Tuesday, 27 January 2009

More Photo Albums....

Arthur Philip

This man is perhaps overlooked by some, but as he is buried in a small Bath church it was a name we looked up when we got back to the UK:

In effect he was one of the founders of Sydney and ultimately Australia, after ruling as the first Governor and surviving hard times of starvation and attacks from Aboriginals whilst controlling the convicts and marines - neither of whom were likely to have wanted to be there - who were members of the First Fleet arriving in Sydney Cove in 1788. 

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Cape York on YouTube

I finally uploaded a few videos of some creek crossings in Cape York:




And I put some more various videos of our travels on YouTube under my name.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Cape York Photo Album

I've uploaded a sample of our Cape York photos into a web album here:  Cape York

Some videos to follow....

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Believe it or not we had a flat battery in the car yesterday. After driving to our storage unit in Footscray (a suburb in Melbourne about 20 minutes away from where we are staying), the car wouldnt start again! I called RACV who arrived in under 20 minutes and jump started me.

I guess we were very, very lucky this didn't happen where the RACV were not within 20 minutes and/or phone range at all!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Google Maps - Our Actual Route

I was messing around in Google Maps today on Jan's PC and have managed to create a map which shows roughly the route we took around the country. You should be able to click the Google Maps logo on the right under the Maps section and when the map opens see a blue line showing where we drove, near as damn it anyway. Apparently you can do funky stuff like open it in Google Earth as well, but I havent checked that out yet. Let me know if it works/doesnt work!

Thursday, 30 October 2008


Well, that's it.  Finito.  The End.  We are now back in Melbourne.  Adopted home city.  Pizza delivery and a bottle of red for dinner.  Celebrating Em's birthday as well.

We left the Great Ocean Road campsite - Aire River East - after 3 good days in small and friendly campsite close to the river and the beach on Cape Otway's western side.  We love the country down here, really love it - after seeing everywhere else in Australia, this is undoubtedly and jointly our favourite place, favourite scenery, favourite climate, pace of life, etc etc!


We met a nice couple from Western Victoria, a GP and his wife who were thinking about embarking on some road trips in their camper trailer, and we were happy to share our experiences and just chat about stuff; including finding out that Tess's father and grandfather both went to King Edward's in Bath!  She herself was from Oxford so there was the West Country link.  I promised to publish a list of useful stuff for Nick, so if he is reading this, it is coming!  And a guy camped next to us who used to be a chef in the Army showed us some wild watercress and some small edible fern fronds - all good bush tucker tricks that might come in handy one day, but for the moment the watercress was just very tasty!  I tried a last bit of fishing but only got a few bites, nothing caught - although to make up for it some old fishermen who were a bit rowdy and definitely drunk, gave us two fresh fillets of Bream that they had caught, as they had too much!  We shall be having it for dinner tomorrow night.  And we were spoilt on our last night with a mother koala clambering into a tree above our pitch with her baby clinging on tight and them both having a good feed on the eucalyptus leaves above us whilst we were having a carbonara.  Very special moments.

And on the morning of Em's birthday we left the campsite with a quick pack up, unfortunately after a bit of light rain so the tent was a tad wet, and without coffee or breakfast headed straight to the small seaside town of Apollo Bay for a lovely breakfast (Eggs Benedict for Em and Florentine for me, both with a side of bacon), not only was it delicious, but we didnt have to bother with the washing up either, which makes a welcome change as we havent been eating out that much recently!  Then we headed back to Melbourne (about a 2 hr drive along the Great Ocean Road) to meet Sam and pick up the key to Jan & Ren's apartment...now after unpacking the car and spinning out a bit at a) the traffic and b) finding our way around their apartment, we are sat down watching a movie and contemplating ordering a pizza - our favourite Port Melbourne pizza "Crust" and popping open a bottle of red for Em's birthday celebrations.

