the long road through the heart of the Northern Territory…

Leaving Katherine we headed along the Victoria Highway on a road that would take us through outback Northern Territory and lead us to more exciting adventures.

We were now back on the Savannah Way, a route well known as a ‘Great Australian Adventure Drive’ linking historic sites, geological wonders and some of Australia’s most isolated 4WD tracks and roads with several of the countries more remote Australian towns.

This 3700 kilometre network of outback roads and highways links fifteen National Parks and five World Heritage areas as they wind their way through the heart of Australia’s northern tropics from Cairns in Queensland to Broome in West Australia.

Over the years we have completed this trip a number of times… but for this journey our route would only stretch as far as Halls Creek (in WA), 873 kilometres away.

Read crossing from east to west and gulf country blogs for highlights of our previous trips.

The Victoria Highway is one of our favourite stretches of highway… albeit a long stretch of road that appears at first, a whole lot of nothing.

This is where you really begin to appreciate the hostility and enormity of our great Aussie landscape… as the highway crisscrosses through some of the Territory’s most rugged and challenging country.

For the first part, our journey traversed country we were quite familiar with… termite mounds built by clever little architects, scrubby grazing plains, a distant horizon and a never ending white straight line that stretched for as far as the eye could see.

There was plenty of time for conversation, we swapped driving constantly, sang along to music, enjoyed the occasional banter and played lots of games!

Again and again we were reminded this was cattle country as we passed numerous station signs, stock yards or Brahmans grazing along the side of the highway.

It was incredible how the landscape had changed from waterfalls, rainforests and crocodiles to dry tropical savannah country of red dust, dry grass and cattle in such a short space of time!

A mix of tussock grasses, saltbush, spinifex and eucalyptus woodland surrounded us and fires burnt close to the highway… an all-too-familiar sight in the Northern Territory and a sure sign the dry season had arrived.

These fires are usually ‘controlled burns’ conducted by local authorities in an attempt to reduce fuel and lessen the risk of late-season wildfires around communities and station properties.

They are also an important part of Aboriginal cultural having been used as burning practices for thousands of years to aid in hunting, communication, travel and protecting sacred sites.

With the CamperMate set on our first rest area, we pulled in at Limestone Rest Area just 58-kilometres west of Katherine. We had camped here on a previous trip but this time we only stopped for a cuppa and a bite to eat before making tracks again.

This 24-hour free stop is a good overnighter with plenty of space and shade, very clean long drop loos, tables, firepits and lots of red dust… but it can be quite a noisy spot being so close to the highway.

As we continued on into the distance, kites soared on thermals high above us and by now it was quite apparent we had long since left behind the tropical surroundings that made up most of the Top End.

Most people might think that driving such long distances is very boring with white line after white line and then more white line, but this country never ceases to amaze me with its dry, red landscape of spindly grasses, ant hills and dry creek beds…

… but gradually, as we clocked up the kilometres, the open, flat, straight stretches began to change.

Beyond the red sand, sparse trees and grasses we could see distant mountains rear up above the horizon and soon we were amongst a landscape that was now dominated by blue skies graced by a few soft cotton wool clouds stretching above red rolling hills, dotted waving eucalypts and the odd termite mound. 

… and as the road dipped into the Victoria River Valley, a stunningly impressive scenery greeted us with the hilly country abruptly giving way to spectacular escarpments and cliffs.

Here the Moray Range reared up from the scrubby woodlands.

This is where the highway cuts through the eastern section of the Judbarra/Gregory National Park, and the Sullivan Creek campground was our first encounter as we entered the park.

The Judbarra/Gregory National Park is the Northern Territory’s second largest National Park with a total of 13,000 square kilometres of wilderness.

Split between 2 sections, the eastern and western, it is home to some strenuous walks, remote 4WD tracks and great camp spots. The eastern section is mostly for walkers with mighty escarpment walks that are hard to beat – both in beauty and degree of difficulty… and the western section is where some of the countries most remote 4WD tracks can be found as well as the history of some of our early explorers and settlers!

Situated close to the highway on the banks of Sullivan Creek, Sullivan Creek Campground was a great place to set up the rooftop tent for the night after a long day of driving.

It’s only a small campground but as we were afforded the place to ourselves we had the pick of camp spots!

Excited about what lay ahead we were on the road early the next morning with our first stop only a few kilometres away.

Nestled in a valley below Livistona Palm crowded scree slopes was ‘Joe Creek ’.

Access to this picnic area was via a 2-kilometre unsealed road and once there we laced up our walking boots and headed off on the 1.7-kilometre ‘Nawulbinbin Walk’.

