Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daly Waters

Daly Waters

Our next stop was Daly Waters.  We stayed in the caravan park behind the Day Waters Hotel. Very dry and dusty with an historic pub built in 1930. The interior of the pub is filled with souvenirs and memorabilia from visiting tourists.  Above the bar, to the left, are bras of every conceivable shape, size and colour.  To the right,"ditto", but knickers!
There were caps, signed towels, business cards and passport photos, a wall of bank notes from all over the world.

Amusing signs inside and outside the pub, gave the rules for entry.  "Angle Parking - Park any angle you want"; (with a parking meter and traffic light outside to assist); "Dogs, please read, you're not allowed in here"; "Everything here, not made in China"; "MacDonalds Drive Through, 287klms->", etc

Daly Waters boasts that it had the first International Airport in Australia.  During world war 2, the American and Australian air forces were based here.  There is a remnant hangar with old qantas planes housed within.

The pub has a lovely swimming pool, which after a long hot drive was particularly welcoming.

We had an enormous outback breakfast in the morning.

Elsley National Park

Elsley National Park

The national parks camp called Jalmurark, set within the Elsley National Park was all but deserted when we arrived late afternoon. Only one other couple.  We tried to find a spot some way away, to give both them and us some privacy, but when Peter went to check the closest toilet block to us, he was startled to find a four foot snake enjoying the cool cement floor.  We decided that toilet block was not for us!  So moved closer to the only other toilet block.  We could only just see the other couple's camp.  

Having tried so hard to keep our spaces so far apart, we were then dismayed when two lots of backpackers decided to camp right next door to us!  They could have chosen any number of sites further away!  We decided they were probably a little scared. 

The park was enormous and very well laid out, with fireplaces, cut wood, solar hot water and large separated camps sites.  It is located on the Roper River.  The whole area is famous for its hot springs.  These occur where there is a break in the basalt rock layer which lies over the top of an aqueous limestone artisan water system.  Rain falls in the these Barkly Ranges and soaks down into the limestone, flowing underground to this area.  It eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Carpentaria and also east to the coast.

The dusk fell and with it came clouds of mosquitoes.  So although it was hot, we had to don long sleeves and long trousers with legs tucked into socks.  The mozzie repellent being next to useless! Soon very loud hee-hawing began, reverberating right across the park as the feral male donkeys competed for domination over their harems of females!  The males would bray themselves hoarse, stop for a minute or two and then begin again!
Apparently we struck a quiet night!

In the morning we took a walk down to the Roper River.  Here we saw several swimming pontoons moored in the river.  Despite the notices declaring that there were probably no crocs in the river, we decided that the water didn't look too inviting! It was not crystal clear, quite murky in fact and had a scum on the surface. We walked along the river bank back towards the campsite, find heaps of donkey poo everywhere!  

We are very surprised and disappointed that the National Parks seem to do nothing about keeping the feral animals out of these special areas.  Needless to say the impact of hard hooves and huge grazing capacity of the donkeys is destroying the river bank edges and reducing the flora habitats. 

The famous Mataranka Homestead, of "We of The Never Never", lies within the Elsley National Park,  so we drove there to visit the hot springs.  This is a fascinating area, densely grouped palms surround the springs, which gush up out of the ground in some places and ooze out in others.  Obviously very fertile, because of the vast amounts of fresh water.  

Unfortunately there is a huge Red Fruit Bat population residing in the tree canopy above. So the stench is nauseating. In an attempt to keep the bats at manageable levels, the parks people have had high pressure tower sprinklers installed, which turn on ingintermittently. We decided we didn't want to swim here either!

A relocated replica of the Elsley Homestead, built for the filming of "We Of The Never Never", is located nearby. It has the original costumes designed and sewn for the film, hanging up inside, as well as other memorabilia from bygone eras.

The previous evening we had noticed the local people making their way down to Bitter Springs.  So with this in mind we turned back up the highway to investigate.  Again these are hot springs, located within the Elsley National Park. More palms, but not as densely packed as the ones at Mataranka. Not a bat to be seen and no dreadful stench!

It's name, Bitter Springs, belies it's reality. It is spotless with beautiful clean clear water that gushes out of a spring at 900 litres per minute.  The water flows down a narrow creek, within which you can swim.  This was a perfect place to enjoy the waters!

The creek is home to many invertebrates including small very friendly fish and insects.  Birdlife abounds alongside the water's edge and in the tree canopy above.  Water plants are everywhere including some beautiful purple flowering waterlilies.

After a great swim, we were on the road again.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park

Whilst the tyre was being sorted out, we went to the shopping centre to replenish the consumables in the camper.

Soon we were heading off to Litchfield National Park. This is an easy day trip for people living in Darwin. The drive in to Litchfield took us through hectares and hectares of burnt bush.  Some of it was due to recent hot fire which has left parts of the park looking very desolate.

The park has many hidden pools, swamps and creeks.  We drove to Wangi Falls (pronounced Wonn Guy!) where we found a campsite for the night.  500 meters from the camping ground is the falls with a very deep and wide swimming hole. Crystal clear water with easy access allowed us to have a long and relaxing swim.

