Blue Heeler Hotel, Kynuna Qld – A review by The Caravan

Blue Heeler Hotel - Kynuna QLDIf you were to look up “middle of nowhere” in the dictionary, it is likely you would find a picture of the Blue Heeler Hotel.  This pub, with its trademark neon sign is the most prominent landmark in the dot of a township that is Kynuna.  If you pass by without stopping and blinked as you did so, you would most likely miss the rest of the town:  the caravan park, the police station (really?) and a very worn out old house (that’s for sale if you are looking for an investment property).

You could power on to Cloncurry or Mount Isa and not stop here, but for this leg of The Tent, The Trailer, The Caravan odyssey, we decided to stay overnight.  The cold beer was welcomed after the trek from Blackall and did something to dampen the disappointment of the closed bakery in Barcaldine, the closed general store in Ilfracombe and the patch of asphalt in Winton which was once the Banjo Paterson Centre.  Powered sites behind the pub are only $15 per night, a definite appeal, and the money you save there can definitely be reinvested into cold ale and good company.

James Blundell said in his song that the Blue Heeler has been sitting for “a hundred years on the Diamantina”.  I can’t begin to verify that statistic, but the pub is old and a little ramshackle, and therein lies its charm. This is the type of place where people with names like Norm and Thel can bring their Waylon Jennings Tribute Show and attract something of an audience (assuming twenty constitutes an audience). Don’t be coming here expecting any of your fancy schmancy boutique beers, and although you might be able to snag a glass of sav blanc, anything as exotic as a pino grigio and you will be in trouble. But cold beer it does have, and a welcoming verandah where you can sit in tranquillity until the next road train thunders through town, or go out the back and sit under the incongruously placed Coolum Surf Life Saving Club boat suspended from the ceiling.

The Blue Heeler Hotel, Kynuna QLD

You might also be treated by a visit from a family of brolgas.  These birds are large and majestic, and I wouldn’t say that they are aggressive, but they are certainly assertive. Last time we visited they swooped in on the pillow Connor dropped on the ground while we were setting up and attempted to make off with it.  This time we were visited by one who was not going to give up until Connor was relieved of his toast.  Now I am not advocating feeding the native animals, but when a bird stands taller than you, sometimes it’s you or them.  Regardless, the Blue Heeler provides a great opportunity to get up close to these creatures, whether you ask for it or not.

But if for no other reason, stay at the Blue Heeler for the sunrise.  Poke your camera over the back fence, or stand out on the road and take a pic of the sun spectacularly rising over…nothing.  It is awesome, and if the clouds and the road trains play friendly, you will be able to capture a fantastic shot of the vastness emptiness that is outback Australia.

If anyone from the Blue Heeler ends up reading this review, I do offer these two pieces of advice.  Firstly, get ALL of the neon bulbs on the sign in working order. When you are an icon of outback Australia, be 100% iconic, a bit more like the picture in the signs on the way into town.  Secondly, get your stock of merchandise replenished.  My original Blue Heeler polo shirt gave up the ghost a few years back after twenty plus years of proud wear.  When I tried to buy a new one on my last visit, you were out of t-shirts altogether and had limited sizes in the polo shirts.  Fast forward five years and your t-shirts are still out of stock and you can’t buy a polo above a medium.  Lost opportunity.

Kath, Mark and Connor – The Trailer


Up the Guts – The Run for Home by The Caravan

OK.  It’s time to bite the bullet and accept that, since we’ve been home for three weeks, out trip has come to an end.

I think back and realise that this has been a common theme for me.  In 1999 we did an eight week world tour.  I kept a journal religiously…until those last couple of days in Hawaii which, to this day, remain as a couple of dot points on a serviette housed in the back of the trip book.  Our cruise was only seven days.  Day seven was a chore to write. I always thought the last day of our NZ trip written up on the flight on the way home. I mostly remember that flight for the Marlborough Savignon Blanc.

