Darwin City Sights

Today brings us to our journey’s end – the journey from Hobart to Darwin ends here.  Tomorrow we fly out after an unforgetable journey of learning, understanding, sacred sites and mystic, ancient landscapes.

Today and over the weekend Darwin is playing host to the V8 Supercar racing.  The main street of the CBD was the venue for a street party and telecast of the first day of racing.  A ginormous television screen set upon the back of a semi-trailer is the focal point.

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Parliament House in Darwin is more commonly known as “the wedding cake” as the exterior is rather ornate.  However the interior is impressive and the chamber of the Legislative Assembly has an entire crocodile hide decorating the main table.IMG_1450IMG_1430IMG_1444

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Original Aboriginal painting on bark hangs in the public space.

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Adjacent to Parliament House is the Supreme Court building – we pass through security to find the security officer is from Walloon in Queensland – not far from our long time home in Karalee.  He then spent many years in Claremont in Tasmania which is just twenty minutes from our home in Lachlan – small world.  The interior of the Supreme Court is grand and the art works first class.  On the floor of the gallery is an extraordinary mosaic depicting  the dreamtime Milky Way.

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Tonight we celebrated a wonderfully memorable holiday journey with a delicious seafood dinner at Cullen Bay as the northern sunset lit the skies over the ocean in another spectacular burst of colour.  Thank you Northern Territory!

 

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Tiwi Islands Darwin and Mindil Market

Yesterday we took a flight from Darwin to the Tiwi Islands – this is a long-awaited trip for me so I’m excited!  It is a short flight of approximately 13 minutes before we land and yes, this shelter is the airport – luggage check-in is in a shipping container to the side.  This is the sort of thing which brings me to love islands.

Bathurst Island and Melville Island are approximately 70 km north of Darwin in the Timor Sea.  Collectively the Aboriginal population call themselves the Tiwi people. Wurrumiyanga is the largest of several aboriginal communities on Bathurst Island. There is basic infrastructure and a food store in the community and traditional customs such as hunting from land and sea for traditional food is still an important part of Tiwi life.  Visitors need a permit to visit the Tiwi Islands and must visit on organised tours or fishing charters.

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Waiting for us is our tour guide Jack whose name is really Noel.  Jack is a white Australian (Victorian) who has lived on Bathurst Island for three years.  Custom on the island dictates that following death of an indiginous person, that person’s name must not be spoken until all appropriate ceremonies are complete.  Someone in the community named Noel died and since our Noel carries the same name he must use another name (he has chosen Jack) until the ceremonies for the departed are done and dusted.  Our first tour stop is at the Museum with its interesting displays of traditional art and depictions of the Tiwi Creation Time stories.  At the Museum we are joined by our indigenous guide Ron.

Then we move on to the world renowned Tiwi arts and crafts co-operative to see where the artists work and watch them in action.  Below is one of those artists hand-painting on silk scarves.

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The co-operative is housed in a nissen hut and the ceiling is totally lined with hand-painted aboriginal art – remarkably beautiful and I am wishing my ceilings at home were as stunning.

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The co-operative shop offers beautiful artworks – paintings, painted silk scarves, painted carvings etc.

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On the outside of the building the bower of the Great Bowerbird is pointed out to us. This male bird decorates his bower with the colours of grey and green.

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The tour continues on to morning tea with the Tiwi ladies while they work on their painting.  The ladies explained the traditional “skin groups” and family traditional interactions and relationships.  I learned an enormous amount in regard to local custom from these wonderfully forthcoming women and could quite easily spend a week with them learning more.  I am proud to say they taught me a few Tiwi words and were very keen that I should learn more.  Our indigenous guide Ron and two other male guides along with the Tiwi ladies conduct a “smoking ceremony” to welcome and bless us before demonstrating their totem dances and explain the meanings behind them.

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A visit to the Early Mission Precinct with its unique Tiwi style Catholic Church was another insight into Tiwi life.  What an interesting church alter!

