Darwin to the Qld border
Darwin is a mini city with everything you need but nothing more. It feels like we have reached civilisation again, after spending several nights camping on dusty grounds under the trees and stars and everyone in our family is dirty. We really need a break to catch up on all the day to day duties that are getting on top of us and so we check into the caravan park at Howard Springs. After food shopping, cleaning, organising the car and five massive loads of washing, the day is almost done and there's only time left for a quick swim the pool before dinner.
We move to Marlow's Lagoon, where the cost to camp is very cheap and the proximity is closer to Darwin. The kids adore the small farm like camp area as there is a small cubby house for them to play in, a resident cow named Sally, lots of chooks and we are surrounded by ripe mangos hanging in the trees. If the chickens lay any eggs you are allowed to collect them and keep them to eat and mangos are of course free to be picked. Its quiet and slow, what imminentld you ask for so cheap and close to Darwin.. right? Well I guess everything comes with a price and at this camp spot and on our first night we were nibbled by sandflies. A little worried, the next day we load up on bug sprays and insect candles but it didn't help. On the second night we were truly eaten alive!! It turns out these awful little creatures are so tiny that they can come through the netting into our campervan which we didn't know before. Reece is clearly allergic to them and breaks out in hundreds of massive red welts and the kids are bitten through their pyjamas all over their legs and arms. We feel like terrible parents and with that we pack up like an army under attack facing imminent defeat and get out of there quick smart! With the entire family on antihistamines and rubbing anti-itch cream from head to toe, we are checking into the Free Spirit Resort and Caravan Park. There's a luxury swimming pool, kids club, live entertainment at the bar and all the comforts of being on holidays. We convince ourselves we deserve it. We do!
On the up side, Darwin is wonderful and for anyone with young kids we recommend the wave pool at The Darwin Waterfront. It was cheap, safe and now our Son River says he wants to become a surfer.
"Did you see that ride Mum?"
'Ride?' When did my son start talking like this?
He proudly adds with this cheeky smile on his face, acting all cool like he's done this a hundred times before. "Awesome hey?" He
acts like he is some kind of a professional surfer now, but gosh he's brave.We would also recommend a visit to the WW2 Oil storage tunnels which a right there in town and The Aviation Museum. Olive and River loved being able to sit underneath and on the inside
the massive B52. It's incredible to think that these huge aircraft where built over 50 years ago and that they actually did fly. To me they just look too heavy to lift from the ground. The fish markets are a good visit also and we simply couldn't resist a
purchase and one afternoon we cooked a whole pink snapper on the BBQ. We decided to take a look at Lee Point which is north of Darwin because we are now missing the sight of the ocean. You can't swim of course because of salt water crocodiles but a quick stroll
around the beach is enough. On the way back to the car I see a man walking towards the water with his gidgee in hand and wearing a pair of flippers. Stunned I ask him "Ummm are you going to swim in this water?" to which he replied "yeah and just catch a couple
"What about crocs?"
Unconcerned he replied "I don't go by myself, my wife stands on the edge of the rocks and if she sees a croc coming she just throws a stone in and I quickly get out." Are some people totally crazy? As it turns out after some conversation with the man he has been swimming and fishing in these waters for 30 odd years and has only every been almost eaten by a crocodile twice. I guess those odds are pretty good. We had to laugh.
Our next stop is Berry Springs where we have arranged to stay with an old high school friend Tamie, her partner Matt and their daughter Lexi. It's a pretty big favour to ask to camp at someone else's house especially since we haven't seen Tamie since high school and that we haven't met her partner Matt previously. When we arrive Matt greats us with a beer in one hand, a big smile, a hand shake and was completely welcoming. Tamie has picked herself out a very top bloke who's smart, down to earth and kind. That makes us happy to see. Lexi is absolutely cute as a button. She reminds me exactly of a young Tamie and I can see that she will be a vivacious and strong character just like her mum. Tamie took us to the Top End Wildlife Park and it was the best bird show we've ever seen. I also highly recommend this to anyone visiting the area. The springs themselves, are not to be missed and we venture out for an early morning swim. The water gushing down the falls is beautifully warm and the water flowing from upstream is cool. Sitting in the crystal clear greenish water with the cold running over the front of my body while the warm mixes in at my back creates the perfect setting for relaxation. Thanks Tamie. Matt and Lexi for being so welcoming and for cooking that big lamb in the Webber which was tender and delicious, among all of the other things you did for us.
