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Down UnderThe Big Red Rock

On 30 August 2004 from Alice Springs, NT | comments closed

On Friday we drove the 450km to Yulara, the resort town next to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. After we set up the tent, we drove into the park and up to Uluru (a.k.a. Ayers Rock, a.k.a. the Big Red Rock). We did not have enough time to walk around, so we decided to check out the visitors centre instead. Afterwards we drove to the sunset viewing area, where we were able to make some nice photos of Uluru changing to a red colour.

Saturday we got up really early to see the sunrise at Uluru, but the sun was hiding behind some clouds, so it was pretty disappointing. After sunrise we drove to the other side and climbed the rock. A little note on that: the Aboriginal owners ask everyone not to climb it, but they have not actually closed the climb (except in bad weather conditions), so still thousands of people climb it. Also, the park entry fee for Uluru – Kata Tjuta is A$25 p.p. for 3 days, which is exorbitantly expensive, considering you pay only A$22,50 for a car for 30 days for all the national parks in Western Australia. If they do not respect my financial situation (being a poor backpacker), I do not respect their wishes not to climb it. However, I did refrain from calling people from the top (yes, there is mobile coverage on top of Uluru), and sent SMS instead. On top of Uluru it really felt like I was in the centre of Australia, with a huge expanse of flat country almost everywhere I looked. After climbing Uluru, we drove to Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. the Olgas), where we did the Valley of the Winds hike, passing along some of the characteristic domes. Next was Walpa Gorge, a short hike to a lookout into the gorge, not very interesting. On the way back to Uluru we stopped at the sand dunes for a view of Kata Tjuta, but it had become really cloudy, so it was not very good. Back at Uluru the climb was closed because of high wind speeds at the top, and we did our last hike of the day around the base of Uluru. During that hike it rained as well, the first rain since I left Exmouth. All in all we hiked some 26km on Saturday. We went to see another sunset of Uluru as well, but the sun only came out shortly half an hour before, so the rock did not become red that day.

On Sunday we drove over 300km to get to Kings Canyon, and did the Canyon Rim walk, going all the way around the canyon. This was probably the most interesting hike in the centre, and reminded me somewhat of Karijini NP in Western Australia. Initially the plan was to camp at the Kings Canyon Resort, but they were asking an exorbitantly high price (A$14,50), so we decided to get back to the highway. That included driving 100km on unsealed road (the alternative was 270km of sealed road), but it was easy in my 4WD. We camped for free at Stuart’s Well.

Today we drove into Alice Springs, David and I said our goodbyes, and I finally had some time to update this website, since I had not been able to do that since leaving Darwin.

Down UnderDown to the Centre

On 26 August 2004 from Alice Springs, NT | comments closed

I spent all Tuesday kayaking and hiking in Katherine Gorge, while David explored and relaxed in Katherine (he had been to the gorge before). In the morning I rented a kayak for 4 hours and paddled up to the end of the first gorge, where I had to carry the kayak over rocks to the second gorge (pretty hard work). I turned around about halfway through the second gorge, but this time I went through the rapids to get back to the first gorge, a lot easier. After returning the kayak, I went for a quick swim in the river, and decided to hike a bit in the afternoon. So I went to Pat’s Lookout that gave a good view over the gorge, but kayaking is definitely better. Back in Katherine we happened to stay next to a guy who was the expert on my type of car in the Northern Territory (he just rebuilt an engine himself), and he fixed my oil leak, so we were all good to go to Alice Springs (1200km South).

Wednesday we set off for Alice and made a stop at Mataranka on the way, to look at the thermal pool and flying foxes (bats) who are inhabiting the rainforest in huge numbers (very smelly indeed). We camped overnight at Banka Banka, a very good value campsite, with an interesting presentation on outback station life in the evening.

On Thursday we spent quite some time hiking around and making photos of the Devil’s Marbles. I also cought up with a Swiss couple I had met before in Broome and Turkey Creek (of all places). We got to Alice Springs in the evening and quickly put up some signs looking for people to travel further with (David wanted to go straight to Sydney from Alice).

