December 2008

Ouch! It’s the 19th already and my first update for the month.

Julie finally got sick of being treated like crap at work, together with continually having both the playing field and the goal posts shifted, and and resigned as the permanent Team Leader. However, she was immediately taken on as a casual and will probably work as many hours in January as she would have previously. Except that she will now get paid for the actual hours that she works, plus some extra for weekends. She is sooooo much happier about work now. And she has other opportunities with the same company, at Parliament House and Crowne Plaza. And gets to keep her staff benefits, like staff rates for accommodation! Plus, her citizenship application must surely be nearing completion, which opens up a huge field in Defence related jobs, because it means that she is then capable of acquiring a clearance.

Much of our recent time has been taken up with planning for our holiday trip, about to start tomorrow. We celebrated our 5th anniversary at a Teppanyaki restaurant.

As fate would have it, Julie’s wallet was stolen out of her handbag later that night at the company function in the Ballroom.

So once again, we hit the road with only our spare credit card active. Strange story actually. She noticed it missing at the end of the evening. We rather hoped that it would turn up in the cleanup next morning, but when it hadn’t, I put a temporary block on the card. Meanwhile, Julie put out an e-mail to all 3 business divisions in Canberra to say that it was missing. I called the bank mid-afternoon and was told that an authorisation for $303 for “auto rentals” at around noon had been declined because of the block. Hmm, maybe that’s one of the car rentals doing a pre-authorisation, so I checked with both Hertz and the motorhome people. Nope, they do all the card action on the day of pickup. So someone has the card and is trying to use it, it’s not sitting in a rubbish bin somewhere. Ok, next step, cancel the card and arrange to have it re-issued. And put up with the pain of having regular payments bounce and require fixing for the next 3 months. So we went into Woden and at least got her a new drivers licence. Then at 5 pm, we get a call at home from HR at the Crowne Plaza to say that the purse had been found, just out the front of NCC. Now that whole area had been thoroughly cleaned that morning and had also been scoured by both of us. Likely scenario: An employee’s partner had grabbed the wallet and had waited until noon to try to use it. (Duh! Either use it immediately or forget it). The employee, knowing who it belonged to, had then convinced the partner to just drop it back. All that was missing was the cash (of course).

Just before we left, I set up a mechanism whereby Tim next door could use our wifi.

Bye, guys.

Sat 20/12 – Fly to Adelaide for my niece Belinda’s wedding.
Sun 21/12 – Get-together with my siblings and families.
Mon 22/12 – Fly to Alice Springs, look around and stay 2 nights. Late insert: Julie gets her wish to ride a camel, as we get collected from our accommodation for a one-hour ride, finishing at a restaurant for dinner.
Wed 24/12 – Collect 6-berth motor home with shower and toilet (we get it for $5 a day, normally retails for $340! a day through Maui).
Thu 25/12 – Wed and Thu are 2 days of solid driving with not much to see.  Merry Christmas!!!!
Fri 26/12 – Check out around Katherine (maybe Katherine Gorge) and finish in Kakadu National Park.
Sat 27/12 – Check out Aboriginal rock paintings and head for Darwin to drop off, 2 nights in Darwin City. Another late insert: Apparently Stokes Hill Wharf is THE place to be seen on Sunday night in Darwin and the crocodile burgers are a real treat.
Change from original plans here – the relocate to Alice Springs was cancelled, so we managed to pick up one to Cairns instead. An extra 2 days in Darwin.
Wed 31/12 – Collect 4WD bush camper and head for Cairns (also for $5 a day through Britz) or similar – ours doesn’t have the bed on top.
Four days, back down over half-way to Three Ways, then across into Queensland. Definitely Mount Isa, where we have arranged to see our house there for the first time. Looking at going via Normanton across to the coast, which is the piece I missed out on 20 years ago in my round-Australia trip. Try for Undarra Lava Tubes and up through Mareeba and Kuranda if possible.
Mon 5 Jan – Drop-off in Cairns.
Two whole days in Cairns. The SkyRail to Kuranda is a definite must-see. And check out the site for the unit we have contracted for here, due for completion in about 12 months.
Thu 8 Jan – Fly home.
Still have a couple of days to relax!

