What’s it like to live in Alice Springs?

A LIST OF RANDOM OBSERVATIONS AFTER SIX WEEKS HERE

There are so many varied perceptions out there of what Alice Springs is like. A lot of negative comments are made but are they justified? So I thought I’d share some of my honest observations on what it’s really like. Just random as I think of things.

After living in the tropics the absence of mould is great. Not even in the shower cubicle.
When I mop the floor, the water in the bucket turns red. Fine red dust everywhere
The wind is crazy when it blows. No such thing as a gentle breeze. Wind chimes are a no go. Too bloody noisy.
Skin moisturiser and lip cream are essential. Dry climate = dry skin and flat hair.
Sunrise and sunset are pure magic every single day with the pastel layering of the sky.
When I exercise I hardly sweat. The dry evaporates it.
Constant blue skies are good for the soul and your mood.
The desert landscape is full of colour. Red, blue, yellow, pink, purple, green in many shades.
The landscape is soft and gentle except at midday when the sun is high in the sky and it gets harsh.
The town centre is crazy busy all the time. Getting a park is sometimes challenging.
The dry Todd River in the middle of town is picturesque with tall gum trees. I look forward to it flowing one day.
Walking the Todd Mall is so pretty at night with light displays on the ground.
The town is really multicultural and it’s a really friendly. The community is open minded, welcoming and tolerant. That makes it a great place to live.

Always the sound of galahs. Its wonderful to hear and sounds like home.

As with any place there is crime. Alice Springs has a lot of petty theft. Stolen cars, broken car windows, stolen bikes. Bored young Aboriginal kids roaming the streets at night are rumoured to be the main culprits. The police can’t do much because they are kids. The system isn’t working very well. We’ve had no issues personally, our area has no public housing. We do see young children wandering around other suburbs at night and always say “where are their parents?” We just make sure our bikes are always padlocked at home just in case. Prevention is a good strategy.
Buying alcohol is a interesting experience but it makes the town better and safer so it’s okay.
Coles and Woolies are great supermarkets here and the cost of food is no different but fuel is more expensive.
Everyone has bikes. The town has bike paths and trails everywhere.
When it’s hot, it’s hot and when it’s cold, it’s bloody freezing. There are perfect days though.
It feels safe. On occasion we see and hear a group of Aborigines having a blue. It’s a very vocal thing and their culture is different to ours so we accept it as part of the local vibe. But I have not felt threatened walking around town, even at night.
Work is in abundance here and it’s very much a government town. If you want work you’ll find it.
Not so many tourist buses these days. Flights go straight to Uluru and many tourists bypass Alice. Shame for them. Lots of 4WD campers still though.
The stars at night are phenomenal. Not much light pollution here which equates to amazing night skies.
The lifestyle is unpretentious, casual and easygoing and the pace is slower. Shorts and thongs are the go.
People drink at lot here because it’s so dry. Alcohol and soft drink go down a real treat.
The town water has a taste. It’s bore water but you get used to it.
The bush flies are so annoying when they try to get in your eyes and ears. I love my fly net. No mosquitoes or midges though.
We are in the unique position that every beach in the country is pretty much the same distance away. Being in the centre is pretty good.
Central Australia is the best place in the world for a campfire at night, especially in your own backyard. There’s always a supply of good dry wood.

The proof is in the images so I’ll let the following collection of photographs do the talking

The MacDonnell Ranges are a stunning backdrop. Add gum trees and perpetual blue skies and you have Central Australia.
Galahs are such characters. Here they are lined up on our back fence. The sound of them frolicking is part of the landscape
A bicycle in Alice is a must have. This is me heading for Simpson’s Gap on the 17km bike path. The scenery is spectacular.
Red dust blowing in from the desert. This is a dust storm and there was a fine layer of red dust all through our home.
The same view at sunset without the dust storm. We have a hill behind our home with this lovely view of the town. This is toward the east.

And this is toward the West. We lugged our own bench seat up there because you need a seat to enjoy the view
A backyard campfire at sunset is wonderful.
There’s always a good view in the mirror
Sturt Desert Peas blooming in spring. The wildflowers are spectacular
The pastel layers in the sky at dawn and dusk are magical
There are so many gaps, gorges and waterholes in the Ranges. You may have to travel a bit but there are places to go swimming. Cool, shady places.
Sometimes you just have to sit on a rock and enjoy the view. That’s Alice Springs nestled below the range.

So, Alice Springs is quite a lovely place to call home and definitely a lovely place to visit. Its unique, has soul and a character all of its own. The community is vibrant and there’s alway things happening, events to go too and on a balmy evening with those colours in the sky it’s so lovely. Its the heart of the Outback.

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.

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

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“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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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………