Having arrived at the South Australia/Northern Territory border, we handed over our paperwork (COVID-19 arrangements) and were free to go through, but not stay at this beautiful, free campsite. The officer suggested Kulgera, down the road about 20km.
We had been here before for fuel, but had not experienced its hospitality. There is a reasonable store on site, an art gallery that showcased local work and a pub.
Famous (?) for the big 4X can, it also had its own travellers ‘artwork’/ collection – of sandshoes in this case.
Good, clean amenities and plenty of room, with drive-through sites.
With a parcel of long service leave, a yearning for warmer weather and two State borders open to us, we hitched up the van and headed off. Our ultimate goal is the top of the tip – the northernmost point of Australia and the top of Cape York, but the Corona virus is seeing borders closing and opening with little notice, so we have to be flexible.
For those of you who are locked at home, or who might be missing us, you can travel with us as we go. Make sure you let me know if you want more or less information as we go and there may be a delay from time to time, as WiFi is hard to come by in the middle of nowhere.
Day 1 brought us to Lake Hart, a free campsite not far from a large salt lake. We had passed a lookout over another one, just out of Pimba and apparently there are many larger, but it was salt and the illusion of water, as far as the eye could see.
Evidence of an enclosure or jetty or some kind of structure using wooden posts, unlikely due to the original owners of the land, the Kokatha, as it is very European in design.
The rifts and lumps of salt made for good photos, as did the sunset, still oozing orange over the lagoon about an hour later.
The Ghan railway passes between the lagoon and the campsite and can be crossed by a pipe/tunnel or over the top. At 7pm the train went past, almost silently, and all campers came out to watch the dark shadow seeming to run on water.
Take plenty of water and choose free campsites near others, for safety.
We started the day with a hike to Mount Ainslie Lookout. It begins gradually and is quite steep for the last 30m or so. Many good views are afforded along the way, but the best are at the top. It took about 90 minutes return and where I wouldn’t advise a wheelchair, I did see three people using canes and walking quite slowly. Many people are in training gear and run past slower people like me.
Remember it was bushfire season so excuse the misty photos.
Black Mountain Tower affords some fabulous views, we were told, but unfortunately with the fires the smoke haze made visibility poor. It is still an interesting building and an easy drive from the main sights.
There is a viewing gallery, a theater and a cafe, as well as a telecommunications museum. It is also called Telstra Tower and the actual tower rises almost 200m above the summit. Your visit wouldn’t be longer than an hour, I think.
Questacon is on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin and is an extraordinary collection of interactive Science and Technology activities (over 200 I believe) that are designed to entertain, educate and inspire schoolchildren to pursue careers in that area.
I have been there with my children, with school classes and this time it was just for me and I could have spent another hour or more there. We stayed 2 hours as it was, watching, trying, pressing, drawing, thinking, puzzling and marvelling. The free fall was fascinating, but I wouldn’t try it.
The National Gallery is very near here, so we walked there, along the Lake, enjoying the sculptures and what was on offer in the grounds, and not entering. There were a few reasons for this, among which was the advertising of the outdoor sculptures and the Skyspace. So that is what we spent an hour and a half viewing.
Staying in the region, we headed for New Parliament House. It’s an impressive building, right from its approach, and has a wealth of architecture and marble.
The House of Representatives has a green room, just as it did on the old P.H. and the Senate is red, as before. When parliament is sitting, between 4000 and 5000 people are employed there.
There are galleries of historical figures, current politicians and political cartoonists. Documents and decisions are displayed, as well as plans, models and protests. The view from the grassy rooftop is impressive and informative, with many structures to catch the eye.
One of these is the 81m flagpole, visible from many vantages in Canberra. Three locations form what is known as the Parliamentary Triangle and New P.H is considered to be at the apex. Dead centre of Parliament House is the flagpole and it is represents the intersection “of Australian democracy—the people, the parliament and the government—are all brought together under one flag.” (https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/About_the_Building/About_the_Flag)
It’s quite easy to spend 1-2 hours, here. Tours are available if you prefer.
