“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether PigPen has wings.”
Yes, alas, PigPen is ours no more There are no words for our Last Waltz together, just a photo story ….
“Alas, poor PigPen! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times … Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment”
P.S. The trip was great and included the Birdsville Track (boggy), 4 days water-logged in outback Longreach, a Whitsunday Charter (also wet), the outer Barrier Reef (wet again), the Daintree and FNQ (yes, wet too), Chillegoe, Lawnhill NP, Kurumba (Aye), Mataranka, Duncan Rd, the Dampier Peninsula and Karijini. 14,000 kms and about 24 inches of rain …and another 1000 memories to bank.
Spring had spring, the grass was rizz
– so off we went, without a tizz.
For short cut to the video story, see the YouTube below:
This time, a fairly short 4 week trip into the north-west corner – taking in the Pilbara, then north-west to Ningaloo, and home again, home again jiggity jig – down the west coast with a side trip to the Kennedy Ranges.
First destination was Karijini National Park with its rugged beauty of the gorges, it’s beautiful waterfalls and sparkling rock pools. We had stayed there about 4 years ago where we had first spotted Ultimate Campers in the wild – and we decided this was the way for us to rough-it.
We stayed a couple of nights at Dales Gorge, covering all the walks and swimming holes there before moving on to the Karijini Eco Retreat area, which is closer to the more interesting gorges and somewhat more challenging hikes.
Then onto a new find – which delighted us beyond expectations – the Millstream Chichester National Park, accurately described as “an oasis in the desert, nestled within the chocolate brown rocks of the Chichester Range, dotted with spinifex and snappy gums” Great swimming holes and expansive camp grounds.
From there to Dampier to restock and catch up with FIFO son. The library in Dampier another gem with friendly staff and fascinating local history, including true stories on the legendary Red Dog.
Heading west, we tackled the heavily corrugated road into Ningaloo Station for a prized three days camping on the beach with the reef just meters off-shore.
To experience the best of Ningaloo Marine Park our next camp site was at Osprey Bay. As the crow flies this was just 30km away – but Yardie Creek was flowing so no vehicle crossing could be made, and we are not crows. SO … the long way round via Exmouth – 180kms!
This was the turn-around point. Heading home we stayed at Coral Bay to take a boat trip to swim with the Manta Rays and scuba on the reef. Worth it? Hell yes!
Tracking inland 150 kms from Carnarvon is the Kennedy Range National Park, which was quite a different experience – the ranges are rugged red sandstone known for wild flowers at this time of year. It gorges did not hold much water when we visited, but we will be back at a wetter time as I’m sure it would be spectacular.
Then home via beach camping at Gladstone (WA), a Murchison Station stay, the Kalbarri cliffs and an impromptu catch up with delightful Mad Max.
So highlights were:
- Millstream Chichester National Park
- Swimming with Manta Rays
- The bush musician’s fire side concert at Kennedy
Score – 4700 kms, and for once no damage to us. But we did see a totalled caravan, and did our fair share of assisting the others.
We decided that February would be the best time to visit Tasmania. So we trekked across the country with a brief stop-over visiting the Grampians before taking the somewhat boring 9-hour ferry trip across Bass Straight, to start a 4 week lap around the Apple Isle.
For the video story of the trip, see the YouTube below:
What I liked about Tasmania
1. Hobart’s world-class Museum of Old and New Art a.k.a. MONA
2. The cruise through Macquarie harbour/Gordon River area with its stunning scenery and brutal penal settlement history.
3. Cradle Mountain, part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage area – fantastic mountain walks and breathtaking vistas. We were blessed with excellent weather.
4. The West Coast – unspoilt, and still a little wild
5. Port Arthur Historic Sites – a day well spent. Brilliantly presented and a fascinating history
6. Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, especially when still in the comb- (Note to self – Never, ever lift the lid on a bee hive to look inside, again)
8. Great caravan parks at Cradle Mountain, Port Arthur, Bridport
9. Really friendly, and sometimes strange, Tasmanians
10. Camping overlooking the beach at Boat Harbour Beach and in the Bay of Fires
11. The views from Mt Wellington over Hobart
12. Sheffield – the town of murals
13. Scallop pies
14. Trees – glorious big trees, and temperate rain forests
What I disliked about Tasmania
- The weather – it rained on 50% of days we were there
- Disgusting pollution in the Derwent and Tamar rivers
- Shocking caravan parks Hobart, Launceston and Strahan – the world’s worst?
