Diary—May 2006




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7 to 13 May 2006

Alice Springs–Ormiston Gorge–Redbank Gorge–Palm Valley–Kings Canyon–Rainbow Valley–Chambers Pillar

Sunday in the Alice started with free pancakes at the caravan park, more than we could eat and a great way to meet other campers. We then headed off to the Desert park. This is set up to show four major desert environments and is really well done. The bird show had the unexpected addition of some wild/free eagles attacking the park's tame eagle. Day ended at the 'Potter's house' church—the worship was a little interesting but the sermon was good.

We decided, this week, to visit the West MacDonnell Ranges so off for a week of gorges! We know the map on the home page looks like we are lost!

Firstly Simpsons Gap, then Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, the ochre pits and Ormiston Gorge. It was amazing to see the contrasts—in colour, texture and environment. As more than one person commented, 'you cannot begin to capture it on film'.

Despite breaking early to camp, we got the second last spot in Ormiston Gorge. On the positive side, we were next to Stan and Karen, from Hervey Bay, who were to be our camping companions for the next four nights. (We hope to catch up with them for some diving sometime in the next year or so.) A note to other travellers: Norma makes an excellent hamburger in the Ormiston Gorge kiosk. We also got to catch a free Ranger talk on tracks, scats (poo) and fossils.

We alternated our long walks, with short walks and driving. Some of the shorter walks, like Redbank Gorge, were over rocky creek beds and so just as strenuous as hilly or longer walks. We camped in Redbank Gorge the next night on a ridge line with magnificent views over the valley and the ranges both east and west. And were very impressed by the camping facilities provided by Parks and Wildlife—each camp site had a low table and a fire pit.

After a brief visit to Gosse Bluff and Hermannsburg, we camped in Palm Valley. The road is 4WD territory but an amazing number of people (usually with hire cars) still tried to prove how good they were in a 2WD—no wonder the roadsides are littered with car bits. From inside Palm Valley you would never know that you were in the middle of a desert, with the lush growth of red cabbage palms and cycads you expect to walk around a bend in the valley and into the surf.

From Palm Valley we drove round the Mereenie Loop to camp at Kings Canyon Resort. The next day, early for us, we took on the Kings canyon 'rim walk' which took us about 4–5 hours, through an incredible variety of landscapes: from fossil sand dune 'beehives' to rocky desert to lush, cycad filled waterholes in a valley appropriately called the Garden of Eden. An incredible walk in a magnificent place.

After the walk we tackled, by car, the Ernest Giles Road (not in quite as good condition as the Mereenie Loop) to get to Rainbow Valley. By then we had earned our beer, which we drank while watching sunset as it hit the rock wall in the valley. Then we settled round the camp fire for another free Ranger talk about the area.

In between these gorges the road varied from new bitumen to sand dunes and corrugations that re-sorted our cutlery and even managed to vibrate out a 'shake-proof' pin holding one of Tim's support legs. Nothing a bit of fencing wire won't fix!

The week ended at Chambers Pillar. We thought we might be the only ones there but there were six other vehicles by nightfall. We we generously included on a convoy on the way in, over the sand dunes, and out again (thanks John and Norm, John and Carol.)

We were visited by a Ranger for a fireside chat about the Pillar and local customs. It was only supposed to be for 45 minutes but he didn't get away for almost 2 hours.

Chambers Pillar

(Proof of Robin's concept of 5 degrees of separation from Dimboola—Hutch probably played football against the Ranger, who was from Ararat!)

Week 6

Thorny devil

Simpsons Gap

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Serpentine Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

Redbank Gorge

Palm Valley

Kings Canyon from the rim walk

Garden of Eden in Kings Canyon

Rainbow Valley sunset

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14 to 20 May 2006

Chambers Pillar–Alice Springs–N'Dhala Gorge–Ruby Gap–Alice Springs–Rabbit Flat

On the way back from Chambers Pillar we headed north and visited the Ewaninga Rock Carvings before heading back into Alice for stores and a shower. We went back to the Potter's House church on Sunday evening. They had a guest speaker from the UK who spoke well about the freedom from guilt we have through Jesus. We wonder what the church is usually like.

A few days in Alice, catching up on business/banking and some tourist stuff. We were delighted to see Terri and Pat again, roaming Tasmanians who we met at Kings Canyon resort. (The secret to Ulysses is listening to it read aloud on CD.)

We learnt that the town was originally called 'Stuart Town' and the name changed to 'Alice Springs'. We also learnt that it should have been called 'Alice Soak' (as the 'spring' is really a soak, but that is less romantic). All this information came through an excellent and informative tour of the Alice Springs telegraph station.

