Sat April 18 – Early Morning Flight to Paradise!

Hamilton Island, in the Great Barrier Reef.

Absolutely beautiful.  Turquoise water everywhere alongside golden beaches, and the most incredibly lush tropical vegetation, which is definitely a benefit to coming at the tail end of the wet season!

The main method of transportation here is the golf cart!  We checked into our condo at the airport and they gave us keys to our golf cart to drive ourselves over.  It took us about 10 minutes, golf cart speed, so it’s a small island!

On one side of the island is the main resort area – Cats Eye Beach.  This is where there is a lot of pool activity and all the water sports.  We are staying on the opposite side, the quiet side where the marina is and it’s nice to be away from all the action (definitely getting old!) and our views are incredible.

Peter finds it too touristy and definitely there is that element to it.  On the other hand, we’ve signed up for two tours, which are available precisely because of the tourist business! Tomorrow morning we’re doing an “Adventure Kayak Tour” and Monday afternoon we have a snorkeling tour.

Neither of us is feeling very perky today.  We got a very short night’s sleep last night and lost another 30 minutes in time so we’re struggling to get some energy going!  The good news is that we’ve got a nice big (3 bathrooms!) comfortable place to sleep, with views to die for, and tomorrow will be a good day!

IMG_3400  Approaching the Great Barrier Reef.

IMG_3405  Waiting for our luggage at the airport!

IMG_3406   Our new wheels.

IMG_3416  Like most of the places we’ve been, cockatoos are everywhere.  They have the most incredibly loud and raucous cries which just don’t match their pretty faces.  This little guy has taken a liking to us and sat on our balcony railing posing nicely for Peter for about 20 minutes!  (This is my not-so-good shot though.)

IMG_3412  Peter waiting patiently on our balcony for the sun to do its job.

IMG_3423  Our first sunset here – not quite what he was hoping for but I’ll definitely take it!


Fri April 17 – Grooming Day for Sue

Spent today in downtown Darwin at various grooming appointments and now I feel human again. Peter thinks I’m nuts but I say washing away the grey and a getting a fresh pedicure really do make me feel a lot more relaxed. Got great services here in Darwin, I’m really pleased with what they did, although I do miss my Toronto “team.”

Didn’t have much time for anything else except spending at least two hours getting all our stuff re-packed for flying. We had really sprawled while we were in the campervan for two weeks and actually had to leave some stuff behind – including a terrific Reebok gym bag which I just loved but couldn’t fit in anywhere. I liked the idea of just using it as an extra suitcase but Peter pointed out the extra baggage fees would enable me to buy 10 new bags by the time we got home!

So we’re now hanging out at the airport waiting for our flight to Cairns where we stay briefly overnight before an early flight tomorrow to the Great Barrier Reef. Looking forward to some kayaking!

Thurs April 16 – To Darwin, And Back to Civilization

Headed out early this morning from Batchelor into Litchfield National Park, where we hiked from Buley Rockhole to Florence Falls. The trail follows Florence Creek for a couple of kilometres until you reach the Falls.  There were lovely sets of rapids along the way, and a terrific swimming pool at the bottom of the Falls.  Had a nice swim there before heading back to the Buley carpark.  On our way out of the park, we stopped in to see the Termite Mound Exhibit which was pretty disappointing.  I was really hoping to see some actual termite activity but instead it was more of an information exhibit.  Did get a shot of one of the largest mounds we’ve seen though!

We then headed off to Darwin which was about 125 km drive – a piece of cake considering some of the drives we’ve done recently!

One of the very interesting things about Darwin and the area south for 100km or so, is the preservation of all the historic sites related to the air force activity during WWII.  This is where the air support for General MacArthur’s actions was based and where the planes landed and took off.  Many of the old airstrips – each with a name – are still lying there right beside the highway.  And there are signs indicating where the various barracks were located, quite well-spaced apart which I imagine was intentional.  There is an amazing amount of historic preservation of all these details. I think the Aussies are very proud of their contributions to the war effort.

When we arrived in Darwin, we checked into our hotel down by the ocean, and then immediately took the Britz back to Aussie Campervans.  We returned it a day early with no refund, but we both felt surprisingly unencumbered to be rid of it.  It really was a load around our necks for the last little while!  When the taxi picked us up to take us back to the hotel, we got into a Prius and it felt like the height of luxury – actually had some acceleration, no squeaks or creaks at all, and it was SO quiet!

