time for the ferry crossing to Tasmania on the 29th of February.

Bec made a good recovery and I enjoyed the opportunity to stay with her and her family for a longer period of time. An extra bonus was being there for the long weekend in March so we could all attend the Womadelaide Festival. Meanwhile Paul started his exploration of the north west of Tasmania and I flew to Launceston to rejoin him on 17th March. Stay tuned for our Tassie posts to follow soon.

Some NSW Gems

New England NP, NSW, Australia

New England NP, NSW, Australia

We have a week to get from Rhonda and Tina’s home in Tweed Heads on the northern border of New South Wales to Limeburners Creek near Newcastle where we are going to stay with Paul’s daughter Fiona and her husband Tony and their daughter Isla. We could drive down the Pacific Highway and be there in a day or two but as we like to avoid highways and find more interesting places to amble through we’ll need all the time we have available.

After finalising our chores in Tweed Heads we head straight inland to follow a back road through the hills to the pretty village of Tumbulgum on the wide and slowly flowing Tweed River and then down to Murwillimbah. The Information Centre in Murwillimbah has some great displays showing how the Tweed Valley was formed from a volcano. The massive volcano has left us a legacy of an outer caldera which includes Springbrook, Lamington, Border Ranges, Mount Jerusalem and Nightcap National Parks in Queensland and New South Wales and which extends to the easternmost point of mainland Australia at Byron Bay. The inner caldera surrounds the always impressive and usually cloud-shrouded Mount Warning, known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as Wollumbin, or Cloud Gatherer. It is not surprising that this remains a sacred spot for them. Rich volcanic soil between the two caldera supports many farms and pretty villages including Chillingham, Uki, and Tyalgum. On the western slopes much of the country includes the Wollumbin State Forest and Mebbin National Park. My decision to move north to live in this general area twelve years ago was made during annual holidays escaping a cold Adelaide winter to stay with Rhonda and Tina on their property just outside Tylagum. Much of my time was spent on their large deck looking out at the majesty of the ranges with excursions to visit many of the special spots in the valley and occasional trips to the beautiful coast forming the eastern border of the valley. No wonder this valley retains a special spot in my heart.

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From Murwillimbah we drive to the base of Mount Warning and enjoy a late picnic in the national park before wandering along a short track through the rain forest. After passing through Uki we turn off the bitumen to take a dirt road which winds along the edge of Byrill Creek and into Mebbin National Park. A walk from the campground down to the creek promises some fig trees as a reward for descending the fairly steep path and they don’t disappoint. We had just planned a short stroll and weren’t expecting much so Paul has to make a second trip to get his tripod and additional lenses to capture some shots of these giants of the forest.

Mebbin National Park, Tweed Valley, NSW, Australia

Mebbin National Park, Tweed Valley, NSW, Australia

Our morning drive is punctuated by stops for Paul to try to find the right angle to shoot Mount Warning and his regrets that during our time in Tweed Heads we hadn’t found the time to properly explore this area … but that could take a month or more so it will have to wait until another visit.

We are mainly planning to make our journey south along inland roads but along the way we are calling in to visit friends of Pauls at Minnie Waters on the coast east of Grafton. We take as many minor roads as possible avoiding major towns and highways whenever we can. We finish the day’s roundabout drive with a winding road leading past paperbark swamps in the Pine Brush State Forest and a fairly rough 4wd track over the top of the range in the Candole State Forest. At Minnie Waters we set up camp behind the general store which is owned by Paul’s friends, Emma and Stuart, and enjoy a bracing swim in the turbulent coastal waters.

Minnie Waters, NSW, Australia

Minnie Waters, NSW, Australia

The water is a little calmer for our morning swim and by the time we have had breakfast and morning coffee at our camp, coffee with Emma and then another swim it is almost lunchtime so we have another coffee and lunch before we go.

We continue our meandering route and head inland and up into the mountains arriving in Dorrigo via a delightful back road. After getting some up to date information on the state of the waterfalls further south we drive to the falls at Ebor for a quick look.