After a leisurely breakfast, pack up and then another swim, we went to Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek).  Here we chose a campsite before setting off on the 1.7klms track to the falls.  The walk was very hot and over rocky boulder masses. So it was wonderful to find a pristine water hole with very tall waterfall at the end of the walk. Only two other people were there, an off-duty parks ranger and her boyfriend who had chosen to spend their day off in a favourite place.

After several swims and a picnic lunch, we noticed that there was an enormous column of very black smoke coming up on the ridge behind us. By this stage the park ranger and her friend has started walking back.  We decided that the fire was now getting a little too close for comfort, so started quickly back to the car.  By now the fire was starting to move over the edge of the ridge. Between us and it was a small stream that we could jump into if it got too close.

Our walk back, was, needless to say, much faster that the one to the falls.  On the track leading back, we met an on-duty park ranger who asked us to hurry out of the area as the path was now "in danger"!  Camping was also not allowed, so we headed back to Wangi Falls.

A much better campsite this time, away from most other campers and in particular, away from a family with four very noisy young children, who constantly screamed for either "mummy" or "daddy".

On the return to the Stuart Highway, we called in to the small town of Bachelor. At the local general store we were able to buy freshly baked rolls, which we enjoyed for breakfast.  This is a beautiful little town, with the best kept gardens, parks and recreational grounds imaginable.  There are magnificent plantings of tropical and indigenous shrubs and trees everywhere. Everything is lush and green, having been watered every day. It feels and looks like a tropical paradise, based in far north Queensland.



A very long day was ahead of us when we left Bumbang Ku.  We left the hotel by boat at 8.30am and dropped off Brad (part owner of the deluxe units) and his friend Sonny off at the surfing spot along the way. A car and driver were waiting for us in Gerupuk.  This was to take us by the Mataram office of Nunung, where we could settle our hotel bill by visa card, and then on the the domestic airport.  We had booked a flight from Mataram to Denpasar, from where we could take our Jetstar plane to Darwin.

Despite all the seeming chaos in Indonesia, this all happened very smoothly and few glitches.  The flights were all on time, the driver was there to meet us, (even though the message to him wasn't clear; - he had arrived by road to the hotel. So while we had breakfast he drove to Gerupuk, it would have taken an hour by road, only fifteen minutes by boat) the office was open and the domestic plane very new and therefore safe.

We arrived in Darwin at 10.30pm, where we checked in to a nearby motel for the night.  We decided that we would deal with the car and a possible flat tyre in the morning.  It is worth noting that the hotel provided free transfers to and from the airport and, we discovered, too late, cheap long-term car parking.

The next morning, on arrival at the long term airport car park, we did indeed have a slow leaking rear tyre.  So another trip to the tyre centre was in order.  The tyre was leaking because somewhere along our travels, we had pierced the side wall.  Was this after the repair in Katherine or before? We have no idea. It was illegal for the tyre centre to repair this sort of puncture as the structure of the tyre had now been compromised.  Fortunately for us, they had an identical Michelin tyre with which to replace it.  This was amazing, because these tyres are very difficult to procure!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bumbang Ku

Bumbang Ku 

We were met in the harbour at Gili Air by our guide for the day, Awan. Boat transfers and a very swish car with driver had been pre-organized for us.  The harbour on Lombok to which we arrived is called Bangsal. It is very busy with fishing boats, smelly market and small wurungs lining every street.

We had had much discussion with both Madin and Awan about exactly Bumbangku Ku Beach Cottages were.  They kept saying we meant Bangku Bangku, which is a long way west of where we needed to head. So in the end we just told them, Gerupuk!

The road leading to the new freeway was pot holed and very rough. Soon we were on the way to a wedding.

This was held in a very tiny, impoverished fishing village. The bride was Madin's daughter! We were invited to attend the actual ceremony.  This was held in the very small mosque in the centre of the village.  We followed the bride and her new family-to-be to the mosque. The bride was beautifully dressed with a lovely yellow lace jelba covering her head and arms.  It was decorated with yellow lace flowers and silver sequins at the edge.

The inside of the mosque was lined with the local male dignitaries all wearing Indonesian hats and sarongs. We sat outside peering in.  Soon we were asked to join the bridal party inside the mosque! It was a bit uncomfortable becuse we know that women ar not allowed inside with the men and here we were both being invited in.  There was some scurrying about as appropriate sarongs were found for both Peter and I.  This was to be wrapped around our waists to hide the legs! Both of us had hats on. We were told we could take photos and move about during the ceremony at the appropriate times to take other photos.  

The wedding papers were examined in detail by the Amir. Then the ceremony began with Madin giving his daughter to his future son-in-law. He asked the groom whether he would look after his daughter, etc. The boy had to reply, helped by prompting from the older men, upon which the two men shook hands.  Then came the vows between the two young people.  The groom was very nervous and couldn't get the words right.  He tried again and again, with much prompting.  Beads of sweat were now pouring off his face.  Eventually the Amir gave him the written script to read to try to help him get the words correct.  Again and again he tried, always with something wrong.  At last he got the words right and there was much cheering and clapping in the mosque.  Then it was the bride's turn.  She was word perfect the first time!  Some money was exchanged. That was the end of the ceremony.  Very simple. The marriage was a love marriage apparently, not arranged as one would assume! Everyone was given a small sealed container of water with a straw.  We didn't stay to participate in the wedding breakfast - there was still a long way to drive!