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Next is a visit to Bima Wear – the place I have most wanted to visit.  Bima wear is a fabric printmaking and clothing business begun in 1969 and based at Wurrumiyanga.  Twelve Tiwi women currently produce unique fabric prints and sewn garments in brilliant, bold, timeless designs.  A not-for-profit organisation, Bima aims to reduce poverty and promote welfare and development of women and girls of the Aboriginal community of Bathurst Island.  Bima now provide fabrics to top of the range fashion designers world wide.  Needless to say, I am now the proud owner of some of that fabric – extraordinary prints on cotton, linen and raw silk fabric.

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Following lunch Jack and Ron drive us inland where we take a short walk to a very special place – a billabong of remarkable beauty.

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Then, of course, Bathurst Island showed off her beaches – expansive beaches of white sand contrasting with the iconic hazy blueness of the Timor Sea.

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As we drove back toward the community and the airport Jack stopped the vehicle to have a quick chat with a few local hunters who were happy with their wallaby catch which was trussed to the bull-bar – there’ll be a cook-up tonight!

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At the airport it was amusing to see that even the toilet blocks were artistically painted in traditional design.  This day on Tiwi country ranks as one of the best experiences ever.  I loved every minute of it and have to say there was a pang of sadness to be leaving this special island.  I can only hope to return again – I have a belief that if the island likes you she will call you back.   The last joy of the day was when the plane which would return us to Darwin landed and a Tiwi woman alighted, returning home alone from Darwin Hospital with her newborn in her arms.  She was greeted by another local woman who touched the newborn on the head and was heard to say “Welcome to this world little one”.

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DARWIN TOUR AND MINDLE MARKET

Today it was so nice not to be out of bed well before dawn and we took the opportunity to lay in until the sun shone over the city.  We chose to take the hop-on hop-off bus to tour the city of Darwin and to end the day at the famous Mindil Beach Market where we joined together on the beach with the crowds to witness the setting of the sun over the Timor Sea.  As the sun dropped toward the horizon two military helicopters made a pass across the final blaze of the sun.

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Kakadu National Park and Mary River National Park

Our day begins with a lengthy drive from Darwin to Kakadu National Park.  Along the walk to Ubirr we have the good fortune to view Aboriginal Rock Art – this rock art in Kadadu represents one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world.  These sites tell of the Creation Ancestors and the changes in the landscape over thousands of years.  Below are images of turtle and thylocine.

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Ubirr is within the East Alligator River region of the park and the climb to the top of the rock is absolutely worth the views.

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After lunch break we drive on for two hours to the Mary River National Park and board a wetlands cruise.  Mary River National Park offers lush wetlands, freshwater billabongs, paperbark and monsoon forests.  The wetlands are home to a vast variety of bird life and Australia’s largest saltwater crocodiles.

The more impressive birds are a Jabiru

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and a white bellied sea eagle.

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We were treated to repeated sightings of freshwater crocodiles and

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some very large saltwater crocs.

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Palm Valley; Alice Springs to Darwin

Yesterday took us on a day tour to Palm Valley.  The bus leaves Alice Springs at 6.55a.m. and takes its first stop at the gallery of a very talented Aboriginal artist – stunning work. We travel on to Hermannsburg which is the historic site of a Lutheran Mission dating back to the late 1870s.  This is Western Arunda Country where the european settlers and local people built a thriving community.  The historic precinct most interesting.

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We travel on to Palm Valley in the Finke Gorge National Park.  It is an east-west running valley in the Krichauff Range 138km from Alice Springs.  We cross the Finke River (dry bed) several times as we move into the valley.  Geologists believe the Finke River to be the oldest river system on this planet earth, dating back 350 million years!

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As the drive progresses up the valley we see cycads growing near the base and on lower levels of the rock gorge face.

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Another spectacular walk up onto the rim of the valley (gorge) allows breathtaking views of the rock formations and vegetation depicting nature’s palate of grey, green and oaten colours of spinifex, witchetty bush, dessert conifer, ghost gum and native grasses.

Finally we come down from the rim overlooking the valley which is the only place in Central Australia where the Red Cabbage Palms survive in an area of semi-permanent spring fed pools.  Another magic day!

