We loved our time in Darwin and as we waved goodbye to our friends from Queensland (welcome to our blog again Sandii and Neil), and disappeared down the highway we knew we would be back to visit another day… but for now we had our sights set on some new and exciting adventures on the road ahead!
We began our journey along the epic Stuart Highway named after John McDouall Stuart, the first European to navigate the country from north to south.
This highway travels from the furthest most city on Australia’s ‘Top End’ then carves a path through the ‘Red Centre’ of the country and into the southern states of our land of ‘Oz’.
For many years, what is now known as the Stuart Highway (or ‘the Track’ or ‘the Bitumen’ to locals), was little more than a track that followed a Overland Telegraph Line, built to connect Australia with London in 1870–1872.
This telegraph line was constructed between Adelaide and Darwin and connected with a submarine cable, which then linked with Java in Indonesia.
It was still in use until the 1970s, however the international line was cut during World War II in anticipation of Darwin being invaded by the Japanese… and was subsequently never reconnected.
It wasn’t until mid-1939 that a more substantial road was constructed when, during World War II, a coordinated military road and rail freight service was built between the railheads at Alice Springs and Larrimah to transport supplies. A remarkable feat of engineering that saw a once rough track turned into a highway in the space of a few months.
Along this route there is still evidence of this cable line and the repeater stations and some locations where military bases were established to help prevent Australia from being invaded by Japan.
After almost a week of carvan park camping we were pretty excited to be back on the road taking in the scenery of the ‘Top End’ once again.
With Katherine and the turnoff to Western Australia ‘just down the road’ (a mere 316-kilometre journey ahead of us), we decided to take our time and stay a night or two along the way just to check out the many sights and attractions close to the highway!
We often hear locals say, ‘just down the road’, but when you’re driving in outback Australia don’t be fooled… while ‘just down the road’ in Tassie literally means just down the road, and at the most a 5-minute drive – in Outback Australia it’s a totally different story! It can be anywhere from a couple of hours to a whole day’s driving!
The sealed road we followed out of town allowed for an easy trip and just 34-kilometres south of Darwin we came to a sign indicating the turnoff to Arnhem Highway.
Arnhem Highway links the mining town of Jabiru in Kakadu National Park to the Stuart Highway and although we had no intentions of visiting this trip (having visited twice before), we turned off the Stuart onto the Arnhem with our first stop, some 10-kilometres further on at the small town of Humpty Doo.
This small town is rated as the second best suburb of Darwin and although only a short distance of 40-kilometres or so down the road from the city, it is far enough away to be its own little place of remoteness with market gardens and mango farms…
… and you can only imagine the aroma from the ripe mangoes drifting through our open windows as we drove along!
Intrigued and amused by the name of this town, even a quick google search couldn’t confirm its origins… and it seems nobody really knows exactly how ‘Doo’ (as it is known by the locals) acquired its name!
Some believe it was taken from a station nearby, which was named ‘Umpity Doo’. Others believe it probably came from ‘Humpty Dumpty’, an expression in Australian lingo meaning ‘upside down’. There is also a suggestion it came from an army slang term ‘umpty’ used around the time of the 1st World War for the dash when reading morse code.
I should imagine there are other suggestions also, but regardless of where it came from, it’s no surprise this little town made it on the list of ‘Strange Aussie Town Names’ attracting visitors from all around the world just wanting to visit to see what all the fuss is about!
We love checking out the unusual novelty structures featured at different locations around the country and aside from Humpty Doo’s unusual name, this little town is home of the ‘Top End’s’ famous 13-metre ‘Boxing Croc’, another of our country’s bizarre ‘big’ things, which with its red boxing gloves has become a must-see icon on the Arnhem Highway.
This town also featured in several bush ballads including ‘The Man from Humpty Doo’ by Ted Egan and it has even had a song written about it by Slim Dusty called ‘Humpty Doo Waltz’.
As with all these little hamlets, there always seems ‘a typical Aussie pub’ to visit for a beer and a bite to eat and Humpty Doo’s distinctive watering hole is just the place to stop.
