Monday 16 July and Tuesday 17 July – Kununurra
Trevor and Emma packed early and got off on the return trip to Fitzroy Crossing, leaving us to a day of housework and general repairs. We will miss their company and have really enjoyed the week together. It seems like a lot longer because we managed to pack so much in to each day. We used the next couple of days to recharge our own batteries, take a few long bike rides and catch up on reading.
Wednesday 18 July and Thursday 19 July – Timber Creek
The following day, we packed and headed East once again into the NT. This time, our target was Timber Creek and the chance to fish the tidal section of the Victoria River. Timber Creek is a small town some 170km from Kununurra and has only basic facilities such as a small supermarket, police station, school, council chambers, two caravan parks and two pubs. They have their priorities right! At the back of the park we stayed in was a suspension bridge over a lovely stretch of Timber Creek itself. Every evening at 5pm, the owners fed the resident group of freshwater crocodiles. The park itself had only very basic amenities but despite this, everyone remarked on the charm of the place and many people were staying longer than they first planned.
We loved our time at Timber Creek even though we did very little. We did spend an afternoon on the river, catching little except a few small catfish. The tidal parts of the river are not as attractive as the freshwater stretches and so cruising the river is not an end in itself. We did head in close to the bank a couple of times to check out some rather large saltwater crocodiles, the biggest around the 4 metre mark and somewhat bigger than our little boat. Despite the lack of fish it was well worthwhile
Friday 20 July to Sunday 22 July – Victoria River
Leaving Timber Creek, it was a short drive of 100kms or so down the road to Victoria River. There is no town as such, just a roadhouse and station buildings with a basic camping area attached. This is a place we had only ever driven through before and not paid much attention to. The immediate surrounds are spectacular, with the Victoria River carving a large and spectacular gorge through the sandstone highlands. While booking in to the camp grounds, we noticed that they were advertising helicopter flights through the gorge and up the river. At $100 for 20 minutes, this was a lot cheaper than the Bungles so we jumped at the chance, now fully fledged helicopter lovers. We organised an evening flight for 5pm, when the wind would drop and the sun light up the walls of the gorge.
The flight was incredible. We both agree it is the highlight of the trip to date. At one point, the chopper hovered alongside some beautiful aboriginal artworks and stayed there until a sudden gust of wind prompted the pilot to peel off into a dive. At another point, he went down to only 2 or 3 metres above the river to fly over a sand bar and scare a couple of crocs. It was a huge buzz. Now we don’t even care what we see from the chopper; we just love the flight.
Victoria River proved to be a magic place. For 3 days we watched the travellers come and go but we stayed on and loved it. We completed a strenuous but wonderful walk up the escarpment at Joe’s Creek and marvelled at the vegetation and staggering views. We put the boat in and fished the fresh water. The river looked perfect for barra, with lots of deep water full of inviting snags. Alas, the result was the same as the saltwater and the barra proved elusive, as did the sooty grunter. I am sure that at the right time of year this place would be incredible. Not catching fish was a lot easier to take in this part of the world because the scenery was so amazing while we were on the river. At one point, we came across a dead freshwater crocodile, an all too common sight in this part of the NT these days as the cane toad advances. Eventually, the effect on wildlife diminishes as the locals come to learn that cane toad don’t make a healthy snack.
Monday 23 July to Friday 27 July – Katherine
On Monday morning, we reluctantly packed up and headed East to Katherine, booking in to our much loved Riverview Park. From here, it is an easy walk down the hill from the back gate to Katherine’s lovely thermal springs. A long soak in the springs every afternoon and a chat to the many travellers who end up there is an absolute must. After a spot of shopping, Christine started ringing around the local schools in search of work. After only two schools, we had enough work to satisfy our needs over the next week or so. Sight-seeing is not a high priority for us around Katherine because we have been here a lot during our time in Kalumburu so it is a great chance to cash up. We did take a trip out to Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) for a look and a relaxing swim. Some other travellers were booked in the following day for a breakfast cruise in the gorge and we logged this away for a future event.
Work for the week was at a wonderful school in South Katherine called MacFarlane. It has around 300 students, beautiful grounds, excellent facilities, very well behaved children and a friendly and professional staff. We worked on a two for one basis, teaching together as one salary. Our role was to take small groups of ESL (English as a Second Language) students and a maths group. Much of our time was also spent giving one-on-one diagnostic maths tests. It was enjoyable work in an excellent school. The Principal suggested that we stay on for the term and we were both tempted. At the end of the week, we both felt that we had been on a PD and learned so much. We may return here on our way South.
