Getting Adventurous – Getting to a Hidden Secret

My courage is building and I’m learning what I like. Maybe getting closer to who I am…

My initial attempts at camping on the boat mimicked a little of those I follow on YouTube. In doing so, I’m discovering what’s really me. For example, I tried bow fishing but got a little board and kept getting distracted with all the scenery and wildlife LOL!

I’m an explorer/discoverer at heart. I love the sounds of nature. I work full time, so this for me is a recharge. I’m not into the adrenalin experiences but am definitely wanting to feel alive by soaking in the energy of the natural environment.

The feeling of water spray on my face as I head to my objective… The sound of rain on my boat tarp as I cook my breakfast early in the morning… The crispness of the air watching the morning mist rise from the water… These are the things that I really enjoy about the outdoors.

Whilst I’m great at getting friends and family in position to catch fish, I don’t really catch any and get board flicking lures. So I bait fish when I do so I can soak up the environment.

So with these insights developing, I looked at the Google and Deckee maps and did some research, finding a river arm that has no information, no maps or charts and only one historical article talking about the region roughly 100 years ago.

I studied and prepared. Narrow passages, low trees overhanging my path, shallow water, swamp were all things I had to plan for and be prepared. Safety equipment and back up plans if I got stuck or something went wrong as there was also most likely no mobile phone signal in this area.

You can see the video of the adventure here: https://youtu.be/mditxgDck3o

My launch boat ramp is always really busy, so I managed to juggle work and launch on a Friday and beat the rush.

I travelled up my familiar path into this wonderful region, reaching my start point up river where I had never gone before. The entrance into the area has two obstacles from the two possible approaches. One is a narrow passage I’d have to squeeze through with my boat, additionally not knowing the depth. The other is a vast shallow sand bar which may or may not have a path. I opted for the narrow entrance.

I dropped the VHF antenna, lowered the bimini with excitement building of what I was about to discover. This was mixed with a good dose of nervousness about if I got stuck because my boat is not easy to man handle with its 1,500kg weight. Slow and steady was the name of the day as help would be hard to reach me if I significantly grounded.

With the quietness of the electric motor, I edged my way through and was presented with the expansive view of the inland lake as I came out the other side. Luckily the wind was low and not a cloud in the sky so I could see the numerous sand bars in this shallow lake.

My first objective was to reach a unique sandstone outcrop that rose out of the surrounding swamp. I found a landing spot and it was like I was on a deserted island. The outcrop rose many metres about the surround area. I could not see another person from where I stood looking out the the horizon across the lake.

I could have lingered much longer than I did. I was keen to see if I could reach the end of the river arm as my second objective. At the end of that arm was a complete unknown of if I could reach the the inland lake that was said to hold Jurassic fish because of its remoteness.

I headed up river slowly, as I had now idea of depths or if submerged logs were hidden under the water to take out my prop at anytime if I collided with them. It was a pleasant afternoon and as the sun was getting lower, I decided to go as far as I could and set up the boat to camp for the night.

It was a magical environment. Birds singing, colourful waterlilies and reflections so crisp it was hard to tell where the water met the land. I settled in for the night, having dinner by the sounds of crickets and slowly getting sleepy. Content that I had now reached objective two.

Getting to a crisp morning to the chorus of scores of birds, my mind was on if I could reach objective three – the inland lake. It was apparent that there was no way I was going to be able to get my boat through. I didn’t plan to bring a kayak, I will next time.

I had breakfast and got ready to scout for a land approach.

After a couple of hours of searching and assessing risk I decided not to proceed. I had an EPIRB with me, my concern was if I found a boggy spot in the swamp that I could quickly sink in during my passage, it would be the end of me. I decided I would give this approach a go another time with a friend.

With a friend that can fish LOL!

My First Bow Fishing and Catfish Eating Trip

I’m just a rookie at this stuff, but I feel my sense of adventure growing…

My first YouTube video was a hit and what a great excuse to make me get out on the water more often!