Ebor Falls, Waterfall Way, NSW, Australia

Ebor Falls, Waterfall Way, NSW, Australia

We’re keen to check out a camp site by the creek at the base of the New England National Park so we don’t linger and continue our drive. The campsite is not as pleasant as we thought and the camping ground in the national park is full so we head up to Point Lookout at the top of the park to check out the options. That sure doesn’t disappoint, the views are spectacular and the walks look very interesting. Paul wants both sunset and sunrise photos so, although there is no official campsite here, we make a late setup and early pack-up in the day visitor carpark. Another photographer has the same idea and spends the night in his campervan alongside us.

Point Lookout, New England National Park, NSW, Australia

Point Lookout, New England National Park, NSW, Australia

Point Lookout is 60km from the coast but at 1,500m high Paul catches the sun emerging from the horizon well out to sea, a stunning view and well worth the early morning. After breakfast we decide on the Eagle’s Nest Track for our walk. It’s only 2 km long but the sign suggests it will take 2 hours. With our habit of stopping frequently to enjoy the views and take photos that means it will probably take us 3 hours.

The track drops steeply down and around the side of the mountain but formed steps make the walk relatively easy even if slow. Hanging mosses adorn many of the branches and further down we pass amongst gigantic Antarctic Beeches. Water trickles from the rocks creating vivid green gardens. The return walk is longer but gentler and we pass through snowgum woodland on the way back to the carpark.

Point Lookout, New England National Park, NSW, Australia

Point Lookout, New England National Park, NSW, Australia

We decide the falls at Ebor are worth another look and after a stop at the trout hatchery to buy a smoked trout we return up the road to a pleasant free camping area alongside the river and opposite the national park entrance. Wildflowers are scattered amongst the grass and the babbling of the water in the creek more than makes up for the noise of the occasional truck or car passing by through the night. The trout made a delicious and easy pasta dinner to finish off another great day. Before dinner Paul makes a quick return trip along the road back to Dorrigo to take some photos along this very scenic drive.

Waterfall Way, near Dorrigo, NSW, Australia

Waterfall Way, near Dorrigo, NSW, Australia

Continuing our journey along the Waterfall Way we make a stop at Wollomombi Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Australia. It has been a very dry season and there is no water flowing at present but the view is still spectacular. If we are in the area after good rains it would certainly be well worth a return visit.

Our next stop is Bakers Creek Falls and although there is little water flowing over the falls the scenery is excellent. Paul decides the sunset light would be good at this gorge so although we are heading into Armidale for a lunch date we can return to this spot and spend the night here.

In Armidale we meet up with Terra, a Facebook friend of Pauls, who is completing the daunting task of walking around Australia on a ‘Lap for Lifeline’. The ‘lap’ is being done in sections, last year she completed the Perth to Darwin stretch, a massive feat. The next stretch from Darwin to Cairns and down the east coast will start again when the hot and wet season eases up and in the meantime she is filling in some sections down south. You can follow her progress on Facebook, The Happy Walk – Terra Lalirra, and Terra Lalirra (Vegan Athelete).

Meeting Facebook Friends, with Terra Lalirra in Armidale, NSW, Australia

Meeting Facebook Friends, with Terra Lalirra in Armidale, NSW, Australia

We chat over a picnic lunch in the park for a couple of hours and after a couple of ‘selfies’ we turn back towards Bakers Creek Falls for the night. We have a little time to spare so we detour via Metz Gorge Lookout and the historic town of Hillgrove. The old school house at Hillgrove has been converted into a museum and by the time we have had a look around the town and museum it is time to return to Bakers Creek.

Bakers Creek Falls, Waterfall Way, NSW, Australia

Bakers Creek Falls, Waterfall Way, NSW, Australia

We return to Armidale in the morning and then follow some side roads through rolling hills to Uralla. The old ivy covered chapel at Gostwyk is a great place for lunch, and photos, and from Uralla we turn onto Thunderbolts Way. This will take us right down to Gloucester, a mere 70km from our destination and we have two nights to spare so we relax and enjoy the scenery with a couple of short day’s drive and nights spent at Cobrabald River and right beside the river at Bretti Reserve.

