Saturday, 14 May 2011

May 10 Katherine Gorge Cruise

We were collected by the bus at 7.45 and enjoyed the 15 minute drive out to the Gorge information centre.  We did not envisage that there were any gorges around judging from the surrounding farmland.

We had time to kill so enjoyed a coffee on the large balcony overlooking the Katherine River and bushland.  The 400 metre walk to the boat jetty was on concrete paths and just alongside we spotted a small wallaby grazing totally unconcerned with the passing tourists. 

We joined the queue for the cruise and met our two boat guides and we climbed aboard excited for it to start.

Nitmiluk (traditional name) run the cruise and guided tours around Katherine Gorge.  Many of the guides and crew are aboriginal from this area (known as Jawoyn) and give their traditional stories about how the area was made, named and remembered by their elders. Nitmiluk gorge winds along 12 km with sheer rock faces more than 70m high.  Made up of 13 separate gorges, it is a maze of waterways sculpted from the sandstone over countless millions of years by the river.  Jawoyn tradition says that Bolong created the gorge and the complete story is quite fascinating.  Ask me to tell you some day.

At the end of one gorge we left one boat, walked over the rocks and onto the next gorge boat waiting for us.  Words cannot express the beauty – I’ll let the photos do that.

Back at the centre some 2 hours later, we decided to climb up to the lookout – a mere 280 plus steps up the gorge wall.  It was quite a climb and I didn’t count the steps but it was well worth the climb with the fantastic views from the deck.    Back down again, we definitely felt the need for shade and rest.  We lay on the lovely grass and listened to the flying foxes squabbling in their roosts – gorgeous but smelly creatures.

Back at the Centre we bought lunch and sat on the deck again, watching the birds scrounging around.  After lunch we wandered through the centre displays covering early settlement and the working co-operation between the indigenous and white settlers.  We also walked to the camping grounds which were very well laid out and sported a beautiful pool with mini waterfall and lovely gardens.

On board the bus for departure back to Katherine town ship, we asked the driver Todd, to drop us at the Hot Springs as that would be the only chance we had to see them.  Todd told us of his working arrangements with the aboriginals which was quite astounding. 

The beautiful hot springs come out of a hole in the ground and are supposedly 32 degrees.  It was clear then turned slightly milky white.  It felt warm but not soo warm and the swimmers said it had a sulphur like taste.  The area was very well maintained and very well prepared even for wheel chair access though the sign said not to swim due to both fresh and saltwater crocodiles being found in the area.

Once again we had to walk as there was no public transport.  We walked along the river pathway but as couldn’t see the water, deviated to the main road then stopped at a servo for a drink.  Finally we hailed a passing taxi returning us to our motel.  Whew long day again

May 9 Daly Waters to Katherine

We awoke to the hundreds of rosella parrots screeching in the trees.  After breakfast we wandered around the camping ground which had grown considerably in the 25 years since I had been there whilst traveling with Nanny Milly.

We were given a lift back to the airfield by one of the employees and dragged the Stinson out of the hangar to find hundreds of mouse “dirts” all over the horizontal surfaces.  I brushed off as much as I could reach but hoped the remainder would be swept away by the wind once flying.

We chatted to a lovely couple Doug and Anna, who were traveling around.  We would be arriving at Katherine whilst they had a 3 hour drive ahead.

We blasted off – avoiding the long weedy growth – turned back to wave goodbye to the Daly Waters folk and then headed for Katherine – about 100 nm.

Our track was to follow the Stuart Highway northward.  It was nice to watch us passing the road trains and caravans.  At least we were never stuck in traffic.  We noticed another light aircraft ahead which then turned and landed at Newcastle Waters station.  We had spoken to him the previous evening about fuel availability but his property was still surrounded by water and they did not have any spare.  The homestead and grounds certainly looked beautiful and were completely surrounded by water.
Continuing on through more smoke haze I got dozier and dozier as there was nothing to see except trees and lakes for kms and kms.  I tried flying for a white but it didn’t help – it was very boring with nothing on the horizon to aim for.  Kev woke me a while later to view the large lake we were passing – very impressive for out here.

About 30 nm out we contacted Tindal Delivery who passed us to T Appoach  then onto T Tower who finally gave us permission to land.  Tindal Ground then took over and  thought we would be taxiing to the GA side of the airport but we were expected on the RAAF side.  A grounds man with paddles directed us to a parking terminus in front of their ops building.  Greeted by Gary Smith, C Sharp as well as a photographer and they were there all prepared to act on Wing Commander Phil Alms directives. 

Unbeknown to us, his orders were to bring a Hornet aircraft up to photograph it with ours.  The connection with Tindal is that Kevin’s Dad John (Blu) is an original member of 75 squadron and Tindal is their base therefore we were invited there.  We felt very privileged and the sight of a 1935 Stinson alongside the 1985 (approx) Hornet was truly opposite in types.

