We arrived in Mareeba on the 29th April. We decided to stay at the Rodeo Showgrounds where we could stay for a week and leave the van safe and happy while we drove around. It wasn’t the nicest place to stay unfortunately as there were no trees at all, it was a bit dusty and the water quality was crap. We also were placed in the ‘family section’ which was actually a whole oval to ourselves away from all the grey nomads! We felt like we were in the naughty corner TBH as we like to be social!
Not feeling the love….
The following day we got up nice and early and headed to Kuranda where we had a fantastic time on the Skyrail. It is a 7.5km cable way journey through a rainforest and you can get off at certain places and walk around the rainforests on the ground. I must admit, I was terrified when I first went on there, I am very afraid of heights but after a while I could see that death wasn’t just around the corner and the gondola felt quite safe, so I then really enjoyed myself lol. It was amazing to be on top of all these very old and tall trees looking down at them (from the side windows). On the way back a kind staff member gave us the diamond gondola which has a glass floor, so we had fun (well I sorta had fun) looking straight down.
Me trying to be brave
Whilst in Kuranda we visited the butterfly house and had a lovely time walking amongst all the native butterflies. Pity we ran out of time, we could have stayed there for hours.
Pretty girl with a butterfly
On the 4th of May we enjoyed a full day on a Great Barrier Reef Cruise. We had to be up bright and early as we needed to be in at Cairns Reef terminal by 7.30am to board our cruiser. We decided on the Ocean Freedom cruiseship as although most cruises were around the same price, this one was a bit smaller and the crew were used to having kids onboard. We had the best day and still talk about how much fun we had. The cruiser took us out to the outer Arlington Reef where we had a fun time meeting the crew and enjoying a yummy brekkie of pastries and fresh fruit. Everything was included in our price (as we didn’t scuba dive) so when we arrived at the reef (took about an hour to get there), we were able to go for a swim and the kids enjoyed their first snorkel, not bad having your first snorkel in the GBR! The crew were just amazing and Rory took to Paul (from England) like a long lost brother and Paul was so patient with him as Rory continually followed him everywhere and didn’t stop talking!!! Paul even took Jakayla and Rory out by themselves for a snorkel, they were hooked and ended up going out there three times. The water was a bit rough but it was still amazing and we got to see many of the Nemo characters and also Barry the Barracuda.
The food onboard the cruiser was amazing, but I couldn’t handle too much food unfortunately due to the rocking of the boat! I did enjoy the glass bottom boat tour and the little trip to a little sand island not far from the cruiser. Wayne and I enjoyed sitting back watching the crew help with the scuba divers and of course babysitting our kids for us lol. Jakayla especially loved Ellie (from Sweden) and followed her around all day. They especially loved the cakes and cheese/bikkies on the way home! By this stage Wayne and I were feeling a bit sea sick so we kept our eyes on the horizon while the crew looked after the kids lol. Feeling a bit unwell didn’t take away how awesome a day it was. The kids even got their own certificate for snorkelling, it was so cute. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got back to the van at 7pm, but what a great day!
The kids loved the snorkeling and the crew
We left Mareeba on the Monday morning and had a wonderful drive around Atherton where we stocked up on some groceries from Woolies. We found a nice free camp not far from Atherton and here we met another travelling family consisting of Mum/Dad and 5 kids! We were so impressed as I find travelling with my two quite a challenge sometimes! It was nice meeting you Rachel and Devon (and kids!!). We ended up staying an extra day here so the kids could have a good play with their new friends.
On Wednesday we took a lovely drive around the outer parts of Atherton and enjoyed a yummy Devonshire tea at the Nerada Tea Plantation where they grow all their tea. Its quite interesting to see how they grow the bushes, harvesting, cut, drying and processing of the tea. After this we drove out to Milla Milla Falls, this would have to be the most picturesque falls we have ever seen. We also visited Zille and Ellinjaa Falls. The van was quite happy to be towed around all these hills and valleys (thankfully!).
