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October 7th 2019
Published: October 7th 2019
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The few days we had in Alice were fabulous and definitely eventful. It allowed us to do all the mundane but necessary jobs such as washing, grocery shopping for next 10 days, and other administrative jobs. The upside was having a swimming pool and waterslide to play on each day, the bike pump track and the 'off limits' tracks that Merlin got to ride on, going for a run, getting take away one night, going to The Desert Park, the fabulous Red Kanagroo bookshop and enjoying the town and its people. The downside (which in hindsight makes for humourous memories) was really just dealing with people who defy logic in order to abide by bureaucratic/administrative/non-sensical rules and who lack any ounce of customer service or humour. To keep it simple, lets just say we had some wonderful discussions regarding why only particular and specific site allocations were allowed, why off road tracks were suddenly deemed 'out of bounds' even though they were well worn and continously traversed by several other patrons and on another occasion my 'foot came down' in order to stand up for Merlin and the child's right to a refund when the racing bike he paid for with his hard earned money ($1), didnt work! All in all though, it was well worth the stay to have a few days from driving and to experience some of the wonders of Alice.

The Desert Park is a special place for us and we again visited and saw the brilliant Bird of Prey show and spent most of the time in the Nocturnal house. The highlight for us this time though, was probably seeing the Perentie. This was both amazing and saddening. They are giants of the reptile world and so prehistoric. Their colours of black and gold are quite clearly inspiration for many wonderful aboriginal artworks. Unfortunately Merlin told me that they have unbelieveable memories, recalling details of areas up to 1000km2 so the repetitive wanderings of his relatively small enclosure was concerning. Its a balance - for people to care about the wildlife we have, they need to be able to see and experience them, however in doing this it means that for some (usually those who have been injured and rehabilitated) they have a limited and changed existence - perhaps it is still better in the long run - the greater good.

Due to time limitations, we would only have a few days in Tjoritja Nat Park (The West Macdonnells) but unforuntately not make it out to Uluru or Kata Juta this trip. It would be memorable to be out at Uluru at this time prior to the closing of the climb on 26th to support and celebrate this long awaited decision-finally the environment, and the Anangnu people can be at peace (I dont think most people would like others climbing their cathedrals or desecrating their altars). Initially, it was so very disheartening to come across so many people who were here only to get out there and 'climb the rock' as it was 'their given right as its been done for years' without any knowledge or care for the impact they have. As we met more people though, the scales were balanced and it became clear that there were many people who were keen to learn, understand and respect both culture and environment.

We headed out to Ormiston Gorge (kwarkteme) on 18th and were filled with both excitement and a little apprehension. We have had wonderful experiences here and were really looking forward to spending time in this amazing landscape with the gorge, the walks, the painted finches and reptiles, the little campground and kiosk. However we had heard that it had been severely burnt and so were not sure how much was affected and whether this has had a noticeable impact on the wildlife. On the drive in we could see the devastation in the charred remains. Beautiful white ghost gums and their lush green leafy canopies were gone, replaced by blackened trunks and stick figure tops. This went on for kilometres and then there would be a small patch that somehow survived the inferno. We got into camp and chose a great spot at the end and with a little shade. The campground, its facilities and the kiosk were saved, as too, a large section of the bush deep in the gorge proper but the rest had felt the brunt of this natural killer. Looking up to the rock cliffs beyond the gorge, appeared more like a scene from Mars than a lush gorge. Anyway we decided to have a look at the gorge and whether there was any water and if the owners at the kiosk were still around. The kiosk looked amazing and immediately we knew, ownership had changed hands. Now, it was adorned with beautiful murals and stunning indigenous art, jewellery and scuptures. We met Pam and Bobby the new owners and hit it off straight away. We talked with them about their plans for the gallery and Taarn cafe (local name for Coolamon- artefact for food collection). Bobby is the artist, who created the magnificent artworks and timber artefacts. Pam works with Bobby's mum to make the jewellery, Bobby's mum Angela does the amazing clay pottery and paintings and the rest of the family all get together and join in to make the huge timber carvings. It is brilliant what they are creating and we really hope their ideas get off the ground as they will build a valuable, intrinsically cultural business which will inturn provide a better experience for people. Merlin met some great kids from Qld who he spent the next two days with- running, riding, talking and just fun kids business.

