Coming Home and Lessons Learned

So we’re home. And home is lovely. After months of living in arid landscapes, red dirt and deserts we had forgotten just how ‘green’ Cairns is. It’s so pretty with the mountain backdrop and rainforest. The ocean isn’t the glorious aquamarine of the WA coast but its lovely in a north QLD kind of way. Isn’t it wonderful we have experienced it all?

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The beach vista in North Queensland. It is rather lovely.
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The West Australian Coastline is worlds different in light and water clarity. Totally lovely.

So we did it, the trip of a lifetime, and it was just grand. No regrets. We gave up our jobs and drove 20232 kilometres across the top, down the west coast, across the middle and a quick dash down south. Fantastic. Australia is amazing.

So here are some random statistics on our experience travelling remote Australia by 4WD.

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Free camp near Karajini National Park. Totally splendid view and I have ordered this photo as a huge metal artwork for our wall at home. Great photo by Kevin.

The ultimate trip cost

  • We were away for just over 16 weeks in total and we spent $18 681 in total. I’m happy with that. I had budgeted for $1000 per week plus an extra $4000 for car repairs and maintenance. We came in under budget in our weekly spending averaging at $800 per week and went over in the car expenditure which blew out to $5860. Three services in Kununurra, Tom Price and Kapunda, front wheel bearings in Broome, rear parabolic springs and 4 Cooper tyres in Geraldton and, thanks to the Simpson Desert, new rear shock absorbers in Kapunda. We didn’t actually need the new Coopers but we were getting frustrated with the flats we were getting on the skinny split rim tube tyres and opted to replace them with fatter tubeless. No flats since so it was worth it.

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    Sexy beach shot on the beach in Geraldton. New shoes and a nice butt lift.
  • We travelled 20232 km and spent $4696 on fuel. The most expensive fuel was at Mt Dare Station SA just before the Simpson Desert at $2.15 per litre and the cheapest in Kapunda SA at $1.21 per litre. That’s a bit uncanny that South Australia wins the crown in both cases and it wasn’t even planned.

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    Good on you South Aussie – both cheap and expensive
  • Food came in at $4514 and we ate way too much chocolate. We would stock up on chocolate and other assorted snacks when we got to a big supermarket as that sort of stuff is too expensive to buy in remote locations. We bought 6 blocks of chocolate in Broome (after 2 weeks on the Gibb River Road) as it was so cheap and ate them all in 3 days. That’s why I had to buy moo moo’s in Broome. We ate a little too well and were not as disciplined as we are at home. Let’s not talk about all the kitchener buns and chocolate donuts in Kapunda. I’m paying for that extravagance now.

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    A South Australian Kitchener Bun. Taste bud heaven. One for breakfast every day. Need more moo moos.
  • Accommodation costs were very reasonable at $1957. A good mix of free camping, national parks, the luxury of three nights in a cottage at Geraldton and a couple of nights in a cabin at Kapunda because it was freezing cold.

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    Free camping at its finest. James Price Point north of Broome
  • Miscellaneous spending was $1654. This money was put aside for tours, entry fees and everything else. There were quite a few Op Shop purchases in there. It was one of my favourite activities in a town; pottering through an Op Shop in an exotic new destination. My wardrobe expanded unnecessarily and exponentially much to Kevin’s perturbed amusement and mild disgust. (Chuckle)

See my other blog on more detailed trip costs The Savannah Way from Cairns QLD to Broome WA: How much does it cost?

Other random observations as follows…..

  1. Between us we managed to read 28 books and listen to 3 audio books. Every book swap was taken advantage of with much gusto. That’s what we did in the evenings. Read books and ate chocolate.
  2. Ugg boots are just the best footwear on holiday, even in warm country (clean feet with ease)
  3. I made bread 14 times in the Weber Baby Q, and with home made lentil soup this was our most popular meal choice. (Chocolate for desert of course) We called our Weber ‘Baby you fat bitch’. A little harsh I know, but she was so big and heavy and took up a lot of space in the camper. We wouldn’t have gone without her though. She gave us so many awesome meals.
  4. The two equally worst roads were the Simpson Desert crossing and the Kalumburu Road to Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly. Both were particularly punishing to our vehicle but the scenic reward was worth it so no real regrets there.
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    Simpson Desert bounce over 1000 sand dunes like this. New shock absorbers……
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    Corrugations on the Kalumburu Road. They were doozies….

    See my blog THE GIBB RIVER ROAD for more on this…….

     

  5. People ask what was the absolute highlight of the whole trip and I find it impossible to narrow it down to one place. We saw and did so much that was absolutely stunning, each in its own unique way. So many ‘wow, moments. I loved it all.
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    Dales Gorge at Karajini National park

    So the highlight has to be the length of our trip. Four months was an ideal time frame. We didn’t feel pressured for time and we felt the pure joy of freedom to explore at our leisure. That was a sufficient length of time though as by the end we were both weary. I don’t think you can keep appreciating it as much if you do it perpetually. It was time to come home and we actually started to look forward to a couch, a TV, our own toilet and a bed where Kevin doesn’t have to climb over me to go out for a wee. It’s the little things.

