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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Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (part 16 – Mornington)

After Manning Gorge, Mornington ‘wilderness’ camp is our next stop.

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Mornington is run by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). Normally one has to book ahead but when we arrived the repeater station that allows one to radio to the station office was out of action and had been replaced by a sign saying “If you arrive prior to 11 am just come on down”. Since we arrive at 10 am we proceed down to the camp.

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Mornington is one of a string of reserves established by AWC [http://www.australianwildlife.org/] which are designed to address the appalling state of the Australian natural environment which has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world. The failure to protect habitat, effectively, is one of the key factors in this decline, with the others being excessive burning and feral animals. We should all be eating Cat pie on a daily basis since this would (a) put the cattle industry – which is one of the key factors in habitat destruction – into terminal decline. It would also mean that we would reduce the impact of cats which kill 70 million Australian native animals daily.

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The great attraction of Mornington is that it provides some respite from the crowds one encounters in most other parts of the Kimberley. Despite its reputation the Kimberley is not remote and the Gibb River Road is better than the average road in Byron Shire and certainly has less potholes. If you happen to break down the only way you would get as many offers of assistance in, say Sydney, in 30 minutes would be if you stood at the side of the road offering free bags of money. So there is little risk to travelling in the Kimberley any more unless you are either (a) drive dangerously or (b) go fishing for salties with your arms or legs.

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The other nice thing about Mornington is that they have a good restaurant – although you have to take what is on offer but a la carte might be a bit much to expect given where they are located. Both Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill separately decided assist environmental efforts by eradicating some of the excess beef cattle around. Very nice romantic starlit evenings with good wine and food. Or at least Jill and Roger’s would have been had Roger not spent most of the evening on the phone to their sons.

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Mornington is where camper-rig envy first kicked in. Having spent the last five weeks lazing around in creeks and walking to remote-ish parts of the Kimberley, Kaylee has decided that would like to continue in this manner should the Department of Education be prepared to continue funding her to laze around on holidays. But to do it she requires a state of the art four wheel drive and camping rig.

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The end result of this is that anyone who camps within about 200 metres is at risk of having their entire morning devoted to showing Kaylee every spare inch of their ‘rig’. With each inspection some new requirement is added: the motorised tent so that no effort is required to stow it, the double fridge all on rollers, the sliding sink, the kitchen with 50 separate little drawers for every conceivable object, the espresso machine, the built in massage space etc. As each mornings passes you can an extra year to the length of time she will need to work before she can afford even half of such a beast.

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Our first morning is spent at Bluebush water hole, on the Fitzroy, its is yet another beautiful swimming hole but from my perspective the main asset is a rope swing which allows me to indulge my never to be sated passion for being a ten-year old and my fantasies about flying.

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We visit two gorges at Mornington, Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge. Both of these sit on the Fitzroy River which drains a vast area of the Kimberley and has 20 major tributaries. It is 733 kilometres long and drains an area of 94,000 square kilometres, just over 3 times the size of Belgium. Flood flows are among the largest in the world for a catchment of this size and the 1993 flood reached 25,000 cubic metres per second equivalent to 15 Olympic pools each second. Each gorge and waterhole are completely different.

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On our second day we head off for Dimond Gorge. Normally we would have hired canoes and gone for a paddle but they are allegedly all booked. On arriving we find 7 canoes lined up unused. Either they have more cancellations than Tiger Air or the booking system leaves something to be desired. Fate comes to our rescue however and we are able to bot a canoe from two couples who have just finished using theirs. They are graziers from Walcha and discussion turns to the drought. They have now had two dry springs and say that a third one, which seems imminent, will be disastrous. Already they have cattle on agistment around Ensay in Victoria.

 

On the way back from Dimond Gorge we take a quick detour to the wetlands. These are also part of the Fitzroy River and we are fortunate enough to see a pair of Brolgas close up, as well as a mass of long tailed finch’s. On our departure I am ambushed by a gaggle of restless flycatchers nearby and in my struggle to both follow them and take pictures I start dropping everything in my possession. Roger following behind dutifully collects everything I drop until he has the appearance of my hired sherpa. He is carrying my binoculars, binocular case, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, jumper, t-shirt, lens hood, phone, water bottle and almost everything else I seem to have brought on the two month trip. I keeping with our reward policy he gets a Lindt ball but since he can’t eat Lindt balls I add it to my tally of rewards for giving him the opportunity to win one.

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Perhaps the most picturesque of the gorges is Sir John Gorge. Unlike most of the others it is not a high sided gorge but a long flat stretch of water bounded by low red rock walls and peppered throughout the water with rock outcrops. At sunset it turns into a photographers paradise with the sunset lighting up the walls and their reflections in the water. When we were there is was perfectly still and there was a perfect sense of tranquility while sitting on the rock ledges.

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On our final morning we all plan to go off and do various short walks. But first we must achieve our own version of lost in translation. It is the morning of Premature Packing.