We can't quite believe it is all over, but on the other hand we are so so thankful to Jan & Ren for letting us live in their place whilst they are away, as it is a top place to crash in after 6 months in a tent.  And we have seen and done so much in those few months off work I am sure it will be like a dream even in a few days let alone when we get back to work.  Its funny sat inside now watching TV, with the rush hour along the Beach Road going on outside, and I am quite happy being inside now, but we both reckon we'll miss the space, the sounds, smells and sights of the big outdoors for sure.

Em has asked if I will keep the blog going or close it off (it will still be accessible of course), and I am as yet undecided.  I actually had an email from a French person who I dont know, they were reading the blog recently and had a question about somewhere we had been, which has made me feel quite famous!  I will be responding to their comment as soon as possible and am quite chuffed that people I don't even know are reading about our travels around Australia!

And something scary for us to finish on...Jan & Ren have some bathroom scales, which of course are irresistible and when we jumped on them today I have lost 10kgs and Em has lost 2kgs!  After going to the gym in Melbourne for 2 years and "trying" to stay reasonably fit I obviously outweighed all that work with pizzas and curries, and only when not sat at a desk every day and not eating junk food every week can I lose some excess kgs!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Murray River Camping

Writing this on our second night at a camp spot called Police Bend on the Murray River just outside Mildura.  Splendid spot with a southerly view down a bend in the Murray River.  We have an unbeatable view of the Southern Cross constellation at night.  The only down side is the wind is quite blustery, upto 31 knots today, but it's still hitting the high twenties in temperature so we cannot complain.  I also have some worms (I still struggle putting them on the hooks) and Em has a trash magazine.  Funnily enough there is a shop within about 20 minutes walk from our campsite and we have full 3G phone signal meaning we can check emails from our campsite!  However it is still a really nice spot and very private/quiet.  I took a shower in the river water today with no issues(!).  No fish caught as yet.


Yesterday I "caught" some freshwater mussels and we cooked them up, but they looked disgusting and didn't taste much better.  I reckon they were rated "bush tucker".  They were huge, but never again.  We had fried egg sandwiches for dinner instead.

Night sky photos; Southern Cross and Scorpius constellations:


By the end of of the fifth night I had had 4 bites on the fishing rods; once I saw a 2-3kg fish (one has a tendency to exageratte these things) come to the bank snagged on my hook only to get loose just as I was about to grab him from the water, then the same fish bite a couple more times, once to break the line and once to take my hook, then the fourth bite I caught and retrieved a Murray Cod - only to realise this is closed season and he was undersize anyway, so I had to put him back - for next time.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Well, we are back in Victoria.  Mildura and Hattah-Kulkyne NP are actually in Victoria, but it just didnt feel like it to us as it is still "mallee country".  Today we really feel like we are close to Melbourne.  We are in the Grampians NP where we have been before (with Emily and Paul) and it feels familiar. 

We had a good drive today after leaving Hattah-Kulkyne.  Through some sad looking, desperate, drought-ridden towns in the mallee country of Victoria: Yatpool, Rainbow, Dimboola, etc.  And ended up finding a pleasant camp spot in the Grampians NP.  These are named after the Grampians in Scotland for their similar appearance I believe.  We were glad to get there a it is 1) cooler and 2) not as many flies!  The NP was burnt badly in a bush fire in 2006, but is slowly recovering.  Almost every tree you see in the park has a black trunk which reminds you of how big this bush fire was (I remember seeing it on the news when we were living in Melbourne).

Em cooked some delicious Greek burgers, or beef koftes, which we had with mint and tzatziki, I dont have many good pictures of the Grampians as the light was really odd due to it being overcast, so here is a pic of the Greek burgers instead!


