Monthly Archives: June 2017

Day 72 – Barkly Homestead to Gunpowder Rest Area (Qld)

Fierce winds gave Bertha a sandblasting last night!  We woke to clear blue skies but the strong winds were still there and reduced the temperature some-what.  For the first time in quite a long time we both put on long pants and windcheaters!  We did umm and errr a bit as to should we stay or should we go, but in the end decided that it was probably going to be windy on this stretch of road anyway, so off we left the relative comfort of Barkly Homestead and hit the road.

Today was always going to be a driving day with the aim of making good progress along the Barkly Highway towards Townsville.

Our first stop after struggling with the cross-winds was at Wonarah Bore, just to stretch our legs and have a quick walk around.  This is quite a big area but is a bit exposed to the road if you were to stay here overnight.

Wonarah Bore rest area

Views along the way

The next stop, for coffee and a break from driving, was at Soudan Bore rest area.  This is another good sized area with 24 hour camping permitted and has some facilities including shelter, fire-pits, a water tank, etc.  We found a nice semi-sheltered spot in which to park Bertha and we enjoyed our coffees out of the main force of the wind.

Soudan Bore Rest Area

For lunch we stopped at the Avon Downs Rest Area, which is somewhat unique in that it has its own police station over the road.  From that perspective it should be a safe place to stay overnight.  This rest area has toilets, shelter, a water tank, and more, and 24 hour camping is permitted.  Ann whipped up an omelet with muffins for lunch – we do eat well while we’re travelling!

Avon Downs rest area has its own Police Station

Cairn and Plaque about the history of Avon Downs

Lunch at Avon Downs

So far today we have seen a lot more livestock in the paddocks beside the highway.  We have seen a number of horses and lots of cattle, including some full cattle-yards presumably waiting for a truck to collect the cattle and take them to market.


About 55 kilometres from Avon Downs we reached the Northern Territory/Queensland state border.  Not exactly a huge occasion but worthy of a photo anyway.  This also means that all our clocks are now incorrect and must be changed forward from SA/NT time by 30 minutes.  It also means that we can no longer drive Bertha legally at 130 kph!  Damn!

Qld/NT Border

The road surface seemed to improve once we were on the Queensland side of the border, which was a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one. The winds also seemed to be less obvious – another good thing.  There were even more signs of cattle in the paddocks, and we noticed a roadside sign we had never seen before – it does make its point quite obvious.

We soon arrived at Camooweal, where we had intended free-camping at the Billabong rest area.  We saw the area coming into town and there was plenty of space still available, and it looked pretty enticing.  The first thing we had to do in town was fill up with diesel ($1.599) – the strong winds have played havoc with Bertha’s fuel economy.  We then took a quick drive around town before heading back past the hotel, and the caravan park behind the hotel – it was bursting at the seams!

Heading down the track to the free camp we soon came across a huge rut across the track (wish we’d taken a photo).  We weren’t going to even attempt to continue past that point and we’re sure that not many other vanners would have either – hence so few people in the free camp and so many in the caravan park.  What a missed opportunity for Camooweal as we weren’t the only vans or motorhomes that had to bypass the town in search of overnight accommodation.  It would only take a couple of Utes full of gravel to fix the problem!

Options in Camooweal

Views along the way

So that was that for today’s Plan A and Plan B.  Plan C was to go further along the highway to the Inca Creek rest area (Camps 9 Q320), but we both missed the turn-off.  Plan D was to stop at the David Hill rest area even further along the highway.  This is a nice big area but apart from one caravan leaving just as we arrived, there was no-one else there, which doesn’t usually bode too well, so we didn’t stop there either.

Plan E was to continue along the highway all the way into Mt Isa if necessary!  Fortunately we didn’t have to go quite that far and found a great place to stop at Gunpowder Rest Area (Camps 9 Q318), which is only 50 kms from Mt Isa.  This is a huge area with plenty of level camp sites, toilets and even a dump point.

Approaching Gunpowder Rest Area

Bertha and Shorty at Gunpowder Rest Area

It was nearly 5.00pm when we arrived so we still had time for a cup of coffee before catching the sunset.

Sunset at Gunpowder Rest Area

It’s been a longer day than we had expected and we’ll both sleep well tonight!

Still enjoying the motorhome experience!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure, Free Camping | Tags: ,

Day 71 – Banka Banka Station to Barkly Homestead

We woke to a cool, sunny and very windy morning and headed straight over to the famous Banka Banka spring water hot showers.  It must be the softest water in the Territory!

Tough driving conditions today.  The wind was very, very strong – along the Stuart Highway it was very much a strong cross-wind and Bertha was buffeted mercilessly.  Regular stops were a must as it was a real effort to keep on the road and out of the way of on-coming traffic!

Big trucks

Our first stop was at Three Ways at the intersection of the Stuart and Barkly Highways, where we had coffee in Bertha before refueling.  Diesel was $1.71 per litre.

John Flynn Memorial at 3 Ways

3 Ways Roadhouse

At Three Ways we turned east along the Barkly Highway.  The very strong cross wind moved around to a head-wind at times and made driving extremely challenging and tiring.

