We hit the main highway around noon and quickly headed south to the Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) National Park. The park is situated 55 km from the main road and this "little" stretch took 3 hours. The road is by far the worst we have done, but not surprisingly, because of sand. The problem was a road which is totally washed out, lots of large rocks and gullies, many and some deep river and creek crossings. We were very glad to finally arrive at the park.
The Bungle Bungles are a relatively new park (1987) which has some spectacular scenery, and a number of gorges and chasms. It is interesting to note that the majority of people see this park from the air. Not only is the road a killer but there is also nothing there once you get there. Whatever you need you had better bring yourselves. The only thing you can buy in the park are souvenirs (postcards, T-shirts etc.). As soon as we got into the park we could see the Purnululu massif a huge limestone plateau rising above the surrounding country. What we didn't see were the very distinctive bread loaf shaped hills for which this park is known. Oh well, we'll find them.
We spent a week camping and hiking the different valleys and gorges of the massif in the north end of the park were most of the walks were. The gorges were interesting and quite scenic and well worth the hikes. In order to get to the south end of the park we had to hitch a ride since the road in consisted of 12km of sand (our worst enemy). Lo and behold here were the distinctive beehive shaped banded rock formations for which the park is known. We spent the day hiking in and around the various waterfalls (dry) and pools found on this end of the park and when we left, with the sun low in the sky all the colors came out. It was a fascinating sight.
From Purnululu we headed back to the main highway and Kununurra. The next day we headed east stopping to have a look at lake Argyle which was created when they put a dam on the Ord River. The lake covers and area of 700 square kilometers and holds nine times more water than the Sydney Harbour1. After having a look at the lake and splitting a watermelon we continued to Katherine and then Darwin.
In Darwin we planned to stay a few days before heading to Kakadu National Park. We spent the first few days fixing problems with the bikes. The Gibb River road and the road to the Bungle Bungles had caused one of the front fork seals to start leaking on each bike. There was also some minor maintenance to be done.
We then started to head to the library each day for over a week where sorted through a lot of pictures and Cäcilia wrote a couple of articles and we did a bit of reading. Darwin turned out to be a great town to get some rest and recuperation after our time in the bush. We enjoyed the stay in Darwin, perfect weather and some beautiful beaches (no swimming, danger of both crocs and box jellyfish), again lots of parks and some interesting shops. We looked around their famous Thursday marked at Mindlin beach, but found only the usual knik knacks, although I must say they have the most varied assortment of food stalls we have ever seen. Any kind of food you can think of can be had for a fairly reasonable price (we stuck to the A$4.95 lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, nothing cheaper to be had anywhere).
We also checked on shipping the bikes to Asia, for A$250 each we can get the bikes to Singapore, uncrated, which is a good deal. After having spent 3 weeks we decided we had better get on the road again. So we got the last few things we needed and headed to Kakadu national park.
Kakadu national park was tremendous. We spent a week camped on a billabong near the middle of the park, and from there went to the various sights. The first was the visitors center where there was information on the park and the various activities as well as a number of videos. The videos ranged from National Geographic's story on the park as well as some on the life and habitat of animals in the park, to one which was about an Aborigine talking about how life was in the park before the "white fellas" came.
Some of the most interesting sights in the park for us were the paintings made by the Aborigines as well as their various dwellings. It is really incredible to think that for over 20,000 years they have been living here and passing on their culture through the paintings they made in the sandstone walls on cliffs above the flood plains. We spent a number of days at various locations being led around by rangers as they told us about the way the Aborigines existed in this part of the world.
One of the things the park is know for is its saltwater crocodiles. We went to a couple of places where the ranger said it might be possible to see them, unfortunately we saw none. The only way to be sure to see crocodiles was to take a river tour, which we then did. At 6:00 we watched the sun rise over the floodplain while in a boat along with 20 other people. The second thing we saw after the sunrise was crocodiles. First one then a few minutes later another, then a few, but never or rarely together. Apparently they are very territorial and fight for space, but every 20 meters or so we would see them on the bank and in the water. The river cruise though, was much more than just about crocs, for two hours we were shown the incredible amount and diversity of wildlife which depends on this river system. The park is the only place in the world where a complete river system is totally within park boundaries, allowing it to support an extraordinarily rich and varied amount of wildlife. Definitely an experience of a life time.
Each day after having enjoyed one or the other of the sights of Kakadu, we hurried to our campsite in order to cook, wash and shower before dark. Having spent some time with the flies of the outback, those here were not nearly as annoying or as prevalent, but what was really annoying were the mosquitos. As soon as the sun would set, they would come out in a quantity unimaginable. The only place where we have been that could compare would have to be Labrador in Canada, where not only at night but even during the day you would be assailed by black flies, mosquitos and an astounding variety of pesky little critters. Since then we have only had to do battle with the legendary outback flies. Though being pesky and truly annoying they couldn't make you run for your tent, like the mosquitos of Kakadu.
