HIGH COUNTRY

Sometimes things just fall into place. Soon after agreeing to a workshop with the ASOC in Canberra, I received an email inviting me to a Canberra High School reunion – 5 days before the workshop.

Catching up with school friends from 45 years ago was amazing. Appearances had changed but personalities were just as they were way back then.

After the workshop and reunion we headed over the mountains west of Canberra and down to the high country and Kosciuszko National Park

 

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Driving down the New England Highway there are some very prosperous towns and others in slow decline. Back when these towns were established, being a days ride from the next town guaranteed their future. Today they are quickly passed through and forgotten. Here are the remnants of a few of them.

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Coolah Tops is a great National Park with sweeping views across the Liverpool Plains. I have never seen the country so green and cant believe the government would consider allowing a coal mine in, what must be some of the worlds best agricultural land.

snow8678 snow8689 snow8692 snow8702 snow8752 Falls near Sofala

snow8821This guy thought sticking his head under a rock made him invisible.

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We left Canberra and headed out through Brindabella to join the top end of the Long Plain Road. We were told the road was closed in winter due to snow, then re opened each October.

We drove in to find a locked gate leading to the National Park. As we were about to drive back a farmer, whose property the road runs through, turned up. After chatting for a while we were about to head off and drive the long way around when he kindly offered to unlock the gate and let us through.

Twenty kilometres down the track we were stopped by a fallen tree. Not being able to go back through the locked gate and unable to move the tree, our only option was to somehow get over it.

We built long ramps of logs and rocks to give us plenty of clearance. Unfortunately, as we descended the ramp the right hand front wheel sunk into the soft ground, hanging us up on the log. After four hours of jacking, packing and digging, all we managed to do was sink deeper into the soft ground.

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It was getting dark when we gave up digging so we spent an uncomfortable night camped at thirty degrees.

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The ground was too soft for us to lift the heavy truck so, in the morning, we contacted the National Park Office by satellite phone and explained our situation. They were fantastic and had a ranger up there with a chainsaw within a couple of hours.

As it turned out, National Parks were sending a tractor up to clear any fallen trees later that day. If only we had known. We could have saved 4 hours of hard work and camped on level ground! cutlogsnow9082 Coolamine Homestead was built in the late 1800’s when they used to run horses and cattle in the high country.

Today the cattle have all but disappeared but wild brumbies are breeding up.

snow9112 snow9116 snow9132 I spotted this mare laying on the ground way off in the bush above the plains. When I walked up I discovered she had died giving birth. Her head was resting on a log and her eyes were still open, looking out across the plains.

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The Kosciuszko High country is stark and beautiful, and the weather always unpredictable. Overnight temperatures were below freezing and, in spite of the sun, seven or eight degrees was as warm as the days would get – and this was late spring!

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CARNARVON GORGE / BLACKALL

A workshop in Blackall provided a great excuse to head off a couple of weeks early and spend some time in the Carnarvon Gorge / Salvator Rosa area of central Queensland before settling in for the workshop.

gorgeCarnarvon Gorge is a spectacular collection of sheer sandstone cliffs, narrow side gorges and pockets of rainforest.

 

BLAC2978Light spills briefly into one of the damp, narrow side gorges.

BLAC2997Palms and ferns grow in the protected pockets of the main gorge.

BLAC3004x_1Strangler figs engulf anything in their path.

BLAC3011The surrounding country side is in the grip of drought, but permanent springs keep the creeks and waterholes in the gorge full of water.

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BLAC3083After a few days exploring Carnarvon Gorge we looped around to the North and came back into the western end of the Carnarvon Ranges at Salvator Rosa. The access roads quickly become impassable as soon as rain falls. With no prediction of rain we were confused heading into this looming black sky. It turned out to be a mixture of suspended dust and smoke from nearby fires. It made for an amazing orange light as the sun set.

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BLAC3126Exploring some of the tracks around Salvator Rosa was hard peddling in the sand and bulldust, but a lot of fun.

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BLAC3127The fine bulldust mixed with coarse sand make this kangaroo’s footprint so detailed you can even see the texture of the pads on his foot.

arts centerWe left Salvator Rosa and headed via Tambo to Blackall where we stayed in the Living Arts Centre for the workshop.

