The Old Telegraph Track, Cape York (Part 1)

With the Lenovo seeming dead I have adopted an Apple to continue blogging!

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The Old Telegraph Track(OTT) is a very popular 4WD track that heads north up Cape York from Bramwell  Station to the Jardine river and beyond with the Telegraph terminating at Cable Beach near Punsand Bay, only 20km or so from the most northerly point of mainland Australia.

We left Morton Telegraph Station early, quickly drove 42km to Bramwell Station, keen but unsure what to expect at the first challenge Palm Creek.

A small wooden sign, not worthy of a photo pointed the track past the station and we pulled up at Palm Creek behind a big tour bus and a couple of other cars. Their eyes lit up and everyone reached for their cameras when we said we were going to cross.

It was certainly a bit more challenging than I was expecting but the word was if you can do this crossing you can complete the track. The entry into the creek was a two step, narrow muddy track with the tiniest bend towards the base. Total drop was possibly ten metres.

With other people arriving behind I jumped to it, handed cameras and video to people and started the GoPro running.

In the excitement of the moment I then made a number of rooky errors. Firstly, the GoPro was in camera mode so I got a photo of me looking at the camera – oops. Secondly, feeling the pressure of people waiting to cross I forgot to reduce my tyre pressures.

The descent was relatively easy as you just have to get your tyres in the tracks and keep them there while descending in low gear. The opposite side offered two exits and we chose the direct one. Naively thinking we could savour the moment with a slow ascent, I underestimated the traction on the slippery incline and sheepishly descended backwards after getting only the car nose to the top. On the next attempt I made my third error trying to ascend before the low range gear had engaged properly. The third time I beckoned to Amanda to grab the winch, put it round the nearest tree and 5 minutes later we were out. The tourist bus was happy with the spectacle but it was a very amateur effort indeed as the next cars showed us, roaring past in one attempt.

The ice was broken and we were on our way at last. Three kilometres later we arrived at Dulcie Creek, where track notes indicated care required to avoid deep holes. A muddy puddle sat in the middle of an otherwise dry river bed so this obstacle was passed with relative ease.

Dulhunty and Bertie rivers provided more water but these were more a case of avoiding deep holes in the rocky bed, nothing a quick wade in the crystal waters couldn’t solve.

One thing we did notice was that there are very few intact telegraph poles remaining. Souvenir hunters have bent the metal poles to remove the porcelain insulators along the entire track. There were some older wooden poles standing but these too lacked any porcelain adornments. They would look more impressive on the poles than sitting forlornly on people’s

The infamous challenge on the OTT is Gunshot Creek and we chose not to do this challenge as we were towing a fully laden Camprite trailer that we still needed to live in for some time. We bypassed this and setup camp at Cockatoo Creek, another crossing where deep holes in the riverbed need to be treated with respect. We camped above a deep waterhole and the kids spent the afternoon fishing and swimming. I spotted a big barramundi whilst spotlighting that night, and a quick well placed cast landed a 70cm fish for the next evening’s dinner.

Up early in the morning I took Oscar for a fish, still seeking his first barramundi, and landed a 72cm Sarotoga on my second cast. Unfortunately Oscar only caught some good-sized grunter. We also got a visit from the rare Palm Cockatoo which is a magnificent bird with a huge beak, black with red cheeks and a huge array of long feathers on his head.

So far the Camprite trailer was holding up very well and all was good. As the sun rose we prepared for as visit to Gunshot Creek.

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The Plenty Highway

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Alice Springs didn’t have the tyre we needed to replace our worn flat tyre so with no further reason to hang around we headed north up the Stuart Highway again to the junction with the Plenty Highway. This road is almost 500km long, predominantly unsealed, that provided us a relatively direct route into Queensland. Both the car and I are a little weary of corrugated dirt roads so this route offered a compromise. The road is also known for the mineral rich environment it passes through, and a random decision en route saw us pull in to the interesting named Gemtree caravan park.

The kids excitement levels rose when they saw there were tag-along gemstone tours for garnets and zircon so we duly booked up for the next day. The offer of a camp roast dinner that night proved too much too so that too was promptly booked. Then as we settled in to the site, each named after a gemstone, a cry went up that “110AroundOz” were in the camp, another Sydney family that we hadn’t seen for a while.


