07/28/14

Up the Guts, Days 15 and 16 – Litchfield National Park NT

Today, I swam under three separate waterfalls.  What did you get up to?

From what I can gather, Litchfield National Park is sometimes seen as the poor man’s cousin to the much larger and well known Kakadu.  I have never been to Kakadu, but it does lie further along in our itinerary. As far as national parks go, Litchfield is a great size for exploring in a short amount of time, and it is little wonder that it is a popular day trip or weekend camping spot for Top End locals.

Mark actually discovered our accommodation.  Most of the accommodation options for the park are in and around the township of Batchelor.  We stayed at Litchfield Safari Park on the western side.  At first I thought this was madness.  Surely there must be a reason why most of the places to stay were in the eastern side?  Turns out the only real reason for that is Batchelor; as far as exploring the natural wonders of Litchfield, the Safari Park is the perfect base.

We set up camp (hot and sweaty work even in a Top End “winter”) and decided to pay a visit to Wangi Falls, four kilometres down the road.  The falls cascade into a beautiful plunge pool at the bottom, more than large enough to accommodate us, and the hundreds of others who chose to visit that afternoon.  Wangi Falls is the most developed of all of the falls in the park.  There is a popular campground a short distance away and a modern kiosk.  The pathways are all paved and steps have been formed to make entry in and out of the plunge pool a breeze.  Well it would be a breeze, if it weren’t for all Continue reading

07/24/14

Up the Guts Day 11 – Mataranka Springs

At the end of every long drive there should be a place like Mataranka Springs. The drive from Tennant Creek to Mataranka, on our schedule, was another 500km pluss-er, and unless your passion is World War II airfields or monuments erected to explorers, there is little to break it up.  Even the ant hill mannequins begin to get a bit ho-hum after a while.

Before I get a nasty letter from the president of the RSL, I am in no way demeaning the significance of these airstrips. Even the road signs pointing to the World War II airfields are a reminder of the fight to save Australia from Japanese invasion, and this part of our history is one I hope to explore more of when we reach Darwin.

A must is to pay a visit to the Daly Waters Hotel.  This should not be mistaken for the highway roadhouse.  Turn off the highway a couple of kilometres and you will be greeted with one of those uniquely Australian pubs, every interior inch of which is covered in…stuff.  At Daly Waters it is bras above the bar, business cards and ID photos below.  Undies to the side and the roof is covered in hats. The undies are always a concern to me.  Does one come with a spare pair, knowing that one will be leaving them hanging on the wall?  Or does one Continue reading

07/23/14

Up the Guts Days 9 and 10 – Tennant Creek

The drive from Alice Springs is long and boring, but in honesty that might just be because it is so long.  Along the way are a few roadhouses that offer camping, so if you didn’t need to drive the more than 500 kilometres in one day, there are places where you could stay….and one or two where you probably might not.

Barrow Creek received a degree of notoriety a few years back.  It was just north of here that Bradley John Murdoch murdered British tourist Peter Falconio.  Falconio’s girlfriend, Joanne Lees, hands bound, managed to flee into the scrub and evade Murdoch and his dog.   Cudos to her, because the scrub around there does not offer up too many hiding spaces, even at night. My thoughts are that Murdoch probably thought that an English girl with her hands bound wasn’t going to survive in the Northern Territory outback for too long anyway, and didn’t want to waste time when he had a body to get rid of (Falconio’s body has never been found). After Murdoch left, Lees was able to make it back out to the road and flag down a truck, which took her to Barrow Creek.  Honestly, she must have been thinking, “What fresh hell is this?”

It’s old, untidy, ramshackle.  There is some sort of convoluted process for getting petrol, which requires you to note how much petrol you have pumped, go tell the bloke in the office who writes it on a slip of paper so that you can go and pay another bloke in the bar.  The toilets are kept locked (key again available from the bar).  I assume this means that the loos are in pretty good nick, but you have to go into the uninviting bar to get the key.  It’s not that long between roadhouses.

The next one of interest is Wycliff Well, purported to be the alien capital of the Australia. More UFO sightings are Continue reading

07/20/14

Up the Guts Days 7 & 8 – Alice Springs

Day 1 -Alice Springs

When Jean Paget, the heroine of Nevil Shute’s classic Australian novel, wanted to make the fictional outpost of Willstown into A Town Like Alice, she started selling ladies crocodile skin shoes and opened an ice-cream shop.  If she was to do the same thing today, I guess she’s have to get into a McDonald’s franchise.

Alice Springs is the first regional centre you encounter in the Northern Territory; in fact it’s the first big town you come into on the Stuart Highway once you leave Port Augusta in South Australia! Perhaps that makes the Alice seem bigger than it actually is, but it is sizeable enough. It has McDonalds AND Hungry Jacks.  Now if that isn’t the measure of the size of a town, I don’t know what is.

We gave ourselves two full days in The Alice, and, as usual, this was absolutely not enough. You could easily find things to see and do to keep yourself occupied for a week. There are eight caravan parks servicing the city; we stayed at the MacDonnell Ranges Caravan Park (see separate review), about five kilometres from the town centre. It was a perfect base for our stay.

Our first day was spent exploring things around town. In the heart of the city are the first of the homages to the Rev John Flynn.  Not that I am comparing him to a North Korean dictator, but I remember all Continue reading

07/18/14

Up the Guts, Day 6 – Kings Canyon – The Caravan

Kings Canyon is another “must-see in the NT” and if you have made the effort all the way to Central Australia, you would be mad to miss it.

