Break 2 Days 7 & 8 – Mataranka & Katherine Gorge

We left Daly Waters semi early to head to Mataranka hot springs. The hotsprings were more like warmish springs – apparently a constant temperature of 97degrees I think. We walked to the main swimming/dipping area which was ‘humanized’ with steps and concrete supports so that too much erosion did not occur. It was quite nice, but rather crowded and not as hot as I had hoped for. We decided to push on to Katherine and did not bother taking the longer trip into the other area you could swim in a more natural setting. The actual restaurant/bar area was quite interesting as you could see where the flood waters rise up to – half way up the walls! We are certainly in monsoon land now, no longer in the dry outback of the red centre!

After driving to Katherine, we spent the rest of the day at an internet cafe and making plans for the next day. Despite the lateness, and much to the tourist bureau staffs surprise, we managed to get 2 canoes rented for the whole next day.

We had the canoes from 8am till 4pm. Katherine Gorge consists of a series of 13 gorges. With the full day rental, you are able to make it to the end of the 3rd gorge comfortably. To go any further in requires doing overnight camping in the gorge. Unfortunately, the ‘canoes’ were not so much canoes as plastic surfboards with seats. They were closer to kayaks, but had no rudder and no keel. They were almost impossible to steer, but very stable… Mike and Pat were sterning and both had their work cut out for them. Other than the ‘crappy’ boats, the actual trip was fantastic.

The gorge rises all around you. At times it bends and is wider with interesting shoreline and birds and butterflies, at other points it narrows down and you are surrounded by perpendicular walls on both sides. There are often small water falls and caves along the walls also. Being on a small boat in the bottom enhances the experience. There are many areas along the shore which are natural sandy beaches (the sandstone rocks erode into nice sand) – but they are off limits since this is where the freshwater crocodiles lay their eggs.

At the end of the first gorge, you leave your canoe and swap it for another one rather than portage. (that’s when we managed to get the really awful boat!) At the end of the 2nd gorge, the ½ day renters turn around, and the full day renters haul their boats over to the 3rd gorge. As is the norm, there were a lot less people doing the longer haul – and we were much more secluded once into the 3rd gorge.

Near the end of the 3rd gorge is a hike into a fantastic waterfall. We hiked into Lily Ponds where we had lunch and a swim. It must be a bit wetter this year than usual, since the waterfall was still flowing and according to our map, it usually flows from January to June. We all agreed that this area should be called the Garden of Eden rather than that at the base of King’s Canyon – it was breathtakingly beautiful and remote. As we finished our lunch, some others joined us, but it was still quite secluded. The water was quite cool (early summer in Lake Minicock type temperature), but refreshing. Standing under the waterfalls you were able to see a complete circular rainbow surrounding you.

Next we paddled to the end of the 3rd gorge where the ‘vortex holes’ formed a natural barrier to the 4th gorge. The water is fairly low at this time of year, so the rapids above the vortex holes were also quite shallow – forcing those on the longer trips to portage a fair distance. It must be even more impressive to go deeper into the gorges where there are even fewer people! But for us, we puttered around the rocks for a bit then made our way back with the canoes.

It was quite a memorable day, and enjoyable to work our upper bodies rather than just our legs as we do when hiking!

Break 5 Day 6 – Devils Marbles and North

Today’s itinerary included the Devil’s Marbles. We arrived around 10am with only a few vehicles around. In the time we were there, several bus loads arrived and departed – at least 2 cycles worth. This is one of the main reasons it is best to travel on your own – you aren’t tied to their schedule. We all went our separate ways exploring – there were boulders everywhere. I did the classic trail, Mike crossed over the road to get to more isolated areas, and the boys climbed – everything in site. It was fun for all.

The marbles are formed from an ancient rock plane which cracked and split linearly, and then weathered all around to leave circular forms. There were balanced rocks, split rocks, flaked rocks and bridges. These aren’t small rocks either – as you can see from the one we are ‘resting’ in. All very awesome and making you once again appreciate the power of nature.

Also at the site were plaques explaining the local wildlife. Beyond the normal roos and wallabies, the more unique includes a frog which is only active when water arrives. When the water dries up, it fills its body with water, then burrows under the water hole, hibernates, and survives for many months on the water it absorbed when active. There is a crab which is very similar.

