Thursday, 28 May 2015

Batchelor and Litchfield National Park

We left Darwin and still weren’t sure if we were turning left or right off the Stuart Hwy into either Kakadu or into Litchfield national park. We chose the latter for the following reasons.

After replacing a battery and a few other bits in the camper plus an overpriced caravan park in Darwin we were over budget and needed to curve our spending for the next few days by choosing cheap camping and less kilometres.

Kakadu is 200 odd km off the hwy. Litchfield was only about 70km.

Kakadu costs $25 per person just to enter the park, and then camping fees were $30 for an unpowered site. Litchfield was free to enter and camping was $15 per night for an unpowered site.

Plus, Kakadu roads were dirt and some were not yet open while Litchfiled was Bitumen all the way and are open all year round.

The walks in Kakadu are moderate to hard, which means some of them would be too hard for the children. Most of the sights in Litchfield have boardwalks and paths and are easy to moderate walks meaning the kids could complete.

Our first stop off the highway was in Bachelor. A small town still living on the ‘most tidiest town’ award from 1999. I have to say it was tidy and green and quite inviting for the traveller with bins and toilets and a few attractions such as the quirky butterfly house.

Matilda spotted the sign and screeched from the backseat ‘Muuuuum stop the car it’s a butterfly house please can we go’ followed by echoes from the other two ‘please mum can we go’. I was driving and looked across at Craig who nodded his head and said ‘why not’.

So in we went. The owner showed us through to the butterfly house, then let us have a hold of a butterfly fresh out of a cocoon. The kids loved it.

We then stopped at a grassy green park and got out the webber and cooked some sausages for lunch. I am noticing how much more relaxed Craig is getting. Normally he is all stressed and wants to ‘get going’ because he is used to our rushed week here and there. So when I suggested stopping to cook lunch he was like no worries and got out the bbq and cooked us up lunch without a worry.

BBQ lunch set up 

From Batchelor we headed into the park and went to Wangi Falls, on a recommendation from some friends we met. It was our third WOW moment of our trip.

Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park Northern Territory 

A very tired Abigail and I after swimming all day long

We camped here for two nights with flushing toilets, showers and tidy campsites. If you are thinking of coming here let me warn you. There are MILLIONS of mosquitos. I have known Craig for 15 years and he has never been bitten. So I was surprised to see him itching madly on the first night. Bug spray helped a little but we still look like we have chicken pox from the bites. Also, there is the risk of salt water crocs. The risk is minimal because the parks are regularly checked by rangers, but I still make Craig get in before myself or the kids!!!!!

Also, there are no bins in the park. So all rubbish must be taken out with you. And there is no drinking water so take plenty in. We got cut short with our water supply. Because it is so hot we went through our 15 litres in a day and we ended up buying another off a backpacker for $20 when you normally pay about $8 in woolies. I felt bad because Craig saw them when they drove in with heaps of water so he approached them and offered them a $20 note for some water. But they were more than happy to make a quid and were only staying one night so would pick up more in bachelor the next day.

Swimming at Wangi Falls. All three of the girls swam with us over to the waterfall!!

I am glad we chose to turn right as Litchfield was amazing. Plus Kakadu will be easier to visit on a trip later on when the kids are older.

Darwin Town

My heading says Darwin Town because although it is the capital city of Northern Territory if feels much more like a big town.

We pulled in and set up the camper at 2pm, the hottest part of the day. Humid and hot. Although the locals tell us it has ‘cooled down’! Our caravan park of choice was the Free Spirit Resort, which was $66 per night for a powered site. Amenities were dated, pool area was a little bit dirty and the camp area they put us in was full of back packers.  On saying that we didn’t spend much time at the park as there is a fair bit to see and do around Darwin.

Here is what we got up to.