Kate and Arran, who run the park, won an award for their camp oven dinners in 2014. That evening Kate introduced her team and gave a thorough overview of the development and operation of the camp oven. The dinner was a well-oiled production line operation and the full-stacked plates that swiftly emptied were testament to the quality of the dinner. We have only had one roast dinner since we have been away so it was a real treat, particularly the beer keg-cooked spuds.

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Early next morning the car was loaded with pick, shovel, sieves, bucket and a 20 gallon drum of water, and a small convoy followed our guide Greg along the dusty road, pulled off some kilometres later and arrived at an unremarkable spot. Greg demonstrated how to sieve the dug soil, and how to wash it and by looking through the base at the sun garnets can be identified by the blood red glow in the light. The fragments often looked like bits of broken glass, but we hit a good patch, and after a few hours we were the last to leave with a tin full of garnet fragments. Back at the park Kate examined and graded them, commenting that she had never seen so many cutting grade garnets found before. With our beady-eyed fossicking kids it wasn’t really a surprise.

Mulga ant hole

Mulga ant hole

The property also hosts zircon fossicking trips, but I chose to take the self-guided nature trail that highlights many of the native shrubs and trees and their medicinal or other uses. The mulga ant holes lined the walkway, supposedly a sign of impending rain, but little evidence of this being the case on any forecast I have seen. Although I didn’t see as many birds as were found in the camping area itself I was amused to find a few tees for what must once have been a golfing grand plan. From their condition I guessed that maintenance of a big course is actually quite hard and I couldn’t find any evidence of flags where the holes might have been.

Gemtree was truly a hidden gem that we were lucky enough to stumble upon. A few days earlier we never even planned to be in this neck of the woods.

From Gemtree the Plenty Highway provided lots of dust heading east, but the road itself wasn’t too bad. A particularly large termite mound by the side of the road provided a welcome opportunity to stop and let the kids try to scale it. Apparently the insides of the mound can be rubbed on the skin as a mosquito repellent, but you have to break into the concrete-like structures first.

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Henbury Meteorite Conservation Reserve

On our return to Alice Springs from Uluru, with plans totally changed we decided to have a look at the Henbury Meteorite crater site. The area is pretty desolate, dry, dusty, very rocky and only small shrubs interspersed throughout the barren landscape. The campsite was fine, right next to the meteorite crater site so a quick exploration was required before sunset.

Having seen the gigantic meteorite at Wolfe Creek earlier in our trip I wasn’t expecting much of this place, however it did have a few surprises in store for us. Firstly I was surprised to read that NASA astronauts have visited the site to get a feel for the lunar landscape. It sounded more like a junket to me. The meteor itself smashed into the atmosphere approximately 4,000 years ago, but unlike Wolfe Creek this one split into several pieces, the largest being the size of a 200l oil drum. Four of these pieces hit the ground next to one another while the other eight or so remnants hit the earth some distance to the south (not immediately visible from where we stood).

Two of the craters had overlapped into a single large crater, almost 200m across, and the remnants of the walls between them was only visible from spurs jutting into the crater on opposite sides, the fused rock having been more resistant to erosion.

Walking through the middle the kids pointed out a “dead finish” bush, so hardy that if it dies then everything else will be dead or finished too. The two adjacent craters were smaller, one quite dry and devoid of plant life, the other quite the opposite. The last crater apparently retains water well offering an oasis for a small stand of trees that occupy the circumference of the base. The base, now dry, was covered in a thick mat of grasses, and a patio of cracked dried mud. When full it must offer a refuge for many birds and animals.

With little else to do here it was a good opportunity for Amanda to cook some muffins on the Weber and the kids to catch up on their homework, while I attended to some much needed maintenance on the trailer.

The sun set and we sat back to enjoy the spectacularly clear night sky show, with satellites passing far above us in all directions, the band of the milky way stretching across the sky, and a million stars twinkling brightly at us from across the universe.


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Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon)

Clutching our permits that allowed us access to the Mereenie Loop we left Palm Valley early choosing to take the shorter route to Watarrka National Park. Travel early in the day is recommended to avoid afternoon sun in your eyes heading west. The unsealed road was rough, but fine to drive and nothing like a few of the 4WD tracks in the area. It passed through typical central Australian landscape of grassy savannah, sparsely populated with the Casuarina or sheoak trees, and the red dusty dirt that prevails everywhere.

