Flats and Budgie Rescue

After the awe of Uluru-Kata Tjuta you’d have thought we’d have had enough of massive geological wonders? Well think again the next spot on our hit list was Kings Canyon. While it looks small on the map the drive between Curtin Springs and the canyon was almost 300km so we decided to tackle the main rim walk the next day and just take our time heading up to camp. We did end up going on a small walk after lunch at a spot called Kathleen Springs where at the end of a short 1.3km trail we found a beautiful little waterhole. We parked up early at the Morris Pass Lookout free camp and while I told myself I’d use the time to catch up on my blog and write some post cards, in reality I ended up spending hours alternating between reading my book and looking out over the spectacular view of the ranges, by far the most scenic site we’ve stayed at.

The next morning after a healthy porridge breakfast we drove into the canyon and commenced on what turned out to be the most offensive beginning of a hike I’ve ever experienced. The “stairs” to the top if you can even call them that were so steep it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. We reached the summit eventually, but I can’t imagine how horrible that would be in summer, the defibrillator located at the top gives a decent indication of how challenging it is. The rest of the hike was wonderful which is very high praise from me due to my fear of heights and most of the walk circulating around a massive cliff with a short dip into an area called the Garden of Eden. The rock features looked like miniature versions of the Bungle Bungles and the cycads added to the otherworldly feeling on the place. If there is one thing I can say about the NT in the few days we’ve been here is that the colours are so vivid it’s like someone has turned the saturation up in the world. Because the rim walk was only 6km we decided to do the canyon floor walk after lunch as well. It was nice but not particularly interesting so if you’re there and limited on time I’d give it a miss.

On our way back to camp we stopped in at the information centre tided up to the caravan park and bought our $6.50 pass to drive on the Mereenie Loop road. Matt only realised we’d need one going over the maps the previous night. We’d heard a lot of bad things about the section of road but driving on it the next day it was honestly fine, the last 15km were very corrugated but it wasn’t any worse than Arkaroola so we made pretty good time. We filled up for petrol in a town called Hermannsburg which Lonely Planet describes as “an appealingly run-down and sleepy place” which I think may be their attempt of a politically correct description of a mainly indigenous town that Matt and I would describe to you as a shit hole. We were running very low on water and petrol so there wasn’t much of an option than to suck it up, dodge the feral dogs and rubbish and head on in. To be fair we did also end up visiting the Historical Mission which was interesting and served a reasonable lunch of scones with jam and cream but the information given throughout the complex seemed to be weighted heavily in the favour of the church rather than giving a more balanced view of what was happening there at the time.

After refueling and another short drive we pulled up at Palm Valley and mad ourselves at home. We ended up chatting to a nice bloke from Sydney who turned out was on first name terms with Moose, the publican from Copley. He also massively rated the town, small world. That afternoon we hung around the campground, enjoyed the river and the abundance of amazing birdlife including Major Mitchell Cockatoos!

Palm Valley, as its name indicates is famous for one thing…palms, specifically red cabbage palm trees (9,000-15,000 of them) that are found nowhere else in the world. On the 5km loop walk the following morning we read about the palms and learnt that no one knows how they got there. The hike was lovely up and down hills, through valleys full of…well palms, and around an area that a few months before probably would have been quite wet. We had another lazy afternoon back at camp hiding from the ever-increasing heat. I think we will soon be restricted to morning outdoor activities as hiking in 35 degrees isn’t much fun. On our last day camped up in the valley Matt picked two more walks in a different area of the park. One was a short and steep lookout hike (1.6km return) and the second was the Mapaara loop. Along the way of the second walk we learnt a dreamtime story about a tawny frogmouth man and his son. I won’t actually repeat the story here because it was really disturbing and involved eating family members, we were both a bit flummoxed by it. At the end of the walk we ran into another couple in a Delica so we had a massive chat and compared vans, they had a long wheel base diesel and exactly the same roof racks that we managed to break. We gave them the heads up and told them where to check for issues to try and prevent theirs from filing which they were very appreciative of.

