We have made it to Darwin! Yes I realise I am a long way behind in my blog posts but aside from being really busy doing stuff, I haven’t had phone coverage for internet or power to charge my laptop. But I will catch you up on the highlights in more detail in posts to come soon.
We’ve been on the road for 100 days now. 42 of them since we left Atherton and headed West along the Savannah Way then North up the Stuart Highway. Far from being monotonous, the landscape of the Savannah Gulf of far North Queensland and the outback of the Top End is ever changing. From sun bleached grasslands, scrubby bush, red stone cliffs, flat barren plains to tropical National Parks there is always something interesting to watch out the window as we tick over the k’s.
We have camped beside rivers, creeks and billabongs; in dry and dusty bush; in National Parks and surrounded by cattle, buffalo, horses, chickens and the odd cranky donkey in many outback stations, but always under a night sky filled with more stars than I ever thought possible.
We have swum in creeks and swimming holes as clear as they are cold; soaked off the dirt and dust in toasty warm thermal springs; learned that as long as you leave them alone it’s fine to swim with the “freshies”; paddled a canoe up gorges; hiked to waterfalls; fossicked for gemstones; watched the sun set over the Gulf of Carpentaria; marvelled at natural geological wonders and been amazed by the raw and sometimes harsh natural beauty of the Aussie Outback.
We have eaten, drunk, listened to live music and partied in some iconic Aussie pubs. Not the least of which was the Daly Waters pub. A quirky one of a kind place where every square inch of the walls, ceiling and bar are covered with business cards, hats, shirts, shoes, bras and all manner of paraphernalia people have felt the need to leave behind. Here we ate beef and barra off the barbie, drank bad house wine and had a loud and boisterous night with two other amazing families on the road with their kids.
We have met many friendly, warm, adventurous, down to earth, wonderful people. Serveral of whom we became good friends with in spite of the transient nature of relationships on the road. We have spent many hours chatting and swapping stories with other travellers over camp happy hour and around the campfire. We met one family in particular at Banka Banka station between the Barkley Roadhouse and Daly Waters, who we clicked with immediately. We happened to be heading in the same direction so were able to spend 5 fun filled days with them exploring the path North. Bubba hit it off immediately with their oldest son and they quickly became best buds. We hardly saw him for those days, disappearing out the van after breakfast, reappearing only for the odd meal. Poor Jazzy desperately wanted to be one of the big boys and trailed after them. The boys were great though, often including him in their games. We have plans to meet up again and I’m sure we will remain friends for many years to come.
We have all had our tired and cranky days but the boys have changed and grown so much since leaving. It has been a joy to watch them flourish in this bush setting.
This is why we packed up and hit the road.
To celebrate reaching Darwin I thought we should have cake. Well, muffins at least. These little babies are easy to make and so long as I have some pre-ground sunflower seeds and pepitas, they don’t need power to do so. You could use store bought almond meal instead, if you tolerate nuts, to make it easier but I quite like the taste the seeds give them. The recipe below is the base recipe and you can go nuts (pardon the pun) with changing up the flavours you add to it. I have given you a few ideas after the recipe.
So until next time, eat well & live happy.
1 cup gf plain flour
1 cup mixed ground sunflower seeds and pepitas
3/4 cup rapadura sugar
2 heaped tsp gf baking powder
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup UHT coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Heat up the Weber (or your oven) to approx 170deg. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with cup cake cases. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and use a fork to remove any lumps. Make a well in the centre and crack eggs into well. Add oil, vanilla and milk then use a fork to whisk wet ingredients slowly incorporating the dry ingredients until well combined. Spoon mixture into muffin tray. Bake for approximately 25-30 mins until tops spring back when lightly touched. (makes 12)
Apple & Cinnamon: Add 1 tsp cinnamon to dry ingredients. Grate 2 pink lady apples and squeeze out the juice. Add to mixture at the end.
Chocolate: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder to dry ingredients
Banana: Add 1 tsp cinnamon to dry ingredients and 2 mashed bananas at the end.
After leaving Cairns we had our first foray into the outback as we headed off along the Wheelbarrow Way to Chillagoe. We also hit our first patches of proper gravel roads with some minor corrugations. Terry did us proud though and we made it through with suspension still intact. Thankfully all the eggs were still in tact too!
The drive to Chillagoe was beautiful, as we travelled west the landscape morphed from lush green rainforest into dry scrubby bush. The grass changed to a sun-bleached blond contrasting against the deep ochre red earth and green gum leaves. The black asphalt of the road cuts through the earth stretching on to the horizon.
Chillagoe is a small Queensland town with a relaxed, friendly feel. The visitor information centre had an amazing display detailing both the geological and early settler history. Chillagoe also has a rich mining history, with one of its attractions being the old copper smelter that you can visit.
The Chillagoe-Mungana caves are the main drawcard for Chillagoe these days, with quite a few tourists making the trek west to see them. There are three stunning dry limestone caves that have a guided ranger tour through them. We saw two of the three caves. The first felt a little like you were in an Indiana Jones movie with a bit of scrambling and ducking and squeezing through some narrow sections. Bubba loved it and the Jazzy Devil was sure he was going to see Batman and Joker around the next corner, particularly as the guide was telling us about the microbats that live in the caves. Jazzy put in a stellar effort and climbed and scrambled nearly a kilometre of the tour. He was totally worn out after that and lucky mummy got to carry him the rest of the way back. The second cave was much shorter but had the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. It was a very pretty cave but unfortunately I didn’t see much of it as the Jazzy Devil was not in a good mood for this one and screamed for most of the tour. That meant I got to carry him up and down about 300 steps!
Some of the other sites we visited in Chillagoe were Balancing Rock – which is quite literally a giant rock perfectly balanced on the tiniest footprint and needs to be seen to be believed, a small Aboriginal rock art site and the local swimming hole where we could cool off in the afternoon.
I had packed plenty of food before leaving Cairns for our 3 nights in Chillagoe and thank goodness I did. I popped into the general store out of curiosity which I must admit terrified the hell out of me knowing that this was probably all that was going to be available to us on our trek west across the Savannah Way. Aside from a small amount of very expensive fruit and veg there was literally nothing I could buy that would suit our dietary needs.
We absolutely loved our stay in Chillagoe and highly recommend the trip out here if you are ever in far North Queensland. We left Chillagoe headed back for the rainforest and Atherton to spend some time exploring the Tablelands and to stock up before the next part of our adventures. That, however, is a story for my next post. Until then, eat well & live happy.