Mine and Em's mental state is interesting at the moment....we are sad to be finishing up a truly awesome adventure around Australia; camping, fishing, 4wding, learning and appreciating history (Aboriginal and European), reading, exploring, chilling, bush walking, etc etc. but also looking forward to firstly spending 3 weeks in Melbourne at friends Jan & Renata's apartment in Port Melbourne (the same suburb we used to live in) catching up with mates and adjusting to city life again, then leaving Melbourne on 24th November to fly back to the UK and start a whole new adventure of life & work somewhere in England, or Europe, or elsewhere, for the next 12 months or however long...we will see what life brings us I guess, but we are most definitely sad to be finishing up our travels around this continent and hope it does not all fade into a dream to be easily forgotten in a few months from now like all post-holiday blues I suppose, just on a bigger scale!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

After 5 nights on the Murray at Police Bend we decided to move 50kms down river to a National Park called Hattah Kulkyne.  Jan & Renata had been here before with Daniella.  It was quite similar to the bush camping at Police Bend, except the heat was up to 36 degrees that day and worse then that the bush flies were absolutely demonic.  We managed to drive around the park getting lost in the sand tracks a few times, visited the small servo/town of Hattah and the plush visitor centre of the NP (nice wooden furniture) for lunch to get out of the flies, but when we camped up we basically ran as fast as we could to get inside the gazebo and then stayed there to sweat it out for the afternoon.  Not much of an enjoyable experience, but a good NP for Victoria all the same!  No luck fishing in the river there either.  Hattah-Kulkyne the name comes from a presumed Scottish "hattah" (but the NP's didnt tell us what it meant) and Kulkyne from a local Aboriginal language meaning forest.  And there was certainly a lot of wood around.  River Red Gum branches (not big ones luckily) were falling all around us in the park.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Broken Hill, Menindee, Kinchega NP and Mungo NP/Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area

Drove from Mount Remarkable along the boring Barrier Highway to Broken Hill past many derelict towns that once thrived along the railway.  Broken Hill stopped for fuel and tourist info centre for maps of the next two NPs we were heading into.  Broken Hill is a mining town, but looks like a reasonably "nice" one.  It is the town that the founder of Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd (BHP - at one time the largest Australian company in Australia) - a Charles Rasp - found silver in during the 1860s and went on to build a powerful multinational company from. 

Menindee Lakes is where Burke & Wills established a supply depot/campsite and then left their main party there before heading North in a smaller party, never to return.  One of the trees in a free campsite near the Darling River has one of their marks cut into it, but we couldnt see it.  Camped at Kinchega NP next to the river.  The author of the Dig Tree described the Darling River colour as "coffee with plenty of milk" which was spot on.  Very hot (35 degrees) and lots of flies.  God knows how the explorers coped without gazebos, air con'd 4wds and insect repellant!  As you will empathise with we made a quick pack up in the morning and a quick exit.


Next stop was Mungo NP.  This is a World Heritage area also known as Willandra Lakes.  This is where Mungo Man and Mungo Woman were unearthed from the sand dunes of a dried up lake.  These two characters are 1) the oldest recorded human cremation in the world and 2) more importantly, especially to Aboriginals who were originally thought to have "only" been in Australia for 20000 years, found to be 30,000 and 26,000 years old respectively.  And were recognised as Homo Sapiens, making them alongside the oldest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa.  Pretty impressive for a hot, dusty, dried up old lake in Outback NSW I reckon!   We spent a good day there exploring and driving around.  A great visitor centre with superb displays and a local Aboriginal ranger who played (sang?) an awesome didgeridoo, when he screamed down it I jumped along with a crowd of tourists watching!).

After a hard drive out of the dried up lakes area down some crappy corrugated roads (I will be glad to see the back of these roads)...we could see the water tower of Mildura (a town in the NW of Victoria that I always thought was a dust bowl, but in fact it is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in all of Australia, red soil = grapes, avocados, oranges - the smell is everywhere and delicious, it reminded us of Greece or Turkey - asparagus, other citrus, etc etc.) in the distance.  We had to drive over a bridge over the Murray River to get into town and it was a welcome sight to see all that beautiful fresh looking water.  And when we saw the signs for Victoria we were quite elated as it felt like we were home, everyone even has the same style number plates as us again!  Hooray!  Sad isn't it, but we felt really chuffed to be back in our adopted state again.  We celebrated with a pizza sat down by the river watching the houseboats and paddle steamers cruise by on a hot (it hit 38 today at Mungo NP!) Saturday evening.


