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.

Woodleigh Station – Camping Around Cairns – North Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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………