In to Western Australia
Trip Start Mar 20, 2012
50Trip End Dec 18, 2012
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We left Litchfield NP early this morning (in order to beat the heat) with the intention of stopping at the magnetic termite mounds to take some better pictures. Morg had spotted some in the bush yesterday that we thought we could get closer to (the advertised spot has fencing on the walkway to prevent people approaching them these days). Unfortunately it turned out that our 'secret' spot also had a fence up and by the time we got there we couldn’t be bothered to turn back 20 kilometres to the official place, so we found a big normal (cathedral) termite mound and took that pic instead – interesting aren’t we?!
On the way down to Katherine we stopped at Pine Creek again, to drop in to see the couple we stayed with on the way up when Morgan put in the fence post. Well they’d unfortunately departed a few days before due to ‘differences’ between them and the National Trust. We didn’t enquire further!
The other reason to stop was while we were in Darwin a chap from Pine Creek camped next to us, and Morgan got directions to the old Chinese hut he photographed himself at 20 years ago, but which we hadn’t been able to find on our previous visit. So following these (slightly vague) directions, which included going through the local tip, we had a blunder around the bush but still no joy. Then as luck would have it we came across a workman who happened to have bunked down in the place in 1968. Well, following his updated directions we found it straight away and managed to repeat Morgan’s 1992 photo (relief all round!). We haven’t got the old photo on us so you’ll have to wait for the compare, but we’re sure Morg’s body is in exactly the same shape as it was!????
(EDIT - old photo found since the end of the trip!)
After walking around for an hour in the searing heat of Pine Creek’s municipal waste precinct we happily returned to our air conditioned vehicle and hightailed it to the searing heat of Katherine (apparently it is unseasonably hot at 37 degrees; that would be right as we have had unseasonably everything this trip –rain, cold, humidity etc). We stayed at a lovely caravan park, which has a parkland like setting with lots of grass and lots of large trees for shade, but unfortunately we somehow scored the only spot with hardly any shade. The rest of the day involved eating ice cream, swimming in the caravan park pool and replacing our kaput battery with the new one then taking the old battery to the rubbish tip (two rubbish tips in one day, great!). Job done.
Saturday 25 August – Day 159
Today was a bit of a turning point as we make our way towards Western Australia. We were up at sunrise to get a bit of cool weather for packing up, then we headed off along the Victoria Highway, driving about 285k to get to Timber Creek where we would stop the night. We drove through some unexpectedly dramatic scenery in the Gregory National Park including the red sandstone escarpments of the Stokes Ranges. We stopped to do a short walk up one escarpment near Victoria River Crossing which was only 3km return, but with temperatures in the mid 30’s that was plenty! The views were worth the effort.
Timber Creek (population 70) had been recommended to us as a good caravan park to stop the night; situated behind the ‘hotel’ / general store it was a small oasis of shade in a hot dry landscape. Lots of trees for shade, some green grass, a small (very chilly) swimming pool and at 5pm there is croc feeding! The croc feeding was entertaining; apparently there is a family of about 12 freshwater crocs in the creek which get a feed of some kind of raw meat dangled off the bridge for them by one of the staff each evening. Across the creek from the campsite were a couple of trees covered in fruit bats (you smell them before you see them!) but thankfully none ventured over towards our tent.
Sunday 26 August – Day 160
Today at lunchtime the thermometer was showing 40 degrees in the sun and 35 in the shade. By way of a reminder this is winter!!
We made a short drive along the highway to Keep River National Park which is just 3km before the WA border and our next camping spot.
On the way we stopped at some look outs; Policeman’s Point has a good view over the river, further along we stopped at a bridge over the Victoria River for more photos; it is closed to cars as it goes to an army firing range. Lastly we stopped to look at Gregory’s Tree which is a large Boab tree that stands on the site of the base of early explorer Augustus Charles Gregory’s north Australian expedition (undertaken between Oct 1955 and July 1856). The dates were inscribed on the tree as a record. Apparently Boab trees can live for several thousand years.
We got to Keep River by lunchtime, had lunch at the cockatoo lagoon & did some twitching. Then we drove on to the Gurrandalng campsite – very dry & dusty and did we mention that it was hot?!? Anyway, we scored a little bit of shade but the attraction of the park was the scenery; it has dramatic red sandstone geological formations similar to the ‘beehive’ formations of the Bungle Bungles which we were due to see a few days later.