Sunday, and we have had a full-on run since we left home yesterday. Uneventful flights to Melbourne and on to Adelaide, a quick change at the hotel and met Dorothy & Pete, together with Kate & Paul at the cemetery where Mum is buried and Dad’s ashes are also laid to rest. 

Then on to a late lunch and then to the winery for the wedding. Some weddings are just magic and this was one of those. The party went on until 10 pm. We finally hit the sack at midnight.

Kevin: Whew, my part’s done!

Edith’s father, Jack.

Edith.

Edith’s mother.

Julie.

Dorothy.

Kate.

Kate’s Pete.

Today was a tour around some of my old haunts to show Julie and then we met Dorothy & Pete and Kate & Paul for lunch to celebrate Dorothy & Pete’s 35th wedding anniversary. And a tour with Dorothy & Pete past where we as kids grew up – Dorothy & I started swapping stories from our childhood. Some of the things that kids get up to just never change!

 

By far, the highlight was seeing a couple of wild koalas up close in the trees at the Brownhill Creek Caravan Park, where Dorothy & Pete are staying. Yes, I did manage to catch the expression of pure delight on Julie’s face!

 

Monday has been another very full day. We made friends with a delightful couple, Gary & Rebecca, and their daughter Charlotte in the bar last night and chatted for ages. When we left the bar, I took an armload of stuff with me and Julie assumed that it included her Nintendo DS, but it didn’t. Of course, it wasn’t there in the morning. So after we landed in Alice Springs, I went on my pre-planned drive out to Stanley Chasm (nope, we are just not fit enough to do a 15-20 minute walk each way in this heat) and back into town via Simpsons Gap, we trekked around town looking for a replacement, finally finding a used one. So she’s kinda happy again. But it did eat into the down-time we had anticipated before going out again on the camel ride.

Great service actually, collected us from the hotel, then a few others, and took us all out to the camel farm. The video in the museum was fascinating and had all of us glued to it for nearly an hour. Then the ride. Truly a moving experience. Particularly since camels were the travel mode of choice in this area for so many years in the discovery days. There are over 700,000 wild camels in the Australian desert, completely free of disease and a very pure blood-line.

 

 

 

 

 

And the dinner to follow was equally as good. I’m full and exhausted!

Meanwhile, this from Seattle.

Tuesday, the heat and exertions from yesterday have taken their toll. If we have to walk more than about 20 metres from the car to see something, then it just doesn’t happen. However, we have managed to eat a substantial breakfast, check out the pickup location for tomorrow’s motorhome and find out what’s included, see the Old Telegraph Station (from a distance) and snap a panorama of Alice Springs from Anzac Hill. As always, click on it for a better view.

With the temperature difference between inside and outside, that may be all we get done today!

Todd River. Yes, it does flow sometimes.

Yep, that was just about it. I crashed during the afternoon and Julie met a bus-load of Americans downstairs, including a wonderful lady from Texas. They sat talking for hours and she ended up getting a little homesick. This morning, we “broke camp” and headed off on our next “segment”. Frustratingly, collecting the motorhome took aaaaaages and we finally left Alice Springs at midday.

The ant hills all face north-south, something to do with solar heating or cooling.

The road trains haul up to 4 trailers at a time, but are at least limited to 100k.

Speed limit on the open road is 130k, the poor thing was flat to the boards at 122!

We have camped for the night at the caravan park at Wycliffe Well.

Julie has been quite shocked at the situation with the Aboriginals here – it reminded her of her years living in the South of the USA. This part of the country reminded Julie of Arizona – the dashboard gauge was registering around the 95F mark most of the day. Thank God for aircon!

The Devil’s Marbles.

Sturt Desert Rose.

I had a special video made for Julie for Christmas and it had both of us in tears, or at least very close. Julie is now anxious for the reactions from both April and the parents. They should have their own copies soon.

