We took the 23km detour off the Tanami Road to visit Wolfe Creek Crater. We arrived by mid afternoon and it was a nice short walk to stretch our legs.
The crater is located approximately 150km east of Halls Creek. Which is the first town that you hit after reaching the great northern highway.
Wolfe Creek is an amazing sight and very well preserved. You walk about 35 metres up the crater wall and measures about 880m in diameter. It is now 50 metres deep due to sediment and vegetation filling up the basin (unlike other craters we have seen). We were really surprised by how green it was and its sheer size.
There is a really nice bush camp at the base of the crater set amongst the shrubs. We decided to keep moving to get to Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) National Park. But it would be nice to stay overnight to explore inside the crater and see the sunset. It is hard to imagine the impact from the suspected 50,000 tonne meteorite and its affect on the surrounding landscape. It is a beautiful spot and was well worth the detour.
The Tanami desert track is a 1000km “shortcut” between Alice springs and the Kimberley. It starts just north of Alice springs and ends at Halls creek in Western Australia. When we were travelling through there were no fuel stations open except Tillmouth Well Roadhouse right at the start (but check before you set out). We filled up and were told by a man that had just travelled from Halls Creek in the opposite direction, that it was “the worst bloody road in Australia” 🙂
We knew we had enough fuel on board to get through to Halls Creek with a detour to Wolfe Creek Crator. Traveling east to west is definitely more efficient due to favourable head winds. Let your tyres down on the dirt tracks (for us with our load we went to 25psi) to reduce damage to tyres. It’s also much more comfortable travelling over corrugations at this psi.
The Tanami Road is mostly unsealed, and we had heard mixed reviews about the conditions before we left. But with any sort of travelling on outback Australia opinions and conditions vary, you just have to be prepared and try it for yourself. We were lucky, large sections of the road had been graded when we passed through so we didn’t find it that bad (even though the man we spoke too thought it was terrible).
We travelled the track in two days. There are lots of free spots to stop that aren’t listed in the Camps Australia book. My only tip would be too camp a bit further off the road due to dust blooms coming into your camp when other vehicles go past and especially as road trains travel on this road regularly.
It really is a beautiful part of our country, red soils, and flat plains of yellow spinifex and saltbush.
next post: Wolfe Creek meteor crater….
After a long days drive from Winton, through Boulia and a few hundred kilometers along the plenty highway we found a stop for the night. To find places to stop we were using the camps Australia book. It is revised every year or so and contains all the free, paid and licensed campgrounds throughout Australia, with really good maps. It includes a list of symbols outlining what facilities are available at each site such as, water, toilet, shower, fees, mobile reception etc. The more expensive larger version of the book contains pictures of the campgrounds (although the photographs aren’t that great and I don’t think that it is worth the extra money for the larger book). There is now an app available but when I’m looking at a map I prefer to keep it old school.
We stopped at the Arthur River free camp. This is a really beautiful spot. There was no water in the river & no toilets but there is a stock watering hole nearby (not drinkable), which was full of galahs, white, and black cockatoos. You can camp anywhere by the river & relax and admire the changing landscape with the setting sun. Just make sure you have your own water, and when we were there the flies were crazy, so bring some fly face nets.
Next post: The Tanami Desert Track…..
In winter last year we travelled to the Kimberley. The epic road trip to get there was a pilgrimage in itself. There is so much to see between the NSW east coast and the Kimberley but our goal was to maximise our time in Western Australia so we took two “shortcuts” to get there, the Plenty highway and the Tanami track.
The Plenty highway is an 800km unsealed road that connects western Qld to Alice springs. You are essentially driving straight through the middle of Australia. We started just outside Winton, Qld, early in the morning and drove approximately 350km to the town of Boulia. We fuelled up at Boulia, but just make sure that the servo is going to be open when you are passing through, because this is the only fuel stop, and town of any size, until Alice Springs. The scenery changes so much in this section from spinifex grasses to open plains. The road then turns into the Donahue Highway from Boulia to Tobermery Homestead on the Qld/NT border. We kept driving from the border for a few hundred kms on the Plenty highway till we found a nice free camp.
I would recommend doing the drive over a few days to see everything along the way. Due to limited time we did it in two days. It is very rough in some parts, single lane with lots of red bull dust. Check the road conditions before you start, we were there during June in a very dry year so there were no flooded creek crossings to worry about. It is an amazing drive of changing landscapes and vegetation, forgotten towns and a different way of life. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive but its not for everyone.
