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It is mostly for my mum :)


2 to 8 April 2006

Canberra–Yass–Lake Cargelligo–Menindee Lakes–Broken Hill

We left at 4:55pm, 5 April, because we had to leave some time :)
Like the lads from the Bourke and Wills expedition, we didn't get very far on our first day. We did however make it interstate, unlike them, and we spent the first night in a motel in Yass. Hey, we started!

From Yass we travelled to just about the middle of NSW and spent the next night in Lake Cargelligo. Lake Cargelligo isn't very big, a friendly half horse sort of town :)

Then we continued our North-Western trek to stop the next night in a Bourke and Wills camp on the banks of the Darling near the town of Menindee. This was what the trip is about—free camping on a river bank, cooking our meal over an open fire and a brief walk to the flushing toilets! We shared this camp site with Janet and Bill from Coffin Bay in SA and with Michael and Kerrie from Melbourne.

But it wasn't warm enough…so we headed North­West again, through Ivanhoe where our friend Eddie hails from, and on to Broken Hill.

In Broken Hill we have been underground, dined at the Musicians Club, visited Pro Hart's gallery and a sculpture park in the middle of the living desert.

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9 to 15 April 2006

Broken Hill–Tibooburra–Cameron Corner–Innaminka–Coongie Lake

We celebrated Sunday with the Broken Hill Baptist church and were treated to an excellent show summarising all the things the kids had learnt in Sunday school during the term. A very welcoming church.

We went to the Jack Absolom gallery and the paintings were beautiful. And then Jack himself came out and chatted with us. He even gave us a few tips on how to fish in the Cooper Creek. My favourite painting of his was of water birds on Coongie Lake.

That night we met Gail and Gaston who were reliving their hippy days by travelling around in their Combi camper. They were due soon to return to Quebec in Canada but were trying to work out how they could spend summer in each place :)

The next night we went out to Silverton, about 25 kms out of Broken Hill. An historic but sparse little town in a forbidding landscape where films like Mad Max (all 3) were made. Much to Hutch's delight there was a replica Mad Max car outside the pub.

From Silverton we went out to Mundi Mundi, a further 5 kms on, to watch the sunset. We had a small issue with clocks and not realising that Broken Hill is on SA time—we were 30 minutes early :) But the scene gave us real insight to what inspired Pro Hart and Jack Absolom and the other 'Brushmen of the Bush'. The sunset was magnificent with brilliant colours changing the landscape as the sun sank.

The next day we left Broken Hill and headed north. It still wasn't quite warm enough :) On the way to Tibooburra we saw a few Wedge Tail eagles—magnificent and huge birds. We stopped for lunch at Packsaddle. While there, we chatted with the postie whose truck had broken down. She was waiting for a replacement vehicle—she'd been waiting 3 hours when we saw her! And on to Tibooburra where we camped at an attractively named camp ground—Dead Horse Gully. We walked around the granite outcrops and looked at a display of the mining heritage of the area. It was a good camp ground with toilets and barbeques.

After Tibooburra we drove, again north-west, to Cameron Corner (where NSW, SA and Qld meet). The white post in the picture is the corner post. At this corner there is a 'Corner store' so we stopped for a drink. There we chatted with Bill who had called in a few years ago and stayed to work for 6 months and has been back regularly since.

On to Innaminka via the Bore track. Many times it was less a track and more two wheel paths across the terrain. At one point, when we had gone at least 30 km from the last marker, we were no longer sure that we were in the right place so fired up the GPS and the Hema maps on the lap top. We found we were on the right path and only 21 km from Innaminka. But, as much of the track could only be negotiated at 40 km per hour, it didn't seem that close.

Pulling in to Innaminka at about 3 pm we decided to stay there rather than go the extra 100 kms out to Coongie Lake. We wandered through the regional reserve to Kings marker—where King of the Burke and Wills expedition was found. We set up camp there and settled in to watch the Cooper Creek slowly flow by.

On from Innaminka, again north-west, we headed for Coongie Lake (pronounced Coun-(as in could)-ghee). Again the track is such that 40 km per hour is a reasonable speed. But the lake and the creek there is so beautiful that it is worth the journey. The bird life was great but as the water levels were low there were fewer birds than could be expected later in the season. We spent the days relaxing, reading, eating the biscuits that Jacki Adams sent with us (thanks Jacki ) and watching the creek. Sometimes we swam tho' the banks were very muddy (up to my knees) and the water cold—but that was grand after it reached about 40 degrees one day.

The first night was a full moon and the dingoes sang to us all night while a flock of 20 pelicans herded fish noisily up and down the creek. The next night we were woken by huge winds blowing sand and dirt through everything. Halfway through the night Hutch dismantled much of our annex as it was getting pulled around by the strong wind. We had intended to only stay 2 nights at Coongie so the next morning, with the storm still raging outside, we decided to pack up and head to back Innaminka. Ross, Francis and Zoe, who set up camp the previous afternoon about 100 m from us, were also back in Innaminka that night as the storm had been too much for them in tents!

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16 to 22 April 2006

Innaminka–Cullyamurra Waterhole–Birdsville–Poeppel Corner (Simpson Desert)–Birdsville

This was a week to learn flexibility. First Walkers Crossing (a shorter track from Innaminka to Birdsville) was closed due to sand blowouts, then flooding prevented exploration further north, and finally we decided that the fresh blown ridgecaps on the Simpson would make crossing with Tim too difficult. The Simpson dunes are generally steeper on the east side, but prevailing winds over the past year have created a 1–3m 'cap' of soft sand that is nearly vertical on the west side (see illustration). In Yoda, it was fun (at least to Hutch) but with Tim it would have been interesting and we probably would have cut up the dune tops, making it worse for others. Oh well—maybe in a few years time (any takers?).

Sunday we celebrated Jesus rising from the dead by reading all the eye witness accounts. Then we spent the rest of the day resting followed by a tour on Cooper Creek with Peter. This was an excellent explanation of the creek, its surrounds and its residents (mostly birds) by a man who clearly loves the area and knows it well. The tour is timed for sunset so you see the best of this lovely waterway.

14 km from Innaminka is Cullyamurra Waterhole (apparently this is Dick Smith's favourite outback camp) and the Cooper Choke. The waterhole is gorgeous and almost 100 m wide in places although it doesn't have the same bird life as Coongie Lake. That may change as more water comes down. We heard on the radio of major floods on the Cooper and the Diamantina River but that won't reach Innaminka for some weeks yet. We camped at the far end of the camp ground close to the track out to the Cooper Choke—an area of larger rocks that narrows the banks of the creek helping to create the waterhole. We walked to 4 km (felt like 10—Robin) to the choke and found skulls and carvings in the rocks. That night Hutch cooked our best meal yet—a pork roast in the camp oven with baked potatoes and peas, washed down with a Tasmanian Pinot Noir (thanks smallwineries.com.au) and supported by a bit of blue brie on crackers.

As mentioned, we were advised Walkers Crossing was closed so we took the long road to Birdsville via Haddon corner (where SA protrudes into Qld). The grey post to the left of the white post in front of Yoda is the corner. This was a long drive but took us past memorable sights such as, the corner (corner number 2), Deon's lookout and Bertoota (a pub owned by a truckie but not open to anyone else!). We turned left at the Birdsville Developmental Road and were glad to be putting the flood waters of the Cooper behind us. We got into Birdsville as the sun was setting so after setting up, we went to the pub.

