97 Days Adrift in Europe (Part 12 – travelling crazy; banks)

Aside from the most obvious perils of traveling overseas such as lost passports, lost cameras, lost phones and lost minds, travel offers one of the great pleasures of life – some of the best Catch 22s that you can possibly experience. These include things such as the phone that doesn’t work, where your phone company tells you that the only way in which you can solve this problem is to call the phone company – on the phone that doesn’t work.

So they tell you that you need to pay a surcharge to allow you to speak to them at extra expense but in order to change that, a change to set up is required which itself requires the account holder to speak to them – an account holder who happens to be in another country because the rules won’t allow you to purchase a sim card without a residential address in Europe and so you needed to purchase the sim card via them – and they are not with you. You could, of course pay for the account holder to fly from Russia to Istanbul. Or pretend to impersonate the Russian account holder and speak to the operator in heavily accented English explaining you have forgotten all your Russian because you’ve been living in Turkey for too long.

There’s the TV with the remote in Turkish and the manual in Turkish that explains clearly, in Turkish, how to change the language or sub-titles to English. And you can’t even shout at the TV because clearly the TV in its current mode only speaks Turkish so shouting at it in English won’t make any difference. Perhaps if you kick it with Turkish shoes on that might work.

The car hire firm where only one of you has a licence but the money to pay is on the other person’s credit card but you can only pay on the card of the person hiring the car. Or the WhatsApp calls you can’t receive because you registered your European number so that you can speak to people with that number but no one with your Australian number can now call you because like a dickhead you forgot to alert them, beforehand, to the fact that you were changing your number.

And then there is dealing with the BANK……

There was a time long long ago….when you just took travellers cheques, went into the nearest bank and got your money out….and when your bills arrived at home you got someone to drop in, open the letter and pay the bill for you. Now……

You open your email. There it is lurking obscenely and darkly. The third item email on the list. “The Unforeseen Invoice”. Ok no problem, you open your internet banking…payee, amount, press pay. The pop up appears. A code is required. Please request a code.

Damn….you remember you changed your sim card from your Australian one to your Europe-wide one and forgot to change your phone number. Your Australian sim card is back in the UK where you left it when you got the new one.

No problem, let’s change the number. Open your banking admin interface, click on code authorisation, click on enter new phone number. No problem. Press save. The pop up appears. A code is required, please request a code to authorise a change of authorised phone number. Damn. Fuck. Catch 22. Swear at bank. Walk around room. Swear at computer. Swear at stupid people from IT who don’t seem to understand that people do leave the country and use other phone numbers.

Open secure email interface. Write email explaining situation and suggesting that they need to do something which avoids such a Catch 22. Wait 24 hours.

24 hours passes. Open your computer. Open internet banking. Open secure email interface.

“Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we cannot change your phone number for you without authorisation. However you may download our secure authorisation app from the internet. Once you have installed this app, it will supply you with a code which you an use to authorise transactions without the need to receive an SMS to your authorised phone number.

Great, no problem.

Go to your mobile.

Search on PlayStore. Find relevant app. Download app. Install App. Open App.

Message: Please enter your code. To receive a code please request a code from your bank which will be sent to your authorised phone number. Fuck. Damn. Fuck. Catch 22/2. Swear at bank. Walk around room. Swear at computer. Swear at stupid people from IT who don’t seem to understand that people do leave the country and use other phone numbers. Catch 22/2.

Open secure email interface. Write email explaining situation and suggesting that they need to do something which avoids Catch 22 and Catch 22/2. Wait 24 hours.

24 hours passes. Open your computer. Open internet banking. Open secure email interface.

“Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we cannot authorise the App for you. Please call us on phone number xxxxxxxxxx and we will arrange to confirm your identity and then authorise the App over the phone.”

Calculate; 15 minute phone call. Excess roaming charges. Potential cost more than I’m prepared to pay. Cannot call Australia. Catch 22/3

Open secure email interface. Write email explaining situation and suggesting that they need to do something which avoids Catch 22 and Catch 22/2 and Catch 22/3. Wait 24 hours.

