West Coast or bust

Trip Start Jan 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Friday, April 16, 2010

After a spectacular drive from Katherine through soaring red mountains that rise like ancient monoliths from the flat scrubby plain, we arrived in Kununurra, a lush farming community made possible by the damming of the Ord River. Massive damming operations here have produced the country's largest body of water Lake Argyle, so big in fact that it is considered an inland sea.

We had hoped to use Kununurra as a base for visiting the nearby Purnululu National Park (otherwise known as the Bungle Bungles) along with other explorations of the area, but we found the prices so prohibitive that we just couldn’t justify it. The cheapest trip into the Bungle Bungles was $650 per person and even flights over the beehive shaped ranges cost $300 for just a handful of minutes of actual sightseeing.

I was really disappointed. The Bungle Bungles is one of the places I had really hoped to see. Matt wasn’t so bothered as the Top End had already exerted it’s numbing effect on him with mile after mile of monotonous scenery, but I really had wanted to see it. I still can’t believe it is so expensive to take a tour up here. I understand they don’t get that many visitors so they need to jack up prices a bit, but that was unreal.

So my advice to anyone crossing The Kimberley in a 2WD vehicle is to consider it a road trip and only a way of getting from point A to point B. You won’t get to see any of the national parks or off the beaten track attractions like the Bungles or Wolfe Creek (the second largest meteorite crater in the world).

But we did what we could.

In Kununurra we stayed by Mirima National Park, locally referred to as the mini Bungle Bungles, in the hopes to capture some of the beauty of its big sister. Unfortunately the one town lookout did not afford views to the range, but we did get a lovely sunset view of town out to the northern ranges on the horizon. We also took a hike through Mirima and despite a dark and overcast sky we enjoyed the scenery and the sweat!

There’s not a lot to Kununurra – a typical north end town, filled with dust, four wheel drives and basic amenities. What draws people in, what keeps them here is something I can only guess at. I suppose some people love it here, consider it home.

We discovered upon picking up a six pack at the bottle shop that like so many outback towns, Kununurra is not immune to problems of alcoholism. There were posters using child-like drawings to depict the affects of alcohol on unborn children at the counter urging women not to drink while pregnant. It’s out here in the real outback that you are confronted daily with the problems facing our indigenous culture, which serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go in healing our society.

We left Kununurra in a huge downpour that had us a little worried at first, but within half an hour or so of driving we cleared the front and were soon back under sunny skies. Our destination was Fitzroy Crossing, and if Kununrra was saddening, then this place was downright depressing. We decided to take my parents’ advice and stay at the Fitzroy Crossing Lodge a few kilometers out of town. Nothing was to be gained by staying in the town center.

The next day we said our farewells to the Kimberley on our final leg to the west coast and the old pearling center of Broome. My mother will be disappointed to read that we did not make it to Geike Gorge. We didn’t make the 8am cruise and the next wasn’t until 4pm, and there was no way we were going to spend the day in Fiztroy Crossing, so on we pushed.

Arriving in Broome just after lunchtime we checked out a couple of caravan parks at the famous Cable Beach. We were staying for at least a few days so wanted to be a little more discerning about our choice here. At the Cable Beach Caravan Park we were given the pitch from Ron, who if he wasn’t an ex-used car salesman I will eat my hat, although it was the huge canopy of trees that we saw on the way in that sold us more than his sales pitch.

Blessed shade! We set up camp on a site completely shaded by long limbed trees and then set out to explore the town. It doesn’t take long to see Broome! Within an hour we had viewed the port, the town beach, driven the main streets, shops, cemeteries (Chinese, Broome and Japanese) and even seen the cop shop, prison and civic buildings! The only thing we did not see on this first day was Chinatown. We had forgotten to bring the map and didn’t quite go north enough to see this final section of town.

We made it to the beach just before the sun started its fast dip below the horizon and it was a sight to behold. The vast sweep of white sand coupled with bright blue water and the familiar yet always awe-inspiring sunset sky took our breath away. This was what sunsets were supposed to be like. This was home.

Celebrations were in order seeing we had finally made it to the west coast, so Matt cooked up an amazing meal of lamb, veggies and couscous, and soaked up the balmy (read crushingly hot and humid) night air.

The next couple of days were designated for much needed R&R. We spent our mornings swimming in the award-winning pool at the caravan park (or so Ron had boasted to us during his sales pitch) and not doing much at all; our afternoons seeking out the air-conditioned comfort of the shops and public library and our evenings at the beach for sunset. It was great just to stop and not do much of anything for a while.

The sightseeing we did was limited by the little on offer in Broome: the old Chinatown was more like tourist town these days, filled with pearl stores and souvenir shops and showing none of the usual architectural characteristics of a Chinatown either. We also got up at butt-crack to go and see the dinosaur footprints heavily touted in all the tourist brochures that are supposedly visible from Gantheaume Point at low tide, only to discover that they are not only invisible to the untrained eye but that the council actively discourages people from going down there to find them due to tides and so forth, so they don’t offer any indication at the point where to look down to see them! So there is no way to actually discern one dip or gouge from another in the rocks below making the entire attraction an exercise in futility!

But the sunrise was pretty.
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