Down UnderKakadu & Arnhem Land

On 23 August 2004 from Katherine, NT | comments closed

Wednesday morning I packed all my stuff in the car and said goodbye to Adina (Peter had already left to work), before meeting David at his hostel. Unfortunately I was only able to find one person to share fuel costs with, but that would have to do. I did not want to spend much time looking for other people, since my flight date seems to approach fast. And despite the fact that David is from London, our ideas about travelling were fairly similar and he knows how to cook, so we have been saving quite some money by camping (sometimes for free) and cooking during the trip.

After shopping for food at Woolworths we drove towards Kakadu National Park. Before the park we stopped at Adelaide River for a jumping croc cruise. On this river the saltwater crocodiles (the nasty ones) actually swim towards boats to get fed. But the meat is hold out in the air, so they have to jump for it. And they do! I saw crocodiles jumping from the water up to one metre in the air. Very spectacular, and I have a few very good photos and videos. After the cruise we checked out some more huge termite mounds, before finding a campsite for the night.

Thursday morning we got up early, viewed the Mamukala Wetlands (Australia being as dry as it is, wetlands are quite unusual and an important feature of Kakadu NP), and checked out the visitors centre. There we decided to make it a day of Aboriginal rock art and hiking, so we drove to Ubirr, did a 9km hike around sandstone formations, creeks and the river. Before driving to the rock art, we got some ice for the esky (coolbox) at the store and I met Lieke there. Australia is a big place, but not big enough not to run into the same people all the time. The Aboriginal rock at Ubirr (and later Nourlangie Rock) is definitely the best I have seen, and some paintings are thousands of years old. Besides rock art, Ubirr has a really good lookout, and we planned to see the sunset there, but could not be bothered to wait more than 3 hours, so we drove on to Nourlangie Rock to see some more rock art. We were just in time for the second ranger talk about Aboriginal culture, which was very interesting. The rock art here was really good, but also really recent (around 1960). In Aboriginal tradition it is not a bad thing to put a new painting over an old one. Before driving to our free campsite, we checked out a billabong (waterhole) and another lookout.

We booked a tour to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls on Friday, because the 60km road there is a very rough 4WD track with a deep water crossing on the way to Twin Falls (I heard it was 1m deep). The deep water crossing was the main reason to do a tour (getting stalled in crocodile infested waters does not sound like fun), and additionally we would get to hear about the flora and fauna, and not have to worry about driving rough tracks that might end up costing more in repairs than the tour. We drove to Twin Falls first, where we had to get on a boat for the last bit, because of the saltwater crocodiles in the water. The falls were probably the highest I have seen in Australia. Next we drove to Jim Jim Falls, and it took a decent hike to get there, but the swimming was great (the falls were not flowing unfortunately). All in all it was a pretty relaxed day.

Saturday we drove into Arnhem Land, and every other day of the year it is necessary to get a permit to drive there, because it is Aboriginal owned land. But Saturday happened to be the yearly open day in Oenpelli, with lots of activities going on. We checked out the art store and the school where all the activities centered. After the official opening at noon there did not seem to be much going on however (we had already checked out all the stands before), and it seemed most things were run by white people anyway, and there was even an Asian food stand. So I was getting fairly bored, but the problem was getting back. To get to Arnhem Land it is necessary to cross the East Alligator River, which is impassable during high tide. So we had to wait a while before we could drive through the river, and got back late afternoon. We made a short walk near the river, before heading to the campsite at Yellow Water.

Sunday we checked out the wetlands and the Aboriginal cultural centre at Yellow Water. The rest of the day was driving, hiking and swimming. First we drove the 4WD-only road to Maguk, where the waterfall and plunge pool was refreshing. Then we drove the 4WD-recommended road to Gunlom, another waterfall with plunge pool. We did not swim here though, since there were some more rock pools and small waterfalls at the top of the falls, and those were much better to swim in.

On Monday we started the day with a hike to Motor Car Falls, but it was too early to swim, so we hiked back and drove out of Kakadu NP. On Friday the tour guide had given us the tip to go to Molime Rockhole, just outside Kakadu NP down a 4WD track that was not signposted. So we went there, had the place to ourselves and went for a swim. Afterwards we drove to Edith Falls, where we also hiked to the top of the waterfall for a refreshing swim in the rockholes. It was also the first place where I forgot to take my camera (left it in the car), so annoying. Late afternoon we drove on to Katherine, where we camped at Coco’s. Finally I was able to get 2 litres of Hokey Pokey ice-cream, since there was a freezer and we stayed two nights.

