Gibb River Road Adventure

Let the fun begin. Finally, we would be roughing it: an unforgiving dirt road, an untried tent and campfire meals under the stars. What could be better?

Leaving beautiful El Questro, we turned onto the Gibb and headed for Broome about 800 kms away. Almost immediately, the bitumen gave way to the rough stony surface that the Eastern Gibb is known for and as we bounced our way towards the famous Pentecost River crossing, I wondered what the road held in store for us.

I knew we couldn’t stop at every landmark or experience everything the Gibb had to offer. For example, it was such a poor wet season that the iconic Mitchell Falls were reduced to almost a trickle, so we decided very early on not to tackle the Kalumburu Rd which intersects with the Gibb and which is the only way to the falls. But like everyone else, we had to cross the Pentecost River.

Negotiating this crossing without mishap, was what Kenn was particularly looking forward to. In this photo from Outback WA, notice the width of the crossing and the depth. This is what the crossing generally looks like after a normal wet season. The river can be 60 plus metres wide and flow very quickly. Late in the dry around September, the depth can be less than 50 cm and relatively easy to cross. But we were crossing in early June and adding to the challenge would be the sharp, stony nature of the crossing itself. We knew several people who had come to grief here and found themselves changing a tyre on the other side.
However what we found was virtually a dry, stony river bed. Kenn was so disappointed. On the plus side, we didn’t get a puncture. And as we crossed in the morning, we didn’t capture that iconic picture of the crossing with the Cockburn Ranges, rosy in the afternoon sun, in the background.
Instead, a little further on, close to the turn off to Home Valley, there was a lookout where we stopped. Still beautiful but not THE shot!
It was also here that I reached over the back to grab my pillow only to find that it was not there. Our super comfy latex pillows had gone missing in action! Oh well, every adventure has its challenges. I was sure we could improvise some item of clothing into a suitable head rest!

Our first stop was ‘Ellenbrae’ Station which was only a few kilometres off the Gibb and just over 200 kms from El Questro. We had been on the road for only about three hours, but the Gibb had been so rough in patches, that one of the bolts which hold the driving lights on had broken off. Kenn needed a little time to make repairs. Staying here would also give us heaps of time to explore and set up our new tent for the very first time in a great spot in the campground.

The station is a welcome haven of green and the rustic building you can see in the background was the original homestead complete with an open air kitchen. We found out that there was only Optus reception but the manager kindly rang Emma Gorge for us and we were able to arrange to pick up our pillows on our return journey. Amazing! When we picked them up we discovered that they had even laundered our pillowslips! Outback hospitality!, got to love it!
There were lots of places around the large garden where you could enjoy a cappuccino and a picnic lunch. At this stage of our trip, I hadn’t realised what a luxury Lawn is in the Kimberley.
And they even had a children’s play area.

We were keen to sample their famous scones and they were delicious. Like many places on the Gibb, you can’t book in advance: it’s first in, first serve unless there are special circumstances. . We had hoped to stay at Ringer’s campground which has its own billabong but unfortunately that was taken by a group of bike riders on a charity ride. So we ended up in the Jackaroo’s Campground. This was still a great option. Campsites came with a fire pit and we were allowed to collect wood from the bush. There were hot showers with the water heated by a donkey heater ( I had never seen one of these in action before) and flush toilets. And everything was clean! Soon our tent was up, bed made ( with jumpers as pillows) table and chairs arranged and wood for the evening fire collected. The driving light was safely disconnected and now it was time for fun.

If you camp at Ellenbrae, you get access to Sandy Beach Gorge. This was quite a long gorge and I wished that there was a kayak or two to borrow. But the water was lovely and there were no rocks so you could laze around very easily. It was quite a hot day, and the beach had very little shade. A sun umbrella would have been nice, but you can’t carry everything with you can you?
It was perfectly safe to swim across to the rocks on the other side.
However, the billabong which is accessed from Ringer’s campground was virtually dry. Such a shame as we could see that it would be an idyllic spot with water in it and so accessible.

But our mishaps didn’t end with the loss of a driving light and our pillows. Back at camp, we started preparing dinner. I was planning a tasty Tuna Pasta dish and went to put the water on to boil for the pasta when … our gas stove nearly blew up! We hadn’t realised that when Kenn exchanged our near empty gas bottle for a full one back in Byron, they had given him a bottle with an incompatible fitting. What to do? A friendly couple offered to boil some water for us so I busily chopped shallots and capsicum and grated some cheese. When the water was boiling, I bought the pot over to the table, put in my egg noodle nests and put a lid on. Hardly the orthodox method for cooking pasta but it worked. I drained the water, added the tuna in oil and the vegies, stirred and put the lid on again to heat through. Surprisingly, it was quite tasty. Our new friends from Western Australia invited us to join them for a cuppa around the campfire. Ah, a coffee to soothe the jangled nerves!

And as we watched the flames flicker, they told us how great the campground at Imintji was. Apparently it was relatively new with excellent facilities including free barbeques! We had intended to stay at Manning Gorge the following day, but as Imintji was just another 100 kms further. on, we decided to stay there. Our cooking problem for one night at least would be solved.

So after a healthy breakfast of weetbix and fruit, we packed up and headed for Mt Barnett, Manning Gorge and Imintji Campground. Now we had checked, double checked and triple checked that we had left nothing behind at the campsite at Ellenbrae. But we had scarcely gone any distance when Kenn realised that his iphone was not in his pocket. We knew that it had to be in the vehicle but where? The car was so jam packed with stuff that it would be a serious mission to stop and search for it. Kenn made an executive decision that the search could wait until we set up camp at Imintji later that day.

And so we continued along the Gibb. We passed the Kalumburu turnoff and the road conditions changed. Instead of a rough stony surface the Gibb now presented us with some of the worst corrugations that we have driven over. And the wonderful escarpment scenery that we had driven through to that point had given way to relatively flat savannah as we bumped, bounced and shook our way to the Mt Barnett Roadhouse about halfway along the Gibb. . It was approaching lunchtime and given our cooking situation, we treated ourselves to takeaway. Kenn also topped up our fuel, as we thought that this was the only place on the Gibb where fuel could be purchased.

