AWOL Around Australia… Back in the NT

Stocked up, back in Kununurra we headed out first checking out Australia’s second biggest man made lake, Lake Argyle.
Also round here is the worlds biggest diamond mine. Which is why as you walk into Kununurra’s small shopping centre, there is a diamond jewellery store, seemingly on holiday from inner city Sydney or somewhere.
Crossing the border into the NT, we instantly ‘lost’ an hour and thirty in time. I was a little concerned we might be a bit late getting to Timber Creek, where we were planning to overnight. So for the first time in, well, quite sometime. I stoked the Land Cruiser up over 100km/h to knock over some miles, felt bloody fast too, ha!
As you may have noticed I like to cook all sorts of things, from all sorts of cultures. However, sometimes you happen to have everything for steak and potatoes, so you have steak and potatoes.
Next morning, the plan was to explore drive down through Gregory/Judbarra NP, and then press on from there, but no.
Easy to get disheartened with all of this, but I put myself in perspective on the next couple of hours of bitumen drive to the town of Katherine. We are probably somewhere between a fortnight and a month too early. The frustrating thing is the country is easily traversable with our set up, with the lack of a proper wet season. However, everything up here is geared around nothing being accessible, and no one being here till May at the earliest. There are a number of reasons while we are here now, and as ever the regulations are generally necessary for the 5% of travellers who can’t be responsible for themselves. Anyway, it is what it is.
At the end of the day, we are still travelling through some awesome country with almost no tourists, so let’s check ourselves and think positive. Right, NT, my old mate, what have you got?
Victoria River Crossing.
Plus some cool pictures from inside the Victoria River Roadhouse (give you an idea what a proper wet season is like).
Rolling into Katherine I spy the Northern Land Council office and pop in, so I can apply for a permit to head out to East Arnhem Land. Application lodged for about a week’s time, let’s wait and see.
We track north. Wiki camps suggests a bush camp on the road out to Edith Falls. It looks fine but a sign I glanced on the start of this road makes me hesitate. Back at the sign I read it properly, seems we did the right thing.
To say most of non indigenous Australians don’t get indigenous Australians is an understatement. To be fair, it’s sometimes easy to arrive at a negative impression. However, many communities have come a long way, in a very short time. Also the more you take time to learn about the traditional ways, the more you realise we imports have a whole heap to learn, especially about how to relate to, work with and live in this country, from the first Australians. All the amazing birds you see up here in the north, were originally found throughout Australia till we started grazing cattle on the native vegetation, think about that next time you grab some steak or mince in the store, I know I do… In some ways I think what has happened here the last couple of hundred years, is a microcosm of what is wrong with the world in general.
Being back in the NT, also meant we could get the infamous NT News, if we so desired…
On to the charming little town of Pine Creek. I felt I was back in the zone now. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do… As I planned where we would go from here.
The other spotlight bracket had also let go now, so I took them all off.
Buy once, cry once. I give that as advice all the time… The lights themselves actually seem reasoanbly well made. However, stainless is probably not a great material for a heavy spotlight bracket on the bull bar of a vehicle that spends much of its time on rough dirt roads. Looks pretty though.
This trip has been very good at distilling down exactly what gear we need, and what stuff has performed well and what hasn’t.
This caught my eye rolling in yesterday.
Lovely chat with this couple and their internationally travelled Defender. Travelling Australia since November, they were loving the north “it’s like a different country” I said, and they agreed. I said I missed the Land Rover community, and they explained how they had been in touch with many Land Rover clubs in Australia. The proudly showed me the modified driveshafts on the rear axle “Australian made! Very good” he assured me. They quizzed me on moving to Australia, or he did, she explained that children and grandchildren would probably keep them in Denmark. Same as my parents I explained.
I told them about the Pilbara region, as they were heading west through the Kimberley, and driving away after saying goodbye I remembered my Hema map of the area was tucked under my seat, so I stopped and hobbled (toe) back to their camp and gave it to them. I’m not going to be needing it anytime soon, and there is loads of good information on it.
Flying over the camp at sunset and again in the morning was a spectacular colony of flying foxes. I found their hang out as we drove out of town.
We took a picturesque dirt road rather than the highway that morning.
You always find stuff taking the road less travelled. More boom and bust goldfield relics. Being just at the end of wet season this area was pretty overgrown, it didn’t really entice me into wandering around in the bush.
I had seen one of these, Mertens’ Water Monitor whilst at El Questro. It had been sun bathing at the side of a water crossing, its wet skin had glistened like many small jewels. I had stopped the truck mid crossing and was just about to take a photo, when as soon as my hand came out of the window with the phone, that’s it! It was gone, into the water.
This one, sun baking on a bridge crossing moved a little more slowly.
Then crossing back over the highway to head out west to Daly River.
