The big road trip – Katherine to Alice

Friday

This mornings pack up was the fastest ever. The Middle Child’s friend took a video of us, from the safety of the front seat of the car, and all you can see is a continuous great Australian wave from both of us. And there’s no need to fast forward it to get through the tedium of a pack up. We were lightning fast and efficient. Cheerio Maguk! Thank goodness.

I decided that we needed a good day so I chose Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park. Perfect. I hit the nail fairly and squarely on the head. The Park protects part of the Douglas River, its riverine wildlife, and some of its thermal springs and is owned by the Wagiman people who generously allow us non Aboriginal people to visit. The Wagiman women have the cultural responsibility of looking after this land which is an important place for women’s business ceremonies.

It’s very clear why the springs and surrounding river are special. We were in heaven sitting quietly in the water chatting about the lack of flies while The Piper fished. We did walk to look at the springs but the water was too hot to stand in so we headed back downstream and enjoyed cooler water. The signage about hot water should not be underestimated. The springs are warm enough to emit stream in the area they bubble.

Our evening more than made up for last evening with loads of laughs, a game of bottle top trivia (actually numerous games because a fair volume of beer was consumed), a fire and a huge feast outside! The Piper even slept out for the first time under the stars. This place and out evening join the list of highlights (everyday is a highlight) for the trip.

Saturday

On our own again after a nice morning in the hot springs followed by lunch at Edith Falls. If these are the only falls and plunge pool you can make it to you will be very happy. That said, having been around a few these ones are a lot smaller (falls) with further to swim to get to them. But pretty nonetheless and with really good amenities. The Piper swam and then we parted ways with The Middle Child and headed for Katherine Gorge. We’ve set up for the next two nights and will explore a bit tomorrow and maybe I’ll surprise The Piper …

Sunday …

Sunday (Nitmiluk)

Nitmiluk is also known as Katherine Gorge but it’s really a series of thirteen gorges. This morning we took the shortest of the walks and headed up to the lookout over Katherine Gorge before looping back to the campground and spending the day staying cool around the pool. Before our walk though we booked ourselves onto a helicopter ride! To say that The Piper was excited would be the biggest understatement made on this website! Three o’clock took a long time to come today.

In actual fact we were all done by three! The excitement meant that we got to the helipad by 2.40 (a 2 minute drive from the campsite) and the pilot was waiting for us. We paid for a 10 minute flight over three gorges and boarded the little blue helicopter. The piper sat in front next to the pilot while I sat behind the pilot. Our briefing involved how to open the doors and work the microphones on our headsetsand we were off. The look on The Pipers face was priceless as we rose quickly into the sky. Thumbs up all round. The pilot talked us through four gorges and safely back to earth. We saw our small little camper way below and the canoeists and the walking trails. Back in the ground The Piper declared the whole experience to be the best 10 minutes of his life. Priceless!

This evening I was reminded of the importance of choosing a site safely. After The Piper had gone to bed and I’d had my shower, with a glass of wine in hand I was gazing as the stars when a huge crack, followed by a resounding crash echoed through the park. A tree, approximately four metres had broken off at about a metre above ground. Not a eucalypt or other big tree but a pandanas tree full of water. This made a considerable mess but fortunately no one was camped under it. Had they been there could well have been some serious injuries. I went home to double check I was set up under anything sinister looking.

Monday (Mataranka)
Time to move on and in effect start the journey home. I think of heading back to Katherine as the point at which we are on our way around. And today I feel ready to go home. For the first time on the trip I’ve almost had enough. But there are good times to come and just when you feel at your worst little rays of sunshine come from nowhere. With the pack up done I was jumping in the car as our neighbour approached me holding a card. She said I’m giving you this because you are an awesome mum.
YOU ARE GOOD!
Each day I am acknowledging
three people for being or
doing something right.
Congratulations, today it’s you!
Your little bit of
good matters.
Keep it up.
When we all shine,
we make the world anew.
Stay awesome!
LouiseThanks Louise. That could not have come at a better time.

Onwards through Katherine for supplies, we headed for Mataranka and Bitter Springs and Rainbow Springs. We had heard about these spots and took heed to get pool noodles to aid our floating. Both places turned out to be great spots to cool down and relax. They were both popular, with Rainbow Spring and its thermal pool quite congested. But it releases 30.5 million litres per day (no typo) so there was heaps of fresh water! Bitter Springs is the place to go to float in a semi loop, with the flow of the water, before climbing out and doing it all again. We saw a fresh water turtle enjoying the thick weed that builds up.

Relaxed, we decided to check out Jalmurark camp ground in the same national park and were delighted to find a very well appointed campground with almost no one in it. We choose our site, tried our hand at fishing, had a small fire with our dinner then had the worst nights sleep I’ve had all trip! The horse poo we’d seen on the way in turned out to be donkey poo and the donkeys were being asses all night. I had no idea a donkey can bray that loudly or for that long! Or so frequently! At one stage I would have sworn they were outside our trailer! In the morning the contractor confirmed that they were indeed donkeys and that national parks is not doing anything to manage them. Or the cane toads or wild boars that we also saw. I predict this beautiful patch of paradise is destined for a sad future.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

These three days were almost entirely driving. Daly Waters was a welcome lunch stop on Tuesday where we spent a while perusing the pub and having a game of 10 pin bowling. We stayed in Hicksville on Tuesday night in a caravan park behind the roadhouse. This is not something we’ve done before and I can safely say we are unlikely to do it again. Granted it was cheap but that’s about it. There were no sites to speak of in the big patch of dirt out the back of the roadhouse. We set up behind the huge bus towing a 4WD, and I sort of got some washing done. I say sort of because the water was so hard the soap powder failed to foam, in the same way that I couldn’t get the shampoo to froth! The park tenants varied from the bus/4wd combo through the brand new Jayco to the average caravan, a camper van and three young men with two tiny tents and no mode of transport! All of us just looking for a place to stay for the night.

