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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #011

Editorial

In this issue we visit Keep River National Park, situated right on the WA/NT border.

I'd heard several times that it is a very underrated park and, having now been there, I agree. It's a marvellous place to visit and only a few kilometres off the highway.

So next time you're up that way do yourself a favour and spend a little time at Keep River.

Also, we find another gem, Marlgu Billabong in the Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve. Once again it's not far off the main drag, and once again it's a great place to spend some time. Especially if you're into birdwatching.

 

Temperatures
I quite often mention the temperature in the diary so thought I would explain what the figures mean in real terms.

We have a thermometer in the lounge room and that is what I use to obtain a temperature, therefore the figure I report is that of the inside of the truck.

We've found that, typically, the truck is 1-2 degrees warmer inside than the value reported by, say, the weather report of the day. When you consider that we don't park in the shade, because we need light for the solar panels, but directly in the burning sun, I think the truck is doing OK at stopping the heat.

 

 

The other day, before leaving Howard Springs, I photographed my cousin's resident tree frog. I've used one of the shots for this issue's cover photo but here is another with a 50c piece to show you his size.


A face only a mother could love.

Sat 24 Aug 2002

We leave Manton Dam and head south. The day goes fairly uneventfully, if you don't count the frayed winch cable that nearly cut a live 240v wire in two.

At about 4PM we pull into Katherine and, while filling up with diesel, we realise that they also fill gas bottles. As we have two empty bottles it seems like a good idea to fill them as well.

While doing so we got chatting to a couple from another motorhome, they are from New Zealand and are heading to the rest area at King River to meet another Kiwi couple.

We are also aiming to spend the night at King River so, when the bottles are full, we drive up the main street and turn onto the Victoria Highway. Finally we're on our way to Western Australia.

Half an hour later we pull into the rest area at King River (I can't see any river) and are met by a couple of familiar faces. Eric and Sandra, two Kiwis we first met at Sapphire a few months ago.

There's another motorhome here and shortly after we arrive the couple we met in Katherine turn up. Eric and Sandra are the Kiwis they were going to meet, small world.

Happy-hour consists of motorhome-type talk about free camp sites, etc. Sandra asked if we had any books to swap. Do we have any books?, is the Pope Catholic?, does a wombat poo on a rock? I bring a pile to the picnic table that's serving as our communal sit-apon, and so does everyone else. Before long it looks like we were holding a book fair.


The rest area at King River

Sun 25 Aug

We drive towards Gregory National Park. The countryside is just "normal" wooded savannah but as we approach Victoria River we enter jump up country.

The jump ups get bigger and bigger until we're driving through gorges bordered by massive cliffs, peppered with Livistona Palms. Before long we cross the river and pull into the Victoria River roadhouse.

As we crossed the bridge I see a sign reading "87.9" and am surprised that the fuel was so cheap. Closer inspection reveals however that this is the price of autogas!, the fuel is $1.12 a litre. Thank goodness we don't have to buy diesel.


The Victoria River from the high-level bridge on the highway

We continue for another ten kilometres or so to the Joe Creek picnic area. There's a "no camping" symbol at the entrance, but also a lot of people camping, so we pull up for the night.


Camping at the Joe Creek picnic area.

Mon 26 Aug

I plan to do the Joe Creek walk so stroll up to the information panel at the end of the picnic area. There are four couples camped between our truck and the panel, and it seems they have all done the walk.

Number one said that it's "really hard,...can't believe it's 1.7k...much longer than that...took us hours".

Number two commented that their kids won't believe that they did such a hard walk, "never again" they concluded.

Number three, "steep scree slopes...too busy looking at my feet to see the view...bloody hard".

Number four, well they didn't say anything, presumably too buggered from the walk.

Undeterred I pack a small camera, some water and an Uncle Toby's raspberry chewy bar thing, and head off.

Within half an hour I have climbed the steep part, negotiated the "rough" parts along the cliff line, and find myself standing at the far end of the loop, still looking for the hard bit.


Some shots of the Livistona Palms along the walk

I spot a potential photo for the big camera (naturally at the very farthest point of the walk) so return to the truck, kit up with the full camera back pack and large tripod, then do the walk again.

We've seen some rather large animal poos since we entered the park (one was so large I'll swear there's elephants here) but, as yet, we haven't seen the animals responsible.

Late at night I go for an evening stroll and I'm struck by how quite it is.

Too damn quiet!

I reach for our new 500,000 candle power rechargeable torch and hit the trigger.