The drive to Mattaram, the capital of Lombok, took us along a dual carriage highway that was still being completed in some sections.  In Mattaram we needed to buy a new memory card for my camera, buy airline tickets back to Denpassar and get some ear drops for Peter who now had waxed up water in his ear!  We were taken to a very new shopping complex.  This surprised us as we had assumed, wrongly, that such a place didn't exist in Lombok.

Being Sunday, it was a public holiday for most people, so the money exchanges and banks were all closed.  People throughout Lombok were enjoying a day out.  The public beaches were all crowded with families enjoying the wurungs, picnics and socialising with one another.  

Our journey took us through irrigated and very intensely farmed areas.  Rice paddies, vegetables, cotton and tobacco are all grown in this region.  The remaining areas we drove through were very dry. Lombok is very dry by comparison to Bali!

I really wanted to look at the famous Ikat weaving done in the women's weaving commune.  Our guide took us to this small commune village in the heart of Sukurara.  This is where the ceremonial sarongs are made renowned throughout Indonesia and South East Asia.  The pieces are hand and foot woven on very ancient looms.  The women have to wear a woven belts to protect their backs and stomachs because the wooden stabilizers for the weft and warp are at the  front of the looms and the women sit between then using their bodies to hold the theads taut.

I wasn't disappointed.  The work was exquisite! It takes at least a week for the loom to be prepared for the woven pattern before weaving can begin.  Through each thread divider, two strands must be placed. The thread dividers are less than 1mm apart and less that 1mm in width, so the work is very fine.  The women use mostly cotton, but also silk and gold and silver thread.  Only about 10cm can be woven on each day, so they are also painstakingly slow to make.

The head woman of the commune took us around the village to view the women making the cloth.  The village was very poor, with each small house having just 2 rooms - a bedroom and a kitchen with a small open area at the front; room enough to keep the loom.  The men and women are all involved in farming, so the weaving takes place in the down time.  Although the houses were built so close to one another and the people so desperately poor, there were no nasty smells.  The houses inside were immaculate.

The drive took us past the new international airport, due to be opened on October 1; two weeks too late for us!

After this the road began to deteriorate. By 4.00pm we had reached the small port of Gerupuk, where we were supposed to call the hotel to let them know of our arrival so they could send the hotel boat to collect us.  But the phone calls made to Bumbangku all gave the same message that the phone could not be connected.  So with this we proceeded to hire the services of a local boatman.  He could however, see that we hadn't been there before and had no clue about the correct charge to take us to our hotel, so we were swindled we later discovered!

From Gerupuk it is impossible to see Bumbangku  so here we were on a local fishing boat heading out to sea with no idea where we supposed to go, with a boatman who spoke very limited English.  We past seaweed farming and a few crayfish farms. The seaweed is used in the manufacture of cosmetics. We passed one of the famous Lombok surfing spots, a long way out to sea and breaking just before a rocky reef. All surfers have to catch a boat in order to surf here. A floating bar at the edge of the break allows the surfers to have a rest and a drink.  Finally we rounded a rocky hill protruding from the sea, to catch our first glimpse of our hotel.

Bumbangku Beach Cottages is located in a very sheltered bay towards the most southeasterly tip of Lombok.  It is the only hotel located in the area and best arrived by boat because the road to it is almost impassable. The hotel in Gili Air was a three star hotel, Bumbang Ku a one star hotel.

Within the bay is very intensive lobster farming, but not yet extensive enough to detract from the resort feel of the place.  Most of the accommodation is bamboo cottages with thatched roofs with attached outdoor bathrooms;  these contain a hole-in-the-ground toilet, flushed by bailing water from a large urn, and a cold water shower - quite OK in this climate. We have one of the larger cottages - about 3.5 m by 3m.

When we first arrived there were several other guests; three French couples, an Aussie family and a New Zealand women with her adult daughter.  Tony ( Aussie) had a Phd in political economics, so our conversations were very interesting as we discussed the current political situation in Australia.  His wife, Julia, is a psychologist working in schools.

The French tourists in this part of the world make no allowances for local etiquette.  The "partner" of one French couples insisted on bathing with a g-string and completely topless.  This is an Islamic island, so the behaviour affronted the sensibilities of the local Sassak people.  Another had an anger management problem, which he took out on the staff when he was kept awake by a local village wedding - nothing at all to do with the hotel. On another occasions he screamed at the staff when he arrived late for breakfast and the coffee was cold.  He ranted and raged for almost an hour, yelling personal verbal abuse and swearing. It turned out that although he spoke French with his French wife, he was from Barcelona.  I wonder what John Cleese would have made of that?

An extremely thin female dog visited the restaurant for each meal and then went away again.  She has been named Dolly by the New Zealanders because of her big tits.  She has produced four fat and cute puppies, hiding them in a small cave nearby away from the villagers and other dogs. She has obviously wasted herself away with feeding the pups and needs a good feed, a good worming and a good home!