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Roger, Kaylee and I are already up and Jill is awake in her tent. As Kaylee are going for breakfast in the restaurant I don’t want to leave Roger and Jill to have to pull down the tents alone, so I jump on the roof and start packing it up. But Jill has decided she needs another five minutes dozing and asks me to stop. I assume from her tone that she is joking and carry on. She descends into laughter and keeps repeating her request, so I assume she is finding the sensation of being in a small boat in a storm somewhat amusing. But sadly no, she tells me later, laughter is how she deals with stressful situations and she is not amused. I am, apparently, either as sensitive as sandpaper or have the behaviour patterns of a fifteen year old, but Jill cannot tell which.

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As with all things it is a question of perspective. I view Jill as being incredibly selfish for wanting an extra five minutes sleep when everyone else is up and running and somewhat weird for expressing her annoyance with peals of laughter. Jill views me as incredibly insensitive and disrespectful for not listening to her requests to stop packing. Everyone is displeased. If nothing else one understands how World War 1 started.

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I am largely oblivous to all this since Kaylee and I have taken off for a bit of amateurish twitching on Annie’s Creek where we see a myriad of bush birds including the purple crowned wren, double-barred finch and crimson finch, as well as bower birds, pigeons, doves, honeyeaters etc. Jill meantime is working herself into a state of furious indignation which is to reveal itself later.

 

By 10 am we are packed and on the road to Bell Gorge. En route we stop to try and spot the ever-elusive and extremely endangered Gouldian Finch but we are out of luck so we have to make do with Boab Valley which is a creek line almost dominated by 100s of Boab trees.

Mornington disappears behind us and we are on our way to Windjana Gorge.

 

 

 

 

Beating about the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 15 – Manning)

Having left Drysdale Station at around 2 pm, evening sees us at Mt Barnett roadhouse at 4.45pm. We will stay tonight at Manning Gorge campground but first we must annoy the storekeepers who are trying to close up by buying supplies. I sample the coffee which is passable but Kaylee declares the machine dirty and the coffee bitter. Having fuelled up we complete the final five kilometres to the dusty campground.

17-IMG_1475Despite deciding to take it in turns to pick the camp spot no one can resist being a back seat camp site selector. Roger is the first and gets a big fail since he suggests the first site he sees. It does not appear to be relevant to him that it is downwind of the septic, on the main traffic route to the toilets, about 10 metres from the generator and adjacent to a family that the Simpsons would call dysfunctional and covered with cattle droppings. He is barred from ever picking a campsite.

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Subsequent discussion reveal Roger wishes to re-write history by claiming that his selection of the world’s worst camp site was just a joke or alternatively that it was an appropriate reaction to being pilloried for losing us the lakeside spot in Kununurra due to being insufficiently decisive.

Breakfast sees us up early for a walk to Manning Gorge. But first we all have to do stretches as we all have bad backs due to trying to carry the breakfast box which weighs about 20 kg more than it should as a result of the great Muesli war. No one can agree on what constitutes good muesli.

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Kaylee refers to all raw muesli as ‘chook food’ and not one grain of uncooked muesli will ever pass her lips. I feel the opposite and in addition hate any muesli with sugar in it, Jill has some other bizarre preference that would certainly see her excommunicated from the Catholic Church and Roger makes a concoction from dried cattle dung and various other ingredients provided by a PNG witch doctor. Since we all need enough muesli to last three weeks, we have not only had to sacrifice half of all normal grocery supplies (no lindt balls) to accommodate the various types of muesli, but the payload of the breakfast box is roughly equivalent to a fully-laden 747.

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In the morning we have to move the vehicle in order to meet Roger’s sunshine on solar panels quota. One of the great disadvantages of vehicles with tents on the roof is that, normally, if one stays at any campsite for more than a day, the tents have to be packed back down on the roof in order to go anywhere during the day. To avoid this inconvenience we decide, for the first time, to move the vehicle with the tents up, as we only require a re-location of about 30 metres.

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Our plan is not revealed to Jill, who in blissful ignorance is doing her meditation session in her tent. She sits in her private nirvana listening to a meditation tape which, at the precise movement that the vehicle lurches into movement, is encouraging her to feel soft, relaxed and undisturbed and to the solid earth beneath her. As a result Jill experiences severe psychological trauma as a result of the disconnect between her spiritual state and the real world and has been suffering from an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy every since. Given her historical obsession with photos of the most bizarre things we are fearful of what photos she may demand we stop to take in future.

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The campground is a little run down because the caretaker has gone walkabout and the roadhouse is advertising for a new caretaker. Whoever installed the water supply tank appears to have been drunk at the time since it is perched precariously on a mound at an odd angle. The basins are either some form of art installation or are from last century judging by the crazy paving cracks in them. But to compensate we have the idiosyncray that, being on a cattle station, we may be joined for breakfast , at any time, by a passing herd of one-tonne herbivores.

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Manning Gorge is an easy walk across stone country through a couple of stony creek gullies. The landscape is scattered with ancient boab trees, sprinkled with kapok and spinifex, the odd Kimberley Rose tree is a splash of red and everywhere echoes with the calls of finches and cockatoos of all varieties. At regular intervals the moving colour palette that is a rainbow bee-eater passes us by. While this Australian bush has a superficial similarity to savannah elsewhere, it has its own quite special spirit, variety, space and light that is found nowhere else in the world.