There are eyes everywhere, pairs of beady pinpricks in the dark. As my own eyes adjust I can see the large grey bodies behind the eyes, and seconds later they take flight and run into the night.

They were probably cattle at 50 yards, but might have been elephants at 500, it's hard to tell in the dark.

Tue 27 Aug

Up before dawn (so what else is new?) to photograph some rocks at the Old Victoria River crossing.


The Old Victoria River crossing

On my return I notice a roo on the road ahead. It's obviously been hit and equally obviously not dead as it's head is up.

I stop and, not quite knowing what to do, pull it from the road by its tail. The poor little thing is stunned but seems OK so I decide to place it under a tree in the shade.

This takes some doing as it won't let me near at first, I settle down on the side of the road and slowly gain its confidence by allowing it to sniff my hands, then touch my fingers with its nose etc.

Eventually it allows me to scratch it and then stoke it.

At that point I try to pick it up, I get one hand under its chest but aren't quite sure were to put the other, eventually electing to grab its tail. Quite undignified for the roo I'm sure, but better than staying in the hot sun. If it is just stunned there's a possibility that it will recover given some time (very unlikely, roos usually die from shock even if they aren't badly hurt), but in the open there's no chance.

I return to the truck and we move camp down to the Old Victoria River crossing.

A couple of hours later I revisit my little marsupial mate with some water. It panics briefly until I let it smell my hand at which point it seems to remember that I'm friendly. I try to get it to drink but it either can't or won't. Not a good sign, and yet it is quite active when it comes to shaking the flies from its ears.

While sitting cross legged on the side of the road I get many strange looks from passing traffic, one entire busload of tourists waves, they're probably still wondering what the weird-looking bearded fellow and the kangaroo were doing on the side of the road. I smell the start of another urban myth, something along the lines of "there's this ranger up in the Territory who whispers to kangaroos".

The roo's in the shade but I'm in the sun getting quite hot. After a while I see a tea pot...not your average two-pint Royal Dalton mind you, this one is bright red and three-metres high, it's surrounded by enormous cups and the whole lot is floating along the highway.

I thought I was hallucinating, but the apparition was followed by several trucks, each pulling caravans, and each with "Stardust Circus" emblazoned on the side. Presumably the huge tea set was some kind of children's ride at the circus.

I'll come back to the roo soon, but something else interesting happened today.

Chris has been on at me for days to cut my hair and I've been putting it off, not that it's an unpleasant experience, I'm just lazy. The trouble is, since I started cutting my hair really short, I notice that it grows straight up in the middle and flat on the sides. The result is a Mohawk look if I let it get a little bit long.

And today I was sporting my unkempt-mohawk look.

Don't you just hate it when you're having a bad hair day and a film crew turns up to put you in their documentary? It happens to me all the time :-)

At around midday two 4x4s arrive, one towing a large caravan, the other a boat. Signwriting on each car indicates that they are a film crew doing a documentary.

They took one look at the truck and ask if we would mind being filmed for the doco. Heck no I don't mind, I'm a old pro at this by now.

We did the usual pieces about the truck, lifestyle etc. then one of their guys did some stuff to camera, followed by some static shots of the truck.

While they're having lunch we talk, it seems that the original script for the doco involved two couples getting married in the Australian outback. Unfortunately both couples split up half way through filming. Bummer!

No wonder they were so keen to get some more footage of anything half interesting. I hope they manage to salvage the project.

Now I better get somewhere with mobile phone reception, you just never know when Hollywood will ring, and I'd just die if they got that stupid message on my voice mail.

After they left I ride to the Escarpment Walk trail head, don my wide-brimmed hat, and stride off. The sign says not to do the walk in the afternoon because it's too hot. It's 2PM, I guess that's afternoon, but it's not far.

True enough it's not far, but it is very steep. The sign also said it's a 1.5 hour return walk but I'm at the top in twenty minutes. Puffing and panting to be sure, and I'm ready for a drink, but ration myself so as not to use all my water because I plan to drop by the kangaroo and see if I can get him to drink.


From the Escarpment walk you can see for miles, including down to the Victoria River road house and the highway.


A marvellous fig growing on the rocks as you near the top of the Escarpment walk

The view is nice, but only marginally worth the walk if you're dumb enough to do it at the hottest time of the day. I spend time exploring every nook and cranny to get my money's worth before returning to the road and riding back to the spot where I left the roo.

As I approach I see him out in the sun, head lying on the ground. His body is rock solid and eyes milky, the water I saved won't be needed.

Later in the afternoon we put a Russell Watson CD in the stereo and pour a couple of drinks. The sun dips below the gorge wall to the sound of "Nessun Dorma" performed by this great tenor.