Strangely enough, the fear is still there although somewhat diminished.

From my first trip I realised I had to make some modifications to how I stored things to make it more comfortable. I also changed the boat prop pitch and added an alloy anti-ventilation plate to improve economy. I’m now getting about 2.7km per litre of fuel on my big tinny. A larger casting deck made room for gear underneath and a stable platform to try bow fishing. Something I’ve always wanted to try – I’ve had my bow for 30 years!

I’m not much of a fisherman. I seem to be able to get others onto the fish, but as soon as I throw a line in nothing happens LOL. I always catch Fork Tail Catfish so decided I am going to try and eat one. The next big one I catch is dinner, or lunch 🙂

Part of trying some more action was to try and make my video more interesting – more on my findings there later.

I set out on this trip very eager. I didn’t plan the destination/objective very well. The real objective was to try two new things:

  1. Bow fishing.
  2. Cooking and eating catfish.

Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/xyyf6yUxqBE

I’d prepared for both. I set up a home made fishing rig on the bow as I didn’t want to spend the money yet unless I enjoyed it and I decided I would cook the catfish fajita style.

With these objectives in mind I forgot about what I really like about boat camping – exploring, scenery and nature.

I tried bow fishing, it was a bit of a drag and I kept getting distracted looking at birds.

I caught a catfish, cooked and ate it.

I then found myself having fulfilled my objectives and headed home after one night out. I think the bigger driver for heading home was the location and scenery was a bit of a downer. The river was also packed and very uncomfortable from all the noise and waves.

I’m grateful to have got out on the water but this trip didn’t give me the recharge I wanted.

I discovered quite unexpected on this trip however, I’m on a journey of discovering another layer of who I am.

My First Trip Camping on the Boat

It sounded like an exciting idea. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next…

I was afraid!

I watched YouTube after YouTube video of solo adventurers getting out there and exploring glorious countries around the world. I was all for getting out there and after several months realised I was afraid.

On my own, what would happen? What if I came across the wrong people? What if I had a medical emergency? What if… What if…

Yet, watching the people on YouTube pushed me to a limit and somewhere I crossed a line to decide to just do it. So I started slowly. I started camping on the boat in view of people and in small steps that I could handle with my comfort zone. I started detailed planning for managing the risks rather than being paralyzed by them. Practicing setting up camp so I could handle the worst weather conditions and set up from inside the boat. How would I eat – keep things simple. Staying warm. Act if I had an equipment failure.

In doing this, I built further momentum to do a trip I’ve always wanted to do. I trip into a remote part of the river into wilderness area where there was no phone coverage and little, if any people.

As the trip got closer, the fear started to build again. On my first attempt, I used the weather as an excuse and failed to leave. This really annoyed me so I attempted again and finally got going. This was it! I was on the move on a 120km return trip over four days.

As my first night approached, I found the fear welling up again. But now my mind was in risk management mode. So I found a place to camp in the middle of the river between two protruding branches from submerged trees. This was it, I had my “moat” and came to grips with just staying awake sipping hot chocolate and sleeping when sleep came.

I out lots of layers of clothes on as it was winter and quite cold. I put my little oil candle on and sat there listening to the night bush sounds. Sleep came and I went to sleep waking in the morning from my first solo, remote camp to mirrored reflections and the sound of multitudes of birds.

I did it!!! My confidence building, if I did it once I can do it again. I was adamant that I would the bet made with my wife when I left that she thought I’d chicken out and come back.

You can see the video of the trip here: https://youtu.be/meS30eh_e6M

As you can see, it was an awesome trip and I have to say I’m hooked now. Now my challenge has shifted to choosing the next destination.

Camping on Your Boat

rivRecon is dedicated to helping you camp on your boat. From motivating you through our own adventures, to information on setting up your boat and staying safe on the water.

