Friday, 27 June 2014

The Daly River and the most peaceful camp spot to not catch barramundi

It's no surprise to anyone that I'm not that into fishing. Years of long hours spent on a cold and deserted beach/ riverbank/ campsite waiting for LeRoux to have "just one last cast" to be regaled with tales on how "something massive" had "bitten the line off" and that he'd been "battling the sweep" the whole time (because didn't you know? Sheep stations rested on whether he'd actually land anything of note. It's all terribly important this fish getting business). Yes, my tolerance is limited somewhere between zero and "What the f%*k is this bait doing in the f@#$ing food freezer?"

The Daly River.

So when pleading eyes and promises of a two night stay maximum, plus power, plus phone network access, plus internet if only he could go to Daly River and try "to catch a barra- it's my last chance to catch one in the Northern Territory..." who am I kidding when I say I had the power over whether we'd go or not. Wild horses wouldn't have stopped Fiela,but having me on side would certainly make this fishing detour more pleasant.

The boat ramp at the Mango Farm, Daly River.

So we left the personality melting pot of Litchfield National Park behind and drove more winding road into the Daly River area. We were staying at the Mango Farm Caravan Park, one of four camping options in the area (an indication in itself of the popularity of this fishing spot, the main centre being an indigenous settlement holding a thousand people at best), a spot chosen on the basis that one of Fiela's patients used to come here. I was becoming less and less sold on this whole idea with every minute,  until we booked in and came upon one of the most peaceful and shaded campgrounds we'd experienced yet.

100 year old mango trees, tropical flowering bushes, palm and coconut trees shade the grounds which are right on the Daly River itself. The amenities are glorified sheds, but how they manage to keep them so spotless is beyond me. I've just realised I haven't cleaned a bathroom, let alone a toilet for three months. (insert  contented sigh) Sorry, lost you all for a moment... Anyway, the Daly River is supposed to be legendary in the barra fishing stakes. In the years they're biting that is. Which they weren't. Not for the last two years apparently.

So we set up and I didn't look twice as an older couple started setting up their Avan next to us. Except they had a dog (Marguerite honed in on that in seconds), and a boat (noticed even quicker by LeRoux), and we had small children (captivating this couple's attention around about the same time) which meant the Uys Huis was on the happiest of collision courses with the Flick and Al Show.

Peaceful, beautiful Mango Farm. They even had frozen mango you could by. And mango chutney, mango yoghurt, mango sauce, mango icecream, shrimp paste, shrimp gumbo... (Forrrrrest...)

Flick and Al were desperately missing their grandchildren and Fiela and I were more than happy to billet Miss M and Mr C out on a day by day basis, which happily turned into five instead of just two "max". Fiela and Al angling while the rest of us stayed at the Mango Farm being entertained by Flick and eating the most amazing spelt, sunflower and pumpkin seed bread she was turning out of her camp oven. Marguerite was now sporting a viral infection and Flick was able to provide that doting grandmotherly affection she'd been in need of. Al was a keen sportsman and loved to kick the ball around with Caesar at any given moment. We walked Mac the dog, spotted crocodiles and enjoyed the peace and quiet and the company of these wonderful people- the fact they liked our kids was really just an added bonus.

There are ruins from an 1880s Jesuit Mission within walking distance to the campgrounds, and I wondered what inner fortitude and faith a person would have to possess to come here and attempt to convert the indigenous people to christianity and western ways in general. Especially when a trip we'd just completed in a number of hours would have taken weeks at best back then. It lasted for a few years before the missionaries and even the Aborigines they'd converted conceded it was all a bit too hard to love God without regular food; the mission's gardens failing a few seasons in a row.

A crap photo of a big crocodil about 30 metres away from us at the boat ramp. These things are bloody scary!

Anyway,  we were leading a fairly hedonistic existence on the banks of the Daly River, despite the lack of fish (sorry one small mangrove jack) and the alcohol running out on the last day. Fiela used his last can of beer to make a roast chicken,  Flick and Al provided the drinks and we had a delightfully raucous roast chicken dinner under the Daly River stars.

Camp Uys Huis.