It's been a heck of a day.

Wed 28 Aug

Today we just drive all day, the country is slowly turning into what I've seen in books about the Kimberley area, specifically the massive Boab trees.

These trees are huge, not the tall slender Boabs you see in Queensland, these are all bloated at the bottom with misshapen boughs poking out at all angles. Rather like genetically modified Tia Maria bottles with big fat arms. Not the world's most beautiful trees, but fascinating just the same.

We intended to go the Limestone Gorge camp in the larger part of Gregory National Park but it's closed so we continue down the highway, finally pulling into a rest area about 70k east of the WA border.

A traveller camped behind us told us about the Keep River campsite we're heading for tomorrow, "a fly infested cow paddock at the end of a really rough road" he said, "we broke two plates before turning around". That doesn't sound good.

You're not allowed to take any fruit or vegetables into WA and there's an inspection station at the border. Apparently they are very serious and will search all through your vehicle.

Most westbound people in the rest area will hit the border tomorrow. They know about the inspection of course, and have been eating up their fruit and veg, but still have a few things left so, rather than throw them out at the border, they hand them to the eastbound travellers.

Just as it gets dark I go for a walk, I'm not paying much attention to anything until I hear a rustle in the bushes just ahead.

Looking up I see two large horns, further inspection in the gloom reveals that the horns are attached to a bull (OK maybe it's a steer, but at this point we'd only just met and it seemed indelicate to ask).

"Who's a nice bull then?" I ask, while scanning the terrain for nearby trees. The animal just stared at me, so I saunter past, "don't walk in front of any road trains" I advise as I walk down the bitumen.

Minutes later a road train passes but I don't hear the thud of bovine-on-bullbar so assume he took my advice.

Thu 29 Aug

We arrive at the entrance to Keep River National Park and are met by a couple I helped with a battery charging problem yesterday.

At the time I said that I thought it was fixed but they would have to wait a day or so to see how the charging went.

Well they are very happy, it's working just fine.

They have just been into the campsite in the park but don't recommend the drive, "too rough with massive corrugations and low overhanging trees" they say. This doesn't sound good, especially after last night's opinion about the campground, so I extract a bike to go for a look.

The road is just fine, sure it's corrugated and we have to take it slow (1 hour 15 minutes to do 17 kilometres) but it's just a normal dirt road.

The campsite is quite pleasant and the view outstanding, it's at the base of a massive bluff with interesting rock formations, boab trees and toilets. What more could you ask for?

It just goes to show the futility of asking people "what's it like?", whether your talking movies, restaurants or bush camp sites. Unless you know the tastes of the person you're asking, you pretty much have to go and look for yourself.

I still haven't cut my hair and Chris was on about it again this afternoon. "I'll do it tomorrow" I said, "That's what you said yesterday, and the day before" she replied, "you're just procrastinating."

I don't think I am procrastinating, but will have to think about it.

It's Chris' birthday tomorrow, and not just any birthday, this is one of the biggies. Five Oh, that's 50 in the old money.

At this point I might let you in on a old programmers trick, if you express your age in HEX (base 16) you all of a sudden get much younger. For example in base 10 Chris is 50 years old, but in HEX she's only 32.

Anyway to get back to the story; it appears that I have forgotten this auspicious occasion...yes yes I know, it's hard to believe that a sensitive new age guy like me would do such a thing, but there you have it.

So what's a fellow to do?, we're in the middle of nowhere, I can't just duck down to the newsagent at sunup and buy a card. I'll design one on the computer and print it out, she'll never know the difference. And I have just the photo.

Ten minutes later I have the design finished, all I have to do is wait until she goes to bed so I can print it.

Hallmark, eat your heart out.

Fri 30 Aug

I gave Chris the card this morning, I don't think she noticed that it wasn't "store bought".


My big camera lined up on a promising image early in the morning. Note that you view the image upside down and back-to-front in these cameras.


Just after sunrise.


A lovely little meadow at the base of the mountain

I spend the day taking photographs, looking for places to take photographs and chatting to fellow campers about taking photographs. I also spend some time looking for the number plate from my motor bike.

The plate had obviously vibrated free on the corrugations yesterday, but I only notice when I return from a hot walk this afternoon. I am not in the mood to ride up and down the road looking for the thing but if I don't find it I'm sure it will be a real pain to get a replacement out here.

After 15 kilometres I finally spot it lying in the dirt, thank goodness.

I had scouted a spot for some afternoon photos earlier in the day and now return an hour or so before sunset.