Our neighbours on the fringe in the camper van were light averse and told us so in no uncertain terms while we were outside in the evening. The plumbing throughout the amenities was clearly undertaken by a Hicksville local with a sense of humour (or no sense of direction) as the hot and cold were on opposite sides to the rest of the world. The lone peacock was a very proud harem leader, strutting his stuff with his 20+ peahen girlfriends, while the dog befriend The Piper who was bored stupid without his bike. The joys of being on the road. Topped off with another terrible nights sleep thanks to the recurrent ear infection The Piper scored in Darwin. Did I mention my bed at home is pillow top and I have an ensuite and air conditioning?

Wednesday morning we drove out of Hicksville as fast as the car could go and headed for Tennant Creek and on to Karlu Karlu. This place was a sight for sore eyes and we set up before heading for a stroll among the Karlu. Also known as The Devils Marbles this beautiful place is sacred to Aboriginal traditional owners, who maintain their responsibilities for the site, an unbroken tradition that has continued since creation time. Given the things that colonisers and others did to Aboriginal Australians I am surprised at their generosity in allowing access to so many important places. It really is, as described, “an enigmatic place of breathtaking scenic beauty, the precarious piles of huge granite boulders wide open skies and golden sunlight make Karlu Karlu an unforgettable place to visit.” Can you pick the odd Karlu in the pics? If you make it this way be sure to stay a while and take it all in. We decided to stay the night and went from boiling hot to freezing cold as a gale blew up that almost blew us over the Karlu. My third night with no sleep. God help me.

Thursday we headed for Alice, stopping only to grab a happy snap at The Tropic of Capricorn. Been there, done that seven years ago. Hello Alice. It’s nice to see you.

Thursday to Thursday

Alice Springs

Now I’ve been here before so for this trip it was an opportunity to rest before the last three hardcore weeks of our trip. Arriving on Thursday afternoon we set up (number 23) and went to head into town for putty for The Pipers ear so he could swim. I drove barely 5m and realised a ticking noisy was apparent. On inspection The Piper found a pin protruding from my brakes through the front rim and tapping as it passed each “spoke”. RAC rescue call yet again and the mechanic “bodged” it up but it had to go into brake and clutch shop. Needless to say they found something worth a lot of money to repair (not the initial problem) and I left a lot of dollars with them!

Other than that, The Piper and I did very little in Alice. However … Super Gran and The Pocket Rocket arrived on Monday to spend the next 2 weeks with us. As with The Newby and The Middle Child, their arrival has been much anticipated. Let me introduce them – Super Gran is my mum, a 78 yo woman and The Pocket Rocket is my best friends 12 yo daughter. They have flown in from Sydney to join us and we will drop them in Adelaide for their flight home on Sunday 5th October.

With our latest guests unpacked and settled we spent a couple of days doing the touristy things. Firstly the Desert Park, a great day out for a family. The park is a cultural / educational / wildlife encounter experience where we saw a bird show, heard all about the dingos, listened to a chat about Aboriginal culture, bush tucker and medicines, saw nocturnal animals in the nocturnal house and generally hid from the cold wind! What a change the temperatures are just 400k down the road!

Our next Alice experience was quad biking. The Piper has been hankering to do this all trip but I’ve held off so he had something exciting to do with The Pocket Rocket and Super Gran. And thankfully we waited because I found one that allows children over 12 to ride their own bike! The Piper and The Pocket Rocket are both 12, having had their birthdays in June and July! As for Super Gran, clearly she is old enough! So the 4 of us set off on a real adventure. Or as The Piper called it, “the best thing I’ve ever done!” We were picked up from our accom and transported in a bus to the cattle station that is half a million acres in size! Twenty percent of it is north of the East Macdonell Ranges with the rest on the south. The station has suffered with low beef prices for the last 15 years so they diversified into tourism and table grapes and onions! The beef prices have risen just this year, from $1.70kg to $3kg so they are selling beasts fast! Anyway, our ride. The twins (that makes life easy) were on tenterhooks, hoping to be allowed to go solo. Quite frankly they were unrecognisable. The Pocket Rocket did do a small 360° dance during our briefing which had Frosty reminding them that inattention would result in riding pillion. She confessed that she thought she’d blown it, but they were allowed to start solo! And they did a great job! So mature and sensible but they had a hoot! We did gravel, a dry river bed with terrific sandy corrugated bed and a rocky road including a few hill climbs. What a blast! We all had a great, dusty time and mastered the bike while remaining safe and sound! If you’re looking for great value for money and a fun afternoon in Alice do this!

Our final tourist encounter was the School of the Air. We did the tour with the info video and them watched the live lesson. The Twins were seriously impressed with the “school” and the students. I think it’s great these families get a public school education just like other kids, while getting the chance to be with their families wherever they live!

Of note, lasts time we were in Alice we did Palm Valley, Hermansberg, the West Macdonnels, Chambers Pillar, the Reptile Centre, a camel ride and the Camel Cup. Just in case you think we missed it all. Next time, I need to do The Pioneer Women’s Museum and The East Mac Ranges.

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