This is a personal passion for me. Appreciating the silence of the mind, magnificent natural scenery, flora and fauna, with background music provided by the pure sounds of nature.

Do you like the idea of camping on your boat but just need the courage to take the next step and do it?

  • You might feel afraid of camping on your own
  • Camping on the water is different from other forms of camping
  • Not knowing what to do might make you a little frightened
  • You may feel the boat you have limits you
  • How do you stay comfortable?

There are many benefits of camping on your boat compared to 4X4, Land or Hike camping such as:

  • A camp site on your boat is like having a caravan or motorhome
  • The ultimate free camping – camp anywhere on the water that is safe
  • Your camp is always pointing into the wind, you don’t have to move your tent or 4X4 all the time
  • Fishing right at your door step
  • If you don’t have the right spot, you can easily move
  • No mud, sand, dirt getting dragged into your tent all the time
  • It can be more secure from others and wildlife (if done right), it’s like having a moat around your camp
  • If weather changes you can easily move to shelter
  • You can camp as remote or in civilization as you want or can tolerate
  • You can have all your gear with you and be quite comfortable
  • Your boat becomes multiuse – not just for fishing. There are many things you can do above and beyond traditional camping

If I can camp you can too! I was afraid for many years of going camping solo but always yearned to do it. I found inspiration from others on YouTube, imagined how I’d like to do it and researched loads. I even tested camping on a tiny inflatable and small boat with my sons until I finally settled on a boat right for me and the adventures I wanted to have.

I drew on knowledge from my military experience, land based camping and our one year trip around Australia to help you answer the things for yourself so you can do it to:

  • How to stay safe and secure
  • How to setup your boat so it is comfortable and easy
  • How to create that “camp fire” feel safely
  • How to think about food and storage
  • Setting up the ideal on water camp site
  • Tips and tricks to maximize space
  • Keeping everything low cost and not have to be a millionaire to enjoy the camping on your boat lifestyle

I now document my approach on this website and associated YouTube videos so you can learn too.

Camping on Your Boat – Checklist

You can get a lot of inspiration from boating camping, 4X4 camping and hiking camping. Here are the unique things to remember when camping in your boat:

Safety and Security

  • Carry all boating safety gear for your region
  • Check the weather, conditions can change quickly and become dangerous
  • Have first aid gear – not just general but also snake bite kit and vinegar for stinger bites
  • Enough water for your trip and back up options
  • Emergency boarding ladder ready to go
  • Be educated on dangerous animals in your area (Land and an in water)
  • Understand the hazards such as submerged logs, visibility, shallow water, Other boats, navigation aids, Over head cables, cables ferries, etc
  • Ensure personal security. Be aware, look for signs (rubbish), lockable cabinets and boat security, carbon monoxide and other vapor risks
  • Core temperature control – in and out of the water
  • File a trip plan with a friend or coast guard

Shelter

  • Take care anchoring. Look for smooth bottoms, keep the boat in the direction of the wind, keep away possible falling trees on bank, be aware of current and tide variation
  • Ideally have shelters that keep rain out of the boat. A heavy downpour can sink a small boat
  • DIY tarps work well when lashed to the boat
  • Consider the wind, temperature and insect conditions in your area
  • Control condensation with ventilation and sponges
  • Ensure your sleeping gear can keep you warm if it is wet
  • Have layered clothing sets to easily adjust to conditions

Water

  • Smaller containers of water are easier to carry and make it easy to adjust weight distribution around the boat
  • Carry fresh water filters for emergency use
  • Consider desalination options if travelling more remotely or on in salt water
  • Carry a tarp to catch rain water

Food

  • By all means take a cooler or refrigerator if you like, but keep a good supply of food that does not need cooling
  • Keep it simple
  • Keep food in watertight containers
  • Be careful cooking on your boat. Fire hazards, fuel vapors, carbon monoxide poisoning and other risks are real!
  • Vacuum sealed food lasts longer
  • Keep cooking gear simple and easy to maintain (have a back up)

Around Australia Trip Next Phase

One year around Australia went so quickly!