We packed up very slowly the next day, ever grateful to have our babysitters next door, and said a  very sad farewell to Flick and Al and Mac. We plan to catch up with them when we hit Victoria (they live near the Coonawarra wine area- winning!!) but for people we had only met 5 days ago, I was incredibly upset about leaving them. In the petrie dish of caravanning society, we seem to forge friendships in the quickest of ways, mostly because you share at least one passion immediately -travel- with all your commonalities radiating from that one central theme. Making friends is then just dependent on whether you like to fish, bushwalk, do things on the cheap, eat well, eat out, shop at woolies or the iga, surf, drive, read.... Whatever. But then when you make a strong connection with people,  saying see ya never becomes sad and tiring. Especially with types you draw parallels with from your non-travelling life.

The BoetMan, high on Flick and Al goodness.

Clearly I was still feeling some leftover Sydney funk (not to devalue the loveliness of our Daly Rivers neighbours!), as were the kids with their snot noses and devil may grandmother care attitudes... and Fiela would indeed have to leave the Northern Territory barramundi-less. What we needed was a weird natural phenomena to set us right, or at least ease our wearied  travel bones...

Daly River sunset.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Litchfield National Park and camping at Florence Falls

Aaaah Litchfield National Park. It's like going to your neighbour's place when they've just put in a new pool - everyone's there with a towel.

We drove down the Stuart Highway and into the winding hills before we hit the park and our camp spot at Florence Falls. Even though we'd arrived pretty early at 2pm and the campsite was virtually empty, it still took us half an hour to decide on a spot, 10 minutes to move to another, 35 minutes to realise we couldn't fit in that spot and Fiela to drive off in a huff to the previous spot, then another two hours to set up after we tried to fix a few things on the camper. Not a super wonderful start.

Our  eventual campsite at Florence Falls.

Luckily the Florence Falls campsite is really good, with toilets and showers  and only a quick five minute walk to the top of the falls. We found this out the next day when we dragged ailing children and our city living arses over there. It was gorgeous.

Florence Falls and some whingey sick kids.

We met some great people here, but as is the way sometimes,  the majority were... How shall I put this? Not our kind of people? They ranged from the Can't String Two Words Together,  to the Won't Shut Up kinds. There were big drinkers, teetotallers, tired Germans, weird French people and shy Australians. One notable invited himself to sit at our fire, conceded he was in the middle of a midlife crisis, had left his wife and wasn't sure she'd be 'there' when he got back, drank himself steadily stupid and when Fiela said he was going to bed later that night (I'd exited very soon after the mid life  crisis comment), he had a sook and said "well fine I suppose I'll have to sit here by myself!" Yes, you will.

Beautiful Florence Falls.

 We don't have animals, but the kids hold the same kind of social magnetism as a dog at the park,  and we were forced to interact with people we'd normally choose not to. But that is the great lottery you play in campgrounds: most of the time you lose, sometimes you make your money back, but every now and then you hit the jackpot.

And as Fiela is really one of the luckiest people I know, it follows that at the next camping spot of Daly River, a pure fishing stop with literally nothing for me and the children to do, where he had sold it on the proviso of " We'll stay two nights max. I promise... " we all hit the jackpot and stayed happily for five.

Anyway. Here are the photos of Litchfield NP.

The Buley Rockpools. This was about a 1.5km walk from our campsite and was gorgeous. The water was pretty chilly in comparison to the usual caravan pool stew we were used to, but it was fresh and lovely.

Loving Buley Rockholes- apparently it gets so busy there's no space in the carpark, and less in the pools.

Some of the rock holes from the top.

Warming up on the rocks: their father's children.

Buley Rock Pools with Fiela in the middle.

A deep pool for a deep man. "I wonder how long I can hold my breath down there..."

The creek down from Florence Falls. Just a rocks and water shot really. Sorry.

Florence Falls from the swimming hole at the bottom.

Tolmer Falls. Small endangered bats live in caves at the bottom so this is as close as you can get. (I lie, you can walk around the top of the falls and get a good view of viewing platform I took this photo from.)

Litchfield Savannah.

Wangi Falls. This is the main attraction in Litchfield. It was pretty amazing, but there are better places if you've got a 4WD and don't mind a quick walk (Wangi is only a hundred metres or so from the carpark).

Female globe spider and her male counterpart. That's him, Tiny on the right.

Forest Fairy.

Wangi... A crowded melting pot of Euro Trash, Grey Nomads and Feral Kids (aka The Uys Huis).

