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We commenced out last part of Mom’s Australian adventure in Queensland which is two states east of The Kimberly situated on the northeast coastline.  For three days and three nights we would be on board the Solway Lass, an Australian tall ship built in the early 1900s, sailing the Whitsunday Islands.  She looked just like a classic old school pirate ship for about 30 guests and 5 crew members and Mom and I were really excited to have the opportunity to go sailing with her!

Our first morning, we woke up to humpback whales breaching or flapping and waving their fins about and we even got to see one jump out of the water!  For a creature of that size, that had to have taken a LOT of energy.  We took a morning snorkel with some colorful parrotfish and some really cool electric blue little fish.  That afternoon, we anchored at Whitehaven Beach, the most recognized of the Whitsundays.  Said to be one of the best beaches in the world, the sand there is 98% pure silica.  This vibrant white sand is incredibly soft and fine and doesn’t retain the sun’s heat like most beaches do.  And most fascinating to me is that you can even polish your jewelry with it.  That’s where today’s picture was taken.

Unfortunately for our trip out to sea, the weather was largely chilly and overcast.  This still didn’t stop the excitement of waking up to sea turtles or the view at the famous swirling sands.  Mom and I also got to enjoy the rope swing off the bow of the boat and the company of our friendly cabin mates.

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It was our last day camping on the Gibb.  A couple that we had previously chatted with told us that there are no crocodiles in Tunnel Creek.  As we scrambled over the large boulders outside the cave, we passed a group of men who said to us “Watch out for the crocs!”  I can never really tell when Aussies are kidding or not, but these guys weren’t joking.  So Mom and I quickly made friends with the people walking shortly in front of us and together the six of us braved the dark Tunnel Creek.  It was like safety in numbers or like some sort of mob mentality that if one person decided it was safe, we all kind of agreed and went along with it.  Well, almost.  Mom was grabbing on to my backpack so tightly, I thought she was about to choke me.  I eventually had to ask her to please let go of me and just hold my hand as I dragged her along with the group.  About half way, there was an opening where we could see a bunch of fruit bats hanging from the trees above.  Then back in the pitch black cave, we passed a freshie on the bank and two more swimming in the underground creek.  We had to wade about ankle deep in the water to get to the end and I was so proud of Mom for braving it!  On this trip, my mother, the adventure club ring leader, the sky diver and all around adrenaline junkie, definitely showed me a different side to her fearlessness than I had ever seen before.

That night, we camped near Windjana Gorge and shortly before sunset at around 5:15pm, we went exploring.  The water in the gorge was filled with freshwater crocodiles (the small, harmless ones) and we sat on the beach waiting for dusk.  About quarter to six, it was like clockwork: swarms and swarms of fruit bats came flying out of the gorge by the tens of thousands.  It was like something from a horror movie!  Neither of us had ever seen anything like it before.  The fruit bats had woken up to hunt the bugs and the crocs were floating around in the hopes to snatch up a bat or two.  The twilight made it increasingly hard to see, so it was utterly insane to randomly hear the water splashing as the crocs snapped at the bats.  Witnessing the circle of life firsthand was the best word of mouth tip we received and it was such an unforgettable way to end our mother daughter adventure in The Outback!

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We enjoyed our morning swim today at the Manning River Gorge before indulging in a massive roadhouse burger (complete with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, pineapple, beetroot, bacon and egg) at Mount Barnett for brekky.  For our first road trip pit stop of the day, we were going to visit Galvans Gorge, but quickly changed our minds when a woman in the car park warned us of a brown snake about 50 meters ahead.  We’re still not entirely sure how far 50 meters is, but we jumped back in our car as fast as we could.  Of all the wildlife in Australia, a brown snake is definitely not one I would like to see.

Bell Gorge was hands down our favorite sight of the trip.  We hiked down the rocky cliffs to the falls where the mountain peak behind resembled a bell.  People were sunbathing and swimming in the pools below and Mom and I were in awe exploring it all.  The water was brilliant, yet very slippery and slimy.  In fact I busted my butt literally slipping into the water.  Everyone was clambering over themselves trying to get out of the pools in the most “undignified” of ways, but it was certainly the most “memorable” day of our trip.

Back at our campsite, Mom and I were enjoying our flat beers when the park ranger came by to collect our site fees and warned us of the resident 3 meter (9 foot) olive python snake.  Mom did not sleep well that night.  In fact, while I was cooking up our Mexican feast for dinner, Mom started wigging out about the critters in the tree line directly next to us.  Next thing I know she FREAKED OUT claiming to have stepped on a “snake.”  I didn’t want to get close enough to touch whatever it was and I was struggling to see with just my headlamp, but I was pretty sure that Australian snakes weren’t as thin and as boxy shaped as whatever I was looking at.  Nevertheless, Mom quickly ran up into our sleeping quarters and prematurely locked herself in there for the night.  There were no signs of Monty (the olive python) in the morning and sure enough, whatever Mom stepped on was a bent wire.

