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Hiking : Cradle Mountain

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We woke up at the crack of dawn to a misty morning. Because of overcrowding, unavailability and some extremely rude receptionists at the campground on the cusp of the national park, we chose to rough it alongside the Iris River on Cradle Mountain Road.

 

The Vale of Belvoir

This is the last natural grassland of its kind and is recognised as one of the most important places for nature conservation in Australia, but we thought it was a bit strange that cattle were grazing on it. It seems the Vale has a history of cattle grazing, and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy has teamed up with the University of Tasmania to research the effect of grazing on the Vale – with the assumption that grazing has helped to maintain the grassland.

 

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There’s a great lookout on the way in to the National Park that allows you to see the Vale in all its glory.  It was here that we learnt that the last sightings of the Tasmanian tiger were made in the forests around Cradle Mountain.

 

The land that adjoins with the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area around Cradle Mountain was purchased by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy back in 2008 and is under conservation supported by the Australian Government.

 

Dove Lake

Dove Lake is a corrie lake, which means that the lake is in an amphitheatre-like valley that was formed by glacial erosion. It shimmers under the shadow of Cradle Mountain and is the starting point for many walks around this beautiful part of the world.

 

On the north-western shores of the lake is an old timber boatshed that was built in the 1940s by the first ranger at Cradle Mountain.

 

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Lake Rodway Track

As much as we would have loved to climb to the top of Cradle Mountain, we simply didn’t have the time so we compromised and climbed the Lake Rodway track to Hansen Peak. It was a tough incline but it gave us great views of Dove Lake and Lake Hansen while we ate our breakfast to rest and re-energise.

 

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Face Track

The track levelled out as we approached the intersection of Lake Rodway Track and Face Track. We found an emergency shelter and a few pretty pools before starting another ascent up the north side of the Little Horn (1,355m).

 

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Lake Willis Track

We were just under the Weindorfers Tower (1,459m) when we got to the turn off to Lake Willis Track. Our legs had started to shake so we had an energy bar each to prepare us for the descent to Dove Lake.

 

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The track was really steep and there were chain rails installed in the really tricky bits. The path levelled out along Lake Willis before descending further past a waterfall where Lake Willis feeds into Dove Lake. The foliage changed from harsh, stark and rocky to moist and mossy forest.

 

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Dove Lake Circuit

Once we were on the Dove Lake Circuit, the path turned into a boardwalk and we entered the Ballroom Forest, a section of the track that was surrounded by bright green, moss-covered trees.

 

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We finished our 6km trek in 3 hours 13 minutes and were glad to peel our soggy socks off our wrinkly feet.

 

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Camping & 4WDing : Blackdown Tableland

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We were supposed to go to Carnarvon National Park to camp and explore the gorge but when the time came to book our campsite, we found that the park was booked out… for whole month!  We had to change our plans and chose to go to Blackdown Tableland instead.  We’re glad that we did because it was quiet and we practically had the place to ourselves.

 

The Blackdown Tableland is south east of Blackwater and covers approximately 47,950 hectares.  The elevation is nearly a kilometre above sea level, which makes the towering escarpment cooler and moister than the surrounding plains.  It’s a steep climb to the top that rewards you with great views of the surrounding areas, and smoke from a bushfire in a nearby valley wafted through the trees.

 

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We set up camp, cooked dinner, and once the sun had gone down we started to feel the cold.  They weren’t kidding about that cooler climate.  In the morning, we set off just after sunrise to explore the various walking and 4WD tracks.

 

Mook Mook Lookout is a short 1.2km one way track to a lookout.  The path passes massive sandstone formations, one that we named Mummy Rock because it looked like the head of a bandaged mummy.  There was a trickling creek, and a nearby waterfall to explore, and once we got to the lookout, we saw the source of the surrounding smoke.

 

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The next track was Goon Goon Dina, a 2.5km loop that weaved through the trees and told the story of the traditional owners of the land.  Stepping stones lead us over creeks, there was a rock art gallery, and charcoaled tree trunks hinted of a recent fire.

 

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These two tracks were near the campground so once they were completed, we packed up and headed south to Guddo Gumoo, which is also known as Rainbow Waters.  There is a 2km track that leads to the water fall, with a pool of clear water at the bottom, ferns growing from the rocks and colourful stripes on the overhead cliff.  It was a really beautiful spot.

 

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From here, we took the 4WD track back to the entrance of the park.  It started off relatively smooth, with the occasional fallen tree that caused the need for an alternative route, but there are some steep rocky sections that definitely need 4WD and full attention.

 

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Undara

Natural Wonders : Undara Volcanic National Park

Undara

 

About 190,000 years ago, when Australia was a lot different to what it is now, there was an eruption.  Not a violent, ‘Dante’s Peak’ eruption.  The ground grumbled, dark smoke and steam billowed from a crack in the rocky terrain, and molten rock from below the earth’s crust oozed from the fissure.  When Undara erupted, it left its mark on the land and today, we can get a glimpse into the tremendous enormity of volcanos.

 

Located along the Savannah Way, Undara Experience is a remarkable opportunity to explore Australia’s natural geological wonders and experience true hospitality in a brilliant outback environment. 

 

The Collins family were the first white settlers in the area and have owned the property since 1862. It wasn’t until 1987 when fourth generation member Gerry Collins submitted an application to showcase the lava tubes while still maintaining sustainability and environmental consciousness.  In partnership with the regional and state governments, Undara Volcanic National Park was gazetted and tours of the caves were to be provided via the Collins family lodge.

