Friday, May 31, 2013

Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles) WA

We left Lake Argyle and went to Kununarra againto do a bit of shopping. From there we headed off for the Bungle Bungles. Well we reached the Caravan Park just at the entrance to the Purnululu National Park and were told that they had no powered sites available, so we backtracked 50 Kms to Warmun Caravan Park were we even have mobile reception and a powered site. So tomorrow we will head out early and take the 4WD road into the Bungle Bungles and see what we can see there.

Today was mainly driving, but we did stop at the Zebra Rock Gallery, just outside Kununurra, and had a really nice mango smoothie whilst we looked at the jewellery, paper weights and various other things made from Zebra rock which is only found in one area in the world and that, of course, happens to be close to the gallery. Ruth bought herself a heart shaped pendant and a small bag of rocks that can be made into homemade jewellery.

Apart from that it was fairly uneventful, but the scenery was quite dramatic in places - huge rock formations that were twisted and shooting up at all angles, some even perpendicular, obviously indicating great forces at work at some time in the past. Then there were hills that were just piles of rocks in all sorts of shapes and sizes, as if a giant had placed them there for all to see. Had to pay $1.97 per ltr for diesel today, but that's better than $2.05 that I paid at Timber Creek.
Pinnacle Rock Formation near Warmun WA.
Pyramid Formation near Warmun WA
28th May 2013

We did the Bungle Bungles today and it has worn us both out. It was 5 am the mobile phone alarm went off and we were out of bed and getting ready for our trip to the Bungle Bungles - we were excited as this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip. Ruth packed our lunch with two cans of drink and two water bottles. I had previously taken the generator and some other heavy things out of the car as well as taking off the extended side mirrors. We knew we had to go 4 wheel driving for this trip and we knew it was a fair way into the Bungles (or Purnululu National Park).

We left the caravan at the Warmun Caravan Park and it took us half and hour before we got to the turn off into the National Park - actually the road in is through private property, a huge cattle station called Mabel Downs. The owner of the station sits at the entrance of the road with his station wagon all set up with an espresso coffee machine in the back, he opens the gate for you and greets you and then closes the gate and goes back and sits by his car until the next car comes along to either enter of leave. He is elderly and apparently enjoys doing it - else he gets paid for every car that goes through his property and he is counting to make sure he gets the right amount. (We had to pay $5 for the day at the Park entrance - much better than $50 at Kakadu).

Once inside the gate we had 53 Kms of corrugated, windy (twistie), rocky, water crossings - you name it it had everything an unsealed road could have except mud. The corrugations were the worse, we just got up to the "sweet spot" speed where the car glides over the corrugations, and there would be a bend in the road or a deep gulley or a steep hill where you couldn't see where the road was until you crested the hill, so it was get up speed, slow down, brake for a rock in the road and with my bad right knee the continual throttle and braking started to make it quite sore. (I'm now used to using the cruise control, just set it and let it do the work, and rest my leg for hundreds of Kms at times).

Oh yes, we mustn't forget the dust, when another car or bus passed going the opposite way you had to slow down until the dust cleared so as to see where you were going - then someone in rented 4WD decided to overtake us and we had to eat his dust for several Kms (we later saw him off on the side of the road, this was coming back, with either a flat tyre or a broken axle, we didn't stop as he already had a few other cars helping). We finally made it to the National Park, paid our fee, got a map and found out that we had another 27 kms of dirt road before we got to our first destination the Cathedral Gorge and Pikinini Creek walk.

Our first view of the Bungle Bungles
That's not a road, it's a creek bed!
As we got closer to our destination we just had to stop and take photos and more photos, it was really magnificent to see the rock formations and the colours (even I could see the different shades and hues). 

A lot of people camp inside the park (although they don't allow 2WD vehicles, they do allow single axle campers and caravans - although I wouldn't like to take one in, many do). So there were already quite a lot of vehicles at the parking area and people of all ages, shapes and sizes heading out for the various walks from this spot, with cameras in hand. We did too! 

