Day 9: Wednesday 7 June – Lake Argyle

Author: Mrs A

No travel stats today as we stayed still – hurrah! In spite of this, we still were up and about at 5.45am, our body clocks not yet adjusted to Western Australian time. We had a celebratory BBQ breakfast of bacon and eggs, before putting on our hiking shoes and climbing up to another lookout, this time overlooking the Ord River. 

We are staying amongst incredible scenery which supports much bird life. From our perch up on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river and gorge below, we saw Whistling Kites soar past us, talons grasping twigs for their nest building, and red winged parots flying by, squawking. 

After returning to camp we decided to visit the infinity pool. It’s crystal clear and high up on the cliff overlooking the lake, views stretching forever. I jumped in – it was freezing! Apparently, because the warm surface water is constantly running over the edge, it takes a long while for the pool to heat up – I’m guessing we are about 5 months early!

After a light lunch we headed over to the restaurant to watch an early 1970s documentary about the history of the damming of Lake Argyle…it was about 30 minutes too long (yawn), but gave us some idea of the scale of the job involved before we jumped on a sunset cruise on the lake.

This is no ordinary reservoir. It was dammed in 1970/71, and is the size of 19 Sydney Harbours – classed as an inland sea. When cyclones hit these parts during the summer months, it is not unusual to see waves of up to 3 metres on this lake! Our cruise set off at about 2.30pm and we covered little more than about 5% of the lake by the time we were returned to shore at 6pm. We saw more kites, and on one island a community of rescued rare Walleroos who hopped over to check us out. A fish feeding session revealed some of the residents below the surface. And of course crocodiles – all of the freshwater variety, more nervous of us than interested in taking a bite.

The sunset was lovely, accompanied by many stories, facts and figures, plus glasses of wine or beer, cheese and biscuits. It was a great way to spend a 31 degree day – apparently tonight is meant to drop to a chilly 16 degrees – how will we cope?! Ah well, first world problems…

Our key learning on the caravan today is to not let the water tanks run too low. Apparently that is what we have done, and it has resulted in our water filter becoming clogged (with whatever nasties lurk at the bottom of water tanks!) and the water flow is very slow as a result. A quick call to ZoneRV, the caravan manufacturers, has seen them organising a replacement to be sent to our next location, Kununurra, where we will be on Friday. Now we need to learn how to replace it. Fortunately we are in a location surrounded by seasoned caravanners who are willing to offer a hand, so hopefully tomorrow we will learn a new skill. 

Every day’s a school day (to quote a regular blog reader ;-))….

Day 8: Tuesday 6 June

From: Vince Connolly Limestone Creek (just outside Katherine, NT)

To: Lake Argyle resort, North East Kimberley 

Distance: 453 km

Time: 5.5 hours (including breaks, lunch and border control)

Author: Mr A

Today we made the final big push to the Kimberley. Gradually the landscape changed from the flat as a tack landscape of the last few days to the rugged country cut through with deep gorges that epitomises the north east Kimberley. Our excitement built as we crossed the border from the Northern Territory into Western Australia, giving up our fruit and veggies at the checkpoint. So explain the logic of this – we were supposed to give up our jar of honey  – unopened – and and we could buy the same brand over the border… less Australia.

So after another time zone change (our second in two days) we arrive at our camp for the next three nights on the edge of the Kimberley on what is officially classed as an inland sea, but called Lake Argyle. Massive just doesn’t even describe the size of it. We’ve been told it takes more than 4 hours for a motorised boat to reach the other side. More facts to follow tomorrow as we have booked a tour. We cycled up to a local lookout to admire the lake – even from afar it looks impressive.

