Our daily blog has proved trickier than we thought. Internet access while travelling by campervan in the remote national parks of the Northern Territory is patchy or simply not there and while our campervan has wifi, it’s not exactly reliable. But here is a re-cap of our trip so far…
The morning seemed to fly despite not using the kitchen and having quick showers so we could mop up after ourselves. Said goodbye to a sparkling clean house and drove to Wanaka foreshore where we met Nigel and Kay for breakfast. Nigel gave us parting advice which was if the opportunity to do something presents itself don’t worry about the money just do it as you never know when you’re going to be back there. Drive to Queenstown was uneventful despite snow that morning. Had quite a wait at Queenstown airport – not a bother as first time we had used it as passengers. Stunning glimpses of the snow-capped southern alps and the fiords and then we were over the ocean and on our way.
Had a sunset eastern view of Sydney harbour with the Opera House behind the Bridge, could see not much traffic in Sydney assumed due to 3-day weekend, came in over Epping and our former Sydney residence. The trip from Sydney to Brisbane at 8.30pm was packed and judging from the speed at which the plane taxied or raced along the runways in both Sydney, and Brissie and the bumpy touchdown, the pilot was in a hurry to get home.
We could see Sue Davison waiting for us as we approached the exit, quick hugs all around before we followed her to her hybrid electric car. Her ticket had printed on it her car rego and where her car was parked, which we found very “big brotherish”.
A cup of tea before bed and by then it was 1am Queenstown time.
Caught up with Rod Davison over breakfast after which he showed us his tropical garden consisting of two trees – adjacent to the heritage 1920’s Queenslander timber framed home next door which had been owned by two brothers into their 90’s but was now up on stilts and about to be restored – then off to the Chermside shopping centre for new togs and other gear. Having spent 16 years with one shopping centre in Dunedin and none in Wanaka we found the noise overwhelming. Music blasted out from just about every store which competed with the shopping centre music – deafening and headache inducing. Home for Rod’s homemade soup and bread, followed by a guided walk by Rod around the area and a scrumptious dinner at an Italian restaurant that night.
Sue drove us to the Prokops where we arrived at what we remembered as their house but after ringing several times and getting no response we realised we were knocking at the house next door – we didn’t recognise their house as it had undergone huge renovations including a garage and a veranda, but the best part was the installation of a lift in the garage to all the floors above. Brilliant idea! Especially for people with luggage!
After a walk down to the river, past what had been the warehouse district and old wharves but now turned into flats, we saw the high rise block that Henry and Petra had put a holding deposit on but changed their minds when they found that it was to be one of three high rise blocks and their riverfront panoramic 180 degree view was only going to be there for the time it took to build the other two. We kept thinking who is going to buy these apartments as there were so many under construction. We subsequently read in the paper that there are many going to remain empty.
That night Anna came round for dinner – prepared by Petra – her and our favourite – a chicken curry with poppadams and rice that we remember having in Sydney as a mango curry many times, followed by an exotic and delicious quince tart. Yum! Anna is loving her job as a teacher, enthusiastic and innovative – already being recognised for successfully introducing after school science classes, which are oversubscribed. Her next adventure is to go to Mt Isa in the far north Queensland to get some regional experience. There is a photo of Petra’s parents hanging in Henry and Petra’s bedroom and taken soon after they eloped – Petra said her mother’s step mother nearly starved her twice – and Anna is the spitting image of her grandmother, the very same long face.
Wednesday and Petra kindly took us to the airport, we bought some books to read and then caught our flight to Darwin – 4 hours and 20 minutes away!! Packed six abreast and a significant number of Aussie frontier blokey types. The one next to Mum definitely was worse for wear, only opening his eyes to cough and splutter from time to time. When we arrived in NT it was over 30 degrees – so quite a shock after leaving NZ’s snowy, chilly winter! We just had time to walk to our hotel – a few hundred metres away, book in and change before we caught a taxi to the wharf to join our sunset cruise. This was a wonderfully relaxing way to start our Northern Territory holiday – cruising around Darwin harbour eating fresh seafood as the bright red shimmering orb slid beneath the waves. We opted not to drink but there were quite a few who brought entire eskies of beer and one guy who went back for three helpings of prawns sloshed down with a litre of whiskey. The water was calm as we made our way out to the naval base and the edge of the harbour, we noticed a huge area of mangroves before we passed the city centre, government house and the main beaches – with only the odd person on the beach but no one swimming.
Next day – Thursday and the big adventure starts. After a wee hiccup as we discovered neither of us had or could find the room key, tipped everything out of our nicely repacked bags three times, moved every piece of furniture in the room five times and shook the bedding, but no, it was not to be found. Kerrie thinks she left it in the door as she had made the same mistake the day before – but it hadn’t been handed in – luckily the hotel took a relaxed and gracious approach – “no worries”. Phew! Time for a quick swim in the hotel pool and breakfast before we took a cab to Maui to collect our two berth campervan.
After some administrative hoo-ha with them querying our deal and having to ring head office to check that yes we had booked and paid for the premium package (thanks Stephanie at Brookers), we watched a video on basic Aussie road rules, got a 15 minute introduction to our Mercedes Benz Ultima 2 from Sarah who was born in Dunedin and had just transferred to Darwin from Queenstown. Small world.