24 hours passes. Open your computer. Open internet banking. Open secure email interface.

“Thank you for your email. Please supply us with a phone number on which one of our customer service officers can reach you during working hours. They will then step you through the process to authorise the App.

Respond on secure email interface. Write email giving phone number. Wait 24 hours.

Sometime in another time and place (actually while driving along the freeway). Phone rings. Check wing mirrors, check main mirror, scrutinise road ahead, check cars around for sign of unmarked police car. Ok, no worries. Answer phone. “Chris here”. “Mr Harris, this is xxxxx from Bank xxxx. I hope I’m not disturbing you at an inconvenient moment.”

Client (me) breaks into spasm of silent mirthless laughter and just avoids colliding with large petrol tanker, before swerving off road, pulling up and saying…

“No not all, I was just driving but I’ve pulled off the road…”

“Brilliant. I understand you want me to authorise you to install our online authorisation App”

Client (me)…sotto voce “No I want you to fucking authorise me to shoot Donald Trump….”. In louder voice “Yes, thanks”

“Ok, thank you Sir. I’ll just ask you a few questions to identify you.”

Five minutes later, and some 80 plus hours after first trying to perform a simple internet banking operation, I am able to pay my bill.

This is Part 12 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 24, Horizontal Falls)

Cape Leveque and Horizontal Falls

The arrangement for Roger’s and my trip to Horizontal Falls is that we will fly out from Cape Leveque and that Kaylee and Jill will drive back to Broome. We question them about their confidence in changing the vehicle tyres, given the weight of the wheels and other assorted potential mishaps but are assured that anything Roger and I can do they can do better. It turns out that the main benefit of the solo trip home is that Jill and Kaylee are able to play Abba for two hours and that, that event, led to no intra-party arguments. That’s what happens when cultural guidance is removed.

Kaylee and Jill having departed, Roger and I depart on our boys’ own adventure. Departure is by sea-plane from the airstrip near One Arm Point. There are twenty of us in two planes and it’s relatively clear that the trip to Horizontal is a bit the Kimberley equivalent of going to Disney World, only more regimented.

King Sound
King Sound

After a half hour flight over the Kimberley coast – which arguably is the highlight of the trip, we land next to a floating city onto which a new load of sightseers is disgorged at about half hour intervals. From there, after a short wait, one boards a jet boat for the trip through the falls – which can only be taken at set times when the falls are neither two large nor too flat.

Generally I am a great believer in the power of cameras to focus ones attention on things that one would otherwise miss. While some may argue that if one spends one time looking through a lens of a camera, you don’t spend much time enjoying the scenery, I have discovered that looking for beauty that is photographable makes one see many things that one might otherwise miss.

King Sound
King Sound

Horizontal Falls, however, proves that there are exceptions to the rule. Altogether we do five round-trips through the two sets of falls, two through the wider falls and three through the narrower; so ten runs in total.

King Sound
King Sound

Having completed the ten runs, I realise that I didn’t really get to see the gorges or falls at all because I have spent my entire time trying to get video of them. And being a crap videographer, the end result is to have managed to spend a few hundred dollars on several very bad videos of out of focus rock walls and water.

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Through Horizontal Falls

There is probably some form of photographic narcissism involved. In an effort to get the best possible images, all you end up seeing is the inside of a camera and, in the process, you miss the beauty all around.

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Horizontal Falls

After our trips through the falls we have lunch and are served beautifully cooked barramundi. Our co-passengers on the trip are largely blue-collar retirees blue and not altogether politically correct. My dinner companion responds to my praise of the barramundi by telling his wife that she will now need to improve her cooking of barramundi. I respond that I would have thought that cooking barramundi was ideal for the barbie and that, that should be his domain, perhaps? He responded, thoughtfully, by saying “No point in having a dog and barking yourself, eh dear?” Sometimes very little changes in life.

