This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2011 Travels February 10

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

Now that we were not leaving today, decided to drive out to Litchfield and revisit where we worked, five years ago.

Obviously we took the highway south and the route through Batchelor. The shorter way, that we’d used a lot in 2006, would have been well under water at the Finniss River ford.

It was clearly the Green Season. Lots of road side water in the lower lying areas, really tall green grass. A few flowing shallow flood ways and areas of sheet water on the road.

Litchfield National Park in the Wet Season

We drove straight through the National Park, to the former Monsoon Cafe, where we’d worked. Now, it had been renamed the Litchfield Cafe, the boss we’d liked having bought out the other one.

Said boss was in the office corner of the cafe when I went in. Recognition was immediate!

The place had changed a lot. Boss’ wife lived out there now, full time – no more weekly commuting to Darwin. His daughter, her husband and their little kids lived on site too; they took it in turns of one working in the cafe and one minding the kids.

The menu had been streamlined but broadened. There was no more offering of barra poached in garlic and cream – whoever got to clean the stove would have been grateful for that. There was still the same list of burgers and sandwiches, plus filo wraps had been added – there was a range of flavours in these. The boss now bought pre-sliced meats – well, that would save a lot of kitchen worker time in the mornings. The salad was now just leaves, tomato, cucumber; gone were the capsicum slices, grated carrot and sliced red onion. Again, very time saving. They still made wet salads for the tour groups – a curried rice one alternating with “my” rice salad; potato salad; “my” coleslaw made with wombok. There was no more waldorf salad, or the unpopular pasta one that old boss loved so much. They still served watermelon slices.

The mango cheesecake was still on offer – how many of those had I made over the three months? But now it was somewhat less rich, half the cream being cut out and replaced with yoghurt. New regular offerings  were chocolate cake and apple slice. The addition of a little deep fryer meant that now chips were served. That  had been a big lack when we were working there, often being asked for.

Inside the cafe, the tourist souvenir section had been greatly enlarged. There was too much kitchy stuff there now, in my opinion. It cheapened the place. They still had a good range of locally made cards, though, and some of Dorothy Mangan’s art. I bought four small works on canvas – $85 total.

The soft drink fridges had been moved out from behind the counter, to be accessible to the public, but this made the cafe area seem more claustrophobic.

In the kitchen – my former work area –  the two big fridges had gone, now there was an attached coolroom built on. There was a nice air-con in the kitchen – wish it had been there in my time. There was the new deep fryer and an extra microwave. The old stove was still the same – and dirty, as well. Funny how no-one ever liked cleaning the monster.

Outside, the cafe was quite radically changed. A second coolroom container had been put down, with access from the outside. Long gone were the daily drives up to the Wongaling school to collect our bulk meat and green groceries from their coolroom.

We considered that the bus tour group lunch area had been ruined. A hard roof had been built over it – which would extend the area that could be used in wet weather – but instead of the once lush lawn underfoot, there was just bare ground. The buffet servery area had gone. There was a dishwashing machine – not hooked up yet. In our day, John and M were the dishwashers! The boss had put two containers at the end of the cafe veranda – he planned that these would be opened up and filled with souvenir stuff for the bus groups to browse in.

Eating area for bus tour groups

A tarp roof had been added to the front of the cafe, too, creating a larger sheltered area for cafe tables, but creating yet another area of bare ground. I didn’t like it and wondered whether the wet season patronage was really sufficient to justify destroying the former beauty of the place.

There was nowhere near as many of the lovely green hanging baskets of ferns and similar, around the place . The view along the cafe veranda was closed in by the new containers. Now the place looked more like a big shed than anything else – poor ambience. The cafe lawns were long and unkempt, but that could be because it was the quiet season for tourists. I had to admit that the exterior of the place was much more attractive in our time, when the former boss was in charge of it.

A good feature was the addition of more toilets, alongside the old ones.

Boss and wife lived in two containers that were joined together and he was fitting out inside, as a prototype for accommodation units planned for the future. Big improvement on his old caravan. They now had an inside bathroom!

What had been the helicopter pilot’s donga had been moved closer to the cafe. The old boss’ donga was being fitted out to be bathrooms. But the open air, tin showers we’d used were still in use, with the addition of a washing machine at the end of them. The daughter and family had a donga beyond where we’d had our van parked by the creek. That van park area was still there – for seasonal staff use.