The Living Arts Centre was formerly a hostel for school students from the outlying stations. Students now attend boarding schools in the city, so the premises has been converted to accommodation and studios.

DSC07191The studios are spacious and filled with light. Our painting was punctuated by excursions to numerous places of interest around Blackall. We visited “Alice Downs” where Jacky Howe broke the record for blade shearing – 321 sheep in 7 hours and 20 minutes back in 1892. The record still stands today. We enjoyed great meals supplied by the “Marmaladies” from Blackall and also dined at a number of restaurants around the town, including a memorable feast, slow cooked in a wood stove at the wool scour.

BLAC3201Another local hero was Roy Dunne, who jumped his goat, Nugget, over a 3’6″ bar in 1905 – another world record feat.

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BLAC3194Mustering cattle for the Thursday cattle sale in Blackall.

 

BLAC3185Long neglected fuel pump.

BLAC3296xStu Benson first drove cattle at the age of 12 and has been a proud Blackall resident all his life. His stories of the town and knowledge of the area are captivating.

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BLAC3407xHypnotic local goats.

BLAC3453Blackall wool scour – amazing steam driven chaos brought back to life.
Many thanks to Sally Campbell and her enthusiastic helpers for a fantastic workshop in Blackall.

 

CANADA

After floating our way up through the Northwoods we crossed the boarder into Canada at Sault Ste Marie. A mighty bridge spans the locks that move ships from one great lake to another. A short queue, quick passport inspection and some questions about alcohol and firearms saw us welcomed into Canada.

Once across the boarder the highway was lined with warning signs about deer, moose and Amish rickshaws. We saw many Amish rickshaws, a few deer, but unfortunately, not a moose in site.

The Canadian roads were excellent and it didn’t take long for the big V8 to float its way to Sudbury where my brother Wayne and his wife Monique live.

Sudbury sailing club and lake ferry.

Science North is a big, snow flake shaped building housing an Imax theater and a number of science displays relating to the local area.

The park surrounding Ramsey lake, in the center of town, is the home to a large collection of native wildlife. These Canada geese share the waters edge with a resident beaver. There are squirrel’s, chipmunks and raccoons, but still no moose or bears.

One of the main tourist attractions in Sudbury is the Big Nickel. At 9 meters high, it is listed in the Guinness book of records as the worlds largest coin.

Sudbury’s Inco Superstack is the second tallest freestanding chimney in the world (380 meters)  being outstacked by a neat 10% by a chimney in Kazakhstan. Before construction of the superstack toxic gases from the mine had a devastating effect on the local environment – acid rain turning rocks black and killing off all vegitation. The superstack pumps the gas high into the atmosphere, where it can be detected for a 240km radius around Sudbury.

The Canadian government control all alcohol sales in the country. If you want to buy beer you go to the Beer Store – they don’t sell wine or spirits, just beer. If you want alcohol containing beverages other than beer you drive across town to another government owned store called the LCBO. There you can buy wine and spirits, but not beer?

Cigarette sales are also controlled by the government via heavy taxes. Through some loophole, the Indian reservations can sell cigarettes tax free. For a few bucks you can buy 250 generic cigarettes and add some more toxic fumes to the local atmosphere.

Monique took us for a drive to Onaping Falls north of Sudbury. A beautiful river cuts through weathered granite country, lined by forests of birch, maple and pines. It’s a spectacular site at the start of summer but during the fall the green forests turn brilliant red and yellow – it must be really something to see.

Wayne and Monique took us on a boat trip down French River, an hour south of Sudbury. It is a wild unspoilt waterway, dotted with islands and scattered cabins. Indian tribes have lived in the area for centuries and the first European contact was way back in the 1600’s, when the river became a major trade route for furs and timber.

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This old fishing lodge was built on French River in the early 1940’s. The semicircular dining room has hardly changed since the day it was built.

French River is a beautiful, unspoiled part of the country. Our guide, Rene, had a real passion for the region, having lived there all his life. His detailed knowledge of the river’s history really made it a fascinating trip.

