|Rob's Tanami Desert and Kimberley
(WA) adventure - June / July 2002
Friends John and Marcia Bowen - lets leave the age thing alone in their case too
Rob and his wife Lyn in their Adelaide home.
Smooth sailing from Adelaide to Alice Springs, bitumen all the way, but a long haul in a 4cyl diesel with 6 people in it and loaded to the 'gunwales', both in the car and on the roof rack - AND towing a big, tall and heavy off-road camper trailer - also full. A small side-facing 'dickie' seat has been installed at some cost into the rear of the car to accommodate Rob's 3 year old granddaughter JJ, who's along for the adventure. However, it's occupied by the lankier boys (taking turns) because she refused to sit in it after the first 1/2 hr and any attempt to get her in there is met by tears and 'carry-on' antics!...."beam me up Scotty"... It's gonna' be a long trip.
The 'moonscape' features of the thousands of dirt piles at Coober Pedy (Opal mining town) are really a sight. Didn't they shoot some film that was set on Mars there recently? There are signs everywhere (with pictures) warning you not to run backwards or walk around at night, in case you disappear forever into one of the open mine shafts. The night is spent in a dugout home (in the side of, and down underneath a cliff) which had me spooked at first, but once inside it seemed safe enough. It was warm too, around 20 odd degrees - all night - it never changed. Apparently the temperature in these things is very stable and is great in both winter and summer, with one appearing warm and the other cool.
Two days to Alice, only to find most caravan parks are full! We managed to squeeze into one on the far side of town for the night though. Next day, the adventure really begins - onto the Tanami Road and across 1100 km of basically desert country with very limited services. We're sporting full tanks of diesel and carrying 4 jerry cans of fuel each, hoping to make the journey independently - with no fuel stop.
We make Rabbit Flat roadhouse (the most remote in Australia) around lunchtime, but you can't get close - the access road is all cordoned off and there's a sign that says "Closed every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday". We'd heard rumours that if unwary travelers dare to invade his privacy, the shotgun comes out, so we don't tempt fate for a closer look and keep moving. Why on earth would you quite rightly advertise as the most remote Roadhouse in the country and then lose business and customers by closing down for half the week? We see several large bushfires right next to the road, but burning on a front many km long, away from us. No-one's fighting them and God only knows where they'll end up. It seems strange too, as in the southern states, a bushfire is a calamity - to be fought with all available resources. Our traveling mate John says that the farmers and Aboriginals start them to burn off the dry vegetation and force re-growth with the next wet season.
We stop at the NT/WA border and the dirt road stretches as far as the eye can see, from the slight rise the border is on - dead straight. Nothing around but silence and the never ending low scrub. We feel very alone, but it's not a bad feeling, just different from the hectic lives we normally lead. Oh, and it's hot, about 30 to 33 degrees C. Not a cloud has been seen since we passed through Port Augusta. A far cry from the drizzly and cold weather we left behind in SA. I walk to the front of the car and the left headlight is hanging out of the bodywork - just leaning on the bull bar like the tongue of a dead bullock. The mounting bracket is broken - as a matter of fact, it isn't there, it's gone. The light is fixed in place by the 'gaffa' or '100 mile an hour' tape that the V8 Supercar race teams use to fix things temporarily, and on we go. The road on the WA side lulls us into a false sense of security, it's good for a while but doesn't last long. We hear a funny sound coming from under the car - and only then because the corrugations seemed to have stopped for a while and it's quieter. We stop, check for obvious signs - nothing, then continue on for 50 metres only - it's still there. OK stop again! This time really check. The left hand side, rear wheel has had 4 of its 5 nuts shaken loose. They are able to be turned by fingers. Bloody hell, that was close! It could have been serious. We tighten them properly, using the new socket and extension handle I bought just before leaving. For the next 2 days we're paranoid - checking wheel nut tensions every time we stop, but they don't work loose again for the whole trip.
The few hundred km of WA road from just after the border to our overnight stop at Sturt Creek are amongst the roughest of the whole trip. Huge corrugations and deep potholes, disguised by the setting afternoon sun. The driver's side front wheel drops into a huge one that feels like it had the power to wrench the wheel off the axle, but the car ploughs on undeterred. There's no roadside campsites appearing (you get good at spotting a clearing that looks suitable), just rough, rocky earth and long grass, right to the edge of the road. However, late in the afternoon, when we've had enough pounding, a neat little clearing amongst gum trees, near a floodway - with a creek, appears. We stop, investigate and decide "she'll do brilliantly". After we're setup, a lone rider on a bicycle appears and rides into camp. What on earth is a bike rider doing way out here? There's nothing visible around and he's got no luggage. We interrogate him. He's the local school teacher from the Community down the road and this is Sturt Creek. We were, in fact, looking for Sturt Creek as our night time stopover, on the recommendation of others who'd done the same trip and we had found it by accident. Pure 'Arse'!
A happy and contented night is spent around the campfire, just chatting and having a few beers and Bourbons and looking at the stars. They're brilliant in the desert, you can see more of them and somehow, they're brighter. Less lighting (none!) makes all the difference. All this traveling and concentration gets to you though and by 8:30pm we're making moves to 'hit the sack'. It's a trend that stayed with us for the whole trip - early to bed and early to rise, frequently before sunrise.
