Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Limmen Bight National Park to Katherine

Darren and Nic had already decided on a way to get to Katherine in NT, via Borroloola and the Limmen Bight National Park (which on our maps was still a proposed NP), and invited us to come with them.  We thought it sounded like an excellent idea as we probably wouldnt go that way on our own, due to its remoteness, and teamed up for a few more days.


Limmen Bight was named after Mr Limmen (dont remember his first name), a Dutch explorer from the early 1600's who first sighted the area.  Our route took us West/North West through the National Park and some stunning country, quite green, but still dusty.  There are also some amazing rock formations called Lost City's - we visited the Southern one which was easily accessible off the dirt track through the park.  Quite gravity defying some of the sandstone rock formations and amazing colours.  They are not very much visited as they are off the beaten track and apparently there are some politics (e.g. Aboriginal sacred sites) surrounding them too.  We had them all to ourselves which made it even more memorable.  In fact it was so surreal I thought I wasn't there or was dreaming - I know that sounds a bit spiritual for me, but it was a fantastic experience and so far removed from anyone or anywhere.  The Lost Cities will one day probably be more on the tourist trail, but for us it was an unexpected treat to see and we felt quite privileged.



Borroloola was the last town before we hit the park.  It was a rough, poor looking community, but had a store (the Borroloola Bulk Discount store or BBD!) with some expensive fresh stuff so we stocked up on a few essentials and filled up with fuel.


Anyhoo, Darren had already suffered a punctured tyre before we met him, but was carrying two spares.  Just as we turned into the camping area he got another one and so was down to no spare tyres.  The roads were incredibly rough - small, sharp fragments of limestone sticking out and bad corrugations so it was no surprise, I was expecting a puncture at any minute.  The Disco seemed to be lasting ok, but toward the end of the day I found some bolts in the diff had shook loose and also the bump stop for the rear airbag suspension had broken its spot weld and come loose, luckily both were quickly and easily fixed by a bit of tightening up (and again in the morning when everything was cold) and a cable tie + duck tape!

The next day we visited the Ranger, who was a very helpful young, local lad studying environmental sciences, not at all what we were expecting, who graciously helped repair Darren's tyre and then wouldnt accept any money as a thanks!  It was interesting chatting to him; we found out he does Mon - Fri, odd hours, stayed there in the wet season to do weed spraying and upkeep of the park and so on.  He helped us decide that the Southern Lost City was the way to go as the Western one was 30kms, but would take 1.5 hours due to the condition of the road!  And with only one repaired spare tyre it probably wasnt a good idea to attempt something so tricky and remote.  The old homestead is now where the rangers live; they have freshwater springs on the site and plenty of tranquility and solitude.  When Darren offered him some cash and said buy yourself some beers, he politely asked "Where?"!


We camped at Butterfly Springs which was a great spot.  A little waterfall with a swimming hole and some cold water was a welcome thing to do at the end of a dusty day.  The most noticeable thing was at night there was not a sound, no bats, no insects, no generators (!), nothing.  We slept really well both nights after sitting around the fire and putting the world to rights.  And we had no booze which helped the quality of sleep!  The nights get quite cold up here, so the duvet was back out too.  The pastel pinks on the rocks at sunset were a sight for sore eyes too.

Before leaving I found my fuel cooler to be leaking coolant over my diff, which may be related to the bolts coming loose, nothing too serious, but a minor annoyance anyway.

When we left Limmen Bight we drove up to Ropers Bar, which was surreal with an Aboriginal woman who had crazy big hair sat on a plastic chair with her 3 kids running around (and across the dirt road) in their underpants in front of the shop, an odd sounding local woman running the store and a massive bush fire raging in the distance with black smoke everywhere and nobody paying any attention to it (its a fact of life up here).  It felt to me like a dreamy film set.  We bought a can of coke and got out of there. 

We spotted an awesome beast - The Buffalo - on the way out of Limmen Bight, these were introduced in the 1880s and are now feral in some areas of NT, farmed in others, this big dude was definitely feral!


The next town on our way was Mataranka which has thermal pools bubbling out of porous limestone at about 32 degrees - a bit similar to home I guess!  We parked up and almost ran to the pools for a well deserved dip at the end of another dusty day.  Dinner was at the pub that night, chicken parmi and chips and a few beers.  The nights sleep was spoilt by some local Aboriginals and pub regulars being really loud for hours.  We got a pie from Mataranka roadhouse the next day - probably the nicest pie we've had in Australia, but not a scratch on the 2in1 pies from Avening of course.  And headed North on the Stuart Highway to Katherine.

Katherine is a reasonably large town with all services, it gets flooded every year, 1998 saw the river at 6kms wide and the waters rise 21 metres!  Apparently saltwater crocs were seen cruising down the High St raiding the butchers!!  At Katherine we spent two nights at a pleasant historic homestead "Springvale" camped next to the billabong.  They conducted a free tour of the homestead which was very informative with some bush tucker tips too!  We saw freshwater croc eyes at night just the other side of the billabong.  It gave us time to resupply with meat and groceries in town (a town with a lot of poor looking Aboriginals hanging around in the streets - where the shops play loud music so they dont loiter!)  And I serviced the car, greasing the tailshafts, changing the oil, filters and doing lots general checks before we went bush again into Kakadu National Park......

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