It was wonderful to pull up knowing I didn’t have to climb into the driving seat at sunrise. So we are now all set up,  washing done and a dinner of lake-caught-fish at the camp cafe. Fortunately for me, despite ordering a dairy free dinner for the delicate Mrs A, they got that wrong. The waitress was about to take it away and re-cook minus the dairy, when I suggested I could “look after it”. She looked puzzled…then looked into my hungry eyes and clicked…it was delicious and after I finished the two dinners Catherine was astonished, her response; “Impressive”. I feel about satiated…

The waitress asked Catherine if she would like to have a free something else…I requested a side order of chips which was immediately dismissed out of hand. Ah well…worth trying. Given we have a bottle of not ‘too’ bad $28 2013 Merlot (Due South, from Denmark, a wine making area in WA) it may well be a couple of free take-home beers. Just realised we actually ordered Shiraz. The guy taking our orders did ‘really well’!

There’s a resident singer/songwriter. His third song is “Old farts and caravan parks”  – yup we are definitely in grey nomad central here. A lovely atmosphere – everyone so friendly and has a story to tell and advice to share. And share…and share…and share…The adventure has truly begun! 

And finally. Three things learned from podcasts today:

  • Border Collies can understand about 1,000 human words (the average dog can learn 200)
  • And on the topic of dogs, they can only see three colours in the rainbow (bonus points for those who can name those colours!)
  • And (really finally!), we are learning more about Quantum computing and physics and can almost describe a cubit and what it will be able to do for humankind….almost….

Day 9: Monday 8 June – Churchill Head to Manbulloo

From: Bush camp at Churchill Head

To: Vince Connolly Limestone Creek roadside camp area, just south of Manbulloo, NT

Distance: 646 km

Time: 8.5 hours

(Authored by Catherine!)

Once again we were up early, but as we had moved states, we had a bonus half hour in bed and still left at 7.30am! As always we were treated to a fabulous sunrise as we showered – ah how we love our apartment! 

We continued northwards on the Stuart Highway to Katherine where we stopped off to do some last minute food supply stocking up. We don’t see any more shops until Friday, so we needed to ensure we had all our lunches and dinners catered for. 

Our key challenge is fresh fruit and vegetables. There are strict quarrantine regulations each time you cross state lines – some stricter than others. Crossing into the Northern Territory, restrictions were largely limited to banana plants and beehives but tomorrow we cross into Western Australia, meaning another change in clocks (back a further 90 minutes) plus no fresh fruit,  vegetables or honey. Tough call. We also have two potted herbs – coriander and basil, which both have question marks over them at this point. I guess we will see tomorrow. If they are included I will pluck off all the leaves and put them in the freezer (of course we have a freezer!).

After our shopping, we filled up with fuel and set off again, this time heading westwards for our final 40 minutes along the Victoria Highway. 

We parked up, along with about 10 other campers and caravans, at a ‘camping permitted’ roadside rest area. On the surface of things, this looks like a great location:

  • Lots of space between vans/campers
  • Clean toilets, rubbish bins and picnic tables
  • Plenty of shade giving trees
  • Wildlife – many birds and hoppy creatures around
  • Fabulous sunset (seems to be de rigour in these parts!)
  • Free

The downside is the road. We are about as far away from it as you can get, with many others camping about 50 metres from the edge – but at about 200 metres away it doesn’t make a roaring 3 to 4 carriage long road train any quieter or more invisible…we’re a little anxious about the amount of sleep we’re going to get tonight. There has also been the odd ‘locals’ vehicle driving past, hands on the car horn and yells of ‘yeah-hah’ out of the window (this must be what they call the Wild West?)…great!

Tomorrow we ‘only’ have about 4.5 hours to drive, and we will be at our long anticipated destination – Lake Argyle. And then our holiday will begin all over again!

