About Off The Track 4x4

We are George & Shelly, a married couple from Sydney, Australia, who love 4WDing, camping and travelling this great country of ours.   We love sharing our adventures and hope to inspire others to travel as well.    Join us on our journeys around Australia!  If you like what you read, please share our posts with family and friends and don't forget to follow us on social media. ..... making memories one track at a time 

What’s your camping style?

What’s your style? Do you need the best of the best and all the creature comforts of home or are you happy with just a swag, esky and the stars above you?

It’s such a personal preference isn’t it, and of course it comes down to the type of travel you do and ultimately how much you can afford as well.

When we first met and started travelling, for a few years we were just sleeping in the back of the Prado. We’d pull out the cargo barrier, fold down the rear seats and we had a piece of wood that screwed into place to make our ‘bed’. Throw an air mattress on top and we were set! Shelly even made up curtains for us! There was certainly nothing fancy about this set up, just the 4WD, an air mattress and an esky! Pull up wherever we wanted and we were set for the night. There was this one particular car park in Port Macquarie that we stayed in quite a few times …. shhhh! It was on the top of a hill, right next to a walkway to the beach and there were public toilets there too, it was the perfect overnight spot!

After a while we purchased our Waeco fridge which gave us a little bit of luxury with cold drinks and food and not having to worry about ice all the time.  For a while there, whilst we still slept in the back of the Prado, our little Waeco got it’s own little tent to sleep in!

Next we upgraded to a little 3 man dome tent which was great and we used it for years, including our first Simpson Desert trip. We had an air mattress and sleeping bags, but later upgraded to self inflating mattresses.

Finally we decided to spend a little more money on a tent (ok significantly more money!) and we purchased our Black Wolf tent which basically goes up in a few minutes. At around the $1,000 mark, this tent wasn’t cheap, but for the quality, the extra space and the speed and ease in which we could be set up, it was totally worth every cent! We still own this tent and do still use it on occasions, like our Cape York trip last year. We now also have stretcher beds to keep us up off the ground. These tents may have quite a hefty initial outlay, but the ease of putting it up, the quality of the product and the service from the company itself far outweighs that expense if you are going to be using it a lot.

Lastly in 2016 we finally caved in and purchased our brand new Cub Camper trailer.  Now this was a big investment compared to our previous camping setups, but we are so glad we spent the money. 

We had a brand new camper built just for us and we absolutely love it! We are now spoiled with storage and accessories and we sleep on a comfy double bed with a real doona!

We have a gas stove, a real sink, running water (no more making trips to and from the tap!), a freezer and so much storage space …. which in reality just means we now take way more than we need because we obviously never had the room before and didn’t miss it!

What will be our next upgrade you ask? Well definitely for the foreseeable future we will be sticking with the camper trailer, it is perfect for our needs and because we purchased a full off-road model, it is able to go anywhere the Prado does. Who knows, one day we may settle with a caravan and a little more luxury, never say never! But for now we are more than happy with what we have. Although there have been constant talks of maybe getting a swag as well to add into the mix! It would come in handy for the local overnight stays when we’ve been out 4WDing all day.

So there you go, it just goes to show that it really doesn’t matter what you have or what you can afford, you just need to make do with whatever you have at the time. Our type of travel has never changed from sleeping in the back of the car to sleeping in a $30,000 camper trailer. We are still exploring and making memories every step of the way. What you start with now may not be what you end up with, what your friends have may not suit your needs, budget or lifestyle and that’s fine. You just need to do what you can to make it happen so that you can get out there and experience our wonderful land for yourself.

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Paronella Park

Paronella Park is located in far north Queensland and is one of Innisfail’s best known landmarks.  Located at Mena Creek, this amazing castle was built right on the edge of the magnificent Mena Creek Falls.

Now this place isn’t just another tourist attraction, this place has a truely amazing story behind it. It is all thanks to a man with a dream ….. a man named José Paronella. You see, José wanted to build a castle … and build a castle he did!

José Paronella, from Spain, arrived in Australia in 1913. For the next 11 years he worked hard cutting sugar cane, and later purchasing, improving, and reselling cane farms. In 1924 he returned to Spain and married Margarita, before returning to Australia. It was then that José purchased 13 acres of virgin scrub along Mena Creek for £120 and this amazing story started to unfold.