 

The birth of the Undara Experience followed in 1990 when the Collins family acquired the old railway carriages. They were used during the early 1900s and once they were decommissioned, the Queensland Government was planning to scrap them.  When Gerry caught wind of this news, he negotiated a deal and took them of the government’s hands, refurbished them, and set them amongst the trees.  They now have a new life, providing a unique style of accommodation and an eccentric atmosphere to the bar and bistro.

 

The Lava Tubes

Undara means “long way” in the local Aboriginal dialect, referring to the distance that the lava flowed from Undara volcano 190,000 years ago, and today, 164 craters can be found in the national park.  The only way to see the lava tubes is by guided tour, and we were stoked to go on the Archway Explorer tour with 20 other lucky explorers.  We learnt a lot about the geology of the surrounding area, from the pink granite boulders that are 350-400 million years old, to the vesicular basalt that has bubbles in it caused by gases from the last volcanic eruption, about 190,000 years ago.

 

We descended into a valley that was green and lush compared to the savannah scrub above, and strolled along boardwalks until we got to our first set of lava tubes.  These valleys were created by sections of the lava tubes that had collapsed and are now vegetated with semi-evergreen vine thicket.

 

The lava tubes are a result of the eruption of the Undara volcano.  It was a shield volcano about 340m wide, and the eruption was a non-violent event, more like a pot on the stove boiling over.  The lava flowed out of the volcano along water courses at about 900m per hour – the outsides of the lava cooled while the centre stayed fluid and kept flowing.  The lava tubes extend about 160km from the volcano, making the lava tubes at Undara the longest flow from a single volcano in the world.

 

So far, 69 tubes have been found in Undara Volcanic National Park.  Tours allow the public access to eight of them, as the others are not safe for humans due to their extremely high levels of CO2.  The Archway Explorer tour was so interesting that before we knew it, time was up and we were back on the bus and heading back to the resort.  Other tours include the Active Explorer, Volcano Valley and Wildlife at Sunset, which gives guests the opportunity to see the wildlife that visits the tubes at dusk.

 

Undara

 

The Resort

Accommodation varies from fully air-conditioned Pioneer Huts, restored Railway Carriages, Swag Tents and Safari Shelters, or you can bring your own tent or caravan and set up in one of the powered or unpowered sites.  Facilities include a guest laundry at $2 per load, fuel and Wi-Fi access.  Wallabies and kangaroos wander around the park, some with joeys hanging out of their pouches.

 

Undara

 

 

Activities around the resort include meals at the Fettlers Iron Pot Bistro (watch out for the thieving kookaburras), a nightcap of their delicious Undara Lava Tawny at the Saloon Car, self-guided walks that explore the surrounding bush, or a lazy afternoon by the pool.  In the evenings from 8pm, there are also various campfire activities.  We sat and listened to readings from great Aussie poets, like Banjo Patterson while treating ourselves to their delicious signature chocolate volcano dessert.

 

Undara

 

One of our favourite activities was the Bush Breakfast.  We had just returned from a sunrise hike around Kalkani Crater and our tummies were grumbling. A path through the bush brought us to a clearing with the most wonderful smells.  There were two campfires – one for bush tea and coffee, the other for toasting your own bread.  There were also sausages, eggs and bacon on the BBQ, with beans and vegie ratatouille on the side.  A table was set up with all the breakfast staples – juice, milk, soy, four kinds of cereal, butter and vegemite, and a wide variety of fruit – with tin cups and plates and log stumps for tables.  We feasted, and did not need to eat again until dinnertime.

 

 

Undara

 

The Essentials

Undara Experience is located 40km east of Mount Surprise, and the road in is fully sealed, so it’s easily accessible by car and caravan.  We cannot express how impressive the Undara Experience is.  We could have easily spent a week going on the tours and guided walks, playing pool in the Saloon Car or just relaxing by the pool.

 

To have your own Undara Experience, book now by calling 1800 990 992.  For more information, visit their website at undara.com.au

 

Please be aware of wildlife on the way into Undara. The road in is nicknamed Kangaroo Alley, and we actually clipped the backside of a kangaroo on the way back from Kalkani. We’re happy to say that it continued to bounce away but would have copped a nasty bruise on its backside.

 

Undara

 

Kings Canyon

Natural Wonders : Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

 

Kings Canyon is part of the rocky trifecta of the Northern Territory, along with Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  The walls are made up of two layers of sandstone walls, with solidified sand dunes at the top of the cliffs.

 

The Rim Walk is around 6km and takes approximately 3 hours to complete.  You get great views of the canyon, exploration of the Garden of Eden and a walk through the solidified sand dunes.  The path can be quite challenging and strenuous so make sure you take plenty of water with you.  Also, if you’re interested in bush tucker, check out the native figs in Garden of Eden.  There were so many ripe figs on the trees, we didn’t feel bad about having a few for a quick snack.

 

Kings Canyon

 

Kings Canyon Resort is a few kilometres down the road and offers accommodation, a general store, a petrol station, a pub and a café.  Don’t get your hopes up about phone reception because there isn’t any, and if you can’t afford the accommodation rates, free camping is available at Salt Creek Rest Area, about 120km south east of Kings Canyon.

 

Kathleen Springs

Not far from Kings Canyon is Kathleen Springs, with an easy walking path to the spring.  As we walked, butterflies fluttered all around us, and one even landed on Dave’s foot.  We also passed some old ruins that were once used by cattle drovers.  The calm waterhole at the end is a great place to sit down and take a moment, before walking back to the car park.