Back to Broome

Roger and I fly back into Broome, getting a good aerial view of Cable Beach, as we land, after our trip to Horizontal Falls and get the bus to drop us at the tourist bureau which is our pre-arranged pick up.

Broome Beach
Cable Beach, Broome

After 15 minutes there is still no sign of our lift, so Roger texts to find out what is causing the delay. There is no reply so we wait on a while longer and try again. This time Roger gets through and is told that the delay has been caused by a puncture on the vehicle which Jill and Kaylee had to fix. They will be many minutes longer. Roger and I decamp to the pub.

 Thirty minutes later the Nissan pulls up. Interrogated about the supposed flat tyre the story falls apart like a putrefying carcass in the sun. But any story will do to hide the fact that our long wait was caused by a shopping trip among other things.

While Roger and I have been away the two women have been shopping together. A part of the length of time taken is Jill’s approach to shopping. We are back to the list conundrum. Kaylee believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to describe what needs to be bought. Jill believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to write a random list items that have no bearing on what she will buy. Hence they go shopping with a list of three items and have emerged with thirty.

We confer on options for dinner and decide that it’s time for a Thai dinner.. After numerous campground dinners a bit of variety is in order. At the restaurant, Jill orders a hot soup, which turns out to so hot that she, can barely eat it. So she orders a lassi to help take the edge off. The waitress looks extremely bemused wanting to know what a lassi is? Jill is equally bemused that an Indian does not, apparently, know what a lassi is. I point out to Jill that it is a Thai restaurant not an Indian one and that the Indian food she is eating is actually Thai. Fortunately Jill is not appearing any time soon on any reality cooking shows.

It’s not the end of our Thai restaurant confusion. I ask one of the other waitresses to confirm the name of the Thai King. But she doesn’t know. Scarcely surprising, since she is Indian but I can’t apparently tell a Thai from an Indian. Confusion reigns all around.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory.

After our meal we head out of town for the Broome Bird Observatory where we will be staying the night.

 We arrive late at Broome Bird Sanctuary and have to unpack in the dark. This seems to pose special challenges for some. Most of us have had doors closed on our fingers at some point in life, but Jill is the only person ever known to have caused herself brain damage by actively smashing a car door down on her head by closing it while remaining standing directly underneath. Apparently she hadn’t worked out that it’s best not to close things while standing directly in the way of the closing object.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory

At the sanctuary we are allocated a cabin. Each hut is named after a different bird. Very appropriately our cabin has been named after at least one of our number and is called “Grey crested babblers”.

The Bird Observatory is a well equipped establishment with a kitchen that comes with all mod cons including no less than three espresso makers and, of course is laid out with the express purpose of allowing twitchers (bird watchers to the non-cognescenti) to eat and watch birds at the same time. Breakfast conversation is not only limited but tends towards the mono-cultural.

Compared with Broome camp grounds, this is a great place to stay and, even for those not addicted to bird-watching, it provides an eye opening experience of the variety of Australian bird, particularly water birds, of all types.

Broome Bird Observatory
Broome Bird Observatory

It’s unknown whether Jill, at this point had some form of unpleasant experience with bird-watchers or birds, possibly feeling that being assigned to a cabin called “Grey Crested Babblers” was some type of deliberate punishment for unknown sins (although I, for one, could list them)…but my notes simply say “Kaylee on the other hand is going the other way”. It is apparent that she has experienced a form of enlightenment about the possibilities of marital nirvana that might be possible with twitchers, who after one days interaction with them, are clearly the world’s best people.

She has her eyes on one in particular, who is our neighbour, Rod Warnock. Kaylee has decided that some form of pre-arranged marriage with Rod would clearly be better than another week with me – despite her observation at some point that one of the amazing things on the trip is that I have been so nice to her. Apparently a new experience after only twelve years of non-marital bliss.