Tuesday we had our first flat tyre! After 7000 kms and all we have gone through, it happened in the Alice caravan park, probably in the workshop area while Hutch was changing the oil. The puncture repair kit works! And Hutch is proving skilled at finding holes with only a bucket of water to help.

We decided it was time to explore a bit to the east of town and so headed back out again for a tour of more gaps and gorges. They are astoundingly beautiful and unique. A good thing to do is to find our own fossils and rock-carvings, rather than just those signposted. We are also beginning to identify more stars.

N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park was our home for the night having visited Emily and Jessie Gaps, the Corroboree Rock and the Trephina Gorge Nature Park. The Trephina Gorge walk up around the rim and back through the river bed was strenuous but included excellent views. At night our fellow campers included John and Carol who had also been at Chambers Pillar with us.

Ruby Gap Gorge was our next stop via Arltunga, a gold mining area of the 1890's. We got to crawl through a little bit of one of the mines to give us a sense of the place and conditions.

We also got to try out the full 4wd capability of Yoda in Ruby Gap Gorge (between the 'vehicles not recommended' and 'vehicles prohibited' signs). A very tough track along the riverbed over rock, through mud and sand. Down from High Range to Centre Diff Lock, Low Range, Rear Diff Lock and occasional Front Diff Lock. Finally stopped when there was danger of damage to Yoda—Robin was gripping the hand-holds too hard. I think her fingerprints are still imbedded in the plastic! Yoda did well, Hutch drove excellently, Robin lost her nerve :)

Our camp in Ruby Gap Gorge was one of the best sites. Splendidly isolated—we thought we were the only people in the area until three 4wds went past close to sunset. They camped a kilometre further down river. At night the dingo calls echoed down the gorge and in the morning we watched the sun gradually light up the red rock walls.

We are a bit bemused by what is a gap what is a gorge and what is a chasm. And we are trying to spend our time equally between Nature Reserves, Historical Reserves, Conservation Reserves and National Parks! But we are pleasantly surprised at the standard of even the basic camp sites in these NT parks.

The Central Australia Hema map is falling apart so it must be time to move on. The Tanami Road is in reasonable condition (of course this is relative—the smoothest parts were the cattle grids!). There seems to have been rain along the road recently (not that we knew about it) as there are large amounts of water to the side of the road.

We camped at Rabbit Flat. The hosts have been here for years and it provides a welcome respite from the corrugations (massage, Hutch calls it).

Week 7

Ewaninga rock carvings

our first flat tyre

Alice Springs Telegraph Station

Trephina Gorge

Arltunga ex-goldmine

The easy bit of the Ruby Gap track

Ruby Gap camp

Ruby Gap wall, note the tree at the bottom for perspective

Water near the Tanami Road

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21 to 27 May 2006

Rabbit Flat–Halls Creek–Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles)–Kununurra

Happy birthday Bryce! We managed to cross the Tanami from Alice Springs to Halls Creek on a single (actually dual) tank of fuel. We still had ~15 L and two jerry cans spare. We felt this was a good achievement but were even more pleased not to get a flat tyre (or 3 as we heard of from one car).

At Rabbit Flat, because we had heard of the really strict quarantine rules in WA, we dumped all our fruit and vegetables (including things like seeds and honey) and re-stocked in Halls Creek—only to be forced to dump it all again before entering the Kununurra Fruit Fly Zone. We were not happy with the level of advice provided and had not heard or read anything about the fruit fly zone :(

After Rabbit Flat we visited the only notable landmark on the rest of that leg—the Wolfe Creek meteor crater. It was a beautiful site after the recent rains. Very green. We met ultimate camper 165 at the crater :)

From Halls Creek we went south-east past Old Halls Creek to a bush camp at Sawpit Gorge. As we arrived, we noticed a 4wd emerging from a steep river crossing. He advised of good camping on the other side if we could get the trailer through. And he was right! It was the best camp so far, on a crystal clear waterhole where we swam as the sun set. We watched five different types of fish feeding in the clear deepish water—plain, striped, spotted, shiny and big catfish.

We left there and headed north to a rough track into Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles). The road was 53km long but took us about an hour and a half to complete and included 26 water crossings, so we stayed for a few nights to explore. We struggled to make a sunset viewing area in time as the change to the WA time zone meant that it was setting at 5pm! The walks included: Mini Palms, Echidna Chasm, Cathedral Gorge, the beehive domes and Piccaninny Creek—most accessed by walking along pebbly and stony creek beds. Echidna was a fabulously and amazingly deep and narrow gorge. We (Robin) found out that walking on river rocks is more demanding than soft sand.

Purnululu was looking magnificent as the recent rain meant that many of the plants were in flower. We found some magnificent birds as well including some rainbow bee eaters and a red backed fairy wren. We even found some native fruits but couldn't tell if they were tasty or deadly. The rain also meant that some of the chasm waterholes were literally full of small frogs.

