Sunday, 16th September

We woke up encased in white bed linen and looking out at the bright sunlight of Darwin. Trail habits die hard and it was still early. Awake, ready to go and friend Helen not arriving until later, we decided to go out and forage for a light breakfast as we knew we were going to the Asian market for food later.

The sun shone on the sea as we stepped out into the sunshine. There was a light breeze, but already the sun had a lot of heat in it. We made our way back through to the main ‘strip road’ of Monsoon and its associated pub joints only to find there was to be a race later and the road was being cordoned off. Upon enquiry, we found that the race was not due to start until 12 noon. Why would you want to run in the midday heat of Darwin. !!?! Passing through the barricade, there were few people about and we had breakfast at a corner coffee shop.

It was then time to saunter back to the hotel and gather up our washing that the lovely Helen had volunteered to wash for us. All that red dust and she was volunteering her daughter’s washing machine to do battle with it. We could not believe our good fortune.

Absolutely on cue Helen arrived and we were whisked off to Redbridge Asian Market in one of the suburbs of Darwin. The smell of oriental spices wafted across the air as we got out of the car. The humidity covered us like a blanket. All sorts of Asian ingredients were on offer in a sort of corridor lined with stalls.

All nationalities were represented in the customers. Tucked against one back wall, massage was taking place on a mattress on the floor, next door to neat rice parcels. It was the real market mix you find in such places all over the Asia Pacific area.

Out in the open again stall holders sold cooked, mainly Thai dishes. Helen made her selection and we waited for ours to be freshly cooked. We then bought our juice of choice (mine Sexy Green without the pear😳) and we were back into the relief of the air conditioned car to be carried off to Helen’s daughter’s house where she is currently living. This was a three story house in a wonderful tropical garden. Banana and papaya could be seen growing from the first floor level balcony where we sat to eat our food. It was good to meet Helen’s family and hear about their proposed move out of Darwin to set up life nearer Brisbane.

An excellent meal consumed, we went back to the hotel for a rest. By 5.00 we were ready to explore again and set off for the Mendl night market that we had heard about. It was about a 30 minute walk, but the day was cooling down and the stroll was very pleasant. We found the market to be a very busy spot selling a medley of different foods, Australian art, clothing and whips (yes whips!). There were musicians playing various types of music and lots of people milled between the stalls. The market runs parallel to the beach. The sun was beginning to set when we purchased some food from the ‘Road Kill’ stall and joined others on the beach to watch the sun go down. Keith had crocodile and I had pork – neither of which I think had ever been near a road, let alone having been killed there…..

As darkness fell it was turn to retrace our steps. Those white sheets were calling!!

Saturday, 15th September

Our last red dawn of the Overland trail. Did the camp seem unusually quiet? I think so. Everyone was going their different ways. There may be an opportunity to meet some in Sydney before we leave.

We left our upmarket campsite, with their ants and our bites, early as our days are getting even hotter.

We were camped about 30 Km’s outside of Katherine. The Katherine Gorge runs through the Nitmiluk National Park. Katherine was originally a telegraph station. It is home to the school of the air, started in 1958, which now covers a 1.3 million kilometre area with schooling, much aided these days by on line facilities.

It was also the place where the Flying Doctor Service started. This was initiated by a Rev John Flynn following an accident in the Bungle Bungles circa 1920. The local postmaster radioed a doctor in Perth for help and the doctor told him to operate under his instructions. The postmaster proceeded to carry out the operation with his pen knife. The doctor himself headed out from Perth – he travelled by sea, then car up the Gibb River Road, 50 Km’s outside Hawks Creek his car died and he rode the rest of the way on horseback arriving to find that the patent had died 5 hours before. !😳! The Rev Flynn was working with the Government on medical care around Alice Springs. He built up telephone connections to doctors and subsequently a Cessna aircraft was donated to them. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was born. Every big cattle station has an air strip to allow a doctor to land if necessary. It is not Government funded, but relies on public donations.

We drove to the park and walked up to a lookout point, giving an amazing view down to the river below.

