Van Dieman’s Land of Devils

Van Diemen’s land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania (later renamed after dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first European who landed there in 1642). This infamous place was home to 40% of all convicts sent to Australia via the transportation system, some 75,000 men and women. It has a gory, tragic history (including the most thorough genocide of aboriginals), contrasted with the most gorgeous, dramatic, wild landscapes in all of Australia, home to unique and prolific wildlife.

Map-of-Tasmania

 

The Tasman Peninsula

Our first stop after leaving the farm was to the Tasman Peninsula, notorious for the penal colony Port Arthur, home to the worst re-offender convicts, and run by some of the nastiest, most brutal wardens. Driving down through the narrow isthmus Eaglehawk Neck, I vividly recalled the historical importance of this section of land. At only 30m (98ft) wide, it used to be fenced, guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs, always on alert for escapees fleeing Port Arthur by foot.

Port Arthur
Port Arthur, one of the few original penal prisons still standing in Australia.

These days, it’s a lovely tourist destination. Since we had our dose of depressing penal history thanks to Robert Hughes’ epic book The Fatal Shore, we skipped the tour, and explored the glorious natural landscapes instead. First, a little sea cave, whose opening is shaped like the island of Tasmania:

Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula
Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula

From there we visited the stunning Tasman National Park, and hiked to Cape Hauy to see the amazing dolerite sea cliffs dropping into the ocean.

Cape Hauy track
Cape Hauy track
Christina enjoying the cliffs
Christina enjoying the cliffs

The next morning, we experienced our first car trouble of the entire trip– but it was only a flat tire. We put on the spare, and thankfully, we were headed back through Hobart anyway, so we quickly got a replacement and continued on our way.

 

The Little Devils

On the way to Hobart, we stopped at a little animal park called the UnZoo to see the infamous Tasmania Devil. Although we frequently saw road signs for them in the wild, they are increasingly rare since the rise of the horrible contagious facial-cancer in the 1990s. It’s killed off 80% of the population, and put devils on the Endangered Species List in 2009. Thanks to the tiny isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the disease has not spread to any individuals on the Tasman Peninsula, so the UnZoo Conservation Park is protecting and monitoring the last disease-free population in the world. We had a great time watching the devils and a few other animals as well.

Golden possum eating pumpkin
Golden possum eating pumpkin
Paul watching a possum
Paul watching a possum
Paul and some devils
Three little devils
Christina in the Devil Dome
Christina making friends with Nevil the Devil
Tasmanian devils, sisters.
The notorious Tasmanian Devil, two happy sisters.

 

The Wild Southwest
As we headed west, we drove through a large hop-growing area, which neither of us had ever seen before. A nice change from vineyards.

Hops
Hops, growing on vertical vines

Mt. Field National Park is home to arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Tassie, Russell Falls. The weather turned rainy here (how shocking in a rainforest!), so we couldn’t explore the whole park as intended, but we made it to the falls, and even ran into an echidna along the path.

Russell Falls
Russell Falls, Mt. Field National Park

The Southwest National Park is the most remote and wild part of Tasmania. The vast wilderness is virtually inaccessible, but for a narrow winding road up to Strathgordon, Lake Pedder and the Gordon Dam. It was another stormy day, but definitely worth the long drive to see the gorgeous mountains we’ve been missing after months on a dry, flat continent. The weather cleared for a moment just as we arrived at Lake Pedder.

Lake
Lake Pedder, Southwest National Park

As we approached the end of the road in the mountains, we were blasted with hail and rain. We sat in the car wondering if we’d have to brave the elements for a glimpse of the dam, but again, the weather cooperated and gave us just enough time to hop out and walk down to the immense Gordon Dam. It was so surreal walking along this megastructure in the middle of nowhere.

Gordon Dam
The Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Lake Gordon
Lake Gordon, with its submerged forest peeking out.

 

Across the Lyell Highway

To get to the west coast of Tasmania, we had to drive along the Lyell Highway through more mountains and forests. It’s a beautiful drive, with stunning vistas and our first glimpse of Australian snow! The southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park is Lake St. Clair, where the 6-day Overland Track ends (we hope to come back one day and complete it).  This is Australia’s deepest natural lake, at 200m (656 ft) deep, at an elevation of 738m (2,421 ft). We went on a nice stroll through the forest to the lakeside, where platypus live happily. It had a very different feel from the rainforest, almost like the Sierras at times.

Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair, Cradle Mountain National Park
River
The tannin-rich Hugel and Cuviers Rivers join and feed into Lake St Clair.
Mossy lichens
Moss and  snowflake-like lichen balls cover the forest floor.

On the west coast of Tasmania, we made a special trip out to Hells Gates, the tiny, narrow inlet to another infamous penal colony, Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour. Isolated by vast mountainous wilderness, treacherous seas and deathly tidal currents. Despite the location, several convicts managed to escape, most notably Alexander Pearce (who escaped twice, both times cannibalizing his fellow escapees. Yum.)

Hell's Gate
Hells Gates, the only way into Macquarie Harbour.

 

Cradle Mountain

We finally made it to the one and only Cradle Mountain National Park, by far the most visited and touristy parks in Tassie, complete with foreigner-filled shuttle buses. It was a cloudy, windy day, but we were excited to see this wonderful place…and as luck would have it, the last Australian animal on our list to see: the wombat.

Christina & Wombat
Christina & Wombat. Literally 100m from the trailhead (you can see the cars in the background!), and there were 4 more in the surrounding area.
Wombat!
Wombat munching away. She bulldozed right over my GoPro.
Mossy plain
Mossy, boggy buttongrass looks like a fantasy world
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain National Park
Dove Lake
Dove Lake, with Weindorfers Tower, Smithies Peak and Cradle Mountain.

That night we setup camp in another lovely rainforest, near the wonderful Liffey Falls.

Liffey Falls
Liffey Falls

Bay of Fires & Freycinet

After driving a loop around the west coast, we headed east to the pretty white beaches and granite cliffs. Beautiful sandy bays make it an ideal swimming area, which I delighted in, even though it was pretty cold (low 60s F). We went on our last long hike of the trip along the Wineglass Bay & Hazards Beach Circuit (11km), and enjoyed every minute of it.

Friendly Beaches
Friendly Beaches
Bay
Coles Bay

Freycinet National Park also extends into the ocean as a Marine Reserve, protecting one of the most diverse and unique underwater areas in Tasmania.

Wineglass Bay
Wineglass Bay
beach
Wineglass beach

 

Narawntapu

Our last night in Tasmania was spent in Narawntapu National Park (the first Tassie park to revert to the Aboriginal name). A wildlife haven, we went on an evening hike around the grassy Springlawn where countless pademelons and wallabies grazed, and to the bird hide on the lagoon where we watched black swans, ducks and grebes float idly at sunset. A special end to a special place.

Pedemelon
Pademelon, a smaller macropod species
Swan sunset
Black Swan at sunset

After a pleasant trip overnight on the ferry, we made it back to Melbourne just in time for a stunning sunrise.

Sunrise
Sunrise over Melbourne.

Now all that remains is the Great Ocean Road, Canberra and the final leg back to Sydney!

South Australia

The Nullarbor

After two months in Western Oz, we finally make it across the border, into a new territory! We also travel along the longest straight road in Australia, 146km long (although I can’t say it seemed different from most of the other drives we’ve done).

Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

Right along the border between Western and South Australia, we visit Eucla National Park, famed for its old telegraph station ruins, half-buried in white sand dunes.

Eucla's Old Telegraph Station
Christina entering Eucla’s Old Telegraph Station

The road east takes us through our last expanse of emptiness, the Nullarbor. The name comes from “nullus arbor” meaning “no trees”, a fact we can confirm. It also looks uncannily like Nevada/Idaho. The reason for this treeless plain is the rock underneath: 200,000 square kms of limestone—the biggest, flattest piece of limestone in the world, up to 300m thick. Even more amazing is that this giant slab of limestone juts right up against the ocean, along the Great Australian Bight. The resulting cliffs are stunning.

Nullarbor cliffs
Nullarbor cliffs

All along this coast we looked for Southern Right Whales, but sadly we were a little late to the party. The whales spend the winter here giving birth and resting in the shallow waters, sometimes only a few meters away from the cliffs (which has created quite a tourist industry), and spend the rest of the year in Antarctica. However, we don’t feel as bad about missing them when we find out it’s been a bad year altogether. It used to be you could spot several dozen mother and calf pairs at peak season, but this year the most they saw at one time were six. And they didn’t come nearly as close as years past. I think it’s probably a combination of climate change and El Nino.