Built in 1970, this open walled, concrete floor and iron roof building was nowhere near as old as some we had come across but it is believed to be one of the Northern Territory’s longest continually licensed premises having survived Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
As with all these country pubs it certainly had character/s – and I don’t mean the locals sitting at the bar! It has the world’s biggest set of water buffalo horns hanging above the bar and appeared to be the resident watering hole for a couple of four-legged friends as well – namely horses!
Humpty Doo mostly serves as a stop off point for visitors on their way to Kakadu, an iconic destination in Australia known for its amazing attractions of cascading waterfalls, rainforests, arid wilderness, billabongs, aboriginal rock art and rugged escarpments.
Kakadu is Australia’s largest park covering over 20,000 square kilometres of protected wilderness – roughly a third the size of our home state of Tasmania.
This cultural landscape, shaped by the spiritual ancestors of the Binibj and Mungguy Aboriginal people during the ‘Creation Time’, boasts the longest continuous surviving human culture in the world at at least 40,000 years.
Their ancestors journeyed across the country creating landforms, plants and animals and taught Bininj and Mungguy how to live with the land and look after the country.
Based on thousands of years of local knowledge the traditional owners distinguished between six different seasons in this area, each defined by the skies, rainfall, plants and animals.
- January – March: Gudjuek (Wet season), with huge thunderstorms, plentiful rain and high humidity.
- April: Banggereng (Storms), violent storms ‘knock-down’ the plantlife
- May – June: Yekke (Mist), water levels are high, but most roads are accessible.
- July – August: Wurrgeng and Gurrung (Dry), wildlife and birds are increasing.
- September – October: Gunumeleng (Build up to wet season), humidity, temperature and mosquitoes increase.
- November – December: Thunderstorms start and continue into the wet season.
Their ancestors were hunters and gatherers and as the seasons changed, they moved around the park in search of food and protection, often returning to their favourite camping areas near billabongs in the dry season, and in rock shelters during the wet season.
Descendants of these ‘first Australians’ still live in Kakadu today with the Bininj people residing in the northern part of the park and the Mungguy in the southern part. The name ‘Kakadu’ is said to have come from the mispronunciation of ‘Gagadju’, which is the name of the Bininj Aboriginal language.
For those visiting the Kakadu National Park a sealed road of around 600-kilometres circumnavigates the park in the shape of a triangle.
Starting just off the Stuart Highway near Humpty Doo the Arnhem Highway stretches into Jabiru before heading back out along the Arnhem Highway to the Stuart Highway at Pine Creek, or vice versa.
To make getting around the park easier, Kakadu is divided into seven regions… East Alligator (Erre), Jabiru, Jim Jim and Twin Falls, Mary River, Burrungkuy (Nourlangie), South Alligator and Yellow Water (Ngurrungurrudjba). Each with its own unique habitat and attractions.
It truly is a place of wonder, but the big question regularly discussed by travellers on camping websites, around campfires and at happy hour is whether to ‘Kakadu or Kakadon’t’ – and there are several facts to consider when visiting this national park!
Kakadu is over 300-kilometres from Darwin, so it is not an easy day trip. To see and appreciate the full beauty of this area you really need three to four days to explore.
The park is easily accessed by 2WD as are some of the many attractions. However, if you want to see some of the more remote attractions, such as Jim Jim and Twin Falls, and even Gunlom and Maguk, you will need a 4WD to safely access them. Many of these tracks have water crossings and are very rough, dusty and corrugated! We did a shock absorber on the road into Gunlom on our very first trip!
In saying that – if you’re looking for a cultural experience, then Kakadu really is the place to spend a couple of days. There’s the Marrawudi gallery in Jabiru and the gallery at Yellow Waters (Cooinda). Nourlangie Rock is home to some amazing ancient aboriginal rock art and Ubirr Rock Lookout is a favourite place of ours to watch the sunset over the wetlands.
From the sheer beauty of Gunlom and Jim Jim Falls, the wetlands and billabongs – all thriving with wildlife and surrounded by beautiful scenery, to croc watching at Cahills Crossing, I guarantee Kakadu will leave you gobsmacked!