The owner of Bumbang Ku is a woman called Nunung.  She seems to be an extremely successful business woman, who owns a real estate business and a separate tourism booking office in Mataram.  She came to visit her latest venture, the hotel at Bumbang, twice whilst we were there. Nunung has wonderful people skills.  She provided, for all the tourists, a delicious free lunch of fresh Blue Swimmer Crabs and local vegetable called celerik.  A truly delicious meal! I taught Sono, the chef, how to make Chilli Ginger Crab.  Anyway the vile Frenchman (from Barcelona) went home happy.

The reason for providing the lunch , was in fact, not to appease the Frenchman from Barcelona, but to apologize for the water problems.  Whilst we were there, a new and deeper well was being drilled.  The contractors needed water from the first well to dig the second well. So without notifying the hotel staff, the water was completely disconnected for long stretches at a time.  Then the old pump wasn't strong enough to pump the water up out of the new and much deeper shaft.

Bumbang Ku has only been open since January 2011.  So what Nunung has achieved in that time is truly remarkable.  The location is so remote that there were no infrastructure facilities such a water, power, telephone and internet when she first bought the land.  In early 2011, a well was sunk, generator purchased and telephone (not reliable) were installed; cottages were built, of the bamboo variety and some deluxe units built.

We were very ably looked after by the staff, Anggar, the manager come fixit man, Sono, the chef, Simi, his assistant, Issey, the gardener and  Mutazam, the housekeeper.

We have tried to do a long walk every day. There are three very small villages nearby.  All of them are involved somehow with the sea, either as fishermen or aquaculturalists for lobster or seaweed.  The village to the east is extremely poor having the poorest soils and very limited water.  This village is situated right beside a national park of 380 hectares.  A small strip of sea abutting the peninsular of the national park is marine park.  However, the ranger only spends about one day per month here, so no policing of logging or removal of trees happens.

On day three, some lovely South African women, Dee and Marianne, arrived with a friend from Kalimantan.  They were fun to be with. Both live in Cape-town.   Marianne, has with her husband, purchased the block next door, onto which they also plan to build a small holiday resort. Two of Dee's kids represent South Africa, a daughter is an Olympic water polo player and the other, a son, Paul Harris, a slow spin bowler.

On day five, we took the boat and a driver to have lunch at a well known restaurant, Astari, high in the hills above Kuta, Lombok. We asked the driver to give us a bit of a sightseeing tour of some of the local attractions before we went to lunch.  I wanted to visit the local market to see what spices and herbs were available in the local area.  We wanted to buy some tea leaves for a decent cup of tea as well as some other sorts of spices so that I could cook something different in the hotel kitchen. 

The driver took us to a traditional Sassak village. This was beautiful, very tightly packed together houses all made from wood, bamboo and palm fronds.  It was surprisingly cool, no smells despite the fact that there was no running water anywhere.  Toilets are all long drops and bathrooms open air structures with a large urn for water and a pail. Women in the village were weaving and making jewelry from coconut shells and colored beads. The villagers have community rice paddies in which they all work, down on the flat below the village.

Then we were taken to a batik workshop, where we watched a man designing batik lengths of cloth on the floor.  Each motive was done on the fabric with it draped over the hand, all perfectly positioned and separate from each other.  It turned out that he was a designer and creating new symbols for the island of Lombok on the cloth. These included, Tamarind, chillies, spinach leaves, onions and garlic.

The road to Astari Restaurant was dreadful.  Supposed to be tar, but with the worst holes and sand patches imaginable. Two cars driving up were forced to turn back because their car didn't have enough power to make it up the steep hill. Apparently there have been many very serious accidents leading up to the restaurant.

The lunch was very nice, but the chef at Bumbang Ku makes far tastier food! The best thing about the Astari restaurant is it's location.  The view is spectacular! From the restaurant verandah you can see Bumbang to Kuta, with the surf, reefs and steep mountainsides.

The owner of Astari is a man called, Gaz - an Aussie.  He asked us where we came from, and told us that he had a cousin living somewhere in the Narooma area, did we know him.  Graeme Mummie lives at Potato Point and we know him and his wife Lynne very well!

It was sad to leave Bumbang Ku, as we felt that we were leaving a kind and friendly family.

Gili Air Lombok

Gilli Air Island - Indonesia

From Darwin our flight took us to Den Pasar, where we caught a taxi to our first night in Sanur.  The hotel was located on the new by-pass road, so very busy with traffic.  The hotel was being extended and renovated.  It was a typical international hotel, with not much character or charm. We were quite glad to be able to go by car and driver to Padangbai, some 3 hours away.  The breakfast, however was magnificent, with typical authentic Indonesian food on the help-yourself buffet.

At Padangbai we had to wait for a couple of hours to catch the fast boat to Gilli Air.  This took another 2 hours in very rough seas! So we arrived at Gilli Air at about 4.00pm and caught a horse and cart to our hotel.

This is beautiful and relaxing place.  No cars or motor bikes allowed on the three Gilli islands!  You can either hire a horse and cart or a push bike.  Apart from our horse drawn ride to the Gilli Air Hotel, we have mostly chosen to walk.

