Uluru and the Field of Lights

It was an easy drive from Alice Springs to Yulara, but long, with 2×2.5 hour stretches each.

The section between Erldunda and Yulara have long scenic views, with red sand dunes and different coloured spinifex. The desert oak, resembling sheoak, are in two forms , either bushy or thin and I learned in later days that this was either mature or juvenile. They sway gently in the breeze, no matter their age, and add that touch of green to the soft colours already there.

We passed Mt Ebenezer and saw that the rest area was dilapidated and both felt sad that it had come to disrepair. We also passed a couple of viable rest stops, but couldn’t think of a situation where we’d need to stop overnight at that distance.

The campsite was busy, but only every second site was occupied. We bought tickets for the Field of Lights at $44/ea and had to catch the shuttle at 7.15 outside the campground. Although we both felt a little tired, we were glad we did this in the end, as the luxurious coach trip and very beautiful light show was soothing.

trying to catch the sweep

Apparently the artist set these up with about 20 helpers over a few months and, in 2016, intended them to be there for a few months. They are now intended to remain until 2027. The area is the same as 7 football ovals and you just get a sea of lights, in various colours that change, sweeping before you.

close-ups

It was hard to photograph, which was a shame as I wanted to share the experience with my family and friends.

We spent a day making use of the free shuttle on the campground and attending some free events that included collecting bush foods, cooking with bush tucker, astrology and playing the didgeridoo.

We visited Uluru once more, walking the 10km around the base, but I’ve shared photos on that before, so I’ll finish with the classic sunrise and sunset shots from the highest point in Yulara.

sunrise
sunset

Visit here, sometime. It will move your spirit.

Wear a hat and sunscreen and ALWAYS take water.

Safe travels.

Alice Springs and the East MacDonnell Ranges

It was the first time we had entered Alice from the north and it was pretty, with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background.

We chose our usual caravan park – Big4 MacDonnell Range and were able to use the afternoon to plan an exploration of the East MacDonnells and then relax.

Our first day took us to N’Dhala Gorge which involved magnificent scenery on the way there and some 4WD work from the main road. It was quite a short hike and although pretty, not worth the tough drive out, with lots of corrugations and sand, unless you planned to camp there. The gorge is the site of a large collection of Aboriginal petroglyphs, but as the track has lots of rocky sections I wouldn’t think a wheelchair would get very far.

Heading back towards Alice, the next stop was Trephina Gorge and this was really beautiful.

We also stopped at the ghost gum, a 300+ yr old tree. The walk was moderate/easy with the climbing at the start and sand at the end. It is quite majestic.

It seemed like a short stop to visit Corroboree Rock, so we took the turnoff. It is a startling structure in the middle of other rock formations, so easy to see why it was used as a meeting place.

We headed back to Alice and registered online for the Parrtjima light show, that another traveller had told us about. A shuttle from near the park took us there in the early evening and, surprisingly, we saw a couple we knew from SA on the shuttle.

Parrtjima is the only Aboriginal lightshow of its kind in the world and started in 2016. It is free to enter and the displays are beautiful, but nothing can describe the stunning projection on the West MacDonnell Ranges, accompanied by a narration that explains the relationship between the people and the land. I don’t think my photos will do it justice and we watched it twice, it was so moving.

I’d definitely recommend the event as it is free, spectacular but quite small, so it’s an early night. There are plenty of activities for children to take part in.

The following day, Ellery Creek Big Hole was gorgeous and had a large body of water suitable for swimming if it had been hot enough. We saw a girl going in and her partner was filming her with a drone. The water was icy cold so sooner her than me.

An easy, short walk.

Next we stopped at Serpentine Gorge which had an easy walk in, with a still pool of water at the end and a demanding, steep lookout walk.

The pool of water in the gorge is so cold that it has kept people and animals from going beyond it, for thousands of years. This has meant the ecology is preserved and both life forms can get a cool drink in summer when they need it.

Close to Alice Springs, we stopped at the original Telegraph Station, which is a well-preserved station with indoor and outdoor displays, showing life from as early as 1871. It is one of the first European settlements in Stuart, later named Alice Springs. There are short walks, bike trails and a walk to/from Alice township. We walked to the top of a nearby hill to take photos of the settlement.

We were back in time to watch the sun set over the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Travel safe. Take water, hats and sunscreen.

Gregory Downs, Barkley Homestead, Tennant Creek and Karlu Karlu.