So it was the best of intentions that I would wind up the Up the Guts tour with its final blog as soon as we got home. Yet here I am, three weeks later. When your trip is good, be it a weekend, a month or longer, you feel somewhat empty when you get home.

However:  I do feel that the run for home is deserving of its own blog, and since Dave Reynolds has crashed out of the Eastern Creek race on lap one, I now find myself with some time on my hands.

Having had a fantastic night at Daly Waters (see previous blog), we headed for our next overnight stop at Barkly Homestead.  It was a chance for us to say our farewells to the ant hill Continue reading


Hello Feasting, My Old Friend: The Sounds of Silence Dinner, Uluru – A Review by The Caravan

Dined in July, 2014

From the minute we had started planning our Up the Guts trip and I had heard of the Sounds of Silence Dinner, I decided it was going to be a must-do. There is something about sitting out in the middle of nowhere, feasting on a native inspired menu that was just too alluring to resist.

It brought back memories to 1998.  My brother-in-law got married on the beach at Stradbroke Island at dawn.  There was just something special about getting all dressed up and then wearing bare feet with the sand between your toes and then later, still dressed in your finery, jumping on the local bus to the reception venue at the Little Ships Club. This time it was all about sitting at linen dressed tables, sipping wine from glassware, eating from China plates and doing it under the canopy of stars with the red dirt of central Australia beneath your feet.

The Sounds of Silence Restaurant is in the Northern Territory Restaurant Hall of Fame.  Now to be honest, I’m not sure Continue reading


Up the Guts, Day 28, Daly Waters Pub, NT (Reprise) – The Caravan

In a previous post I mentioned the fantastic lunch stop we had at the Daly Waters pub on our way to Katherine.  We loved the experience so much that we decided to go back there again.  There were a couple of other reasons for this.  Firstly, Douglas Springs marked our turn around point.  Every stop from this point on meant that we were a little closer to home. Secondly, Daly Waters was a comfortable driving distance from Douglas Springs to allow Happy Hour time.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, we had cottoned on to the Beef and Barra barbecue the pub offers every night.  This would not be the first stop on this trip governed by the taste buds of one or other of us.

This time we thought we would take in the sights of Daly Waters. Judging by the town map, this would not Continue reading


Up the Guts, Days 26 to 27, Douglas Springs, NT – The Caravan

After leaving Kakadu, we headed for a place called Douglas Hot Springs, north of Katherine.  None of us had ever heard of it, so it was a bit of an unknown.  I think Glenn and Enza were hoping it might be a pace like the Mataranka Springs they had first visited almost twenty years ago – a little less developed and fewer people.  However; the close proximity to Darwin (and the show holiday weekend) were beginning to make us a little sceptical.

Our first stop was for fuel in the township of Pine Creek. To be honest, I don’t think John Jarrett has done anything for the reputation of outback places with names ending in “creek”, and Bradley John Murdoch didn’t help by putting the previously blogged Barrow Creek on the map.  So I wasn’t expecting too much. While parts of Pine Creek lived up to expectations, there is a great little stop for lunch called the Pine Creek Railway Resort.  Now I do admit that the term ‘resort’ does get bandied about a bit too freely sometimes (our much loved Sunny Coast camping spot, Island Reach Resort is definitely one of those) and the resort pool is less than half the size of the one we have in our backyard at home.  But enter into the mix a great little railway themed (décor, not the food!) café-come-bar, serving tasty burgers and light meals for lunch. In a town where the options are limited (even Ah Toy’s food store was closed on a Saturday afternoon; a double disappointment for Connor who read it as ATTENTION ALL YOU KIDS WHO HAVE BEEN CRAMPED UP IN A CAR! HERE BE TOYS!), you leave there feeling as though you chose the place, not that it was really the only option.

From Pine Creek it’s another 100 kilometres or so to Douglas Springs, the last seven or so of which are on dirt road. We arrived at the Springs to realise our worst fears. Continue reading


Up the Guts, Kakadu National Park (Part two), NT – The Caravan

Part two –

Our third day in Kakadu was devoted to another two of the “big ticket” features, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls.