Whale (not to scale).
Whale (not to scale).

 

Eyre Peninsula

We made our way down along the Eyre Peninsula to Lincoln National Park at the very tip. We had a nice time here, with a quiet little beach next to our campground in Spalding Cove, and lots of kangaroos and emus running around to keep us entertained. This is also the best place in Australia to see Great White Sharks, so we basked in the warm, fuzzy feeling that they were nearby. However, we were also being tormented by a much more horrible and terror-inducing beast… the Great Australian Fly. Although we brought one fly-net with us, we were wise enough to buy a second in Esperance. Most of hikes from here on out would be overshadowed by them. Literally.

Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera
Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera

From here we drove north towards the mountains, through a town called Whyalla, but it’s also known in some circles (my kind of circles) as Cuttlefish Mecca. Yet again, we missed the season. But something tells me we’ll be here again… Hundreds of giant cuttlefish court, fight and mate here in the winter, all with dazzling color-changing flashes and shows. Yup, we’ll be here again, somehow.

 

Flinders Range

Here, the flies worsened. In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, camping with swarms of flies is one of the least-enjoyable things you could do. Cooking is a pain, everything has to be constantly covered and fanned. Eating is impossible with a fly-net on, so we end up sweltering in the car (after killing the 5-6 flies that inevitably get caught inside with us). Our only escape is the tent. So after a difficult night, we hoped by climbing a mountain maybe the wind would keep them away.

With our fly-nets on, we set out on the trail. Most of the hikers we passed also had nets, so at least we weren’t the only people who looked like idiots. We even passed a group of people with multicolor streamer-wands to swat them away. As we made our way toward the trailhead, we were stopped by a mob of juvenile delinquents:

With our spirits lifted by the friendly encounter, we hiked up Mt. Ohlssen-Bagge, and were rewarded with a spectacular view. And fewer flies!

Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range
Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range

And we had plenty of company from the reptiles running around, too. The trail was very steep and rocky, and it seemed like every time I laid my hand down on a rock, it ended up inches from a skink or dragon, who just looked at my wondering why I was trying to steal her sunbathing spot.

Don't wake the dragons
Don’t wake the dragons

At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.

Friendly neighborhood fly-killer
Friendly neighborhood fly-killer

 

Mt. Remarkable

Remarkable for somehow having more flies than any other park. And with the weather taking a turn toward hellish (38C), our usual respite, the tent, was quite unbearable. Luckily, the next day was going to be much cooler, so we planned a long hike to keep ourselves busy. We chose the popular Hidden Gorge trail (18km) which turned out to be one of our absolute favorite hikes of the trip. Since we started early, we saw lots of kangaroos, and even a pretty yellow-footed rock wallaby hopping straight up a cliff.

Hidden Gorge Trail
Hidden Gorge Trail

We also saw at least five goannas, one of whom wasn’t the least bit concerned about us and went about digging for food right in front of us.

Happy Goanna
Happy Goanna

And yes, the flies followed us the whole time. The photo below shows how many flies we typically carry around with us, but at their peak there were easily three times as many.

Paul and his flies
Paul and his flies

 

Adelaide

After a brutal week of flies, we were so excited to be in a city (and indoors at an Airbnb) that we completely forgot to take any pictures. We did manage to eat some fantastic indian food, though.

Fleurieu Peninsula

The marine emblem of South Australia is the extraordinary leafy sea-dragon. A spectacular animal (related to sea horses) they are native to these seaweed-rich coasts, and nowhere else in the world. And although we desperately wanted to see them in their natural home, the weather and water was pretty cold, and another scuba-diving trip was not in our budget. But at least we scoped out the dive site for in case we come back (Rapid Bay Jetty, in case you’re wondering).

On the southern side of this peninsula is Granite Island, a little island connected to the town of Victor Harbor via a 630m wooden boardwalk. Turns out it’s also South Australia’s most-visited national park, and it’s home to a small colony of Little Penguins (they come ashore in the evening).

Christina headed for Granite Island
Christina headed for Granite Island

The large granite boulders are what’s left after the limestone around it eroded, and has the same geology as “Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island to the west (which I visited 10 years ago). Although not as large and strangely-shaped as those of Kangaroo Island, these granite rocks still had some character.