- Overcrowding in free camping areas
- Poor road surfaces
- Finding attractions closed because it is Monday, (or Tuesday, or Wednesday etc) or only open for limited hours!
Ok, so where does that leave us? Tasmania, the only place where one can cross the Rubicon (river), go through a place called “Nowhere Else” and end up in the region of Paradise all on one day. Tree carvings done with a chain saw? And where else does one find a beer swilling pig? At the Pub in the Paddock, of course!
Tasmania is really just one big curiosity shop with claims of the biggest, oldest, widest, most southerly, most westerly etc etc. In some ways its also like stepping back 30 years to a quieter, simpler time. Worth a visit, yes. Four weeks? Too long – three would have done it.
On the way home, we dawdled down the Great Ocean Road, stopping at Cape Otway NP, then onto SA visiting Mt Gambier’s volcanic blue lake, the Coorong NP and Yorke Peninsula (loved Innes NP and old Cornish towns) , before a layover in Streaky Bay.
Score – 8 weeks, 11,200 kms, lots of memories, lots of great pies, and a resolve never to holiday south of 37 degrees nor camp near a wind farm!
We recently completed a ½ lap of Australia – with Mr Murphy well and truly proving his law. Anyway, Sparewheel says it was Murphy, I say it was our resident ghost, Mr James Smith!
With it being time again to miss winter, Sparewheel and I headed north late July. Messrs Murphy and Smith made their presence felt immediately with a totally ruined tyre on Pigpen not 200kms out of Perth. Bugger, I should have turned on the tyre pressure monitoring system.
First real stop was beach-side accommodation at Barn Hill Station, about 2000 km north of home and 128kms east of Broome. A delightful spot where we had some delightful company with a couple of couples who also owned Ultimates. I could have sworn that one was Baldrick of Blackadder fame (sorry Bob, but the looks are so similar).
Next the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, with a very disappointing stay at Chilli Beach (a typical nearly abandoned settlement with run down facilities – the web page overstates reality), where the next failure happened – one of Pigpen’s water tank holding straps broke. Next Middle Lagoon, with a campsite overlooking the beach. Wow, wonderful.
To Derby for repairs and a trip to the Horizontal Falls. A great day trip, out on a sea plane to explore what David Attenborough calls “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world” – a natural phenomenon of intense tidal currents hurtling through two narrow coastal gorges. Massive tidal movements (up to 11 m) create a waterfall effect as water banks up against one side of the narrow cliff passage, to be repeated again on the turning tide.
Then through the Kimberleys, down the Gibb River Road – two years ago we travelled this region and decided this is God’s own country – so now we were here to explore as many new places as we could, whilst visiting old favourites like Windjana Gorge, Bell and Manning falls, and El Questro. Charnley River Station, now owned and operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservatory (who also on Mornington WInderness Camp), is a new gem discovered, as was Mount Elizabeth Station’s Wunnumurra Gorge. Free camps at Barnett Gorge and at the Gibb River crossing proved great value for money.
We were going to avoid Home Valley Station but instead decided to give it another try and thoroughly enjoyed the Pentecost River camp site.
Northern Territory – here we come! Keep NP is a must-do – a sort of mini Bungle Bungles.
Darwin next – what can I say? With the construction of a large LNG plant underway, it has become a town ruined by the resource industry, where the locals dish out service with a massive grudge, scalping as much as they can. An atmosphere made worse by an air force exercise that went on the whole time we were there, with 30-50 fighter jets taking off and landing twice a day! Still, the world’s best seafood buffet at Seafood on Cullen and the evening Mindil Beach Sunset Markets made up for other angst.
Darwin was the turnaround point, by which time Messrs Murphy and Smith had engineered about a dozen “fails”, the most annoying of which was when James Smith lost the camper key in a ½ km area, which we searched for hours in vain. 24 hours later the key re-appeared at the Katherine visitors centre, but not before we had needed to visit a locksmith! The good news was that nothing else went wrong on the return trip.
By taking the roads less travelled in Kakadu NP we had us a couple of camping sites to ourselves – at Red Lily Billabong and Sandy Billabong. The last time we visited Kakadu it was still very wet, so this time we could get into places like Jim Jim and Gunlom Falls.
