Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas from Our Caravan to Yours


Friday, October 28, 2016

Visiting Darwin, Capital of the Northern Territory

We’ve been to Darwin dozens of times and for 18 months from 1997 lived there in the dreadful humidity until we could no longer stand it.

At this time of year it was much less humid (the Dry Season) and pleasantly warmish. My main objective was to have a growing cyst that was becoming increasingly a pain in the neck attended to while Christina’s main objective was to have fish and chips at the Stokes Hill Wharf which we had loved to visit during our previous times at Darwin.

Other tasks included the purchase of a new awning for our caravan. The old one had deteriorated while sitting in the sun at The Alice and after being battered by hail-stones during July, had numerous holes in it. We also bought a new side step since Christina had fallen off the plastic one and cracked it, and we bought two shade cloth screens, both to complement the awning so we look like we are in an annex, but aren’t and still have some privacy.

In the best medical care I have ever experienced (not that I have had much), a doctor at Palmerston Doctors who just happens to be a GP and a surgeon, removed my cyst which was infected. No ifs, buts, or stuffing about. He assessed the situation, agreed it was a cyst and cut it out the same day.

We attended Stokes Hill Wharf and much to our surprise found a joint Darwin WWII Bombing museum and Royal Flying Doctor display centre had been added since our last visit. Before our fish and chips, we paid the small entrance fee and spent an hour or so within the centre.

It’s very well presented and if anything, needed more content, but it had only been open for a week, so it’s early days yet. Many people are unaware of the massive bombing raids the Japanese carried out on Darwin so it’s a worthwhile addition to Australia’s war and flying doctor histories.

Robin

PS: Since writing this I have been to Broome which also has a history of Japanese wartime bombing. Much to my embarrassment, I never knew that.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Perth - Our Loveliest Capital City?

Perth Skyline
Perth Skyline
I wonder whether Perth could be classified as our loveliest capital city. It has much going for it including that it’s not yet over-populated like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. You actually feel like you have space here and getting a parking spot is neither difficult nor expensive.

Apart from the peculiar “up” names, the suburbs look nice and clean and the rail and bus service is excellent. Perhaps due to the high presence of transport police and video cameras, the trains and buses lack the graffiti and signs of wilful destruction often found in other states.

Planning of Perth and surrounds has been done better than elsewhere with railway stations on raised platforms in the middle of dual carriage highways in and out of the city. You drive down the freeway, take a short diversion to a railway car park and then hop on a train. Buses often use the same facility, so you can bus to the station, hop off a bus and get straight onto a train.

I know this is the case in both Brisbane and Sydney (and possibly Melbourne), but here, it seems much better integrated and smoother.

We stayed at a very nice caravan park at Gwelup (is it pronounced well-up or we-lup - who knows?) not far from Joondalup and Karrinyup, both of which are lovely suburbs with nice roads, large shopping centres and mostly modern housing.

The median price for a house in Perth and suburbs is nearly $550,000 so one would expect to see some lovely houses. But, why aren’t we building simpler, cheaper houses for our young people to be able to get into the market?

Kings Park overlooks Perth and is a huge area of sanctuary for fauna and flora. Excellent views of the city centre are to be had from Kings Park, especially of an evening.

Our travels through WA suggest that Western Australians holiday in their state. Because South Australia, the Northern Territory and eastern and southern states are so far away, I expect that’s what keeps them here. Most of our companions wherever we stayed were from WA with a mixture of international visitors, usually in RVs and and assortment of motor vehicles carrying tents.

If you haven’t been to Perth and Western Australia, make sure you include it in your bucket list.

Robin

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kakadu National Park

After a couple of rest days at Mataranka (Bitter Springs Caravan Park) we drove north-east to Kakadu National Park visiting Pine Creek en-route.

Mataranka boasts hot springs in which people swim and relax, apart from that it doesn’t seem to have any other interesting attributes. At least not for me. It’s an untidy place with a  road-house, where you can stay long enough to refuel and have a bite to eat if so inclined and you are happy to pay premium prices. (In the Sixties, freight was blamed for high costs).

At Kakadu we stayed at Cooinda Lodge (Yellow Waters) for four nights so we could do day trips to the sights which are spread far and wide with a lot of what I call ‘clapped out buffalo country’ in between.

We last visited Kakadu in the 80s and what appeared to me then was that there was a lot of crappy country among which several really beautiful spots existed. Nothing has changed of course, you still have to drive kilometres between the various spots of interest.

We’d been to Jim Jim Falls during our last trip and decided to revisit. After 50 odd kilometres of shaking and bumping on the corrugated road, we arrived and went for a walk through the area leading to the falls, which were at this time of year, not flowing. (It is the Dry after all).

The walk in is not for the mild spirited or unsteady of foot as it largely involved climbing from one rock to another and at times required large steps up or down and a bit of balancing as well.