Finally…our top three learnings from podcasts today:

  • George Takei of Star Trek fame started his life in a POW camp behind barbed wire in the USA because his family’s skin and look was ‘wrong’ post the Pearl Harbor bombings – despite being born in the USA to parents who were born in the USA…
  • The bacteria in our stomachs alone weighs about 1.5kg! Does that mean I am lighter when I am taking antibiotics? (Answers in the comments field below please!)
  • Despite Fidel Castro’s dictatorship (and in fact because of it), Cuban biotech have developed a treatment for final stage lung cancer which turns it from a terminal disease (eg 10 months to live) to a potentially chronic disease (eg not cured, but living for potentially another 10+ years with a good quality of life). It’s not on offer outside Cuba yet (USA are finally doing trials), but many ‘terminal’ lung cancer patients from around the world who have heard about it are flying there to get treatment and doing really well.

Thank you for continuing to join us! 

Day 7: Saturday 3rd June – Ayrshire Hills to Mount Isa 

From: Ayrshire Hills bush camp off the Old Landsborough Highway

To: Mount Isa, north-west Queensland

Distance: 403 km

Time: 4.5 hours

Well not every day can be perfect, and this was one of those. Some time during the night, what started as a niggling headache evolved into a full blown migraine, which made the 403 kms quite a challenge for me, feeling hot and cold, shivering with stinging, streaming eyes and pounding head. I was not the best of travel companions.

Thankfully it was a ‘relatively’ short drive to Mount Isa, where we pulled in to a very basic caravan park and set up under a tree. I collapsed in bed feeling awful while the very patient Mr A set about doing our washing and cycled into the city centre to find me strong drugs and stock up on supplies. Our next two nights are going to be bush camping, so we needed to ensure we were well stocked with water and food for the trip.

Mount Isa is here because of the mining (lead, silver, copper and zinc) with a large Aboriginal community and substantial poverty and crime. Much of the mining population is fly-in, fly-out. It was slightly disturbing being warned as we entered to ensure we lock our car and van at night. We were amused when the park owner asked us whether we had an address – many of the grey nomads coming through here have sold up their homes and are living as gypsies, wherever they park up being their home.

I was last here 18 years ago, when I called through via coach on the way to Darwin. I was given 2 hours to explore, and my lasting impression of the town from the lookout was the metallic taste of the air here. I am guessing the pollution levels have been decreased now, as I don’t notice that today.

Hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight, in preparation for more long hours and distances over the next couple of days…fingers crossed!

And finally, back by popular demand, the top three things learned from podcasts today:

  • There are two types of artists (including musicians, painters, writers) – the Picassos – those who can pen a song/paint a finished masterpiece in 15 minutes (eg Bob Dylan) and those who take years – the Cezannes (eg Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello)
  • The Toyota scandal in the USA in 2009 (accelerator stuck to the floor, brakes don’t work) cost Toyota billions in court costs and recalls, but in reality was caused by human error (foot hitting accelerator instead of the brake in an unfamiliar car)
  • The Challenger space shuttle disaster, while horrendous, improved engineering and NASA’s business processes exponentially

Day 6: Friday 2nd June

From: Cooper Creek

To: Ayrshire Hills bush camp off the Old Lansborough “Highway” (dirt road), an hour south of Kynuna, central QLD

Distance: 560km

Time: 7.30am  – 4pm = 8.5 hrs


Leaving Cooper Creek in the dawn light we headed north again on a single lane road (tarmac) and playing

1.  Spot the road train coming

2. Spot the suicidal roo

3. Hold your breath until the next bend (about 130km so we lost that one!)

We arrived at the birthplace of Qantas, Longreach, and resupplied with the de rigour huge Queensland bread rolls and a few other essentials for the road trip still to come. A series of podcasts and before we know it we are eagerly trying to find our camp for the night. WikiCamps again delivers – we turned off at some low lying hills along the Old Lansborough Highway (the first hills we have seen for days) and follow a dirt track around their base. I manage to drive a bit too close to a washout and the road collapses, the car dropping about half a metre into it! Low range is enagaged and reverse gear backs us out safely…phew…

We then pull up to our camp for the night facing the setting sun. A quick clamber up the low hill behind us and the view opens up. The sandy plain is covered in footprints from camels, kangaroos and goats, plus shows us evidence of snakes and lizards which had passed by during the day.

