Friday, 13 June 2014

KKK No 6 Alice Springs - Katherine - Kununurra

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce and Audrey)

No: 6  

Alice Springs - Katherine - Kununurra

Thursday 29 May 2014: Day 54. Alice Springs: We’re up early again in the dark to get packed for departure but decide to (finally) visit the Araluen Cultural Precinct, the premier cultural experience in Alice Springs. An initiative of the NT government, Araluen comprises an Arts Centre, the Museum of central Australia, an Aviation Museum and Craft Displays.

Araluen Community Centre
We did last minute shopping then called on one of Bruce’s previous work colleagues, Jock McPherson ex Primac, Roma, who set up his own successful rural agency business here, ‘Territory Rural McPherson’, several years ago. His clientele are scattered in a radius stretching many hundreds of kilometres out from AS.  

It’s 3pm when the ‘KKK’ combo depart, leaving ‘Alice’ as a diminishing spec in the rear view mirror, heading northward up the Stuart Highway, and an hour later we pull in to our previously visited abandoned roadworks gravel pit 2km up the Plenty Highway - a restful night assured, though a few spots of rain awoke us around 4am. Heavy noisy spots, but only very few.
 Back out to the main highway by 8.30 next morning and drove north on the Stuart thru mile after mile of monotonous Mulga scrublands until we reached Aileron Roadhouse, where we inspected aboriginal paintings in the local Art Shop, ‘cheap and touristy art’.

Aileron Roadhouse
Then on another 59km to Ti Tree Roadhouse where we stopped for smoko, and continued on thru more stunted flat Spinifex scrublands, fading to distant hills, until we arrived at Barrow Creek with its restored Overland Telegraph Station, which we pulled in to inspect. The Overland Telegraph Line with its series of Morse code repeater stations was completed in 1872, spanning 3600km from Adelaide to Darwin, and was Australia’s first telegraphic link to Britain.

Another 92km and we passed through tiny Wycliffe Well with its UFO Centre, the background of which we didn’t stop to discover, then a further 17 klicks bought us to Wauchope, another whistlestop roadhouse. About 10km north of here is ‘The Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve’, an 1,800ha area of gigantic rounded granite boulders of immense spiritual value to the 4 traditional local aboriginal tribes, and discovered when surveying the overland telegraph line in the 1860’s. 

The Devil's Marbles

It’s a popular camping spot, as attested by the 35/40 campers already there, and we joined them for the night, after walking around photographing the sights.

The discovery of gold by a O/T linesman in 1925 quickly led to the establishment of Tennant Creek, (pop 3000) which was the morning’s destination, a regional town a further 105 km up the Stuart, famous for its old Gold Mine just out of town, which we visited, with its now closed Battery, though gold is said to still exist. We patronised the local Supermarket and Butcher and were rewarded with the best beef sausages ever!! 

Aboriginal Art Tennant Creel
Just north of town we stopped to take a look at the old Tennant Creek Overland Telegraph Station, again well restored, before heading 12km west up a dirt track to make overnight camp at another sacred aboriginal site, ‘Kunjarra’, also known as ‘The Pebbles’. A quite scenic area of eroded granite spheres, though smaller than the Devils Marbles. Like most NT Nat Parks it offers no water or power, only compositing Toilets. 

From midnight on, on 1st June, a very fresh breeze sprang up the south-east, (which continued on for many days), quite gusty at times, causing some concern regards our flapping sun awning, so I got up and checked it, which bought back memories of windy nights on ‘Envy’ when I had to get out of bed to check the anchor at 3am in the morning.
Following our Sunday ‘religion’ of an eggs and bacon breakfast, we left ‘The Pebbles’, soon passing the well known ‘Threeways Roadhouse’ where the Barkly Hwy to Mt Isa joins the Stuart, continuing on a further 105km to “Banka Banka Station” campground, passing through much more interesting grazing lands along the highway, a mix of moderately timbered open forest, well grassed stony ridges and Mitchell grass Downs, well capable of fattening cattle in this good season. Livestock look good everywhere.
“Banka Banka” was an important camp for both Aussie and American soldiers building the Stuart Highway during WW2. Owned by the American Nelson Bunker Hunt for some years, it then became part of the huge AMP owned Stanbroke Pastoral Co, and has since changed hands to indigenous ownership. 

