Old Andado Homestead and the Red Sand of the Simpson Desert.

In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.

Old Andado Homestead

This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.

A corrugated iron kitchen with tree beams slung together with wire and an old wood stove.

Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.

This was the refrigerator for the meat

Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.

The campground next to the homestead. Due to Covid a bit lonely but a great spot.

After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.

The dust is obvious but the message still resonates

For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.

I love this little doll sitting in a high chair covered in red sand, slowly deteriorating Poignant picture.

For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.

A gate with so much character just like the rest of the homestead

In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.

Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.

Molly’s corner
Her home

To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.

This is the Simpson Desert. Red dunes, blue sky

The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.

So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.

Taken from Molly’s front verandah. It’s peaceful and has so many stories to tell.
Barefoot on a red sand dune. No place I’d rather be.

THE AMAZING OUTBACK WATERHOLES AROUND ALICE SPRINGS

NOTHING BEATS A SWIM IN THE RED HEART OF AUSTRALIA

Hidden throughout the panoramic Western MacDonnell Ranges, to the West of Alice Springs, are a myriad of Gaps and Gorges with pristine waterholes.

These waterholes are beyond a doubt, in my opinion, the most exquisite feature of Central Australia. Tourists worldwide flock to that big red rock, Uluru, which is special, but an expensive and commercialised natural attraction. For me, its the natural and serene gaps, gorges and chasms of the MacDonnell Ranges, the spine of this ancient landscape, that totally capture my heart.

The landscape around the town of Alice Springs is as old as time and visually striking. Its the way the colours change with the direction of the sunshine that makes the magic. The ranges glow like fire at sunrise and sunset, like they are filled with a strange energy source . During the day are stunning shades of red, orange, pink, ochre and purple on the sheer walls of rock framed by an endless blue sky. Clumps of golden spinifex grass and a lonely white ghost gum perched elegantly on red rock paints the scene. These are the colours of Central Australia. The reflection of this landscape in a pristine, cool waterhole is the pure magic of Central Australia.

Nothing is more special than a swim in an Outback waterhole on a hot summer day. A picnic on a sandy beach under the shade of a gum tree. An inviting waterhole with rippled reflections of red rock and blue sky. A little slice of outback heaven. I find the view through a fly net is still lovely too. The little blighters are a bit thick in summer and love to try and get in your eyes and your mouth. I wouldn’t be the first person who has accidentally swallowed a fly here.

Summer flies in Central Australia. Be prepared.

Despite the presence of flies, I love all the waterholes and each one is unique. You can do a waterhole crawl and see them all in one day but each is worthy of spending time, taking a picnic, swimming, exploring, relaxing and just absorbing the view and the serenity of the scene in front of you.

To the west of Alice Springs my favourite waterholes are Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and last but not least,the adventure swim at Redbank Gorge, 155km from Alice Springs.

ELLERY CREEK BIG HOLE – a very deep big hole and gorgeous swimming
ORMISTON GORGE – a waterhole framed by dramatic scenery with a lovely sandy beach
GLEN HELEN GORGE – a lovely swim with access to a bar, coffee and meals.
REDBANK GORGE – the adventure swim

Redbank Gorge is unique and I classify it as the adventure swim. You need swim across the waterhole to enter a narrow cleft in the range. The further in you swim, the narrower and more stunning it is. Its icy cold, crystal clear and just beautiful with gorge walls towering at arms length on either side and a patch of blue sky way up above. This gorge is the furthermost from Alice and the 1.2km walk in involves a bit of rock hopping.

Of course, the best time to enjoy the waterholes is when its hot and you can savour a cool refreshing swim. There is no finer way to cool off in the Outback when its hot. Alice Springs in summer is hot but the waterholes are blissfully cold and picturesque to boot. Bring a noodle, float in the shade and ENJOY.

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.

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.

A Crocodile yarn. Should you be concerned about getting eaten by one in Northern Australia?

croc wyndam

“A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.

Until……..

Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.”

The tales of Crocodile attacks in Australia are just spine chilling. A crocodile is a predator and a man-eater and when travelling in Northern Australia you should always BE CROC AWARE.  Not afraid, just aware. Especially in regions that Saltwater Crocodiles inhabit.