Some of the beautiful falls we have seen on our journey
The next day we did a fair bit of driving and ended up sleeping at our most private and secluded location yet. Wayne found a spot off the main road on the Savannah Hwy nestled in the bush. After setting up camp, Wayne lit a camp fire and baked a delicious cheese bread while curious cows came fairly close to see what we were up to! Quite a different experience that’s for sure but was great to try something really different.
Very quiet camping in the outback
The next morning we drove straight to Croydon and stopped at the caravan park. We did all our clothes washing and then went for a walk around the town which is very historic. The old courthouse is amazing, and after pressing a start button we were given an interactive court proceeding which was fascinating. The old prison was great too.
The following day we drove to Normanton, and as this was a bigger town we were hoping to find a better priced grocery shop and luckily we did (although cant compare to Woolies of course). We bought a few items and them drove straight to Karumba and checked into a van park. Wayne tried his best to catch some Barramundi but alas there was no luck. He did however find a shop that sold lovely fresh local barra, so I made a delicious beer batter and we enjoyed the fish with some home cooked potato wedges. The fish was so amazing, the next morning when leaving we bought another fillet! We also visited the Barra Information Centre on the way out and seen how they breed barramundi and even got to see some in their holding tanks. Was so fascinating as the barra are real sticky beaks and everytime we went near a window in the tank, they would all swim over for a look. It was really funny.
Give us a kiss…
On the way out of Normanton we stopped to get the kids in a photo with the largest salt water crocodile every caught in Australia. Honestly it was huge, weighing in at 2 tonnes and 28 metres long. Imagine meeting that monster in the wild, obviously someone did and it was a woman too!!!
This is the size of the actual croc caught! NO thanks!
We then stopped at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse in the middle of nowhere and got some fuel and fresh milk. We then went straight to our free camp at Gregory Downs (on the Gregory River) where I cooked up our last piece of barra at around 7pm.
We got up the next day and went for a walk and look around as we arrived quite late last night. We noticed that up further you could camp closer to the river and another family were set up so we decided to move up closer and stay a couple of more nights. What an amazing free place to stay! Of course there were no toilets or showers or any shops nearby but the river was a constant flow of clear fresh water with lots of trees everywhere and even clean sand for the kids to play in. We originally came for 1 or 2 nites and ended up staying for 6! We had so much fun jumping in the river and catching the current down on a blow up mattress to another section where there was a rope swing. We also made new friends with David, Kylie and their girls Jennifer and Kristin. The kids had loads of fun playing together and Wayne & I enjoyed our late afternoon drinkies with David & Kylie. During our time there we left the van for the day and drove to Lawn Hill National Park about 1 ½ hours drive away where we went swimming in the beautiful natural gorge and Wayne paddled us all on his kayak up and down.
We had such a great time at this free camp, it was hard to leave!
But alas, all good things come to an end and for us that was the food. Unfortunately to get to Mt Isa we had to take the most direct route which was via many kms of dirt road which was pretty bad. We didn’t break anything but it was slow, boring and rough and by the time we reached our camp for the night we had red dirt everywhere and we had to spend the next 3 hours cleaning what we could with limited water (oh how we missed our river to swim in!!). We got up super early the next day and were quite excited to go shopping at Woolies ($360 later) and fill up on diesel. We returned to our van, put all the groceries away and headed to Camoweel and spent the night parked next to a pretty billabong with lilypads everywhere.
Many one laned tared roads in the outback. The full dirt roads are much worse.
Here are Brahman cows, we called them puppydog faced cows, they are so cute and couldnt care less you are driving towards them!
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the termite mounds that are in abundance in the NT (and QLD too). Majority are quite small but some are large enough for people to place clothes on and we have enjoyed weeks of seeing termite mounds with t-shirts, skirts, bras and even undies on them. We decided to add to all the collections and found some clothes we were going to donate to Vinnies, so Wayne ran across the road and placed these clothes on the termite mound, pretty cute huh?
Our clothed termite mound
On the 20th we had a huge day driving across the Barkly Highway and we finally hit the Northern Territory again and then headed north up the Stuart Highway. We spend the night at a rest stop on the side of the road with many other vans with the most revolting long drop toilet we have ever seen. Needless to say our lovely portapotty in the van was much appreciated!