We pulled into the 41 Bore Rest Area for lunch in Bertha. This is a great place to stop for a brief stop or over-night, as camping is permitted for up to 24 hours.  There are lots of tracks around the area with plenty of nooks and crannies in which to set up camp.  It is quite bushy and there is some protection from the wind although you would need to be careful of any overhanging branches.  Several travellers came in and set-up camp while we were there.

41 Mile Bore Rest Area

Refreshed, we headed further south to Frewena Rest Area for a stretch and another break from the wind.  Overnight camping is permitted, but this rest area is very exposed.  At least we could get off the road for a rest.

Frewena Rest Area

The last couple of days we have been amazed at the large numbers of vans and motorhomes on the road and the majority are heading north.  We seem to be about 4 to 6 weeks ahead of the majority this year as we are already heading South from Darwin while most traffic seems to be heading North.

We arrived at Barkly Homestead at about 2.30pm and the caravan park area was already filling up.  No one really wants to be on the road in this weather.  Like many roadside stops Barkly Homestead is a combination of service station, roadhouse, tavern, caravan-park, motel, and working station.  We stayed here in 2013 and it was good then but they have improved things and extended into other paddocks.  After setting up we had a wander around and enjoyed some very tasty coffees and a treat in the restaurant.  Happy hour is between 4.00pm and 5.00 pm and dinner service starts at 5.30pm.  There will be live entertainment from 5.30 pm.  This will do us for tonight!

Welcome to Barkly Homestead

Scenes around Barkly Homestead

We have mobile reception and can receive 4 TV channels !!  At least we can catch up on the news after being off the air for a few days.

Sunset at Barkly Homestead

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 70 – Warloch to Banka Banka Station

We slept like logs and woke to thick soupy fog!  Where have our clear blue skies gone – smoke one day and fog the next !!?!  The weather was so ‘moist’ that it triggered the sensor in our skylight and automatically closed it!

These conditions did not stop some intrepid travelers leaving at 6.00 am in dark soupy fog – rocks in their heads!

We set off later in foggy drizzle and passed 2 cyclists who obviously did not realize how hard it was to see them, especially on a busy 2 lane major highway.  Pity the poor truckies having to deal with cyclists and walkers!  By 8.45am the highway was very busy in both directions.

Foggy Morning at Warloch Rest Area


Solo walker on the Stuart Highway

Some big trucks on the road

As we drove through Larrimah, we controlled ourselves and did not stop at Fran’s Devonshire Tea house for another whacky adventure!  We did, however, notice that her café was full of unwary victims!!

We passed on Fran’s Devonshire Tea!

After Larrimah the sun came out and there was a constant stream of RVs travelling north.  We decided that they must have been evacuees from the Daly Waters Pub, about 80kms south.

We stopped at the Daly Waters Inn to refuel (diesel was $149.9 per litre) and have a look around as we have not stopped here before.  As we arrived an Asian lady was leaving – she had booked her site and her dinner tonight – we’re pretty sure that she was at the wrong Daly Waters pub – apparently many travelers get confused and end up visiting both.

Daly Waters HiWay Inn – this is not Daly Waters Heritage Pub!

We continued south to Newcastle Waters Rest area for lunch.  The place was packed with RVers who had the same idea.  Most were coming in the opposite direction though.

Newcastle Waters Rest Area

As we drove through Elliott, the police were stopping all traffic in both directions for breath and drug testing. Happy to say, I passed.

Scenes of Elliott

Scenes along the way

View of Renner Springs as we went passed

We were soon on our way to Banka Banka Station for the night.

Welcome to Banka Banka Station

We stayed here in 2013 and there were less than 20 vans here and it was great.  Word has got out and the place was packed.  It’s a bit hard to describe this place – Banka Banka describes itself as a campground, and it is listed in the Camps book as a campground, but in many ways it seems like a caravan park.  Even though we arrived at the reasonable time of 3.30 pm, we were only able to secure an unpowered site in an overflow paddock.  We were, however, near the camels – Willy and Snowy – and the donkeys – Donkey and Jenny!!  They were all very healthy, well fed and friendly.

Views around Banka Banka Station

Views around Banka Banka Station

Enjoying the friendly donkeys and camels at Banka Banka Station

We counted close to 100 motorhomes, caravans and other campers. There were lots of families and kids and Banka Banka put on a big campfire and a large group sat around until about 9.30pm.  There is a really lovely atmosphere here.

Camp Fire at Banka Banka Station

No power, no mobile and no TV tonight.

Sunset at Banka Banka

About 1.00am a very strong wind blew up and campers around the park could be heard outside battening down awnings and other gear left out overnight.

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Day 69 – Pine Creek to Warloch Rest Area

We were woken during the night with Bertha seeming to be full of smoke. We checked and it seemed that a fire that had been burning in scrubland on the other side of the highway the evening before had moved to the other side of the highway across from the caravan park where we were staying.  No one seemed very concerned so we turned on the exhaust fans to get rid of the smoke and once it was all clear, we closed the skylights which we normally leave open during the night in warm weather.  This was not a pleasant experience but I guess fire is an issue that vanners should be acutely aware of.