A large crocodile, up to 6 metres long, can make himself invisible in knee deep muddy water and remain under for an hour without even a ripple to indicate his presence. He is the ultimate master of stillness – until the right moment. The ultimate ambush reptile. He explodes from the water with ferocity and aggression and if need be he can jump to take prey two metres above the surface. He is quick and deadly and the prey in his enormous jaws will be subjected to the ‘crocodile roll’ which is almost certain to be fatal.

Australian author, Hugh Edwards book, “Crocodile Attack in Australia” contains stories of attacks in Australia that are both fascinating and absolutely horrifying. They all happened in the blink of an eye and not surprisingly a lot of those fatally attacked were locals who should have known better. Locals have a habit of getting blase. The ‘she’ll be right attitude’ just doesn’t cut the mustard in Northern Australia waterways though.

I write this blog to re-count a tale of our own, just as warning.  We laugh about it now as we re-tell this yarn but after reading Hugh Edwards book it sits a little uncomfortably with me, although it gets bigger and better with every telling.

In 2005, Kevin and I, with our three young boys did the monumental road trip along the Savannah Way, from Cairns, QLD to Broome, WA. It was and still is the ultimate Australian adventure drive. Remote, a lot of kilometres on dirt roads and the scenery right through Queensland, The Top End of The Territory and The Kimberley’s in Western Australia is simply stunning. Blue skies, ancient landscape, stunning waterfalls, gorges and waterholes, red dusty roads and big remote distances.

Our philosophy for this trip was “keep it simple”. No fancy caravan or camper trailer for our party of five.  Just our 4WD Landcruiser stacked with boxes, an Engel fridge and five swags rolled up on the roof rack. What a sight we were at camp. Five swags in a line between two trees, a rope extending between the trees and 5 bright orange and blue mosquito nets tucked around each swag. We sure attracted attention and created a few laughs.

2004 Kimberley photos 075
The photo quality is bad but you get the idea. The simple, dag family…….

We tend to free camp a lot when we travel and like to be away from civilisation.  Between Burketown in The Gulf Country to Borroloolla in the Northern Territory we travelled the very remote and rough Carpentaria Highway. Why its called a highway is beyond me. At times its nothing more than a two wheel track with a many river crossings. The 500 odd kilometres takes over 15 hours.

carpentaria highway
The Carpentaria HIGHWAY. Definitely unique to Australia. Slow going but a great 4WD drive.

We decide to stop overnight half way across and we always like to camp by a watercourse if its safe. There’s just something really nice about camping by a creek or river with a campfire and maybe a refreshing swim when its hot.

So late afternoon, after many dusty slow hours of punishing dirt, we come to the Robinson River Aboriginal community.  As we cross the causeway over the river, despite a crocodile warning sign,  there are a couple of adults with young Aboriginal children frolicking and splashing in the water.

Kevin winds down the window and asks if there is anywhere we can camp for the night.  They are very friendly and give us directions to follow a track to the right. “Don’t go left – big crocs that way”.

So, we find a lovely camp along a shallow tributary. Crystal clear shallow water and we all have a paddle to wash off the dust and travelling grime.2004 Kimberley photos 033

We prepare camp in the usual way by lining up all our swags in a row on the shallow bank of the creek, only a couple of metres from the water with Kevin at one end and me at the other. The three boys in their mini swags in the middle. The mighty sacrifices parents make for their off spring. Get eaten first.

A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.

Until……..

Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.

We all wake up instantly. What the heck was that? Kevin has the torch by his head and shines it quickly over the creek.  We see nothing. “I think its just the fish arking up” says Kevin. Back to sleep again. Well a tentative sleep with me. I’m thinking about being stalked by yowies or bush pigs or Mick from Wolf Creek. Finally I doze off.

Then a while later a furious SPLASH, SPLASH,  SPLASH, SPLASH……….

On goes the torch again frantically searching in the pitch black for the culprit.

We see nothing in the placid , calm, peaceful creek.

This happened all night long.  It set us on edge although the boys zonked out.

In the morning its all cheery sunshine again as we pack up and we just brush off the weird goings on of the night before as a glitch.

As luck would have it, as we went to hit the road, Kevin discovered we had one dead flat tyre.  A bit of messing around for us and a couple of the boys were getting antsy, so we gave them a two way UHF radio and said go and explore up the creek a little bit while we change it.