Over the years José began to create this amazing wonderland known as Paronella Park. Although he lived there with his family, in 1935 he also opened it up to the public so that they could all enjoy the spectacular place. José built the whole park by hand, including the Castle, bridges, a Tunnel of Love, Giant Staircase and hand planting over 7000 tropical plants and trees. This was also home to a Hydro Electric generating plant which supplied power to the whole park, the earliest in North Queensland.

Click Here to read more of the history.

José died of cancer in 1948, leaving the management of the park to his wife and two children. Of course the maintenance and upkeep of such a place was significant and over the years the park also suffered damage and setbacks due to the forces of Mother Nature, floods, cyclones and fires. The park was sold out of the family in 1977, and after a fire swept through the castle in 1979 the park closed to the public.

In November 2009, it was decided to restore the parks original 1930s era hydro electric system at a cost of $450,000 and, like it did when José was alive, this system now once again provides all of the Park’s electricity requirements.

Mark and Judy Evans, the current owner/operators, purchased the park in 1993 and set about putting this place back on the map. After a big job of restoring, maintaining and preserving the history of the park, it was reopened to the public and we can say that they have done an amazing job. They have taken the view of ‘restoring’, rather than ‘rebuilding’ and whilst small restoration projects have been undertaken, the true essense of this park and José insight and dream is still well and truly alive.

We visited in 2018 on the way back home from our Cape York trip, also meeting up again with two other families from our Cape trip. As soon as we arrived Shelly set off on foot to explore the area and take some photographs while George set up camp! Whilst you are welcome to roam around the park by yourself, your entry ticket also includes ‘The Dream Continues Tour’ – a 45 minute guided walk which takes you through the highlights of the park and tells the extraordinary story of José Paronella’s dreams and vision. This tour departs every 30 minutes from 9.30am until 4.30pm.

We all had a delicious dinner at the Mena Creek Hotel, which is also owned by the same people who own Paronella Park, and after the short stroll back to the park we were ready to join in ‘The Darkness Falls Tour’, in which we learned a little more about the history of the park as we strolled around the grounds at night. Seeing the park in darkness gave us a totally different perspective. This tour runs for approximately 1 hour and departs at 6.15pm each night.

After the tour, the current owners came out to speak with our group and told us a little about the history and their experiences and involvement since purchasing the park.

They also handed us all a little pouch with a piece of the castle in it, with a note that reads ‘This is a piece of José Paronella’s Castle. It was hand mixed by José in 1930 and came down in Cyclone Larry in 2006. We hope that this piece of castle reminds you to follow your dreams, just like José did’.

Now this had been on our list of places to visit for a while and we can now highly recommend it. Not only does your entry ticket include the guided tours mentioned above, it also includes overnight camping fees in their camping ground so that you can explore at your leisure. AND your ticket is valid for 24 months, so as long as you have it validated prior to leaving you are able to return again within the next 24 months.

This is one really well run tourist attraction and it’s not hard to see why they win so many awards.

This should definitely be on your list of places to visit. It’s quite the experience to wander around and marvel at the achievements of this man, a man who had a dream and did everything in his power to make that dream come true.

🏠 1671 Japoonvale Rd (Old Bruce Highway), Mena Creek, Queensland 4871

🖥 www.paronellapark.com.au

📞 07 4065 0000

The New Car!

So look what happened ….. Shelly finally got her Hilux she’s always wanted!

A lot of you know that we’ve been looking at selling the green Prado and upgrading to something newer for Shelly to drive and for us to use as our weekend bush basher.

This is something we have been talking about for quite a while and after a lot of ‘talking’ and searching for the perfect vehicle, we finally found one a few hours north of Sydney.

George took a trip up to check it out first, and a week later Shelly went up to see and test drive it. After all the appropriate checks were run, and the car got the clean bill of health, we arranged to go and pick it up. So last weekend our newest family member arrived and it’s safe to say that we are both a little excited about this new project!

Although we own two other 4WD’s, this will be the first one that Shelly is going to build up exactly how she wants, so of course that means there could be a little pink (which may have already started!)