We dashed back to the east coast in a run to get the kids into interviews for school. We still hadn’t decided totally on where to settle down but knew it would either be on the north coast of New South Wales or the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The dash across the country saw us drive for 7 days, averaging 10 hours per day. As we cam up through the outback of New South Wales, floods were hitting and roads were being closed behind us.

I was so nervous about the kids going into the right years that I frantically taught them some craft skills that I thought they would have to have LOL.

Going to the interviews, the schools were adamant that we must have home schooled them due to how well they did on their “tests”. What a testament to what a trip around Australia at ages 4 and 6 can do for kids, especially with our philosophy of now devices for them on the trip or in the primary school years. Who would have thought they’d learn so much from just being engaged with everything we were doing and seeing, even when driving.

We ended up settling on the the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. We booked into a caravan park to get the kids ready for school and fore ourselves to find jobs somehow. A prerequisite to finding a place to rent.

We are grateful that we both found jobs in our fields, working remotely with our home as a base. Over the time we have settled into the area and truly feel like this is home.

We reminisce often on our trip. The older boy remembers much but the younger one remembers far less. Could be a good excuse to have another trip! Sadly our caravanning has dwindled with business of life crowding in again as the boys are now well and truly into their high school years, friends and wanting to go on their own adventures with friends.

The caravan is now guest accommodation, doubling as a kitchen and bathroom area for the swimming pool area. We tried renting it for a while but this didn’t sit well with us because no-one really treated as well as we do.

We continued to use our little inflatable on the rivers here but soon outgrew it. I upgrade to a tinny so I would have the “puncture” stress but quickly outgrew it so we upgraded to a large tinny that I could use for boat camping, we could tackle the coastal bars to whale watch and get into bigger fish action and take it far and wide into croc country.

We did a couple of trips on bigger hire boats along the Queensland coast to try that style of camping. The boys loved it but we felt it was a bit limited in how much adventure we could have.

The boys continue to mature into adults at a pace we are still coming to grips with. It’s sad and exhilarating at the same time to see them designing their own lives, excel at what they do and at some point making their own life and adventures.

I’ve now decided to continue my adventures on my bigger tinny, leaving it optional for the family to come along if they want to. I’ve created a riveRecon YouTube channel to document my adventures and use it as a motivator to get out there regularly.

Now for the next volume…

Around Australia 36

There was an enormous cloud of smoke over the McDonnell Ranges as we travelled into Alice Springs – we have seen quite a bit of bushfire smoke around in the Northern Territory so far. We did the usual chore stuff while in the city, but did plenty of fun stuff too (well mostly the kids and I did as Mike was busy most of the time doing repairs on the caravan – yes, poor baby!). The caravan park we stayed at, Heavitree Lodge, is at the base of Heavitree Gap (convenient geography) where a mob of rock wallabies reside and you can feed them every night around dusk – they were the cutest thing and the kids loved that they could get so close to “wild” wallabies.

The nights are very cold, the days start off cool and very windy but warm up by mid-day. We spent the better part of one day at the Alice Springs Desert Park which is quite extensive – it has an enormous enclosed nocturnal house (we had 2 turns in there – the kids loved looking around the dark glassed cages for the animals) and about a dozen different bird enclosures with pretty much every bird you can think of! One of Tiran’s off-on hobbies on the trip has been collecting feathers, so he was mesmerised with all the different colours on offer. Kia was most excited by the massive red kangaroo – he was quite impressive actually, wouldn’t want to get into a tiff with him. Watched a very hazy but beautiful sunset from Anzac Hill and on the way back down saw a bushfire in the town – fire seems to be everywhere around here!