Next thing Kevin gets a call on the radio. “Hey Dad, are there crocodiles in this creek?”

“No, Why?”

“Because there is one in front of us”

“Come back RIGHT NOW!”

YIKES. We slept on the bank in swags, exposed, in crocodile country.  The splashing during the night was possibly the crocodile going up and down the creek.

Kevin went to meet the boys and when they showed him the spot, the crocodile was gone, so we don’t know if it was the saltwater or freshwater variety. But as close as we are to the Gulf of Carpentaria it was highly likely a saltie. Way too close for comfort but I didn’t give it too much thought.

However, when we got to Broome, we bought the book. Hugh Edwards “Crocodile Attack in Australia”. Oh dear, that opened my eyes a whole lot more.croc attack book

Were we croc aware? Well yes, in a way. We live in Cairns. We asked the locals first and got the all clear.  However there are rules to camping in Northern Australia in crocodile country. They are as follows…..

croc sign

  • Observe the warning signs as they are there for a reason (yes, they were on the causeway)
  • Seek local or expert advise before swimming, camping, fishing or boating ( well, we did do that)
  • There is a potential danger anywhere saltwater crocodiles occur.  If there is any doubt do not swim, canoe or use small boats. (Fail, we all had a paddle in the knee deep water)
  • Be aware. Keep your eyes open for large crocodiles and keep small children and pets away from the waters edge (gulp!)
  • Do not paddle, camp, clean fish or prepare food at the waters edge. (gulp again!)
  • Do not return daily or regularly to the same spot. Crocodiles are smart and they will be watching for a pattern.
  • Do not lean over the waters edge or stand on logs overhanging the water (remember they can jump)

And be aware that Saltwater crocodiles don’t only live in salt water. They can live hundreds of miles from the coast in freshwater lagoons and waterways and especially in freshwater swamps.

So there you have it. That was the night we were stalked and almost eaten by a reptilian monster. (Told you its gets bigger with every telling). But we all lived by the skin of our teeth to ride camels along Cable Beach in Broome.2004 Kimberley photos 132

Anyhow the moral of the story is ‘be croc aware’ in Northern Australia. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see you and even innocent mistakes can land you in a whole lot of strife.  Don’t be too worried or afraid though. Its perfectly safe to travel and enjoy the North of our wonderful country as long as you observe the rules.

We have travelled and swum in exquisite waterholes all over Northern Australia but only where we know its safe to swim. Its actually rare to sight a crocodile and when you do its exciting (from a safe distance high up the bank of course.)

2004 Kimberley photos 007
Our boys high on the bank watching a monster Saltie. It was enormous. Very exciting to see.

We learnt a lesson on that trip.  Now we don’t sleep in swags on the banks of waterways in the North.  Just in case………..

2004 Kimberley photos 098
Joel sitting in the playground in Broome, reading the Crocodile Attack book. Yes, its that good

This stunning place is Sir John Gorge in the Kimberley. Yes we had a gorgeous swim here. No croc signs and perfectly safe. There are so many wonderful places like this along the Savannah Way. No need to risk it anywhere there are crocodile warning signs.

Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs

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Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park is a National Park located approximately 130 km from Katherine and 200 km from Darwin. Like everything in the Northern Territory, its a little bit remote, a little bit off the main highway. You kind of have to make the effort to go there especially. The outstanding feature of the park is the hot thermal springs in the Douglas River. The river is cold but bubbles of heat rise from the shallow, sandy bottom creating pools of lovely, delicious warm water. On a cool Territory morning this is just the ticket.

Picture a gentle creek meandering through the Aussie bush. Birds chirruping and darting over the natural watercourse.  Clear blue skies and sunshine. And you can wallow and enjoy it lying in a bubbling hot patch of the creek. Magnificent.

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Bubbles of delicious hot water from the shallow, sandy bottom

So we decide to go. I had read on the internet a couple of weeks earlier that the park was still closed as it was early in the dry season (early June). We decide to check it out anyway just in case. There was no closed sign at the turn off so we keep going. A bit down the road we come to the next turn off. The sign was a bit ambiguous. Closed or open we weren’t 100% sure but we thought as we come this far we might as well have a look. We come to the gate. It was also a bit ambiguous – partially open, partially closed but it was unlocked. No further encouragement needed for us Aussies behaving badly. We keep going although we figured it was still closed. No harm in having a look.

