|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
The adventure continues... AT LAST!
Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 22nd - 30th Nov 2006, Total distance in Australia: Unknown, Distance to date: 11,310M
After a smooth flight back to Darwin I was expecting the heat and humidity to drench us like a hot shower as we stepped off the plane, but it was pleasantly cooler than we expected. A quick taxi ride back to Frenchy's and we were soon tucked up in bed, this time with aircon! Up early the next morning to pick up Tinfish, we sold a kidney each to pay the astronomical bill to the transmission specialists who did a sterling job fixing her. We then sold half of Alex's other kidney to pay Toyota (oh yes they still expected some recompense for their F$&k up) but had discounted the bill heavily - probably from fear that if we ever did get Tinfish working she would be driven straight through their showroom windows!
With paying money out like it was raining down on us, the deficit in our ever decreasing bank account back home has left us in the unfortunate situation where we can now no longer make New Zealand. Very sad in many ways as it was always the driving point of the trip, but with time ticking on, maybe a blessing in disguise. With us hoping to make a new home for ourselves on the east coast of Australia, they'll hopefully be plenty of opportunities to visit the country later on. Please excuse us if we don't re-brand the expedition and merchandise 'UK to Oz' as we can't be fagged! Just the thought of re-cleaning the car to re-enter Australia for a second time is not even worth considering. I don't believe our nerves could endure the challenge twice!
Tinfish was working good as new and with a new set of 'speedy wheels' to spin around on, ready for the road....well nearly. We had the final obstacle of making her legal. Not an easy task. With Alex already having paid a few visits before leaving for Sydney and eventually talking to the manager last week, we believed we were all set for a quick pop in to the MVR office to finalise details and we'd be off - that was tomorrow's job. After a quick shopping trip and well needed burger and beer for lunch, we returned to Frenchy's and spent the rest of the day re-fitting and re-packing Tinfish. Amazingly everything fit back in place and we only had 2 extra screws left over at the end!
The afternoon turned to evening and as the sky dimmed, Frenchy returned home. We'd seen him in the bar at lunchtime for a 'quick drink' with friends......and realised on his arrival the 'quick drink' had turned into an afternoon session. Joy oh joy. Returning in a jovial spirit, he brought down a couple of beers to have a farewell drink with us and chat while we were finishing getting sorted. Great to talk, but not conducive to packing quickly, it was now past 7pm! Slowly but surely we filled the last nook and cranny and managed a bite to eat. As the night went on, Frenchy was up to his normal tricks (of course this only happens once a week!) of talking to himself and playing the didgeridoo.
Walking into the kitchen the next morning I was astounded to find him not only still up but still drinking!!! That's some tolerance. Having quietened down from the night before, he was now in slumber mode and quietly watching TV chatting to himself less frequently, relatively coherently! We had a few more jobs to do before being able to leave for the road and the first stop was getting new OME coils as ours were beginning to sag under the weight & OME had brought out a heavier rating coil since we'd left. With a fair few more km's on the horizon, we thought we'd treat Tinfish to an 'arse lift'!
Next on the 'to do' list was to sort out our cooking gas supply. Remarkably we were still on the same gas cylinder that we had when we left England (and yes we have used it often for cooking too!) No surprise the standard is different here and of course there were no legal adaptors. After a goose chase around Darwin, Alex eventually stumbled across a very helpful chap that was up for a challenge. He could even fill our UK cylinder but suggested if we were hanging around it'd be best to change over and managed to rig us up a new cylinder and regulator, even turning a blind eye to a jubilee clip clamping a hose! We then headed for the supermarket to do a 'weekly shop' for the road and then it was time for us to make one last visit to the MVR. "Only 5 minutes" piped Alex as we drove into the car park.
Straight up to the lady who had been helping Alex previously, he filled in the appropriate paperwork; a change of address from our 'NT residency' to our new Sydney abode (Chrissie's place!). We needed to provide a receipt of rent with our NT residency stated - a job I managed to complete while Frenchy was in the throws of slumber (I wrote the receipt, he scribbled his signature) - and the lady went to find her supervisor to check it out. 30 minutes dragged on and we were becoming inpatient wondering why she was taking so long. After 45 minutes she eventually returned saying she's been trying to get hold of Frenchy with no luck! We could have resolved this much quicker had she returned after the first try. "He'll be unconscious in a drunken coma" Alex informed her. "Ahh, a true Territorian" she replied! What baffled me the most was that they were ringing him to confirm that was our address. It was a load of cobblers after all.