There is water at the base of the falls and an area where people swim as despite the signs warning that their could be crocodiles in the water, they apparently don’t bother to go to the beach - if there are in fact any. The presence of a crocodile trap a hundred metres up steam suggests that there are salt water crocs found there.

By the time we climbed out of Jim Jim and faced the road back, we were stuffed. It’s very demanding being a retiree!

The next day we went to Ubir Rock to look at the Aboriginal art-work. Since our last visit all those decades ago, the art work has faded significantly and we wondered how it would fare in the decades to come. Like the rest of us, it will eventually fade away and all that will be left are photographs to show tomorrow’s inhabitants what it was like.

My advice is to see it before it deteriorates or disappears.

From Kakadu we headed to Darwin as we had to get a few things done that could only be done in the big city.


Robin

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wildflowers: A thing of beauty is a joy forever ...


Keats was one of my favourite romantic poets when I was at school and I remember much of his work. In particular, the first words from his lengthy poem Endymion always come to mind when I see something/someone beautiful - “A thing of beauty is a joy forever …”

The wildflowers in Western Australia are beautiful. As we drove between the turn-off to Monkey Mia (the place with no monkeys) and Kalbarri, the highway was chock full of wildflowers. They line the sides of the highway and extend back off the road as far as the eye can see. Some are in huge clusters of the same type flower eg, smoke bush, or in dozens of small clusters of a huge variety of gorgeous colours: reds, purple, green, yellow, blues, white, and more.

There are smallish ‘feather flowers’ that stand close to the ground and larger ‘grevilia pink pokers’. Some are more attractive than others depending on one’s view, however, the colours are incredible. The bees are having a field day, good to see after all the stories of bees becoming extinct in some regions throughout the world.

Flower spotting and photographing meant that our journey between the two points took much longer than it would usually. Unfortunately, one cannot take a photo that shows the whole beautiful cornucopia of Nature’s work - to really appreciate it, you need to stand among it and take in the vista.

Robin

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Devil's Marbles

The Devil’s Marbles is located south of Tennant Creek and north of the Devil’s Marbles Hotel at Wauchope (for some reason pronounced “walk up” which I could never understand).

In the “old days” my parents and I used to visit Wauchope for the annual races event, which had several horses and a few races, but was really another opportunity for adults to consume vast quantities of beer and other beverages, mostly alcoholic. Me and other kids spent our time jumping in and out of the swimming pool since Tennant Creek in those days didn’t have one.

Today, the original Wauchope Hotel building still stands, but it has been improved somewhat with nice accommodation added at the back of the main pub building. New owners have given it a paint job and it looks very nice.

Outside is a lovely grassed area with chairs and benches where you can sit and eat your cooked lunch or dinner, sip a cool beer, or perhaps have a cup of coffee or tea. All are available.

The Devil’s Marbles attraction is huge and visited by almost everyone who passes by. It’s off the highway a short distance and juxtaposed by a largish caravan and tent parking area for which the NT Parks and Wildlife Department charges a nominal fee. There is an honour box and a permit one has to display on one’s car. Rangers do check, so it pays to be honest rather than be embarrassed by not paying.

We only stayed long enough to have lunch and a half hour or so to walk around and then continued north. When we visited there were dozens of people and numbers of Army vehicles were in transit apparently having been on exercise in South Australia.

You can see from the photo here what the Devil’s Marbles looks like. Another example of nature at work creating beautiful vistas for us to photograph and look at.

Robin

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Outback Humour on the Stuart Highway

The Northern Territory and outback regions of Australia have long been known for strange humour, usually in the form of objects or signage. On this trip north, we revisited a few locations finding some of these oddities.

First, there is Pine Creek Hotel which had quite a large number of brassieres - and conjured up images (in my mind at least) of all these cheeky women lifting their T-shirts and removing their bras so they could donate them to the cause. Whatever cause that might be I’m not really sure. I’m sorry I missed them stripping off for posterity.
Also at Pine Creek was a collection of school identity cards, a few learners permits and drivers licences that people had allowed to be stapled to the wall. Given the current phobias people have about security and identity theft, I found it astonishing that people would leave a drivers licence with full name, address, date of birth, and a photo. Maybe this all happened before the world went crazy.
.
Then there was the Desert Marbles Hotel with its weather stone; As the sign with the stone says, if you look at the stone and it is::

  • wet - it’s raining
  • dry - it’s not raining
  • swinging - it’s windy

And I can't forget the sex sign - well, not quite a sex sign, but you get the drift.

At the Daly Waters Hotel we found dozens of ball caps that people had “donated” for posterity - none in really mint condition. You could spend a week just reading all the verbage and looking at logos on these caps and wondering on what heads they once belonged. I'll let you imagine what these looked like.

When I first arrived in the Territory in 1957 I knew it was different, a Wild West without the guns but as many larrikins and wild people. While the number of wild people and larrikins may have declined, the silly sense of humour still pervades and makes our Territory just a little more interesting if politically incorrect.

That has to be a good thing doesn’t it?