 

 

Palm Valley

Natural Wonders : Palm Valley

Palm Valley

 

Palm Valley is within Finke Gorge National Park and is about 20km south of Hermannsburg.  It is the only place in Australia where the rare Red Cabbage Palm is found, a survivor of a time when Palm Valley was a rainforest.  The closest relatives to the Red Cabbage Palm are found over 800km away in Queensland.

 

The road in is for 4WD vehicles only.  It was fairly bumpy when we went through and at the time, the dirt track was being graded.  Camping is allowed at the designated campground.  It costs $6.60 per adult to camp and the facilities include flushing toilets, showers and tank water.  There are a few walking trails nearby as well.

 

Palm Valley

 

Palm Valley is 4km from the campground along a road that crosses a variety of terrain, from sandy and dirty to solid rocks and water crossings.  You’re probably going to want relatively high clearance and some decent tyres.  Cycad Gorge is on the way, and is best viewed in the morning light.

 

Palm Valley

 

There are two walks available at Palm Valley.  A short rim walk and a longer loop walk through the gorge.  We tried to have our cake and eat it too by walking further into the gorge before turning back and ascending the cliffs to follow the path back to the Troopy.

 

The next morning, we completed the Mpaara walk near the campground, which was great.  As we followed the path, an indigenous story unravelled about a man and his missing son.  We climbed over a ridge and were struck with a spectacular view of the valley below before making our way back to the Troopy and to Hermannsburg.

 

Palm Valley

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

Natural Wonders : West MacDonnell Ranges

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Extending about 161km west from Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Ranges are a sight to be seen.  The sacred region is also known as Tyurretye by the traditional owners, who believe that ancestral beings live in the landscape.

 

For the avid hiker, the Larapinta Trail offers 223km of track that starts at Alice Springs and finishes at the summit of Mount Sonder.  The trail is broken into 12 sections, and we completed two of those sections – Standley Chasm and Mount Sonder.

 

Simpson Gap

About 15km from Alice Springs, this is the first feature you’ll come across as you head west.  As you walk along the path into the gorge, keep an eye out for rock wallabies amongst the rocks.  If you stop and wait, you’ll see them jumping around.

 

West MacDonnell RangesWest MacDonnell Ranges

 

Standley Chasm

We visited Standley Chasm a few weeks before leaving Alice Springs and had the pleasure of joining the Friends of the Larapinta Trail for a lovely morning walk along Section 3 of the track.  There were some challenging ups and steeps downs along the way but we had a great view of the chasm and valley.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

We also did the Chasm walk, which is best to do when the sun is high in the sky.  The light floods into the chasm and turns the rock walls a luminescent orange.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Ellery Creek Big Hole

This was one of our favourite spots and we saw the potential for a great weekend of summer camping.  There are BBQ facilities near the campground and the swimming hole would be the perfect spot to cool off in the summer heat.  The surrounding cliffs and leaning gums reflected beautifully off the still water.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Serpentine Gorge

It’s a short 1km walk to the gorge, where you can sit quietly and listen to the nearby birdlife.  If we had time, we would have done the lookout walk as well but the sun was hanging low in the sky and there were more places to visit before camp.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Ochre Pits

We arrived at dusk with just enough light to appreciate the coloured ochre.  We know that if the sun was up, it would have made the colours more amazing than what they already were.  Each colour has its own use and meanings for the local Arrernte people and was mainly mixed with water or animal fat to be used as cosmetics or medicine.  It was the men’s job to collect the ochre and ensure that the women had enough of it for medicine and ceremony.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

These days, while the traditional owners still use the Ochre Pits as their source, it is illegal for visitors to take ochre, or they’ll be painfully slapped with a $5000 fine.

 

We were also fascinated with the way that the curved ochre pits were formed.  Of course, layers of sediment had formed millions of years ago and during a massive episode of mountain building about 300 million years ago, the earth heaved and pushed the horizontal layers to their current vertical location.

 

By the time we got back to the car, the sun had set so we made our way to 2 Mile Creek in the dark and set up camp.  In the morning, there was mist all round and we watched a great sunrise to the sound of budgies in the dry creek bed.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Ormiston Gorge

We started our day with the Ghost Gum Walk that ascended to a great lookout before leading us into the gorge.  As the sun rose, the rock glowed and revealed so many layers, swirls and colours.  We saw finches and cooing Spinifex pigeons as we made our way back to the car park.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

Redbank Gorge & Mount Sonder

Our plan was to complete the Mount Sonder climb and if we had the energy, we’d venture into Redbank Gorge.  Mount Sonder is the fourth highest peak in NT at 1380 metres and the total return journey from the summit is approximately 15.8km.  It’s also the final leg of the Larapinta Trail.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

We started at around 10am and while it was initially steep and strenuous, once we hit the Saddle, the trail varied from easy plateaus to challenging undulations.  We admired the colours of the rocks and occasionally stopped to catch our breath and take in the views around us.  There were moments of wanting to give up and turn back, and the occasional burst of energy that kept us going (snacks!).

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

We made it to the summit in 2 hours 45 minutes and soaked up the 360° views of the West Macs.  We ate some high energy peanut butter and cheese wraps, took some photos, wrote in the visitor book, basked in feelings of accomplishment before making our way back to the Troopy.  We got back to the car park in 2 hours.

 

While we didn’t exactly have the energy to do Redbank Gorge, we did it anyway.  Dave almost had to drag Juz along the 1.2km path into the gorge.  While swimming was allowed, there was no way we were going into that water.  Apart from being freezing cold, it had an eery, oily residue, so we simply gazed at the surrounding cliffs before heading back to the car.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

We slept at a location that was apparently called Banana Bend River camp, a spot that Juz found on WikiCamps.  The turn off is approximately 5km west from Redback Gorge, and we drove about 1km from the road to camp on a dry river bed.