Merry Christmas. We put in a 9-hour day of solid driving today, reaching Mataranka. The scenery did at least 4 changes along the way, but other than that, it was just plain boring. Straight road, curve, straight road, curve, ….  The one day that the whole of Australia closes is Christmas Day, so we were lucky to find fuel stations that were open along the way. At one point, we decided that since places were closing early for the day, we would fill up at the next available one, which was just as well, because the next one (that we would have been reliant on) was completely demolished. At Renner Springs, we asked whether we could get a burger, and the lady in charge was explaining that they had given the chef the day off, when a young lad with a very strong North American accent suggested that she take the order and he would do the cooking. As it happened, Marlo is Canadian and Julie didn’t even have to “explain” what it was that she wanted. The grilled cheese sandwich was perfect, even sliced diagonally. I, of course, had a burger with the lot, which was about 3 inches think (and loved it). When we asked how much it was, he replied, “Enough for me to buy 2 more beers.” Done!

And the ant hills are in fact termite mounds and some of them look like sculptures. Still not sure about the north-south (or was it east-west) orientation, just go look it up for yourselves.

On our arrival in Mataranka, we had to go check out the thermal hot springs.

Ah, short answer, no. There has been so much rain up here that the road was flooded. So then we attempted to get to the area known as Bitter Springs. Ah, no again. A really close-up inspection of the close-up photo of the height post shows that the deepest water in 0.6 meters (about 2 feet). If I was in a ‘Cruiser, I might attempt it (if I had a VERY good reason), but in this old thing, no.

And we were told by the proprietor of the caravan park (where we are now staying) that the river water would be overflowing into the spring water anyway, making it dirty. And we are currently being serenaded by peacocks. I have 5 bars of Broadband Wireless. Julie is playing on her “new” Nintendo DS. So it’s Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men. Here at least, anyway.

Haven’t caught photos yet, but it seems the NT Government’s answer to the problem of those Aboriginals who choose to live in or near the towns over-indulging in alcohol is to put in place some very severe restrictions. Back in Alice Springs, I had noticed that grog was only on sale from 2 to 9 pm. So I woke from my substantial afternoon nap and headed on out to the bar to inform Julie that I was going out to buy wine and beer. As she was talking to a bunch of Aussie guys at the time and wanting to know “Why?”, I didn’t want to hang around explaining and asked them to explain it to her. Turns out that the rules are that cask wine and cheap fortified wines like sherry and port are the most heavily restricted. The biggest cask for sale is just 2 litres and can only be purchased at the rate of one per person per day, as identified by an official ID, like a drivers licence. I also overhead one of the cashiers asking, “As this purchase is over $100, can I have an address where you are taking it to, please?” Heavy! I ended up with my 6 pack of beers, a cask of Chardonnay and a couple of bottles of Chardonnay – no restriction on those! That was enough anyway.

Also we have had a major change of plans from the original Alice to Darwin, then Darwin to Alice and fly home via Melbourne. The itinerary further up the page has now been updated. We are now Alice to Darwin, then Darwin to Cairns and fly home direct. And speaking of plans changing, we have rapidly realised that the heat is killing us (should only take a few years to adjust), so if we do anything, it’s in the relative cool of the morning. After that, we drive with the aircon running. If a tourist destination requires walking for more than a few minutes, we’ll drive in, take a picture and piss off again. Sometimes, we’ll stop for lunch at a pub (as long as it’s air-conditioned). To run the aircon in the main quarters (not just the cabin), we need a powered site at a caravan park, which is why we have stayed at caravan parks. Today’s original plan was to head into the Kakadu National park, but then I realised that powered sites are probably non-existent (yes, an assumption) and also that we can cover Kakadu as a day trip from Darwin, because we’ll be there an extra 2 days. So we have peeled off from the main drag and are currently at the Douglas Daly Tourist Park. Travel 60 Km north of Pine Creek, turn left onto Dorat Road, then left onto Oolloo Road and go south about 30 Km. Middle of bloody nowhere. Why? Because we were heading for the Douglas Daly Hot Springs for a look.

We’ve had a run of destination closures lately. The Mataranka Resort, which has a rebuilt version of the original Elsey Homestead (read “We of the Never Never” for details), was cut off by a flooded road, as were Bitter Springs (as above). Coming out of Katherine heading for Nitmiluk Gorge, a big sign told us that Gorge Road was impassable at Little Something River, so obviously that one was out too.