 

douglas hot springs 2
What do you reckon? Open or closed? I say with a cheeky grin

At the end of the dirt track we come to a huge campground delightfully crowd free. There’s only a couple of European backpackers camped in a tent. Hooray, we think – that’s a good sign. It must be open.

“So it is open?” we ask them before we set up.

“Yar, yar we ave been svimink and there vas 4 other campers last night,” they reply cheerfully.

Douglas hot springs 3
Just us and the German backpackers in the huge campground.

So we set up camp in the lovely sunshine. Then the magic moment. We have a wallow in the bubbling hot water ALL BY OURSELVES. It was awesome.  Last time we were here many years ago the water was crammed with char broiled, wrinkly bodies all clamouring for a spot. No serenity in that. To have it all to ourselves was an amazing experience. So relaxing.  For me anyway. Kevin was a bit on edge and only had a short dip then watched me blissing out.

The water is below knee deep so nice to wallow in.

Back in the campground I chat to the Germans again about how lovely it is in the thermal pool. I mentioned that we thought it might be have still been closed because of crocodiles.  There’s a lot of them in the Top End and the Douglas River does have them in the wet season.

You know what he said? Very complacently at that.

Yar, there is a croc trap in the creek just over that way a bit

WHAT!!!

But no, he wasn’t kidding. I grab Kevin and we wander along the creek a bit for a look. Sure enough there was a big croc trap waiting in anticipation for its reptilian guest of honour.

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Croc Trap cunningly disguised as a croc trap

Bloody hell!

Aussie’s behaving very badly indeed.

We packed up and got the heck outta there real quick. We don’t have ignorance is bliss as an excuse like the European backpackers.

So we drive out again and this time we headed right at the turn off, the opposite direction to how we came in. Sure enough behind us was a big sign. PARK CLOSED. We couldn’t see it from the other way.

Well, that’s our excuse….. There were many other signals that we deliberately chose to ignore. Because on this occasion we were bad Aussies. Don’t be bad like us. Be good Aussies.

So, Douglas Hot Springs? Highly recommended. Its a wonderful place. Only when its open though and that will be highly obvious. Do go – you’ll love it.

Will you get to have it all to yourselves like we did?  Highly unlikely. In fact the chances are virtually zero.

So I intend to take the positive from the experience and remember how blissful it was when I was ignorant and wallowed in Douglas Hot Springs all by myself.

And I humbly promise to only visit parks that are open in the future. You European backpackers should do that too……

 

Check out another blog post where we saw them flirting with danger. We had learnt our lesson by then….( THE GIBB RIVER ROAD: Why the Kimberley’s should be on every bucket list. ) Stay well clear of those handbags with teeth…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we love to visit Chillagoe in Far North Queensland and why you should too.

Chillagoe is one of my happy places. Its a tiny little town on the edge of the Outback. Blink and you’ll miss it. Its special though and always recharges our batteries. Its a little off the beaten track but definitely worth visiting on any holiday to Far North Queensland.

The reasons why we find it special are as follows

THE NATIVE BIRDS – the silence in Chillagoe is only broken by the symphony of native birds. Some melodic, some loud and raucous but all together music to my ears. No airport or highway noise continually droning in the background – just birds. The joyous sounds of Galahs, Red-tail Black Cocky’s, Budgies, Apostle Birds, Butcher Birds and our favourite the Magpie.

THE WEATHER – Blue skies and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. Hot in summer so perfect for swimming, mild in winter and perfect for exploring. Dry weather always means great campfire wood.  We love having a campfire in Chillagoe.

THE CREEK – Such a gorgeous, idyllic, refreshing, wonderful place to swim. Chillagoe Creek is just on the edge of town and walking distance from the campground. Most outback creeks are murky from silt but this creek is special. The region is rich in limestone and the lime in the water disperses the sediment quickly. Most of the creek is quite shallow but there is a couple of deeper holes with water cascading over rocks. Its beautiful and shady fringed with trees and ferns.

Who says you can’t be a mermaid in the Outback?