The Britz was a tiring undertaking for both of us, even staying at motels every night.   It was an experience for sure, and we both learned a lot about how we would travel in the future, but I don’t think I would do it again.  I feel a bit sad about that, feels like I’ve lost some of the taste for adventure that I’ve always had. I suppose it’s inevitable that age takes its toll – silly things like having to get up to pee three-four times a night (no fun in a small campervan,) an aching back and dust everywhere (and I mean everywhere.)

Peter insists that I add here that HE would do it again in a flash, but with a tent.  (Guess he will only need a one-man tent when he does!)

Not to underline my declining taste for adventure but I am quite excited about tomorrow’s activities which include appointments for a pedicure and at the hair salon!  (Peter sighs loudly in the background.)

_DSC2328  Florence Falls (or 1/2 of them!)

_DSC2315  The other half of Florence Falls, with swimmers!

IMG_3396  Biggest termite mound!  This one is over 50 years old and is still a functioning residence.  We had hoped to see some of the termites actually working on it but perhaps this one is now a retirement home and they’re all reclining inside with TVs and crossword puzzles.

Wed April 15 – Batchelor, NT

(Speaking of which, wonder how Farmer Chris and Nurse Whitney are doing…)

In the Northern Territory in Australia!  We drove north from Katherine this morning, stopping in at Edith Falls for a very sweaty hike into a truly beautiful location – upper and lower pools of clear water, surrounded by red cliffs and connected by pretty waterfalls.  Very nice.

Then drove on to Batchelor where we’re staying for the night, close to Litchfield National Park where we’ll do some hiking tomorrow morning.  Close by is the much more famous Kakadu National Park but we have had consistent advice not to bother visiting it (seems like a lot of Aussies, local and not, call it Kaka-don’t ) so we’re going to visit Litchfield instead.

Batchelor is another one of the small tourist-driven towns we’ve come through,with some good solid motel facilities, but not much else!

Tomorrow we’re on to the big city of Darwin!

IMG_3390  Edith Falls.

Tues April 14 – On to Katherine

Started today with a nice Skype chat with Mum, Dad and Di.  Was nice to see everyone looking so well, and hard to believe we’ll be back home in just over 2 weeks.

Then…6 hours of driving and 90 minutes of time change pretty much took us to dinnertime here in Katherine, which is a little more than halfway to Darwin from Kununnura.

It was a lonely but beautiful drive.  We didn’t see more than 25 cars the whole time, but the scenery was really impressive.  We were driving  farther inland and the vegetation was becoming less stark.  Lots of bright red cliffs/escarpments, constructed of huge rectangular boulders that were somewhat precariously placed.  We could see where many of them had already fallen away, and it looked like a number of their mates were set to follow shortly.  But, mixed with the green trees and grass, there was more visual variety than in the hardcore Kimberley.

Not much to Katherine even though it is the third largest town in the Northern Territory.  Tomorrow we’re continuing north to Darwin but will visit Edith Falls first and then spend the night near Litchfield National Park.

Apr 13 – Mirima National Park and Ivanhoe Resort Pool

Guess who did what?!

You’re right – Peter was off “working” at Mirima National Park, and I was lounging at the pool (well, I also worked if a load of laundry counts.)

We’re still here in Kununnura and neither of us felt like getting back in the squeaky old Britz for a 2-hour round trip to either Emma Gorge or Lake Argyle.  So we basically took a day off, although mine was more indulgent than Peter’s.

He made the 2 km walk from where we’re staying to the Mirima National Park and wandered around there in the stifling hot sun for a couple of hours.  There are some neat mini-bungles there – see below.

I spent a relaxing 3 hours sitting by the pool in lovely shade reading the new Jo Nesbo book – see below.

And both us of were happy!

Tomorrow is the first of two days of 400+km drives to get us to Darwin, so neither of us felt too bad about neglecting the Britz for a day.

Mirama National Park  Peter’s (unedited) shot from Mirima, with a mini-bungle in the background.

IMG_3387[1]  My (unedited) shot of the pool from my unique vantage point – sitting in my chair, over the top of my Kindle.

Apr 12th – The Gibb River Road and El Questro Gorge

We spent a lot of this morning reconnecting with our various technological gadgets but finally got ourselves organized to check out El Questro Gorge, which is about 90 km from Kununnura.

This meant that, finally, we actually drove on the Gibb River Road!  This is a famous 4WD road that stretches east-west through the Kimberley.  It was originally built to link isolated cattle stations between Derby in the west and Wyndham in the east, but it was always a pretty rudimentary road, particularly once the parallel National Highway was built.  It is billed as one of the last true adventure roads in Australia so naturally we were very keen on driving all 647 km of it.