Yes, that’s a Black Cockatoo.

We peeled off into the Cutta Cutta Caves, to stop short at the gate and the sign announcing that they were closed for the wet season. We did however manage to get to Edith Falls, although a few days earlier would have been impossible.

The pictures I have taken try to convey the amount of debris all over a bridge that must be about 20-30 feet above the level of the running water. That’s gotta be more than just a few bucketfulls of water!

Then the Douglas Daly Hot Springs were closed with no reason given. Having said that, we have also managed to skirt around the heavy rain that has been in the area during the previous week. The cyclone over Broome degraded enough to spread cloud right across the centre just as we were leaving the area to go north. The one over Borroloola swept across the northern end of the NT and caused lots of flooding, some of which we have seen, or at least the remaining debris. We are now well into the wet tropics and still have just cloudy days. Which is just as well, because the windscreen wipers have needed some running repairs along the way. This poor old girl has done over 150,000 Km and is showing her age. The disadvantage, of course, is that it’s not just hot, it’s humid as well, which is even more draining. It’s like being in the build-up to the wet season.

So our process at the end of the driving day (mid to late afternoon) is to get the power hitched up ASAP and get the aircon running. Then close most of the curtains until the poor thing catches up. Meanwhile, just sit and have a few drinks, Julie plays her new games and I work on this newsletter and process the day’s photos, ready for upload. Followed by cheese and bikkies and some dinner. If we’re in a town, download emails and upload to the website. Otherwise, like tonight, it will just have to keep until tomorrow. And on the subject of tonight, dunno what’s up with the guy in charge here, but he looks a bit like he’s got a poker up his arse. Never seen anyone quite so unfriendly. I walked over to the outside bar area because we both had a hankering for a bit of chocolate. The place was empty of the patrons we saw when we arrived and I just didn’t dare ask whether the bar was even still open. Wow, what a recommendation.

Saturday – As we drove out this morning, I decided to take a photo of the “attractions” at the place. Sounds great, huh?  ffff. And the photo of the road conditions on the access road to the hot springs – the road is open, the area is not!

We then took the scenic route to Adelaide River, slower but nicer than the flat out run out on the highway. Couldn’t resist Burrell Creek – just for you, Dorothy & Pete.

Also called in at Howard Springs, which hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’ll get back there while we are here to try to capture the HUGE fish that lives there, all I got this time was reflections. The final photo in the set is of the wildlife we collected.

Made it into Darwin a little after midday and went straight to the motorhome depot to ask questions like: Where can we get the gas bottle topped up and where can we empty the cassette. Now this is a VERY important question, because the cassette is the thing into which the toilet empties and MUST be emptied at the end of the trip. We were directed to a public dump point not far away – it’s quite amazing how much waste 2 people can generate without really trying. Empty it down the tube, wash it out and repeat a couple of times and then wash down the area, put the cassette back in and wash hands. Easy, really.

Then to Hertz, where we received an upgrade to a Falcon XR6, even newer than the one at home in the carport.  And back to the depot to turn in the motorhome, discover that we should have been specifically asking for receipts for the fuel we bought (so we got a smaller refund than we could have), and explain the running repairs that we had performed on the wipers along the way. Then we get to the hotel and we’ve been upgraded to a 2-level suite! Sweet!

What has developed during this trip is the beginning of a list for our own “home on the road” – must haves, like central locking, with all locks keyed alike, shower doors that remain closed during travel, adjustable steering wheel, adjustable passenger seat, drawers that don’t fly open, blinds instead of curtains, separate shower and toilet. Desirables like a GPS that feeds via USB into a small laptop computer loaded with detailed maps, so that you see what is nearby at all zoom levels. And a low enough level of background noise while travelling that we can hold a conversation or actually hear the stereo. And so on.