Camping that night we strangely decided to cross back into NSW and set up on that side of the Murray River, albeit a really nice picnic site with a fantastic view - a few houseboats were also moored there for the evening along with some hoons playing techno, but they disappeared around 9pm luckily.  It was Saturday night I guess, and we cant always have everywhere to ourselves (although we have been quite lucky for most places!).


I've been practising my night sky photos too, so might publish some of pics of the stars we get to see at night - if they are any good.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Flinders Ranges

Before leaving Arkaroola we took a 3 hour scenic 4wd drive to Paralena Hot Springs.  These are the last remnant of volcanic activity on the whole of the Australian continent apparently.  The thermal springs bubble out of the rock at near boiling point in the middle of these ancient, dry mountain ranges in the northern part of the Flinders Ranges in SA.  Another thermal spring to tick off the list!

There were a lot of dust storms around during the time we were around the ranges, not only could we feel it as we were so dry and dusty ourselves, but you could also see them in the distance and it made some photos quite hazy.

Mount Chambers - we took a short walk to see some Aboriginal rock engravings, but the flies were the worse we have experienced since Umbrawarra Gorge in NT.  You could barely open your mouth without swallowing one. 

We then continued south through arid, dusty and windy country into the heart of the Flinders Ranges to Parachilna Gorge where we had a great big fire on a free bush camp site in the creek after getting one or two fresh fruit and bread supplies from the small town of Blinman (their claim to fame was they are the highest town in SA).

Flinders Ranges NP (Arkaroola is still Flinders Ranges, just the Northern end), is the middle and Southern section of the mountains which extend South-North basically from the coast (including Kangaroo Island) right up past Port Augusta and on past Arkaroola.  They are dry, dramatic and dusty!  But awesome and we had a great time camping there.  Unfortunately - maybe it's the time of year - the flies were bad so bush walking is not much fun and I didnt bother getting the bikes off the back as that would have been equally as painful.  Shame, as it is great country and we will definitely be back.  Lots of emus too:


We entered the park from the West via the town of Parachilna (nice pub/restaurante serving gourmet bush tucker) and embarked on the Brachina Gorge drive.  This is a self guided drive taking back through time as you drive across the ranges seeing the different ages of rocks.  Basically it is trying to make geology interesting, it kinda works, but we lost interest after about an hour (it took 3-4 hours to drive it mind you!).


We camped up for two nights in Cambrian Campground which was a top spot in the bed of a creek, surrounded by a mixture of river red gums and native pines with a good view of a 600 million year old range in front of us (dont ask me what the rocks were, as I dont know or care much).  We got the camp oven out and did lots of cooking - pizza, scones and a delicious fry up with English sausages!P1130436

When we left Cambrian we headed to Wilpena Pound which is a shameful resort (you can catch a bus to the start of the walk) and what is basically a big geological depression, we managed to avoid all fees and all the tourist crap and just did the walk to the lookout which was excellent.


Then on heading South out of the NP we camped at Hancocks Lookout, camping at the top of an awesome lookout over the Gulf (?), the towns of Whyalla and Port Augusta towns in the distance.  In the morning we made a quick visit to Mount Remarkable NP & Alligator Gorge for a short walk.  Refuelled at Quorn and continued our journey East towards NSW and ultimately Victoria.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Night Sky at Arkaroola

Upon leaving Marree we headed South via Lyndhurst which didn't have much to offer, even the air pump at the servo didnt work, and Leigh Creek which is a small town but with a massive coal mining operation just North of it.  We took a gander at the massive scars left in the surrounds by the coal mining, which is due to end in 2025 I think, when they run out of coal.  Very interesting stuff, but the town was sleepy, we filled up with fuel, water and checked emails then left en route to Arkaroola via the Flinders Ranges...