It is here that you buy the permit to visit Manning Gorge. But the iphone issue hung over our heads and we wanted to press on to Imintji as we had been told there were limited campsites and we didn’t want to miss out. As it turned out there were heaps to choose from which a phone call from the Roadhouse to the Imintji store would have confirmed. Ah you live and learn! As a consequence, we missed our opportunity to visit this beautiful gorge. Our loss!

The waterfalls at upper Manning Gorge, on Mount Barnett Station, off the Gibb River Road. This photo from Red Dirt Rentals gives you an idea of what we missed. I don’t think that there would have been this much water flowing over the falls though.

So we pressed onto Imintji. In the Ngarinyin language, Imintji means “a place to sit down”. The campground is located at the foot of the spectacular King Leopold range and you pay for your campsite at the store. The people at the store were lovely and very quickly we selected a campsite with a sunset view of the range, put up the tent and found the iphone! We were happy campers.

We had this part of the campground entirely to ourselves. Just across the road was a lovely, grassed common area with a very spacious and clean amenities block and a covered camp kitchen complete with free electric barbeques. They also had some glamping tents for those a little short of time.
Certainly not as crowded as most places on the Gibb! A really good hot shower is one of the luxuries of life!

Imintji is relatively close to Bell Gorge and we had the whole afternoon with which to explore it. On the way, we passed Silent Grove, the National Parks campground. It too looked very pleasant. The track to the gorge is not very shaded and we were quite hot by the time we reached the upper gorge. It was beautiful, a series of shallow pools which trickle into each other and eventually form a waterfall which cascades to a pool in the lower gorge.

The upper pools are surrounded by these wonderful rocks
And fringed by wonderful reeds.
The reflections were lovely and the water deep enough to float around in. And there were plenty of accommodating rocks to serve as a picnic table for afternoon tea.

Back at Imintji, we reconnected with a young family who were travelling for a year around Australia. We had first met them at Emma Gorge back at El Questro where their three delightful little girls, (the youngest was just four and a half) had chatted to us, showing us their special discoveries: pet rocks and special pools and giving us helpful hints of where not to walk. The family was spending a couple of days at Imintji before travelling to the Mornington Wilderness Area. And the girls put the time to good use.

They created fairy houses and gardens on rock platforms and in tree nooks and we were treated to a special guided tour. And the fairies left them a little something in the morning! It was so delightful to see little ones so happy in the great outdoors needing nothing but imagination to be happy.

As we checked into the store next morning for cappuccinos , we also realised that we should have bought fuel here as well. We were unaware that the store sold fuel! It was over 30cents per litre cheaper than Mt Barnett! And when you’re filling a thirsty Prado, that can make a considerable difference.

We were now traveling from Imintji to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. To get there we drove through the magnificent King Leopold Ranges. Sometimes the road cut through the ranges and at other times the road opened up to reveal incredible vistas of unspoilt wilderness.

We were surprised at how quickly, we got to Windjana Gorge. It only took a couple of hours from Imintji. One of the things that had determined our itinerary was the booking at Windjana Gorge. According to the WA National Parks website, sites must be pre-booked and paid for online. So of course we did, only to discover that we could have just rocked up and put our payment in a box. But maybe that was only the case for this early part of the season and being locked in to a particular date did enable us to maximise our exploration time..

Windjana Gorge is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Kimberley. The gorge cuts through the Napier Range which part of the ancient Devonian limestone reef which can also be seen at Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek. While the Lennard River runs through the gorge in the wet season, in the dry it forms large pools where the freshwater crocodiles lurk.

What to see first? Since we had a whole afternoon at our disposal, we decided to go to Tunnel Creek and then visit the Gorge for the evening spectacle of crocodile bat hunting.

Tunnel Creek is WA’s oldest cave system and it is here that you can walk through a tunnel following the creek as it flows through the Napier Range. We knew we had to wear old sneakers, carry a torch and be prepared to get wet as at certain points in the tunnel you have to wade or swim through pools. I was surprised by how eerie and thrilling I found the whole experience. I led the way, carrying the torch while Kenn took our photos.

You have to walk 750 metres to the other side and return the same way. At the entrance to the tunnel you have to clamber around some boulders before the tunnel opens up. Initially, you are walking on a sandy beach beside the creek but ...
there are residents keeping watch. At least five species of bats also live in the cave, including ghost bats and fruit bats, and every strange sound had me wondering if something nasty was about to drop on my head or snap at my heels.
In a few places, the tunnel roof has collapsed and a little light filters in. But for much of the time you are in complete darkness with only your torch to guide you
And the stalactites cling in strange shapes from the roof.
We did have to wade through some water. Luckily for us, the water was quite low. On the way through it was OK as we were following others but on the return trip, we were on our own and I went to the right instead of the left. The water was getting deeper and deeper and then I heard a suspicious sound. I backed out … very, very quickly. Kenn found the right path and we had no further dramas. I don’t know that I could have swam through the tunnel if the water had been higher.
On the other side, the creek opens up to form a lovely swimming spot. I did get wet but couldn’t get the image of the crocodile back in the tunnel out of my mind so didn’t linger.
Tunnel Creek is also where Jandamarra made his last stand. His story is very well documented here.

Back at Windjana Gorge, we had time for a cuppa before our first walk into the Gorge. It was late afternoon and the reflections on the water were lovely.

As you can see, you can walk all the way through the gorge on sand if you wish. I loved the play of light on the rocks as the sun began to set.
The rock formations were highlighted by sunlight and shadow
But on the opposite side of the large pools, we were amazed by the number of freshwater crocodiles, sunning themselves or seemingly asleep in the water. Obviously we kept our distance.
Many were bigger than I thought they would be. As the sun set, they became more active. They were jostling for a good spot from which to try and catch a bat or two for supper when the bats leave their daytime caves and fly down the gorge to drink and feed. We didn’t get a picture of a bat being taken but in the gloom did witness some crocs find success. Nature at work. While you could feel sorry for the bats, there were thousands of them making their way down the gorge so maybe this was Nature’s way of keeping numbers in balance.

Walking back to our campsite, we were surprised to see that the campground was full to bursting Surprisingly, we hadn’t felt crowded when exploring the gorge and hoped that the crowds would stay away when we walked the Gorge Trail next morning.