View behind Lazy Lizard Caravan Park

The morning was hot but sunny through the smoke haze.  We headed south down the Stuart Highway and turned off and drove approximately 20kms on a sealed road to explore Edith Falls (Leliyn).

Scenes along the way

We loved this place 20 years ago and although it has been upgraded in a very environmentally way, Edith Falls (Leliyn) is a truly calming and restful place to visit.  After walking to the falls along well maintained paths and admiring the views, we returned to the kiosk for coffee.  They don’t serve take-away cups here (as we said – they’re very environmentally friendly) so we were served our coffees in nice mugs complete with fabric holders as the mugs were hot.  Very thoughtful!

Welcome to Edith Falls (Leliyn)

Edith Falls Kiosk

Views of Edith Falls (Leliyn)

There is a small campground here and if we ever come back this way we would love to spend at least a week here.

There have been a lot of fires along the highway and we are a bit over the sight and smell of burnt landscape pretty much all the way south to Katherine.

Scenes along the way

We pulled in to the RV parking area behind the Katherine Information Centre and topped up our supplies at Woollies.  Bertha told us that it was 40 degrees outside when we returned and it felt like it too.

Scenes at Katherine

We continued south along the Stuart Highway and just before Mataranka there was a very loud bang at the driver’s window – it sounded like a cricket ball at full pelt but the feathers jammed into the window surround indicate that we were hit by a grey bird.  We were a bit worried that there may have been damage to the fibreglass panel behind the door but there was no trace of damage other than the feathers.

We pulled in to Mataranka, known as the Capital of the Never Never.  We parked under a magnificent Banyan Tree while we inspected Bertha.

Short stop at Mataranka

After a cool drink we continued south to Warloch Rest Area (Camps 9 NT 95) where we stayed for the night. This is a lovely camp area and we were amazed that about 20 vans were set up there at dusk with more arriving later.  We sat outside talking to our neighbours and enjoyed our dinner under the stars.

Warloch Rest Area/Free Camp

No TV, Internet or phone tonight.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure, Free Camping | Tags: ,

Day 68 – Howard Springs to Pine Creek

We woke to another glorious morning – clear blue skies and the day was obviously going to warm up quite considerably.

After breakfast and packing Bertha we were on our way south down the Stuart Highway.

For our morning coffee stop we turned off the highway and drove some 12 kms to the small town of Batchelor.  After a bit of a drive around to explore the town, we parked Bertha in a shady spot where we had our coffee.

Scenes of Batchelor

Parked for coffee at Batchelor

Batchelor is a beautiful tropical town with lush green tropical gardens (at this time of year anyway) and a lovely relaxed feel about the place.

Gardens in Batchelor

As it turned out we were very close to the Batchelor Museum, so we decided to take the tour.  We were met by Greg, a volunteer, who gave us an introductory chat and then started us on our journey of discovery.

The Batchelor Museum is housed in two buildings which were built in 1953 as the single women’s quarters for the Rum Jungle Uranium Mine.  Apparently the nick-names for these buildings were ‘Virgin Villas’ and ‘The Nunnery’.  The first building (A) provided some background as to the original inhabitants of the area, then early European settlement including how the town got its name, and then some information about the Batchelor Farm project which began in 1911.  The rest of building A is devoted to stories about WWII activities in the region.

Building B contains the Rum Jungle Exhibition which is quite fascinating.  The extent of the operation was huge and employed a great number of miners and associated trades and support staff.  When it started in 1952, the Rum Jungle Uranium Mine was the major economic activity in Australia at the time.  The entire town of Batchelor existed to support the mine.  There are reproductions of documents, enlarged photos, stories of individuals, plus collections of newspaper cuttings and other interesting material.

Batchelor Museum

Some info on Rum Jungle Uranium Mine

Building B also has a recreation of what one of the single lady’s room would have looked like in the 1950s.

Single ladies’ quarters at Batchelor Museum

After coffee and our Museum tour, we returned to the Stuart Highway for the next stage of today’s journey.  Our lunch stop was at Adelaide River.  We parked outside the BP servo and walked through to the heritage Adelaide River Inn – some readers might remember this place from the Crocodile Dundee movie, although the interior is now a little different.  Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a stuffed croc outside the bar – ‘Jock the Crock’ was 5 metres long and weighed in at 720 kg.

Adelaide River Inn

Adelaide River Inn – interior

Jock the Crock

We actually shared a monster single serve of NT caught Barra with salad and chips – we had seen the portion sizes before we ordered and even though we love our Barra, there was no way we could have finished a serve each!  Needless to say it was absolutely delicious!

From the Adelaide River Inn we drove a short distance to the Adelaide River War Cemetery.  This is the third largest war cemetery in Australia and includes the remains of 63 civilians and 434 service personnel, including those killed in Darwin.  Most are Australian but there are several British and one Canadian buried here.  There is even a section for the 9 people killed when the Darwin Post Office took a direct hit from a Japanese bomb.