It was a hot day and we decided to walk the 5km loop around Kings Canyon, rather than the short trip up the valley. The start was a punishing steep climb up a rock staircase, in searing heat, but once conquered the rest of the walk was pretty comfortable and relatively flat. At various points the unrestrained lookouts give you an eagle’s eye view of the canyon, sheer, flat, often overhung cliff faces disappearing into the treetops below. As soon they put up barricades for people’s safety (or protection from their stupidity) the raw beauty will be lost, but until then it remains a truly unspoilt natural wonder. Unfortunately though, Xavier doesn’t have a head for heights so he is noticeably absent from the photos as we couldn’t coax him to join us.

Around the halfway mark the track allows you to enter the “Garden of Eden”, an oasis below the cliffs that has abundant cycad growth and at the base an icy cold pool provides refreshing relief to the overheating walker. Four of us took what must be one of the shortest “dips” we have had and as the cold took hold it was hilarious to see everyone’s faces change to horror, then the mad scramble to scale the slippery rock-face back into the warm sunlight.

Beyond this there is a section of the walk that resembles the Bungle Bungles, a vista of layered beehive-shaped rocks covering the top of that part of the canyon.

With insufficient energy left to attempt another walk in the 33 degree heat we found an early camp secreted away in the bush, made a campfire and settled in to enjoy an undisturbed evening below a magnificent escarpment near Kings Creek. It was in the fading sunlight that Amanda noticed we had a flat tyre and I was obliged to perform a hasty change lying in the rocks and dirt before the light disappeared.


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West from Alice Springs

Our first night in Alice saw temperatures plummet to 3 degrees. What few warm clothes we had came out but it was actually quite nice as by 9am the temperature had risen enough to be comfortable again. With all warm clothes stowed again we headed out of town along the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Knowing it was a short drive for the day we made some impromptu unplanned stops as we went. First up was Simpsons Gap in the Tjoritja / West. MacDonnell National Park. Following the dry river bed towards the gap I was surprised to see “No Swimming” signs but at the gap there was a substantial lake full of icy cold water. A few black-footed wallabies hopped around the rock piles on both sides of the gap, looking down intently watching our every move. We also spotted plenty of striated grass wren jumping around the rocks and grass.

A little further along the road we stopped to have a look at the local indigenous artist, Kathleen Buzzacott’s studio. Everyone loved the deep bowls filled with coloured seeds, and running hands through them just felt so good! The kids were interested in the jewellery made from the seeds and then watched intently as Kathleen showed them how to dot-paint. A very interesting stop that inspired the kids drawing efforts that afternoon in the car.

Hermannsberg was established as a Lutherian Mission in 1877 by two newly arrived missionaries from Germany. Their trip alone to the area was a marathon of hardships and drought, having being despatched in mid-summer. Today the mission offers an insight to outback life in the late 19th century. The kids marvelled at the size of the porridge pot, particularly as we all ate hot porridge for breakfast. We also learnt that in the indigenous language, Arrernte, there are only four number words, for 1,2,3 then everything beyond this is “a mob”. The kids struggled  trying to grasp the concept, but an apple strudel was beckoning us in the café so we moved out of the school.

Just on the other side of Hermannsberg a dirt and sandy road led us up to Palm Valley. Having grabbed a campsite we decided to visit the valley before sunset and set off up a very rocky 4WD track to the start of the walk. It was slow and bumpy and the sun was falling fast but we all managed to make the 5km loop walk , then negotiate the track back down before nightfall. The deep-rich red colours of the valley rock walls were amazing to see as the sun dropped further in the sky, and to see Cabbage Tree palms nestled in the valley was interesting as the 2,000 odd palms are an isolated population, their nearest relatives being over 800km away in Queensland.

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East Arnhemland (Part 4 – Cape Arnhem)

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A special permit is required to enter Cape Arnhem, over and above the transit permit required to travel there. Only 10 vehicles are permitted at a time with no trailers, width, height and weight restrictions also exist due to some of the tracks passing through low hanging bush, between trees or over soft sand. This meant having to abandon our beloved home, the Camprite trailer, and pull the emergency tents from the roof pod. We even bought an esky for the trip to keep our food cold.

