Gorges, gorges and more gorges......

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, July 9, 2004

Quote of the day: Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Abstract/Executive Summary: Left Exmouth on three day dash to Broome, enjoyed the Broome Jockey Clubs hospitality for the races.. a bit different to Happy Valley in Hong Kong the last horse racing we saw. Cable beach really is an almost perfect stretch of golden sand, walked the length of it twice, once at sunset. Decided to get Aircon fixed in car as its starting to get hot. Drove up to Cape Leveque The north western tip of Australia, via Middle lagoon, an idylic aborigonal community on a bay with unspoilt beaches and azure seas, peace and quiet. Cape Leveque was more developed, but equally beautiful. Then it was ready for the next big stage of our journey. The Gibb River Road is a dirt track leading accross the NW of Western Australia for 800km. We drove 1800km on dirt roads over the next couple of weeks, and got to Turkey Creek roadhouse as the fuel light came on. There were other places to refuel but we were too tight to pay their prices. The highlights of this trip where lots of gorges and crocodiles! but best of all was Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary where we twice saw the Gouldian Finch and Mitchell falls ... Next to the Bungle Bungles where the famous 'beehive' domes where actually only a small part of the park. We did a three day trek and enjoyed two nights of solitude under the stars, whilst the rest of Europe was watching Greece carry off the Euro Championship or Wimbledon. On our way out of the park a hired landcruiser reversed into Larry, luckily causing only minor damage... Over the next three days we drove to Darwin for our first taste of State Capital since Adelaide. We hope to book our trip home from here, and have to sort out a car service, Chinese visa and other 'ecumenical' matters.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the ........:

From Exmouth we headed 1800km north to Broome which was a decidedly boring drive except for the detours around various bridges that had been washed away during the recent wet season and made us think about a) the forces of nature & b) the likelihood of a similar detour having been built if the same thing had happened on the M1 - we think not! The drive also introduced us to the concept of free 24 hour stopping places off the main highway. These are rest areas allowing camping overnight without a charge and we are heavily into them (as are most caravan owners) at the moment, although we have rarely been on the bitumen enough to use them.

Broome was delightfully tropical and as Larry's air con had died we took the opportunity to get this fixed and to walk along Broome's famous Cable Beach, a long sandy beach with lovely sunsets and water warmer than further south, but we were still too chicken to go in. We hit Broome in time for the races which were great fun albeit on a much smaller scale than Ascot, although the ladies in the members enclosures were suitably dolled up and we were treated to line dancing during the intervals! We successfully picked a few winners based of course on their names and appearance but funds didn't allow betting, only a beer each.

Just north of Broome is the Dampier Peninsular where we spent a few nights. It is mainly Aboriginal land and we spent two nights at the wonderfully relaxed Middle Lagoon where our hosts were a lovely Aboriginal family with two gorgeous little kids. The place had a lovely sandy lagoon and plenty of grassy areas to camp and was a welcome rest. On our last day, what we assume to be a toy library came to the community and white and black kiddies alike were tearing around on tricycles and enjoying the toys with toothy, dribbling grins. The Aboriginies here are facially very different from those of central Australia and look almost Indian or Polynesian. They are very attractive people.

We spent one night at the tip of the Peninsular at Cape Leveque which was nice, but much busier than the previous place. We went snorkelling here, but having been spoiled by Ningaloo Reef, it was pretty barren, but at least we were in the water!. Also on the Peninsular we popped into the community of Beagel Bay, famous for a Catholic Church with a mother of pearl altar (the Aboriginies on the peninsular are Catholic and very religious) which was beautiful and the community was clean and tidy with a fabulous locally run bakery where we bought bread straight from the oven and stuffed ourselves with pastries as a treat.

Our last night on the peninsular was spent at a fishermans camp towards Broome where we positioned Larry in a spot overlooking the ocean for fine views. This was idyllic until it got dark when clouds of mozzies decended on us and we nearly gassed ourselves spraying insecticide inside before going to bed. The following morning when we opened the doors it was as if a mozzie race had started as they josstled for position to bite us.

From Broome we headed to Derby, the start of the Gibb River Road (GRR) through the Kimberleys, but more importantly the venue of a birthday lunch of sumptuous oysters followed by fish and chips to celebrate R having reached the grand old age of 34!!!! The cafe was alongside Derby's jetty from which we saw an Osprey and loads of brown kites and is where zinc and lead ore is loaded onto barges to be taken out to ships anchored some 7km out to sea. The tides are huge and fast and they only have 5 hours to load 4000-20000tonnes before the water level is too low!