 

Gosse Bluff (Tnorala)

While it’s not technically part of the West MacDonnell Ranges, Gosse Bluff is pretty much around the corner.  It’s a crater that was created about 130 million years ago when a comet plunged into the earth.  The inner crater is 5km across and the outer crater is 20km in diameter and visible from space.  Half of the crater is considered sacred and is restricted from visitors.

 

 

After travelling along 6km of bumpy and corrugated dirt road, we entered the crater and made our way to the lookout to the east.  We were rewarded with great panoramic views of the crater and listened to the extensive variety of birds.  Juz went absolutely nuts when she saw a male Splendid Wren courting a few females.  They are usually shy and hardly ever seen.

 

To the north is Tyler Pass Lookout, which gives a nice view of Gosse Bluff from a distance.

 

West MacDonnell Ranges

 

After checking out Gosse Bluff, we headed east towards Hermannsburg to sample some of their famous strudel.

 

 

Binns Track

4WDing : Binns Track

Binns Track

 

After over 800km of tarmac along the Stuart Highway, we turned onto the Plenty Highway to smash out a leg of Binns Track.

 

It’s a relatively new 4WD track that was named after Bill Binns, a ranger who worked with NT Parks and Wildlife for 32 years.  His dream was to get tourists off the beaten track to explore the lesser known beauties of Central Australia.  The track is 2,191km long and starts at Mount Dare on the SA/NT border.  It then goes through Alice Springs, winds north passed Devils Marbles and finishes at Timber Creek, just beyond Gregory National Park.

 

Our portion of the track is about 300km and runs through the East Macdonnell Ranges, an area rich with history, before finally rolling into Alice Springs.

 

Gemtree

This was our first stop before hitting the dirt.  There is a little food store where you can peruse a small selection of groceries or take away hot food.  The lady behind the counter was super friendly and tipped us off about the road closure along Cattlewater Pass, which ended up saving us both time and petrol.

 

Next door is a gem shop and Juz took the opportunity to show the guy behind the counter a rock she found in the Kimberley.  She was happy to learn that it’s a smoky quartz, just as she suspected, and also learnt what to look for when we go fossicking.

 

Binns Track

 

We put some fuel in the tank at $2.30 a litre before moving on.  Once we hit the dirt track, about 7km down is a turn off for a fossicking area.  We stopped in, picked at the gravel for a while and realised we had no idea what we were doing so we continued to Artlunga Historical Reserve.

 

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Arltunga Historical Reserve

The road was a combination of bumps and corrugations, and smooth, winding roads with peaks and valleys and it took an hour or so to get to Artlunga.  It is said that Artlunga was central Australia’s first town, born from a gold rush that started in 1887.  People came from all over the country, often on foot, to get a piece of the action, and the settlement once supported around 300 people.

 

We checked out the opening of an old mine at Joker Gorge and even climbed down into some old mines that were along the Historical Mine Walks.  The Old Police Station was cool to check out, and it was interesting to learn that it was rebuilt in the 1980s because it was torn down by people who believed gold was hidden in the walls.

 

Binns Track

 

On our way out, we sussed out the historical exhibit in the Visitor Centre, which had interactive displays and a rusty ute out back, before continuing along the track to Ruby Gap.  It was slow going but the scenery was gorgeous and we even saw some brumbies!

 

Binns Track

 

Ruby Gap Nature Park

There is absolutely no way you will get to Ruby Gap Nature Park without a high clearance 4WD.  The road is chronic and rain can make it virtually impassable.

 

Ruby Gap got its name when a guy was exploring the region in 1886 and found  what he thought was a ruby in the dry bed of the Hale River.  People rushed to the area to find some rubies and after they flooded the market, their quality was questioned.  In 1888, they were found to be garnets, not rubies, so all the miners picked up their gear and moved over to Arltunga to look for gold.

 

Binns Track

 

Camping in Ruby Gap is $3.30 per person per night and you can camp anywhere along the river.  On our first night, we camped along the sandy creek bed and we were absolutely shocked at how cold it was.  We built a fire, pulled out the blanket, and had a cooked dinner with lots of warming spices.  We stayed up a little longer than usual because there were no mozzies and eventually went to sleep huddled together for warmth.

 

 

The morning chill was debilitating and the sand sucked any warmth out of our feet.  We revived the fire and worked on warming up our numb toes while we waited for the sun to rise over the escarpment.  When it was finally warm enough to change out of our pyjamas, we went further up the river bed to explore Glen Annie Gorge.

 

Binns Track

 

The walk through the gorge was slow going because of the sandy river bed, and getting distracted by the shiny red stuff between the rocks didn’t help.  It took us about three hours to walk 2km to Glen Annie Gorge because we spent so much time trying to find a garnet bigger than a grain of sand.  The waters at Glen Annie were bitingly cold so we had a quick refresh before heading back along the walking path.

 

Binns Track

 

We spent another night at Ruby Gap, but this time on dirt instead of sand.  We built a great fire and tended it throughout the night as we told stories, listened to music and sipped on Boston Bay Riesling Mistelle.

 

N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park

After a few crossings over the Ross River, we got to N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park at around lunchtime.  This area is an important site for the Arrernte people, as it contains over 5,000 rock engravings, art sites and shelters.  The east 1.5km walk into the gorge exhibits the old petroglyphs that tell of the Caterpillar Dreaming story.

 

Camping is available at the park but there are minimal spaces, facilities and shade.

