Passport to April

My friend Crissouli wanted to know where she could get her passport stamped after completing our Top End tour in the A to Z challenge. So I thought I’d put together a collage of some of the month’s pictures.

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Once again a HUGE thank you to the many people who visited during April and supported me in this challenge…it’s your encouraging comments that helped keep me going. I do hope you also enjoyed yourselves along the way. Good on ya, mate!

And if you really want a passport stamp this might suffice.

A to Z supporter_edited-1

Z is for THE END

a-to-z-letters-z Z is for THE END

Isn’t it a great achievement of determination and commitment for all of us to have reached the end of the A to Z challenge for 2013? I can’t wait for my Survivor’s Badge. Meanwhile…today we’re back over in the Kimberley in Western Australia.

Z is for ZEBEDEE SPRINGS

Zebedee Springs is a fresh water spring on the El Questro property. It’s a popular spot for a cool swim and relaxation, so much so that the hours are regulated with residents in the morning and tour groups in the afternoon. I wouldn’t personally place it as high on my list as some of the more picturesque fresh water springs but I did enjoy my dip when we visited.Zebedee springs low

Z is for ZEBRA ROCK

Zebra Rock is a strange geological feature of the Kimberley from near the Ord River (also home of those gorgeous Argyle pink diamonds!).

Zebra Rock low

Zebra Rock is a pretty and much cheaper souvenir if you’re over touring there. It looks nice when it’s polished up and oiled or lacquered – something that’s been on my “gunna” list for an embarrassingly long time. The diamonds are great too if you have a lots of cash to splash!

Working on the Zebra Rock.

Working on the Zebra Rock.

As this is the finale, I’d like to say THANK YOU for touring with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual travel and that it may encourage you to visit Down Under sometime. I still have lots of blog reading to catch up from with the challenge and I’m planning to do another Sunday Synopsis soon. I’ve enjoyed reading the stories others have written but I’m also miles behind with posts. 

FINAL AUSSIE-ISMS

Zac: is the vernacular term for the old sixpence, equivalent to the current 5 cent piece. Since decimal currency was adopted on 14 February 1966, the term has faded into near obligion.

Zonked: Exhausted, super tired from a big effort at something eg “I’m zonked from completing the A to Z challenge and I’m off to ‘catch some zzzs’.”

Z as an abbreviation: Most Australians have an obsessive compulsion to shorten names (just try that with my husband!!). A frequent modification is the replacement of part of the name with a couple of zzs. Sharon becomes Shazza: Barry is Bazza (why? It’s not even shorter); Dazza for Darren; Kezza for Kerry. I’m sure my Aussie mates will have some extras for you in the comments. I admit to being un-Australian in this regard –I really don’t like the habit.

See you soon – the photos and stories will continue, just not every day!

Image courtesy of Office Images online.

Image courtesy of Office Images online.

Q is for El Questro and Queensland

a-to-z-letters-qOnce again today’s trip takes us across the NT-WA border into the magnificent Kimberley area.

Q is for El QUESTRO

El Questro Wilderness Park lies in the north-east of the Kimberley’s 421,000 square kilometres of natural wonderland. The property is perhaps more well-known for its high-end luxury accommodation in the homestead, but that shouldn’t deter those of us with less well-lined pockets as there are other options for staying here.

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When we visited back in 2001 we chose to stay in the secluded camping spots alongside the PentecostRiver, which have no facilities, rather than the busier camp site nearer to the Station. It was blissful to be just relaxing in the midst of the bush listening to the birds, rather than other campers. It’s not as if you’re miles from anywhere as it’s a short drive, or longer walk, to the shop near the campground. Why didn’t we take a photo of our campsite I’d like to know?!

Chamberlain gorge1

Apart from the two camping areas, the more upmarket bungalows, and the lodge, there are also the safari-style tents at Emma Gorge, closer to the entry to the property. Even if you’re not staying there you can go into the restaurant/bar area and have a “coldie” either before or after your walk into the gorge.

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Although you may be tempted to do a lot of chilling-out (not always easy in the 30+C heat!), there are plenty of activities you can organise through the Station. We chose to do the Chamberlain Gorge boat cruise and absolutely loved it. The scenery is magnificent, once again with the landmark red cliffs and fresh water. Of course the colour of the rocks changes with the time of day and when the sun is angled on it.