A grove of Elephant Ear Wattles at set in amongst the beehive rocks.


Close-up of the wattles.


Some of the great rock formations.


Just a smidgen before sunset

As I finish taking photographs I notice a couple climbing the track with tripod and camera bag. They're a bit late I thought as I pack my gear.

Minutes later I meet them on the track, a nice couple from The Czech Republic, they knew they were late but only just arrived and thought it was worth a try.

Sat 31 Aug

We leave Keep River, but will certainly be back next time we're in this area.

Just a few kilometres from the park entrance is the NT/WA border and the fruit and vegetable inspection station.

All vehicles must stop and be searched for any signs of fruit or vegetables, even the peels from your onion storage bin. We'd heard all sorts of stories about sniffer dogs, turning mattresses over etc. and have been eating our spuds and anything else not allowed for days so we shouldn't have anything left to find.

The inspector simply asked us some questions then wanted to look "in a couple of drawers and the fridge". Maybe these guys are like customs officials, they have a nose for people hiding things and, if your not, then you don't get the full treatment.

Six kilometres after crossing the border we turn onto the Lake Argyle road. The scenery is very rugged and spectacular but we find the dam itself not all that interesting, and the "resort" not very clever at all.

Maybe if you're into boating or take one of the trips down the river it's better, but we just have lunch and leave.

An hour or so later we pull into the Kona Lakeside caravan park at Kununurra, it's a couple of kilometres out of town on the western side but a lovely location, right on the lake. If you have a small rig and don't want power you can actually camp with your toes dangling in the water.

Larger and/or powered rigs are still pretty close, we are only about ten metres from the lake's shore and, with our deck lowered, have a great view.

We cause quite a stir in the park when we arrive, there must be thirty people standing around oooing and aahing as we install the truck into its slot. Normally I enjoy the attention but I find it quit stressful with all those people around if the parking and/or levelling is difficult.

Sun 1 Sep

I am woken at 6AM by the sound of the float plane taxiing on the lake, I miss actually seeing the plane because I'm slow getting out of bed but, once up, decide to stay up.

It's getting late in the afternoon and I think I might get some photos down at the Diversion Dam, so I'm on my bike.

When I get to the dam I see two fellows fishing and think that there could be a photo op. I park the bike and start walking down the bank to get closer.

I see another photographer already down there, and at the same time see a police car stop on the road above me (the highway crosses the dam wall).

They alight and yell at the other photographer (presumably they hadn't seen the fishermen), telling her that it's dangerous down there and mentioning the abundant "access only for water company personnel" signs.

She starts to climb back up so they turn their attention to me, giving me that "you weren't planning to go down there too" look. I just stand there and counter with my best "what me? there's no way I'd go down there officer" expression.

It must have worked because they got back in their car and took off.

I waited at least ten minutes before climbing down.


Fishing at the Diversion Dam

Mon 2 Sep

The float plain is up early again this morning but this time I'm ready for him.


One of the float plains that do tours to Argyle Lake

Later in the morning I'm sitting in the lounge room typing on the computer when I look up at the lake. There's a large tuft of reeds floating by and I briefly think that it looks like a floating hide that bird photographers sometimes make. Then I realise that, in these crocodile prone waters, that probably wouldn't be a good idea.

I go back to my business.

Some time later I once again look up at the lake. This time I notice a log floating by. Funny, it's floating the other way. Bloody heck it's a croc.

I jump up and run to the lake's edge, sure enough, not five metres from the shore I can see about 5-6 feet of saurian back and snout.

By this time a couple of other campers, on seeing my attempts to mime a large chomping mouth to Chris to let her know what I was watching, join me and we follow the croc for a while.

Eventually he submerges.

Later in the day some youths were canoeing in the lake, while skylarking they swamped a canoe and two of the lads landed in the lake, right where the croc a been a few hours before.

They weren't worried, it was probably a freshy anyway.


A sunset cruise leaves Kununurra

Tue 3 Sep

We leave the caravan park, do a little shopping in town, and top up both the diesel and petrol tanks. Then we drive out to the diversion dam and pull up in the Lions Park for lunch.

After lunch we kick back and relax.

Something wakes me an hour or so later but at first I'm not sure what. Then I realise that the sound made by the water rushing from the dam's gates is much louder. I look at the river and notice that the branches that were a couple of feet proud of the water before, are now submerged.

We walk to the banks and look up at the dam, sure enough they have partially opened another gate to release more water. As we watch it slowly closes, shutting the flow off like something that shuts water off really quickly.