We spent a day cleaning some of the dust out of Tim (from storms not from leakage while travelling) and doing some much needed washing. Funnily, everything dries quickly in 38 degree heat!. At about beer o'clock we went to the pub, again. That night we received a phone call from the office because they needed some help, so we delayed going out to Poeppel Corner in the Simpson for an extra day. You can't readily get internet access using your own computer in big centres like Broken Hill. You don't get more friendly and helpful internet access than in small centres like Birdsville. The folk at the visitor centre there were really great. We were still in town, so we went to the pub that night too.

Finally we get to have a look at the Simpson desert. We drove the 170 kms out to Poeppel Corner (where Qld, NT and SA meet) tackling the dunes of the QAA line from East to West. Hutch counted 139 'significant' dunes—there were many in between. His definition of 'significant' was somewhere between '4wd only' and Robin saying "Oh my goodness". It took us 5.5 hrs. We set up camp on the edge of the dry Lake Poeppel to enjoy the quiet and solitude. Then a tow truck pulled up! He asked if we had been on the French Line (no, well not for more than a km just to say we had been on it) and then roared off over the dunes to rescue a vehicle—turns out it was most of the way along the French line. Then two more vehicles turned up and set up camp 200 m down the track from us—and this was only the beginning of the Simpson crossing season!

It took us a bit over 5.5 hrs to go back over the dunes to Birdsville. (From my vast experience of crossing 1/3 of the Simpson from both east and west, I would prefer to head from the east—Robin.) Robin's views are explained by Hutch's drawing of the near vertical walls of newish sand on top of the dunes on the western face. We made it to the top of 'Big Red' (it is very big!), but only after 5 attempts, due to the freshly windblown soft sand creating a soft run-up and a ~3m near vertical wall at the top.

We got back in time to shower and then head over to the pub :) There we caught up again with Goldie the barman and Stu, a farmer from Cobram. Stu works part of the year in Birdsville as a mechanic. He explained lots of local things to us (thanks heaps Stu) including the cost of being rescued from the Simpson is you break down out there and that it is not covered by the motoring bodies such as the NRMA.

It was our last night in Birdsville (we love Birdsville and its people) and we ended up having dinner in the pub with John and Nancy from Geelong. This was also the night that Geelong was beaten by one point. (:(—Hutch, ;|—Robin)

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23 to 29 April 2006

Birdsville–Mungerannie–Marree–Coward Springs–Coober Pedy–Oodnadatta– Dalhousie Springs

We set off from Birdsville down the so called Birdsville Track—it was more like a highway and you could have safely sat on 100 kph (or more). On this track we passed through amazing gibber plains where you wonder how it sustains any life let alone the cattle stations that are here.

Mid-afternoon we stopped at Mungerannie. This was a pub which had a hot bore bath. After sampling the hot bath we found a nook in the trees for Tim and camped on the waterhole. The bird life was wonderful, Grebes and Coots and of course lots of Little Correllas. Late in the day two Brolgas flew in. In the morning we were treated to a dancing display by the pair of Brolgas.

We packed up slowly and headed south again to Marree. We arrived at the same time as a number of Vietnam Vets who were there for Anzac day. We went to the pub and met Will who had only been the publican for 9 weeks—we thought publicans had to have always been there—but he did give us some good advice on viewing Lake Eyre. Next morning we joined the Vets at the Anzac day service and gunfire breakfast.

We left Tim in camp and headed out to Lake Eyre via Muloorina. This was an excellent road and took us through the dog fence to Lake Eyre South and then on beside the Goyder Channel to Lake Eyre North. At 15m below sea level we felt we had dived deeper than that and we have been mostly dry doing it (dry suits) but here was much better visibility—you could literally see for miles.

Picking up Tim, we headed north and visited Ghan railway ruins and mound springs. These amazing springs create their own little mountains before spilling over into the desert around them. Often they have beautiful and, given the setting, spectacular ponds. We camped near a series which was also an old railway siding called Coward Springs. This camp site was very impressive—a man and his wife are restoring the buildings, which used to be a small town, and maintaining both the camp ground and the wetlands around. The camp ground came complete with hot showers if someone was good enough to light the fire under the rocket water urn 20 mins before you wanted to bathe.

North now up the Oodnadatta track and across to Coober Pedy. We treated ourselves to a motel room for a night and, in keeping with the community, we took an underground room. It is very dark all the time which meant that you have no notion of what time it is when you wake up—it is the same at 1am as it is at 9am!

In deference to our budget we then moved to a caravan park and did our washing and restocked supplies. In the afternoon we took the famous 'Jimmy tour' (Stuart Park afternoon tour). We'd been told about it by several people on route. Jimmy did not let us down, he has been a resident of Coober Pedy for 43 years and seems to have been involved in everything and captain or chairman (at some point) of almost every organisation and club in town and a champion long distance runner! The new Easter gift race has been named in his honour. He showed us all of the town, many of the buildings (significant or otherwise), the opal fields, the Breakaway mountains and moon plains nearby. Along the way he told us stories—of the town and the people (often him) and the history of this place.

Across the plains again via the Painted Desert. It was a strikingly beautiful place with natural erosion creating minerals of many colours to paint the eroding mountains. From there we went to Oodnadatta where all the things the town has every had still lie on the sides of every street and in people's yards. But the information from the Pink Roadhouse is good value including directions to a camp on the town common called Shepherds Waterhole.

The rain that had fallen while we were in Coober Pedy still lay on some of the tracks which made the road to Dalhousie Springs occasionally muddy and often interesting. Tim and Yoda are now wearing a red mud camouflage thanks to creek crossings and puddles in unexpected places. At one point we had muddy water completely covering the windscreen and the bonnet.

We got through that to find an oasis at both the Dalhousie Ruins and the Dalhousie Springs. The ruins are what is left of several buildings of a cattle station. In the afternoon, at the Springs, we bathed, walked, bathed, slept, bathed and read. :-D It was wonderful having a great big hot bath! (an outdoor ensuite?) We were also joined by a well-fed and fearless dingo. Amazing as it is to see him so close it just feels wrong that he should be so unafraid of people. (Shades of Frazer Island.)

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30 April to 6 May 2006

Dalhousie Springs–Kulgera–Curtin Springs–Yulara–Alice Springs

Another day at Dalhousie, sigh, some one had to do it. We walked 6kms to Kingfisher Springs to the north-east of Dalhousie. Three beautiful pools, not to be swum in but sparkling clear, and lots of dingo droppings! They were piled up in places so we decided they must be territory markings. When we got back we had another warm soak and watched some scientists gathering water samples and data about the main Dalhousie spring. Then we decided not to move on that day so we had a rest and another soak :-)

From the springs we travelled north to Finke via Mt Dare. We were intending to stay, after talking to some residents, of Finke, at Dalhousie but everything was closed due to a NT public holiday and we didn't get a good feeling of the town—so we kept going to Kulgera.