The trailer was parked at Chris and Emi’s house in Nhulunbuy and Amanda was excited at their kind offer to do a clothes wash for us while away.

Entrance to the Cape was via a rugged dirt road along an escarpment with glimpses through the forest of beach and mangroves below. A lookout several kilometres in is where the fun starts. Having taken in the views up and down the coastline the road drops steeply down the escarpment into the forest below, weaves through narrow gaps between tall trees before becoming sandy. Taking no chances I dropped tyre pressures below the recommended 20 PSI and pressed on. Without a map there were a surprising number of trails leading off, though most of them return to meet, and without too much difficulty we headed in the right direction. There are over 50 sacred sites on the Cape, the main one known as Twin Eagles, where visitors may drive by but not stop to picnic, camp or fish. The drive north up the Cape involves beach and dune work, sometimes particularly soft and there was plenty of evidence of “boggings” along the way.

The sandy beaches looked attractive on approach but our hearts sank somewhat at the volume of sea-borne debris and detritus that littered most of them. Then sadness turned to dismay when we spotted a bottlenose dolphin washed up on the beach. We pulled over and dashed to see if we could save it but it looked like it had only recently died. Not knowing what had killed it (no obvious visible cause) we paused and walked down the beach collecting thongs (flip flops for those reading in the UK) that covered the sand. Over one hundred were recovered and placed on the car roof. Most of the debris has been brought from Asia by prevailing winds and ocean currents, or dumped from ships passing.

We found a campsite known as the Penthouse, at the furthest point north that visitors are allowed, set up camp and then found a dead turtle on the beach below. Some rangers had obviously stayed prior and had enjoyed a feast of mud mussels and turtle eggs, judging by the discarded remnants on the edge of the camp.

A small crocodile swam in to shelter behind the reef as the rough ocean was still being stirred up by strong easterly winds.

The hammock was brought out and we switched into relaxed desert island chilling mode. The kids explored, we fished (Oscar was happy to catch a queenfish) and Amanda sat in the hammock reading.

The next day we wanted to make a further impact and we chose the same beaches, this time targeting cigarette lighters. Over 300 were retrieved and disposed of. The children were somewhat distracted by their search for Chambered Nautilus shells that they had started to find but all helped fill the bucket. We noticed the difference but we couldn’t collect all the ghost nets, toothbrushes, light bulbs, and a plethora of miscellaneous glass and plastic bottles, jars and other items. And all the time the winds were bringing in new items. We found two more dead turtles too on the beaches. Others had obviously tried before us and had left the debris in a tree. We chose to dispose of it.

On returning to camp Xavier found a fossilised chambered nautilus in rocks nearby making us all ponder how long these animals have been around, long before humans polluted these beaches.

The sandy tracks allow a couple of days exploring. To the south there is another camp near caves beach and whilst folk do swim the crocodiles are there as we saw so extreme precaution is recommended if entering the water.

Despite the rubbish on the beaches this is a great place to escape and experience the beauty of Arnhemland.

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East Arnhemland (Part 3 – Maccassan Beach)

From Giddy River we relocated to Maccassan Beach as a base to explore the surrounding area. One of our permits gave us access to the Dhimurru recreational areas to camp and this area includes a number of sites along the coast. Some 15km off the main, but unsealed road into Nhulunbuy, a signposted track leads you to a beach called Little Bondi. The track to the beach was tight and scratchy increasingly enclosed by bush on all sides as you approach, then soft white sand. I stopped short so we could check out the camp spot but despite the tranquil location it wasn’t deemed good enough for Fifty Toes Walkabout! Somewhat surprised by the decision we moved to turn around, but we had other beaches to check first. The only way out was to drive further onto the sand and we got bogged. With tyre pressures reduced even further and the recovery tracks in place we freed and after a nervous drive down the beach executed a hairy turn the soft sand, then back down to the hard stuff. Next stop Turtle Beach. This was a tiny beach with a couple of sheltered campsites. It looked great but no sun for our solar panels. The final spot was Maccassan beach, perfect for us with plenty of space, a few trees offering plenty of shade and plenty of open space and a bigger beach. The bauxite rock platform even promised fishing opportunities, but the onshore wind had built up and didn’t look like abating soon.