Everywhere you looked were these beehive shape formations as well as many other formations, but all with the layered cake style formation typical of the Bungle Bungles - I won't bore you with the official explanation of how they were formed because it involves millions of years.
We took the risk.
 We took off and followed the track which then split, so we took the one that headed into a gorge, but was a dead end with a small pool of water, but still was a nice walk, but we had to back track and find the right path to the Cathedral Gorge which also ended in a dead end, but this dead end was a huge cavern with a large pool of water in it - looking up you could see where the water falls came down in the wet season - it was awe inspiring. 

Ruth walked to the back of the cavern behind the pool and I got a nice photo of her and her reflection in the pool, but the cavern was so huge that I couldn't get the whole thing in one photo. An elderly lady came along and said that the Qantas choir came here and sang the National Anthem and it sounded great because of the echo effect - so I tried it out by singing the end of "How Great Thou Art" - it echoed nicely.
Ruth and her reflection in the Cathedral Cavern

We then back tracked that walk and went onto the Piccanniny Creek walk to the lookout - you can see some of the dry bed photos - one part was a smooth as a sealed road, then another part was lots of gullys and holes and all around were these beautiful rock formations.
We made it to the lookout!
Pikinini Creek Bed - middle section.
We saw termites nests way up on these "beehives" so as they are safe from the floods that come each wet season, and they have a tentacle of nest material coming all the way down the side of the "beehive" to the ground so as they can harvest the grasses that grow there.

Lots of "wow" scenes all around.
This is the scene you see in their brochures.
By the time we had finished these walks we were pretty tired, but we did want to go and see another part of the park called the "Echidna Chasm", which was the 27 kms back to the park headquarters and then another 16 kms all on dirt tracks.

 So, when we reached Echidna Chasm parking area it was going on for something past one and we had missed the 'sweet spot' viewing time which was around midday when the sun shone down into the chasm and showed off all of the beautiful colours. However we decided to go and have a look now we were here - we should have then had our lunch, but we thought we might get some of the sun's effect - so off we went onto the creek bed that ran out of Echidna Chasm which I'm assuming was called Echidna Creek - it was rocks and more rocks, some small, some fist size others soccer ball size and all sizes in between - a trap for the unwary to easily turn an ankle. Ruth did it in sandals, I don't know how as I was having big problems with proper walking sneakers - I wanted to look up at the cliff face whilst walking, but had to stop to do that in case I sprained an ankle or worse aggravated my knee problem.

The cliff face was made of conglomerate rock (see photo) and it was really high and just amazing how "over millions of years this just happened" - except it was so obvious that it would have been made by swift running water that was full of rock, sand and pebbles. I wonder how that could have happened - duh! how about a worldwide flood?
Conglomerate boulder fallen from Echidna Chasm.
Pathway to Echidna Chasm - rocks.
Entering Echidna Chasm
Inside Echidna Chasm
Leaving Echidna Chasm
  After stumbling our (my) way up the creek bed we finally came to the chasm - we had missed the 'sweet spot' altogether, but it was different and we were there all by ourselves because everyone else had left after the sun left the chasm. We walked into the chasm for a fair way until we came to a bend where it got smaller and there was a lot of boulder hopping to do - we had pretty much had it by this time, so we decided to turn around and go back to the car park and have our lunch and a cool refreshing can of pop - only I guzzled mine so fast that I got cramps all the way down my esophagus.

 It was time to leave if we were going to do it in daylight, my leg and knee was paining quite a bit by now so I asked Ruth to drive us out, which she did.

At the Ranger station we stopped and bought a framed photo of the Bungle Bungles from the air - it would have cost us $700 for a 30 minute helicopter flight over the Bungles, I just couldn't justify that, so we bought the $35 photo instead - I was going to take a photo of the photo and pretend that we had done the flight, but that would have been cheating!

Ruth then drove the 53 Kms back to the main road and it was just as bad going as coming, so we have decided that we are now 4WD'd out and don't want to do that anymore. All told we did almost 200 kms of driving that day on 4WD roads. I took several short movie clips, from the passenger seat, of the road and creek crossings.
Creek Crossing leaving the Bungles Bungles.
When got out onto the main road heading back to Warmun Caravan Park at about 4pm these two small kangas or maybe wallabies jumped from the side of the road right in front of us, Ruth slammed on the brakes, missed one but the other hit the driver side bumper bar and skidded across the road.

