RUBY GAP NATURE PARK – Paradise Found in Central Australia

4 x 4 Adventure Trails in the Centre of Australia

The road is rough as guts and a bit of a 4WD adventure but the sight of Ruby Gap and Glen Annie Gorge in Central Australia is so worth every corrugation and diff scraping boulder. This is the real Outback of Australia. Red rock, gum trees in dry river bed and that sky that is the bluest of blues.

“ Surely the sky is not really that blue”, I say to Kevin, as on a warm sunny November day, as we hike along the river bed in Ruby Gorge.

Big blue sky country along a sandy dry river bed

We take off our Polaroid sunglasses to check and it was even bluer without them. An incredible shade of deep sky blue, a stunning backdrop to the red ochre walls of the gorge. These are the colours of the Outback that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The clarity of light here is brighter and it’s a special sight to behold.

Ruby Gap Nature Park is a “must see” piece of Central Australia. This part of the far Eastern MacDonnell Ranges will leave an imprint on your soul. I kid you not. It’s a remarkably pretty piece of country in a dry arid region. Only accessible by high clearance 4WD, it’s raw, natural and way less touristy than the Western MacDonnell Ranges. No allocated camping bays, no board walks, no fenced off areas, no caravans and most importantly no crowds of people.

So few other people that you can swim in the nuddy (because you walked 3 km to get to Glen Annie Gorge without togs and didn’t know that the swimming hole would be so amazing). We love a place to camp in the bush in solitude. Just the sounds of the wind, the birds, the crackle of a campfire and the wild donkeys that ee-aw from the scrub. This describes our campsite here to perfection.

Ruby Gorge was so named because of the gems scattered in the sandy Hale River bed. They are actually garnets not rubies as first thought by explorer David Lindsey in 1886. We fossick as we hike the visually spectacular 6km return from our campsite to Glen Annie Gorge and collect ourselves a few.

We are rich (in experience) Just worthless garnets but pretty nonetheless
Patches of glowing red garnets in the sand

Glen Annie Gorge is so lovely with a long waterhole framed by reeds and the towering red Gorge walls. It’s peaceful. Just the wind, the ducks and flocks of finches that flit between the gum trees. A swim here is pure magic and just divine on a warm November day. Almost a religious experience.

That would be yours truly in Paradise

At the end of the Gorge we find the lonely grave of JL Fox who died in 1888. No idea who he was but there is an eerie quality finding an old grave in such a remote, timeless place, surrounded by ancient sunbaked hills as old as time. And year, after year, after year, time marches onward and the grave of a man who once existed just bakes in the sun on a lonely hill………..

J L Fox buried here in 1888
A remote lonely, lonely grave in an ancient timeless landscape

A poignant moment and then we swim in the heavenly waterhole. Because right now we are in this lovely gorge under the clearest blue sky and we are alive. Living the life that makes us happy. What more is there?

Is this or is this not just a stunningly beautiful place? Glen Annie Gorge

Gourmet Pizza at Ruby Gap with a long cool spritz. I learnt on this trip that you can indeed make a magnificent Italian Pizza on a gas burner stove in a tiny camper. Oh the joy. Long gone are the days of a tin of baked beans with mini cocktail frankfurters.

Michelle’s new camping specialty
Memories of Italy in the Australian Outback. How awesome that we take a little bit of every holiday with us wherever we go. SALUTE
Cheers to my Outback man who I love to be in a 4WD with

BOGGY HOLE – Finke Gorge National Park, Central Australia

4 x 4 Adventure Trails in Central Australia

The landscape of this beautiful red heart of Australia never changes. Its ancient and timeless and has a feel that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Its the landscape that makes Central Australia remarkable, worth visiting and with a bit of 4 wheel driving and free bush camping, Boggy Hole on the Finke River is the perfect place to experience the heart of Outback Australia.

