Travels in Australia

Wood duck Dingo (at Yarrangobilly) Pie dish beetle Hooded plover Sea lions Sooty oystercatcher A very strange decorator caterpillar of some kind Lesser sand plover Peninsula brown snake Swamphen Red tailed black cockatoo Mallee fowl Scarlet robin Superb fairy wren Grey fantail 28 parrot Grey nurse shark Broad banded sand swimmer Stimson's python Manta rays Shark bay sea snake Mantis shrimp Bronze whaler shark Cow tailed ray Spotted ray Wedge tailed eagle (eating a decapitated kangaroo) Sea eagle Spinifex pigeon Mulga snake Little corella Pied heron Great egret Rainbow bee eater Masked lapwing Brolga Mangrove heron Collared kingfisher Grey crowned babbler Albino peacock Red kneed dotterel Great bowerbird Intermediate egret Night heron Darter Flycatcher Rajah shelduck Bar shouldered dove Red-tailed Black-cockatoo Mulga parrot Big red kangaroo Camel Bettong Azure kingfisher Echidna Masked lapwing Unicorn fish Black and white snapper (juv.) Barramundi rock cod Comb crested jacana Orange-footed Scrub Fowl Yellow-bellied Sunbird Torres Strait Pigeon Bush stone curlew Dugong Shovel nose ray Major skink Pale yellow Robin Scorpionfish Satin Bowerbird Pretty faced wallaby Crimson rosella Hopping mice Bilby Freshwater crocs Saltwater crocs

Back in the big city (relatively). Townsville is OK for a few days I think. The outskirts are rather industrial, which is handy for getting vehicles serviced. The centre is very strangely laid out, due to geographical and maritime constraints. We celebrate my birthday with a meal out, and I do my first dive for a few months.

T and D1 depart on a side trip to Bris Vegas and Sydney, to catch up with friends and go to a concert. D2 and I stay on. A day trip to Magnetic Island is fun. Then we depart and head up the coast. First to Big Crystal Creek, which has an absolutely stunning waterhole with turtles, eels, and big rock jumps. Then to Mission Beach. These are real tropical beaches, but we now have to be vey wary as saltwater crocs are always a risk. D2 is a fairly experienced snorkeller, but hasn't gone offshore, so we take a day trip to Beever Reef. Best conditions ever! It doesn't get much better than this on the surface.

Up to Cairns, where we collect D1 and T at the airport, and it's time for scuba school for D1, followed by 3 days on a liveaboard boat with me. The diving is fantastic, with no dramas, and a good value operator. Heaps of coral, fish, turtles, cuttlefish, sharks, and even a first night dive for D1 (the dive guide was impressed!). While we are away, D2 has a play date with a friend we met in Mission beach, and makes some new friends in the campsite next door. Everyone happy!

It's a long damp drive to our first Queensland town, Boulia in the Channel Country. Another town perching on the edge of existence. The caravan park is friendly and cheap, but the shops & pub are still expensive. The Min-Min lights experience is very cheesy, but D2 loves it. We meet a lot of people going to the Birdsville races, which we decide to save for another day, maybe without kids in tow. On our first attempt to continue east, the road is blocked by rising flood waters. Turn around ... try again in a couple of days! We get through on the second go.


The road is mostly good to Winton, with just a couple of slippery muddy sections. Winton feels more substantial than any place since Alice, and is famous for opals and dinosaurs. We do a side trip to Opalton for more rock hunting in the old diggings, and to some museums to see paleontology in action. Amazing dinosaur tracks and fossil skeletons.

On departure we worry again about roads being closed. Luckily the local library is full of public servants having morning tea. The council cleaner works everywhere, and has the lowdown on everything. They correctly predict the the road north will be open by lunchtime.

We pass through Hugenden, which has a big artificial lake. It seems fun, but I'm not sure who it's for really. After the caravan park in Winton, we are ready for more bush camping. First Porcupine Gorge NP, which is spectacular. Then to Fletcher Creek, which is pleasant, huge, and great value (free!). I think that Charters Towers council maintain it to keep itinerants away from the town, which seems like a reasonable deal to me. Charters Towers is yet another mining town with best days behind it, but another great library in a old pub.

We've had enough dirt and dust for now. Time to head to the coast!

After Uluru, we duck back into Alice for supplies, then head to the nearby & beautiful West Macdonell ranges. It's cold! Mid-winter, and early sunsets over the hills. Lovely scenery though. The National Park is very sparsely staffed; only two full time rangers at the moment, supporting multiple campsites and a long distance footpath. D2 makes friends with the ranger; I think perhaps she could be one eventually.


Sadly I manage to bash my little finger, while smashing up some firewood. We apply a field dressing, and the next day go to hospital in Alice Springs to get it checked out. A nasty cut and a chipped bone, but it's clean and doesn't need any work done on it other than applying a fancy silicone dressing. Luckily I was wearing work gloves, or it could have been much worse. I get to avoid washing up and heavy lifting jobs for a few days!

