Alaska Cruise – Part 1

30th May, 2017

The time had finally arrived for our departure to Seattle via a direct flight to Vancouver. As our departure time was relatively early in the morning, we drove down to Brisbane the previous day and spent a night at a nearby motel.

We chose to fly with Air Canada from Brisbane to Vancouver as it was the shortest direct flight that we could find. The aircraft was a Boeing 787-9 aka Dreamliner, very roomy and comfortable. We touched down in Vancouver on time (actually due to the time difference, we arrived before we had departed Brisbane!) and then had to make our way in transit to the US border control before we could enter the departure lounge for our connecting flight to Seattle. To say we had to jump through a lot of hoops would be putting it mildly. Months ago we had applied for our US Visa Waiver permits which were approved without problem but even so the border entry requirements were a bit over the top – electronic fingerprinting and facial photographs and then several different face-to-face checkpoints. Eventually we made it through and then had a several hour delay due to low ceiling in Seattle.

Our aircraft for this leg was a bit more downmarket – a Bombardier Dash 8-300 but it was just a short flight so not too uncomfortable. I had booked a hotel close to the airport as we would be flying out again the next morning to our cruise departure point in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The hotel shuttle collected us and returned us to the airport making it very easy.

31st May, 2017

The flight to Ketchikan was also fairly short but this time we were aboard an Alaska Air 737. Our descent into Ketchikan airport was a great introduction to Alaska.

Ketchikan Airport

I had booked our cruise with Alaskan Dream Cruises through a US Travel Agent, Patty Crichton of Alaska and Beyond, who specialises in small ship Alaskan cruises and I must say everything went as planned from this point until the end of the cruise. We were met at the airport and transferred to our hotel, Cape Fox Lodge, which would be our overnight accommodation prior to our cruise departure the next day. Our room was very nicely appointed and faced the mountains behind the hotel, overlooking a group of totem poles placed close to the hotel entrance.

The view from the hotel restaurant where we had lunch.

A funicular made the journey down to the town very easy.

Ketchikan is a port for many of the huge cruise liners that ply the Inside Passage and there were two ships in port on the day we arrived, pouring a couple of thousand tourists into the town which is made up mostly of souvenir and jewellery shops hoping to separate the tourists from their money. We walked the streets to get a feel for the place but it was all a bit too “touristy” for us. Still Erich got some nice photos.

One of the cruise ships to the right of the photo.

We saw the first of what were to be many Bald Eagles here.

Along one of the docks, we came across about 6 large mosaics mounted on pylons along the water’s edge. Loved this octopus.

Too many photos for one post so I have split the Ketchikan photos over two posts.

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Wandoan Show 2017 – Part 4

On Monday, a full program was provided for those who wished to participate. In the morning a bus trip to Possum Park, originally a WWII ammunition bunker which has now been converted to a cabin and caravan park while retaining much of the original structures.

Busses were provided to transport us to the park approximately 50kms south of Wandoan.

Some of the former ammunition bunkers have been converted to self-contained accommodation along with a number of train carriages. One of the features currently being worked on is the conversion of a former TAA Vickers Viscount aircraft to provide unique overnight accommodation.

Video of the transportation of the aircraft to Possum Park can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs9JAkf3iEQ.

Following our guided tour by the owner, we were treated to a delicious morning tea.

Whilst enjoying our morning tea, Erich photographed this Grey-crowned Babbler in a nearby tree.

The resident pooch.

Back at camp, Erich was alerted to the presence of a Black-necked Stork a.k.a. Jabiru.

Later in the afternoon, we were taken on a tour of the Windmill Village, a purpose-built miner’s camp servicing the nearby mining areas. The village was built by one of the Shadforth group of companies which also built RV Homebase where we live.

Prior to the tour, we were given a talk about the establishment of the village and their ideas for the future.

As well as providing sleeping accommodation for the miners, there is a huge dining area staffed by professional chefs, recreation rooms, and even a tavern.

The very well equipped gym includes a golf simulator.

The Tavern has been converted from an old school house brought to the property.

This massive fire-pit beside the Tavern provides a cosy spot to watch the footy on the two huge outdoor TV screens provided.

A recent addition to the village is the construction of transportable dwellings which are then onsold for use wherever such accommodation is required. The intent is to provide an employment opportunity for the Wandoan community. The following photos show how well designed they are and how comfortable one could be, for example as a holiday home for a cost of around $30,000 plus utility connections.

Sunset from the veranda of the Tavern.

Tuesday was Anzac Day and busses were provided to transport campers to the War Memorial for the Dawn Service. The service was very well attended by around 600 people, many of them miners from the Windmill Village who headed off to work as soon as the service was finished. Unfortuately it was too dark for photographs. Many of our fellow campers participated in the traditional Anzac Day march and subsequent ceremonies but we had planned to leave that morning so it was just a quick pack up and we were on our way home again.

We decided to overnight again at Wooroolin to break the journey.

An afternoon shot of the wetlands.

And a few more birds.

This Speckled Warbler is apparently uncommon in this area.

Willie Wagtail

Female Red-backed Fairy-wren

Together with our neighbours, Peter and Helen, we had a lovely dinner at the Grand Hotel, adjacent to the camping area.

Erich was up early to take this wonderful shot of the wetlands.

We love this photo so much that we have had it mounted on canvas and now just have to find a place to hang it.

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Wandoan Show 2017 – Part 3

Following an ecumenical church service at the Juandah Historical Village, we were treated to a camp oven lunch prepared and cooked by members of the Juandah Historical Society.

The fires were lit at 3.30am so that the coals would be ready to receive the camp ovens in time for the roast beef and vegetables to be cooked for lunch.

It’s hard to beat a good camp oven roast – it was delicious!

After lunch a game of Klop (also called Finska) was enjoyed by many.

While Ellie got to know one of her neighbours.

There is lots of old machinery located within the village providing Erich more photo opportunities.

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Wandoan Show 2017 – Part 2

Friday was the first official day of the two day Show and Erich was out early to capture photos of some the local birds.