In the late afternoon (when the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees) we did the 2km walk from the campsite. It took us through the sandstone formations and there were magnificent views and colours as the sun set.
Monday 27 August – Day 161
The temperature didn’t drop much overnight so we didn’t get that great a sleep. We had intended to get up really early to do an 8km walk up the road and see a bit more of the park but someone forgot to change the alarm from PM to AM so we got up late. It was too late to do the walk and we didn’t want to stay a 2nd night as it was sooooo hot and dusty, so we did the same walk as last night again in different light and it was still excellent.
On the way out as we were pumping up the tyres at the info board we got chatting to a couple who recommended the Lakeside Caravan Park at Kunanurra (our next stop) where there were unpowered campsites right on the lake shore. They’d been travelling 16 months and had nearly finished.
We crossed the Western Australia border early in the morning (in reality it was even earlier as you have to put clocks back 1.5 hours). We got the obligatory picture of us at the border sign and then queued up at the quarantine checkpoint to get our fresh food nicked (it's to prevent the spread of disease, and products you can’t take in include honey. Weird).
We drove on into Kununurra which seemed very green after all the dry dusty landscapes we had been driving through since Katherine (amazing the difference some irrigation will do). First stop the visitors centre, then we took our literature to one of the cafes to peruse over a delicious mug of coffee and some cake (it being someone’s birthday in a couple of days time!). We decided to book a flight over Bungle Bungles, Lake Argyle & Argyle Diamond Mine, so we sorted that then did a few groceries before heading off to find the caravan park by the lake.
At the caravan park we could see why the other couple had suggested we might like it; a lovely setting overlooking the lake with flat, spacious, grassy unpowered sites right at the front. Unfortunately the lady at reception advised that the (best) unpowered sites at the front were not available due to grass watering, however she suggested we walk round to pick one which was available. We saw the perfect spot (site 39), which was unfortunately in the "watering zone". We went back to ask for it anyway; the lady asked if the sprinklers on, we said they weren’t, so she said well the irrigation must have finished then, and let us have the spot.
Result! Lake frontage with a flat site, shade, grass and just us on the ‘front row’. With the new battery in place we’re back to being able to camp unpowered for a while. After setting up camp we took a dip in the lovely swimming pool, did another grocery run then ended the day with a glass of wine watching the stunning sunset. Later that evening when the sun had gone down we got the torch out for a bit of croc spotting; the torch lights up their eyes and it is quite eerie when they ‘appear’ out of the dark (luckily they are Freshies so we are safe at our lakeside campsite if you were wondering).
Tuesday 28 August – Day 162
Today some local sightseeing. We went to the Mirima National Park in Kununurra which is a small park containing more sandstone rock formations around 350 mill years old and views over the town. Then we drove to Lake Argyle which is BIG; it is a man made lake about 27 times the size of Sydney harbour (more if it were at 100% capacity), at flood capacity it would cover around 2,000 square kilometres, it is used to generate electricity and for irrigation. Someone has calculated that there are around 25,000 freshwater crocs in the lake as well as 26 species of native fish, 90 islands that are home to various marsupials and one third of Australia’s bird species. Suffice to say that it was still, hot and we didn’t hang around to count!!
So we wimped out and went back to the caravan park for lunchtime, a bit of a rest then some swimming in the afternoon and some more croc spotting.
Wednesday 29 August – Day 163 (Morgan 44 today)
We got up at 4.30am (yes, really) to get to the airport for our tourist flight which departed 5.45. We had wanted to see the Bungle Bungle landforms, which rise up to 200m high and cover an area of 240,000 hectares (beehive dome - shaped sandstone towers striped with orange and grey bands and gorges which were only ‘discovered’ in 1983), and decided to do the flight so we could get the aerial view rather than walking around the bottom of just a small part of it. The two hour trip was quite good but unfortunately there was quite a lot of smoke haze so visibility wasn’t that great. Also, Morgan couldn’t hear the commentary as he was in the co-pilot’s seat telling the bloke with the Raybans how to drive the plane.