Next post: Our free camp on the Plenty Highway.
The route we took from Winton to Alice Springs
We ended up in Gunung Gading National Park on a whim at the last minute and I am so glad we did. Gunung Gading National Park is home to the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia. The flower can grow up to one metre in diameter and is characterised by its large red petels. The ones we saw at the park were probably about 50cm in diameter. The next photo shows the inside of a flower.
The flower emits a rotting flesh smell to attract flies and insects to pollinate other flowers. The few open flowers that we saw didn’t have a strong offensive smell. The flower grows on a very indistinct vine. It takes nine months to reach maturity then it only blooms for a few days. Below is a flower before it has bloomed.
We did a guided tour while we were there, and it was the best money we have ever spent. Our guide Michelle, was hands down the best guide I have ever had, she pointed out insects, plants and animals that we would never have seen.
She grew up in the jungle and has so much knowledge and stories on the park to share. She pointed out the plant that the locals would use in their darts to kill animals. Ask her about the cicada races 🙂
Gunung Gading is located a couple of hours from Kuching. We took a private tour to get there, in a mini van, where he dropped us at the door and then waited to take us back to our hotel. There are directions on how to get there with public transport in the lonely planet if you would rather same some money.
A bike tour is always a good idea. You would think that Kuching would be a bit crazy to ride a bike around, because it is non stop traffic in the streets. But I reckon that cycling is the best way to see a city. We joined the “Best of Kuching” tour with Para Desa again which covers the heritage trials of Kuching and the Kampong malay villages. Along the way we sampled local street food, markets and village life.
The tour starts with a visit to the city’s local Chinese food market to sample some local kolo mee and drinks. Then we had some free time to explore little india and all the colour and smells of this street.
We rode along the heritage trail to see local sights such as the old courthouse and the beautiful Kuching mosque.
After visiting the mosque we all crammed into a Sampan Boat and headed over to Malay Kampong (traditional malay villages) on the banks of the Sarawak River. The kids come out and run after the bikes as you ride past and there is a quick tour of one of the houses. It is always fascinating to see how other people live!
A visit to a local open air market and lunch is included on the tour. Having the guide with us made me more confident to ask questions and take photos of the vendors.
It was bustling and vibrant, with a flower market and lots of fruits, veggies, and sea creatures along the way. It was great to sample food that I wouldn’t normally try. Having a guide helped us to eat local food at stalls where we wouldn’t get sick.
It was the best way to see the city, and I would recommended doing it when you first arrive so you get a taste of the highlights of this beautiful city.
We loved Kuching. Most people we talked to wondered why we were going to Kuching. I now am wondering why not. It is such a vibrant, clean city and there is so much to do there. We stayed for 5 nights and visited Bako National Park, Guning Gading National Park, did a wetlands tour, visited a tribal village, the orang-utan sanctuary and a did bike tour of the city. We crammed in lots of activities.
Bako National Park was a real highlight. It is located only 20 km from the city on the coast between two rivers. You get there via a short boat ride from a mainland fishing village and land on the beach near the parks headquarters.
There are lots of different bushwalks at the park and you would need days to do them all. We only had one day there and did Telok Pandan Kecil trail. It takes you along the coastline, were we saw a bearded pig and proboscis monkeys and then up over the plateau and through varied vegetation types. It was a surprise to see hundreds of pitcher plants along the trail. This trial ends at beautiful sea stacks and a gorgeous cove and beach. Normally there is a boat to save walking back but after we waited for ages we realised that the boat was not running that day. Make sure you book ahead if you want this option :)….
We did our tour through Para Desa Borneo & they were fantastic. They have a great little tour office down town with amazing friendly service and good rates. I cant recommend them highly enough.
We had our hearts set on a jungle stay while we were in Borneo. There are so many different options for jungle stays, the ultimate being a visit to Dannum Valley . This was a bit out of our price range so we ended up choosing a three day Kinabatangan River Safari .
It was definitely not deep in the jungle like Dannum, but we really enjoyed our stay there. The tour included 2 boat rides each day to spot wildlife, a walk to Ox Bow lake and an optional night walk. We saw lots of monkeys swing through the trees, including the Proboscis Monkey and Macaques. The Proboscis monkeys are amazing animals. They are highly endangered and can only be found in Borneo. They have a long wobbly nose, that they use to attract females and communicate with other monkeys.
We were also lucky to see lots of hornbills, a crocodile, and a tarsier on a night walk. And we saw lots of leeches :).