On Wednesday we arrived at Banka Banka Outstation, a rustic van park that supplied the most amazing clean, fresh water from a natural spring. It had dozens of vans in there full of grey nomads who were very friendly and loved the kids. Wayne and I spent the day using the lovely water to clean the van and truck and Wayne cleaned off so much red dirt from the undercarriage of the van im sure we were a few kilos lighter by the time he finished! I got heaps of clothes and bedding washed and certainly enjoyed the campfire 6pm get together where a man played his ukulele and me and the kids helped sing along to a few tunes! What a great memory!
On the 22nd we arrived after a long, dry and hot day to Daly Waters Pub. We heard it was a quirky place and it sure was an eye opener with hundreds of people staying there in the van section. The pub itself was interesting with not one piece of the wall or ceiling left bare due to foreign coins and notes glued everywhere and a whole rafter full of hanging bras, t-shirts and a whole wall full of people’s licences they had glued on. I couldn’t think of anything interesting of ours to add unfortunately but it sure kept us amused for a while! We enjoyed a nice night there and the kids even got a free ice cream for colouring in, they thought that was fantastic!
We arrived at Elsey National Park the next day, where we found a nice site, parked our van and then went for a drive to the beautiful Mataranka Hot Springs. I think the water was about 32C and is so clear and flowing. It was very busy but we managed a nice swim before heading back to the park for the night. The next day we visited Bitter Springs, another hot spring which in my opinion is much nicer than Mataranka. You enter the water at the steps and then either on a noodle or snorkel, you lightly float down the water via the natural current, ducking under pandanus plants covered in spiders until you get to the end and climb out, walk back and do it all over again. Was really amazing and we had so much fun floating in the crystal, clear, warm water. We left Elsey on the Sunday and headed towards Katherine. We drove to the Katherine Gorge for a swim but was a bit disappointed in the gorge as we discovered its actually a part of Kakadu and as soon as places are in Kakadu the prices skyrocket. Wayne couldn’t even take his own kayak in the water without paying. Such a shame as places like Lawn Hill (which in my opinion is much more beautiful than Katherine Gorge) is all free. I don’t think any Australian should pay to enter any natural water in our country. But anyway, we ended up staying the night at the Big4 in town which was good to have a proper shower and some power to charge up the batteries before heading north again.
How beautiful and clear are the Bitter Springs warm waters!
Mataranka Hot Springs were lovely
On Monday 26th we arrived at Douglas Hot Springs and stayed in the national park there. We found a nice spot near some trees and loved going down to the river for a swim.
Douglas Hot Springs turned out to be a very beautiful and eventful stay for us, but more on that later. We were lucky enough to meet another family with kids, so we spent a bit of time chatting to our new friends of Dan, Nic, Sophie and Dylan. The kids loved swimming together and I even managed to do some clothes washing using the generator and buckets of water from a nearby tap! The springs are quite amazing here, you can easily go for a walk along the waterside and see the water bubbling out of the rocks and the water would have to be at least 60C here. Down a bit the water was about 40C where Wayne and I sat for a few mintues in a gorgeous natural spa. Luckily the water temp dropped and we could swim and relax in cooler, probably 30C water. It was so nice to cool off in the water.