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The gorge itself is a little mini-paradise of rock and cool water. Smaller in scale than many of the other gorges we have visited it is quite different than any other gorge we have visited and we spend the hottest part of the day cooling in the giant plunge pool and lounging under the trees on white sand.

In the late afternoon we walk back to camp in the company of a British woman, who is on a two year working holiday in Broome, and her visiting parents. She is also studying environmental sciences in Perth, while in Australia and is working as a tour guide on a pearl farm in Broome. Her parents are accidental tourists to the Kimberley since her mother made the booking while still in a post operative haze and thought she was going go Perth, not realising that the daughter had moved to Broome. As a result the winter holiday in South-West WA turned into a sub-tropical excursion to the Kimberley. So it goes.
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On the second morning of our stay at Manning Gorge we decide that it is laundry day. It is about 100 metres from the vehicle to the ablution block. We do our laundry in relays since, with four of us, we need to do more than one load. This is accomplished by using the white washing up bowl. In the process we pass one caravan about six times with the bowl.

At one point Kaylee sees me approaching the toilet block as she is standing on the entry ramp to the womens’ toilets and, not having any free hands, proceeds to wave at me with the bowl by raising and lowering it above her head several times. On looking up she sees four elderly women, who are trying to exit the block, staring at her. Kaylee tries to explain but they all scurry off casting worried looks behind her.

On each trip a different person is carrying the bowl and the the female occupant of the caravan comments to Kaylee that there appears to be some form of strange ritual that requires the bowl to be passed to the next person before that person can participate.

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Breakfast that morning has its normal bizarre rituals. Roger has a psychological block about the nuts he must put in his cereal each morning. We must endure him taking one nut at a time and biting it in four before placing it in his weird cereal concoction along with his dried PNG cow dung or whatever other ingredients he uses. This is because Garth once criticised him for being excessively noisy in the mornings (and presumably waking Garth at the late hour of 8 am, or similar) when he cut his (literal not euphemistic) nuts on a breadboard.

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So Roger has taken to biting his nuts in four, however unpleasant that may sound. It’s unclear who is more psychologically disturbed, Garth because he can’t stand the sound of nuts being cut before midday or Roger because he feels unable to do something eminently reasonable for fear of annoying Garth.

Kaylee is unable to even descend for breakfast before she has frightened the entire neighbourhood. This involves finding every object she can in the tent and projecting them, at speed, into the surrounding biosphere. Anything within a 25 degree arc of the tent door is at risk of being hit by flying cups, rejected bread crusts and anything else deemed surplus to requirements. Surrounding campers may wonder why no one is occupying the only spot in the shade of the vehicle but the morning baseball pitching practice is the reason.

Following the morning ejections we have the descent. Placing ones head outside the tent and locating the steps on the stairs is, apparently, not an approved method of descending stairs safely. No, one must sit inside the tent and, projecting both legs externally, you then wave them around until you accidentally encounter a step with one leg.

Having done this you then place your second foot on top of the first foot so that you cannot more the first foot. The second foot cannot descend further since the placement of the first leg prevents the second leg being bent in order to lower the second foot. The head is still inside the tent. at this point. We then have the half-jump technique, in which both feet are rotated into something approaching a safe position. One can then descend further. This process takes approximately five minutes by which time Kaylee’s camping partners have managed to gather up the various projectiles and bits of projectiles (such as the cups which the handles have broken off). “Oh, I thought they were indestructible!!”

At this point we can all safely re-commence our breakfast since the end of the performance means we are no longer likely to choke on our various mueslis without choking to death with laughter (postscript: on reading this to Kaylee, she was so outraged by the alleged lies that she almost choked to death on her muesli. I, on the other had was so pleased at myself about my wit in writing about the morning performance, that I did not notice she was choking to death. I am currently once again in the doghouse. So it goes).

Jill, meanwhile, is preparing the five thermos flasks of tea she requires to survive the day. The circus really is in town.

Finally we are ready to leave around 8.30 am and we hit the road for Mornington.

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 14 – Munurru)

We spend the day at Munurru lazing by the creek, drinking tea, reading and writing. Our day is occasionally interrupted by people passing by to go to the river. Among them are three young Victorians who, we discover, have driven from the far side of the campground. We exchange comments about the failings of Gen X. They are somewhat embarrassed by their laziness and we are somewhat amused. I write on their car and take photos as evidence.

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Our final evening at Munurru is a cool, still, starlit night and we sit around the fire tracking stars and planets. It is perfectly peaceful. By nine bed time approaches and I go to get my toothbrush. My companions are not happy as the ambience of the campfire-lit night is shattered by the electric whirring of my brush. To the others this is further evidence of my lack of sincerity about travelling light since I also require a charger and an inverter to keep my dental hygiene up to scratch. The sound of the toothbrush adds insult to injury since the inverter itself has a noisy fan and I chose to charge my toothbrush during lunch. From their perspective I have now destroyed both a pleasant lunch and evening.