Like our white Prado, this Hilux is an ex-mining vehicle so it came with a lot of extras that we would have added anyway. It has the bull-bar (winch compatible so its easy to add a winch at a later stage), roll cage, UHF radio, reverse camera and it even has a dual battery system fitted. It was certainly a great buy for us.

Although this will be Shelly’s daily driver, it will also be our new weekend bush basher so it needs to be easy to drive in the city and fit in car parks etc, but we also need to ensure it is more than capable off-road. Although it’s more than capable of heading off-road now, we still have a list of mods and accessories which are to come and we are excited to start on the build.

So stay tuned for the build up progress ……

Easter camping adventures

We had a great weekend away with the dogs. Gelly & Charli spend a lot of time 4WDing in the bush with us, but this was only their 2nd ever camping trip (first one did not end well and they got taken home half way through!), but this time we were pleasantly surprised with their behaviour! We were a little concerned about the roaming cows, kangaroos and emus, but they were actually really well behaved, we doubted their ability to be so good, but they surprised us both!!

We left on Good Friday with no idea where we would stay for the next few days, George wanted to head towards Wagga or Tumut area and once there we’d find somewhere to free camp, so off we went!

We ended up heading to the small country town of Tumut, which is in the Riverina region of NSW and basically at the foot of the Snowy Mountains. We arrived around 11am and called up our trusty WikiCamps app to see what camping spots were around. We found a really great spot right on the river, but as it was still so early in the day we headed off exploring. First stop was the Blowering Dam, which is one of the biggest dams in NSW, at 1,628,000 megalitres it is three times the size of Sydney Harbour.

Blowering Dam was also the site where, in 1978, Ken Warby set the world water speed record of 317.6 miles per hour (511.1 km / hour) in his boat the Spirit of Australia.

We ended up driving to the Bago State Forest to see if we could find a place to camp for the night. Some of the views from here were beautiful so we were quite happy to set up camp in this area. After making George turn around in the middle of the track …. twice! (Remember we had the camper in tow too 😂) he was ready to find a place to set up camp!

We found a perfect spot, no one else around, right on the water and amazing scenery. As the sun went down we sat around the campfire and felt lucky that we are able to do this together.

As Gelly relaxed in front of the fire in mummy’s arms, we found that Charli is scared of campfires and wouldn’t come near us!

Next morning we realised that we didn’t quite take note of how we got in there to our campsite the day before! We then sat there hoping someone else would leave as we wondered where the hell the track out was!

After aimlessly driving around for a while we finally found the way out! (Lesson learnt, always plot entry points on the map!). We do have to thank the young guys on the motorbikes for helping out and pointing us in the right direction (even after Shelly laughed at them when they bogged their Ute and bike earlier in the morning!)

After posting some pics on our Facebook page the night before we were contacted by some of our followers (and now friends, after a chance meeting last year) who said we happened to be camped near them, so we arranged to catch up. After a quick visit at their campsite (litterally just across the water from where we were camped!) we took off exploring and looking for our next campsite.

As it turns out we didn’t find anything better so later in the arvo we rocked up back at their camp again and invited ourselves to stay! Thanks Mark & Tracey for letting us invade your campsite for the night!

We ended up having a great night with friends and the dogs loved it, Gelly in particular. Our little social butterfly couldn’t have been happier with all these new people to pat and play with her!

Sunday morning we decided to go for a quick 4WD through the bush, so the Prado and the Navara set off for a bit of a play. The tracks we found weren’t hard by any means, but they were slightly overgrown ….. actually ‘slightly’ isn’t the right word, there were trees taller than me growing in the middle of the track!

There was quite a bit of track clearing required and while George sat in the comfort of the car, Shelly walked the track and got covered in cuts and scratches as she cleared the way! Couldn’t have done it without Peter, he obviously did more than me, but let’s just pretend for a bit that I was big and tough and did it all myself! 💪 🤣

Not only was the track overgrown, we got to one point where a huge tree blocked the whole track.

The winch got a good workout removing this and we were then on our way again. Just another reminder to always carry recovery gear when off-road, a chainsaw may have been a handy little addition too!

Just another reminder to always carry recovery gear when off-road, a chainsaw may have been a handy little addition too!

