Monday, 18 July 2011

Darwin and beyond

We stayed at a lovely park about 20 minutes out of Darwin. When you travel with your dog, there are only a few parks that allow pets however all the ones we've stayed with have been really good. We had visited Darwin a few years ago, so all the 'tourist must-see' attractions had been seen before. Darwin was mainly for catching up with family and enjoying their company - but we did visit Mindil Market one evening and munched our take-away meal on the beach before strolling around all the wide variety of stalls. On Sunday we drove through quiet streets around the old centre of Darwin and walked along the beautiful park on the esplanade.

After a lovely stay and many hours enjoying visits with relatives, we left Darwin and travelled back down the Stuart Highway to Katherine. We booked ourselves a lunch cruise on the lovely water filled gorges (Nitmulik) formerly called the Katherine Gorge about 20 minutes out of town. (The local vet had a dog minding service and so we were able leave Jessie there for a few hours). The gorges themselves are absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed a buffet lunch whilst cruising slowly through the first gorge, then after a 15 minute walk through the rocks - some of which had ancient aboriginal rock paintings, we arrived at a another boat waiting in the second gorge which was even more beautiful than the first.  The clear cool water was especially inviting on a hot day, however crocodiles occasionally appeared sunning themselves or snoozing under rocky ledges and suddenly all desire for a swim vanished!

After Katherine we turned off the Stuart Highway and drove towards the west along the Victoria Highway with a brief stop at the beautiful Victoria River. The scenery in this area is just spectacular - great red rocky escarpments dotted sometimes with trees and those wonderfully bizarre boab trees which to me look like upside down trees - it is easy to imagine the leaves and branches underground with the bare roots at the top. There are other smaller trees quite bare of leaves but bearing beautiful clear yellow flowers almost like a dog-rose, and others we like are large bushes with masses of tiny pinky-mauve flowers.

With the weather quite hot - about 30 deg.C, we were happy to stop overnight at Timber Creek and crank up the airconditioning in the van to cool us down. It's amusing to see that our dog has quickly learnt just where to position her hindquarters right against the cool aircon outlet (our aircon is situated under one of the seats).  We get the left-over cool air! This hot weather is just lovely after the cold weather of southern Victoria, and it is lovely to sit outside in the morning eating our breakfast in the sunshine.

Next stop was Kununurra where we stayed for a few days. One day we drove about 100kms to Wyndham - a very old port town which still has a hard-living outback feel to it. They have just begun using the port to export iron-ore which will hopefully help to rejuvenate the town. The first load this weekend was 52,000 tonnes.

On another day we took a fantastic flight over Lake Argyle, the Ord River and the incredible Bungle Bungles. How to describe them? A massive collection of brown and orange striped rocky cones or towers. Very ancient and practically unknown until the 1980s, they are now a national park and a major tourist attraction. Our Alligator Airlines plane was a single-engine 8 seater and the plane itself was built at Traralgon in Gippsland (where we grew up). We flew over the Argyle Mines which in the 1980s discovered diamonds in the area - the famous pink diamonds come from the Argyle Mines. Sadly, we were not given any free samples.

Moving on towards Broome, we are tonight at Halls Creek once an old gold town. (No gold for us, either!)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

North from Alice

The weekend before we left Alice Springs was the very important and unmissable Beanie Fest. It was held from Friday night to Monday morning and the event seemed to take over the whole town. It began about 15 years ago with about 100 beanies and has grown over the years to show approx. 7,000 beanies sent from very talented people worldwide (even Belarus!). Each beanie is ticketed with a barcode and details (creator, how constructed whether knitted, crocheted, felted, etc. and of course the price). The large room was beautifully set up with many tables and stands but even so, people were 3 deep trying to choose which beanie they would like. Complimenting the sale section was an exhibition of beanie creations in the art gallery which truly were works of art and quite spectacular. A series of craft workshops was held nearby on both Saturday and Sunday, and of course the refreshment stalls also did a roaring trade.  I really enjoyed the day and even attended a mini-workshop and in an hour made a baby's beanie with a form of french knitting frame. I felt it was a great credit to the Alice Springs people that the organisation went so well.

We had a day trip to the East MacDonnell ranges to Ross River and the old goldmining area of Arltunga which was interesting also side trips to Jessie Gap and the very lovely Trephina Gorge. Left Alice Springs after a very enjoyable seven days - beautiful weather but quite cold at night. Felt quite excited as from this point on it was all new territory for us. The Devil's Marbles were north of Alice and this collection of strange shaped boulders balanced together was quite amazing.

 I was curious to experience 'the long road north' that Dad and his fellow army mates travelled during the war. When it was decided during WW2 that the north coast of Australia should be defended against invasion, the problem was that there was no road between Alice Springs and Darwin. Men and supplies  could be brought by train to the centre but a road had to be constructed north to Larrimah  and from there a train was again able to travel on to Darwin. Alice before the war had only a small population of a few hundred people and, with firstly the road construction people and then the Army, the town had its own invasion. I believe eventually the Army numbered about 7,000 strong. The road constructed was approx. 640 miles long - and unsealed. You can imagine the road conditions after heavy rain during the 'wet' season and then the dusty, incredibly hot weather of the 'dry'. Convoys of trucks would drive at about 20 mph only because of road conditions, and over three extremely long days of driving would travel the 640 miles to Larrimah. Then after a short rest and the necessary repairs to trucks, the return journey would be made. We thought about this as we drove the now sealed and beautifully maintained Stuart Highway in the comfort of a power steered modern air-conditioned car with the added luxury of cruise control. The four or so hours we travelled each day was more than enough for us and my admiration for the efforts of my father and his mates has grown enormously.

Eventually, we travelled on past Larrimah up to Mataranka and stayed a few nights at a lovely bush park right by the thermal  Bitter Springs. It is in the area known as the 'never-never' ("We of the Never Never" by Mrs Aeneas Gunn - an Australian classic), and has a lovely tropical feel to it despite the termite hills and the bare bushy surrounds. We bathed in the warm, water-lily edged Bitter Springs and visited the old Elsey Station, the Pioneer Cemetery in which the real-life characters from the book are buried. Our last day at Mataranka was Territory Day and everyone was invited to the celebrations at the local footy oval with the ladies auxilliary providing an evening meal (delicious soup $3, mains $4, desserts $3 plus tea/coffee) before the fireworks display began at sun-down.

Next stop on our trip north was only about 100kms further on to Adelaide River. Again we had a lovely park to stop in (with a welcome swimming pool) and Peter spent part of two days photographing approx. 480 war graves in the large, very well maintained garden cemetery. Nearby are the remains of massive complex of WW2 bunkers which not being sign-posted, took a bit of finding.

Today, we've finally made it to Darwin and happy to meet up with cousin Flora and to arrange a family get-together during our stay. More on Darwin later!