We made our way back out of the park and headed for our first BCA experience in Kununurra. We have booked into the caravan park for a week and met up with Ron and Robyn, Jim and Natalie, the BCA staff here. It is nice to be with family, even ones we hadn't met before, and to stay in one place for a while. It was also incredibly wonderful to have a shower after 4 days of 'bush' camping :)

Over the next week we will be installing a watering system and plants to providing a privacy screen for Ron's house. This should also provide a sheltered area for later volunteers to camp. While Hutch and Jim have made a start on this Robin has been helping out with events linked to a CWCI (Christian Women Communicating International) visit. This included helping with a morning tea meeting for mums with young children (don't laugh!) and also being at a wonderful outreach evening with ladies from most of the churches in Kununurra. The evening was a privilege to be part of. the message was a clear reminder of how Jesus loves us regardless of what we think of ourselves and, when we commit our lives to him, brings refreshing changes to our lives.

Blooming Bungle Bungles A frog with a beetle for scale Fruitful Bungles One closed road

Week 8

Sawpit Gorge

Bungle Bungle sunset over the rocks

Bungle Bungle sunset

Miini palm—palms on a ledge

Echidna Chasm—the dot is Robin

Cathedral Gorge—the red dot is Robin

View from the Piccaninny Creek lookout


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28 May to 03 June 2006

Kununurra-El Questro

Kununurra is not a big place so we walked to Ron's church on Sunday. Idewal, Ron's friend from Sydney, preached on Ephesians 2. The church had a real mix of people from Kununurra, Gold Coast, Canberra, Pennsylvania and South Korea. After church we went out for mango smoothies with a few from church and then we continued being tourists by going to where they mine 'zebra rocks'. At the gallery they also had a jetty where you could feed seething masses of catfish.

On Monday Ron invited us to go fishing with him, a rare privilege for us to join him on his day off. We travelled across the NT border on rough outback tracks to the Keep River. After netting some live bait, we settled in for a afternoon of fishing. We saw some crocodiles and some magnificent birds including a Jabiru. After all the bloke's efforts it was Robin who caught the only Barra. We got home after dark, so we filleted it then and ate it the following night—very nice.

Over the next few days we completed work for/around the church. Hutch planted 40-odd trees and added mulch and a watering system as well as shifting 5 tonne of gravel. (Actually Jim and Tim helped with most of the gravel). Meanwhile Robin created a basic church web site, helped establish a domain name and drafted a church leasing template. A bit of work but a break from corrugations and dust.

Thursday we got up at 5 AM and took a flight over the Ord River, the Bungle Bungles and Argyle Dam and mine. It was amazing to see, from the air, the gorges we walked through. A truly unique place.

Friday it was finally time to head off. travelling north we visited Wyndham via the 'grotto' waterhole (rumoured to be over 100m deep). From a lookout above Wyndham we could see a massive floodplain and 5 different river systems converging on the one gulf. Then we headed south to start on the Gibb River Road.

Our first night was at El Questro Park (in the camping ground, not the homestead at $1500 per night!). On the way into the park we walked Emma Gorge and swam under the waterfalls—freeeezing but it had to be done. In the camping grounds we were woken in the morning by aircraft (helicopters and planes) taking off and people setting off for the day's activities.

So we moved to a 'private camp' on the riverbank. The private camps are a great idea, they have no facilities, are available at no additional cost but also are more secluded—some even provide good fishing spots. Then we walked into El Questro Gorge. This time the swim, at the halfway point, was a much more reasonable temperature. We didn't go further than half way because the path continued through the swimming hole and over a very large rock.

In the afternoon we took a boat ride up Chamberlain Gorge. At the end of the gorge we fed Archer fish. They tried to shoot the bread out of our hands with water jets—they also shot at anything shiny such as jewellery, glasses and cameras. We also walked a little way along rock ledges to look at some old and some ancient rock art.

At sunset we drove to Branco's Lookout, which included a long rocky river crossing—interesting in the dark!. Finally we ended the day with a BBQ dinner at the station store. This included entertainment by a local girl singing and an old station hand telling tales and cracking whips. At our private camp we slept to the sounds of running water in the nearby Pentecost river.

The rock that stopped us in El Questro Gorge Archer fish shooting for bread Chamberlain Gorge rock art

Week 9

Feeding catfish at the Zebra Rock Gallery

Jabiru seen on our fishing trip

Robin's Barramundi—it was a team effort really

St James Kununurra

Argyle mine from the air—Hutch's view from  the copilots seat

Emma Gorge walk

Hutch swimming in the Emma Gorge pool