  6. Kevin and I, for the first time, spent 24 hours a day with each other, for four months in a confined living arrangement. We survived, we laughed a lot, we became more tolerant, we relaxed into a comfortable camaraderie and it made our relationship stronger. It was a fantastic experience to share.
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    A shared experience at its finest

    See my blog for more on snorkelling with whalesharks Waves, Wild Wind and Whalesharks

  7. We saw hundreds of emus in all states. They were the dominant wildlife on this trip which was great because I love them. They’re so quirky.

Lessons learnt along the way

Follow the weather. The perception of a holiday is 95% dictated by the weather, especially when living under a canvas roof. A place that is simply magnificent in sunshine becomes bleak and horrid in wet, bleak, cold and overcast weather. During the winter months the North of Australia is the place to be. Gotta love warmth and sunshine.

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Just add sunshine to turn an ordinary scene into paradise

 

Less is more and will save you grief. We overpacked. Too much ‘stuff’. I tried to be minimalist when we packed but failed and it became obvious when at our first service, the mechanic assumed we were there to get our suddenly sagging rear springs replaced. We carried too much ‘just in case’ stuff and things that only got minimal use. The heavy generator and max tracks sat on the roof rack the whole way with no use, the boat only got used twice, the BBQ plate that got used once, there was too much stuff in our internal cupboards like the heavy camp oven that didn’t get used, too many clothes (in my section). The excessive weight of our vehicle became stringently obvious in Kapunda when the mechanic replacing the shockers couldn’t lift the vehicle with a 4 tonne hoist (our gvm is 3.3 tonnes). No wonder we suffered trying to cross the Simpson Desert and had the considerable expense of replacing our suspension.

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Up and over the dunes with our heavy load. There is a lot of useless weight on that roof rack just to start with and I’m pretty sure ‘Baby the fat bitch’ was bouncing her way up and down the floor. See my blog Crossing the Simpson Desert: What the heck were we thinking?

It’s nice to have a home to come back too. We did actually consider selling up everything to travel perpetually prior to this trip. Sell the house, hit the road and be totally free. That’s a romantic notion though and I’m glad we didn’t go down that path. It’s wonderful to be free but living in a confined space, always on the move takes its toll. I’m positive that the thrill of travel wouldn’t be as great if it was a way of life rather than just a holiday. I guess it’s a personal thing because some people happily do it but we need a place to go ‘home’. Then we can plan and get excited about the next adventure. And there will be more………..

Thank you

So to those people that faithfully followed my blog on this adventure, thank you for coming with us, thank you for the likes and nice comments and I hope you enjoyed the journey. I hope I encouraged other people to do similar and inspired you to visit these amazing places in our beautiful country. It is so worth it. We are much richer for the experience. Kevin and I have luckily both got our jobs back straight away so we didn’t even have to line up at Centrelink, which is a huge bonus. We took a risk and the reward was beyond our expectations.

There will be more………….

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Cape Leveque with my favourite WA colour scheme

Broome and Dampier Peninsula

OCHRE CLIFFS, BLUE SEA and CREAMY SAND with a touch of MELANCHOLIA

Laverton to Uluru: The Great Central Road into Australia’s RED HEART.

Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?

QUOBBA STATION AND RED BLUFF : SWELLS, SURFERS AND HUMPBACK WHALES

Adrenaline filled adventure at Karajini National Park

and more …….

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Home is beautiful too, lets never forget that.

The Savannah Way from Cairns QLD to Broome WA: How much does it cost?

How much does it really cost to travel The Savannah Way from Cairns to Broome?

I have written this blog because when I was planning our trip I searched the web in vain for someone to tell me exactly how much it costs out there on the road to help me with my savings plan. Everyone was very elusive so here I am very upfront with our dollar cost.

It has taken us 8 weeks to do the complete Savannah Way Route from Cairns to Broome, including a detour up to the top of the Northern Territory and Cape Leveque, north of Broome.

It’s an extraordinary road journey right across the top of Australia with such diverse, magnificent scenery and the weather has been warm enough to swim everywhere. That’s the joy of being in the North while the Southern States are freezing cold.

We took our time across the route but swayed more toward the natural scenic attractions that we could access ourselves by 4WD. We didn’t do any tours or go to attractions aimed at reaping in the tourist dollars so you won’t see those expenses here (like Horizontal Falls which would have cost us $1800 for a day tour).

We have discovered with the right set up, travelling around Australia is completely do-able on a limited budget. You can go for days at a time without spending a brass razoo in the most idyllic locations.

So here are our financial stats for The Savannah Way – Cairns to Broome over 8 weeks.

TOTAL AMOUNT SPENT           $6769.97

Over 8 weeks this equates to an average of $850 per week and covers absolutely everything, including almost $1000 on car maintenance and repairs.

The exact breakdown is as follows…………

  1. FUEL:                        $1643.03

We have travelled 7793 kilometres and most of that on rough dirt roads. The most expensive fuel was at Drysdale Station and Mt Barnett Roadhouse on the Gibb River Road at $2.05 per litre and the cheapest $1.26 in Darwin.