Camped at Wetootla Gorge in Gammon Ranges NP which was a huge campsite that we had all to ourselves and very nice it was too.  We had a herd of feral goats pass by the campsite in the afternoon, whilst we were sitting out the heat and the flies, apart from that it was lovely and quiet.


Arkaroola, further North East into the ranges, was a hidden gem.  It is a wilderness sanctuary, family owned business and the dreamchild of a late Dr Reg Sprigg, geologist, astronomist, etc etc.  We spent one night bush camping there, but splashed out on an Astronomy tour of one of the three observatories they have on site.  Apparently NASA have called on Arkaroola to assist in observing deep space objects because they have no light or atmospheric pollution.  If you look at one of those Earth light maps showing all the light pollution that cities give off, then find Australia, then find the pitch black 90% of Australian outback, we were in about the lower left hand corner and high up in the Flinders Ranges.  Also interested Mars exploration societies have sounded out a number of Australian locations to find the most similar to our red cousin and picked Arkaroola as the most similar!  As you can imagine you can see a lot of stars from here.  I know this is geeky stuff, but I am quite excited to tell you this is what me and Em learnt and or saw from our trip to Arkaroola:

Southern Cross; The constellation containing the stars Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Crux.  The Greek's named stars in alphabetical order going by brightest first.

Southern Cross's Pointers; "Alpha" the brightest pointer, pointing towards the tip of the Southern Cross is Earth's closest Binary Star - there are actually two suns rotating around each other with a distance of 12 trillion kms between them - at 4.5 light years away, but to the naked eye it looks like one star, and "Beta" Centaurii.

By working out the above two constellations you can then x4.5 the length of the Southern Cross along the longest axis, draw a straight line to the Earth's horizon and you have a navigational bearing of directly South (or the South Celestial Pole anyway).

Scorpion; very obvious when you know what you are looking for!  The 2nd brightest and red star up the body of Scorpion is Antares which is a red giant the same as our Sun, but in a later stage of it's life.  When our Sun is in the same stage in several billion years it will have expanded past Jupiter.

Saggitarius (sp?)/Teapot; I personally cannot see the hunter or Saggittarius, but I can see the Teapot!

Between Scorpion's tail and Teapot's base is thought to be the centre, and therefore oldest, part of our Milky Way (shaped like a discus with a bulge in the middle like a basketball).

Harp Constellation

Swan or cygnus Constellation (aka Northern Cross)

We also saw Jupiter (second brightest object in the Southern hemishere) with the naked eye, and through the telescope it's dust rings (I am not getting confused with Saturn here) and 4 main moons (Io, Europa, Gannimede and Calista).  There may be ice on Io.  And the moons of Jupiter all move in a peculiar orbit unlike our moon.  This is also the planet that caused - after spotting it and it's moon's orbits - Galileo to be imprisoned in the 1600's for suggesting that the Earth orbited the sun rather than vice versa.

Venus (third brightest object in the Southern hemisphere) with the naked eye, on the horizon.

NG407 (or 417 I cant remember) which is a nebula (or something!) about 15,000 light years away, but still in our Milky Way (our galaxy).  It would take man 7500 years at 300,000kms per second to travel here.  Maybe my maths is flawed (likely), but its a long way away!

The Moon at very close up; some awesome meteorite craters and the Moon's mare's or "seas".

Shooting stars (which we see a lot of in the Australian, esp outback, skies) are actually meteors about the size of a grain of sand.  Meteorites are the ones that make it through the astmosphere and hit the ground.  The glare we see when a meteor hits the atmosphere is actually the atmospheric gases glowing as they heat up, not the meteor itself.

