outbackjoe

a camping trip of ridiculous proportions

kings canyon


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Kings Canyon, Palm Valley and Hermansburg

Kings Canyon is a gorge a few hundred kilometers from Uluru that we didn’t get to see last time we traveled through. Actually we missed a whole chunk of spots in the area. This time we left Uluru and did Kings Canyon, then the badly corrugated Mereenie Loop Track up to Hermannsburg and Palm Valley.

kings canyon 2

Kings Canyon

Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park was a standout. The awesomeness starts immediately with the track going in. The track is easy so doesn’t feel like you’re hammering the crap out of your car, but still feels like fun offroading as it follows the Finke River through some hills and arid landscapes. Often the track is actually the Finke River itself. It’s not often you get to navigate a river in a car!

Driving on Finke River

Driving on Finke River in Finke Gorge National Park

The camp grounds are also great. It’s set among some beautiful red hills and cliffs and has good facilities: water, gas bbqs, flushing toilets and even warm showers. This is all at standard Northern Territory national park prices. There’s a nice little walk out of the camp grounds to Kalarranga rock formations.

Kalarranga rocks 2 Kalarranga rocks

Then Palm Valley itself is also awesome. The short vehicle track from the camp ground to Palm Valley travels through some nice red cliffs and rock formations and through a few steep dry creek crossings. It’s much rougher than the first track into the camp grounds but it’s only a few km long.

driving to palm valley

Track into Palm Valley

palm valley rocky track

Steep rocky section of track

The Palm Valley walk is easy and a bit different than your usual gorge walk. A lot of the walk is in the river valley itself, which is a piece of cake since the valley is bed rock worn smooth by the water flow a few years ago. The palms and dark red cliffs and smooth river valley make it a unique walk.

palm valley walking trail

Here is an artistic photo of the red cliffs with the shadows of the palms on the cliffs. Most people just take photos of the actual palms.

palm valley cliff face

After a couple of nights in Palm Valley we visited Hermannsburg – an old aboriginal community that started as a Lutheran mission in 1877. We grabbed a pie at the bakery, coffee and scones at the cafe and checked out some of the old buildings.

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Bullita Stock Route, Gregory National Park, Northern Territory

I twisted Sharni’s arm and convinced her that we should tackle the Bullita Stock Route after our night at the Bullita camp ground near the homestead in Gregory National Park. It’s a long, slow drive so you need to be ok with that and prepared to tolerate some amount of nagging and complaints. The track follows a section of the Bullita Stock Route through Gregory National Park on its way to Wyndham, Western Australia. It’s around 92km all up, including a 23km return detour to Drovers Rest camp ground which is where we camped. Without the detour it’s 69km. Sections of the track are pretty steep, rocky and rough, definitely requiring a decent 4WD with low range. Other parts are firm sand which was easy to traverse at full tyre pressure. The track takes you through some steep creek crossings, dry river bed crossings, rugged rocky bluffs and hills and of course via a few huge majestic boab trees. The trip took 6.5 hours in total – 4.5 hours from Bullita camp ground to Drovers Rest camp ground, and around 2 hours from Drovers Rest to the intersection with the main access road to Gregory National Park. The information guide suggests 8 hours to complete, so we came in under time.

I’d suggest checking out the steeper descents on foot to gauge the best line before taking the vehicle down. Unlike me, who took a poor line and dropped the front left wheel off a rather large boulder, bashing the side step nicely and giving the hilux a tough 4WD look and improved ground clearance. Don’t worry, those side steps are disposable, they’re meant to be smashed up. Probably where we made up the 1.5 hours time saving from the recommended 8 hours. The track isn’t too hard core though. Didn’t need the diff locker. Choose good lines and avoid the big boulders and it’s not too bad.

The banging around on the rough rocks also caused the bracket for a spot light mounted on my roof rack to fail. Nice opportunity to do a dodgy fix with some wire.

The Bullita stock route is a pretty long drive so most people camp the night half way through. We camped at the Drovers Rest camp ground, on the banks of  the East Baines River. It has no facilities except for a wood bbq and is very dusty. The fine bulldust will penetrate anything and will make you pretty dirty. Also quite a few flies in the area, but no where near as bad as what we encountered on Googs Track. Still a pleasant remote camping area good for a night’s stop over. We cooked using the billy that night, and I made a billy tripod and hook to hold it above the fire. Other than that we relaxed by the fire, admired the boabs, enjoyed the quiet remotness and retired early ready for the drive out the following morning.

There are a couple of other camping areas off the track before the Drovers Rest camp ground, similarly located and with no facilities except for wood bbqs. These sites are just off the main track, so you can camp at one of these to avoid the large detour to Drovers Rest.


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Our first stop along the Nullarbor – Balladonia, Western Australia

Excited to finally reach civilization and sealed road we arrived at Balladonia which is the first stop along the Nullarbor after Norseman. Balladonia is famous for the 1974 Skylab Crash and even has a Museum inside the Balladonia Roadhouse. The museum is full of information about the crash and wreckage from the skylab on display (John, I took most of these pictures mainly for your viewing pleasure). We had dinner at the Balladonia Roadhouse Pub and camped the night at the attached caravan park which had a basic camp kitchen and toilet facilities. We would’ve liked to have done some clothes washing after 10 days of bush camping but there was no laundry.