  1. ACCOMMODATION: $ 1084.40

Broken down into the following categories

Free Camping:                   23 nights                                 $0

Caravan Parks                   10 nights                                 $ 417

National Parks                   17 nights                                $ 289.40

Private or Stations              8 nights                                $ 301

Motel (Darwin)                    1 night                                  $  77

We saved a lot of money on accommodation by choosing to free camp more often      and there are some amazingly scenically attractive free camps out there still. Take advantage of these places while you still can.

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Free camping at Coulomb Point North of Broome. I cried when we left as it was so perfect.

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We were camped on the point and had this beach to the left of us…..

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And this beach to the right of us. Just gorgeous and it was really quiet.

  1. FOOD and DRINK: $2106.36

We could do better here as we tend to go a bit silly when we reach civilisation after spending a couple of weeks in the bush eating camp tucker. We eat really well because we carry a fridge and a freezer but it’s still nice to have a pub meal, some nice café style breakfasts and coffees and a little bit of takeaway. Let us remember we are on holidays after all. A carton lasts Kevin a whole month so we can’t even blame alcohol. Our food tally may even decrease a little now that my hunter and provider is catching fish (grin).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

  1. MISCELLANEOUS $973.18

This includes everything else – the four moo moo’s I had to buy in Broome because we are eating so well (chuckle – oh dear many a true word is spoken in jest), gas refills, haircuts, chemist purchases, clothes, fishing gear, market purchases etc. It doesn’t take long to add up.

 

  1. CAR MAINTENANCE $963.00

Two flat tyre repairs in Katherine, a 5000k service in Kununurra and the two front wheel bearings needed replacing in Broome (no wonder after the Gibb River Road).  We still believe prevention is better than cure in respect to our vehicle. It is our home and lifeline so a few hundred here and there is better than thousands down the track.

 

So, in terms of dollars it has cost us just under $6770 thus far to have an experience that is beyond value and absolutely priceless. It’s a low enough figure that makes it possible for us to survive without an income, live off our budgeted savings and know that giving up our jobs (or putting our jobs on hold) to do this was the right thing to do. The value of this trip can’t be measured at all in monetary terms, it’s in the breath-taking moments that leave an imprint on the soul. In big moments like gazing at Mitchell Falls or small moments like last night when I was cooking dinner in our camper.  I look out the left window to see the sun sinking in a blaze of fiery brightness in the Indian Ocean and I look out the right window to see the giant white orb of the full moon rising just above the glowing red cliffs. Phenomenal moments worth a million dollars over and over again.  That’s what it’s all about. I wish I could capture these moments in a bottle to use as an elixir later on when we do go back to working class reality; transport me straight back to that moment. But alas, I know it cannot be and we just have to enjoy each and every precious moment here and now.

Broome and Dampier Peninsula

Finding Free Camp Nirvana near Broome WA

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Camping perfection James Price Point 50 km from Broome

Our current address:

Landcruiser perched on the Red Cliff Top

Beach Access Track

James Price Point

Dampier Peninsula Paradise

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Sigh…………Its just magnificent.  Costs us absolutely nothing but is totally priceless. Beach bum nirvana.

We have red sandstone cliffs that extend further than we can walk, soft creamy white sand, blue clear ocean, whales cavorting on the horizon, sunshine in abundance, rock pools to explore and the fine detail of nature’s beach art everywhere. It’s beautiful and its impossibly all ours and ours alone. Kevin has even caught two fish – that’s how special this place is. We might just stay awhile.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lovely Broome is just bursting at the seams. The population swells by massive proportions during this peak tourist season. The caravan parks are so full that the overflow are camped at sport fields and club ovals.

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Roebuck Bay Broome. Our caravan park was right on this beach. Great location.
Fortunately, I had the foresight to pre-book a sight at the Roebuck Bay Caravan Park. Brilliant location on the amazing aqua blue town beach but the park itself was shabby and the facilities run-down. At least 80% full of permanent residents. Broome is a really expensive place to buy or rent accommodation so a significant proportion become trailer park dwellers. Shame. Another 10% of the park is taken up by grey nomads flocking from Southern WA who stay for months at a time so that only leaves 10% for us transient tourists. Still the town has a really nice atmosphere, great shopping facilities and we really enjoyed the town beach markets on Thursday night.

Four days was well and truly enough in civilisation though as money was running like water through our fingers. We then drove up the interesting route through Dampier Peninsula to Kooljamon at Cape Leveque.

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Cape Leveque Road. Shaped like a bowl after years of grading.
Bookings are required for this very popular tourist spot however we managed to snag one night to camp anyway. Stunning, amazing scenery especially at sunset. Colour, colour, colour.  These should be the colours of our Australian flag. The ochre of the sandstone, the creamy white beaches and the vivid blue ocean and sky.

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That would be me in some kind of beach paradise. Cape Leveque Western Beach.

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Gorgeous Cape Leveque – that tiny figure is Kevin fishing. We had the whole beach to ourselves.
Then we head back down the Peninsula in search of a free beach camp to spend a few leisurely days.  There quite a few free camping sites within a 50km radius of Broome. Quandong Beach is the most popular with some stretches of sandy beach but so many vans packed in and every available spot on the cliff top was taken. A couple of stake holders even claimed land rights and blocked access to their patch of turf with branches or shovel plonked right in the middle of the track. Greedy old farts but thanks to them we continued further onto James Price Point and found our own patch of paradise in a more scenic and quieter location.