The next morning sees us trying out the portable camp shower for the first time. We heat water from the creek in a big drum in the coals of the fire. The little electric water pump with hose and hand held shower rose is connected to the portable 'power pack' (like a battery - it's charged by the car during the day). The suction end is immersed in the drum of warm water. It all works well and everyone feels refreshed. We perform the laborious pack up and head off again. More rough road, more shaking, more of the same! Eventually we get to the turnoff for Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater and in we go. Around 20km of further corrugations, but it's worth it. The crater is quite a sight. It's about 850m across and you view it by standing on the ridge which runs around it. Strangely, there's a circular mass of green trees right in the centre (maybe 300m diameter), but the rest of the inner circle, from the bottom of the outer ridge to this centre area, is all dry, with no vegetation. Maybe the water congregates there when it's wet?
The Bungle Bungle beehive shaped domes of rock are enormous and spectacular, unlike anything I've ever seen before. We spend two nights and do two major sightseeing walks - Echidna Chasm (a narrow walk between two extremely high walls) and Cathedral Gorge (up a gorge entrance to a huge rounded cave-like area with a rock pool in the middle and sand all around). Both are awe inspiring - you feel so small and insignificant next to these physically huge marvels of nature. One night we go to a lookout to witness the sunset against the mountain range a few km away. They're supposed to go all orange or red (I forget which) as the sun dips below the horizon, but whilst it's definitely spectacular, I'm buggered if I could tell. Maybe it's the color blindness thing again...?
The days were hot, which is unbelievable when you come from down South. The second day was 36 degrees - get that! You find yourself looking for shade at every opportunity and we drank more than half our water on the Cathedral Gorge walk, before we got half way.
Since we left Alice Springs, the weather has been the same every day, with the peak temperature being the only variable. Sunny and hot with not a cloud in the sky........the nights are mild, around 12 to 15 degrees, just right for sitting around a campfire...beers, wines and bourbons.......both before and after some sort of scrumptious meal. My nickname during the trip was 'chef Huey', after dishing up some wonderful cuisine....hard to take. I can lie, it doesn't matter anyway....no-one's still reading.
Broome is a really 'touristy' place and reminded me a bit of Noosa (but in a bush setting). There are palms everywhere and it really looks quite tropical. It's old and remnants of it's pearling industry history are everywhere. It also possesses the prettiest little airport I've ever seen. It's a gem of a setting with neat little buildings everywhere, lots of green lawns and more palm trees. The main shopping and business area is called Chinatown and most buildings are really old looking tin sheds, but it sure adds to the character of the place. I reckon I could live there. We managed to get accommodation at the Cable Beach Caravan Park (about 8 km out of Broome proper) and we were lucky because it's the really 'ritzy' end of town, where most of the resorts and flash bars are.
If you ever go Broome, you MUST stand on Cable Beach and watch the sunset. It is without doubt, the best I have ever witnessed - and I like a nice sunset! The sun gets huge as it nears the horizon and the whole sky above the 'sea line' turns hues of orange. Every night a two masted ketch or schooner sails in front of it for the picture and video takers - truly spectacular! We were there three nights and each night made sure we were there to see it - it's that good. Mind you, I don't think I'd like to be around when the Cyclones hit - maybe that's a drawback? hmmm... The boys spent a day fishing at the lighthouse point (it had some French name, which we repeatedly tried to remember at the time, but now escapes me..). I'd never seen the Indian Ocean before and the water off the rocks at the point was amongst the clearest I'd ever seen. In fact, all the water around Broome had an appealing blue/green tinge to it and you felt like just jumping in.....didn't want the whale rescue mob to suddenly rock up though.......... It was hard to leave Broome and we all agreed that we'd like to come back for a proper holiday sometime - one where you're not living out of a tent in the dirt (and out of boxes in the tent)! There are some nice resorts there.....particularly at Cable Beach. I was supposed to stock up on beer and bourbon here, but we were so busy, it slipped my mind. All through the next week or so, I was to pay for this oversight, having to ration the available cans so I didn't run out. Mark was sharing my supplies (aren't Dads great!), so it affected him too.
Gibb River Road
It's only a short drive to the beginning of the Gibb River Road from there and it's really the road which runs through the centre of the Kimberley. All the tracks to Gorges and waterfalls branch out from this road and we eventually took most of them! As we'd planned to stay in Derby and then given that idea the 'flick', we were now pushed for time to find another place to stay. We set a bee-line for Windjana Gorge with the afternoon sun setting lower. Nice road too, bitumen for the first part, but we knew it would change. We saw a straggling and strung out group of cyclists all heading for Derby, about 20 km down the road. Foreigners, you can tell. Aussies aren't mad enough to do that shit, miles from anywhere. We made a game out of seeing who was most buggered (as if their relative positions in the group don't give that away) by waving stupidly at them and seeing who had the strength to wave back. JJ was amusing everybody by pointing out each and every Boab tree and announcing it.."Boab tree"....."Boab tree".....etc.............."oh lord..can't you get that damn transporter working yet Scotty???". We had to stop a little further up the road because a bulldozer came out of the scrub (true!) and blocked the road. The driver got out, and placed old tyres across the road, for his tracks to run over, so he didn't damage the road. Once over it, he disappeared into the scrub at the other side - all the time without ever looking at us or acknowledging us in any way, even though the kids waved. What was that old Nino Cullotta book about Aussies?... "They're a Wierd Mob".