 We were both quite upset by this and it sort of put a damper on the whole day.

Wed 29th May

We are at Fitzroy Crossing, stopped at Hall Creek, went to the hospital (dental section), asked about getting my tooth fixed, sure the dentist will be here next month!

This morning when we got up and went out to the car we found that we had a slow leak in the rear left tyre. The owner of the caravan park said he could help out if it was a puncture, so we looked and looked and all we could see was a small stone caught in the tread of the tyre, but when we put some air in the tyre we could hear and feel air escaping from around that stone. The owner said he had a repair kit that could help us out - when we prised out the small stone it looked like a 3 cm dogs fang (see out of focus photo) and the hole was now quite large. He ended up putting two plugs into the hole (whilst the tyre was still on the car), pumped it up and said $20 please, fixed - and we drove the whole 450 Kms without any more tyre problems. Tomorrow we will go to Broome - maybe!

Today, 31st May in Derby, I finally got around to taking the car to a tyre specialist for a permanent puncture fix. He pulled out the temporary plug and announced that he couldn't fix it because the hole was too big and he couldn't guarantee that the his plug would hold. So I told him to put the spare on the car, plug the puncture as best as he could and I would use that tyre as a spare until I could buy a new tyre (he didn't have any that size) - so our trip to the Bungles looks like costing us an extra $200 plus for a new tyre. So endeth the saga of our trip to the Bungle Bungles - one we will never forget (for the wrong reasons).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lake Arglye WA

We left Timber Creek on 24th May (highest price for diesel I have yet paid - $2.05 ltr) and headed for the Western Australia border and Kununarra. We saw literally thousands of bottles trees from the road as we travelled to the border (if the one at Timber Creek Caravan Park is 250 yrs old - questionable) the photo I took of the one beside the road must be almost twice as old, and we saw heaps like this one some had twin and triple trunks and very funny shapes.

Old bottle tree beside the road.
 We arrived at the border where our car and van were searched for contraband by the border police - as are all cars, vans etc that cross the border into W.A. They are very conscious that no plant disease is brought into the state, so all fruit, vegetables, walnuts in shell and honey not heat treated are taken, they check for cane toads that may have hitchhiked with you and if your car is too dusty it has to be washed off. 

We had already been warned by people and signs along the road (and we checked it out on the internet), so we made sure that all of our fruit was eaten, veggies like potatoes and onions were pre-cooked - but we did have a small jar of honey that we weren't sure if it had been heat treated or not, so we had honey on toast for several morning before we crossed the border, but there was still a little bit left in the jar, which we declared and it was confiscated together with half of a coconut shell in which we were keeping our sink plug. 

Then onward to Kununarra. We arrived at Kununarra and found the Visitor's Centre at about 12:30 pm, but when I looked at their wall clock it was only 11:00 - by crossing the border we had gained one and a half hours - however we will have to give it back when we come home via the Nullabour. Kununarra is having its Ord River Muster and annual Rodeo Show and Concerts (tonight Guy Sebastian will be there) at the moment, so the place is quite busy, so we opted out of Kununarra and headed back on the Victoria Hwy 35 Kms to the turn off for another 35 Kms to Lake Argyle Caravan Park where we decided we would have a good break and booked in for three nights. 

The weather here is much better than the top end of N.T. - its gone from Hot and Sticky to Cool and Windy (that's strong air movement, not twisty roads). So last night was the first night in many we slept without the AC going all night. A pleasant weather change and also there don't seem to be any sand flies here - they have been giving us a lot of discomfort, my ankles have swollen up I have so many bites there (and other unmentionable places). The only thing that is now bothering us are the fruit bats, at night, in the trees above and beside our caravan - they were on the roof and were dropping stuff onto the roof as well. When I got up in the middle of the night to take a walk I scared them and as they flew off they must have done what I was going to do, as I felt a little splash on my face and the smell was really musky. 