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Great camp. We can walk forever down this beautiful beach.

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Lots of beach walking and the red cliffs at sunset are on fire. The colour looks to amazing to be real.

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Kevin fishing. He caught two.
 

We see so much natural beauty that it’s almost impossible to take it all in and we are a bit overwhelmed. Its so lovely exploring the rock pools at low tide and I discover that the stiller and quieter you are the more you will see (there is a life lesson in there somewhere I’m sure); I see crabs scuttling, an octopus and intricate artwork in the sand.

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My rock pools

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Natures art work in the sand

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Even the shells on the beach are beautiful. I leave them there and don’t collect them. They belong right where they are.
The wind blows persistently on the cliff top but it’s so lovely hearing the rhythmic cadoosh of waves at night and the sunsets over the Indian Ocean are simply incredible.  Even the moon sinks into the sea in the wee small hours as an orange bauble. The breath-taking view from our campsite costs us nothing but makes us so much wealthier. At this point in time we are brimming with riches.

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Sunset from our cliff top home
We have pretty much found nirvana.

The Kimberley, WA – all about the Gibb River Road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe’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 on the bank to scoop some water out for our dishes. There’s no way we are going near that water. Not after our episode at Douglas Hot Springs ( Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs )

It’s a car load of adventurous European backpackers and we are all being ‘slippery gypsies’ free camping at the Pentecost River Crossing on the Gibb River Road. I say to her “you’re brave” and she replies with “it’s okay, I can’t see any crocodiles”. Oh dear. Their naivety is delightful but then she didn’t get munched so all good. We saw a croc the next day so they were definitely in there.

Our campsite on the Pentecost River

In the morning I say to Kevin, “this is priceless” and he agrees. We have just cooked bacon, eggs and naan bread toast on the BBQ plate over a small campfire and eat in the sunshine on the bank of the Pentecost River in the beautiful light of a cool Kimberley morning. This is good.

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Sunrise on the Pentecost River
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Ready to cook breakfast

I admit we were a little ‘jaded’ with the El Questro experience at the start of the Eastern end of the Gibb River Road. Its bitumen all the way to the turn off now and too easily accessible by the masses. I swam in icy cold Emma Gorge by myself, as we were the first early birds there, and it was just delightful, however, Zebedee Hot Springs and El Questro Gorge were just ridiculous with the volume of people. (although the scenery is worth it).

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The stunning Emma Gorge at El Questro. An icy cold swim ticked off the bucket list.

This is our third time across the Gibb River Road and we got to see it 28 years ago when it was totally ‘uncommercialised’. We had to pump diesel out of a 44-gallon drum at Mt Barnett to refuel and the road was little more than a rough track. It’s much busier now, the road is badly corrugated in places but a lot wider than back then. Initially we thought it was less of an adventure than our honeymoon trip in 1989 BUT THEN for the first time ever we turned onto the Kalumbaru Road and headed north to Mitchell Plateau. Crikey. The road was savage with corrugations as big as speed humps.  Now that’s definitely an adventure.

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Kalumbaru Road Corrugations (for 260km)

It took us a brutal bone shattering six hours to travel 230km from the Kalumbaru turn-off to the Mitchell Falls campground. So why do it you may ask. Is it really worth it? Well, yeah.  Mitchell Falls were the most awe- inspiring, magnificent, totally gob smackingly WOW. The sight of them in full glory while we perched on the edge of a steep cliff after walking for 2 hours was something to see.

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A photo just can’t do Mitchell Falls justice. An awe inspiring sight when you are there.
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After the grandeur of Mitchell Falls, the lovely Mertens Falls made a lovely lunch spot and a refreshing swim followed.

If you look where we are on a map, remote is an understatement.  We saviour this remoteness by spending a couple more nights camped beside the gorgeous King Edward River where we swim and have a canoe adventure where we try to get our inflatable to ride the rapids (Kevin fell in).

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Paddling on the King Edward River

Then we face the horrendous corrugations back down again. Kevin was exhausted from the serious concentration required skating over the road but it’s a small price to pay to experience such amazing scenery. No major issues with the car which was great: a few more rattles and the tray bolts were loose (despite nylock nuts) but no flat tyres. The car has been an absolute champion and performed admirably under very trying conditions.

The Western end of the Gibb River Road is in much better condition than the Eastern end with the bonus that there is more to see –  gorgeous gorges and swimming at regular intervals (Manning, Galvans, Adcock, Bell and Windjana: all different). We free camp at Barnett River Gorge which was an absolute gem and free camp (a little sneakily) along a creek near beautiful Bell Gorge.

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Gorgeous swimming and waterfall at Bell Gorge

Mornington Wilderness Camp, 90 km off the Gibb River Road, was a must see. Kevin made me to drive in and I went through a couple of water crossings (over the bonnet and up to the windscreen). Okay, I exaggerate – just a little…..