It’s a sign of the times we live in, that our next stretch was mapped according to where we could get a border pass. Covid-19 had meant that travel in Australia had introduced people to where the State borders actually are, and who could cross them.

From Gregory Downs there are three possible roads, or tracks, but only one is bitumen. We stopped at Burke and Wills Roadhouse for fuel (both the car and us) after encountering those tall grey birds again. I’ll include a zoomed shot, just to give you an idea, but it’s pixelated. Diesel was predictably expensive so we didn’t fill.

It might be worth mentioning that Burke and Wills were explorers who, with John King and Charles Gray, became the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north. It was on their return journey that Burke, Wills and Gray died of malnutrition.

We took the Cloncurry Road, hoping to get NT border passes before Camooweal, and had to drive about 300km to Mt Isa for printing facilities. The Overlanders Way from Cloncurry to Mt Isa is through the Selwyn Ranges and is very pretty, if winding.

Corella Dam camp was recommended along the way, but reviews on WIKICAMPS suggested that we might have trouble with our van, so we ended up making our way to a free campsite just out of Isa, WW2 Memorial. Its a very spacious site, with many toilets, a BBQ and a shelter. Several other campers were there, mostly within a 20m radius, but some were off in the bush somewhere and I could catch a glimpse of van or hear a distant peel of laughter. The guy in the next car was strumming a guitar before dinner which was very civilized. No phone service and intermittent wifi.

The next morning we crossed the border without incident and made it to Barkley Homestead around midday. We’d stopped here briefly in the past, and this time we thought it was a good way to break up the long, straight drives, and decide what direction we’d take, next. We felt due for a bit of luxury, by way of a pool and a laundry – oh the simple pleasures. More tips were gleaned about where to go next – Banga Banga, Daly Waters, Alice Springs.

Barkley Homestead, like an oasis on the highway.

The Homestead includes some old mining and farming machinery on display out the front, and provides a distraction while you stop.

The facilities are a bit old and tired but there is a restaurant, café, cabins and the break was good. As a last minute decision when we woke we headed along the termite-lined highway the next day to Tennant Creek.

Tennant Creek is a town that you will hear a lot about and generally with warnings and trepidation. We had been through quite a few times and thought it was time we had a tourist view of this large outback town.

The town’s importance probably started in 1874 when the Overland Telegraph Station was built and was an integral part of communication between Barrow Creek and Powell Creek. Mining of gold began in the 1930s and some of the mines later became successful copper mines. The Battery Hill Mining Centre is a good source of information and tours and there is a walk you can do to Battery Hill.

Peko mine from Battery Hill
Telegraph wires

A visit to the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre was remarkable. Some indigenous women were working on their current pieces and we chatted a little with them before walking through the gallery where, we were told, orders are sent through from all over the world. We weren’t surprised.

some of the artwork on display

For lunch, it was a short drive to Lake Mary Ann where there are many facilities, opportunities for water sport, play equipment, but no camping.

Lake Mary Ann

I think the concerns about Tennant Creek are with staying there overnight, but we have stayed in the Outback Caravan Park in the past and been very happy. There are a couple of free camps not far out of town on the Barkley Highway. I wouldn’t walk around at night as there is a bit of drinking in the town and it can get rowdy. We weren’t stopping yet, so made our way to a very exciting spot.

Karlu Karlu, named Devil’s Marbles by Europeans, is definitely a bucket list place to camp.

This was the fourth time we had been there and yet we hadn’t realised it was so expansive or understood how the rocks were formed.

About 1700 million years ago, magma squeezed up from under the Earth’s surface and as it cooled, cracks formed. Over time, water and wind did its work and columns, then boulders formed.

The Day Centre in the distance

We had arrived uncertain whether to stay but quickly made up our mind as there were only 3 others there. We could access free wifi if we were close to the day centre and did 3 of the walks as they were easy.

There were toilets and we paid $3.30 each to camp, using honesty envelopes. We didn’t have the right money so gave a bit extra.

Three hours after we had arrived, at 5.30pm, the place was just about full. Three or four tents went up and the rest were caravans and campers. We were very surprised, but I can’t deny that we were also pretty chuffed that we were part of another great Australian sunset event. As shadows lengthened, it was time to appreciate the colours and textures of this place.