Rather than taking the same road twice, from Kulgera we travelled most of the way to Yulara via the old Gunbarrel Hwy. (It is called Mulga Park Road now—probably to discourage caravanners from the 'highway') Up past Mt Conner—a remarkably 'ayers-rockish' mesa. On advice, we stayed at a free camp in Curtin Springs, as we were told that everything was expensive in Yulara. Next day (after doing sums) we decided that it was cheaper to camp at Yulara rather than pay fuel for the 200km round trip—and we could sleep in! :-) And we wouldn't have to dodge camels every day!

The MP3s have been great, when out of range of everything else. Riders on the Storm while racing down the Birdsville. Dozing to Pink Floyd at Dalhousie. Encouraging bible talks while travelling through the best of creation (thanks Michael West, an inspired gift!)

Our impressions of the rock came to us after first driving up to it, then walking round it (9.4 kms and the last 1 km was the hardest—Robin) and a 2 hr ranger guided walk to some features at the base of it. The tour was excellent and focused on the aboriginal stories and history of the rock. We both felt it is hard to capture how impressive it is in a photograph. Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) were more impressive again. The best answer, by the ranger, was given to the question: Why change the names to Uluru and Kata Tjuta?—these were the original names, we just reverted back to the original names. There did seem to be some compromise between traditional beliefs and modern culture. The result (according to Hutch) is a decaying culture and loss of knowledge.

We, again on advice from others who had been here, booked for the 'Sounds of Silence' dinner tour. It was magic! A fabulous opportunity to look at both the rock and Kata Tjuta at sunset while sipping champagne followed by an excellent dinner incorporating bush foods and then a star talk and some star gazing through telescopes! F A B! Our table included Garry and Christine—Ozzie bakers, a lady from the UK celebrating a birthday and a honeymoon from the Baltimore, US.

We farewelled the rock at sunrise followed but Hutch climbing halfway up to take some photos. Then a boring drive to Alice. We realized a couple of days ago that it had been 3 weeks or more since we travelled on a sealed road and we found the experience unusual.

Alice will be our base for a while as we do a few minor repairs and stock the pantry. We were greatly helped on Saturday morning by a local welding company who fixed our antenna mount. It had not enjoyed the corrugated roads and had developed a split. We also took the opportunity, on national 'no diet' day, to have a coffee and cake at the Royal Flying Doctor Service cafe, then we toured the complex. And we tried to get a sense of the town by climbing Anzac Hill.

Ended the week by having dinner at a pub (bar) where the Rock Wallabies were playing—a guitar and didgeridoo playing everything from Bush poetry to Angels and Pink Floyd! They even did a version of 'The Devil went down to georgia' based on a golden didge rather than a fiddle. Way cool!

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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.

Off for a week of gorges! Firstly Simpsons Gap, then Standley Chasm, Serpentine Gorge, the ochre pits and Ormiston Gorge. 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.

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

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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. 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).

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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.

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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. Traveling 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 Brancos 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.

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04 to 10 June 2006

El Questro–Home Valley Station–Kununurra

On our way out of El Questro we called into Zebedee Springs for a dip. These are thermal springs and so a bit warmer than the last few waterholes we have swum in. The water spills from the source into a series of pools, the higher ones large enough for a couple of people and the lower ones large enough for whole family groups. Working up the Zebedee pools closer to the source provides warmer water but even in the uppermost pool it is only lukewarm. Still it was a pleasant start to the day and so thought a few dozen other people (including locals) resting in the pools.

We crossed the mighty Pentecost River without much fuss. This is one of the major river crossings in the Gibb River road. The reports are that the water level was 450 mm which may have been at high tide. It is also a river that has crocodiles in it so the recommendation is that you don't walk the crossing. It is a wide crossing but on a firm rocky bottom and so was comfortable for a car but less so for a motorbike. We found the crossing to Branco's lookout was more challenging, still the Pentecost River crossing is a landmark.

We camped on the banks of the Pentecost River at Home Valley Station, lazing the afternoon away watching big 'salties' (saltwater crocodiles) cruising off the riverbanks. On dusk, Hutch tried fishing without success, watched by a few 'freshies' (smaller freshwater crocodiles) with only their eyes visible. Sunset provided a pastel colouring to the ranges but Hutch was too busy drowning lures in the river to take a photo. Apparently the cold (only 29 degrees) is putting the fish off the bite—even the locals aren't catching anything.

In the morning we headed off on the 'Pentecost loop track' marked on a mud map provided to us by the station. However the track disappeared about 100m past a difficult creek crossing. Calling the station on UHF they apologised for not telling us that the track was closed due to water levels and that we would have to return the way we came. Re-crossing the creek, Yoda slipped into a big hole on the edge of the track and was pretty waterlogged by the time we got out (lots of 'not happy' lights). We spent the rest of the day at the station campground: drying out the electrics, carpets and seats; checking all fuses and connectors; and going through two cans of WD40.

With a few 'not happy' lights still on we decided to return to Kununurra to clear the electrical problems. The next few days saw Hutch trace and correct these. One man in the caravan park was so impressed he asked if Hutch was an auto-electrician—he had a problem he wanted help with. The answer given was "no, but I'm learning to be".

As far as he could in the caravan park, Hutch checked the oils and such. We had to wait three days to get a mechanic to check some of the trickier bits and to confirm that the main engine, transfer and diffs were all OK but there was water in the transmission. It will take a further week for the super-special-not-available-anywhere-in-WA Toyota transmission oil to be shipped in to Kununurra. We are not very happy with Toyota engineers for the poor design of the transmission breather and with Toyota suppliers for not stocking oil that they have specified for the most common 4WD on the road. Oh well…there are much worse places to spend time than Kununurra.

God's provision has been evident in this—Ron was overjoyed we had returned. While here we have been able to help Ron a little further with his web pages. And we were able to walk in Mirima National Park where we found an astounding array of little (tiny) wildflowers on one section of one of the tracks. We also caught up with Bob and Betty who we met when last in Kununurra. They have gone on to Broome where we may get to see them again.

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11 to 17 June 2006

Kununurra–(Talbot Bay)–Mary Pool–Broome

Still in Kununurra! Hutch dismantled and cleaned the connectors and fuel/water sensor. We now have most bits working except one of the electric windows and an airbag sensor. We got to go to church with our Kununurra family on Sunday. Many were sick with typical winter colds. It is hard for us to understand when it is still 28 degrees during the day but compared to summer this is cold.

Sunday afternoon we went to the oval to watch a 'polo-cross' match. We had no idea what was going on so one of the resting riders explained the rules to us. It seems to be a cross between polo and lacrosse and netball. With only one horse per rider it is cheaper than polo (four horses per rider). We then had someone to barrack for when his team took part in the finals.

Sunday night we enjoyed dinner at a local bistro with some fellow caravan park residents—Geoff and Ros from Sydney and John, Kate and Michelle from Queensland. We had a great time with these folks over the next couple of days. Geoff helped with some of the tests and activities around Yoda and Ros gave us some wonderful Rosellas (from hibiscus I think)—part jam and part syrup.

Tuesday afternoon we dropped Tim (trailer) off at Ron and Robyne's house (on the gravel that Hutch laid), dropped Yoda (car) off at the garage and caught a bus to Broome. This would be a 2200 km round trip on a bus so that we didn't loose a tour booking and the chance to catch up with friends (but it was worth it).

