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.

Cooktown

Cooktown is a pretty town, set on the banks of both the Coral Sea and the Endeavour River. It is in Far North Queensland and seen as one of those ‘last frontier’ places, from where adventurous people head into the wilderness to the north, hoping to make it to ‘The Top of the Cape’ (Cape York Peninsula). We left Port Douglas fairly early, for Cooktown, and so drove on roads that were new to us. We had expected lush rainforest, but instead got dry terrain, much like the Northern Territory. Then, a mountain would loom ahead and we’d have green foliage again, but gum trees for the most part. We met some people at the lookout, who had driven from Cape Tribulation and taken about 2 hours. They said it could be achieved, at that moment, with a 2WD. It pays to ask other travellers as you go, for the opportunity to increase your experiences.

gumtrees, anthills and distant hills

As we got closer to Cooktown, cows appeared on the road more frequently and about 30km out is Black Mountain. If you didn’t know its name, you’d have no trouble remembering it, as there are about 3 moderate-sized hills that are made up of boulders, or rocks, that are jet black. It is a bit like hitting coal mountain. Apparently it is lichen.

Black Mountain

There are few places to stop on this stretch, but Lakeside is worth the stop (not sure where the lake is, though). When we arrived at the campground, our site was backing on to a rainforest and things scuttled in there. There’s a note in the toilets, to turn off lights as lights attract bugs, bugs attract frogs and frogs attract snakes. Yippee.

We made our way in to town where there was a water park, as it isn’t safe to swim in the sea here. First stop the Botanic Gardens, which has examples of the type of plant samples collected by Banks and Cook but is quite small.

pond at Botanic Gardens
the famous Cooktown orchid, in its natural habitat

On to Cook’s Lookout at Grassy Hill, one of the best lookouts we both thought we’d ever seen. It’s probably a good time to mention that the area got it’s name from when Captain Cook beached his ship here for repairs in 1770. The lookout takes in a 360 degree view of the area, which I tried to recreate, taking a small turn each time.

Having awoken early the next day, we set off to find Trevethan Falls, that were supposedly 13.5 km out of town. We drove about 30km to the turnoff and then had a 4WD adventure, trying to get there. When the road/track became very rough and demanding, with no end in sight, we decided to turn around and head to the beach at Mt Amos. We didn’t find that, either, and hit private property, so turned back once more. Locals we asked had never heard of the falls, so…

rough track leading nowhere

Now was the time to hit the markets, which were collections of produce and trash, or fundraising efforts with a strong local feel, and we walked the foreshore, seeing the monuments and Milbi Wall, a mosaic retelling of the history of the area, by the first nations people.

There were also people fishing and everyone keeping well back from the water – crocodile warnings everywhere. Cooktown really established itself on the map when, in 1873, tens of thousands of people from around the world landed here in search of gold and the port became the State’s busiest.

One of those last minute decisions saw us heading for Mount Cook, late in the day to do the 6km return walk up to the lookout. In fact, there are two lookouts, and the first is quite easy to reach, with gently raising paths, lined with trees and shrubs. It is also lined with spider webs, I discovered, or it was until I decided to wear all of them. We made the first section quite easily but the path was littered with leaves and even though we had good trekking sandals, I was anticipating a slippery walk home, when the increased slope would be downward.

The second section was definitely more difficult, with a constant upward climb, although not the steepest I have done. When we finally made it to the main lookout, it was quite a relief and the strong breeze was refreshing. Another traveller at the campground said that he found the really strong winds at the top made him feel like superman. So, either he’s been on the kryptonite or it is windier in the morning (when he went). Definitely do the walk if you visit here, as it is pretty and the view at the end is stunning. But don’t leave it until late in the day. The advice when you get there is to allow 2 hours and that you should be of reasonable fitness. It took us about 1 ¼ hours, but we were moving pretty fast, as walks go.

Isabella Falls was first on our list for the day. It is a short drive from town and very close to the road.

From here the plan was to go to Hope Vale to see some Indigenous art and on the Elim Beach, where there are coloured sands. Hope Vale was poorly sign-posted and the road just ended, leaving us to drive uncertainly around the community. Feeling that this was intrusive, we headed back but saw a sign for Endevour Falls and pulled in to the Tourist park , behind which, after a 2 minute walk we made our way to the small but pretty falls behind the park. It is a very attractive park, 20 minutes out of Cooktown, with shady sites and well-maintained.

the small Endeavour Falls

Why not visit Keating’s Lagoon? Only a short way out of Cooktown, we went to the birdwatchers paradise and spied keenly for the object of our visit.

Mulbabidgee, or Keatings Landing

Cooktown is known as a windy city, so when you hear the ‘waves’ of wind tearing through the park at night, fear not. There is quite a bit to do, so that while you reach for the furthest point you can attempt in Queensland, there are a few spots before you turn around or press on. Usually there are plenty of international tourists, but we met only three while there and a handful of Australians who weren’t in lockdown.

Safe travels. Water, hat and sunscreen (and a jacket for the evenings).

Water, water everywhere

And what else would you expect to find on one of Australia’s iconic drives – The Great Ocean Road?

