Well here we go again. After an interesting and, at times, uncomfortable week in Darwin for repairs we are back on the road. We had two days in Kakadu staying at the Kakadu Lodge and caravan park with a pool as part of the hot weather survival plan. It was an easy drive out on good bitumen roads. We had lunch at the Bark Hut, an interesting stopover where we booked the afternoon Guluyambi cruise on the East Alligator River. We had to be there by 1430 but, thanks to the 130 km/h speed limit, we were able to setup the campers and arrive at the boat ramp with time to spare. The cruise was excellent. It is operated by traditional owners as a journey of learning in many parts with great explanations of all aspects of Aboriginal life in Kakadu and Arnhem Land. We completed the day with sunset at Ubirr overlooking the sandstone ramparts of the Arnhem Land escarpment and the slowly drying swamps that support a huge range of wildlife. Unfortunately Rob lost his new and favourite hat when the boat sped up on the return journey so there is probably a well-dressed croc out there wearing an AfroBlonde hat! Returning to camp in the dark was a test of nerves to some degree but marked the end of a great day.
We started at the Bowali visitors’ centre for updates on roads open or closed and advice from the friendly and helpful staff on what to do for the day. The NT is big but it is put into perspective when we were told that Kakadu is the size of Wales. It takes a long time to get to places so two days were a mere sniff of what you can see and do there which is all the more reason to come back for a month when the weather is cooler and the crocs have been cleaned out of the various waterholes to allow some swimming. On the way back to camp I commented that the big anvil-head clouds are generally the portent of a tropical shower but we had seen them over the last couple of weeks and no rain had come so we dove into the pool to cool down then started cooking dinner. There was a sudden rush of strong wind and the bats starting flying around in a frenzy. Shortly after that, boom, crash down it came, flooding the campsite and forcing us inside to finish cooking. The temperature cooled down a few degrees but the humidity went up and everything felt very clammy .
Packing up a wet and muddy camp is not a lot of fun but we set off on the next leg of this adventure. Today we headed back to Katherine then west towards the Kimberley. We had hoped to camp at Edith Falls but the flashing sign just off the highway advised all sites were full. A call confirmed this, much to our disappointment, so we refuelled at Katherine and then headed out to find a camp along the road. We spent the night at the Limestone Creek rest stop which was a nice spot with reasonable shade for us free campers as well as good loos to add to the comfort of the place. Tonight the weather already felt less humid albeit still hot.
We were packed and on the road around 0900 heading to Gregory NP to camp for the night. Refuelled at Victoria River roadhouse which was a nice spot. We noticed a road report for the park dated mid-April saying all the 4WD tracks were closed but no update five weeks later. We aired down at the Durack memorial as we were heading into unknown country, the northernmost point of the Binn’s track which we already knew would not be a nicely graded road by any means. We had a look around the old Bullita homestead; you’ve got to hand it to the early settlers of this country. They’re certainly much hardier than we are today. Sadly the entry signs confirmed the 4WD tracks remained closed so we headed into Bullita campsite near the river. A bit tight for anything bigger than an Ulti but we were in, set up and the solar panels topping up the batteries by 1530. The two RedArc 108w amorphous panels do a great job keeping our LifePO4 batteries in peak condition thanks to the BMS.
Certainly gives us more time off the grid regardless of the CPAP machine. If only we could carry some more water. We still hadn’t seen a crocodile in the wild but the signs warned us they were there (it’s the East Baines river at that point). The cattle started making very weird sounds after dark so we armed ourselves with multiple torches and went down to the dry rocky river crossing to see what was there. All we saw were a few lights in the water which might have been crocodiles’ eyes or might have been something else entirely!!
We set off to the Keep River NP and the Policeman’s Hole (now called Jernam) to camp for the night. This was recommended by Matt Wyatt who runs the ARB store in Alice Springs. I also picked up a nice new headlight on the way through which has replaced my 15-year-old one. After airing up at Timber Creek we took something of a scenic route visiting the various lookouts, Bradshaw Bridge and finally hit the turn-off to the park. The lollipop lady advised us on the best campsite and they were resheeting the park roads so we found ourselves on a dirt freeway of sorts but still plenty of dust. Her recommendation was Jernam, the northen-most of the sites, which was certainly well setup and fantastic scenery. Note to self, this is one more NT park with excellent facilities to spend more time exploring. Note to SA Government purse string holders, how about trying to do better please.
WA here we come! Today we moved to the Lake Argyle Resort near the dam wall, a great spot for exploring this end of the lake. We had to undergo a search of vehicle, especially fridges, at the quarantine station but with excellent planning we had nothing to declare as all banned goods had been consumed. It was then a short drive into the resort and with the shock of setting our clocks back 90 minutes which meant we arrived before we set off from the NT side. The rest of the day was about showering, swimming in the famous infinity pool (which was a bit cold but refreshing in the heat of the day) plus a bit of cleaning, maintenance and not doing much at all for a nice change. These sort of breaks are vital to maintain sanity on a trip of this magnitude. Some things we have found are the fridges have not been performing well in the high heat and humidity. Have I mentioned heat and humidity previously?? The Waeco in the car had a decent amount of water in the bottom, which had obviously come from condensation on stuff being put in and taken out each day. We were even encouraged to clean our cars and campers, which we took up, but only to remove the accumulated dust so we didn’t get brown clothes immediately we touched either of them (for a few days anyway). We had to refuel at $1.55 so suck it up you lot where you have discounted fuel. Two other things we are liking a lot are our new DO35 hitch and stone stomper. Both are excellent at what they do and IMHO best of breed. Powered sites mean we are charging up all battery powered equipment but there was no mobile phone coverage there so we were relying on SPOT to keep family and friends informed that all was OK.
We drove around looking at the dam wall and several lookouts then went to the Durack museum, which is a fantastic window into the history of the area, up to and including the dam itself. The video is a must-see and helped prepare us for the highlight of the trip so far, the sunset cruise on Lake Argyle. The cruise bus picked us up at 1415 and after a short and informative tour we boarded the Kimberley Durack. The boat is named after one of the famous Durack family and the man who envisioned harnessing all the wet season water he saw run to the sea every year. Sadly he died one year prior to work on the dam commencing. The cruise is a ‘must do’ which is not something we say often but it is that good in all ways. The double J team, Josh and Jack, kept us informed and entertained as well as ensuring we were well fed and watered. More on that bit later! We saw crocodiles basking in the sun, they fed catfish and archerfish which were in abundance and we saw some shy little wallaroos on one of the islands too. This was a sunset cruise including drinks and nibbles with something of a twist. For the majority this was all served in the water.
Picture, if you will, a boatload of folk bobbing around supported by pool noodles having a chat, drinking beer or wine and eating off the feeding device, a cleverly constructed framework consisting of a lifesaver buoy with polystyrene insert holding dip, crackers and glasses of champagne, bobbing around us. One thing I found was the need for a high level of dexterity to film using the Go-pro, stay afloat, have nibbles and all in all just enjoy myself. Hard life I know!
On the way back to Bamboo Cove the boat stopped to allow us to watch the nearly full and typically orange Kimberley moon rise over the mountain range with its reflection mirrored on the waters of the lake so we had our first stairway to the moon of the trip, a fantastic way to finish the day.