Nearby there was an interesting sacred site, unlike any other we had encountered to date. A fleet of up to 60 Maccassan trading boats from Sulawesi used to travel to this area on prevailing trade winds in December each year, for centuries up to 1907, to trade knives, tools and food for Trepang, or sea slugs. Each boat would carry up to 40 men and the 1,600km journey would take two weeks. The return leg would take place when the trade winds turned in April, often engaging local Yolngu people in the process.

The site consists of bauxite rock placements representing details of the trading interaction. Sections of the trading boats, called Praus line the ground in detail, others show the style of fireplaces required to boil the trepang, and fish traps.

Regulations imposed by a wary government in 1907 required these boats to register for tax in Darwin first, and trade winds couldn’t get them there so the trade ceased. The site consists of bauxite rock placements representing details of the trade. The rock placements are the only remnant of that ancient trade.

Bauxite is everywhere and for this reason Rio Tinto Alcan have a mine here. As a by-product of the mine’s presence in the Gove Peninsula Nhulunbuy is the sixth largest town in NT with a booming population of just under 4,000. Infrastructure is quite advanced for such a remote area and the hospital looked large for the town size.

The beach proved interesting, each day new tracks revealed nocturnal visits by crocodiles, turtles, and a few unknown creatures. Xavier and I walked to Turtle Beach past a billabong that was teeming with juvenile cane toads. You couldn’t help but tread on them with each step but too many to be able to do anything about them.

We took a drive to Rainbow Cliffs, then onto Goanna Lagoon. The road was comical because the original road runs direct into the bush but is crossed by tree trunk after trunk, brought down in recent cyclones, making the direct route impassable. Instead you have to zig zag your way constantly crossing the road at right angles to avoid the trees. Perseverance with the drive is rewarded with an opportunity to jump into crystal clear cooling waters (once you’ve checked for crocodiles of course) and the kids made the most of it.

We visited the exclusive art centre at Yirrkala where local artist’s work is showcased in an immaculate gallery. Whilst beyond our budget some of the artwork here was of particularly high quality, and the church panels in the museum gallery were a labour of love that took months to complete, depicting many of the cultural traditions. The Yolngu culture here is very strong and the people look so much more relaxed and comfortable, possibly because they have ownership of their own land and appear to be more in control of their destiny than in other areas we have seen. That said there are still many issues surrounding family, alcohol and drug abuse that one is constantly reminded of by posters around town, at the festival, and in local papers.

Then we explored the empty town beaches, starting at the refinery jetty where we watched dolphins and fished unsuccessfully again. Woodys beach was a hit, offering another safe swimming option in an enclosed but shallow area. A sandbar offered a walk to an island but with an incoming tide and a deep 4m wide channel to complete the crossing, we stopped. The next few beaches were deserted too and equally nice but we had a booking i.e. another permit to visit Cape Arnhem

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East Arnhemland (Part 1 – The road to Nhulunbuy)

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To travel into most of Arnhemland you need a travel permit, then to stay there you need another permit. Depending upon where you plan to visit you need other permits so a little preparation is required to enter this area. Permits are obtainable through the Northern Land Council and we got the most helpful lady you could wish for in the Katherine office. The first bombshell she dropped was “Are you going for the Garma festival?”. We pleaded ignorance and was informed it was the biggest indigenous event of the year, four days of celebrations, all sounding very exciting and just what we were after, however whe told us it had been sold out for months. The second bombshell was it was a public holiday in NT and she enquired whether we had accommodation booked. Errrr no, was our sheepish response. We had only booked accommodation twice in 8 months on the road, preferring to leave it to fate wherever we went. I vaguely mentioned a few of the places we hoped to visit and we were given a phone number to call in Nhulunbuy to arrange camping permits. A short telephone conversation with an equally helpful lady in the Nhulunbuy office of, and we had another two permits arranged and we were ready to go. Then we had a chance meeting with a very special man called Jimmy Wavehill.