Popular with surfers and the location of International Surf Carnivals, the region also boasts The Twelve Apostles and other limestone features that are accessible by safe walkways and carparks.

Ridgeback
Arches
Bays

For Jez’s Water Water Everywhere challenge. this 243 km stretch includes World Heritage areas.

Atherton Tabelelands

The Atherton Tablelands, about 90km south west of Cairns, were probably our best-loved destination in 2020. Lush and green and, as they are at a high altitude, they provide Queenslanders in the tropics with a cool destination for steamy summers.

On our way inland from Ingham, we stopped at the Hinchinbrook Lookout which was pretty impressive. Hinchinbrook Island is huge and the waterways snake through the outlets and past the mainland prettily.

Hinchinbrook Island, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Hinchinbrook is the largest island national park in Australia and we noticed some unusual conservation practices in the area, like this over bridge, below, designed to give creatues like koalas a way over the highway and there was an underpass for those unable or unwilling to use the bridge.

overpass/underpass for animals

Our lunch stop was the Tully train station, developed in about 1926 and with all the charm of an old Queenslander.

pineapples, sugar cane, avocados, mangoes and the sugar cane burners

The way from here was winding but so varied that it was very interesting. Banana plantations joined sugar cane and avocadoes are appearing now, with the occasional mango. The Bonadio RV and Nature park (situated on a farm) was well-signed and the hardest part was finding and fitting in to a powered site. It was packed. They’ve set up an area where they feed the wildlife and we saw paddy melon kangaroos (see video below), brush turkeys, birdlife and possums. We went for a walk beside the creek, which is well worn, and enjoyed the cool breeze and platypus sightings. The stone curlews let out their baby-like wails at night.

stone curlews
pademelon

There are so many things to see in Atherton and we packed it in so that we were out each day by 8 and returned about 4. I’ll give a quick photo summary of what we did/saw. Feel free to post any questions.

cathederal fig tree
Mobo Creek Crater Walk
Josephine Falls
roadside cassowary – you have to be on the lookout
curtain fig tree in a mabi forest
Yungaburra
Lake Barrine and bull kauris
Malanda Falls – a good waterhole if it’s hot
Ellinjaa Falls
Zillie Falls
Windy Hill, first wind farm constructed in Queensland
Millstream Falls
Mount Hypipamee Crater
Dinner Falls

The Nerada Tea Company, making Australia’s only tea, has excellent devonshire tea, views of Mt. Bartle Frere (Queensland’s highest mountain) and well-known for easy sightings of tree kangaroos (they’re not everywhere, you know).

There are so many things to see and do and plenty of caravan parks, towns and free/cheap camping, but remember to check if there are conditions such as having your own ensuite, to qualify. The actual town of Atherton is quite large and we were able to get groceries, carparts, camping things, etc., there. We were near Yungaburra, which is a charming town with a supermarket, butcher, cafes, knick-knacks, etc. and many farms sell their goods at the roadside, with an honesty system (you put the money in a tin and they’ll collect it sometime in the day).

It wasn’t until our way out that we stopped at the Mareeba Information Centre and it had good historical displays, cafe and information.

The Mareeba Coffee Works, visited on our return loop, is a must-see and they deliver coffee anywhere in Australia for free. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos as the place is quirky and delicious.

Undara Lava Tubes are not too far, but we saw them later, too, so you’ll have to wait for my post on that.

We would go to Atherton again, for sure. There were plenty of places we didn’t see or would see again. During late August the days were warm (not quite suitable for shorts) and the nights cold (had the quilt out).

Safe travels! Take hats, water and sunscreen.

The Grampians #1

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.

  • Halls Gap
  • Tourist Centre
  • Grand Canyon
  • Silent Street
  • Pinnacles
  • Splitter’s Falls
  • Reed’s Lookout
  • The Balconies
  • McKenzie Falls
  • Lake Wartook
  • Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre
  • Lake Bellfield
  • Dunkeld
  • Victoria Valley
  • Mt William
  • Silverband Falls
  • Venus Baths
  • Halls Gap Botanical Gardens
  • Boroka Lookout

DAY 1

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,

Silent Street

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.

4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

IMG_4778

Overall, the message is DO IT.  There are stunning free spots and others that are front row to top locations, like Mataranka Springs, The River Murray or Litchfield National Park.

But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

cof

NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry. WE have found roadside toilet facilities to be very good and NT and WA keep theirs in top condition. Always carry toilet paper, just in case the roll is empty.

 

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

IMG_1529

If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

IMAG0869 (2)

SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

 

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

IMG_1758

Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

IMG_1847

Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

oznor

Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free camping is definitely cheaper.  One caravan park was $140 /night for a basic cabin (no toilet or shower) and $30 for an unpowered site.

Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

IMG_5290

We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

IMG_5257

4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA.

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

IMG_4778

Overall, the message is DO IT. But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

cof

NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry.

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

IMG_1529

If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

IMAG0869 (2)

SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

IMG_1758

Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

IMG_1847

Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

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Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free is definitely cheaper. Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

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We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

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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!