Dimond Gorge is really remote and so dramatic. We paddle down the tranquil Fitzroy River where it cuts through the King Leopold Ranges. The sandstone gorge walls are contorted from long ago earth movements and ancient (up to 1.8 – 2 billion years old – mind boggling). It really was so stunning and we both commented on how at that moment in time how we were the wealthiest people in the whole world.

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Pumping up our boat at Dimond Gorge. We refuse to pay $70 to hire one.
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Lovely Dimond Gorge which we had all to ourselves
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Just as beautiful Sir John Gorge at Mornington Wilderness Park
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Dimond Gorge paddle picnic lunch

The Gibb River Road is not about driving the road itself, it’s about the extraordinarily special scenery it leads you too. You need to travel the corrugations, do the hard yards, make like a mountain goat at times, swim under the waterfalls and see, hear, feel and touch the landscape. Soak it up. Touch the soul and feel the heartbeat of The Kimberley. I do love it so. We both do. We did it all.

So how do we feel after 7 weeks and 6800km on the road living in a 2m x 2m box on the back of a ute? Pretty good. Naturally we have days where we feel weary, worn out and dirty, however, then we have another ‘magic’ moment to remind us why we are out here. A night sky, a sunset, a magical piece of scenery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are so many magic ‘wow’ moments, every day is different with a sense of anticipation and most importantly we laugh a lot. After coming all the way across the top of the country we are definitely tired and gorged, waterfalled and rough roaded out a bit now though. Its ‘slip into Broome time’ mode coming up and we have every intention of chilling out for a decent break around Broome to recharge the depleted batteries (and possibly splurging just a little with the savings we made by free camping).

Fish’n’chips on Cable Beach. Bring it on……..

A few random photos below

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Good idea not to bring the van on the Gibb River Road. It just might not make it…………
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This is the Prestons avoiding camp fees and making free camping a fine art form. 
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Beautiful Barnett River Gorge. Another great camp and delicious swim.
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Crocodiles at Wandjina Gorge
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Ancient Devonian Coral Reef at Wandjina Gorge
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Free camping at the RAAF Quarry (its in the camps 9 book but we thought the sign suited us down to a tee)

How much does it cost to Travel Australia by Road

Australia by road on a Budget: How much does it actually cost?

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I’m keeping a record of every penny we spend on this trip. I roughly budgeted for $1000 per week when I was planning the trip so out of interest I’m curious as to how much it actually costs us in reality.

Australia is not a cheap travel destination, however, by road it is possible to reduce the financial outlay with some planning. A vehicle with 2 fuel tanks has enabled us to buy more fuel in bigger towns where it’s cheaper and travel longer distances between re-fills. Carrying a freezer and a fridge has allowed us to do the same with food. (The cost of food in remote small towns is outrageous – it was $50 for a carton of coke in Borroloola). The occasional free camp reduces the accommodation expenses so the Camps 9 book with every free camp in Australia listed is a worthwhile investment and National Park camp sites are much better value than Caravan Parks.

The boring numbers that follow are the statistics for our first month of travel from Cairns in Queensland to Wyndham at the top of Western Australia via The Savannah Way with a detour up the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Month One Stats:  

Total Expenditure:  $2730.93   (For a whole month of travel this is pretty good – that would just be our airfare if we went overseas)

Broken into the following categories

Fuel:                           $ 906.83

Cheapest fuel in Darwin NT @ 1.26 per litre.

Dearest fuel in Doomadgee QLD @ $1.70 per litre

Accommodation      $527.40

6 nights in Caravan Parks @ $214

13 nights at National Parks @ $176.40

1 night in a Darwin Motel @ $77

4 nights at station campgrounds @ $136

5 nights free camping at roadside stops @ $0

Food                           $857.65

Miscellaneous          $241 (gas cannisters, cooker, phone charge, markets)

Car repairs                $213 (2 x flat tyres)

Nil Sightseeing Tours purchased in this period – we walked and swam everywhere and they are way too bloody expensive to justify.

So, we are in fact doing quite well after our first month, slightly better than forecast. However, as we head across the Gibb River Road I anticipate a catch up will happen. High fuel and accommodation costs are unavoidable and we want to see everything this time. No scrimping here. We are getting a car service done before we go in the hope that prevention is better than cure and cross fingers our tyres hold up. Kevin’s itching to swap the split rims with tubes for tubeless fatties (please, please no more flat tyres!)

Boring post over…………..

 

 

Lorella Springs Station – Savannah Way, Northern Territory

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPARADISE FOUND

Paradise is a hard word to define because everyone’s concept of it is different. Fortunately, Kevin and I are on similar wavelengths here (except his version includes beer). We have found a pretty good version of paradise here at Lorella Springs Station.

This place is magic. It’s completely wild, natural, untouched and remote. A destination for 4WD adventure seekers only.  The road is far too rough for all but the most rugged off-road caravans, so it’s quiet and everywhere we go we have it mostly to ourselves. A few camper trailers and other slide-on campers come and go and some 4WD bus tours but they don’t venture far from camp.

We spend a couple of days following 4WD tracks through sand, mud, rocks, bulldust and water. There is a thousand kilometres of them on this one million-acre property. On foot, we clamber and scramble over rocks and through creek beds following pink ribbon markers in trees and we are always rewarded with an exquisite waterhole (crocodile free), gorge or waterfall. We drive, walk, swim, drive, walk, swim.  Its lovely. Its adventurous. It’s just our kind of thing.