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We start to pull the tents down. One again the zip will not close. The zip on the rear tent has malfunctioned due to excessive dirt in the zip. The subsequent use of excessive force to close it appears to have deformed several of the zip bits. I have been advocating WD40 for several days as the solution since, as everyone knows, WD40 fixes almost any problem. In the absence of WD40, cable ties or fencing wire will do. Or duct tape. Roger however is dubious. He believes that the presence of WD40 will only attract more dust, which of course it will. But more WD40 will fix that as I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction on many previous occasions. Too little lubrication? More WD40. Too much lubrication? More WD40 as this will attract dust and fix the over-lubrication. Any idiot knows that. But Roger has resisted and we still have no WD40.

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Meanwhile our neighbours, who are a large party with four vehicles, have a mechanical problem of indeterminate nature. It requires a bloke conference to fix it and the numbers progressively grow. It’s a form of mens’ shed but without the shed. Initially there are just two blokes examining the thingymajig or the howsyourfather…whatever it is that is broken. Within five minutes there are four blokes and by the time ten minutes have passed there are 6 blokes discussing the issue. Blokes have started to arrive from neighbouring sites and there are even two women standing nearby marveling at the DIY miracle that is a bloke(s) and a howsyourfather.

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I wander over on my way to the dunny and as an aside ask whether if another six blokes were added to group diligently looking at and passing around the thingummywhatsit it might in fact just fix itself. One of the group looks at me, “Nah, that would never work, none of us have a beer in our hands”.

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We are nearly packed. I have found a large attractive rock that would work well in my garden but, sadly our group refuses me permission to put it in the car even though it only weights 250kg and has a diameter of only 450 mm. They question our ability to get it off the ground in any case and feel it would be detrimental to the local environment if everyone removed a rock even though, as I point out, there are a lot of rocks.

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My bona fides now come under attack as Roger suggests I have undergone a personality transformation as I was the primary motivational speaker behind our efforts to travel light but am now trying to add large rocks to our entourage.

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The final task as always is the Magic Pudding. Roger and Jill have decided to pack their entire worldly possessions into a conventional blue suitcase. Apart from the fact that it is bulky and unwieldy, it has to contain about ten times as many clothes and other items as it was designed to take. The time taken to pack the magic pudding is about the same as an orbit of pluto around the sun. Kaylee and I can take a half day bush-walk, eat breakfast, scratch all required body parts and say more hail marys than the Pope at Mass by the time the Magic Pudding is packed and loaded.

On our way to the main road we stop in at the two art sites nearly. Both are set in a idyllic landscape of rock outcrops.

By 8.30 we are away and travelling south. We make good time and about 40 kms from Drysdale Station we pass a Britz hire troop carrier travelling slowly in the same direction. Another 25 kms on and we are flagged down by a crew in a white landcruiser. They have already had two punctures and now have a third. But we cannot help them as we have a six stud wheel and they have a five stud wheel. The lead actor introduces himself as Alex Frank from Kulumburu. He has his two sons, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren with him.

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We offer to take one of his wheels to Drysdale station, get it fixed and bring it back but he is not keen on that idea. As we are debating the issue the hire vehicle that we passed previously, from Britz campers, pulls up. Alex flags them down but comes back dispirited. They are French speakers and their English is limited. But Alex is fortunate and I am shanghaied as translator. We have two very cautious Belgians, Jaques and Brigitte.

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Jaques, in particular is very reluctant to be a party to loaning their only spare tyre. He is worried about losing their deposit if something goes wrong. My role now moves from translator to negotiator. I try to persuade Jaques that they are at no risk and that we can proceed to Drysdale Station “ensemble”. He remains reluctant. Alex, on the other hand, is pressing his case.

 

He wants me to just get a wrench and simply hijack Jaques tyre. Jaques doesn’t understand the culture he tells me. He starts gesticulating, telling Jaques if he doesn’t help it will rain and he will get bogged. We are in a conundrum where Alex cannot 019-IMG_1327possibly under stand Jaques attachment to his spare tyre and thinks he can resolve the situation by persuading me to take direct action. I work on Jaques. He is about to concede when he notices that the front passenger tyre is also half flat.

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“C’est impossible…” he tells me. I spring into mid-east shuttle diplomacy mode, telling Alex, on the one hand, to stop humbugging me. It’s not me he needs to persuade. With Jaques I am in cultural interpreter mode, explaining that “C’est toujours comme ça…” I try to explain that by the standards of many Aboriginal communities Alex’s vehicle is a Rolls Royce…”virtually new..” By now Alex’s sons have out the compressor and are blowing up the half-deflated tyre.

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Meanwhile Alex is demanding to know why we went to Mitchell Plateau and didn’t visit Kulumburu. I tell him that I heard the blackfellas up that way were too dangerous and that we were a little scared. I tell him I worked with Aboriginal people in Darwin and they warned me about people from Kulumburu. This manages to divert Alex from harassing me and Jaques and he starts explaining to his sons that I worked with Blackfellas and this explains why he can’t humbug me.

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Jaques meanwhile has his ear to the newly pumped up tyre. He cannot hear any more hissing. We are on the cusp of victory. Finally he gets out the key to the spare and we are under way. Within 2 minutes the sons have on the car and we are away, Jaques leading the way. But a few minutes of eating dust and Alex and Sons decide to overtake. Within minutes they are out of sight. We plod along in Jaques wake who has told me he is convinced that Australians are “fou” (mad) for driving so fast on dirt roads. It’s why they get so many punctures he says. At this point my French runs out as we try and debate concepts such as corrugations and principles of speed versus comfort.

