Friday April 1st [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Most eastern Australian states reverted back to winter time, but as WA times do not change now NSW is only 2 hours ahead. Drift snorkeling at Turquoise Bay was excellent and we made two passes of the coral and were very careful of the very strong current. These beaches are quite a way from Exmouth and so the Coral Bay arrangement is much better as the beach and snorkeling is right off the camping site. Believe we saw quite a big 2 meter shark fish on the bottom, snook or long nosed fish, sand fish (flat and blended into the sand) and a big school of snapper with 3 dots down the flank. We thoroughly enjoyed the CALM Milyering Center, especially concerning the whale sharks, gypsies of the sea and the largest mammal of the ocean; it was amazing that we know so little about them. Similarly, the documentary about the emus. Unfortunately snorkeling with these giants of the sea is $300/person and there is only a 50% discount and no guarantee if they are not spotted. We were a little early and the moon phase was not right for the presence of dominantly juvenile males. Went around the Cape, past the US military communications center to Exmouth (once known as Potshot) where we shopped for some fresh fish, wine and beer, budget book and the chemist. Due to the military presence in town, ex vets were arriving for the ANZAC get-togethers. Met a colorful, old lady in the van park who had lived in the Pilbara mining region all her life and was well read and versed in gemstone mining. Picked up diesel at $1.35/liter, a typical price for the area.
Saturday April 2nd [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Strong southerly wind made us inclined to pack up early and try a café breakfast with cappuccinos. Headed around Exmouth Gulf, taking the sealed Burrah shortcut to the North Western Highway. The west end of the Hamersley Ranges is quite evident with peaks hundreds of meters high, mesas and other interesting formations. Also the vegetation is quite green due to the summer rains. Unfortunately the unseal shortcut to Onslow was closed at the southern end but we did proceed to the Ashburton River and onto the ghost town of Old Onslow. This was our first ghost town, not much left except for the Georgian architecture of the old police station, lots of broken beer bottles around the old bottles and the cemetery gravestones that have survived the cyclones. Stayed in the van site right on the beach at Beadon Inlet in Onslow. Unfortunately, along with being north of the tropic of Capricorn come the sand midges. Met up with Yvonne and Richard, from Basel, Switzerland who we have seen on numerous occasions at Cape Peron, Cape Range and Exmouth. Luckily the Shell service station was open on Sunday morning so we could get diesel.
Sunday April 3rd [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Pope John Paul II died overnight and he will be remembered to many, other than Catholics around the world; particularly he stand against Eastern European communism. After a policeman conducted a random alcohol breathe test, we were off to Tom Price in the Hamersley Ranges and Pilbara region. Again the dirt road short cut from Onslow turn-off and the track to the top of Mt. Nameless overlooking Tom Price were closed. The earth colors are incredible with deep, dark reds or maroons. Dirt roads have deep, dangerous washouts and you have to be very wary driving them. It's also hotter with more flies. Tom Price, the highest town in WA, serves the mining community and we stopped at the van park to wash clothes, but not the Troopy interior due to the red dirt roads. The park was full of red kangaroos and birds including the Western Corellas. Again met up with the Swiss couple. Unfortunately Chris's hay fever returned for 3 days.
Monday April 4th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Watched the video at the tourist information center as to obtain a permit to drive on the railway support roads as we venture north. Shopped at Coles for groceries and discounted diesel ($1.259/liter). Headed out to Karijini NP, fabulous gorges, swimming pools and red landscapes with both white paperbark and red gum trees. This region dates back 2,500 million years. The vegetation is still green due to the wet season. Saw an adult and juvenile Australian Bustards on the roadside. The junction of the Weano, Hancock, Joffre and Red Gorges is spectacular and we hiked to the bottom and the spectacular swimming pool at Handrail Pool. Dales Gorge also holds Circular Pool Fortescue Falls. The NP Information Center is amazing, must have cost over $1M and its architecture and layout is worth a look in addition to the aboriginal culture. Camped at Dales Camp. Ran into the Swiss couple off and on for most of the day. Christine had a mishap with a particularly strong chili and it caused her quite some aggravation. However, the modified spaghetti bolognaise was excellent.