Gibb River Road (Windjana Gorge
and Tunnel Creek)
In the afternoon we did the actual Windjana Gorge walk. It was hot too and many of the party were starting to show signs of their 'use by' date. But, we saw crocodiles! Been waiting for them. Only 'freshies' (the friendly ones), not 'salties' (man eaters). We were starting to get with the lingo by now. The best of the Gorge can be viewed in the first 500m and it doesn't really change after that. It's wide spaced, but spectacular and worth a look. The Ranger had told us we didn't have to do the whole walk and we should have listened to him. We pushed on, like the early explorers and the scenery actually deteriorated and we just got more exhausted. Most of us eventually turned back, but three headed further into the unknown and eventually came to the end - the gorge just stopped and some bullock was standing there challenging anyone to venture closer. They didn't....
This camping area was also our first experience with cold bush showers. Yes, they had a shower 'building', but it had no roof (deliberately - designed that way - must be a new feature) and no heating for the water. When you've been doing sweaty walks in 30 plus degree heat and it's been a couple of days since you had one, any sort of shower begins to look attractive. Why didn't we use our own, as described earlier? It's a bit of a pain to setup your own and you need easy access to fresh cold water (a stream) because you have to carry it back to camp. You also need a fire. The camping area at Windjana had a rule that you are only allowed to use the existing 'concrete ring' fireplaces and it's verboten (German for 'forbidden') to take wood from the park - you have to carry it in. The gorge water at Windjana was at least 500m away and I'll be buggered if.............well it's just too damn far, ok?
It was just before this time that we noticed a diesel smell coming from under the bonnet of my Land Rover. A closer inspection revealed a slight leak coming from the join between the outlet pipe and the fuel lift pump 'body'. What we think happened was that the severe engine vibrations from the pounding of the corrugations, had shaken the outlet hose (which had little 'play') and the constant 'tugging' had produced a hairline crack in the welded join. It was noticeable, but not a show stopper yet. The fuel consumption would go up, but unless it got worse, we had some time to figure out a 'bush fix'.
There were cold showers here too (with roofs this time - how novel) and I ran into a German bloke who came in just after me. He obviously had a sense of humour, because his first words were "Oh no, hot water has run out again has it?". He was made of stern stuff too, because John had a shower about 10 mins after me and said he was still in there and still joking!
Bells Gorge presents us with our first waterfall. It's not big, but they are spectacular - and the noise of the water cascading over the ridge is very noisy and soothing. You could sit there for hours just watching and listening to it. There's a big rockpool on the top side of the falls, feeding the waterfall and the kids have a swim. It's cold, but they seem to enjoy it. The weather is hot (that doesn't change in the Kimberley) and the walk back is uphill, so we're stuffed by the time we get to the top. More drinking to quench thirsts, but as appealing as it is, we hold off on cracking open some beers until we get back to camp.
We have 'not so little' 40 litre Engel portable fridges in the cars, stocked with all the meat, milk and drinks - with at least 50 percent of the room taken up by beer and pre-mixed Bourbon and cola. You have to get your priorities right! You're allowed to have generators running in camp until 9pm (we asked the Ranger guy) and as camp grounds get pretty quiet after dark, we turn it off before 8:30pm, as soon as we've finished the dishes. Some wanker across the way started to clap as if to say "It's about time", but we never broke the law. Rather than cause a 'ruckus', John took a bow ("Thank you very much") whilst we quietly (amongst ourselves) wished him punctures and a major engine breakdown (much laughter) and ignored him. He was on his own and it must have been a lonely trip - had he been more friendly, we'd have happily had a few drinks with him......we're VERY sociable.
(off the Gibb River Road) - Mitchell Plateau
Any-one who's ever listened to me rave on about our 4WD and camp trips has heard me mention that just because we're in the bush, it doesn't mean you can't eat well! You just have to have the gear and be prepared. We also make use of our portable bush shower again here - remember what I said before about carting it? You see, there's close water here...it's relatively easy, except for the poor sod who has to carry it. A running repair is finally made to the leaky fuel lift pump after borrowing some old two-part, hard setting putty from a nice Victorian bloke in a Jackaroo. We kneaded it into a pliable chunk and packed it around the leaky outlet pipe. We'll see how it goes....
Unfortunately, it didn't last long. I forget exactly how long it was before we noticed the diesel smell again, but it was somewhere between 2 hours and 2 days. How's that for accuracy! We knew we had to come up with a better solution. The idea was ok, but we think the putty was too old and had 'gone off' somehow. The bloke in the Jackaroo said he'd had it in his toolbox for 20 years!
