Check the Pouch

Our last few days in the Northern Territory flew by. We got back into Alice Springs in the early afternoon, it’s amazing how far you can drive in a day when the road is smooth tarmac rather than a bulldust and hole riddled mess. As soon as we got back into reception Matt booked the van in for a wheel alignment and suspension check to see if we could locate and fix the disturbing banging that has been plaguing our drives. That evening we drove out to the convention center and waited to be picked up to go to The Kangaroo Sanctuary. Matt was really looking forward to this after listing to a podcast by Chris (Brolga) he had been keen to visit since we first began to dream about our trip around Australia.

The bus ride to the sanctuary was pretty fast but we had time to watch a little bit of the documentary where Chris was being chased around the sanctuary by the massive red kangaroo called Roger that was one of the first 3 joeys he fostered. It was entertaining but Roger was more than a little bit scary standing on his tail and trying to box with his human carer. Chris greeted the bus and showed us the shed where he used to live. When he first set up the sanctuary he had no money having spent it all on fencing and the land so he couldn’t afford a house so he slept and cooked in a small tin shed, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a suburban backyard. He took us out the back, talked to us about his work, and showed us a couple of beautiful baby kangaroos, one of his adult rescues kept coming up to the group and he explained that sometimes, despite their best efforts, the kangaroos don’t become wild again so rather than releasing them he keeps them in the sanctuary. We then took a walk around the grounds.

The sanctuary was huge with dog proof fencing on all sides to keep the roos safe from harm. We learnt about red kangaroos and euros and how their family structures work and Chris told us about the importance of checking the pouches of road kill as often the babies are still alive after the mother has been hit by a car. We looked at Rogers memorial and then made our way back to the bus. Both of us were so happy that we’d waited around to be able to visit, it was an amazing place. For dinner we went to the Alice Springs Brewery and had wood-fired pizza as well as sampling a few of their beers before heading back to our transport museum camp and hitting the hay.

On Friday morning we woke up early and packed up the van so we could drop it off for the wheel alignment and suspension check. The mechanic very kindly drove us to the Alice Springs Desert Park so we could spend the morning looking at animals and wandering around the gardens rather than sitting in a stuffy office. We’d heard mixed things on the road about the park but after visiting we both thought it was really well done particularly their bird enclosures and the nocturnal house. There were mala, bilbies, heaps of different birds, as well as the standard dingos, emus, and kangaroos. We went on a couple of the ranger guided talks at different enclosures but I got bit frustrated with the ranger because she kept misidentifying birds and mispronouncing names so we ended up walking around on our own most of the time. It took us 4 hours to get around the whole park with our finish perfectly timed to go and pick up the van.

We were both entertained by the findings at the mechanic or lack of. They’d taken the van out driving multiple times, confirmed we weren’t hearing things and that there was a weird noise but they looked everywhere and couldn’t find the cause. The poor bloke that had been assigned our van seemed pretty frustrated that after all the work he hadn’t found anything but it was sort of reassuring that there isn’t something majorly wrong. That afternoon we went back into town and looked at the small but fascinating mega fauna museum, did our groceries for the next few days and went back to park amongst the tractors and trucks for one more night.

I was excited when we drove out of the town and started to travel north up the Stuart Highway, we both loved exploring the southern part of the NT but it was fun to get on the road and head towards a new place. We stopped in at the Tropic of Capricorn for a couple of happy snaps and then continued on our way until we stumbled across, of all things, a Mango Farm. Both being a bit perplexed we walked into the tiny cramped shop and bought a mango ice-cream and mango sorbet which we ate under a tree out the front. It was bizarre sitting on a lush green farm, next to a vineyard, in the middle of the desert. Back on the road we made two more stops, Barrow Creek to look at the old telegraph station, and Wycliffe Well. Despite me telling him that I was certain the “UFO Capital of Australia” would be terrible Matt was still very keen so we rolled in to have a look. After peering around the kitch, and let’s face it pretty shit alien themed art Matt turned to me with a look of disappointment on his face and said “is this is?”. Sorry love, that’s it.