Jimmy Wavehill is the last surviving founder of the Aboriginal land rights movement, who walked off NTs Wave Hill station in the first protest of a campaign that began in 1966. We had seen him walk into the NLC office in Katherine and as he exited we engaged in a conversation. Sporting a grand cowboy hat, this sprightly 80 year old still had a boyish twinkle in his eye that made me smile. He gave us a short version of the story and invited us to the 50th anniversary next year, at Wave Hill. He left the boys with a message to pursue their dreams and work hard, then strode outside to his Landcruiser, where we grabbed a quick photo opportunity with him. An inspiring character, full of energy, and one of the few remaining widely respected elders.

We met up with the girls for lunch in the park and the remains of our hot chicken was used to produce our very own birdshow with approximately 40 black and whistling kites swooping within metres of us to catch bones thrown in the air by the kids. The video footage is awesome! We were ready to go.

Katherine to Nhulunbuy is some 720km, predominantly unsealed road and though not mentioned on the travel permit, a roadside stop is permitted. We chose to do it in a single day, starting from the beginning of the Central Arnhem Road where it meets the Stuart Highway. Despite an early start we didn’t reach our campsite at Guwatjurumurru (Giddy River) until late. The sun was going down fast and we had to squeeze into a spot next to a couple with two kids. Chris and Emi were very accommodating and kindly offered to house our trailer for 3 days while we visited Cape Arnhem. The kids explored around the edge of the pools and river, then went to bed. When the campfire overlooking the river died down, and the full moon had risen, I got out a spotlight and spotted two crocodiles. Only small ones, possibly even freshwater crocs, but we weren’t going to swim here despite some inviting shallow pools.

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East Arnhemland (Part 2 – Garma 2015)

We had only found out about the Garma festival the previous day and managed to get entry to witness the biggest annual indigenous festival in the region, and in fact Australia. For four days the grounds are host to weaving demonstrations, jewellery and spear making demonstrations, arts and craft, many bands, ranging from local to well-known ones and much more. The main arena hosts demonstrations of local cultural song and dance from many different clans. Little shelters around the main arena provided focal points to observe the crafts. There was a didgeridoo store selling “raw” ones, and an expert was giving students tuition on how to make them.

Local Yirralka rangers demonstrated how to make spears, from the initial wood-straightening over a fire to the binding with wire of the metal tips. Hannah, Oscar and I watched a weaving demonstration, then proceeded to create our own pieces (pendant in my case because it was small).

The clan ceremonies performing next to the main stage were the most interesting. Each clan would take turns to showcase their dances, songs, and music, encouraging audience participation as the day progressed. Some dances were very similar across clans and it was great seeing the youngsters jump up and join in when they recognised a dance. We were invited to share a mat with some lovely ladies from one clan and one of their young girls coaxed Hannah up to join in the Emu dance, and Hannah happily joined the group trying to learn new dances. Taken under the wing of an older girl Hannah thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself and was oblivious to the huge crowd watching. It wasn’t long before many more followed her and even Amanda had a go.

An art gallery was secreted amongst the trees to one side, offering a temporary diversion. The kids were too nervous to enter the youth area unaccompanied though, which was a shame as it offered a wealth of activities from basic table tennis through to circus trick training and fun science activities brought from Questicon in Canberra.

The kids discovered a mine truck simulator provided and run by Rio Tinto, and after patiently waiting they each got to try driving around the virtual pit mine in a 20+ tonne mine truck.

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Evening entertainment was provided by famous names such as Neil Murray and Emma Donovan and the Putbacks.

The indigenous culture is very strong in Arnhemland and it was great to see it thriving. Garma opened a window for the kids to see a very different way of life that exists in their own country and hopefully they will remember what they have seen, possible even return in the future to get a better understanding.

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Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (Cobourg Peninsula)

Clutching our recently acquired permits to visit the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, we couldn’t wait to cross the famous Cahill (Alligator River) crossing and enter Arnhemland. The crocodiles were off duty so no need to loiter there (they perform best at high tide catching mullet when the river and fish breach the road causeway) and we pressed on. From exiting Kakadu the campground at Garig Gunak Barlu is approximately 320km and there are no fuel stops or shops. All Jerry cans had been pre-filled and all was set for a fun trip. The corrugation torture began early and a strange rattling outside caused us to stop by some wetlands that surpassed anything we saw in Kakadu for birdlife. Magpie geese were everywhere. A few loose screws were tightened on the newly fixed awning fitting and we were off again.