There are numerous camping areas, organised tours and walks and I highly recommend a dawn cruise on Yellow Water.
At the commercial campgrounds you have access to the resort swimming pools, restaurants, shops etc but there are cost friendly National Park campgrounds in all seven regions if you prefer the isolation. These range from managed campgrounds with toilets, showers, picnic tables and fire pits to bush campgrounds that have very basic facilities, mostly just pit toilets.
Now if you’re travelling around Australia you’ve surely heard about the risks of crocodiles up north!
Well there’s lots and lots of these frightening, yet fascinating creatures living in the Northern Territory… so be warned! You do need to take extra care in Kakadu and NOT GET TOO CLOSE TO THE WATER…
… especially along the waterways and around the billabongs.
In Kakadu saltwater crocs are hiding everywhere. Traps and croc fences are set by the rangers after the wet season in the 5 main waterholes that are tourist hotspots but the likelihood of a rouge croc frequenting a waterway that flows into a waterhole is quite on the cards… and it’s not unusual to see a croc trap still set up somewhere – especially at Jim Jim and Twin Falls.
Crocs are found all along the north coast of Australia between Broome in Western Australia and Rockhampton in Queensland and up to 200-kilometres inland… and even Litchfield, as popular as it is with its beautiful swimming spots, comes with a certain amount of risk where the odd salty is concerned. Freshwater Crocs also inhabit these waterways and waterholes and although they pose less of a threat it pays to remember they are likely to attack when threatened.
Kakadu really is a completely different park to experience in so many ways compared to the other parks in the ‘Top End’… and should be on everyone’s to-do-list if your visiting the Terrirtory.
Yes, some of the attractions may require a little more work and a 4WD to enjoy, and it is quite expensive (as you now have to pay a $40pp entry permit plus camping fees)… but between the wildlife, the rock art, off road tracks and waterfalls, Kakadu National Park has so much to offer that everyone should experience it at least once if they are doing the big trip!
My suggestion is, if you haven’t seen Kakadu yet, this National Park is well worth a visit… so drop in and say g’day and check out the sights!
After a short visit to Humpty Doo for a quick photo we were back on the highway making our way south through the familiar terrain of the Northern Territory.
We were surrounded by the barren, empty landscape of some of Australia’s harshest country… but somehow this wild and varied terrain never really seemed empty.
Salt bush, termite mounds dressed in daggy clothing, charred bush and hilly ranges filled the almost empty landscape for as far as the eye could see.
Roadkill provided a tasty meal for birds of prey and for most of our journey black kites circled above fresh carcasses just waiting for the opportunity to swoop.
We were also back in road-train territory and it was no surprise to suddenly have a monstor truck zip past us.
These trucks can be anything up to fifty metres long pulling three and four trailers, and between them and the convoy of caravans it certainly made driving this highway a bit of a challenge… especially with the speed limit of 130- kilometres.
It was quite amazing to see the masses of white caravans again, many travelling in convoy, on their annual migration to Darwin… and it takes a lot patience, especially for the truck drivers, just waiting for a nice long, straight stretch of road to overtake.
One thing Australia has plenty of is long stretches of driving on relatively narrow highways, and a couple of times we opted to pull in to one of the roadside stops just to ease the build up of traffic.
With long haul truck drivers and the ‘Big Lappers’ needing to take regular breaks to reduce fatigue, the network of roadside stops along the outback highways are a godsend. There are three on this stretch of highway – Manton Dam, Coomalie Creek and Bridge Creek, which is 169-kilometres from Kathereine and the only stop that allows overnight camping.
Around 50-kilometres down the road we passed the turnoff to Batchelor and Litchfield National Park…
… then a bit further on we came to the township of Adelaide River.
Adelaide River is a very small hamlet 113-kilometres south of Darwin that has a significant World War II history.
After the 1942 bombing of Darwin the Australian and American military headquarters were relocated to Adelaide River and it became the Australian and United States military command centre.
Today it is the site of the only Australian War Cemetery on Australian soil.
432 servicemen and 63 civilians, all of whom died as a result of Japanese bombing raids on Darwin are resting here in this beautiful cemetery – and it is one incredible monument honouring the servicemen and women who fought and died for our country.