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Today we depart Alice Springs and Central Australia with more than a touch of heaviness in our hearts.  It is a definite wrench to leave this ancient and powerful heart of our beautiful country.

However, as fate often dictates, our departure was a particularly joyous experience. From the Double Tree Hotel which has been “home” for the past amazing three days, we are transported in a rattling and rocking taxi van by its Indian driver named Sandy at a spectacular speed of 100 km per hour (corners, round-abouts and all) – Sandy proves to be a master at clearing the way on the road by intimidating all other traffic off the road as he generously treats us to the uplifting rhythms of Bollywood music .  It was clearly one of those surreal moments in life as we gratefully alight from the taxi at the door of Alice Springs Airport.  Thank you Sandy – you have left us all with an indelible memory – one of life’s treasure stories which will remain one of this journey’s highlights!

As our plane soars above Alice Springs we have a bird’s eye view of the first clouds to be seen in the sky since leaving Sydney a week ago.IMG_1114

The stretch of the West MacDonald Range is clear from above as we take our last glimpse of Lovely Alice!

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Now the next phase of our journey comes into view as we look down upon the coastline of Darwin under heavy smoke from the winter burn-off fires inland.

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Kings Canyon to Alice Springs

An early morning start at 4.30a.m. and a long drive from Uluru to Kings Canyon where Dallas and I take the Canyon Rim Walk – 3 hours of astonishing rock formations and cliff faces looking out to the stretching view of central Australia.

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There is time for a lunch break at Kings Canyon Resort before boarding the bus and continuing the long drive to Alice Springs, arriving at 7.00p.m.

A new day dawns and a town tour of Alice Springs begins with a drive up to Anzac Hill Lookout over Alice and the MacDonald Range.

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A tour of the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service – most interesting and motivating.  Then on to the first telegraph station built in Australia circa 1872 which sits close to the banks of the Tod River.  The area is graced by ghost gums and river red gums.

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Our tour concludes with a visit to the Alice Springs Reptile Park – a salt water crocodile, snakes and lizards of the Northern Territory were on show as was the rather intriguing  Thorny Devil.

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Uluru and Kata Tjuta by helicopter!

Our adventure for today is flight by helicopter over Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

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Another perfect day here in the “centre” and Ulura takes on another persona from above as the geological origin of the rock being pushed or bubbled up by moving fault lines and flopping over on its side becomes clearly apparent.  We are told that one end of Uluru is 50 million years older than its other end!

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Then the helicopter turns with Kata Tjuta in sight – another wonder of geological phenomena and the jumbled formation which we have been gazing at from afar is now racing toward us.

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Kata Tjuta has long been the site of Aboriginal Men’s Business – tribal law has never permitted women to set foot on Kata Tjuta.  It is a mysterious and ancient place – there is a strong sense of this even from above.

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Uluru Base-walk and Uluru Sunset

As the sun rose this morning we begin a guided base-walk of Uluru.  Our guide imparts as much knowledge as he is permitted regarding spiritual sites on and around the rock, sacred sites and dreamtime stories – an insight into Uluru indigenous culture and law.

Uluru shimmering gold in the dawn light.

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This base-walk confirms that Uluru is far from “just a rock” – the colours, formations and structure of the rock are stunning and many.  A surprise appears around every bend in the track.  Many erosion sites on the rock form the basis of dreamtime stories.  There are numerous cave-like cavities in the rock both high and low – Uluru is 360 metres in height and presents a dramatic monolith.  The base-walk covers approximately 11 km and is definitely an experience not to be missed.

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This evening we take in a sunset viewing of Uluru – what a thrill to watch the colours of the rock change as the sun drops toward the horizon.  The atmosphere is electric – Uluru is a powerful influence across the landscape.  One can not help but feel the power and spirit of the place.  I am so glad to be in this place experiencing the wonder.