We had been warned to be wary of the aboriginal people in Alice Springs – I can honestly say we had no troubles at all. A very quiet and shy aboriginal couple came to our camp one night to sell one of their paintings, one of which we did buy for $30, a bargain for authentic aboriginal art if you ask me (well it was a painting and it was done by an aboriginal, so to my art-naive mind, it was authentic indeed!). I also got my culture fix at the Central Australian Museum and the Strenlow Research Centre – very interesting information about the Strenlow family, one of whom collected an enormous audio-visual library of aboriginal sacred ceremonies (the majority of which can’t be shown to the public). There is also quite a large Art Gallery with a large selection of Albert Namitjira art on display.

Heading north from Alice Springs, we detoured to Gemtree for a bit of garnet fossicking; the whole setting reminded me of a cowboy-western movie set – from the little pond you cross to the fences and signs. We chose the easiest option by buying a bucket of dirt all ready to be fossicked! There’s nothing to it really: put some dirt into a pan and shake out the dirt, remove the large worthless rocks, then give the rest a good wash and hold it up to the light of the sun – the garnet’s red colour shines through and you pick them out. Kia gave up after 10 minutes – not enough action to keep him interested. Tiran on the other hand was born to the task – it got so he could pick out the larger garnets before even washing them! We were very happy with our loot and the proprietor was duly impressed that a 4 year old had found so many jewels in a bucket of dirt.

We stopped off again at Devil’s Marbles for lunch and saw our old friend the dingo – and then we saw a complete moron throw him some food!!!! I’ve lost track of the number of signs we’ve seen everywhere about not feeding wildlife – I was pretty certain the majority of people who had a driver’s licence could read, but obviously I had jumped to conclusions! Mike actually went over and told them that he was an off-duty park ranger from NSW and gave him a big lecture about the dangers of feeding wild animals – he did quite nicely (as only Mike could because I would have been reduced to much profanity if I were to do it!). So a marathon drive of 800km over 2 days saw us reach the “middle” of Northern Territory and we spent a hugely enjoyable night at the Daly Waters Pub – absolutely the best steak I have had since leaving Sydney and a hilarious one-man show to boot. It was a great atmosphere and the caravan park was completely packed, which meant that the boys found some kids their own age to play with for the afternoon.

Mataranka Hot Springs had been earmarked for certain visitation after watching the Gall Boys DVDs (makers of Kedron caravans and several DVDs about travelling in very inhospitable terrain with their caravans) – it certainly lived up to the hype. Naturally hot springs (well warm actually but extremely pleasant) in a tropical setting; thankfully not very crowded at all on our visit so we spent a very happy and relaxing 2 hours soaking!

We passed through the town of Katherine (stopping only to stock up on supplies, fuel and water) and drove straight to Litchfield National Park (one of Michael’s fondest memories from his RAF days and a place that has changed tremendously since then). We spent 4 lovely (but quite hot) days at Litchfield visiting the Lost City (enormous varied-shaped rocks which really did look like a miniature ancient city), Blythe Homestead, the magnetic termite mounds (unfortunately couldn’t get too close to these), a few enormous “regular” termite mounds and the multitude of falls (Tolmer Falls, Florence Falls and the lovely Wangi Falls where we had a swim nearly every day). We met a very friendly off-duty park ranger our first day there and in the course of our conversation I mentioned all the fire smoke we’d seen in the Northern Territory over the past 3 weeks – he told us that they are all deliberately lit (as back-burning season ends in early July). How unbelievable is that??

As lovely as Litchfield had been we were looking forward to reaching Darwin – mainly for some air-conditioning!

Around Australia 35

We made an early start in the morning, keen to reach the Yulara Resort (campgrounds for the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park). Entry into the park is $25 per adult, but it’s a 3 day pass, so you can space out the parts you visit and take your time exploring and doing the walks.