So overall we had a super fun weekend. Two great campsites, campfires each night, amazing scenery, great company and a fun little 4WDing adventure.

The dogs both loved it and were totally exhausted by all the excitement and slept the whole way home and most of the next day! 🐾

We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our Easter break.

Help Us Help The Farmers

Australian’s are no strangers to extreme weather conditions. Each year we are faced with extreme heat, floods, bush fires and of course, drought.  This past few months have been particularly bad, with all these events happening simultaneously in various locations across the country.

Unfortunately drought is part of life for many people living on the land.  As if life isn’t hard enough for some people, they are then faced with the ongoing drought and all the effects that come with that.  People are dealing with the heartbreak of watching their stock die from lack of food or water, struggling to feed themselves and sometimes being forced to make the difficult decision of selling up and moving off the land, sometimes after the family has resided there for hundreds of years.  Facing these stark realities is leading to severe depression and, unfortunately in many cases, suicide.

As most of us live in the city and don’t see the effects of the drought on a daily basis, it’s easy to block it out and pretend it isn’t happening, but believe us, this is real.

Anyone who knows us knows that we love to travel and spend a lot of time in the outback and have seen first-hand the effect this drought is having on our beautiful country and its people. During our travels we’ve spoken to those affected and it’s heartbreaking to hear stories of no rain or no feed for their stock, having to destroy, sell or give away stock and working dogs …. not to mention the impact this all has on one’s mental state of mind. Farmers are having to resort to roadside grazing their cattle on the side of public roads as they are literally starving as they have no feed available or the owners simply cannot afford to feed them. We personally have family living on the land and they too are suffering. It really is far worse than most people realise.

We personally donate to various charities, but this particular one, Rural Aid, provides a holistic support program to rural Australia. They run the “Buy a Bale” campaign, in which donations help purchase and distribute fodder, hampers and more. They also run other programs such as Farm Rescue, Weekend Warriors, The Farm Army, all of which do a great deal to help our struggling farmers.

These rural communities need our support and we all need to stick together and support each other through these tough times, so anything that you can give, whether it’s $2, $20 or $200, would be greatly appreciated. Don’t forget, any donations over $2 are tax deductible.

-CLICK HERE TO DONATE-

The town they took off the map

A few years ago whilst travelling in Western Australia we got talking to a local in Karratha who told us about this town called Wittenoom. The more we spoke, the more intrigued we were about this remote town in the Pilbara region of WA and we wanted to find out more. We were given directions and decided to visit after leaving our camp in the Millstream National Park.

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For those that don’t know of Wittenoom’s history, it was where they used to mine the deadly blue asbestos from the 1930’s to mid 1960’s. Wittenoom was a town that literally lived and breathed blue asbestos.  A huge portion of those who worked in the area have subsequently died from asbestos related illnesses.  A town was built near the mine to house and service workers and their families and by the mid 1950’s it was the largest town in the Pilbara.  At the time no one knew of the hazards of asbestos, miners would return home covered in the deadly dust and the asbestos tailings were even being used in construction of gardens and roads all around the town.

Prior to mining beginning around Wittenoom in the 1930’s, the area was predominantly pastoral.  Mining in Wittenoom Gorge commenced in the mid 1940’s.  From 1950 until the early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of asbestos. The mine closed in 1966.

After leaving Milstream National Park we were on our way to stay in the mining town of Tom Price and had already decided to drive the Rio Tinto rail access road, which required us to sit through an induction video, complete a short training module and acquire our driving permits. This is a privately owned road that runs parallel to the train network throughout the Pilbara, providing maintenance access to the railway.

Rio Tinto do allow the public to drive on the rail access roads as long as all drivers hold a valid permit.

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This road is an unsealed road, but as we have generally found, most roads owned by mining companies are pretty well maintained and in good condition for a dirt road. It was actually quite a pretty drive, but very secluded, we saw very few cars all day.

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Generally the only car we passed was a mining vehicle, but for the majority of the day it was just us and our surroundings…… and lots of dust!

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Eventually we arrived at the town that used to be called Wittenoom. We say used to be called because in 2007 the State Government wiped this town from the map, the town was degazetted, their electricity and postal services were taken away and all reference to the town has been deleted (as shown on the photo below), it simply doesn’t exist anymore.