And in the morning, the parade of colour began, again.

first hints
the land washed in light
the horizon darkens
or is it my camera darkening
We all watch in silent wonder

It really is worth the stop if you have your own accommodation. As a sacred site of the Kaytetye, Warumungu and Warlpiri peoples of the area, you are asked to keep to the walking tracks and not photograph in certain areas. It is made pretty clear, with signage.

I hope that I have respected the signs and wishes of the traditional owners and have not included any sensitive sites in my photos. Please let me know if I have and I will remove them.

Travel safe. Take hats, water and sunscreen.

Boodjamulla/Lawn Hill

The first time we came across Lawn Hill was a sign on the Barkley Highway near Camooweal, with pictures of a lush paradise. After that, plenty of travellers were either coming from, or going towards it. So, as our trip unfolded, from the Gulf of Carpentaria we headed west towards Boodjamulla (aka Lawn Hill). The Aboriginal name means Rainbow Serpent Country and it certainly has colours and textures to delight the senses.

The journey can be undertaken a few ways and none are for the faint-hearted. We decided to go on bitumen roads from Karumba, through Normanton, south to the Burke and Wills roadhouse and then west from there to Gregory Downs. As mentioned in another post, there are several stretches where it is a single lane, so you have to move over for oncoming traffic.

We had trouble finding the free campground, so unhitched in the park behind the hotel, where you can get a good meal, fuel and information about the roads nearby. We could choose our unpowered site, had a peaceful sunset and a good night’s sleep.

The road out to Boodjamulla is just around the corner from the hotel. As is the free campsite, with flowing river and plenty of room!! The road is pretty badly corrugated, with a few bone-rattling stretches so we were glad we had unhitched the van. We’d been advised to drop our tyre pressure, so found it quite ok, but didn’t get over 80km/hr very often after maybe 10km of bitumen at the start.

The first place you come to is Adels Grove campground and you can get a variety of accommodation here or continue on to Lawn Hill. I suggest you read the reviews, as new owners have taken over and I think it will take some time for them to get their heads around it.

The last stretch, from Adels Grove to Lawn Hill, is almost worse than the earlier travel, as you have potholes and dips as well as corrugation, but it is short-lived. People do the trip in regular cars, but I think you’d be damaging them and better off in a 4WD if that’s an option.

Information abounds
well-signed trails

Once in the National Park, there is plenty of information and, having arrived early as advised, we decided to do the Duwadarri Lookout walk and continued to the Indarri Falls walk (which was easier, as it was flatter). It took less than 2 hours, including stops to chat to other walkers and a quick dip in the falls before heading back. You won’t be able to resist it, so go prepared.

We began alongside the river
The lookout takes in the red limestone cliffs
And back along the river
Where lower gorge meets upper gorge

Securing a canoe is a fair-priced must, and we had time for lunch before ours was due. There are a few tables and chairs, but if it was very busy, you may want to bring your own or find a spot by the river. Our only company was a buff-sided robin, keen to be photographed (or get scraps).

buff-sided robin

The tandem canoe trip takes you through emerald waters, caused by calcium carbonate, from lower gorge to the upper gorge, between high red limestone cliffs or thick green foliage.

At the junction of the two gorges, there are 2 small waterfalls and you can tie up your canoe and take to the water.

If you stay by the side, you can be entertained by the archerfish, especially if you have some tidbits to feed them.

On our way up we saw whole families, including young children, who were merely floating the extent on their swim rings. At the junction, many people leave the water, carrying their canoe about 20 metres to the upper junction and putting in there to complete the gorge. We were concerned that we’d run out of time and not have much fun under the waterfalls, so we just stayed there until we headed back and then headed home.

We treated ourselves to a drink in the hotel yard after dinner and my husband tried his luck at getting the bar staff to change the sport from Rugby to AFL, with success.

It was a great place to have seen but a very long way from anything to recommend it wholeheartedly. There were a lot of young families doing the National Road Trip. One day was very special, but enough for us, and our trip out of Gregory Downs, the next day, was by bitumen. You’d really need to check the condition of the many dirt tracks leading out, as some are horrendous.

Happy travels. Carry water, hat and sunscreen.

Ay Karumba!

We pressed on to Karumba, from Croydon, which took about 2 hours. At one time we had considered stopping in Normanton, which is a much bigger town that we passed through, but as we talked about the overall path, we thought it made more sense to go to the farthest extreme and work back the next day, than the alternative. As it’s almost exclusively Telstra out here, access to the internet and phone coverage is difficult so we’d had no internet for two days. Sometimes, we’d be driving along and hear our phones going off, or sitting outside and hear our phones, on the inside, suddenly get a wave of wifi. I know, third world problems.