On the road again and its only a short drive into Litchfield National Park. Rather than stay at Wangi Gorge which we have heard is quite crowded, for our first stop we decided to set up camp for two nights at The Safari Camp. It was a good choice because it's so hot at the moment, and opposed the Wangi Gorge camp site, this camp has shaded grassed sites with hundreds of loudly chattering cherokee in the trees and a cool breeze offering us refuge from the heat. Only a 3km drive further into the national park is Wangi Gorge. The falls are only flowing lightly but the pool is glistening in the sun light and we can see every rock and stone on its base. Olive now calls River 'Ra Ra' and she likes to copy her older brothers every move, or at least try. But River has become so brave and far beyond what we had anticipated for his age. Holding Olive back is becoming a task. River confidently climbs a sloped rock face without concern and denying any help from interested onlookers. Then he balances downwards on his bottom towards the edge and stands on the lower rock hanging out overlooking the pool below. With only the slightest hesitation he jumps the 3m drop into the pool shouting "Watch this Mum". These days, to be honest, I hardly flinch because I'm so in tune with his abilities and I know he can do it. However is does understand his limitations and he does understand fear. From below River has watched another older boy jump from a much higher point and so he climbs upwards toward it. But this time, wearily he calls out to Reece and asks for him to "Come with me Daddy". Reece gives River a hand up rocks and at the bottom my heart is racing and I'm thinking that it is much too high this time. I yell out to River "You don't have to do it!!!... but if you do I promise you will be ok and I will be right here to catch you. But you don't have to do it!!". Secretly I hope that he backs out. In the end he did of course but he willingly had Reece lift him and hang him over the side and then drop him so that the fall was not as far. Few! All the while Olive is begging to get out from my arms so that she can copy her brother. "I don't think so"! I took her to a tiny rock at the edge of the pool in the cutest little brand new voice she is developing she shouts "jump" and leaps off (a few centimetres) and I catch her in my arms. She thinks she's doing it I'm sure. We are raising wild crazy children. They have the blood of their father as this doesn't come from me! Tomler Falls foot path is under reconstruction and so sadly we have to miss it. A reason to come back one day I tell myself. At Florence falls River swam all the way out to the pounding waterfalls all by himself. I swam nearby reminding him to breath every now and then, and watched as he struggled a bit against the force of the water closest to the falls. He made it though, and again our son is determined to surprise me and prove his independence every single day.
Adelaide River Show Society let you camp at the race track for free. It's one of these travelling on the road tricks that you pick up after awhile. There so many free camping opportunities if you know where to look and this one was particularly good as they even have a swimming pool. In the night you can hear the curlew birds making their noises and they sound quite similar to a crying babies. It's quite bazaar. The children loved watching the horses in the paddocks too but this is only a short stop on our way through to our highly anticipated destination, Mataranka.
We have been waiting for Mataranka after hearing stories from other travellers about what a magical experience it is and we were not disappointed. There are two hot springs open for swimming, Bitter Springs and the Mataranka Springs. We camp at the closest location to Bitter Springs so that we can walk easily to them for a swim. The water is flowing at quite a pace and pushes you down the stream without any effort. The water actually feels light and silky to touch and afterwards turns Olives hair into the tightest ringlet curls. Beneath the glittering soft blue water turtles, fish and a few snakes swim under us and floating on our pool noodles we weave through the natural banks lined with palms and ferns. There are wallabies jumping through the camp grounds, lizards on the trees and unusual tropical palms mixed into the landscape between paper barks. Yes, I can now understand the raving reviews we previously heard of this magical place. The Mataranka springs themselves have been built up with metal steps and handrails to assist with getting people in and out of them easily, and while they are still very beautiful to swim in, we much preferred the natural settings at the Bitter Springs. Still the waters was lovely and warm and River chooses rock for his collection.
On the road again heading south, we are now quite eager to get across the border into Queensland as soon as we can. We plan our stops and first in line is the Newcastle Waters Rest Area, which is just past Daly Waters. On the way, this trip wouldn't be complete without stopping for lunch at the historical Daly Waters Pub. The walls are lined with peoples business cards, drivers licenses, school library cards, hats, t-shirts, photos and even bras. For five dollars they will take your photo with a Polaroid camera and you can choose a place on the wall to be part of the history. The money goes to the leukaemia foundation and so we do it. Further south towards or next stop we notice that all the tropical elements to landscape have disappeared and the termite mounds are back with dry scrub, brown dust and spinifex. We reach Tennant Creek and take a look at the Battery Hill mine site. River particularly enjoyed the minerals collection and display and now he's asking to have a gold nugget included into his rock collection. We laugh... "We wish too mate"! It's time to turn off from the Stuart HWY onto the Barkly HWY and into brand new territory finally heading east once again. Bare golden open fields all the way to the horizon line opened up before us and welcome us over the border into Queensland. We've made the boarder, taken a photo, had a kiss and now we are ready for the next instalment of adventures.