The bus trip ran overnight, 6pm to 7am, stopping at roadhouses and communities along the road to deliver goods, parts and mail as well as pick up passengers. Sometimes the stops were at dirt roads with a 44 gallon drum as the mail box. The bus seats were small and cramped—even for an ex-submariner (Hutch claimed the diesel rumble and fumes gave him a good night's sleep) but the drivers, who allocated seats, were generous and gave us two seats each so we could have a bit more room to try to sleep.

John and Jacki met us at the bus stop and drove us on a brief tour of Broome and gave us lunch before our flight. While on the tour, we bumped into Bob and Betty—they now have an answer for Betty's discomfort but have to travel down to Perth for further and more specialised medical attention. It was great to be able to see them off :)

Our flight to Talbot Bay was in a small seaplane. After a light afternoon tea at the live-aboard boat, while waiting for the right tide, we boarded a jet boat for a trip through the horizontal falls. With 7m tides, as the tide changes, water rushes into (or out of) a lake connected to the sea via a gap in rocks. There was a 2m difference in water levels which created an extraordinary force of water shooting out and swirling and 'boiling' around the gap. The boat handler (Lenny) let the boat be thrown around by the current to demonstrate its force then took us through the falls into the calm water on the other side. After a few minutes of photographs, we shot back over the falls. Great fun.

The live-aboard boat was very comfortable but unfortunately the spa was not very warm so Robin and Jacki didn't take the opportunity of a bubbly soak. We settled for champagne while watching the sunset. As a sign of the wild territory we were in, we saw a 2m shark while transferring from the plane to the live-aboard boat, then after sunset we counted up to eight sharks at once cruising under the lights at the rear of the boat. They were magnificent tawny nurse sharks. Apparently there was also a big croc named 'Mort' in the area but we didn't see him—but he did put aside any ideas of a romantic swim in the moonlight.

The return flight toured over the archipelago (however it is spelt!) before dropping back into Broome. Again, John and Jacki played host—driving us around before our bus trip back to Kununurra. Robin spent half the night talking to the drivers (easier than sleeping) they were fun and full of road stories. Night included a blood red moonrise, several fires in the distance and lots of near misses with roos and cattle.

Yoda has new, and undiluted, transmission oil thanks to Brad and the lads at Autopro in Kununurra. We said our third goodbye to Ron and (finally) left Kununurra. After the bus trip the night before we were tired and so stayed the night about halfway to Broome at Mary Pool rest area. There were about 35 other campers at this free camp. We finally drove into Broome on Saturday arvo. John and Jacki found us before we had finished setting up the annex and generously offered to cook dinner to save us the effort (good friends are a real treasure!).

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18 to 24 June 2006


I know this is late but Robin hasn't been near this computer and near internet access at the same time for the last two weeks :) The next two weeks will be here soon!

We are now settling into 'Broome Time'—a more relaxed time zone with allowances for getting stuck behind zombie tourists and time to get distracted by the sights. They even have radio ads telling the locals to be patient and nice to tourists! Some of the caravan park residents have been coming up here for over a decade—they have their own sites and even plant gardens.

Our site backs on to the site of John and Melva—two wonderful BCA nomads who are helping to run the Campers for Christ program in Broome. They have been so welcoming and friendly we feel like we have been adopted :-)

The local church is running the 'Introducing God' course. Very friendly people with many offers of dinner and places to stay. We even met the Bishop. It appears that our reputation precedes us—the first words we were greeted with were "so you are the ones that fell into the waterhole!".

YODA went in for a 20K service, so we hired a scooter for the day. A very relaxing way to see the town but 50KPH-downhill-wind-assisted was not fast enough for Hutch. However the scooter proved its value when we got lost (OK, OK it was due to roadwork detours) and we were able to cut across a dry creek and down some footpaths to get back into familiar territory.

We took the scooter for a scenic tour of Broome including the lighthouse out at Gantheaume Point, the Broome deep water jetty where we sampled local oysters, a cuppa overlooking Roebuck Bay and then down to sunset over cable beach. We saw lots of these beautiful sunsets. I guess it is unusual for we eastern states people to see sunset over water.

We went with John and Jacki on an pearl farm tour and on a pearl lugger tour. On both occasions, the guides were very enthusiastic and loved their jobs and Broome history. It was so much better than a dry lecture. We saw an $90K pearl. Amazing how something so beautiful comes from oysters that taste so awful.

Evenings here usually consist of 'five o'clockers' with John and Jacki and their travelling companions, Paul and Elaine, and an occasional dinner in town. One night we saw a local band, the Pigram Brothers. They were very entertaining, we may need to get an album. (Can we legally attach sound bytes?—I'd like to put in one of their songs and the sound of the wookie camel.)

No visit to Broome would be complete without sunset drinks on the beach and a camel ride. The camels were real characters but with a face that even their mothers would struggle to love. The tail-end camel (complete with L-plates) was very vocal about everything , with a voice like a strangled wookie, but was also a big sook and loved having his head scratched. Jacki got to do that a lot as she was on the back of the camel in front of him and he spent most of the ride drooling on her knee.

The camel owner was a delight—he loved his work and was full of stories. He came to settle in Broome several years ago and wanted a job that: he and his wife could do; was largely outdoors; and that he could grow passionate about. After the ride we had a slow, bowlegged walk back to camp.

That evening we were treated to a home cooked meal with Lachlan and Bec Edwards (part of the ministry team here) and their housemates Colin and Judy. They live not far from our caravan park and generously invited all of us for dinner, John and Jacki and Hutch and I. It was a really relaxing evening—thanks heaps Lachlan and Bec.

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25 June to 01 July

Broome–Quondong Pt–(Canberra)–Broome

I know this is late but Robin hadn't been near this computer and near internet access at the same time for three weeks :) Next week is now up as well. :-)

Robin flew out to sort out end of year financials and a few staff changes and contracts. Hutch consoled himself by driving up the coast and camping on the beach.

North of Broome there are some camping spots where Hutch could place Tim overlooking the beach. These are free camping spots where you can stay for up to three days at a time. His diary reads: wake, walk, swim, nap, fish, sunset (five days in a row) along with some bits about missing Robin.

Hutch says it is hard for an engineer to capture the splendid isolation of this place. His lasting impressions are:

(Robin in Canberra)
On the way back to Canberra, in Perth, Robin met one of our friends who we only seem to ever meet in airport lounges—Nada. It was great to catch up and greet Nada's girlfriends who had been wine tasting and shopping with her.

Then on to Canberra and a 40 degree change in temperature going from 30 in Broome to -8 in Canberra. It was challenging to learn how to time activities around getting the car defrosted first. This was overcome by a very warm greeting from Veronica and from Sarabi :-)

Robin had a busy week working mostly flat out but did get to celebrate the new (financial) year eve with Veronica! They had been so busy Robin caught up with very few precious friends, much to her sadness. She did manage a restorative visit to the hairdresser. There are often hairdressers advertising in caravan park laundries but somehow it just never seemed right to go to bay 54 in the caravan park to get a hair cut!

On new (financial) year's day with a long hard week behind them she flew back into the warmth. We celebrated by having cocktails overlooking Roebuck Bay.