THE CAVES- The main attraction that draws tourists to Chillagoe are the caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. The spectacular karst landscape hides a mysterious underground world. The Savannah landscape here is dotted with limestone outcrops that were the living Coral reefs in a shallow sea 400 million years ago. Inside these outcrops are a myriad of cave systems. Ranger Guided Tours are available to explore a few of them. You can also do some self exploration. We go to the Archways and I love the absolute silence and the coolness in these underground worlds.  We feel like we are in a scene of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” when we explore. It would be so easy to get lost and it feels mysterious and a bit eerie.

THE FREE FISH SKIN CLEAN THERAPY – If you sit really still below the weir in the creek, the tiny fish , start darting in and nipping at your skin.  Its such a weird but quite delightful sensation. Totally free and with a view like this absolutely a priceless experience.

THE CAMPING IN TOWN THAT FEELS LIKE WE ARE OUT BUSH – We always stay at the Eco Lodge Campground in Chillagoe itself.  Its a huge campground with room to spread out and feels just like a bush setting. The bonus being that campfires are allowed. Very affordable at $10 per person unpowered and the birds here are just amazing. The sounds in the morning are just wonderful. So its like camping out bush but with the bonus of hot showers, a small restaurant and walking distance to the pub for a quiet ale or dinner.

Our camp site in town. Who could ask for more?

THE STARS AT NIGHT in Chillagoe are exquisite and mind blowing.  Clear, dark skies are amazing. The Eco Lodge Campground has an Observatory with a powerful telescope and night sky tours. The opportunity to look at far distant galaxies and the rings of Saturn through the high power telescope is not to be missed. The tours operate on moonless nights during the tourist season.

Honestly, for us bush romantics, Chillagoe ticks all the boxes for all the right reasons. It does get very hot in the summer wet season though, so if you have an aversion to high temperatures, come in the dry. Also avoid public holiday long weekends when it gets crazy busy with locals escaping the city.

I guess what I’m saying in this blog is that you don’t have to drive thousands of kilometres into the vast Outback regions of West Queensland, the Northern Territory or West Australia to get away from it all. Its not about the distance travelled but about the state of mind that changes as the landscape changes from coastal fringe Rain-forest to the dry Savannah. Three hours to achieve that is just brilliant. We love Chillagoe.

THE EVOLUTION OF TRAYON NO. 773

EVEN TRAVELLING GYPSIES AT HEART NEED A PLACE TO CALL HOME. THIS IS OUR JOURNEY TO CREATING OUR ULTIMATE TRAVEL HOME ON WHEELS.Trayon at Woodleigh Station

So is it a camper trailer, a slide on camper or a mini caravan?

Before we part travelled Australia in 2017, I wrote a blog on why we chose our Trayon Camper as the travel accommodation of choice. You can read all about it here Camping in the royal swag – The story of why we bought a Trayon Camper.

Now an evolution has taken place and our trusty Trayon slide-on camper has turned into a hybrid creation – part slide-on (it still slides on), part camper trailer (it now lives on a trailer), part caravan (our fridge, cooker and sink are inside like a caravan).Trailer new 6

As our travel goals change over time so too does our idea of what makes the ideal home away from home on wheels. Luckily the Trayon has a degree of versatility that allows us to modify where we place it.

We thought we had the absolute perfect set up with our Trayon Camper on the ute tray – the no tow way to go. As well as many shorter holiday trips, we travelled Northern Australia and the West Coast for four consecutive months with our home on our back, like a turtle. It was for the most part, pretty spot on. We loved the simplicity, the comfort and the ease of remote Australian travel. It really is a great camper and we have never once regretted purchasing it 5 years ago. However, it wasn’t absolute perfection on our extended adventure. Toward the latter stages of the trip we realised that we need to be able more easily ditch the home perpetually on our back. Sometimes it was just not convenient to have it there. Like when we needed to pop out from camp and collect firewood – a simple task that we didn’t want to go to the effort of putting our Trayon on its legs for.

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Camped at Cape Range National Park WA on “Legs”. There is some ‘wobble’ on legs but its sturdy.