It is an easy drive next morning to Limeburners Creek just off Bucketts Way south of Gloucester. Fiona and Tony and their 2½ year old daughter Isla live on a 100 acre property surrounded by trees and totally off the grid with solar power, rain water and bottle gas supplemented by the wood stove for heating, hot water and cooking in winter. It is our base for the next six weeks over the Christmas and New Year period broken by a stay in Newcastle with Paul’s other daughter Caitlin and her partner Kevin and also stays in Sydney with his son Sean and with friends Greg and Helen.

Comings and Goings along Dusty Tracks # 7

Finch Hatton Gorge

Finch Hatton Gorge

Our Latest Dusty Track

As much as we try to avoid committing to schedules we had a big distance to cover from Camooweal in the north west of Queensland to Coolangata in the south east and we wanted to be there in four weeks. So many places, so many things to see, so much distance to cover and far too little time.

After changing our minds several times we finally decided on our ’rough’ plan; avoid major highways as much as practicable without adding too much to our travel time and spend the majority of the time in one region rather than trying to visit as many places as possible. That way our travel days could be kept to a reasonable length, we would have the chance to stop at interesting spots we found along the way and we could relax with some quality time in a just a few places.

After three days at the delightful oasis of Clem Walton Park just east of Mt Isa we returned to the highway and started making our way to the east coast. Even taking it easy we could have reached the coast just south of Townsville in two or three days’ time but we were happy to leave the highway with its fast moving traffic shortly after Hughenden and turn south on to a quiet side road.

Three days later we found ourselves at the top of the escarpment just west of Mackay having managed to avoid major roads and find small and often extremely dusty tracks most of the time. This allowed us to travel at own pace and take in the views and the feel of the surrounding, drought stricken countryside. Our overnight stops at Kooroorinya Nature Reserve, Moorinya National Park, Mt Coolon hotel and Eungella Dam were all very different from each other and had their own charm and points of interest.

The next two weeks were spent in a few national parks west, north and south of Mackay. Approaching from inland we reached Eungella National Park where we spent a couple of days on the escarpment camping at Fern Flat camp on the Broken River. The steep winding road took us down the escarpment to the Finch Hatton Gorge section of the park where we stayed a few nights with Wazza at his quirky and very beautiful Platypus Bush Camp. Lovely rain forest walks and platypus sightings were features of both camps and the marvellous, if very brisk, swimming in the Finch Hatton Gorge was an extra bonus.

Our next stop was a week in Cape Hillsborough National Park. There are some nice camp sites in the national park camping area but we stayed in the caravan park so Julie could revisit previous favourite walking tracks and Paul could catch up on some photo work without having to rely on solar power. It was a very windy and often wet week and the sea wasn’t the brilliant blue we were hoping for so we settled for some dips in the pool between working and walking.

South of Mackay is the Cape Palmerston National Park and after driving 5km along the beach we found a secluded camp site at the back of the beach for the next couple of nights. It was still windy but hard to beat in other regards so we stayed four nights enjoying swims, short walks and a drive to visit other sections of the park.

Finally heading south and running short of time we endured the busy Bruce Highway until we reached Rockhampton when we just had to find an alternative which didn’t add too much to our travel time. Even though most of the roads we found were bitumen they were far quieter and we even managed a couple of sections of dusty tracks. Nice free camps at the hotel at Bouldercombe and the rest stop in the range near Binjour broke the drive and we finally arrived in Imbil in the Mary Valley just south of Gympie roughly according to our plan. Not sure how that happened.

Where are we now?

We’re just finishing up four weeks visiting family and friends in the south east of Queensland and managing to tick off quite a few items on the long list of chores to be done as well. Mandy, Paul’s sister, and her husband Tony have a property in the beautiful Mary Valley just outside the village of Imbil. They grow yummy tomatoes and cucumbers in huge tunnels but their passion is for their 30 plus horses. The property and surrounding country side provided heaps of inspiration for Paul and while Julie stayed one week then headed off to visit her sister Rhonda, Paul stayed an extra week driving around the countryside to deliver tomatoes and check out photographic locations to be revisited at the right time of day.