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02 to 08 July

Cape Leveque–Middle Lagoon–Broome

If you have come to this page by clicking on Latest or the map you have missed the last week of June. You can find that on the bottom of the June page :)

We went to church with our Broome family on Sunday morning. Most didn't recognise Robin after her visit to the hairdresser and had wondered who Hutch was bringing to church :) We enjoyed a family service and got to catch up with some of the Cable Beach caravan park friends, in particular Melva and John. It was a challenging message telling us, from Romans 1 that God is showing his anger with us by allowing us to live our lives the way we want to. This comes with all the pain we choose to inflict on each other as we live only for ourselves.

After church we shopped for groceries and then headed up the coast. We drove the 200km to Cape Leveque on a road that was on par with the most difficult we have covered so far. It took us 3.5 hours. And Yoda started to show signs that all was not well. Our target was Kooljamon resort at the tip of the peninsular—basic but very nice. We continued our Broome tradition by watching the sun set over the ocean sipping a glass of champers.

The next day we explored the point a bit further. We enjoyed walks on the beach and a swim, and brief snorkel, in clear not quite cold waters. The blue seas lap gently against the pure white beaches which give way to bright red cliffs and lush green bush. It is a very beautiful place.

From Kooljamon we moved about 80 kms down the coast to Middle Lagoon. Our spot here is like a private camp in a sandy clearing overlooking the lagoon. So instead of one night we chose to stay for 2. This choice was further justified by enjoying a late afternoon swim and laze on the pure white beach, sigh! And then we had dinner cooked over an open fire.

Yoda is still playing up so we have booked in to Broome Toyota again and have extended our stay here to 4 days—essentially for as long as we can. It is lovely here. Our days have taken on a lovely relaxing pattern. A walk, some reading out of the very warm sun then a swim and a bit of a snorkel followed by a laze on the beach and a camp fire dinner.

We have walked round the edge of the lagoon to rocks exposed at low tide. These rocks also hold many rock pools each like a little aquarium with small shells and quite a few sea cucumbers. On our snorkels we have not seen much life but did disturb a large (1m) stingray in the shallows and found a lion fish near some of the rocks. Our meals have included Hutch's delicious camp oven pork roast and Robin's attempt at damper—it was successful this time!.

We took Yoda for a recharge drive down to Beagle Bay where the community has built a lovely Catholic church decorated with local shells including lots of mother of pearl. The church was opened in 1918. The community seems to be thriving and is one of the few places in the area to have a shop and CDMA access. Those camping at Middle Lagoon come here for supplies.

All good things must come to an end so we have to leave here. It is peak season and camp spots are hard to get so we head back to Broome.

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09 to 15 July 2006

Broome–Eighty Mile Beach

We haven't moved very far or fast at the moment.

We surprised every one at church and got lots more hugs :) And we heard the next sermon in the series from Romans, a hard reminder that we cannot earn favour with God. No one can. The only way to restore that relationship is through Jesus.

We managed to update one week of our very out of date web site. And Hutch continued to put his electronic knowledge to good use for a couple of fellow travellers, Howard and Verli Shephard. These travellers have links to our church in Canberra through the Tredeniks who are their niece and nephew-in-law (?).

And were able to spend a few days doing odd jobs around the church and rectory. Around this we worked on filling in further gaps on our web site and reliving some beautiful places by going through the photos. Be grateful—you see less than 1% of them on these pages :-) We also got to watch another magnificent sunset over Cable Beach.

This time we were in town when the tides were low enough and were able to walk out over some rocks to look at dinosaur footprints. Low tide has to be less than 1m! And then we indulged by going to the movies to see Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man's Chest)—loved it. When we came out of the picture theatre, as it so often does, it felt different—threatening. We got back to Tim to hear on the radio, and in the ladies toilets, that it was going to rain. You get a lot of extremely useful information in the toilets! And it did rain—heavily for short bursts. That is the first rain we have had in three and a half months!

Yoda visited the doctor and we visited the nearest winery—mango wines. The doctor gave Yoda a clean bill of health and we took it back, skeptic of their understanding of the problem. We'll watch it carefully over the next week or so. We were also in town in time to see the 'staircase to the moon'—the moon rises full over the waters of Roebuck Bay creating a staircase of light across the rippling water and the mud flats. Because of the rain there was some doubt if we would be able to see the moon rise but we did and it was spectacular.

We also got to go to bible study with Lachlan and Bec—it was so good to be part of the family :) And yet we had to leave them. :( There are still things we would like to do in Broome so perhaps we will go back :)

For now we are trying once more to escape Broome and (somewhat foolishly given the falling temperatures) we are heading south. First stop, the beach—Eighty Mile Beach. Here we watched yet another sunset over the water. We sat with our chairs about 300m out on the mud flats and the water at low tide a further 400m away! And vicariously we got to hear the West Coast Eagles defeat the Sydney Swans—that's what they tell me the screaming, cheering and clapping, through the whole campground, was about.

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16 to 22 July 2006

Marble Bar–Newman–Karijini National Park–Exmouth

I know it has been two weeks but internet access hasn't been available!

We headed back inland on a dirt road through Shay Gap. It was a good test for Yoda who is behaving well and the road was very good. Our goal was Marble Bar an excellent little town with a couple of good local swimming holes and an old mine and museum. The bar the town was named after is actually Jasper but still fabulously colourful in shades of blue and red and white—I thought someone had painted union jacks all over the rocks but no, that is the natural effect. On the roads around here we have also been dazzled by flashes of brilliant colour from Sturts Desert Peas.

On to Newman to meet up with our BCA contacts, Mat and Naomi. Unfortunately, due to previous Yoda problems, we lost the week we were going to spend here, but we were able to do some gardening and plumbing. On Tuesday night we shared in their Bible Study group—Romans again so clearly there is something we have to learn.

Everyone told us to visit Karijini National Park and we weren't disappointed. The gorges were spectacular (an abused word on this trip). We camped in the Dales Gorge camp ground at 'Dingo Loop' and were greeted by a dingo waltzing through our campsite, as well as the usual 'dingo-karaoke' at night. Some of the gorges required swimming and rock climbing to get through but were worth the effort (Robin did a little rock walking, Hutch climbed and forded and swam his way through).

Fortunately some of the pools were spring fed and so a few degrees above zero. From the lookouts in the park, we could appreciate the nature of the gorges—unexpected red slashes in the rolling spinifex hills.

Having a distinctive vehicle proves a boon as at every second camp we are greeted by someone who has seen us on the road in the past few months. We have also had a bit of interest in the modifications to Yoda, especially the tyres, from individuals and mining fleet managers who want to update their vehicles.

Our neighbours in the camp were a lovely couple, Russell and Karen from Bridgetown. We kept meeting on walks and chatting as we cooked dinner and really enjoyed their company. And then, at one of the lookouts, they also met Mat and Naomi :).

On the road from Karijini to Exmouth we were able to play good samaritan twice to vehicles in trouble. I hope that we receive the same if/when necessary. We have also been keeping an eye out for wild flowers—they are supposed to start exceptional shows from now on. In Exmouth we have settled in, had the first shower in a few days and booked a couple of dives for the following few days.

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23 to 29 July 2006

Exmouth–Coral Bay–Bush Bay–Denham–Nanga Bay–Geraldton

After lugging our dive gear across the deserts for 3 months, we finally got to dive. One dive on the 'Navy Wharf' and a couple of dives on Ningaloo Reef. The dives were fantastic, although we were glad we brought the drysuits (the other divers were in two 3mm suits).