After having spent a very interesting and educational week in Kakadu we headed to Katherine. While shopping for supplies we ran into Doris. We had first seen Doris in Broome over a month ago travelling on a GS100 around Australia. She was headed east and should have been on the east coast by now, yet here she was, and her bike was pretty beat up to say the least. Apparently we had overtaken here on the Gibb River road where she had been recuperating after crashing and breaking her collarbone. Strangely enough she did it near the Ellenbrae station, which we had passed up on our way to Jacks waterhole. Ellenbrae station was were we would have had to go back to get fuel if we hadn't managed to scrounge some at Jacks waterhole. Had we gone back we would have met here there, such is life. She was about to head into Katherine gorge which we elected to skip (the Karijini syndrome) on our way down to Alice Springs. She was also headed that way and additionally we found out she was planning to take the Plenty highway to Mt. Isa, the same route we proposed to take after having seen the sights in Alice Springs and Ayers rock. Chances were good we would see each other on the way.
With that we left Doris in Katherine and headed south to Alice Springs. Along the way we stopped briefly at Devils Marble. A number of rounded rocks piled around the landscape, many sitting precariously on top of each other. Great more rocks! Ok, they weren't all that bad, but nothing really spectacular. Onwards to Alice Springs.
In our minds Alice Springs was still a frontier town with camels and horses wandering the streets. Yeah, we have heard about the casino, the resort and other signs of civilization, but we still hoped. No such luck, this was a modern town with all the convenience of modern life. A town whose position made it an oasis both for the tourist and the local ranchers. At least we had some cheap food, you guessed it Pizza Hut lunch buffet. When we got there it was early afternoon and we could already tell it was going to get pretty cold. Ever since reaching Tennant Creek the day before we had noticed a big drop in temperature and a very cool wind blowing from the east. After the temperatures in the mid 30's C we weren't used to this cooler weather. That night it hit us, it got down to 4 degrees Celsius, we haven't had temperatures this cold since Canada, brrr.
We spent a few days looking around The Alice (The Alice, never just Alice), we did a lot of browsing for Didjeridoos and other souvenirs, but couldn't decide on anything. Around The Alice there are a number of sights to take in, such as Emily Gap, Corroborree Rock and Trephina Gorge, Serpentine Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, and many more. The rear tires we purchased in Darwin were finally mounted, and I also did an oil change on Stybba, and torqued down the oil pan. Seems both bikes are leaking oil from various places, when we get to Sydney I will have to do quite a bit of work and change out a lot of seals and gaskets, can't wait.
Once the bikes were ready we spent a couple of days at Ormiston Gorge which has a very nice permanent waterhole. We did a walk around the area (12km) which was very scenic, lots of hills and spectacular cliffs to see as you climbed up along the side of the gorge and then over and around the back coming back through were all the water passes in the wet to the permanent waterhole were we started. All the other were short and rather less spectacular.
In The Alice we had secured permission to travel along the Mereenie Loop road which goes through Aboriginal land to Kings Canyon. We went across it and in places was pretty bad but for the most part not bad, unfortunately there really isn't too much too see on this road so we were glad to make it to the other side.
The next day we visited Kings Canyon in the rain, for overnight it had started to drizzle. We took the 6km walk around the rim of the Canyon and for once we were very impressed. At the top of the cliff we could look down to the sheer walls of the canyon. As we walked along the rim we discovered an eerie landscape of strangely shaped rock formations with names like the Lost city and Garden of Eden. The most spectacular thing was the view down to the waterhole and the waterfall. The side of the limestone cliff is totally sheer and in places undercut by 10 meters. We were actually standing ten meters out from the actual cliff looking down the side of a cliff which was smooth like a sheet of paper. This was no place for someone who suffers from vertigo. They say the last time part of the cliff fell away was 60 years ago. As we came around the other side of the valley we climbed down over the river and then up the other side, from here the Lost City was very evident. Round rock outcrops many which holes in the side so that they looked like windows of houses or at least dwellings of some sort. The view of the sheer cliff was even more impressive from the other side. All in all a very impressive experience. It must even be more spectacular in the sun since then the colors of the sandstone would be much more prominent.
On returning to our campground we went and had a look at the camels which they had. For a fee we could have gone on a camel ride, but we both declined, and spent half and hour admiring the beasts. We were trying to see how Robyn Davidson could grow to love these camels so much that she attributed human qualities to them in her book Tracks. We can only assume that one would need to spend a lot, of time with them, but of course why would anyone want to. Oh, well what do we now, we certainly found no unexpected affection for these camels. They also had a pen with a lot of kangaroos, and every couple of hours a tour bus would come and take a break at this station, letting all the passengers out they headed to the paddock and started taking pictures of kangaroos.
All Material is ©2010 by Khim Rojas and Fernweh Adventures