Our last day there was Thursday 29th. We packed up all of our van and truck and got into our cossies for a final dip before leaving. We headed down to the river and we all enjoyed cooling off after sweating while packing the van and tarp away. Wayne headed over to the other side of the river to what we called the jumping log, where the kids (and our friends’) had spent the previous two days playing near and jumping off the log. The kids were about halfway between me and Wayne when all of a sudden I hear this loud ‘crack’ and since Wayne was climbing on the log I thought he must have broken it. Then I hear him yell in a tone I have never heard before ‘get away’ as he frantically started to swim away from the log. I then heard him yell out ‘crocodile’ and the kids started screaming and running towards me where they and I climbed up the side of the bank onto land. We turn around to see Wayne running over to us telling us that a crocodile had entered the water only a few feet in front of him and dived into the water near the log. The kids were crying they were so freaked out, my heart was pounding and located somewhere in my throat. Poor Wayne, he had nearly lost his voice from screaming for us to get out and also cut his leg on the log. We can look back now and have a bit of a chuckle and be thankful it wasn’t a salty as he probably would have attacked Wayne as they are very territorial. It turned out to be a 5-6 ft freshwater crocodile, as Wayne went straight up to tell everyone on the campsite and some campers said they saw the croc sunning itself on the bank this morning. Gee fellas, would have been nice if you told us!!!! Funny enough, the night before while Wayne and the kids were building a camp fire, I went by myself down to the river for a quick dip before bed. It was very peaceful and quiet but I only stayed for about 5 minutes as I got the heebie jeebies for some reason and thought I shouldn’t be in here any longer. No doubt the croc was watching me the whole time!!!! So although the croc was a freshie and not really a danger to us, trust me, if you have a croc of any breed coming into the water towards or near you, you will not be laughing about it!!!!!!! When I got Telstra reception again, I did ring the rangers to let them know, not sure what they will do about it, but lots of kids go to the river so thought I would pass on our croc adventrues!
Snorkling in the warm water looking at all the fish
You can see the hot steam coming up from the water
Wayne enjoying a quick dip in 40C
Ah the infamous jumping log that unbeknown to us was home to a freshwater croc!
That afternoon we arrived at the lovely Adelaide River van park where we got a spot surrounded by trees and right next to us was a lovely swimming pool with not a croc in site yay!!!! It was so nice there we stayed two nights and had a lovely dinner at the pub of barra, chips and salad.
We left the lovely park on the 31st and then visited the beautiful Adelaide River War Memorial where hundreds of graves lay with headstones of soldiers who fought in WWII in the region. Was very sad to read some of the ages of death like 16yrs and the majority were aged about 20yrs. The whole area of Batchelor and Adelaide River is very rich in aviation history from WWII. Thousands of troops were stationed here and the heavy duty airstrip played an important role as the base for General MacArthurs bombing force in 1941. We have enjoyed visited local information centres and museums seeing photos from this time.
We were then located at Pandanus Park which is about 30kms from Litchfield National Park. We have actually been here before when as a family we flew from Sydney to Darwin back in 2007 when Rory was 3 months old and Jakayla was 2yrs 9 months old and stayed with our friends Tracey and Adrian. This time we stayed for two nights and while there met two very lovely German backpackers called Sabina and Lena. Wayne asked them if they would like to join us for the day at Litchfield as we were going there anyway and we had a great day with them exploring beautiful Litchfield including the wonderful Wangi Falls.
The giant magnetic termite mounds
Swimming in Wangi Falls with our German friends
After spending the two days at Pandanus Park which is near the awesomely named Rum Jungle, we headed to Darwin which was about 80km north. Gee what a shock it was to arrive in Darwin and all the van parks are top dollar!!! We are used to paying up to about $35 for a night and here they are asking (and obviously getting) between $400 and $500 a week!!!!! We eventually found a nice park about 25km south of Darwin at a more respectable price and have now settled in nicely for about a week’s stay. Here we will be able to drive into Darwin and attend the Mindle Beach Sunset Markets and all the other sites of Darwin and then we can also travel south to the Berry Springs natural swimming hole.
Also i must add that Jakayla and i got a haircut from a travelling hairdresser (Hi Zillah!). Doesnt my girl look great with her layers? My hair is still getting shorter lol
Wayne is having a great time cooking us beautiful bread in his camp oven. He bought some lovely flour and if we arent near a shop he is making a loaf a day… lucky us!
As i write this it is hard to believe that back at home it is winter. Apparently Darwin doesnt get winter lol. It has been 32C everyday with 40% humidity and nothing like winter!!! I could never live here in the wet season (summer) the humidity would be horrendous! We look forward to taking the kids to the local waterslides on Friday and the wave pool in Darwin city in a couple of days…. so strange but i can see why the ‘Northern Migration of the Grey Nomad’ is in full force! Next stop is Kununurra……