Adelaide River War Cemetery

Adelaide River War Cemetery

This is an extremely moving place to visit, and there some very interesting stories of individuals who are here, and information about the impact of the war on Darwin and the surrounding areas down to Katherine.  Many of the small towns throughout this region were supply bases for the movement of troops and supplies from the south to Darwin.

We are constantly stunned that the top end took such a battering in the war – 64 bombing raids from 180 Japanese bombers and over 230 killed on the first day of bombing, and it was initially covered up by the Government of the day!

From Adelaide River we continued south down the highway to Pine Creek – we made a short stop here on our way to Darwin.

Pine Creek

We have a powered site at the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park & Tavern for the night.  It has been a hot day and the ability to use the air-con was not negotiable!

Lazy Lizard Caravan Park & Tavern

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: , ,

Days 62 to 67 – Howard Springs, Darwin

We’re very pleased to be here in Darwin – we were here with our daughter Katie and our friend Barb about 20 years ago, and it’s very interesting to see the changes over that period of time.  We should say up front that we have visited most of the gorges, waterfalls, crocodile farms, Kakadu and other scenic areas before, so they’re not on our agenda this trip.  This time we are more interested in seeing a bit more of Darwin itself.

We’re also excited that we have now travelled Australia from South (Port Augusta) to North (Darwin) along the Stuart Highway!

Howard Springs is about 23 kilometres out of Darwin and is probably best described as a “satellite” suburb, a bit further out than Palmerston.  Like Canberra the roads are great and there is a lot of money being spent on infrastructure, but visitors like us really do need a GPS to find their way around.  There are lots of round-a-bouts, for instance, and one way streets.  Darwin has a population of about 150,000 with a substantial Australian and American military presence.  We hear the jets and helicopters going overhead nearly every night!

Scenes around Darwin

Peacocks at the caravan park

Water fun at the caravan park

After taking a little while to acclimatise to Darwin’s current temperatures of 22 to 32 degrees nearly every day, we drove Bertha into town to collect a hire car.  Even then we had a little difficulty finding a parking spot for Bertha and we figure that sight-seeing is going to be a lot easier in something smaller.

Bertha and friend at the caravan park

Howard Springs

Where else should our first visit be but to the actual Howard Springs?  This is a beautiful and relaxing place, just down the road from the caravan park.

Welcome to Howard Springs

It was originally developed in the late 1800s and actually became Darwin’s water supply for several years until an upgraded facility for Darwin was implemented in 1942.  Australian and US troops were based in Howard Springs from January to June 1942 and it later became a “rest camp” for active Australian troops to help preventing them going “troppo”.  Aussies built the weir wall in 1944 to enhance the swimming hole.

Howard Springs – Army Rest Camp in the 1940s

These days it’s a great place for families to relax – there are BBQs, a toddlers’ pool, walking tracks, an adventure playground, and much more.  Swimming is no longer allowed in the weir itself but it is stocked with several different species of fish, including barramundi, grunters, tortoises and so on.  The water is quite clear and small and large fish can be spotted by the observant watcher.  There are some water bubblers in the weir to keep the water moving and we swear we saw some very large barra enjoying something of a spa bath effect on the bubblers!

Very restful at Howard Springs

Walking Tracks at Howard Springs

Plenty of wildlife at Howard Springs

Woorbinada scout camp is right next door.

Darwin Fish & Chips Cruise

On Wednesday night we headed out to the Darwin wharf precinct to catch our cruise for dinner.

Stokes Hill Wharf

Views at the Wharf

Once everyone was on board, our captain Ross introduced the crew-girl, Lou, and we headed out on a cruise around Darwin and Fanny Bay.  Drinks were poured with diners having a choice of beer, cider, red or white wine, or bubbly (or soft drink)!  Ross gave a very interesting commentary about the port itself, various construction projects that are underway, details of the military facilities and a whole lot more.  It became very obvious that Darwin is as much a part of our northern Asian neighbours as it is part of Australia.

Scenes from the cruise

Cullen Bay (and the house Ann likes)

We made our way around to Cullen Bay where Ross drove the boat up to the beach so that Lou could get off and walk to the fish & chip shop to collect our dinner.  Eventually Lou arrived back at the beach loaded with 23 fish & chips dinners and we headed back out to sea.

Captain Ross commentates while Lou collects dinner at Cullen Bay

At this point all conversation stopped as everyone got stuck into very healthy serves of barramundi, calamari and chips.  All this while the sun was setting majestically on the horizon.

Fish & Chips dinner was delicious!

Sunset from our dinner cruiser

Well fed, we then headed back to the wharf and just for a thrill (for the passengers anyway) Ross drove the boat a bit “fast”.  And yes it really was fun going fast – not quite jet-boat speeds by very fast and very much fun!

Scenes from the cruise

It was very interesting to see some of the landmarks we had seen going out in the day-light all lit up and night.  Parliament House looked particularly spectacular.

Parliament House on the way out, and on the way back

Eventually we were all back on dry land, and after thanking Ross and Lou we walked back to the car and drove home to Howard Springs.