This is where our trip got derailed for the second time, we were on our way to our next campsite down in the Finke Gorge when I spotted a little budgie flailing around on the side of the track. We got out and Matt managed to catch it. On closer inspection it was a very cute baby budgie with one wing that looked like it had been plucked rendering it unable to fly. It would die if we left it so we packed it into an ice-cream tub and drove out the way we came to find some phone service and the nearest vet. Of course, being the middle of nowhere the nearest vet/animal rescue was Alice Springs so off we drove on a 120km detour. Things continued to go wrong for us when a roofing nail buried into the back tyre and gave us a flat 70km later along the highway. We both jumped out ready to put our tyre changing skills to work and in retrospect probably feeling a little bit too confident. Matt jacked up the van and I got the spare down, we pulled off the flat and discovered that the jack wouldn’t go high enough to get a fully inflated tyre back on. We tried to put the flat one back on so we could adjust the jack but even that wouldn’t go on. What should have been a 5 minute job turned into a 45 minute ordeal of hailing people on the side of the road to see if anyone had a second jack so we’d be able to move ours to the correct spot (we jacked up the body of the van accidentally), after several groups of grey nomads, one bloke that was running late for an appointment, two motorcyclists, and another couple a bloke that had a jack stopped, helped us out and got the tyre changed. We learnt a lot from that one.

In Alice Springs we dropped the very sweet budgie to a wildlife carer, grabbed some dinner and parked up the van at the Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame campsite.

We ended up spending two days in Alice but they were two very boring days of laundry, groceries, tyre repair, post office, and booking the van in to get a few things looked at so I don’t have any interesting photos or stories. We will be coming back to Alice Springs in about 10 days to do something on Matt’s bucket list so I’ll write more about it then. The one thing we did was visit the Reptile House where we saw, held, and learnt about scaly friends. Things like, what’s the main difference between a lizard and a snake? Lizards have ears.  

Campsite Reviews

Morris Pass Lookout – Another free camp we found because of the disgusting prices being changed at caravan parks. The Kings Canyon “Resort” wanted $50 per night for an unpowered site, you can shove that right up your proverbial mate. Stunning scenery and would have been perfect if on the second night we hadn’t been parked up next to the Von Trapp family who felt like the campsite needed to listen to them sing…poorly for 90 minutes. They only shut up when Matt started blasting a finance podcast at their van. $Free – 8/10.

Palm Valley – Yet another one of those sites where we pull up for one night and end up staying 2. Beautiful red cliffs, river, birds, and showers. $4pp/pn – 9/10.

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – Not sure where to start with this one. Imagine a gravel car park but instead of normal cars it is full of rusty tractors and trucks, now visualize two toilet blocks, one is in an elevated shipping container and looks like something that would be used at a music festival, the second is in a run down shed and instead of walls between the toilets/showers you have those old, carpeted, office cubical dividers. Yeah. Why did we choose to stay there? Because once more the caravan parks are stupidly expensive. Nothing under $38pn unpowered, ludicrous. $15pn – 4/10 (pretty grim but we’ll go back).

3CT – Munro to Retakunna

3CT – Munro to Retakunna

Distance – 19km
Story seats – 14
Weather – Cloudy, light wind, 14C

Day 3, the big one. We set an alarm last night so that we’d wake up in time for the sunrise over the ocean. 5/6 of us jumped out of bed and headed for the helipad where we saw the sun come over the horizon and bathe the sea cliffs in a golden glow. It was utterly breathtaking and I felt like I was on the edge of the world. We ate breakfast enjoying almost the same view from the kitchen hut and then organised our day packs which we’d be taking for most of the hike.

I was feeling pretty nervous about today because I have a fairly major fear of heights. Looking off anything over a couple of storeys sends me into dizziness and panic. It’s fair to say we had a few stops on the way out to Cape Pillar for me to do a nervous wee…or 5. Our walk started in wet eucalypt forest and emerged onto the accurately named hurricane heath where we mounted the longest boardwalk section of the track (over 2km). At the other end of the boardwalk we discovered that it had been designed by local Aboriginal people to look like a snake slithering over the landscape. We learnt about the rare Eyebright flower, global warming of sea currents, a very special She Oak which is endemic to the Tasman peninsula, the birds and the bees, and the impact the winds have on the landscape.