We drop the trailers off at Drysdale River Station before embarking with only what we can carry in the cars, to Mitchell Falls. We've heard that the road is narrow and rough and it would be advisable not to drag them in. A frustrating hour is spent unloading the trailer, sorting out food, clothing and camp chairs, then packing only 2 days worth of food and clothes in the car. We have to untie what's on the roof rack to make room for the chairs, but leave the water cans there as we have no idea of it's availability. The shovel and axes come too - we have to be completely self-sufficient. The diesel at Drysdale River is $1.40 per litre (dearest of the trip), but we don't buy any as we've already taken the precaution of filling the jerry cans at Broome and haven't used it all yet. After much yelling and frustration (not from Rob though, I'm trying to keep things calm), we head off. The urgency was due to the fact that it was still a fair way to the falls (we won't make it today) and we have no idea of where we'll camp, or what's down the road - but you want to accomplish the setup before dark as it's much easier and less stressful. We always made it a rule that we started looking for suitable camp spots at least by 3 or 4 pm and to be setup and sitting in front of a fire (when allowed), beer in hand, by sunset.
We pound down the notorious Kulumburu Road for a couple of hours and find a neat camp ground at King Edward River (hosted by volunteer Rangers). Once again, we're blown away by the numbers of people doing the same thing as us. There must be at least 15 four wheel drives here! Perhaps I'd better revise my estimate of only 100 plus in the whole Kimberley? Campfires are allowed, but we've been told previously that you can't salvage wood from the national park, you must carry it in. Oh well, all we 'boys' trot off and backtrack out of the park a bit and find a fire track leading off the main 'road' (if you could call it that). Ten minutes of hacking and scavenging sees us with a pile of dead wood loaded on to the front of the roof rack and heading back to camp.
It became a running joke, which grew in intensity throughout the trip, that it would be nice to follow us around (a day behind) because we were without doubt, the most prolific wood gatherers in the entire Kimberley. We always scrounged much more than we could burn in one night and due to space restrictions, never took it with us. The moon actually rises for the first time just after dusk and it's nearly full. (ie it rose in the dark, previously it had risen in the day time, understand? Good). It's spectacular and I take video footage of it, which doesn't show very well. Bugger. The night is so bright that you could almost read a newspaper in the dome tent - it's made of much lighter material than the heavy canvas of the camper trailer, which is pitch black at night.
There's a tour group next to us, touring around in one those 12 seat OKA four wheel drives (we pronounced it 'Ocker', which may or may be not be correct, but sounds good anyway). They are of many nationalities and are obviously having a great time. There was one English woman there though, who was very opinionated and loud and some of our group started silently seething....We were tempted to ask her if she wanted to play Mediaeval games - which would give us a chance to chop off her head! We refrain though. They retire early and one them starts snoring, loudly! These bush camps are extremely quiet during the night - you can here someone peeing on a tree from 50 metres away. It goes on all night - he's really got the 'chainsaw' humming! Now, it's a mute point that my family is always accusing me of being amongst the worst snorers ever, but this guy apparently makes me sound like I've been muzzled. It's the talking point of the morning - no-one got much sleep - except me. The poor guy took the pressure off and I felt liberated. It didn't bother me, it gave them some-one else to pick on.
We set off in the morning for Mitchell Falls. Others tell us that it's a twisty road in and will take a while. We do it in 1 1/2 hours and it's not too bad. In fact, it's much better than the bloody Kulumburu road, a relief. There's a camp ground here too, much the same as many of the others and much bigger than we'd imagined. The walk in is about 3 1/2 km and the sign tells us to allow 1 1/2 hours to do it. There's a helicopter too, giving rides into the falls (and back if you arrange it beforehand). It's $40 per person (one way) if you fill all seats (4) and $80 if you don't. John and Marcia announce that they really want to do it and have immediately paired with another couple waiting and qualify for the $40 fare. I decide to treat the kids, but our numbers aren't right. We talk to the Operators and they're friendly and helpful. JJ can ride on Nicki's lap (no charge) and with the other 3 boys, that makes a full complement. I decide to walk rather than try and fit in later with some other single person and a couple. Everyone tries to talk me out of it (Mark says he'll walk) but I'm determined to make some self sacrifice for the enjoyment of the kids. Plus, I can feel sorry for myself all the way along the hot walk in. Believe it or not, they have EFTPOS and the transaction is soon done. The kids are shown the little Do's and Don'ts card explaining the trip and where they stand, walk etc. I'm glad I insisted they take this ride, because each of the kids says the flight and view of the falls was the single most memorable highlight of the trip. The track leading in is marked, but not always clearly and it's up hill and down dale a bit, including some rock scrambles. I get slightly off the track at one stage near the end, where a marker seems to point to the sky, not in the correct ground direction. However, when my route becomes even more impassable, I have the sense to backtrack to the last marker and head more to the right hand side - luckily, because it was the correct way. It's easy to see how people could get lost out here - it's very rugged country and it all looks the same.
The Mitchell Falls walk takes me only about 1hr and 10mins and the view is awesome. In the wet season, this would really be a sight. As it is, there's about 3 or 4 different falls with the last one being the most spectacular and the gorge which surrounds the falls is huge and cavernous. You can walk around to get a better view and sit on the cliff ledges and I reckon they'd be several hundred feet high. Truly, a visual feast. It's bloody hot (over 30 degrees) and we're drinking water all the time. We swim in the rockpool above the top falls and it's really refreshing. The helicopters are doing a roaring trade ferrying people in and out. They land on a flat rock area at the top of the falls, marked out by round stones which have been painted white.