It had been a few days since we had stretched our legs so we were looking forward to a long walk… and this strenous trek certainly got our hearts pumping as we climbed over the steep rocky track to the top of the escarpment where we had stunning views of some of the most magnificent escarpments for which the Judbarra/Gregory National Park is famous.

Our walk began along Joe Creek and followed a well marked track as it squeezed its way between towering red sandstone valley walls before climbing over slippery scree slopes.

We were surrounded by spinifex covered broken rock, dry palm fronds and a beautiful native shrubbery of pink and white star like flowers.

A mulititude of extraordinary Livistonia Palms also adorned these scree slopes. When you first drive into the Gregory National Park the sheer grandeur of these trees is one of the first things you notice. They grow in abundance where there’s a permanent water supply in the sandstone gullies and along streams.

Along the next section of track interpretive signs explained the significance of rock paintings which, included figures of animals, people and dreaming beings… and once on top we followed the track that wound its way along the rim of the escarpment before descending back to the valley floor and the car park. 

Back out on the highway our next stop was the magnificent Victoria River… and the famous Victoria River Roadhouse.

After crossing the bridge we stopped to take photos as the mighty river wrapped itself around the escarpment. This was no mere creek.

The magnificent Victoria River carves and weaves its way through the top end of this park and is the largest tidal stream in Australia. It is 26-kilometres wide at the mouth and has a tidal influence of some 130-kilometres as it races upriver twice every 24 hours in a massive display of movement and power… it then flows back through deep valleys and gorges for some five 560-kilometres to empty into the Timor Sea.

Roadhouses are oddly an Aussie tradition in the outback and you will always find one somewhere along our highways, albeit perhaps hundreds of kilometres apart… but you soon learn to love them when you’re travelling outback Oz.

These stop-over points are always a welcome sight for weary eyes or flashing fuel lights – and to remind us there is life out here… even in this remote and barren outback. Most usually they provide all the facilities you least expect in these isolated locations – a  petrol station, minimarket, hotel, campground and a restaurant all rolled into one.

Victoria River Roadhouse has all of this and is a destination in it’s own right, especially for those wanting a central place to set up camp and explore the eastern section of the Gregory National Park.

Also worthy of a look if you are passing through this area is the old river crossing used before the bridge was built. It is only about 2-kilometres from the roadhouse and was once the old highway crossing as well as the old Coolibah and Bradshaw Station track. Bradshaw Station is now owned by the Department of Defence and used as a training base.

Today all there is to see are a few remnants of the past. It is a pretty place with crystal clear rapids flowing over smooth rocks and it presents an enticing place for a dip – but don’t even think of it! The Victoria River is famous for its nasties… saltwater bities that is – crocs!

With our bull bar pointed in the direction of Timber Creek we continued on.

Timber Creek was only a 91-kilometre drive down the road from the roadhouse so today’s short trip meant there was plenty of time to see most of the attractions along the way.

This part of the world is indeed a magnificent sample of what is to come the further west we travel and just 2-kilometres on as we passed through Stokes Range we came to another walking track where we only had to pull into a verge on the side of the highway to find a spot to park Harry Hilux. 

There’s lots to explore in northern Australia but some of the greatest bits can only be seen by pulling on your walking boots.  

From the carpark we set off along a 3-kilometre rocky, steep, track (return) to Kuwang Lookout  – a track we had trekked numerous times before!

Following signs explaining the Nungali and Wardaman people’s dreamtime stories of the area we finally arrived at the top of the ridge where we were privy to breathtaking views over the Victoria River, escarpments and the Victoria River Roadhouse. Just a word of warning though – the sun is fierce out here in this part of the world and sunscreen and water are a must… as are good walking boots!

Cranking up the music we headed on once again. Luckily I had downloaded a good playlist as we had learned from experience to download our music while we had wifi coverage. Once your on these remote roads chances of finding radio and phone coverage is almost non existent.  

The escarpment country that surrounded us as we drove on was a sight to behold as the mighty Victoria River continued to winds its way through this spectacular outback scenery – complete with Boab trees all the way!

Boab trees are a widely recognised icon of the Kimberley and Victoria River Regions and are of great cultural significance to the local Ngarinyman Aboriginal people.

Around 10-kilometres from Timber Creek we came to the Bullita Access Road where there are many treasures  to be discovered – Bullita Station, a couple of great campgrounds, Stromatolites (fossilised prehistoric life forms), Tufa Dams, the Calcite Flow Walk,  the Limestone Gorge and Billabong, the East Baines River and access to some very remote 4WD tracks.

