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Into The Top End

After exploring the Red Centre and enjoying the Finke Desert Race, the Hema Nomad Explorers headed north into the wild Top End.

After Leaving Alice Springs we made a short detour to the East MacDonnell Ranges. There are several gaps and gorges along this route in quite a small area, and we very much enjoyed Trephina Gorge in the late afternoon. With storm clouds brewing and the place to ourselves, we were in awe of the ancient land we are privileged to inhabit at that moment. Our campsite at Ross River Resort was a pleasant surprise, offering plenty of space, green grass, imposing escarpments and friendly hosts, not to mention great homemade pasties on the evening menu.

We encountered significant rain along the way to Tennant Creek, which made it quite difficult to take good images of the campsites and features along the way. Fortunately, we missed the bad hailstorm in Alice Springs by a day, and were pleased to finally reach sunshine and warmth at Mataranka. After a short break to float down the creek at Bitter Springs, one of my favourite places, we enjoyed the company of our fellow travellers at the nearby Bitter Springs Caravan Park.

After finally arriving somewhere warm and dry, we decided to try out some of the untested features on our Sunland Patriot van to see how we would cope in the heat. Coupled with six solar panels, a 3000-watt inverter from Redarc and 320 amp-hours of Revolution lithium ion battery, theoretically we should be able to run our air conditioner, a Dometic Fresh Jet 3200, without mains power. Our experiment commenced early in the day when the temperature was still around 25 degrees and the sun was climbing in the sky. We found that not only could we start the air-con, but the solar we were collecting was replacing almost all the power being used. This was great news, however realistically it needed further testing in more extreme conditions.

On reaching Darwin we found that the ‘dry season’ had really not commenced, making conditions exceptionally humid and hot. We arrived in time for the Darwin 4WD, Camping and Boat Show, where we were able to assist ARB by demonstrating our HN7 to the crowds in attendance. While the heat made it rather unpleasant inside the marquee, we found the people of Darwin, as always, friendly and happy to see us.

We were fortunate to be invited to join the LandCruiser Club of Darwin for a pot luck dinner and to share information and stories with the members. Maerwen and Dave, who arranged the evening, also kindly offered to host us on their property for our stay in Darwin. If you are looking for a club to join, or to travel with in Darwin, I can recommend the LandCruiser Club as a great group of people.

The weather the following day was perfect for another air-con test. By early afternoon the ambient temperature was 36 degrees and inside the van, after being closed up in full sun, it was much higher. This time the unit started without any trouble, but drew a significantly higher amount of power. Even with the solar coming in, in these conditions the batteries would only last a few hours. So, we concluded that we while we can’t have indefinite air-conditioning without mains power, we are well set up to be able to cool the van initially on arrival so we could move about in comfort. With the great insulation in the van itself, we should be quite comfortable.

From Darwin, we headed towards Kakadu for a short stay at Mary River Wilderness Retreat. The weather was a little more pleasant here, the grass green and facilities excellent. We took the opportunity to cruise on the river, sighting many freshies and a couple of saltwater crocs - a good reminder that complacency has no place near waterways in the north. Our small dog Max was again confined to camp as he would make a nice snack for any roaming croc. A day trip into Kakadu was enough to complete our Hema database work of updating the points of interest in the area, so Wal elected to stay at camp with Max while I (Lynda) made the trip in.

As I am writing, I am sitting at a hidden gem on the Stuart Highway, Hayes Creek Wayside Inn and Caravan Park. Situated between Pine Creek and Adelaide River, this park is tucked away at the bottom of a cutting. It boasts green grass, level ground, swimming pool and clean facilities. Within a short walk, guests can visit a clear swimming hole and Butterfly Gap, named for the proliferation of butterflies. We didn’t plan to stop here, but have decided to stay a second night. Many of the guests just stopped for one night and have been here for days and weeks. Bryn, the onsite caretaker makes sure everyone feels welcome by rustling up those who are willing for a nightly happy hour. Yesterday was Territory Day and this tiny oasis provided a fireworks display! If you pass Hayes Creek, take a look and maybe stay a while.

We will soon be on our way to the Kimberley region in Western Australia and look forward to bringing you news from another wonderful part of this great country.


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