On our second day here, we walked around the edge of the island. It is supposed to take one hour - we took two.  We stopped and gawked at everything along the way; the warungs (shops), carving places and the bars and hotels.  

Everything is very rustic and most buildings have been designed and built using at least some traditional styles and building materials.  Palm thatched roofs abound, many relaxing dining and drinking areas built right on the beach, with comfortable cushions atop a wooden platform and small table.

The snorkeling is very good here - it's what the islands are renowned for. So many international tourists come here to dive.  They are mostly young backpackers who rent very cheap local accommodation.  We feel like the geriatrics on the island.  The islanders now refer to me a mamma - I think a reference to grandmother.

We hired snorkel and goggles for three days from a warung, and used them to explore the reef.  The reef, Han's Reef, is just a short walk into the water from the front of the hotel.   So named after the Sassak (indigenous Gilli and Lombok Islander) owner of the hotel.

We have been very pleasantly surprised by our snorkeling experiences.  We had expected to find a reef devastated by over fishing, cyanide poisoning and bombing, but instead we found a vibrant and alive ecosystem. Corals of every variety abounded, as did fish, shells and many invertebrates.

On the second day's snorkel, I was astounded to find myself swimming with a very large green backed turtle.  He/she wasn't in the least bit frightened and with mouth still full of seaweed came closer to peer at me!  It was just a meter from my mask!  It turned slowly rose to the surface for a breath of air and then came back again to look at me.  Peter had moved away some distance, so it was with great reluctance that I left it to it's meal! During this same snorkel we also saw an enormous stingray and Pipe Fish amongst the other most gloriously colored fish and sea creatures.

The local people are charming. The all speak Sassak; rapidly! Most speak at least 3 languages, including Bahasa Indonesia. My attempts at using some of the words have met with puzzled amusement! One of the hotel employees is hired purely as a translator. Madin speaks about 12 languages fluently! 

The wages in Indonesia are very low.  The poverty line wage is very low, being 800,000 RpD per day. In Ozzie dollars this is about $80 per month.  Farmers and self employed people earn even less.  Madin, for all his intelligence and ability only earned the equivalent of $100 AU per month.  This makes it very difficult for the main bread winner to feed and clothe his family let alone give his children a good education. Given the low salaries and the disparity between rich and poor, there is no crime.

Madin previously was a guide, taking visitors all around Indonesia. His favourite two places are Borneo and Sumatra, which he says are still unspoiled. He has organised for his friend to take us on a tour of Lombok, on our way  to our next hotel; Bumbangku Beach Cottages.  This appears to be at the furthest southerly tip of Lombok and the last little bit can only be reached by boat.  So goodness nows what we are in for on Sunday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Home Valley Station etc

Home Valley Station and Lake Argyle

Home Valley Station is beautiful.  It is an oasis in the desert! As you enter the homestead area you are greeted by manicured green lawns, enormous shady trees and lush flower beds.  

The homestead is now a reception, bar and restaurant, with a swimming pool for all guests.  The campsite beside the Pentecost River is 7klms from the homestead, again with green grass, but not lawn! The edge of the river had been severely damaged by the deluge of the last wet, so where previously there had been large trees, there were now only small trees.   And where the bank had been, was now either badly eroded or washed away altogether by the flood waters.  The flood took with it, shelters and heavy wooden picnic tables.

He CoWe expected to find lots of salt water crocodiles, but alas only saw one head gliding through the murky water, a long way from where we could take a photograph!  Early in the morning, we expected to see more, as the tide had receded a long way out.  We heard the barking of a croc, but couldn't see any trace of it!

Beside the river were plenty of birds of prey, including a Sea Eagle, a Brahminy Kite and some hawks.  Along the grassy edges were Whistling Ducks, on their long migration from Russia, lots of Zebra Finches, other little olive coloured finches and some Yellow Hooded Plovers.

Unfortunately the visibility coming into Home Valley Station and during our stay there, was very poor due to the heavy burning off being carried out at El Questro Station.  So we were unaware of the magnificent scenery afforded by the Cockburn Ranges until we reached a lookout just above Home Valley. Even early in the morning the red and orange of the cliffs was not visible from our campsite. Instead they were a hazy purple.

In the morning, our drive towards Kununurra, ensured that we had to cross the Pentecost River.  It is a very wide river, probable over 250 meters wide at the crossing. There is no bridge, no causeway! You just drive across the river, through the water, on the river rocks below! You are not allowed to get out of your car, because crocs lurk in the water, so you just have to put the vehicle into four-wheel drive at let the low ratio gear take you across! The water was flowing quite rapidly and we estimate the depth to be about 500cms at the deepest part!  Earlier in the season the river had been impassable!

We chose not to visit El Questro, because we had been jolted around on rough roads for some time, and also we had been told that this station was very touristy and very expensive - over rated; over priced!  Also we need to leave some things to do when we comeback again, which we are determined to do!

 The remainder of the Gibb River Road leading into Kununurra, some 40klms, turned out to be the most corrugated of all the road.  We took it very slowly but were still jolted around quite a bit.