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We round a corner. Alex and Sons are stopped. The bonnet’s driver side rear attachment has fractured and the bonnet has broken the baling twine and flown off. It is completely detached with the exception of the passenger side attachment and the hydraulic arm on the drivers side. When we arrive it is precariously perched on the vehicle, but we cannot get it back into position because the pressure from the hydraulic arm prevents us pushing it back. At this point Jaques gets into the swing of things and suggests removing the hydraulic arm so we can push it back. The bonnet clicks satisfyingly into position. We are off again.

Finally we arrive in Drysdale. But Alex and Sons seem disinterested in giving back Jaques his tyre. I ask Jaques if he is “pressé” (in a hurry). He says he is. I go to Alex and tell him Jaques and Brigitte are in a hurry. I explain they are on Whitefella time. Time is money. Alex shouts at his boys and they spring into action. We go for lunch. But fifteen minutes later Jaques and Brigitte who are supposed to be lunching with us have still not reappeared.

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I go to check. They boys have got diverted in stripping another deceased landcruiser that belongs to another son. I have to remonstrate with Alex and remind him that the others are in a hurry. He seems to have forgotten and another set of instructions are issued. Within a couple of minutes all is fixed. So it goes.

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Finally we lunch. Jaques is retired farmer from southern Belgium and Brigitte is a child care worker. They have five children between them, one of whom is in construction in Sydney. Hence their frequent visits to Australia. Lunch is very staccato as Jill and I speak Jaques and Brigitte and Kaylee and Roger look bemused. When I remember I translate but I will not soon be applying for a job as an international translator since the series of diplomatic incidents that would result would make Tony Abbott’s series of gaffes look inoffensive.

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My final note for this blog records that Kaylee was provocative on Sunday 28th. But there is no supporting information, so one can only surmise who was being provoked and why. Since it was Roger who stated that Kaylee was being provocative and in keeping with the traditional deterioration in relationships between travelling companions, it’s likely that Kaylee was making some pertinent and accurate comment on either Roger or Jill’s proclivities, such as Roger’s desire to spend his entire rest day grovelling under vehicles attaching additional bits of fencing wire and cable ties. No rest for those with OCD.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 13 – Mitchell River)

From the Gibb River, we easily reach Mitchell River in a day. Along the way the road gets progressively worse but we are still encountering nothing worse than corrugations and a few rocks, so have been making good time. Just before lunch we turn off the Kulumburu Road and onto the Mitchell River Road. It’s now mostly one lane and the corrugations are interspersed by areas of rock. Still Kaylee’s driveway is worse.

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At lunch-time we stop at Munurru, a beautiful spot on the Prince Edward River, just 7 kilometres from the junction of the Kulumburu and Mitchell River roads and decide we will spend a couple of days here on the way back but in the interim just have a swim and quick lunch.

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The 80-odd kilometres to Mitchell Falls camp ground takes us about two hours. Kaylee who has already been driving for a couple of hours decides she wants to drive the rest of the way to avoid car sickness from the windy, bumpy road even though we have agreed that no one will drive for more than two hours at one go and she gets increasingly grumpy as she gets tired.

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On arriving at Mitchell River tired, dusty and beaten up by corrugations we cannot decide how to park the vehicle. Roger simply wants to face it due north. Jill is worried about being too close to the neighbours and I want to ensure that the light on the car faces the proposed cooking area. Since all of these things are mutually exclusive we end up moving the vehicle at least four times, by which time neighbouring campers are throwing things at us, Kaylee wants to kill us all and the vehicle ends up almost exactly as it started. Much like last time. Don’t they say the definition of stupidity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different?

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At this point Kaylee decides she is turning into a bogan because she keeps saying “me” instead of “my”. She tells us that it is now our duty to correct her on each occasion and, if she corrects herself, to give her a Lindt ball each time. I have a strong suspicion that Kaylee actually has no concern about her speech but simply wants to have to eat lots of Lindt balls. This reminds me of the joke about the Australia cricketer who sledges and English batsmen asking him why he is so fat. The Englishman replies that it is because every time he sleeps with the Australian’s wife, the wife feeds him a Lindt ball. Except he doesn’t say sleep.

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After a month we are all occasionally getting on each others nerves and so the conversation morphs into one about remediation of bad habits, preferably each others rather than our own, and behaviour modification to prevent us all killing each other. We cannot agree however on who’s habits most require modification, other than that Jill wants Roger to become less predictable which, given that the single most predictable habit of the entire trip is Jill’s requirement for tea at ten minute intervals, might be a case of pot, kettle, black.

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In the morning we set off early for Mitchell Falls. It’s an easy walk through beautiful country. For the last few days we have been passing through mostly open woodland interspersed with palm forest and stunning rock outcrops. It’s rich with birdlife and wildflowers. Periodically it morphs from savannah, into palm forest and then into littoral forests some of which is remnant rainforest. Much of the landscape is dominated by giant escarpments. It’s incredibly rich but diverse and when one adds in the presence of boab trees everywhere gives the Kimberley landscape a form that is not similar to any other landscape in the world, although the African veldt is probably the closest.