 

Binns Track

 

Trephina Gorge National Park

Located in the East MacDonnell Ranges about 85km east of Alice Springs, Trephina Gorge is not only a great spot for travellers but for the locals as well.  Camping is at $3.30 per person per night, and there are three campgrounds to choose from.

 

Binns Track

 

We stayed at the Trephina Bluff Campground, and once we rolled in, we were approached by Jess from A Girl and Her Troopy http://agirlandhertroopy.com/.  We had a good chat about our Troopies and our travels as the sun set and cast an orange glow over the bluff.  The night turned out to be very chilly so we went to bed not long after dark.

 

We woke up at the crack of dawn to attempt the gorge walks.  To warm ourselves up, we did the Panoramic walk first, which started off with a steep incline up to the top of a hill that provided fantastic views of the gorge and the bluff.  The Trephina Gorge walk was a little milder and we stopped at the top of the gorge to have breakfast.

 

Binns Track

 

Corroboree Rock

We were originally going to skip Corroboree Rock but in the last minute, we pulled in to check it out.  As we approached, a huge dome of grey dolomite rock appeared over the trees, and while we were doing the short walk around the rock, we soon realised that it wasn’t a dome, but more like a giant coin half-buried in the ground.  Cool!

 

Corroboree Rock is an outcrop of dolomite from the Bitter Springs Formation, which began as the bottom of a salty late about 800 million years ago.  Dolomite is a soft, grainy rock, similar in texture to limestone, but it’s made mostly of magnesium carbonate instead of calcium carbonate.

 

Binns Track

 

Emily & Jessie Gaps Nature Park

Emily and Jessie Gaps are found along the Heavitree Range, and they are a short 10km drive from Alice Springs along the Ross Highway.  They exhibit more rock art that tells the Caterpillar Dreamtime story, and if you’re lucky, you can spot some wild budgies chirping in the trees.

 

Binns Track

 

Lorella Springs

Experience Paradise : Lorella Springs Wilderness Park – #2

Lorella Springs

DAY 4

Juz got up early to take photos of the sunrise over Snapping Handbag Billabong before we made our way toward Flying Fox Swamp.  This is another of our favourite destinations.  Paddling the canoe over the still water, through the trees, with the waterlilies passing by, was absolutely beautiful.  Bees buzzed in the lilies and dragonflies skipped over the water.

 

Lorella Springs

 

We reckon Monarch Rock could be renamed Cookie Dough Mountain, because that’s what it looks like – a big wad of cookie dough, full of nuts, nougat and choc chips!  Butterflies floated around the shaded areas of the rock and we found a small cave with bats and dragonflies inside.  We did a lap of the rock and found loads of bush passionfruit too, which we picked and ate while we looked for more.

 

After climbing Monarch Rock and enjoying the spectacular 360° views of the country, the Cascades were a great tonic.  We had a dip by the creek crossing and saw two brolgas that promptly flew away trumpeting like elephants.

 

 

On our way back to the campground, we stopped by Nudie Hot Springs.  There were two camps set up at the site, one of which was truly letting it all hang out.  We followed the path to where the hottest water gushes out from the rock, and followed the creek back to the pool of perfect bath temperature (32° Celsius) and had a nudie dip.

 

Our plan was to do some fishing at Eagles Nest Billabong so that we had something to cook for dinner.  On the way though, Dave noticed that the water temperature gauge was getting a bit too hot.  Eagles Nest was only another 10km away so we raced before we burst a hose.  Just as we arrived, we heard a pop, but luckily it was just the lid of the overflow bottle.  While Dave tended to the Troopy, Juz pulled out the rod.  She was accompanied by a seasoned fisherman who went through three lures with no luck.  Juz gave up after about 30 minutes and after a quick ride in the provided boat, we went back to the campground.

 

Of course, we were just in time for Happy Hour and another great socialising session with the volunteers and other campers.  Plenty of stories and photos were exchanged and after a session around the campfire, we went to bed.

 

 

DAY 5

It was very hard to pull ourselves out of bed and we didn’t end up leaving the campground until about 9:30am.  Nannies Retreat was our destination and the road leading to it had been cleared two days earlier so it was a fairly smooth run.

 

Lorella Springs

 

Once we arrived, we found the path to be long and overgrown but freshly marked with pink ribbon and rock stacks.  Suddenly, we were there, atop a rounded rocky landscape of sandstone.   A stream ran through the area and after Dave explored one of the caves, we had a dip in the pool.

 

 

We found our way back to the Troopy and headed for Sloshy Springs, which wasn’t officially opened for the season.  We drove for hours on indecisive track surfaces, stopping occasionally to remove branches and fallen trees from the track, which was a great opportunity for Dave to flex his muscles.  The track eventually disappeared and it was nearly sundown so we returned to a creek crossing about 30 minutes back and camped on the track by the water.   Juz fell unconscious when her head hit the pillow while Dave went to sleep to the sound of howling dingoes.

 

Lorella Springs

 

It just so happens that the creek we camped next to WAS Sloshy Springs… go figure!

 

DAY 6

We packed up and started to make our way back to the campground.  The return trip was much easier because we’d cleared all the fallen branches the day before.  We diverted to Billy’s Camp to check out the original settlement of Lorella Springs, which ended up being the perfect stop for Dave to tend to the overheating radiator again.  The ruins were full of rusty things – a fridge, corrugated iron, a sink, buckets, a wheelbarrow, even an old ant bed oven!

 

Lorella Springs

 

By the time we got back to the campground, we noticed a loaded motorbike parked by the office.  A guy from the east coast had emailed us and said he was heading our way, and after exchanging itineraries, we discovered that we would intercept each other at Lorella Springs.  We approached the bar to meet our new friend.