We camp only 20 metres away from the natural thermal spring in the creek. It’s not too hot and not too cold and in the early morning steam rises from the creek. I stay in there until my fingers wrinkle like prunes.

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Michelle in the completely natural thermal spring. How awesome to have it all to myself.

We visit places like helicopter pool, fern gully, fossil fern, la spa and nannas retreat. Each place is unique and lovely and worthy of just one more swim. It’s a wonderful piece of the Northern Territory that has stayed wild, untouched and completely natural. No paths or handrails or causeways.  I hope it stays that way.

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The very beautiful Helicopter Pool. Magic and 10/10 for wow factor.
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Crystal clear water
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Eat ya heart out Russell Coight! That would be la butt in ‘La Spa’ swimming hole.
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Boiling the billy and picnic lunch at ‘Fern Gully’ swimming hole. The water was lovely.
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Swimming through the Gorge at ‘Nannas Retreat’ to reach the cave at the other end. Adventurous!

Lorella Springs is located at the end of a 29km track off the Cape Crawford to Roper Bar Road. It is definitely remote, you need a 4WD to get here and you certainly need one to enjoy the attractions. The property borders Limmen National Park and is a commercial enterprise. The station owner concluded that a better living could be made from tourism than cattle.  The cost to stay here is $20 per person per night but this includes access to the whole property which extends all the way to the gulf for spectacular barramundi fishing and you can remote camp anywhere you choose. It pays to be totally self-sufficient and bring extra fuel as the station will charge you $3 a litre to top up here. There is bar with happy hour at 5pm every day and there are facilities at the main station campground which is huge. They are unique facilities. It’s kind of amazing showering under the stars a few minutes after you light a fire under the ‘donkey’.

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The roof less shower cubicles and its unisex and the shower curtain blows open.
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The ‘donkey’ behind the facilities. Light a fire under it as you have hot showers. Yay!

The best time of year to visit is now, in May and June, after the wet when the waterholes are still flowing. Later in the year they dry up and some become stagnant. At this time of the year they are amazing.

We only got a small taste of this paradise but that’s good because it gives us a reason to come back one day.

The following piccys show some of the ‘interesting’ 4WD tracks.

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Although the photo doesn’t capture it very well. This was steep.
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Add some rocks for good measure. My head nearly fell off here

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Definitely put this place on your bucket list. Its awesome.

Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?

“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 Stations and join the Gregory Development Road to the Gregory Pub. After a delightful swim in the Gregory River its only 100km further on to Boodjamulla National Park and Lawn Hill Gorge.

The first 65 odd km to the Century Mine turn off used to be great because it was well maintained for the numerous trucks going in and out of the mine. However now the mine has closed and the layer of seal is pot holed and disintegrating rapidly. Makes for an interesting ride dodging from one side of the road to the other avoiding mega pot holes. The last 15km into the National Park is badly corrugated dirt but the camp ground is full of caravans so it did not obviously deter them.

We always stay at the Boodjamulla National Park campground. Adeles Grove Caravan Park 10km away is very shady with green grass on the banks of Lawn Hill creek. Its lovely if your stay is all about the camping, nice facilities and a restaurant but we come here to hike, canoe and swim in the pristine waters of the Gorge and all this action starts at the National Park campground. Its dry and sparse with cold water showers but is nice and quiet. No generators allowed and only 20 sites that must be pre-booked online if you want to snag a spot in peak season.

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Our camp site at Boodjamulla National Park

Now about Lawn Hill Gorge. Some places just have that ‘wow’ factor. I’m hoping to see a few of them on this extended trip but on this occasion, we chose to start our adventure with a known ‘wow’ spot just to kick it off nicely. This is our sixth visit here.

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.

In the words of John Denver, it just ‘fills up my senses’.  Visually it is striking. The colours mixed together on an outback palette create something quite extraordinary.  The water in Lawn Hill Creek is a deep jade green due to the calcium carbonate content. The gorge is ochre red and against a brilliant blue outback sky it is beautiful. I can never take a photo that does it justice.

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The water is genuinely this gorgeous shade of jade green

My favourite place at Lawn Hill is in the middle of the gorge, drifting aimlessly in the canoe in the late afternoon shade and just taking it all in.  The canoe traffic has vanished for the day make it a place of complete solitude. The water is still and reflections are mirrored on the surface. The silence is complete. Only on occasion, you hear a willy wagtail chirrup or a corella squawk by or the gentle lapping of water on the canoe. It is so unbelievably peaceful.

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The middle of the main Gorge where Boodjamulla the rainbow serpent dwells

The swimming in the green water is just absolutely delicious despite the presence of freshwater crocodiles. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. We don’t even know they are there unless we spot one sun baking on a log as we canoe past.

We think its essential to bring your own canoe to Lawn Hill. They can be hired from Adeles Grove but its quite expensive and only available during the day. We bring our own ‘Sevylor’ inflatable. It packs up quite small and gives us the freedom to canoe to our hearts content, including sunrise and at night (that was a bit hairy). That way you can take photos like this.