Keith and I had, in fact, been on a boat trip along the Katherine Gorge on our first trip to Australia as an outing from the Ghan train when we travelled from Darwin to Alice Springs. We were to see the single track railway line frequently as we travelled north towards Darwin during the day

Our next stop was Edith Falls, still within the National Park. Keith and I decided not to take the big walk, but to take just the short walk to the small pools near a small cafe. It was a delight, skirted by lush grasses and trees. It was still early but very hot and we sauntered back to the cafe and bought a cool drink and sipped it in the shade. We might have been on holiday!!

There was some interesting art work on some of the outbuildings……..

We lunched early nearby, all fighting for shade. We were up to 40 degrees again.

It was then time to take to the road to Darwin. The last leg of our trip. Passing the Ghan line again. We followed the Stewart Highway (which more or less follows the same route as the Ghan, north to south). Gone is the red earth and dust. Back are the sand colours. Broad swathes of grassland scattered with trees. Sand coloured ant hills standing up like stalagmites. Everywhere there are rocky outcrops. Now and again telegraph poles appeared, marching across the landscape. And then they are gone. The debris of dead trees clutter the ground – a constant round of death and renewal.

As we covered the miles, how we appreciated the metalled roads after the untamed roads of the Kimberley.

The last road house was a much more commercial enterprise with a stuffed bull in the corner. Apparently an old favourite that apparently was somehow involved in the Crocodile Dundee film which they could not part with…….

Eventually we crossed the Adelaide River (what is that doing up here?) and gradually there was more and more signs of urbanisation. Houses appeared amongst the trees. The low spread buildings indicative of a country land rich

Arriving at the centre we were dropped off at our hotel (we had opted for a bit of luxury) the others were scattered around the hostels of Darwin. It felt a bit wimpish but we felt it was well deserved! We were to meet up later for our celebratory meal at Monsoon, a pub on the main cruising road in Darwin.

We arrived in our room at the hotel to find white sheets. Luckily we have shaken off most of our red dust, but I was still terrified that we were going to make it dirty. We certainly could not out our ruck sacks down on anywhere but the dark floor……..

Our shoulders seemed to drop as we walked in the door. We had survived the Overland trick and what’s more – enjoyed it! The view from the room was out over the ocean. We were back to civilisation.

After a brief rest and thorough cleanse it was time to hit the Main Street and Monsoon. It was of course dark by the time we left the hotel, but it was not far before we had found the night life of Darwin. Apparently Monsoon is the go to pub. Certainly everybody who was anybody was there. The whole group had turned up and had brushed up well in their finery!! Jodie was almost unrecognisable. We had a good evening, including a good hour or so with Jo Wightman (Tony Wightman’s oldest daughter) and her partner Josh who we had not met before. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and Josh was given the seal of approval, Keith describing him as a ‘keeper’!

After they left we went back to our crowd. There things had gathered momentum. Large goldfish bowls full of cocktails were being consumed. I tried one or two of them but could not be persuaded to have a goldfish bowl in my own right…….

This is my ‘sorry I’m simple’ pose of the holiday!

It was getting late and long past my bedtime, so we left them to it. Big hugs all round – they were a great crowd and it had been a great time. I would love to know what life has in store for them…….but for us it is on to the next stage of our holiday in this extraordinary country.

Friday 14th September

We had spent the night in a very commercial campsite. There were lots of motor caravans and large tents and caravans. There was a very up market toilet and shower block – it was a far cry from some of our experiences. It was also our last night in our swags.

We had a lie in. Breakfast was not until 6.15! I woke up to a dramatic sky the sun rising in front of me – a beautiful sunrise looming without getting out of bed! There were lots of squeaking and tweetings going on around us. A black parakeet could be seen in the improving light sitting on a tree nearby and squawked to his mate across the way. Something was cropping grass just beyond us – I later learned it was a kangaroo. I had to get up before the sun tipped over the horizon……

It was not with just a little sadness that I took a photograph of my swag before I rolled it up for good, but not before a passing dog had cocked its leg inches from my head!

After breakfast we struck camp and left the site at 7.00. We had to drop by and pay for the previous night’s boat trip (no time yesterday!) and took the opportunity to buy a small piece of the local zebra rock to remind us of a very special place. Just after 8.00 we crossed the border from Western Australia into the Northern Territories and clocks went on by over an hour. I think this is a very odd trait of Australia. It is like adjusting the time when you move from Kent into Sussex – why would you?!? There are also strict rules on taking food from one territory to another…… very interesting. In any event, we thought it polite to join in the celebration of the achievement.