A small ramshackle town that shares its name with the river it is on. We check in at the pub and make camp.
3 people consider water crossing and turn back…
I take the Cruiser down to the river for a fish. Nothing happening with the fishing but have an interesting chat with a bloke who lives 80km further down the road, and is on his way back from Darwin, but has to wait for some recent water to subside before he can get home. He assures me where I’m fishing is a good spot, someone pulled four fish out yesterday afternoon, and he then shows me the pictures of the metre six (1.06m) barramundi he landed on the opposite bank. He said he was desperate to get the lure out before other blokes came running over with a tape measure, so they couldn’t see what it was. Then goes ahead and shows me what he used to net ‘the horse’, “and don’t worry about those other things” (crocs) “it’s only the people who don’t fight back who get eaten!”.
Anyway, we chat about how the north has changed, “never used to see people out at my place, now they’re always up there in their boats, bloody annoying!” he’s been up here thirty years but is ready to sell up – too hard to visit the grandchildren from where he is.
He offers us to follow him out to his place tomorrow for a fish, I say we’re heading up to Darwin in a couple of days “let the missus take the Toyota, and come anyway!” obviously not overwhelmed with company at his place. Anyway, always good to have a chat with the locals.
I was captivated by the north of Australia when I first came here, and always recommend it to anyone who is coming to visit. But it is over 10 years since I’ve been here properly and I realise that I need to work towards more regular visits up here. Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans or something…
Another day of lazing and fishing. After following some local advice I get a big hit on my line, something powerful runs out about ten metres of line and then is gone. “Maybe a shark” says one of the locals. Well, I don’t want to catch one of them. That’s it though, luckily the pub is well stocked with locally caught Barramundi!
The pub here is surprisingly busy and vibrant. The food was excellent. This community seems to work well, and I notice how much more people talk to each other here. Here, where there is no mobile phone service, coincidence…?
Which of course means the ‘quick fix’ of the internet isn’t there. I’ve read more books on this trip than I have in the last ten years, about a 50/50 split of fact and fiction. Bloody enjoyed it too. Easy to forget the simple pleasures in this world.
Moving on, we headed north to Darwin. With a steady stream of 4×4’s and boat trailers coming the other way. Ah, Good Friday, start of the Easter long weekend. We would hole up in a caravan park for the next few days, as every regional campsite for miles is going to be packed for the next few days.
We did rest day stuff and spent sometime in Darwin. One of my favourite Australian cities. I realised every other time I had been here was always for work of one sort or another, and I always had a good time, so that says something about the feel of the place.
Having the dogs with us meant we couldn’t do as much as we wanted. Nay mind, this will make a nice long weekend getaway for N and I at some point in the future.
So we grabbed a few things that you can only get in these bigger places. Then pushed on.
Heading north east of Darwin I was keen to check out a couple of potential bush camps out this way. Streaming long weekend traffic coming the other way, looked like a good sign. Although all the police vehicles mixed in with it was odd. The bitumen turned to a dirt track, a bit rough in places with some bigger holes from being driven wet, as usual we were just going nice and easy. A Prado came rushing up behind us, next opportunity I pulled over and let him go, plus the Nissan Navara that was following a few hundred metres behind. I get that most people are on a more normal and rushed time schedule and we’re not, so I never try to hold anyone up.
A couple of km’s later and the bush closes in drastically, with only a single vehicle track through what is now think jungle.
We plunge in just as the Navara is backing out, but he immediately goes forwards again. We follow until we meet the traffic jam in the middle. Prado guy is pulled over, a Holden Colorado is also backed up in the bush and a Pajero has manoeuvred itself out of the way (coming the other way). I stop at the back and get out to see what the go is…
Pajero guy has turned around as he is not confident of making the second water crossing further up the track “not so deep, but not worth it”, “how far up?, I’ve never been up here” I say, “about three hundred metres”, ok, not so far to look then.
The Prado guy and the Navara guy who know each other talk about going on, “pull in behind me, let this guy (me) go first” says Prado guy to Navara guy. So gracious, not in so much of a hurry now then…? Whatever, I’d go first, I know mine and Bertha’s limits pretty well by now. But Navara guy gallantly says he’ll take the lead, and Prado guy follows.
We so splash through a couple of small water crossings and then a deeper one. I feel the Cruiser sink hose extra six inches or so when the bottom is not good. I stop and watch the guys ahead do a couple more puddles and then stop. That’ll be the crossing then.
The Prado is stock from what I can see, but the Nissan is lifted, fresh KO2’s on it, but he’s not keen to go further. More to the point I can now see the coast out through the trees, mud flats and mangroves. I walk to where Prado guy has stopped “what’s at the end of this track?” I say, “dunno, never been this far he says” well there is no indication that the camping is going to be any way worth it, so I walk back to Bertha and we do twelve-ish point turn and head back.