Down UnderLots of Western Australia Photos

On 17 August 2004 from Darwin, NT | comments closed

I spent the last 4 days in Darwin getting organised, cleaning my car and sorting out my photos. Adina and Peter were really nice to let me stay at their house, a little bit (20km) out of town, but overlooking a lagoon with lots of wildlife. Somehow it seems all the Australians I know have a 5-acre block. I tried using their computer to sort out my photos, and spent about a full day trying to get it to work, but in the end had to resort to an internet cafe. I will save you the details, just never buy a computer with only recovery CDs to repair Windows.

I made about 300 photos in the last 6 weeks (I know, I am not making as much photos anymore as I used to), and I put the best ones online. You can find them in the Western Australia album starting from the end of page 2.

On Saturday I went into town to put up notices looking for travel mates, and I got a few responses (not as much as I hoped for though). I met up with an English guy today and it seemed we have fairly similar ideas of travelling to Alice Springs, so I hope that works out.

I spent all Sunday and Monday morning cleaning out my car, since it was an absolute mess. I had not cleaned it since I left Mandurah, about 2 months ago, and everything was covered in red dust. So I cleaned it outside and inside, and did the same for all the camping gear, sorting that out at the same time. Monday afternoon I took the car for a service, and bolted the bull-bar back on in the evening. In Katherine I noticed that it was only fixed to the car with 2 bolts on one side, so I put a tent peg in as a temporary measure, but fixed it properly on Monday. I also noticed I lost a license plate, so I applied for new ones today. It must have come off on this rough gravel road in the Kimberley, and the bull-bar probably lost a few bolts there as well (the others during towing).

Besides all this, I went to the Darwin city centre almost every day to check out the sights (not many), shop (I got the last book of ‘Lord of the Rings’), sort out my photos (almost for free since I helped them trying to get their computer fixed), and meet friends (the Australian who towed me and Lieke).

Down UnderInto the Territory

On 13 August 2004 from Darwin, Northern Territory | comments closed

Tuesday morning we crossed the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory, which was a bit of a weird feeling, since I spent almost 4,5 months in Western Australia. Also, it required us to set our watches 1,5 hours forward. So now I am on GMT +9,5 (these half hour time differences are really weird), or 7,5 hours later than mainland Western Europe. After crossing the border we went almost straight to Katherine, where we found a nice campsite for the night. It was also the place where we encountered traffic lights again, and I almost forgot they existed, since we did not see any for more than 5000km.

On Wednesday we drove into Litchfield National Park, where we checked out huge termite mounds, and some nice waterfalls: Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls, and Wangi Falls. Sally, Claire and I went swimming at the first and last of these, before finding a campsite near Wangi Falls.

Thursday we drove to Darwin, with a short stop at Berry Springs. After settling at the caravan park I took the bus into town (could not be bothered driving for 1,05 euro), and checked out the city center. In the evening I went to the Mindil Beach Market, a large open-air market with lots of food stands (had some great Asian food), souvenir stands, and street artists. Later on I met Sally, Claire and Charlie (met him before in Fitzroy Crossing), and we took the bus back together.

Today I settled the score with Sally and Claire and visited Jo’s sister Adina, on the outskirts of Darwin, where I have been able to type up the last three posts. I also made a new sign looking for travel mates, made an appointment to get my car serviced, and confirmed my return flight (arriving on Schiphol at 06.30 on Sunday 14 November 2004, flight CX271; I hope you can pick me up from the airport, mum & dad).