Overall an excellent tour of something we have wanted to do during our trip around Australia and I reckon we chose the best place to do it.  Well recommend it to anyone and hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience!  And Arkaroola itself is well worth visiting anyway for the scenery, I dont have any shots of the night sky, but here is one of me and the car for good measure:


During our time at Arkaroola we had an almost very embarrassing incident.  We were due to turn up at 6pm to a briefing for the astrological tour.  We had spent the day driving around the 4wd tracks and looking around.  However when we arrived at the visitor centre at what we thought was 5:45pm there was nobody to be found.  We asked a guy at the bar and he apologised and said he had been out chasing his camels and had not made it back in time to conduct the briefing (he runs camel tours and night sky tours!) and had not turned up til 6:30pm.  Now this confused us immensely as we thought it was only 6pm.  The clock behind the bar said 7pm at this stage, so we asked him what the time was and he said the clock behind the bar was correct.  We walked away feeling mighty confused.  And on working out what was going on we realised we have been living 1 hour out of sync for the last week - since crossing the border across the Nullabor from WA into SA.  This is highly embarrassing and obviously not something you can do if a) you live in the city and b) have any sort of appointment to keep!  We started re-tracing all our steps over the last week and realised we had got shop opening times wrong (seeing shops close at 11am on a Saturday in small towns was, we thought, a strange time to close), also more importantly we were told Happy Hour in Marla Bar was 6-7pm and when we got there at what we thought was really 6pm expecting double drinks, the bell was rung and the double drinks ended, we cursed the barman, but in fact he was right and we had completely the wrong time...Anyway we managed to set our clocks correctly and got onto the astrology tour on time.  We are still amazed that we lived for one week in the wrong time zone though....we are sure this can only happen when you live for 6 months not knowing (or caring) what day it is or what time it is! 

Friday, 10 October 2008

Marla to Maree via the Oodnadatta Track

We left Marla on a crisp outback morning, blue skies and about 22 degrees and started the trip down the Oodnadatta Track.  The "Old Ghan Railway" follows this ancient Aboriginal trade route, and later cattle droving stock route, and so it abounds with history and outback life to the present day.  It's an interesting dirt track about 650kms in length with plenty of ruins, history and desert scenery to stop and look at on the way and plenty of top spots to camp at as well.  The "Ghan" is named after the Afghan cameleers that ran the line with camel trains before trains took over.  They were not just Afghans, but Indians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, etc. etc.  They planted date palms all over Outback Australia wherever they went, they opened up the interior of the country whilst assisting the European explorers (including Burke and Wills who were in this country as well as Stuart) and their camels still roam the arid country now.

Pink Roadhouse - this is an Oodnadatta icon.  It's a pink roadhouse, an interesting historical stop, a museum, a shop, a service station with loads of advice on travelling the track (they even make and maintain all the info signs down the 600kms track!) and somewhere to people watch.  We both had a Banana smoothie in the roadhouse, lots of interesting local history to read including about Tom Kruse (Birdsville Mailman star of 1960's film "Back of Beyond" who I am reading about, thanks Paul - I will get the book back to you, I promise!) and other local history.


There is a fun little 4wd track outside of town called the "6x4 loop" it's meant to emulate the conditions of the Simpson desert with red sand dunes and claypans.  Of course the Landy did it no problem!! (had to take a second run up at the biggest dune though!).

Road conditions of the Oodna are better than what we remember, but it's still a track with lots of gravel and rough patches.  We photographed where we broke down in the Subaru and where we think we hit the rock that caused the breakdown for sentimental reasons.  It was a relief to pass these places with nothing going wrong too.

