I’ve always liked Spot the Difference puzzles. If you were to compare photographs posted three months ago, to those today, I’m sure you’d be able to spot a few differences for yourself. You’ll be too polite to mention that I have put on some weight and my hair is out of shape but you may notice the changing SCENERY.
We have left behind the stunning red dust and entered very lush green pastures. There is no shortage of water in the creeks and lakes and the main crop growing in the fields is sugar cane.
The beaches are attractive, especially fringed with palm trees, but there are warning signs about crocodiles and stingers so very few places for swimming. Most campsites have swimming pools and I continue to make use of these as much as possible but the water is much cooler than I’ve been used to.
This brings me on to the second main difference – THE WEATHER. We Brits love to talk about the weather! Just in case you’re wondering, we are back with comfortable temperatures of around 30 degrees by day, 20 by night. We are still wearing shorts and tee shirts and haven’t needed to get the duvet out just yet. There’s been some rain but it doesn’t last long. We are so pleased to be able to get out on our bikes again. Park Runs are also back on the agenda so hopefully I’ll shift some of the extra weight!
TRAFFIC is another difference we’ve spotted. There’s so much more of it and sadly this means that there is less waving. Mike and I had both perfected our wave to other road users but Queenslanders don’t appear to have the same interest in waving frantically at every passing vehicle!
The other big difference we have spotted has to do with PEOPLE. We were pleasantly surprised at how lovely Townsville was although we weren’t drawn to Magnetic Island (sorry about the pun!). There just isn’t time to do everything but we enjoyed a visit to the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef. We had our own personal guide pointing out interesting facts first and then went to the Predator Dive Show. Whilst in the auditorium listening to a diver underwater talk about the sharks circling him, a child asked him how he lost his finger. I hadn’t even noticed his missing digit but turns out a snake bit him!
We didn’t so much enjoy the bus driver who didn’t have a good word to say to anyone getting on the 204! Cranky pants criticised Mike for not speaking loudly enough, I was told off for turning my back on the approaching bus as he could have taken by head off with his wing mirror, an elderly lady with a shopping trolley was told off for standing too close to the kerb and a student was told not to push her bus pass into his face! You know when things are so awful you eventually find them funny – I started giggling when the old lady began making faces behind his back and zipping her mouth shut with her fingers lol.
Airlie Beach was one of the places we stopped at after leaving Townsville. It was very busy and seems to attract a lot of young backpackers. Not our cup of tea as very touristy. There is definitely an honesty issue round these parts with petrol stations requiring you to hand in ID before filling up. Some even state wives are not accepted as ID because drivers have been known to fill up and drive off without them – honest truth! Other signs that people can’t be trusted included the barber requiring you to pay before he cut your hair and the padlock arrangement in this public toilet!
We could have added another 70 kms onto our journey and visited the Walkabout Creek Hotel at McKinlay which featured in the Crocodile Dundee movies but chose instead to stay at Julia Creek and enjoy the Artisian baths. Having a bath in the open air with drinks and nibbles was a lot of fun and helped soothe our aching muscles after our first Park Run of 2019 at Mount Isa.
Mount Isa is another mining town – predominantly copper. The powers that be decided some years ago that it was a bit risky taking tourists down an actual working mine where blasting happens daily at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Instead the town received funding to construct a mine specially for tourists. There are no seams of copper, zinc or silver but we got to dress up, descend 17 metres underground, see some of the obsolete machinery they used to use, have a cup of tea and eat a Cornish pasty! Black Jack, our tour guide was entertaining otherwise I’d have said save your money!
Charters Towers was an interesting city and when gold was discovered there on Christmas Eve in 1871 quickly grew to become Queensland’s second largest city. The mines no longer operate but the architecture still mirrors its former grandeur and there are some interesting displays at the Zara Clark Museum. A replica school room had two notices up which demonstrate the difference a Century can make.