Rhonda and Tina live in Tweed Heads, technically not in the south east of Queensland but very, very close with the state border at the front gate. The beach at Kirra is hard to beat for walking and swimming and the cafes opposite are good for breakfast to follow, as is a lovely rustic restaurant on the river at Fingal Heads. After five solid years on the road the camper needed some TLC and a few changes like a new freezer were added. Both cars needed servicing and new tyres and Julie caught up on her annual doctor’s visits (only one year late) and dental visits (don’t even ask how many years late that was) as well as fitting in a couple of massages and a haircut. Paul loved the almost unlimited internet available, just more time needed.

Where to Next?

South to more family and friends. First to Newcastle and Sydney for Christmas and New Year then on to Wangaratta, Adelaide and Melbourne before we catch the ferry in late February to spend autumn in Tasmania. Between visits we’ll be trying to fit a week or so of ‘out bush’ time. City living is not our style any more and we sure miss that feeling of nobody or not many around. We’ve been very remiss about our writing and haven’t managed any blog posts since we left Clem Walton Park. We may get some writing done or we may not but we’ll at least pick out some photos we can upload to a gallery when we get away from all our other chores and have a bit of quiet time.

Farewell to the West

08 Gibb River Road (32) Pentecost River

After more than twelve months wandering up and down various dusty tracks and bitumen highways it is time for us to turn our trusty vehicles east and leave the state of Western Australia. For now that is, because, although we’ve seen quite a lot, there is plenty more to see and plenty we will definitely want to revisit in WA.

Since we crossed the state border at the end of May 2014 we have so many good memories of the areas we have visited that we can’t hope to mention them all. Favourite times for both of us include:

  • A leisurely crossing of the Gibb River Road with side trips to Mitchell Falls, Kalumburu and Mornington Station,
  • Exploring the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome and camping for a while in places like James Price Point, Whale Song and Gumbarnum,
  • Discovering rugged new country in the inland of the Pilbara at Carawine Gorge, Running Waters and Desert Queen Baths,
  • Sheltering from the wind while staying in a humpy at Red Bluff on the coast just north of Carnarvon,
  • Finding a hut in the forest near Walpole where we could hide from the summer crowds and unseasonal cold weather and spend Christmas and New Year with Paul’s son Sean, and
  • Travelling 2,000 remote kilometres through three deserts, unexpected rain and mud and across countless sand dunes along the Canning Stock Route.

Julie visited friends and family in the eastern states and spent two months in Malaysia while Paul continued the WA journey and during this time his highlights included flights in a gyrocopter over Esperance with Vince and a slow journey from Cape Leeuwin to Dunsborough finding loads of places to inspire his photographic creativity.

We’re looking forward to new adventures now but Western Australia will always be a place we’ll happily revisit.

1206 DSCN1302 Red Bluff

A Bend in the River

Reflections from a camp on the Ord River in Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Sunset on the Ord River

We have spent a lot of time near the sea in the last year so it was a very different experience to camp on the banks of a large inland river in the north of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This was not our original intention when we left Kununurra though!

On the recommendation of the “Unimog Mob” (who we met on the Canning Stock Route) we thought we might head to Cape Domett on the coast about 150km north of Kununnura. Unfortunately we discover that the access road to the coast passes through private property and the owners have closed it to the public. So instead we continue west along the road towards Carlton Hill Station and then, on a whim, turn south along a bush track for five kilometres and find a very quiet spot on a bend in the Ord River where we camp for three nights.

Sitting beside the river we are fascinated by its rythms. The liquid patterns of the currents and eddies on the surface of this broad river flow past in an ever-changing continuum. Patches of calm water and turbulence form and re-form around rocks, fallen trees and in the shallows. However long you watch you can never be sure that the flowing lines, textures and light ever repeat themselves in quite the same way. After a day or two it seems to us that the river has created its own subtle definition of time that has become the measure of our day.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

currents and eddies in the Ord River

It is also the centre of life for an abundance of wildlife. Black Kites and Whistling Kites quarter the skies above us, instinctively flying the angles across the breeze for lift and speed. A Black Kite drops briefly to the river bank to drink some water then flies a short distance to a dead tree higher up the bank. It waits there until a gust of wind blows along the river and provides the lift for an almost effortless take off. Within seconds it has climbed many metres above the river.