The Oodna was a really special experience for us both for many reasons, but especially the tranquil camping (not a single car passed us after 6pm and we only saw 3 other cars all day anyway) both nights at 1) Old Woman Creek and 2) Pole Creek on Anna Creek Station property.  Anna Creek Stn is owned by S Kidman & Co (historical & famous Australian cattle station owning family) and is the largest cattle station in the world, at about the size of Wales!  It takes a week to ride across it on horseback if that means anything to anyone these days....We saw awesome outback skies both nights with clear views of the moon and the Milky Way and I saw a massive and very clear shooting star.  Also at Old Woman Creek we were outside the Dingo Fence, and in true 'outside the dingo fence' fashion, after we had gone to bed I was reading and I heard a muffled/muted bark right outside the tent, which scared the living sh*t out of me!  I hastily got out and grabbed the nearest branch by the fire, shone my torch around, and my heart took a jump when I caught the eyes of a feral dog/dingo about 10 metres away in the creek bed staring at me!  It looked like a hyena in the dim light, and only moved away when I shouted at it.  Em only woke up as I accidentally bashed her as I ran out of of the tent! 


We decided against doing the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks due to time, fuel, climate and car conditions, plus a general feeling of too much dirt road.

The flies were getting a bit worse along the Oodna, but worse was to come.  At least the days were up in the late twenties and the nights cooling off at about 10-15 degrees, beautiful temperatures once the flies have left us alone!  By now me and Em have both eaten one each I think, so we are level.

Other points of note on the Oodna:  William Creek - Australia's smallest town at under 10 for a population!

Coward Springs - privately owned hot springs in the middle of the desert, pretty nice and a welcome dip into their "spa".

Mound Springs - Bubbler and Blanche Cup; natural springs like Coward Springs, but in all their natural glory and no $1 entry fee.

Marree - Home of Tom Kruse's Leyland Badger truck (now rusting away in front of the hotel).

Meteor - I saw one of the largest shooting stars I have ever seen in the night sky when camping at Old Woman Creek.  I will never forget it.  It was huge and clear, with a long tail, albeit very quick.  It's only the glow of the atmosphere that we are seeing by the way, not the actual meteor!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Streaky Bay (Eyre Peninsula) and up into South Australia's Desert Country

Em and I had already decided to travel the Oodnadatta Track and this is how we got to the start of it.  The "Oodna" is a personal journey for us both as we have been all the way to the start of it before, when we came up into Central Australia on holiday over two years ago in our Subaru.  This was basically the wrong car to be doing the track in, but the track at the time was a gravel surface and quite rough in places - the fact that 4 other cars had been recovered from the same stretch where we broke down in two weeks previous to our last attempt was testament to this.  I even got to see one of the wrecks of a car and caravan that had rolled over when I was at the mechanics in June 2006 and it was not a pretty sight - they had to cut the front windscreen out to get the woman driver out.  And I don't mean to scare anyone here, but people have also died in this type of terrain, not specifically on the Oodnadatta Track (the locals say because there is water at strategic intervals), but certainly on the Birdsville Track (where we would like to go after finishing the Oodnadatta - Marree leg - but will play it by ear as we may have had enough by then).  A family of 5 ran out of petrol, then all perished as they didnt have enough water.  Its probably a bit busier now as this was over 10 years ago, but all the same....and we are prepared - dont worry!  And also a Swiss tourist died near Lake Eyre, but I don't know the details.  So anyway...

We spent two nights in Streaky Bay.  Travelled via Ceduna where there was an oyster fest, and a power cut right when we were trying to dry our laundry!  Streaky was a sleepy little fishing town.  Pretty coastline.  Quiet beachside camping in a caravan park as we had been bush for a few days.  Nice pub, cheap porterhouse ($12.50) for me and good (Nannagui) fish & chips for Em.  Interesting 1950's pictures of Great White's being caught and winched up onto the jetty.  I tried a little fishing off the jetty, got a few little bites then a big one that took my bait and hook!  (Probably not a Great White, but you never know).  And sorry Damo if you are reading this, but we didn't go to Port Lincoln (a tuna fishing town on the Southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula) because of the weather forecast, and you weren't there being the main reason of course!