We had a good few Km’s to go before we were to reach Katherine for our last night on the road. It sounded to be a very upmarket place with permanent tents. (As it turned out, although the accommodation was good, we got bitten to death there. That was later.)

The scenery stayed similar to that which we have seen for some time. A tree speckled savannah with hills in the far distance. We are back on metalled roads now and can move much more quickly.

Later in the morning we visited the Gregory National Park. The largest National Park in the country and it just happens to bear our name! Keith and I had come across this chap Gregory before. A very active explorer, he was to venture into all sorts of places. On this occasion, we spent some time in his National Park and stopped to look at a large Boab tree where, of course, he had recorded his passing through

He had been sailing up the Victoria river (as you do on the opposite side of the world from home in 1856) when his schooner’s keel snapped. He set up camp here in order to effect repairs to the ship and create a base from which he could penetrate deeper and survey the surrounding area. He was pretty well equipped – he brought 50 horses with him to cart supplies and ride. (He had set out with 200 sheep as well but many of them died on the way. It must have been a pretty big ‘schooner’!) Apparently there were 19 in the party.

They built homes from Bush materials using paperbark from the local trees for walls and made thatch out of leafy branches and grass. They cut down another, smaller, Boab near to Gregory’s tree (how dare they?) to make a table and used its stump as a water trough for the horses. It all sounds pretty cosy and permanent. There is an indication that they also created a garden where they grew radishes and mustard and cress (my favourite!).

Further along we found the twin Boabs where the explorers set up a forge. This exploring business does not cease to astound me.

On the road shortly afterwards, we were stopped at a traffic light!! A bit of a first! It felt like the middle of nowhere. We paused for what seemed ages when the light changed to green. No traffic had appeared the other way. A few minutes later a second red light appeared…. by this time the Victoria River was clearly visible to our left.

It was soon time to move off again. We had lunch at a lovely spot, an old crossing point of the river.

It was over 40 degrees and we were quite relieved when the planned walk was abandoned. I think if it hadn’t been there might have been a mutiny!

So on to Katherine. It immediately looked very clean and orderly. Before doing anything, there was a final dip in a warm pool, for those who wanted it and then it was off to the posh camp. It comprised of very smart, small, green huts with two double bunks in each…. we had one to ourselves!

It also had an amazing kitchen, where pizzas were concocted with wraps used as a base. They were surprisingly good. A last camp fire was made.

I was very touched when a cake was produced for me. I felt a bit damp around the eyes….. they are lovely people!

Keith joined the last game of Cards Against Humanity, while I adjourned to bed.

Darwin tomorrow.

Thursday 13th September

I have already said that we had seen fires over several days and particularly on the journey into the Bungle Bungles. They had come considerably closer. Word came through that the rangers had been fighting the fire until 4.30 am. The track was still not open.

We packed up from the camp suite and drove out onto the road to the Ranger’s office. Here there was a large Road Closed sign.

As it turned out, we waited there about 3 hours by which time we had been joined behind the barrier by a number of independent tourists and another Overland trip truck. (This was the group who should have been our fellow travellers. They were more of our age – but so glad we weren’t part of their party!) At about 10.00am the Ranger drove us out in convoy.

You could see and smell the fire.

Close to the road controlled burnings had taken place to try to hold the fire back from the road and it’s combustible traffic. We travelled some way and then the fire started up again on the road in front of us.

We stopped and waited for it to be cleared. We moved forward again. This pattern was repeated several times before we were waved off by the Ranger. The hills off to our right were covered with smoke and fire and the blue sky had turned grey with smoke. In addition to the fire the track continued to switchback and forward and put boulders in the path of the convoy. The dust thrown up from the vehicles in front mixedwith the smoke to form a chocking smog.

The black kites which we have seen all along the journey were very much in evidence swooping over us to take advantage of the small rodents running ahead of the flames and the charred remains of those who did not make it. A fire truck passed. We travelled on for a few Km’s more and the fire was over for us. We had outrun the it. Sadly the fire fighters would have to continue their battle ……. all because of some thoughtless fire lighting in an area tinder dry.