Within minutes the river level recedes. We had just witnessed a one-foot opening of one of the dozen or so gates on the dam. Just imagine what a massive flow there must be here in the wet season.

Later, towards sunset, we move down the highway and pull into the rest area 12k out of town.

Wed 4 Sep

The turnoff to Parry Creek Rd (the back way to Wyndham) is only a kilometre up the road from the rest area and, as there's a campsite we read about at Buttons Gap on this road, we take the turnoff.

On reaching the Middle Springs track I take it, it's sandy but in 6x6 mode we have no problems until we reach some low tree branches.

There's no way through them but the ground on both sides of the track seems quite hard so I decide to skirt the trees by driving around them.

The truck pig roots a bit while climbing up the sandy side of the track and I think we're OK but the ground that was quite firm to an 80kg person is not so firm for a 14-tonne truck.

We start pig rooting again so I stop to survey the situation. Many of the wheels have buried themselves six inches into the soft dirt, If I planned to go in a straight line I could repeatedly run up my existing compressed tracks, making a little headway each time. But we have to turn sharply to get around the trees.

We decide it's not worth the effort to see a water hole that's probably dry anyway so, with some ado, I reverse down the track to a wider spot and turn around.

The next water hole is Black Rock Falls, the track is sandy once again but no low trees so we get in. Earlier in the season this would be quite something I'm sure but today there is just a stagnant pool at the base of the cliff. We eat breakfast and leave.

Finally we reach the turnoff to Buttons Crossing, the last hundred yards or so is very washed out and too rough, I investigate further down another branch of the track but it ends in a dead end with a turn-around area and no view of the river, so we set up camp at the top of the wash out.

Later a 4x4 drives up, spots the rough part, backs off, and parks. We get talking to them, it seems they have four-wheel-driven just about everywhere.

They tell us about an incident up this way in the late eighties whereby some nutcase killed several people, and then about a gunman currently on the loose in Litchfield National Park. Hmmm, that caravan park in town is looking better all the time.

They leave and we settle down to listen to some music and watch the fading light.

We're no sooner comfortable when we hear a vehicle. Bugger, we thought we'd have the place to ourselves.

The car approaches and drives towards us, it's an old Landcruiser going faster than one would think appropriate for the track.

It veers off and heads down the dead end I investigated before. Within seconds there's another vehicle, this time it's a new white Landcruiser, it has a lot of signwriting on the side but the word that caught my eye was "POLICE".

The second vehicle was also travelling fast and it also veered off to follow (or should that be "chase") the first.

Knowing that they had both just entered a dead end we waited a few minutes expecting some kind of result, but nothing happened. I get on the roof with the binoculars but can see no sign of them.

We wait a few more minutes but finally it gets too much for me so I walk down the track.

Tyre tracks at the turnaround indicate that one vehicle (presumably the first one) entered the area, did a high speed 360, then drove down an overgrown track I'd missed before.

Another vehicle (the second?) drove straight across the clearing and down the same overgrown track.

I walk down the track for as long as I dare (well actually until my beer was empty) but encounter nothing and return.

NEWSFLASH: Two hours later and quite literally as I'm writing this diary entry I hear a police siren. Seconds later both vehicles shoot up the washed out track and disappear into the night, towards the main road.

That was either one of the longest police chases in history, or someone's just fooling around.

Thu 5 Sep

Chris was up early, she went for a walk to find out where the "big chase" went last night. She walked for an hour and just before she returned I heard two gunshots.

She heard them as well and, as soon as she got back to the truck, we upped anchor and headed off.

It's about 60k of rough corrugated road to the Parry's Lagoons area, where we hope to find somewhere to camp.


Creek crossing on the back road to Wyndham

The road is long and slow (actually the road is just long, it's us that's slow) and at about 2PM we reach a spot where the road almost touches the Ord River. We pull in for lunch.

The spot we select has a nice view of the river but also quite a few human artefacts. There's a transmitter antennae of some kind that is well past its use-by date and several crock traps. The traps don't appear to be very serviceable either.


Croc traps near the river

While exploring the traps we hear another gunshot, this one's quite close, it's time to leave.

Not far down the road we see a sign to the Mambi Island boat ramp and turn down the track. This is a very pleasant camping spot with a large grassed flat area running along the riverside for at least several hundred metres but probably a lot more. Certainly for as far as we were willing to walk.

There is however a very steep decent to the flats with a sharp rampover, not suitable for large and/or low vehicles.


View of House Roof Hill from near the Mambi Island campsite

After six hours driving on a crappy corrugated gravel road we reach Parry Creek Farm and book in for the night.