Banka Banka Station
Apart from its nice green grassy campground, the original homestead built by the Ambrose brothers, of mud bricks and bush timber in the 1920’s remains, magnificently restored by Stanbroke in 2002, under the direction of John Cox (a fellow BBC school-boy), during his time as CEO.
Just the one night there and next morning, 2 June, day 58, bright, sunny and windy, we’re on the move north again, passing through ‘Helen Springs Station’, part of the famous Kidman pastoral empire when, in his heyday (1920/30’s) Sir Sidney Kidman was the biggest private land owner in the world, with massive pastoral holdings, mostly all situated in the arid or semi-arid areas of central Australia.
Elliott is a tiny town, albeit the second largest town of the Barkly Tableland, 155km from ‘Banka’, and an important host to the great droving legends along the Barkly Stock Route over 100 years ago. We filled up with petrol here before driving a very rough dirt track12km out of town to our next campsite, “Longreach Waterhole”, a picturesque 200 metre wide stretch of water covering a few kilometres along Newcastle Creek, and currently home to perhaps 150/200 Pelicans, with obviously sufficient fish stocks to sustain them. 

We set up camp just a few metres from the shady water’s edge, with wading birds in an anabranch behind us, together with about a dozen or so others campers spread over half a kilometre of foreshore, under still very windy skies. The Pelicans provided much interest as they went about their never ending feeding routine most of the day, a very graceful performance I’d not seen before. 

The Pelicans worked in groups of 10 to 20 paddling as a bunch then, like well trained water ballerinas, they form a circle and, simultaneously, raise their wings and tails upwards as they plunge their long necks and beaks underwater for a period before resuming their normal position with raised beaks to swallow their catch. A performance as well choreographed as the Bolshoi Ballet! Gracefully amazing.

After three days of peaceful R&R we depart Longreach Waterhole at 8am June 5th and continue 25km up the Stuart Hwy to visit the remnants of old Newcastle Waters town, surrounded by the 10,353 sq km cattle station of the same name, another of the famous “old name stations” of the Northern Territory, now held by Consolidated Grazing.    
A highway hoarding farther on boasted the famous meat pies of Dunmarra Roadhouse somewhere up ahead, so after a period of indulgent gastronomical anticipation, we finally arrived only to discover there were no “world’s best” pies left, so we left Dunmarra in a mood between sulking and sorrow.
Another 50km brings us to Daly Waters with its famous old Pub that we’ve been hearing wonderful stories about since first arriving in the Territory, with its ‘Beef and Barramundi’ BBQ Dinners a “must do”, and by midday Campers and Vans were streaming into the Pub’s campground, parked cheek to jowl.

Daly Waters Pub Campground

Ready for the 'Beef n Barra' Dinner
The Daly Waters Pub runs a one-man nightly dinner-show, a performance by “Chilli” of ‘outback song and bawdy humour’ and we fortuitously arrived at the right time for a special treat. An Aussie film crew were shooting a movie “Last Cab to Darwin”, live, and we were all ‘extras’ in this un-staged performance, which we’ll look forward to seeing in Cinema perhaps later this year! A great night of food and fun and laughter – the stuff memories are made of. 

'Extras' Ready for the Floor Show
Film Crew Working
Both days and nights continue very windy from the SE, but the weather’s still warm when we depart next morning, ever northward, destination Katherine. The countryside is loosing its semi-arid ‘red centre’ scrublands appearance as we cruise at our usual 85/90 kph through open forest grasslands, but still the ubiquitous red anthills, many of them cleverly dressed, by scallywag travellers, with T shirts, skirts, knickers, bras and hats.

Anthill Models
We drove into Larrimah, just another whistlestop of perhaps 10 buildings whose only tourism feature is its Pink Panther Hotel & C’van Park with most everything painted Pink. How it survives I know not, a dot on the road map living its past glory as an important WW2 army staging dump.