Tuesday April 5th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Arose early and after breakfast headed to Dales Gorge. Walked down to Fortescue waterfall and onto the beautifully quite spot at Fern Pool, aptly named. Decided to do a difficult level 4 (top level is 6) hike down the gorge to Circular Pool - great decision, though quite difficult for Christine; so we took our time, Chris scouted ahead for the best route. Then climbed out of the gorge near the Circular Pool which included a steel ladder and then hiked along the gorge rim back to the car. Distance was probably less then 5 kilometers but it took 3½ hours. As it is overcast the temperatures are not as high as they could be (probably 5 degree C less) but it was still over 35 C on top and probably 25 - 30 C at the bottom of the gorge. This was the best gorge we have visited so far. Enjoyed the air-conditioning with a prepared lunch and cold water in the Troopy as we drove to Mt. Newman. Stayed in the local van park and chose unpowered as it was $8 cheaper. Very busy place as many of the mine workers and construction crews live there in portable housing accommodation.
Wednesday April 6th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Mt Newman open cut, iron ore mine is the largest in the world and is operated by BHP Billiton. Arose a big earlier, put on long pants, long sleeved shirts, socks and boats for the first time in months and thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the down-to-earth, local, tour guide. It is an amazing operation. The mines demand is growing and the town will be expanding considerably. Accommodation is impossible and a 1,000 man, 'fly in, fly out' camp is being erected. Drove back to the northern side of Karijini NP to Wittenoom now nearly a ghost town after the blue asbestos mine was closed in 1966. However the gorge is outstanding and is definitely a must see.Then on to the amazing twisted rock formation and delightful pool at Hamersley Gorge. This is the best gorge so far on the trip. Drove onto Mt. Florence Station, and arrived late at about 5 p.m. but although the camp ground was closed as it's too early in the season, they allowed us to stay and we did welcome a hot solar shower, green grass nice trees and an absolutely quite evening. Sat up with just the citronella candle burning, watching the stars.
Thursday April 7th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
On the way to Millstream-Chichester NP, catch up with the Swiss couple again; they were turned off by the closed sign at Mt Florence Homestead and camped by the roadside. Snappy Gum Drive was amazing as the Fortescue River creates a wonderful waterhole and associated wildlife at Crossing Pool and Deep Reach Pool (where we camped). The huge 2,000 square kilometer aquifer contains 1,7000 million cubic meters of water and provides a permanent year round water supply and supplements water for large nearby coastal towns. Millstream Homestead is situated on the Millstream Creek and the homestead walk through the palms and around Chinderwarriner Pool with the water lilies is a welcome respite from the heat and red dust of the trip. The wonderful panorama of the Chichester Range is something you would see in a western movie. Python Pool is also a pleasant spot with the backdrop of the stark red rocks. Isolated rain fell on us on the way back to the camping spot. Lots of wildlife at the Deep Reach Pool with Western Corellas and goannas.