On two occasions we watch some Brolgas, beautiful pale grey storks, come down to drink at the river’s edge. Both times they are accompanied by one or two small kangaroos which hang back until the Brolgas have finished drinking. This takes a little while because their beaks are so long and they are so tall. They scoop small amounts of water up and then throw their heads back to swallow. We saw several kangaroo on the drive in here and we hear several more in the brush behind our camp. Their tracks and droppings are everywhere.

On the first two days we watch a Whistling Kite eating its catch on a branch over-hanging the river very close by our camp. On the first day he eats a fish, but on the second day he has caught a small bird, the plucked feathers floating in the breeze until they come to rest on the surface of the water and float on down river.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos fly overhead at dawn, catching the early light on their snow white feathers, and several times a day fly down to the sandy bank on the far side of the river to drink. They stand in the shallows at the edge of the river, dip their thick beaks in the water, then lift their heads too swallow.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas

For the first two days we don’t see any crocodiles at all. On the third day as we walk along the river bank in the shade of some large paper-bark trees we hear a big splash from around the bend in front of us. We look for tell-tale marks along the bank to see if we can spot the tracks and slide marks where a croc has entered the water but it is very difficult to be sure as there are plenty of kangaroo tracks along the bank as well. A little later, on our return walk, we spot a croc on the far bank of the river and assume that this is the one we had disturbed earlier.

Saltwater Crocodile, Ord River, Western Australia

Saltwater Crocodile

When we get back to camp and we are sitting having coffee another crocodile launches itself from between some rocks and then walks up onto the sandy bank opposite us and lies there sunning itself for a few hours. It is a fair sized saltwater crocodile (a “saltie”) so Paul is a little more vigilant when he is filling buckets from the river.

A hundred metres to the north of our camp a dead kangaroo is lying in the middle of a section of dry river bed. In the early morning we see eagles and kites feeding on the carcass but they don’t stay long because they get too hot if they stay at ground level in full sun for very long.

On our way here, to get to our camping spot under some shady trees, we drove for a while along and then across part of the dry river bed, picking our way over the harder stone and rocks, and avoiding the softer sand beds. Such a beautiful spot. We see several willie willies pick up a lot of dust as they travel across the sandy river bed behind us and over the far bank of the river. Apart from providing shade the trees around us act as a wind break and keep most of the dust away from our camp although once or twice the wind does shake things up a bit.

In the shallows of the river opposite our camp are three elongated rocks in a line, the first smaller than the second and the second smaller than the third. In the low light at dawn and dusk they look like the back of a gigantic, partly submerged crocodile. Another large rock extends out from the opposite bank and I take a few photos of it. Towards the end of our stay we find out that the place is called Skull Rock and named for this rock.

Skull Rock, Ord River

Skull Rock

As we sit in our camp and look down river to the west we see tree-lined banks and a hill behind the bend at the far end of our view. In the evening the sun sets behind this hill giving a red glow to the sky and turning the length of the river gold. Green and blue reflections light up the river during the day. On our first and last night we cook on a camp fire. Then after dinner we sit and watch the stars and their reflection in the river.

Front Row Seat

Front Row Seat

All around our camp the trees are stacked up with flood debris. Twigs, branches and whole trees are strewn about. In the wet season we figure that the area we are camping in will be underwater when they release water out of the Argyle Dam. At least it makes collecting firewood easy.

One afternoon a pair of Jabirus (Black-Necked Storks) fly up river from the west. They don’t see us sitting in the shade of our camp until they are directly opposite. One of them gives a short squawk and then they pass behind some trees overhanging the river.

When we leave we both agree that we will make an effort to return to this part of the Ord River when we travel through Kununnura.