So long Northern Territory (NT). We cross the border into Queensland tomorrow appreciating that to have fully explored NT we should have done a 1,000 kms round trip down to Alice Springs before turning East. We’re saving that for another trip! This week’s adventures go under the various vowel sounds ………
A = aaaaaahhh
We gave a very big Hurraaaaaahhh when we learnt our bikes were finally fixed and we could move on from Darwin. Seems the cure was a good ol’ Aussie trick – applying sandpaper to the contact points! Nice as Darwin was, we felt we were stagnating having spent two weeks at the same campsite. Mind you it gave us the opportunity to visit the fabulous Museum and Art Gallery of the NT and meet up again with a lovely Norwegian couple we’d become friends with in Broome.
The sound aaaaaahhh could be heard as I floated around the thermal springs in Mantaranka. Just as well I brought more than one bikini! Bitter Springs was first. These pools were more natural (i.e. less concrete and more algae) and the water temperature was a ‘cool’ 34 degrees. We then drove on to Mantaranka Thermal Pools where the pool was surrounded by palm trees and the colour and clarity of the water was incredible. Loved it!
The next watering hole we visited that day was one of Australia’s great authentic pubs known as the Daly Waters Pub. It has a lot of character including knickers and bras hanging from the beams, signs warning about unattended children being taught to swear and an interesting happy hour. Being British we ordered pints (or schooners as they’re called here) and made no saving at all! Turns out if we’d ordered a “pot” which is a half pint we could have saved $1! This would explain why so many big burly men were standing at the bar drinking halves!
E = eeeek
You’d think I’d have got over my fear of insects and creepy crawlies by now but no! I still jump and squeal at the sound of rustling in the bush despite it usually being a lizard. This week I also had to contend with grasshoppers landing on my chest, frogs leaping out of the toilet, bats swinging from trees above and being careful not to disturb Olive Snakes and Salt Water Crocodiles! At least the spiders at the Spider Exhibition we paid to go in and see were all safely behind glass and ‘Sweetheart’, the crocodile was stuffed. Interesting fact – spiders have blue blood.
I = ay yay yay
The highlight for me this week was seeing the indigenous rock art in Kakadu National Park. Some paintings have been dated back 20,000 years. The quality of the art and the natural setting we were able to see it in made it a really moving experience. Photos depict animals, rituals and tales connected to the Creation Ancestors (aka Dreaming). For example, the last chap, Nabulwinjbulwinj (pronounced Nar-bull-win-bull-win), is a dangerous spirit who eats females after striking them with a yam!
O = ooooooohh
We did a number of walks with views this week including a climb to the Mirrai Lookout and up to Katherine Gorge, hence the oooohh’s.
Humpty Doo wasn’t that inspiring – so no eggs cracked there but we did take a couple of photos to prove it exists! Goodness knows why it needs a Park and Ride though for a journey of 450 metres!
U = uuuh oh
Just over two months left on the road so we’re starting to think about all the things we need to plan for including selling the van, organising storage for those things we’re hanging on to and making sure we give ourselves enough time to see and do all the things left on our pootling around Australia lap. Did I really say I was going to attempt a Sky Dive?
We’ve only travelled twelve metres away,
Cyclone Trevor ensured we extended our stay.
Thunder, lightening, rain and a breeze,
We took the precaution to move from the trees!
Cyclone Trevor’s put a spanner in the works,
However Darwin has offered some lovely perks.
Whilst walking around aimlessly, ready to drop,
We made a discovery – The Cheesecake Shop!
Strawberry, lemon, blueberry as well,
Choices, choices, my kind of hell.
Hang on a minute, two dollars a slice!
Why have one, when three would be nice?
The Deckchair Cinema is closed right now,
But the Wave Lagoon was a definite wow.
I mounted a boogie board to surf the waves,
As activities go, this was one of my favs!
The Aviation Centre, entrance fee paid,
Some bits unfortunately we would describe as “staid”.
The B52 Bomber was the highlight for us,
It’s wingspan alone created a fuss.
Mike has kept busy by visiting the gym,
Weights and cycling to keep himself trim.
Sewing and knitting that’s been my thing,
Making teddy costumes with sparkle and zing!!!