We were now back on track but somewhat late for the sunset cruise on Lake Argyle due to start at 3.15. It was definitely ‘at risk’. The bone shaking track continued for about another 45 minutes before we were back onto a metalled road. We had got in and out of the Bungle Bungles. We were effectively retracing our steps back as far as the Doon Doon road station. From there we headed for Lake Argyle.

What an experience.

We eventually came to the sign to Kununurra, the town established from the activity involved in the damming of the River Ord to create Lake Argyle, the largest lake and reservoir in Australia.

There was a really noticeable transition from the bush to urbanisation as we crossed the dam and entered the neat town. We had pounded away the kilometres to get to the cruise and, although late, we skidded down the path to the lakeside. The sun, though slipping down the sky, had not set. Shuddering to a halt at the jetty the beer Eskie was quickly offloaded on to the boat. It was well after 3.15. We were very late and the sun would not wait. We were off!

Lake Argyle is 20 times the size of Sydney harbour. It is man made, as I have said, by damming up a bulge in the river Ord. The dam took only a couple of years to build in the late 60’s and, surprisingly, there is no concrete in it. It has created a lake 70 Km long and 45 Km wide. Freshwater crocodiles up to 4 metres long live in it.

Rock wallabies live on its rocky shores.

Spot the wallaby!

We were inches from the shore before the beer was liberated. Our jolly skipper gave a hasty version of evacuation procedures and a few facts and figures – he was obviously providing us with a whistle stop tour of his usual dialogue for these tours, constantly keeping an eye on the sun.

It was a beautiful lake.

The sun did eventually sink and very beautiful it was too.

We stopped for the water babies to swim and dive off the boat

– we just drank a beer, nibbled on dips and enjoyed the scenery.

It was in the end time to go. It was dark by the time we had returned to the jetty. There was the faithful Jodie waiting for us.

She drove us up the winding path away from the lake to our penultimate camp site, our time together is running out.

Wednesday 12th September

We were up at 3.45 (we had all blind voted to do this the night before – a special treat offered by Jodie (she probably says that to all the groups, but we felt very special) to see the sun rise over the Bungle Bungles. It was still very dark when we got up and the stars were still in the sky. We all tumbled into the truck and Jodie drove into the night, up to the track leading into the dome area. There we watched the most amazing dawn light infuse the sky and the rocks. Another very special experience. It was well worth getting up for!

We watched in awe as dawn came and the Bungle Bungles came to life. We had breakfast as we watched. Amazing.

As the day lit up in response to the sun, we headed to Picaniny Gorge, the main Bungle Bungle site. The Bungle Bungles have only been a tourist site since 1983 when a film crew were shown it and it more or less instantly became a tourist favourite. We were heading to Cathedral Gorge. On the way Jodie pointed out the Holly Gravillea plant. Historically this was one of the only sources of ‘sweet’ food in the Aboriginal diet. The move from this to the processed sugars of the whiteman has been a major cause of health issues among the indigenous people.

The whole Bungle Bungle area is a sacred place of song, dance and ritual to the Aboriginals. The walk into cathedral Gorge was nice and shady and the path along the Gorge floor an unusually easy walk!.

The ‘cathedral’ is a natural amphitheatre created by the rock with amazing acoustic qualities. As we neared the end of the Gorge the vast mouth of the cavern appeared opened up in front of us. It had a sepulchral feel to it. It was huge. In front of the cave was a large pool of water.

Where the Aboriginal people have, over millennia, held major gatherings and ceremonies, now the modern Australian takes in an orchestra to take advantage of the sound quality and charges vast amounts for the privilege. A much more material approach and not at all in keeping with it’s origins, but it would be a sensational evening to attend!!

As it was still early (it was just after 7.00) and we had the place to ourselves, we sat in silence for a couple of minutes to enjoy the aura of the place. It was an amazing spot.Then, to show us the effect of adding sound, Jody went to take up a position at the front of the cave and behind the pool. She looked like a little pin head in the great gaping mouth, but the music was sensational as it echoed off the walls.

After a wander around the area and a bit of general singing to demonstrate the sound quality,

we left this magical place behind and headed back out into the sun and ever increasing heat. Despite this, young Jodie decided to demonstrate in the sand how the Bungle Bungles had formed, I was so in awe of her ability to do this in the blazing heat, I took nothing in.

