Author Archives: shorty

Day 75 – Cloncurry to Winton

We woke to yet another day of sunshine and clear blue skies.  After packing up Bertha and farewelling our neighbours, we drove back into town to refuel and then headed back east along the Flinders Highway.  After about 14 kms we turned off onto the Landsborough Highway.

Scenes along the Landsborough Highway

Our first stop for coffee was at the Fullerton River North rest area (Camps 9 Q377).  This is a nice big area with shelter and toilets and tracks out the back where people had obviously camped quite recently.  This was despite a new sign which clearly stated that this was a heavy vehicle rest area only and that camping was prohibited.  It appears that the status has changed since Camps 9 was published in February this year.

Fullerton River North Rest Area (no camping)

We continued down the highway to McKinley where we drove around town to have a look as the write up in the tourist brochures was quite impressive.  This is a small town with not a lot to offer other than the Crocodile Dundee pub (yes, another one) although to be fair there was quite a lot of work being down around town, with roads resealed, new parking areas prepared, storm water drains being renewed, and so on.  Perhaps the town has just received a grant of some sort?

Scenes around McKinley

From McKinley we drove on to Kynuna and stopped beside the Blue Heeler Hotel, where we had lunch in Bertha.  It was very hot by this time of day but at least we were cool and without flies in Bertha.  Apart from a pub and a roadhouse both with caravan parks there is not much else to see in Kynuna.

Not much to see at Kynuna

After our break we set off again and commented that this part of the country is still very dry.  All rivers and creeks are bone dry and none of the paddocks show much sign of green.  There is also a lot of roadkill – mainly kangaroos and smaller wallabies, and a few cattle.  This again seems testament to the dry conditions. Interestingly we didn’t see much sign of birds picking at the roadkill – we’re not sure how to interpret that one!

The other interesting thing of note is the amazing cloud formations we have seen today.  I don’t remember my schoolboy geography to be able to name what sort of clouds they are, but they are certainly interesting.  There doesn’t seem to be much sign of rain in any of the clouds though.

Scenes along the way

As we progressed down the highway we also noted considerable differences between the rest areas etc listed in the Camps 9 book, and the actual stops along the way.  We were heading to Q373 and found that it simply did not seem to exist.  There were, however, several truck stops not listed, most with new toilet facilities.  Q372, where we had thought we might stay tonight, also does not exist.  This would suggest to us that the local councils may have become less friendly to caravanners and motorhomers hoping to free camp for a night or more.  It is good, however, that they are providing more toilet facilities along the roads as not every traveller is self-contained and overall there are a good number of places where anyone can take a short break from driving (you just can’t stay overnight).

This meant that we had to continue the drive into Winton, where we had not booked any accommodation.  Winton itself was very busy and the more central caravan parks seemed very full.  We were able to secure an overflow site at the Matilda Country Tourist Park, where we have stayed before, which is a smaller park on the north end of town and could now best be described as ‘very tired’.  It will do for tonight.

We will have a bit of a look around Winton tomorrow morning before continuing on our journey.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 74 – Cloncurry Rockhana

We’re back to beautiful mornings, not too cold, and clear blue skies.  The caravan park emptied out very early this morning, leaving us with lots of space for a short time anyway.  We had booked a second night so Ann took advantage of an empty park to utilise the laundry facilities rather than line up with the crowds.  Once the washing was organized we packed up Bertha and headed out for some sightseeing in our big car.

Nearly empty caravan park

We actually timed our visit to Cloncurry to coincide with a Rock Show!  Actually Cloncurry’s Rockhana is more officially known as the “Rockhana Gem & Mineral Festival” and is an annual event held in the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park in town.  This is also the site of the “Cloncurry Unearthed” Visitor Information Centre and Museum which contains some information about the Mary Kathleen uranium mine.

There was some interesting information about the local area and the connection with the Burke and Wills expedition. Also on display was an historic Ambulance from the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade which was a regular road ambulance converted to run on the railway lines.  It saw service from 1954 to 1971.

From Cloncurry Museum – QATB ambulance, plaque about Burke & Wills, official opening plaque from Mary Katheen mine

The Rockhana has quite a few stalls displaying and selling minerals and gemstones, including a display by the Mount Isa Lapidary Club.  There were also a range of other various stalls ranging from tarot readers, to handbags, to natural oils and soaps, and some food stands.  There was even live music entertainment.