It’s wine o’clock and what a sunset.  It has to be a spag bol with a delicious red from our wine cabinet after a show like that!
The evening continued with a fabulous moon and starlit night – the lack of light pollution allows us to try out some more star photography…and yes, we can still wear shorts at 10pm! 

Day 5: Thursday 1st June – Cunnamulla to Cooper Creek (nr Windorah, Qld)

From: Cunnamulla, Qld

To: Cooper Creek, about 11km east of Windorah, Qld

Distance travelled: 532 km

Time taken: 7 hours 

Sunrise in Cunnamulla, Qld

After a perfect night’s sleep (peace, darkness and an incredible view of the Milky Way) we awoke to another stunning blue sky day. We enjoyed hot showers and topped up with fresh water in preparation for a few nights off the grid on our continued journey. It was about 0 degrees centigrade first thing (making for a quick dash back to the luxury apartment…I mean van…after the shower) warming to a fresh 19 degrees during the day.

 A slightly blurry Milky Way 

From Cunnamulla we headed west along the excitingly named Bulloo Development Road and then north up the Quilpie Thargomindah Road. The landscape became decidedly red and scrubby, with the roadkill (mainly roos and emus…but disturbingly the occasional cow, pig or sheep) on the single track road frequent and needing to be avoided. 

This land is the domain of the road train, and as soon as you see one of these giants roaring towards you, you immediately pull off on to the gravel at the side of the road. Road trains, for those who are unaware, are ‘long vehicle’ delivery lorries on steroids – often three massive trucks long, pulled by a single giant engine. There is no arguing with a road train – they have right of way and do not stop for anything. The good thing for us, is that the rule seems to be that anyone smaller than you will pull off to give way – single Utes or 4WDs would pull off completely for us, where other caravans would half pull off, as would we, meaning we have half the car on the Tarmac. The unspoken rules of the outback, it seems.

Lunch today was at the side of the road, seated at our table admiring the raw outback beauty. At first glance you might see it as scrubland, but when you realise how little rain it gets out here, you begin to recognise the strength of the place, the lack of contours on the land only serving to allow us to admire the curvature of the earth. We are both truly beginning to feel more connected to Australia on this trip, and it is only our 5th day.

We pulled into Cooper Creek, a free camp beside the water and road, at around 4.30pm. With around 10 caravans and campers already set up here, it was the busiest traffic we had seen all day (no, not missing Military Road in Sydney at all!). It seems to be a crossroads for travellers with many of those we chatted to heading south, and others on their way north like us, but none mentioning the Kimberley. Based on the feedback from other people we had expected to see more ‘Grey Nomads’ heading our way, but so far we’ve met none. Perhaps once we hit Mount Isa on Saturday (I must admit I had to look up the day – we already have no idea what day of the week it is – ha ha!).

We’re hoping for a peaceful night – given we are about 50 metres from the road and the road trains still seem to be operating at 8pm, there is some doubt….but fingers are crossed. We are heading towards (and ultimately past) Longreach tomorrow, the birthplace of Qantas Airlines. More new ground to cover and adventures to be had!

 Cooper Creek at sunset 

And finally…the top 3 things learned from podcasts today:

  • Most of the dinosaurs I learned about in my childhood are no longer the same – either they were incorrectly identified (eg Brontosaurus was 2 dinosaurs!) or don’t actually stand up like Godzilla. Perhaps I’m the last to learn this!?
  • One of Saturn’s moons potentially harbours alien life! Scientists have already identified snow, glaciers, an atmosphere and salt water…the moon is only 500km across
  • 1-3% of any population is born with both male and female organs – that’s a lot of people we don’t hear from!