We decided to explore Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) first – it takes 30 minutes from the park’s entrance just to reach the car park. The colours here are so distinct and strong – the blue of the sky, the orange rocks, the green spinifex and scrubs (if only I had bought the polarising cover for my camera lens – the pictures don’t do the views justice). We did 2 of the walks – Walpa Gorge and Valley of the Winds – which were both lovely in their own way. I loved how close we got to the domes – they look so smooth from afar, but up close there are plenty of crags, gashes, even huge chunks carved out. Kia kept a few of the tourists (and there were so many of them unfortunately) amused with plenty of anecdotes. We stayed for the sunset which was truly lovely, but headed back quickly as the temperature drops along with the sun.

The next day was spent around Uluru (Ayers Rock) – we visited the Cultural Centre first which has quite a good display explaining the dreamtime stories tied to the area, as well the significance of the site as ceremonial grounds to the aboriginals. There was a strong message being sent out for tourists not to climb the rock – I think it’s a valid enough request, but they have constructed a chain rail along the climbing section which signals that climbing is not forbidden. The park is run jointly by the aboriginal community in the area, and if they don’t want people to climb, I think a “Do not climb” sign is probably a more unambiguous message. The climb is actually quite difficult (as confessed to me by a few tourists), but we decided not to climb as a sign of respect for their culture (personal decision).

There are also a few art and craft galleries within the Cultural Centre – some really magnificent art (if only I had a spare $2000!). We then headed towards Uluru itself – it’s such an iconic picture you almost can’t believe you’re there in person. The colour changes through the day as well – in the morning and from afar it’s a dusky pink, as you get closer and towards sunset the orange comes out more and after the sun has gone down it’s a dark rusty red colour. We drove all the way around it first and then parked the car to get closer. We walked to a little rockpool at the base and another area that had a rock wave formation – all beautiful.

But for Mike and I, the experience was severely marred by the sheer number of people there. We counted at least half a dozen huge coach loads (mostly European and Asian tourists) and a few helicopters overhead as well. The sunset viewing area was standing room only – there were at least 100 people there. I guess if we want to see it without the crowds we should come back in the severe heat of summer? On our last day we did another drive to the lookouts for both Kata Tjuta and Uluru to have some family pictures without the “sunset crowds”.

Then came one of the highlights of the trip so far – Kings Canyon and the West McDonnell Ranges (absolutely MUST SEE!!). It took another full day of driving to reach Kings Canyon Resort from Yulara (it’s getting to where we all groan as we get into the car each day!), but it was sooooo worth it! There are 2 main walks to do at Kings Canyon: one along the creek bed (rated easy) and one along the rim (rated difficult and a bit scary as you get close to the cliff edges in places). We opted for the easy walk first which left me completely unsatisfied, as though I hadn’t seen Kings Canyon at all. So although it was now the middle of the day and pretty hot, I forced the decision to do the rim walk too.

The first 800m or so is the hardest as it’s straight up, and granted there were a couple of small stretches where you walked close to the edge, but once on the actual rim, it was absolutely magnificent!! It’s a 6km walk but you’re so busy marvelling at the views, you hardly notice the time. It helped immensely that we ran into a lovely family (with 2 boys a bit older than ours) halfway through and the kids scampered about together and forgot to whinge! Our only mistake was not taking enough water along with us and by the time we got down 3 hours later, Tiran was hot and dehydrated (Kia who is half goat, half camel felt no ill effects) – but we stripped off his clothes and cooled him down with water and he recovered quite quickly.

The next day we tackled the Mereenie Loop – our research (via the information centres and first hand accounts of recent travellers) had given us enough confidence to take Optimus down the 155km dirt road. They had done quite a bit of work on parts of the road over the last couple of months, so nearly half the road was “sealed”, but the other half had us crawling along at around 20km an hour, so it took us over 4 hours to reach the start of the gorges of the West McDonnel Ranges. Never mind, the views of the ranges more than made up for it.