Friday - Monday April 8th - 11th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Start of the WA school holidays for 2 weeks, but fortunately this did not affect us as most of these locations are too far north from Perth. On Friday, headed northwest along the rough permitted Hamersley Iron Railway access road, using the permit we got in Tom Price, and journeyed into Karratha. These roads are very dusty and the inside of the Troopy has been covered in red dust for nearly 2 weeks. Together with some rain we experience the day before and all the salt from the coast, we spent $14 using the high pressure soap and water at the car wash. Picked up our schedule mail. At the camping store purchased hostel sheets. Shopped for groceries and discounted diesel at Coles and associated Shell petrol station. Karratha exists as a town to support the Hamersley Iron and Pilbara iron ore, rail and ports, salt mine, northwest shelf gas platforms and LNG plant (on Burrup Peninsula) at Dampier. Dampier is quite small but the industry is very impressive and the region has a major impact on the economic growth and shear level of exports for Australia. The Woodside Petroleum LNG or liquid natural gas plant is particularly interesting, very large and is expected to grow as new gas reserves are tapped. A new plant is being built close by and could be ammonia. Headed northwest to Point Samson and found a small, quaint van park right on the beach. Our Swiss travelers were also there and we shared a drink with them. After dinner Chris had a few beverages with Dory, a local pearling ship's engineer at the Tavern. Young engineer's earn and spend big money in the region. We spent the most part of Saturday morning doing a very thorough interior clean-up of the Troopy as it was quite a mess and really needed attention. Also washed our clothes. For the next 3 days relaxed, read books and swam in the sea. The tides are upwards of 4 meters and so swimming is restricted to 2 hours either side of high tide, typically around 11 a.m. - 12 noon while we where there. Surprisingly the sun rose over the ocean at this spot due to the location. Had dinner at the tavern on Saturday night and an excellent fisherman's basket at Moby's Café which is very popular with Karratha locals on Sunday. Accidentally, we believe we knocked off the electrical switches in Newman while getting clothes. That means the fridge will last 3 days without power. No harm done as it need defrosting. Monday we popped back to Karratha to check e-mails at the library, top up the groceries for the next 3 days and find out the exchange book store had closed years ago. The first day and couple of evenings were fine as there was a breeze, but on the last 2 days/nights there was no breeze and overnight temperatures did not drop below 25 degree C and the sand flies were thick. We both had very sleepless nights and got badly bitten, despite our deet insect spray. We were able to keep them out of the vehicle using the sprays. Chris also did some small repairs (and tightening of external screws) on the Troopy and reattached the front number plate. Just as well as near the Karratha Industrial Estate the police stopped us for the second time in two weeks for number plate, license and alcohol breathe test checks.
Thuesday April 12th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Left very early at 7.15 a.m. after a shower and no breakfast to escape more sand flies. Drove around the small fishing village of Point Samson, second Pilbara iron ore loading facility on Cape Lambert and then over to the resorted and very interesting ghost town of Cossack, heavily ruined by a 1896 cyclone, but inhabited until the 1940's due to the pearl diving industry. Drove to Port Headland and stayed at Cooke Point Big 4 van park to cool off in the swimming pool and get away from the sand flies with a nice sea breeze. Met Kado Muir, aboriginal anthropologist and his Malaysian Tamil Hindu wife and children at the camp kitchen; very interesting couple. He is assisting some tribal elders establish their land rights in various locations around Australia and New Zealand. He is very knowledgeable about many different and interesting aspects of outback Australia life, for example, in SA and NSW six million kangaroos are culled annually. Sidenote: We believe that a future movie titled 'Dingo Dreaming' may be filmed in the Pilbara region and this will feature much of the landscapes we have seen such as Python Pool and the ghost township of Cossack.