Many of the RAAF guys came out for a look and one even wanted to swap ours for theirs….. ha ha .

The 'welcoming' General Aviation terminal
We taxied (with clearance) to the GA side of the airport and fuelled up.  A lovely young lass (Anna) – a commercial pilot, who was in Katherine looking for work, offered us a lift back to the town centre.  It took a while to get the Stinson back to the RAAF side, safely hangared away and then get back to the GA side. 

At the Info centre I grabbed brochures to check accommodation available, gorge cruises and locations etc.  We booked a ½ day cruise and as the bus service collected us from our lodgings, we chose a motel just out of the town centre.  Unfortunately we chose to walk there – not realizing just how far it was.  Arriving there an hour later, hot and tired, we were shown to our room.  The complex had a pool so we changed to go for a refreshing swim however found the water soooo cold I couldn’t stay in for any longer than 30 seconds.  Kev managed a few minutes.  Back to the room for a hot shower!  How bizarre – too hot then too cold within minutes.

That evening we walked into town to find an eating place, however Monday nights are very quiet so we ended up at Subway – very yummy, healthy dinner.  We walked back to the motel in the warm evening air watching the flying foxes fly silently about.

May 8 Mt Isa, Barkly Homestead, Tennant Creek to Daly Waters


Big day planned.  We planned ahead to top up fuel and see the wonderful Barkly Homestead as well as fly into the Northern Territory and as far as necessary in one day.

Bob the Mt Isa refueller kindly picked us up and took us to the airport by 8.00 am.  Having refueled the previous day we quickly loaded up, set a SAR time for Barkly (no mean feat as CASA didn’t have them on their system) and blasted off over the rugged ridges to the west.  The terrain below was soon flat but at least green.
Flat green nothing with rivers

  Most of the stock sighted were around the water holes.  It soon leveled out to flat plains – not unlike the Nullabor – though a dark shade of green and yellow.  I left most of the flying to Kevin and lazily put my head down and dozed for the 1hr 50minutes leg to Barkly Roadhouse. 

Long straight road to no where

Seeing the Roadhouse in the distance, we set up our approach after flying over the top.  Taxiing up to the fuel bowser we disturbed about 12 hawks feeding on nearby rubbish.
Barkly outback truck
I walked up to the roadhouse to arrange the fuel and was invited to join 8 rouseabouts for a drink – but it was only 11.30 (Qld time).  We had just crossed the border and I had no idea of the time change.  The roadhouse was of very classic build with large timber doors, heavy roof beams and verandahs all round.  The station hand organized the paperwork for fuel and then ran us back to the airfield to complete the job.  He told us that the previous day had been Ladies Day and the rousies were left over from then.  They were kicking up their heels drinking and trying to chat up the roadhouse employees.

Having enjoyed a coffee in the dining room and checked maps and fuel useage we concluded that with obtaining some more fuel from Tennant Creek we could make Daly River by 4 pm.

We had decided not to stay in TC as fellow aviators had warned us that the town was suffering from a lot of vandalism and it would not be safe to leave the Stinson at the airport unattended.

The flight from Barkly to TC was only a mere 55 minutes through lots of haze due to burn offs.  As approaching Tennant we heard the Roulettes were just departing having stopped for fuel.  Those boys certainly got around – we had seen them on the 90th RAAF Pilgrimage, the Echuca AAA Airshow, Whitsunday Airlie Beach airshow and now they had been to Darwin and were returning to Sale, Victoria again.

The fuel stop at TC was very quick and the layout of the field confirmed that we could not camp for the night without being seen from many vantage points around the airport.

Blasting off once again I spotted the most beautiful camping area just outside TC.  A beautiful lake surrounded by green park like gardens looked very inviting even with 2 or 3 caravans already there.

Daly Waters WW11 Hangar
It wasn’t long before Daly Waters long wide airstrip came into view.  We overflew the pub and caravan park to advise the owners to send a car for us.  The pub was about 3km from the airstrip.  Landing long due to scrubby grass on the thresh hold we were immediately pleasantly surprised by the large war time hangar.  We pushed the Stinson inside to protect her from the weather and chocked her. 

Cute python with belly full

We unloaded our overnight necessities and then had a good look around the museum type room inside.  There were huge photographs of various types of planes that had flown in and out of this airstrip as well as the RAAF operations and civilian photos from that era.  A very historical place though very much in need of maintenance.  We noted that the wall timbers were white anted and it would only be time before they fall down – taking the photos with them   Whilst looking around I spotted a cute little python asleep on the bottom beam.  I photographed him and he looked like he had recently eaten.  We waited for over ½ an hour but no-one came to collect us so we began walking – assuming that someone would arrive soon.  It was about 4.30 in the afternoon and rather hot. (We were heading north after all!)  Kev stopped for a wash in the little Daly rivulet whilst I watched for crocodiles on the deep side of the crossing. If something had come out of the water I would have run first, then screamed for Kev to save himself!!!