Brief accounts of the gorges and attractions (really you have to see these places yourself!): amazing views of Mt Sonder and the Finke River (still had a bit of water), Glen Helen Gorge (lovely, but you can only see the entrance to the gorge unless you’re willing to swim around, which we weren’t), Ochre Pits (a palette of colour, absolutely fabulous), Ormiston Gorge (the most beautiful of the lot), Ellery Creek Big Hole (great name and lovely gorge, but strong fish smell due to algae infestation killing the fish) and Standley Chasm (had to pay to get in, it was lovely although the “light show” wasn’t that magical, but I wouldn’t do it again). All in all, one of the most spectacularly scenic areas we have ever seen!!

Now we faced the inviting prospect of travelling all the way back up the centre (about 1000kms) to the northern part of the Northern Territory!

Around Australia 34

Had a few lovely days of “respite” at Corella Dam (just east of Mt Isa) – some of the free camp spots in this country are truly wonderful. The absolutely cloudless days (and I mean EVERY day) meant the boys pretty much lived outside, playing whatever crocodile make-believe story Kia had cooked up. Tiran also expressed a keen interest as “cane toad killer” for a possible profession – there were quite a few around, day and night, so we made up a solution of dettol in a trigger bottle and off they went killing toads! Disgusting animals – I felt no sympathy at all!

We took the zodiac out a few times croc-spotting (freshwater only, don’t worry) and saw quite enough to satisfy the troups. On our way back from the last trip, we spied a very large one on the bank (close to 4 metres we guessed) and slowed down to get as close as we could – usually they slither into the water gently as soon as you get too close, but this one actually charged into the water as we approached, so we hightailed it out of there (freshwater or not!).

At Mt Isa we free camped behind the RSL Club – for payment, they “request” that you have a meal at the club, which is really no hardship at all (in fact the food was pretty good). We visited the Isa Experience & Riversleigh Fossil Centre – what a tremendous amount of information about the history of the town! And very well done – lots of mining equipment to keep the kids amused (for a little while anyway). I could have easily spent another 2 hours in there (in addition to the 2 already spent).

Mt Isa is quite a large town but still has a country town feel to it and it’s very widely spaced out. Of course the usual chores of shopping, post office, catching up on a bit of work, laundry, and a car service had to be taken care of as well, but that’s what the cities are for. But plenty of water play for the 3 boys (who are suffering severe withdrawal symptoms) including another boat outing on Moondarra Lake and an afternoon splashing around at the huge water play park in town.

So excited to cross into the Northern Territory – as we have been for all the state borders so far. But my oh my, the distances are hard to describe! We entered in the middle of the state and headed south first, towards Alice Spring. The majority of our first 2 days were spent in the car, which led to very grumpy boys with too much energy to burn in the afternoons. The scenery far greener now than it had been the last few weeks in outback Queensland and amazingly few roadkill. Spent a night in Tennant Creek out of necessity to break up the huge distance to the Devil’s Marbles, where we were greeted by the first cloudy day we’ve had in weeks. It really is amazing to see these massive boulders perched so precariously on top of each other – it’s very tempting to try and push them over! And we were all hugely excited with our first wild dingo sighting – this one seemed to be a “resident” of the camp area and although he didn’t come right up to people, he stayed in the campgrounds for hours (I think people have thrown scraps to him in the past). Gorgeous animal!

Another long day of driving took us through Ti-Tree (lots of stray dogs and not much else), Red Earth Mango Farm (yummy home made mango ice cream), the imposing statue of the aboriginal hunter atop the hill at Aileron, and saw us cross the Tropic of Capricorn for the second time (also our rest area for the night). We stopped off at Alice Springs for supplies and at the information centre for details of the state of the roads (the absolute nicest and most helpful information centre staff in a very long time!) and picked up our census pack to fill out that night (must be counted no matter where you are). We detoured off the highway and negotiated a very short section (15km) of the infamously rough Ernest Giles Road (took us nearly 40 minutes) to see the Henbury Meteorite craters – these things look much more impressive from above though and none of the lookouts were high enough to give us a good overall picture.