Materials are sourced from each charity shop
Some beautiful dresses are next for the chop!
My daughter has said she needs a dozen,
For Sophie’s friends and even her cousin.
Apart from that, our bikes are still broken,
It’s chucking it down and my washing’s now soakin’.
There’s a notice gone up, ‘Beware of the snake’
Jings and crivvens, just give us a break!
We’re still on target to complete the lap,
So no need to panic or get in a flap.
Humpty Do plus Kakadu are next on the list,
That’s unless Trevor does a three sixty twist!
The ‘Top End’ is the name given to this area of Australia and it is the most northerly part we will visit. We are currently in Darwin and may need to extend our stay as Storm Trevor is making its way over from the east coast. The Northern Territory has only had half its average rainfall this wet season which has allowed us access to all the National Parks. We just hope Trevor doesn’t plan to dump the second half whilst we’re here! On the way up to Darwin we stopped at Edith Falls where I enjoyed a beautiful solitary swim whilst being mindful of any crocodile escapees!
The reference to my ‘soggy bottom’ has nothing to do with The Great British Bake Off and everything to do with being in an out of water. Swimming pools at the various caravan parks are getting lots of use and at Litchfield National Park I was diving in to the various water holes at every opportunity. I actually had some people company for a change so didn’t feel quite so nervous about lurking crocs! Mind you the sandflies, mosquitoes and ants are having a field day and I’m covered in itchy bites at the moment.
We came across some interesting ant structures whilst in Litchfield National Park. The first was the Cathedral termite mound which dwarfs Mike. An impressive achievement for a mere 5 mm long termite. The other mounds, slightly hidden from view behind the long grass, are made by the Magnetic termite. These clever little insects align their tower from north to south to ensure one side is always in the shade and they therefore have optimum temperature control inside their mound. Wish we could do that with Jura!
We loved lorikeet feeding time at Batchelor Caravan Park. We considered going on a jumping crocodile cruise but manipulating these wild animals to perform by dangling a carrot/meat on a stick just doesn’t do it for us.
We have enjoyed Darwin’s street art, the harbour area and Charles Darwin National Park. Darwin played an important role during the Second World War and we’ve yet to visit the Aviation Museum which is just along the road from us. Getting around Darwin has been a bit more tricky with our bikes still in for repair. We have hopped on and off local buses (avoiding the rear as they can be a bit smelly) and done a fair bit of walking.
Aussie humour is something else. I have kept back the offensive logo about seeing you in the Northern Territory. The two included here wouldn’t be tolerated in Blighty, would they?
By the time you read this blog we will have left Western Australia and entered the Northern Territory. We have spent four months driving from South to North and notched up over 10,000 kilometres if we include the 1,200 kms done on our bikes. It has been amazing. We had not expected Western Australia to keep the best till last – but it did! Lake Argyle has just shot to the top of the list which surprised us as we drove through some pretty dodgy places en route from Broome to get here. It was a case of vroom vroom from Broome.
Lake Argyle is in the middle of nowhere. It is 70 kilometres away from the nearest town and all that’s located at Lake Argyle is a Caravan Park, a Boat Cruise Operator and a Museum (that was closed). At $44 (or £25 a night) the caravan park was not the cheapest we’d stayed in but it did have the best pool and the grounds were beautifully kept. I loved the fact that this whole area is so under developed and with only a handful of other guests staying here I had the whole infinity pool to myself for over half an hour first thing in the morning. It was sheer heaven in my opinion and photographer Mike captured it perfectly!
We also took a sunset cruise operated by Lake Argyle Cruises with Greg at the helm. The boat set off at half two and we got introduced to some of the lake’s inhabitants including rock wallabies, Jesus birds (so called because they appear to walk on water), fish that spit water at you from a metre away (we checked it was water and not urine!) and fresh water crocodiles. We had the opportunity for several swims off the boat in water that accommodated said crocodiles!!! The water temperature was 33 degrees which is a bit hot for the crocs and so they tend to swim quite deep down, thankfully. The one captured in my photos just came by for a snapper or two!