Eventually however we realized we would not have enough time to do that so planned to satisfy ourselves by doing the first section at each end.  (Do I need to mention that both those sections are the paved sections?  Do I need to remind myself that we didn’t have the gumption to do the middle 600 km which is unpaved and where the real adventure is??)

The first bit at the west end is from Derby to the Winjanner Gorge cut-off but you’ll recall we had to cancel that because of closed roads.  Today however we were able to get on at the east end and we finally drove on the famous road, at least for the first 30-odd km to get to the El Questro Gorge.

We had a nice hike through this high, narrow and lush green canyon, ending with a swim in a cool little fresh-water pool.  We didn’t actually get to the end of the canyon since a huge boulder had fallen into the water pool and blocked the trail.  I gather more nimble people can somehow scramble over the boulder and continue on, but we decided to err on the side of caution and turned back at that point.

But, at least we can say we’ve driven on the Gibb River Road (or, as Peter keeps calling it, the Gibbs River Road.)

IMG_3381[1]  In El Questro Gorge, although only about 1/10th of the canyon wall is showing!

Apr 9-11 Two Days with the Bungles

We head off on our drive to the Bungles, all psyched for two nights of camping.  We even packed away our computers and chargers which was about the hardest part!

The Bungle Bungle Range is in the middle of Purnululu National Park, about 175 km from Halls Creek.

The Range consists of thousands of sandstone towers that have been eroded into beehive-shaped mounds over time.  Most interesting visually is the fact they are horizontally striped grey and orange, due to the presence of cyano-bacteria which develop to different strengths depending on how porous the rock is. The most porous areas produce the heavier grey bands and the less porous allow the natural sandstone to show, which is then coloured by the same iron oxide that creates the red soil and rocks that dominate the landscape generally in the Kimberley.  (One upside of our timing which is so close to the end of the rainy season is that the vegetation is still lush and green throughout the Kimberley and makes for a very nice visual when combined with the red.)

I don’t remember how I first heard of the Bungles but they were only discovered by “tourism” in the mid-1980s so I suspect it was around then.  They were so visually striking and I liked the idea they were pretty much inaccessible!  At the time I said to myself if I ever got to Australia, they would be top of the list!

And yes, they are visually striking – incredibly so – and yes, they are still hard to access!

To get to the Park entrance, you have to drive 53 km on a pretty basic dirt road.  You must have a 4WD to get in there – the reason we rented our little 4WD campervan to begin with.  The road has actually been graded recently so it’s not as bad as it gets later in the season, but it’s still a slow and very dusty drive.

It took 2 hours to get to the entrance and then another 30 minutes to get to the campground which, very fortunately, is open but not busy at all.  In fact, the park generally is incredibly quiet  – the regular tourist season starts May 1st and I gather it gets a lot more crowded then.

The actual view of the Bungles is another 45 minute drive past the campground.  They really remain quite hidden by the other small ranges and ridges in the area, until you get very close and suddenly they are all around you.  I hadn’t realized there were so many!

They glow amazingly at sunrise and sunset so that set the timeframes for our drives and hikes into the Range.  Most of our viewing was done from the Piccaninney Creek area since unfortunately we didn’t have the time to drive to the other end of the park for that perspective.

We visited them for the first time at sunset (5:00pm) and then got up at 4:30am the next day to see them at sunrise and hike into Cathedral Gorge.  We went back again that day at sunset and then took a helicopter ride at 6:30am on the final day to see them from above.

The only minor hitch was that the park rangers set some forest fires in the distance to create firebreaks to protect against future lightning strikes.  All very noble but I wish they’d waited one more day since they created a somewhat hazy horizon.  We were worried it might impact our helicopter tour but, apart from the distance views being a little hazy, the helicopter was close enough that it didn’t affect our viewing or Peter’s shoot.

Camping in the Britz was a bit of a challenge – mostly due to assembly and disassembly several times each day.  If we’d had a tent, it would have been a lot easier!  But knowing it was only for two nights helped significantly.  We had a lovely isolated campsite with incredible stargazing opportunities and overall, we both think it was actually a very special framework for our Bungle visit.

I’m very happy that I finally got to see my Bungles and Peter is pleased with the photographic results so it’s been a great addition to our Australia itinerary.

Now we’re back in civilization in Kununnura for a few days. First step was to hose off the heavy layer of red dust that coated the truck and was our most physical souvenir of the roads into and around the Bungles! 

susie Bungles_2  I finally meet my Bungles!

IMG_3353  And Peter meets his Bungles!