Apostle bird

Female Red-rumped Parrot

Varigated Fairy-Wren

Indian (Common) Myna

Jacky Winter

We headed out to the Showgrounds to watch some of the ring events and check out the entries in the various cooking and craft competitions.

Back at our campground there were more birds to photograph.

Double-barred Finches

Restless Flycatcher

And one of our 4-legged companions.

And another stunning sunset.

And, what else but Happy Hour.

Next day was the main Show Day with a full program of ring events including wood chopping, vehicle displays, show jumping and cattle judging.

A few more shots around the campground.

Jacky Winter

Superb Fairy Wren

 

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Wandoan Show 2017 – Part 1

Our first trip for this year was a week away at the small country town of Wandoan as part of a group of fellow residents of RV Homebase to attend the annual “Show”. The founder of RV Homebase began this tradition last year as part of an effort to support the struggling town by bringing much needed funds to local businesses and non-profit organisations in the area. We attended last year as part of a group of just over 20 units while this year saw a vast improvement with almost 70 rigs attending.

We planned the trip with our neighbours and left home on the Tuesday after Easter. Wandoan is around 250kms west of Maryborough as the crow flies but around 460kms by road which is just a bit too far for one day’s travel towing a van so we planned to stop in the tiny town of Wooroolin 175kms away and around 2.5 hours drive.

We arrived just before lunch and set up camp adjacent to friends Helen & Graeme who had arrived about 15 minutes before us.

There is a wetland area within walking distance of the camp ground which we decided to explore before settling down for happy hour with our friends and neighbours.

Unfortunately it was rather late in the day for the bird hide to be of any use but it is a pleasant area and we enjoyed the walk.

There were heaps of different types of dragonflies buzzing around.

And a couple of the locals checked us out on our return walk.

It was a lovely evening to sit outside our vans at happy hour. Left to right from front centre – Neville, Ruth, Lindsay, Peter, Helen, Helen S, Ellie in her bed, Graeme, Lesley and Merle.

Sunset was quite special and Erich took photos of some of the buildings opposite the camping area.

It was an uneventful drive from Wooroolin to Wandoan over some bumpy back roads but we were all set up at Juandah Historical Village in time for happy hour again.

Left to right Denise, Graeme, Ruth, Lindsay, Clive and I think those are Helen M’s feet.

As usual, Erich was out and about taking photos.

The next evening a welcome bbq and entertainment was provided for our enjoyment.

An enjoyable evening had by all.

 

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Lithium (LiFePo4) batteries

My LiFePo4 post from 2013 (https://nussbaumerweb.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/lithium-lifepo4-batteries/) on this blog still receives a lot of views. More than 3 years later it is seriously out of date. For a starter, the Kedron was sold together with the LiFePo4 batteries back in 2014. In fact the lithium batteries helped us to sell the Kedron.

When we returned from our trip in September 2013, we decided to upgrade our caravan. There was nothing wrong with the Kedron and it had served us well. But over the time we used it, we realised that a different layout would suit us better.

We looked into replacing the Kedron with a new caravan – but everywhere we looked, ended up in a dead end. We looked at various manufacturers, did factory tours of quite a few. Nobody wanted to manufacture a caravan and then allow us to install a Lithium battery. They told us if we installed our own battery system, it would void our warranty for the whole van. We couldn’t agree to something like that.

Therefore the solution was to buy a second hand van that didn’t come with any warranty at all…

2014 was a busy year for us as we had sold our house in Brisbane and were building a new home at RV Homebase in Tinana near Maryborough. While the new house was being constructed we spent the time at Standown Park Caravan Park located between Gympie and Tin Can Bay. During our stay, a Davidson built caravan which met most of our criteria came on the market. Caboolture Caravan Repairs was the original builder of the Phoenix Vans which had an excellent reputation for a quality product and the Davidson family is well known for their expertise in caravans. However, the Phoenix brand had been sold many years ago and the three vans built by CCR in 2011 could not bear the Phoenix name, hence they are Davidson RVs. The van advertised was the last caravan ever built by Caboolture Caravan Repairs – they now concentrate on their repair business. We jumped at the opportunity and purchased the van with the intention of replacing the AGM batteries with LiFePo4 batteries.

I grew up in Switzerland and Do It Yourself was never part of my upbringing. In fact, DIY was frowned upon, being viewed as “cannot afford to have it done properly”. Having built the LiFePo4 system in the LandCruiser and having been heavily involved in building the LiFePo4 system in the Kedron, I felt I should be able to complete the install in this new van. When we purchased the van, we didn’t really know how to do the changeover as the original AGM batteries were mounted external to the body of the van on the rear of the A-frame in a protective enclosure which was not suitable for the Lithium battery. After extensive discussions with LiFePo4 experts, we decided to install 400 amp hours of LiFePo4 batteries on a slide in the front tunnel boot.

The first challenge (and probably the biggest challenge) was to figure out how the van had been wired in the first place. The documentation we had received didn’t help and the manufacturer of the van couldn’t provide a wiring diagram either. In order to regulate the charging of the LiFePo4 cells, it is essential to separate the charging circuit from the consumption circuit. With the help of a multimeter and hours of removing panels and crawling around on the floor, I figured it all out. Unfortunately, it turned out that the charging and the consumption circuit were joined a long way from the battery. This meant installing a new run of cables from the back of the van to the tunnel boot in the front of the van so that the solar and the mains battery charging circuit could be separated from the consumption circuit. I hesitated (Lesley would say I procrastinated) for a long time before deciding on drilling the holes and pulling the cable through to reach the batteries on a separate run. The cable is mostly in cupboards, but I had to run it from the top to the bottom – not exactly nice, but it is hidden from the main area of the caravan.