Robin

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Devil's Marbles

The Devil’s Marbles is located south of Tennant Creek and north of the Devil’s Marbles Hotel at Wauchope (for some reason pronounced “walk up” which I could never understand).



In the “old days”, my parents and I used to visit Wauchope for the annual races event, which had several horses and a few races, but was really another opportunity for adults to consume vast quantities of beer and other beverages, mostly alcoholic. Me and other kids spent our time jumping in and out of the swimming pool since Tennant Creek in those days didn’t have one.

Today, the original Wauchope Hotel building still stands, but it has been improved somewhat with nice accommodation added at the back of the main pub building. New owners have given it a paint job and it looks very nice.

Outside is a lovely grassed area with chairs and benches where you can sit and eat your cooked lunch or dinner, sip away at a cool beer, or perhaps have a cup of coffee or tea. All are available.

The Devil’s Marbles attraction is huge and visited by almost everyone who passes by. It’s off the highway a short distance and juxtaposed by a largish caravan and tent parking area for which the NT Parks and Wildlife Department charges a nominal fee. There is an honour box and a permit one has to display on one’s car. Rangers do check, so it pays to be honest rather than be embarrassed by not paying.

We only stayed long enough to have lunch and a half hour or so to walk around and then continued north. When we visited there were dozens of people and numbers of Army vehicles were in transit apparently having been on exercise in South Australia.

You can see from the photos here what the Devil’s Marbles looks like. Another example of nature at work creating beautiful vistas for us to photograph and look at - and blog about!

On, on to Kakadu National Park …

Robin

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Western Australia or Bust!

As we heading north from Alice Springs my mind returned to 1957 - the first time I had traversed the Stuart Highway between The Alice and Tennant Creek.

Then, the remote Northern Territory was much more remote. The “highway” was slightly wider than a large vehicle and trees, shrubs and spinifex lined each side providing a high potential for road surprises - that instant when a kangaroo or cow walks onto the road in front of you. Many a vehicle had arrived at its destination with damage resulting from an animal strike. The worst cases were, of course, towed in or transported home on the backs of trucks. On rare occasions, there would be a fatality - no seat belts in 1957.

When two vehicles approached, both had to put their outside wheels off the bitumen so they could pass. This presented an additional hazard given that much of the road edge was badly broken and pot-holed. However, I can recall occasions when we had done the then eight hour trip from Tennant Creek to The Alice and never pass another vehicle.

Today was much different. Although there is always the potential for a road surprise, the Stuart Highway is now a real highway with wide cleared edges, defined lanes and with a general speed limit of 130 km/hr. In some places the speed limit is unrestricted - drivers can drive as fast as they wish, and many brave souls do.

With two tonnes of caravan behind my car, I chose to drive at a steady 100 km/hr along that stretch I had travelled perhaps hundreds of times. Although the scenery is very ordinary, there is a meditative aspect to sitting looking out the front window for hours on end. There are many more fellow travellers on the road today too, which provides at least some intermittent break from the tedium.

We stopped at Prowse Gap rest stop overnight as it has toilets and ample parking space for larger caravans. After a busy few weeks and under the clear, sparkling Central Australian sky, we had the best night’s sleep for weeks. As I dozed off, I thought of my long lost parents and brother and the good times we had had living here when it was like Australia’s Wild West.

Robin

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Preparing to Leave for Western Australia



Our Blue Sky Caravan at Alice Springs
When we sold our house in March, we planned to remain at Alice Springs until July so we could help daughter Meredith finish some beautification projects around her house. 

The additional three months also ensures that the Top End of Australia will have a much more pleasant climate than it would have at other times of the year.

All the good advice we have is that you do Western Australia in an anti-clockwise direction. This ensures that when you travel the long, gruelling distance across the Nullabor Plain, the wind is a tail wind and not a head wind. Head winds cause a greater fuel burn than a tail wind (of course), so it’s a better way to do it. More cost effective.

If we spend six months in Western Australia, it will also mean that as we travel south, summer will be approaching and summer in the south is more gentle than summer in the north. Make sense?

By the time we travel north to Alice Springs from South Australia, we will be acclimatised to the summer heat.

Apart from getting Meredith’s retaining walls, new shed and other tasks done, we are equipping our Toyota Prado with a UHF radio (to be fitted next week) and some larger capacity spot/flood lights. The car will be serviced before we go and probably get fitted with two new batteries – nothing worse than having a battery die 20 km outside some remote township and both batteries are nearing their failure dates.

Then there’s the caravan. We need to give it an off-the-power-grid test to ensure our gas appliances (fridge, water heater and cooker) work and that the solar-powered water pump and lighting work also. We don’t expect any problems here, but prior preparation prevents poor performance.

Finally, we need to trim the loading of the caravan as much as possible to keep weight within legal parameters. 
 
In the near future we’ll develop a loosely designed travel itinerary and post it online.

Robin

PS: We are beginning to get excited about our trip as the time draws closer