Down UnderCar Trouble & the Kindness of Strangers

On 9 August 2004 from Lake Argyle, Western Australia | comments closed

We left Fitzroy Crossing on Friday morning, but after a while the car seemed to be pulling back (suddenly lose power) at higher speeds. So I pulled into a rest area and at that time the engine stalled as well, and I could not get it started anymore. Unfortunately, this happened between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, 140km from both towns (they would be considered villages back home, with a population of around 1500). So there we were, stuck along the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no GSM signal either. Fortunately, we were not the only ones at the rest area, and I went to a couple standing with two utes (pick-up trucks). They checked out my car, but could not find anything that was obviously wrong. So they got on the radio to ask for a ride to Halls Creek or a satellite phone to call the RAC (Royal Automobile Club, WA’s ANWB/ADAC/AA). Next thing we know this large road train (truck with 3 trailers) pulls in, and we got the RAC on the satellite phone. However, they were charging A$200 just to get out there. In the meantime, a tourist from Melbourne with his parents had pulled in as well, and he offered to tow us to Halls Creek in his rented LandCruiser. That seemed the most viable option, so we ended up getting towed for 140km to Halls Creek. Indeed, the kindness of strangers. It was not easy though, since power steering was not working and the brakes were really bad because the engine was off. But we made it, and called the RAC from the Shell service station. It took them 2 hours to arrive from a workshop not even 5 minutes away, so that was not a good impression. But they had the engine running within 5 minutes by adjusting the distributor. Of course we thanked the tourist from Melbourne with a good supply of alcohol (he would not accept any money, and beer is currency in Australia).

On Saturday we had not even got back to the highway before the car stalled again. So we called the RAC again, and it got fixed again. Once more he adjusted the distributor, but told us it should really get fixed. However, no one in Halls Creek had the time or the parts to fix it soon, so we decided to take it easy and see how far we could get. We managed to get to Turkey Creek, and had the engine cool off there for a while. When we departed the problem only seemed to have gotten worse, and I did not think the car would make it to Kununurra, 200km along the highway, so I turned back to Turkey Creek. There I called for a mechanic, and an old typical Aussi guy with a long white beard showed up. He was thinking the problem was in the spark plugs, but those turned out to be fine, and he also came to the conclusion that the distributor was broken. Luckily, he had a second-hand one in one of his engines, and he built that into mine. If you consider that Turkey Creek is just a roadhouse and an aboriginal community, it is pretty amazing that I managed to get my car fixed there. But after almost two hours it did get fixed, it was running smoothly, I was 90 euro poorer, and we were on our way again.

We managed to get to El Questro without any further problems, and we joined Ray and Jenny (an Australian couple we met at Silent Grove campsite) for dinner. El Questro is a 1 million acre Wilderness Park (that is about the size of the Netherlands) with some very upscale accommodation in the homestead (500 euro per person per night), but also chalets and campsites. Needless to say, we stayed at the latter, but spent most time at the bar, using the bar’s campfire to heat the marshmallows.

Sunday morning Sally, Claire and I went to Zebedee Springs: natural hot springs in the El Questro Wilderness Park. After relaxing there for a bit, I brought Sally and Claire back to the campsite for some sunbathing, and I went to El Questro gorge. I was surprised to see a few 2WD vehicles in the El Questro resort, because it is necessary to cross a river to get there, although the river is not deep at all. A lot of roads in the Wilderness Park were 4WD tracks though, impossible to do by 2WD. This was also the case for the track to the El Questro gorge, part of it was very sandy (needing lots of ground clearance) and there was a turn-off in the middle of a creek crossing. The gorge itself was great to hike in because it was very narrow, and the steep cliffs walls gave a lot of shadow. I did the full hike, requiring to wade through waist-deep water at the halfway pool. The hike was supposed to take 2,5 hours, but only took me 1 hour. At the end there was a beautiful waterfall streaming into a rock pool, so I went for a nice swim there. After driving back I joined the girls sunbathing at the river, and we made some nice dinner.

Monday morning we packed everything in the car and were ready to leave El Questro, but the car did not do anything. I got the mechanic and it turned out to be just a loose battery contact, so after that was screwed on everything worked and we drove to Kununurra. We made it just a fuel, food, and tourist information stop, and continued on to Lake Argyle, where we spent the afternoon at the pool of the caravan park.