Not one vehicle came down that road and we finally arrived at the Daly Waters Pub – very tired and hot when a 4WD screamed from behind the pub with a frazzled looking girl at the wheel.  When we stopped her asking if she was to pick up from the airport; her face sank soooo much and she apologized profusely.  She hadn’t heard our plane and was very busy but knew we were arriving around 4pm and finally got away to come down.  She shouted us a long lemon squash at the bar – which we accepted gratefully.  We browsed around the amazing pub looking at all the “collections” from bras to thongs, knickers to footy jumpers.  Very interesting and amazing.

We booked for the infamous “Beef and Barra” BBQ that night for KB and pumpkin soup for me, moved our gear into our spacious cabin and enjoyed a shower and refreshing drink.  Back to the pub about 7pm we joined the crowd waiting for their BBQ.  The system is that you nominate your preferred dinner time and the men at the BBQ do their best to cook it to perfection.  A few minutes past 7pm they started calling out names from tables/groups booked together. Other huge meals came out of the kitchen for those not Beef or Barrimundi ing to coincide with the set times.  The salad and damper were available buffet style and very well received.

The entertainment for the evening was “Chilli” an Aussie guitar playing, joking, story teller.  His sense of humour and songs were very much appreciated by all and we laughed solid for nearly 2 hours.  His only pay was donations from the attending visitors.  We gave generously and hope others did too because he was well worth it.

PS. Kevin’s barra was cooked superbly and quite a decent serve size – though not as fresh nor abundant as the barra cooked for us by Adele at Garry and Hilda’s at Lakeside – south of Proserpine…..  Mmmmm lovely memories.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

May 7 Cloncurry to Mt Isa

Zooming off to work

Awoken early by the chopper pilots arriving to prepare for work, we clambered out of the tent before the sunrise to watch them push their little R22’s out of the hangar.  It wasn’t long before the solid sounding engine roared to life and before we could focus the camera the pilot lifted off, spun around 180 degrees and zoomed off about 8 feet off the deck around the buildings and disappeared into the rising sun.  NOW THAT’S FLYING!  No tower in control yet, so they did not obey any rules.  The second pilot was a tad more sedate – he lifted off and slowly turned 180 degrees and took off to the north, whilst giving us a wave at about 12 feet off the ground!  He he – makes me want to be a muster chopper pilot…….

As the sun rose we ate our breakfast in the fresh morning air.  The CAM engineers came to work continuing maintenance on the 8 x R22’s that were in the hangar.  A couple more guys set off to work after an egg n bacon roll breakfast and the sun was up.  They were a bit more sedate again, as they could be seen by the GILP (general ice-cream licking public) and wouldn’t want to get into trouble.

We finally packed the tent, mattresses, table, gas stove, clothes bags etc etc (getting mighty sick of this) back into the Big Bird and taxied for departure at 8.55am.  Wow – almost record time for us!

The geography of the area changed from flat nothing to rocky outcrops running in straight lines - very strange indeed. We were at Mt Isa before we knew it – only 30 minutes flight – very easy. 

Isa with Mine backdrop
We landed at Isa and were immediately taken by the lovely hill formations around the town.  However right on the edge as a backdrop for the cbd was the large mine itself – Mt Isa Mining Co.

Bob the refueller came to meet us as we had been liaising with him to purchase oil here.  As the GPS was still not staying connected on the plane system, Kevin needed to climb under the dash to fault find the connection.  Whilst he did that, I sat on the tarmac, in the shade and updated the photographs and blog.  Finally finding and fixing the fault, Kev had to put the seat back in before we planned the day’s events.  The Isa had lots to do – Kev was interested in the underground mining tour and I wanted to view the underground hospital as well as other things. Oh – all the phones in town were down and we couldn’t book accommodation, find out tour times or a taxi.

Unique Water tank
Bob kindly gave us a lift into town and we booked into the Sunset CP in an on site cabin (basically a donger).  It was quite hot inside so we cooled down and sat outside before walking into town. 

Painting at the Information Centre

Painting at the Info Centre
 By the time we found the Information Centre we found that all the tours had already started or were finished for the day so we walked around the info centre gallery and then walked thru the shopping centre to a taxi rank back to the CP.

We dined on satay kebabs with salad – our first real meal for a few days.

Stinson Reliant SR8C VH-UXL

Stinson Reliant SR8C VH-UXL
over Perth city (Photo: Greg Hill)

About Us

My photo
Flying farming couple who live on 135 acres. Kev is obsessed by aeroplanes. Vicki is devoted to horses and White Swiss Shepherds.