The boys and I returned to the van and made lunch and eventually worried about Mike. Pat went on a recognisance trip with no luck, then another with success. Naturally, Mike was just photoing! Mike ate and we headed further down the road – more interesting rocks – and then we were back on the road by about 1 pm.

After a short stop in Tennant Creek for some shopping (and a chat with a lady who recommended a stay at Daly Waters roadhouse), we pushed on. We did not want to drive in the dark again, but managed to push on to stop in by Newcastle Waters – an abandoned town. The town was on the main route prior to the building of the Stuart Highway, and it was a key station in the cattle droving. There were many articles on the walls of the old hotel from the papers, and the were plaques of all the drovers from the station. The town was abandoned in 1988, and now only one home is occupied.

We managed to get to Daly Waters before dark, but just. They had no powered sites left, but that was okay. We booked a ‘Beef and Barro’ dinner (Pat just beef, Mike just barro, Kyle and I ½ & ½) for 8pm. Before dinner we had a browse around the bar and caught some of the entertainment before dinner. Once again the bar was full of items left by visitors. These included many bras, panties, hats, police badges, emergency worker badges, shirts (one Canadian map on a shirt left just a week prior), many flags, coins, paper money and anything else a traveller could part with to leave a memento. The boys had fun spotting Canadian content – I think there was more of that then American for sure – even some Canadian Tire money!

 

The place was packed, but we finally found a table right up front at the speakers. The star of the show was a country singer whose side kick was his Silky Barrow Chickens. He presented them as eagles, but they were just chooks (another Aussie-ism for you). They sat up at the stage with him for the entire show, and even ended up on his head during our dinner set. The younger ones wandered around and pecked on stage or even in between some of the front tables. He also had a homemade map shaped guitar. When he took his breaks, there was a comedian (the pub owner), and guitar player (a local rodeo star) who filled in the gaps. All in all an entertaining and fun night and a very yummy dinner.

And this time we all took advantage of the showers before heading off for Katherine the next morning!

Break 2 Day 5 – Drive to Barrow Creek

We were back on the road (sharing with the road trains as seen here – that’s ONE truck) with about 1500 km to drive to our drop off point in Darwin. First, off to Alice to stock up on supplies, we rose and made the boys get up too this time. We pulled into Alice just before noon and started with a visit to the camper rental shop. We had by this time accumulated quite a list of problems with the camper and we wanted to make sure they knew they were pre-existing. Two of the more concerning issues were the ‘sticky’ door lock and cracked windshield. While they waited for the windshield guy to come check it out, they gave us a loaner rental car to use. I went shopping for groceries with the boys,and Mike stayed back to deal with the camper. Turned out that they swapped vehicles for us, and we were back on the road by about 1:45 – so not much time lost even!

As expected, we filled up regularly with diesel. Not sure what the prices in Canada are at now, but here it is quite painful. We paid as much as $1.80 litre on this trip, with $1.40 being a bargain price in the bigger towns. Diesel is about the same price as regular petrol (or gas for the Canadians). Now that we are back in Mandurah, it’s anywhere from about $1.25 to $1.39 a litre – the prices here bounce around just like back in Ontario!

We had phoned ahead to see if we could get a powered site booked at Barrow Creek – but they indicated it was not really necessary to book. We made decent time and pulled into Barrow Creek around 5:00 pm. It was clear to see why pre-booking was not needed – even as roadhouses go, this was not a very luxurious spot to say the least. There was one power pole in the middle of a clearing. We were the only power site users when we arrived, although several more campers did pull in after us. The final sight was quite humorous, camper vans all huddled around the pole in an odd layout.

But fate was on our side is a weird way. As Mike filled the camper, what appeared to be smoke started coming out of the pump and our tank. Turned out the tank was empty (it was probably deisel fumes). They were out of fuel till the next morning. We were only charged $20 for the $25 which showed on the pump – and we were not charged for a campsite since they thought we were staying just for the fuel. Little did they realize we had tried to book a space, and would have stayed anyway!

The place was full of character however which made for lots of material for Mike’s favourite pastime – he had fun perusing the grounds. And as in many roadhouses, people for some strange reason like to leave things behind. The ‘bar’ (actually an extension on the cash register / grocery station) was full of memento’s even in this remote station.