Darwin City Heritage Walk

Despite the damage done by Cyclone Tracey or Japanese bombers in the war, there are still many beautiful old heritage buildings in Darwin, so we set off to explore Darwin on foot.  The Visitor Information Centre is based in the “old” end of town and was a good base to start our walk. There are some beautiful old stone buildings here, including Browns Mart Theatre and the building now occupied by KPMG accountants.  There is also the Old Town Hall which remains as a shell of the original building built in 1883.  The Victoria Hotel, built in 1894 has survived every bombing raid and cyclone thrown at it and is still intact, but currently closed for business.

Some of the heritage buildings in Darwin

Scenes of The Mall

Scenes around Darwin

We enjoyed lunch in The Mall and nearby we found a statue dedicated to our old explorer friend, John McDouall Stuart.  There is also a nearby water-bearer statue commemorating Darwin’s sister city status with the Greek island of Kalymnos.  Darwin apparently has the largest population of expatriate Kalymnians in the world.

Explorer John Stuart and the tribute to Kalymnos sister city

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

The Mindil Beach Markets are held on Thursdays and Sundays and are part of the “legend” of Darwin.  How could we not go?  The caravan park actually has a bus service to and from the markets for a very reasonable charge so there was no way were going to try to drive.  Boy are we glad we caught the bus!  The carpark was absolute chaos and if you were driving a white Land Cruiser – like so many caravanners do – you were probably going to have real trouble identifying your car after dark.

Despite the market’s legendary status, we didn’t really know what to expect.  It turned out to be very cosmopolitan with many street food stalls covering just about any sort of cuisine you could imagine.  From Road Kill burgers, to Thai, to Indonesian, to Greek, to Italian, you name it, it was probably there.  Gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, dairy free – no problem.  Smoothies, gelato, iced-coffee, and baklava – no-one was going to go hungry.

Scenes at Mindil Market

Other than food there were handcraft stalls, clothing, hats, souvenirs, tarot readers, masseurs, and if that didn’t keep you entertained there were whip crackers, fire twirlers and singers and didgeridoo players.

Scenes at Mindil Market

There were people everywhere, and there was a very high security presence which was kept busy and was most appreciated.

Of course there was the sunset – another beautiful sunset.  Photographers like me can’t seem to get enough of them.  The beach was packed with many people having brought along chairs and rugs to picnic on the beach and watch the sunset.  We had to settle for back row seats but the sunset was still beautiful.

Sunset at Mindil Market

At 8.30 pm it was time find our bus.  All present and accounted for we drove back to the caravan the scenic route, in the dark.  Finally we were back home, stomachs a bit fuller, wallets a bit lighter, and sore footed; but we’re so glad we experienced the Mindil Market.

Bombing of Darwin Display

As most fellow adventurers will know, Darwin copped a hammering from the Japanese in WWII, with more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour 10 weeks before.  There were 64 bombing raids on Darwin and the bombing extended as far south as Katherine and also across to Broome, in WA.  The signs of that damage are everywhere and there are many museums and displays as reminders of that terrible time.

We chose to visit the Bombing of Darwin display on Stokes Hill Wharf, which is where our cruise left from several days before.  The facility is shared with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and it was great to be able to learn more about both these important aspects of Darwin’s history.  Interestingly there was a naval vessel moored at the wharf when we visited the WWII display.

Darwin Wharf

The displays here are ultra-high-tech and quite mind-blowing!  We started off with a Virtual Reality experience of being right in the middle of the bombing of Darwin Harbour on 19th February 1942.  It was amazing and like no other experience either Ann or I had ever felt.  You were really right in the middle of everything – you could look around in every direction and you were surrounded with ships and planes and bombs and people and water and sounds, and you could spin around on your chair to see more.  It really gave a fantastic experience of really being there.

Ann enjoying the Virtual Reality experience at the Bombing of Darwin display

There were more interactive displays relating to the bombings including a “ghost host” discussion from then Prime Minister John Curtain about various aspects of the bombing and the subsequent changes to Australia’s military and foreign policy.  There was also a “ghost host” talk by a Japanese POW who had actually dropped some of the bombs.  There was also a holographic “movie” featuring an American ship commander and his experiences during the bombings.

Ghost Hosts at the Bombing display

Technology really helped make this shocking aspect of Australia’s history come to life, and was a change from more traditional museums and displays on the subject.  There was, however, a full size replica of a Japanese Zero fighter plane in the exhibition space.

Scenes of the Bombing display

Royal Flying Doctor Service Display

The RFDS display shares the same exhibition space as the Bombing of Darwin display, and utilises much of the same technology.  Again, there are “ghost hosts” discussing various aspects of the flying doctor service.

The main element of the RFDS display is a hologram of John Flynn talking about his earliest inspirations to form a remote medical service, which actually started with camels before they even had a car, and then eventually through the introduction of aeroplanes as the most efficient and effective way to provide those remote medical services.

In addition to the high-tech stuff, there is also plenty of reading materials and historic documents on display, including some of John Flynn’s original correspondence.  It’s also a bit hard to ignore the decommissioned RFDS Pilatus P12 aircraft – and you can walk through it, sit in the cockpit, etc.

Royal Flying Doctor Service display

The RFDS still provides services to 278,000 Australians and this display would surely have to be one of the RFDS’ best fundraising activities.