Boss said the tent stay business was booming – at $25 a night per person, with no meals. 2010 had been a very good business year. But despite all that, he said he still planned to move the business further along, to Woolanning, where he owned a block of land. I was dubious that the volume of tourists that now went to the cafe would bother to drive that much further out, especially if someone else bought the old Monsoon and ran it as a cafe.

Boss and wife were coming to Melbourne for the Caravan and Camping Show – to publicize the business. We invited them to come to tea and stay the night, on a spare night they had. Would try to get M to come too.

We spent more than two hours at the cafe, talking and looking over the place. When we left, it was raining quite heavily.

Blue winged kookaburra

We called in at Wangi Falls. As we walked to the viewing platforms, there was a family of feral pigs digging around beside the path – quite out in the open. What on earth were the Rangers doing?

Wangi Falls were thundering down very nicely.

Wet Season Wangi Falls

So many tourists who visit the Falls in the Dry Season, and swim in the plunge pool, would not believe what they are like in the Wet.

Such an awesome volume of water pours over the escarpment edge at Wangi, and the plunge pool is such a mass of swirling, turbulent currents.

Swirling currents in the Wangi Falls plunge pool

We went on to Buley Rockholes, hoping to be able to get some good photos there. However, there were a dozen or so tourists swimming about in the pools. These had been closed until yesterday, because they were running too fast, so we lucked out by a day. But I managed to get some photos that did not include bodies.

Buley Rockholes

Our last stop on the way out of the Park was at the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Walked around the track to the viewing platforms. The grass was so high that the mounds were barely visible.

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Back to Darwin, through occasional drizzle. Then, as we approached Palmerston, the heavens opened. We were grateful that Tiger Brennan Drive was now open from Palmerston, as it was much better for driving in such conditions. It was like trying to drive in a big bucket of water. One could hardly even see the bonnet of the car, let alone any further. That was a new driving experience for John!

Closer to central Darwin, the rain became lighter. We still got a bit damp, walking up from the parking area to the hotel entry. No question about the humidity today – 100%.

Enjoyed the day’s outing. It had definitely been worth doing, even without the old times factor. Litchfield in a good Wet Season should be on every tourist’s agenda. So beautiful.

Went down to the Sunset Restaurant for tea. It was the seafood buffet again – yummy, but a bit dearer than last time because the 20% discount only applied Monday to Wednesday.

There were thunderstorms at irregular intervals through the night, but little in the way of evident lightning.


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2006 Travels May 16

TUESDAY 16 MAY     LITCHFIELD

Day off.

I did our washing.

Then we drove to Batchelor.

We saw a mechanic there. he was not sure what might be wrong with the clutch. There went that hope of a quick and easy fix. We would have to go to Darwin, sometime soon, to get it seen to.

At the PO/store, collected a mail parcel that contained all my cooking aprons, that I’d made for use at Pungalina last year. I hadn’t brought them with me, because I had not expected to be cooking, at Adels. Amongst them were the striped ones that I’d made for John’s use at Pungalina, although he had rarely needed them. They would be useful for him here, when he was helping with the bus groups lunches, and especially when doing the washing up from same.

I had been hoping to hear that my next grandchild was born, by now, so I could have sent a card and gift whilst in Batchelor, but it apparently had not yet made an appearance in the world.

On the way back to camp, stopped at the Magnetic Termite Mounds and did the circuit walk there.

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The name of these was misleading, because the mounds themselves were not magnetic. They were built to have really thin sides that faced north-south, and broad sides that faced east-west. This alignment was in response to the sun and the necessary heating and cooling  of the mound interiors, not from any sense of the Earth’s magnetism.

Resize of 05-16-2006 03 Cathedral termite mound Litchfield

Called in at Tolmer Falls again, for another walk to the viewing platform and gaze at the spectacular falls.

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2006 Travels May 2

TUESDAY 2 MAY   DARWIN TO LITCHFIELD   180kms

We got away at 9.45.

On the way out, we stopped at Repco, by the highway, to buy fuses. John hoped he would then be able to fix the CB radio, which had not worked since we were at Adels.

Travelled back down the Stuart Highway, then took the Batchelor road.

Stopped at the Batchelor Store and PO. I posted off the remaining books I’d had on loan from the Mt Isa library. Made ourselves known to the lady there, telling her that we would be getting mail c/o her Post Office. Although we would we working some 75kms away, this was the nearest PO.

I checked out the range of supplies in the store. Although “keep” was supposed to be part of our working terms, it did not hurt to know what I could get here.

I bought some post cards and a rather lovely small set of wind chimes – stained glass, featuring a green frog. I have a weakness for frog “things”.