The turn-off to Jim Jim is about ten kilometres north of Cooinda before you start the dirt part. The enthusiastic ranger at Boowila described the first fifty kilometres as a “dirt highway”. He really mustn’t get out of the park too often and has forgotten his point of comparison. Then it’s nearly sixty kilometres of dirt road of varying degrees of corrugation, the final ten kilometres or so of which is four wheel drive only.   It’s not the steepest four wheel drive track I have ever been on, but it’s winding over rocks and washouts and through a couple of little water crossings.  The thing that makes it even slower is meeting oncoming traffic and having to have the stand-off about who will get off the track.

At the entrance to the Jim Jim Falls walk is one of the ubiquitous signs about crocodile safety.  Whilst Jim Jim is generally to be considered one of the falls in Kakadu where you can swim, the park makes no guarantee that any of the popular waterways will be free of salties; in fact the Information Book says that the ONLY safe place to swim in Kakadu is in the pool at Jabiru.  (To be fair, the two pools at Cooinda are absent of the critters as well).

Jim Jim Falls, Kakadu, NTIt is a 900 metre walk to the base of the falls, or it would be if you could travel in a straight line.  Unfortunately this is impossible as most of it is a scramble over boulders, attempting to find a foothold.  My mind went back to Monica’s son in the store in Jabiru, “I do Jim Jim in bare feet all the time.” Just as I was thinking what a pile of baloney that was, I was passed on the track by a loved-up couple clad only in bare feet and swim wear.  It was going to be a pleasure seeing one or other of them writhing in pain with a broken Continue reading


Up the Guts, Kakadu National Park (Part one) NT- The Caravan

Part one –

The Northern Territory used to have an advertising slogan, “You’ll Never Never Know, If You Never Never Go.”  Of course this was a play on the title of the book by Mrs Jeannie Gunn, We of the Never Never, recounting her experiences in the bush.  The book was set in the area around Katherine, but the advertising slogan befits the Kakadu experience. You just won’t get it, if you don’t visit.

It is so hard to describe Kakadu, because it is so diverse.  It covers approximately 20 000 square kilometres.  There are countries in Europe that aren’t that big.  Because of its expanse, it boasts many different landscapes; even the information booklet you receive when you pay for your park pass identifies seven different regions of Kakadu. There is dry scrub. There are amazing wetlands. There are spectacular waterfalls and rock pools and crocodile infested creeks. There are ancient rocks and an ancient culture.  You need several days to appreciate it all, and that it is in the dry season; apparently it’s a totally different experience in the wet.

Our first day was a leisurely drive to Kakadu.  Along the way we stopped at the Window on the Wetlands Visitors Centre (free entry) which overlooks the flood plains of the Adelaide River.  This is a great little interactive experience especially for little kids, with lots of flaps to open and buttons to push. I was interested to find out that there had been attempts to get a rice industry started here in the 1950s but it failed.  Maybe it’s just the water buffalo grazing on the flood plains, but it sure looked like rice growing country to me.  And that ladies and gentlemen, accounts for my appalling results in Agricultural Studies at high school.

We saw the Cult of the Fifth Wheeler for what turned out to be the last time today. As we were driving past, there were those green and blue team shirts at the front of the line for the Adelaide River Jumping Croc Cruise (an activity we will have to do next time).  I actually noticed the shirts before I noticed the behemoth vehicle in the carpark.  I only hope that the shirts didn’t prove too eye-catching for the jumping crocs and they all made it off the boat alive.

Our second stop was in the park itself at the Bowali Information Centre, where we set upon by the most enthusiastic mosquitoes and were greeted by the most enthusiastic park ranger ever.

“Do you think we will get the caravan into Gunlom?” we asked.

“No worries, mate.  Plenty of those Wicked Campers will have graded it with their diffs.”