Scenes from Cloncurry Rockhana

We had planned to meet up with our South Australian motorhoming friends Mike and Coralie who had a stall here.  Mike and Coralie’s stand was set up under the annex  of their motorhome and a gazebo, so for the 3 day duration of the Rockhana they had accommodation provided on-site.  It was great to catch up with them both and see their gem and mineral stall, which we had heard about but hadn’t seen until now.  Their range of items on sale was quite amazing and included stones from around the world, some fossils, stones set as jewellery, carved stone items, and so much more.  We actually spent quite a while looking and did buy an item or two.  After staying in Cloncurry to do some prospecting, Mike and Coralie will be heading off to Townsville and Cairns to attend similar shows before heading home to South Australia.  Sounds like an interesting lifestyle to me!  Eventually it was time for us to move on, so we said our farewells and hope that we will catch up with them again on the road soon.

Mike and Coralie’s gem and mineral stall

From Rockhana we headed off into Cloncurry to have a look around and hopefully find some lunch.  To be honest, not very much was open.  Although there are several historic hotels in town, none of them seemed to have any patrons, much less be serving counter meals.

A couple of Cloncurry’s pubs

The bakery was closed on Sundays and the only other café in town has closed down.   Still, we had a good drive around town and see some of the historic buildings and community facilities.  Woolworths was also closed but Foodworks was open so we caught up on a little shopping and then drove Bertha back to the caravan park where we set up and then had a delicious fresh lunch under the awning.

Post Office and Council Chambers

Cloncurry Swimming Pool and Community Precinct

Police Station and plaque outside John Flynn Exhibit

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking through maps and brochures to plan the next stage of our trip, and chatting to our new neighbours and phoned home.

It is great to have a slow day every now and then, especially when the temperature is in the low 30s!

Still living the dream….

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 73 – Gunpowder Rest Area to Cloncurry

We were back to a cold morning this morning, but the diesel heater soon improved the situation.  After some confusion about what time it was (only some of our clocks had been updated from NT time) we got underway about 9.30am.

Our first stop today was at Mt Isa, where we parked near the Visitor Information Centre which is known as “Outback at Isa”.  This is a very large place and is the centre of various tours, museums, mining exhibitions, and even a brilliant photographic exhibition.  There is also a nice café – yes Kaye we had coffee and cake!

Changing scenery along the way

Approaching Mount Isa

Welcome to Mount Isa

Scenes Around Mount Isa

Scenes Around Mount Isa

We then moved Bertha and did a quick shop at Coles to replenish our food supplies.  We stayed at Mt Isa for a few days on our 2015 Big Adventure, and this is still very much a mining town.  The mines and associated infrastructure dominate the skyline and the landscape.

Scenes Around Mount Isa

Yesterday I commented that the Queensland roads were surprisingly good, but I’m sorry to say that the situation didn’t last too long and the quality diminished around Mt Isa.  Queensland seems to design its roads, and we’re talking a major highway here, differently to NT, for example.  The highway is generally narrower and there is very little space beside the road to pull over if required.  There are very short roadside stops which are shared by cars and trucks, and very few rest areas with toilet facilities.  In contrast, NT has quite separate stopping areas for cars and trucks, and proper rest areas at reasonable intervals.  From Mt Isa the road at least did have frequent overtaking lanes as there were few opportunities for trucks and cars to overtake slower vehicles otherwise.

Not much of a rest area!

After lunch in Bertha we hit the road and continued our journey to Cloncurry.  The changes in the landscape were amazing with flat scrub plains making way for mountains, rocky outcrops, and more.

On the road to Cloncurry

On the road to Cloncurry

Views of Cloncurry

Once in Cloncurry we booked in at the Discovery Caravan Park, which is a combination caravan park and mining workers’ accommodation huts.  The facilities are excellent with camp kitchens, pool, gym and washers and driers, for instance, are free. There is also a restaurant called ‘The Curry’ and all caravan park guests are welcome – it’s an all-you-can-eat feast each night!  It all works very well and this is a really nice place to stay, partly due to being on grass sites rather than dust or gravel, for a change.

Sunset at Cloncurry

It has been a great day with temperatures in the mid-twenties and our lovely clear blue skies are back.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

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.

Livestock

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.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

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.

Smoke!

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: ,

Blog at WordPress.com.