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After spending a small fortune at Alice Springs – no idea how, shopping hungry is apparently not a good idea. Or thirsty in Jamie’s case! Our first stop was Gemtree, a caravan park in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but dirt and scrub and then this little place down the Plenty Highway. We booked in for 2 days, probably good that we did, as they only had a couple of spots left when we arrived. We settled down for the first night, the kids got pasta and curled up in bed to watch Despicable Me on the projector in the van. We grabbed a couple of 2 way radios – makes dealing with grumbling children easier than walking back and forth to the van every 2 minutes – and headed to the camp kitchen. Every Wednesday and I think Saturday they throw a roast dinner for whoever is interested, $20 a head and we got roast beef, roast postatoes, pumpkin, broccali, cauliflower, onion and gravy. Yum. Then we watched a 20 minute movie about the family made in 1963. They also gave us a bit of background, talking about how the family packed up their lives and headed west from Queensland, further than almost any other European had settled before picking Gemtree to set down roots.

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The next morning we were up and dressed by 8am, collected our sieves, water, pick-axe and spade and hit the gem lands. We choose the garnet tour, the other option in Zircons which are apparently harder to find. Dan, our tour guide, showed us how to panhandle the stones and then held his sieve up to the sunshine and there gleaming in the centre was a ray of red. The first garnet of the day. Jamie was hooked, a man possessed, he dug out rocks, the kids threw away the big stones, Dad and I washed and Abi had the art of picking out the garnets down pat. In fact she could pick them out before we even washed them – a future in gem hunting I think! We ended up with a tin full, Jamie refused to quit until we did, the kids and I got a bit bored by about 12 – 4 hour of hunting was enough really. We ended back with our treasure to have them looked at. Turns out we have 11 3mm and 2 4mm – around $1,125 worth. The rest gets cleaned and the kids get some pretty decoration – if you clean them and put them in a bottle with baby oil they will throw out red rays as the sun hits.

We couldn’t finish our stay without a roaring fire, Jamie created some masterpiece hamburgers, topped with bacon, cheese, egg, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. Plus some yummy corn. Perfect end to the day. I also finally managed to work out how to bake on our webber baby Q, the kids were getting a bit irritated with cookies they could only eat the top half of. So now we have chocolate chip muffins for the next part of the journey.

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We hit the road again for the Devil’s Marbles – via the big Man! Yes, more big things. Turns out there was also a Big Woman, Child and Lizard. Not sure how they were built, who or by whom because the place was pretty closed when we went through. Apart from a very happy dog that came by to say hello!

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We hit the Devil’s Marbles at about 3:30pm, apparently hours after every other grey nomad in the area had already arrived. We managed to squeeze ourselves into a spot – no one else seemed to much care that it was popular stop and happily took up 2 spaces each. What followed was must grumbling and muttering under our breaths about selfish caravaners!

As the sunset we took pictures, wandered the well worn paths and watched the kids make houses in the rocks – apparently there were no bedrooms but they did have a special section for shoes and for when you were puking. Go figure.

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We hit the road for the Daley Waters Pub the next day, stopping briefly at a random pub where we met a man walking from Port Augusta to Darwin. He pushes a trolley with 75kilos of his stuff, stopping where he can to eat mammoths amounts of food to survive through the next part of his journey. No reason apparently, just because he can. We explored the nearby abandoned telegraph station and got underway to the pub.

         Jamie had apparently found his Graceland. Once again we were behind everyone else but managed to get one last spot in the overflow car part. They are fully booked May to September, usually by 2pm. And apparently the whole place will be vacant by 9am the next morning. Right, new plan. We will be up early, we will beat them to Mataranka! But until then we will eat, watch footballs, buy random enamel mugs and eat beef and barra.

We spent the next 3 nights in BitterSprings Campground – successfully arriving early and bagging a lovely grassy spot where we could watch the grey nomads we left behind roll in! It’s amazing how often you bump into the same people, or the kids meet other kids they played with a few weeks back. We are all apparently on the same journey, just moving at different speeds.

Mataranka was our slow speed. We set up, doodled about the town – it didn’t take look. And then headed to the springs. Despite my overwhelming fear that a crocodile will eat one or all of my kids, I briefly allowed them near the river. The lady at reception at said there were freshies in the water, apparently they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them but will happily eat a small child. I spent the walk keeping one eye on the water, and hands firmly gripping my smallest and as such most edible child. My wild one who seems to have an overwhelming need to make my heart skip a beat by trying to get as close to the river as possible.

Luckily we hit the springs and plunged into the warm waters. It was bliss. The water is clear as a pool, and the kids found fish hiding under the reeds at the edges. We floated on the current under blue skies and surrounded by a rainforest of trees. Little bright blue dragon flies zip around your head and the kids duck and dive, abandoning noddles for turtle hunting under the water. You float down the river to a bridge and then hop out and walk back to start the float again. The water is always warm, and it is only reluctantly we got out and headed back as the sun started going down. The kids had an early night – an attempt at good parenting after all the late nights.

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The next day we headed to Mataranka Springs, a bit like Bitter Springs but more built up. The sides have been reinforced with concrete making it more like a pool than a natural spring. We sat over the rocks in a little waterfall section, with a tight grip on the kids who would have wooshed away down the river in a blink of an eye. We had lunch at the kiosk nearby as Dad used their wifi to catch up on life. Then we went back to BitterSprings for a final afternoon swim.

Our final day I made scones, and we all spent the day at Bitter Springs eating scones with jam and cream until our fingers were prunes and we were water logged. I’d have happily kept extending the stay, it was blissful and definitely worth the 3 night stop, but Katherine is calling so we’re moving on.

Best Moment: Drifting on the current in the hot springs with nothing but blue skies and the faint sounds of laughter and birds.

Tip for the week: 2 way radios if you have kids are a must!

Week 3 Spend:

Food: $689 – whoops

Accommodation: $90 (thanks Dad)

Petrol: $428