None of us slept overly well that night as there were noises all night of banging metal doors. It sounded like the wind, although there did not really seem to be much of one. Perhaps it was the locals up all night…at any rate it was disruptive to the sleep. And given the circumstances, none of us used the shower facilities either (see photo 🙂

Back on the road tomorrow to see the Devil’s Marbles!

Break 2 Day 4 – King’s Canyon

Mike and I slept in till 7:30 and we hit the road with both boys still in bed. And they stayed that way till almost 11:00 when we arrived at Kings Canyon. It was a much longer drive than we had expected. We had a bite to eat at arrival – and headed out on the lengthy walk around the canyon.

The path is now marked so you do not need a guide, and again the long walk was the best route to take since the crowds were much reduced. The trail takes you all the way around the canyon (seen at left) and down into the bottom half way through. The hike is intentionally reversed now – posted signs indicate that it starts with a very strenuous vertical climb meant to ensure only suitably fit people attempt the walk (we managed to pass the test).

There were several spots which triggered memories from 18 years ago. Mike is quite certain that some of the trees he photoed were the identical trees to last trip. We will have to compare when we return home!

Both Pat & Kyle thoroughly enjoyed the hike also. It is hard not to be awed by the physical beauty of the canyon. It is the type of hiking we all enjoy – over rocks and open landscape with views abounding. The photos help to tell the visual story.

The hike takes you through the Lost City where ‘beehive domes’ cover the landscape (much like the Bungle Bungles in the north of Western Australia which we won’t get to see I suspect).

There is a wide variety of plantlife in this area which is due largely to the location. Kings Canyon is at the meeting point of 3 distinct vegetation areas: the western desert which we are more familiar with, the abundant varieties of the MacDonnell Ranges and the harsh vegetation of the Simpson Desert.

Once in the bottom of the canyon, it is a tropical oasis, aptly named The Garden of Eden. The water hole was much fuller this time, and there was now a staircase leading both down and up making the trip easier – we had to scale the rocks last time!

Once back at the van, we had a sandwich lunch and then started our drive back to Alice. We pushed darkness a bit far (luckily causing no roadkill), but managed to make it out to the Stuart Highway at Elrunda Roadhouse and even lucked out with another powered site.

I haven’t mentioned the weather as yet – although you can see from the photos the sun is shining brightly (Pat got a bit of a burn today). The daytime temperatures are comfortable, but the nights are MIGHTY COLD. It was a good thing we got a powered site since we need power to run the heater and it went down to -3c that night! Ah, but we’re headed north starting tomorrow, and we’re told once we hit the Tropic of Capricorn it will warm up nicely.

Break 2 Day 3 – Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and Olgas)

I can’t help but compare things to our last visit here. This time we spent our first night at the campsite area in Yulara . Yulara did not exist when we were here in 1988 – last time we camped in a swag on the ground. Yulara is a huge resort with accommodation for 6,000 – 3,000 camping, 3,000 hotel type rooms in a range of quality. It is basically a town with it’s own grocery stores, post offices and more. Mike & I walked over to one of the bar areas where there was some entertainment. We tried to buy a beer, but had failed to bring our campsite receipt. Yulara is on aboriginal land (leased back to the government) and is a dry zone for the locals – so you need to prove you are a guest to buy a drink here. Luckily a lady who overheard my dilemma lent me her room key to allow us to buy a drink.

But back to the days events…. We rose semi early, had a quick brekkie and headed back to Uluru (the photos of Uluru are spread through this section in no particular order). We started at the cultural centre which was a maze of rooms and spaces where we managed to lose each other several times.

From the centre we did the walk over to the rock rather drive. It is a different experience walking up to the rock rather than driving. When you are right below it, you cannot see the top and don’t get the full appreciation of the size. When you walk up slowly, it looms before you (photo at right) and you get a much better sense of it’s size as you realize how long it takes to get there, even when it seems like it is right in front of you.