The GRR should be renamed the Gorge Road as it allows access to loads of gorges and it is possible to become totally gorged out, but what is unique about gorges in the Kimberley is that they have water in them, and therefore freshwater crocodiles (freshies) and water goanna. We spent R's birthday at Windjana Gorge which wasn't a particularly inpressive gorge but it is THE place in Australia to see freshies. Unlike most people who saw a croc and then got back in the car, we walked through the gorge and ate our lunch with about 10 crocs lines up infront of us in the sun which was an amazing site and we had the place to ourselves. The water was also home to Archer fish which are black and white striped and use squirts of water to knock insects out of the air and overhanging foliage to eat - clever huh. Our birdwatching skills were coming on somewhat as the Top End is home to colourful birds so it's much easier to identify them and for those interested we saw double barred finches, orioles, rainbow bee eaters, sacred kingfisher,grey fish eagle (which was majestic) & brolgas, to name but a few.

Back on the GRR we saw a sign for 'Queen Victoria's Head' and there infront of us was the perfect profile of Queen Vic and had the sign not have been there, you would have come to that conclusion too. Tunnel Creek was thankfully not a gorge, but a cave carved by a crystal clear stream and by wading through the water and with the help of a torch you could walk all 750m through it. As we approached the far end, someone started to play the didgeree doo and the sound resonating through the cave was memorable.

We followed a very rough (for the last 500 meters) track into Lennard Gorge, the kind of track that takes about three times longer to drive than to walk, big bolders and rocks with very steep grades. The gorge itself was very steep and narrow with lots of nice pools with lots of water goannas, and we saw some short eared rock wallabies. We returned to our van after dark following our second foray into the gorge only to find the site had been overrun by 'ferals'. In this context ferals are redneck aussies whos idea of style is a holden ute with a scruffy dog in the back. Complete with beer belly and long goaty beard and shaved head. This wouldn't have been such a problem till the beer drinking and fire starting began , when the 'music' came on at ear splitting volume we decided to cut our loses and run, back over the very rough track, this time in the dark. The only consolation was that there was deisel all over the track so one of the utes had obviously holed a tack... not that such things would please us you understand.
Anyway they obviously got underway as we were talking to a couple from Albany we had met at Bell gorge when she nodded in the direction of a group of ferals, obviously our noisy neihbours, the fatest amongst them proceeded to strip off and jump into the beautiful waterhole below the falls, I would have done the same except it was freezing, must put on some more blubber. As usual a short walk left the crowds behind and on walking down to the lower falls we had the place to ourselves, a nice spot for lunch btw. On the way out of the gorge we saw an enormous King Brown snake which reared up to a car coming in the opposite direction.

We didn't quite make the campsite at Mornington Wilderness camp and had to go bush, arriving at 7am did confuse the staff but we went off to Dimond gorge for a walk. The 3 day sojorn at Mornington was great lots of gorge waling and bird watching, including two sightings of the rare goldian finch. (also bustrads redwinged parrots, crimson finches, double barred finches and red bellied kingfishers).

More gorges followed (your beggining to detect a trend) Galvins Gorge, small lush, nice lizards, then Manning Gorge, big full of tour groups who as usual restricted their activities to the lower pools and the upper prettier falls we had to ourselves. We actually made an innovative new dish of 'frying pan pizza', kind of like parata with tomato and cheese. Might not sound very good but was great, Rachel will be publishing the recipe in her new book 'BushTukker Rach'.

Up until now the road was really OK for conventional cars (except Lennards Gorge) but on our trip upto Mitchell Plateau all that changed the corrigations were nearly as bad as those on the Gunnbarrell. Camping at Drysdale station with the 'phone in the fridge', photo later, it took about 3.5 hours to drive 45 miles, not unlike the M6 I suppose, but on this road there is no traffic only constant undulations perpendicular to and right across the road about 20cm high and anywhere between 30cm to 80cm apart, at regular intervals for mile after mile after bone shaking mile. After a while it feels like the car is going to fall apart, indeed several had along the way, bits of trailer and car are abandonded along the road. One mans bullbar fell off, and another new Patrol was being welded together in the car park. The analgy of throwing your cutlery tray into a tumble dryer is very apt. Oh and a 1m high river crossing over the king edward river added to the excitement. The only compensation on the track was the beautiful Livingstone Palms lining the route, and some of the best aborigonal art anywhere in Australaia, with huge 'windjana' men 6m long painted tens of thousands of years ago.