So we headed off towards the Red Centre and the arguably the true centre of Australia!

Around Australia 33

Back into the wonderful oranges, blues and greens of outback country. The nights and early mornings are quite cool and the days sunny and warm – it’s a hard life, I know! The drives between towns are quite long now. Stopped overnight at Cloncurry and stocked up on our very depleted food supplies, then headed to Winton on what is called the “dinosaur trail” (Winton, Hughenden and Richmond making up the triangle of dinosaur attractions in the area). We had a quick stop along the way at McKinlay to photograph the “Walkabout Creek Hotel” from Crocodile Dundee – this was also where we suffered our first roadkill tragedy when a flock of lovely finches flew right in front of us and one of them crashed into the grill. We were so proud of our clean record up to then!

Winton is the town of “Waltzing Matilda” and in every nook and cranny of the town that they can think of, some reference exists to the famous poem by Banjo Patterson (he wrote the poem on a cattle station nearby and performed it publicly for the first time at the North Gregory Hotel in town). The Matilda Centre is a museum entirely based on the poem itself and the themes from it – such as the history and lives of swagmen, drovers and the outback life in general. It’s actually quite a good museum! We also had a look at Arno’s Wall – an odd but unique expression of art where Arno has cemented whatever he can think of and has on hand in a wall around his house.

We also got to experience the festivities of the Camel Races at Winton – I love the small scale of events in the country towns. They have such a laid back, informal air to them. There were perhaps 200 people there and the MC of the events was an absolute riot! Our favourite event was the Camel Tag where contestants (just your average blokes) are put in a large pen with a camel and have to tag them with a strip of gaffa tape, which is the easy part, and then have to run back and grab if off the camel, which is the really hard part. No one got hurt but those camels were not shy with their kicks!

We stayed at Long Waterhole a few kilometers outside of Winton – it was quite shallow at this stage of the year, but enough water to make mud for mud fights! Also a good free camping base to do our sightseeing, all of which were over 100km away, along very rough dirt roads. We spent a day fossicking for opals at Opalton – it was hot, dusty and we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but the kids (specially Tiran) were right into it and we managed to find a few rocks with veins of opal and one with a good sized specimen! After the lucky find, Mike was ready to pitch a tent (as a few people were doing) and spend a couple of weeks looking for the “big one”!

The next day we made a trip to Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackways – another 100km-plus trip down a dirt road – where the footprints of a stampede of small dinosaurs running away from a very large one have been discovered and preserved. This may be something that would have been interesting to see on TV, but I was quite underwhelmed with the whole thing. Couldn’t really fathom why this was important – we already knew big dinosaurs chased and ate little ones, so what was the big deal with finding their footprints? I guess it’s one of those things you like or not.

Hughenden was the next town on the trail – they have a big statue of a muttaburrasaurus and a small museum which includes facts about the discovery of this dinosaur in the area and a great 10 minute DVD about the creation of Porcupine Gorge, which is where we camped for 2 nights. We spent an entire day down in the beautiful gorge (so picturesque) – it was a 1km walk straight down (which of course had to be climbed later in the day), but what a perfect place to have a picnic and relax. We also had a visit at camp from the resident bettongs (small marsupials) which thrilled the boys no end.

Our last leg on the dino trail was Richmond and what Kia had been waiting for…..Kronosaurus Korner. So many fossils of different types of dinosaurs have been found in this area – the majority of them by station owners mustering their cattle near dry creek and river beds. They had a really great display about how fossils are found, cleaned, identified etc and a fantastic computer generated DVD about a Kronosaurus attacking other very large dinosaurs – the kids must have watched it a dozen times! We tried our hand at fossicking for fossils too – Tiran found a great specimen of a fish jaw bone, but mostly we found fish scales and a few shell fossils. It was too hot to stick around looking for more and we had a big day of driving ahead of us (nearly 300km) getting us ever closer to our next border crossing into the Northern Territory!