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The Grotto

We found this by accident, returning to Kununurra from Wyndham, at the edge of the Kimberley in Western Australia. Seeing the small sign and hoping for a minor miracle or transportation to another time, we arrived at an unremarkable park in the middle of the arid lansdcape. A gorge led off to the left and a series of narrow, steep steps descended to the right. We stood at the top of the stairway, seeing no railings, and considered our options under a very hot Australian sun.

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Suddenly, voices preceded the arrival of two adults and two small children. They encouraged us to go down, pointing out that it was isolated and had a wonderful waterhole, so we could skinny dip if we wanted. Well, I wasn’t so sure about the latter, but if two small children could manage the stairs, I could. I’m so glad I did.

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It was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie and wasn’t the first slimy pool we’d been tempted to slip into, given high temperatures and an idyllic location.  A couple of ‘Tarzan ropes’ (suspended ropes for swinging and dropping) are placed for ease of entry if you are faint-hearted. While we air-dried, we spied tiny honey eater birds, flowers and the signs of a hidden water source.

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Now, an event took place, here, that serves as a reminder when travelling. As we reached the top of the ravine once more, we were met by a man, standing at the top. He asked if we had had a good time. Harmless question. But there was something about his demeanor…

We answered that it was worth the descent and hurried to our car, taking off as quickly and naturally as we could. Had either of us been alone, or the man not have had innocent intentions…It can happen and any traveller would be wise to pause before heading into an isolated area, no matter how hot you are, or how glorious the view.

If you venture here, I have since learned that the height is 120 m and that after the wet season, a waterfall will drop behind the ropes in the pictures, above, gushing majestically over the rocks. It is a well-known swimming hole and picnic spot in the area.

Tell me if there’s something you want to know about this area or somewhere else in Australia.

Safe travels! Hat, water and a sensible sense of adventure.

Kununurra and surrounds

It just rolls off the tongue – kun-un-nur-ra. And we rolled into town in the very early hours of the morning, having awoken with the Western Australian sun at 5 am in Lake Argyle. It was a very quick and pretty drive to Kununnurra, at the edge of the Kimberley.

We had only planned to stay here one night and do a tour to the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park), but we were too late in the season and with temperatures over 38C the park was closed for another 4 weeks. Around the domes of the Bungle Bungle Ranges, the temperatures increase and it is extremely dangerous. Other travellers advised us to visit Mirima National Park, also known as the Little Bungles or Hidden Valley National Park, and Wyndham, with it’s  meeting of 5 rivers.

Pre-sunrise took us to Mirima and it has made me determined to see the larger version one day, as it was beautiful.  The area is of great cultural significance to the Miriuwung people, the original inhabitants. Apparently there are many examples of rock art in the park, but we didn’t see any on our trail.  There is a variety of paths and we took the medium difficulty, with stunning views and fascinating  sandstone formations.

 

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Wyndham and the 5 river lookout is much talked about, so we looked at the map and saw it wasn’t going to be directly on our future trail, but wasn’t far from Kununurra, either. It is a town that may have seen more prosperous times, as the huge port suggested an importance not borne out by the town. The lookout is quite good but I’m not sure it’s worth the trip. Stopping off at The Grotto on the way back was definitely worth it, but I’ll save that for another blog.

The Hoochery Distillery was very interesting and we sampled the rum and the food in a room with heavy wooden furniture, locally made. The licorice rum ran out last year so we sent off an order for more (and a bottle of the coffee/chocolate rum). Just down the road was the sandalwood factory and we learnt the history of the Ord River scheme, for which Kununnurra was established, and of the growth of the sandalwood business. Back to the caravan park where we caught clouds of green butterflies sipping from the sprinkler puddles.

Kununurra is one of two remote places where we met people who lived within  1 km of our home, in South Australia. Relatives say that is due to my area being one that people can’t get far enough from, but I just think it was luck. It is a big town, well-planned and serviced. I wouldn’t be sorry to live there for a bit.

Safe travels! Definitely take a hat and water and any detour that looks interesting.

Quick Picks in Perth

If you find yourself having a brief stop in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, and there’s time between engagements, here are five suggestions that will revive, restore and elevate you.

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Subiaco is an inner suburb, that has a similar feel to Launceston, so is probably around the same age – early 1800s. The Primary School hosts a farmers’ market each Saturday morning. Locally grown and produced goods are sold and taste tests are plentiful. There are cheeses, fresh fruit and veg., baked goods, dairy, smallgoods, teas, pickles and preserves, soaps and handicraft sold from undercover stalls. In a nearby grassed area I spied a children’s animal farm, a junior soccer demonstration and a small yoga session. There is something for everyone, toilet facilities, and I would call it medium scale.