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Before we left El Questro Station, Mom and I had the chance to visit Zebedee Springs for an early morning dip.  The water was warm and it looked like a place resorts would model after.  We made our way through a dense forest of palm trees that led to a series of thermal pools linked together by small rocky falls.  The mountain ranges overhead were over 1800 years old and Mom even made the comment “Imagine the dinosaurs that use to walk around up there!”  It was an untouched oasis perfect to rejuvenate us in time to continue our adventure.

It was a long but very worthwhile drive from El Questro to the Barnett River Gorge.  The rough 5km turnoff road led us to a poorly marked path leading to the water, but once we eventually found our way, the end result was like a picturesque scene from the Florida Everglades.  I was hot and ready for a swim, but Mom was leery.  After a nearby family and I tasted the water to determine that it was freshwater (meaning there would be no saltwater crocs around), we collectively agreed to jump in!  It was incredibly refreshing and a great little find.

As we set up camp by the Manning River Gorge that night, all I kept playing in my head was that Luke Bryan song “Kick the Dust Up.”  I’m pretty sure he knows nothing about this Australian red dust because it is just everywhere!

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Our second day at El Questro, we woke up to a flat tire.  We were extremely fortunate to be in populated location with help and a mechanic within walking distance to patch us up.  When locals tell you to be self sufficient on the Gibb, they mean it.  Even if you break down on the side of the road, someone will eventually come by, but they won’t have any more cell reception than you will if you’re trying to reach a mechanic or tow truck.  When we were at Mount Elizabeth, we met a couple who was stranded.  While they were driving, they broke down when their radiator cracked.  They eventually got a tow truck to take them to the nearest campsite (I don’t even want to know how much that cost them) where they could use a satellite phone to ring their children back in Perth and ask them to mail the part they needed.  Luckily the couple had enough food and water to get by because all they could do was sit there and wait for the mail to come.  The mail comes by air once a week.  As long as nobody is hurt, I guess it’s just all part of the experience!

After we sorted our minor hiccup, we visited Emma Gorge for a refreshing morning swim next to a permanent 200ft waterfall.  Later in the afternoon, we attempted to drive across the deep water to get to El Questro gorge, but that river crossing didn’t go too well with us.  We spoke with a station employee and seriously got her advice on that particular river crossing.  She said the water to El Questro gorge was probably only about 10cm deeper than the river crossing before the main station entrance and we should be alright.  With our inexperience and questionable Wicked Camper, we weren’t entirely convinced but we gave it a shot anyway.  A couple feet into the river, we hit a pot hole and all I remember was water rushing overtop of our hood and Mom flipping that car in reverse faster than I could even wrap my head around.  Better safe than sorry, we turned around to check out Jackaroo’s waterhole and take some cheeky photos next to the large boab tree there.

We enjoyed a beer by the (croc free) section of the river before deciding to hike up the Saddleback 4WD track.  It’s pretty hard to imagine vehicles making this rough, steep drive full of boulders and tight switchbacks, but these Aussies know their off roading better than most people I have met.  You would never see tracks like this at home.  The most 4WDing I have ever done is either when I have to on a snowy mountain or when I want to on a soft sand beach.  The terrain I’ve seen in The Kimberly is in a league of its own.  It’s raw and unforgiving, but so incredible to take in.  The lookout at the top of the Saddleback track offered 360 degree views of El Questro station and you couldn’t help but make Lion King jokes and say things like “Look Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom.”  We stayed until the brink of the sunset when everything turned a vibrant gold.  As we were walking down, we could see the sun setting on one of side of the mountain and the full moon rising on the other.

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If you’ve ever met me, you know very well that I am not a morning person.  The only thing that motivated me to actually get up with my 6am alarm was the chance to hopefully spot some wildlife.  On some days I would actually just pop up and go to Mom “What’s out this morning?!”  During our trip, we got to wake up to a white peacock, a peacock that showed us his feathers (a very exciting first for me) and a real live joey in his mum’s pouch which was an even more exciting fist for me!

On our drive from Mount Elizabeth to El Questro, we made a pit stop at Ellenbrae Station where we learned that a “dunny” is the Outback equivalent of outhouse.  The scenery was again ever changing and this was easily the most incredible drive either of us had ever done before.  Everything was raw, just as the land was intended.  Just outside Home Valley, we found the most stunning picnic spot overlooking the rugged ranges that wind around to El Questro Station.  To use a term that my good friend Kelly coined, this was definitely a spot where we had the “brain bubbles.”  Today’s picture from this location doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.

We had to cross the Pentecost River twice before we reached the entrance of El Questro station.  Since there are often no meter markers in the river, you can never really tell how deep the water actually is or what kind of terrain you might be driving on, but Mom did so well!  The drive into the station was beautiful.  With over one million acres of untouched land, El Questro is a true wilderness park and the biggest playground for any outdoorsmen.  We only had the chance to spend two days there, but could have easily stayed for a week.  And when we come back next time, we will be recruiting experienced 4WDers to join us!  Applications are currently being accepted.