To the right of the smaller fall, a little deep pool had been carved out of the cliff. You just had to climb a few metres up and had your own warm pool. Fiela and I conjectured that the noticeably higher temperature was possible from the water being warmed up over the cliff face as it fell in the pool... Or maybe the more agile backpackers and Grey Nomads had simply added their own special heat to the pool. Not sure, but it was pleasantly warmer than the bit swimming hole!

Wangi, warm pee pool and Marguerite's head just visible.

A magnetic termite mound- they are always built on the North/South axis give or take a few centimetres!

Magnetic termite mound with a large cathedral one in the background. Apparently the termite queen pushes out 30,000 little termites a year, and lives for 80 years. I felt tired just listening to that.

One of the termite mounds.

Amazing, gorgeous, peaceful and uncrowded Tjanyera Falls at  Sandy Creek. If you have a 4WD, go here. It's incredible; even the walk in (1.7km one way) is beautiful, and you will be rewarded with clear, cool water and the most wonderful experience. I felt like our travelling mojo was starting to come back a bit here..

At the falls, managed to climb a few metres up and jump into the deep pool below.
Such fun and so daring for a frumpy mummy type such as oneself!

More globe spiders.

Purple mermaid catching some warming sun rays on a rock far right.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Darwin Part 2- All the touristy things that are awesome.

Darwin Sunset
The second part of our Darwin week started with Fiela and I dithering about what to do that day... Water or wildlife park? Shopping or museums? Markets or Jumping Crocodiles? After some heated too-ing and fro-ing, we decided on driving down to Berrry Springs and its Nature Park, the actual springs at Berry Springs, maybe drive another 80kms one way to Mandorah a town on the opposite side of the harbour from Darwin, see the 12volt fridge man about our ailing Waeco and get home in time for the Mindil Sunset Markets. Dream big Uys's, dream big.

Excited much? Look out Territory Nature Park!

The drive down to Berry Springs takes about 45 minutes and takes you passed a massive stock yard with lots of roadtrains and forlorn looking cows, most likely export bound, and the odd WWII memorial.

When we arrived at the Territory Wildlife Park I had few expectations, thinking it would be a quick stop before a swim at the springs and the thousands of other things we seemed to have planned for the day. But I was blown away immediately by the price alone at $26 per adult with kids under 15 free. Coming from the Irwin family's Australia Zoo territory on the Sunshine Coast, where  a day out needs to be carefully budgeted, this seemed like a bargain. Surely there's a catch? Nope, just an awesome wildlife park with some awesome displays.

A long neck turtle.

We walked in and had lunch while the kids played in the playground, then listened to a quick talk on long neck and yellow neck turtles (apparently it's turtle week?!), with Marguerite and Caesar able to have a quick
Patting aforementioned turtle. More exciting times for the Uys Huis and their blankies...
 pat of them. Then we jumped on the 'train' up to the Aviary. Instead of being just one big bird cage, we walked through a series of smaller ones, each showcasing bird, reptile, mammal and fish species in the habitat where they can be found. The billabong habitat was perhaps the most interesting because you could see the fish underwater,  but there were also excellent savannah woodland, dry rock and monsoonal forest aviaries, just to name a few. We got to the main aviary in time to listen to another ranger talk on some of the birds there. We got to look at brown Curlew up close and thus demystified our own demons in regard to this species (if you've never heard a curlew, their nickname is 'murderbird', and gives a fair sized  clue as to their loud call. Quite the sleep disrupter in the middle of the night!), a tawny frogmouth, doves, orange breasted lorikeets and more. A highlight was throwing live millet worms to the birds. Marguerite was all over that.

Part of the aviary, the monsoon section. A sensor lets off the most enormous thunder clap as you walk in
and then 'rain' pours over the roof.

The Billabong aviary.

Fish up close in the billabong aviary.

Next stop was the birds of prey talk. This was pretty impressive, with eagles using rocks to crack open emu eggs, jabiru soaring over with their enormous wingpsan, barn owls, white crested eagles... It really was a fantastic and informative show and it all happened a few metres in front of us. Afterwards the kids got to pat a rufus owl and look at an eagle's next closeup via some stairs.

Eagle cracking open an emu egg by throwing a rock at it. Quite amazing!