Similarly the charging circuit that was charging the batteries from the tow vehicle needed to be separated from the consumption circuit. This was a major challenge for me as it involved drilling holes, connecting very heavy cables to existing runs and soldering cables to achieve what I wanted to connect. I removed the solar regulator, feeding the solar panels voltage straight to the batteries, via the T1 Lithium charging regulator

Having completed this rewiring, time came to install the fridge slide, construct the battery box and mount the LiFePo4 battery in the box – fortunately I have a neighbour who assisted me with this part of the build. Then the charging components needed to be installed on the front of the battery box. The main component, the T1 Lithium charging regulator, which is the brain that ensures the cells do not reach critical voltage, was supplied by T1 Lithium with connectors clearly labeled so that it was relatively easy to connect it all up. This time I also installed a Victron battery monitor which allows us to keep track of State of Charge. This was all fairly straightforward as it was similar to the install in the Kedron. Having a better understanding how it all works also helped.

This photo shows the battery box mounted on a slide in the tunnel boot, allowing easy access to the components.

This photo shows the cells – normally they are protected by a plywood cover. This prevents dropping anything onto the top of the cells.

The control panel.

The changeover was completed just in time for our six month trip to Western Australia. If you are interested, check out our blog from the day we left: https://nussbaumerweb.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/leaving-rv-homebase/

During this trip we had a Xantrex 1800W inverter installed. This allowed us to utilise the vastly increased capacity of our new LiFePo4 system. We were very happy with the new system. It takes some time to get your head around the capabilities of this increased capacity. Having a State of Charge of 50% means we still had as much useable capacity as we had on the previous system when it was fully charged. So while we were enjoying the benefits of the new system, we didn’t take advantage of some of the capabilities during the 2015 trip.

We did a few short trips in 2016, including a 6 week trip over Easter. We had purchased an induction cook top which Lesley used a few times during this trip, taking advantage of the free energy.

Prior to our 4 month trip to Western Australia in 2016 (https://nussbaumerweb.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/day-1-to-calliope-campground/), we also purchased an additional 2 x100W semi flexible solar panels, but only used one, as the other one is defective. I use the panel to provide additional input into either or both batteries (van/tug batteries). After our 4 month trip to Western Australia, I can report the following performance:

  • on travelling days, the alternator/DC-DC charger together with the solar panels mounted on the roof of the van, supplied sufficient input to keep the batteries full by the end of most days
  • when stationary, the solar panels provided sufficient input to keep the batteries full on most days
  • the challenge was to keep the batteries full on very hot days. The compressor fridge runs continuously when the temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius inside the van. To keep the batteries charged, the 520 watts of solar panels on the roof of the van were insufficient. Even when augmented by a 120W moveable solar panel the battery charge decreased. However with the new 100W flexible solar panel, the 740W of solar panels in total managed to keep the batteries fully charged. I find that the moveable panels are so much more efficient than the stationary panels on the roof of the van because they can be positioned for maximum input by correctly angling them to the sun.
  • Worst scenario was continuously cloudy, hot days when stationary. We struggled to keep the batteries fully charged under those conditions and reverted to using gas for the hot water system, probably erring too much on the cautious side.

We do not carry a generator – which obviously would assist in keeping the batteries fully charged during continually cloudy days when camped in one spot. During this trip, I ran the engine of the LandCruiser only once to charge the batteries from the alternator while we were stationary. I think the decision to not carry a generator was a wise one – we only needed the additional charge once – and the LandCruiser could provide the necessary charge, probably with less noise than a generator.

We have installed an 1800W Xantrex inverter on the circuit that is wired to the 240V inlet. The inverter is auto-switching when we connect to an outside supply, such as in a caravan park. We use the coffee machine and milk frother every day. The hairdryer is also frequently used. We use an electric kettle for our cups of tea in the morning. We use an electric sandwich maker. We use a toaster. When the batteries get full early in the day, we use the electric hot water system to heat our water. We have an induction hot plate that we sometimes use for cooking. The stick mixer and the food processor are used occasionally. We carry a vacuum sealer to seal food in plastic bags, however we didn’t use it on this trip. The airconditioner can be run on this inverter, but we have never used it. I think it would drain the batteries too quickly but again we are probably being over cautious.

On a separate 240V circuit we have a 300W inverter that is always switched on when we are stationary. We use it to charge phones, tablets, laptops, electric toothbrush, electric clippers, vacuum cleaner and camera batteries. When Lesley does the washing in our twin tub, it is also plugged into the 300W circuit. Two satellite receivers run on this circuit as well. The television runs on the 12V Circuit.

All lights are LEDs and are wired to the 12V circuit. Our 4 fans are also wired directly into 12V.

I also changed the setup in the LandCruiser considerably. We still have a 100Ah LiFePo4 battery used primarily for an Engel Fridge. To charge this battery while driving, we installed a Ctek DC-DC charger. Whereas previously the LandCruiser battery was always connected to the van batteries, this connection is now only active while we are stationary combining the two batteries to effectively become one system that is charged and discharged in unison. While driving, the van batteries are being charged via a Redarc DC to DC 40amp charger in addition to the solar panels on the roof of the van.

The changeover between the stationary and the driving configuration is achieved by changing the connections via Anderson plugs.

We are very happy with our setup.

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Days 114-122 – Heading for Home – Elliott NT to Maryborough Qld

22nd September, 2016. Elliott to Wonarah Bore

Longreach Waterhole was the last of our multi-night camps as the weather was now too hot for us to linger in the north. Lawn Hill and Porcupine Gorge will have to wait for another year and much earlier in the season. Once we are in going home mode we are almost on autopilot though we still do not travel long distances each day as that is just too tiring and no fun at all. As we had Wonarah Bore planned for our overnight stop and we would be arriving well after lunchtime, we took advantage of our fuel stop at Three Ways to try out their Three Ways Burger and very good it was too.