We would consider this as a definite “must see” for any fellow adventurers visiting Darwin.

After visiting the Bombing and RFDS displays, we enjoyed a seafood lunch on the wharf.  Yum!

Parap Village Saturday Markets

On Saturday we visited the Parap Markets.  This was very much in the spirit of the Mindil Beach markets but was located in a shopping centre in the suburb of Parap and was held on Saturday morning.  Parking was atrocious but added to the overall experience I guess.  There were plenty of street food vendors, clothing shops, handcrafted items, home décor bits and pieces and so on.  Many of the stalls we saw at Mindil Beach were here at Parap.  There were also entertainers playing guitar, didgeridoo and singing.  Altogether it was another interesting Darwin experience.

After leaving the Parap market we headed a few kilometres into town and enjoyed a delicious meal at the Ducks Nuts Bar and Grill.

Delicious lunch at Ducks Nuts Bar and Grill

On our way home from the Ducks Nuts we stopped off at Fisherman’s Wharf where we stopped at Mr Barra and bought some supplies for the freezer that we will enjoy later on our trip back down South.

Scenes at Fisherman’s Wharf

Scenes at Fisherman’s Wharf

Mr Barra at Fisherman’s Wharf

Last Day in Darwin

This morning our first adventure was to return the hire car, so we packed up Bertha and I drove her into town while Ann drove the hire car.

Scenes around Darwin

Scenes around Darwin

We were expecting the Darwin CBD to be very quiet but we were way off the mark.  It was a totally different vibe compared to the many other times we had been there.  All parking was free and I had a bit of trouble finding a double car park for Bertha, but eventually fluked one quite near the Thrifty office where Ann took the car.  A cup of coffee seemed in order but most places were packed – it was brunch time and everyone was out having ‘big breakfasts’, ‘smashed avos’ and lattes.  There were a few people who appeared to be nursing sore heads, and even at 10.00am there were plenty of people having beers – hair of the dog maybe? We eventually found a great table at The Tap bar and restaurant and enjoyed a very nice coffee under a huge tree – lovely and cool and the dappled light was very relaxing.

Back at Howard Springs Caravan Park we set up Bertha again and after a rest and a light lunch we set about cleaning and washing and generally getting everything prepared for our journey south, which begins tomorrow.

Still thoroughly enjoying the motorhome experience!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 61 – Katherine to Howard Springs, Darwin

Another warm, glorious day!

Today was the day after the V8 Supercar races in Darwin and it seemed that half the vans at Shady Lane were waiting for today before heading out for places closer to Darwin.  The Stuart Highway was very busy as a result, with hundreds of motourists on the road.  There was also a stream of motorsport trucks on the highway heading in the opposite direction.

Leaving Katherine (note Heads Up Display speed on windscreen)

Scenes along the way

Our first stop was at Pine Creek beside a lovely park with huge trees.  Plenty of others had the same idea and all the parking areas in this small town were chockers!

Coffee stop at Pine Creek (still haven’t lost the bats)

We subsequently passed through Emerald Springs and made a quick stop at the servo at Hayes Creek.

Emerald Springs Roadhouse

Hayes Creek – servo, roadhouse & caravan park

Our destination for lunch was Adelaide River, and we found a great place to park near the Adelaide River Rail Heritage. Although we didn’t go in, this is a donation based place devoted to some of the rail heritage in the Adelaide River area.  There are various pieces of rail equipment, buildings, etc.  This was a pleasant and peaceful place to stop, and close to the showgrounds where a number of vans were setting up to stay.  Ann outdid herself with lunch – multiple courses would you believe!

Adelaide River scenes

During a bit of a drive around town we noticed several military vehicles which had also stopped for lunch, before we headed back to the highway.

As we continued north we noticed an increasing volume of smoke rising north-west of us.  Several emergency services vehicles sped past us with lights and sirens on, and we saw a helicopter heading in that direction as well.  It looked to us as though the fire was somewhere down the Berry Springs Road.  So far we haven’t heard anything about the possible fire on the news, so maybe we’re imagining that things are worse than perhaps they are.  There has, after-all, been lots of burning off by the roadside for a long way on the highway.


Eventually we arrived at Howard Springs Holiday Park, but found that we couldn’t fit in the site that we had been allocated.  Ann managed to find a much better site and we can’t understand why they hadn’t allocated this absolutely perfect site for a 25 ft motorhome in the first place, rather than the tiny and inaccessible site they allocated.

Howard Springs Holiday Park

Again, we are in a tropical oasis!  Lots of green and even a few peacocks wandering around.  The amenities are great and mainly ensuite bathrooms (ie toilet, vanity and shower).  There is even a big water park for the kids, although (thankfully) there aren’t too many here.

It was a sunny 34 degrees when we arrived so after plugging in power and water we turned on the air-con to cool things down inside.

We’re going to be here in Howard Springs for a week, so we will only be posting highlights rather a daily diary.

Just as a final comment, today’s road conditions were very good.  The road surface was good and quiet, there were quite a number of overtaking lanes which was great, and there were even stretches of divided highway.  There were traffic lights as we got closer to Darwin, which was quite a shock after not seeing any for ages.  Good roads makes the journey a lot safer, and a lot more enjoyable.