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As we move through the valley of the Mertens River towards the Mitchell River we descend alternatively into rich, wet valleys rich with Aboriginal rock art and palm gullies and then climb back into rock country, littered with outcrops and spinifex, and interspersed with grevilleas, acacias and kapok bushes. As we walk we pass flocks of finches and red-tailed black cockatoo.

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There are three sets of falls on the walk, Little and Big Mertens Falls and Mitchell Falls, the last of which is, itself split into four sets of falls, even in the dry. In the wet it splits further into several more falls as the side channels pour over the rock platforms on top. One approaches all three falls from the top across highly polished river rock, allowing easy access and great views down the gorges. In the dry season both rivers follow a smallish main channel down over the falls but the rock platforms are easily 200 metres wide at the top of the Mitchell Falls, incised by deep gullies and channels. Even mid-way through the dry a good flow of water is dropping over the main and side falls. The Mertens River joins the Mitchell below Mitchell falls.

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We make our way around the falls to a long-deep pool just below an upper fall and join the relative throngs (about 20-30 people) relaxing in the water and shade. Above the falls one crosses the main channel, where it widens and it’s there that the teeming masses who cannot be bothered to walk back take the 6 minute, $130 helicopter ride back to the camp or the lodge. It crossing also leads down to the main viewing point back to the fall. Lunchtime is peak hour at Mitchell Falls but by 2 pm there are only a handful of people left and by the time we leave at 3 pm there are just us and one other family. In the air and at the campground on the other hand it is apocalypse now. There are four helicopters operating and they land just metres from the campsite shuttling back and forth to the falls every few minutes. It is at moments like these that one wishes for a ground to air missile.
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We walk back to camp stopping to swim along the way. The red tailed cockatoos are kicking up racket in the trees as we pass.

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In the morning we head out and back to Munurru.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)

Leaving Wyndham, it’s a sealed road all the way to the El Questro turn off. El Questro describes itself as “wilderness”. It’s a dubious claim given it is still an active cattle station, leaving aside the tourist facilities. For many wilderness enthusiasts it is anything but wilderness but, no doubt, many Aborigines would view it differently since in their view all of Australia would be managed land.

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After the turn off, it’s about an hour down a dirt road to the main station complex, although the homestead is elsewhere. The place is heaving as it is still school holidays and a weekend to boot, with many visitors from Kununurra. We find a campsite and settle in for the evening. The Royals from Kununurra are also here, as are our Kiwi friends from Purnululu. This is to be a pattern repeated with others throughout the trip.

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Dinner preparation is down to one burner on the gas stove, as the other, which was already about as much use as the proverbial mammary glands on a bull, has given up completely. Horton and Harris, bush mechanics start to pull it apart but after a while I lose interest. Kaylee and I decide that breakfast at the restaurant is of more interest than trying to fix the stove. Eggs and pancakes beckon. In our absence the camp supervisor comes around and Roger is able to get detailed jet removal and cleaning instructions. Apparently ours is a common problem and Roger tells us that our mutual friend, Hugh, who travelled around the north, several years ago, with his family, became a global expert on fixing gas stoves as a result of the persistent impact of red dust on the gas valves.

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We return after breakfast to the news that the stove has been fixed. Roger is now the new Hugh. There is a general evacuation of the camp ground. The weekend warriors are returning to Kununurra and Wyndham and many others are homeward bound for the start of school term. They abandon their firewood piles so we disperse around all the abandoned fireplaces and as a result of our scavenging accumulate an Everest like pile of firewood for our remaining two evenings.

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At 9 am we set off to walk to Champagne Springs about two hours away. It’s a walk that starts along the banks of the Pentecost River and then enters a stunning grevillea forest. We pass silently along a flower and leaf strewn path that threads its way through six metre flowering grevilleas. The forest is filled with the noise and sight of birds of all sizes, calls and colours. None of us have ever seen a patch of forest quite so completely dominated by flowering grevilleas. We emerge from the grevilleas into a rock and spinifex landscape dominated by soaring gorge walls and, twenty minutes later, arrive at a clear fast flowing creek, with a series of rapids and waterfalls. We have it entirely to ourselves. It appears that a two hour walk is a bridge too far for most visitors.

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On our second morning we head off to Zebedee hot (warm) springs. On arriving at the springs we discover that disaster has struck. I have managed to abandon my thongs at the El Questro main car park and, if we can’t recover them, I am down to just boots for the next couple of weeks. Australia and the globe, generally, are strewn with random items of personal possessions which I have been managing to spread around the world with abandon for years. Glasses, wallets, combs, hats, phones, pens, daypacks, shoes, clean and dirty laundry, computers. No item is too big or too expensive for me to lose.

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Zebedee Springs are a beautiful spot but suffering severe visitor pressures and heavily populated by grey nomads many of whom are very overweight. To get around one has to walk and climb very carefully over very sharp rocks. There is an element of having emerged into some sort of heavily choreographed dance routine, but performed at snails’ pace, as posses of old and not so old visitors perform a staccato circulation around the various pools.