Anyone interested could perhaps google ….

We then took another path off the trail to the Picanniny Lookout. This gave us a higher view of the landscape and another angle on the scene.

The day was very hot by then – it was 8.30. We were told of the opportunity to do a further walk – the Dome Loop – on the way back. I noted that no-one took the opportunity…… the heat does rather strangle ones energy and erode some of the dedication!! It certainly curbs my purist tendencies.

Next stop was to be (another!) highlight of the trip. Having lost out on the opportunity to fly over the horizontal falls in Broome, we had opted to to take a helicopter ride over the whole Bungle Bungle area. Helicopter flying was to be a new experience for us both! After a bit of health and safety stuff (eg not to put you hand out 😳, don’t walk into the blade at the back etc eeek!). We were collected by young Adrian (I didn’t like to ask for his credentials but he said it was to be his last day of work for the season – everything closes down before the wet season starts – so I guessed he would not want to do anything silly) who was to be our pilot. We were to be the only passengers. Having been escorted to our vehicle, (where were the doors!?!) and settled into our seats, final safety checks were carried out and we were off. It was hair follicle stimulatingly amazing! I left photography to an incredibly confident (no sign of vertigo!) Mr Gregory sitting up front with Adrian and just enjoyed the view.

He seemed oblivious to the increasingly distant ground which I was only too conscious of from my seat in the back row. I was happier just hanging on to the grab rail in front of me……. Enough of my angst.

We first flew over an area that was the site of Aboriginal graveyards, where tourists are not allowed to go. The view over the whole area was incredible. I had no idea the Bungle Bungles were so vast.

Looking down on the top of the striped domes gave a totally different perspective. After about 20 minutes and feeling more comfortable, I just loved turning into the wide fingers of the Giant Gorge. The helicopter banked so we could see deep into the chasm beneath us. I felt like I was riding on a giant dragon fly and getting a god like view of a true wonder of nature. We flew over the Picanniny routes beneath us where we had walked earlier. I loved it. Keith said it was not only a special experience of the trip but also a special experience of his life. I have to agree. Pretty special.

When we got back to earth, the heat really hit us Dear Jodie had set up lunch at the Helicopter station and was busy cooking crumbed chicken on a barbecue. (Of course). We were clapped in by the others – only a few had taken flights – they were a delight in their pleasure at our pleasure. This birthday celebration just gives and gives!

Lunch over and kit packed away, it was time to take off on a walk to the Echidna Chasm, but it was a step too far for Keith and me. Despite the assurance that the walk was quite shady, it was by now 40 degrees and we thought it was something we could miss. We sat at the Purnululu Park shop and I wrote and Keith dozed and ipadded.

After a couple of hours the others returned and we got back to camp at 3.30. We were to spend another night there.

A hose pipe was attached to the tap and the pipe thrown over a tree. An impromptu shower and naturally amazingly warm. Despite being in a desert and having been warned of the need to conserve water, some took the opportunity a hair wash – I guess it must have been a hair washing day. Some habits cannot be broken!

Early in the evening a ranger arrived to say that the bush fire we had seen a couple of days before and on the way in to the area, was still raging and that it was blocking the Spring Creek Track which we needed to take to get out of the Purnululu National Park. At that point there was no way out. It was hoped things would be better by the morning but we had to check with the ranger before setting out.

It had been a long day…….

Tuesday, 11th September

We headed out through the peaks and cliffs of the Carr Boyd and Duraack Ranges

(you see, the Durack have even got a range named after them!) en route to the remote outback town of Warnum, commonly known as Turkey Creek. Shortly after setting off we arrived at our first stop, the hot water Zebedee Springs. These are still part of the vast acreage that is the El Questro set up. It was amusing to note that the public is allowed to use the springs up until 12 noon. After that they are for the dedicated use of the El Questro Homestead guests……

One’s first impression of the area was the lush vegetation. It was truly tropical rain forest. The area’s water is fed from a fault line in the earth’s crust and provides a permanent supply of warm water to the springs from deep within the earth. The water temperature is constantly 28 – 32 degrees all the year round. The surrounding cliff faces and scree slopes are thought to be up to1800 million years old…apparently scientists have recently identified an ancient aquatic isopod crustacean (a white crab like creature to you and me) in the water which is only found here.