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All road signs and maps have had all reference of the town removed and access to the area has been limited, it’s now like the town never existed.

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It is a shame that this town has such a tragic history as it is situated in an absolutely beautiful location. The backdrop of the town is stunning and such a contrast to the town itself. The signs that greet you as you reach the town tell of a not so beautiful story, a stark reminder of how not everything is as it seems on face value.

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It’s hard to imagine now that this was once a big thriving town with shops and schools and many houses. It’s now like you are walking into a real life ghost town. Doc Holidays Cafe is boarded up, houses are abandoned and the whole town lays in a derelict state.

As you drive around you really feel like you are in another world …. one you should be in. It’s a very strange and eerie feeling being there. It’s hard to explain, I’m not sure if it’s that you know you are somewhere you probably shouldn’t be, or that you feel like you are encroaching on someone’s space, or that you can feel the bad spirits of a town with such a tragic past …. whatever it is, it’s hard to explain and even thinking about it now it’s taking me back to that day we were there.

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Although the town is no longer and all services have been stripped away, apparently there are 3 or 4 people who remain living in the town. Such a shame as it’s in such a beautiful location.

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Many of you would know Midnight Oil’s song ‘Blue Sky Mine‘, but did you know that this song was inspired by the experiences of workers at the Wittenoom mine. If you listen to the words in the song, the “blue” refers to blue asbestos, and the “sugar refining company” refers to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd (CSR), the owner of the mines.

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Asbestos fibres and dust are said to still be all around the town and the gorge itself still contains piles of the mine tailings.

Now we aren’t going to tell everyone to go and visit as the signs are pretty direct as to the health risks ….. but we were so intrigued we wanted to have a closer look. Were we concerned? … of course we were, those signs do make you think!

But we didn’t stay long, although we do regret that a little now and would love to go back and explore a little further. Although filled with asbestos mine tailings, from photos we have seen, the Wittenoom Gorge is absolutely stunning. It’s such a tragic, yet interesting story of yet another stunning area of Australia.

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We have a new name!

Ok so just a quick post to let you all know that we have a new name! We are now known as ⬇️

But don’t worry, nothing else has changed, we are still the same old George and Shelly and we will still be sharing all our stories and photos of our life and travels as we always have.

Thanks to all of our family, friends and followers for your support and encouragement with all of our adventures. We love sharing our stories with you and if we inspire others to get out there and travel, then we have done our job!

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

We did it! We finally visited the Christmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens.  This is the largest Christmas light display in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular is held every year from November until January (this year it closed on Australia Day, not sure if that is the case every year or not).

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If you have kids they will absolutely love it, but even the big kids (adults) will enjoy the night.

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As well as the lights display there are also rides, food and entertainment.

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The lights are set up around the gardens and are split into different displays, including the Giant Teddy, Princess Castle, Santa’s Workshop, Candyland and Fairy Garden.

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This event is held at the Hunter Valley Gardens, located at 2090 Broke Road Pokolbin, NSW 2320. 📞 02 4998 4000.  www.huntervalleygardens.com.au

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Exploring the ranges

You could quite easily spend a few weeks exploring the Flinders Ranges and surrounding areas, particularly if you are going to do any of the bushwalks.

Below are just a few of the places we visited while in the area.

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The Great Wall of China

Just outside the Flinders Ranges on the road between Wilpena and Blinman you’ll find the unusual formation which is named the Great Wall of China.  This is made up of lines of rocks which are topped with ironstone.

Blinman

The historic town of Blinman is actually the highest town in South Australia.  Copper was discovered here in 1859 and mining began soon afterwards.  What was once a popular busy town in the mining boom is now a quiet little town home to just 22 residents.

The Blinman Hotel, known as ‘The Pub in the Scrub’, first opened in 1869.

Sacred Canyon

The site is a place where the Adnyamanthanha people gathered to tell stories.  It’s believed that the engravings are up to 40 thousand years old.

It’s quite an easy and picturesque walk into the canyon along a dry river bed, lined with ancient river red gums.  What makes this place different to other Aboriginal artworks is that they are actually engravings carved into the rocks, not paintings.

It is unknown who actually made these artworks as the memory of these people has been lost to the local Adnyamanthanha community.