The Navy Wharf deserves its rating as one of the top ten wharf dives in the world, the number and variety of sea life is amazing. In fact, as the dive was timed correctly with the turn of the tide Robin found it more enjoyable than last time we did it—there was less current.

On one of the reef dives we got to dive with Manta Rays (Bellie's 'bullshit fish') and saw a whale doing tale slaps! The dive was on a reef called the 'Cleaning Station' and as we hung around, up to five huge Mantas swam up and over and around us. This was a mind-blowing experience as these ~3-4m fish performed aerobatics (aquabatics?) around us. One huge Manta eyeballed Hutch from less than a meter before gliding over him. Still shots do no justice, but here are a few.

We were told the rays were skittish and so we should drop to the bottom when we saw them. The hardest part of the dive was trying not to breathe too much so you didn't scare them but breathing hard because you were so excited!

At the boat launch for the Ningaloo Reef dives, we reached our furthest point from Canberra on the Australian mainland at 3,726 Km. I suppose that now we really are travelling back home (sigh)!

We mixed bush camping with caravan parks as we wound down the coast. At one point we camped on the shore less than 10 steps from the ocean. (Then we learnt that last week's tsunami in Indonesia also swept along this coast and washed a few campers away!) The ocean was very shallow here. Hutch walked out for some sunset shots and got over a kilometre from the camp and was still only in calf deep water before the sun set and he had to return.

From Denham we caught a boat out to see the Dugongs, as well as seeing the western-most point of Australia—Steep Point. Beyond the point, in the open ocean, the seas were running at ~4-5m so it was quite an exciting ride in our small boat. We were going to head further out to sea and look for whales but some of the passengers panicked at the size of the seas and we had to head back in. (Hutch was disappointed as he was hoping to see the undersides of the whales as they were thrown about.)

Keep watching '4 corners' for a report on resort development in the west. If we make the cut, there will be shots of us at a cafe in Denham as well as a shot of Yoda and Tim driving through town.

We spoiled ourselves with a stop at Nanga Bay resort on the way south. An hour long soak in a thermal artesian spa followed by a warm dinner and a long chat round the communal fire pit made this night very restorative after the cold of the boat trip.

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30 July to 05 August 2006

Geraldton–Mt Magnet

We made it to Geraldton by Sunday and were therefore able to meet Graeme and Rachael at church. Graeme has just inherited the whole church responsibility (after joining as an assistant minister at the start of the year) because the senior minister had left for another parish the week before. In the past week Graeme had a funeral, baptism, marriage guidance counseling and two services, so he was pretty worn out. We were able to help out a little, including leading a Bible Study while Graeme and Rachael attended a birthing class—did I mention that they are pregnant?

There was patchy rain most of our time in Geraldton. We have both had colds which may be related to the rain and the cooler weather. I think we caught them from the locals in Broome, who complained when the temperature dropped below 25. We spent an afternoon visiting the HMAS Sydney memorial, which was hauntingly beautiful, and in the Geraldton Museum, which was very interesting. The museum had lots of info about the wreck of the Batavia and about Portuguese exploration of the Western coastline about 150 years before Cook arrived on the East.

On another day we drove out to a hamlet to the south of Geraldton where the trees lie down and had lunch in the 'Hampton Arms'. The place is a mix of English pub and second-hand bookshop. The owner is a real character. He loves to chat and has a very interesting history (if true) involving house boats and arms dealing and PLO and CIA/FBI visitors to the pub. Anyway, he had an eclectic selection of pommy beers, made a tasty ploughman's lunch and had a log fire in the library where we could relax and browse the books. We loved it.

From Geraldton we took a 'slight' detour inland to Mt Magnet to catch up with Bill and Jackie France, parents of Simon, our minister back in Canberra. Of all the BCA folk we have met, they seem to be doing it toughest—an isolated town, in a huge parish (they service 4 towns each up to 200km from home base in Mt Magnet) as well as the usual challenges of small towns, aging populations, declining social structures and low literacy levels. Although you would never know this to meet them as they are so full of life and cheer.

We experienced their warm and loving hospitality and were able to help out by doing some electrical, plumbing and gardening jobs. Robin joined a ladies fellowship group one afternoon and really enjoyed getting to know a couple of the ladies. On Saturday we accompanied them to their weekly Saturday church service at Meekathara, 200km to the north. They do this trip every Saturday—we stopped for a brief picnic lunch and to look at the view on the way back.

Mt Magnet is supposed to be in the wildflower area but it has been so dry (despite the rain in Geraldton) that the carpets of flowers have not yet made an appearance. The locals are hopeful they will eventually come up. We saw some!

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06 to 12 August 2006

Mt Magnet–Busselton

We toured Mt Magnet after church on Sunday. From the lookout, there is quite a contrast. From the sparse plains and township on one side of the hill to the massive open cut mine works on the other. Most of the 'mountains' in the area are actually man-made tailing dumps from the mines. On Monday we said goodbye to Bill and Jackie and drove towards Perth.

The rain and winds are catching up with us as we head south. One night we sheltered from the winds against the walls of the New Norcia monastery, just north of Perth. Apparently the benedictine tradition is still observed in this monastic town and we could have sheltered inside, but they may not have approved of us sleeping together. New Norcia is where several old paintings were stolen from 20 years ago. We had a look through the museum. It was interesting to see how self sufficient the monks were, making everything from wine to pasta, bread and all household items.

We were in Fremantle for Census night. We considered spending the night at some obscure campsite to see if the Census people really could find us but practical considerations overruled. Besides, we were able to catch up with Kanishka and Kayley for coffee on Census night, which was great (he hasn't changed at all!).

While in Fremantle, we went to the Maritime Museum. Hutch dragged Robin on a tour of the submarine Ovens (yet again). In the days Hutch served on Ovens Robin had been onboard so often she could almost give the tour. Hutch took heaps of photos that he was unable to do when it was operational. The guide was happy to have a 'real' submariner on board to fill in some examples of submarine life. He let us into the wardroom to update a photo that Robin has been carrying around in her purse for the past 20 years!

After a few days in the city, we headed bush again for a bit of quiet and the opportunity for camp cooking. We travelled inland to Wellington dam and the Wellington National Park. The countryside looks unrealistically green, especially when contrasted with more northern inland areas. The rain that brought the green meant that it took a few hours to get the fire going and dry out wood enough to cook. Hardly worth the effort for a few burnt sausages.

Robin had a close encounter with a parrot that flew onto her chair, then walked over her head and onto the ground in front of her before accepting a gingernut biscuit and casually eating it in front of us.

We are looking for warmth again so drove to the coast and Busselton. We were originally going to dive the jetty and HMAS Swan wreck from here. However, in Exmouth we had met a dive shop owner from nearby Dunsborough and she told us the shop was shut for a few months because the conditions are so bad at this time of the year. Our dive gear stayed dry.

We walked the length of the 1.8km jetty. The water was dirty and we were swept by wind and rain. Oh well, yet another place to revisit in another season. We also explored a little through Dunsborough and the Cape Naturaliste National Park. We climbed the lighthouse on Cape Naturaliste and viewed the threatening sky and troubled sea from the windy balcony. Wisely retreating we went in search of wineries.