Sunday – Almost forgotten what day of the week it is and keep needing to be reminded, so that we will know which shops are likely to be open or closed. Today was nosing around Darwin city in the car, because once again we could get briefly out of the aircon and back into it again. Even so, the heat had sapped me badly by mid-afternoon. Perhaps Julie’s idea of let’s go back to the hotel, have a few drinks and chill out might have some merit after all. We did manage to dine at Stokes Hill Wharf as suggested by someone (can’t remember who) – I enjoyed the crocodile but not the buffalo, Julie vice versa. However, earlier in the day, we went to the markets in the Nightcliff shopping area. A guy walked past with a black cockatoo on his shoulder and I started snapping away. I managed to catch Julie’s eye and indicate his presence, still snapping away. Yes, I caught her amazed expression nicely!

We attempted to get out to Kakadu National Park today. But after some careful consideration of how much each day takes out of us and a bit of friendly advice along the way, we did some poking around the back roads, both sealed and dirt, dry and wet, especially when the rain decided to start in earnest.

It’s been raining on and off ever since. However, we did enjoy the side jaunt to Fogg Dam, where you drive right out into the wetland itself.

And finally got a taste of Barramundi. We’ve discovered that once you get out of town, the local pub or tavern, which also serves as the fuel stop, eating place and general gathering place, tends to have very good meals at a very reasonable price. The Barra Burger went down really well. And yes, the XR6 can do 200 Kays!

Tuesday – Today is a “down” day, whether we planned one or not. Both of us are so exhausted from the heat that all we got done outside the hotel was a visit to Crocosaurus, just a couple of streets away. Even then, we drove to it. Photo notes: The first one for today is of Aquascene at Doctors Gully (different zoom level because I couldn’t remember the original shot), showing the difference in tide level on the mangroves.

The close-up shots of crocs are from an area where you go underneath the babies’ area and pop your head in a plastic bubble, right in the middle of them, about a foot away. And we got to pat and hold a baby.

That’s probably about it from Darwin, except for an early morning visit to Aquascene on the way out tomorrow, to see the fish feeding. We’ll be going through the reverse process of our arrival: put fuel in the hire car, take the luggage in the hire car to the motorhome depot, stuff around picking up the 4WD, then backtrack with both vehicles to drop off the hire car before we can finally hit the road. I must admit to a small amount of trepidation about pounding rain and flooded roads, but at least we’ll have a vehicle better suited to water crossings. And with the heat still sapping us, I’d say we’ll be checking into motels along the way too.

Wednesday – Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. It was pissing with rain when I woke up and had cleared a little later (photos to prove it).

It was our intention to get to the fish feeding, but it was raining again, so we gave it a miss and headed straight for the motorhome depot (again). I noted with a tinge of annoyance that by the time we had dropped off the hire car and were heading out of town, that the rain had stopped and we could have caught the tail end of it. However, it gave us a head start to the day’s travels, which is also a bonus. This time we made it through to Katherine Gorge, although all we saw was the intensity of the flow of the water rushing past the visitor centre.

A little further on, we had pulled into a parking bay to discover termite mounds sitting in water, the first we had seen.

Tonight, we’re back at the same place at Mataranka, this time in a motel room.

The vehicle is great as transport, with a V8 diesel under the bonnet, happy to cruise at 130k, but useless for us for sleeping overnight. I could not even imagine the two of us fitting into a bed that size (and then having to get out the back door every time to pee). No, it ain’t going to happen. At least we’ll be away from the New Years Eve celebrations, because we need our sleep tonight to get an early start to make it to Barkly Homestead tomorrow night.

Sitting here in the dark at 2am, not sleeping because dinner was fabulous and I ate too much. Happy New Year, blah blah blah. If it weren’t for the rental condition of not driving in the dark, we would pack up now and get going. 2008 has certainly been a year of some hefty changes and I am pleased to say that they have ended well. We have wonderful neighbours in Tim & Lily – they have helped us and we have helped them in so many different ways. Julie’s choice to quit her job as a permanent and continue as a casual was, in retrospect, a very good one. This trip, too, has seen some tactical blunders, like not proceeding into Kakadu while we had the time and distance available, but it has also enabled us to see some new country – Julie to see a completely different part of Australia and me to experience the Top End in the wet season. And it has allowed us to continue to develop the way we interact in close company and make decisions together, sometimes under pressure. I expect 2009 to be a year of consolidation for us, as we work towards our dream of retiring into a full-size motorhome in 2012.