Having taken this detour on a previous trip we decided to keep going this time but it is worth the rough ride along the dusty 42-kilometre 4WD track just to see these sights!

Read Western Australia bound blog for highlights of our previous trip.

The side trip down to Limestone Gorge is well worth the effort and was our first stop on the way in. There is a great campground here although it does take a bit of driving skill to manovour over the very bumpy track and through the rocky river beds.

From the campground there is easy access to a 1.8- kilometre ‘Limestone Ridge Loop Walk’ where you will be rewarded with amazing views over the East Baines River valley.

Back along the track you will find dry Tufa Dams and Stromatolites.

The Tufa Dams of limestone are created by layers of minerals precipitating out of the mineral rich water over thousands of years and a well marked track leads to these waterfall like features.

 

‘Calcite Flow’ has formed by calcium carbonate rich water flowing vigorously down a slope. This rapid movement of water has created a turbulence so powerful it has forced carbon dioxide out of the water resulting in a chemical reaction, which in turn has caused the release of solid calcium carbonate from the water and thus a calcium carbonate (or calcite) build up on any solid objects in its path such as a tree root or rock. 

Further on a short walk leads through an ancient sea bed of rocks and stromatolite fossils, which are considered the oldest evidence of life on earth. 

Stromatolites are formed in shallow seas and lagoons when millions of cyanobacteria  (primitive bacteria life forms) colonise together in a ‘cabbage’ shape growth.  They are produced by filaments protruding from the cyanobacteria, which trap sediments, which in time becomes fossilised thus creating stromatolites. 

Back on the main track and further up the road is the old Bullita cattle outstation. Here you will find cattle yards and the main homestead. A large Boab tree stands out the front with the names of past visitors carved into its trunk and the East Baines River flows close by.

The remnants of historic Bullita homestead and stockyards are all that remain of the pastoral history of the area. Information boards in the building telling amazing stories of how life used to be in this harsh, unforgiving country and the pains and hardships endured by the people who worked this land… as recently as 1977.  

A little down the track is another dusty campground situated right on the banks of the East Baines River that is a great place to set up camp. It has pit toilets, wood bbqs, picnic tables and lots of majestic boab trees.

Another 23-kilometres up the track is the Drovers Rest Campground on the 4WD ‘Bullita Stock Route’. This track travels through the Gregory National Park on its way to Wyndham in Western Australia and is around 69-kilometres, only a  4-5 hour trip from the homestead.  

If your into remote 4WDing then this track traverses some pretty rough country with steep creek crossings, roads strewn with tyre shredding limestone boulders, crocodile laden river crossings, dry river bed crossings and seriously steep, rugged rocky bluffs and hills to ascend and descend.

From this infamous track to the 2-day ‘Broadarrow Track’, there’s a serious amount of rough and remote terrain in this National Park to explore but you need to remember it is remote and isolated ‘Top End Country’ and these tracks demand a whole lot of respect.. so be well prepared!

Back on the Victoria Highway and only a kilometre or 2 from the Bullita Access Road we came to the tiny township of Timber Creek, the only town between Katherine and Kununurra.

This little roadside stop of just a couple of garages, a caravan park and a small community was named in 1855 when the explorer Augustus Gregory used timber from the creek to repair his expedition’s boat.  

It is home to around 70 people and features several attractions that preserve its rich pastoral and exploration heritage and has long been the traditional lands of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal people.

It is well known fact that the local Aboriginal people provided early European settlers with valuable bush knowledge and even acted as guides for the local police in this area.

The first police station was first established in 1898 and was initially just a hut and a goat yard. The dwellings were upgraded to iron and steel in 1908 and the structure today is the ‘Timber Creek Police Station Museum’.

After wandering along the heritage walking trail to see historic sites and the pioneer’s graves, and a quick drive up the escarpment above town to take in the spectacular views from Nackeroo Lookout we headed on.

We visited this lonely but beautiful lookout high above the township, largely to take in the view of Victoria River and the surrounding countryside… but what we found was a memorial and a brief history of the Nackeroo soldiers who defended the North of Australia during World War II – a part of Australian history we had never heard of!

These Aboriginal guides and soldiers were all volunteer bush commandos who played an important part in the war efforts as the first line of defence from the Japanese. They patrolled the unpopulated coastal regions of this part of Northern Australia on horseback, in vehicles and in eight boats.

Their headquarters were in Katherine and three companies, comprising 550 soldiers and 59 Aboriginal people, including trackers were stationed on the Gregory, Roper and the Ord Rivers.

They endured isolation, crocodile attacks, malaria, hunger, thirst and the knowledge that they were expendable as far as the army was concerned and had it not been for the skills of the Aboriginal trackers and the Northern Territory Mounted Police many would have perished.