All signs now point east, across the Plenty highway – part of “Australia's biggest shortcut”. First stop is Gemtree, for zircon & garnet hunting. We got a couple of cuttable pieces. Some people stay here for the whole season, digging holes and sifting dirt.

Next stop on the long drive east is Tobermorey station. We have prebooked a cabin, to give ourselves a rest from repeated packdown and setup. This proves to be a very good idea, as a major hail storm hits just as we arrive. For a while we are unclear if we are going to be stuck there for a few days, but the next morning the road east is declared OK for 4WDs. Across the border into Queensland we go!

We depart Alice, which is bustling in the daytime, but rather depressing at night. A society that uses police officers to racially profile potential alcohol purchasers is broken in so many ways.

We drive to Kings Canyon, the long way round via Hermannsburg. The old mission is still run by Lutheran volunteers, albeit as museum and gallery now. It still feels pretty paternalistic to me, and the whole place has an undertone of unresolved issues. The Namatjira family paintings and general art history are amazing though.

The back road to Kings Creek station is rough, but we make it ok. The Kings Canyon walk is spectacular. Similar to ones I hiked years ago in Utah. Back at the station we eat camel burgers and watch a dingo check out of camp each night.

Then we drive to Uluru, which only T has seen before. The resort town at Yulara is surprisingly tasteful and well run, with a decent supermarket, pub, gallery, a busy auto mechanic (who fixed my unbalanced wheels), and lots of activities for D2 to do. We even get to catch up with some fellow travelers we met in WA.

The rock itself does not disappoint; it's a special place. We walk round it in the day (D2 cycles). At sunset we line up for the view and get the obligatory colour changing photos. Then we get up at 5am to drive to Kata-Tjuta for sunrise, with Uluru in the distance, followed by a walk in the Valley of the Winds, which is also stunning, and quite different to the rock.

Heading south on the Stuart Highway. Before reaching Alice Springs, we take a right turn, and start long drive up the Tanami track. We were originally planning on coming down this road directly from WA, but lack of refueling stops meant we took the longer but safer route via Katherine. Our destination is Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, a privately owned conservation park in the middle of central Australia, run by some friends of friends who have swapped east African lions for the care of wallabies and bilbies.


After an even longer drive down a dirt track (we are 330km from the highway now), we arrive. Our new friends offer to let us stay with them in the managers house, instead of in the campsite. We gratefully accept! This is the first real house we have stayed in since April.


The reserve is very isolated and calming. The conservation work is amazing, centered round a huge fenced area cleared of feral animals. The girls help set cameras to help detect a rare wallaby. We take some fun and easy 4WD tours around the reserve (but not the fenced bit, that's restricted of course). I take the opportunity to do some cooking on a real stove for a change.

Since it's the cooler time of year, the sanctuary is undergoing managed burn offs to reduce the risk of bigger fires. On our final night, a sudden wind relights one of these, followed by a huge lightning storm. It looks like the managers will be in for a busy night! Then even more suddenly, there is a rare winter downpour. All over in 30 minutes.


Thanks to K & H (& Safi the dog) for the hospitality. See you on the east coast. Next stop Alice Springs!

The final stop in our five month WA odyssey is Parry Creek farm, near Wyndham. It has birds birds birds galore, plus one (or maybe two) saltwater crocs in the billabong alongside the camping area (eek!). The local town, Wyndham, feels like it has a tenuous existence. One of those places that seems perpetually on the verge of dying entirely, only kept going by occasional bursts of economic activity (meat processing, iron ore shipping, military).

We could easily spend another five months in WA, and not visit a single place for a second time. It's been great. Now to the border. At our first overnight stop in NT we are rudely awoken at 4am by a departing tour group doing maintenance on their trailer and noisily packing. Not cool. We chat with the roadhouse staff, who are also unhappy. A lot of the “Experience the Top End” tours are actually run from out of state, with the money heading south along with the departing tourists.

Next stop is Katherine. We visit the gorge, this time by boat not on foot, as it is permanently full of water. Spectacular. Some freshwater crocs are sighted, and traps which are set for saltwater crocs who visit during the wet season. This part of the world is close to where T used to teach, but we can't visit the community due to COVID restrictions. We leave some gifts for the kids at the education office in Katherine, and later receive some wonderful thank you notes.


Heading south along the Stuart Highway (the main road in the NT), we stop at the hot springs at Mattaranka. More warm than hot really, but fun to take a dip in the middle of the bush. Our overnight is at the Daly Waters pub, which is heaving. It's clearly the place of choice for tourists heading north or south between the top end and Alice Springs or Adelaide. Good food, some real beds for a change, and some entertainment. D2 plays in the pool with some other kids until 10pm!

More landscape changes as we head further south, with more red dirt and spinifex again. A lovely overnight stop in a national parks campground at Karlu Karlu. Stunning rock formations. We are getting into the red centre now.


The Gibb River Road crosses the Kimberley east-west, connecting Derby and Kununurra to various pastoral stations, national parks and aboriginal communities. It's 660km of mostly unpaved road, but with side trips up to 3000km.