We tracked south down the Stuart Highway, enjoying springs and pies at Mataranka, the iconic Daly Water’s Pub, the East MacDonald Ranges, “lush” Coober Pedy, then east to experience a little of the Oodnadatta Track to Marree, then the Flinders Range NP . The remote camping in the park was great, with lovely walks but the famous Wilpena Pound was somewhat overated.
The plan was to spend some time on the Eyre Peninsula but after just one day in Lincoln NP the wind and rain started, so we packed up and headed, west into 100 km/h winds.
A great trip – score 12,265 kms, broken – tyre, shocks, chairs, lights, shoes and so much more! And one good riddance – at last we have ridded ourselves of Mr James Smith – may he find comfort in Darwin.
… or … Swimming with Whale (and other) Sharks
Avoiding the start of the school holidays, the Sparewheel and I decided to take some time exploring what I call “The Stations of Ningaloo” i.e. a trip that would including staying on each of the pastoral leases along the Ningaloo Marine Park.
This marine park protects the world-famous Ningaloo Reef – Australia’s largest and most accessible fringing reef – certainly much easier to get to compared with the Great Barrier Reef, with options to camp right on the coast, with coral gardens a swim off the dazzling white sandy beaches.
Stretching 300 kilometres, the Ningaloo Marine Park begins at Bundegi Reef in the Exmouth Gulf, skirts around North West Cape and ends at the southern gateway to Australia’s Ningaloo Reef at Red Bluff (north of Carnarvon). It extends 10 nautical miles seaward and encompasses over 5,000 square kilometres of ocean. There is rumour that Parks and Wildlife will resume 4kms of coast along the reef, which will no doubt change the accessibility in some cases for the better and in some cases more restrictive.
Have stayed many times in Cape Range national park, we elected to start our trip south of that on the first station – Ningaloo, camping on the beach at South Lefroy Bay. Snorkelling was good but not great, but “ah, the serenity”. This has to be one of the cheapest station stays at $20 pp for 4 nights, or $35 per week. Unfortunate, that translates into semi-permanent “Rooster” who squat for months on end – in an area with absolutely no facilities, and consequent impact on the environment. Fortunately, we were early in the season and only had to share the beach with ½ dozen or so others.
The next station south is Cardabia Station which doesn’t appear to have any camping, but does hold the famous Coral Bay. Here our son “Thing 2” joined us for a few days and we went out on a Whale Shark dive/swim on the most perfect of days weatherwise – the experience is best described in two words – astonishingstarastoundingstarawesomestarbreathtakingstarfantasticstarincrediblestar
Next south is Warroora Station (pronounced Warra), which has a number of camping spots – the northern area (14 mile) was full of Roosters, so we ventured south of the homestead and enjoyed absolute solitude overlooking the beach at “Toms Lookout”. Snorkelling here in the shallows I encountered another sharks within a couple of metres – at first, I was convinced is at least 2m and had mal-intent, but the next day, after good sleep, reality dawned that it was probably only a 1.5 m harmless reef shark, so I went looking for him again to take some photos.
Next south is Gnaraloo Station, which is by far the best of them. The camping area is only about 40km as the crow flies from Warroora, but the road between the stations is closed/non-existant, so we had to head inland, south then north – a trip of 300kms! Most frustrating. Gnaraloo Bay on the north side of the station is one of the finest beaches anywhere, and the camp site at 3 mile had a coral lagoon within 50 metres of our campsite. Hot showers, fluhing loos, and a Hotel Hilton too.
We took a slow 20kms coastal track from here to Red Bluff, on Quobba Station, which marks ther southern extremity of the Ningaloo Marine Park. Great beach, great snorkelling and I’m told the best fishing.
What a trip, and a must-do-again for us. See it while you can. For some useful links to stations and other attractions in the area see here … https://ultimatepigpen.wordpress.com/urls/exmouth-region/
I declare, PigPen has a resident ghost!
And this is how it happened…
On a recent trip to the South West, during our stay in Hamelin Bay, whilst watching the sun drown itself in the Indian Ocean, we were invited on a “Walk of Death” by some dubious character who is a dead ringer for Bruce Willis. Sufficiently relaxed by one’s sundowner brews, a group of ten or so of us followed him in the dark through the scrub and forest, until we reached the lonely grave of a one “James A Smith”, 19 August 1897 aged 40 years.
He accidentally drowned whist working, apparently after drinking too much of the local illegal brew. The company he worked for invoked the “unfit for duty” clause and refused to pay for his burial, so his mates, in true Ozzie spirit, buried him and erected this tombstone inland from Hamelin Bay.