The Trayon does come with “legs” for the purpose of removing it from the back of the ute. When you want to use your vehicle for sightseeing, shopping, fishing down the beach or collecting firewood it’s convenient not to have to pack up camp again to use the car. However, unlike the ease of setting up camp while it’s on the ute, putting the Trayon on its legs and then getting it back on the ute again afterwards, is time consuming. It’s quite an art form as well. Kevin purchased an additional leg wind down tool for me so we could stand on opposing sides and wind the legs up and down simultaneously to avoid the tedious process of Kevin going around and around in circles trying to keep it level. It’s not a simple process and then requires some driving prowess to reverse the ute in precisely between the legs again and a bit of heavy duty pushing of the Trayon on the tray to get it in the exact right spot (by Kevin because I literally can’t budge it). In my case it’s not a girl friendly option. Plus, although it won’t fall down, it never felt 100% stable on legs – there is a bit of wobble despite sturdy, pegged out support wires.

Putting the Trayon on its legs, quite frankly, became the bane of our travelling existence when we had to do it over and over again. Our favourite “keep it simple” philosophy was failing.

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Simplicity at its finest. An overnight stop with the Trayon (sans legs). Just flip it open, clip down the canvas and 5 minutes later “home, sweet home” wherever you happen to be.

Trayon on legs
Sometimes though it becomes necessary to put it on legs, even for a quick overnight stop. Those damn split rims had to go. Note the large tool box being carried on the roof rack. Space issues.

The limited storage space was also a small issue. The Trayon has ample cupboard space inside, however there is no space for larger accessories that we carry such as our inflatable kayak and oars, our Weber Baby Q, chairs and camp table. These sat on the floor inside the Trayon and bounced around on rough roads. We had a generator and large tool/sundry box in a roof rack over the cab. Kevin sure got jaded with climbing up and down and balancing precariously when he needed a tool though.

So what to do to solve these issues on future trips? We had some time to ponder on this dilemma since coming back in September 2017. Financially it was in our best interest to hang onto our quality Trayon Camper, it has served us well and we do think it’s a brilliant concept and a quality investment.

So, give the Trayon it’s own set of wheels and tow it was the obvious solution. Slide the Trayon onto a specially built flat bed trailer instead of the back of the ute. Not quite a camper trailer, not quite a caravan and not quite a slide on camper anymore. A hybrid of them all.

Way more cost effective than replacing our entire set up with something totally new. Of course it will add extra expense in terms of trailer registration, tyres and possibly fuel usage but that’s the trade off for the convenience of being able to unhitch easily, still spend our 5 minutes setting up camp and be able to use the car.

A second consequence of the Trayon being independent of the ute is that we will now also have all that extra storage space on the tray. Two huge lockable boxes on the tray. Both issues solved. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Plus one day we may decide to go back to a wagon rather than a ute and can still use our Trayon as long as we have a tow bar.

We don’t think it will restrict us in any way as our purpose built off-road trailer has fully independent suspension and is designed to go off the beaten track. At this stage we will also still have the option of putting the Trayon back on the ute, should we decide to venture to the Simpson Desert or Canning Stock Route for example, where towing is a definite disadvantage. Best of both worlds.

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The only way to do the Simpson Desert in style – with a Trayon Camper. We wouldn’t do this or the Canning with a trailer but pretty much every where else we would.

Our priority for our trailer was a very solid construction with fully independent suspension, treg hitch, hot dip galvanised and a storage box on the draw bar being the only extra ‘frill’. It was constructed so we could add additional features such as under body tool boxes in the future if required. We decided on a wooden slat floor as it provides less slippage for the Trayon’s aluminium underbody support beams. The current hook system that is used to secure the Trayon to the ute will be used for the trailer as well, so it can be removed onto its legs if required. We can then use the trailer for another purpose if needed.

A local engineering firm here in Cairns was engaged to build our trailer. We know Trayon on the Sunshine Coast do build a great trailer mounted option, however, for us, that price tag was unaffordable and the build time lengthy. We enquired locally to scope out other options and found a winner with Reef Engineering, Cairns. You can find them on the web.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Scott and Matt at Reef Engineering were familiar with our Trayon as they had previously made new hooks for us when we swapped our Nissan Navara for a Landcruiser. The cost factor was really important to us and their quote was very prompt, reasonable and affordable. Great people to deal with too. Camper trailer construction is one of their specialities and we knew we would get a quality well built trailer so didn’t hesitate to engage them.

We ordered it on the 21st February and it was completed on the 14th of April. Just over six weeks from quote to completion is a pretty good turn around time and we are so happy with the result.