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outside and undercover stalls

From Subiaco (Sooby-acko) or Subi to King’s Park and Botanic Gardenis a ten-minute drive. We always seem to arrive here when there is an event and this weekend was a festival. Lovely artwork was dotted around the explosion of wildflowers and brightly coloured umbrellas festooned the grassy lawn in front of the gazebo. It is a very well-planned Botanic Garden with many displays and sections, but it is also well-known for the War Memorial and the viewing platforms from which you can see Perth CBD and the Swan River.

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Wildflower display – best in Spring
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sculptures in the trees
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living art?
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a bouquet of brollies
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artistic gumnuts
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Art installation – flower, pollen ans seeding.

Cottesloe Beach had eluded us on other visits to Perth, so we had some inside help to get there in the afternoon. About 10 years ago, Cottesloe was voted as the second most popular beach for families in the world. The gorgeous old building, Indiana Restaurant, is really worth a visit, with period architecture and delightful views. The coffee was possibly the best I have ever had. They catered for the one-year old with us and had a high chair and a friendly attitude.

Plenty of surfers kept us entertained and the crazy people who took to the water in the 16C day. There was a low-flying drone and I was fascinated by the pylon, resembling a non-functional lighthouse. In 1932 a man built a shark-free swimming enclosure at Cottesloe that was very popular. Three years later, a huge storm wiped out the structure – all but the striped pylon. Its barnacled base allows people to climb it, but it isn’t pleasant and high tide is easier.

An early morning walk at and around Lake Herdsman will provide water bird enthusiasts with ample specimens and there were many picturesque spots. Apparently, there is a Lake Canning which is bigger and less reedy, but the paths were good and well-used.

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paperbark trees abound

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swamphens
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Western Australian bird emblem – the black swan. Note the foot tucked under the wing and slung over the back.

Fremantle (Freo) is such an old favourite. We strolled the busy streets, enjoying craft shops, books, furniture, clothing, food, pubs, cafes, sights, sounds and smells. Moore and Moore provided a delicious lunch – pulled beef burger, pancakes with banana, salted caramel sauce and pecans, with blueberries an optional extra. Drink orders included filthy chai latte with soy milk (delicious) and cappuccinos. The ambiance is casual and the decor is heritage. A couple in our party had had their wedding reception there and said it was ideal, with the venue being extremely helpful and practical.

A visit to Freo isn’t complete without going to the park and watching the Ferris Wheel, strolling the beach or the wharf and then heading for the Round House. The oldest building in WA still standing, it affords good views of the town and the coast and its crumbling limestone wall reminds you of its history and fallibility. A tunnel runs under this, constructed in 1837 and once used by whalers to connect the beach to High Street. It is 45 m long, but was originally 57 m, only the cliffs have been cut back.

By now it would be time to head for the airport or your last night. There are many hotels and backpacker hostels and a couple of inner caravan parks. We have previously stayed at BIG4 Woodman Point Caravan Park near Fremantle, and it was very good, with large powered sites and close to good swimming beaches.

The main attraction for us was our relatives and their knowledge, generosity and one year-old were priceless. We can’t share them, I’m afraid.

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Safe, fast travels. Take a warmer hat in Winter and water for after wine or bevvies.

Leliyn

Once called Edith Falls, Leliyn has returned to the name given it by the original owners, the Jawoyn people. It is connected to Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge) and you can do the walk from one to the other. We didn’t, however ( I think it is 62 km – Jatbula Trail).

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Arriving from Litchfield, there was a variety of walks but we took the loop walk which takes about two hours (2.6 km) and is uphill from the kiosk and downhill from the top plunge pool and falls. I would call it easy, having done it in thongs (rubber-soled footwear), while it was 38C, but it has been described as challenging, so maybe check out more informed trekking information. The tracks are well-marked with benches for rests along the way. The views are pretty special, even at the end of the dry season.

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The rocks at the top falls are slippery, so be careful, but refreshing on a hot day. The water from the falls was ‘harder’ than at Wangi Falls (Litchfield National Park) despite being a quarter of the drop. I saw many people jump in, but if you can’t see the bottom, that could result in a broken leg or hypothermia if the water is very cold. Don’t swim alone for this reason and check the conditions at the kiosk .

The main pool and falls at the bottom can be enjoyed by the whole family, but it does get deep so encourage poor swimmers to stay close to the edge. It was amazing to swim within steep sandstone gorge walls, with paperbark and pandanus at the fringes.

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There is a popular campsite, with regular facilities and in the peak season it is first in first served. Peak is after the wet – March to September, when the falls flow thick and fast but trekking could be discouraged. The park is under joint management between the government and the traditional owners. Make sure someone knows that you are on a trek, and the kiosk is a good place to record this.

Take a hat and plenty of water, first aid kit for walkers and suitable walking shoes.