The highlight experience at the Canyon is the panoramic rim walk.  At any time of year, the walk is best tackled in the morning when it is cooler.  In fact, on days when the temperature is predicted to be above thirty-six degrees, the walk is closed at 9:00 am. The rim walk is six and a half kilometres long and the estimated walk time is about three and half hours. I guess that is all dependent on how many photos you take and the splendour of the canyon is such that you could go crazy with the snapping.  Ironically, even the best photos don’t do the place justice because you really need that third dimension.

The first 500 metres or so are fondly known as “Heart-attack Hill”, a steep climb up rocky steps to the rim of the canyon.  Just in case this isn’t enough of a challenge, you could attempt the hike wearing thongs like one clueless Continue reading

07/16/14

Kings Creek Station, NT – A Review by The Caravan

Date stayed: July 6, 2014

There are a number of accommodation options when you decide to pay a visit to Kings Canyon.  The most popular choice is The Kings Canyon Resort, which is situated about 6km from the canyon itself.  There is a quite pretty free camp about 80km away.  When we visited, a number of travellers had circled their wagons, unhitched one of the cars and gone off for a drive.  Then there is Kings Creek Station, about 30km from the canyon, and where we pulled up for the night.

Our dining companions for the Sounds of Silence Dinner at Uluru had warned us against Kings Canyon Resort.  It was, according to them, out-of-control busy.  A $50 dining voucher that they had received as part of their booking had gone unused, as they got sick of waiting in the queues at the resorts eateries.  They said that if they had their time again, they would have stayed at the station. So our decision was made. And I love a place where people are third on the food chain…..Kings Creek Station, NTTo be fair, things were pretty frantic at Kings Creek Station as well, but it isn’t as big a camp ground and the sites are pretty spacious, so once everyone is settled in, it doesn’t feel so Continue reading

07/15/14

Up the Guts Days 4-5, Uluru, NT – The Caravan

There are some insane people in the world… and then there are those who choose to ride a bicycle to the centre of Australia.  That is a special kind of loony.  There are no bicycle lanes on the Stuart and Lasseter Highways, but there are road trains (big mothers, too) and caravans and camper trailers, all of which must literally put the wind up ya’ as they shoot by at potentially 130km per hour, the speed limit in the Northern Territory.

I guess there are people who would do anything to visit Australia’s most famous inland natural landmark, and having visited, I can understand why.

Like every Australian, I have grown up with images of Ayres Rock.  It is such an important part of our natural heritage that it is the “must go” place for visiting royals like Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Oprah. Images of it are on our geography textbooks at school; it is in magazines and on our television screens. Once, Meryl Streep’s baby got eaten Continue reading

07/11/14

Stuart Range Caravan Park, Coober Pedy (date of stay, July2-3, 2014)

The Stuart Range Caravan Park is the first one in town, approaching from the Stuart Highway end of town.  It is a four-star rated Big Four. My mother-in-law was always one to espouse the virtues of a Big Four caravan park.  She always used to say, “You can never go wrong with a Big 4”.  That’s probably true of this one as well, but there were a couple of things that could definitely make this one better.

We had stopped for lunch at Spud’s Roadhouse at Pimba had watched the number of caravans and camper trailers pulling in, fuelling up and heading north.  With Coober Pedy the only centre within an afternoon’s drive, we decided to call ahead to book our sites rather than take a chance at finding a place.  Two sites secured, off we headed.

We arrived at about four-thirty and were third and fourth in the book in queue and soon had other rigs lined up behind us.  We paid our money and were told Continue reading

07/6/14

Week one of the Caravans trip

Dalby Tourist Park – Myall Creek, Dalby

Dalby Tourist Park is regularly our first overnight stay when we head off on our mid-year trips down south or up north.  Dalby is a good meeting point for groups travelling from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, only a couple of hours away from either point of origin.

Dalby Tourist Park offers the usual powered sites and cabins.  We always get a grassy powered site near the camp kitchen.  The beauty of these for the overnighter is that you can back your van or camper right in and not have to unhook the vehicle.  This makes for a quick getaway in the morning, and one where neither spouse nor child cops criticism about how poorly one gives directions to get the tow ball to the hitching thingie.

The camp kitchen is basic; a couple of barbecues, a sink and a bar fridge (lockable and accessible with your amenities block key), but it provides the most important thing – large tables for your group to sit around, clink glasses and celebrate the start of a new adventure.

Being so close to home, and it being an overnight stop, I usually shower before leaving home and have not had much experience with the ablutions block.  It is only recently, after reading contribution on various forums on Facebook, that I had realised that for the last thirty odd years I had been living in constant peril of Continue reading

07/6/14

Miss Barrett’s Café and Bits and Bobs – A Reason to stay a little bit longer in Wilcannia

I have just paid my third fleeting visit to Wilcannia.  This town is much maligned.  I should know; I am often the one maligning it.

I just find Wilcannia such a sad place.  It was once the darling on the Darling, a thriving river boat port.  This accounts for the beautiful sandstone buildings.

It’s hard to find any evidence of the Wilcannia’s heyday.  The first time I was in the town, one of the sandstone buildings was a burnt out shell, apparently the result of arson.  Several of the buildings are empty and boarded up.

Most people seem to pass through Wilcannia, stopping for petrol and then getting the heck out of Dodge.  Little wonder, because an ugly servo and Continue reading