We started at about 730 am as we didn’t know how much shade there was on this walk and didn’t want to get too hot. It was a great time as the birds were very active and it was a very pleasant temperature. The trail is not difficult and certainly didn’t take us four hours even though we were strolling along.

There was a lot to see on the trail which follows a track through beautiful bush which fringes the gorge.

And beside us and across the gorge, was the incredible Devonian reef, complete with fossils!

And of course there were Boab trees. But here the Boab was flowering and fruiting.

Just a youngster judging by some of the monster specimens we had encountered.
The dark berry like things are the fruit while the flowers are at the end of the branches. Lovely against the sky.

And so our time at Windjana Gorge came to a close. Even though we had booked an extra night at the gorge, we had experienced the main attractions and some extra time in Broome beckoned. After all, we had a lot ( and I mean a lot: everything was coated in bright red dust at this point) of washing to do, a camping store to visit and some pillows to buy before we continued our camping adventures on Cape Leveque.

This road trip along the Gibb had been amazing despite our minor hiccups. I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but after a really good Wet season and perhaps making it up to Mitchell Falls and down to the Mornington Wilderness Area just to mention a couple of places we didn’t visit.

But the road delivered what I had been hoping to experience: sweeping wilderness vistas full of deep, rich colours and the magical interplay between rock and water that is so symbolic of the Kimberley. And we had a real sense of being on an adventure, of living a little bit on the edge. After all you’re a long way from suburbia on the Gibb.

I hope you can join me as Kenn and I get a taste of Broome, the gateway to the Western Kimberley Coast.

El Questro Wilderness Park

The protected oasis of Zebedee Springs

Located just 110 kms west of Kununurra, El Questro Wilderness Park was the first stop on our exploration of the Gibb River Road. We hoped that it would be wonderful and we weren’t disappointed. There was just so much to see and do in one place. (Admittedly a very large place: the park covers an area of over 700,000 acres in the heart of the Kimberley.)

We loved driving around flanked by the majestic Cockburn Range, exploring dramatic gorges and testing out the snorkling capabilities of our vehicle in the process.

Driving into Emma Gorge, this little creek posed no problems but El Questro Gorge was another matter. We found a deep hole in the creek crossing on our return journey from the gorge and for a moment, as the water cascaded over the bonnet, I wondered if we might get stuck. But the Prado just kept chugging away and we emerged, a bit damp, but triumphant.

We loved swimming under cascading waterfalls in beautiful rock pools, relaxing in thermal springs, picnicking besides waterholes and admiring beautiful sunsets.

El Questro has a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. These are at three locations : Emma Gorge, The Station and the Homestead. Initially, we intended to camp over at the Station on a powered site in our tent. After all we were following in the footsteps of pioneers and were prepared to rough it a little. But after I’d booked, I noticed that El Questro was offering an opening of the season special: three nights for the price of two with buffet breakfast included for their upscale accommodation at the Station and Emma Gorge. Investigating further, the glamping safari tents complete with private ensuite at Emma Gorge really appealed.

We’d still be camping but with a few more mod cons. And surely I could put up with a little bit of luxury whilst in the middle of the East Kimberley Wilderness? Someone to make my bed, tidy my tent and fill my glass at happy hour? And who wouldn’t enjoy standing under their very own blissful rain shower while they washed away the rigours of the day while admiring the branches of a magnificent gum tree against a deep blue sky framed by towering red cliffs?

You guessed it, I cancelled the camp site at the Station and booked Emma! Part of the accommodation cost included the compulsory Wilderness Park Permit, the proceeds of which help with the maintenance of the roads etc within the park.

Emma Gorge

We reached Emma Gorge with plenty of time to walk the gorge and have a swim before we booked in. The walk involved a bit of rock hopping and scrambling as we made our way through the stunning gorge.

But it was so worth it. The final rock pool with its gentle waterfall was so perfect. The water was quite cold but very refreshing and when you swam under the waterfall on the other side of the pool, it was like being in a natural rain shower, nicely tingly. And of course floating around and gazing up at the majestic red cliffs and a perfect blue sky and knowing that you were in the middle of the Kimberley wilderness was special just by itself.

On the right hand side of the main pool is a thermal spring to warm you up. If you can, carry some reef shoes in your backpack. The rocks are very sharp and getting in and out of the pool was a little challenging. One three year old little boy gave Kenn a lesson: ” walk with your bum” he instructed as he demonstrated floating in a sitting position with his legs outstretched. Alas I didn’t get a photo of Kenn ‘bum walking’ as I was in the middle of the pool at the time but it was a sight to behold!

Back at the resort, we booked in and were thrilled with our tent. It was elevated, boasted a very comfortable queen bed, two single beds, outdoor furniture, a fan, basic tea making facilities and a very well appointed ensuite.. It was very private and had a wonderful view of the escarpment and the bush which was flood lit at night.

Next it was time to sample “happy hour” and dinner at the resort hub. There on the deck, we met fellow travelers from around Australia and the world. Most were travelling as part of tour groups but there one or two who were travelling on their own like us. Talk flowed as we sipped our drinks ensconced on super comfy sofas. And there were plenty of options to choose from on the a la carte menu for dinner. Yep, we were very happy campers!

Zebedee Springs

The following morning we up early, keen to drive over to the station and explore Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge. Both were fabulous.

The walk into Zebedee Springs is through a Livistonia Palm forest which is thought to be unique to this area.

The path is very pretty, quite flat and in comparison with the other walks at El Questro, very easy.
The palms are so tall, protected by the red cliffs which surround the springs.
Such an ancient land. Zebedee Springs is only open to the public until 12 noon but that said, a couple of hours is more than enough time to savour the experience.
There are lots of places to stow your gear. We found a friendly rock. And the water flows from quite high up and if you’re willing to climb up, there are lots of little pools where you can soak in the beautifully warm water and you would never know anyone else was around.
Only a few people can fit in each pool, and I noticed that most people tried to find a pool to themselves.
Sometimes you can angle yourself so that you are under one of these little waterfalls. So good!
Downstream, there a are a few larger pools that you don’t have to climb up to, but these can get quite crowded. We got to Zebedee around 830 am and it was lovely but as we were leaving, lots of people were arriving and these pools became a little muddy.