Wednesday - Thursday April 13th - 14th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Drove around the huge industrial port of Port Headland that loads the BHP Billeton's Mt. Newman iron ore onto massive ships for export to Japan, Korea and Europe. This is expanding rapidly due to big contracts in China. 3 tugs were guiding out a fully laden ship. Port Headland is an ugly town covered in red dust and so a bedroom community has been established in South Headland, probably 30 kilometers away. We exchanged at least eight books at the good book exchange and headed north to 80 Mile Beach about half way to Broome. This little oasis has shade, grass and an amazing beach where fishermen were catching blue nose salmon right off the beach. Many travelers we have seen on the road in recent time also dropped in for a day or two. Firstly Sandy and Adam from Point Samson who were on their way back from Broome (we were glad they were heading south, you could smell the beer on her by the mid afternoon). Then a great young Swiss couple in their own Swiss, left-hand-drive Troopy. After dinner, Murray and Norma from Darwin (who we had seen at Deep Reach Pool, Karatha and Cossack). They are thinking of moving to Launceston to reestablish harness trotters. It is very hot with high/lows around 40/28 degrees C and often no breeze at night so it's quite hard to sleep. Next morning we enjoyed a walk along the beach, where the tide was way out. Got chatting to an amazing German couple who are riding their tandem push bike around the northern half of Australia for 12 months, starting and ending in Perth. They plan to attempt the Gibb River road; he seems quite the adventurer and has ridden in Syria, and Algeria. Spent so long chatting that the park ranger suggested we either leave or stay so signed up for another night. High tides, which were about 6 meters at 1 p.m. allowed us to swim and saw a dolphin on one occasion. Caught up again with Justin and Sandy who have seen on many occasions since Canarvon. In the evening had a long chat to Peter and his family form South Headland. He is in charge of the Pt. Headland SES (State Emergency Service) and was quite informative about 4WDs and driving techniques. He charges $250 for the fist hour of recovery, even if he can drive the vehicle out; this is to teach those people about the correct techniques. He also was informative about many rescues he has been involved with including the Hancock Gorge incident.
Friday - Monday April 15th - 18th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Headed north towards Broome and stopped to offer Peter, a tricyclist who has been on the road for 2 years, cold water and apples. We enjoyed a chat for 30 minutes before entering the quaint town. Broome has grown immensely over the last decade and even has a Cole's supermarket. Unfortunately, much of the old character is also being lost as the pearl industry beach shacks and jetty along the mangroves are all gone. The temperatures are still very high with high/lows in the 40+/25+ degree C, very high humidity and with breezeless nights it is very hard to sleep. Caught up with our Swiss friends Yvonne and Richard and had dinner and a few beers at Matso's Brewery on Friday night. We suspect that we might not see them again as they were off next day and we will remain in Broome for a few days. Great couple and a nice evening. Shopped for groceries and beers/wine for a few days and checked out 3 van parks, choosing Cable Beach due to all the great shade trees and grass. Met a number of interesting people in the park including:
Tuesday - Thursday April 19th - 21st [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
After a brief shop for groceries, chemist supplies and cash, headed north along the 4WD dirt road, often muddy in places due to isolated rain. Got caught in a rain shower and next time I'll lock the hubs on the front axle so we can easily go into 4WD if needed. Did not venture into Middle Lagoon as the track was a running stream. The aboriginal communities are just surviving in the area. Visited the Catholic Church and mission in Beagle Bay to see the pearl shell inlayed into the alter. Drove to One Arm Point and then back to the Kooljaman Tourist Complex right on Cape Leveque. Wonderful spot and it's won the top indigenous eco-tourism award two years running. It's on of the few spots that you can see a sunrise and sunset over two separate beaches within walking distance of each other. Small plane flights were cheap to Horizontal Falls ($140 pp) but we plan to wait till the Bungle Bungles. Camping is very expensive at $14 pp + $4 for power = $32/night. Caught up again with Murray and Norma and had a long chat about our similar criteria for a township, property and house. We realized that this might be the last time we see ocean for some months so went swimming in the warm waters twice a day. Typically it's a big fishing spot, unfortunately wasted on us. A wild storm, typical of the area, hit us on Wednesday night; did not eventuate to much needed rain, but made us pack everything up until it was over. Amazing dark clouds and sun set produced some great photos. Loads of friendly people come here including locals from Broome through to fisherman from Sydney. Might also meet Diane and Col from Sydney on the Gibb River Road. The last day of our stay was cooler and more pleasant, so relaxed and finished a couple of books. Cleaned out our fridge of food and beers, so time to push on.