It's a bit pricey at $16 for an unpowered site but a welcome oasis nonetheless with a swimming pool and nice clean amenities.

The owner of the resort works around the place in holy shorts and a t-shirt that must have seen better days ten years ago. Apparently though he's a multi-millionaire who started as a shearer and a pearl diver and now has "a lot of interests", according to the caretaker.

And speaking of the caretaker, he and his wife came here for the last wet season and are still here.

After dark a group of 4x4s, all with camper-trailers, arrived and set up camp. There're a bunch of workmates on a six-week see-all-we-can trip.

One of the trailers has a broken spring hanger, it's a new trailer but obviously not up to the rigors of the outback roads. This is a common problem in central Australia, the corrugations, and generally appalling condition of the roads, breaks vehicles every day. Trailers and caravans are particularly prone to self destruct out here as they are usually made to be light, not strong.

Fri 6 Sep

We've stayed in a few caravan parks over the past eleven months and it seems that, no matter how nice a caravan park is on the surface, there's always the same underlying problem, a noisemaker, someone who thinks that you're a long time at peace when you're dead and, as such, you don't need any peace now.

What with the piercing voices, taxiing floatplanes, radios, stereos, TVs, discussions outside our window, empty trailers, empty wheely bins, whipper snippers, lawn mowers, outboard motors, motorbikes, garbage trucks, kids, backhoes, posthole diggers, people rummaging in cupboards, people dropping pots and pans, sliding camper doors, etc etc is it any wonder we prefer to camp in the bush?

I just want a little peace and bloody QUIET!

We make a late start (after being woken at 5:30 by an empty trailer rattling over the dirt road right next to the truck, see above) leaving at 10:30 by which time it's already 36 degrees.

The road is even worse than yesterday, not just corrugations but also sharp rocks and sandy patches, it's slow going but eventually we reach the turnoff to Telegraph Hill and Marlgu Billabong.


Ruins at Telegraph Hill.


The view from Telegraph Hill, note the truck parked at the lagoon

An hour after leaving Parry's Creek we drive into the car park at the billabong, total distance, 12 kilometres.

We plan to spend a couple of hours here then continue on to Wyndham, but it's such a nice spot we decide to stay.

The billabong is a renowned birdwatching wetlands area, there is an elevated boardwalk leading to a hide with well positioned seats and information panels so us non-ornathologists can figure out what we're looking at.

As we cross the boardwalk I look down through the mesh floor and spot a pelican just a foot or so below. It's alive but just sitting there, this is not normal behaviour and we conclude that it must be sick. As there's nothing we can do for it we continue to the hide.


Watching the birds from the very well constructed hide.


Water lilies viewed from inside the hide.

Neither Chris nor I are particularly into bird watching but we spend hours with camera and binoculars watching the stately storks, haughty herons and the daft ducks.

The ducks in particular are a joy to watch, with their preening, splashing, squabbling and constant putting of bums in the air.


Ducks fooling around.


Black Necked stork, more commonly known as a Jabiru.


Pied Heron looking for dinner.


Radjah Shelduck with somewhere to go

A large pile of feathers on the grass bank invites investigation. I turns out to be a dead pelican, the first of the day.


This Pelican's seen better days

Late in the afternoon we decide to ride along a track that appears to follow the lagoon.

As we ride we pass several dry clay pans that are presumably lagoons in the wet season. In these clay pans we see more dead pelicans.

After stopping to look at them I am about to ride off when I look a few metres up the track to see an enormous snake crossing. With its head in the grass on one side its tail is still in the grass on the other side. Given that its body is S-shaped and not straight, I'd say it was at least ten feet long.

Now that's a big snake. Advice since indicates that it may have been a Taipan, one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

Further down the track I get a whiff of something dead but we shoot past before I think about it. We continue for a few kilometres but the track doesn't look like it's going anywhere interesting so we return.

This time when I get the "whiff of death" I stop to investigate.

We're only metres from a small billabong, I get off the bike and follow my nose which leads me to some dense bushes on the water's edge. I push through the bushes, there's a small explosion, and I see the rear five feet or so of a croc disappear under the slimy water.

This is not a nice place, the billabong's surface is covered in ooze, the banks are just half-dry mud, dead trees emerge from the mud, their skeletal branches draped in dry grass and there, right in the middle, was the source of the smell. A recently dead pelican.


Dead Pelican Lagoon

Ripples and murmurings in the ooze suggest that the croc I'd seen hadn't gone very far. We leave.