The walk out is exhausting (mainly for me) and I wish now I'd taken the damn helicopter flight! My legs hurt, there never seems to be enough water and it gets hot in the carry bottles. JJ is buggered too and she basically gets carried the whole way, with Mark doing most of the work and the rest of us helping when he needs a break. We're following a small family group and they unintentionally lead us off the main track (I'm glad it happened to others too). We know we're off the track because we've come to a clump of rocks and bushes and the track is gone. I remember that we should be clambering down some big round boulders and then see a flat sandy track heading across to the larger gum trees. The group, are an American family (you can sense this when they speak) and I tell everyone to stay where they are and I'll push over to the right and try and find the track. The Americans are keen to get the GPS out (they apparently have one!) and look at the readings they took on the way in, then just walk until they're in the same position - where the track would obviously be visible. God, we Aussies are low tech. How could we possibly come into this country with no GPS? I was buggered if I was going to let US High Tech beat Aussie resolve, so off I went. The young American guy (about 25 or so) started following and I'm pleased to say that Aussie bush skills (?) won the day. I'm bloody good at this - Crocodile Hunter and Malcolm Douglas move over! Make room for Mulga Rob! They all followed over and we commenced walking on the track again. The American girl was cute, but I didn't notice that and I certainly wouldn't mention it here.
Another night was spent at King Edward River (the tour party had moved on, so it was quiet - back to picking on Rob) before we back tracked to Drysdale River Station and picked up the trailers. We paid a small fee to camp at their Miners Pool camp, which is off the main station (on the other side of the road) and about 8km away. What a little gem of a place it was too. Bugger all people, quite large and heaps of room to park under the trees and make camp. The pool itself is pretty, but apparently there are crocodiles. That didn't stop a young couple from near Perth (in a Land Rover Defender) from swimming - but it sure stopped us! The wood supply right next to the cleared camp area was virtually nil, although we did manage to get some kindling. So, Mark and the two younger boys were given a brief to go forth and collect. There was quite a bit of dead wood on the drive in, so that would be an appropriate area. It also means they get the keys to Dad's car, so not too many arguments were forthcoming. Another truckload of wood eventuated and yet another lot of happy campers would have followed us. With virtually no neighbours, we had a marvelously relaxed night and for something different, sat around the campfire drinking and talking.
Gibb River Road - El Questro Station
The next place we wanted to visit was El Questro which had gained some notoriety in our travels as a 'rip off' place. This information was gained by talking to other intrepid explorers. We stopped for some lunch at a place called Home Valley Station and had to wait 20mins whilst they heated up pies and pasties in a microwave (yuk). Nicki and I shared a pasty that has to be the worst I've ever had (it was mush!) and gave us both the shits for 24 hours. So much for bush tucker. El Questro is huge - a million acres and the drive into the place is about 15km long. It's apparently regularly featured in travel programs on TV, as the 'jewel' of the Kimberley and I think the owners or managers are friends of that wanker Troy Dann who also had a TV show featuring the Kimberley a few years back.
It was the most expensive place we stayed at during the whole trip. For starters you have to purchase an El Questro Park Pass which you must stick on your car dash for the whole time you're there. They have Rangers ( I think they're El Questro Rangers, not WA National Parks Rangers from CALM - Conservation and Land Management) who check for these certificates all the time. They cost $12.50 per car and last a week. On top of that, just to camp in their dusty camp ground costs you $12.50 per person, per night. Now, I know they got flooded out in this last wet season and we can sympathise a bit, because they lost all their grass and lawn etc. However, they did not drop their prices at all and on top of that, their hot water system was stuffed and frequently the showers dropped to just a dribble and when they came back on they were cold! We'd run very low on Bourbon and Cola and they were selling Jim Beam and coke for $7 per can! The magnificent Homestead on the edge of the gorge, which you see on TV and in the advertising brochures, is off limits to the general camping public. You can't go there unless you're a guest and the rooms start at around $900 per night.
JJ wanted a pony ride, which was advertised on the entertainment boards outside the office. We wandered over there, money ready, only to be told that they don't saddle up ponies just for pony rides! Huh? Apparently they do the pony rides after the 'main' ride and they only use the horses, which have been on the main ride. They only had 3 bookings for the main ride that day and they already had 3 kiddies booked for the only 3 pony rides available - so unless they got a fourth rider for the main ride, JJ missed out. What a crock of shit! They should have saddled up ponies virtually ready to go - or at least ready to be saddled up and used. We saw at least 20 horses there, doing nothing. "For Pete's sake Scotty!....how much longer before you can beam me up!?". We lashed out for dinner at the Steakhouse restaurant on the second night (well, they did have some sights worth seeing) and they got the orders wrong, put us in the dark (it's all lantern and candle power) and when I asked for more light, reckoned they couldn't pluck a lamp from around the edge of the restaurant, to brighten us up. What was advertised on the menu (eg rib eye steak and potatoes - $28) was all you got! If you wanted salad or vegetables, you had to buy a side dish (an extra $5.50). I sussed it out pretty quickly and Nicki and I shared a garden salad.