Risk vs Reward as I explain to N, would we had made the creek crossing? Yeah probably, but why risk it? I didn’t see anything that suggested we would find a good campsite, and if we didn’t make the crossing? Well that’s one muddy afternoon on your hands, plus who know how much ruined gear, plus prime croc country. Weekender with the lads is one mindset, these longer trips, very different.
A Honda CRV or something was on its way in as we were coming out, I wound down my window for a chat, but the other driver didn’t and kept going, I’m sure they’ll turn around at the first big puddle…
So we back tracked. There was an abandoned prison to go check out, we took a more minor but direct track there. Wet but it looked ok.
That’s a bit more serious.
I walked (the start of) this section and prodded around with a stick, base actually felt good. We drove in carefully. The trail dropped down a step as we got to the deeper water. I stopped.
Looking closely, now we had sent down a little bow wave, you could see the middle of the puddle was running water. So this was a swollen creek, not just a puddle. The muddy water revealed nothing. We backed out.
Off the track was swampy soup, so we back up maybe two hundred metres, before it was dry enough to do another twelve-ish point turn, and headed out.
We found the prison, and the remnants of a bush-doof (rave) party that had obviously been going all night (all weekend?) long. A few sorry looking souls were still getting the most out of their drugs
There was a track in out of here, rough and washed out. A Triton was struggling up it so we waited. Bloke pulled over with his window down, as was mine “anything worth it down there?” I said “not really”, came the reply “ we got to one major wash out and decided it wasn’t worth it”, “fair enough” I said. We drove a short way down the track but there were heaps of people camped here. U bolt again.
I said to N that you can divide off-road drivers into two categories, those that stop to chat through the window, and those that don’t. Why you wouldn’t want to quiz someone who is coming out of the track you are just about to drive down totally beats me. Blind faith maybe?
We eventually got out to the other bush camp, but just another coast camp where the tide goes out for miles.
Not for us, a spot of lunch and we initiated Plan B, and headed back to the highway and then west, out towards the (Mick) Dundee area. We rolled into Bynoe bush camp in late afternoon.
Had a good chat with ‘Bones’, the caretaker. We talked about communities up here. He had worked in Gunbalanya, and had driven some of the north road to Nhulunbuy. He said it had been pretty wild back then, just a beer can on a branch if you’re lucky then you get round the corner and road is just gone…. Impossible to get a permit to go that way now.
Best thing about the NT so far? The people. Territorians so much more laid back and chatty, in an already laid back and chatty country.
Kevin (Bacon) the pig.
Roxy having her lie in, on me.
This was a nice spot but I felt like we should make some distance towards Katherine to hopefully pick up our permit tomorrow.
First out to Dundee Beach, a small town down the end of this westerly road. At the beach was Dundee Lodge, a busy fishing lodge judging by the amount of 4×4’s there with empty boat trailers attached. We had a drive around and down to another bit of the coast, the sea here is murky, the same as it was where we were yesterday on the coast east of Darwin. Good for fishing it looks like, but that’s about it.
We started to track back towards the highway. I tried a few cross country tracks I could see on the topo map, but all met with private property or no access of one sort or another. The wild and free north Australia I remembered from my time in the Army seemed pretty sanitised now. Maybe it has changed. Maybe it is just my perception that has changed, or maybe we just haven’t hit those parts yet. A bit of each no doubt, but let’s hold out for the latter hey?
So back to the highway and back to the charming town of Pine Creek, for a nice early camp. This would allow us to get to Katherine in good time tomorrow.
I was apprehensive pulling up outside the Northern Land Council office. In my gut I had a feeling that this permit wouldn’t be ready. Just the way things had gone the last few weeks, plus the fact that when I’d applied for it I hadn’t realised that Easter was smack bang in the time I had asked for it to be approved. Well, my concerns were completely unfounded, a bit of rustling around and I was presented with a very official looking piece of paper “just sort out the other permits when we get there?” I asked “I would do the general permit online beforehand” the helpful lady replied, as they tend to close quite early out there. Good information. I bashed that out in the car outside whilst we had good service. The specialist permits could wait till we got there.
Feeling mildly triumphant, we grabbed a few groceries, emptied half the worlds refined petroleum supply into the tanks and hit the road. 50km out of Katherine came the turn off.
Right, time for some bloody adventure.

One thought on “AWOL Around Australia… Back in the NT”

  1. Gregory/Judbarra won’t open fully until the end of May. They have to slash each of the 4×4 tracks with a tractor (twice!) then repair any washouts. Plus the road to Bullita needs to be graded and washouts repaired. It is what it is. Last time we were there…one track was still closed at the end of July.

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