So how exactly does putting our Trayon on a trailer improve our lifestyle?

  • It will encourage us to travel slower. We rushed our travels due to our reluctance to put the Trayon on its legs. A quick exploration of a spot, set up camp, sit around all day, pack up camp and move on was tending to happen. We missed a lot because we couldn’t use the car to explore further after we had set up camp.  The colours were extraordinary here at Francois Peron National Park but we didn’t explore the myriad of tracks for this reason. In hindsight that was such a shame.
  • It will allow us to give each destination the justice it deserves. By simply unhitching our ‘chateau on wheels’ we are free to explore to our hearts content knowing our camp site will be there to come back too. Sometimes we just packed up the Trayon to explore and some bugger nicked our spot while we were off for the day. These two gorgeous camp spots were great examples of this dilemma.
  • As a result of the first two points it gives us more freedom and I love freedom. My favourite word. The heart of my blog site. “Let us Be Free”
  • It gives us a bigger carrying capacity. Not that we want to carry too much stuff as our philosophy is to ‘keep it simple’ but to be able carry a few frills is nice. I mean why would you not want to carry a kayak and a Webber Baby Q to experience this while camping?
  • We can collect firewood. Hooray. So many National Parks had signs before the entrance gate “Collect Firewood Now”, as it is not permitted to collect firewood in the National Park. We just couldn’t as we literally had no space to put it. Believe me, missing out on a campfire under a starry night sky in Australia is just plain sad.
  • It will make our storage of the camper at home easier. Just reverse the trailer under the carport. Full stop. You wouldn’t believe the hassles it gave us. Kevin had to let the air out of each of the car tyres to fit it under the low carport. Then out comes the air compressor to re pump the tyres. The carport is a confined space but we put the Trayon on its legs under there for protection from the weather. Its an investment we want to look after. Then of course we have no access to the inside of the Trayon to get organised before a camping trip as there is not enough room to open the stairs. Blah, blah, blah….I could go on here for ages. Just trust me, it will be easier and a whole lot less time consuming.
  • We will still be able to ‘go remote’, go ‘off the beaten track’ and take the road less travelled. Unlike a full caravan we will not be restricted or hesitant about turning onto that dirt road. Some of the best discoveries are made away from the crowds and we love the ability to escape from the beaten tourist track.

With the glorious North Queensland winter weather approaching we are so looking forward to testing out our TOAST- (Trayon on a Sweet Trailer) – at the beach, in the rain forest and by a lazy outback river or two. Stay tuned for a performance test in a week or so at Karma Waters, Hurricane Station on the beautiful Mitchell River, four hours west of Cairns.

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To be continued………

The Waterfall Loop from Cairns Nth Qld

Michelle’s guide to Waterfall sightseeing in Paradise

Cairns and water go together. Like strawberries and cream. Add the mountain backdrop and it’s a recipe for a green paradise. As local residents we tend to get a bit blasé towards our own natural scenery. On occasion though we do take off the blinkers and really appreciate this place we are lucky enough to call home. You just cannot possibly ignore the beauty of nature when viewing falling water up here in the North. So over two days at Easter time we do the Waterfall loop.

We have had an incredible amount of rain in the last week of March. I love our wet season rain. Its not a gentle pitter, patter of raindrops. Our rain is torrential and really loud. It’s like the pendulous storm clouds just dump the whole lot all at once. Like those wet playgrounds with the bucket of water that drops it’s load when it reaches tipping point. Tropical rain is truly a wonder of nature in itself. It takes the edge off the steamy humidity and creates a vibrant green visual feast. ‘Rain’ forest is called that for a reason I guess.

So after a week of torrential, flooding rain we decide to enjoy our most wonderful natural splendours at their finest – the Waterfalls. We are literally surrounded by them in Cairns – all beautiful, all different, all glorious and it’s easy to do a loop and not a huge distance. It has to be the best place in Australia to do a waterfall crawl.

Barron Falls just up the Range at Kuranda is our first stop. The power of these Falls is immense when the Barron River is bulging at the seams. It’s a long drop and there is nothing delicate and dainty here. The water plummets a long distance bouncing from boulder to boulder with the sound of thunder. Its a worthwhile short stop with a lovely rainforest walk to the falls viewing platform.