Look closely and you will see the "Bradshaw" paintings of people, a hand print and a kangaroo. All on the cliff face protected by overhangs.

Look closely and you will see the “Bradshaw” paintings of people, a hand print and a kangaroo. All on the cliff face protected by overhangs.

The guide will also show you some of the ancient Aboriginal art that’s tucked away among the cliffs, overhangs and mini-caves. It is such a privilege to see this art that dates back thousands of years, perhaps as much as 20,000 years.

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The Wandjina paintings are just beautiful I think and a nice souvenir is to buy a pair of stirling silver earrings in those shapes from a jewellers in Kununura.

If you want to know more about the facilities and touring options you can check out their e-brochure, and sadly I’m not getting any kick-backs on this promo. But I am reminded that it’s far too long since we visited ourselves, though it will be tents once again for us.

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The other really important thing you need to know is there is no access during the northern Wet Season (about December-March or April), so you need to keep this in mind. Similarly what sort of vehicle you’re driving will determine how early in the open season you can drive in, as the river may still be impassable in a sedan (especially a hire car!!).

The boab is a feature of the Kimberley landscape

The boab is a feature of the Kimberley landscape

And if you want to know what it’s like staying at the homestead you can check out this post by the couple we met recently in Papua New Guinea.

Emma Gorge

Emma Gorge

Q is for QUEENSLAND

Okay I’m not going to talk about Queensland here except to say the northern half of the state sits in the same latitudes as the other places we’ve been talking about. Some of the scenery may be similar but east of the Great Dividing Range you hit the Wet Tropics. More on that anon. How could I not mention my home state under Q?

Why visitFor yet more magnificent outback scenery, to see ancient Aboriginal art and just to have fun.

FYI: Don’t forget to check out where these places are on the maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

 Queer as a fish: feeling sick ie crook

Quid: a pound in the old money pre–decimal currency on 14 February 1966 (a jingle that those of us who were around then remember vividly).

Quids: as above but a measure of value: you wouldn’t be dead for quids.

Quack: the doctor. Not a reflection on his medical qualifications or skills. My dad always referred to his GP as “the quack”.

Queasy: sick, especially nauseous.

Where shall we travel for R, I wonder?

P is for Purnululu National Park (WA)

a-to-z-letters-p

P is for PURNULULU 

Today’s travel excursion takes us over the Territory’s western border to the Kimberley region of Western Australia and Purnululu National Park, more commonly known as the Bungle Bungles. Accessible by a rough 4WD track this site is justifiably famous for its amazing rock formations and wilderness. When my daughter and I drove in some years ago, there were a number of casualties along the road –camper trailers with wrecked axles, cars with flat tyres etc.

There is no resort there so you take in your own gear and take out your rubbish. If you don’t have a 4WD this wonderful site is inaccessible and you’re left with a small aircraft or helicopter flight as your only option. We chose to do that as well, making it my one and only helicopter flight, and what a great one it was! I’ll let the photos show you just how spectacular it is.

The distinctively striped domes of the Bungle Bungles.

The distinctively striped domes of the Bungle Bungles.

As well as the rock formations there are “hidden” waterholes providing shelter and serenity for the country’s original inhabitants, and its more recent visitors.

Seen from the air, the vastness and strangeness of this area is remarkable.

Seen from the air, the vastness and strangeness of this area is remarkable.

Those who have an interest in geology might be interested in a quick read here. It’s worth remembering that despite the relative youth of the nation of Australia, its Indigenous people have been here for over 50,000 years surviving in an often very unforgiving landscape.

A helicopter flight reveals the hidden canyons, waterways and domes of the national park.

A helicopter flight reveals the hidden canyons, waterways and domes of the national park.

Why Visit: To see a truly unusual natural feature and for a wilderness, rough camping experience. This is a seasonal location and can’t be visited in the summer months (the Wet Season).

FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spot is situated.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

Prawn: don’t be difficult/silly or a pratt eg “don’t come the raw prawn with me”.

Pakapoo ticket* an indecipherable bit of writing.