When we pulled in to the roadhouse we had just caught up to a cattle road train which was the last of four fully loaded cattle trains stopping there for a lunch break. As we had not had any internet or phone signal for the past few days, we also took the opportunity to get a few things done online. Blog posts to send and I finally had a message from the Katherine PO that our mail had arrived the previous Thursday, a full 10 days after the “Express” post item had been sent from Tinana. On checking the tracking number online, we found our mail had had a trip via Boorooloola from Darwin, meaning it would have passed through Katherine along the way. Thanks for nothing Australia Post!! So now I had to call the AP service centre to request the mail be returned to sender. As I type this now on the 3rd October, no further tracking of the item has happened since 22nd September. I wonder if we will ever see that mail! While we were going about our online business, I heard one of the staff saying that the cattle trains were headed for Qld. Yikes! We didn’t want to be stuck behind them all the way along the Barkly Highway so we quickly concluded our business and prepared to leave – just as the first road train was leaving the roadhouse! We needn’t have been concerned though as the driver maintained around 95kph for the whole trip which was fine by us to stay behind him and the other road trains did not catch up to us.

I had marked Wonarah Bore campsite as a favourite on Wikicamps when we passed by on our way west. It is a very large area with room to get back away from the road and there were just a couple of rigs there when we arrived in the early afternoon. Though it did fill up later in the day.

 

We couldn’t quite believe our eyes when the cattle train ahead of us pulled in to the rest area as well, followed at regular intervals by the rest of the convoy. Erich had a chat to one of the drivers asking why the beasts were being trucked from WA to Qld. Apparently they hadn’t been sold as we had thought but were simply being relocated from one property in WA with poor feed to another in Qld with good feed, both properties belonging to the same owner. I can’t imagine how that can be economical but it must be. This was just a rest stop for both the cattle and the drivers as they were heading to a holding yard somewhere near Mt Isa for the night.

Later in the afternoon, two ladies in a camper van pulled in and came over for a chat. They were on their way to Tennant Creek, where they grew up, for the dedication of a memorial on the 50th anniversary of a plane crash in which their 12 year old brother was killed. Erich asked them to take photos and to send them to him so that he could have them added to the Monument Australia website. He received those photos from Jenny, who coincidentally lives in Tiaro, a small town about 10 minutes drive south of where we live, a couple of days ago and the entry is now on the website http://monumentaustralia.org.au/display/109854-lockheed-hudson-plane-crash Eventually this monument will make its way to the National Archives. What a fateful meeting in the middle of nowhere.

23rd September, 2016. Wonarah Bore to WW2 Memorial 50kms north west of Mt Isa.

The WW2 Memorial campsite was another that I had earmarked for the return journey. Commemorating the building of the original road between Mt Isa and Camooweal during WW2 and funded by the USA, the rest area is quite large enabling us to get away from the worst of the road noise.

I’m not going to try to ID these little brown birds – probably Robins of some sort.

24th September, 2016. WW2 Memorial to Julia Creek.

Once past Cloncurry, we were travelling a new route for us along the Flinders Highway. We had heard much about the official free camp in Julia Creek so that was our destination for the night. It was fairly busy when we arrived at around 1pm with plenty of vans making use of the 72 hour limit but still we were able to get a fairly level spot beside the creek. A nice quiet campsite.

25th September, 2016. Julia Creek to Campaspe River.

Sometimes choosing a campsite is a bit of a lottery, often decided by the distance we want to travel and with the following day in mind. So we decided on the Campaspe River Rest Area. The best thing about it is that it is level but it is close to the road and therefore noisy. Ok for one night but that is about it.

The dry river bed gave Erich something of interest to photograph.

26th September, 2016. Campaspe River to Guthalungra Rest Area.

We stayed at the Guthalungra Rest Area last year so I should have known better but distance and time wise it ticked the boxes but I had forgotten how noisy and busy it is. I won’t make that mistake again!

27th September, 2016. Guthalungra to St Lawrence.

We set a record for early departure from Guthalungra. We were on the road by 6.15am heading for the St Lawrence Campground which turned out to be nothing like I was expecting. It has recently changed from being a free or donation campsite (I forget which) to being $10 per night. What a bargain at that price. No power or water but full amenities ($1 for a hot shower) and a dump point and the ability to pay online. As we drove in I realised our neighbours from RV Homebase, Michael and Jo, were set up beside the stables. After a quick chat, we decided it wasn’t a bad spot so we pulled in behind them.

I’ll bet these railings could tell some tales.

There were hundreds of Magpie Geese at the waterhole.

Erich was told by a fellow camper that the Magpie Geese fly over every evening at sunset. Unfortunately it was much later than sunset when they finally took to the sky so the resulting photos were pretty bad but it was an experience to see and hear them.

Finally the first kangaroo with a joey that we have seen on this trip.

28th September, 2016. St Lawrence to Bajool Pub.

Over the past couple of days, Erich had been having problems with a bladder infection which was getting worse. He was able to book an online appointment with a doctor in Rockhampton, so that became our focus for the day. We hadn’t been to Rockhampton before so did a bit of a reconnoitre of the parking availability near the doctor’s surgery and then found a good parking spot close to the Woollies shopping centre where we were able to kill time in the air-conditioning. With the doctor visit completed and prescription filled we were on the road again by around 12.30pm but we decided to make it a short drive and settled on the vacant land across the road from the Bajool Pub, which had rave reviews on Wikicamps. We certainly had no problem finding a good parking spot as we were the only ones there.

That’s the pub to the left of the tree.

Not exactly the most attractive country pub but their meals were reputed to be really good as we were able to confirm when we had dinner there.

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29th September, 2016.

What was to be an easy run home turned out to be a little problematic due to a very bad accident that closed the highway between Calliope and Benaraby, forcing us to take a detour through Gladstone. Had there been a few detour signs to point us in the right direction it might have been a bit less stressful but we eventually found our way back to the highway at the right spot. Stopping at Bororen for a break, we noticed fellow RVHB residents, Edna and Kevin, having morning tea in the park. We had a quick chat with them before they continued to Mackay for a funeral and we headed home.

122 days, 20,053kms, Qld to WA via NT and return.

A big thank you to our lovely neighbours, Peter and Helen, for looking after our place in our absence. It was wonderful to come home to a lovely clean deck!

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Days 111-113 – Longreach Waterhole NT

19th – 21st September, 2016.