Paul and Granite
Paul and Granite

The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.

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Stare down

 

Naracoorte Caves

From the coast, we travelled inland to several other parks, including Cox Scrub (where we went on a rainy 4km hike through sandy terrain), Padthaway (where we searched unsuccessfully for koalas on a 4WD adventure…pushing our poor Subaru to the limit), the Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.

Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons
Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons

South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, this cave system was excavated in 1969, and was found to hold some of the best fossils of ancient megafauna marsupials from 200,000 years ago. They have a strange old museum/animatronic display with recreations of these bizarre animals…which sounded too intriguing to pass up. It was meant to bring the creatures back to life and give visitors a chance to walk back in time, but now it just “frightens small children” as the receptionist said. And he was right. Even for a 28-year-old, the creepy jolty-movements of the moving stuffed animals was enough to give me scary flash-backs…especially the snub-nosed kangaroo that looked like an evil, giant Tim Burton-esque rabbit… Most of the displays were clearly 30 years old, showing wear and tear and molting fake fur underneath a good deal of dust. Unforgettable, I suppose.

Wonambi Fossil Museum
Wonambi Fossil Center –  Thylacoleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion)

After shaking-off the strange experience of the museum, we then made our way to the Wet Cave, where we explored the various caverns at our leisure.

Entrance to the Wet Cave
Entrance to the Wet Cave
Paul in the shadows
Paul in the shadows
Large Cave, with interesting roof bubbles from CO2
Interesting roof bubbles from CO2

Just as we where about the leave, we were graced with the presence of an animal we’ve been desperately searching for, and had nearly given up hunting. They are nocturnal, timid and yet fairly common across the whole country (which made us even more annoyed), and here we found one in the middle of the afternoon only a few meters from the parking lot, and happy to walk right up to us. Relative of the platypus, the echidna is the only other egg-laying mammal alive today. And again, impossibly cute.

Echidna, being cute as a button.
Echidna, being cute as a button.
More echidna
More echidna

 

Bool Lagoon

After the caves we drove over to our next campsite, at Bool Lagoon, and immediately made a new friend. This turtle was trying to cross the road (wisely doing so right past the turtle-crossing sign). After snapping the photo, I decided Paul needed a better look (he was waiting in the car), so I picked her up and brought her over to the car window. He was not amused.

Long necked-turtle trying o cross the road
Long necked-turtle trying to cross the road

The next day we walked along the many boardwalks in the reserve. There’s usually water under them, but with the drought everything was very dry and there were barely any birds at all.

Bool Lagoon Boardwalk
Christina on the Bool Lagoon Boardwalk

 

Canunda National Park

We thought we’d visit SA’s coast one last time, so we spent a few nights in Canunda National Park, where we went on a nice 10km walk along the cliffs and beaches on the Seaview Hike.

Seaview Hike
Seaview Hike
Cliffs
Cliffs

We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.

Piccaninnie Ponds

This little park (along with Ewans Ponds, nearby) is special because of its crystal-clear limestone pools, which you can snorkel and scuba dive in. We opted for a just a little walk around, which turned out be a boon for snakes! We saw 4 snakes within an hour (3 red-bellied black snakes, one eastern brown), all highly venomous, of course. Three of them were shy, and disappeared off the narrow grassy trail as soon as they saw us, but one of them was a bit more nervous. She stayed perfectly still, but she started flattening her neck (a sign of unease or aggression in snakes). We had to pass by her to get back to the car, so we waited a minute, and slide by her VERY slowly, and made it out without any trouble. Sure got our hearts pumping, though.

 

Red-Bellied Black Snake - highly venomous!
Red-Bellied Black Snake – Beautiful! -iridescent purple black on top, and red-orange belly. Lovely creature. One of the most venomous land snakes in the world.
Paul at the ponds
Paul at the ponds

Although we didn’t jump in the water ourselves, we got a glimpse of the strange underwater world thanks to the GoPro. Here’s a little video of what the ponds look like underwater:

 

That wraps up South Australia! Victoria here we come!

 

 

Forests of South WA

Karri Forest Drive

One of the main attractions on our road east was the Karri Forest Explorer Drive. The drive is a jagged loop that covers three different national parks over 80 km. Along the drive we stopped at Beedelup National Park to view the falls and walk over a planked suspension bridge.

Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Christina & Paul & Falls
Christina & Paul & Falls

The main attraction for the drive is obviously the large Karri trees which can grow up to 90 meters tall. That’s just ten meters shorter than some of the tallest redwood trees. The Karri is a large straight eucalyptus tree with a wide truck, which is ideal for climbing. Within the drive there are three Karri trees that are used for spotting fires and are accessible to the public. They are the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, the Gloucester Tree, and the Diamond Tree with a heights ranging from 52 to 65 meters to the highest platforms. Gulp. These trees have had rebar poles driven into the trunks and platforms built amongst the branches to help you feel safe while taking in the view. I’m terrified of heights, but faced my fears and climbed to the top of all three of the lookout trees. Apparently, only 20 percent of those who attempt the climbs actually make it to the top. This statistic played out hilariously when a middle aged gentleman had started climbing up the Diamond Tree after his kids, but came back down after only ten meters and exclaimed out loud, “I just remembered, I don’t have to do this shit anymore.”

Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree - 71m tall.
Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – 71m tall.
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree

D’Entrecasteaux

The day after climbing the trees we head south to D’Entrecastraux National Park. Nestled along the coast it had some very beautiful views of the southern ocean and amazing rock formations. Unfortunately, some of the coastal walks were closed due to fire damage, so we only spent a day exploring.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock

Albany

Continuing east we drove through a lush and vibrant landscape populated by forests, wineries, and a few breweries. Most of the time we just whizz by these things on our way to the next park, but just before getting to Albany, something caught our eye and we had to turn the car around to have a look. It was a meadery. Bartholomew’s Meadery, which had a variety of different meads to taste and even wider variety of honeys for sale, including a chili honey. We didn’t get any honey, but we did try some of the meads and actually bought a bottle for the potential cold night. The mead we bought was a spiced mead style called Methelglin, served warm. I can’t remember the spices used, but it was damn good and very special treat.

Bartholomew's
Bartholomew’s Spiced Mead

The next park on our list to visit was Torndirrup National Park. We wanted to stop here because the parks brochure said it had blowholes and we had yet to investigate Australian blowholes. I was under the impression that these blowholes would be visible with water or air spouting from them like what happens with whales. I was mistaken. These blowholes were not visible, but very audible. On days with particularly large swells, water and air are pushed up through small fissures in the granite rock creating a loud whooshing sound. It’s a bit shocking the first time you hear it, but it turns into something quite satisfying once you’re anticipating the whoosh.

Blowholes in Torindurup
Blowholes in Torndirrup
Paul
Paul blending in

Porongurup

Within 200km of Albany there are three very beautiful national parks: Porongurup, Stirling Range, and Fitzgerald River. And we were intent on seeing all three within a two day period of time. We were drawn to Porongurup because of the granite skywalk. This sounded interesting and it was on the way to the Stirling Ranges, so we decided to check it out.

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Looking down at Paul
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Christina heading up the ladder

The hike to the Granite Skywalk was two kilometers straight up a steep slope. Even though the hike was a little fatiguing, it was worth the climb. The Granite Skywalk itself is composed of stainless steel rods and rivulets, and see through plexiglass arranged so that it feels like you’re walking on air. In 2011 it was built by contractors who abseiled from the top of the granite peak along the sides to put all the nuts, bolts, and planks of plexiglass into place. The end result was aesthetically pleasing and offers some spectacular views of the surrounding area. A very memorable place.

Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
Balancing Rock
Balancing Rock

 

Stirling Range: Bluff Knoll

North of Porongurup, and visible from the Granite Skywalk, are the Stirling Ranges. The tallest peak in the range is Bluff Knoll standing in at 1095 meters. The summit of Bluff Knoll can be reached from a carpark that is most of the way up the mountain. The rest of the way to the top is an short 6km return hike, meaning 3k all up hill (plenty of stairs). Since this was one of the only accessible hikes in the area we decided we had to summit this peak. The hike was by far the most strenuous hike that we’ve undertaken yet. We started off early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, and so we could get to our next destination at a reasonable time, with the peak of Bluff Knoll periodically shrouded in clouds. The ascent slow and steady, with breath taking vistas to give us an excuse to stop and rest. As always, the strain on our muscles was rewarded with expansive views and sense of accomplishment. Totally awesome hike.

Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Christina happy to be at the top
Christina happy to be at the top
Paul is also happy. No, really, I swear.
Paul is also happy.
Summit selfie
Summit selfie

Fitzgerald River: Kangaroo Attack

Fitzgerald River would definitely be on my top 5 national parks if it weren’t for a few factors totally unrelated to the beauty and splendor of the park itself. First, the road into the park was long, gravel, and corrugated. Second, the flies were horrendous! Third, the wind there was unrelenting, even at night. Ugh.

Fortunately, Fitzgerald wasn’t all terrible. It did have a couple upsides. One, was that Point Ann, usually a good place to see Southern Right whales, was one of the most beautiful places that we’ve had the pleasure of stopping. Second, while having dinner a small kangaroo came into our tent site. It was very curious about what we were doing and came right up to the table. I was very hungry and didn’t want to share the food so I stood to shoo away the roo, but in doing so it only jumped straight up in the air and scared me more than I scared it. I tried running at the roo, but it hopped away and shortly returned again. Christina recommended running and screaming, so I tried this tactic much to Christina’s delight and the roo ran away. The roo and I were both pleased that Christina and I were only staying one night.

Hakea flower
Hakea flower
Paul at Point Ann
Paul at Point Ann
Point Ann
Beach at Point Ann

Esperance

The next big town on our journey east was Esperance. But before arriving at our destination we had to make a quick detour to Stokes Inlet, which was said to be “one of the most picturesque and interesting estuaries along WA’s southern coast.” We didn’t find many birds but we did find this very interesting fish cleaning station.

Kill fish here
Kill fish here

Once in Esperance we had the intention of going straight to a neighboring national park, Cape Le Grand, but found that the all the campsites were full. Or so sign outside the park had proclaimed. Feeling a little defeated, we headed back to town to stay at a caravan park. Good thing we did. That night the wind was gusting ferociously and the rain came along for the ride. Luckily, the caravan park was well protected against the wind and we weathered the storm.

A couple days later we were back in Esperance and took a short scenic drive along the coast.

Observatory Point, Esperance
Observatory Point, Esperance

Cape Le Grand

Between our days in Esperance we did finally manage to get out to Cape Le Grand. Le Grand is about 60km east of Esperance and is home some very stunning beaches (whitest beaches in Australia), granite hills, and kangaroos on the beach. During our stay we climbed a medium sized peak, called Frenchman Peak, hung out with kangaroos on the beach, and generally took it easy. A great break from a very busy week.

Thistle Cove
Thistle Cove
Frenchman Peak
Frenchman Peak
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo mob
Kangaroo being mobbed by tourists in Lucky Bay

Parks with Perks

Wildflowers

While we may not have timed our trip well for whale sharks, we did happen to visit southwestern Australia at the perfect time for spring wildflowers. From Kalbarri south, we marveled at the bright colors all around us. They brightened all our hikes, brought birds and bees right next to us, and made the landscape come alive on the long drives. Here is a little taste of the rainbow – all from one day in Kalbarri:

IMG_2589 small REDIMG_2610 small ORANGEIMG_2572 small YELLOWIMG_2558 small WHITEIMG_2616 small GREENIMG_2569 small BLUEIMG_2585 small PURPLEIMG_2787small VIOLET
Jump for Joy

As our little guide book describes it, Geraldton is the “key port and administration center for the region” – meaning there’s not much to do. And sadly, we had to occupy ourselves for a whole weekend in this town since we arrived on a Friday and had to wait til Monday to get the car serviced. Even worse, every shop in town closes at 1pm on Saturday, and nothing is open Sunday. There was, however, a nice little market (where we bought some fudge) and a nice museum about Western Australia’s natural history, local culture and the fascinating shipwrecks off the treacherous coast. The stories of the dutch ships Batavia (1629) and Zuytdorp (1712) include some serious blood-thirsty episodes, if you care to look them up…

The best part of our visit was hands-down the jumping pillow pad at the caravan park. There’s something amazingly satisfying about bouncing around like idiots until you fall over from laughing too hard you can’t move anymore. If you know of one nearby, go visit it NOW.

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More Parks

Although we were eager to get to Perth, we couldn’t skip over the last few parks on the way. And as luck would have it, just after entering Beekeepers Nature Reserve, where we planned to camp, I spotted a tiny creature on the road, with a unique wobbly gait, and I wailed for Paul to stop the car. He dutifully turned around and we manged to find the little lizard we were desperate (and unable) to find while in Shark Bay… the one and only Thorny Devil!