Even in Canberra, where it can get very cold, always take a hat and water in Australia.
There is actually a lot to do in the capital of Australia, despite how small it is. That just makes it packed and practical. Some highlights from one day:
Located in what was once the Kingston Powerhouse, the FREE entry glassworks allows you to watch as glass blowers work, do a tour, watch artists hone their items, have a try at glass blowing, read about the history of the Power House or shop at the outlet.
Fascinating and colourful, it is easy to get to, with ample parking although on Sundays apparently there is a market, so keep that in mind.
There are stairs, so wheelchairs will be restricted, but there are also some ramps and I didn’t check for lifts. I think you’d plan for a minimum of an hour, here.
Museum of Australian Democracy (MOD)
This building is also known as Old Parliament House. It is a young history of our Governments and the displays reek of the 1940s and ’70s, so is perhaps more interesting for Australians than those from other countries.
Classic British design abounds and there is a room where the House of Representatives meet and another for the Senate (Upper House). This is the same in the New Parliament House, with matching colours, I think.
Unless, of course, you enjoy the political art (craftivism), summaries (we saw Truth, Power and a Free Press), interactive displays and period furniture that a $5 family entry can afford.
From the front steps you see the current stand by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, first established in 1972, which is to maintain their sovereignty over Australian soil and waters. The Embassy is not recognised by the Government but nor is it removed (these days).
Oddly enough, the backdrop is Mt Ainslie and the Australian War Memorial.
Give yourself 60 – 120 minutes here, depending on whether you self tour or take a guided one and your interest in history.
Australian War Memorial
This dramatic and impressive centre has life-size displays of aircraft, cock-pits, weaponry, soldiers and more, as well as model battles and audio that captures reflections from veterans of the Great Wars, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq. It is considered as a military museum.
It is haunting, effective and free. I have heard they are thinking of spending a huge sum on upgrading it, but I cannot see why, as it is quite memorable.
I am not an advocate of war, but this is certainly worth a visit and you might spend a couple of hours or more, here. There is plenty for children, too, and accessible in a wheelchair.
This is definitely a 2 hour or more place.
Finish the day with a walk around the foreshore. There are bars and eateries a-plenty, with pleasant views to be had.
River cruises and water craft for hire are also available if you want to hit the water in style.
The Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T.) is very small, in our big island, with a total area of less than 3000 sqkm, and quite a distance from South Australia, but it was our destination at the end of 2019.
We drove there in three stages, stopping at roadside camps and arriving before lunch on the third day. This post will mostly cover the travel and stops there, so if you want to know more about Canberra and what to do there, try Canberra#2.
As we live in the north, the quickest way was through Mildura and we had a lunchtime rest at Lake Cullulleraine. Thankfully there was shade, as the temp was 43C and the water provided an illusion of relief, in the absence of any breeze.
We passed Mildura and made our way through dust clouds to our evening stop at Lake Benanee in New South Wales. This was very early in the bushfire season that hit Australia last year, and it was hot and dry. We were the only ones at the campsite, which was such a change from when we have stayed here before, and as we sweltered in the heat, looking longingly to the natural lake, some locals pulled up, took their water gear to the edge and walked right in. We were only moments behind.
This is a lovely free campsite with a toilet block and, although it is not far from the highway, we have never found it to be too noisy at night. We were off early and made a stop at Hay. Notorious for the long stretches of unbroken uniformity leading to and from Hay, it now has controversial cotton paddocks and tufts of the stuff stuck to roadside plants and fences, alike. The entry and exit are still quite straight for long periods.
Hay is a very interesting town if you turn into the main street. There is a very good park where children can play and adults stretch their legs, some fascinating craft shops, cafes and the River Murray.