Following very heavy rain overnight, we had a rather messy time packing up in the morning to move on. We had been greatly anticipating our stop over at Longreach Waterhole, just west of Elliott on the Stuart Highway, Northern Territory but were concerned about how much rain had fallen and whether we would be able to travel the 10kms of mostly sandy track from the highway to the Waterhole.

We stopped in town first and checked at the Service Station where we were told that they hadn’t had any recent rain so we set off to find our camping spot. Apparently this is such a popular spot during high season that it becomes very crowded. As it is now well past high season we found the camp ground almost deserted, not only by campers but also by the hundreds of waterbirds that make the waterhole their home over winter. This was a bit disappointing but we enjoyed having plenty of space around us.

We set up camp at a reasonably level spot close to the water’s edge.

Although the birds were relatively few in number, they were still entertaining to watch. The Australasian Darter, aka Shag, is a great fisherman and it’s fun to see how they manage to get their catch from the point of their beaks and down their gullets.

And after a successful fishing expedition, it’s time to dry the wings.

The Egrets stalk their prey at the water’s edge.

The Caspian Tern lines up its prey and then dives vertically into the water.

For such large, ungainly birds, Pelicans are remarkably graceful as they land on the water.

There were plenty of Kites around too.

A White-breasted Woodswallow.

Bath time!

A Black-necked Stork, aka Jabiru, from a long distance.

We thoroughly enjoyed our few days relaxing by the water.

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Days 108-110 – Bitter Springs

16th – 18th September, 2016.

We had been tracking our mail forwarded from RV Homebase and expected that it would be in Katherine when we passed through on Friday. The Express Post article had been scanned through Winnellie NT sorting facility on Wednesday afternoon so one would think it could make the additional 250km journey to Katherine over the next 24 hours but no. It wasn’t there and no one had any idea where it was or when it would arrive. The lady in the parcels section of the Katherine PO did her best trying to get some answers from the Winnellie facility but to no avail. After a couple of hours hanging around in Katherine, we decided to head south to Bitter Springs for the weekend and wait to see what Monday brought with regard to the mail.

A stay at Bitter Springs had been on the agenda for the trip home so we couldn’t think of a better place to spend the weekend. Bitter Springs is just a couple of kilometres east of the town of Mataranka, approximately 100kms south of Katherine. It is certainly obvious that the tourist season is almost at an end as there were only about a dozen rigs at the caravan park. The attraction here is the thermal spring on the edge of Elsey National Park where the water is 34 degrees all year round.

The best way to enjoy the spring is to float on a pool noodle 200 metres downstream with the current, climb out walk back to the start and do it all again. Very relaxing!

The caravan park was a very casual place where you are given a map and told to choose your own site. Our site had bush close behind which was home to lots of wildlife. Families of wallabies visited the vacant sites next to us in the mornings and afternoons foraging for tasty morsels.

There was also a lot of varied birdlife to keep us entertained as well.

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

A Blue-faced Honeyeater.

A Yellow-tinted Honeyeater.

On Sunday we drove out to the Elsey Historic Cemetery and to the site of the original Elsey Station Homestead. Unfortunately we neglected to take a photo of the impressive entrance to the cemetery where there is a monument to Mrs Jeannie Gunn, author of “We of the Never Never”, and her husband, Aenaes Gunn.

Cairn and plaque commemorating the Homestead.

As rain was predicted for Monday, we packed up as much of the outside gear as we could on Sunday afternoon and this little fellow followed Erich around like a puppy.

Overnight we had around 70mm of rain so we were happy to have packed a lot of stuff away the day before but it was still a messy and slow process to do the final break up of camp and get on the road again.

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Days 106-107 – Sullivan Creek Rest Area

14th -15th September, 2016.

Our drive out of Keep River NP was a little easier than our drive in as our tyres were cold and therefore had significantly lower pressure. Still we took it easy just to be sure. We were driving over familiar ground once back on the Victoria Highway but we still appreciated the beauty of the area.

We stopped in Timber Creek to refuel – two service stations side-by-side and a 10c difference per litre. I don’t get it but obviously the dearer station gets enough business to maintain their pricing policy. If y ou happen to be passing through Timber Creek, the Mobile Servo, the most easterly, is always the cheapest. I also bought a cucumber which I had forgotten in Katherine. A continental cucumber and a short one at that – $3.85!

We arrived at Sullivan Creek camp ground around lunchtime to find the place empty except for a whizz-bang stopped for lunch and departing shortly after our arrival.

We set up in the same spot where we camped on our westward journey – out of the way and with the awning side of the van facing roughly east to give us shade in the afternoon. As we were waiting on our mail to arrive in Katherine, we decided to spend two nights here. It’s a National Park site, unlimited stay but $3.30 per person per night.

The countryside is looking dry and thirsty.

A quiet couple of days with nothing very noteworthy about them.

There is a waterhole close by but nothing to get too excited about.

So Erich spent his time trying to photograph the local birds.

A Peaceful Dove – they seem to be everywhere around the country.

I first thought this was a Restless Flycatcher but this area is out of their territory. Finally identified him as a Paperbark Flycatcher.

A Yellow-tinted Honeyeater.

Don’t bother searching for a bird here – there is none. Erich just liked the tree!

Similar to the Rainbow Lorikeet which does not occur in this area, this is a Red-Collared Lorikeet.

Here is a face that only a mother could love – similar to the Noisy Friarbird found it Qld, this is the Silver-crowned Friarbird.

And a close relative – the Little Friarbird.

I’m not 100% sure about this one but I lean towards Brown Honeyeater.

Another Great Bowerbird – they have a very distinctive hissing call.

The Peaceful Dove is really a camera hog

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Days 104-106 – Keep River National Park

12th – 13th September, 2016.

On the road again and heading for the WA/NT border, we stopped briefly in Kununurra to restock the larder and refuel and then we were in the Northern Territory again. Last year we passed the turn off to the Keep River National Park and also again this year as we headed west. Not knowing anything about it, we decided to drive in and if it was worthwhile to stay a couple of days. Our mail was being forwarded to Katherine so we had a few days to kill till it would arrive.

