Posts Tagged With: Arnhemland

Ten of the Fifty Toes gives a 5 minute trip summary (#5) – Photographer and fisherman’s view

OK so this is a bit out of order but number 4 will follow next week when I get the youngest to provide input

What were your three favourite places and why?”

  1. “Cape York has to be on the list. Six weeks on the Cape was enough to have a good look around but we still didn’t see everything. The rugged tracks, and river crossings especially along the Old Telegraph Track were a fun challenge. The National Parks were beautiful and uncrowded and full of beautiful wildlife, especially the birds. For me the fishing here was highlight of the whole trip, partly because it was where the barramundi finally started getting caught but there were plenty of fish even in the dry season. The variety of habitat throughout the Cape continued right until the very tip at Pajinka. Beautiful beaches and a place where you can escape the crowds without too much difficulty”
  2. “Arnhemland impressed me from several angles. Firstly the sheer rugged and raw natural feel to it. On both our sorties into the region it was heartening to see rich aboriginal culture still thriving here and whilst we only had limited contact with people from the communities, those brief encounters were rich and very positive experiences. Watching my daughter being led to dance the Emu dance on the main arena by a local indigenous girl at the Garma festival was gorgeous. Even better was the fact that she was the first up and participated with quite a few dances. The camping was controlled by a permit system that works well despite the paperwork required to obtain permits.”
  3. “The Kimberley region in WA again provided a huge diversity of experience. Challenging driving on extremely corrugated dirt roads, particularly north of the Gibb River road, cultural glimpses into the past through some magnificent rock art sites, and uniquely refreshing waterfalls and gorges scattered through the region. The flora and fauna too is very different, the boab trees being the most obvious residents with their massively bloated trunks and relatively short spindly, outstretched branches. This was where we first encountered crocodiles in numbers, both fresh and saltwater ones.”
  4. Tasmania and Cape Levique would be very close behind these, places where we didn’t spend long enough and could easily revisit
“What was the best thing you took on the trip?”
“Probably my camera to allow me to capture glimpses that will forever remind us of the trip. Things like the air compressor and recovery tracks were essentials that we couldn’t have done without, given some of the places we visited. It was really important to make sure we could cope with any scenario as we were often travelling on our own”
“What did you miss most, or just couldn’t take with you?”
“I missed my Scuba gear the most. Given we spent a large part of the trip close to the ocean it was hard to go past places and not be able to dive. Unfortunately with the amount of gear I take diving it would have meant leaving all of the kids behind! A kayak or canoe would have served us well especially in the croc free areas. We had racks for them but just shied away from buying them. Perhaps next time I will do a lap dedicated to fishing and diving.
We didn’t physically have space to take a chainsaw, and in the end I left our axe behind to reduce weight. We coped fine without even with trees across roads – there are always other options available to you.”
“Would you do it again?”
“Yes. Probably in a different approach. I’d like to spend 1-2 months in a specific area to dig deeper and explore areas in more detail. Being on a strict budget we couldn’t do everything we wanted this time and a shorter trip would be easier to budget and plan for. Our trip was what I have christened “the reconnaissance trip” getting an idea of what is out there. With so much to see we’d have to spend years to see it all”
“How did schooling on the road go?”
“We used Sydney Distance Education Primary School. We chose not to use iPads as a large proportion of the time we had no, or limited, access to wifi or even telephone coverage. Packages of work were sent to our choice of destination (usually a post office) regularly then we would post back every fortnight. Teachers were always available for chats with the kids for those rare occasions we did have coverage. A daily routine was not possible due to the ad-hoc nature of our travelling, with days of cramming often engaged when a suitable location was found. That said we did focus on teaching times tables whilst driving along. The main challenge was keeping the kids motivated to complete assignments, particularly when other kids could be seen running around a camp, or there was a new place to explore”
Categories: australia, Big Lap, Explore, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Natural World, Northern Territory, Offroad, Photos, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Northern Territory, Offroad, Photography, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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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