Larrimah's Pink Panther
Just out of Larrimah we stopped at “Fran’s Teahouse”, lured by several others already there, and her signage of ‘homemade’ cakes and pies. ‘Old’ Fran came and sat with us in a quiet moment, told us she’s been baking her roadside treats for over 30 years, and inquired as to my enjoyment of the Buffalo meat pie I’d just eaten. Actually, quite tasty!!
About an hour later we were at Mataranka where we stopped for a picnic lunch at Bitter Springs, one of several natural springs which this area is noted for. The pure spring water flows underground for hundreds of kilometres from the Barkly Tablelands before emerging here, clear as crystal, and so swimmingly inviting.

Bitter Springs Crystal Clear Waters
A further 110 km into Katherine; quite a sizable regional centre of 8000+ with a large aboriginal presence. All four expected articles were awaiting our collection at the Post Office but the only Honda repair shop was too busy to service our sick Honda 240v generator - a major priority - so with a long holiday weekend looming  we elected to forgo Katherine’s tourism offerings and headed off for the NT/WA border.
Being by now late afternoon, we pulled into the derelict WW2 Manbulloo Airstrip beside the main Victoria Hwy 18km west of Katherine for the night. A long airstrip for heavy Liberator Bombers, the strip remains quite intact notwithstanding its long abandonment since 1944.
A recent bushfire had left the area black and dirty, so we parked on the concrete floor of the long gone 72 year old Officers’ Mess building which, following a little house-keeping, proved to be most acceptable overnight spot amongst these historic ruins. A quiet and peaceful night under a canopy of bright blazing stars. Ah, the joys of bush camping.

WW2 Manbulloo Airstrip Ruins 
East Baines River
We’ve noticed that huge tracts of the Northern Territory, all the way back from Renner Springs northwards, have been controlled burnt, which we understand is an annual occurrence here. Also of note is that there have been very few bush flies through this same area, and we’ve seen almost no wildlife, or road kill, anywhere in the Territory.

Keeping an Eye on us!
 The 265km drive west of Manbulloo Airstrip to Timber Springs is a long drive with no towns and few points of interest, the main one being the significant Victoria River which drains much of this area and in whose upper reaches is located the iconic “VRD”, the ‘Victoria River Downs’ Cattle Station, a household name in the NT grazing fraternity. Lower downstream the highway crosses the Victoria River, on whose southern bank is the popular fuel stop Roadhouse that bears the same name. 

Victoria River
Much of the country dissected by the highway is open Savannah grasslands, presently enjoying a good season, as reflected again in the condition of the many herds of excellent quality Brahman cross cattle, with fat cows suckling big sappy calves.

Quality Braham Cattle
After the Victoria River we passed through more red stony country with numerous flat topped eroded jump-ups and on through mostly aboriginal owned land, as is about 70% of the entire NT.
Topped up with fuel at the Timber Springs Roadhouse then continued on 9km to the Big Horse Campground on the banks of the crocodile infested Victoria River, where we booked in for two nights, luckily getting the last available site in this small NT Nat Park. The adjacent boat ramp was popular with local fisherman going Barramundi fishing.  

Big Horse Campground
The following morning we enjoyed the sights from nearby Mountain Lookout offering panoramic views over Timber Springs village, the Victoria River and southwards over the rolling hills of Gregory National Park. 

Victoria River from Mountain Lookout
Western Australia enforces stringent Quarantine Control measures over fresh fruit and vegetables so Audrey spent time here making up a huge Stew to use up our supply of these, and by now our anticipation of WA adventures was paramount.
So next morning, we drove the last 150km of the Northern Territory, through open forest grazing country, had a trouble-free border crossing and arrived at the Kununurra Showgrounds Campground late morning, setting our clocks back 1 ½ hours to WA time.
Kununurra Township was ‘born’ just 50 years ago, being the service centre for the newly developing Ord River Irrigation Scheme in 1963, has a population of around 7500, and is a well equipped modern town.
 Australia’s largest artificial lake was created in 1972 by the damming of the Ord River across the southern end of Carlton Gorge, to provide water storage for the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA), 14,000 hectares of irrigated crops, including melons, mangoes, pumpkins, sandalwood, chia and seed crops, and with a further 13,000 hectares currently under development.  They’re big numbers in any agricultural language!
We checked out the local tourist attractions of Kelly’s Knob Lookout - with its scenic views over town and Ord Valley, Celebrity Tree Park – an arboretum planted by visiting celebrities, Lily Creek Lagoon and the Kununurra Museum.
Kununurra from Kelly's Lookout