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It was a long (bumpy) ride, but we finally made it to Mount Elizabeth on our first day along the Gibb.  We were a little worn down by the time we parked it at our campsite for lunch and when we opened the back of our truck, we were in for a nasty surprise.  Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was completely covered in red dust.  Our sleeping bags, covered.  Our pillows, discolored.  Our backpacks, filthy.  And even worse, our beer cooler was in utter shambles.  This is still unbelievable.  Somewhere along the rocky road, the lid flew off the cooler and our bottles of beer (yes, we know now that bottles were a poor life decision on our part) had been so shaken up that they were literally half empty and the lids were still on!  Even in the midst of trying to salvage a few drinks, we found that there were bits of dust in our beer bottles.  How in the world that road was rough enough to cause that kind of damage in the back of our vehicle is still beyond us.  Looked like Mom and I really needed to work on our packing skills because what a perfectly good way to lose a 12-pack!

Once we regrouped and embraced the dirt situation, we drove to Warla Gorge about 20km from our campsite.  Up until now, everything had been a relatively predictable unpaved road.  Anddd welcome to our first taste of an off road adventure!  The narrow, rocky, pothole filled path reminded me of some sort of Ford commercial you would see at home.  Only this was the real deal and if something went wrong, nobody was coming to save us.  I took a dip in the gorge.  Mom was too afraid of the possibilities of any freshies, and to tell you the truth I wasn’t use to there being ZE-RO warning signs around.  We were in a proper remote gorge somewhere in The Outback.  Our return drive was even more fun once we had the confidence in ourselves that we could do it.  No white knuckles for me on the way back!

How cool was it to be camping in the Australian Outback?  This was like a bucket list thing that people talk about, but very rarely do you meet a foreigner who’s actually done it.  So far, our trip didn’t seem to be as scary as people make it out to be.  I’m really glad the “remote area – seek local advice before traveling” warnings on the Australian maps didn’t deter us from this experience.

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After talking with a bunch of locals in Broome, we mustered up the courage to take on the Gibb River Road.  Unfortunately for us, Wicked Campers stuffed up again.  To make a long story short, they failed to have the 4WD automatic car that we booked and paid for.  Instead, we got stuck with a manual transmission.  If you were following me and Mom’s New Zealand adventures, I was having serious déjà vu.  Needless to say, I will never be using Wicked Campers again and after this experience, I really need to put learning how to drive a stick shift high on my priority list.

It’s hard to define exactly where The Outback ends and begins, but Mom and I were certainly entering the heart and soul of it.  The Kimberly is a large section of The Outback in the north west part of the country and from the pictures I had seen, is home to some of the most rugged and beautiful landscape of Australia.  The Gibb River Road is an unsealed road from Derby to Kununurra initially constructed to transport cattle to the surrounding area.  Imagine a massive 700km (420 mile) red dirt road that crosses over rivers (with no bridges) and has no barriers for stray wildlife.  There are only two places along the way to buy gas and zero places to buy beer.  Often said to be one of the wildest off road Aussie experiences, Mom and I were embarking on the real life edition of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Mom and I flew from Melbourne to Broome in the northwestern part of Australia to commence our road trip adventure!  Cable Beach is an iconic beach in WA with wide white sand beaches that you can 4WD on.  And Cable Beach is pretty famous for their sunset camel rides.  Have you ever ridden a camel?  It’s just as bizarre an experience as I remember it being when I got to ride a camel my first time to Australia back in 2008.  When they stand up (bum first) you are literally sitting at about a 45 degree angle until the front part of them can catch up with their rear.  Ned the camel was a friendly character and it was interesting to learn something about how they train camels.

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Mom came to visit me for three weeks in August, and I was so excited to introduce her to my life here.  We spent our days in Melbourne hanging out with Anthony and my friends and eating and drinking our way through the city.  I think she was in for a little bit of a culture shock when she offered to pay for her first round of two pints with a $20 bill.  She turned to me and went, “Will that be enough?”  “Uh… I don’t think so.”  The bartender quickly picked up on her accent and said with a smile, “That’s ok.  We’ll ease you into it.”  Our two pints would have been $24 AUD which is about $18 USD, but at least tax and tip is already included here!

Mom’s personal favorite bar was 28th Apartment.  Their setup mimics a true apartment with antique televisions, a newspaper for a menu and a bathtub in the back where Mom of course jumped in for a photo op.  My friends and I loved showing her the eccentric Melbourne bar scene.  Between dinner at the winter night markets, checking out the penguins at the St. Kilda pier, taking in the birds eye view of the city 88 floors up at the Eureka Skydeck and winery hopping for the day in Yarra Valley, we left very little room for any downtime.  A group of us even got to take her to a footy (AFL or Australian Football League) game at MCG her last day in Melbs.  Here is a picture of us above Ponyfish Island, a bar situated underneath a pedestrian bridge on the Yarra River.