About Purnululu

Why Go, How to Get There, Where to Stay, What to Do

Located in East Kimberley in the far north of Western Australia between Kununurra and Lake Argyle to the north and Halls Creek and the Tanami Desert to the south, Purnululu National Park covers an area of 239,723 hectares and the Bungle Bungle Range covers 45,000 hectares of the park. Within the range are striking orange and black banded sandstone domes, 200 metre escarpments and spectacular chasms and gorges. These exceptional natural formations are the reason the park was World Heritage listed in 2003. This part of Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people for more than 20,000 years. The first colonial exploration was in 1879 and it was followed by gold mining and later a pastoral industry which continues in the region today. While Aboriginals and pastoralists were aware of the formations, knowledge of their existence didn’t reach the broader public until the early 1980’s and tourism to the area has been growing since then.

Paul and I spent almost a week in the park when we entered Western Australia 12 months ago and we had both been twice before that but this is such a special place we couldn’t miss revisiting it while we were in the area. Travelling independently and camping in the park is the best way to experience the magic but if you can’t do that then it is well worth visiting with a tour company who have their own permanent accommodation in the park or at least taking a day trip. That can be done either in your own 4WD vehicle or on tour buses running from the caravan park located next to the highway. Many people who camp in the park stay for just a couple of nights and that length of time will allow you to visit most of the attractions and some of the walks but more time will allow you to experience it more fully.

Access is from the Great Northern Highway 269 km south of Kununurra and 108 km north of Halls Creek and is only possible during the dry season. Actual dates can vary according to seasonal and road conditions but it is usually open from 1 April to 30 November. The weather can be very hot, particularly early and late in the dry season. From the highway a 53km track passes through Mabel Downs Station to the Visitor Centre. This track is only suitable for 4WD vehicles and single-axle off-road heavy-duty trailers. Track conditions change depending on when it was last graded and what the weather conditions have been but you can expect rough sections, corrugations, dust and several water crossings. The track is not difficult if taken slowly. Reduced tyre pressure will make the ride more comfortable and can reduce the chance of punctures.

You will need to allow at least 1½ to 2½ hours for the journey from the highway but if possible allow more as it is well worth a few stops along the way to fully appreciate the scenery.
Park entry and camping fees can be paid at the Visitor Centre but pre-booking and payment for campsites can be made online and is strongly recommended in peak periods to secure a site. For more details go to http://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/campgrounds or ring the DPaW Kununurra office on (08) 9168 4200 during normal business hours. There are two camp grounds; Walardi in the southern section (generator and non-generator areas) and Kurrajong in the northern section (non-generator only).

Once at the Visitor Centre it is 27km to the Piccaninny carpark in the southern section and 20km to the Echidna carpark so make sure you allow enough fuel for travel between sites. You also need to make sure you have all other supplies you will need although untreated bore water is available from taps in the campgrounds.

The walking tracks in the park are generally rated as Class 3, easy to moderate, or Class 4, with some rough ground, but the one or two-night Piccaninny Gorge Trek is Class 6, only for fit, well-equipped and highly experienced walkers. The guide describes the first 7 kilometres as relatively difficult with it then becoming even more difficult.

Day walks include:
• easy walks of less than a kilometre around the Domes Loop or Stonehenge Nature Trail or up to Kungkalanayi, Osmand or Bloodwood Lookouts,
• two to four kilometre walks into Cathedral Gorge or to Piccaninny Lookout in the south or into Echidna Chasm or along the Escarpment in the north,
• four to five kilometre walks into Homestead Valley or Mini Palms Gorge (closed at present … July 2015), and
• a ten kilometre walk up Piccaninny Creek past the Window and into Whip Snake Gorge.

Flights over the Bungle Bungle Range provide a far different perspective and allow you to see the full extent of the range as only a small portion is accessible from the ground. You can take a helicopter or light plane flight from places outside the park including Kununurra, Warmun (Turkey Creek) and the caravan park at the turn off from the highway but for maximum time in the air over the range, flights can be taken from the airstrip located inside the park on the way to Piccaninny carpark. I’d visited the park twice before but hadn’t flown over it and on our visit last year Paul and I took a 40 minute helicopter flight. There are shorter, and cheaper, flights available but this took us right over the top end of the range to the area known as the Valley of the Giants and it was a truly wonderful experience I would highly recommend if the budget permits.

Piccaninny Creek