The main high point from El Questro was that we met and befriended a really nice and outgoing German couple, Ule and Ellen. They were aged in their late 20's early 30's. They were parked in their hired 4wd high roof Camper right next to the spot we chose in the dirt. They were just sitting there outside the van, all on their own, so we went on over and started chatting. It seems they'd been in El Questro for 2 days but had only just made it today to the camp ground. They had ventured down one of the 4wd tracks (quite a few km) to a waterhole and got the rear wheels bogged and couldn't get out - even after engaging the hubs and letting down tyre pressures. So, they sat there waiting to for someone to come and rescue them. The van was not horizontal (the rear was 'down') and they even had a night sleeping at an absurd angle, which we all had a good laugh about. Their sense of humour was in sync with ours and we had a wonderful evening, first at the bar and then later on at a shared barbecue. Ellen was shit scared of the salt water crocodiles she'd heard about and we had a lot of jokes at her expense (all in fun though, with much ribbing and laughter). They had decided to pull the plug on the rest of the Gibb River road as it was much rougher than they thought it would be and were going back to the bitumen. We talked them into going to the Bungle Bungles, their 4wd could easily handle that. They're also going to ring us when they get to Adelaide and catch up. Their holiday is for 6 or 9 months - they've both taken an extra long time off work to do this trip. There are hundreds of young European holiday makers in the Aussie Outback. I guess it's so different to anything you'd see in Europe and films like Crocodile Dundee have certainly made it appealing for the adventurous.
I have to admit the El Questro bar was pretty good. Lots of outdoor tables and chairs in a lawn setting (they obviously kept that lot), a big fire for people to share and a real Western setting - Country music, the lot. The view from Brancko's Lookout was also awesome, but you had to do some steep four wheel driving to get there. It's not a problem, you just have to be careful, we made it easily. We traversed a really rugged, rocky and long creek crossing to get moving down the road to Explosion Gorge and I have to say that the final view wasn't really worth it. The last half kilometre into the gorge is also very rocky and rough, but we wanted to push the limits of the Land Rovers a bit and did it. Other cars didn't even try it though. It's difficult to see much of the gorge once down there and I don't know that I'd do that particular one again. We also visited Zebedee Springs, a thermal stream which you can bathe in. The water is warm and the setting is amongst some tall palm trees. Quite nice - everyone except Rob went in. However, you had to share the small area with about 30 other people though. We left El Questro with more bad feelings than good, but at least we can say we've been there, done that. They have some sights, but they come at a cost. They also have a resort called Emma Gorge a bit further down the Gibb River Road and it's quite nice. The reception/dining/relaxing area is really classy (mostly outdoors - all wood decking etc) and accommodation is provided in what they term 'tented huts'. They're a neat combination of a tent and a portable hut (hard to describe) and look quite comfortable.
The end of the Gibb River Road is only another 50km down the road and some of it is really rough. We pass in short time, both an abandoned trailer (the axle and wheels appear to be missing) and a flash 4WD towing a normal road caravan. God help him! He's already stopped and is inspecting damage to the van - I hate to think how much of it will be left when he gets to the other end. Turn around now mate! The end of the Gibb River Road appears and we stop to film the big sign warning of road openings (all open, as we knew they would be - there's been no rain for weeks and weeks) and also check out the small pile of discarded car parts underneath it. There's a pair of spotlight shells (no lenses, just the casings) and a single shocker, obviously stuffed. Considering the hammering we've put the Land Rovers through, they've come through it bloody well, with no major mechanical problems and no suspension problems whatsoever. Fuel lift pump problems aside (that's a design flaw that never took vibration on the Australian Outback roads, into account) the little diesel motor in my car is a gem. It just purrs along no matter what the terrain. The bulldust has got into everything though, including the cars' interiors and it seems to grip anything it gets onto and even if you clean it off, it seems to leave a stain.
and Lake Argyle
Kununurra is a fairly neat town at the end of the Ord River, but not much of the river flows past as it's all dammed off by Lake Argyle. We managed to check into the nicest (best equipped, anyway) caravan park of our whole trip, here. It's called Ivanhoe Village and is very modern. It was full, as they all were in this part of the Country. Because of the availability of irrigation, there's much market gardening done here. A place about 5 km north of town sells melons, fruit and vegetables to the public. Superb. We bought some watermelon, rock melon, honey dew melon and apples. It was so good, we didn't cook a meal that night, just had cheese, biscuits and dips, followed by mountains of this superb fruit. It gave us the shits, but at least we didn't get any fatter. One of the drawbacks of caravan parks is that you can't just pee on any tree in the middle of the night, when nature calls. You have to go for a walk. It's a bugger if your stomach's a bit upset. We also found the local Mitre 10 store and bought some new two part, hard setting putty, suitable for bonding on steel - in another attempt to stop my fuel leak. The other putty had cracked and the lift pump was leaking again. We didn't do the job in the caravan park though, they get really funny about car repairs in those places, so we decided to wait for the next day. We did fix it the next day, after removing and cleaning up the pump. It's still in the car functioning ok (and not leaking), in spite of the fact that we picked up the pre-arranged replacement from Alice Springs.