Still loving the motorhome experience ………….

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 60 – Katherine Update

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Katherine and have spent our time relaxing and driving our ‘big car’, Bertha, around.

Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk Gorge)

We couldn’t come to Katherine without visiting Katherine Gorge so we packed up Bertha and headed out the 30 kms or so to the Gorge (or Nitmiluk Gorge as it is also known).  When we arrived we had a bit of walk around but with temperatures in the mid-thirties and a hot wind blowing, we decided to forego anything strenuous whether walking or on a cruise down the gorges (there are 13 of them).  Swimming was definitely not an option!

Welcome to Katherine Gorge – Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk Visitor Centre

Fortunately the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre was air-conditioned so we went inside to cool down before deciding to order an early lunch.  Thinking we would be OK weather wise we ate our lunch on the shaded deck overlooking the river.  Our view, however, was dominated by hundreds, maybe thousands of bats!  They filled all the trees in front of the deck and although they had some novelty value worth a few photos to start, I’m sure that all visitors would have preferred more of an unspoiled view of the river and scenery in general.

Bats spoil the scenery a bit

Our pizza lunch was delicious but we went back inside to the cool to enjoy a very nice coffee.  After lunch we visited the interpretive section of the visitor centre and we were extremely impressed by how well the various displays explained the geology that created the gorges so many millions ago, plus the native flora and fauna (and reptiles) and how the indigenous people interacted with their surroundings.  There was a very informative slide show as well.  This was one of the best information displays we have seen – and we have seen a few!

Nitmiluk Visitor Centre

From Nitmiluk Gorge we headed back down Gorge Road into town where we found a great carpark behind the Katherine Tourist Information Centre where we collected some maps and brochures for the next leg of our adventure.  We then crossed the road into the Target Arcade and visited Woolies to top up our supplies before heading back to Shady Lane and set-up Bertha again.

Scenes along the road

Today’s adventure again highlighted the advantages of travelling in a motorhome.  On such a hot day we could load the shopping straight into the fridge and cupboards, plus we could enjoy a cool drink and a wash – how good is that!

Katherine Museum

We don’t always enjoy museum visits but the Katherine Museum looked quite interesting so we packed up Bertha again and headed off.

The museum is actually a complex of various buildings and displays.  The main building was built in 1934 and was originally the passenger terminal and air radio building of the Katherine airport.  Inside we were confronted by a display of the role that Katherine played in WWII.  We didn’t realise that Katherine was bombed in 1942 and that at one stage the airport was under the control of the US military.  There was a very interesting display of memorabilia and artefacts from wartime, plus stories about local servicemen and women.

Katherine Museum

Outside cafe area

From the wartime display we watched a video about the Katherine floods in 1998.  Again, although it was on the TV news at the time we didn’t realise the level of the destruction caused by that 1 in 50 year flood.  The water was at the roof level of Woolworths where we had shopped just the day before.  The entire town was destroyed but has since been rebuilt and has withstood many lesser floods since.  After looking through the bookshop area we headed outside.

There is a beautiful rotunda and the original Overland Telegraph display.

Overland Telegraph Display

Outside were various old motor vehicles, farm machinery, and so on.

Plenty of old vehicles and machinery

We visited ‘Wallie’s Shed’ where again there was an interesting display of farming equipment, kitchen and laundry displays, stories of the Russian Peanut farmers and recreations of farming life going way back.  There were also some very interesting items of equipment, along with details of patents taken on some of the items.  They seemed to be a creative bunch around here – but as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

Wallie’s Shed

After looking at various other displays and items around the place, we visited the Clyde Fenton Gallery.  This is a large air-conditioned shed and a Gypsy Tiger Moth takes pride of place.  Clyde Fenton and the plane performed many valuable services in the area.  Around the walls are descriptive panels highlighting many interesting stories about Katherine’s past, how it was named, profiles of some local celebrities and characters, stories about the stolen generations, and a whole more.  This was a very impressive display and we spent quite a long time in this exhibit (OK – the air-conditioning helped).

Clyde Fenton Gallery

From the museum we headed back into town and our parking spot for Bertha (you can’t park a 25 ft ‘big car’ just anywhere you know) and headed off to the Coffee Club for a delicious light lunch.  Dining options on a Sunday in Katherine are quite limited but we did enjoy our meals and the air-conditioning.

Scenes around Katherine

So, that’s a bit about what we have been doing here in Katherine.  Tomorrow we have a bit of a drive to Howard Springs near Darwin, and we’ll be staying there for a week.

Stay tuned ……

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 57 – Bitter Springs to Katherine

Another beautiful day in paradise, but we were soon packed up and back on the road heading north.

