Pine Creek to Borroloola Northern Territories 21 - 22 April 2007
22 May 2007
Before leaving our camp site Sylvia took photographs of the carvings in the Pine Creek Tavern, and then we drove to a hill top overlooking the largest open cast mine of its day. This was an oblong of water which is apparently quite deep and now part of Pine Creek history. The lookout was reached by a steep narrow winding road with hairpin bends. Arriving at the top behind us was a caravan pulled by a car driven by people we had met at Katherine on our way north.
"How did you get up here" I said. "I don't know," was the reply, "I did not see the sign saying unsuitable for caravans and as I could not turn round, we kept praying nothing would be coming down." There had been no sign. Apparently it is not just me who ends up driving in places I wished I had not gone. We left before them so I have no idea how they fared on the way down. As our route past through Katherine heading south on the Stuart Highway, we took the opportunity to fill up on reasonably priced fuel and food from the large supermarket.
Eighteen miles further south were Cutta Cutta caves, named after an aborigine word meaning stars. When a light is shined on some of the formations, they glisten like stars. A one hour tour was due to start in 15 minutes at 1pm so we delayed our lunch and booked; it seemed it would be only us on the tour. The office lady set us off down the track between geological features and information plaques which would lead us to the cave entrance and our guide. The guide told us more people had arrived and would be taking the shorter exit walk to join us; 14 children and 6 adults. And we had delayed our lunch for this.
In the caves the children kept pushing towards the front and the other adults kept to the back until some caustic comments from us prompted some to join the children. There was difficulty in negotiating some of the rock out crops and poor lighting did not help. One child pushed Sylvia and she hurt her head, unfortunately he walked smack into her elbow the next time he pushed forward in the dark. One in front of me took his opportunity in the dark to start jumping on the metal walkway to make it vibrate. A thump in the back with uttered words of 'give up' put a stop to that. Now who could have done that? Apart from this, the caves were interesting because of their difference to other caves we have visited.
Cutta Cutta caves are tropical caves. They were on two levels. The first level was warm and the second level, a bit higher, was warmer still. In these caves straws growing from the ceiling do not drop water to the ground to form new growths because the water evaporates. Some stalactites do drop enough water to form stalagmites but these are usually swept away during the rainy season when the stream flows through the caves. So, in these caves there are not many stalagmites and this time, because of the high humidity, we were sweating whilst looking at the sights on view.
Our next stop was at Mataranka and our camp site was by a river near to enchanting pools and shady forest which was misnamed as Bitter Springs; an area of hot springs which we visited before night fell. Mataranka is the home town to the Never Never Ranch. It is the land of Jeannie Gunns book, 'We of the Never Never', and statues of characters from the film are displayed in the local park. If I come across the book and it is cheap I shall probably buy it. Mataranka is also known for its homemade beef pies, so before leaving we bought two and at tea time these pies lived up to their reputation; we should have bought four.
Further down the road was Larrimah. This town hosts a food shop on one side and Fran's home baking on the other, and nothing else. Fran's shop is a pilgrimage for some. As we arrived we met a family returning to Darwin. They had eaten and then bought frozen steak and kidney pies to take home. Fran's advert mentions camel and buffalo pies but we did not try those. I had a Barramundi (fish) and vegetable pasty, and Sylvia had a Devonshire Cream Tea, at 11.45am! And what a talker Fran's was, she could even give me lessons.
At the junction for Daly Waters we detoured the 3 miles to the Hiway Inn for fuel for the van and a bit for us. This inn had been the first international stopping and re-fuelling point for the airline Quantas. It is at the cross roads of very old historic travel routes from south to north or west to east. It was packed with character such as masses of foreign bank notes, rows of under wear, national flags, and ancient bric-a-brac. There were also three motor homes transporting 14 children and 6 adults that we had seen before. The children were throwing darts like javelins at the dart board in the far corner. Although some distance away, we kept our heads down
Next we travelled east on the Carpentaria Highway to Cape Crawford before taking a detour to Borroloola. This is mostly a single track road and our journey was uneventful. The terrain was of interest but lacking in variety for 168 miles until coming to the hilly region at our journeys end. We arrived as night fell at the 'Heart Break Hotel', which was the only building at Cape Crawford. Our total day's journey was 275 miles. There was nothing to impress about this camp site or the amenities; Cape Crawford is about 100 miles from the coast but is so named because it is at the head of a chain of hills.
At the Heartbreak Hotel you can book flights over the 'Lost Cities'. A flight is the only way you can see these areas of high columns of rocks which give the appearance of tall buildings. Unfortunately the flights do not start until sometime in May, so the cities will remain lost to us. However, half way up the road to Borroloola is Caranbirini Nature Reserve.
What a place this proved to be. At the road sign for Caranbirini we turned right and saw the gate closed with a notice on it. We thought, oh no, not again, it's shut. But it wasn't, a closer inspection saw that the notice said, 'please close the gate behind you'. Caranbirini has hopes of becoming a National Park. The main feature is towering rocks of sandstone formed over millions of years. This land was once a shallow sea bed and the sand was compacted, some sandstone can be hundreds of metres thick. Ripples on the rocks are similar to a shallow sandy beach at low tide. .
The longest walk was out of bounds because of the floods, what a shame. We walked over the bridge crossing the pool. Although much of the water will eventually evaporate, the resultant billabong should keep enough water all year for the local wild life. Our two kilometre walk took us about an hour to complete. First our path skirted the outside of the towering rock structures before leading into the much cooler interior. Current thinking is that aborigines have inhabited Australia for 50,000 years. Walking on these paths again brought home a sense of history to us. We saw no wild life though there would be kangaroos and rock wallabies hiding in the rocks. Part way round we talked with two Rangers who were clearing paths ready for the tourist invasion. Caranbirini is a great place to visit, and it is free. Back at the pool we looked in at the wild life hide but there was no wild life on view at this time of day.
We arrived on site at Borroloola by 4pm and walked a mile in strong heat to find the Medical Centre. I am in need of a repeat prescription of indigestion tablets. At the centre we met the nurse in charge who informed us the doctor would be visiting tomorrow. He would be flying from Kangaroo Island which is south of Adelaide. Now that is some journey to hold a surgery, and not uncommon in outback Australia. I was given a free one months supply of a comparable tablet.
After a cup of cool water from the water machine, we set off on our one mile return journey. Most people here think we are mad to walk but we regard it as our constitutional. Who knows, after all this exercise we could be fit when we return home. We certainly have had no need to attend a sauna whilst in the Northern Territories.