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A sunrise canoe is just magnificent as the first rays of sunshine touch the gorge walls
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Our inflatable canoe is just perfect to carry on a long trip. Takes 5 minutes to pump up by hand and folds up quite small.

So our three days here have, as usual, have been just so lovely. Mostly swimming, canoeing and relaxing as the weather was very warm still and swimming in that divine water is just a heavenly experience. Hard to leave but this time is different as we are not homeward bound.

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Beautiful swimming

Its time for us to turn left and head for the Northern Territory border. Exciting days to come. Lorella Springs Wilderness Park and Limmen Bight National Park next and this is a wild and remote part of the Northern Territory (complete with natural hot springs).

Leichhardt Falls – Savannah Way, QLD

DESTINATION LEICHHARDT FALLS, GULF SAVANNAH, QLD

Our trip commenced in earnest after we fuelled up in Normanton and started kicking up some dust on the Burke Development Road.  We aptly had John Williamson singing ‘The Dusty Road We Know’ on the stereo, wedge-tail eagles and hawks were swooping lonely road kill carcasses and it was flat grassy flood plain with blue cloudless sky from horizon to horizon. The only pedestrians were a mob of lazy Brahman cattle and occasionally we disappeared into the billowing dust cloud of a passing road train. This is outback Queensland in the Gulf Savannah.

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We are about to disappear in this billowing dust cloud
Normanton to Burketown via this route is 230km on a pretty good road these days. It used to be an adventure to travel but now there are causeways over the river crossings, some bitumen sections and even the dirt sections don’t frighten off the few caravans we passed.

At the 140km point we come to Leichhardt Falls. The falls weren’t flowing but there was lots of water in the Leichhardt River and it’s an irresistible spot to stop and camp. Its off the beaten tourist track and has a raw, unmanicured natural beauty. Prolific bird life, crocodiles, the river to explore and lots of tracks to follow to find a private camp site with a gorgeous water view. Stars, campfire, sunset and sunrise all perfect. I guess the only flaw is that the river is rumoured to be the dominion of salt water croc’s so a cool refreshing swim is out of the question on a warm day.  We saw a couple of long snouted freshies sun basking on the water surface below the falls but better safe than sorry.

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Our camp site on the Leichhardt River
I really appreciated my pre-trip food preparation CAN YOU FREEZE MUSHROOMS? THE OVERWHELMING FOOD STUFF……as we feast on a scrumptious rissole brew with gravy for dinner. We worked up quite an appetite rock hopping, exploring and collecting firewood on a warm day.

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Our standard camp fare – a ‘brew’. Rissoles with fried vegetables. Yum,
As I put pen to paper I’m sitting here by our small camp fire. Its dusk, the sun has just sunk below the horizon and the sky to the east is pastel pink and purple. Budgies and babblers are chirping their gay chorus in the trees around us, the water is still and it so peaceful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The restless remnants of our previous suburban working lives are starting to fade as we slowly acclimatise to this new chapter of gypsy living.

The light is now getting dim and the stars are starting to pop out through the gum tree silhouettes. Kevin has a star observatory app and is pointing his phone at each new star and reeling off facts. Hydra B, Sirius, 262 light years away, blue dwarf, red giant and I’m kind of half listening while I sip on my green tea watching the flames flicker.

This is a nice life.

In the morning, the dawn chorus makes us chuckle in amusement as we make toast on the campfire. It’s like all the birds are ferociously abusing each other and bickering amongst themselves. It’s a hell of a racket with all the squawking, shrilling and warbling. Noisy but absolutely wonderful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’d stay a bit longer here but we have a date to chill out with Boodjamulla the rainbow serpent in a stunning red ochre gorge later today. On to more of the good stuff. Stay tuned.

Departure Day

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SETTING OFF ON THE GRAND AUSSIE ADVENTURE

Departure day. Its finally arrived.

It kind of feels surreal.

We are actually really doing this.  I never thought we would be able to do it until retirement but we made it happen. Just goes to show that when you want something bad enough you’ll find a way.

Its a weird day because, after months of just sheer excitement,  we are actually full of nervous trepidation. A million things are frantically going through our heads. That will pass 100km up the road and turn into sheer joy but what a funny, strange sensation to have in the final straight.

There is relief too though. For so long the travel to the West for months has been just a pie in the sky concept. Not really feasible. Not really sensible. Just a pipe-dream.  A ‘gonna do one day’ thing that you never really expect to happen unless you win the lotto.

Well today we are doing it – hitting the ‘frog and toad’ with months of absolute freedom ahead of us and damn it feels pretty good. We feel brave. Running away from home. Bye kids. Bye jobs. Bye house. Bye rut. HELLO to really living. (I say all this with a cheeky grin)

With some heavy duty planning and saving by yours truly, all obstacles have been overcome and all contingencies covered. One manky gall bladder gone and one bank account nicely brimming with holiday cash. Although the tide went out a little with yesterday’s rock flung by whipper snipper into the glass sliding door trick ($600 emergency glass repair at the very last minute – bugger, bugger, bugger!) I obviously needed a quick lesson that not everything always goes to plan.