Saturday 28 July to Monday 30 July – Roper Bar
With no work until the following Tuesday, we planned a “long weekend” trip down to Roper Bar. This involved a drive South to Mataranka then a 170km drive East, about 45km of which was on unsealed but good roads. Roper Bar itself is a small store situated on the banks of the Roper River. A crossing on the river marks the border with aboriginal lands and the community of Ngukurr lies across the river itself. We stayed in a small camping area with toilets and hot showers but no power. The river here is fresh but experiences a tidal influence of around one and a half metres. We set up camp near a couple who had been there for 6 weeks. In that time, they had caught 10 barra, most of them in recent days with the water starting to warm up. With the boat set up, he showed us how to navigate the rock bars downstream. We set off full of hope of a good fish and explored a beautiful stretch of water, full of exciting snags and promising looking rock bars. Frustration soon set in. We tried lures and live bait, all to no avail. To add insult to injury, the neighbour returned with three barra. We could even see him fishing from where we were.
A highlight of fishing the Roper was the sight of a large buffalo wallowing in the water. This was our first wild buffalo. We eased into the bank with the boat and camera. He had his back to us and was just getting ready for a good roll in the water when he looked over his shoulder and saw us only 20 metres away (but safely in deep water). The poor animal panicked and bolted up the bank, before turning and snorting aggressively at us. We were both glad of the stretch of water between us. Roper Bar is a wonderful spot and we are determined to come back for an extended stay at such future date. It is easy to see why we came across a few people who had set up a semi-permanent camp there.
On the drive back to Katherine, we stopped in to the famed thermal pools of Mataranka for a swim. Unfortunately, they are suffering from the heavy impact of tourism and no longer hold the magic that they did when we first visited in 1990. It seems like every part of the pool was occupied by a grey nomad and the vegetation has not regrown properly following the impact of a cyclone in 2005. Despite this, the water is still wonderfully warm and retains its crystalline clarity.
Tuesday 31 July Back in Katherine
Seeing as we were only returning to Katherine for work, we decided to book into a Motel for a couple of nights. We both had teaching roles at another Katherine School, Clyde Fenton Primary School. Christine had a Year 1 while I had a Year 3. Once again, we were astounded by the resourcing and facilities in the school. Both Katherine schools have been better resourced than anything we have experienced in WA. The staff was welcoming and envious of our lifestyle. We have an arrangement to return to Clyde Fenton in several weeks for our trip South.
Wednesday 1 August to Sunday 5 August – Darwin
With work commitments in Katherine satisfied, we headed North to Darwin to prepare for the Ron and Dorothy’s arrival next week. We also wanted some time in Darwin to shop around for another vehicle. Our talk along the way has focussed on the possibility of buying a 4WD tray top Landcruiser or Patrol. If the right vehicle presents in Darwin, we might be persuaded. We had organised a site at KOA Caravan Park in Malak, choosing it because it had all en-suite facilities. This would be far more convenient while Ron and Dorothy were with us. However, on arrival we were dismayed to find that they did not cater for camper trailers, with all sites being set up for caravans only and a policy in force that did not allow any camping on grassed areas. Much disgruntled, we set about the difficult task of finding alternative accommodation. Darwin at this time of year is bulging at the seams. A fruitless tour of all the Parks failed to turn up anything suitable. We decided to check out a park called “Tumbling Waters”, some 65km out of Darwin on the Cox Peninsula Road near Berry Springs. We had had rave reviews of this place from a number of travellers along the way and we reasoned that the extra distance out of Darwin would be off-set by the close proximity to attractions such as Litchfield National Park and the Territory Wildlife park. A phone call confirmed that they had good priced cabins available for Ron and Dorothy and space for the camper.
On arrival at Tumbling Waters, we realised that things had fallen our way. The place is every bit as beautiful as other travellers had described. The owners seemed to fall over themselves to help and gave us an excellent discount for an extended stay. They run a small bar and offer deck chair movie showings on Wednesday and Saturday nights. In the middle of the park, is a large fenced in pond area with a decked raised walk access which is home to a number of freshwater crocodiles. The pool is large and warm. Bordering the park is a freshwater billabong that is rumoured to contain sooty grunter, mangrove jacks and cherrabin. The owner will lend fishing gear and cherrabin traps. On the other side is the Blackmore River, a tidal river which is said to be good for salmon, jewfish and trevally on the rising tide.
We set up camp in a grassy shaded area adjacent to the camp kitchen. The next few days consisted of exploring the surrounds, including a spot of fishing in nearby Bynoe Harbour. We didn’t fill the boat but a few cod and silver grunter provided a meal. We are not far from Berry Springs Nature Park, a lovely stream of good shimming water, fed by a thermal spring. We snorkelled through all three crystal clear pools and saw barramundi, sooty grunter, catfish, mangrove jack, tarpon and long toms.
A trip in to Darwin was made to check out the available tray top utes for sale. It soon became evident that buying one in Darwin was not a good option. There were very few available and those that were lacked any of the extras for camping that we would want. We decided to make do with the Explorer for the time being and tackle the issue back in Perth when we had more time. The rest of the days passed peacefully as we enjoyed the beauty of Tumbling Waters and awaited the arrival of Ron and Dorothy on Monday.