MARGARET RIVER WORKSHOP

Our Accommodation for the first few days of the Margaret River Workshop was at the old Karridale  Homestead Complex. The homestead was built in the late 1800’s and moved to Margaret River in the early 1960’s. Motel style accommodation was later added, the homestead serving as a restaurant and conference room.

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Our first morning painting was in the comfortable courtyard of the Homestead.

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After going through all the techniques and materials I like to use everyone chose a small part of the courtyard and, using just two colors, concerntrated on composition and tonal contrast to squeeze as much out of their subject as possible.

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That afternoon we walked down to the river. The overcast sky illuminated the gatehouse on a small foot bridge. It was a great subject, but the chilly wind forced us to retreat around 4:30

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Next day we traveled down to the South West tip of WA to Cape Leeuwin where the Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean meet.

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We found a small sheltered beach and spent the morning painting the lighthouse and surrounding buildings.

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The old Post Office and general store at Witchcliff was closed down a few years ago and is slowly starting to crumble

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The interesting shapes and textures kept us busy painting for the afternoon

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A workshop in Margaret River wouldn’t be complete without painting in one of the wineries. We chose a windy hillside in Voyager Estate. The cold breeze and beckoning cellar full of excellent wines just up the path, meant the painting session finished fairly quickly.

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Voyager brought out some of their best wines for us to sample before sitting down to a great lunch in the dining room.

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After lunch we found an interesting door at the back of the winery.  A simple subject, great surroundings and the warm fuzzy feeling brought about by good food and wine made this a lot of fun to paint.

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The next day we traveled to Pemberton and the giant Karri forests of South West WA.

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After the windy weather near  the coast, the stillness of the Karri forests was a welcome change

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Vertical lines of the Karri trees descend into a chaotic mixture of bushes, ferns and flowers. The formal verticals and varied colorful textures make a great subject.

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The last three days of the workshop were spent at the Kari Valley Resort just out of Pemberton. You can hire a fishing rod and catch trout from your balcony.

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The resort is on the edge of Lake Beedelup. There are walking tracks around the lake and a suspension bridge over the spectacular falls

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We had our own private dining room perched over the lake.

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Our farewell dinner was a great night – Steak, Barramundi and local wine. It’s always sad saying goodbye to everyone but hopefully we will all catch up again sometime.

Many Thanks to Amanda Sloan, our tireless, hardworking tour guide, for making this such a great workshop

GIBB RIVER ROAD

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The drive from Kununurra to Derby can be done via a thousand kilometre stretch of sealed road through Turkey Creek, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. The other option is the Gibb River Road –  seven hundred kilometres of dust and corrugations that link the bulk of the Kimberley cattle stations. This road also gives access to some incredibly beautiful gorges and waterholes and cuts through some of the most spectacular mountain ranges imaginable.

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The spectacular Cockburn Range skirts the northern end of the Gibb River Road.

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Catching the late afternoon sun in this area is something  special.

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The Pentecost River is the major river crossing along the Gibb River Road and the last to open after the wet. What appears to be a large white rock on the downstream side of the crossing is the roof of one of Home Valley’s Landcruisers.

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View towards the coast across the floodplains of the Pentecost River.

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Gibb River grader – no wonder the road is so rough!

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The Durack River is another of the many river crossings. At the end of the dry season it is reduced to a string of picturesque waterholes.

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Another victim of the corrugations. Heavy impact fractured the sidewall plies. Fortunately we spotted it before the tyre blew.

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Half way along the Gibb River Road is Mt. Barnett Roadhouse. From here a track leads in to Manning Gorge. A great spot to camp, swim and walk.

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Accessing the main Gorge requires swimming across the Manning Creek. White foam boxes are provided to transport clothes, cameras etc.

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Manning Gorge is a large clear pool fed by a waterfall and surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs.

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Galvans Gorge is another beautiful, clear waterhole surrounded by sandstone walls. Clean water and no crocodiles make it great place to dive in and cool off.

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Wandjina paintings can be seen on the walls of the gorge.

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Further down the Gibb River Road is the turn off to Adcock Gorge. We camped there 27 years ago and the area was strewn with rubbish. No surprise, the station owners have stopped people camping there now.