 

30-IMG_1561When we arrive there are more than 50 people in the 1000 square metres that constitute the area of the springs. The best spot is right at the top where the springs emerge. Roger, Jill and I laze around in the top pool and I then go to fetch Kaylee who is in one of the lower pools. As we ascend the rocks, she calls out to me and I pirouette gracefully on the crest of on the our nation’s most slippery rocks, elegantly sliding down it, to land horizontally with my head on one rock, my hip on another and my hand on a third. Fortunately my pride suffers more than any body part since, so far as I can see, the collection of 80 year olds have managed to negotiate the pools without incident.

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As we leave I manage to abandon my hat and sunnies on the rocks and they are rescued by Jill. I am on about strike six so far as lost items are concerned and I continue to be banned from care of car keys.

In the afternoon we head for El Questro Gorge. It is an easy hours walk up to the Gorge to the first waterfall. The gorge is cool and narrow, quite different from many of the others we have visited. The walk above the first falls is a further 40 minutes, but we go no further. The end of the gorge is heavily populated and, in the absence of more heroic feats to perform, I leap to the rescue of a plastic floating baby which has escaped the grasp of two young girls. I bask in the universal acclaim of a 3 and a 5 year old, which redeems somewhat the opprobrium which has been heaped on me due to my amnesia about my various possessions.

A qu44-IMG_1576ick swim and lunch and we head back to the camp. Jill has decided not to come up the gorge with us and has stayed in the lower part of the river to do some drawing. When Roger, Kaylee and I all arrive back at the car park without Jill, Roger has to go off on a search and rescue mission. This is normally accomplished, we are told, through a series of whistles which they have allegedly perfected for just such a situation. It seems fortunate that Jill is not really lost since the system clearly not work even when they are just five metres apart. It would be entirely useless in more critical situations. Jill appears to want Roger to find her by some form of symbiotic process since, seeing Roger walking past, she stops whistling and waits for prescience to set in. Jill on the other hand blames Roger for not listening. All is sweetness and light.

01-IMG_1095We return to El Questro Central. My thongs are continuing to reside where I left them that morning. Kaylee is not amused and berates me for my carelessness. When I suggest that my leaving the sandals was due to her distracting me at the critical moment when I was due to load my sandals into the vehicle the lack of amusement turns to assault. My pleas about early onset Alzheimers are ignored.

Being Saturday night, decide to have dinner at the restaurant. The big question of the night is did the Swans beat Hawthorn? We interrogate each of the waiters, in turn, but no one knows and the General Manager, who is a footie fanatic, has knocked off. On our return to our camp the question of the week is still unresolved. Somewhat jokingly, I despatch Jill to ask nearby campers to put us out of our misery. But she takes me seriously and returns to report it is a split round and the match is not for another week.

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Kaylee decides on the second afternoon that she wants to go trail riding on our final morning and I agree to accompany her. At 6 am we stagger forth for our 7 am start. There are 10 of us plus the two guides, Laura and Christian, who run this business and another one near Mansfield in Victoria where they have an additional 55 horses.

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We set off along the trail. Having being used to riding my friend Lizzie Clay’s horses on which I have been, variously, thrown, nearly decapitated and have witnessed another friend being rolled on by her horse it is a little lacking in excitement. If my horse was any more docile it would be dead. When I drop the reins and remove my helmet in order to remove my jumper, I receive a stiff dressing down from Laura. She apparently believes it is possible to fall off a lounge suite and break ones neck because riding these horses is about as risky.

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Still the bush is beautiful and we have an exciting rendezvous with a large and aggressive bull which sends all the leading riders scattering. The main excitement of the trip is my conversation with Christian about high country grazing, climate change and live animal exports. I doubt he is a Greens voter

On our return to camp we discover Roger has had a partially sleepless night having woken, with a scream, from a bad dream in which he has to rescue me from the attack of a large Irish wolfhound or similar. We are unable to determine the cause of the nightmare, and my suggestion that the wolfhound might represent Kaylee does not meet with universal approval.

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We are packed and we head for Emma Gorge. We have just crossed the Pentecost River and the occupants of the car behind start  leaning on their horn. Roger tries to ignore them but after a while he pulls up. Someone has failed to lock the rear compartment and Jill’s walking boots have fallen out. Roger is blamed because we have decided to assign Roger the blame for everything that goes wrong.

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Emma Gorge is another shortish walk up the creek leaving from the Resort where we take note of how the idle rich pass their Kimberley holidays, pandered with spas, massages, restaurants and auto massage water beds and silk sheets. We, on the other hand, who are down among the dust are increasingly blending with the landscape. We all have complete sets of red dust clothes, shoes and hair. The vehicle is red, the sheets are turning reddish and the cameras, phones, iPads and all other electronic devices are increasingly covered with a miasma of red.

09-IMG_1614Emma Creek narrows out into a steep-sided gorge and terminates into a giant plunge pool which gets no sun at all in winter. The water is cold but, off to the right, as you face the waterfall there is a miniature sculpted rock bowl smoothed to a marble finish. This pool is fed by a warm spring which wards off hypothermia. It is just large enough for one or two people to get in. Fifty metres downstream is another warmer pool, the Turquoise Pool, and Kaylee and I leave the sun-phobic among us to the cool pool.