As we return to the truck it's nearly sunset so we grab a camera and return to the hide. For a while we sit and watch the sun reflecting from the lake, then it's gone.


Wothahellizat soaks up some evening rays.


Sunset over the billabong

Later I decide we should put our new torch to work and go croc spotting.

We go to the boardwalk and scan the darkness with the torch, we're looking for eyes. We see nothing at first but then I spot a gleam from along our side of the lake.

We scan again and when the beam returns to the spot I saw a reflection before it's still there, but has moved a bit. That's a croc.

Over the next ten minutes or so we scan the lake, always returning to the spot where we see the eyes and, each time, they are a little closer.

Getting bored with this we go into the hide and scan the other side of the lake. Sure enough there's another pair of eyes.

After three days driving on bad roads, poking our noses down even worse tracks only to find stagnant water holes and camping in less-than nice spots we finally stumble across Marlgu Billabong, a real gem.

TIP: There are two roads into Marlgu Billabong, one is shown as a major road leaving the highway about 21k south of Wyndham, it's really corrugated. The other is shown as a 4WD track starting about 12k south of Wyndham. At the time of our visit (late dry season) the "4WD" track is in much better condition than the main entrance road.

When you turn off the highway you will see the large flat-topped mountain (House Roof Hill) on the horizon and a smaller hill (Telegraph Hill) below and to the right of it.

The lagoon is at the base of Telegraph Hill, as you cross about 7k of open plain there are several offshoots to the track, try to keep heading in the direction of the hill.

Sat 7 Sep

Up before dawn to take some photos on a nearby claypan.

While inspecting the dried mud I notice that it's covered in footprints, thousands of preserved prints, mostly of birds. To the left I see the claw and slide marks of a crocodile, also etched firmly in the hard earth.

I realise that this is how fossils are made, now all we need is a little volcanic activity and the marks will be preserved for millions of years.

When I finished I decide to revisit the dead pelican lagoon, I carefully approach the water's edge to look at the pelican. It's entire surface is a writhing mass of maggots, pretty revolting really, but I take a photo anyway.


The dead pelican

Not wanting to stay close to the water too long (there's crocs in them thar lagoons) I elect to crawl through the bushes rather than return along the bank.

On my return to the bike I realise that I'm no longer wearing my glasses, the ones recently purchased in Darwin.

As I pretty much need them to see clearly through the camera, and I'd just taken a photo, I reasoned that they must be in the bushes I'd crawled through.

For an hour or so I retraced my steps to no avail.

I returned to the truck and broke the news to Chris. She proceeds to analyse the problem in true Sherlock Holmes style (actually "Sherlock" used to be her nickname because she is good at analysing things, and her surname used to be Holmes).

We retrace all my movements for the morning, even draw a mudmap to jog my memory and walk much of the trail with heads down, looking.

Eventually, in true Holmesian style, we eliminate all the impossibles, leaving only one place. The bushes I crawled through.

We return to the dead pelican lagoon and I repeat my movements several times (against all crocodile safety advice), then I remember that I had in fact lined up on a photo and decided that I needed a different lens, it was after this that I crawled through the bushes and noticed the missing bifocals.

This now narrowed the search area to only a few metres, an area I had already searched several times, scouring every square inch of ground and even the trees as I often place the glasses on top of my head. What I hadn't done however is look in between these two levels, what if the glasses had been knocked off but they never reached the ground?

Once again I retraced my steps, this time looking in the undergrowth a foot or two off the ground. Sure enough, there they were, hanging from a twig.

Three hours we'd been looking but it was worth it, we'd only just spent a couple of hundred dollars on new lenses.

At about noon we finally pull into Wyndam. The advertising blurb for the town uses the slogan "Wyndham - see it to believe it", well I've seen it, and I still can't quite believe it.

There's derelict houses and rubbish everywhere. Out past the Crocodile Farm there's an area several acres in size just littered with every imaginable kind of junk, old fridges, cars, 44 gallon drums, parts of buildings, glass, you name it.


Rubbish just ot of town. The Bastion is in the background (where the Five Rivers lookout is situated).

Just before you get to the rubbish there are a couple of signs reading "No through road" and "Wrong way, go back". I guess they don't want the tourists to see this lot.

Frankly I don't think the town is worth visiting, with one exception, the Five Rivers lookout on top of the Bastion. It's outstanding and well worth the detour from the Kununurra intersection.

We ride up to the lookout and like it so much I go back to the truck and return with a picnic lunch.


The view from Five Rivers lookout

Two parasailors are hovering just off the cliff, it is quite fascinating to watch them soaring with the many Whistling Kites.


