With a new motor in the VW we needed to do 1500 km’s before getting it serviced again in Townsville. So we took a trip down the coast, back to Seventeen Seventy to try and score some waves, but yet again it was flat. Not quite as bad as last time we were there though so I managed a couple of sessions on the SUP which was pretty cool after two months with no surf. We spent a few nights there before heading back to Townsville – it was great to be somewhere other than Airlie Beach and even better to have wheels again.
While we were in Townsville we checked out a couple of things we didn’t get time to see last time. Jezzine Barracks is a great headland at the end of The Strand, full of military history as well as 30 odd commissioned sculptures from local artists. Castle Hill towers over the town centre and just a few metres shy of a mountain offers amazing 360° views of the city, Magnetic Island, and the countryside to the North and West. We stayed just long enough to prepare ourselves for the next part of our lap, the first bit of new ground in nearly three months!
Destination… Darwin, some 2500 km’s and we planned to do it pretty quickly, spending only four nights on the road. The first night we stayed at Julia Creek and were treated to a magical sunset. We were all psyched to be back on the road and somewhere new. The next day we drove most of the day, crossed the border into NT and stopped only to cook some dinner and get some sleep. When we arrived at the rest area in the evening we realised that the bird we had hit earlier that morning had miraculously survived and spent a harrowing 6 hours or so stuck underneath our roof rack. With no tail feathers left by the time I pulled it out we are still left wondering how it fared?
On the third day the wheels started to come off, almost literally. About half an hour out of Tennant Creek we stopped to put a jerry can full of diesel in and when we started the car one of the engine warning lights came on. We put it down to dirty fuel and ploughed on to Tennant Creek. By the time we left there, we had three or four different warning lights going off however the car seemed to be running fine, wasn’t overheating, and there were no leaks. We stayed at Renner Springs that night, unsure whether to call the RAC or press on. On advice from the local mechanic we chose the later. Our last night before reaching Darwin we stayed at Mataranka by the Bitter Springs thermal pool. At 32° it sounds too hot but when the ambient temperature is around 38° it feels just fine and floating gently downstream with the current, on pool noodles, is the perfect way to relax. After leaving Mataranka on our last days drive to Darwin it really went pear shaped. We stopped in Katherine for fuel and the oil light low came on. A quick look under the hood and we realised we had a hydraulic leak and and engine oil leak. A phone call to VW Townsville allayed our fear as they said if its running well then keep going. We filled up with oil and made a dash for Darwin, fingers crossed and praying all the way. Obviously not crossed hard enough as we got hit by a mini tornado which ripped the SUP straight off the roof and slammed it into the highway behind us. We picked up the remnants and limped into Darwin.
Thomas celebrated his fourth birthday the day after we arrived – apparently hes’ a big boy now. We took the car in to VW Darwin the next day and thankfully our RAC cover meant we could get a hire car to get us around. We did the touristy things while we waited for VW to figure out was happening with the car. Crocosaurus Cove in the city centre and the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory were pretty cool, particularly the cyclone Tracy exhibition. We spent a lot of time at the Wave Lagoon as it was free entry for a couple of weeks due to the lagoon part being closed, the kids loved the waves once you coaxed them in to the main pool. And of course we hit the Mindil Beach markets. A great atmosphere and even better food! Definitely some of the best Asian hawker style food we have ever had.
Apparently the car was in worse shape than expected, what seemed to be a minor oil leak was actually quite a major leak from the rear seal and once the gear box was out they realised it was leaking from the timing belt cover too which meant the engine had to come out as well. With everything happening on NT time (Not today, not tomorrow, not the next day, not Tuesday, not Thursday) we decided that we would use Darwin as a base to visit Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks rather than tow the caravan out there after the car was fixed.
We did a day trip out to Litchfield as it’s just over an hour away from Darwin. We checked out most of the waterfalls in the park but spent most of the day at Wangi Falls. The boys thought it was great and even dipped their heads a few inches into the waterfall. We stopped quickly at the magnetic termite mounds but it was to bloody hot and you see them everywhere when your driving.
Back in Darwin we knew we would be waiting a while for the car to be fixed so we tried to do something different each day. Some days walking the esplanade, some cycling to the beaches, and others visiting the different tourist attractions. After a bit of research we found a good deal and booked a hotel in Kakadu for a couple of nights as it’s too far to do just a day trip.
It was fantastic to have a hotel room, 45m² of space the likes of which we haven’t seen since we embarked on this journey. We dropped of our gear and made way up to Ubir, located in the North-East section of Kakadu. This region is extremely rich in Aboriginal Rock art with some art dating back tens of thousands of years. We even got to see the elusive rock wallaby along our climb to the look out where we gazed over the Nardab floodplain and out to Arnhem land – a magnificent view.
The following day was an early start as we choose to do the sunrise tour along the Yellow Water River in Cooinda, nearly 100 km’s from our pad. An abundance of wildlife like you have never seen before, crocodiles, eagles, brolgas, jabiru, magpie geese, tree snakes, buffalo, you name it. Our skipper, and tour guide spoke of his heritage, connection to the land, and the importance of the wildlife to country. It was a great experience! Following the Yellow waters cruise we stopped at Nourlangie rock, another great walk filled with aboriginal art and amazing landscapes and wildlife.
Unfortunately we had to head back to the caravan park as we could easily have spent another few nights exploring the rest of Kakadu. Still waiting for the car it gave us a chance to catch up with Loreta’s good family friend Mark and his family (Julianne, Luke, Nicholas and Joseph) for lunch. They hadn’t seen each other for 21 years so they had a lot of catching up to do! Mark invited us around again for a BBQ dinner another night. We had a great night, great food, cold drinks and good company. Thanks Mark and Julianne for your wonderful hospitality!
Finally after nearly a month the VW was ready to pickup. However when I did there was an issue with the gearbox. With fuel lines coming off, all sorts of oil leaks, motor and gearbox removed and refitted, and now the gearbox playing up we made a big call. Not confident of driving it 4000km home with no Euro car mechanics in between we decided to buy a new Ford Ranger, and we haven’t looked back since. We left Darwin and headed toward Kununurra. Stopping in Katherine we climbed the Baruwei Lookout which gives an incredible view over Katherine Gorge. We pushed on another 40km’s and stopped at a free camp on the side of the road for the night. After enduring a sweltering night and struggling for sleep we woke to the realisation that the caravan had been invaded by thousands of tiny ants. After nearly ten months on the road we are still learning and will make sure the bin goes outside and the ant powder gets sprinkled around the van in future. Not to be deterred as we would be back in Western Australia in matter of hours.
Till next time, Caio. TLTD