El Questro Gorge

Back in the Prado, it was time to drive to El Questro Gorge. We knew that the water crossing into the gorge was quite deep. Only vehicles with a snorkle were advised to cross. Needless to say, Kenn was excited by the prospect! Low range was selected and we sailed across with no problems. A few kms further on and we were at the start point.

The walk obviously is through El Questro Gorge. What is spectacular about the walk is the variety and lushness of landscape you pass through. Initially, the walk is fairly flat and as you can see, you are shaded by palms and towering red cliffs.
The walk is not overly long but it is the nature of the path, this sharp rocky stuff and the amount of climbing you have to do at the end which make it a class 4 walk. If you have them, I would recommend wearing proper hiking boots.
Mud and slosh. Now who isn’t built like a gazelle, able to leap such obstacles with a single bound and wasn’t wearing their hiking boots which were nestled in the back of the car? You guessed right. That would be me! But who can resist a bridge or two even if toes are squelching around in socks.
And as you follow the creek more closely, you have to navigate your way around fantastic rock formations like this.
And that! Kenn’s Indiana Jones hat really looks the part doesn’t it?
The creek was fairly low. We had been told that the Kimberley had had a poor wet season but there was enough water to create beautiful rainforest vistas. And even though there were lots and lots of people staying at El Questro at the time, we never felt crowded. Most of the time, we only met one or two other walkers on a track.
We only went as far as the first major rock pool. You had to swim over to these rocks and climb up to continue to the end of the gorge. As we weren’t carrying a waterproof pack, we didn’t want to risk our phones and car keys. And we didn’t see anyone make it without a dunking and all were a lot younger than us.
So we rested and swam and had our picnic lunch. The water was so clear! Just to the right, under the big rock in the foreground, a little family of fish darted out to say ‘hello’. .

This walk isn’t a circuit so we had to retrace our steps. And as is so often the case, the walk seemed so much easier on the return journey even if the drive through the creek was a little more problematical.

Jackaroo’s Billabong

Managing to chug our way out of a deep hole, Kenn and I decided to have a look at Jackaroo’s Billabong which was on our way back to the main road. A cup of coffee and some afternoon tea was needed. I was so happy we did as this was a really beautiful spot.

Unfortunately, you can’t swim here as crocodiles might be lurking.
But there were a couple of picnic tables and some open sandy ground from which to admire the billabong.
And beyond the billabong, the land stretches forever.

The afternoon was closing in, so we headed home to Emma Gorge. We had just enough time for a quick swim in the resort pool and a rest on the sun loungers with our books before getting ready for dinner. A great way to end a perfect day. Could tomorrow be as good?

Chamberlain Gorge

Chamberlain Gorge is regarded as one of the things not to be missed at El Questro. It is a 3 km long fresh waterhole surrounded by magnificent cliffs. But you could sail to the end of it in 10 or 15 minutes. So, since we had done the 55km Ord River cruise through a similar landscape in Kununurra a couple of days before, we decided to give the cruise a miss. But it is possible to get an idea what the gorge holds by driving to the boat jetty.

But the drive to and from Chamberlain Gorge was interesting in itself as you are traveling in more open savanna country .

Having taken a look at Chamberlain Gorge and enjoyed a coffee break at the Station, we hiked through Amalia Gorge.

Amalia Gorge

The lack of wet season rain had affected this gorge the most. We were there in early June and the creek was no longer flowing but a few waterholes remained. Despite this, it was easy to see why this gorge is a favorite with so many people. The walk along the creek is shaded and very beautiful and and normally there would be lots of private swimming spots to enjoy along the way. We spotted one couple swimming in a pool but we didn’t join them as the water looked a bit stagnant.

And it looked a little shallow as well but so pretty.

Then the path started to climb and at the end you had to shimmy around and through some pretty scary rock formations to reach the upper pools at the end of the track.

We were scrambling along a ledge about half way up where the tree is. It was reasonably wide but then
we had to step around this tree and shimmy yourself between two rock ledges.

But again the effort was worth it. There is a little cascade of waterfalls and rock pools falling down into one larger pool which acted as the most marvelous mirror. And we had the place entirely to ourselves!

The end of the gorge is surrounded by these high cliffs which change colour depending whether they’re in shade or sunlight.
The water trickles down from one pool to the next,
until it reaches this main pool, There was only the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves and the occasional bird call. And despite all the rocks and the warm weather, we didn’t see so much as a geeko let alone a snake.
We especially loved the gum tree reflections.
It’s a perfect combo: water, rock and Australian flora.

As we retraced our steps we were extra careful navigating the rock ledge. It was a lot harder going down than it was climbing up. But we did it! Feeling very chuffed with ourselves we drove back to Emma Gorge. It was our last night at El Questro and we had loved every minute. As we sipped our pre dinner drinks, there was a beautiful sunset.

This photo doesn’t capture how spectacular it was. Phone cameras have some limitations.

Final Thoughts.

El Questro does give the visitor a wonderful wilderness experience. And while every place in the Kimberley has its own unique beauty, what sets El Questro apart is that it is a microcosm of everything that the Kimberley has to offer

We had had three action packed days here but there was still so much that we could have done. More gorges to explore, more 4WD tracks to conquer, more lookouts to reach and perhaps even a helicopter flight or two.

In hindsight, much as I loved staying at Emma Gorge, a stay at the Station would have been more central to most attractions. As we had our own 4WD vehicle and we had filled up in Kununurra, we found that we didn’t spend much money at El Questro except on dinner and accommodation and these I felt were reasonably priced.

You could spend a great deal of money here if you wanted to complete all the tours and experiences on offer. Like everywhere in the Kimberley, the organised tours offered by El Questro are not cheap. But for many, they are the stuff memories are made of. If you are lucky enough to have unlimited funds, check them out on the El Questro website.

Now the real test was about to begin. The Pentecost River crossing awaited us in the morning the the challenge of the Gibb River Road beckoned. Join us as we bump and shake our way to Broome.

Kimberley Road Trip

Like many others, exploring the Kimberley region of Western Australia, a vast pristine wilderness full of beautiful gorges cut through ancient orange and red Kimberley rock and possessing a dramatic and largely untouched coastline has been on our bucket list for a long time.