The next few days were spent doing walks, swimming in the gorge and at night searching for reptiles. For those who dont know, the Ormiston campground is lovely but very intimate with only a small number of sites and all adjacent one another. Generally its fair to say that the people who come here are usually here for a quiet, nature loving experience as there are other campgrounds nearby that are much larger to suit the more raucous camper. Our first two nights were amazing and to be expected all quiet to enjoy the night sounds. The third night we had an experience. We got back from walks during the day to find we had neighbours next to and opposite us, which was fine. However, we then realised ( by the very loud voices, the 8 kids screaming and the constant walking through our campsite) that they were friends and travelling together - we thought this might make for an interesting night!. Sure enough, as normal, by 9pm the campground was silent except for the groups surrounding us-argghhh!!!-we couldnt believe they would even contemplate camping here knowing their situation- people are such strange creatures!. There was no way we would get to sleep, so we headed out looking for reptiles. We came across some lovely little guys - an Inland Marbled Velvet Gecko and Varied Dtellas - just sitting on the road soaking up the warmth from the day- they are so lucky to not get run over!!We had a great night searching and when we got back all was quiet on the western front!

Next day we reluctantly left and headed north along the Stuart hwy. We knew we had two really big days of driving ahead of us. First day we pulled up stumps in a bush camp just off the hwy. It was really late in the day so we just set up had tea and then hit the sack. It felt like a tornado came through overnight and that, along with the constant hum of the road trains, was less than ideal but it got us through. We headed off really early as we were aiming to try and reach Mataranka. It was sad to see the land so dry and so many areas burnt and some still smouldering. Luckily, we just survived the alien capital, Wycliffe Well, and was not beemed up into anything from outer space!! After a huge day of over 10 hours driving we made it to Jalmurark Campground and set up in a lovely little spot. When we stayed here last time, we had our own little pocket of freshwater to cool down in at the back of the campground (an extension of little roper river). Unfortunately it was all dry and what was there was stagnant so we were really disppointed at this find. Next morning Merlin and I went for a run on the walking track along the Roper River while Chris was birding. Then later in the day we headed into the amazing Bitter Springs thermal pools. What a magical relief from the building heat of the day. Although we loved this place we were keen to get to Leliyn (Edith Falls - one of our favourite spots of all time) so next morning we packed up and headed out.

We stopped at Katherine for fuel, got some supplies and then headed off. We arrived in Leliyn, got our previous spot tucked away at the back and set up. We headed straight for the bottom pool for a quick dip. This place is stunning and to have a huge waterhole with such easy access, is a bonus in these really hot conditions (we are getting very high 30's every day). The pool is generally rounded and, from entry across to the waterfalls, is a distance of about 250m. There is a separate little rock rising up from the water about 100m from entry and we headed for that first. The boys continued on while i headed back to mimic a floating starfish for awhile - soooo relaxing. That evening Chris went in search of small waterholes nearby. His recky proved fruitful and next morning very early we headed out in search of the top end endemic, the Hooded Parrot. After a long trudge in we found the water and then silently waited for the show to start. We were so spoilt. The parrots came - stunning parrots of turquoise and gold with a dark black hood- just spectacular. We were also lucky enough to see a few gorgeous gouldians (Gouldian Finches). It was just so special sitting in the quiet of morning sunrise watching such brilliant creatures.

That afternoon we had another wonderful wildlife encounter and this time it was of a reptilian kind. We did the walk up the escarpment to the upper pool to enjoy some relief from the heat of the day and to again experience the magic of these pools and waterfalls. It was so refreshing once we reached the top and made our way into the water. Upon entering, Merlin was looking over the rocks and exclaimed 'Mertens Water Monitor! That was it - we were off trying to keep up with it in the water and follow it when it made it to land - they can hold their breath under water for a few minutes so we knew he had to pop up soon. Sure enough up he came and again the chase was on. I say chase but in reality it was more like a stealthy stalk as we didnt want him to know we were there. This creature is beautiful - dark grey with golden spots down its flanks and quick as lightning in the water-so stunning and wonderful to see. That night back at camp we were really looking forward to nightfall in the hope that the elegant Bush stone-curlew would again grace our campsite-we were in luck firstly hearing their mournful call and then one came pitter patter walking along the edge of our camp! A very unique experience.

The next few days were spent walking in the morning looking for birds, swimming in either the bottom or top pools and then looking for reptiles at night. We had many wonderful and varied encounters - the wildlife here is phenomenal. On our last night we had another remarkable situation when Chris found a snake we had been really wanting to see - the Night Tiger (Boiga irregularis). Imagine a fairly slender snake that is cream but with stunning orange bands circling all along its body gliding up the trunk of a tree. Of course the photographers were on a high and I couldnt keep track of the number of times I heard the shutters engage! There was some gentle coaxing of this very patient and docile creature to ensure his best side was presented. In the end, after not very long at all, it was time to just watch as he went back to doing what snakes do and slide away to continue his night search for some food. A fabulous animal. Unfortunately the time has come for us to leave and head up to Kakadu-which in itself will be wonderful but its just sad to leave such an amazing, diverse location that seems to have it all. Hope everyone at home is well and will send another update once up there! Enjoy, have fun and stay safe xx

PS Apologies for some of the pics not rotating to portrait- the function in blog isnt working at the moment but you should be able to view in your browsers and adjust!

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