It was an 18km dirt road to the first camping area, Gurrandalng, and our tyres were at highway pressures which meant we had to slow right down for the relatively rough drive in. When we arrived, there was only one campsite occupied, so we did the circuit looking for the best site which was big enough and not shaded.

We kept an eye out for this bird but did not see it.

Rainbow Bee-eater.

Next morning we set off before 6 a.m. to do the 2 km return walk.

There were some unusual rock formations near the start of the walk.

I had not seen seed pods like this on Grevilleas before.

The view across to the west from the top was amazing – like a mini Bungle Bungles but with lovely green vegetation.

This walk was really special and we were so pleased that we ventured in to this unspoiled area. The walk would have been spectacular with the afternoon sun shining on the cliffs but it would have been just too hot for us. The morning walk was mostly in shade making it very pleasant.

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Days 102-103 – Purnululu National Park aka The Bungle Bungles

10th-11th September, 2016.

Today our destination is Spring Creek Rest Area on the Great Northern Highway about 500m south of the entrance to the Bungle Bungles access road. We had been debating whether it was too hot to attempt the drive in and walk in the National Park but having come this far we decided to do it as we could always turn around and leave if it was all too difficult.

When we passed this rest area on our way west, it was packed. Today there was only one van there when we arrived so we had the pick of the spots. The upper level would have been better for solar collection but it was fairly exposed to passing traffic. The lower level beside the dry creek bed was much more inviting but it was tricky to find a spot that was going to give us enough sun to keep the batteries happy but we managed it.

It was not long before more vans arrived but it was never busy at any time during our two night stay. A fellow camper told us when she had been here four years ago a little earlier in the season, the creek was full and people were swimming. Not this year!

In preparation for the drive in, we deflated our tyres to 26psi all round. We were unsure what to expect of the road other than knowing it could take around 2 hours to cover the 53kms to the Visitor Centre. We set off at 5.40 a.m., hoping to get some walks done before the day got too hot. As it turned out, we covered the distance in 1½ hours with the road being better than we expected. It was very corrugated, narrow in places, hilly and with dry creek crossings so it was not difficult to see why only single axle trailers are allowed on the road. But, in general, we did not think it much worse than some other outback roads we have travelled on.

About half of the drive is through property owned by Mabel Downs Station.

Termite mounds are everywhere in the outback.

There were three walks that we planned to do from the central car park at Piccaninny, a further 25kms from the Visitor Centre in the southern part of the park, The Domes, Cathedral Gorge and Piccaninny Lookout. The other, much longer walks we knew would be well beyond us in the heat. The car park was already busy when we arrived a bit before 8 a.m. and an Outback Spirit tour bus arrived at about the same time. We decided to walk in the reverse direction to the tour group and headed to the Lookout first.

Much of the walking track is sand which makes the going even more difficult in the heat.

Walking along the rock based creek bed was a welcome relief from the sand.

Am I looking thrilled to be here? Hmm, not so much! Hot and sweaty and it is still only 8.15 a.m. but the scenery is spectacular.

Pausing to photograph the occasional wildflower is really an excuse to catch one’s breath.

It was not too difficult a climb to the lookout where the view was quite special.

Unfortunately, we then had to retrace much of the route on our way to Cathedral Gorge.

The distances don’t seem far but the heat is making the walk difficult.

Fortunately, much of the walk to Cathedral Gorge was shaded making it much more pleasant.

It think this ladder is the reason this is a Class 4 walk.

Retracing our path back towards the car park, we decided to walk to the Domes, just a short detour.

We got back to the car park at around 10.15 a.m. and were thankful that we could replenish our water bottles from the additional water we had in the car fridge. It was now around 37 degrees, really too hot to be in the sun but we decided to drive to the northern part of the park where there are more walks.

The rock formations in this part of the park were a bit different from the domes.

By now we had worked up an appetite and ate our lunch under the shade sails covering the picnic tables at the car park at Echidna.

The walk to Osmand Lookout was steep but thankfully only 100 metres or so and afforded good views over the surrounding countryside.

The walk to Echidna Gorge was along the rocky creek bed but by this time we had had enough and decided to head back to camp. The area is certainly well worth a visit but it really was too late in the season for us. Dedicated hikers should camp in the NP camp ground for a couple of nights to take advantage of early starts because, even in mid-winter, the days can be very hot.

We made good time back to our campsite, had our showers and spent the rest of the day recuperating.

Erich was rewarded to a nice sunset.

Undeterred by the previous day’s exertions, Erich was out for his early morning walk to take a few shots before we completed packing up and heading further north.

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Days 95-97 – Heading back to Broome

3rd-5th September, 2016.

Having left Dampier early, we were soon back on the North West Coastal Highway heading towards Port Hedland. The roadworks that had been in place when we headed south from Port Hedland at the intersection with the Great Northern Highway were still underway but luckily our delay was short and we were soon past Port Hedland and on familiar territory once again. Port Hedland is not one of our favourite towns so we made sure we had no reason to stop there for shopping or refuelling. The drive from Port Hedland to Broome is over 600kms of excruciatingly boring flat and featureless coastal plains. Our planned overnight stop was at the DeGrey River Rest Area where we camped last year on our way north. It is a huge area and we were able to get away from the few fellow campers who were there.

Like all these rest areas along this stretch of highway, it was dry and dusty with the river bed almost dry. Heading further north, we fuelled up at Pardoo Roadhouse and bought a couple of their famous sausage rolls. Our previous experience of these sausage rolls was fantastic. Sadly, early on a Sunday morning is not the best time to purchase. I suspect they were yesterdays as they were very dry on the ends.

Next stop was the Stanley Rest Area where we also camped last year. We had thought about going further to a new rest area, Goldwire, that we checked out on our way south but were a bit concerned that it would be busy as it is a smaller area than Stanley. Stanley wasn’t crowded at all and we found a reasonable spot to set up.