The Finke River is located to the west of Alice Springs. Like all Central Australian rivers, the Finke is dry but is special because its the oldest, unchanged river bed in the whole world. Its been eroding down in the same course for 60 million years. That’s pretty special. Along the river bed is the occasional waterhole that creates an oasis. Boggy Hole is one such waterhole. Its there we go to find that ‘heart of the outback’ that we are longing for, with the striking outback colours.

Boggy Hole is located in the Finke Gorge National Park to the west of Alice Springs. Following Larapinta Drive, it’s 125 kilometres of bitumen to Hermansburg and then just before entering the Aboriginal settlement there is a sign post to the left indicating ‘Boggy Hole’. A very rough and corrugated dirt road. This is where a little bit of adventure starts and Kevin stops to let some air out the Coopers. We keep following this road straight (don’t deviate) until it reaches the dry Finke River bed where it becomes a two wheel track following the watercourse.

The National Park Gate. Only 9.5 km to go

And there we are. Four wheel driving in the Outback with the windows down. Just the two of us. In complete solitude. Its like a breathe of fresh air. Meandering our 4WD slowly down a dry river bed, around gum trees, over boulders and through soft sand. The bluest of blue skies above and the rich red of towering gorge walls to each side. The clarity of light and colour is amazing. A little bit of outback magic goes a long way.

Although the distance is no more than 15km it takes us a couple of hours to reach Boggy Hole. We have our own private oasis here. Water is the all magic ingredient when camping in the bush even if its just to look at. We explore on foot and then swim through the weeds to reach the deep, cool green water on the far bank. We didn’t have togs on but when you have the place all to yourself what does that matter? It was a most delicious swim.

Lovely shady campsite at Boggy Hole
A nice deep waterhole
For a swim. Maybe even a skinny dip if you have it all to yourselves.

As dusk approaches we prepare for the show and light the campfire. The setting sun is always the most spellbinding show in outback Australia. And it doesn’t disappoint. The sky turned from pure gold to a fire in the sky. The gorge walls glowed with an intensity that was mesmerising. Like a light bulb inside them. And the scene was reflected in the still waterhole giving us a double glorious view. It seemed to last for ages but eventually faded and we sat by the flickering firelight waiting for the encore performance. The star show. The night sky in Central Australia is truly a spectacular sight and there is nothing better than looking at it next to a campfire. Look at the fire, look at the stars, look at the fire, look at the stars……… Its so good.

A lovely sleep followed with a cool breeze and a view of the stars through the windows. A couple of curious dingos wandered by during the night for a drink at the waterhole. Little things that enhance a bush experience.

This is what camping in Central Australia is all about. Complete solitude, blue skies with red rock, green shady waterholes, campfires, clear star filled nights and 4 wheel driving along dry riverbeds. A little bit of outback magic.

A life changing road trip from Cairns to Alice Springs

I’m nervous. But a little excited. This is a first for me. Driving myself the long, remote distance from the Tropical North to the Red Centre of Australia. Its a long way. My husband has told me to stick to the main highway as I’m travelling solo but its still long vast distances.

This drive is not just a whim of fancy. Its life changing. We are moving lock, stock and barrel. Relocating our home base from Cairns to Alice Springs. Our country desert dweller hearts are rejecting the busy city life style. We are heading home. Our boys are doing their own thing now and we are free.

Once upon a time this was an easy thing to do, relocating. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t think twice about it. Just loaded my worldly possessions in my little Holden Torana and off I went to Alice Springs. My worldly possessions were a few kitchen appliances, a little TV and a suitcase brimming with clothes. It was the best thing I ever did. Change was exciting. I caught the Ghan to Alice and loved the unique feel of the place immediately. The rest is history.

As I have gotten older though, such a huge change, that was once a pure exhilarating adventure, now feels kind of daunting. It feels monumental and complicated. There have been obstacles to overcome. The worldly possession list has of course expanded exponentially. Selling our home in the tropics, with its memories, has been an emotional roller coaster and a task of mighty proportions turning it into a modern buyers show case. Painting, cleaning, replacing electrical fittings, de-cluttering, inspections, agents, lawyers, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork…..