I packed a sandwich lunch this morning and we stopped to eat this at the Magnetic Termite Mounds display area, in the Litchfield National Park. We did not spend time exploring or walking around these, thinking we would be exploring the Park on our days off.

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Litchfield Magnetic Termite Mounds

The Litchfield Road was quite winding in parts. There was a fairly steep climb up the Tabletop Range, and a corresponding descent on the other side. These gave some distant vistas over bushland.

Occasionally there were interesting rock outcrops near the road.

We traversed a number of shallow floodways across the road, some of which still had water in. There were some larger floodways where there was quite a bit of water and swampy areas beside the road.

It was an interesting drive, on yet another hot and humid day, but with blue sky.

I had been to Litchfield once before, on the 1991 school trip, but it was really only a drive through on the way back to Darwin from Kakadu. I recollected looking at Buley Rockholes and Wangi Falls, but finding that the camp area there was full. We ended up camping just west of the Park, in a private campground, which was really just bush and was not a favourite memory! John had not been here before.

Called in at Wangi Falls, one of several superb sets of falls in the Litchfield National Park, and a draw card for just about every tourist that visits here. I wanted to see what it was like after the recent rain.

Walked from the parking area down the path to the large plunge pool. with the falls across its far side. After all the rain associated with the recent cyclone, the water was really thundering over the falls.

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Wangi Falls

No swimming was allowed in the pool yet, due to the strong water currents, I thought, so I was able to get some really good photos, without lots of swimmers in the water.

Dry Season tourists just did not get to see the power and magnificence of such northern falls.

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We found out, later, that a large saltie croc had been taken out of the plunge pool, last week, and that the pool would stay closed to swimmers until they were as certain as they could be, that there were no more crocs in there!

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Continued on to the Monsoon Cafe, about 5kms beyond Wangi Falls. The land there was on the edge of the National Park – a private area, set aside for development. We arrived mid afternoon.

Parked the rig in the large, gravelled parking area, and walked up a path through a lush, lawned area, to the cafe. First impressions were really favourable. It was most attractive, with lots of hanging fern baskets edging a veranda area containing cafe tables. More tables were outside on the lawn, in the shade of large trees.

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Inside, the cafe was quite quirky, with counter fronts faced with some sort of local split timber, and wooden poles supporting the roof. There were more tables in here.

We met the boss who hired us and his partner, B, in the cafe. They were very friendly. They told us we could set up our camp down by the creek, out beyond the cafe, so we drove the rig around and down. There was a flat area that he had made for some previous staff people, that he thought would be suitable  for the van – and it was. We would be side on to the creek, and from under our awning, would look out onto it and the bush beyond it.

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The space between the creek and van

The small creek was flowing – lovely.

The area was pleasantly “bushy”.

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We would have to use the same toilets that the public used, attached to the side of the cafe, and some distance from the camp. Closer, there were two staff showers – rather rustic bush style, rather reminiscent of those at Adels, but smaller.

When we were setting up camp, a little green frog hopped out of our floor matting bag and spent some time sitting on each of us. It was a cute little critter. We thought it must have gotten in there in Darwin, while the bag was lying on the ground under the van. I hoped it could find a suitable new home around here.

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We did the usual set up for an extended stay.

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Unloading the roof rack

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If our friend did come to work, there would be space for her camp just beyond ours

After setting up, we went back up to the cafe, for a bit of an introductory session, in the bit of time that was left in the afternoon. Had a good look around.

There turned out to be two owner/managers. It was Boss 1 we met. His lady, B, did the admin type work, and marketing, and oversaw the outside area that was set aside for bus groups to have lunch. She served in the cafe, also. Boss 1 was responsible for the plant and its upkeep, and the physical development of the place, by and large. Boss 2 handled the financial side. At least, those were the arrangements we gleaned.

Both men had home bases in Darwin and alternated being on site out here – about half a week each. Boss 1 and B had an old donga, just up the slope from our camp, Boss 2 slept in an old caravan that was parked part way between the cafe and our camp. Both men also cooked in the cafe, though my presence was supposed to allow Boss 1 to do other work about the place.

I decided that the work would be alright, for me at least. John’s role was less clearly defined – just outside tasks, it seemed. I just hoped that we got enough hours up to make it worthwhile and also that our pay was correctly handled, in regards to tax and super.

Keep was supposed to be part of the package, but not much was said about that. Yet to be sorted!

We ate tea at our van, made from provisions I had in the van.

It was nicely quiet at night. Could not hear the establishment’s generator. Just the usual bush sounds. As we like it.

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