Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Katherine to Kakadu to Katherine

I am coming to terms with the fact that I can't blog everything. It is just simply too time consuming, too difficult with hardly any reception most nights, and the nights that we do have reception I would like to spend catching up on world politics (snort) and the like on the interwebs or talking to our family back home.

So....I'll try my best, but from now on I will simply only blog the very best bits. Which is how it probably should be anyway I suppose, but in my blogging anally retentive brain I feel like I need to share every last detail of our trip. 

Tonight we are in Derby - I know, I know. So far from where I last blogged! See what I mean? It's a constant battle for me! So where did I leave off...

We eventually reached the Stuart Highway - civilisation! We went to Mataranka thermal pools, a place I had visited on a family holiday flying through central and north-western Australia in my dad's Cessna back as a 13 year old. I remembered it as a beautiful oasis - turns out these days it's infested with a huge flying fox population. In short it was rancid, stank, was 38 degrees and about 60% humidity. No photos could do it justice so I'll move on...

Katherine was next stop - again another place I visited as a 13 year old. We did the obligatory trip out to the gorge, but in all honesty after seeing Lawn Hill and Cape York we didn't find it very amazing. Again, moving on...

Onwards to Edith Falls, a last minute decision to stop here and camp the night, so glad we did - beautiful swimming (it was super hot) and nice campsite which was shady and grassy! Novel. We got up in the dark early the next morning to do the walk to the upper pool and falls, a 3.4km round trip. We had a swim at the top, Matt jumping off rocks as per usual. Some spectacular views coming back down across the plains north of Katherine.

Last year my best friend got married in Darwin, so it had only really been 14 months since we were last in the territory. We hired a car last year and explored most of Lichtfield National Park, although we didn't have a 4WD so this time we took the Reynold's River Road from the bottom of Lichtfield and discovered some stunning waterfalls and good campsites. These would be just as good, if not better, than the likes of Wangi or Florence Falls that are on the main bitumen Lichtfield road from Darwin. Of course there was practically nobody here either, we had the place to ourselves and spent some time swimming and soaking up the towering red cliffs and sun-baking water monitors on rocks...

Darwin was our next stop, to top up some supplies, do some washing and have a dose of civilisation. I finally got to meet in person the lovely Alison and her partner Brad who kindly hosted us for dinner in their swanky city apartment. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal, go to somebody's house for dinner and have a drink and talk to normal people our age! No offence grey nomads. Oh and did I mention Matt splashed out on a hotel room for the night while we were in the big smoke? An early birthday present for me - and it was awesome! King size bed and a hair dryer. Excitement.

We didn't stop in Darwin long, like I said we had only been there 14 months earlier. We did go to the new Darwin military museum which was amazing, extraordinarily moving. If you are going to Darwin you have to go there, such an important part of Australian history. We also stopped in to said best friend's cousin's (still with me?) jewellers to replace Matt's wedding ring he lost at Lawn Hill!

Enough of the big smoke we headed west and into Kakadu - the birdlife at the end of the dry is meant to be the most spectacular as the waterholes and billabongs are more concentrated, obviously the birds flock to the one spot making for some amazing scenes of thousands of magpie geese squawking away. We first headed north, to Ubirr, where we did a walk to the lookout, via some fairly amazing Aboriginal rock art and to the top of the rocks where we overlooked the flood plains towards Arnhem Land. Did I mention it was 43 degrees on those rocks?! Oh dear.

We also got a spot of fishing in at Cahill's Crossing, no luck (what's new?) but did meet some fairly crazy German's who had been through Eastern Europe, Western Africa, the Middle East, Mongolia and Northern China before hitting Alaska to Argentina for three years. As you do?! Pretty cool.

Further south we walked through Nourlangie Rock - more amazing views and Aboriginal art. 

Into the Twin Falls Gorge area where you take a boat up the gorge as it's inaccessible to walk, then walk a further 500m along the rocks. One of the most amazing gorges we have seen, although it's so hard to say that, each one we see is unique and different from the last! Amazing high rich red cliffs and a sandy beach at the base of the falls (which weren't really running where we were there). Of course, it was again about 40 degrees - there is no other type of weather up here at this time of year! Not much for it than to grin and bear it...and pray for some relief from these cool showers!

A bit more 4WDing down to Jim Jim Falls and a 1km walk in over the rocks. Wow! What an amazing place. Stunning, stunning, stunning. The highest off cliffs, which narrow to the highest of waterfalls. Again, not flowing whilst we were there, but we don't think it diminished them at all, the sheer cliff behind the falls was spectacular enough. Clambering over the rocks we went for a swim, late in the afternoon with the sunlight streaming down the gorge and hitting the cliffs. 

S t u n n i n g...

We decided to do a cruise on Yellow Water Billabong - again something I had done with my family in my previous visit to the Territory, but an expense we were glad we splurged on as it was simply breathtaking. The sun rising over the water, the array of birdlife, the blooming waterlillies, the crocs! So many crocs. And we got to witness one hunting down a (dead) barramundi and another croc trying to steal it! Then #1 croc gobbled it down over on another bank. The darters, jabirus, brolgas and sea eagles were amazing - but what I loved most were the little kingfishers. What a beautiful little bird...