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13 to 19 August 2006

Busselton–Margaret River–Pemberton (Big Brook Dam)–Shannon National Park–Denmark

We settled into Margaret River for a few days as a base for touring the area, and because it is so wet. We even lashed out on the luxury of an en-suite site—only 2 steps from Tim to the toilet and shower!

We celebrated Hutch's birthday on a wine and bush-tucker tour with 13 others. This was a great day, touring vineyards, sampling their products, a bush-tucker lunch and a visit to a chocolate factory. The strangers on the bus soon became friends and we had such a great time together that most went to a karaoke night after the tour. Iain (the Scot) was a hidden talent and we (Hutch and Robin) did an impromptu version of 'My Sherona'.

The days were too poor (wet and windy) for walking, so we drove around the south of Margaret River. We saw the Margaret River itself, breaking free from a huge sandbar thrown across its mouth by the last storm. However the famous surf breaks were disappointing—lots of big waves but non that surfers would tackle.

At one stage we escaped underground into 'Lake Cave' and oddly enough it is suffering a problem of a dropping water levels. We also climbed the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to see the reefs where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. They have had to replace most of the windows and the upper door on the lighthouse as they have blown out during storms.

Finally leaving the coast, we ventured into the big tree territory. We climbed the Diamond and Gloucester Tree Lookouts for amazing views over the forests and down to the coast. We walked among and over the trees (on the tree top walk) to get a real appreciation of these giants.

Some of the best experiences were a few nights camping in the forests under the canopy. It still rained, but they kept the wind out and the bird life was entertaining. We had blue wrens feeding under the trailer and a Robin that attacked the mirror on Yoda for hours on end defending his territory from a rival.

We were the only people in the parks most of the times—it seems that the weather has put most others off. We could drive for hours and not see another car and we were the only people at the campsites.

Our only complaint is the poor maps and road markings in the forests. We came across many dead ends requiring us to backtrack. Along one track we came across an emu and his chicks running along the track. He kept looking over his shoulder at us but had to wait for the runt of the litter to keep up. Eventually he managed to work out that running off the road was the best option—and took the young ones with him altho' they had trouble climbing the bank he chose! We also found a creek crossing reported as open which was in fact knee-deep (on Hutch) and fast flowing across slippery rocks, due to recent rains. We are a little wary of water crossings at the moment.

It has now been raining at least once a day since we left Mt Magnet, often with strong winds—several houses in the town of Australind were damaged last week. We are safe and dry in Tim, but he has been shaken around a bit and we are glad we are not in a tent (or a less well built trailer). Still, one day we stayed at camp all day because we were concerned at reports of gale force winds—reading books makes for boring diary entries.

On our way to Denmark we have managed to travel through an astounding number of national parks (NP) so here is a list: Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP; Warren NP; Gloucester NP; Brockman NP; D'Entrecasteaux NP; Shannon NP; Walpole-Nornalup NP. It is a bit like visiting lots of gorges—yet we still love the forests.

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20 to 26 August 2006

Denmark–Albany–Wave Rock–Kalgoorlie

For the observant few who saw the Four Corners report 'Seachange', we had our three seconds of fame driving Yoda and Tim down the main street of Denham. This was filmed as we were leaving Shark Bay at the end of July. We managed to see it in a camp kitchen as we sheltered from the rain to cook dinner.

From Denmark we deviated inland to visit Mt Barker and the Goundrey winery. Another good Australian winery bought out by the Constellation group. We toured the complex and were told of the new economies brought to the winery including the loss of 25% of the staff. The whole process seems to be a bit clinical now.

In Albany, we found the best coffee of the trip, a great little cafe on the main street. There was a discussion about tourism on the radio and a tourist commented that "it takes more than a coffee machine to make good coffee". This barista knew what she was doing.

Out on the edge of the sound, the whaling museum was fascinating. An old whaling station has been converted into a tourist venue, including video displays in the old whale oil tanks. It looked to be pretty gruesome business, knee deep in whale blood and blubber in the middle of summer. The displays enabled the experience of everything except the smell.

Also in Albany there is a rock shaped like a dog's head, which reminded Robin of whats-her-name back home [Hutch comment]. We toured the sites like the natural arch, the blowholes and the wind farm. We loved the fantastic coastline and spent ages gazing out to sea (with many locals) looking for the whales that are migrating past here at the moment. We didn't get to dive the former HMAS Perth as diving had been blown out by the storms that have been through the area in the last weeks.

Still raining every day, so we headed north and inland, rather than following the coast. We stayed at 'Wave rock' overnight. Most of the tourist improvements here have been done by locals, which shows a great community spirit. They have set up a 3.6 km walk around the rocks and salt lakes in the area. It was an easy walk and well signposted. We also checked out 'Mulka Cave' where (legend has it) a giant, inbred, aboriginal cannibal lived and terrorized the neighbourhood many years ago (who said history is boring).

Finally, in Kalgoorlie, we get a sunny day and 24 hours without rain, for the first time in nearly two weeks. We are staying a few days in Kalgoorlie and the place seems to be full of Canberrans—at least six other Canberra vehicles in the caravan park we are in along with some from Queanbeyan, Cooma and Nowra. (And a 4wd with 'VNAM69' number plates that we seem to have followed for the past 4 months.) It is amazing how many times we bump into the same travellers. Most of the people we meet in the south seem to be, like us, heading home—either quickly (5 days) or more slowly (5 weeks).

The town seems to be thriving and mining is a big attraction for tourists and prospectors alike. The main area is a group of leases consolidated into one big concern called the 'Super pit'—a truly enormous open cut gold mine. This is mining as it is done today and the Miner's Hall of Fame shows how it used to be done. Fun.

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27 August to 02 September 2006

Kalgoorlie–Norseman–Nullarbor–Streaky Bay–Coffin Bay–Port Gibbon

We joined our Anglican brothers and sisters for church in Kalgoorlie before we left this mining town. And on to Norseman, stopping off at the excellent Coolgardie museum and their amazing bottle collection from as early as 300 BC. This was our second last night in WA.

We have now crossed the mighty Nullarbor. Three days of relatively easy driving but it still reinforced how big this country is. It certainly is not all treeless, but it is arid. One section of road was ~150km dead straight—we did a couple of practice weaves before tackling the next corner.

CALM have closed all the caves along the Nullarbor and removed the road signs, but a petrol station owner sketched a map out to one, 'Weebubbie cave', for us. It was a rough track but a fascinating hole in the ground leading to a water-filled cave. Further on we also walked over the Eucla telegraph station that was abandoned many years ago and is now almost swallowed by a sand dune.

At the middle part of the crossing we stopped at 'Head of the Bight' to see the whales. This large bay was FULL of them—we were told there were over 95 Southern Right Whales in the bay, mostly mothers and newborn calves. From the cliffs we could look down to several whales and calves less than 100m away. The mothers were lifting the calves with their tails to assist in their breathing. Some of the older calves were discovering the use of their fins and tails, rolling and slapping the water. A bit like gambolling lambs but bigger and in slow motion.

The other animal that has dominated this section of the trip is Stumpy Tailed Lizards. Every few kilometres there was one crossing the road. Millions of Stumpies on the move—like grey nomads, but much friendlier.