It’s important to leave a part of yourself in a place you leave behind 😊. I’ve done that. This huge boulder isn’t going anywhere.

Now its done. The house sold quickly, the furniture is in a container doing a weird lap of Australia and I’m sitting in a hollow, empty space listening to my keyboard strokes echo. By the way, the acoustics in an empty house are amazing.

In two days I drive away. To a new life. To join my man who is already there. That inner child in me is rejoicing that I have been courageous enough to make this decision. To go with it in my fifties. To be willing to change a life that was stale. Life is too short to waste it. I feel brave and I feel a sense of anticipation. I feel the sadness of goodbyes melting away and a sense of joy taking its place. I have things to look forward too.

I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, about to embark on a brand new adventure with my whole life ahead of me.

That’s a good place to be.

That long bitumen road awaits. See you at the other end.

Bush Tales of Australia – You can’t get the smell of Dingo pee out of a swag.

At night, its a primal, haunting sound that echoes in the silence. The mournful howl of a distant dingo.

Asleep in our swag, I snuggle just a little bit closer to Kevin. I feel a sense of unease, a genetic trait in my DNA passed on from my long ago ancestors. After all, a dingo is a wild dog distantly related to wolves. Attacks on humans are rare but it has happened. Like any wild animal a dingo can be unpredictable.

Kevin and I have been lucky enough to sight a few dingoes during the day while we are travelling the Outback. They are naturally shy and cautious around people so you don’t encounter them often. We hear them at night all the time but they are wary and stay away from our camp.

Its common to hear dingoes howling at night when you are camped in the Outback of Australia. Sitting by a blazing campfire, its a lovely sound that adds to the sense of remoteness. Its kind of eerie. Not at all threatening when you have the fire for protection. Once again, just like our early ancestors once did. We are genetically programmed to love camp fires.

Well, most of the time.

There’s always that one time though and it happened to Kevin.

The chance of Kevin having a wild dingo encounter was quite high considering his occupation at the time. He was a tour guide/driver on extended camping safaris for Australian Pacific Tours (APT). He drove a 4WD Mercedes 911 which was an adventurous looking rig.

Kevins APT 911. Remote 4WD adventure touring in Australia.

His job was to drive and keep his adventure seeking passengers enthralled with the Outback experience and scenery. He made them traditional gum leaf tea in a billy over the open fire while his camp cook was a whizz at cooking gourmet meals in the camp oven.

He would get the 911 bogged and make the passengers push it out. They loved it. Thought they were having the ultimate Aussie adventure. He got lots of tips.

While his passengers spent the night in canvas tents, Kevin slept in his beloved canvas swag. A swag is a canvas zipped bag with a mattress inside. It rolls out straight on the ground and is toasty warm inside.

On the night of his dingo encounter, they were camped out at Palm Valley, near Alice Springs in Central Australia.

Central Australia has the most amazing night skies and he fell asleep on his back underneath the chandelier of stars. Later, something woke him. Not a noise, the passengers were all asleep. Just a sense of something not right.

He opened his eyes

The view of the stars was gone. Instead he was looking straight up a dingoes nostrils. A wild dingo was standing right above him with its jaw a mere inches above his head.

Imagine waking with this face just inches from yours

He froze. In his mind, he said to himself “DO NOT MOVE A MUSCLE”.

He couldn’t have moved even if he wanted too. He was paralysed by fear. One of those terrible nightmares where you need to run or scream but you can’t. It felt like an eternity but it was actually only a few seconds that it loitered above him.

The curious dingo then, with stealth, padded around his swag and paused at the foot end. It cocked its leg and took a piss on the end of Kevin’s swag. Then disappeared into the inky darkness of the night.