Windjana Gorge, the Kimberley region, Western Australia

While there are many ways to experience this wonderful part of Australia including luxury cruises and tours, we allocated ourselves six weeks and leaving on the first of June, drove from Byron Bay to Cape Leveque and back in our trusty Toyota Prado towing nothing.

All packed, only 15,000 kms to go!

Choosing this option gave us the freedom to customize our trip. We were able to visit parts of Queensland we had never seen, detour to Darwin to visit family and veer a little from the usual tourist path when opportunity presented itself. And our decision not to tow a caravan or camper trailer enabled us to sample a variety of accommodation which included motels, airbnb, roadhouses, outback pubs, glamping at spectacular resorts and camping in our very own, quite comfortable, two room tent. We loved the variety and the occasional touch of luxury and choosing to travel like this saved us a lot of time over all as we were able to travel faster and didn’t have to set up and pack up camp all the time.

Byron Bay to Katherine

The first stage of our adventure involved driving from Byron Bay to Katherine in the Northern Territory, a journey of around 3000 kms. We wanted the journey as well as our Kimberley destination to be memorable, so only drove for approximately 600 kms each day. This gave us an enjoyable taste of what there is to see and do in this part of the world. We stopped at Mitchell, Longreach, Mt Isa and the Three Ways roadhouse on our way to Katherine. Each destination and sometimes the little towns in between, many of which I had never heard of before, had something special to remember them by.

Our first stop was the little town of Mitchell in the Maranoa Region of South West Queensland.

Mitchell is on the Maranoa River, which despite the drought is still flowing. Beautiful gum trees line the banks. And actually it rained a little overnight. The only rain we experienced on our trip.

We stayed in a delightful Airbnb, Serenity House which was a delightful little cottage on acreage on the outskirts of town.

A magnificent sunset was just the start of a delightful stay.

Although we could have easily dined in, we chose the friendly restaurant attached to the local motel for a delicious dinner. But really, the most memorable thing about Mitchell was the Great Artesian Spa.

Situated in the main street, not far from the river bridge, the Spa sources mineral rich water at 40 degrees from the Great Artesian Basin, a blissful temperature on a frosty winter’s morning. We swam, soaked and swam some more. Kenn did try the cold pool for a ‘refreshing’ change but not surprisingly, he didn’t have any followers. A wonderful way to begin our drive to Longreach.

We especially enjoyed the drive from this point on as we had an excellent straight road mainly to ourselves.

We were traveling along the Matilda Way, an iconic outback highway. We stopped at Tambo but as it was a Sunday, couldn’t stop at the famous Tambo Teddies but contented ourselves with an early lunch at the Tambo Lake and rest area.

The lake was lovely and the rest area very well appointed.
And there was a very pleasant walking path around part of the lake which took you to a bird watching hide. If we had felt more energetic, the rest area also boasted a great outdoor gym.
And I couldn’t help but notice that the locals still know how to have a good time.

All too soon, we were back in the car and on our way to Longreach, still a few hours away. We arrived with plenty of time to find our motel and visit the Stockman’s Hall of Fame before dinner at the Services Club.

This is an excellent museum. Lots of interactive features as well as great items from our pioneering past. There was an informative indigenous section and an art gallery.

There is a lot to see and do in Longreach but we couldn’t see it all on this trip. After all, the Kimberley was our priority. Our next stop was Mount Isa but on the way, we stopped at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum at Winton. This spur of the moment decision, (we just happened to see a billboard on the side of the road) became one of the highlights of our trip. The museum is located on the top of a ‘jump up’ a kind of flat topped hill, about 20 kms from Winton. The views over the plains from the top are wonderful.

It is easy to envisage that there was an inland sea out there, millions of years ago. The kind of place where dinosaurs liked to hang out.
And at the entry to the museum, a replica of Matilda, one of the most complete dinosaur fossils to be found in Australia, is waiting to say ‘hello’.

The entry fee is not inexpensive but so worth it. And it is possible to customise your visit to suit your family or personal interests.

Firstly we viewed a short documentary about the dinosaur discoveries around Winton, their lifestyle back in the day and the manner of their death. A paleontologist then showed us the actual fossils of the two most famous dinosaurs found at Winton, who have been named Banjo and Matilda, explaining what can be deduced from them. To be so up close and personal with the remains of creatures who roamed Australia so long ago was a thrill. While this was a great orientation what really appealed to us about this museum was the visit to the Dinosaur Canyon. This is situated a kilometer or two from the main building and is accessed by a cute motorised train. The Dinosaur Canyon attraction consists of a spectacular building perched on a cliff overlooking a 300 metre elevated concrete pathway through a gorge, along which five outdoor dinosaur galleries have been positioned.

As you can see, the path is very accessible and follows the natural contours of the jump up. Surrounded by massive boulders and aromatic Australian bush, the dinosaur galleries give you a glimpse of life as it would have been during the Cretaceous Period, over 95 million years ago. The galleries include
The recreation of the billabong where Banjo and Matilda met their deaths. How the paleontologists can put the bones back together though is a mystery to me.
And further along, a little group of pterosaurs sits precariously atop a giant boulder. These were flying reptiles, members of the Pterodactylus family, not dinosaurs and definitely not the ancestors of birds or bats. I thought they looked a little grasshopper like but with big beaks.
And then there was the recreation of the famous dinosaur stampede found at Lark Creek. Hundreds of dinosaur footprints have been found and they believe that these little dinosaurs were running away from …
This … a big bad and hungry sauropod! I would run too.
And then there were these dudes. Just hanging out having a good time. They had a very fancy name: Kunbarrasaurus ieversi. I think I prefer cool dude.

While it was fascinating to look at these wonderful bronze exhibits in the wild as it were and listen to the informative commentary, children and adults alike were encouraged to make brass rubbings at each exhibit and take away a personal reminder of their visit.

One gallery remains very much a work in progress. This is the valley of the Cycads. This is because drought and white ants have damaged the original plantings but the curators are determined to succeed.

These beauties are waiting to be planted.

I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the weather. It was a glorious early June day and all around us, the bush was flowering and the birds were in full song.