So now that this day has arrived we can finally just relax, go with the flow and have faith that my planning was good. Just live in the moment, let each day be an adventure and have absolutely no regrets.

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We have so, so much to look forward too. Its a beautiful country out there. Today the sun is shining, the open road beckons and in this moment of time we are free. Really, really free. Today is a great day.

Seeya later alligators and stay tuned for what is to come.

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Camping in the royal swag – The story of why we bought a Trayon Camper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike a turtle, we carry our accommodation on our back. It’s a wonderful way to travel because we have no restrictions due to towing. We are comfortable, can get out of the dirt, have a refuge from the weather and most importantly wherever the car can go, we can go. There are no extra registration fees, no extra wheels or maintenance and less weight.

If we stop somewhere for more than a couple of nights we can put the Trayon on legs so will still have the freedom to use our vehicle.

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Kevin and I have always loved 4WD camping holidays. We have had other types of holidays too. Backpack hiking in New Zealand and Tasmania, trekking up Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa and cycling in Holland but our Australian camping holidays are our perennial favourite.

Over the years our style of camping has sporadically changed. We started off sleeping under the stars in swags. There is something awesome about waking in the middle of the night and being able to see the stars. Our big double swag was warm and toasty and was carried on the roof rack.  I did worry a little about creepy crawlies and on one occasion we could hear wild donkeys braying nearby and Kevin got his shot gun out the car and put it under his pillow. Just in case. I slept in the car that night. The drawback is there is nowhere private to retreat too or get changed and you live in the dirt.blog trayon 1

When we had kids, we got a bit flasher and progressed to a camper trailer. It was great for a couple of years but it was a more time consuming set up and pack up procedure and all our gear was under the bed in the trailer. We found the more space you have, the more stuff you bring. Then we had the extra expenses associated with towing. Registration, tyres, broken trailer springs to fix and the limitations on where we could go.blog trayon 3

A bit later we decided to go back to keeping things a bit simpler, carry less ‘stuff’ and purchased a canvas touring tent instead. It was a bit crowded with all five of us and you can’t see the stars in ‘chateau de canvas’ but served us well for a couple of years. It was big and bulky to carry though and a bit of a pain to set up and fold up every day.blog trayon 2

Then we decided that it was more fun camping when we kept life really simple. So we went back to swags; five of them, one each, all lined up on the roof rack. We travelled all the way from Cairns to Broome this way, with mosquito nets. What a sight we were.  We would line up our swags between two trees and tie a rope from tree to tree to hang our mosquito nets.  These weren’t hardy outdoor mosquito nets either. They were the coloured indoor variety.  Bit silly now when I think of it. We must have caused a few laughs on the way.blog trayon 4

Anyhow when we finally got to Broome we splashed out and purchased 5 little mosquito dome tents. These were brilliant and served us well for many years. We were still sleeping in swags under the stars but had the protection of a fly screen tent and our own individual ‘chateau de flyscreen’. More work for me though as I usually ended up rolling up the kids swags as well as my own as they couldn’t roll them tight enough.blog trayon 5

Eventually as our kids got older, the thrill of camping with the old folks became a burdensome chore and Kevin and I started leaving the older two at home when we went for short jaunts. On one of these trips we spent a week at Lawn Hill Gorge with our youngest son, Riley. We were camped at Adeles Grove with our three little mosquito domes and our gear spread out all over the ground around them, living out of boxes, feeling dirty.

Then a 4WD Landrover ute pulls in to the campground with a white box on the back, a bit like a smoko van.  It was a Trayon. They flip open this box to reveal a little canvas house with big windows and 5 minutes later they are sitting on chairs under their verandah enjoying the serenity. I was a bit envious and I was intrigued. My curiousity got the better of me eventually so I casually made like I was walking past to get a better look. As luck would have it, we had a chat and they invited me up the stairs to have a look.

It was awesome. Inside was a double bed, a table and lounge chairs, lots of storage cupboards, a gas cooker that could be moved outside, a 90 litre upright fridge and a kitchen sink with a proper tap connected to a 110 litre water tank and pump. This was camping in style but still keeping it simple. All this was on the back of a ute; in a box. I went back to Kevin and said “we are so getting one of those when it’s just the two of us”. So we did.

That was it. Decision made. We saved ourselves at lot of comparing, analysing and confusion at Caravan and Camping Shows and in hindsight it was just one of the best decisions we have ever made. Those impulsive gut based decisions usually are. It was a bit more costly than a swag of course but we figured that it would be a long term investment that would reap dividends. And it has. We absolutely love it. Finally we have close to the perfect set up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have had it for 4 years now and done a few long trips as well as lots of weekend camping forays.  We travelled from Cairns to Tasmania for 6 weeks and the bonus is that it’s the same price as an ordinary car to put on the ferry. Makes going to Tassie very attractive compared to the exorbitant cost of towing a trailer or caravan.

So now on the ‘big trip’ the accommodation part is easy for us.  We know we can easily head up the Roper Bar Road, up to Mitchell Plateau and take the dirt track from Karajini to Mt Augustas and live in complete comfort with our house on our back. Just like a turtle (but a bit faster). We nicknamed it our royal swag. Its simple like travelling with a swag but oh so much flasher…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA