Sunday, 30 September 2012

Welcome to Western Australia

We crossed the border back into Western Australia just outside Kununnurra, which required the emptying of the van so the border patrol could check for fruit/ veggies/ nuts & honey (none of which we had) a process which although necessary is a little tedious for campervans and camper trailers alike. Once all our gear was packed back in the van we drove off, passing a huge sign "Welcome To Western Australia." Although we had talked at length about working on our trip, and the house was rented for another 12 months it was this moment that suddenly struck us that Western Australia was now our new home, for the next year or so at least.

It was a pretty long haul in the car, driving 620km from Zebra Rock Mine to Larrawara Station (the Cattle staton we stayed at on our way over to Darwin). The kids we exceptional. Regular toilet stops, the occasional lollie treat and plenty of karaoke and loud music seemed to keep us occupied, as well at the excitement of the moving to Broome.

Arriving mid afternoon (thanks to the time difference between Northern Territory and Western Australia) the kids were keen to see Wendy the station owner and her dog Sam. Wendy had remembered us (I think most people do & I'm not always sure that's a good thing) and welcomed us back to her property. While we were setting up we noticed that one of the tyres had a bit of a hot brake smell, thinking it was just due to the long drive we didn't think too much more about it.

After an early and quick pack up the next morning we set off on the last leg of our trip to Broome. Off we go, only 6 hours drive to our new home, Matt jumped out to open the first gate, and then at the entrance of the property he jumped out again. While Matt was closing the gate Nick said "look at the steam coming out of the back of the car." I looked in the mirror and said "Nick it's not the slightest bit cold, and that's not steam it's smoke coming from the caravan wheel." Nick walked around the car to inspect it, came over and told me to come and look. The tyre instead of sitting upright was leaning on its side. Nick got out Uncle Jerry's trusty jack thinking it would be yet another simple tyre change. Ha, if only that was the case. As he jacked up the van the whole wheel literally dropped off. With stress levels starting to rise, and the realization we wouldn't be going anywhere fast, and no Optus mobile reception, Nick unhitched the van from the car and we headed back down to the farmhouse to call RACV.

Generously Wendy allowed us to call the RACV. Nick first spoke to a new
Consultant who was obviously trying to follow policy and procedure. He was told we would probably be towed to Halls Creek (200km In the opposite direction we wanted to go) and she wasn't sure towing would be covered all of the way. After another phone call
and a 3 hour wait we ended up having the van towed to Fitzroy Crossing where, RACV advised us, we would need to speak to the mechanic as to the next step in the process.

In Fitzroy Crossing we still had no mobile reception (bloody Optus), and Nick had a brilliant idea of going to the Visitors Centre to call the RACV and look for accommodation. Nick introduced himself to Lena, the delightful and humorous General Manager. While I spoke to RACV Nick
and Lena talked "shop" and quickly struck up a great rapport, Lena inviting us over for a BBQ the following night.

Well, all said and done I have to say RACV total care is certainly worth it. As we couldn't get the van fixed in Fiztroy Crossing, RACV paid for 2 nights accommodation at the very nice Fiztroy Crossing Lodge, then towed it free of charge to Broome.

Tired and stressed we checked into the lodge, with the scary realization of how much worse things could have been if we had been driving at 100km hour.

Well, with that realisation in mind we decided to look at the positives, enjoy staying in a bed, having our own bathroom, and checked out the beauty of Fitzroy Crossings Geike Gorge area, spotting a pair of Brolgas right by the side of the road.

Our evening with Lena and her husband, Trevor was certainly just what the doctor ordered. Lena had invited a few other couples (who had kids for ours to play with), and we spent the evening laughing, eating prawns, laughing, drinking, more delicious food and more laughing. Thankyou for your hospitality and friendship Lena, we really appreciated it and had such a great night.

The next morning we set off - minus the van to Broome.

What a welcome to Western Australia we've had.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Zebra Rock Mine

Sadly we farewelled the Leonard's and set off on our trek back to Broome. Reality started to set in that we wouldn't be catching up with the Leonards or Backsons for quite a while, finishing an integral part of our trip.

The kids have been briefed on the length of the trip back with the promise of special treats if they travelled well.

After 6 hours of travelling we turned off the Victoria Hwy and headed to Zebra Rock Mine & Campground. Following a 10km dirt track into the campground we found a beautiful camping area surrounded by a dry creek bed.

Zebra Mine is only a relatively new setup for campers and tourists, previously solely focussing on the mining of Zebra Rock, but with lovely friendly staff, some great and well priced tour options (not that we have a chance to explore these in our whirlwind race back) and Devonshire tea for just a donation this is truly a spot which will continue to grow.

Matt, Zach and Abbey enjoyed fossicking in the dry creek bed, and later were shown by the owner, Ruth, how to smooth and polish the rocks they found using wet/dry sandpaper. Matt spent at least an hour polishing one rock, sitting beside the campfire as he did it. Once again I was reminded of how the vast difference between our life at home where we would at this time in the evening, be sitting in front of the TV instead Matt is sitting polishing rocks, Josh is reading a Matthew Reilly book, Zach and Abbey are teaching the farm dog to sit and shake hands while Nick and I chat around a campfire.

Ruth, the owner drove over to our campsite to deliver some firewood. She was driving a "bull catcher" which Milton Jones (From the TV show "keeping up with the Jones" owned- this being one of Zach's favourite shows) Zach's eyes lit up when he was offered to jump in and help deliver firewood to the other campers in a bull catcher owned by Milton Jones. Abbey jumped in too and they both loved bumping around the vehicle.

Another service on offer here is fish & chips with freshly caught silver cobbler from Lake Argyle. Zach brought us our fish and chips which Ruth had cooked once the firewood deliveries had been done. What a luxury, eating yummy crunchy fish and chips around a blazing campfire beneath a starlit sky.

We've already decided that this will certainly be a place to come and holiday at during our time living in Broome.

Once packed up we enjoyed a decadent breakfast - Devonshire tea and hot milo before hitting the road again.

Katherine Hot Springs

Today our intention is to pack up, head into Katherine gather some supplies, and head out to Katherine Gorge with the Leonard's. After visiting the information centre, enjoying a coffee at a cafe, shopping then having lunch we decided a better option would be to stay at a caravan park near the hit springs, as we wouldn't have enough time or money to fully enjoy Katherine Gorge.

Katherine Hot Springs is a narrow 32*c stream with crystal clear water flowing along, creating some larger pools along the way. We all enjoyed, our last afternoon with the Leonards, drifting, swimming, splashing and relaxing in the springs. Although, thanks to Hamish, Nick did have some reservations about swimming in heated fresh water and the possibility of bugs breeding. It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon before our trip back to Broome.

Nitmalik National Park

Having had no phone reception at Daly River, the phone beeped repeatedly with missed calls and messages when we did get back to reception. One of the messages were from Pete & Jo Leonard saying they were on the way to Edith Falls then Katherine Gorge for a couple of days while they wait to hear about job possibilities in Darwin. Awesome news! So a couple of hours later we drove into Edith Falls camping ground and found that the Leonards had got a double site to share with us.

Leliyn (Edith Falls) is situated on the northern side of the Nitmalik National Park and is could be considered the poor cousin to the most popular part of Nitmalik - Katherine Gorge.

The following morning we set off on the beautiful Leilyn track -a 2.6 km circuit that ascends a hill then goes down to cross the upper pool above the falls. It then climbs up the other side of the falls before descending to the level of the main pool where there is a river crossing.
Views of the waterfalls and Edith River from two lookouts, on one each side of the river, feature in this walk. So does swimming in the upper pool. At the upper pool the kids and Pete quickly found a rock ledge to climb and jump off. Nick and Jo having a go too. The girls enjoyed playing on a nearby rock and rock pools. The upper pool was certainly a beautiful place to discover.

After lunch we headed down to the main pool with kayaks, inflatable boats floaties and pool noodles in tow. Nick and Pete took it in turns to paddle down the creek with kids in tow, Zach coming back with a huge smile on his face at discovering a crocodile trap. The main pool was huge and the kids enjoyed taking the blow up boat over to the waterfall and being whooshed back out again, while I sat in the shallows with Ciara watching the little fish nibble at our toes.

Although not at famous as Katherine Gorge I think this place is spectacular and loved our time here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Fishing, Feathers, Feasts and Fabulous Family at Daly River

Daly River famous for its Barramundi tournament was one place Josh really wanted visit. Tim and Joy were in the last week of their locum at Wadeye and Daly River was about 1/2 way for us to meet. We'd booked in at Mango Farm for a powered site and cabin. A couple of days before we were to arrive Nick rang to confirm the booking and check prices. However somehow the owner took great offense to this hanging up on Nick and then proceeded to make an abusive phone call to Joy. A very bizarre experience. Luckily we were able to book in to Perry's on Daly River which turned out to be the perfect spot for us all to stay.

As we drove in to Perry's, with a golf course on one side and caravan park with coconut palms & mango trees on the other side we were greeted by Frank. Frank was care taking while the owners were away, and gave us a run down of the caravan park, river and places to explore, clearly he knew the lay of the land, and we later discovered he'd been coming here for many many years, and had the photos with the huge barramundi to prove it. The laid back atmosphere of the park was felt immediately. Tim & Joy had arrived a bit earlier and settled into their cabin, and were waiting to watch the "set up" show of our van and tent.

From the moment Zach got out of the car he kept calling Joy "Jill," despite repeated corrections he still insisted on saying Jill. By the end of the weekend Zach had confused not only himself but Abbey too. Poor Joy.

Eager to catch a barramundi, Josh had all the lines rigged up ready to head down to the pontoon. Frank had warned us to stay on the pontoon and not dangle our legs in the water as there are both salt and fresh water crocs in the river. It didn't take long to spot a "freshie" sunning itself on the opposite bank. Although we had fun fishing together there were no fish caught that afternoon. We'd been told of a big billabong nearby which had plenty of barramundi in it as well as great bird life. When we got there it was heading towards dusk. Nick and Tim decided to go for a walk to the otherside of the billabong. They'd been gone a little while when I was looking through Joy's binoculars and saw a big salt water croc on the other side, unable to contact the boys we had to hope they didn't get that far round. Within minutes Nick and Tim returned, hindered by the dense bush stopping them from reaching the other side.

That evening while Nick prepared a roaring fire, Tim & Joy prepared a beautiful grilled lamb backstrap and ratatouille dinner, which everyone thought was delicious, topped off with baked apples cooked over the fire for dessert. How decadent.

With the kids tucked up in bed, the four adults enjoyed sitting around the fire, drinking a glass of red, and discussing life, politics, kids and religion.

Early the following morning Matt, Joy and Tim drove over to the billabong to check out the bird life, Matt enjoying some one on one attention from his Aunt and Uncle. Later that morning we visited the community Naiyu. A small community with an airstrip, medical centre, school and general store. After a quick stop at the general store for ice creams we headed down to the river crossing to again try our luck fishing...... Still no luck. Where oh where are these barramundi????On the way back Matt and Zach made Tim stop the car to look for birds in a small billabong area. Luckily Tim & Joy quite like bird watching too and were happy to oblige, spotting numerous types of birds together.

So it was back down to the pontoons for the afternoon to sit and fish. It wasn't long before Joy had something on her line, but it promptly took off with the hook and was gone. This happened a few more times, and Josh
spotted what he thought was a shark fin. A light bulb switched on in my head - perhaps it was bullnose sharks taking the bait and hook and if so, I remembered Shilohs advice about using wire trace.

Tim & I set off to find Frank and buy some wire trace, bait and a few hooks and sinkers (since we'd lost a few). Frank even gave us a couple of containers of frozen mango cheeks. By the time we had for back to the pontoon and rigged up the fishing lines, Frank had wandered down to graciously show us a thing or two about catching shark.

With a hand line he cast the line then shoved a stick in the ground, and threw the reel over it. "now we wait" he said "it'll only take a few minutes, the shark will take the bait and run with the line. You need to remember not to reel it in straight away, let the shark take it and really get a good bite of the bait, then just pull the line in". Sure enough, by the time Frank had finished explaining his technique, a shark had taken the bait. " Just leave it" Frank calmly stated at the line was spinning off the reel, & Nicks instinct was to grab it. About a minute or so later the line had stopped and Nick was allowed to pull the line in, and on the end of it was a thrashing bull shark. With the gaff hook in his hand Frank hit the shark over the head to stun it. (Frank's pearl of wisdom was "if you catch a shark hit it over the head to stun it but if you catch an eel hit it down the end of its tail to stun it.") Although not the biggest bull shark Nick was excited none the less to have caught his very first shark.

Joy and I took the shark up to the cleaning area (a makeshift bench with a sink and hose, and hessian bags nearby) and battled with the flies
and circling whistling kites to attempt filleting it with a fairly blunt fishing knife . We learnt later that the hessian bags were to hide your fish from the birds of prey. With 2 large fillets cut from the shark, Joy and I were starting to clean
up when I heard Matt yelling "Mum Mum". Matt had just caught himself a shark too!!!! And boy was he pleased with himself. By the time we'd filleted
Matt's shark we had quite a pile of waste. I couldn't see any bins anywhere and I knew we couldn't throw them into the river as it would attract the crocs. Luckily someone else arrived to fillet a nice sized barramundi (better not tell Josh that though), so I asked him. The guy said "just throw it on the ground and the whistling kites will devour them, they'll be nothing left within a couple of minutes.
Unfortunately I didn't get a photo because it really was a feeding frenzy, with not a morsel left.

For the second night in a row we had a feast. This time enjoying fresh crumbed bull shark and salad. And for the second night in a row the adults enjoyed sitting around the fire chatting when the kids went to bed.

What a fabulous time we have had at Daly River with Tim and Joy fishing, feasting and spending quality time together.