 

Over a few drinks, we had a good chat with Brogan about where he had been and where he was going.  He was circling Australia in an anticlockwise direction, the opposite way to us which meant that we had heaps of tips to share with each other.  Rhett turned up at Happy Hour and while we had planned to leave the next day, we all offered to volunteer for a few days.  Dave and Brogan would work on cabling for the cabins while Juz offered to paint a mural on the wall beside the bar.  She also presented herself to the kitchen that evening and made a big pot of spaghetti bolognese for all the volunteers’ dinner.

 

Lorella Springs 2014-05-21 017

 

Experience : Lorella Springs Wilderness Park #1

Volunteer at Lorella Springs

 

Katherine Gorge

Experience : Nitmiluk National Park

Katherine Gorge

 

Nitmiluk National Park got its name from the Dreamtime story about Nabilil, a creation being.  Nabilil was travelling across the land and camped at the entrance of Katherine Gorge and all he could hear was the song of the cicadas, “nit nit nitnit”.  Nabilil thus named the area Nitmiluk.

 

Camping at Nitmiluk National Park is a bit steep – $19 per person per night – but it does have its perks.  The toilets and showers are clean and relatively bug-free, there is a poolside bar that serves good-looking food and a fabulous range of alcoholic beverages, and friendly wallaroos can be seen grazing in the park.

 

 

 

After a couple of sneaky beers at the bar, we hit the hay fairly early so that we could get started on the hikes at dawn.  We started with the first half of the Baruwei Loop, which starts off with a steep climb to a lookout over Katherine River.  We were there at sunrise but it would have been even better at sunset.  We then continued along the path to find the beginning of the southern walks.

 

 

 

The first southern walk we completed was Butterfly Gorge, a challenging 12km return hike into a gorge filled with monsoonal rainforest.  There was a small, flowing creek and the population of butterflies grew as we got deeper into the gorge.  Katherine River is there to greet you at the end of the path, but we didn’t dare to get into the water to refresh ourselves out of fear of crocodiles.  We climbed the cliffs and found a nice perch to eat breakfast before heading back.

 

Katherine Gorge

 

We found the crossroad for Windolf Walk and took the turn, knowing there was a reward of a swim at the end.  It was a pleasant walk along a dried creek bed to a great lookout over the gorge.  We continue on to descend into the gorge and at the bottom is the Southern Pool that still had a trickle of water from above.  We got in for a swim with the fishes and met a few fellow travellers.  The steep climb out of the gorge called for another dip in a pool at the top of the gorge before heading back to the Troopy.

 

 

 

One of the best things about the Katherine Gorge walks are the water tanks that are dotted along the way.  The water is drinkable so you can refill your drink bottle and wash the sweat from your face.  We decided to only do the first three walks on offer at Nitmiluk, but if you’re a keen hiker, there are several longer tracks available, even overnight hikes.  There’s even one that goes all the way up to Edith Falls!

 

We really enjoyed our time at Nitmiluk. The hikes were great exercise and it always feels good to finish a long walk with a swim in a natural swimming hole.  You can also grab a canoe and paddle your way through the gorge, hop on a guided cruise or get to da chopper and hit the skies.

 

Katherine Gorge

 

Kakadu National Park

Experience : Kakadu National Park – Part 1

Kakadu National Park

 

We said goodbye to Darwin after an 11 month stay and headed to our first destination – Kakadu National Park.  We were really excited to see the waterfalls and billabongs and couldn’t wait to get our boots dirty on a few hikes.

 

The name Kakadu comes from the Aboriginal floodplain language of Gagadju.  The Rainbow Serpent, a very important creation being for the Bininj Mungguy people, created most of the landscape, forming habitats and controlling the life cycles of plants and animals.

 

Kakadu was internationally recognised as a World Heritage area in 1981 for its rock art galleries and archaeological sites, and at nearly 20,000 hectares, it is the largest national park in Australia and second largest park in the world.  The traditional owners, the Bininj Mungguy, have been living in Kakadu for more than 50,000 years and are possibly the oldest living culture on earth.  The rock within the park could also be the world’s oldest rock, dating back 2,500 million years!

 

There are approximately 280 species of birds residing in the national park, which is around a third of all bird species in Australia, as well as 2,000 varieties of plants that have been used by the local aboriginals for food and medicine.  Crocodiles, or ginga, live within the park and while they are trying to increase the population since the hunting days in the 1960s, Crocodile Management Zones focus on relocating crocodiles so that the area is safe for visitors.

 

DAY 1

Bark Hut Inn

After a long drive along the highway, we stopped at the Bark Hut Inn for a beer.  Lucky for us, they had NT Draught on tap and they were particularly proud of the fact.  The Bark Hut Inn is essentially a historical pub that offers accommodation, food and fuel before hitting the national park.  It’s also the last stop for alcohol before Kakadu.

 

The place looks fairly ancient with all the dusty wood and animal heads mounted on the walls but it was erected in the 1970s.  There are some old Toyota wrecks dotted around the establishment with plaques providing information on what they were used for.  One of them had a specially designed bulbar with a platform for a person to stand on while they tried to lasso wild buffalo!  Outside, you can check out the enclosed emus and buffalo while inside, they have a pet snake and turtle.

 

 

After a schooner and a wander around the place, we continued to the Kakadu Information Bay at the entrance of the park.  We planned to sleep at Two Mile Creek but the gates were closed so we returned to the information bay for the night.