Kakadu attracts A HEAP of visitors each year, and I reckon you get pretty good value out of your $25 pass (fourteen days, children under 16 and NT residents free).  The Visitor Information booklet provides all sorts of information about the area: the culture, the land, the flora and fauna, as well as details about things to see and the campgrounds.

We chose Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda as our base for three nights.  We hadn’t booked in advance and Continue reading


Up the Guts, Days 17-20, Darwin, NT

Day 1: (Part one)

We’re here.  We have gone up the guts of the country from Port Augusta to Darwin, and we’ve officially reached the half-way stage of our trip.  That’s a bit sad.

What better way to mark the half-way stage than by a witnessing a sunset over the ocean at the iconic Mindil Beach?

Mindil Beach - Darwin, NT

Mindil Beach – Darwin, NT

Truth be told, this part of our itinerary was planned specifically so that we would be in Darwin on a Thursday evening so that we could take in the Mindil Beach markets, and more specific than that, so that Glenn could satisfy his laksa fix.  There are a lot of market stalls at Mindil, ranging from hand crafted jewellery to imported junk souvenirs, but the real reason for coming to the markets is for the food.  There is something to tempt every taste bud; Thai, Chinese, Cambodian, Indian, Greek, Sri Lankan and more, or you can choose Australian fare like kangaroo, camel, buffalo or crocodile. Then you can chill out on the grass and listen to the musicians, watch the fire twirler, or watch a Rastafarian dressed in fluorescent yellow adjust microphones and perform sound checks for an hour, before you realised that the much anticipated drum performance ain’t going to happen and that he’s a DJ.  What was with all that microphone manipulation then?

I can well imagine that if I lived in Darwin I would be at the Mindil Markets every Thursday night and set myself the challenge of having something different for dinner every week. Given the markets only run during the dry season (May to October), I’m thinking it would Continue reading


Up the Guts Days 13 and 14, Katherine NT

I used to subscribe to the theory that you should get your overseas travel over and done with while you are young, because there will always be opportunities to see Australia later on. The basis of this theory was that we are probably more adaptable when we are younger, more open to new tastes and experiences, less crotchety about language barriers (i.e. affronted that the rest of the world doesn’t speak English). Having now started getting about and seeing Australia (in middle-age), I find that theory is being tossed right out the window. One incident in Katherine really cemented it for me.

A visit to Katherine must mean a visit to Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge. Katherine Gorge is “divided” into sixteen smaller gorges; that is to say where there is a set of rocks or rapids creating a natural barrier, that is considered the end of one gorge within the total thing. The most popular way to explore Katherine Gorge is to take a cruise.  We selected the Three Gorge Tour, about three and a half hours return which takes in the biggest of the sub-gorges.  Your vehicle is a pontoon style boat.  Because it can’t traverse rapids or travel over boulders, you change boats at each gorge barrier.  The management of the park has spent a lot of money building walkways to make the transition easier; there is virtually no place where you have to scramble over rocks.  An elderly gentlemen with a cane had booked onto our tour. He got to the transition between the first and second gorges.  The path between the two is a couple of hundred metres over a wide, non-slip path, but there are some steps – wide, user-friendly steps. Unfortunately for this gentleman, at the sight of the very first steps he decided he would be unable to make the transition.  He and his wife opted out of the remainder of the tour and waited, sitting on a rock for the next pontoon boat to collect them and take them back to the tourist centre.

And here’s the thing.  So much of what Australia really has to offer is a bit rugged. It’s walks to bush lookouts.  It’s climbing over rocky river beds to visit some amazing chasm.  It’s climbing down old opal mines.  It’s wandering through the streets of some outback town because your husband has possession of the only map. And sometimes it’s a series of steps between two gorges.

Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park,NT

Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park,NT

Katherine Gorge is beautiful.  There’s no doubt about that.  The tour leaves from the Visitors Centre and your tour guide provides informative and entertaining commentary along the way.  One of the amazing things is Continue reading


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