Observing at Broome Bird Observatory
Observing at Broome Bird Observatory

Kaylee’s instantaneous morphing into a potential twitcheress as a result of her overwhelming attraction to the fraternity is somewhat surprising given some aspects of the kitchen. It is a paradise for existing or potential sufferers of OCD, since every available drawer, cupboard, shelf and implement are labelled to within an inch of their incorrect usage. Who knows, perhaps short sighted twitchers have attempted to mount the rolling pin on their camera instead of the telephoto? Normally however, a labelling frenzy such as this would send Kaylee running a mile but clearly the delights of the twitching world have overcome her distaste for too much order.

For dinner that night I cook wraps. In common with many experiences in life (relationships?) I still haven’t worked out that doing the same thing many times and expecting a different outcome is not good thinking. In this case I learn once again that hot stoves are hot. One might think that after 40+ years of cooking that this would have been a pre-learned lesson. But no, put on the gas, drop vegies down under the cooking pan hobs. Lift up hobs with fingers. Find out that gas flames make metal hot. One thinks of the famous observation, wrongly credited to Einstein, about idiocy, repeating things and expecting different outcomes.

On waking in the morning Kaylee requires defrosting, having been cold in bed. According to my notes this is because (a) Jill and Roger refuse to let us have the bed and (b) take all the blankets. This is exactly the behaviour one might expect from Roger who, is well known for his inordinately selfish behaviour, the type of behaviour that Jill, Kaylee and I are paragons at avoiding.

Again it’s a little unclear what exactly happened, as 12 months after the event the memory is a little sun bleached and the memory synapses faded. Not to let that get in the way, we can assume that there was one double bed and two singles. Roger, no doubt, in his self centred way decided to take the double bed and having done that needed twice as many blankets. This probably left Kaylee and I with two single beds and one one blanket between us.

At this point there is a random note about Kaylee’s feet which states, inter alia, “Kaylee’s beautiful mud-packed feet but Roger’s fire fucked them”.

Famous Feet
Famous Feet

What precisely this means, where it occurred and why is unclear but for your elucidation we here include, above, the quote and a picture of said feet to be included in the Museum of Random and unattributed quotes and images.

Prior to leaving the Bird Observatory we all decide to increase our worldly experiences with some bird banding of migratory water birds. This is to occur at midday, we have been told, and so we gather at the office to be given instructions. It’s apparently a team effort with multiple people. Some are required to shift the net, some to hold birds while they are placed them in bags and still others to transfer them to holding cages for banding. It appears, however, that the birds themselves have not been advised of their role in the team effort and, after two hours of fruitless waiting for uncooperative and ungrateful shorebirds, we depart. It appears that our feathered friends don’t realise that being captured under a net, stuffed in a bag and “man” handled into a box is all in their best interests. Ungrateful ingrates.

Time to head south.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 18 – Windjana)

W62-IMG_1850indjana is our last proper stop on our Gibb River trip. Once we turn off for the gorge we will not be heading further down the Gibb but will press on through to Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge.

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The drive from Bell Gorge to Windjana takes about three hours. As you approach the turn-off to Windjana the landscape takes on a different dimension comprising massive sandstone escarpments, limestone reefs and what appear to be volcanic plugs. It is spectacular country laced and riven by massive rivers.

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Just to ensure that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of anything having fallen off the vehicle for several days we get our second puncture of the trip. This time we have a tear in the sidewall, so it farewell to that tyre.

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We stop for lunch at a free camping spot just metres from the Windjana turn-off where the Lennard River crosses the main highway. Like many of the free camping sites it is nicer than the paid camping spots and they are often less crowded as well. One just has to deal with the morons who are too lazy to dig a toilet hole and think that wads or streams of toilet paper decorated white and brown are a good adornment of any campsite. Kaylee takes the time to get find some ochre rocks and gets into a bit of local rock art. The next civilisation that comes along once ours has disappeared will be confused.

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We arrive at Windjana in late afternoon. Kaylee is suffering from a sore neck from having nightmares the previous night. Following Roger’s nightmare, Kaylee has been psychologically disturbed by a dream about being unable to finish her shopping in the IGA among other things. In order to hide from guests who were to be fed by the food but are now starving, she was forced to hide her legs between her head and this has given her a cricked neck.