Pav: short for pavlova, that delicious Aussie/Kiwi meringue dessert

Plonk: cheap wine or alcohol

Pommy: an Englishman (apologies to my northern hemisphere mates!)

Possie: a position/place: somewhere good to sit or eat or camp etc (we got a good possie where we could see the stage at the Xmas carols)

Prang: a car accident (not a major crash) “the kids pranged the car again”.

Why not check in tomorrow to see where Q will take us?

This water channel gives some idea of the force of the Wet Season's rains.

This water channel gives some idea of the force of the Wet Season’s rains.

N is for Ningaloo Reef and bucket lists

a-to-z-letters-nToday we’re heading off to the coast of Western Australia, almost to the south-western boundaries of the map I posted here, and about 1500kms from Darwin (at a guess). We first visited the area over 10 years ago and were stunned by just how beautiful the coastline is, and believe me, coming from a Queenslander that’s a big compliment.

You get your first taste-tempter of the magnificence of red cliffs, white sandy beaches and turquoise waters when you visit Broome and it is just stunning visually. However it’s subject to the usual tropical stinger risks during the months ending in “r” just as Darwin is. How do they know stingers can read…that’s what I want to know. Okay, yes they’re the months when it’s hot, hot, hot! (Did you know that stingers can kill, and even if they don’t they really, really hurt? We’re not talking jelly fish here…so don’t be a “ning-nong” and take chances).

The vivid colours of the Broome coast.

The vivid colours of the Broome coast.

Further south from Broome at Ningaloo Reef, this ceases to be an issue. Sharks (of the man-eating variety) remain a consideration almost everywhere on the coast so there’s no point worrying about them too much.  I suspect Ningaloo Reef is one of those places which may be better known overseas than it used to be in Australia. When we visited in 2001, international tourists were much more in evidence than Aussies, except the ubiquitous grey nomads (retirees touring the country in vans/tents etc).

Ningaloo coast

The crystal waters and white sand of the Ningaloo coast.

Just imagine camping on the beachfront and looking out at this magnificent scene. A cold beer or wine, a book, your loved one, and “Bob’s your uncle”, you’ve got the perfect spot for a chill-out. The reef is relatively close to the beach so you can snorkel out to admire the coral and fish and generally have a wonderful time. At night the skies are smothered in stars, the Southern Cross, the Pointers and the broad dense sweep of the Milky Way, all glittering away from urban lights.

It was quite idyllic -until the wind blew a gale that night :-)

It was quite idyllic -until the wind blew a gale that night…

And that’s not all….there’s natural adventures in store as well, though this one does require you to splash the cash, and more importantly to be at Ningaloo in the critical migration months from April to July. Do you fancy swimming with the whale sharks? Huge creatures but not really dangerous because they’re plankton vacuum-ers not man-eaters, but boy are they big! Again we’d known nothing about them until we arrived and since it was the season it seemed important to “give it a go”.

I didn't get a photo of the whale sharks -too busy swimming -but this one in the Georgia Aquarium gives you a sense of scale.

I didn’t get a photo of the whale sharks -too busy swimming -but this one in the Georgia Aquarium gives you a sense of scale, and its beautiful patterning. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

As with the migration of the whales at Hervey Bay in Queensland, the boats work together to let each other know when a whale shark is spotted. There’s obviously a limit to how close the boat can go, so all fippered and masked up, off into the briny deep you leap swimming towards one of these creatures. Best to contain your imagination rather than think just how much ocean is under you, and what else might be swimming in it. Neither of those things bothered me personally but I rediscovered that snorkel masks make me claustrophobic so head down, boring through the water I very nearly ran into the whale shark! Did I mention how big his mouth is? They are amazing creatures, so huge, and they look like they’re barely moving, but try to swim to keep up and you soon find out differently. You can see a YouTube clip here to get a sense of scale (we also have our video of our swim).

Here comes lunch -fresh-caught Spanish Mackerel.

Here comes lunch: fresh-caught Spanish Mackerel.