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Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin, Tiwi Islands

Day 1 – Arrive Uluru

Depart Sydney on this fine winter morning bound for Uluru, Northern Territory.  Cloud inhibits the view until somewhere close to “corner country” where the country once again comes into view – and what a view it is.  We fly over the channel country of central Australia and I am struck by the patterning covering the earth.  In places it is amazingly like the swirls and eddies of marble, then we fly for more than an hour over endless waterways – arteries and veins of the earth – a living and breathing creature!

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Then the great surprise – we fly directly over Lake Eyre – so beautiful,  I instantly wish I could float our jet plane down onto the salt pans.  Lake Eyre, I will come back to you one day.

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Once our plane begins to descend, it is not long before a red and powerful monolith appears from beneath the wing – Uluru.

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Then – Kata Tjuta

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next the airstrip

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and we are on the ground – tomorrow the adventure begins!

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Lachlan to S-E Queensland Road Trip, June 21, 2016

 

HOMEWARD BOUND:

Tuesday July 12, 2016

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This morning dawned cold but dry and we departed Forbes under light cloud.  Throughout the drive from Forbes, N.S.W. to Shepparton in Victoria, the roadsides were lined with water and water was evident across the farmlands.  In some areas the farmlands were still inundated with water as far as the eye could see.  The soil must be totally saturated as water lies everywhere.  Roads along our route are badly damaged by rain and floodwaters and road repairs are being undertaken along the way.

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The countryside is looking fantastic and green is the colour of the season.  Fat lambs by the thousands are grazing the lush pastures which is promising for “spring lamb” – the Sunday roast is assured!  Canola crops are looking amazing and the coming season should be a bumper one – hopefully the rains will ease so the crop can flourish.

Thankfully we encountered little rain today as the forecast led us to believe that we would be driving directly into the low pressure system.  Our approach to Shepparton (tonight’s stop) is heralded by a beautiful rainbow and more amazing cloud formations.  Tomorrow will see us in Melbourne where we board the Spirit of Tasmania for the final leg of our journey home.

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Monday July 11, 2016

Yesterday we departed Brisbane and headed for Armidale, New South Wales.  There was a feeling of home as we took the highway which led us from Brisbane.

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Once we drove up through Cunningham’s Gap we felt we were certainly on our way.IMG_5725On Saturday, the day before our departure, we had the most lovely day at Australia Zoo, Beerwah celebrating our grandson Tynan’s 4th birthday.  The crocodile show was the highlight of the day, although the animals and the variety of exhibits was fantastic.IMG_5626IMG_5652

 

 

This morning, Monday, we left Armidale and drove toward heavy cloud which was our first sight of the heavy weather front coming across Australia from the west.

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Driving down from the New England Tableland, the clouds were growing darker and heavier.

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As we approached Dubbo, the rain began to fall and visibility on the road once again became difficult.IMG_5736

Thankfully as the town of Parkes drew near, the skies cleared and we had a clear view of “The Dish”.IMG_5744

The country is looking amazingly green and plentiful following the flooding rains which we drove through on our journey north nearly three weeks ago.  There has been follow-up rain and many paddocks and low lying areas are still covered in water.  The sheep are happily grazing on lush new grass and all looked well with the world as we drove into Forbes under magic skies to rest for the night.

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Toowoomba to Hervey Bay (Sunday July 26, 2016)

Departed Toowoomba on Thursday morning (23rd) in more heavy rain – visibility was very low, especially as we came down off the Toowoomba Range.

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Within forty minutes we drove out of the rains and into our first glimpses of sunshine since we left from Lachlan.  We had arranged to pick up grandson Aidan at Karalee and felt a little nostalgic to see the area in which we lived for 29 years although I can not imagine living there now as the area has become so built up and looks nothing like the beautiful rural area we once knew.

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Arrival in Hervey Bay many hours later brought us into clear blue skies and magic sunshine with a temp of 19 degrees – the first touch of warmth since leaving home.

Today has been a special day with our grand-daughter’s 7th birthday celebrated in Queens Park on the Mary River, Maryborough.  The monthly run of steam trains, large and small was in full swing and the children and adults had great fun in the most ideal weather conditions possible. Hours flash by in the company of four little grand-darlings but we have much to pack into just a week here on the Bay.