The last story chair was particularly appropriate because as we came over the hill the weather turned and a mist started to brew up. Lucky for us because we’d had a bit of an early start we were able to walk down the other side and away from the worst of the weather. The further we walked the more spectacular the views got especially of the incredible Tasman Island. We read about the stories and the hardships of the people that lived on the island and worked the lighthouse to ensure the safe passage of ships. I couldn’t get over the strength and courage of the lightkeeper families, just getting from the sea to the top of the island would have been a huge challenge, let alone living on a windy, isolated rock alone for months on end.

All too soon we reached The Blade and despite my best efforts (crawling) I only managed to get 1/3 of the way up before my brain would let me go no further. Hannie and Callum went bravely on and were soon joined by the rest of our group who caught up with us just in time for lunch. I sat on the blade and enjoyed watching the clouds appearing to wizz up the cliffs and into the sky.

Once everyone was safely off The Blade we continued on our way, skirting the cliff edges and enjoying the wonderful views and scenery. At the turning point we contemplated lunch but ended up heading back to the Seal Spa story chair where there was more to look at and more shelter from the wind. A couple of boisterous scrub wrens joined us, hopping around and waiting for any dropped food.

After what seemed a very long hike we made it back to Munro, slung our packs over our exhausted backs and slowly walked to the cabins for the night at Retakunna. The spot was nice enough with plenty of bird life and Mt Fortescue lurking in the background but it was my least favourite of the huts. Annika and I cooked up our dinner or fried rice and dehydrated crumble and custard before we turned in for the night.

Post Op Goomburra

Post Op Goomburra

I’m lucky with a lot of things in my life, I have a great job, caring husband, house to live in and never have to worry about food on the table but the one area where I lucked out on a bit was my health. I’m one of the 1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis. Yay! Bit of a TMI but I’m telling you this because if I didn’t have surgery and end up taking too much leave I wouldn’t have been able to go on this van trip so there is a silver lining.

For something different and because we were both on leave we left town in the middle of the week after I’d finished catching up with my dietician. We drove out to Main Range National Park picking up some firewood on the way and set up camp at Poplar Flat.

Despite the recent slicing and dicing I felt really good in the morning so we headed out on a bushwalk on the 6.5km Cascades Circuit Track. It was a beautiful hike with multiple creek crossings, ferns, and tropical palms stretching into the canopy. I was particularly enthralled by the huge birds nest ferns up in the trees, make sure you look up!

After a rest in the campsite and a bit of lunch we took the van out for a short drive to the Mount Castle Lookout. Certainly worth the 900m of steep walking track to peer out across the valley and towards Brisbane.

Back at camp we spent a lazy afternoon lying around in the hammock, reading books, starting a fire, and discovering the wonders of getting flat breads to crisp up over flames (delicious).

On our way out the next day we stopped in at Lowies for a pizza snack. Lowie was an absolute character, he’d built his fantastic cafe/restaurant entirely from scratch with his sons help. I could have spent hours there talking to him and going over the amazing details of the building and the odds and ends scattered around. Matt ended up buying a book which amused me. In the entire time we have been together I think I’ve seen him finish two books which he has now outdone in the few months that we have had the van.

Heading towards Brisbane we decided to swing by the Spicers Gap 4WD track for a bit more off roading. After a quick bit of research most sites rated it as easy so we figured that we would be fine. Oh my word I do not know on what planet that road is ‘easy’ but it certainly wasn’t this one. The track was rutted beyond belief, like lose-the-side-of-your-van if your wheel slips into it ruts that I think would have been up to my waist if I found the urge to stand in the mud at the bottom. When the road wasn’t rutted it was unbelievably steep and rocky, or was littered with woah-boys that had a side-step-scraping gradient if you approached them on the wrong angle. Absolute madness but to Matt’s credit he handled it like a complete legend, and to Eggs credit they made it look easy (I contributed nothing apart from being nervous and getting out a few times).

We stopped at the top and took in one final lookout view from Governors Chair before slowly making our way back to Brisbane.

Add: Turns out Spicers Gap road nearly caused the transmission to fall out of Egg. We took it to the Delica Garage for a service and 3/4 mounting points were broken…eep.

Campground Review

Poplar Flat – Another lovely Queensland National Parks campsite and as the name would suggest pretty flat. There were lots of really nice spots and we were very happy with our area hidden away in the trees. There were drop toilets but no showers. $6.15 per person per night 7/10.