This really is a great adventure for anyone who loves nature and I can highly recommend it. I’m unlikely to do it again unless I get past my mask-claustrophobia (I think due to chloroform when I was very young). But even if only one of you wants to do the swim, it’s still worth it. After the whale-shark-swim the team caught a large Spanish Mackeral which was on our plates within half an hour of being caught…the only time I’ve seen prawns ignored at a buffet.

Why visit: for the colourful magnificence of the scenery, for the perfect swimming and snorkelling and if you can, for the whale sharks. This is a bucket-list adventure, as is seeing the whales at Hervey Bay. Do it! You surely won’t regret it.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

No worries/no problems: the ubiquitous Aussie response to being asked to do something or being thanked for doing something. “Think nothing of it” on the other hand is invariably sarcastic ie it really was a lot of trouble.

Nick: steal (kind of appropriate since Australia was founded on convicts who were banished for seven years or life, often for nicking something, not infrequently quite small).

 Narky: cranky, aggravated and somewhat bad tempered.

 Nana: No, not your grandmother, but “doing your nana” means “doing your block”, having a “hissy fit” or losing your temper. It’s pronounced like na-na.

 Ning nong: an idiotic or stupid person.

 I wonder where O will take us tomorrow.

K causes a kerfuffle

a-to-z-letters-kRather than inundate readers I’ve tried to be selective in which places we visit, balancing those that are a bit unusual with the ones most tourist will visit. Today’s choices were “Konflicting” and caused a kerfuffle in my decision-making, so it’s a quick “plug” for each of them.

KATHERINE GORGE (Nitmiluk)

Katherine Gorge is one of the Territory’s iconic sights. The gorge winds through rocky cliffs and progressively narrows. Adventurous travellers can opt to canoe the gorge, and there are levels of access to the famous cruises as well, depending on the individual’s fitness and mobility. Even if you can’t clamber over the rocks that lead between the different levels you will still enjoy your peaceful outing.  Energetic bushwalkers also love the gorge and Nitmiluk national park as there are some great bush walks there….or so I’m told…don’t look to me for advice on that, I’m afraid!083 Katherine Gorge small res

It gets very hot on those rocks, whatever the season, so make sure you,  “slip, slop, slap”  to use one of our iconic Aussie-isms, ie slip on a shirt, slop on some sun cream and slap on a hat”.

084 Katherine Gorge canoe small edit_edited-1

Katherine itself is a mixed bag and many visitors find it rather confronting at times. You’d be wise to stay away from the pubs or you might wind up with a knuckle sandwich. Katherine’s about 300kms south of Darwin. Alternatively if you’re heading north, there’s another three hour drive ahead of you (unless it’s the Dry Season and the highway is inundated with slow-moving caravans –once we counted 100 on that leg of the journey…ugh!!).

Unless you’re “head down, bum up” as we say, I suggest you also stop and look at nearby Edith Falls which is a pretty place for a swim and has a pleasant camping area. In fact you may even prefer this to staying in town. Of course if you’ve won the Lotto or want to splash the cash, you might enjoy the new upmarket resort right in the heart of Nitmiluk.

K is for KIMBERLEY

The Kimberley is the vast top corner of Western Australia. When you cross the NT-WA border you are in the Kimberley and will be notching up the klicks as you travel. It’s spectacular, rugged country with great scenery and wonderful sites to visit, some of which you’ll tour here.

From the red rocks and pointillist vegetation...

From the red rocks and pointillist vegetation…

...to the vivid colours of the Kimberley coast at Broome.

…to the vivid colours of the Kimberley coast at Broome.

K is also for KALKARINGI

If you want to take a different route to the Kimberley you can always head out of Katherine on the Buchanan highway then take a left turn heading down the Buntine Highway. This takes you to Halls Creek via Kalkaringi. Until you reach Kalkaringi the road is bitumen but beyond that it’s unsurfaced and variable depending on when the grader went through last. You can’t overnight at Kalkaringi because it’s an Aboriginal community (with a very famous history for gaining equal pay for Aboriginal stockmen) but you might enjoy visiting their Karungkarni Art gallery (pre-booking is probably a good idea).

The wide open spaces near Kalkaringi from a "secret squirrel" spot.

The wide open spaces near Kalkaringi from a “secret squirrel” spot.