There followed a lot of highway and some missed stops, using wiki camps and the RAA book of campsites and rest areas, before we settled on Bookham. It was a neat area, with very good toilets, across from St Columba’s church and near a funky bakery/cafe, but very close to the main highway. At night, there was a constant roar of truck engines and flash of lights, and we had the van open due to the heat but by now we were close enough to the fires that smoke drifted in and we couldn’t sleep with all the windows open. Choose a quieter spot if you can.
We reached Cotter Campground in the A.C.T. by mid-morning and there were plenty of spots from which to choose. We pulled up alongside the Cotter River and a BBQ pit and this is a fabulous site. Fees are $15 per adult per night, $12 for seniors and $10 for concession/children. It is the most serviced park in the A.C.T. and the amenities were great, but beware the 3 minute timer on the showers. They don’t turn off earlier, either. Wood is available to buy from the rangers, who visited every day, if you don’t bring your own. It is a National Park, so you can’t cut down trees or break off branches.
I’ll talk more about some of the highlights of the campsite in another post, but at this point we drove into Canberra central to get some supplies. It was a 15 minute drive, one way.
Our son and his wife drove out from Canberra to share a BBQ tea and we made our plans for the upcoming days.
On our last day in the Grampians, we decided to walk into Halls Gap from the caravan park, which was an easy 4 kms along wide, picturesque, bitumised paths, with flowers, emus, kangaroos and birdlife to divert us.
We reached Halls Gap and stopped by Stony Creek to have a coffee and plan our next stage – the walk to Venus Baths. This was just across the road and there is plenty of signage and available maps so that we found the trail easily.
This is an easy walk, and certainly suitable for a wheelchair much of the way, if not all. The way we came back was narrower, leading to the Botanic Garden, but it could also be managed.
The views of the creek and the healthy foliage provide shade, wildlife and pleasant scenery on the way to Venus Baths.
We reached the baths quickly and as it was a warm day, many people were cooling their feet and some children had stripped off and were paddling in the water. It was quite brown, which can be due to recent rain or minerals leaching from the ground and rocks.
In Winter, or after heavy rain, this area would be full of rushing water, but it has been known as a ‘bath’ for at least 170 years, to non-indigenous people. The area has fascinated Europeans and later settlers, due to the unusual rock formations caused by the erosion of the sandstone.
After the short return, we could choose to head for the town or the Botanical Gardens. We chose the latter and had a very manageable walk around native plants, sculptures and picnic areas.
For the afternoon, we decided to try one of the 4WD tracks – not that we have much experience with these. It was easy to accept the recommendation from the tourist desk we had visited the other day, and chooseone that passed Boroka Lookout, as it was the only main one we had not done. The drive was varied and easy (watch those flood gutters) and the lookout was spectacular.
We heard a ranger telling someone that there is a pipeline going from the East Grampians, under Lake Bellfield and out the other side, build in the 1800s, to provide water for the farmland around. I could hardly believe it.
So ended our brief but busy visit to the Grampians, and low-hanging clouds promised much-needed rain as we departed.
Beginning at Brambuk, the National Park and Cultural Centre, we were delighted by the setting and architecture. Built alongside the wetlands, it is calm and tranquil. The first building is the National Park building and between them is a series of walls with information about the 6 seasons recognized by the Indigenous people of Australia. This was news to us, despite having visited many Aboriginal cultural centres around the country.
The final building, Brambuk, is built like a cockatoo, which is Brambuk in the language of the original local people. It is impressive, with its spread ‘wings’ and beak and the inside is laid out really well. Entrance is a gold coin donation and there is a room where, if you ask for assistance, children can learn dot painting.
I learned more here – that Australian Aboriginal people are the oldest continuous culture in the world and that there WAS a treaty signed between the government and the original owners of the land (I was recently asked by a student if there was one, and I said that I didn’t think there had ever been one that represented all original peoples of Australia).