Day 4: Wednesday 31st May:

From: Baan Baa, NSW

To: Cunnamulla, SW QLD

Distance travelled: 645 km

Time taken:  Just under 11hrs…big day

We left at day break….

and drove initially though the Liverpool Plains with the Warrabungles in the distance to the east – this was last time we saw anything elevated for the rest of the day. Pretty flat scrubby country up to the border with QLD. We stopped for lunch in Mungindi which is the only town with the same name in both QLD and NSW…A historic marker showed where an expedition in 1846 had passed through trying to find an overland route to the north coast from Sydney. We just can’t contemplate the toughness of these guys spending months on end trekking through this harsh country. 

We had a minor issue –  we couldn’t open the larder cabinet door! We rang Zone RV and soon had someone on the phone helping us sort – a pin inside the locking mechanism had come unscrewed. Good service…we accept there’s going to be things that go wrong on the van – mostly so far its been operator error – we are learning all the time.  

To pass the time we listened to podcasts – ranging from the history of robotics to “My Dad wrote a porno” (the funniest thing we’ve heard for a long time – thanks Donna and Andy for the recommendation!). 

So much bird life on the road – mostly going after road kill. A wedge tailed eagle being the top of the tree (as it were), but these galahs were tucking into some seed spilled on the road.

At 4.30 pm the light was starting to go and the roos and emus were out in force trying to throw themselves under our wheels. We usually like to get off the road by kamikaze hour, but were still 90 mins away from our planned camp for the night. So we slowed down and kept our eyes peeled. 

We rolled into a caravan park out in the bush the other side of Cunnamulla as the sun set and it wasn’t until we went to check out the shared fire pit and acoustic busker we realised we had been here before a few years ago. A great spot on the Warrego river, which is about 2 metres from our van. Hope it doesn’t start raining! Catherine is cooking up a curry storm, I’m selecting some wine from the ample store (a Leconfield Cab Sav that stands up to the curry beautifully), Eileen Jewel is singing “Sweet baby”  and all is good with the world. 

We loved our camper trailer, but to just pull up after a long day like today with no set up is brilliant. 

Day 3: Tuesday 30th May:

After an amazing couple of days in the Hunter with friends celebrating a birthday, we headed of on the first leg of our caravan trip. 

From: the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Hunter Valley

To: Baan Baa  –  which means “swim away” in the local aboriginal language – apparently the area is prone to flooding (I think we are safe – they have been in drought here for 5 years). This is a small settlement north-west of Tamworth, now experiencing the boom of mining investment. Baan Baa’s claim to fame is having the longest railway station platform in NSW at one stage, now servicing a strong farming and mining economy. 
Distance: 340K

Campsite: The grounds of the now renovated Baan Baa school. The owner has become a bit of a celebrity on WikiCamps (our digital camping bible) as she is so welcoming. She has a collection of irons and other antique memorabilia displayed in one of the restored houses. She’s passionate about preserving the heritage of this place. 

Highlights: Hitting the road for the first day of a massive trip was such a buzz. We’ve had such a wonderful time with Scott and Cathy, Donna and Andy and other friends, but to now be heading into the unknown (for us) is awesome. As soon as we left the Hunter the vistas opened upo as we drove into “Big Sky Country”. The light changes and becomes sharper. The traffic thins out. The people get friendlier…the menus get more predicable 🙂 We’ve just walked to the local pub for dinner and its  “steak or chicken Parmie”. We topped up with fresh veggies on the way – we aren’t relying on seeing much green stuff from here on. Tonight the forecast is for the temp to be 0 degrees! Been a long long time since we have experienced that. Diesel heater in the van about to get a workout I think. 

Here we go…locked and loaded for a 6mth trip around Oz

Well here’s the rig ready to go! Today we head up to the Hunter,  then Tuesday set off on the big drive to the Kimberley.

