A life changing road trip from Cairns to Alice Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a good place to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, most of the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opened his eyes

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

Imagine waking with this face just inches from yours

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

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

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

And Kevin finally took a breathe again………

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Not us. Its bull dust all the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diamantina National Park Outback Queensland

Follow the footsteps of the Diamantina Drover in our Trayon…

TURN UP THE VOLUME

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

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

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

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

Woodleigh Station – Camping Around Cairns – North Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what he said? Very complacently at that.

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

WHAT!!!

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

Douglas hot springs 6
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…..