I couldn’t capture it, but this bush was covered in butterflies.
I assumed that this was some kind of wattle tree
And even the grasses were lovely

Back at the reception area, we lunched at the cafe, which also has a lovely outlook. I appreciated my cappucchino, something not always readily available in the Outback. Back in the Prado, we still had a quite a way to go to reach Mount Isa by nightfall but managed it easily.

Our overnight stay at the Copper Gate Motel was very pleasant and after refueling we headed north and west over the Barkly Tableland. It was sad to see how the drought has really put its mark on this area. Even so, it had an eerie beauty of its own.

The dry grassland and the sky just seem to go on forever
And the road just keeps on going west all the way to the Northern Territory.

Our next stop was the Three Ways Roadhouse where luckily we didn’t have to fill up with fuel as it was well into the $1.90’s for diesel. Our accommodation in one of the ‘Glendale’ rooms was very basic but clean and relatively quiet.

However the sunset certainly wasn’t basic!

Next morning, we were on the road early as we wanted to stop at Mataranka and take a dip in the Thermal pools before reaching Katherine. I could easily spend a couple of days here and noticed that the camping facilities were very good. The area was made famous by the novel We of the Never Never – a book written about nearby Elsey Station by Jeannie Gunn and there is a lot of memorabilia about Jeannie at Mataranka Homestead where we stopped for lunch and had a quick swim in the Thermal Pool. This was a lovely experience but we enjoyed our trip to Bitter Springs which lies about two kilometers to the north even more.

The walk into the Springs is framed by these lovely palm trees. So lush in an otherwise dry landscape.
And the springs themselves are a lovely colour and are not crowded. It’s just you and nature.

But our time in Nature’s hot tubs was not at an end. Arriving in Katherine, we got to spend quality time with our daughter Lyndsay, husband Reece and eleven month old Ilyssia. And where better than the Katherine Hot Springs which are in the middle of a major restoration.

There are two main sections separated by a little waterfall. As we had Ilyssia with us, we stayed in the shallower, less occupied upper section.
This was an excellent option as we could float, swim or walk down the creek to the waterfall and we had this section virtually to ourselves.
After her swim, Ilyssia was ready for a nap while her mum and grandparents sampled the delights of a pop up restaurant in the adjoining park.

As we had two nights in Katherine, we also visited Katherine Gorge. Although we last visited the gorge a few years ago, I was surprised to see that the cost of kayaking and cruising the gorge had more than doubled. This time, we chose to complete a bush walk which brought us out to a great lookout.

All the colours of the rock reflected in the water! So beautiful.

The first part of our big adventure had come to an end. I was surprised by how rewarding this part of the trip was. Even though I experienced some serious twinges of NB (numb bum) syndrome as a result of sitting for too long in a seat that could only recline a couple of inches, the changing landscapes, the experiences and the people made the journey a worthwhile end in itself. And still the Western Kimberley beckoned. Would it live up to all the hype? I’ll let you know next time.

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Magic

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Moran’s Falls, Lamington National Park

This Easter, Kenn and I spent a couple of days at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the Lamington National Park.  You’ll find this wonderful national park and resort  in the Gold Coast Hinterland.   Just a couple of hours away from Byron Bay,  O’Reilly’s  is  one of our favourite places to visit and chill out. As we have been making the trek up the mountain since our children were very young, this piece of World Heritage listed rainforest holds many special memories.  Who could ever forget Christian’s look of amazement at his first bird feeding session? He carefully measured out the bird seed he had purchased from the cafe onto his hands and  before he could catch his breath, he was covered in rosellas. They were perched up and down his arms, on his palms, on his shoulders and even on his head.  They tickled and they nibbled as they made themselves comfortable. This was all so cool until he realised that the bird on his head had left a deposit on his brand new hat! Ah what fun!

This time, we were meeting up with our daughter Lyndsay, who was down from Darwin and her Finnish  exchange student Lila.  We booked directly with O’Reilly’s. They had a great autumn special which included accommodation in a mountain view room, daily buffet breakfast, morning and afternoon tea, a 4WD tour through the rainforest and welcome drinks. A bargain!  You can check out their webpage here  We arrived around Midday and luckily our room was ready and a lovely afternoon walk beckoned.

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View from our balcony

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Our room was lovely. So peaceful and quiet. The timber finishes really complemented the natural surroundings.

Lyndsay and Lila had arrived a day before us and decided to walk the Tooloona Creek circuit. We had walked this track awhile back. If you’re interested in seeing more of this track,  See previous post here  

 We definitely didn’t have time to walk 20kms this time,  so decided to walk along the Border Track until we caught up with them on their way home.  This involved a gentle uphill climb to the Antarctic Beech Forest.

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These trees are relics from Gondwana times. Only the trees not Kenn!

As the track winds between mossy and ferny boulders, I always feel as if I’m in a Tolkien novel and Gandalf  is going to come round the bend.

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About five kms along the track, we met up with Lyndsay and Lila and returned to the resort in time for afternoon tea and a dip in the sauna and hot tub.

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Thoroughly relaxed, we enjoyed a wonderful sunset with pre-dinner drinks in the Rainforest Bar.

The next day dawned cloudy and showery. Grabbing our rain jackets, we met Lila who was joining us on 4WD tour.  A little bit of misty weather can enhance your outdoor experience if you let it. The tour took us on roads we had never traversed.

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This was a fun way to see more of the area

And our guide was very informative.

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This is glow in the dark fungus! Only glows for two or three days apparently. 

Highlights included the short walk to Moran’s Falls and the visit to Luke’s farm.

 

After lunch, Kenn and I walked down to Elabana Falls. This time we didn’t make it past Picnic Rock as there was so much water and every time I put my hand down to balance myself on the slippery rocks to cross over, the leeches attacked! And I hate leeches. Despite the leeches, it felt great to stretch our legs and we didn’t get very wet as the canopy of the rainforest acted as a natural umbrella.

There really is so much to see and do at O’Reilly’s. Usually, we spend our time on completing one of the big day treks but this time we got to explore two of the short walks for the first time. They were to Mick’s tower and the Wishing Tree.

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The track winds down a fern encrusted gully

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to Mick’s tower, where the intrepid can climb five platforms to the top for a view of the canopy

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And then onto the Wishing Tree where you can sit on a log and make a wish in the hollow of the tree.