Boab Tree
A highlight of the entire trip occurred yesterday when, in perfect weather, we took a scenic Seaplane flight over the Bungle Bungle Range with a landing on Lake Argyle for afternoon tea. Bruce sat beside the Pilot snapping photos, but difficult shooting thru the windows. The following are a few snaps to give you an idea, in haste, since we want to send this off today before departing tomorrow, Sat 14 June, on the start of our real Kimberley adventure.

The Bungle Bungle Range

Lake Argyle

Ord River Irrigation Farms

Cheers 'til next time.
Bruce and Audrey
Kununurra 13/6/2014

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

KKK No 5 Kings Canyon and West MacDonnell Ranges

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce & Audrey)

No: 5  

Kings Canyon and West MacDonnell Ranges

Day 44; May 19. Today marks the 3rd anniversary of our first Bridge lesson, but our story here today has no connection with playing cards – more of a pictorial essay on some of The Red Centre’s stunning scenery.

We blast out of Curtin Springs at 8am fuelled with excitement about the day ahead, taking the Luritja Road, destination Watarrka Nat Park, home to Kings Canyon, 229 bitumen kilometres away, where we set up in the Resort’s up-market caravan park.

Kings Canyon Resort Caravan Park
That afternoon we did two different short (2km) walks up Kings Creek and the Resort Ridge loop. Kings Creek was indeed a pretty walk, as shown here. 

Kings Creek Walk
Noisy Dingoes in the campground awoke us at 5:30 am with their howling close by. (Descendants of Asian wolves, as with all wolves they are unable to bark, as dogs do, able only to howl and growl). So we were up early and drove the 7km to the Canyon.

After a short walk from the car park we climb 510 steep natural rock steps, pausing often!, from the base to the top of Kings Canyon to commence the 6 km Rim Walk around the Canyon top, an unforgettable experience of simply stunning scenic views. 

510 Steep Steps to the Canyon Rim
We explored all there was to see during our 3 ½ hour trek, including side tracks to the Jack Cotterhill Lookout & the Garden of Eden, and will never forget the beauty of it all.

When you put your “bush eyes” in and look around, many wild flowers are there to be seen and enjoyed, but no pictures or words by me can adequately describe the Canyon’s colour, rock formations and patterned textures as seen naturally through ones own eyes. 

Two days later we’re off up the 155km unsealed Mereenie Loop Road, a mixed blessing of rough corrugations and awesome scenery that saves around 500 km to reach the West MacDonnells’ via the bitumen. We “celebrated” our first tyre puncture on the Land Cruiser (rear) here, fortunately discovering it before wrecking the tyre! 

More scenic magic came our way all along Namatjira Drive including Gosse Bluff, Tyler’s Park Lookout, Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Serpentine George, Ellery Creek Bighole, and Simpson’s Gap, all of which we visited.


We stayed at beautiful Ormiston Gorge camp ground 2 days and likewise at Ellery Creek, and will let these pictures do the talking. Highlights included a Howling Dingo at the van door just after we went to bed and tremendous lightning & thunder at 5am next morning, big heavy raindrops, but not so many of them!

Like all of the ‘Red Centre’, the West MacDonnells are a palette of mixed red & verdant greens, and have been the highlight so far. Should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Aboriginal Ochre Pits

We regret having missed going to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, home to celebrated Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira, who grew up and received his art lessons in the old watercolour school at Hermannsburg. Something left for the next trip.

Sunday 25 May saw our return to Alice Springs Caravan Park, from where this is being sent today; tomorrow, 29 May, day 54, we leave the ‘Alice’ heading north up the Stuart Highway, thirsting for new adventures at destinations yet to be discovered.

We’ll keep you posted.

Bruce and Audrey
Alice Springs
28 May 2014.