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Moloch horridus is a remarkable being that would be nightmarish if only it weren’t so small and cute. With pointy scales all over its body, and skin that changes color, it sits around eating tiny black ants and nothing else. Even more amazing, is its ability to collect moisture from dew on its body that flows via tiny channels between its scales straight into its adorable stubby mouth. BEST DAY EVER.

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While few things could ever top finding a Thorny Devil, we continued onward to Lesueur National Park for a wonderful hike to a lookout over the area. Apparently, it has more plant species per unit than anywhere in the state (200 of 800 are endemic to the park).

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Next, we made out way to Jurien Bay. We were hoping to see some friendly Australian Fur Seals, but alas, they hide away from humans on the offshore islands. The beach was still very pretty.

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Pinnacles

The most famous site in the area is undoubtedly the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. Thousands of limestone pinnacles pop out of the sand, up to 5 meters tall. They were formed when plant roots cemented with calcite in the dunes, exposed by wind and shifting sands.

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You can drive right between the strange structures, giving the place a very other-worldly feel.

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Paul wandering between pinnacles
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Pinnacles Drive

Our last stop before Perth was Yanchep National Park, where we spent a rainy morning wandering around the wildlife and flowers.

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Christina chats with a friendly kookaburra
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Christina walking with roos

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While we have yet to visit any captive animals parks (every creature we’ve seen so far has been wild), we stumbled upon the (free) koala enclosure in the middle of the park, and got to see our first koalas of the trip.

Deadly drop bear
Deadly drop bear

Broome Broome!

Upon our arrival in Broome, we officially completed the Savannah Way across the north of Australia! From Cape Tribulation on the northeast coast, we drove 6,908 km in 32 days, and were thrilled to see the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean!

Australia Road Trip Map - Savannah Way

Broome is famous for Cable Beach, a huge pristine white sand beach, voted the #1 beach in all of Australia! It certainly was wonderful to jump in the ocean after spending endless days in the red dusty outback. After all the waterholes, rivers and lakes, the saltwater was so strange!

Cable beach in Broome, WA
Cable beach in Broome, WA

Not as strange as the camel caravans that appeared silently behind us…

Camels arrive on the beach for sunset
Camels arrive on the beach for sunset rides

Broome (and the Dampier Peninsula to the north) is also revered by paleontologists for its dazzling collection of dinosaur footprints—a rare treat anywhere in the world—but here they have the prints of over 20 different species, from 120 million years ago. There’s even one right in town you can see at low tide.

Who has bigger feet?
Who has bigger feet?

Just behind the footprint is the best place to watch the sunset, with fabulous rocks to catch the light.

Rocks at Gantheaume Point
Rocks at Gantheaume Point

The main event, however, was Indian curry and beer tastings at Matso’s. They are especially famous for their tasty ginger beer, so Christina was happy too. A delicious dinner to celebrate our trip across the north!

Paul sampling the brews at Matso's
Paul sampling the brews at Matso’s

From here we travel south along the Coral Coast, eager to see the western reefs!

28 Going on 70

Right before the border of Queensland and Northern Territory on the Savannah Way
Right before the border of Queensland and Northern Territory on the Savannah Way

Up until this point not many of the names of our campgrounds have caught or kept our attention, but with a name like Hells Gate, you have to stop and take notice. The accommodations were actually quite nice for a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Hot showers, sink for washing dishes, delicious water, and the front desk had a free book exchange which we took advantage of.

Hells Gate also lived up to it’s name not only because the weather was about to get consistently warmer, but because the road conditions between the roadhouse and the Northern Territory border were some the worst we’ve encountered yet. Indeed, we felt like we were in hell during that part of the drive, creeping along in second gear (sometimes only first). But as soon as we reached the boarder the corrugation diminished (the dirt remained for another 100km).

The Northern Territory

Wahoo a new territory!
Wahoo a new territory!

All the corrugation and endless dirt road was worth it as we saw our first emu run swiftly across the road in front of us. No picture was taken because those things move fast! Instead of getting a picture of an emu we did find time to take a picture of some really cool termite mounds (they are a constant feature along the entire northern road).