Nuccaleena Mine Ruins

Copper was discovered at Nuccaleena by William Finke in the mid 1850’s.  The mine became partly operational in early 1860 when 100 tons of copper ore were mined in 5 weeks by 16 men.  By March 1861, 88 men were working at Nuccaleena, including six miners, five masons, four sawyers, two cooks and a medical officer.

The Great Northern Mining Company built a small town around the mine site, where the miners and mechanics of the company resided. Of course, the township also had the Bushman’s Hotel, as well as Captains apartments, office, stone stables, a goods store, smith’s shop, a workshop, general store, doctor’s house and huts for the miners.

You can walk around this old mine site and we would have loved to have done so, but it was unbelievably hot the day we were there and walking from the car to the information sign and taking the photos below nearly killed me (George stayed in the comfort of the air-conditioned car!)

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Kanyaka Homestead Ruins

We both love exploring old ruins, learning the history and imagining what these places must have been like …. filled with people and chatter.  Walking around some of these ruins we come across, you are the only ones there and it’s hard to imagine what life must had been like.

The Kanyaka ruins consists of various buildings, the main homestead and various other outbuildings.   There is also the woolshed, which was one of the largest in the state.

This was our second visit to these ruins and this time we also noticed that there is a small cemetery across the creek bed …. we all know Shelly loves a cemetery and had it not been over 43 degrees she would have taken the walk over to check it out!

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Old Moxans’ Hut

You will find this hut on the SkyTrek Track on Willow Spring Station property.  Old Moxans’ Hut was built around the turn of the century and was actually occupied permanently by a station employee until the early 1960’s.

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Prairie Hotel

Located at Parachilna, the Prairie Hotel is one of those places that everyone wants to visit, why?  To try their ‘FMG’ – Feral Mixed Grill ….. a dish consisting of kangaroo, camel and emu.  Apparently this is listed as one of the top 100 Gourmet experiences in Australia!  We would have liked to try this (well George would have), but the hotel was closed for the summer so we will have to visit next time, but we did take a drive out to the town anyway.

The Parachilna Hotel was first licensed in 1876 and changed its name to the Prairie Hotel when Ross and Jane Fargher purchased the hotel in 1991.

Now Parachilna is one of those blink and you’ll miss it type of places …. it’s literally nothing more than a railway station, the hotel and a few other buildings.  It’s a strange little place, there was no one around (that we could see!) and to be honest it felt pretty eerie.  Would we stay there ….. NO, would we go back when the pub is open …. Probably, did we feel like someone was going to jump out and kidnap us and chop us up into a million pieces …. YES!

Friendly locals!

This friendly little guy was a constant visitor at our campsite during our stay.  He was very inquisitive and was never far away.  We are always very careful about not leaving food or rubbish around while we are camping, but we did come back one day and find the grease tray from our Webber lying on the floor ….. we have a feeling maybe this little guy had something to do with that!

Plenty of 4WD Tracks

As previously posted, there are plenty of 4WD tracks available and the Flinders Ranges are centrally located should you wish to extended your holiday into another area …. there was a part of us that wanted to jump on the Strzelecki Track and head off to Innamincka for another visit ….. the hotel sells awesome chips!

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Wilpena Pound Welcome Talk

One of the highlights of the trip was attending the welcome talk at the resort.  Each night they hold a free informal talk where you are welcomed to the area in Yura Ngawarla, the language of the Adnyamathanha people, the traditional owners of Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges area.  The talk included the welcome, as well as stories and beliefs of the Adnyamathanha people as to the creation of the pound and surrounding areas.  To hear of stories passed down from generation to generation and to feel their passion and spiritual connection is something we love to be a part of.  To visit places like this and see that many of the staff are of Aboriginal background makes it just feel right.  We love hearing the Dreamtime stories, knowing that they have carried these beliefs down the generations, it’s a privilege to be a part of that.  If you are visiting the Wilpena Pound Resort, this welcome talk is a must-do activity.

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We basically spent 5 days driving around and exploring.  We generally left camp by 8am and we were lucky to be back before 7pm most days.  During our whole trip we drove 5,136km.  Above is a screenshot of our hema map app of where we drove in the Flinders Ranges.


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