It was almost dark when we reached our campsite for the night at the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) so we felt quite lucky to get a spot as the site is notorious for filling up in the early afternoon. We got the chairs out, set up our camp in our little site, and then went on a wander through the rocks finishing up on the lookout as the sun had started to set. It was a beautiful place. On our way back we met a couple who were playing Monopoly Deal in the picnic area and had a great chat with them. They showed us photos from their trip and we asked them about their experience on the Telegraph Track up the cape, something we were planning on doing but after chatting with them and seeing the videos will not being doing haha (it was the most riddiculous 4WDing I have ever seen). The next day I woke up early to photograph the sunrise, and what a sunrise it was. Because there have almost been no clouds while we have been in the NT the sunsets and sunrises haven’t been very inspiring but this morning it was perfect. I spent an hour snapping away and then went and picked up Matt so we could do the 4km walk around the park. By the time we’d finished I felt like we’d definitely covered Karlu Karlu and our last “tourist” destination for the NT.

Campsite Reviews

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – You all already know how I feel about this one but if not see Flats and Budgie Rescue.

Karlu Karlu – One of those amazing places that you can’t quite believe is a campground let alone one that is $4 per night but then you come crashing back to reality when faced with the bunch of arseholes that are the people you’re camping with. We had, not one but two people parked over multiple sites, kids climbing on literally the one spot in the park where the traditional owners ask people don’t go, a fat bloke drinking beer and breaking off branches to use a fly swats, a woman walking her dog, and multiple people not paying. The marbles were amazing but the people did ruin it for me a bit. $4pp/pn – 6/10.


Flats and Budgie Rescue

After the awe of Uluru-Kata Tjuta you’d have thought we’d have had enough of massive geological wonders? Well think again the next spot on our hit list was Kings Canyon. While it looks small on the map the drive between Curtin Springs and the canyon was almost 300km so we decided to tackle the main rim walk the next day and just take our time heading up to camp. We did end up going on a small walk after lunch at a spot called Kathleen Springs where at the end of a short 1.3km trail we found a beautiful little waterhole. We parked up early at the Morris Pass Lookout free camp and while I told myself I’d use the time to catch up on my blog and write some post cards, in reality I ended up spending hours alternating between reading my book and looking out over the spectacular view of the ranges, by far the most scenic site we’ve stayed at.

The next morning after a healthy porridge breakfast we drove into the canyon and commenced on what turned out to be the most offensive beginning of a hike I’ve ever experienced. The “stairs” to the top if you can even call them that were so steep it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. We reached the summit eventually, but I can’t imagine how horrible that would be in summer, the defibrillator located at the top gives a decent indication of how challenging it is. The rest of the hike was wonderful which is very high praise from me due to my fear of heights and most of the walk circulating around a massive cliff with a short dip into an area called the Garden of Eden. The rock features looked like miniature versions of the Bungle Bungles and the cycads added to the otherworldly feeling on the place. If there is one thing I can say about the NT in the few days we’ve been here is that the colours are so vivid it’s like someone has turned the saturation up in the world. Because the rim walk was only 6km we decided to do the canyon floor walk after lunch as well. It was nice but not particularly interesting so if you’re there and limited on time I’d give it a miss.

On our way back to camp we stopped in at the information centre tided up to the caravan park and bought our $6.50 pass to drive on the Mereenie Loop road. Matt only realised we’d need one going over the maps the previous night. We’d heard a lot of bad things about the section of road but driving on it the next day it was honestly fine, the last 15km were very corrugated but it wasn’t any worse than Arkaroola so we made pretty good time. We filled up for petrol in a town called Hermannsburg which Lonely Planet describes as “an appealingly run-down and sleepy place” which I think may be their attempt of a politically correct description of a mainly indigenous town that Matt and I would describe to you as a shit hole. We were running very low on water and petrol so there wasn’t much of an option than to suck it up, dodge the feral dogs and rubbish and head on in. To be fair we did also end up visiting the Historical Mission which was interesting and served a reasonable lunch of scones with jam and cream but the information given throughout the complex seemed to be weighted heavily in the favour of the church rather than giving a more balanced view of what was happening there at the time.

After refueling and another short drive we pulled up at Palm Valley and mad ourselves at home. We ended up chatting to a nice bloke from Sydney who turned out was on first name terms with Moose, the publican from Copley. He also massively rated the town, small world. That afternoon we hung around the campground, enjoyed the river and the abundance of amazing birdlife including Major Mitchell Cockatoos!

