The Great Ocean Road runs for 243 kilometres between Torquay and Allansford on the south eastern coast of Victoria, Australia. It is heritage listed and is one of the worlds most scenic coastal drives.
We visited Mount Gambier, South Australia, which is famous for it’s Blue Lake that changes colour to a brilliant blue colour in November and remains that colour over the summer each year. Since we visited in winter, the colour was not the same vibrant blue, but it was still interesting to visit the lake which is formed in a crater, and you could definitely see the difference in colour between the blue lake and the lake in the adjoining valley.
The sinkhole was originally on a private property, where the Umpherston family developed the gardens in the 1880’s. Umpherston Sinkhole was once a cave formed through dissolution of limestone and the sinkhole was created when the top of the chamber collapsed downwards. Now the topsoil down on the floor of the cave forms the perfect environment for the sunken garden.
Mt. Gambier is built on the slopes of an inactive volcano and features several other sunken cave gardens as well as nearby attractions such as Tantanoola Caves with it’s pink dolomite caverns. The area is known as the limestone coast and many buildings are constructed from blocks of local limestone, which makes it a most attractive town.
We are just having a quick winter getaway and camped at Tailem Bend on the Murray River for a few nights. After a stunning sunset it was a bit chilly at night and we were pleased to have a campfire.
It is easy to make photos like this with a tripod, and around a 5 sec exposure at ISO200. I found I needed to focus manually on the spot where the sparkler-holding-person would stand.
We finally made our way across to the east coast and to Maryborough which is a lovely town in which to spend a night. It has been quite a while since we stayed in a town! Being boaties, we opted to put our van next to the Marina on the Mary River for the night so that Peter could look at the boats; he has been missing his boat and the sea. Once we were set up, we went for a walk through the beautifully kept Queens Park, which is one of the oldest botanical parks in Australia. Nearby is the historic court house, and beside it …
And the sun sets after another busy day.
The longer we have been on the road (over two months now) the more we have come to realise the benefits of finding a decent free camp to set up for a day or two. We use WikiCamps to help us discover what places are suitable then choose according to location and comments from other users.
I have learned to recognise quite a few new birds on this trip, but nothing in comparison to one of our travelling companions who has photographed and identified over 80 species he hadn’t previously seen. It definitely helps to have a bird identification book along on the trip.
Lawn Hill National Park is in the remote Gulf region of northwestern Queensland. It is over 1800 kilometres north west of Brisbane, close to the border with the Northern Territory.
The emerald waters and lush vegetation of Lawn Hill Gorge form a beautiful oasis in the outback, attracting abundant wildlife and offering exceptional views, walks, canoeing and cultural sites.
Just along from here you need to lift the canoe out of the water and drag it over the rocks to access the upper gorge.
On our way to Lawn Hill National Park (Boodjamulla National Park) in the gulf region of north Queensland, we camped for the night on the banks of the Gregory River. This is a very remote area, but there were lots of people camping here. It is a beautiful river with crystal clear water which was flowing quite fast; it is spring fed and flows all year.
It is very easy to understand why this is such a popular place to camp. The only downside is that you need to be totally self sufficient to stay here, but if you are organised it is an awesome place to stay especially if you can set up right on the river bank.
Tablelands Highway stretches on for hundreds of kilometres through the Mitchell grass plains which was all very dry in this time of drought. These are some of the birds we spotted along the way:
Following are just some photos I took in a few different free camps that I thought I would share. When you think of free camping, you tend to think of dusty roadside stops, but if you choose carefully, there are some wonderful places you are able to camp absolutely free of charge.
Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that’s happening right now, all around the world. Apparently there are 2,468,534 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide. We have found one cache….accidentally. It was tucked away in a hole in a rock beyond the edge of the camp area.
Following are a few photos of some of the birds we spotted fluttering around our camp.
Mataranka, in the Northern Territory, is famous for it’s hot springs. Bitter Springs is just down the road at the north east end of Mataranka township, and much less commercial and therefore more appealing to people like us. The headwaters of the Roper River inside Elsey National Park (where crocodiles are managed) are popular for bushwalking, birdwatching, canoeing, swimming and fishing. These pools flow at a constant 32 degrees C. and are still very much in their natural state. Swimmers can glide with the current downstream to view the beautiful riparian vegetation and birdlife along the way. With a mask and snorkel, small fish and turtles can be seen as the water is fantastically clear. I don’t have too many photos from Bitter Springs, as we were too busy swimming and enjoying the warm waters while we were there.
Mataranka thermal springs are definitely not to be missed if you are travelling in the Northern Territory. In fact, we visited twice on this trip, both on our way up to Katherine and when we began our trip back down south. It is a very special place and not a crocodile in sight!
Kununurra is a town in far northern Western Australia located at the eastern extremity of the Kimberley region, approximately 37 kilometres (23 miles) from the border with the Northern Territory. The town of Kununurra was initiated to service the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
Lake Argyle and Kununurra are like an oasis in this dry and isolated land. Lake Argyle normally has a surface area of about 1,000 square kilometres and there are currently around 150 square kilometres of farmland under irrigation in the East Kimberly region.
Purnululu National Park is the official name, but this area was previously known as The Bungle Bungles. Whatever you would like to call it, this area of the Kimberley is a remarkable place which you should make the effort to visit if you ever have the chance. Following are some photos from our time there…
It would be east to drive straight through Halls Creek and keep going. That would be a pity, because there are lots of things to do and see in the area. Plus a couple of delightful free camps tucked away just down the road.