Anyway, that aside the flight took us over some interesting scenery; the Bungle Bungles were the main attraction but we also went over the massive Lake Argyle, which we saw yesterday, and the Argyle Diamond Mine (the world’s primary source of the rare pink diamond, which being rare is also super expensive so there will be no jewellery shopping here – pearls in Broome will be more our budget!). We also saw the huge Ord River Irrigation Scheme (Kununurra was established in 1960 to service this scheme) which is a massive project producing a range of crops such as melons, sandalwood and grains and generating a good chunk of revenue for the economy.
In the afternoon we did a bit more local sightseeing; the obligatory lookout, Ivanhoe River Crossing, Kununurra Diversion Dam (a road) and Celebrity Tree Park. How many celebrities came to Kununurra in 2004??! Loads of the buggers. There haven’t been that many since mind you, except the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose tree planted on July 18 this year is no longer there……...
Then it was back to camp for more R&R, as we’ve well and truly ‘done’ Kununurra now. The day ended with a meal of steak and chips at the on-site café and bar at the caravan park (this is a sneaky new trend we have noticed in the caravan parks ‘up north’, enticing you to spend more of your tourist dollar in the warm weather!!). Tomorrow it’s off West towards Geikie Gorge and Broome (still some 1,100km away!)
Thursday 30 August - Day 164
A bit sad today as we leave our lovely camp spot; we have really enjoyed sitting by the lake and watching the birdlife, the crocs and the sunset and of course we have enjoyed camping sans dust!! After stocking up on provisions we headed out of town back along the highway, making a stop at Halls Creek to consider camping here and to take a look at the China Wall (a vein of quartz up to 6m high in places that runs through the landscape and looks like yes, you guessed it, the great wall of China). The caravan park looked a bit of a dust bowl and as it was still early afternoon we pressed on. As it happened we made a good decision because we ended up at a good overnight camping area near a river just off the highway and best of all it was a free one - result!
Kunanurra was a decision point for us as we had to decide if we would continue with our planned drive on the 700km dirt Gibb River Road, or take the easier but less interesting route along the highway to the south. We eventually chose the latter and we know we’ve missed a big chunk of stunning landscapes that was at the top of Morgan’s must-do list. However this late in the dry season there’s not a lot of water in the waterfalls, and we’d heard a number of people’s horror stories of important bits falling off their vehicles.
We’d gotten a bit over the dust and 1000km + of corrugations on the Savannah Way by this time, and also we’re a bit gorged out (gorges are the main attraction on the Gibb). So we’ve decided to leave that trip to another time, earlier in the dry season, with a vehicle that doesn’t let in as much dust, and sans camper trailer so we’ve got one less bit of equipment to worry about. We did think about joining a tour but the thought of paying $6,000+ for the privilege of someone else’s vehicle breaking down on the same roads we could drive was too much for our budget right now. So far we’ve no regrets.
31 August – Day 165
The downside of having put the clocks back is that the evenings get dark earlier and of course the sun comes up earlier. Consequently if we are to pack up before it gets to hot we have to be up before 6am, which was the case today.
We were on the road before 8am which was good and as we drove out of the campsite we saw a Jabiru by the riverside and a flock of budgies. Then it was on to the highway again to visit the Geike Gorge. The national parks run a boat cruise down the gorge a few times a day and we had planned to do this, but we were too late for the two early morning ones. With the next boat trip at 3pm, we decided to do the (hot and dusty) walk along the gorge. We decided that gave us enough of a view of the gorge (which is spectacular in colour, but small) so didn't do the boat trip. This allowed us to decide that rather than spending the night down the road at a caravan park at Fitzroy Crossing (no is camping at the gorge), we would push on and stay at one of the options further along the highway.
So after another 500km drive today we pulled in at the Willare Bridge roadhouse and we decided to camp here the night. Most roadhouses (remote petrol stations with cafe) away from major towns offer some kind of accommodation, generally a small camp area and motel style rooms. Luxury it is normally not, but this one turned out to be really good with a nice grassy camp area out the back (which the local cows meander through at night), powered sites and even a small swimming pool.
Next to it there were some demountable buildings which turned out to be government housing for interpreters working at the Department of Immigration detention centre up the road. They had some kind of a sing along that night so we had a bit of background Bollywood style music. We had the first cool night in ages and even had to consider putting on a long sleeved garment. We also met some really nice people on their travels round Australia including a girl who is cycling round Australia (having previously cycled round Asia) to raise funds for a charity.
Tomorrow we shall be at Broome and the coast again…