Last cup of tea before leaving our tropical paradise at Bitter Springs

Interesting statue in Mataranka

Our first stop for coffee was at the King Rest Area (Camps 9 #116).  This is a designated 24 hour stop and is equipped with drop toilets, some shelter, a water tank (no idea if drinkable but doubtful) and has plenty of room to camp on and off the bitumen.  There were a number of RVs obviously parked here (probably for more than 1 day but who’s counting) and there was a great deal of movement at the station for the word had obviously got around.  A Winnebago motorhome pulled in just after we arrived and promptly drove up to one end and parked off the grass – the slide-out was out and towels out to dry before you could blink.  As we were having coffee at the side of Bertha another converted bus pulled in close and we were joined by Steve and his not very fierce guard dog who stood at least 25cm tall.  Nearly 2 hours later we packed away the coffee cups and got back on the road to Katherine – Steve liked a chat and after we left he headed on over to the Winnie for a bit more of a chat with them!  We suspect he was going to stay there for the night and was just filling in some time.  He did have some great stories though!

Scenes along the highway – still burning off

Coffee at King Rest Area

Arriving in Katherine our first stop was at Woolies for some supplies.  We didn’t wait around in town for even a cup of coffee and as soon as we could headed slightly out of town to Shady Lane Caravan Park.

Welcome to Katherine

Welcome to Shady Lane Caravan Park, Katherine

We’ve been here before and it has a great tropical feel and very friendly owners.  The sites are all different shapes and sizes as they need to fit in around the many trees, but that also adds to the friendliness of this place.  We were allocated a great spot quite close to amenities, camp kitchen, laundry, etc.  We set-up Bertha, which required a bit of skillful maneuvering around a palm tree and it was then that we realized that we couldn’t wind up the TV antenna or wind out the awning due to overhanging branches.  Not to worry – a quick trip over the office and Phillip came over with his ladder and heavy duty pruner to fix the problem.  This did mean un-setting-up Bertha and moving forward so Phillip could reach the offending branches, but soon enough he had trimmed the tree and we moved Bertha back into position and were set to go with TV antenna and awning.  Great customer service!

Bertha at Shady Lane; freshly pruned trees for TV antenna; precision parking

It was great to have TV again after what seemed like weeks without it!  Strangely we can get a good range of channels but none of the ABC channels – usually it’s the other way around.  Still, at least we can catch up with the news, etc.

During the afternoon we had a great chat with some of our neighbors who were from the Trakmaster Caravan Club and who we recognized from Daly Waters Pub.  We had also seen several of them previously on our way north.  They were part of a group of 8 or 9 Trakmaster vans for whom Katherine was the last ‘civilised’ stop before they headed off-roading to Jabiru and other places in the middle of the desert.  They seemed such friendly, normal people before we realized they had this strange obsession with really roughing it out in the desert!  Much of their afternoon was spent rearranging vans and tow vehicle to accommodate extra fuel and water tanks.

As it got dark I headed over to the camp kitchen to cook lamb koftas for tea, accompanied by a delicious home-made salad.  We then settled in to watch the news on TV but the shows after that were pretty terrible so we ended up watching a DVD.

We are going to be in Katherine for several days and will post a further update in due course.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 56 – R & R at Bitter Springs, Mataranka

There’s not really any other way to say this, but today we did bugger all!

We woke to thousands of birds singing, clear blue skies, sunshine and very little wind.

After mucking around for a while we both decided we should do something.  Ann did some washing and hung it when Bertha told us the temperature was 29 degrees.  I did a few chores including give Bertha a rub down so she looks more white than red.

This is a really peaceful place and everyone is friendly.  We have made friends with our next door neighbor.  Jack is an older gentleman travelling on his own and is up here from Victoria for three months.  He has been coming here for many years to escape Victoria’s winter.  He always has a tale to tell about camping 50 years ago, or places we should see, or places not to bother seeing.  We have a chat with Jack several times each day.

We wish we had found this place earlier, as we would like to have stayed longer, but Ann has actually been able to make a booking for us in Darwin which fits in with other arrangements we had already made.  Not only did we not plan for the V8 Supercars in Darwin, we also totally forgot about school holidays.  This Coddiwompling has something to answer for I can tell you!

This afternoon we went for a lovely walk down to the Bitter Springs Thermal Pools.  The first thing we found out is that they’re not actually thermal pools at all, but we won’t bore you with the details.  The water here is amazingly clear, and has something of a blue tinge to it.

Views along the road to Bitter Springs

Walking into the Bitter Springs Thermal Pool area

Welcome to Bitter Springs thermal pool

Not the sign you want to see near a popular pool like Bitter Springs. Doesn’t stop people swimming though!

Bitter Springs is a very popular spot and although we did think about going for a swim/float down the river, there were way too many people in the water and on the banks that we didn’t think it would be all that enjoyable.  This, we think, is an experience to be had in a more solitary mode.  A couple of busloads of people arrived and that was it – time to head back to the caravan park.

Walking past the caravan park kiosk we splurged a few dollars on Barney Banana ice-creams and thoroughly enjoyed them sitting in the dappled shade next to Bertha. Another chat with Jack and it was off to the camp kitchen for me to cook tonight’s lamb steaks (PK – they were from Burra).

This place is definitely on our list when we head back south from Darwin in a few weeks.  No school holidays then and the weather will be a little warmer (hopefully) so our swimmers may make an appearance – but don’t expect any photos.

Still living the dream!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

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