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Coonabarabran – Toowoomba (Thursday, July 23, 2016)

Departed Coonabarabran under overcast skies but dry conditions.  However, just south of Moree the skies opened again and the drive from Moree to Goondiwindi was tedious and difficult with visibility severely limited with rain and road spray from car and truck tyres.  Rain came to an end at Goondiwindi and the journey onward to Toowoomba was at least in dry conditions albeit heavily overcast with the maximum temp remaining around 12-13 deg.

Highlights of the day were a magnificent old eucalypt tree in Coonabarabran, the sign indicating that Toowoomba was close at hand and the familiar sight of black soil country of the Darling Downs which is so intrinsically a part of our Queensland psyche.  You know you have crossed the border into Queensland when your hair begins to frizz and the Prickly Pear is waving at you from the roadside!

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Wagga Wagga – Coonabarabran (Wednesday, July 22, 2016)

Rain, rain, rain – we departed Wagga Wagga in bleak conditions en route to Coonabarabran.  South of West Wyalong we drove on roads which had just been opened following flooding.

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As we drove further north through Forbes and Parks, we passed paddocks and crop pastures which were inundated by flood waters – farm dams were overflowing and stock were looking very wet.

 

 

Our drive took us through the town of Temora – always think of Gwen and Larissa when I see this sign.

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North of Dubbo, on the road north to Coonabarabran the weather began to lift – we stopped for a coffee break and viewed some interesting signage.

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Today’s journey came to an end in sunny (finally) Coonabarabran – so lovely to be out of the rain at last.

 

Lachlan – Devonport – Wagga Wagga

Departed a cold and foggy Lachlan Valley on Monday 20th where the temperature was 2 deg C at noon.  The view up the Derwent River was quite mystic.IMG_1884

The temperature up the Midland Highway did not rise until we reached the town of Perth where it was 4 deg C.  Just south of the township of Ross we encountered heavy roadworks – looks like the continuation of the double lane highway.

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Evidence of the very recent and devastating flooding across the north of Tasmania was still evident with flooded paddocks near La Trobe.

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Thankfully the crossing of Bass Strait on The Spirit of Tasmania was calm and the drive out of Melbourne brought no hold-ups in peak hour traffic.  Our drive north through Victoria brought intermittent showers and from Albury to Wagga Wagga we drove through general rain.  However, the Riverina District is looking strikingly green and there is the promise of a great harvest later this year.

 

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CANNING STOCK ROUTE ADVENTURE, August 2015

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The Canning Stock Route is one of the most isolated and remote public tracks in the world and extends 1,800kms from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid-west region of Western Australia.

It was established as a stock route in 1910 as a way to allow the east Kimberley cattlemen to compete on even ground with the west Kimberley cattlemen, who were monopolising the beef trade at the beginning of the 20th century.

Even today, travelling the Canning Stock Route is a challenging proposition.  The longest historic stock route in the wold traverses four deserts – The Tanami, Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson, and is primarily a bush track which is kept open but generally not maintained.  In parts the route is wildly beautiful with fresh water springs creating astonishing oases in literally the middle of nowhere.  At  other times wildflowers stretch as far as the eye can see.

Very few people ever get to see this unique part of Australia.  Dallas and I took the easy road and travelled the stock route with Outback Spirit in their Mercedes Benz G Wagons – the G “Professional” version is the toughest model with enhanced drivetrain and suspension.   The Australian Defence Force has recently taken delivery of approx 2,500 of these vehicles to replace its ageing Land Rover fleet.  Our four driver/guides, Rick, Mick, Darren and Steve were all highly experienced in outback driving and Steve (who grew up in Meekathara) brought a wealth of local knowledge re bush tucker, indigenous culture and local fauna and flora.

Our journey began by flying from Hobart to Melbourne then on to Broome.  From 40,00 feet we had our first views of the desert country of W.A. including the “never-ending” sand dunes”, and a view salt pans and clay pans.