Our water babies immediately stripped off and wallowed in the warm water. Dedicated readers will be pleased to hear that I spent my time updating my diary……

After an hour at the hot springs we were back on the truck for the short drive to Emma Gorge. The walk started from another resort owned by the El Questro people – we still haven’t left their land! After topping up our water at a tap in a Boab tree (not really Boab water!),

we started our hike up to the turquoise pool which lies at the bottom of the waterfall in Emma Gorge. I think I would describe my effort as quite lacklustre. I think I am perhaps getting cumulatively tired despite my early nights! Maybe I have to accept that I am getting old. Whatever it was, I made a bit of a fist of it! After an initial period on a sandy path, the rocks started.

We crossed and recrossed the trickling water. The day was quite warm, although still early. Quite soon I was lagging behind – not least because the scenery was beautiful and I was taking photographs. I was conscious that the voices of the rest of the party were disappearing into the distance, so I picked up speed, tripped over a boulder and fell down on the rock. I picked myself up and dusted myself down and in my effort to catch up, missed the turning and lost the blue spots denoting the route.

Hmmmm thinks I. Not very clever. In the event I decided to sit tight in the optImistic hope that I might be missed. So I sat on a rock and watched the water meandering around the rocks at my feet, tum tee-tumming, and sure enough my knight in shining armour came back to find me. I was very pleased to see Keith’s face peering down at me😎! I was only a few feet from the path but had missed a very large sign turning right and I had turned left! Jodie had also returned to find out what had happened to this errant member of her flock!

Feeling somewhat embarrassed and woefully inadequate I was escorted up to the Turqoise Pool which wasn’t, in fairness, too far off. The others of course by this time shimmied up the side of the waterfall to the top. I was just happy to have made it to the Turqoise Pool and not be lost in the undergrowth.

In actual fact, the turquoise was something of a misnomer – apparently there was not enough water from the waterfall to give it the colour for which it is known. Having decided I had had enough excitement for the day, I just sat at the pool side for a bit before retracing my steps back. No harm done, just a bit of injured pride that I had been so foolish and a banged knee, the like of which had not been seen since my playground days…….

After a reviving drink at the resort bar – it was still only 10.30 so it was a very soft drink – we were back on the road and heading for the Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungles. It was along drive but we had great views of the huge ranges of mountains as we travelled along. We stopped off briefly at Warnum, or Turkey Creek as it is commonly known.

Post lunch we set out on the challenging terrain of Springs Creek Road, definitely requiring a 4 x 4 status vehicle. We lurched and swung along the windy road. The truck bucked and rolled. We had tied everything down before we set out, but nevertheless things started to roll about and fall off shelves in the back cabin. We saw further smoke in the distant hills. The fire we had sighted the day before was still going. Photos taken through the truck window……

After about an hour and a half of this, we turned into our camp site, described as having ‘basic facilities’. We were parked amongst trees. There was a surprisingly non smelling drop loo in a tin hut and nothing else. We were quite used to sleeping under the stars by now but it was the first time we had absolutely no other amenities on this trip. Back to the wipes!

We unpacked our bags and the swags but then dashed off to see the sun set over the Bumgle Bungles, the dome like rocks of the area.

The domes are made of multicoloured sand and limestone with the grey areas the-colour of a bacteria when heated by the sun. Clustered together they look like giant stripey rock beehives. Controversially, I think I liked them better than Uluru (Ayers Rock). We stood and watched the sun go down and after that the reds of sunset turn the rocks to deep reds and purples. It was glorious. When the purples had deepened again and darkness began to fall we headed back to our camp and supper. The food just gets better and better despite the facilities getting less and less. There was no lighting of fires here. As we had entered the Purnululu National Park there had been big signs to this effect. The word was that the fire we had seen from a distance had been started deliberately.

An additional treat for the day was when Tobin, our resident German astronomer talked us through the stars of the Southern Hemisphere which have given us such a wonderful show every night. It was fascinating and the numbers of lightyears involved I found mind bending. What an added bonus! Without the truck lights we have absolutely no light pollution. The night sky was just stunning.

Monday 10th September

We were up early as I usual and out walking by 7.00. As I have explained, because of the heat our cycle of life has shifted. We rise early but are often in bed (for this read swag) by 8.30. It is the way to make the most of the coolness of the early morning and evening. It is now regularly at least 37 degrees in the middle of the day.