Darwin Waterfront
A new area, similar to Hillarys Boat Harbour (for all you Perth peeps). This man made inlet area is the ONLY beach in Darwin that is safe to swim as the rest of the bays are full of crocodiles and sharks. It was free to go there and swim and lay on the grass. There was an icecream shop that looked delicious but we were being healthy that day and ate nuts and fruit instead.

Darwin water front

Mindil Markets
This place was fantastic. My mum had said ‘you must go to the markets in Darwin’ and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  They run in the dry season on Thursday and Sunday nights. There is free entertainment, loads of cheap Asian cuisine and stalls selling stuff like cane toad purses and soaps and clothes and all sorts really. Craig and the kids watched the ‘fire circus’ act while I had a good look around at the stalls.

Fire Circus, Midill Markets

We enjoyed viewing the Northern Territory Newspaper wall which was an exhibit showing all the front pages from the newspapers in recent years. There was also the cyclone Tracey exhibit, which was full of information and firsthand recounts of the infamous cyclone that hit Darwin on 25 December 1975.

Photo of a photo, people being evacuated from Darwin 26 December 1975

Crocodylus Park
On the outskirts of town is this Crocodile park, which includes baby crocs, middle size crocs and REALLY big bastard crocs. We took an informative cruise and saw crocodiles living on the edge of the river and also saw them in captivity in the small breeding pens. Their leather is used to make handbags and wallets, and their meat is sold by the kilogram.

Big fella Salt Water Crocodile

Free water slides
This place was great. And free! Unfortunately Abigail was too small to go on the waterslides and she had a bit of a tantrum at the bottom of the slides when the lifeguard told her L there was a small pool to paddle in and she had a go in that. There were three big waterslides that Matilda and Charlotte ran up and slid down all afternoon.

Free Water parks 

I would have liked to visit the war museum but that didn’t work out. So that is on the next time list. I also think next time I will do as many of the Victorians did, and that is to park up the camper and stay in a chalet with air conditioning!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Gibb River Road to Darwin

We left El Questro with plans to go to the five rivers lookout in Wyndam. You cannot tow a van or trailer up the look out road so we had organized with some friends to look after their van at the bottom while they went up and vice versa. However, as we were all pumping up our car tyres after finishing the Gibb one of their boys fell and cut his knee open. They had to high tail it to Kununurra to the hospital to get it stitched. Poor kid sliced it on the draw bar of the caravan. It was a mighty deep cut and he handled it well. The five rivers look out is now on the ‘maybe next time’ list!

We arrived in Kununnura and pulled up at Coles to replenish our non-existing supply of food. We then headed straight to Lake Argyle caravan park, about 40 minutes out of Kununnura.


A lovely caravan park with nothing else around. It is on the edge of Lake Argyle, a huge inland sea of water that was dammed up in 1969 to catch the fresh water coming in from the Ord river. The caravan park is slightly dated in amenities but was cleanish, the sites were grassy and there was a great infinity swimming pool built on the edge of a cliff, which was freezing but worth a dip for a photo.

Infinity pool
It was Abigails 4th birthday here and we celebrated with a cake and some party pies with our new friends. We had balloons and some music and the old ladies from the surrounding caravans come to say happy birthday. One bringing Abi some flowers which was lovely. Mum and my sister, plus both my nana’s had sent gifts and money to Broome caravan park a few weeks before so Abigail had lots to open on her birthday.

We spent the afternoon of Abigail’s birthday out on Lake Argyle aboard the Kimberley Durack boat cruise. It was a very informative, lighthearted tour of the lake, which included a swim at sunset with the fresh water crocs. The tour was booked at the caravan park reception and a family ticket was $270 which went from 1.30pm till 6pm and included soft drinks, tea and coffee, cake for afternoon tea, then crackers and cheese, dip, wine and beer on sunset. The tour guide was amazing, so full of knowledge and good with the kids. It was a highlight of our trip so far and was well worth the money.

sunset over lake argyle 


The next day we packed up and drove the 500 km to Katherine. We were going to break this up over two nights and free camp but our camper battery failed on the last part of the Gibb River and we needed to stay in powered sites until we reached Darwin to get a new battery. The big 4 in Katherine was a great spot to set up camp. The caravan park was very clean, very modern, reasonably priced, had a pool, grassy sites, was secure and probably the best washing machines I have used so far. Well worth staying at if you are in Katherine (I’ve heard the other park in town is not so good and people get vans broken into all the time).