There was a Geocache here which gave Erich 5 minutes of entertainment. Rocks at the base of trees are usually a dead give away.

There were lots of Zebra Finches which are always fun to watch.

A pair of Red-winged Parrots provided some entertainment as well.

Clouds provided an interesting sunset.

Nice early morning light.

We decided to stay an extra night here. Technically it is a 24 hour stop but it wasn’t busy at all so we weren’t keeping others from finding a good spot. Our vehicle was booked for a service at Broome Toyota on the 8th so we had some time to kill.

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Day 101 – Ngumban Cliff Rest Area

9th September, 2016.

We got away in good time from Broome’s Gateway on Friday morning but not before Erich took a few last photos.

Today we planned to go to Fitzroy Crossing to check out the Geikie Gorge boat tour. We had been told by a fellow traveller that the mid-afternoon tour was no longer running because it was too hot and I had been unable to find any definitive information about the morning and sunset tours. While we still had phone reception as we drove, I checked out the Fitzroy Crossing Visitor Centre opening hours – 8.30-4.30. It was too early to call so we decided to stop in to get the information we needed when we arrived.

After leaving Broome well behind, we made an unscheduled stop for Erich to check something on the vehicle and I could not resist taking a photo of this massive Boab tree. Certainly the biggest we have seen.

After refuelling in Fitzroy Crossing, we parked at the Visitor Centre only to find the door firmly locked and a sign saying they were closed for lunch between 12.30 and 1.30pm. It was now 12.25pm! We were so annoyed that we just decided to forget the whole thing and drove on to a rest area we had noted on our trip west a few months earlier, Ngumban Cliff. What a gem of a camp site!

Erich’s photos tell a better story than I could.

We had a very peaceful night with just 6 fellow campers and very little traffic on the road below.

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Days 98-100 – Broome for the third time

6th-8th September, 2016.

Well here we were again, back in Broome for the third time! We honestly thought when we left last time that we would not return again but it was 10,000kms of travel since our last vehicle service in Broome back in June so it was necessary to have another service before we ventured another 4,500kms or so back to home.

Back at Broome’s Gateway, I had a day to do the washing while Erich gave the car a good clean at the wash down area. It’s very unusual to find a caravan park where you are allowed to wash your car or van but Broome’s Gateway is located on an aquifer so there is no shortage of water there.

The first morning was very foggy making for some great photos.

The next morning was clear providing some stark contrast.

Crested Pigeon.

Great Bowerbird.

We had no idea how we were going to occupy the 5-6 hours it would take to service the car. Fortunately, this time we had the forethought to ask for a courtesy car which was happily provided by Broome Toyota. We’ve had our vehicle serviced there three times now and cannot fault their service department. We still had no idea what to do as we have already seen everything that interests us in Broome.

So we sat for a while at Town Beach which is always lovely.

Then we decided to drive out to the Bird Park at 12 Mile outside of Broome. I’m not keen on caged birds but I have to say that this is a very well set out park, everything was very clean and the birds looked well cared for. Many of the birds were foreign so I don’t remember their names and the more uncommon Australian birds will also have to go nameless here.

That occupied some time and then we had lunch at Matso’s, a boutique brewery with restaurant, centrally located in Broome. By the time lunch was finished we had a call to say the car was ready to be collected. We said our farewells to Broome and don’t expect to visit there again but despite what many people say, we really like it and would advise anyone who is undecided about visiting to do so. There is a lot of interesting history and great scenery.

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Day 93 – Millstream-Chichester National Park

1st September, 2016.

Instead of taking the van down to the Millstream campground, we decided to make our visit a day trip from Dampier. It was around 100kms of good sealed road before we turned on to gravel to head along the Chichester Range to Python Pool, one of the main attractions in the park. As we began to climb through the hills the scenery was quite spectacular and as we got higher and the road more hilly and winding, the surface changed to bitumen. This road would be impassable after rain otherwise.

We stopped at a couple of opportune pull-off areas to take some photos.

Arriving at our destination, it was just a short walk along the rocky creek bed to Python Pool. Obviously there has not been much rain in recent times judging by how low the water was from the high water mark. It is a popular place to swim and it did look rather inviting but we had not come prepared.

We retraced our route back to the main road and continued on towards the camping areas making a circuit of the drive by taking the first turning we came to which looped around back to the other entrance. This was a pleasant drive along reasonable dirt roads and once again the scenery was lovely though different from the Python Pool drive.

These wildflowers have been everywhere for the last couple of weeks and I finally can identify them as Mulla Mulla.

Spinifex always adds a wonderful texture to the landscape but it’s not so nice if you brush up against it.

Prior to its acquisition for a National Park, Millstream had been an active pastoral station for more than 100 years. The original homestead has been preserved as a Visitor Centre along with the separate cookhouse.

There is a Geocache somewhere around here but unfortunately the coordinates were well off putting it in the middle of a patch of dirt. We were fairly sure it would have been in this piece of old machinery but we were unable to find it.

The Millstream precinct is a priority one water catchment area, surprising given how arid the surrounding countryside appears.

There is a lovely wetland area close to the homestead where a walking trail has been established.

There was a Geocache along this trail which was an easy find. Eventually the walk brought us back to the homestead.

We had a drive through the Miliyanha Campground which was well set out with large campsites, some sunny, some shaded but well separated from each other. It would have been a good place to camp. Further along the road we drove up to the cliff top with a view over the Fortescue River.

Further along we came to the second camping area, Stargazers Campground, which did not impress us very much as the sites were on the small side and close together. The only advantage this campground would have over the other is its reasonable proximity to the river, though it would still be quite a walk. It was also not too far to drive to Deep Reach Pool, a popular picnic and swimming area on the Fortescue River.

There were shaded picnic tables and two well built entry points into the river for swimming.

Here is a picture of the Cockroach Bush alluded to in an earlier post. It is easy to see the resemblance between the mature seed pods and cockroaches.