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Deep, clear water – Adcock Gorge

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We found this old blue tongue trying to disguise himself as a rock on the road.

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Towards the Southern end of the Gibb River Road is the King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park. There is good camping at Silent Grove and, further up the track, Bell Gorge.

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The main pool and falls at Bell Gorge are reached by climbing over the escarpment and following markers down into the gorge.

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Bell Gorge was one of the few gorges to still have a fair flow of water over the falls this late (September) in the dry.

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The southern end of the Gibb River Road crosses the King Leopold Ranges before cutting through the Napier Range. Beyond the Napier Range is sealed road through to Derby, or turning left leads to Windjana Gorge

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 3

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 3
It was interesting to see the landscape change as we headed west from Katherine.
The sparse savannah of the Northern Territory gave way to dramatic escarpments and weird vegetation as the West Australian boarder approached.
Boab Trees and Kapoks take over and spear grass is replaced by Cane grass.
Roadhouses are few and far between and the cost of diesel climbs as the distance from major centers increases. It appears there have been big changes at Victoria River roadhouse.
Temperatures were creeping up into the 40’s so we found a big sandstone overhang, just out of Kununurra and settled down in the shade for a morning painting.
We flew to the Bungle Bungles the previous day and walked into Cathedral gorge. Because of weight restrictions, we couldn’t take painting gear. This spot, close to Kununurra, offered similar rockforms and was only 10 minutes from town.
I love the contrast between transparent watercolour and flat, opaque gouache. I also used Burnt Sienna Ink and a sepia pastel pencil on this demonstration.
We left Kununurra by coach and headed down the Gibb River Road to El Questro. Being the end of the Dry, all roads were open. During the wet they can all be closed.
The landscape here is magnificent. The time to see it is just after sunrise and just before sunset. The middle of the day is hot and the light is flat and overhead.
On El Questro Station are Zebedee springs. They are a series of thermal pools, tucked under an escarpment and jammed full of beautiful Livingstonia Palms. We spent a while swimming there, but had to be out by midday. Guests from the Homestead (paying $3,000 a day) are then ushered in to relax without the distraction of folks paying less.
El Questro’s airstrip is a busy place. When we arrived there were a dozen small planes lined up.
Another impressive feature of El Questro is Chamberlain Gorge. We did a boat cruise up the gorge and were amazed at it size.
The Gorge is full of archer fish, Catfish,and Barramundi.
These two Barra were around a metre long.
Archer fish archering. I have never seen it before, except on telly. Thanks to a 12 shots per second frame rate, managed to get a photo of one. They can squirt water a couple of metres with pinpoint accuracy.
Our coach made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to climb the steep dusty track out of Chamberlain Gorge. Finally, with a long run up and no passengers it made it out.
…we were left to walk.
Our accommodation at El Questro were interesting, triple skinned tents with timber floors. Designed for the tropics, but struggling to cope with 40 plus temperatures.
The air-conditioned option is “The Homestead” but at $3000/night, a bit expensive!
Emma Gorge, where we stayed on El Questro, is a great walk and early morning swim.
Our last painting day with the workshop was at, or in, the Pentacost river behind El Questro township.
We started out packed into the shade of a large paperbark, but soon spread out into the river.
An endless supply of clean, cool water
The cattle couldn’t quiet figure out what was going on.
Farewell dinner at the Emma Gorge restaurant with the roof open.

KUNANURRA, EL QUESTRO

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It was interesting to see the landscape change as we headed west from Katherine.

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The sparse savannah of the Northern Territory gave way to dramatic escarpments and weird vegetation as the West Australian boarder approached.

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Boab Trees and Kapoks take over and spear grass is replaced by cane grass

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Roadhouses are few and far between and the cost of diesel climbs as the distance from major centers increases. It appears there have been big changes at Victoria River roadhouse.

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Temperatures were creeping up into the 40’s so we found a big sandstone overhang, just out of Kununurra and settled down in the shade for a morning painting.

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We flew to the Bungle Bungles the previous day and walked into Cathedral gorge. Because of weight restrictions, we couldn’t take painting gear. This spot, close to Kununurra, offered similar rockforms and was only 10 minutes from town.

