Northern Horizon Trip Summary – Paul Kowalski

Among the many thoughts and feelings we have experienced since arriving home from Northern Horizon, the most powerful has been the sense of achievement. Each time we arrive home from a big trip we have a greater sense for the size and diversity of this country and Northern Horizon has broadened that understanding to a whole new level. What an exciting concept it has been to think back on just some of the iconic locations we visited and photographed.

Before I talk about the trip and our experience, I want to go back to the start, to remember the preparation that we went through and more importantly what we thought the trip might be like. We planned for almost two years for this incredible experience but the magnitude and length of the trip was something we just could not fathom before we left. The fact that we were travelling into some of the most remote and beautiful locations in Australia meant that we had to be very prepared. We were as ready for anything as we could be, ready to take our time and get to every place in the north that was possible.

There is always the ‘what if’ with a trip like this. “What can go wrong? What will we do if something does?” Preparation is the key in our opinion. Finally the day came to leave our home in Canberra and drive off towards the north. I will always remember those first couple of days on the road, as it was hard to process the fact that we were realising a dream that we had worked for so long to achieve. But it was just the beginning.

There is no doubt that we have never before seen the breadth and beauty in the locations that we visited on this trip. It was like something straight out of a best of Australia documentary. Each place seemed as good as, if not better, than the last. There is also no doubt that the north of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland hold incredible, untouched beauty. It is hard to comprehend  the conversations around where we went, liberally talking about Mitchell Falls and Cape Levique in the Kimberly, Mossman Gorge near Cairns and Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday’s all in the same sentence. In many cases the trip still feels like a dream, we just visited so many amazing spots.

Our top ten locations from the trip would have to be –

1. Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly    

2. West Beach at Cape Levique  

3. Piccaninny Creek at Purnululu National Park (Bungles Bungles)  

4. Mossman Gorge   

5. Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday’s  

6. Lake Eyre  

7. Pat’s Lookout in Katherine Gorge   

8. Geiki Gorge   9. Ormiston Gorge  

10.  Bell Gorge in the Kimberly

On our arrival home the speedo had almost ticked over to 20,000 kilometers travelled. We honestly thought we would do more. Regardless of the distance, we travelled on the roughest and most remote roads in our own history. Some of the dirt tracks we bounced along were really bad, with the worst being many roads off the Gibb.

Other stand outs were the track into Mitchell Falls, the Mereenie Loop, the track out to Walsh Point above Mitchell Falls and the road out to Cape Levique. They were rocky, extremely corrugated, wet, overgrown and muddy. We literally tested all of our gear to its maximum potential and we broke quite a few things. We lost our main fridge, luckily only a week out from the end of the trip it simply just stopped cooling. We also ruined our in car CD player, we split our roof rack in several places, we cracked our auxiliary battery tray in half, the air conditioner stopped working, we melted two main fuses in the power system to our auxiliary batteries and we had to relocate our second fridge to live within our camper trailer base as it was overheating. Sure we learnt a lot from these breakages, with the main thing being that in future we will make sure to buy only the highest quality Australian made or tested products, which are designed to take the punishment of what is out there in this country.

Among our other must have gear, we carried two main spare tyres for our vehicle. In total we travelled with six Cooper S/TMAXX tyres and not once did we have to undo a single wheel nut or reach for the puncture kit, as they performed flawlessly without a single issue or flat. Well, we actually did reach for the puncture kit, but only to help several other travellers with punctures from sharp sticks and really nasty sharp rocks that were doing a lot of damage. Our tyres really proved to be something we could heavily rely upon for this journey. I can admit that I have never pushed a set of tyres like I did on this trip, the roads were just regularly rough, hard going and full of punishment. I pushed the limits of what I had driven in the past in order to reach locations and our Coopers took us there every time. I was extremely diligent about tyre pressures. We travelled the entire Gibb, including diversions, and many other tracks with the tyres down at 22 psi and it made a big difference. The ride was smoother at around 40 – 60 kilometres an hour and we just rattled less. We met plenty of other travellers and tyre pressures were a big point of conversation, but we noticed that many were travelling with pressures much higher than ours. Whether because of these higher pressures or not, there was pieces of peoples vehicles on many of the roads, bike racks with bikes still in them, starter motors and front bumpers to name a few items.

Some people that we met had also been the victims of serious damage to their off road caravans, both inside and out, which turned into an expensive time on such rough roads. Many other people were experiencing serious car issues as well, from failing transmissions to simply sheering wheel studs off hubs. We actually felt quite relieved to have only the minor issues we experienced.

It’s simply not possible to sum up a trip like Northern Horizon in a few thousand words, it was a euphoric experience and now all of a sudden we are back to the reality of life. Life on the road was none the less busy. In particular on the Gibb – for that period of around five weeks I was in a constant routine and experienced a heightened sense of awareness. I wanted to stay on top of everything from having enough water, food and fuel to making sure that we photographed some amazing locations in great light. Who knows when we will get back to some of the places again. At Mitchell Falls alone, over three and a half days, I stomped out nearly thirty kilometres walking in the local area, visiting the falls themselves every day and a few other locations in the region. For nine weeks of our fourteen week trip we also had to contend with pretty serious heat, in excess of 39 to 40 degrees every day with up to 90% humidity. It was unusually humid and very exhausting at times, and I pushed myself past my own physical limits on many occasions to get to locations. Our saying for the Kimberly is that “everything is hard to get to, everything is expensive but the locations and the experiences are simply amazing and something we will always remember”.

My most favoured memory from the trip is walking out to Mitchell Falls with my wife, Belinda and two daughters, Chloe (6) and Lili (4). To experience this extremely special place together was very unforgettable and I am proud of what we have achieved on this recent journey into the never never.

If I was going to do the same trip again the only thing I would have changed was the amount of time we were away for, I always say that, but in this circumstance there were times where we had to move on when we could have easily stayed on for another couple of days just to have a better look around. What a massive country, it just blows me away the sheer size and expanse that is out there. We also feel very privileged to have the opportunity to go and explore this country while we are still so young. My grandfather always told me to see this country when I was young, to allow me to see its true heart and be able to walk into all of the available places to photograph them, and he was certainly right.

The Northern Territory offered some of the most dramatic landscapes in the arid desert areas, such as The Devils Marbles and of course the McDonnell Ranges, offering an almost endless amount of gorges, rock pools and amazing colours. Queensland is certainly a state that we need to get back to. There is so much in Queensland  that we had to drive past, such as Fraser Island, more of the Whitsunday’s, Carnarvon Gorge, Cape York and the list goes on.

We will spend the next couple of months cycling through photographs to release and talking and reminiscing about a phenomenal trip. The future will hold plenty of planning for the next ‘Big Trip’ which is in the workings where we will more than likely head north again.

Until then we hope to see you on the tracks somewhere, we had an amazing time on Northern Horizon and can’t wait to do it all again and share the experience.

Paul Kowalski.

Paul’s pre-trip preperations.

Follow Paul’s journey each step of the way.

Take a look at Paul’s tips on travelling Australia with kids.

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