Karumba Point is lovely. It was about 32C when we arrived at 4 and were desperate to get to the pool. It was fabulous and the warm breeze in the evening, like a piece of soft silk brushing my skin, was so refreshing. A poolside conversation led to us quickly leaving the pool, grabbing our crackers and hummus and heading for the point.

All seats taken at the pub

Here, just outside the hotel, we planted ourselves on a bench, as people sat on the beach, held up their glasses and watched a beautiful sunset. We took great photos and had a drink, along with our dip. It was very special and felt like the Broome sunset routine.

Alan said that, apparently, this place can have some extraordinary rolls of cloud in the morning, so we planned that. We were contemplating staying an extra night, as it was really nice to have warmth and a great caravan park with clean, substantial amenities. Even the Cane toads liked it.

But with tips about Gregory Downs, Lawn Hill and Cloncurry after that, we decided to decline the advice about visiting the Barramundi Discovery Centre, Museum or Normanton’s town walk, and after a beautiful sunrise, we headed for the point and walked along the beach, scabbing shells and feeling the sun start to heat up.

No cloud rolls. Constantly spying for crocs or turning at rustling, I thought we’d best go, and the slithers in the sand didn’t help, either. We went to the coffee shop that heralded itself as the best in the area and managed to get a tomato ($1.80) and half a lettuce ($2.90), which was an improvement on yesterday, where, in Croydon, lettuces were $8.30 each.

A cool little cafe with a view of the beach and fresh veggies on sale.

Then off we went. We passed groups of birds at the water’s edge of ponds and swamps, and they were grey, with red bands on their heads that covered their eyes. They were tall and leggy and ran from us when we stopped the car to take a picture. A lunch stop was by the side of the road and we met a couple on their way to Cloncurry, who had traveled this area 30 years ago, when it was dirt! Off we went to Burke and Wills roadhouse and then on to Gregory Downs and after experiencing single road use for some kilometers, we were there by 4.

Stay tuned for Lawn Hill!

Croydon, Queensland gulf country

One of the great things about meeting people as you travel, is the knowledge they share about where they’ve been, which alters your plans with interesting additions. Croydon was such a place.

As we entered the old gold mining town, we followed the signs to Lake Belmore and wound our way up to the town’s fresh water source and recreation area. It is a huge area, with very good amenities for water sports, picnicking, fishing and bird watching, but you cannot camp there. The obligatory far north croc sign was up, again.

Well-maintained grounds and facilities at Lake Belmore

We returned to town via Diehm’s Lookout and, on advice, went to the True Blue Visitor Information Centre.

Diehm’s Lookout

Apart from having excellent information, The Visitor Centre had strong wifi on the verandah. We spoke to the attendant and watched the short video, to set the scene before heading out to the Heritage Precinct.

The town has done an amazing job of restoring some eight or so of the original buildings and including written information at each, with artefacts at many. In the courthouse, you can hear a recording of a real trial that was held, and stand or sit in one of the areas of the court to imagine what it would have been like. It is definitely worth doing and doesn’t go for too long, if you have young children.

The judge, or magistrate

The court house walls are corrugated iron, as it was originally, and the practice continued in Australia well into the 1900s, because wood was scarce and termites very hungry. I can’t help but imagine, in these buildings, what it was like in 30 – 40C heat, swathed in petticoats, girdles, neck-to-knee close-fitting dresses. It’s a miracle more women didn’t die of asphyxiation and I now understand the fixation historical script writers have with women swooning.

The school dropoff, circa 1890

As you progress to the police station, hospital and schoolroom, you can appreciate the advancements we have made in the 100+ years, especially in medical care, and easily imagine yourself cast back in time.

Each house is next to the other, along the length of one of the main streets, so it’s easy to navigate.

The town surpassed a population of 6500, including 300 Chinese, and the original owners, the Mayi-Kulan Aboriginal people have been scattered, so that it is believed there are no more Mayi-Kulan remaining and the culture is lost. A few photos remain of some original owners and the families they started with European settlers. At the 2016 census the population of Croydon was 258.

To complete your historic tour, visit the Club Hotel, said to be the last pub remaining in town, from the 36 that existed in its heyday, or the train station, where you will see the Gulflander.