Until they could get hold of Frenchy to confirm the bogus address was in fact bogus, we weren't allowed to finalise everything. After reminding them that we were indeed travellers attempting to travel around Australia, how could we draw conclusion to this farce as we were about to leave our bogus address. The lady said as soon as they confirmed our NT residency was in fact bogus, they would give all the approval and we could pick up the registration plates in Katherine. She even advised that if we were stopped by the police and they were confused, just to give them her name and telephone number so she could explain it to them...! We left in high spirits that the nightmare would soon be over. We then spent the arvo finishing packing and left Darwin right on time at 7pm. The Aussie leg of the journey began in the dark! How unusual for us to be driving at night.
Now footloose and fancy free again, we drove out of Darwin surprised to feel we were entering a military dictatorship rather than the surf capital of the world. Seat Belts Must Be Worn. Penalties Apply. Speed Cameras in This Area. Wrong Way Go Back. This one made me nervous - how did they know which way I intended to go in the first place? Thankfully the journey to Kakadu didn't take too long; relieved to be off the streets and away from the dangers of arrest we found an 'official' camp to park up. It does feel very strange with so many rules and regulations to follow after being able to do what we've liked for such a long time. Now I'm sure there has been plenty of times we've parked under a 'no parking' sign, but that's where the delights of only being able to read English come in! We promised ourselves we'd try and obey the rules - well, at least in National Parks. After a quick fire to cook chicken burgers for tea we fell into a fitful slumber.
We began the day slowly in the shade of the trees, making sure we weren't too close to the waters edge for fear of being eaten by the ferocious 'salty' - a rather unpleasant way to die I should imagine, although the way the pesky flies were biting I did consider jumping in the water to get rid of them. We'd woken to a hum as if we'd parked under a bees nest, but it turned out just to be hundreds of flies! Our first stop of the day was at Mamukala, an observation building where you can see hundreds of egrets and magpie geese foraging for food before the land dries up completely. On one wall of the building was an interesting display of the different animals that habitat the area during the different times of the year, along with the aboriginals outlook on mother nature and how they use the land. It was very well done. Not being ornithologists we moved on after a short while.
We carried on north to Ubirr to look at the first (of many) Aboriginal artwork of the trip. It was very interesting reading the stories which the aborigines pass down their clans, but the pictures were sometimes hard to see as they'd faded and blurred into each other. Climbing higher rewarded us with some fantastic sights of flat, lush green plains. Incredible to see such colour at the end of the dry season. Onto another campsite - in daylight! - and before sun had set we'd lit a fire and had a glass of chardonnay in our hands waiting for tea to cook. Thankfully the flies had found another party to attend and left us alone for the night.
Waking feeling energetic we planned a few walks for the day. Beginning with Bardedjilidji (put that into a tongue twister!) we walked through the beautiful landscape of slatted rocks, a slow flowing river (still no sighting of crocs) and low level bush. Thankfully there was a lot of shade and the sun hid behind a cloud for most of the time. We continued to Anbangbang gallery walk. More artwork on display with little plaques giving explanations of the drawings. The midday sun is extremely intense, so after melting in it for a little while we decided the take shelter at the Warradjan Aboriginal cultural centre.
A fascinating display giving a real insight into the culture of the park's traditional owners through certain stories and an introduction to the moiety system (the internal tribal division) and skin names. The stories are told in broken English, as it's translated from the aboriginals who tell the story but the gist of the tale from the centre goes as follows;
The Nayuhyunggi (first people) turned into Djang (dreaming) and are considered sacred or dangerous by the Bininj (aboriginals). Sacred sites relate to a journey of a creation ancestor. The dangerous sites arise from where spirit ancestors rest and are treated with the utmost respect. The Nayuhyunggi came in many ways and sometimes in different forms - rainbow snakes, bula, namarrgon, warramurrungungi as well as other creation beings. All things you see in the landscape are left by the Nayuhyunggi. They left ceremonies, rules to live by, laws, people and plants which they then turned into Djang. They taught Bininj how to live on the land and from then on Bininj became the keepers of the land.