There is definitely more to Halls Creek than meets the eye!
Today, another gorgeous gorge. When we arrived in Fitzroy Crossing, we decided that we had to take the little boat cruise that goes up through Geike Gorge. We have done it before, but our friends had not, and we thought it was worth going again as this is another very special place.
There are lots of fresh water crocodiles in the water or sunning themselves on the waters edge.
Whilst travelling the Gibb River Road, we have stayed at lots of great free camps, often on the banks of rivers and creeks. As we approached Fitzroy Crossing, we came across the RAAF Boab Free Camp which was apparently originally a quarry used by the Royal Australian Air Force. It is dotted with beautiful boab trees, has fresh water, and was a great place to camp for the night.
What a stunning place! Tunnel Creek is quite famous in the Kimberley, so I wasn’t sure if it would live up to its reputation. I was also not sure how successful I would be taking photos in the very low light, but I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded my pictures. I think I will just let the pictures speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy them.
After traveling more than a thousand kilometres along the dirt road that is the Gibb River Road, today we turned off into Leopold Downs Road and headed towards the famous Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek.
Windjana Gorge is a very special place, and is well deserving of its reputation. Tomorrow we will visit Tunnel Creek and explore that area. It is amazing that all the gorges we have visited are unique and have their own special features.
Perhaps I was on the wrong angle, but that doesn’t seem very complimentary to Queen Victoria!
There is something about boab trees that I really love. They lose their leaves in the dry, and the shape of the trunk with the twisted branches look amazing. Often they will still have their hard brown furry nuts still clinging to the branches.
As a very special birthday present to herself, for a very special birthday, she is undertaking a solo bicycle trip from Katherine, to Kununurra, then right along almost the entire Gibb River Road, then down Leopold Downs Road to the Great Northern Highway. From there she will ride to Halls Creek, and turn into Duncan Road (also a dirt road) for its full length, and from there return to Katherine. What a marathon effort. She carries everything she needs on her bike or single-wheeled trailer.
We have been to some very remote places on this trip, and often the GPS doesn’t even know where we are.
There are so many gorgeous gorges on the Gibb River Road, and we are doing our best to visit most of them.
Still loving the Free camps. We stayed another night on the banks of the Gibb River when we reached the end of the Kalumbaru Road. The boys decided to check out a problem with the rear wheel on the car, and learned the hard way why you don’t jack up a car on the sand…
This was not as bad as it looks! With a bit of help, all was soon back together.
The next morning saw us back on the road, and our next stop was Mt. Barnett Station to stock up on food and fuel. We decided on the free camp option yet again, and travelled on to Barnett River Gorge where we found a lovely shady spot next to the creek.
Well, that isn’t really the name of this free camp, but when we first discovered it there were brolgas around the creek. It is near the King Edward River crossing on the Kalumbaru Road, and we set up camp there on our way back down from Mitchell Falls to re-join the Gibb River Road. We found that on the rougher dirt roads we averaged around 100km per day, which meant we could pitch our tents and relax under a tree or go for a walk in the afternoon.
As long as you are relatively self sufficient (i.e. you need to take everything you need with you) there are lots of great places to stay. The water in the creeks and rivers is clean and clear. We didn’t generally use it for drinking, unless we boiled it first, but it was great for everything else.
You may notice Helva is wearing a down jacket in this photo. That is because it can get very cold overnight and in the early morning in the Kimberley. We weren’t aware of this, and found ourselves a little on the cool side in the nights, so we ended up using the picnic rugs to cosy up our bed.
I am now even more of a fan of free camping when travelling in remote areas. You get to stay in some amazingly lovely places, you can have a camp fire if the weather is suitable, you can choose who you camp with, and it costs nothing at all. What is not to like about that!
Surveyors Pool is in a remote area of the Kimberley, W.A. From Mitchell Falls, you continue on Port Warrender Road, which is really more of a track than a road, until you come to Surveyors Pool.
Further along Port Warrender Road, there is a look out which has a view right out over Admiralty Gulf in the Indian Ocean.
It is a little out of the way to visit Surveyors Pool, but well worth the effort. From this lookout, we turned back and retraced our steps to Mitchell Falls to prepare for our return journey down Kalumbaru Road to the Gibb River Road.
In my last post, I talked about Little Mertens Falls, which is a short walk from the Mitchell Falls camping area. This is a great place for a cooling swim, but the main walk from the camp ground is the track to Mitchell Falls and it takes about an hour and a half each way. It is quite a long way, and also involves some steep rocky climbs, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Once you have passed Little Mertens Falls, you trek alongside Mertens Creek, which is lined with pandanus and a haven for waterlilies. You next come to Big Mertens Falls which is much higher and more spectacular than Little Mertens, however you cannot swim here, so it is best to take your photos and move on.
Big Mertens is a very deep gorge, and quite spectacular in it’s own right.
To take good photos, you need to be a bit of a mountain goat and get right out on the rocks lining the gorge.
A bit more hiking and exertion brings you to your first glimpse of Mitchell Falls itself and you don’t at first realise that there are four layers of waterfall.
As you climb down and around, more is revealed. You need to take off your shoes and socks and cross to the other side of the water to get the best views.