We were woken up this morning by helicopters buzzing the park at low level (at least that what it sounded like), but actually it was the helicopters coming to take people on flights across Lake Argyle - Ruth says it was the people from the bus that came in last night having sight-seeing flights. Lake Argyle is the largest expanse of fresh water in the Southern Hemisphere. It was formed by the damming up of the Ord River back in the sixty's so as it could be used for irrigating crops and was called, funnily enough, the ORIA (Ord River Irrigation Area). It also provides hydro-electricity for all of the surrounding towns and the Argyle Diamond Mine. 

We went to have a gander at it this morning - and yes it is BIG - as far as the eye can see and further it goes, holding 10.765 Gigalitres of water. We took some photos, but they only really get a small part of the whole area of the lake, but it was still beautiful to see. One of the photos shows where they got the rock for the dam - you can see the scar of the quarry just to the right of the dam.

Windswept Ruth and Lake Argyle
Part of Lake Argyle
The dame wall at Lake Argyle, quarry on the right.
Ord River Outlet from the dam.
 There is a really nice swimming pool here looking over the lake, called the Infinity Pool and should be really pleasant swimming, except the water is so cold - a complete reversal to what we have experienced over the past couple of weeks in Caravan Pools as well as Plunge Pools at the base of waterfalls. But, we did take the plunge and got some good photos and a lady there was kind enough to take a couple of us together.

The Infinity Pool at Lake Argyle
On our last day at Lake Argyle we were being lazy. It was a Sunday, and after lunch we decided we should do something. There was a 5 Km walk from the caravan park to the next bluff, across the inlet, from the park that looked doable. So we took off with a water bottle down the edge of the caravan park bluff and headed inland so as we could go to the end of the inlet and around it to the bluff where we could get another view of the dam. It quickly became a bit of an ordeal, as the heat of the day and the difficult track (at times we lost it until we saw further on a painted arrow on the bare rock). 

We made it to the end, where there was a stone cairn - the view was quite spectacular. To get an idea of where we were, if you go back and look at the photo of Ruth and I in the Infinity Pool, you'll see the bluff behind us to your left. What we didn't bank on was that the walk was 5 Km one way, so that meant, yes you guessed, it was another 5 Km back and by this time we had used up all of our water, so it was a hard slog back, however we did get water half way back from a water pipe that went to the Homestead Museum, that had a tap attached to it on top of a hill - except water was quite warm and not very refreshing because the pipe ran on top of the ground and was being heated by the solar power.

Dam wall from the bluff
Cairn at the end of the Bluff Walk
Scenic Rest Stop on the Bluff Walk
Looking back at the Caravan Park from the Bluff

We both slept well that night, although the pesky bats (flying foxes, I think) came back and did their business everywhere. The next morning before we left we gave the car, caravan and awning a good wash down and got rid of most of the muck. The lady in the next caravan said she would sue the park if she got one of those bat diseases!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Timber Creek NT

In Katherine we turned right and headed west (well actually, west/south/west), we were on our way to WA, the largest state in Australia. It was pretty ordinary Aussie countryside for the first 200 kms or so until we came into the Judbarra Gregory National Park and the landscape started to turn into rugged cliffs and escarpments all around and funny pointy hills with an outcrop of rocks at the very tip. As we got right into the park before and after Victoria River Roadhouse it started to very much resemble the Blue Mountains type cliffs and precipices except it didn't have the blue tinge. It then flattened out a bit as we drew nearer to our night's stopover, Timber Creek.

We don't usually drive this far in a day, but we sort of had no choice because the night stop overs are not that close as they are in more populated places of Australia. So we arrived at about 4:30pm at the caravan park and had a serendipity thrown in with the price of the caravan park.

[To back-track - when we went on the Katherine Gorge Cruise we were told that we would most likely see fresh water crocs - we didn't. Then on the Yellow River Cruise we missed out again (only salt water ones). In several of the plunge pools at the bottom of the water falls there were freshies, but we didn't ever see any.]