 

DAY 2

Mamukala

Our first stop for the morning was the Mamukala wetlands.  There were beautiful pink lilies, a few ducks on the water and the sound of magpie geese in the distance.  The water seemed to go on forever and the view was really lovely.

 

Kakadu National Park

 

Visitor Centre

The lady at the information centre was friendly and informative but it wasn’t all good news for us – a lot of the attractions were closed due to impassable river crossings or they hadn’t been cleared of crocodiles.  Apparently, the start of the Dry Season is not the best time of the year to come.  Even though the weather is great, you still have to wait until June for evething to open.  What this meant for us is that we missed out on Ubirr, Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and Gunlom.  Poopy…

 

Jabiru - Kakadu National Park

 

Jabiru

Jabiru is a small and simple town with a small shopping complex that consists of a supermarket that sells everything, a Westpac branch, post office, newsagency, a café and council offices.  The Kakadu Bakery is around the corner and sells pies stuffed with buffalo, roo or croc, and there is a lake at the edge of town with a playground and BBQs.

 

The Crocodile Hotel is also in Jabiru – an enormous building shaped like a crocodile, and phone reception is available with all networks.

 

Crocodile Hotel - Kakadu National Park

 

Malabanjbanjdju

Our first camp spot in Kakadu, and we were inundated with mozzies.  We shouldn’t have been surprised considering that the site is next to a lagoon, but at least it was quiet and the birdlife was lovely.

 

The Malabanjbanjdju camping area has heaps of space, drop toilets, picnic benches and fire places and is $5 per person per night.

 

DAY 3

Gubara

We had a bit of a rusty start – forgetting our hats, and being completely disorganised for our first hike in a long time.  We completed a lovely 3km walk through grassland and great scenery to cross a bridge and arrive at a fork in the road.  One clearly leads to the pools, which were clear and cool and more than welcome for a quick refreshing wash.  Tiny frogs and St Andrews Cross spiders were clearly visible in the area but we were conscious that there could be freshwater crocodiles as well.  As we rested by the waterhole, a monitor lizard sunned himself on a rock.

 

We returned to the fork in the road and followed the unmarked path to shaded waterfall.

 

Kakadu National Park

 

Nawurlandja

This lookout took us up a long rocky ramp to a beautiful view of the escarpment.  This is one of our favourite lookouts and reminded us of Cave Hill in Western Australia.

 

 

Nourlangie (Burrunggui)

The Anbangbang gallery is a popular location that exhibits Aboriginal rock art. It’s an easy 1.5km loop with wheelchair access in some parts and includes a lookout.  The Nourlangie region consists of two areas.  Burrunggui is the name for the higher parts and Anbangbang is the name of the lower areas. The rock shelters in the Nourlangie area have been used by Aboriginal people for the last 20,000 years.

 

At the lookout, there’s a fork in the path to begin the Barrk walking trail.  Barrk means male black wallaroo and the walking track is a 12km circular loop that includes walking through bushland, gullies, and climbing rocky ridges to see various galleries along the way.  It’s an area that Ludwig Leichhardt passed through in 1845 and this history is reflected in the artwork.  We did a short stint of the Barrk walk to a small creek to refresh ourselves.

 

 

Mirrai Lookout

This was a very steep 2km climb to a lookout structure that was partially obscured by trees.  Signs at the top pointed out landmarks in the distance.  We stayed long enough to catch our breath before returning to the Troopy.

 

Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre

This was a quick stop to check out what was on offer.  There was an interesting exhibition inside about the aboriginals who live in this country, as well as a souvenir shop, kiosk and toilets.

 

Kakadu National Park

 

We learnt how they cooked wallaroos, and that they thought flying foxes apparently taste good.  We also learnt about the buffalo farming industry, message sticks and different types of spears.

 

As we continued south west along the highway, we crossed Jim Jim Creek and saw a crocodile in the water below!

 

Gungurul

We camped at Gungurul and did the lookout walk at sunset.  It’s a fair climb to the top with great views all the way around.  Juz’s keen eye spotted a cute little legless lizard catching the last few rays of sunlight on a rock.

 

 

The Gungurul camping area has limited spaces, with drop toilets, picnic chairs and fire places and is $5 per person per night.

 

Kakadu National Park

 

Experience : Kakadu National Park – Part 2

Juz exploring Butterfly Gorge

Experience : Butterfly Gorge

Butterfly Gorge

South of Adelaide River, just off Oolloo Road is a turn off for Butterfly Gorge National Park.  The park protects a portion of the Douglas River and it’s well worth the trip, but make sure you stop off at Douglas Hot Springs on your way there.

 

Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs

Located on the Douglas River, the Douglas Hot Springs is a great spot for camping at only $6.60 a night per adult.  The campground is right next to the Douglas River, which has a rocky spring that pumps out scorching hot water into the river.  Depending on where you sit, you can have a refreshingly cool swim, a warm bath or a hot, swirling spa.

 

The crystal clear waters of the springs are surrounded by coarse golden sand and palms, with a few little fishies swimming around.

 

 

Butterfly Gorge

Once you get to the car park, there are two walks that you can do – 2km to a lookout or 600m into the gorge.  To get to the main pool, you will have to climb over a small, rocky cliff or alternatively you can wade through the (potentially) croc infested water.  We decided to climb over the rocks – just for fun!

 Caveman

The main pool is surrounded by high rugged cliffs, lush plants and rock figs with curtains of roots.  There were lots of crow butterflies fluttering about – that’s probably where the gorge got its name from.  While you can swim across the pool and check out the other side to get a closer look at the gorge, we got a little freaked by little air bubbles and swirling water.  We chose not to take any risks – we were in the Territory now and have to be super cautious about crocodiles.