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Fortuitously she has managed to arrange it so that we are camped directly next to Jerome, a masseur from Victoria, who is travelling with his partner in a blue Kombi and who is able to restore the neck to something approaching operational status. I had already tried to fix Kaylee’s neck in the morning but after Jerome’s massage my status as masseur is significantly downgraded. Were I a film, it would be “I give it one star, David.”

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Like many of the other campgrounds the facilities are good but it is hot and dusty and we put off going to the gorge until tomorrow. In lieu of being completely lazy we all take some short walks around the bush adjacent to the gorge.

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Windjana gorge is created by the Lennard river cutting through the Napier Range which is a part of a massive and ancient coral reef that was shipwrecked here by the retreating oceans as the planet cooled 450 million years ago. The Napier range is part of a Devonian reef complex that extends for some 350 km along the northern margin of the Canning Basin. It skirts all around the Kimberley to join with similar reefs in the Ningbing Range, near Kununurra and also includes Tunnel Greek and Geikie Gorge.

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We follow the outer walls of the reef which stands 100 metres high and is red but stained black by oxidation and/or minerals. The sun is setting behind us and away from the wall the temperature is dropping but as one closes in on the wall the black rock acts like a giant radiator giving off masses of heat. As the sun drops the walls light up in a gold red glow punctuated by the silhouettes of boabs. It is one of those moments of light and colour that come rarely in a lifetime.

51-IMG_1838We retire to camp to cook dinner and relax. The big news of the night is that Jill is happy with the toilets and showers. We are required to receive a Jill-dunny report at each campground we visit. This urge to dunny analysis has been created by her trauma at having to live for 20 odd years without an en suite at her house. Consequently we get a star rating analysis of the dunny situation as part of the normal travel arrangements. The state of the dunny is in fact more important than whether the car has oil and only marginally less important that a non-stop supply of tea.

 

The camp manager comes around to check on fees and Jill questions her about the lights in the distance. She tells us it is a diamond mine and has a communications contract with Optus. Consequently Windjana is the only place in the Kimberley one can get Optus reception. Optus advertises that it covers 95% of Australians but doesn’t tell you that they all live in about 5% of Australia (the coast and major regional centres) and that it has no reception anywhere else.

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The news on the mine is received with some relief by Roger who up until this point has refused to stand up for the last hour. It appears that somewhere in his childhood he was traumatised by the possibility of being kidnapped by aliens and the presence of unknown lights has reactivated this trauma. Worse still this trauma is compounded by the fact that, according to Roger, in all the alien films he has seen, the aliens all torture/carry out the equivalent of scientific whaling by penetrating their human captives with anal probes.  Roger’s fear of being anally probed by the nearby aliens that he has remained seated  for hours and now has constipation, so over the next days the toilet stops are extended. Perhaps alien probes are the solution.

 

50-IMG_1836Aside from freedom from concerns about alien captivity, the other result of the Optus information there is a mad scramble to re-fit Optus sim cards to phones. We have lost Roger since he is now marooned on top of the vehicle for the entire night trying to get the one bar of Optus reception. Periodically, when he is not actually talking on the phone, he sticks his head over the side of the roof and we feed him a spoon of dinner. Roger’s sacrifice is not in vain and every five minutes we get updates via Roger, from son Arlen, on the Super 15 rugby union final and the ultimate one point victory of the Waratahs. Roger is so happy he almost falls off the vehicle roof.

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Kaylee also gets into the act and we press Jill’s ear-ring into action once again. Kaylee has an iPhone which is one of these antiquated which were widely used for mobile communication prior to the invention of android phones. In order to get the sim card out, one needs a pin and Jill has the only one available.The constant insertion and removal of the ear-ring must by now be wearing a large track in her ear.