Lunch brings us back to the resort and then we leave for the Mitchell Plateau and falls.

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Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)

Beyonce has returned!! Our vehicle which suffered a cracked brake line has been returned to us but with no guarantees. The mechanic believes the repair will last for our trip, at least, but someone, somewhere in the future, will suffer the same fate. It appears that the original modifications to the vehicle were not carried out to spec and this has led to the brake problem.

Roger wants to see Katherine Gorge so we decide on a two night stay in town. We book into the Katherine River Lodge. It is clean but cat-swinging is prohibited. The motel has a large resident population some of whom appear not to like each other much. Our neighbour has pasted a large sign on the pole outside his door “Don’t touch my laundry you bitch”. The next room is occupied by a young Chinese woman. We approve of her ability to adopt Australian practice but we wonder, since she is stealing male underwear, if she is into cross-dressing.

photoThe first night brings another major decision. Will we stay at the motel and partake of the $15 pasta night or get takeaways. Kaylee vetoes the pasta night. She has seen a picture of one dish which she describes as looking like excreted tape-worms covered by a dollop of pasta sauce. We want Thai but the nearest Thai restaurant is at the Border Store. Chinese takeaway it is.

We use Katherine to finish numerous jobs. Roger has a job application to write. Among other jobs I have to my tax return to complete so that I have something to live on for the next few weeks. Kaylee has to change her phone over from Optus to Telstra Pre-paid so that she can get reception. For Kaylee, dealing with Telstra is as desirable as an Abbott Government or walking on hot coals. Katherine is the start of the Telstra saga.

With numerous jobs to do that require internet we become permanent members of the Coffee Club which provides free internet, half-decent coffee and air-conditioning. By the time we leave town we are on first name terms with most of the staff. Jill and Roger are unaware that I have invited all of them to stay with Roger and Jill at Bundagen. Surprises are good things in life.

A key task for Kaylee is to get her Telstra sim card working so that she can occasionally have phone and internet access on this trip but, more particularly, on her 1000 km bushwalk along the Bibulman track through south-west Western Australia. The phone is working but she cannot get data.

There are no Telstra shops in Katherine, so Kaylee is on the phone to Telstra. Telstra advises Kaylee that it is not their problem but Optus since the phone must be locked to Optus. Kaylee calls Optus who advise that it is not their problem as it is not locked to Optus. By this time there are a long stream of expletives emitting from the vicinity of Kaylee. She abandons the issue for now as it is time for her, Roger and Jill to decamp to Nitmiluk, where Roger and Jill are kayaking up the gorge. I am left to the pleasures of tax returns and similar tasks.

Kaylee calls Telstra. After an hour on phone to Telstra most fragile objects within metres of Kaylee are at risk of imminent destruction. But apparently the problem has been resolved. Fat chance.

Roger, Jill and Kaylee return from Nitmiluk. Kaylee has multi-tasked by calling responding to a call from Energy Australia from the lookout at Nitmiluk. This is another of her favourite tasks. Two months late, Energy Australia advises her that they have been unable to activate her solar panels because Adam Cartwright, her electrician, failed to tick box six on the form which he submitted two months ago. But in keeping with the extraordinary level of customer service in Australia, rather than ringing and advising Kaylee of the issue, they decided the customer should use their omniscience to automatically know that there was a problem.

Kaylee has suggested that one of their helpful staff could perhaps ring the electrician and not to call her for two months since she wouldn’t be answering her phone.20140708_144600

And my parcel is still lost. Abandoning all hope I have concentrated on other tasks. A tour of Katherine’s op shops has delivered me a long sleeve shirt and a mossie-proof pair of long trousers. With my exceptional packing skills I have ended up with 6 pairs of jocks, 6 cords to charge my phone, 8 pens, a tube of punctured rectal cream which leaks through everything, enough warm clothes for Antarctica but no long trousers or long-sleeved shirt or coffee maker. My walking boots which gave me blisters walking 200 metres down Ann St in Brisbane have, however been replaced. My consumer blitz also delivers me a new espresso maker and a head torch (another useful omission during my packing frenzy).

Post Katherine Gorge kayak we meet back at the Coffee Club. We are now life members. Jill and Roger report, they covered the Katherine Gorge sprint of 3.2 kms in the unparalled time of 30 minutes. Since the Olympic record for the K1 2000 metres is about 30 seconds, some Olympic training is still required but I don’t mention this.

During their absence I have discovered the Katherine library which has also set a world record for a public library internet charge of $6 per hour. A good book burning is deserved for unrivalled public exploitation.

We have some final tasks before we leave. Woolworths is calling, as is shopping for a few car spares. We head for Repco to buy hoses and belts among other things but in keeping with all things mechanical leave empty handed. Katherine’s biggest car spares place has no spares for Australia’s second most popular four-wheel drive.

Our time in Katherine is almost at an end. Time for a barbie at the hot springs and a moonlight swim. We head out to the springs for dinner. It’s the last supper in Katherine.

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