Down UnderCreek Crossings

On 5 August 2004 from Fitzroy Crossing, WA | comments closed

On Tuesday Sally, Claire and I set off to Derby, where we took a look at the Prison Boab Tree, a tree large enough to hold people inside. In Derby we got the latest road conditions and got on Gibb River Road. This is almost 700km of unsealed road straight through the Kimberley. However, I decided to only go to some of the natural attractions on either end of the road, mainly because I did not want to break down in the middle of nowhere. On Tuesday we reached Bell Gorge, 220km along Gibb River Road, where we camped overnight at the Silent Grove campsite. The unsealed road was better than expected, but the last 20km to the campsite was a 4WD-only road and I wondered why until we got to the first creek crossing. Creek crossings are fairly normal in this part of Australia, and at this time of the year (the ‘Dry’-season) there are only a few of them. Nevertheless, it is still scary to drive through a creek that is 40cm deep, even with a 4WD. It also took some trail-and-error to figure out the best way to tackle them. I think I made all the beginner mistakes by now: using high-gear 4WD, using too high entry speeds (it does clean the windshield nicely though), stalling the engine (luckily it was not deep there). FYI: second gear in low-gear 4WD is the best way to handle the deeper creek crossings.

Wednesday morning we went into Bell Gorge, definitely one of the most picturesque gorges in the West Kimberley. I went as far into the gorge as possible and had a quick swim before joining Sally and Claire who had been sunbathing. We drove back on Gibb River Road and took the 4WD-only road along Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. After setting up the tent at the Windjana Gorge campsite, we spent the afternoon in Windjana Gorge, where freshwater crocodiles were sunbathing on the banks of the river.

Thursday morning we visited Tunnel Creek, basically a 750m natural tunnel where you have to wade through a knee-deep creek to get to the end. Coming from the broad daylight, the tunnel was pitch black and the girls were too scared to continue. I went on and met up with an Adventure Tours group, one that we seemed to be following, since I had met some of them in Bell Gorge and Windjana Gorge. After a quick look around at the end of the tunnel I went back and we drove on to Fitzroy Crossing. That turned out to be a fairly rough road with another creek crossing (I have photos of this one). We drove straight through town into Geikie Gorge, where we had a few hours to spare before the boat cruise started. I used the time for a nice walk along the gorge and the river. The boat cruise was very informative, and we saw lots of crocs in the water and on the banks of the river.

Down UnderStaircase to the Moon

On 2 August 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

I am not talking about the Led Zeppelin song, but about the effect caused by the rising of the full moon reflected off the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. This is a major tourist attraction here, complete with crowds and a market. This happened at 18.18 last night, and I watched it with the usual crowd of people (Sally, Claire, Phil etc.). Before the Staircase to the Moon we did not really do anything though, and spent another lazy day at the campsite. In the evening I went to the Kimberley Klub for a really fun game of Spoons, an easy cardgame with a bit of a spoon battle.

Today was the last day in Broome, and subsequently Claire and I did some laundry, before going to Cable Beach for the last time. I also had my car fixed, and it turned out the clutch did not need to be replaced, but just readjusted. So that was only a 45 euro repair.

Time to go now and check out the Staircase to the Moon again, it is supposed to be better today, since the moon is only rising at 19.18, so it will be completely dark by that time. Tomorrow Sally, Claire and I are going into the Kimberley, and from there to Darwin. That will most likely be the next place to update my website, in about 10 days or so.

Down UnderRelaxing & Fixing

On 1 August 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

Wednesday evening Sally and I went to the Jam Night at Divers Tavern, where we were joined by Arno, Phil and Christine. It was Arno’s last night in Broome, because he left to Darwin on Thursday, so we had quite a few farewell beers.

Thursday and Friday were some very lazy days: after sleeping in we went to Cable Beach in the afternoon, and just relaxed at the campsite the rest of the day. Friday evening I met up with Phil at the Kimberley Klub, more a budget resort than a hostel, where we chilled a bit.

Friday was a bit of a bad day though. I was having some problems getting my car into reverse gear, so I went to a car repair place and they told me I had a problem with the clutch. However, he could not look at it till Monday, so I went to another place, where two mechanics did a testdrive and took a look at it, and it turned out the clutch is on its last legs. They ordered a new one from Perth, and hopefully it will arrive on Monday to be built in the same day. The estimated cost for it is A$750 (mainly labour), so that really sucks, but I have no choice than to get it fixed here. A broken clutch in the Kimberley is a lot worse.

Saturday was probably the laziest day of all, we only got out of the campsite to get some food at the supermarket, and spent all day reading. So I almost finished ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’. Now I have to find ‘The Return of the King’ somewhere cheap, to finish reading the entire trilogy. Saturday evening we first went to The Last Resort, to drink more wine and have some fresh fish, before clubbing at the Oasis.