Strolling among the military headstones was such a moving expereince allowing us time to reflect. These men and women will be always remembered for making history in the skies and landscapes of this vast land that surrounded us. They made the ultimate sarifice for their country when war came to Australia. ‘LEST WE FORGET’
After spending a couple of hours watching the video clips then relaxing in the beautiful adjoining bush park for a cuppa and a bite to eat, we continued down the road.
Robin Falls is a beautiful waterfall with a small bush campground located only 20-minutes south of Adelaide River – along Dorat Road.
If you’re looking for somewhere quiet and secluded to set up camp for the night then this is an ideal spot off the busy highway. We found this campground last trip as we exited the Reynolds Track and whether its just to stretch your legs or camp up for the night, it’s certainly worth checking out.
A short dirt track from Dorat Road leads into a small parking and camping area set along the riverbank. From there a short rocky walking track meanders along the side of a creek of small pools and fast flowing rapids to a beautifully three-tiered waterfall.
After a short stroll to the waterfall we were soon back on the main highway and it wasn’t long before we passed another sign, this time pointing to ‘Grove Hill Hotel’.
Down a rough gravel road and surrounded by shells of rusted vintage vehicles is a small pub come museum that once promised ‘the coldest beer’ in the Territory! Unfortunately Grove Hill Heritage Hotel is now closed but we were lucky enough to experience true outback hospitality here on our last trip!
… and this once quirky little pub is also home to the ‘biggest gold nugget in the country – probably the world – fake that is!
With all these little Aussie towns there always seems to be a watering hole with a difference where locals welcome visitors with open arms. Well, you can’t actually call Grove Hill a little town, but in a past life it was a mining settlement that began after the discovery of gold by prospector Harry Roberts in 1872 during construction of the Telegraph Line. The hotel or should I say shed, wasn’t built until 1934.
The Stuart Highway once passed the front door of this quintessential Ozzie outback pub but now the new highway is 16-kilometres away… and this hotel is now standing alongside a graveyard of rusty wrecks and old gold mines on a road to nowhere!
To me, this little pub created a clear image of what depicts the ‘real Outback of Australia’ and we weren’t surprised to find a local or three holding up the bar when we arrived… then after buying a beer and sitting awhile, it didn’t take long before one weathered old prospectors started spinning a yarn or two… closely followed by the publican!
Mr Heausler (otherwise known as ‘Stan the Man’ to the locals) was a real Aussie character full of stories – and I think he told the same story to any stranger who passed through the door.
I hadn’t even noticed the sawn off shovel until he mentioned it, but the story goes that apparently the Chinese miners didn’t get the same pay rises as the Aussies when working on the railway so they cut down their shovels .
Life was so lay back here that Stan told his visitors ‘if I’m in bed and you want something just blow the horn out the front and I’ll get up and serve you’. There was even a sign hanging on the door indicating this. We were told later he had only had a couple of call outs in his 17+ years as proprietor.
Welcome to our quirky world of Aussie humour where here in this part of the world nobody seems to take life too seriously!
Behind the dusty walls of this pub, memorabilia dated to 1934 when the hotel was built in the wake of the gold rush using bits and pieces sourced from the goldfields.
Rusty shovels hung by the bar, old photos hung on the walls… and old magazines and wares laying scattered throughout the rooms, a stark reminder of the past – irons, tools, a child’s trike, typewriters, bed pans and dingo and rabbit traps to name a few!
This really was a place with lots of character and characters and nobody should travel to the Top End without checking out this once iconic little ‘pub in a tin shed’ and the gold nugget.
Even if you can’t buy a beer there’s no better place to appreciate the vast outback landscapes of the ‘Top End’ than by setting up camp beneath the stars in this once wild gold mining country surrounded by the ghosts of a gold mining era… who knows, you might even have the chance to sit around the campfire with a real gold prospector who loves to spin a story!
See ‘The Ghan’ as travels by on its way to or from Adelaide or Darwin – wave as it gives a toot on the horn and if your lucky enough to time your visit right, enjoy one of the pubs famous cook ups in the campground on the last Saturday of each month. Comes complete with great entertainment and a good laugh!