The road was worth it when we arrived (after a 6km walk) at Mitchell falls where a river flows off the escarpment in four steps, one of Australias most famous..and least accessable wonders. We spent from 6am to dusk on the walk, going all the way to the bottom and round underneath the falls then to the bottom of the smaller Mertans falls, where rach stripped off and showered under the crystal clear water. Of course we thought no one could see us, but later heard two blokes talking about 'some bird in the altogether under the falls'. Made his day I guess.... Photos coming soon... of the falls not Rachel in the nip..

The GRR has a famous river crossing across the Pentacost River which from our direction has views of the Cockburn Range of mountains behind it and is particularly scenic at sunset when the rocks of the range turn pink. Having spied a top camping spot over looking the range, we sped down to the river so that G could photograph R and Larry crossing with the lovely backdrop. That night a large thing was circling Larry with large beating wings. At first we thought it was an owl, but it turned out to be a big fruit bat.

We were nearly reaching the end of the GRR and Larry being a complete love had withstood being rattled to bits on all the corrugated sections. Between us and the end was El Questro Wilderness Park, rumoured to be the venue for Kylie Minogues wedding. It was necessary to buy a rather pricey permit to enter and caming was also expensive for what we were doing for nothing, so we snuck into Zebedee Springs without the permit. Shhhhhh! The springs were a series of warm pools surrounded by palms and packed full of people submerged up to their necks and very refreshing it was too, especially as we hadn't showered for we won't tell you how many days!

Finally we reached bitumen and the three of us breathed a sigh of relief as we sped off south towards Purnulula National Park aka the Bungle Bungles. On the way we passed a bush fire alongside the highway where 20 plus birds of prey were circling in the thermals looking for animals trying to escape the flames. The 4WD track to the park took over 3 hours to do the 53km but it was great fun and not a corrugation in sight. The Bungles are famous as beehives of orange and black striped rock.

Before the Picanninny Gorge hike (more later), we visited Mini Palm Gorge which was nice except that the mini plams had all been splatted in the last wet season and were looking some what stripped or non existent. Much more impressive was Echidna Chasm where we squeezed through sheer sided chambers to reach the inner chasm just in time for the sun to be in exactly the right spot to illuminate it, and more importantly a snake that was there too.

Having finally got the motivation to get our rucksacs packed and moving we walked (staggered?-we are unfit!) for three and a half hours past many beehives to the elbow at the start of Piccanniny Gorge, where we found an ideal camping spot, sandy tent pad, rocky 'table' and clear water pool/supply closeby. After a night under the stars, with fruitbats, rats, mice, wallabies paying a visit and keeping us awake with munching/scratching noises. The next day we walked to the fingers and followed the left gorge untill it closed right in and we would have had to swim through, upon our return to the elbow to our camp we were exhausted, fitness will have to improve before Tibet. The next day we walked back to the car, being very grateful when we saw Larry!

As we were deregistering from the trek, Larry was reversed into by a lady in a hire car which was a real shock, especially as we were at right angles to her. She obviously didn't look, but luckily no one was injured and the hire car came off worst. It was a real shock, especially as we were stood by Larry at the time. We are trying to claim off Budgets insurance at the moment, although the dent is only small, as Larry was bought on a buy back policy, we think it would be worth getting the dent bashed out.

Back on the 4WD track on our way out of the park, a huge monitor lizard crossed the path and G got a great photo of it with it's forked tongue out. By the way, G's camara has come back to life after it's dunking in the drink whilst we were canoeing.

We tried to drive as far as we could before dark and as we were searching for a camping spot, we passed a car full of aboriginies with the bonnet up and a little further along 2 lads hitching. We stopped to give one of them a lift as we couldn't take them both. They had a flat tyre and the spare didn't fit the car! We swear to have seen the same car with it's bonnet up the next day some 300km further up the road, but this time we didn't stop!! Whilst Larry had been in the Bungles and us on our walk, his water tank had heated up so we treated ourselves to a hot wash as we were still too tight to pay for camping!

Finally we reached Darwin.......
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