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Climbing Mt Ragged, Cape Arid National Park, Western Australia

Mt Ragged in Cape Arid National Park is a 585 meter high mountain roughly 40km from the coast. In preparation of the climb Joe crafted me a hiking stick out of a tree branch using a machete, a large bush knife and a small folding knife. Check out the before and after shots. It also kept him occupied for a day while I watched the entire season of Day Break.

The climb was a tough steep ascent with the track overgrown in parts with thorny scrub. Towards the top we had to hoist ourselves up decent sized rock faces and imagine it wouldn’t be much fun for people who were scared of heights. After lots of whinging on my behalf we made it to the top where we had full mobile phone reception. We used the opportunity to call home. Joe rang his Mum and I had a video chat with my Dad using skype while showing him the amazing views. There was also a wooden box at the top with notebooks full of messages of people who has made it to the top. The way down was as adventurous as the way up with a few bum-slides down some rocks. It was a satisfying climb with a few challenges and a great view from the top.


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Mt Ragged Camp, Cape Arid National Park, Western Australia

Finally arriving at Mt Ragged in Cape Arid National Park after our epic effort to get there from Israelite Bay we set up camp for three nights at the rarely used Mt Ragged campsite. The campsite had a large fire pit and clean long drop toilet. We were there alone and did not see another soul for our three days camped there and on the entire track from Israelite Bay to Balladonia Road. We took advantage of the fire pit and roasted a rack of pork with potatoes in the camp oven, yummy! We also had our first shower in 9 days using the solar shower bag and Joe washed my hair using the weed sprayer water dispenser, almost as good as a salon wash. The second day we dedicated to climbing Mt Ragged.


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Point Malcolm, Israelite Bay and its ruins, Cape Arid National Park, Western Australia

After 3 nights at Seal Creek camp site and fishing around poison creek we set off to the remote Eastern end of Cape Arid National Park towards Point Malcolm and Israelite Bay via Fisheries road. There are no facilities in this part of the National Park. Fisheries Road was a rough 4WD track to Point Malcolm. The track becomes impassable after rain, and there were a few mud holes around from the rain the weeks before. There are chicken tracks around the mud holes, which we used. We camped one night at Point Malcolm and tried some fishing but it was not possible with the coast completely inundated with seaweed. We left Point Malcolm and took the track to visit Israelite Bay to see the Telegraph station & homestead ruins. The landscape was flat low lying scrub and large salt flats. The Old Telegraph Line that passed through this area, built circa 1870, provided the earliest direct communication with the Eastern States. After experiencing the remoteness of its location, we are amazed at the persistence of those early pioneers who actually lived out here. There are a few shacks around the area, looks like they might still be in use. The telegraph station was a superb building, with only the limestone walls remaining. Some of the initials carved into the walls dated back to the 1940’s and made for fascinating reading. Not far from the site were a few graves of telegraph station workers from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

There’s heaps of tracks running around the Israelite Bay area, and plenty of little camping areas among the shrubs behind the dunes. We came across quite a few other campers, many large groups of 4WDs and camper trailers. It’s a popular spot for group fishing getaways and four wheeling.

After our visit to Israelite Bay we commenced the 50km trek to Mt Ragged via the Gora track. What was initially an exciting off road journey was rapidly becoming an exhausting drive. Halfway to Mt Ragged we realised our front number plate had almost fallen off due to the corrugations and rocky outcrops along the track. The rough track made for fairly slow driving and it seemed like forever, taking 4 hours to complete the 50km journey. There is another track for traveling to Mt Ragged from the Seal Creek side. Not sure of its condition but we imagine it’s just as bad. If you want to cut across to Balladonia from Cape Arid National Park the fastest route would be via Parmango Road, close to Condingup.


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Poison Creek Beach, YES SALMON!

We had parked up on poison creek beach in Cape Arid National Park and I was busy reading the third book in the Hunger Games Trilogy in the Hilux while Joe was fishing for salmon on the beach. I was disturbed by the faint sound of Joe screaming. I thought he was in trouble, drowning or being taken by a shark so I dropped my kindle and rushed out of the car ready to face the worst scenario only to discover that Joe was not in fact drowning but he had hooked up a salmon. The past 6 weeks of our trip Joe has been on a crusade to catch Salmon off the south west Australian coast without much success. I don’t know how much more ‘salmon spotting’ I could take. Finally success, a school of salmon had wandered into the bay at the end of Poison Creek Beach. Joe spotted the salmon school and began casting lures out into it. The school came quite close to shore making it easy to land the lure behind the school and pull it through. Joe had caught his first salmon of our trip by its tail while screaming in ecstasy. Joe caught two salmon in quick succession. He cast out a couple of times and forced me to reel the lure in to catch myself a salmon. I had a couple hook-ups but failed to share Joe’s success in landing a fish (thankfully). Joe released one of the salmon he caught and processed the other – some for dinner and some for bait. We could only stomach a few bites of the cooked salmon as they are poor eating but fun to catch. I think if you put more effort into cooking it, masking it’s strong flavour with lots of sauce and onions and herbs and cooking it in a way that retains moisture to avoid it becoming too dry, then it is more palatable. We just chucked it on the bbq. It’s a shame they aren’t good eating because they are heavy fish with heaps of meat. Shaped like a torpedo, with thick flanks that produce hefty fillets.

Joe was so satisfied with completing the first fish in the Australian Holy Trinity of Fishing, he considered finishing the trip around OZ and returning to Perth. Then he remembered he still has Mulloway and Barramundi to go.