Having been lonely too long, I am now convinced that Mr Smith took a liking to the Sparewheel, and followed us home – see picture below is green ‘monster’ next to her.
There is solid evidence of this haunting – on several occasions since then, spoons and forks have mysteriously moved a good 10 metres from our campsite overnight. Some might say possums, some might say crows, but I say “Welcome on board, James Smith!”
It’s done – the trip to the top end and back. Click here for a picture story.
I left home at the beginning of July for a chilly trip across the Nullarbor and then followed a dirt track along the Darling River visiting the iconic pubs at the old ports at Tilpa and Louth, camping on the riverfront.
The SpareWheel celebrated her retirement by flying via Brisbane into Roma. From there we spent a few days in Carnarvon National Park – doing two consecutive 22 km day treks into the gorge. We then ambled via Mackay and Cape Hillsborough to meet up with family for a week’s charter in the Whitsundays.
After a few days in Cairns, we headed north up the Cape York Peninsula – doing the usual tourist stuff. We were lucky with our stay at Captain Billy’s Landing – hardly any wind so could camp on the beach edge. Fruit Bat Falls, Eliot Falls, Twin Falls etc. were fantastic and required us to take on some of the Overland Telegraph Track – rather timid stuff compared with the macho places!
The Jardine Ferry was a shambles – it didn’t start operating until after 11am with the consequent long queues. We stayed at Punsand Bay which is ’a beaut’. , and there ventured to the Tip, and lovely Somerset Beach. Pity about the crocs!
On the journey south we overnighted at a lovely free camping spot on the Steward River, birthday in Lakefield National Park at Kalpowar Crossing (where we sighted the only Saltie on the whole trip), then at Elim Beach.
A Saturday night at the iconic Lion’s Den pub was fun, and then followed the magic Bloomfield Track down to Cape Tribulation.
We used Port Douglas as a base to have some work done on the Prado and trip out to the Barrier Reef, before heading into the Tablelands, then dirt track down to Winton, to start the World’s Longest Shortcut back to Perth. After ruining 2 tyres on the Donahue/Plenty Highway heading from Boulia to Alice Springs, and 3 days in Alice, we tripped through the West Macdonald ranges, then to Kings Canyon via Mereenie Loop Road (Red Centre Way) and Uluru.
- The week’s charter in the Whitsundays
- Iconic pubs
- Fruit Bat Falls
- Lotusbird Lodge (near Lakefield)
- Staying at Eddie’s Elim beach
- Daintree Area
- Day trip out of Port Douglas for some scuba and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
- Waltzing Matilda Museum (Winton) – serious!
- Alice Springs Desert Park
- Kings Canyon
- Gosse Bluff crater (Tnorala)
- Missing all the election hype
On the road one meets many interest folk – on this trip I am not sure who to give the “Redneck” award to:
- The turkey who said “no it’s not owned by aboriginals, its owned by real Aussies”
- The idiot found walking in thongs, no hat, no water down a dirt track to get petrol from the nearest town 50 kms away
- The bloke who carves his name on every tree where he camped up “It’s my brand, just like Burke and Wills”
So the score this time – 13,700kms, 2 tyres, broken Ipod and great memories
Pigpen’s trip to the WA lower south-east had been an on-off affair since late January – several times we had postponed due to forecast rain. With a long-weekend at the beginning of March, we did the old “Carpie diem” thing (which I believe means seize the fish) and headed out on the Saturday, just as ex- tropical cyclone Rusty started dumping its water over Esperance. How bad can it be? Or how good – click here see the movie!
Night one we camped at Quagi Beach, a delightful spot 80 kms west of Esperance, enjoying our first Southern Ocean swim in many years – not as cold as we remembered. And it rained …
Sunday saw us heading west, to Alexander Bay 100kms east of Esperance, where we free-camped on the beach without anybody in sight, and dolphins on our doorstep. A near perfect spot, except it rained a little more. On a wonderfully sunny Monday we day-tripped to Cape Arid national park – the Thomas River camping area looked good with two camp sites just off the beach. Further east to Jardee Creek and Poison Creek proved why Cape Arid is so named.