You cannot take photos of Aboriginal people because of their beliefs about the dead, but there are many exhibits you can photograph, like traditional fish traps, paintings or anything not involving people or sacred sites. There are paintings for sale, decorated boomerangs and other souvenirs in the National Park Centre.
After leaving Brambuk, we made an unplanned stop at Lake Bellfield and walked across the dam wall, looking over water, mountains and valleys.
The drive to Dunkeld from here was about 20 minutes, along pleasant scenery, that included views of the ranges ahead, beside and behind.
Dunkeld held little of interest in its own right, for us, but we didn’t visit the information centre to search more features. There was a choice of eateries and some art, craft and local produce centres, as well as a chemist, hotel and bank.
For the drive back, we diverted along the Victoria Valley road, which is very narrow, and saw some beautiful farming land, rich and green, although it appeared to be sheep country.
Detour number one when we returned to the main road was Mt William carpark. We decided to start the walk to the peak (the highest in the region) but got perhaps 200-300m and decided the steep gradient wasn’t what we were up for this afternoon, so took some scenery shots and came carefully back down.
Number 2 detour was Sundial carpark, from where we did the 0.8km walk to Silverband Falls. This was an easy walk and very pretty, through stringybark gum forests, with brightly-coloured tiny birds teasing us by flitting by too quickly to be photographed easily. The falls are quite picturesque and would be a lovely picnic spot.
Tucked in Victoria’s West are a series of sandstone mountains called Gariwerd by the original owners and inhabitants and Grampians National Park by the government. Colloquially, they are called The Grampians.
We made a 4-day visit in October this year and had a pretty busy time doing walks and sight-seeing. I’ll break it into 4 days so that it isn’t too long and will include a summary of the time at the beginning and what we left out, would do again, or didn’t know about at the end.
Where we went, while staying in Halls Gap Gardens Caravan Park , which is a 15 minute walk from Halls Gap and good value. Most of these are walks, so anything NOT a walk I put in italics.
Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre
Halls Gap Botanical Gardens
We began at the visitor centre in Halls Gap, where we received excellent advice about walks, drives and 4WD drives for anyone who hasn’t been here before and wants to make sure they’ve seen the sights.
We decided to head to the Wonderland carpark and do a couple of the shorter walks, starting with the Grand Canyon 0.7 km.
This led quite easily to the Pinnacle walk 1km, so we headed there, passing through Bride’s veil falls,
And finally to the Pinnacle. The whole walk took about 100 minutes, and the hardest was the Pinnacle, with steep uphill rises towards the end, for about 10 minutes. The rest was pretty easy but you couldn’t do it if you are in a wheelchair or very large, as the ascent from Silent Street is very narrow.
Why go home before doing the other, short walk you had originally gone there to do? At 0.7km, the walk to Splitters Falls seemed small fry. It did not take long, but was downhill on the way there and, obviously, uphill on return. It’s a pretty walk that passes rock pools, where people sat eating lunch and I imagine in the Summer it would be a great place for a dip. We passed some walkers who said the destination wasn’t worth it, but we disagreed, as Splitters Falls was pretty and you can get up close.
Returning to our site for lunch, we stopped very briefly before heading out again to Reed’s Lookout,
And The Balconies
Deciding to press on, we went to McKenzie Falls and did a couple of ‘side’ lookouts before deciding on the major lookout from the top. There were two reasons for this – the person at the tourist centre had said you can get better photos from there, and it was slightly uphill at first, which was appealing after our rather huge amount of uphill climbing, our ankles and knees protesting at the thought of a steep uphill return.
Accidentally taking a wrong turn on the way home, we ended up at Lake Wartook. An ok sight, perhaps the most useful feature is the anglers club situated here.
Understandably, we were pretty sore the next day and one of us has a plan to include more, lengthy walks, more regularly.
Even though it was around 2 degrees C at night and cool during the day, the sun is at work, so always take hat, water and sunscreen.