The sunset over the lake was beautiful and we got to enjoy it whilst floating in the water drinking champagne and eating cheese and biscuits! There was beer for those who preferred and by the time the boat returned to dry land four hours later we had all become best friends and no one was dry!
Argyle Lake is the largest man made lake in Australia and is 70 kms long by 40 kms at its widest point. We heard the story about the construction of the Ord Dam in the late 1960’s and how over the years the water level has been increased to meet demand. The volume is now equivalent to 21 times the size of Sydney Harbour – in case you were interested!
My other new favourite (pushing the Giant Tingle into second place) is the Boab tree. They are unique to this area and are recognised by the swollen base of their trunk. This makes them appear short and stumpy – a bit like me some might say! I couldn’t resist purchasing myself a little wall hanging as a reminder. It was either that or a rare Lake Argyle pink diamond but the jewellery shops were all closed. Mike meanwhile is quite taken by the unusual zebra rock which is mined here and is making enquiries about getting a piece cut for a future retirement project!
The road down to the Bungle Bungles is currently closed but I did take a picture of one of the rocks you might find down there – aka Brexit Rock!!
1. We didn’t see the Staircase to the Moon. This is a phenomenon which occurs for three nights each month between March and October when the full moon rises and produces an optical illusion across the exposed mudflats at low tide. We will miss it because the dates this month are 21st, 22nd and 23rd March.
2. We didn’t get to do the Horizontal Falls trip which was top of our bucket list. Described by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”, the water gushes horizontally rather than vertically and is literally unlike anything else in the world. Unfortunately the only operator offering to take you through the falls by speedboat does not start up again until the beginning of April. We could have flown over them by seaplane but this would only have been half the adventure and we want the full bells and whistles version. Another time, perhaps – mega bucks saved!
3. We didn’t ride a camel along Cable Beach because we honestly didn’t fancy it. However, we did take lots of photos of other people enjoying their jerky ride. With so many different caravan tours happening along the beach it is a good thing the camels wear their very own poo bags. Maybe it’s something Queenie might like to consider for Horse Guards Parade? Mind you, I wouldn’t like the job of emptying them out every night!
4. We didn’t see the dinosaur footprints which are pressed into the reef at Gantheaume Point because they can only be viewed when the tide is below 2.16 metres. That is not due to happen again until 05:40 on the 7th March or 06:07 on the 8th. Amazing that they can be that precise but unfortunately we’ll be long gone by then.
5. We didn’t get to ride our bikes whilst here as they are both in for repair. However, we did catch the Explorer Bus and went down to see the Courthouse Markets on Saturday morning. Unfortunately the torrential rain we had earlier in the morning had flooded many of the streets and stallholders either didn’t attend or packed up early. No money spent there either!
6. We didn’t buy any Broome Pearls, considered to be the queen of all pearls. Broome has a really interesting pearling history and the founder who dared to try culturing them was actually imprisoned when he entered the industry in 1946. Apparently you don’t choose the pearl, the pearl chooses you. Despite a pearl necklace costing $40,000 taking a real shine to me, I decided that the string of pearls and three pairs of earrings I have back home will do me just fine for now!
The kids will be pleased because we moved from an expensive Caravan Park to a cheaper one. We only spent a night at the dearer one – the discount for staying 7 nights amounted to £8 in total! It had a nice enough swimming pool but the site was huge (enough for 500 caravans and already fully booked for July!) and even though there were only about another 10 families staying, we just didn’t get a positive vibe. The savings from moving to a smaller and much nicer Caravan Park just a few hundred metres down the road has allowed us to drink beers at the Divers Tavern and have a game of mini-golf for free!
We have been at Cable Beach (which is right next door to Broome, and much nicer) over a bank holiday weekend. What a contrast to back home as we have enjoyed almost deserted beaches and a lovely climate (30-35 degrees). The sunsets have been stunning and we have developed a liking for the local brew – Mango Beer – healthy and alcoholic!