And Kevin finally took a breathe again………

Was it looking for a meal? Was it marking its turf? Would it have been truly hilarious if it pissed on his head instead of his feet? These are questions we must ponder……

Nose to nose with a wild dingo on a dark night. Now that’s a close call that very few of us will get to have. Thank goodness. His passengers got a lot of value out of the experience when the tale was retold in the morning. So much adventure in the Outback. They had the best tour ever.

You know what? Kevin never could get the smell of dingo piss out of his precious swag. It was a vile scent. Sadly, he was forced to chuck it and buy a new one.

That one had a hopping mouse adventure but that’s another tale………..



Let the crocodile eat the bride first. A remote honeymoon tale.

I’m not sure what Kevin and I were thinking when planning our honeymoon 29 years ago. It was a bizarre destination but we were so excited, so eager and so bloody naive.

Other newly-weds honeymooned at 5 star resorts in tropical island paradises sipping cocktails and taking romantic strolls along palm fringed beaches.

Not us. Its bull dust all the way.

Not a palm tree in sight. I get to pose against a magnetic termite mound on my honeymoon.

We spent our honeymoon in our 4WD travelling to the Kimberley’s up the top of Western Australia. From Alice Springs. Across deserts. In October.

Yes, we were ignorant Central Australian dwellers who had no concept of “the build up to the wet” in Northern Australia. The time of year when ‘mango madness‘ sets in and everyone goes ‘troppo’.

For the clarity of any foreigners reading this post, both terms are Aussie Slang for “the irrational behaviour of a person suffering from the effects of living in tropical heat”.

It was hot up North. It was so bloody hot. We slept in a double swag on the roof rack of our Mitsubishi Triton 4WD. Romantic in a distinctly Aussie kind of way I guess. It was so hot that we would spray each other with a squirty bottle at night and hope for a stray breeze.

Purely luxury accommodations. That’s me up there in the master bedroom. (Sorry about photo quality- 29 year old photos)

Our wedding gift from our work colleagues was a 12V three way travelling fridge, which was perfect and so generous. Except, we couldn’t get it to work on gas. So there we were at night, lying on top of our swag, getting bitten by mosquitoes, squirting each other with water and we didn’t even have a cold drink because the fridge didn’t work. “I’d kill you right now for a cold drink of water” we would say to each other. At least we were both in sync.

I do love that our honeymoon was an adventure though. As a result of our naivety we had a couple of bonuses. Firstly, there was hardly another soul travelling the infamous Gibb River Road in October. We had most places to ourselves because no one else was crazy enough. Secondly, because it was so hot we swam in every glorious, picturesque waterhole in the Kimberley. That was wonderful.

That brings me to Fitzroy Crossing, just after we had crossed the Tanami Desert and visited Wolf Creek Crater. (You know – Wolf Creek, a bloke called Mick Taylor lives there and savagely murders tourists) Fortunately that classic movie came out a few years after our honeymoon.

Fitzroy Crossing is a Kimberley town with character. We booked ourselves on a boat cruise of Geikie Gorge, which was carved by the mighty Fitzroy River. Its a spectacular gorge with towering white and grey walls. The cruise was great but it was just so HOT. The cruise operator told us where we could go for a refreshing swim in the river.

Irresistible. In we plunge, just Kevin and I. We splashed around a bit then were just floating serenely a few metres apart, enjoying the coolness.

Suddenly, right in front of Kevin, two eyes pop up out of water. Two armoured, evil, yellow reptilian eyes that look him straight in the face.

“CROCODILE” he yells, in a highly agitated voice, scaring the crap out of me as I was blissfully unaware. There’s a huge flurry of splashing as he literally runs on water to get back to the bank.

And leaves his new bride in the river to get eaten by a crocodile………

He’s very sheepish when we tell this story now. His excuse is “well, I didn’t really know you very well back then”

What we didn’t know back then was that there are two kinds of crocodile in the North. Very bad ones and not so bad ones. Saltwater crocodiles are real bad and you never, ever want to be in the water with one. They will make a meal out of you before you can blink. Fortunately, Geikie Gorge has the other variety. Freshwater crocodiles are quite harmless unless provoked. He was just popping his head out of the water out of curiosity.