The Gulflander travels 4 and a half hours from Normanton to Croydon on a Wednesday, and returns on a Thursday, taking passengers through country that they are unlikely to view otherwise. It is an historic railway, built on steel sleepers to withstand the flooding and termites, both of which devastated previous attempts to move a train. The brainchild of George Phillips, the bridges were also designed to handle submersion.

You might even decide to view the huge display of old mining equipment.

There are shops, service stations and park accommodation, so if you want to stroll at a more leisurely pace or spend longer at lookouts and displays, you can spread it over a couple of days. You never know, this might not be the only nugget you find out here.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last abandoned mining town and there are more to come, as wealthy companies divest Australia of its hidden wealth, setting up huge towns to be left as a reminder no-one heeds.

Undara Lava Tubes

A popular destination from Cairns, taking about 3 and 1/2 hours drive, from Mt Garnet to Undara Volcanic National Park is about an hour. Not realising this, we went on to set up at Mt Surprise, with the intention of returning for our booked afternoon tour. If you find yourself in a similar situation, go directly to Undara, as the Undara Experience Centre has a beautiful bistro, eating area, souvenir selection and waiting space where we could easily have spent the few hours before our tour and then gone on to Mt Surprise later. It would have saved the fuel, at any rate, even if we bought a drink or something. They also offer free tea and coffee, but it’s not of a standard that would have you going back for more.

The lava tubes were explored by one of the Collins family members, who used to take people there when they visited. Later, working with the Queensland government, a National Park was established on the Collins’ land and formal tours and trails have been set up, complete with information about how they formed. The Collins family run the Undara Experience, with whom we took a tour.

So, how did they form? About 200 000 years ago there was a huge volcanic eruption and the lava flow was so fast that, as it travelled along a river bed, the top cooled and formed a crust, while the lava underneath kept flowing on and out, until hollow tunnels were formed. They extend 90km in one direction and 160km in another, making them Australia’s longest lava tunnels and one of the longest in the world.

Over the years, a roof might collapse, forming arches or caves and allowing rare plants and creatures to flourish. Some plants are believed to be relatives of those from Gondwanaland.

Stephenson Cave

Outside the caves, you can see birds and insects unique to the area, including the spider that weaves a net to catch falling prey. I can’t remember what they are called and can’t find the information, so if anyone knows, please send me a message.

Not quite baskets, but an effective series of nets.

We travelled far in to caves and learnt about what lives there and what drips from the ceiling. The formations and surfaces have asuch a fascinating variety of shape, colour and texture.

The Undara Experience has accommodation and there are many walking trails that you can do independently. We chose the only daytime tour available in Covid times, but there are usually several to choose from, including night treks.

If you are staying in Cairns, it’s about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive to Undara, so you might choose to stay there. Be sure to book before you go, as even in these restricted times, the tours filled quickly.

Definitely worth putting on your bucket list.

Safe travels. Take water, hat and insect repellant.

From Cooktown to Mt Garnet

We travelled back to the Tablelands, stopping at The Coffee Works in Mareeba, after a recommendation.

What a lovely set-up with all sorts of nick knacks and plenty of coffee. We had the ‘house’ coffee, Black Mountain, and bought some for us and for a friend.

The drive to Ravenshoe, through the Atherton tablelands was pretty drizzly and foggy, but brought back good memories.

It wasn’t far to Innot Hot Springs in Savannah territory, and we parked beside the caravan park and took 20 steps into the reserve. The creek was very shallow nearby, but sure enough, the water was warm. I ventured a little further and found some warmer spots. Looking up, towards where it was deeper, I could see steam! I went over and carefully felt the water. It was quite hot.

Little islands of sand had formed and as I stepped between them, my foot sunk in and removed my rubber thong. It was VERY hot and I quickly retrieved my foot and footwear, wiser. Im sure I saw fish in there.

The bank was steep enough that you could sit on the side and dangle your feet in or, if you had come prepared as another couple had, go in for a soak. The reviews warned about how hot some patches were and they aren’t exaggerating, so be careful.

The drive to Mt Garnet BP (for free camping for the night) was short and we set up by the side of a deep creek (empty I think) with horses grazing on the steep banks. The camp is free, beside a BP service station, but they ask you to buy something from the shop, so hot chips for dinner it was!

Booked our Undara Experience for the next day and found the archways tour was the only one available and at limited times. This was, after all, the reason for coming this way. Read more about those in my next post, as the lava tubes were better than we expected and I’d ecommend them.

Safe travels. Take hat, water and burn cream.