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Days 91-94 – Dampier and surrounds 2

2nd September, 2016.

We decided to make a day trip to the towns of Point Samson, Cossack and Roebourne and to include some Geocaching along the way.

It started out a beautiful morning for Erich’s walk by the bay.

The port looks almost attractive in the early morning light.

The hunt for the first Geocache of the day led to a lovely view.

And not too difficult a find once approached from the right direction.

Our drive took us north approximately 60kms almost to the town of Roebourne where we turned towards the coast and the small village of Point Samson. This is very much a place of holiday homes and fishing shacks with a couple of caravan parks for those who enjoy being close to the ocean but it is a very windy place. We managed to find a Geocache very close to the beach with hundreds of sea birds standing around on the rocks.

There was another Geocache at the old railway station site.

Driving back past the modern town of Wickham, we stopped at a display of mining equipment to log another find.

Next stop was the abandoned town of Cossack, now purely a destination for day-trippers to see the well preserved buildings and to learn some of the history of this former supply harbour and pearling town.

A Spinifex Pigeon posing.

The search for our first cache here took us on a long walk along the beach which would have been lovely had it not been so hot. The cache was hidden in this dense thicket of bush.

The view from the lookout certainly foreshortens the length of the beach.

There was a Geocache up here among the rocks too but unfortunately it eluded us.

Next we decided to tackle a multi-cache (not Erich’s favourite type of cache) at the Asian Cemetery. Fortunately all the clues were to be found on this headstone and the resulting coordinates revealed the cache close by.

By now we were getting hungry and with nothing on offer in Cossack, we headed back to Roebourne. All we knew of Roebourne were the entertaining anecdotes told to us by a former female prison guard, now retired, at the old Roebourne Prison, who was camped at Standown Park when we had our extended stay there in 2014. We found a great cafe staffed mostly by local indigenous youngsters and had very good coffee and burgers, all freshly made and very cheap.

Sunset at the Dampier Port.

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Days 91-94 – Dampier and surrounds 1

30th August – 2nd September, 2016.

Leaving Cape Range National Park, we retraced our route to Exmouth where we collected our mail, restocked with groceries, filled our tanks with water at the Information Centre and refuelled before heading back down the peninsula and taking the turn left to connect with the North West Coastal Highway. This was a better road than that from Minilya Roadhouse and we were able to make good time until we came across massive roadworks that went on for kilometres. As our planned overnight stop was at the Barradale Rest area just at the end of the roadworks, the 30 minute delay did not upset our plans.

An enterprising Station owner has set up a Burger Bus at the rest area and does a thriving trade with passing truckies and tourists. As we were a bit late for our lunch we decided to try out her fare and very good it was too. No wonder it is so popular.

The rest area is massive, going a long way back from the highway so it was not difficult to find a reasonably level spot away from the highway noise.

The nearby dry river bed gave Erich a nice subject.

Our original plan on leaving Barradale was to head to Millstream-Chichester National Park for a few nights, travelling via the mining town of Pannawonica, before venturing out to the coast again at Dampier. The closer we got to the turn off, the more I began thinking it would be better to go to Dampier during the week than to arrive at the small community owned caravan park on the weekend. Well, we are nothing if not flexible, so I reprogrammed the GPS to take us to Dampier.

We chose Dampier rather than a caravan park in nearby Karratha which does not have a very good reputation for welcoming travellers, rather concentrating on the more lucrative mining trade. The small so-called “transit park” which allows a maximum 3 night stay is certainly a more pleasant place to stay and we were lucky enough to get the last powered site available with the available unpowered sites being too small or too shady for us.

After a quick lunch, we called at the Visitor Centre to collect a brochure of the area and decided to explore the recently declared Murujuga National Park on the Burrup Peninsula where there are hundreds of Petroglyphs in the rocky landscape.

To the far left of this photo can be seen one of the many mine installations on the peninsula, just outside the National Park boundary.

Imagine the internal earth pressure needed to push these rocks to the surface.

It took a while for us to “get our eye in” and to recognise what we were seeing but once we did it became easier to spot the Petroglyphs, although identifying what they were meant to represent was more difficult.

We also finally saw our first Sturt Desert Pea flowers – just beautiful and they grow in the most inhospitable places.

Even this tree manages to find a foothold amongst the rocks.

This massive natural gas processing plant is certainly a large blot on the landscape but must bring a lot to the local economy.

At the entrance to Dampier is a monument to Red Dog, a red kelpie that wandered the area back in the 1970s and who’s legend became so famous a movie was made about him. There is also a Geocache here which simply involves taking a photo of the monument and a GPS showing the coordinates.

The view from the William Dampier Lookout over the port area was interesting.

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Days 88-90 – Cape Range National Park

27th-29th August, 2016.

The day finally arrived when we could book in to our camp site at Kurrajong in the Cape Range National Park. We got away early from Minilya after fuelling up at the roadhouse and began the drive north west to Exmouth where we would stock up on groceries and then make our way down the southern side of the peninsular to the National Park.

Rain was threatening all the way down the coast and there was a heavy shower which finished just as we arrived at the campground so we were able to set up without getting wet. Looking at our campsite, you would think that we were all on our own but every campsite in every campground in Cape Range was booked out every day for weeks on end. Only advance online bookings can be made through the WA National Parks website. It’s quite a pain because you need to know in advance when you will be arriving which for travellers like us is not always easy to predict, hence why we had an extra day waiting at Minilya.

The Kurrajong campground is well set out with spacious sites well separated from each other and with a sand dune providing protection from the on shore winds. It was a good thing having some separation between us and the ocean because we had very strong winds for two days of our stay making it rather unpleasant to sit outside.

We spotted a few whales outside the reef but they were quite a distance away.

Erich decided to have a play with medium long exposure resulting in blur when photographing the waves crashing on the reef.

The low shrubbery around the campground provides wonderful habitat for birds and native animals.

Lots of Zebra Finches.

Corellas.

This boardwalk to the beach was located just behind our site.

Heaps of Kangaroos and Wallabies.