The large photo at right is the view of the rock as we approached. You can see the climbers (you will probably have to click on the photo and really look closely at the tiny white specks – those are people) making their way. I had already decided that I would definitely not climb this time, but honour the aboriginal request not to (and pamper my knees which even suffered 18 years ago). I was surprised how many people were still climbing given the very strong request from the aboriginals. Patrick was debating whether to climb, although he finally decided not to – and it turned out that the climb was just closed anyway due to high winds. So we all set off for the long walk.
We have since discovered that the only real way to avoid the crowds is to do the ‘long’ walks. The bus masses do the short walks to say they’ve been there, but the long ones are only done by the independent travellers like us.

It was very nice to do the walk all the way around the rock. It was something totally different from our last visit (we only did a little bit last time), and the views as you travel around are quite varied (photos through this section). One of the features we came across looked a lot like ‘Wave Rock’ (photoed here)- a site we likely not see here in WA since it is difficult to get to.

There are numerous stories regarding different sections of the rock. The rock is believed to be the home of the Rainbow Serpent – the mother of all life to all aboriginals. Uluru is where she created all life, and the stories around the rock relate to that creation. If you want to read a bit of the aboriginal story, check out http://www.ace.net.au/darkmoon/rainbow.htm.

There are many areas where you are asked not to photograph as they are of significance to the aboriginals – and they still use them as meeting places. You are able to photo some of the paintings however as seen here. It is considered acceptable to paint over top of someone else’s art, but not to repaint it. So the areas where painting is done (such as in caves or underhangs) have become quite ‘crowded’ . The aboriginals have been here for up to 50,000 years it is believed.

It was a long walk, and took us till mid afternoon – even with the short cut over the road (when we weren’t quite sure we were going the right way). By the time we returned to the camper, had lunch and drove over to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), we did not have time for the full long walk. (remaining photos are of Kata Tjuta)

It was very interesting although crowded – and again something we had not done last time. The walk was very bumpy however and hard on the feet. Both Mike and I had throbbing feet by days end – and the boys were apparently pretty zonked too given how late they slept the next morning!


The rock at Kata Tjuta is again sedimentary, but not the same as Uluru. Uluru is homogeneous with no jointing and is made of a coarse grained sandstone with an abundance of feldspar. Here, the rock is conglomerate with a variety of basalt, and granite all mixed with a finer sandstone. As a result, the erosion has occurred differently resulting in the ‘many heads’ of Kata Tjuta.

Then it was the long drive out to Curtin Springs for our second campsite. As on the west coast, you have to be careful driving at dusk and dawn – with new dangers. En route we passed some camels eating at the road side – one male and his harem of 3 or 4 females. He was right on the road at times (we stopped), and boy was he big! We passed a solo one later on also, but that was it. At Curtin Springs we had dinner and then watched Austin Powers (bought in Alice) – at least those who could stay awake watched!

Break 2 Days 1 & 2 – Getting to Uluru

The anticipation at the start of a trip is always much more exciting to experience than to review, but for those interested, I’ll start with the back story of getting to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

Friday brought Mike & Pat home. Mike was exhausted from Country Week since he was on supervisory duties each night until all the students settled down then was up very early to head off to the games. He photoed other Pinjarra teams as well as coaching the girls basketball team, so his days were full. The girls team played very respectably, and all were pleased with their convincing 3rd place finish in a challenging division. Had they scored a single point more in the semi-final they would have been in the grand final – against a team that had met and lost to by a single point. Here are 2 (wow a record!!!) shots of Mike – one after their successful win for 3rd, and another with a fellow teacher / volleyball coach – wearing one of the gifts from the team (he also received an Aussie flag signed by the team and a basketball).

We had a bit of a scramble to get Mike a tripod on Saturday morning as Patrick had left a critical piece behind at Gingin. Mike ended up with a new tripod, which isn’t so bad since the old one was about 20 years old and missing some newer features. The scurry had us leave a little later than planned, and we arrived at the airport to extreme crowds – having to park in the 3rd or 4th level of overflow parking. Luckily the airline opened up express lanes for imminent flights and we managed to get checked in just in time for our flight to Alice Springs. No Worries!

Alice itself seemed quite similar to our last visit in 1988. Although definitely bigger, it still had the same character, and the residents were just as friendly. People seem to come here to visit and just never get around to leaving. Many people you speak to have been there for 5, 10 or 15 years and had never really had planned on staying, but they just love it there.