So to the serendipity - right here in the caravan park at Timber Creek at 5:00pm each day they have a Fresh Water Crocodile feeding in the creek behind the park - for free. So we parked our van and hurried down the back, onto a small bridge going over the creek and right under our feet in the water were five fresh water crocodiles - really close up. When the lady came with the food she told us all not to hang anything below the bridge as these crocs can be aggressive at feeding time.

Fresh Water Croc smiling.
Freshie at Timber Creek
One guy decided to get a bit too close with his camera and the big male croc actually jumped up at him about half its body length out of the water - it didn't faze him and he stayed there until the lady in charge had to tell him to stand up and stay away from the crocs. The biggest croc was 2.5 mtrs long (about as big as they get).

Ruth volunteered to help feed them but the photo I got just looks like she is fishing! I did get some nice shots though, except the reflections on the water made it somewhat difficult to get a really good shot.
Ruth fishing for fresh water crocs.
This lady caught one but it got away
250 year old Bottle Tree
Tomorrow we head for the border and Kununurra WA.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Lost City, Tolmer Falls, Wangi Falls NT

This morning we left early to see more of Litchfield National Park and to beat the Tourist Buses from Darwin. Our first stop was an area of rock formations called "The Lost City". This attraction is only open to 4WD vehicles as the 10.5 Km track to get there is just that, a track, (the lady at the information place at Batchelor said it was just a goat's track), however even though it was rough, corrugated in places, loose sandy spots and several deep cracks in the track we did it in 2WD all the way there and back - but it did take 30 mins each way as it was so windy (that's twisty not even a breeze) that we couldn't pick up any speed. 

We thought we had arrived when we came to these rocks that looked as though they were slabs of rock laid on top of each other and left to weather, but as the track still kept going we pushed on until we came out to this large area of weathered sand stone rocks that sort of resembled an ancient lost city in ruins. It was quite interesting and we were glad we had taken the time and effort to see this attraction because we were told that it was a waste of time and not worth the effort, by a couple in the Caravan Park who had spoken to someone who had been there. Just goes to show that different people have different perspectives on things - speaking to people who have been where you are going is a good source of information, but in this case it proved not to be. 

Entrance to The Lost City
Ruth at The Lost City
Columns of The Lost City
Tree holding up roof of The Lost City
Next stop was the Tolmer Falls Lookout - it was quite spectacular with a very large plunge pool at its base, but pool area was out of bounds as some rare bats lived down there, so we were only allowed to look at it from above the falls.
Tolmer Falls
So we continued onto Wangi Falls where we could swim in the plunge pool - it was a large pool and the waterfall consists of two and a half falls - the half is a small spring that comes out about half way down the escarpment and the water that comes out of that is a lot warmer than the water coming from the other two falls. It's hard to see in the photos as it is only a trickle and follows the contours of the rock face just right of the smaller of the two other falls.
Wangi Falls (1)
Wangi Falls (2)
Green Leaf Ants at home.
We had a good swim there, saw a water monitor (lizard) and got out just as the buses started to arrive. We had lunch and then drove back to the park. We had a dip in the pool here a little later.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Litchfield Tourist Park - Florence Falls NT

Today, we left Darwin and arrived at the Litchfield Tourist Park for Lunch - this is the first Caravan Park where they have caravan ports (like car ports only bigger. similar to Grandma's where we used to park our previous caravan) where you can get out of the sun and rain (in the wet season). Since arriving here at the top end we have had three nights when it rained (sprinkled) - the locals are really shocked because it never rains this time of the year.
That's a Cathedral Termite Mound ....
..... no, that is!
After we had lunch we headed out for a short trip to the closer attractions here, the first one being the Magnetic Termite Mounds. They were a bit disappointing because we weren't allowed to get up close and the way they had the viewing platform situated didn't allow us to see or get a good photo of the narrowness of the mound - these termites use the magnetic earth forces to line their mounds north & south so that they don't get the direct sunlight on them and therefore helps to keep them cool. I did however manage to get a couple of shots that showed their narrowness (don't ask me how).