 

Juz exploring Butterfly Gorge

 

 

Nature's Window - Kalbarri National Park

Experience : Kalbarri National Park

Kalbarri National Park is about 500km north of Perth and covers over 180,000 hectares from the coast to the North West Coastal Highway.  The sandstone plain is marked by the Murchison River, which winds for 150km through the national park, creating beautiful gorges and providing the surrounding plants and wildlife with much needed water.  The park is home to a variety of animals like emus, kangaroos, lizards and wedge-tail eagles.  We may have also seen a thorny devil trying to cross the dusty road on our way to the Loop.

 

 

The weather can be quite extreme, with temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees at the height of summer.  Make sure you have enough water with you before you go for any hikes in the park, with the best time to go exploring being the early morning or late afternoon.  It’s a good idea to wear sunscreen and a great bush hat like our Barmah Hats to protect you from the sun.

 

Inland Features

The gorges of the Murchison River are easily accessible by road and a quick walk will either lead you to a breathtaking lookout or along a walking trail down into the gorge.  We sussed out all of the landmarks at Kalbarri National Park and were blown away by the beautiful isolation.

 

Hawk’s Head Lookout & Ross Graham Lookout

It was really windy when we arrived, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying the view.  We were amazed at how clear the water was and afterwards, we walked down into the gorge.  The water was refreshing as we waded through it with little fish swimming around our feet.

 

 

Natures Window and the Loop

This location was fantastic and provides a variety of lookouts and a long, 8km hike down into the Loop.  We arrived at around midday and while we would have loved to spend a few hours hiking, it was way too hot and we didn’t want to risk having a bad time.

 

 

We did explore a little bit and were fascinated by the colourful layering of Tumblagooda sandstone, with clear representations of an ancient rippled sea bed.  We got some photos in Nature’s Window, a natural arched rock that perfectly frames the Murchison River below (although the river was a bit dry).

 

 

Z Bend Gorge

Even though this was the last gorge we looked at, it was our favourite!  The narrow waterway drops down 150m with high, rugged cliffs on both sides and a few river gums to break through the red, earthy colour of the sandstone.  We could have sat and gazed into the gorge all day.

 

 

Coastal Features

A short drive south of the town of Kalbarri are the coastal gorges.  Red Bluff is the first rock feature outside of town.  You can actually drive out onto the red rock before going for a walk along the cliffs.  We also checked out the Shellhouse and Grandstand, as well as Island Rock and Natural Bridge.

 

 

Mushroom Rock can be found on the walk through Rainbow Alley, which is a great 3km exploration of a rocky landscape that makes you think you’re walking on Mars!  Some rocks are smooth and knobbly while others are sharp and layered.  Once we got to Mushroom Rock, which is a flat rock perched on a large boulder, we explored the rock pools and crevices and found lots of crabs – brown ones, purple ones, yellow ones – funny little critters…

 

 

Hellfire Bay

Experience : Cape Le Grand National Park

Frenchman Peak

Cape Le Grand is truly an amazing place.  Only 50km east of Esperance on sealed road is a sand plain covered in heath lands, swamps and freshwater pools that is framed along the coast by picturesque beaches with the whitest sand you have ever seen and crystal clear water of the most radiant turquoise.

 

Throughout the park are outcrops of granite and gneiss rock that make a chain of mountains – Mt Le Grand (345m), Frenchman Peak (262m) and Mississippi Hill (180m).  The granite mountains were caused by movement of the Earth’s crust over 600 million years ago and the peaks were islands during the late Eocene period.

 

Beaches

Hellfire Bay hides the most fantastic beach we have ever seen, with the whitest sand and the bluest waters.  We chose to stay here for lunch and cooked up some lamb chops on the free BBQ.  We also met a great family who were holidaying from Bunbury.

 

 

While we didn’t get to check it out, Lucky Bay is a favourite for many because of the kangaroos lazing on the beach.  This unspoilt beach was voted the Whitest Beach and also has nearby camp grounds.

 

Le Grand Beach was gorgeous and the white sand went on and on and on.  We did the 22km drive to Wylie Bay along the beach.

 

Hiking

There are several bushwalking trails throughout the park that take anywhere from one to three hours to complete.  We did the Frenchman Peak hike to the summit and got some amazing views over the park and coastline.  The climb is up steep granite slopes, so make sure you have appropriate footware and once you get to the top, there is a magnificent arched cave to give you some cool shade.  If you keep following the markers, you can get to the utmost peak and feel like you’re on top of the world!

 

 

It said to allow 2 hours for the steep climb but we nailed it in an hour.

 

 

Camping

Camping is allowed at two campgrounds – Lucky Bay and Le Grand Beach.  Facilities include showers, flushing toilets and a camp kitchen.  Fires are not allowed.

 

 

If you’re just visiting for the day, gas BBQs and picnic areas are located at Lucky Bay, Hellfire and Le Grand Beach.   Fishing and boating is also allowed and the species that can be caught include Australian salmon, whiting and black bream.

 

4WDing

We took the scenic route back to town and drove along the beach from Le Grand to Wylie Bay. It’s a 22km drive along the sand and gives you great coastal views of the ocean.  Make sure you check tide times and beach conditions before attempting the drive.

 

 

Entry to Cape Le Grand National Park is $11 per vehicle, and if you want to camp, it’s an additional $9 per person.  Parks Passes are also available but they only cover the entry to WA’s national parks, not camping.

 

A pretty flower at Cape Le Grand National Park