Campsites cost $10 a person… and even though there’s no more working gold mines in the area, there are still nuggets to be had and you will be guaranteed to find a bit of ‘true blue’ Aussie spirt!
Further down the highway we passed Hayes Creek Roadhouse. The campground and roadhouse at Hayes Creek are now closed but I remembered it as a lovely park with large shady trees with only a few camping spaces.
Between the campground and the creek is a large flat field, which during World War II was developed as one of a series of army farms to supply vegetables to the Australian and American military forces in the area.
Following World War II, the camps and airfields around Hayes Creek were abandoned and then in the late 50s Hayes Creek was established as a ‘Tank and Tummy Station’ where you could refuel both car and body.
Just past Hayes Creek we passed the turnoff we had taken on our way to the ‘Reynolds Track’ only a week or so before…
… and just down the road we came to Pine Creek, a small town that was once again built on the back of a gold rush.
We had arrived back to the starting point of our ‘Top End’ adventure that had taken us through the southern end of Litchfield National Park and on to Darwin.
Our last and final stop for the day was the stunning Leilyn/ Edith Falls National Park where we planned to camp for the night.
Leilyn/ Edith Falls is a beautiful spot located only about an hour’s drive north from Katherine, but we always included a stop here on our trip – on our way up and our way back from Darwin.
Leilyn/ Edith Falls serves as an impressive sightseeing destination where you can explore the gorges, rock hop the rapids and climb to the top of the falls for a rock hewn vista of the surrounding landscape… and it has a great campground right in the heart of Nitmiluk National Park.
That night, surrounded by some of the most beautiful rugged ranges of outback Northern Territory, we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of wildlife.
We had grown to love our cosy little room of canvas… waking up next to some of the most epic landscapes, living with native wildlife and sleeping beneath the starry skies.
We woke the next morning with the first light of a magnificent sunrise then after our usual breakfast of porridge with all the trimmings and a refreshing swim we hit the road and headed for Katherine bypassing the turnoff to Katherine Gorge, also in Nitmiluk National Park.
There is something about the sunsets and sunrises out here in the outback that make them seem almost magical and I often wonder how many sunsets I have missed at home simply because we’ve been tucked away inside our house.
Read our adventures to Katherine, Katherine Gorge, Leilyn/ Edith Falls and Pine Creek here… https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2020/03/29/the-top-end-beckons-come-with-us-as-we-explore-katherine-nitmiluk-national-park-katherine-gorge-edith-falls-and-pine-creek/
From Katherine we turned west and so began another incredible adventure as we headed along the Victoria Highway enroute for the Bungle Bungles and the famous ‘Tanami Track’…
… a route of large expanses of deserts and unpopulated roads, and another adventure worthy of a top spot on our bucket list.
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.
You may find like many grey nomads, trying to stay fit and healthy while embracing your new nomadic lifestyle, and trying to fit in an exercise regime is pretty challenging .
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!
Click on to the links below for some basic exercise programs and each blog I will provide a overview of an activity that may be just what the doctor ordered to get your heart pumping!
log on to ‘be mobile physiotherapy‘ website
‘Be Mobile Physiotherapy’ is a team of physiotherapists passionate about empowering over 55’s to stay strong and independent.
Cycling is one of the most popular ways for us ‘free spirits’ to get our daily dose of exercise and vitamin ‘D’ while on the road.
Our best ever investment has to be our mountain bikes. They have travelled around Australia 4 times and survived some pretty rugged outback 4WD tracks.
They are our main mode of transport after we set up camp and not only allow us weary travellers to get plenty of fresh air after a long day on the road… but they also allow us the chance to experience new places, explore cities and towns and ride remote rail trails.
We often see cycles racks on the backs of caravans and motorhomes but we have also noticed many of the cycles seem to stay on the racks permanently.
Believe me, cycling is a wonderful way to stay fit and is lots of fun!
You may have been riding for years, or you may never have ridden at all but don’t ever assume you have to stop because you’re getting older – or because you can’t ride… it’s ever too late to start.