But all good things must come to an end and all too soon we were winding our way down the mountain again. Instead of taking the highway home, we decided to show Lila Natural Bridge which is part of the Springbrook National Park.  The road from Nerang to Murwillumbah is beautiful. Much to our surprise, much has changed at Natural Bridge since we last visited several years ago.  While the rock pool and cavern are as lovely as ever, you can no longer swim there. To compensate, a new circuit has been built that follows the creek and explores more of the surroundings.

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The water was thundering down

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Just beautiful! 

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This was a quaint cafe just a couple of kms from Natural Bridge. Very enjoyable lunch.

By late afternoon, we were home and taking Lila for her first lighthouse walk. We are so lucky to be able to journey from the forest to the sea in a matter of hours. I hope if you haven’t already experienced the deep serenity of the Australian rainforest, that you get the opportunity very, very soon.

 

Japanese Snow Monkeys

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Hot stone massage anyone?

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Nosawa Onsen was the tour we took with ixsmtravel.com to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park which was about an hour away from Nosawa by bus. Some say travel is more about the journey than the destination and at first I would have had to agree: the view from our windows was breathtaking.

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Thick drifts of snow covered the fields

 

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and rivers quietly flowed watched over by the mountains which surrounded us on all sides

Arriving at the Snow Monkey Park, our bus driver had to park a fair distance from the entrance but not deterred we plodded up the hill to the starting point. We all  thought that the two kilometre walk to the Snow Monkeys would be a walk in the park. But  no-one had warned us about just how slippery the narrow path could be. Although we were all wearing proper hiking boots, we all found ourselves slip sliding away as if we were on an ice rink. And I can’t skate!  So we had to go slowly, very slowly for I could far too easily imagine myself turning into a human toboggan, hurtling down the mountainside.

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 Ben showed his exceptional balance and stamina as he carried Huddy on his shoulders the whole way.

Still inching one’s way along has an up side. There was plenty of time to admire the scenery.

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Snowy forest surrounded us on all sides

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And the light breaking through the treetops was lovely

The narrow path eventually led to the  valley of the Yokoyu-River where steam and boiling water bubble out of small crevices in the frozen ground earning the name ‘Jigokudani’ meaning “Hell’s Valley.” But it didn’t seem too hellish to us!

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You climb up from this point to where the snow monkeys make their home. They are very used to humans. Some blithely padded past us on the way up.

It was worth the effort. We saw monkeys frolicking with their babies, monkeys enjoying a dip in the steamy waters and  monkeys scampering up the mountainside.

And one was keeping watch, checking out the tourists. Examining us as we were examining him.

All too soon, our English speaking guide, who was a delightful girl from Northern Italy, asked us to start making our way back.

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From this vantage point, the path seems to go on forever.

After visiting the Snow Monkeys, the tour took us to the historic village of Shibu Onsen. This was once a village that was frequented by samurai, wandering poets and travellers  who, while bathing in the healing waters of the village’s onsens,  took the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Indeed legend says that good fortune will come to those who bathe in all the town’s onsens.

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If you decide to undertake this quest, you are issued with a special card which you then stamp as you visit each onsen.  

In this village, we were able to get a feel for the ‘old’ Japan. The narrow streets were lined by wooden buildings which were hundreds of years old.

There were  interesting shops to explore. Huddy discovered that he loved Japanese biscuits!

There was even a fountain which reputedly bestows good health and long life on those who drink from it. I couldn’t resist. I had to sip. It was  a little metallic tasting but not unpleasant and you never know …

And of course there was a temple to visit as well. By now it was mid afternoon and the temperature was dropping. The arrival of our bus to carry us home was very welcome.

This was a great day out. Try to make room for it on your next snow holiday to Nosawa Onsen. And remember wear shoes suitable for snow and ice!

The Coastal Recreational Path: a walk to remember.

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Sharpe’s Beach at Lennox Head – Our starting point .

Feel like a gentle stroll or bike ride along a path offering lovely vistas of a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline? Then the Coastal Recreational Path might be just the thing for you. The path, which is being constructed by Ballina Shire Council, aims to connect the coastal village of Lennox Head from the Pat Morton Lookout to Angels Beach in Ballina. The southern section from Sharpe’s Beach to Angel’s Beach has been finished and as Kenn and I discovered, is well worth exploring.

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This section of the path is quite short, only about 5 kms return.

We accessed the path from the Sharpe’s Beach car park as this was the closest access point to Byron Bay.  The first section of the path to Flat Rock winds through picturesque heath land

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We’ve had a bit of rain lately and everything is so, so green!

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The actual coast road is behind those pine trees in the distance.

while offering lovely views of the ocean.

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We noticed lots of little paths winding down to the beach, perfect for those seeking refuge from the crowds

When we reached Flat Rock, we found a viewing platform and of course access to a fantastic beach. For those who enjoy camping, there is also a tent park here.

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Even the signposts are visually stunning.

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If you look closely, you can see the flat rock in the water which gives it name to this headland.

Then the path meanders through coastal wetlands and  instead of smooth bitumen we found ourselves on a slightly elevated metal walkway,

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this section was quite shady, a good thing in the heat of the afternoon

wandering past gnarly coastal banksias.

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Native lilies will grow in the most unusual places.

One of the things I loved about the path were the information boards providing interesting information about how the aboriginal people had interacted with the land as well as some of their dreaming stories.

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I love how the boards blend in with the environment.

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The sculptures enhance your walking experience

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My photo doesn’t do this justice. This board utilises archival photographs from the 1920s to represent how aboriginal people might have interacted with the wetlands.

All too soon, we found ourselves at Angel’s Beach.

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I really don’t think you could get lost on this path!

 

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Just another perfect beach. We didn’t think of it on the day, but we could have walked back to Sharpe’s Beach along the beach instead of retracing our steps.  Love dabbling my feet in the sea. Next time?

It was also lovely to see lots of little ones on the path, cruising along in their strollers or peddling their tricycles with Mum and Dad ambling along behind.  The path is very flat, perfect for beginners as well as the more advanced to ride along. We even spotted a toy poodle standing up in a bike basket, paws on the handlebars having the best time.