It’s been a challenge to try and think what we will need for 6 months on the road – no doubt we have too much but its hard to know on our first trip. We know we will be facing some cold nights in the deserts, and despite being winter, some mid 30s days in the Kimberley. So plenty of layering options in the clothes and bedding dept. The car has had a good service with new brake pads, air filter etc, and Premium Plus NRMA membership as our comfort blanket. The shocks are good – tyres OK but have some wear already so expecting to replace at least a pair. The van had its first service as well, and is designed for the types of conditions we will encounter, so let’s see. We know we have things to learn, like  how to pack the fridge to cope with the corrugations. We accept there will be casualties. 

In the toy department. we have our new packrafts all stowed and ready for the Ord river in the Kimberley – slightly worrying to see this article last week!! 

Yup – that’s the Ord river! Apparently with the huge Wet season they have had this year, salties have been wandering further afield than usual…mmm…inflatable v 3m croc? Bets on the winner?

We are also taking our mountain bikes, we have had racks mounted on the extended drawbar by Wardy – did his work allow for corrugations deeper than small children? We will find out 🙂

The car is also crammed with camping gear as we intend to leave the van a few times and head up some tracks too rough and steep for even the mighty Zone RV. In extreme circumstances we might even climb into our hiking boots 🙂

In the power dept we have 3 x 300W solar panels mounted on the roof of the van, and a generator as back up in case of cloudy skies. There’s also a “solar blanket” for car camping – a flexible panel you can lay anywhere to catch some rays. We have carefully organised the majority of power needs to be USB chargeable (right down to the electric toothbrush!) so we can maximise our ability to stay off the grid on 12v. So 3 AGM gel batteries should give us enough juice to keep the essentials going (fridge/freezer). 

Tools – well as most of my friends know I am barely able to recognise the right end of screwdriver to use – but a good socket and screwdriver set is on board, together with recovery gear if we get stuck. A couple of sets of MaxTrax on the roof, to put under the wheels if we’re bogged in soft sand, snatch strap to get a pull out from another vehicle, and a electric winch on the bull bar  if we on our own or on a steep hill. An axe and bush saw to clear a path if a fallen branch is blocking the track (and for firewood when we are allowed to gather and burn it). 

Then we have all the gear for those evenings round a campfire; a portable fire pit to contain a fire and minimise damage to the ground, chairs and table, and a rather large supply of red wine (carefully packed in inflatable sleeves – $6 for 50 on Alibaba direct from China!).

The larder is packed with all those spices and sauces we don’t expect to find on the shelf of an outback store. The fridge and freezer bursting with the contents of our newly immaculately clean and empty fridge in the house.

In the entertainment dept we have digitised our complete CD collection, Catherine has her sketch pad and paints and I have my e-books. We do have a TV (I know!) with DVD player so last night Catherine downloaded the final series of The Good Wife (yes we are addicted we have been binge watching on Netflix), and a whole series of Australian Geographic documentaries. 

So its time to lock up the house and cross our fingers we soon have it rented to pay for this trip, or we will be coming home earlier than planned! 

8 days before departure!

Well time has flown by and here we are the weekend before we head off. Mr A has been extremely busy organising and sorting out the house in preparation for renting out our house while we are away. The local charities are about 10 bags of clothes and other donations richer, and we have a good sense of feng-shui living in an extremely well organised house!

The one blip this week was having to go into hospital yesterday for an emergency bronchoscopy to check out my airway which had been having some issues recently.    Thankfully it is all looking healthy and hopefully a nice long holiday will sort me out!

So we leave a week on Sunday, our first stop being the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley for a couple of nights of catered-luxury before our 6 months of self-catered luxury! We then drive for about 7-8 hours a day for a week up to Lake Argyle, the Bungle Bungle and the Kimberley.

Here’s our plan so far:

We estimate we will be in Perth/Margaret River in August and Adelaide in early September…other than that we are footloose and fancy free. If anyone wants to join us at any time, just let us know and we’ll loop you in!

Here’s hoping no more blips before our departure next weekend…