Lake Argyle is about 70km from Kununurra and is huge. If you want to stay, there's an old Motel and Caravan Park there, but no real town as such. The park may be a bit run-down, but it's 'laid back' with adequate facilities and it's friendly. There's a bar in the dining room and kiosk area of the Motel, which serves counter meals and beer and it would rate as one of the friendliest and most non threatening bars I've ever been into. (I don't really like pubs and bars). Ideal for a family to relax in after a hard day sightseeing on the water. The staff at the bar and dining room are all back-packers, like so many of the tourist places we visited. They move around, seeing the country, run out of money and then stay somewhere long enough to work, save some and move on.There's plenty of nearby lake viewing spots but there's only a couple of km of roads in the whole 'town', so all the viewing is done close to 'home'. Several Companies run sightseeing boat tours from here and they're not cheap, but well worth it, if you want to try something different. We had to book in advance from Kununurra, just to get on one (the sunset cruise). I think it cost me about $175 for a 2 1/2 hour cruise for myself and all the kids, but that also included beer, champagne, coffee, soft drink and nibbles (crackers and dips), once the boat 'Kapitan' decided it was time to lighten up and start distributing them. He announced in his opening address that we'd be having refreshments, but it came in the last 1/2 hour or so of the tour. I suppose you can't have a boatload of drunk 'know it alls' all afternoon can you though?
The trip was informative and our guide was a nice guy, who had lots of facts and figures about the dam, but we spent too much time cruising up to the rocks or islands, looking for birds and fleet footed rock wallabies and such like, for my liking. I wanted to see the dam, not some little wallaby who's always there and appears for a free feed of special pellets. I reckon we spent 15 mins idling in one spot whilst fellow travelers snapped happy shots of the little blighters. All I wanted to know was the recipe for rock wallaby stew. We then cruised for some birds (the feathered kind - again for too long) and this guy we'd nicknamed 'Einstein' saw some Brolgas. We called him Einstein because he always had the correct answer to any question and looked very proud when he was told he was right - what a pain! Oh lord, more pissing around in one spot. That's how they could afford the drinks, I reckon. They didn't use any fuel to speak of, so could afford to buy a couple of slabs of beer and softies. We saw about 2 'freshy' crocodiles (sleeping, what a life) and then fed the catfish. Now there's a sight. They wanted us to hold out bits of bread, above the water, so the Razor fish could jump up and try and spit the bread out of your hand. However, a Cormorant (we called them Shags when I was a kid on KI) came along and dived in, trying to catch them and they all took off. That left the catfish and boy, did they kick up a storm fighting over the bread. There's thousands of them and they're like Piranhas when a bit of bread or a full roll got thrown in the water. A few industrious locals make a living out of catching them (not these exact types but a very close relative apparently) and selling them in Perth (mainly) as 'Silver Cobbler'. We'd tried it for lunch and it wasn't too bad. The story goes that they couldn't sell any as catfish, but some enterprising soul thought up the name Silver Cobbler and now they sell heaps. The fillets sell for about $19 per kilo and all they are, is bloody catfish!
The Captain cracked open the coldies on the drive back and a few people had a swim off the side of the boat. Mark, Mick and Max went in and were weren't going to let JJ go in, but she kicked up such a racket that people were looking at us like we were child abusers. "Let her go in" and "Oh, the poor thing, let the little one have a go" were starting to be uttered so I looked at Nicki and said, "You'd better chuck her in, or else we'll never hear the last of it". So, in she goes, and then basically comes straight out again as Captain Blood is starting to fire up the engines and it's so bloody cold, that I reckon it'd freeze brass monkeys' nuts. The boys spend the rest of the cruise home shivering like mad. Oh, we basically missed the sunset too (even though I predicted it - I said to John "that sun's only about 5 mins from the top of the hills - I bet he talks for so long, that we'll miss it"). What a prophecy, about 30 seconds before it disappears he announces that the keen photographers had better be quick or they'll miss it. The beer and champers was flowing and people were really starting to mix now (isn't drink a great leveler?) and I reckon the party was about 3 cans away from really taking off. The little kids (including JJ - who couldn't see over the wheel) were all allowed to take the wheel on the run home and you should have seen the wake, zig-zagging across the lake, like the path taken by my son-in-law Dave after a night on Guinness and red wine.
For the mathemeticians reading this, the lake holds something like 25 times the water volume of Sydney Harbour, but they do bugger all with it except a bit of Hydro electricity (it runs Lake Argyle and Kununurra only) and a bit of irrigation at Kununurra. What a waste of resources, considering the amount of water there and how big the project was. Many people have ideas on how the water volume might be better put to use, given that it was still slightly over-full when we were there and during the wet season, they turn the outlets full on, just to get rid of it. It has a flood capacity of about 43 Sydney harbours, which is marked by signs, but they never want the level to get close to that. It's for real floods, not normal wet season rainfall. These theories all include pumping it somewhere else or making better use of the hydro electric capability. Some say pump it to the Murray to get it flowing again and assist with irrigation, others say just pump it to Central Australia to kick start a market garden or orchard industry. They're all not as stupid as you might think, I mean this lake is huge and unlike winter in the South, it's always guaranteed to be full at the end of the wet season. I even thought that running a charter boat on it (a big yacht) would suit me - there was one there too and the kids said I was drooling. Oh well.......dreams.