Outback in the outback, passing by thousands of termite mounds
Outback in the outback, passing by thousands of termite mounds

The other constant by the side of the road is cattle. They roam around everywhere, including crossing the highway at whatever pace they please.

Brahman cows looking fiercely curious
Brahman cows looking fiercely curious

Our first day in the Territory ended with us camping at a free rest stop outside Cape Crawford. The rest stop had no toilets, but it did provide for a very pretty sunset and bird watching the next morning.

Sunset at Cape Crawford
Sunset at Cape Crawford
Beautiful gallahs
Beautiful gallahs

After a leisurely morning of breakfast and birdwatching we headed out for the Stuart Highway and our next stop, Daley Waters. Daley Waters was recommended to us by some greys nomads and their son who said that the roadhouse was famous for its pub and food. So we thought, hey, why not? This turned out to be a fantastic recommendation. Let me tell you why.

Daley Waters

First, when you walk into the bar you immediately can see that it has a lot of…character. And by character I mean your typical country/dive bar kitsch: panties and bras hanging from the ceiling, student IDs and international currency stapled to the walls, and lots of silly signs with purposefully bad spelling. Basically every square centimeter covered with some kind of crazy decoration.

Daley Waters Pub
Daley Waters Pub

Second, their was live entertainment in the evening. But before the show started we looked around and noticed that about 90% of the people around us having dinner were over 70 and confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Christina and I are living a retired couple’s life. Hence the title of the post.

Paul drinking a XXXX Gold
Paul drinking a XXXX Gold

Then the live entertainment started. This was by far the best part of the night. The show starts with a man named Steve standing on stage with a electric guitar slung around his shoulder and what looked like a small television setup on a table next to him. I wasn’t sure what the television was for but soon found out that Steve would be playing guitar and singing along as the words to the songs were shown on the screen next to him–essentially doing karaoke with a guitar. He played the hits from the 50’s and 60’s and even had his own rendition of ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rodgers. In a word it was fantastic. Just pure entertainment. I suppose the heat or the beer was getting to our heads, but we had a really good time watching this older gentleman serenade a group of his peers. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Christina drinking cider with Steve behind going to town
Christina drinking cider with Steve behind going to town

Mataranka

Our next stop, Mataranka, was another recommendation from greys we met way back on the road to Carnarvon. Mataranka is in between Daley Waters and Katherine on the way to Darwin, the capital city. The draw to Mataranka are their lovely hot springs, the best being Bitter Springs where you float down the river, hop out, walk back and jump back in again (over and over). The temperature of the water is what makes Bitter Springs special. The water temp is a consistent 32 C. That’s pretty much 90 F! The water comes from a limestone aquifer that is filled every year by the monsoon rains and spills over into Bitter Springs. The color of the water is what is most striking. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it other than beautiful.

Crystal-blue hot spring waters of Mataranka's Bitter Springs
Crystal-blue hot spring waters of Mataranka’s Bitter Springs

It’s also been the only water so far that I could have stayed in all day and not get cold. In fact, we had to get out of the water to cool down!

Edith Falls

Our next stop was Edith Falls, which is part of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park and the falls are located on the north side of the park. Edith Falls has three different parts to it. The bottom plunge pool, which was only a few hundred meters from our campsite, the middle pool, and the upper pool. The upper pool is only accessible by a short walk, 1km, and the middle pool is not accessible at all, but could be viewed from a distance on a return walk to the plunge pool. We decided to do it all!

The upper pool was extraordinary beautiful. Cold, crystal clear water, cascading down the side of a basalt rock into a deep emerald pool. The water was extremely refreshing after hiking almost straight up hill, but I couldn’t stay in too long since I get cold easily. But, I soon found a place to get out of the water and jump from a rock.

Paul at Edith Falls' upper pools having a blast
Paul at Edith Falls’ upper pools having a blast

On our way back down toward the plunge pool we had to stop and take a photo of the middle pool.

Paul and Christina at Edith's middle pool
Paul and Christina at Edith’s middle pool

Once we arrived at the plunge pool we had warmed up and decided to take a dip. The water was again very cold so we didn’t spend too much time swimming around, but did manage to snorkel (always looking for freshwater crocs, but only saw fishies). A bit tired from all the swimming and hiking we decided to retire for the day to rest up for our next part of our journey at the Top End.