Friday - Saturday April 22nd - 23rd [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Drove back to Broome, stayed overnight in the same van park. Did some clothes washing again. Finally found Jan, a great customer service person at Gobalstar, who help me sort out our 'lack of phone messages' problem with the satellite phone. Justin and Sandy scored jobs (and staff accommodation for $80/week) at The Cable Beach Club Resort, he as electrician ($50K/year) and Sandy as house maid (she has never made her bed). Continued to enjoy Broome with:
Sunday April 24th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Today heralds one year on the road and approximately 50,000 kilometers or 30,000 miles traveled around Australia. Our time in Broome helped us crystallize our plans for the next year and for us to consider our future town and house hunting along the Queensland and north NSW coastline and hinterlands. We plan to do this from July - October on our way south. For example, we met a lady selling her property at Wonga Beach; 1¼ acres with 4 bedroom 3 bathroom (2 en-suites), open style home with small pool and very established tropical garden for $580K. If we lived in a warm climate we could always head south during the wet season (staying in the warmth of southern summers). Although Wonga is 15 minutes to Mossman, 30-40 minutes to Port Douglas and 1½ hours to Cairns (Cairns International airport is on the north side). We have never lived in the tropics and this would be a new chapter for us. North of Cairns is a wonderful spot with Great Barrier Reef, Daintree rainforest etc. Completed fairly major grocery shop at Action and discounted diesel fuel up at BP before heading to Derby. Something new to us were the prevalent boab trees, originally baobab from Madagascar. We were surprised by the low flow in the Fitzroy River with is much lower than normal as there has been little rain this wet season. Norma called (they are ahead of us and heading towards Kununurra), to let us know that the road is still closed to the Mitchell Plateau and Emma Gorge will be closed till July 1st. Also recommended a couple of campsites which we will check out. Christine also called her second cousin Peter who lives on Mount House Station and works a D6 front end loader on Koolan Island which is reopening as an iron ore mine. We will drop in on this wife Kristy. Checked out the hollow, 1,500 year old Boab Prison Tree and Myall Bore (longest cattle watering trough) history and the Derby jetty. Stopped early and bleached the bed cover foam for mould that developed from our perspiration during the last 2 weeks. Two aborigines tried to sell us boab nut carvings in the van park. Fruit bats or flying foxes in the trees kept us awake for a while. Met an elderly couple (Jill, Peter and Damien from Tamworth) in their seventies with their Downs syndrome boy; the husband had just suffered a stoke a few weeks prior and lost sight on this left side; she had an amazing spirit and, as they were half way around on their trip, she decided to keep going, doing all the driving, food preparation etc. What a trooper! Sidenote: heard on the ABC news that a stepfather had hung two children and assaulted the wife in the Derby cemetery on the weekend. Derby residents and the indigenous community were shocked and very quiet.
Monday April 25th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
It's the 90th anniversary of the Australian landing at Gallipoli and ANZAC Day. Headed to Fitzroy Crossing and checked out the 350 million year old reef at Geikie Gorge NP. The Fitzroy River must be amazing in flood. Much of the river flood region is quarantined due to the noogoora burr. The owner of the historic Fitzroy Crossing Inn (which serves the aborigines) sells 800 slabs (24 can pack) of beer/week and is the biggest UDL outlet in Australia. They have an aluminum can recycling center next door. He also owns the Fitzroy River Lodge and Roebuck Bay Backpackers in Broome. We stayed just east of town on the banks of the river in the shade along with the great amenities (including an invigorating swim in the pool) at the Lodge. The unpowered site was covered in prickly burr, which fortunately did not bother us and we were able to put on the sprinkler and enjoy the cool air. Enjoyed a great night with Derrick and Ronda from Bunbury with $2 beers, 'the works' hamburger and nice grilled barramundi for Christine.