This was the first time we had taken the very steep and narrow but sealed road to the top of the Newcastle Range, just 3-kilometres west of the township, and the sweeping views of the river and Timber Creek were amazing… but don’t even think of towing a van up!

Signposted off the Victoria Highway northwest of the town is Policeman’s Point. Policeman’s Point overlooks the Victoria River as it winds its way through rugged hills and ranges and is said to have once been used by local police for monitoring boat traffic along the river.

Today, it is a popular spot with the fisherfolk. Fishing for ‘barra’ is one of this little towns biggest drawcards with the beautiful Victoria River running deep through its valleys and gorges.

Our next spot to pull up stumps for the night was ‘Big Horse Creek Campground’, 10-kilometres west of Timber Creek.

Set in the National Park, it’s a  great campground surrounded by beautiful Boabs and situated right next to the Victoria River. There are clean toilets, limited fresh tank water (so best to have your own), lots of grassed areas with plenty of shade, marked campsites and enough room for quite a few travellers – although it pays to arrive early as it fills up pretty quick.

The main draw card with this campground is the boat ramp, which is only a short walk from the campground. Here we found a few fisherpeople, the Victoria River Cruise boat tied up and several army vehicles, one launching a huge miliary boat.

An army base – Bradshore Field Training Facility – is located on the other side of the river to the campground and can only be accessed via the gated Edmund Bridge , otherswise known as ‘the bridge to nowhere’… and obviously, watercraft!

The water here looked so inviting as we sat watching the river flow past… but beware, this is croc country and there were plenty to be seen! 

On our way back to camp we noticed lots of Boabs nuts lying in the surrounding bushland and it was only the fact I couldn’t take them home across the Tasmanian border that stopped me from collecting them.

The carving and painting of these distinctive hollow nuts was, for thousands of years, an ancient art form carried out by the Indigenous men from the area…

… but today many of the women from the surrounding Aboriginal communities gather for a cuppa, a chat and to collect, decorate and create beautiful objects from them. I would have loved a couple to adorn my Christmas tree but again our unknown border restrictions prevented me from purchasing them.

There’s always something magical about a beautiful outback sunset when the sun hovers on the edge of the world and daylight gives way to darkness. It is a moment I never tire of and as this was our last night in the Northern Territory, there was nothing more memorable than ending a day with a beautiful sunset followed by a million twinkling stars… and sharing it with your significant other and a nice glass of red! 

Next morning, as we cooked up our porridge the sun rose behind the gum trees and once again we were privy to the brilliant reds and golds of an outback sunrise as the sun appeared from behind the horizon. It was just what we needed to kick start another day!

Heading on, and just down the highway a little we parked near the Bradshaw Bridge. Here we could experience just how big and wide the Victoria River truly was … 100-kilometres from the mouth!

9-kilometres on we turned off and followed a 3-kilometre unsealed road to ‘Gregory’s Tree Historical Reserve’.

This sacred site to the Ngarinyman people was named after explorer Augustus Gregory and his party, who camped here in 1855.  

The ‘Gregory’s Tree’ is a magnificent ancient Boab, just sitting above the Victoria River and it was here that Baines, the expedition artist, carved the arrival and departure dates of Gregory’s North Australian Expedition into the tree.  

The Victoria River region not only has a colourful scenery of dry grassy plains, swollen Boab trees, magnificent craggy ranges, escarpments and majestic gorges… but it also features significant traces of Aboriginal culture and an intriguing history of early Australian explorers venturing into the vast expanses of untrodden territory.

Boab trees are a main feature in The Gregory National Park and grow regally along the highway and high up on the steep, scree-covered orchre red slopes.

The sheer size and boldness of the ancient Boab trees catches everyone’s attention and it is these ancient beings that I love most about the top end of Australia. Each is unique, each seems to have its own personality… and each has a mysterious quality about it!

The Australian Boab’s botanical name is Adansonia gregorii and it is one of nine species, two of which are found in Africa and Arabia, and six of the species are found in Madagascar.  

The Australian Boab tree has been in Australia for thousands of years but how it arrived still remains a mystery. Some believe it dates back to when Australia was once connected to Africa during the Gondwana period, some say it drifted in with the ocean currents, others believe early explorers brought it here… but the Aboriginals believe it arrived with their ancestors hence, the trees hold special cultural significance to these people.

As we continued through the Pinkerton Range along the final stretch of the Northern Territory highway, we had one last picturesque pit stop to pull in to. Just 68-kilometres from the border is Saddle Creek Roadside stop.