Barron Falls

Between Kuranda and Mareeba off the Kennedy highway are Davies Creek Falls and Emerald Creek Falls. Both these lovely falls are unique as the Northern portion of the Tropical Tablelands are characterised by open eucalyptus woodland, with granite outcrops and clear flowing streams. The smell is gorgeous – that eucalyptus fragrance of the warm Aussie bush. Both of these Falls are similar, plummeting with a thunderous roar over a granite escarpment. From the top the views of the Tablelands are magnificent. Below each fall is a fast flowing stream being channeled through granite boulders in continual cascades. You can find a quiet calm pool for a refreshing swim. I did just that at Emerald Creek and it was delicious.

Davies Creek Falls

Emerald Creek Falls

A refreshing swim in Emerald Creek

Coffee time. The Northern Tablelands are famous for coffee plantations and most offer tours and serve scrumptious barista made coffee. We stop at one of our favourites, Jacques Coffee. A delicious treat.

Jaques Coffee Plantation Cafe

We then turn South at Mareeba toward the rolling green hills and rainforests of the Southern Tablelands. The quaint, idyllic village of Yungaburra is our destination for the night and we arrive with time to wander around on foot and try to spot a platypus in the creek. A misty rain makes our motel room a cosy haven.

In the morning it’s only a short drive on to Malanda Falls. There is a bit of perfect symmetry in the low natural cascade. The water has a brown tinge due to recent flooding. Usually folks swim in the clear pool beneath the falls but today it’s closed. The current is too strong.

Malanda Falls closed over Easter for swimming

We continue driving south in misty rain through rolling green hills of the Southern Tablelands, very reminiscent of being in Victoria, except the weather is warm. We head to my favourite of the three sets of falls on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit. Millaa Millaa Falls. This is misty waterfall perfection. Perfectly manicured by Mother Nature. The exquisite tropical tree ferns frame a photo beautifully.

The perfect Millaa Millaa Falls

Zillie Falls, a further 8km on, took me by surprise. These are usually a bit ordinary after the exquisite perfection of Millaa Millaa Falls but with the wet season flow they were powerful, intense and even pretty as the water plummeted over the abyss pummelling the rocks below. The walking track down to the bottom is a bit hazardous though in the wet. Tree roots, mud, slippery rocks and a steep descent through tangled rainforest.

Zillie Falls flowing strongly

Elinjaa Falls, 2km on is very pretty cascade. Like a lacy curtain. There’s no better place to find yourself, than standing by a waterfall listening to its music and this one had a lovely melody.

Elinjaa Falls

From Millaa Millaa we head down the Palmerston highway toward Innisfail back on the coast. We stop at Henrietta Creek to walk the 4.4km rainforest walk leading to Silver Falls and Nandroya Falls. This is our first time here and it was truly incredible. The trail to the falls took us deep into the beautiful tropical rainforest. A long walk but nothing strenuous and the reward was the gob smacking view of Nandroya Falls. Silver Falls were just stunning. Delicate and very pretty but Nandroya Falls were in a league of their own. An absolutely amazing spectacle. The sheer power, the noise, the mist. It was an incredible sight. Violence and beauty thrown together in spectacular fashion. Definitely worth the walk.

Beautiful rainforest trail to Nandroya Falls

The petite and gentle Silver Falls

The many layers of Nandroya Falls

The spectacular and powerful Nandroya Falls cascading from pristine rainforest

After a spot of lunch in Innisfail we head North toward Cairns and detour shortly after to Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park. Its a 700m stroll through stunning pristine rainforest. So pretty to look at but you can sense the foreboding and danger when you reach Josephine Creek. So many have died here, lured into the water by its beauty and clarity. Its so clear, deep and inviting with natural fun filled rock slides but the churning water is powerful, turbulent and will suck you under the boulders with its fury. I don’t swim here, especially with flash flooding warning signs. Crazy, but others still do. Spectacular waterfall though.

Another lovely rainforest stroll

The clear water of Josephine Creek is inviting but deadly

Say no more

Josephine Falls

So waterfalled out, we head back home. It’s been a lovely two days and just the tip of the iceberg. It has renewed our sense of appreciation for the joys of living in this paradise we call home.

With love from Cairns