According to the Bininj, the Balanda (non-aboriginal people) came to this country in the 17-18th century from Indonesia and found pieces of ochre, stone tools and charcoal from cooking fires. They said that the Bininj first lived here 20,000 years ago, but more recent estimations have changed this to 50,000yrs! However, the Bininj know they have lived here since it was created.
In my opinion, to survive in such a harsh landscape as Australia the Bininj are an extremely hardy bunch. From the displays it showed how they used the land and its vegetation to survive for all these years. One item of food they eat is a poisonous yam. They call it a 'cheeky yam' and to rid the food of its cheeky poison, they boil it in a billy, cut it into thin slices and then put it in clean running water for the night (probably in a stream) and by the morning it's good enough to eat. I just wondered how they came to that conclusion in the first place and how many incidents occurred before they got it right!
Many resources they find in the bush have a mixture of uses. Take the Pandanus tree for example: they can use it for tucker - the tender part of the leaf that joins the stem is good to eat; medicines - the same leaf can be crushed and made into a paste to be put on bruises, sores and swellings; the fibres of the leaves can be used for weaving; the dry fruit (Mobok) are collected and broken for their sweet tasting anmin (nuts) as well as using the anmin for hot coals for cooking.
Different seasons bring in different foods, flowers, seeds and animals. They eat them all! However, understanding survival means food is needed all year round along with providing for future years to follow. When they hunt animals they are not totally destructive in their approach. They take or hunt only enough to feed themselves and their family and always make sure that they leave enough eggs in any nest for the breeding cycle to continue. It was a very interesting display.
We finished the day with yellow water walk, still extremely hot at 3pm with very little shade to protect us. As we walked across the plains to the river, I found it hard to picture all this underwater in two months time. It would be lovely to return during the wet season to see it in a very different light. Even the roads through the park have water indicators up to 2 metres. We finished the day camping at Jim Jim billabong. We had it all to ourselves, apart for the million flies that were now our entourage, cooked up steak and then took up residence in the tent as the flies were now becoming too friendly and even making trips up our nose!
After asking at the information centre what was and wasn't open, we were delighted that we'd still get to twin falls. We drove down the dirt track leading to Jim Jim and Twin falls. Smoother than many of the highways we've travelled on previously, you could have rested your coffee cup on the dashboard without a worry it would spill. We then came across the steamroller! Our journey soon changed into a teeth chattering bone shaker as we were massaged in our chairs as we continued.
We'd been told to pick up tickets for Twin Falls at the campsite nearby but there was no one about. We continued on the sand tracks and eventually reached a closed metal gate preventing us from going any further. After a quick search to find no way round we disappointedly headed back to Jim Jim Falls. There we met a guide who told us that Twin Falls had been closed 4 days ago when they had taken the boats out of the water in preparation for the rains! Even in Oz you need your three opinions before you decide what information is correct!
We had a great time round Jim Jim, scrambling over the huge boulders to get to the white sand beach and plunge pool at the end. Not surprisingly there wasn't a trickle of water dripping over the edge but we managed a quick swim in the pool before finding some shade from the sheer 200m high falls and relaxed for an hour, as best we could with the hundred odd flies keeping us company. We then scrambled back to the car.
We popped into the showers at the campsite we'd previously stopped at to freshen up and then drove to Gunlom where there's a nice waterfall creek. This time there was a slight trickle, however once again the scenery was spectacular. We camped at the official campsite there but again retired early to bed after wine and food as our friends the flies were once again on speed and wanting to party too hard.
In the morning we walked up the path to the top of the falls which gave a spectacular view of the flat lowlands of the Savannah woodlands below. There really is some amazing scenery around here. The glistening water in the small pools at the top allowed us to splash around like sparrows in a bird bath to cool down before heading back down the track to the plunge pool area to soak up the scenery. Thankfully the flies were all partied out and didn't bother us today. We headed round to the plunge pool before taking a shower at the campsite nearby to freshen up before the journey south to Katherine.
We stopped off at the one stop shop in Pine Creek, selling odds and sods from diapers to diesel. One thing I have noticed about the Aussies is how they like to show off their achievements. Big billboard displays showed the planning, management and construction of the railway line from Darwin down to Adelaide through the centre of Australia. A noteworthy achievement indeed.