We arrived in Katherine near on dark and set up quickly while I put everything in the thermo for spaghetti bolognaise. It was one of our quickest set ups yet, we now have perfected it to about 20 minutes, from unhook to fully set up and sitting down to dinner!

That night Craig had another heart episode, his second in 6 weeks, so I decided we needed to stay for a second night as he looked terrible in the morning and nobody was in a mood to pack up and move on.

We used the next day to do some washing, visit the local museum and to use some free WIFI at Mcdonalds.  The next day Craig was much better and we made the three-hour drive from Katherine to Darwin to start the next bit of our adventure. The top end.

We have been on the road for six weeks now. And this is no longer a ‘holiday’ but is more starting to feel like ‘life’. I feel very lucky that we are seeing some great places but last week I was feeling a bit homesick. We had not had phone reception for 10 days and in that time I had only spoken to mum for about 2 minutes. I was tired and drained and the kids were playing us a bit. Craig was short tempered and tired himself. We were all getting sick of each other. The kids were complaining they wanted their dog. They wanted to go ‘home’ (bit hard since we sold our house to do this trip). Charlotte cried a few times because she wanted Nana. My mum is very close to the kids and this is the longest they have gone without seeing her and my sister. And we all miss our niece/cousin, little Ellie, 7 months old but already a big part of our lives. I had to remind myself that this trip is something we wanted to do and we had put so much on the line to do it.

I add this into my blog because I need to keep it real. This trip isn’t always roses. I don’t want to get on here and pretend it is. Sometimes it is shit and sometimes we get sick of each other and sometimes after sitting in the car for five hours while Craig is chewing his knuckle right next to me I want to slap him. And apparently sometimes I ‘give him the shits’ when I am a drama queen (pfft whateves). Sometimes the kids whinge and whine and want food that we don’t have and want their DVD player on, then off. Then they want their ipads then they want a wee. So we stop and I walk them into the toilet block with my baby wipes to clean the seat and I think ‘fuck this I want to go home’.

Luckily these times are few and far between. Usually when we are all super tired and it can easily be fixed with a good nights sleep and some alone time. Everyone has bad days. Camping or not. I watched an old lady directing her husband onto the tow bar of the caravan. She started out ‘left, right hand down’. Then her voice got more annoyed ‘I SAID right hand down’. Then he stopped the car and got out and had words with her. Then she yelled at him and got in the car and reversed it on herself. I wanted to high five her and say good on ya nana.

One of the ladies we camped near at Lake Argyle came to hug the kids goodbye as we were packing up.  She slipped them each a $5 note to buy an ice cream and said it was from ‘Nana Diana’. She had overheard Charlotte crying for her own nana and she too missed her grandkids. Things like this remind me of the sense of community you can build by staying in caravan parks. Meeting people you wouldn’t have ever met otherwise. Hearing other peoples lives. Their plans, their past. People that become like a family, but then just like that we pack up, hook on and drive off waving goodbye. Ready to meet more people and see more things. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Drysdale to El Questro

One of the many 'jump ups' which is a section of bitumen on the gravel road

The trusty pathfinder never missed a beat

Ellenbrae Station

By far the best campsite on the Gibb River! It is understated in the HEMA book and because it has no gorges or big bushwalks nearby it is not as popular to stay as the other camps and stations. But we pulled in for a quick look (and to taste the famous scones!) and ended up staying the night.