Saturday evening we stayed at a hostel and the hosts very kindly drove us to the ‘Overlander Steakhouse’. We are almost positive that this is the same restaurant where we shared a fantastic (for 3 of us at least) meal with Dan & Suz so many years ago (with Dan’s infamous miniature buffalo steak :-). Although witchetty grub soup is no longer available, we did share an appetizer plate of Emu (quite good – bit oily), Crocodile (bit fishy), Kangaroo (better than WA roo we thought) and Camel (the least favourite for all of us, but still tasty). We all had beef of varying cuts. The portions were large and the accompaniments superb, however each of the 4 different cuts were a bit disappointing given the reputation of Aussie beef. Apparently the very best cuts now are exported, especially to Japan since they can draw such huge profits. Too bad since the beef we had here last time was superb.

We then headed to Coles to do our groceries for the trip to Uluru in the morning. In the morning Mike & I rose early to go get the camper van while the boys were spoiled with a late lie. Mike managed to drive back to the hostel very smoothly despite the size of the beast. It was a bit older than we had hoped for and showing it’s age, but very roomy with a cooktop, microwave, fridge, TV with DVD, 2 indoor tables, toilet/shower/sink, toaster, kettle and running hot & cold water. It was a bit later than we hoped by the time we set off, and it was a long drive, so off we headed to try to catch the sunset at Uluru!

The drive was long, but with a speed limit of 130km per hour, we could travel as fast as we wished (which was NOT 130km in Beast). This area is not full out desert, but covered in sparse scrubby vegetation as you can see by a shot from the window.

The first giant formation you come to is not in fact Uluru, but Mount Conner (859m). It is substantially larger than Uluru (348m), but not as much of an attraction. Uluru is more interesting due to it’s changing vision in the light, and it’s monolithic presence.

We made it to sunset over Uluru just in time. We ate our dinner watching the subtle colour changes. If you peek through to see the colour of Uluru in our family photo here, you can see the difference of the rock colour from the other photo here.

Then it was off to Yulara to check into our campsite for the night before returning for a true visit to the Rock tomorrow.

On the Road Again….Short Update

Quick update as my time here at the internet cafe is just about up. We’ve been to the Red Centre, and are now up in Katherine Gorge – stopped in here at an internet cafe before we checked into our campsite.

Photoed here is Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Kata Tjutu (The Olgas) and Kings Canyon – the areas we visited last time we were here.

We are now into new territory – no photos yet of the other sites, but here are some travel shots for your enjoyment – including our snug campsite one night, the roadtrains we are sharing the road with, the toilet/shower areas at a campsite and a typical roadhouse with all the memoabilia left behind.

 


And We’re OFF – Red Centre and Top End Route

Well we are off on our second break tomorrow! We have already seen and done and so much (and spent so much I might add …) that is hard to believe this is only our second ‘break’.

Back in April we travelled up the west coast to Exmouth, and on several weekends we’ve explored the southwestern coast of Western Australia from Albany back around to Perth. So now we expand our horizons and head east and north.

This trip has been in the planning since before we left Canada – I actually booked the flights for Mike, Kyle and I last year before we left! Since then I have added a flight for Patrick, and modified the itinerary. We will fly into Alice Springs tomorrow (Saturday). We pick up a rather large 6 sleeper camper van on Sunday morning. It is a manual monster – should be entertaining as Mike and I drive this monster standard shifting with our left hand!

I’m including a map to show our approximate route (not a very accurate map in reality) From Alice we will drive down to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and into Kings Canyon – for about 3 nights. Mike and I did a similar trip back in 1989, so it will be interesting to see the changes.

From there we start our drive up to Darwin, with several sights en route. We hope to see Devils Marbles, Mataranka hot springs, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield National Park.

Once in Darwin, we return the camper and head out on a 3 day 4 wheel drive trip into Kakadu. And after a last day to explore Darwin, we’ll head back home – totally exhausted I suspect – for Mike, Kyle and Patrick to get back to it the very next day. And then I can start posting our trip – similar to the April trip I’ll try to do a day or two at a time.

 

In the meantime, several other family and friends are travelling – Marucia (Ma), Derek & Meg, and Jack & Nina (Mum & Dad) to name a few. So travel safe everyone, and we’ll catch you in a couple of weeks!

The Monty Birthday Boys and Oh Canada!