Tuesday April 26th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Made sure Jill was okay before filling up with Coles discounted diesel and a few groceries and headed up the dirt toward the Gibb River Road, through:
Wednesday - Thursday April 27th - 28th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Headed over to Mount Home Station to catch up with Kristy who is married to Peter Ingram. She spends a lot of time alone with her 17 month old son Clancy and is 8 months pregnant. She likes the isolates station life ad it was interesting to hear about her and Peter's life in the Kimberley's and their plans for the future. Enjoyed chatting for over 4½ hours. It was interesting to know that Peter sold his 150,000 hectare station as it was considered too small to be viable; Mount House also owns Glenroy and is combined into 1.25M hectares. Drove 2 hours (90 kilometers) east past the Old Glenroy Meatworks (nothing left but an airstrip) and into Mornington Wilderness Camp now privately owned by the Australian Wilderness Conservancy. Camped on Annie's Creek near the Old Mornington Camp. Next morning rented canoes and after a 2½ drive paddled down Dimond Gorge, taking a picnic lunch. Nice spot but unfortunately we had seen and done better (e.g. at Lawn Hill NP). Later in the afternoon, went into Gadjeput water hole for a swim. These spots are part of the massive Fitzroy River. The Conservancy has about 10 properties around Australia dedicated to conserving endangered species. This spot is all about seed eating birds such as the bright, multi colored Gouldian finch, which we did not see. It is burn-off season and they were setting controlled fires; this may be one of the clues to the future success or failure of the venture. Enjoyed a couple of beers and Madfish white blend from the bar with our fish and salad dinner. These spots are great but are expensive at $24/2 people/night + $50 canoe rent. The beer and wine were $41. Christine slipped over twice onto her bum, once getting out of the canoe and then getting into the water hole, but she seems okay.
Friday April 29th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
We arise early with the sunrise about 6 a.m. and headed back to Mount House Station to have a coffee with Kristy, Kate (owneress) and staff in the big kitchen offset from the station house. Checked out some of Kristy's wedding photos, then headed back to the Gibb River Road. Filled up with diesel at Mt. Barnett Roadhouse, a well run establishment but with diesel at $1.69. This will rise to $1.75 on Sunday. Lunched at Barnett River Gorge then to the Kalumburu turnoff to head north to Drysdale River Station. Good camping facilities and amenities. Ran in to Andrew and Natasha, a young 23 y.o. couple we had met in Esperence so had a few drinks at the bar - good spot but $9 for a wine and a beer. They introduced us to Rich (British) and Jessica (American) who live in Sydney and were on a 3 month honeymoon. Also Richard and Yvonne joined us as they had just returned from Mitchell Falls (road was opened on Wednesday. Great to see them all again and we had a fun pre dinner drink session. The bar is popular watering hole for contractors in the region and we first saw the feral donkey shooters there.
Saturday April 30th [more pictures 1] [more pictures 2]
Headed north towards Mitchell Falls via Kalumburu Road and chatted to the grader fellows over their 'smoko' on the side of the road. Turned off onto the Mitchell Plateau via the non maintained Warrender Road; its 90 kilometers and takes about 3 hours - pretty bad in places and 4WD are required on a few river and creek crossings and on steep sections of the road with very deep washouts on the side. The plateau is covered in green vegetation including the now famous livistona palms (smaller ones) in the open eucalypt forest. Managed to book a helicopter ride back from the Mitchell Falls at 4 p.m. coinciding with Rich and Jessica and so joined them on quite a long strenuous hike(more like two hours, not one), checking out some rock art along the way. Chris forgot the camera and jogged back to the Troopy (about a kilometer) - this really tired him out by hikes end. The four tiers of Mitchell Falls are spectacular and fortunately there was water flowing after such a dry wet-season. Had a quick swim in one of the top pools and had to quickly stride over to get the helicopter ride back to the camp. This was Chris's first time in a chopper and it was a smooth, positive experience. Circled over the Falls a couple of times for photos. CALM runs a campsite with drop toilet and wood, free of charge right near the Falls. Joined Rich and Jessica plus Andrew and Natasha around Andrew's campfire for a glass of Jessica's top D'Arenburg shiraz wine after dinner. Sidenote: Bradshaw art information available from Grahame L. Walsh, Takarakka Rock Research Center, Carnavon Gorge, Qld. 4702 or Takarakka Publications Pty. Ltd., PO Box 2176, Toowong, Qld. 4006 Ph 07-38760504, email email@example.com