We also went to the nocturnal house, but as you're supposed to  be quiet and move slowly so as not to disturb the animals, we didn't see much. So onto the aquarium, which was awesome. Fiela saw a size barramundi, the only one thus far on the trip- let's all hope he gets one soon because the moping is outrageous. And the rest of us saw fresh water sting rays (in a walk through tunnel, the rays gliding over head), turtles, all kinds of fish in all kinds of water and temperatures, and a 4 metre saltwater crocodile. It really was very good and for our children it was amazing, their faces pressed up against the glass and screaming in excitement. The fish weren't returning the love but then they probably get that all day so perhaps it's all a bit ho hum.

Patting a Rufus Owl.

Not sure who loved it more, Fiela or his Mini Me...

Then it was home time, but not before the dingoes came out and we got a close look at them too. We'd spent almost 5 hours here in this enormous park and seen so much wildlife in such varied habitats, it really felt like we'd kicked a touristy goal!.


Feeling pretty tired, we realised we really only had time for one more activity, which would definitely have to involve alcohol, so we drove back to Darwin and straight over to the Mindil Beach Markets. There are a few stalls selling the usual kind of asian inspired clothing and homewares, but the main draw card is the amazing food+live entertainment+red overwater sunset = complete Darwinian experience. Unfortunately we missed the sunset, too intent on stuffing our faces with the next tasty thing to eat. Oh well, we'd just have to come back and do it again on Sunday!

We spent a day doing some shopping at Casuarina, a centre with some pretty snazzy shops along with all the usual suspects like BigW, Kmart etc... Next stop was the Darwin Museum which was excellent. Again the focus was on the fauna of the Northern Territory, but there was also a fantastic exhibit on Cyclone Tracey (which flattened the city in ) and its after effects. I had no idea that most of the city was airlifted out, and 1974) there was a dark sound room where you could listen to what it would have been like as the cyclone ripped apart your house. Scary! The museum also housed a stuffed crocodile named 'Sweetheart' (Territorian humour at work), a 5 metre male specimen who had been terrifying the locals by attacking the propellers of their boats. Poor misunderstood Sweetheart never actually killed anyone, but people are pretty uptight about their tinnies so he had to go. The musem also has a great kids activity centre right next to the cafe overlooking the sea and serving awesome food (we had the pancakes with pistachio butter; everything else coming out of the kitchen looked yum too).

Stupid curlews... They look so harmless and nerdy, but they scream  absolute bloody murder.

Having only two nights left in which to view the sunset over NT waters, we went straight from here to the Darwin Yacht Club, mostly because I'd gotten a tip from a local that the food was better than that at the Ski Club with the added bonus of a playground. Fiela was annoyed, loving the Bali style bar they had at the Ski Club, but you can't beat a fancy pub with somewhere for the kids to play (I think I'm turning a bit bogan...). And just to prove it really was THE place for sundowners,  who was sitting front and centre but the Braggs. So ended our second last night in Darwin, having drinks and lovely food with great company, watching the sun dip firey red into the Arafura Sea.

NT Sundowners.

Our last day was spent cleaning out the camper trailer, stocking up on food and drinks (keen to avoid another Normanton-esque markup next time we need nappies and the like) and washing washing washing. By mid afternoon we were ready for the recreation centre at Leeanyer. This park had a massive playground,  skatepark, water play park, massive lagoon style pool and three water slides reached by climbing up about five flights of stairs. It was pretty awesome  even though Marguerite was really starting to feel the effects of Caesar's virus. Fiela and I had a great time on the slides, though I'll admit to a fair bit of screaming the first few times down- those tubes are a lot smaller than I remember. Ha ha!

Some of the crowds at the Mindil Beach Markets.

We headed for our final Darwin experience: trying to get a sunset photo at Mindil for the second time. Fiela and I managed to control ourselves, and we watched that sun dip into the sea along with thousands of others- geez it's a popular thing to do on a Sunday.

OK, I forgot the camera the day we went to the Yacht Club... It's all same same but different ;)

Oysters and Sundowners with the crowds.

And so ended our week in the last city the Uys Huis was likely to see until we neared Perth in a few months time. Darwin is an awesome little city: a holiday destination in its own right. And we'd shopped, eaten with the hordes and played ourselves sick. It was time to get this show back on the road and get back to nature. Next stop: Litchfield National Park.

Mindil Beach on a Sunday.


Red Wren

Owls looking cute and menacing all at once.

Tawny Frog Mouth

Orange lorikeet

Live millet worms

Birds of prey lady and owl


Crap Jabiru photo

Majestic eagle photo.... Whatever I can't remember all their names.
Ha ha. You're still reading????