We stopped in Kununurra to refuel and resupply with food.  We ate our picnic lunch in a magnificent green park beside Lake Kununurra. On returning to the truck we discovered a leak from the diesel fuel tank.  We were unsure whether this was due to being over filled or whether there was now a crack in the welded joints of the tank.  So Peter got under the truck to try to find out. We went to some of the car service places, who either wouldn't look at it or couldn't for two days.  So we decided to test whether is was due to over filling or not and drove to Lake Argyle to stay the night. 

A beautiful caravan park with green lawns, swimming pool overlooking Lake Argyle, ensuite bathrooms and great camp kitchen.  Unfortunately we couldn't stay to enjoy it for more than one night.

The diesel stopped dripping over night, but as soon as the sun started to heat up the day, it began to drip again. This prevented us from truly visiting and enjoying Lake Argyle as we needed to deal with it promptly.  As the tank was very full we headed for Katherine to empty it as we drove along. The tank needed to be empty in order to be welded.

Along the drive to Katherine, we stopped several times to check if the tank was still leaking - it was!  We arrived too late to go to a mechanic.  We also discovered when we stopped that we had a slow puncture -a legacy of adorned puncture received from the bridge repair work on the Trunketabella bridge.

The next morning we went to every mechanic in Katherine to see if we could get help. Not one of them could fit us in because they all said they were too busy.  Finally, however, we called in at an engineering firm.  They asked us to come back at 1.00pm to check it out.  One of their employees with an interest in fuel tanks, found the two cracks in the weld joints and the owner agreed to fixing the tank the next day.

A quick dip in the nearby Katherine hot springs, soon revived the bodies. The spring is right in the heart of Katherine, free to everyone.  It pours out of the earth, crystal clear, beautifully warm and in great fast volumes.  Lots of locals go there straight after work to enjoy a freshen up.

Although this caravan park was very well appointed, it turned out to be very noisy.  The chap in the car next to us kept his radio all night, the dogs barked incessantly, there was shouting and screaming coming from the park behind us and the road trains passed on the highway near by with their air brakes shrieking!  Not much sleep for the two nights spent here!

The repair to the tank, meant wiling away a whole day in downtown Katherine. Not a good day to be doing such a thing, because it was "pay day" (Thursday).  People were shouting and calling out, drunks were staggering around and the stench of pee was everywhere.

At 2.00pm the bottle shops all open and the cycle starts again.  This opening time places great stress on the local taxi drivers who drive indigenous community members to and from the bottle shop. It was during this rush, that we needed to get a cab back to the industrial area to collect the truck. This proved to be quite tricky.  

On arrival at the engineering workshop the truck was ready, so we headed of to Edith Falls to camp in the National Park.  A gem, this turned out to be!  Deep water hole and very quiet bush camping!  We will return on our way back home and explore it some more!

Next stop Darwin, where we decided it as time for a motel room.  We spent the day booking flights and accommodation to Bali, Lombok and the Gilli Islands.

So for two weeks there will be a break in the blog.  We off to sleep and relax

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hann River and Home Valley Station

Hann River and Home Valley Station - Sunday 4th September

A refueling stop and lunch was had at Mt Barnett Station, before proceeding onto our stop for the night, beside the Hann River.  Here we stayed beside the river on a sandy beach area.  The river wasn't very deep, but clear, running and fresh, so a good place for a dip.

No one else came to this site so we had the river to ourselves. We were able to have a great campfire and used it to cook the last of our vegetables.

The road had been graded in many places after Hann River, so these parts were really pleasant to travel on.  

There are no bridges on the Gibb River Road, so every creek and river crossing is a ford.  Some are better than others! There is still water in most creeks along the way because of the huge amount of rain received during their wet!  The crossing at the Durack River was at first glance was very daunting; sharp rocks and boulders lined the very narrow edge and sharp rocks protruded from the water.  We took it very slowly and it turned out to be quite ok.

Everyone had warned us about how isolated this areas is before we left.  We have found it to be otherwise - there are people everywhere!  It is far more inhabited than the Tamami.  It is far less isolated than the northern parts of Kenya, and the roads are generally better!

The scenery was filled with smoke haze, the closer we got to Home Valley Station. This meant that as we were driving along we had no real concept of the scenery.  It wasn't until we reached the lookout just before Home Valley Station that we realized we had been driving along the top of a high plateau, with majestic gorges and valleys.  In front of us the lookout was the Cockburn Ranges and the enormous Pentecost River. The Cockburn Ranges are dominated by huge red cliff faces below mesa mountains, with steep gorges in between.  Without the smoke haze apparently they glow with orange and red light!

We pulled into Home Valley Station to have lunch and make camp for the night.  We were greeted by an oasis blooming in the desert - green lawns, swimming pool, flowers, large shade trees and wonderful reception/bar/restaurant area.  Lunch was delicious!

We chose to camp at the station campsite down beside the Pentecost River.  This is home to the salt water crocodile, though there were none visible this evening.