The Nature Lodge Kinabatangan served amazing food during our stay. It was a great mix of local and some western food, and super friendly staff. We went with the private cabin and ensuite option, but there are dorms and shared bathroom suites also available. Our chalet was so nice, with a raised boardwalk, a little balcony and our own bathroom.
Here are some tips for anyone else heading to the jungle in Borneo. We heard some many conflicting views, so just to throw one more opinion into the mix; here are a few things we would recommend:
- Take a light pancho. We have one that folds up to pocket size. It rained every afternoon that we were there, really heavy monsoonal downpours, the pancho was a lifesaver to keep our camera and iphone dry;
- Stock up on snack food at the servo, there is a lot of downtime and if your anything like me you will appreciate lots of snacks;
- Take a head torch – You will need a head torch to do the night walk and also to get around at night when the power isn’t that reliable;
- We didn’t use leech socks. – We just used roll on repellent (which we always take in our carry on) around our socks and the bottom of our legs. – our guide was the only one who had leech socks and was the only one who got a leech (which found its way to his foot from the hole in the sock).
- Take a light long sleeve top and some light long pants – it is HOT in the jungle, jeans are not an option, you need long sleeve to help ward off mosquito’s and leech bites.
Have fun and enjoy the amazing animals and people in this country!!
After Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre we headed to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and Gomantong Caves. This is education centre located not far from Sepilok in the Kabali-Sepilok Forest Reserve. The primary purpose of the centre is to create public awareness and appreciation of the importance of conserving forests as well as the sustainable use of forest resources. It consists of a canopy walk through the treetops to spot wildlife and interpretive posters of the animals you can expect to see at the centre.
When we arrived there was a rehearsal going on for an upcoming festival. There were hundreds of kids dressed up in tribal costumes performing traditional dances and music. This, of course, scared most of the animals away. But we did still see a few birds, and a timid black monkey on top of the rehearsals.
We then took the long drive to Gomantong Caves. Gomantong Cave is the largest limestone hill and the most important source of edible bird nest in Sabah. We had first heard about the caves while watching David Attenborough on TV. Where we had seen people scaling dangerously high cliffs to harvest swiftlet birds nests’. The nests, which are made from the male bird’s saliva over a period of 30 plus days, are used for expensive soup in Chinese cuisine. This industry is now highly regulated by the Malaysian government to help preserve the birds and their habitat.
The cave is also home to millions of bats and cockroaches and a small hut where the workers live while the harvest season is happening. Yep they live at the caves entrance, with metres of guano below their hut. The cave is set up with a boardwalk so you don’t actually have to walk on the guano. We had read a few bad reviews on the smell. We knew that we were visiting a cave, with bats and cockroaches and lots of bat poo, so we expected a guano and urea smell, obviously ;). And it really wasn’t that bad. It is worth the slight smell to visit this amazing place. And as a bonus we saw some wild orangutans not far from the entrance.
Before I share the photos from our recent holiday I want to share the rest of the highlights from our honeymoon in Borneo and Thailand. I hope to inspire you to travel to both these amazing countries. The whole aim of our trip to Borneo was to see animals in the wild, particularly the orangutan’s and the probiscus monkey.
After leaving Kota Kinabalu we took a short flight to Sandakan. As soon as we stepped off the plane we hopped onto a full day tour with “In Sabah tours”Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, the rainforest discovery centre and Goomatong Cave.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is a rehabilitation centre for orphaned and injured orangutans. The centre covers 43 sq km and is situated adjacent to Kabali Sepilok Forest Reserve. There are about 60 – 80 orangutans living at Sepilok, but they are free to roam the whole reserve so you are not guaranteed to see them with your entrance fee.
You watch a short video when you arrive at the facility on how they rehabilitate the animals and how you can help out and donate. Then it is a short walk to the feeding platform where you wait and hope to see one. They feed the orangutan’s a bland diet of the same fruit and some milk to encourage them to forage in the reserve. We were lucky that there were lots of animals around the day we visited. Including one very bald one that looked like Gollum from the lord of the rings 🙂 .
Our entrance fees were included in our day tour, but there is a 10 RM camera fee on top that we had to pay to take photos. It is possible to get to the facility by public bus (details in the lonely planet) if you didn’t want to pay for a tour. We thought that Sepilok was very well run and was well worth the visit.
The orangutans truly really are amazing animals. The way they move, eat, cuddle, and interact is fascinating to see. They are so alike and yet so un-alike us in many ways and it was a real privilege to be able to see them in the (semi) wild.