 

Litchfield National Park

An easy hour by car, south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, lies Litchfield National Park. Named after an early explorer, the region has been cared for by the Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Waray Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

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The region was used for grazing and the mining of tin, copper and uranium. There are many falls to explore and some areas that have been developed to encourage tourists and visitors, with carparks, picnic areas, boardwalks and campgrounds. There are still natural trails and 4WD tracks for the adventure-seeking.

Berry Springs has 3 ‘pools’ that join if you want to ride downstream on a noodle. Not too deep and quite safe. The water is very clear near the edge – you can see fish. Wangi Falls is a surprise. You swim out to one of the waterfalls and get pounded by the downpour. The floor of the lagoon (?) begins as sandy and is dark in the centre, with twigs and debris. You would have to be able to tread water or swim maybe 60m unless you stay by the edge, and many do.

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Beautifully maintained, Wangi has unpowered sites but we chose not to stay here, as there was limited shade in the camping area. We stayed at Litchfield Tourist Park instead, on a grassed site amid beautiful flowers and unusual birdsong that defied description.

Rangers check daily to keep an eye on crocodiles and remove them from public swimming holes, but I would ask at the ranger station, too. I have read that you shouldn’t sit on bare ground in Litchfield, as scrub typhus is a possibility. So spread that towel on the ground and dry off in the heat!

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Take a hat, bathers/swimmers, water, first aid kit and shoes, but don’t miss it!

 

Darwin

The capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia, is Darwin. It is neat and small and tropical and a major port for trade and travel.

 

We stayed in the BIG 4 Howard Springs caravan park, about 30 km from Darwin, but there are several other options available and had we known what a quiet city it was, we may have gone for something in the heart of Darwin. Several of the park dwellers worked in the city and some were transient, while others thought they would be and were lured to stay in this warm site – 34-36C all year round.

Australia is so far from anywhere that during WWII we received very little attack, compared to other countries more central to the war. Darwin, however, at the top of the country was bombed 97 times between 1942 and 1943. There are ruins and memorials to commemorate this and most Australians are unaware of the loss of life due to raids and attacks, possibly as these were not pivotal to the war at large and inconsequential to writers of history.

 

The Darwin information centre is a good place to start and with the short time we had, we visited the Parap Markets and after unsuccessfully trying to find the War Museum, had lunch on Stoke’s Wharf. There was a lot of Balinese goods, being so close to the mainland, but not much local produce.

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We walked through the town and went to the lookout, over Darwin Harbour and the town beach. As with many northern cities in Australia, in the Summer months there are stingers, sharks can also venture close, and the waters can be swampy, so a “beach” was created with sand and nets to keep out the unwanted. It was pretty strange to see people having a swim on their lunch break in the middle of the city, but who wouldn’t?

 

The tunnels are reported to be very good to see – where ammunition was stored to hide it from the Japanese, if they should land – but we didn’t do the tour.

Make 2 or 3 days for Darwin. It is a good base from which to visit Litchfield and Katherine.

Hats, water and shoes will see you travel safely.

Kakadu National Park

 

In early October, with the temperature in the shade reaching 39.2C (approx 103F), we arrived in world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia. The road in was unremarkable (and very long) due to being near the end of the dry season.

Taking advice from other travellers, we camped at Cooinda Camping Ground and Caravan Park.

The Yellow River Cruise is world-renowned and if you are a bird lover you will be spoilt. You would also get your lens-full of crocodile pictures and some worthy screen savers. Many people do the sunrise and sunset cruise to get the benefit or the varying wildlife and colours. I was surprised at the buffalo and other animals on the banks and watching the interplay of creatures on or near the water was captivating.

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We also completed a walk at Nourlangie Rock that has two tracks from which to choose and saw interesting sandstone rock formations and well-preserved rock art. Apparently it is a part of the Arnhem Land escarpment.  The track is good and well-marked.

Ubirr Rock is a site that has an easy walking track and many examples of Aboriginal rock painting. Tours in other languages are available. If you can climb the steep sides (about 30 degree slope) to the top you can see an amazing 360 degree view of that region of Kakadu. Sunset walks are possible. I won’t include pictures of art, as I haven’t checked if that is permitted. Most rock art is sacred and Aboriginal people do not like it shown on media, without consent.

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Near Cooinda, Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is very informative and has artifacts and art you can buy. Bowali Visitor Centre was also impressive.

The facilities were very good, with a choice of pools and the visitor information centre had a great range of maps and options. There are good-sized campsites, outdoor BBQ areas, camp kitchens and restaurants. For those wanting more luxury, there are cabins and Cooinda Lodge. There is a wealth of information and they offer tours, transport and advice. There are many other motels and campsites in the National park. We spent 3 nights here.

Safe travels. Don’t swim alone and check with rangers before visiting water holes. Take water, your hat and good walking shoes.