The homestead itself is the smallest in the Kimberley and is basically a shed with a donga next to it as sleeping quarters. The people who manage the station are lovely and sell scones jam and cream, coffee and tea and light snacks such as toasted sandwiches.

There are two camp areas at Ellenbrae. We stayed at the ‘ringers’ site which has the best little campers kitchen and outside shower and toilet with a bath!

We stayed a night and it got bloody cold there after dark. And there were a few mozzies about too.  But we lit a fire and sat up oh so late (8pm!). There were only a few other people camped there and again the stars were bright and the sound of silence (once the kids were in bed) was very soothing for the soul.

The famous scones from Ellenbrae Station 

The outside bath and shower at Ellenbrae

NIGHT 6 and 7
Home Valley Station

A swimming pool, a playground, toilets and showers, a restaurant, and guided tours. This place really has everything. Apart from a shop that sells food! Our supplies were dwindling to tins of baked beans and spaghetti so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch from the Dusty Bar restaurant. Barramundi, chips and salad.

The kids spent a good portion of the afternoon in the playground and the pool with the other kids we keep bumping into along the way since Coral Bay. There is also an indigenous school group camping here with us and they are travelling the Gibb River road with a cappuccino machine making coffees for the travellers for a gold coin donation. Very random, but we supported them by grabbing hot chocolates for the kids, coffee for craig and a cup of tea for me.

NIGHT 8 and 9

El Questro Resort
Im going to be honest here… The gorges around El Questro are stunning but I didn’t love El Questro resort. 
I was expecting big things because there is a lot of write ups on how it is fantastic, but I found it VERY touristy and VERY expensive. It is the last stop (or the first depending which way you are travelling) on the Gibb River Road and it has the most gorges and walks around it. The resort itself is bitumen road from Kunnaunrra to El Questro turn off then it is 16 km into the resort on dirt. Since it is only an hour from a large town I was surprised that the prices for food, beer and fuel were the most expensive on the Gibb.

The resort has a kind of ‘wank ’or ‘up themselves’ appeal (for want of a better word) and for a family with three kids in a dusty old camper we were treated a bit like poorpers compared to the couples coming in hire cars. I was not given a brochure on the tours nor was I offered any information about the fine dining restaurant (the well dressed couple checking into a bungalow in front of me got given all of this).

All of the walks were full of people compared to the previous walks on the more isolated parts of the Gibb. It was also expensive to see the gorges ($20 per person per day for a pass). So to say I was a little disappointed with the resort is an understatement.

But not wanting to be too negative I will throw to the positives of the place.

The gorges.

Zeebee dee springs.
A beautiful hot springs with an easy twenty minute walk in through palm trees and across a board walk. The springs are warm and very relaxing. They are only open from 7am till noon then the exclusive guests of the resort get afternoon access (apparently John farnham was there a couple of years ago!). We got there at 7.30am and lucky we did because the carpark was near full.

matilda at  Zeebedee hot springs

El questro Gorge
A moderately hard walk through the middle of a gorge, palm trees on either side and  several water crossings. The track eventually leads to a large swimming hole but with the kids we never made it that far. We only got about half way in and found ourselves a beautiful shallow rock pool and the kids had a swim there instead. Some friends we have made on the Gibb rd walked all the way in and one of them fell a metre and a half down off a boulder and hurt himself so it did get a lot more difficult on the last half.

El Questro Gorge entrance
El Questro Gorge rock pool

Emma Gorge
Stunning at the end but it was a hard hour walk through a very rough and winding uphill track. Big rocks that we had to lift the kids over and several water crossings. I was amazed at my little mountain goats who climbed the rocks all the way to the top. I left Craig and the girls at the small swimming hole about 100 metres from the end then walked (climbed) the very hard last bit to get some pics of the beautiful waterfall. The kids probably would have made it but there were a few steep drop offs and loose rocks and I didn’t want them getting hurt, or worse.

Emma Gorge

Emma Gorge 

Turquoise Pool, Emma Gorge