Mornington - Thursday 1st September

Back onto the Gibb River Road, where we purchased some fuel at Imintji Store.  They make a great cup of coffee here, so whilst Peter finished his, I asked the owner about the current state of the roads.  He told us that the main road had been graded very recently, as had the roads to Mornington and the Mitchell Plateau. 

So after making a radio call in to Mornington, we drove the 90klms in!  The first 50klms were good, but the road became rocky and corrugated after that.  Again many creek crossings, filled with water. On the way in, three wild horses were on the road.  They bucked and pranced away when our truck came close. 

Mornington is a wildlife conservation park, owned and run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), which is an independent, non-profit organization which aims to deliver effective conservation for all Australian animal species. They own 22 sanctuaries and an active program of practical, on-ground land management.

Mornington covers over 322,000 hectares in the central Kimberley, protecting a range of tropical ecosystems and great diversity of wildlife. Threatened species on the property include the Gouldian Finch, the Purple-Crowned Fairy Wren, the Short-Eared Rock-Wallaby and the Northern Quoll.  So let's hope we are luck enough to see them!

Well, on the road to Blue Bush Pool, we saw our first Short-Eared Rock-Wallaby! Another two were sighted near the toilets. 

Incidentally we went to Blue Bush Pool to swim. A beautiful deep stretch of water at the top end of the Fitzroy River; called Blue Bush because of the blue-leaved paper barks that line the banks. No one was around at all so we jumped in without our clothes and sun dried on the banks before heading off to set up camp.

We dined in the restaurant on wild Barrmundi! Alas it was fairly ordinary. After dinner, a talk was given by one of the resident biologists about Mornington and the work of the AWC.  We are very impressed, especially with the new joint venture with Charnley Station. AWC has negotiated a joint management plan with the new owners of Charnley, so that they will manage the Artesian Range.  AWC has discovered many species believed to be extinct in these ranges.  It is only now, we realise how fortunate we have been with our camping cruise.  We have seen animals that AWC thought were extinct! And Sue saw something that is none of the fauna books!! Anyway the joint venture will prove to be very exciting and will allow biologists to study how to prevent future mammal extinction.
An early morning walk along Annie Creek enabled us to see a family of three Purple-Crowned Fairy Wrens and a flock of Crimson Finches. We also startled a very small Short-Eared Wallaby.

We decided to hire a canoe to be able to travel down Dimond Gorge.  This was an hour's drive from camp, but still on the same property!  This proved to be a very worthwhile exercise. On the drive in, a very large and well-fed looking Olive Python was crossing through a creek crossing.  At another crossing we spotted a thin, but long black snake and later a Blue-Tongue Lizard.

The canoe trip was 2klms long and we paddled through one of the most awe inspiring 
gorges of all!! Sheer rock faces of 30+ meters channeled the upper reaches of Fitzroy River into this amazing gorge.  Fortunately a proposal to dam this part of the river was quashed by public outcry!! On the few sand banks, were remnant forests of tropical palms. Birds abounded, but the shy freshwater crocs stayed away!  We took the opportunity to swim several times in the crystal clear swimming holes that were meters and meters deep.

On the return to camp, we decided to detour to Cadejput Pool.  It was here that we spotted a dingo. Apparently the dingoes at Mornington are amongst the last pure-bred dingoes in Australia.  We also saw a pair of Buzzards, a very large kind of bush turkey. This time we swam at a sandy river bank, not quite as lovely as the Dimond experience!

We left early in the morning to rejoin the Gibb River Road, 90klms away

Fitzroy Crossing

Fitzroy Crossing

After all the pain of getting the camper back onto the truck, we chose to have a night of comparative luxury by staying in The Old Crossing Inn.  On arrival, the scene was like a Mutu bar in the slums of Nairobi.  No reception open, but grilled bars to the entrance of the liquor area.  Fortunately at 6.00pm, the bar closes for the day, and most people vanished.  We retired to our room, to find it clean and presentable.  

In the morning, we woke to discover that our verandah overlooked the Fitzroy River.  The sun was just rising and creating beautiful mirrored images of the overhanging trees in the water.

From Fitzroy Crossing, it was a quick and easy trip to Geikie Gorge.  Here we went on a boat up the Fitzroy River, through the gorge.  The cliffs are Old Devonian Reef beds that have been eroded away by thousands of years of water erosion to create the gorge.  This is where you are able to see loads of freshwater crocodiles either soaking in the river or sunning themselves on the sand banks and ledges.  The cliffs are tinted bright orange up high, but have white and pink tinges indicating the high water levels during the wet.

That night we camped at the RAAF Boab Quarry site.  We had the best spot overlooking the quarry, which is very deep and is filled with the cleanest and clearest water imaginable.  A swim, soon freshened us up!

Peter raided all the past camp fires for spent coals and together with the small amount of firewood we had collected, we soon had a great campfire. We shared our fire with another camper, who is a lecturer at UWA, in anatomy.

We left early in the morning after another refreshing swim, so that we could reach Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge in the one day.

Tunnel Creek is very interesting.  An above ground creek has eroded the Devonian Reef below ground, so that the creek now runs in the passageways that it has created.  The tunnel runs for about 750 metres.  This means that you need to take a very strong torch with you as you walk through waist high water through a series of underground chambers.  Fortunately the chambers are all cavernous, so it is not as claustrophobic as you would imagine.  The tunnel does, however become pitch black, hence the need for strong torches.  