Cape Le Grand national park is extremely popular and it is notoriously difficult to get a camping spot – no free camping allowed. So we started out early, visiting Duke of Orleans Bay and Wharton Beach area on the way, and arrived at the national park gates by 10am – rain has its positives, there were 8 sites available. We checked out Lucky Bay – very crowded with edge-to-edge caravans and campervans and then decided that the Cape Le Grand site was the go – with a better beach, just 14 sites, hot showers and the princely cost of $9 pp/night we were delighted with our spot nestled in the dunes just off the beach. By noon all camping sites were full.
Guess what – it rained again. Celebrating PigPen’s first birthday, we considered changing his name to “Rain Maker” given our weather experiences over the past year. Leaving PigPen to enjoy the big drip, we drove 22kms down the beach then onto Esperance for the day, enjoying the scenery around there and getting fresh supplies.
Next day we climbed Frenchman Peak, a good 2 hour hard walk/climb to the top which was well worth it.
We explored the bays in the national park, with our favourite being Hellfire Bay, with waves just perfect for a bit of body surfing.
Forecast for Friday – rain! Enough! Heading home!
In summary, if one likes white beaches good for swimming and driving on, turquoise waters, spectacular scenery, hundreds of offshore islands and a little rain, visit this area – we experienced many of these. If you are put off by sharks, slippery rocks, sandbars and strong currents then you are being misled by the signs – we experienced none of these.
Score – one beach bogging, one lost rear-window protector and one late night visitation by a mouse – my theory, they like vegimite.
Been there, done that – returned home last week from a wonderful trip into the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Not quite the last frontier, but still unique enough to leave us with hundreds of fine memories (at our age, being assisted by hundreds of fine photographs). As planned, Pig Pen and I traveled up to Broome to meet up with the SpareWheel who took the easy way – flying. I took my time driving, enjoying the trip over 4 days with several stop offs, including at Eighty Mile Beach, 360 kms west of Broome – a grey nomads paradise by all accounts.
We then traveled up the Dampier Peninsula for a couple of nights at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque taking an on-the-beach shelter – a fantastic location, ok snorkeling and just the place to test drive a hammock. We regretted only allowing 2 days for this area as by all accounts there are several good stopovers on the peninsula. We then returned to Broome for a couple of nights in a hotel to re-stock before travelling to Derby and then hitting the Gibb River Road. The visit to the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre was surprising interesting – and from there to Windjana Gorge camping ground for a couple of days.
We ambled eastwards over 16 days, more or less following the itinerary we had set out, which included
- Various Gorges
- Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge (not worth the side trip)
- Mornington Wilderness Camp (a long way off the track – but worth it – great restaurant)
- Drysdale River Station
- Mitchell Falls
- Home Valley Station (waste of time – shocking service, shocking food)
- El Questro Wilderness Park (a slice of heaven)
SpareWheel’s favourite was the upper Manning Falls, mine was Galvin’s Gorge. We left the Gibb River Road to head up to Mitchell Falls , over-nighting at Drysdale Station and then King Edward River for a couple of days. The final trip from there to the falls was just 78 kms, but this took 2 hours to complete. We walked to the falls, then took the 18 minute helicopter flight back to the car parking area – what a buzz!
Our last stop along the Gibb was El Questro station where we stayed 4 nights at a private camp site – a bargain at $40 per night for your own piece of paradise. El Questro is a good as everybody says it is and the staff are so friendly. There is so much to do with great gorge walks, hot springs, 4wd tracks and fantastic food in the restaurant and pub.
Then, after 1700 kms of dirt driving, we hit the bitumen again, and promptly got the only puncture in the entire trip – thanks to road works! On to Lake Argyle which again was a delight, especially the sunset cruise. Interesting facts – Lake Argyle has over 1000 sq kms of water, and was build 1969-1971 over 3 dry seasons for a cost of just $22m. Try doing that today!
The road into the Purnululu National Park (a.k.a. Bungle Bungle) as rough again, definitely 4wd only territory. Here we stayed 3 nights, walking the gorges and taking another helicopter flight – the best way to see it all and definitely the easiest. Then onto Fitzroy Crossing – Geikie Gorge – but the town is one to avoid. Finally we chilled for a couple of nights back on the Dampier Peninsula on the beach at Quondong Point.
The SpareWheel flew home from Broome, and I hit the road. A great holiday – away 5 weeks.
The score – 8691 kilometers, one puncture, one stolen sandal – dingo presumed guilty! Saw lots of crocodiles – but all good croc, no bad croc, but then we avoid the areas with salties.
Pictures tell a thousand words – and are easier for me than typing – Click on pic for larger image -Enjoy!