However, my loving new husband didn’t know that. I did make it back to the bank safely under my own steam, just a few seconds after him. It seems that I too can run on water……..

Believe it or not, 29 years later, we are still together. We have a good laugh about that incident. Apparently he has finally gotten to know me by now and finds me quite valuable. We are still in sync. We tried a resort style holiday once and it just wasn’t our thing. Together our hearts still long for dusty roads and remote waterholes. Although we no longer sleep in a dusty swag on the roof rack. Our “Royal Swag” on the roof these days has fly screens, a sink and a really cold fridge. There will always be another adventure just around the corner.

This is me showering ‘honeymoon style’ I coloured this photo in with texta years ago to make it appropriate and ‘g’ rated.

A honeymoon with character that’s for sure in our Triton with swag on roof
Giekie Gorge 29 years ago. The colours in the photo are dreadful now but it is the genuine article.

Diamantina National Park Outback Queensland

Follow the footsteps of the Diamantina Drover in our Trayon…

TURN UP THE VOLUME

Diamantina National Park was a bucket list item for me because of John Williamson’s song “Diamantina Drover”. It was a magnificent adventure and surpassed expectation. You can read about that trip by clicking here https://letusbefree.blog/2017/09/13/diamantina-national-park-is-it-worth-it-the-flies-sure-as-heck-think-so/

Or if you don’t feel like reading just watch this lovely video I created with our photo’s and of course the soulful voice of John Williamson.

Enjoy, and if you have a 4WD I hope I inspire you to visit.

Heading for Diamantina National Park. There is nothing but there is everything.

Woodleigh Station – Camping Around Cairns – North Queensland

Green grass, gum trees, a safe river to swim and a campfire. What more do you need?

Camping, sometimes, is purely about escaping the rat race and having a couple of days of peace and quiet. Its good for the soul. Far away from the drone of highways, the view of concrete slabbed buildings, ticky tacky houses, retail madness and work. Some of the cattle stations in the North Queensland region have capitalised on this market and given us some wonderful camping options. A taste of country life.

Woodleigh Station is just perfect for this and easily accessible from Cairns. A two hour drive up via the Atherton Tablelands and then a turn to the left 20km past Ravenshoe on a dirt track signposted Woodleigh Station.

We had some rain and the track in was a little bit muddy but well maintained

So what do I love about camping at Woodleigh Station? I like camping on grass. I like big shady gum trees. I like being next to a river you can look at, swim in and canoe. I like the sounds of native birds – magpies, lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds and galahs. I like being able to have a lazy campfire all day long. I like stunning sunsets and starry night skies. I like the absolute serenity. I like the cows and horse that wander nearby to chew the juicy green grass. I’m suddenly a country girl again. I love that.

Kind of amusing – more cows than people. That’s country hospitality.
A picture of serenity. nothing to do but gaze into a campfire.

The weather was warm and a little bit sultry in late March so a swim in the river was very refreshing. The water was a shade of caramel, which was unusual. Usually it is lovely and clear but a storm across The Tablelands the previous night washed away a lot of rich volcanic soil. It was still nice.

The colour of the water is due to flooding on the Tablelands. Still a nice swim.

The clouds look a little ominous at times and we did get a little bit of rain during our weekend here but it just added to our experience. The lovely smell of summer rain and the array of colours it created in the sky at sunset were spectacular. This is mother nature doing her thing beautifully. Our campfire didn’t go out despite the rain, so it wasn’t a wash out.

Sunsets are always a highlight.
Those ominous clouds did give us some rain but that’s why the grass is so green.
Amazing colours in the sky late afternoon after a small rain storm

So, our Woodleigh Station experience was pretty much perfect and a great camping destination getaway close to Cairns. As always, just avoid long weekends as then there will be more people than cows. And that would be a shame.