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I love the contrast between transparent watercolour and flat, opaque gouache. I also used Burnt Sienna Ink and a sepia pastel pencil on this demonstration.

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We left Kununurra by coach and headed down the Gibb River Road to El Questro. Being the end of the Dry, all roads were open. During the wet they can all be closed.

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The landscape here is magnificent. The time to see it is just after sunrise and just before sunset. The middle of the day is hot and the light is flat and overhead.

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On El Questro Station are the Zebedee springs. They are a series of thermal pools, tucked under an escarpment and jammed full of beautiful Livistona Palms. We spent a while swimming there, but had to be out by midday. Guests from the Homestead (paying $3,000 a day) are then ushered in to relax without the distraction of folks paying less.

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El Questro’s airstrip is a busy place. When we arrived there were a dozen small planes lined up.

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Another impressive feature of El Questro is Chamberlain Gorge. We did a boat cruise up the gorge and were amazed at it size.

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The Gorge is full of archer fish, Catfish,and Barramundi.

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These two Barra were around a metre long.

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Archer fish archering.

I have never seen it before, except on telly. Thanks to a 12 shots per second frame rate, I managed to get a photo of one. They can squirt water a couple of metres with pinpoint accuracy.

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Our coach made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to climb the steep dusty track out of Chamberlain Gorge. Finally, with a long run up and no passengers, it made it out.

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…we were left to walk.

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Our accommodation at El Questro were interesting, triple skinned tents with timber floors. Designed for the tropics, but struggling to cope with 40 plus temperatures.

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The air-conditioned option is “The Homestead” but at $3000/night, a bit expensive!

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Emma Gorge is where we stayed on El Questro. It is a great walk and early morning swim.

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Our last painting day with the workshop was at, or in, the Pentacost river behind El Questro township.

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We started out packed into the shadow of a large paperbark, but soon spread out into the river.

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An endless supply of clean, cool water

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The cattle couldn’t quiet figure out what was going on.

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Farewell dinner at the Emma Gorge restaurant with the roof open.

MATARANKA

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Roper River Undergrowth

12 miles down the Roper River from Mataranka is the Elsey  National Park campground (called 12 mile yards) It’s much cleaner and quieter than the Mataranka Homestead campground. There are some excellent walks and interesting tracks to cycle along.

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Creek Crossing No.2

We discovered an old National Parks service road and decided to see where it led. Two hours and 4 creek crossings later, we emerged at Mataranka Falls.

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Mataranka Falls

Beautiful clear water, huge stands of Livingstonia Palms and a couple of freshwater crocodiles. The kind of place you don’t want to leave, especially when we had two hours of peddling to get home.

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Pandanas and Livistonia Palms

Livistonia  and Pandanas palms turn the Roper River and surrounding wetlands into a magnificent oasis. Most of the surrounding area is a dry savannah landscape.

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Paperbark Swamp Wetlands

Dry Savanna Country

Dry Savannah Country at Breakneck Speed

Once away from the river the country becomes hot and dry. Open eucalypt country with dry grass and lots of anthills – completely different to the area fringing the river.

Barb Wire Penetrating Anthill

Barb Wire Penetrating Anthill

How did they do that? Poke a fence right through an anthill.

Clear Water

Clear Water

The creeks feeding into Roper River are spring fed and have a high calcium content. This makes the water incredibly clear. It also causes calcium deposits to build up in certain areas.

We came across this little creek that had built up a hard limestone gutter over the years, making it look almost man-made.

Limestone lined Creek

Limestone lined Creek

Before we left Mataranka we decided to stay a night at the Homestead and have dinner in their restaurant. We found a reasonably isolated spot and set up camp. I went for a walk up along the river. When I came back a guy with four weird tiny little horses had camped nearby. I went and said g’day to him and he told me he was with the Moscow Circus and 40 trucks and trailers were following him! Within an hour the place was overun.

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I expected lions, tigers and elephants, but all the Moscow Circus has are four freaky little horses – I think they are to frighten children.

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The Circus was incredibly well organised They had all moved off  in small groups by 9:00 next morning – bound for Alice Springs.