First stop after Birdwood Downs is Windjana gorge. There seem to be lots of caravans, here. Maybe we will see less later as the road worsens. The gorge is huge, with many freshwater crocs basking on the sandbanks. The first side trip is to Tunnel Creek, which has an amazing walk through a network of huge caves, with occasional openings to the sky. We wade through the deeper sections, spotting a couple freshwater crocs on the other side of the cave with our torches. The creek at the far end has some interesting aboriginal rock paintings. A highlight!

Tunnel Creek

More gorges as we drive eastward over the next few days: Bell gorge, Adcock gorge, Galvans gorge; each with different feeling, more or less water to swim in, and varying wildlife.

Mt Barnett roadhouse is well stocked, and busy after a short closure for a COVID outbreak. Their campsite is super handy for accessing Manning Gorge. However, it's way too busy. Chock full of tour groups and huge rigs (boats & buggies loaded on top of caravans!). It seems that fire safety and sanitation rules may not apply here. It's a great location, but they are spoiling it by packing too many people in. The station is huge, why are they not expanding? Still, the gorge is huge, with a river crossing and a hike to get there, a huge pool to swim across and multiple waterfalls.

The best spot so far is Drysdale station. The side road north is of varying condition, but our car handled it well. We decide not to drive any further north. Instead we plan a scenic flight up to Mitchell plateau. A sort panic because our booked flight is not available, but then the young pilot rushes out to saw we can get on an earlier one. Seeing this remote and lush countryside from the air is amazing. T sights saltwater crocs as we fly up the Prince Regent River, then we turn to fly over the coast and Mitchell falls. Back at the station, we stay for a couple more days, swimming in the creek and taking advantage of the beer garden!

Scenic flight

Ellenbrae Station is friendly & we feast on their justifiably famous scones. Their sales figures show the number of travellers is increasing year on year, as the region becomes more accessible and popular. T is somewhat phased by the general business; when she travelled this road 20 years ago it was mostly empty. I don't think we should complain too much. It's wrong to criticise others for wanting the same experience as us. I wish they would leave some of their huge caravans at home though.

The road east of Ellenbrae is in the worst shape. I think this depends on how recently it has been graded, not anything particular about this bit of road. “Bad road” is very subjective anyway. Our 4WD and camper handle it just fine. We pass a few breakdowns and broken cars, so others were less prepared or didn't respect the conditions.

East of the Pentecost river we hit roadworks. This will all be tarmacked eventually. This is good for the business and aboriginal communities along the road. But it will change its character.

Into the Kimberley. There is a definite change to the vegetation (more lush) and coastline (mangroves). We stay at the Roebuck roadhouse, which is handy for Broome, and for departing eastwards. They have a happy well managed group of young staff. At Broome we check out the local history museum, which has lots of info on the town's multicultural history (not always happy). Prior to the development of cultured pearls, the industry relied on Asian divers, even when the white Australia policy discouraged this. The evening is spent watching the famous “staircase to the moon”.

Our final stop on good roads, before the dirt of the Gibb River road, is Birdwood Downs station. It has a real oasis feel after the dryness of the Pilbara, complete with palm trees and wandering peacocks. They sell packs of their own steak, at a good price, very tasty.

We nip back into Derby, to go to the races. This is the local social event of the year. It's real bush racing, on a dirt track. We get some great tips from Dan watching from Freo on Sky, but lose it all on the favorite in the last race. A great day out, with lots of local characters. So much more fun than the big money dressy race days in the big cities.


More long distance driving across the Pilbara, firstly via Newman (which is a dump), Nullagine (which is hardly there at all) and Marble Bar (which is the hottest place in Australia, but bearable when we drop in).

Meentheena use to be a cattle station. When manganese mining started to the east, the road needed upgrading; apparently it was cheaper for the state to buy back the pastoral lease from the owners than to pay for a fence alongside the road. The station is currently leased by a veterans association, who are a fun bunch. We camp alongside the river, drive across the station to look at waterholes and fossils, and D2 wins a silly race held in lieu of the (cancelled) Marble Bar horse races. Other guests include mining surveyors, national parks staff and the aboriginal mob from up the coast. My guess is Meenthena will be a conservation reserve or national park fairly soon, with maybe a native title settlement also. If camping is allowed it will be quite different and somewhat restricted. We enjoy the place as it is for now.

Port Hedland is currently thriving, and a good place to refuel. Who knows what it will be like when the iron ore price inevitably drops. Boom and bust ...

Onwards to Pardoo Station campground. Huge wild beaches, with mangroves, shells, birds, great fishing (so I am told, I'm not a rod dangler), and 360 degree sunset views. The coast road (the only road really) continues north east, with the Great Sandy Desert to our right.

The final stop before the Kimberly proper is Barn Hill Station. Ocean view sites are a must. We eat great pizza, listening to the Saturday night entertainment (passable Neil Young covers). T and D2 have a stall at the weekly craft market, which is wildly successful, and pays for our stay.