Rock art could be seen clearly under many ledges as we passed through the Arnhemland escarpment, though none is available for public access.

There were numerous bushfires along the edge of the road as we progressed. Once the Woollybutt tree flowers it’s the season to burn, and burn they do very well up here. Even the black and whistling kites, that predate on animals, flushed out of these burning areas, have developed an interesting behaviour that we witnessed. They swoop into the burning flames with long pieces of dry grass in their beaks, set it alight then drop it in an unburnt area to start a new fire. We have seen hundreds of birds circling, swooping and diving around the fringes of bushfires. The intensity of the fires is less than those experienced in the south and eastern states due to lower amounts of fuel.

A side effect of the fires though is that some trees become unstable and collapse across the roads. We weaved our way through a maze of trunks and branches strewn across the road until we met a large tree straddling the road completely. Once side of the road was in flames, the other was strewn with trunks presumably from previous fires. With no axe, or chainsaw using the winch or towing was an option but the trunk was wedged the wrong side of two trees either side of the road. The prospect of turning around was not attractive so after a quick inspection of the smouldering fire we decided it could be negotiated and the Pajero was briefly turned into bulldozer mode and vehicle and trailer deftly steered through (literally) the bush, Amanda trying hard not to melt her new thongs.

From there on all we had to avoid were the abundant hazards, indicated by strategically placed red triangles, giving no indication of what the upcoming hazard was, and often placed in the middle of the road.

Only 20 vehicles are allowed into the national park at any time, and the campsites are huge and private. The park is populated with water buffalo, many saltwater crocodiles (no swimming allowed here), wild pigs and banteng. The latter were introduced from Indonesia where they are now endangered, but have proliferated in the park, where they are tolerated because of their status in Indonesia. They look like stocky cattle but have a characteristic white rump. The ranger shared the bird list with us and it didn’t take long to spot a few new species for the list.

The campsite sits amongst a number of billabongs hidden behind thick bush and pig and banteng tracks disappeared through the middle of them. Xavier and I followed some and stumbled upon what we reckoned were a couple of large crocodile nests, conical sand mounds, several metres high in the middle of swampy ground that would be water in the wet season.

We had enough fuel to explore the wetlands track that traces around the edge of the largest billabong, the coastal track, where Xavier found a dead crocodile on the beach, Smiths Point and Caiman creek for a spot of fishing. Funny how the incorrectly named Alligator rivers and Caiman Creek names have stuck – yes we only have crocodiles here!

Cobourg is also a breeding ground for 6 of the 7 species of marine turtles. Amanda was excited about seeing them laying but only one was spotted in the water all week. No-one caught a glimpse of a dugong here either, another animal that is abundant here and eaten by the locals.

With a boat there are further options to explore up here and judging by the fish being caught it wouldn’t take long to fill your freezer.

Once Hannah had fulfilled her fishing challenge (catching a fish in every state) Oscar and I decided to get serious and went looking for bigger fish. We almost landed a large shark, that shook the hook only a metre from the shore but when the crocs came in to the beach at dusk (to sleep) it got interesting. Sitting well up the beach we watched a croc zigzag ever closer, then just as it reached the shore it appeared to cross my fishing line. Not wanting to entangle a croc I quickly retrieved the line but as it splashed past the croc exploded into action lunging and grabbing the float. “Time to go” was all I could muster as I grabbed everything and followed Oscar, with the croc still chasing the float, dragging along the beach behind me as I ran. A good croc safety lesson for Oscar, as the kids don’t seem to heed our warning them not to go too close to the water. Fascinating to watch just how quick they can be.

A week passed quickly with fishing and shell collecting on the beaches but Cobourg hasto be up on the favourites list and a place that needs to be revisited in the future. On the return trip my recently fixed awning broke due to metal fatigue induced by corrugations, so I’ll be back to Bunnings when we pass through Katherine next.

Our final stop in Arnhemland was the Injalak Art centre, where there was an excellent collection of paper and bark painting and weavings, well worth the short diversion before crossing the river again. Ironically, we finally bumped into another family with kids at our school. They live around the corner at home, were doing a similar trip to ours and we bumped into “Our Roaming Home” finally at Injalak.


Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Mitsubishi, National Park, Natural World, Northern Territory, NT, Offroad, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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