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Our trip began in Broome where the travel group met at Cable Beach – the following images were taken in that area.  Sunsets over Cable Beach are stunning and coincide with the sunset camel rides on the beach.  We were taken aback by the insane number of four-wheel drive vehicles on the northern end of the beach as they seemed to stretch further than the eye can see.  We learned later that the main attraction is that this area is the local “nudist” beach!

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Our journey covered 16 days in all – each afternoon we pulled into a camp site where all 18 members of the travel party (plus 4 driver/guides) set up tents and portable sleeping equipment.  Outback Spirit provided the absolute luxury of 2 flushing toilets and 2 hot showers (each person was allowed 6 litres of shower water each per day).  Steve was the cook and prepared all meals “open air”.  Following photos are of camp sites and camp set-up.

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The journey took us over approximately 800 sandhills on which we experienced the occasional bogged vehicle which always created much excitement.  Following are images of driving the stock route and salt pans, etc.

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We met a few vehicles along the track.  Most interesting were the cyclists.  We came upon this young German man named Thomas who had been cycling the stock route for five weeks and was within a day of reaching Halls Creek.  The Canning Stock Route is the triple Everest for extreme cyclists.  Thomas was motivating himself to complete his adventure with the thought of reaching Halls Creek and sitting down to a huge hamburger with mayo!  A little further down the track we found an inscription Thomas had made on an old fuel drum near one of the water wells.

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Further along we met up with a 62 year old man cycling the track from south to north – he was accompanied by his 22 year old daughter following in a small four-wheel drive vehicle – she told us she had never done any four-wheel driving before this trip and her radio equipment was not functioning!

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Lake Disappointment (or Kumpupirntily) was an amazing sight – a salt lake which is located in the Pilbara region which lies on the Tropic of Capricorn due east of Newman on the southern side of the Little Sandy Desert.  It covers an area of 33,000 hectares (330 sq kilometres).  An amazing experience to walk upon the thick crusting salt – we all collected a little to bring home.

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Of course, the Canning Stock Route is famous for its 50 drinking wells – all set a day’s journey apart (for the cattle droves).  Many of the original wells are now inoperable, some still render clean, clear drinking water and some have been restored.  Outback Spirit raise funding (through the sale of drinks to their travel participants on the Stock Route) to aid the restoration of wells.  Below are images of the many wells we visited.

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Our guides commented that the display of wildflowers along the stock route this year is the best they have witnessed in many, many years.

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Wildlife was certainly not prolific along the stock route – the animal we sighted most often was the wild camel.  At one camp site a family of camel greeted us from the top of a nearby sand-dune and they appeared to be quite curious and amused at the antics of the humans. Other fauna sighted were the Ta Ta lizard, the glorious Thorny Devil, Blue Tongue Lizard, Ants, Golden Orb Spider, Peregrine Falcon, Black Kite, Chicken Hawk, Emu, Galah, Butterfly.

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Refuelling the vehicles and topping up with drinking water was facilitatd along the way in the community settlements of Billiluna, Kunawarruthu and Wiluna.

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Signs of interest along the way.

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Durba Springs (Jilikuru) was a popular spot for drovers to rest up for a few days whilst driving cattle down from the east Kimberley.  The area is also home to a number of distinctive Western Desert Aboriginal rock art sites.

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Durba Springs also exhibits some “white-man” rock art.

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The rock formations and local beauty of Durba Springs –

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Of course, in such remote and harsh country we find no shortage of graves.

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Mechanical failures are evident by the side of the track.  Amazingly, the only inconvenience our party suffered was a flat tyre on our final leg into Newman.

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As we left the Canning Stock Route the road took us through the pastoral lease of Glen-Ayle Station.

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Our long journey south on the Canning Stock Route was another of life’s extraordinary experiences and will, most probably, change our lives yet again.  Our special gratitude goes to our hard-working driver/guides, Rick, Mick, Darren and Steve.  Here at the southern marker for the Canning we took our photographs of our happy travelling party – Australia is a huge country of unexpected beauty, harshness and adaptability.

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And the captivating beauty of Western Australia goes on and on and ……….

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