We had applied to enter the Koolpin Gorge area in the south of Kakadu - an area which is limited to tourists as it is sacred to the traditional owners and the park do not want it to be a high traffic area. We picked up the key (after filling out the endless forms and being approved for the permit a few days earlier) and drove in to the lovely Koolpin camping area. Just in time for my birthday the next day! 

...and quite possibly the hardest hike we've done so far. Anyone who knows me will know this was not a laughing matter on my birthday! The track in to the gorge is unmarked, it's sort of just follow your nose over the rocks. Well we did that and came to a sheer cliff...the only option we saw was going up and over the rocky hill, along the ridge and then down the other steep rocky side. It was all very 'ending scene of The Sound of Music' if you ask me. 

But we did it (well I did it, not that amazing that Matt did!) and before I knew it were walking back out to the ute and trundling our way south, out of Kakadu and back to Katherine...where it was hotter than anywhere we've been before! Our second night in a caravan park in Katherine it didn't drop below 33 degrees ALL NIGHT! I'll just leave you with the image of my bathers...sprawled on a camping chair trying to sleep because in bed it was impossible...then resorting to a cold shower.

Amen to the air conditioned cabin we splurged on in Kununurra. But that's a whole other story...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lorella Springs Station

Lorella Springs homestead camp/bar/camp kitchen

The couple from Healesville we met on the tip of Cape York told us that we had to stop in at Lorella Springs on our way across The Gulf. Tidbits of information like this is what we live for - there is nothing like a recommendation for a place often not mentioned very often and from people who had actually been there. And so from Lawn Hill we headed west across the border, leaving Queensland behind after being there since February as 'Queenslanders'! 

Lorella Springs is still on The Savannah Way, but most people don't do the actual whole length of it and go the easier route south to Cape Crawford and coming onto the Stuart Highway at Daly Waters. We, of course, are not most people and headed north, skimming closer to The Gulf and bringing us to Lorella Springs - a million acres of wilderness park these days, once upon a time run as a cattle station but now just has a measly 10,000 head of feral mickey's running about causing havoc. They muster once a year and Matt is very tempted to go back for 'a holiday' mustering here as the owner offered him, there would be some pretty crazy critters running around in there that hadn't seen people and weren't too keen on being mustered. The bull catchers parked up at the main homestead had poor Matty chomping at the bit!

Matt 'cooling off' in the thermal hot springs at Lorella, and me atop a rocky outcrop looking over the million acres

Guess who was on gates going through station country from Lawn Hill to the border?

Stopped to take a photo and a whirly-whirly took off!
We really didn't know what to expect at Lorella Springs - but we did totally underestimate how much there really was to do. From the main homestead campground (which is pretty nice on the thermal hot springs creek with toilets and showers, light the donkey if you want a hot one) you can travel out into the property and explore the many attractions like waterholes, creeks, billabongs, rocky outcrops and caves. On our second day we went exploring, heading north to do a few walks to creeks and waterfalls which were by this time of the year drying up. We took a dip at 'The Inkspot', a little waterhole on a creek with a rocky ledge you can jump from. 

The track continues east for 80km through some fairly big patches of bulldust and twists and turns some places, so the 80km takes about 3 hours until you reach the Rosie Creek fishing camp. Apparently this is a barramundi fisherman's paradise - or so we're told. If you want to catch a barra, this is where to come. Well we aren't mad keen or super expert fishermen/women but we'll give it a go! And a go we did, fishing the billabong driving out to the camp first in a little tinny left there by Rhett, the station owner, for the likes of us to use, and then when we got to Rosie Creek Matt was dead keen on catching a barra. Only problem was nobody else was catching much either, so we didn't like our chances. Some blokes had been there for four days, fishing ten hours a day and had only caught four average size barra by sheer luck. Our chances of throwing in a lure hoping for the best weren't looking so hot. 

Matt fishing on the Rosie Creek

Sunset over Rosie Creek

Camp at Rosie Creek
Next morning we thought we had come so close to the waters of The Gulf we might as well continue out over the salt plains and hit the ocean for more fishing. What was meant to be a 600 metre walk from where you leave your vehicle turned into much longer as the tide was a fair way out - walking through salt encrusted muddy sand in the high 30 degree heat wasn't so great but fishing out there was fairly fun. We cast out into the shallows of the mouth of a creek, a few little sharks swimming around my ankles Matt was a little perturbed by! Some blokes we helped who were bogged in the salt plains caught a mud crab and gave it to us for lunch. As it was the only thing we were getting out of the waters we called it a day, headed back to camp and to our mud crab lunch.

Another night back at the Lorella Springs homestead camp before trekking north towards Roper Bar. We stopped in at the Southern Lost City which was quite amazing - sort of a mini bungle bungles. We camped the night at St Vidgeon's, an abandoned Aboriginal run cattle station, on a beautiful billabong full of waterlillies, birds, jumping fish and crocs I'm guessing!

The Southern Lost City - was hot!