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Our other near neighbours are a father and daughter combination who have driven out in the daughter’s old commodore station wagon. Emily has retired early to a luxurious sleep in the back of the station wagon leaving her Dad stuck alone in the campground and destined to pass a long uncomfortable night in the front seat. So we invite him over for drinks and it turns out that he works for the WA Water authority. Among their concerns is keeping CSG drilling and extraction out of their catchments but, as with most Australian state governments, it seems the almighty dollar is all which interests them and they are losing the battle to protect water catchments in the face of massive pressure from the mining industry.

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In the morning we head of early to the gorge. Aside from being physically impressive it is incredibly interesting geologically and the limestone abounds with fossilised marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, such as fossilised giant crocodile some thirty metres above the current river level in a cave. There are also more freshwater crocs than one can poke a stick at and we count 40 altogether on our walk. The track abounds with bird life and we add to our twitcher score with some more varieties of fig bird and honeyeaters. The track is only 2.5 kilometres long but by the time we have scoured every corner of the gorge and stopped to look at about 50 birds it is already lunch-time and the gorge walls are already pumping out heat from their blacks surfaces. It’s something of a relief to exit and return to camp.
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Roger and Jill set off before Kaylee and I and are already back. They have retreated to the sanctuary of their tent which is covered by sarongs pegged on by our entire supply of pegs. As a result every time we do the washing another item of our clothing makes a getaway never to be seen again. The landscape is littered with clean jocks and socks everywhere from Mornington onwards. As a result of the construction it is alternatively referred to as the sarong sanctuary or the senile sanctuary depending on the recent memory performance of the occupants.

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Despite the wear and tear of packing and unpacking we are frequently rescued from difficult situations by the ubiquitous Australia Post. This box has now traveled across the entire continent and continues to be pressed into service for multifarious uses such as yoga mat, pot stand etc. As a result we have now rewarded it with its own chair on which it watches sunrise and sunset with the rest of us.

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We start pulling the tent down for our departure for Tunnel Gorge and then on to Fitzroy Crossing. The packing up has taken on a new dimension since, effectively, Roger and Jill must now pack up two tents. The process involves opening up their tent on the roof, removing the mattress and other contents, then putting up their own ground based tent, inserting the contents from the roof tent and then finally folding up the roof tent again. To leave the reverse process must be followed.

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Once this is done the final stage is packing the magic pudding as Jill’s and Roger’s case is known. This involves completely opening the case and stuffing as much in it as possible. Once done, there is a pile of clothing poking out of the case roughly three times its height. Either Roger or Jill then kneels on the pile and attempts to stuff errant items down the side while the other party attempts to close the lid. This is a bit like watching a porn star with an erection try and close his fly (not that any of us will ever have seen that).

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Despite the obstacles to departure we are out of the camp ground by around 11 am. We head off for Tunnel Gorge via a quick stop at the ruins of the police station which was used during the war against local Bunaba people. The most famous of the resistance leaders was Jandamarra who started as a police tracker and later led the resistance against the local police and settlers.

(see: http://www.jandamarra.com.au/jandamarratheman.html).

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Tunnel Creek was one of his main hideouts and we arrive for a walk through the gorge that has been cut underground through the ancient reef. We arrive to be greeted by three giant Brahmin bulls that are clearly Buddhist as they are entirely docile. We are fortunate to have the place to ourselves other than two of the resident freshwater crocs as we are wading through. The absence of other people in the gorge allows one to sense how it might have been when Jandamarra and his resistance fighters were using the tunnel.85-IMG_1884

 

The cave system that comprises the tunnel are massive and we walk under enormous ceilings of stalagmites and other limestone formations. The tunnel is pitted with other caves that go off far beyond the walls of the tunnel and the creek is fed by a spring that emerges from the walls part way down. It is an impressive end to our gorge walking.

 

We leave Tunnel Creek and take the road south to Fitzroy Crossing but night starts falling before we arrive. So we pull up at an old quarry site which is mentioned in the bush camping guide which Kaylee has purchased. It’s a beautiful site with views over the entire surrounding areas of bush but the swimming hole, sadly, is not inviting.

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