For those who know the Monty Clan, you will know that Mike’s father and brother share their birthday. Many years ago (47 to be precise), Derek joined his brother Michael on this earth on this day. And many more years prior to that (in 1934), George Larry joined his parents Ralph Pat and Madelaine May on this same day. So Happy Birthday to both the Monty Men from this branch of the clan – missing you both!

Well it appears that Michael has network access at Country Week – he sent me the missing Canada Day photos for posting – so here is a sample of our Canada Day celebrations. We started with a rather wet drive to our hosts home near Perth. There was yet another torrential downpour which left the streets flooded for our drive – this was part of our drive in.

Our Canada Day celebration was actually two fold – it was also a farewell to Cindy who had her exchange from July to July. Cindy is from Barrie also – she lives right around the corner from St. Joe’s!!! (You may remember her name from our April trip to Exmouth – we met up with her and her cousin there.) It will be fun to connect back in Canada and share some of our Aussie memories.

As is normal with such celebrations, we had LOTS of good food to share. Despite my fitness spare time activities, I have yet to lose any weight due to such events – that along with the most superb wine!

As part of the now annual event, the Canadians were required to join in a resounding rendition of ‘Oh Canada’. And to be honest, I was quite surprised to find that it brought a tear to my eye..

We then in turn requested the Australians to serenade us in return with their anthem, which they quite enthusiastically provided. We ended with an all in rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, of which we all managed one successful verse. (On closer inspection of the photos, neither team seem to be very thrilled singers 🙂

As Cindy’s departing gift, she received (as apparently we all will), a souvenir from Kalgoorlie (we go there in August). It is a ‘betting stick’ (sorry, don’t know the real name yet) with spaces for 2 pennies. They are tossed in the air – in a very special motion as being learned/demonstrated here. Bets are placed on the heads/tails landing. I suspect we will find out in August just how much money can pass hands with this simple tool!

Back at home we stopped by the beach to check out the local waterfront with the high winds and high tides. This is an area of the beach we have walked along many times – the tides are definitely higher now. Not being an ‘ocean’ person, I am quite enthralled by the whole concept of the tides and their variations.

And finally – we will be heading off to the ‘Red Centre’ and ‘Top End’ this Saturday for our next two week break. I’m not sure what network access we will have for the break, but stay tuned on our return at the end of July for a flurry of postings with all our outback activities. I’ll try to post a map of our planned route before we go.

He’s Loving His Footie!!!

First off, Happy belated Canada Day! We celebrated down under with an Aussie hosted BBQ for the exchange teachers and families on Sunday. Unfortunately, Mike has gone off to ‘Country Week’ (described below) and in the rush he failed to transfer the photos for the blog over to me. So stay tuned for future postings of the event.

I sit here posting this blog in a severe thunderstorm. We have had record amounts of rain over the past week or so. In addition, the tides are at their extremes around now – the sun and moon are all set up for the maximum tides (I’m learning lots of stuff down here!!!) So the volume of rain, high winds and high tides are making for some wet roads, downed trees, power outages and rivers breaking their banks. But the locals are pleased to have the rain to fill the reservoirs. And as we mentioned previously, almost every rain is accompanied by a rainbow since the clouds blow over so quickly. Another one showed up on Friday – this is the view from out our front door.

As mentioned, Mike is off to Perth for the week with the girls basketball team (and all the other school teams) for Country Week. This is a week where all the ‘country’ schools come together in Perth to compete. Since they are so physically dispersed, setting up games with other schools is difficult. This week allows them all to get together for some competition which would otherwise not be possible. Teams come from the country schools all over Western Australia (which is more than twice the square kilometres than Ontario). Again, stay posted for photos on his return.

As for Saturday this past weekend, Mike AGAIN was off to the footie (with Patrick this time). He is becoming an avid fan and very much a good luck charm for the Dockers. They won again – this time by a huge score (their 2nd largest spread ever) over Carlton. Mike has used his birthday monies to purchase not only the much needed ‘sunnies’, but also a Fremantle Dockers footie shirt as seen here!

Again for those who like the action shots, here is a selection of shots from the game. I’m starting to think that Aussie Football should be sponsored by an underarm deodorant company – check out the number of armpits in the shots 🙂 !