Parasails over Five Rivers lookout.

Later we go looking for a 6x6 MAN motorhome that's rumoured to be in residence here. A service station owner remembered the truck, "I don't think they even stayed a day, eh" he said. As we walked across the forecourt to the bike I said to Chris that the same will apply to us.

I had seen a potentially nice photo on the mudflats just out of town, so I ride out to make a couple of exposures. On my return I buy a slab of VB ($39 ouch, I should have stocked up more in Darwin) and we leave town. Half an hour later we pull into Maggie Creek rest area, a very pleasant spot.

Later we feel that we should have spent more time so we read the Wyndham brochure to see what we could have done while in town. As it happens we did see most things.

Sun 8 Sep

Breakfast at The Grotto then we drive to the intersection of the Great Northern and Victoria highways.

While relaxing at the rest area we notice a cyclist arrive. "Rather him than me" I think. He wanders around the rest area for a while then comes over to the truck.

"Is there any water here?" he asks. We decide that there isn't but offer to fill his containers. He's grateful as it's a long way to anywhere out here and the temperature must be at least 38. He was told that water was available at this rest area, whether the informant was wrong or having him on I don't know but it could have caused him a real problem.

He is from Belgium and has 12 months off work to cycle around New Zealand and Australia. With only four months left he doesn't think he'll get right around Australia but no matter, it's been a great experience.

He's 37 years old but looks more like 27, tall, slim, well muscled and with about 2% body fat. Chris!, brush the cobwebs off those bicycles, we're goin' a ridin'.

I have to get an e-mail off and there's no CDMA reception here, however I know there is in Kununurra 45 kilometres away and probably closer, so I put laptop and phone into a backpack and head off on the bike (the motor bike that is, I'll start using the push bike tomorrow).

There's a large mountain range about ten kilometres from the rest area and no chance of getting any reception from Kununurra while on the wrong side of that, so I ride until I'm through the range.

After 20k I encounter another rest area and pull up under some shade. With the laptop on the bike seat and the phone hung over a low branch I just manage to get a one-bar signal. I quickly send the e-mail to Reader's Digest (Digest readers stay tuned, it looks like we'll be in one of their stories before long).

I return to the truck just as the Belgian cyclist is leaving, he's going our way and can do 200k a day, he'll probably beat us to the next stop.

We pack up, stow the motor bike and leave, this time turning away from Kununurra and towards Halls Creek. It's ten kilometres before we catch up with our cycling friend.

An hour later we pull into the new road house at Doon Doon, it's only just opened and they don't have any fuel yet (not that we need any), it's stinking hot so we use their picnic facilities rather than sit inside the truck. Then go into the roadhouse.

It's airconditioned, oooo that's nice, we do have an airconditioner but never really think it's hot enough to turn it on, but it sure is nice to be cool sometimes.

The roadhouse had been set up by the nearby Doon Doon aboriginal community, however there's a white couple managing the place and no sign of any black workers. I wonder if there's any real intent to create employment for the aboriginals or do they just get a handout to create a business then continue to sit around under the trees all day.

The manager is a motorhomer (we saw their coaster parked out the back when we arrived), she's been here four months, set the entire thing up and is now running it. She is supposed to have a three-year contract but is constantly fobbed off by the community when she asks for the contract.

She is hankering to be near the water and eyeing off the workers wanted adds in The Wanderer so I suspect they'll be no manager here before long.

Also there's been a stuff up with the approval for the fuel storage and delivery systems. The standards have changed since the roadhouse was built and it doesn't match the new rules. With a cost of $100,000 to upgrade it won't happen. There's an appeal running that will hopefully allow them to serve fuel with their current systems.

What with all the above I wouldn't plan on buying fuel at Doon Doon when next you're passing this way.

We continue down the highway, the scenery is fantastic with rugged mountain ranges, interesting hills that appear to be just piles of boulders and a massive balancing rock on top of a hill.

As the sun lowers these features look great in the warm light but somehow I just don't seem to have the energy to stop and take some photos.

We're aiming for the Bow River rest area but when we reach the river we see no sign of it so continue on, looking for any flat spot. Within a few kilometres we find a small area at Telegraph Creek and pull over, totally buggered.

After a cold drink or two we relax in our recliners, I wake up at around nine to find that Chris had already gone to bed. We decide to skip dinner in favour of more shuteye.

Mon 9 Sep

Not far to go today so there's no rush to pack up. By late morning we're in Turkey Creek, we buy some apples and head off.

An hour or so later we pull into the rest area located a few hundred metres past the Bungles entrance.

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