These are Magnetic Termite Nests
We then went on to Florence Falls where we walked down 135 (advertised) steps - I counted 150 - to the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls and had a nice cool swim. One of the problems with these plunge pools is that you never know quite what's under the water - you can be swimming along and all of a sudden run into a submerged rock or tree trunk where you thought the water was quite deep, so they can be a bit dangerous (one lady was complaining because the fish were nibbling her toes). We usually wear swimming shoes because scrambling over the rocks in and out of the water is hard on the feet. 

Florence Falls
Ruth at Florence Falls
Another photo of Florence Falls
We had a nice cool swim, but then we were faced with the 150 steps back up to the car park, by then we were hot and bothered again, so we drove back to the caravan park and went for a dip in their pool, which was quite nice and Ruth says makes it almost not worth the trouble of swimming in the waterfall plunge pools.
Sunset at Litchfield National Park - taken by Ruth

Monday, May 20, 2013

Darwin NT

We arrived in Darwin on Sat.18th and found a nice shady Caravan Park near to the city. On Sunday we went to the Casuarina Baptist Church 9am service. It is a contemporary style service with a lot of modern songs (none of which we knew). The minister actually comes from Cessnock - Paul Avery. This church was granted $40,000 from the Northern Territory Govt. to run a Food 4 Life Programme for one year - our church got zilch from the NSW Govt. for a similar programme. 

After the service we went to the Darwin Botanical Gardens and saw some really nice tropical plants from all over the world. We also saw some bird life, but it was terrible hot and humid, so we didn't linger any longer than necessary to see the highlights and then went to the Museum.

Darwin Botanical Gardens
Bird in a tree
Where's the birdie?
Cannon Ball Tree
Cannon Ball Tree - Flower and Fruit
A lovely 'blue' bush.
Note my new Aboriginal Artwork Shirt (in the photo above) that I bought at Jabiru - it was a bargain at $34.95 when most Aboriginal Art stuff has a high royalty component attached to them. A lady at the museum liked (and raved over) my shirt so much I think I could have sold it to her for twice the price. 

We had lunch at the Museum, I had a Angus Meat Burger with "hand cut potato wedges" and Ruth had Salmon in Beer Batter with chips - both dishes were served on a wooden platter (like a small chopping board) - most unusual (I should have taken a photo of them, but was hungry by the time they were served) - then we had to wait for 15 mins after asking for our bill - they were so busy seeing people to their tables! Anyway I can't show you any photos of the museum because they have signs up everywhere (and staff standing around watching) that say "Strictly no Photography in Museum". 
Sweetheart the crocodile is an icon of the Territory.
In the 1970s, this formidable predator gained notoriety for attacking
several aluminium dinghies at a popular Darwin fishing spot
and, on 19 July 1979, was caught in a trap and anaesthetised.
Unfortunately in the attempt to haul him ashore,
Sweetheart became entangled with a sunken log and drowned.
A whole section was devoted to the 1974 Cyclone Tracey, including a room where you could hear the noise that a cyclone makes - it would be quite frightening to be in the real thing. Also, lots of stuffed birds and reptiles and dinosaur bones and skeletons of two Australia extinct animals, one like a giant emu and the other like a giant wombat. A giant termite mound sliced so as you could see the inside - apparently their main food source is grass and inside the mound they store the grass in thousands of tiny compartments so as they can survive the wet season.

It was pretty interesting, so after that we went to the famous Mindil Beach Night Markets, renowned worldwide - we weren't impressed, apart from a few Aboriginal Art stalls (prices were exorbitant) it was mainly Asian Food stalls and the regular type of stalls you would get at any market. Guess we were getting pretty tired and sweaty by then, so we left before the spectacular (advertised) sunset over the beach.

Today we had pretty much a rest day - Ruth did the washing and I went to the Aviation Heritage Centre (just across the road from the Caravan Park) to look at their B52 Bomber they were given by the USA air force when they took them out of service from Darwin. It is massive and takes up the whole hanger (see photos).
Aviation Heritage Centre
Cockpit of B52
Wingspan of B52
Tail end of B52
Early caravan made from part of B52 bomber.
Tomorrow we head off to Litchfield National Park and will spend some time there looking at what they have to offer.