The swimmers were off to do another action packed hike, but we decided to head off on a more sedentary track to a thousand year old Boab tree. The Korean ladies had also opted for our easier option, so the four of us set off as the rest left. We walked from the site, turning right just short of the Pentecost River which we were to follow for much of the walk.

Our route took us along the rivers edge, through the mixed vegetation of the river bank. Tall palm trees gave a sparse canopy. Lush green plants hugged the river shore line.

The track grew more stony but was well signposted and some time later we left the river completely. Initially the route was quite shaded but as we turned away from the water, the rocks became bigger and we were more exposed to the sun which was heating up by the moment it seemed. We could still hear the river gurgling along at this stage, but then we turned quite determinedly right and the gurgling disappeared. We were now in a more forested area and it was not long before a huge Boab tree loomed up before us. It was huge. Its root like branches thrust into the air.

On its side huge carbuncles had developed. Its bark had a very elephantine look, I thought. I find it difficult to contemplate that this tree would have already been well established when William the Conquerer shot Harold in the eye….. enough of these ramblings, we took photographs and two smartly dressed ladies (from the posher part of El Questro no doubt!) came along and took our photos all together which was nice.

It was soon time to start the scramble back. We retraced our steps and arrived back at the camp at about 9.30 having walked 10kms. All in all not a bad effort in the heat, but we were gasping. Despite the prices, we decided to have a drink at the alternatively named ‘El Costro’ bar which the Korean ladies kindly paid for – it was very nice of them and much appreciated!! We then had free time until the trip we had decided to go on that afternoon. It was advertised as ‘4 wheel drive and river sunset cruise’. It did not quite turn out that way…..

I have to say that when Keith first suggested going on the outing I was not overly excited and I was even less enamoured when we were picked up in a roofed vehicle covered in red dust when I had just summoned the energy to have a second shower and change of clothes (it was 2.00pm). In the end I was really pleased we went. Our very competent young woman driver took us out over the cobbled river beds and rocky route towards Explosion Gorge. On the way we visited another famous Boag tree, this one with the initial D carved in it by one of the pioneering Durack family, who I am reading about at the moment. I felt almost related – although it was very naughty of them. The white man’s habit of carving into these trees led to the death of many of them ( the trees not the white men).

The track was very rough going – not dissimilar to the back seat of the truck! – and we swerved and skidded over the terrain for nearly an hour before reaching the Gorge. Here were were offered water before joining our ‘craft’. I would not call it a boat.

At the current time the water in the Gorge is perhaps no more than three foot deep in parts (it rises to at least 15 meters deep during the rainy season). Having no accommodation for a ‘draught’, we travelled in a small oblong flat bottomed arrangement to which an outboard motor was attached. There were just 8 of us plus the driver and we bobbed along the Gorge with it’s clear water and cliff like sides soaring over our head.

The water over years has carved great gouges out of the red ridged sandstone giving an almost huge barrel like appearance. The waterway eventually becomes the Pentecost River and follows the route down to the coast a distance of 220 Km’s. Having bobbed along the Gorge for a bit, we returned to the riverbank and having abandoned our craft, we set off back along the bumpy track, this time heading up to a promontory looking down on the river and across at Burrell’s Bluff (Bill Burrell was the name of the chap who developed El Questro into the the multimillion pound operation it is today). En route we had passed the Homestead where you can stay for a cool $3,000 Aus per night.

Another of the best views of the trip, it was a terrific spot from which to watch the sun go down. Our driver had brought cheese and biscuits and drinks to share, so we had a very civilised half an hour looking over the beautiful view.

To finish it off, along the river we saw a five foot saltwater crocodile having a swish around. Apparently the true name of These crocs is ‘estuarine’ as they can move between salt and fresh water. They have a device within them that converts salt to fresh water to allow them to drink……. who would have thought it?

Back at the ranch we had supper but not before a cast iron Dutch oven had fallen to the floor and broken in half.

Very odd and slightly unusual. Following another excellent supper – despite the breakage – we had news of the next day’s activity. We were leaving the sophistication of El Questro station for the Bungle Bungles.

Can’t wait!!