We were lucky enough to see a Cherubum (fresh water lobster) swimming close to our feet, as well as small fish and tiny fruit bats.  We felt very brave after we had finished the walk and emerged back at the entrance again.  Both Peter and I are claustrophobic!

From Tunnel Creek to Windjana Gorge is just another 50 klms, through a series of water-filled creek crossings.  It was at Windjana, that we planned to spend the night.  

Close to the showers was a perfect bower built by the  male Great Bower Bird.  He was in residence and trying to attract a mate!  To our delight he danced and sang and rearranged his collection of white objects.  On his head he has coarse flat feathers that he opens up, to display a vivid purple cap. Eventually after much dancing and singing and coaxing, a female finally alights on the ground outside of the bower.  He became very excited and danced even more frenetically. Then when the female poked her head into the bower, he moved to the other end of the bower so that all she see was his purple display feathers.  He was in luck this day, because eventually the female went right inside the bower, so he flew off to show her his nest!  

Our information incorrectly advised us that the rangers provided firewood, here.  So we were very disappointed to find that this was not the case!  However a set of fellow campers allowed us to share their fire and we had a really lovely evening with two other couples!  We cooked a delicious roast in the camp oven and with the others, shared our fresh vegetables, that we has purchased in Broome at the market.

At 5.30am we got up to do an early walk of the Windjana Gorge. It was very special because for the first 5 klms we were the only walkers on the track.  As a result we saw the fresh water crocs still sleeping at the bottom of the river. We also surprised a pair of Ospreys, some magnificent kingfishers and a very large heron-looking bird that had  dark blue wings.  On the walk back as the sun was starting to shine into the gorge, the crocs started to drift towards the sandy banks to sun themselves. The cliffs lit up with the sun's rays showing themselves as bright orange.

A leisurely breakfast and then the drive to Bell Gorge and Silent Grove. The road into the Conservation Park was very corrugated with small sharp stones. The further we drove in, the worse became the road.  We traversed through two seriously deep water-filled creek crossings as well as deep dry stone crossings, before getting to Silent Grove. A further 10klms took us to Bell Gorge. 

After a short, rocky walk and wades through creeks, we reached Bell Gorge.  It is spectacular, with a series of majestic waterfalls and deep water holes that have been carved by the water through granite. On the way down, we came across a Martens Water Monitor, sunning himself on a large rock beside one of the water crossings. He was totally unafraid of us and allowed me to take a close up photograph of him.  We swam in the top pool for some time.

Our camp that night was at Silent Grove, a former out station for the main property.  It has permanent water supplied by a spring that runs beside the camp. There are some exotic trees planted here, including a prolific mango and some quinine trees. Very few other people came to the camp, so it was really peaceful and lovely.  We had the pick of all the sites, under some really shady trees and next to a concrete fire pit.  So we could use the camp oven and boil the billy.

Our neighbour was a lone bike rider, traveling on a BMW 1200. He told us he had only fallen off 10 times! He's either very brave or very foolhardy!



We spent 4 nights in Broome in the Roebuck Bay Caravan Park, on a site not ideally suited to the camper and removed the truck from underneath it.  This enabled us to use the truck to sightsee, restock the camper and catch up with Brenda and Mal (friends made at Gnylmarung).

A little bit of sightseeing ensured a good look at Cable Beach - this time with far fewer tourists.  WA visitors apparently leave for Broome after Mothers' Day in May and leave during August in time to arrive home by Fathers' Day.  It's a beautiful beach except for the hoardes of people and their vehicles.  A very enterprising chap rents beach umbrellas, sun lounges and surf boards - at exorbitant rates.  For 2 people, for the day, you can hire all of the above for $70. A free glass of water and a shot of sunscreen is thrown in, "free of charge".  The strange thing is that the sun umbrellas are mostly occupied!

We traversed the length of the jetty at the Port of Broome and visited Gantheaume Point, where the dinosaur footprints are said to be.  Wrong tides for us, though, as we were there in neap tides and you need spring tides to be able to view them properly. 

A stroll around the centre of town took us through Chinatown, where there a numerous pearl jewelry shops and art galleries.  The prices are well beyond our expectations and a local jeweler tells Brenda and Mal, that she can buy Australian pearls cheaper, overseas!
We searched the op-shop and clothing stores for suitable attire to go out to dinner.  Peter met with success, but not Sue! Clothing here, is expensive!

On Saturday we went to the Broome market, where we bought locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.  We also sampled the famous mango smoothies and ate lumpiares. Most handcrafts were sourced from Indonesia, so we didn't purchase anything other than food.

The unsuitable campsite turned out the be an enormous hinderance when trying to put the truck back under the camper.  Some very kind neighbours helped guide us to reverse it into the right place and then left to do sightseeing of their own.  So then we tried to attach the tie-downs back onto the truck. This is where the fun and games began.  There is very little tolerance, so the jacks were put in and out of place, while we jiggled with the positioning of the truck for three hours until it was just right!!!!!