Streaky Bay and Coffin Bay were very relaxing, the days warm and the nights mild. At Coffin Bay we had Kangaroos grazing under our bed at night. They are very noisy eaters and often have small skirmishes with each other!. They grunt and cough—why do Australian animals have such ugly voices!

In the Coffin Bay National Park, we toured as far as we could as the tracks were often covered by moving sand dunes.

We saw two black snakes, lots more Stumpies, heaps of emus. We saw at least three dad emus with up to 10 chicks—one dad thought our car was a threat so fluffed out his neck and looked meaningfully at us as his chicks scurried into the scrub.

We shared our lunch with a very confident wren.

It was a rugged and absolutely beautiful park and it was fully in bloom.

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03 to 09 September 2006

Clare–Adelaide–McLaren Vale

Almost a week in Adelaide, catching up with old friends (and some new ones). Good timing too, as the weather was cold and wet and windy. Adelaide thanked us for the rain they desperately needed and we sheltered in shopping centres and restaurants. Not too many pictures this week as we lived here for many years and the weather was miserable.

It was an odd week too in the deaths of three Australian celebrities. It certainly provided a talking point. Interesting too how we rewrite the collective view of the individual after they die.

We had a fun week doing city things and doing the very Adelaide thing of eating lots. It was great catching up with the some of our old crowd, we even ran out of time and missed a few people.

Robin finally got to go to the 'Bombay Bicycle Club' pub and restaurant—a very eclectic place and well worth the visit (but book ahead). On the spur of the moment we went to a play with John Waters as one of the two actors—excellent. And enjoyed immensely a jam session of Irish musicians at a North Adelaide pub—superb.

Adelaide has changed a lot in the past ten years. The Glenelg foreshore is unrecognisable. They have replaced the eyesore of 'Magic Mountain' with another eyesore of high density beach side apartments. Marion shopping centre is huuuge. We spend hours there (including a movie).

In the south, it is all new housing and new vineyards. We even drove past our old house—the trees in the front look just like we planned 15 years ago.

Our favourite wine area around Adelaide has always been McLaren Vale. We started the week in Clare but ended it down in the vale and just a few tastings from the region.

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10 to 16 September 2006

McLaren Vale–Mt Gambier—Torquay

Finally we have updated the last section of our trip, four months after getting home—after many comments that we seemed to be stuck in Adelaide!

 It was tempting just to finish off with “…then we went home and lived happily ever after”—the last bit is true so far, but a little more on the “went home” bit…

McLaren Vale was familiar territory and slowly raises the spectre of returning to 'normal life'. It shows, in little things like fewer photos taken because we have seen it before. Nevertheless we are going to enjoy our last few weeks.

We visited the Monarto Zoo (an open air zoo similar to Dubbo Zoo). Unfortunately the lions were asleep. They have been in the habit of swiping at the tour minibuses as they pass but didn't for us. The exhibits are good but seem a little less complete than Western Plains zoo. But we did get to feed a giraffe—they have such long lashes :-)

Overnight, where we were the only customers at the Kingston SE pub before heading off the Mt Gambier for a few days. But the 'yet another sunset' was great.

In Mt Gambier we did a few things we hadn't done before and took a tour of the Aquifer at the Blue Lake. Then we went down memory lane with dinner at The Barn restaurant. It was just as we remembered—good wine and the biggest meals with steak overflowing the sides of the plates.

Then we wandered along the Great Ocean Road—wild coastlines (London Gap and the 11 Apostles) and windy cliff top walks. We had the chance for Hutch to revisit childhood holiday spots at Warnambool. In an exceptional park, Tower Hill, we met a baby echidna. This park, in the bowl of an old volcano, has lots of life and magnificent birds.

Further on we continued our aerial exploration on another tree top walk on the 'Otway Fly'. We camped in a free camp under big trees. We know we are in more populated areas as the ranger tells us that all the fire wood, some of the furniture and the pickets from the railing to the toilets have all been stolen!

In Torquay we got to catch up with Baz and Julia (ex Adelaide neighbours) for dinner. We only get to see them every few years and it is always a joy—even when Baz is exhausted having returned from a trip to Asia that morning!

And we went to a friendly Anglican church the next morning before we headed out.

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17 to 22 September 2006

Melbourne—Lakes Entrance—Mallacoota—Mimosa Rocks and home

Raced through Melbourne on the tollways—the E-tag still works despite getting drowned! The Phillip Island races have just finished, so there are bikies everywhere! To escape, we camped at 'Dismal Swamp'—which was actually a beautiful camping spot, despite the foot-long man-eating ants near the toilets (according to Robin).

It was still raining a bit but the rain eased enough for us to (brave the ants) collect firewood and cook our last camp oven roast. As always it was excellent and warming against the continuing cooler weather. When we examined our surroundings we found the place to be not so dismal with little floral delights in unexpected places.

Then, as it continued to rain we checked into a motel at lakes Entrance for a few nights. It was our 19th wedding anniversary! Robin had a massage and we both sipped champagne in the spa—little luxuries that I haven’t built into Tim yet. We had dinner at Nemo’s restaurant (a floating restaurant) where we could feed the black swans in the house boat lights between courses. The meal and service were superb.

Then further up the coast and camping at Mallacoota, we met new Ultimateers Howard and Sandy and another couple with brand new trailers 641 and 645. We felt like old pros as we set up Tim in double quick time and then sauntered over, with a glass of wine in one hand, to assist them and spin tall stories of our travels.

Our last night of camping was at Mimosa Rocks—a great place but full of kangaroos and ticks! The roos were so friendly and barely moved as we walked among them. The camp site was fantastic with the beach a few metres away, fire wood provided and fire rings for each campsite. We'd love to go back and spend more time there but Robin would want to take the dog! As it was Hutch picked up a tick!

And now we are driving through the familiar country of the south coast—all our diving haunts and the ever so well known roads back to Canberra. And thankfully it is getting a little warmer as we head north.

Home at last—170 days and 24,191km after starting out.

…and we all lived happily ever after…

Best bits

I suppose we should put something like this in. The whole trip was a blast but a few highlights were:

Time together—wow, what a woman. Even better that when I first met her so many years ago, before the busyness of life swamped my appreciation. (Hutch) Yep—what he said (Robin).

Coongie Lake—camping on the banks of Coopers Creek, morning swims, flocking pelicans, sandstorms and dingos.

Ruby Gap Gorge—absolute isolation and dingo howls echoing down the gorge at midnight.

Cape Leveque/Middle lagoon—a week of rest in a stunning location, an unexpected surprise that the locals told us about.

Yoda Swamp—nothing quite gets the adrenaline going like being neck deep in a swamp where you expect crocodiles! On the positive side we had a great fire side story, made good friends, and got to learn all about the truck and God's rich provision for us even when wet. We are so thankful for a waterproof trailer!

YODA—unstoppable, bomb proof, but not so water-proof! And not one to hold a grudge as a further 15,000 km attest!

TIM the trailer—made life so comfortable, even in the midst of sand storms, mozzie storms and rain storms. We spent a total of 5 nights out of Tim and the bed in Tim was more comfortable than the others!

Next trip

Cape York in '08 or '09—approximately six weeks from Canberra—any takers?

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