The roads were incredibly quiet, hardly another soul on the road. When you did pass another vehicle (normally another 4WD) each driver would acknowledge the other by a wave or movement of a finger - a silent message that you weren't alone out there on the long solitary expanse. We arrived mid afternoon in Katherine and after a short visit to the information centre headed to the MVR to finally (hopefully) pick up our registration plates. We arrived to a sullen looking lady behind the counter - we'd gotten use now to the unhelpfulness of the NT people - and told her of our plight. After a quick phone call to Carlia in the Darwin office who had already faxed over all the documents, we paid yet more money before finally receiving our new number plates for Tinfish. We promptly threw them in the back of the car - UK ones look much better than NT ones - and drove off.
The only campsite around was the official one at Katherine Gorge and with the absence of any bush camping along the way we resigned ourselves to staying there. We had 3 hours left of daylight so made the most of it and do the Barrawei walk before dusk. After an initial steep climb we were able to look down on the long gash of the gorge below. Katherine Gorge is made up of 13 gorges so we were seeing a very small section of it. Each gorge is separated by rapids and carved out by the Katherine River. We followed the signs for the rest of the route but realised it was just a dust track for a car to use. Quite disappointing. We decided we had enough time to walk to the next edge we were allowed to venture to, the route tended to take you inland and then you jack-knifed back towards the edge again. It would have been much more sensational if the walk followed the cliff edge. Again once we got there we were rewarded with amazing views of the gorge.
Settling into camp we had our second shower of the day (we are now very clean campers!) and then cooked up a spag bol which smelt so nice even the kangaroos in the park took an interest and came to see what all the fuss was about. Used to seeing tourists they were confident enough to lift their front paws on the tailgate and have a sniff around for any scraps we might have left lying about. No such luck.
We hired a canoe the next morning and had a paddle down the gorge - definitely a better way to see the gorge than the cliff top walks. With the water being extremely low, once you got to the end of the first gorge you had to carry the canoe over the rapids to the next section, which all looked like too much work. As we'd been leisurely paddling down the water taking in the beautiful views we decided to park up the canoe and have a walk around the rocks when we got to the end. There was some aboriginal artwork displayed to look at as well as being able to look over the rocks at the next gorge along. As we'd only hired the canoe for the morning, we decided to have a leisurely paddle back rather than race over the rapids to the next gorge. I know what you're all thinking......lazy buggers.....I have to say, you'd be right.
Back in to Katherine to check email and stock up on a few things it was time to leave the miserable Territorians to what they're best at - being miserable - and find some welcome hospitality in WA.. We weren't going to make the border by dark so as the sun was setting we pulled off the roadside to cook up tea while the roos and emus enjoyed their playtime jumping across the road, before continuing our journey to the border. After a quick check from the very friendly border officer (she was WA not NT) as to what we were carrying food wise and whether we were harbouring any illegal stowaway cane toads, we backtracked to the rest point opposite the control house to stay for the night.
Wanting to make use of the day we rose early to make sure we'd get to the information centre as it opened. Once up and on the road it suddenly dawned on us that WA was in fact one and a half hours behind NT. It had suddenly become an abrupt early start! Now arriving too early in Kununara we went for a coffee before heading to the info centre to get advice on what was still open. Thankfully the Bungle Bungles were open along with the Gibb River Road. The rains hadn't started yet, we were in luck.
We'd heard a flight over the Bungle Bungles was a fantastic experience so we stopped at Turkey Creek (a road house) to ask about costs. The guy was extremely friendly, but had said that it was his last day of flying today although he did say that he could stay open one extra day if we really wanted to fly. Prices for 4 people to share a flight were reasonable and we'd decided it would be our Christmas pressie to ourselves, but as numbers dwindled to 3 then 2 people, the prices exponentially rose. We were the only 2 interested parties. If we found 2 other people to share we'd have been able to afford it, but with just the two of us it was too much money. Even after the discount he gave us it was simply too much for our budget and we didn't have the time to hang around hustling for extras, as the pilot had said all the locals had pretty much already booked to fly that day. A real disappointment. We left to find Bungle Bungle and see if he had friends called Zippy and George.
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