And so we set off – with some degree of caution and trepidation, never having driven anything this size and with so many things to remember – how to operate the on board gas stove, shower and toilet, empty waste water and “other stuff’’, set up the bed, plug in power etc etc.
We used the on board GPS to find the nearest supermarket – en route south, where we bought up enough food for a week and then hit the Stuart Highway – the road that goes all the way from Darwin to Alice Springs and on to Adelaide.
We’d decided on Litchfield National Park as our first stop, reasonably close – just an hour and a half south of Darwin and we thought that should be a fairly easy first day.
However, on the recommendation of a couple of people we decided we’d camp the first night at Wangi Falls – which turned out to be on the opposite side of the park – another 50-60 Kms further on – so we didn’t arrive till after 5pm – only to discover that it was fully booked and in any case didn’t have powered camping sites. Yikes!! We talked to another camper in the same fix – he said he’d talked to a ranger who said he could park on the side of the access road and provided he paid the fee could stay and move into a site the next day. We decided to do the same. Temperatures all day had been in the thirties – and we were sweltering – so first stop was a visit to the falls – just 300m away and a swim.
The falls were impressive, tumbling off a red rock cliff – and with a huge water hole surrounded by “monsoon” forest. A sign told us reassuringly that rangers check the water hole for salt water crocs after the wet season and before it’s opened to the public for swimming but not to panic if you felt anything nibbling your toes as there were ground swelling shrimps. Other swimmers were already in there so we jumped in – ahh, how fabulously cooling it was. We enjoyed it so much we stayed for half an hour where we got talking to a guy from Perth who said it was shoulder to shoulder in there during the day when the buses arrive, so we enjoyed the relative quiet. Back to the campervan to organise dinner – noticed wallabies eating grass in the picnic grounds on the walk back including a Mum with a joey- and to avoid getting eaten by the mossies and midges.
But of course we hadn’t really remembered everything Sarah had told us – and we didn’t have a powered site, so we had to work out how to do everything with whatever the van could supply – so dinner was cooked herbed chicken and salad, eaten standing up as our stuff was piled all over the place – as we hadn’t worked out how to set up the table or make the bed. Noticed wallabies wandering past the door in the dark but we were wacked, so we collapsed – Kerrie on a fold out bed behind the driver’s seat nearest the only open window and Andrew on a bench in the back surrounded by luggage. Not the best night’s sleep – swelteringly hot for the first half then as temperature dropped – chilly the last part. Hmmm – started wondering if this camping thing is really for us.
But in the morning – it was another gorgeous blue-skied day in Litchfield, the birds were making a racket and the temperature and humidity were down so we decided to do a circuit walk around the falls, climbing up through the monsoon forest as shrieking flying foxes, aka fruit bats flapped and crawled amongst the trees. There were one or two which appeared to be their favourites and which they fought over for a hanging perch. A series of stairs and platforms took us up through the canopy until we reached the top – with a vista of plains stretching as far as the eye could see. Up top we crossed a bridge over the creek that feeds the falls – apparently the rocks and fissures across the savannah capture the wet season deluge and slowly release its supply over the dry. A natural reservoir. A small water monitor lizard hung onto a rock in the creek, looking but never moving.
At 8am when we set off, the temperature was rising rapidly and after an hour we were saturated with perspiration – time for another swim! This time we ventured further into the pool to a sandy spot where we could stand and see some fair sized fish looking with interest at our legs and toes. No nibbles though. Andrew headed over the rocks near the waterfall where he’d been told there was a hole you could climb up to with its own pool inside. Which he did – to discover that the hole was deeper than he was tall – did wonder what else might live in there, but no attacks from lurking monsters.
We headed back to the van, had breakfast, tidied up and hit the trail, we’d decided we’d go back to Batchelor, the small town at the park entrance, stopping to see sights on the way. First stop was Florence Falls where we did a 4-5 km walk along the river and through a section called the savannah and the shady creek forest. It was beautiful in that Aussie bush way – everything feels ancient, dry as a bone, plants and trees pared down to basics for survival in a tough landscape. We did this around midday – not the smartest time as the sun was beating down and the temperature was up around 32-34 degrees. But we wanted to make the most of our visit. After that we stopped once more this time to see the magnetic termite mounds – so named as they are oriented in a north-south direction to maximise the amount of shade they receive – and scientists have discovered the termites do this using magnetic fields. That’s one species – another creates massive mounds with pipes and towers – up to 5 metres tall. These are called cathedral mounds as that’s what they look like.
We arrived back at Batchelor mid-afternoon, got our camp site organised, hooked up to power – and at last could turn on the van’s main air conditioner. Kerrie stood underneath it for about half an hour just to try and cool down. Then we hopped into the park’s small but very refreshing swimming pool which really chilled us down.
So now we have the tables sorted, the bed set up and we’re back on the internet. We’ve booked and paid online for our Kakadu Park permits. All is well.
Time to sleep – hopefully better than last night!
A taste of our next blog…