We had camped at this busy rest area previously but today we were only stopping briefly for lunch and a cuppa.

This very popular free camp boasting pit toilets (byo loo paper), water (although not fit to drink), covered tables, fire pits and rubbish bins is where most travellers heading into Western Australia off-load their honey and fruit and veggies before crossing the border.… and although one of the most picturesque stops we have camped at, it can be a very noisy pit-stop with lots of vehicles pulling in and out throughout the night – just for a toilet stop!   

Guy was behind the wheel as we left this roadside stop. I had driven most of the previous day and I was pleased of the opportunity to make some notes.

Not far down the highway a road train passed us then wandered all over the road for the next couple of kilometres!

Road trains are as much a part of our Aussie road-trip experience as red dust and flat horizons… however, they are always still a shock when they whizz past –  especially the time they take to pass with their many, many trailers!

3-kilometres east of the border we came to the ‘Keep River National Park’ turnoff but as we weren’t too keen on the 30-kilometre dirt road in, we carried on.

This National Park, although small in size, has two great campgrounds to choose from – Gurrandalng and Jarnem… and some excellent walking trails where you can explore amazing sandstone ridges that resemble the ‘Bungle Bungles‘. Our favourite walks in this national park are the ‘Goorrandalng’ and the ‘Ginger’s Hill Walk’.

Just before the border we passed the turnoff to the Zebra Rock Mine.

This area is seemingly the only place in the world where the very rare Zebra Rock is found and apparently geologists, scientists and mathematicians all have varying theories on how it was formed. We had visited here before so we bypassed this track, but if you are undecided, it is well worth the rough 10-kilometre detour off the highway to check it out… and you will find another great camp ground!

Finally, large border signs signalled our looming arrival at the Western Australian/Northern Territory border… and the Quarantine Checkpoint.

Having already disposed of our fruit and veggies we moved through the Quarantine area quickly only stopping for the obligatory border sign photo.

GOODBYE TO THE NORTHERN TERRITORY…. and HELLO WA

We were now in the land of… the ‘Sandgropers’! A little-known fact is that Aussies even have lingo for each other… read more!

Just 7-kilometres down the road we turned left off the Victoria Highway onto the Lake Argyle Road.

Lake Argyle is the first stop in Western Australia when travelling from the Northern Territory and the last of the Kimberley’s amazing attractions when leaving Western Australia… and the scenery along this road is so spectacular I was busily snapping photos all the way.

41-kilometres from the border we arrived at Lake Argyle. This is our third visit to this incredible man-made lake… and it never ceases to amaze me!

Keeping fit on the road…

It’s recommended that adults aged 65 or older do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all days of the week.

Some activity, however light, is better for your health than none at all… but you may find fitting in an exercise regime pretty challenging while embracing your new nomadic lifestyle.

Don’t dispair – I have found a new way to motivate you and keep you moving… and it’s as easy as A,B,C!

https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2018/03/01/fitness4you-on-the-road/

https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2018/04/02/fitness-on-the-go/

Aternatively log on to

Be Mobile Physiotherapy’ is a team of physiotherapists passionate about empowering over 55’s to stay strong and independent.

From Mitch and the team at Be Mobile Physiotherapy – 

… the Squat

One of the key movements incorporated into the free workout (and lots of our workouts) is the squat. 

Everyone squats multiple times per day. 

Getting up and down from a chair…

On and off the toilet seat…

You get the idea.

Considering how frequently you require that movement in simple everyday life, you would be surprised how often we hear things like…

“I cannot squat, it’s bad for my knees”…

“My doctor/physio told me not to squat as it isn’t good for my arthritis”…

Unfortunately there is a lot of bad advice (not based on the science) and also a lot of misintepreted advice.

The question isn’t whether or not you should squat as an exercise but rather what adjustments do you need to make. 

Avoiding a movement is not going to make it stronger. So unless you want to be stuck in your chair in future years then you better get squatting. You just need to find the right variation for you. 

Watch this squat tutorial with Jack and Ollie which runs you though some tips for how to do the squat and how to progress it. 

This video does not include all the easiest and hardest versions possible but gives you an idea of the type of education we like to share with our clients to empower you with the skills to stay fit and strong and keep doing the things that make you happy.

Check out the squat tutorial here

One comment

  1. What a wonderful post. I lived in Darwin about six years and traversed this route a few times so your post brought back some great memories, in addition to introducing me to places I never knew existed. We plan on hitting the road with a caravan in a couple of years. The NT and WA will be high on our list of must sees. Now that I have found your blog I have hit the follow button and look forward to your future writings.

    Like

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