Palm Valley, as its name indicates is famous for one thing…palms, specifically red cabbage palm trees (9,000-15,000 of them) that are found nowhere else in the world. On the 5km loop walk the following morning we read about the palms and learnt that no one knows how they got there. The hike was lovely up and down hills, through valleys full of…well palms, and around an area that a few months before probably would have been quite wet. We had another lazy afternoon back at camp hiding from the ever-increasing heat. I think we will soon be restricted to morning outdoor activities as hiking in 35 degrees isn’t much fun. On our last day camped up in the valley Matt picked two more walks in a different area of the park. One was a short and steep lookout hike (1.6km return) and the second was the Mapaara loop. Along the way of the second walk we learnt a dreamtime story about a tawny frogmouth man and his son. I won’t actually repeat the story here because it was really disturbing and involved eating family members, we were both a bit flummoxed by it. At the end of the walk we ran into another couple in a Delica so we had a massive chat and compared vans, they had a long wheel base diesel and exactly the same roof racks that we managed to break. We gave them the heads up and told them where to check for issues to try and prevent theirs from filing which they were very appreciative of.

This is where our trip got derailed for the second time, we were on our way to our next campsite down in the Finke Gorge when I spotted a little budgie flailing around on the side of the track. We got out and Matt managed to catch it. On closer inspection it was a very cute baby budgie with one wing that looked like it had been plucked rendering it unable to fly. It would die if we left it so we packed it into an ice-cream tub and drove out the way we came to find some phone service and the nearest vet. Of course, being the middle of nowhere the nearest vet/animal rescue was Alice Springs so off we drove on a 120km detour. Things continued to go wrong for us when a roofing nail buried into the back tyre and gave us a flat 70km later along the highway. We both jumped out ready to put our tyre changing skills to work and in retrospect probably feeling a little bit too confident. Matt jacked up the van and I got the spare down, we pulled off the flat and discovered that the jack wouldn’t go high enough to get a fully inflated tyre back on. We tried to put the flat one back on so we could adjust the jack but even that wouldn’t go on. What should have been a 5 minute job turned into a 45 minute ordeal of hailing people on the side of the road to see if anyone had a second jack so we’d be able to move ours to the correct spot (we jacked up the body of the van accidentally), after several groups of grey nomads, one bloke that was running late for an appointment, two motorcyclists, and another couple a bloke that had a jack stopped, helped us out and got the tyre changed. We learnt a lot from that one.

In Alice Springs we dropped the very sweet budgie to a wildlife carer, grabbed some dinner and parked up the van at the Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame campsite.

We ended up spending two days in Alice but they were two very boring days of laundry, groceries, tyre repair, post office, and booking the van in to get a few things looked at so I don’t have any interesting photos or stories. We will be coming back to Alice Springs in about 10 days to do something on Matt’s bucket list so I’ll write more about it then. The one thing we did was visit the Reptile House where we saw, held, and learnt about scaly friends. Things like, what’s the main difference between a lizard and a snake? Lizards have ears.  

Campsite Reviews

Morris Pass Lookout – Another free camp we found because of the disgusting prices being changed at caravan parks. The Kings Canyon “Resort” wanted $50 per night for an unpowered site, you can shove that right up your proverbial mate. Stunning scenery and would have been perfect if on the second night we hadn’t been parked up next to the Von Trapp family who felt like the campsite needed to listen to them sing…poorly for 90 minutes. They only shut up when Matt started blasting a finance podcast at their van. $Free – 8/10.

Palm Valley – Yet another one of those sites where we pull up for one night and end up staying 2. Beautiful red cliffs, river, birds, and showers. $4pp/pn – 9/10.

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – Not sure where to start with this one. Imagine a gravel car park but instead of normal cars it is full of rusty tractors and trucks, now visualize two toilet blocks, one is in an elevated shipping container and looks like something that would be used at a music festival, the second is in a run down shed and instead of walls between the toilets/showers you have those old, carpeted, office cubical dividers. Yeah. Why did we choose to stay there? Because once more the caravan parks are stupidly expensive. Nothing under $38pn unpowered, ludicrous. $15pn – 4/10 (pretty grim but we’ll go back).