All too soon we were back in Lennox heading home. Next time we plan to bring our bikes and a picnic. Maybe we’ll see you there!

 

 

 

Snowy Mountains in Autumn

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The mountains seem to roll on forever from the top of  Mount Kosciuszko

Autumn is a delightful time of year. Here in Byron Bay, it brings warm sunny days and cool evenings that invite you to snuggle down under a doona. While it is still warm enough to swim in the bay without a wetsuit, it’s the season for beach walking.

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Perfect for day dreaming  while digging one’s toes into soft sand or checking out the rockpools at low tide.

Lovely as Byron is at this time of the year, there is something missing. I can’t walk through drifts of red, yellow or orange leaves and breathe in the scent of wood smoke. I can’t see  avenues of claret and golden ash trees or bright yellow poplars  blazing against bright blue skies or taste the tang of  early morning frosty air.

Road trip time!

First stop was Sydney and a family celebration. Little Genevieve was turning TWO! And there was the added bonus of spending some quality time with baby Francesca, the cutest little nine week old poppet one could hope to meet. Was it really only two years ago that we joined that wonderful club: Grandparents Inc? So much joy!

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There’s just so much to do and  so much to say  and so much to show everyone when you are just two! And look at the awesome cake, my Nanny Hooper baked especially for me.  Life is good!

Birthday celebrations over,  we took to the highway in search of ‘that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains, where we hoped to climb to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko was our first destination. Autumn was all around us as we stopped for brunch at  the Magpie cafe in historic Berrima.

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Fabulous food and coffee in a very picturesque setting. Wished we had more time to spend exploring this delightful little town. And no, they didn’t mistake me for an escaped inmate from the Correctional centre!

After a  short stop in Jindabyne to gather supplies, we were soon settling into our delightful studio at Snowgoose Apartments. From our balcony we watched as the sun began  to set behind the mountain and the mist started to rise. Yep, we were in “Man from Snowy River” country, ready for some high country adventures.

The following morning dawned as perfectly as one hopes a morning will dawn in the mountains. However, we had been warned that the weather is very changeable on Kosciuszko, so we dressed accordingly: walking boots, merino thermals, waterproof jackets, gloves and beanies. Yes we did indeed resemble Yetis out for an afternoon stroll!

Unfortunately the main chairlift, the Kosciuszko express was out for maintenance and we had to take the Snowgum chairlift to the top of the mountain. This meant that our trek to the summit begun with a very, and I mean very, steep 500 metre climb to the beginning of the Kosciuszko walking trail. Bleating like an injured mountain goat, I scrambled over rocks and protruding snow gum roots eventually finding myself looking up at the Eagle Nest Restaurant, ready to begin the real trek!

To protect the delicate, alpine environment, National Parks have constructed an elevated walkway for the 7 or so kms to the summit. It really is a very pleasant, easy climb. We noticed that many of the small streams that meander across the plateau, had frozen over during the night and that there were still tiny delicate flowers and mosses snuggling between the rocks.

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These little streams become the headwaters of the Snowy River

Soon we had to take off beanies, scarves and coats, it was so warm. And there was hardly another person in sight.  We were alone, just us and the mountains and the sky. Coming to a fork in the track, we saw the sign for Charlotte’s Pass. A trek for another day?

Approaching the summit, the views in every direction were fantastic. Although there was no snow where we were, we could see the snow capped peaks of the Victorian Alps to the south.

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It was a symphony in blue

Soon we were at the summit, celebrating with others enjoying our picnic lunch.

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Very happy

An easy downhill stroll saw us easily meet our rendezvous with the chairlift and we enjoyed our half hour descent. The beautiful weather continued as next morning, we enjoyed the river walk which follows the Thredbo River and Golf Course.

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The river cascades over rocks surrounded by beautiful alpine bush

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A gum tree with character.

Following the call of the road, we resumed our trip, stopping for morning tea at Lake Jindabyne.

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There’s a wonderful walking/biking track that follows the lake shore.

Not only was the lake looking wonderful but there were poplars lining the shore.

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Although they are nearly finished, they were still beautiful

Our road trip took us along the Snowy Mountains highway to Yarrangabilly Caves where we stopped for lunch and a swim in the thermal pool.  Again, we would have liked to stay longer.  Caves House, which has very competitive rates, looked very inviting. Although we have explored the caves before, we would have liked to do so again.

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Yarrangabilly creek, enhanced by Google Photos. Always a lovely surprise.

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But I like the original, beautiful Australian bush

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Although the water temperature was 27 degrees, I still thought it was chilly. But we did have this beautiful spot all to ourselves!

The beautiful town of Tumut awaited us. I knew that the town had just celebrated ‘The festival of the Falling Leaf’ so was hoping that the autumn colour I had been hankering for would still be on display. It was! As we strolled along the Tumut River Walk in the late afternoon, I couldn’t have asked for more.

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Starting our walk at Bila Park, the sun glowed through the trees

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There were trees of every shade of red and orange, enough to satisfy a pyromaniac

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And then there was the river

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a golden river

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watched over by willows and river gums.

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As we finished our walk, the sun was setting behind the hills.  So pretty.

But our road trip was not finished. From Tumut, we traveled to Cowra via Gundagai and Young. Here we were catching up with family and friends. We enjoyed a memorable lunch at the Cowra Breakout, a lovely coffee shop located in Macquarie St and perused the lovely shops nearby. Cowra, too is full of autumn colour.

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Lovely food and ambience

A visit to the Japanese Gardens is particularly beautiful at this time of year.

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Spring too, is a wonderful time to visit: the cherry blossoms are very, very beautiful.

That night, we enjoyed a special country dinner. My sister Jenny cooked the best roast lamb dinner I have tasted for ages. It was so tender and so full of flavour that I wanted to be like Oliver in ‘Oliver Twist’ and ask for more! It was of course, Cowra Lamb, a brand that is finding a lot of fans around Australia and overseas.

But all good things have to come to an end. It was time to return home. Usually the thought of the 1000 km  plus drive would be a trifle daunting. But the countryside as we drove from Cowra across the Central West of NSW and the Liverpool plains as we headed north was just stunning. Full to the brim with mellow fruitfulness; shining with the colours of the fall.

Do you love Autumn too?

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