IMG_3358  Shooting in the morning.

IMG_3371  Cathedral Gorge – horizontal view (for scale, find Peter in the blue shirt.)

IMG_3369  Cathedral Gorge – vertical view.

_DSC2064 copy  Peter’s Bungles.

Tree, bungles, smoke  Peter’s Bungles again – I love this shot, which has some of the smoke haze in it.

_DSC2120  Bungles from the helicopter.

IMG_3340  The lonnng drive into Purnululu National Park.

IMG_3347  Peter cooking an early dinner.

IMG_3350  And what a dinner it was!

Wed April 8th – From Fitzroy Crossing to Halls Creek

Kind of like from nowheresville to nowheresville!  With a lot of sameness in between.  Endless fields of savannah grass, small trees, very red soil and huge termite mounds.  And the occasional stray cow or kangaroo near the highway.

But there is something very hypnotic and peaceful about it, and neither Peter nor I minded the long drive.

It is interesting along the way to think about 150 years ago or so when the first white settlers were here, I think mostly establishing large cattle operations.  I suspect the highway we’re driving on is the same route followed by the “cowboys” or cattle herders and I wonder what kind of people they would have been, likely on horseback, to ride for days and weeks on end without seeing anyone or anything.  And what kind of people would actually have been attracted to settling vast unchanging lands like these in the first place!  Clearly people with a hankering for wide-open spaces and solitude.

In Halls Creek which is apparently even smaller than Fitzroy Crossing (as if that were possible,) we are staying at the Kimberley Hotel/Resort which is surprisingly hopping with lots of what appear to be local business travelers.  The parking lots are filled with white 4WD vehicles, mostly covered with lots of thick red dust so not sure exactly where all these people are going to or coming from but it looks pretty off-road – would love to know what they all do for a living!

Before dinner, we went for a quick drive to see the China Wall nearby, which is a white quartz outcropping shaped much like its famous namesake, and really appears quite odd in the middle of the red soil and rocks which dominate the landscape.

Tomorrow we head off on an off-road adventure as we travel into Purnululu National Park to visit the Bungle Bungles – something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I can’t even remember how I first heard about them but they seem almost mystical to me –  huge red beehive-shaped rock formations, which I believe were of great significance to the Aborigine population.  I’m sure there is much written about them, so I should probably do some more research before getting into any further detail!

To note – we will be offline while we’re off-road so no blog updates for a couple of days.  The next one will be long!

low res  The most common form of termite mound we’ve seen – this one was 5 ft in diameter and about 5 ft high!

_DSC1983 copy A less common construction which we termed “gothic” in style.

_DSC1989 copy  Peter’s shot of the China Wall, near Halls Crossing.

FullSizeRender  Peter getting his shot of the China Wall.

Tues April 7 – The Kimberley Challenge Continues

We’re both feeling a lot better this morning – always amazing what a good night’s sleep will do!

We headed off for Fitzroy Crossing which entailed a 3-hour drive across fairly monotonous savannah territory but with very red dirt like Hawaii. Unending horizons similar only to what we’ve seen in southern Patagonia.  Of note, were the huge Baob trees which are a strikingly original feat of nature. And the massive mud termite mounds – colonies of termites that are often 5 ft high and 5 ft in diameter.  It’s impossible to understand how a bunch of insects can build such a huge construction and even after googling, we don’t understand the logistics.  Sometimes we’d see hundreds of these mounds over a small field – it was scary to think of exactly how many insects it would take to produce such massive structures!

Unfortunately though, we are discovering that the whole Kimberley area is not totally open for business yet – we’d been warned we were coming a little early in the season and true enough, some of the significant roads are closed for repairs and some of the important tourist services are not open yet.

So we’re missing out on a couple of our key targets – Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Mountain – and even the Geiki Gorge is partially closed for viewing.

We don’t have high hopes for tomorrow either, when we drive to Halls Creek and spend the night in a hotel there.  Not sure there will be much to see without driving pretty considerable distances.

But … from there, we head into our most significant destination, which is Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungles!  We know the park is open and Peter has a helicopter ride booked for Saturday morning.  Plus by then, we’ll both be ready to give the Britz camper another run for its money and we are planning to spend at least two nights camping there!  Wish us luck!

_MG_7881 copy  Baob trees (by Peter)

IMG_3222  A really massive Baob tree

IMG_3237  The beginning of Geiki Gorge – but the closest we could get.

IMG_3240  A gorgeous sunset as we approach Fitzroy Crossing – one of the smallest towns we’ve ever seen!