“The sky forms vivid pastel layers and the gorge glows a soft orange. Pelicans with their great wing span glide serenely over the water. Everything becomes still and gentle. This is outback Australia at her finest and its magnificent.” Diamantina National Park is remote. Draw a rough diamond on a map between Winton, Boulia, Birdsville … Read more Diamantina National Park – Adventurers only read on…..
A SNAPSHOT INTO A LIFE WE WILL NEVER HAVE. The coastline here is no longer protected by Ningaloo Reef and its wild. The swells smashing into the rock ledges are enormous, scary and impressive. Tonnes of angry, foaming white water smashing ferociously into the rock walls sending cascading plumes high into the air. It sounds … Read more Coral Coast of WA: Waves and Whales.
She’s in her bikini, thigh deep in the Pentecost River – not that far down from where it joins the Cambrian Gulf which is the domain of absolute monster estuarine crocodiles. Meanwhile Kevin and I, a bit further along the bank, tie a rope onto our bucket and chuck it into the river from high … Read more The Kimberley, WA – all about the Gibb River Road.
“Lawn Hill Gorge has ‘it’. Precisely what ‘it’ is I’m not sure how to put into words. I guess it’s like trying to explain what colours are to a blind person. It’s just something you need to experience yourself or it has no meaning.” From Leichhardt Falls we take the shorter route via Augusta Downs … Read more Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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………..
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m nervous. But a little excited. This is a first for me. Driving myself the long, remote distance from the Tropical North to the Red Centre of Australia. Its a long way. My husband has told me to stick to the main highway as I’m travelling solo but its still long vast distances.
This drive is not just a whim of fancy. Its life changing. We are moving lock, stock and barrel. Relocating our home base from Cairns to Alice Springs. Our country desert dweller hearts are rejecting the busy city life style. We are heading home. Our boys are doing their own thing now and we are free.
Once upon a time this was an easy thing to do, relocating. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t think twice about it. Just loaded my worldly possessions in my little Holden Torana and off I went to Alice Springs. My worldly possessions were a few kitchen appliances, a little TV and a suitcase brimming with clothes. It was the best thing I ever did. Change was exciting. I caught the Ghan to Alice and loved the unique feel of the place immediately. The rest is history.
As I have gotten older though, such a huge change, that was once a pure exhilarating adventure, now feels kind of daunting. It feels monumental and complicated. There have been obstacles to overcome. The worldly possession list has of course expanded exponentially. Selling our home in the tropics, with its memories, has been an emotional roller coaster and a task of mighty proportions turning it into a modern buyers show case. Painting, cleaning, replacing electrical fittings, de-cluttering, inspections, agents, lawyers, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork…..
Now its done. The house sold quickly, the furniture is in a container doing a weird lap of Australia and I’m sitting in a hollow, empty space listening to my keyboard strokes echo. By the way, the acoustics in an empty house are amazing.
In two days I drive away. To a new life. To join my man who is already there. That inner child in me is rejoicing that I have been courageous enough to make this decision. To go with it in my fifties. To be willing to change a life that was stale. Life is too short to waste it. I feel brave and I feel a sense of anticipation. I feel the sadness of goodbyes melting away and a sense of joy taking its place. I have things to look forward too.
I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, about to embark on a brand new adventure with my whole life ahead of me.
That’s a good place to be.
That long bitumen road awaits. See you at the other end.
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.
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.
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.
Camping, sometimes, is purely about escaping the rat race and having a couple of days of peace and quiet. Its good for the soul. Far away from the drone of highways, the view of concrete slabbed buildings, ticky tacky houses, retail madness and work. Some of the cattle stations in the North Queensland region have capitalised on this market and given us some wonderful camping options. A taste of country life.
Woodleigh Station is just perfect for this and easily accessible from Cairns. A two hour drive up via the Atherton Tablelands and then a turn to the left 20km past Ravenshoe on a dirt track signposted Woodleigh Station.
So what do I love about camping at Woodleigh Station? I like camping on grass. I like big shady gum trees. I like being next to a river you can look at, swim in and canoe. I like the sounds of native birds – magpies, lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds and galahs. I like being able to have a lazy campfire all day long. I like stunning sunsets and starry night skies. I like the absolute serenity. I like the cows and horse that wander nearby to chew the juicy green grass. I’m suddenly a country girl again. I love that.
The weather was warm and a little bit sultry in late March so a swim in the river was very refreshing. The water was a shade of caramel, which was unusual. Usually it is lovely and clear but a storm across The Tablelands the previous night washed away a lot of rich volcanic soil. It was still nice.
The clouds look a little ominous at times and we did get a little bit of rain during our weekend here but it just added to our experience. The lovely smell of summer rain and the array of colours it created in the sky at sunset were spectacular. This is mother nature doing her thing beautifully. Our campfire didn’t go out despite the rain, so it wasn’t a wash out.
So, our Woodleigh Station experience was pretty much perfect and a great camping destination getaway close to Cairns. As always, just avoid long weekends as then there will be more people than cows. And that would be a shame.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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…..
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.
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.)
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………..
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.