Here’s a photo of some of their artists at last year’s Indigenous Art Show in Darwin. After the long drive by the time you get to Halls Creek you may well be knackered, unless you choose to camp somewhere along the way. Fuel opportunities are limited so make sure you have sufficient to go the distance.

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FYI: Don’t forget, there are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

Kiwi: a New Zealander (after their unique bird)

Knackered: exhausted, worn out from working

Knock off: another one that has to be judged by context: (1) knock off work=to finish for the day; (2) knock-off= a copy eg a dress or an idea/concept

Knocker: someone who has to put everything/everyone down

Kerfuffle: a fuss, bother, fight etc

Kaput: finished, broken permanently

Knickers in a knot: don’t get in a fuss “don’t get your knickers in a knot”

Klicks: short for kilometres, you’ll have done a lot of klicks if you were driving to all my touring spots.

Knuckle sandwich: a punch in the mouth (hence why it’s better to stay out of some pubs)

Take a gander at Geikie Gorge (Djarnku)

a-to-z-letters-gG is for GEIKIE GORGE

On today’s jaunt we’re heading across the Northern Territory-Western Australia border and further west through the Kimberley region to Geikie Gorge or Darngku, about 1500kms. One important thing to remember if you’re heading in this direction is that there are quarantine restrictions on honey, fruit and vegetables, so don’t stock up in Katherine or Darwin before you head off –wait until you get to Kununurra.

The gorge is part of an ancient reef formed in the Devonian period, 360 million years ago. I’m sure you realise I didn’t have this information at the top of my mind and you can learn more about it on this site. The Fitzroy River runs through the gorge and this is where you can take the opportunity for a relaxed boat tour run by the local Aboriginal guides. We did the late afternoon cruise on a camping trip through WA over ten years ago so my memory is hazier than it might otherwise be.

The reflected colours of Geike Gorge near sunset. © Pauleen Cass 2001

The reflected colours of GeikIe Gorge near sunset. © Pauleen Cass 2001

Geike Gorge rocks_smaller

The power of the flooded river on the rocks.

A lasting memory for us is that on our drive back into the town of Fitzroy Crossing where we were camping, we hit a wallaby which the tour guide kindly finished off for the wimpy urbanites. Its leg was broken and it wouldn’t have survived, rather died a painful death as the whistling kites (hawks) were already circling. At least this way it was able to be taken home to be bush tucker for the mob that night.

Ancient rocks compressed.

Ancient rocks compressed.

While in Fitzroy Crossing it’s also worth looking to see what Indigenous art they have for sale at the Mangkaja Arts Centre. The Kimberley is an area of spectacular natural beauty and vivid colours and their art reflects this. There are Indigenous galleries and arts centre scattered through the Northern Territory and I can highly recommend that you at least visit, even if the prices sometimes frighten you half to death. You might be surprised and find something you love in your price range. Certainly they’ve become valuable art investments in the recent decades.

 Why visit: to see some amazing geological formations, a chilled-out boat cruise and a look at fantastic art.

FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated.

 TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

 G’Day: The iconic Aussie greeting meaning “good day” but apparently remarkably difficult for non-Aussies to replicate.

Gander: take a look

 Galoot*: a silly person.

 Grouse: fabulous, fantastic

Galah: actually a pink and grey bird which tends to do silly things like somersaults on the power lines. When used in relation to a person it also means silly.

 Gurgler: drain eg “that’s money down the gurgler” or “all my hard work down the gurgler”

 Gunna: Aussies have a habit of shortening phrases and names, and just plain slurring their words. Gunna is the equivalent of “going to” or a person who’s also intending to do something but not delivering. He shoulda fixed the car this week but he’s a bit of a gunna.

 Glad rags: fancy clothes. “She must be going somewhere flash, she’s got her glad rags on.”

Garbo: garbage man. Once upon a time he’d jump off the truck, grab the bin, hoist it on his shoulder then run to the truck with it. These days it’s fairly a08utomated with “claws” on the trucks to pick up the wheelie-bins. In rural areas however (see tomorrow), the residents have to take their own rubbish to the tip.

Please visit again tomorrow for an outing a bit closer to Darwin, the rural area with the quaint name, Humpty Doo.