The trip back to
NT and heading South
We stopped at Tennant Creek and actually got out of the car to get some money from an ATM. What a town. I did not turn my back at the ATM but rather, did it sideways, always looking for the 'mugger'. I didn't like this place at all. We were going to buy a slab of Bourbon and cola and Mark actually went into the bottle section of this rough looking pub, whilst I got some money. He wasn't out by the time I'd finished so I went in to rescue him. I have never seen a bigger pig-sty that passes for a pub anywhere. It was filthy, the service (?) lousy, in fact the Manager didn't know they could sell it in slabs. They didn't have much of anything and then tried to sell me a slab for $120. When my jaw dropped he said "well, what do you reckon? - It costs $5 per can, times 24 - well alright, $110 then". I told him that I knew I wasn't in Adelaide, but that I could but it there for $40 any day of the week. He didn't seem inclined to barter and wasn't friendly anyway, so we walked. Oh well, more rationing. It seems to be my lot in life. We found out later that we'd picked the worst and roughest pub in town. Hah!
We made Wycliffe Well the next night after almost stopping at some 'dive' of a place up the road (the name escapes me though). I'm glad we did too, because this was the most interesting Caravan Park we stopped at for the whole trip. Now, Wycliffe Well is known as the UFO sighting capital of Australia, this could be interesting....The whole park has a UFO theme and it's great. There's a corralled off area near the entrance with a mock-up of a spaceship in it and a family of life sized, green aliens stands outside the ship (oval faces and big eyes). There are murals everywhere (on all the walls) depicting alien landings etc. The toilets have aliens of the appropriate sex painted on the door and the signs read 'maliens' and 'femaliens'. If you look carefully around the park you'll see life sized versions The Phantom and Incredible Hulk. It's a real hoot and I recommend it to anyone traveling that way. They also have an Auditorium at the back of the park, which had a great menu (we didn't eat there though - we still had some food left) and a floor show starting at 7pm. Some lady was singing for her supper, accompanying herself with a guitar and she was pretty good too. We bought a bottle of red wine after a few beers and had a good sing-a-long. "Give me a home among the gum trees........." You have to be a little drunk to handle that stuff, especially when many of the oldies in the audience took it SOOOOO seriously. We were going to sign the "UFO sightings" book (yes, it's on the front counter) but thought better of it, in case some-one took us seriously and rang us up. After a few ales, we tried to confuse the other guests, by talking and pointing to the sky, but we never did see any UFO's. Next time perhaps....
The Gemtree was reached by around 1pm next day. It's on the Plenty Highway, about 70km from the Stuart Highway and about 70km before you hit Alice, if you're traveling South. It's a bush Caravan Park, with a side business of gem fossicking, then cutting them and setting them in jewelry. They find Zircon and Garnet, both pretty, in the nearby gem fields (about 15km away). You are covered by their Operators Licence for the fossicking and it costs $50 per car for the gear you need. Graham refused to take our money for the site we needed (I always did remember him as a nice bloke) and managed to find time for a quick beer before he rushed off to have his meal and do his BAS for tax. He let us fossick on the surface of the Gem fields (around the back of a hill) without gear, the next day. We found some interesting stones, but when it was all checked out, I think we had 2 small pieces of Zircon, the rest was junk! We brought it all home anyway, to show what famous propectors we were - along with JJ's rock from somewhere on the Gibb River Road. She found this thing about the size of an Emu's egg, ages ago and we'd been carrying it ever since. It now sits in the garden at home, but she's forgotten about it.
We moved on to Alice Springs, after
yet more frantic phone calls by John, to pre-book us in to a cabin for
our last night in the NT. We had to do a big drive to Coober Pedy after
we left Alice and didn't want to waste time unloading and loading the
trailers. Plus, we were sick of it. It wasn't so bad for John and Marcia,
but you should see the gear that 6 people carry and the mess you get into
every night! Virtually everything was booked out but somehow we managed
to get a cabin for 2 and a family cabin in the G'Day Mate Caravan Park.
The nights were cold now (give us back the Kimberley) and the days were cooler. We had sweated and complained a little, of the heat when we had it, but missed it now. It's almost impossible to comprehend the difference in temperature between the southern parts of the states, when you are informed by whomever is on the phone, and the 30 plus degree days we were experiencing in the northwest. We had a big drive to Coober Pedy and spent the night there in the same dugout we'd had on the way up. We met up with my brother for a meal (a Greek restaurant called Tom and Mary's - very nice - have the 1/2 and 1/2 garlic Prawns and Calamari). We were a little sad now, as our big adventure was all but over. Loved ones awaited, but so did the cold, wet and normality (reality?). The rain had hit us by the time we left Port Augusta and was pouring within 200km of Adelaide. "Beam me up Scotty!" For real.
Some towns we didn't really like
- (doesn't take into account nice things we may have seen or done in some
Some towns we thought were ok (they
still had some undesirable things though)