Travelled North through Lake Gairdner NP (rather than Googs Track which is apparently 80% sand dunes) which was pretty, salt lake country and a dirt track all the way until it joined the Stuart Highway north of Glendambo roadhouse.  It was an uneventful drive but cut out about 600kms of going to Port Augusta (where we had already been on our road trip up here 2 years ago), it is an ugly port town at the start of the Stuart Highway a few hundred kms above Adelaide.

We camped out one night by the side of the road on the Stuart Highway, the flies were terrible in the morning so a quick packup was called for and we then made the drive to Coober Pedy - a town we had been to before and we love for its quirkiness.  People live underground here as it gets so hot.  There is an underground church, hotels, etc.  Also Mad Max and Pitch Black were filmed here amongst other post-apocolyptic films.  It felt a little bit more commercial and touristy this time around, maybe because it wasn't such a culture shock to us as we have seen so many other quirky Australian towns (especially with Aboriginal people "loitering" as they appear to be doing and which isn't common in the major capitals). 


We took a drive out to the Moon Plain and the Breakaways (a small range of sand hills with pretty colourings) for sentimental value, as we went there before and had a glass of wine whilst watching sunset.  It is very desolate, but pretty all the same.  This is the Moon Plain with the dog/vermin proof fence running alongside it.  The dog proof fence is the longest fence in the world apparently and runs right through SA:


Then from Coober it was 250kms North to Marla, which is where we spent 4 marooned days waiting to see if the Subaru could be fixed last time we were here!  We relived the Marla experience by camping at the back of the roadhouse and going to the pub for a parmi and chips (Em had a giant burger 'with the lot' which she finished!).  A good night with some real characters in the roadhouse bar, giant Ecubra's and all.

And now its Thursday 9th October on a cold, clear outback morning and we are ready to hit the Oodnadatta Track - first stop Pink Roadhouse.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


This is incorrect Latin for "no trees".  And it is not only grammatically incorrect, but factually as well as there are some trees - enough for us to have had some really good fires actually.  I got to use my new bow saw for the first time and cutting off some dead wood as thick as my arm makes for great hot coals; we dont want to get in the tent at night as it is too nice sat around the fire.  I am writing this at the end of our Nullabor road trip, about 100kms outside of Ceduna (an Aboriginal word for "place of rest") after driving roughly 1200kms in 3 days/2 nights.  It was fun and something I was looking forward to, although I knew it would not be as adventurous as the Gibb River Road or Cape York because it is a) the main road East-West and has been sealed for some decades now, but it was fun nonetheless.

After joining the Nullabor road (Eyre Highway) at Balladonia we drove about 50kms and made camp at the first stop in our "Camps 4" book (our invaluable camp ground atlas) on this Western end of the Nullabor, an camp area called "42k Pegs" for some reason.  We had no fire here as there wasn't much wood around, we also had to push past some annoying grey nomads who had parked their massive caravan and then their camp chairs across a pathway to the back of the camp area where we were aiming for and that had much more privacy (something that doesnt matter when you are in a caravan, but when you live in a tent you appreciate not having to worry about who is looking for certain activities!).  The weather was a bit iffy, slightly cold too, so we watched "Indiana Jones - The Last Crusade" on the laptop.  Most enjoyable.


The next day we hammered it for around 500kms on tarmac all the way.  It was...well...boring, but enjoyable as it is the Nullabor!  At some stages we had cruise control on and you could put your feet up on the dash - driver and passenger that is.  This is the straightest stretch of road in Australia and possibly the world at 90 miles (or 146.6kms) so there isnt much to worry about in terms of cornering. 


And Em reckoned if you can't overtake someone here then you are in trouble.  Camp that night was at a top spot way back from the road (we could barely hear the road trains), lots of wood for an roaring fire, and we could hear the sound of the Great Australian Bight crashing in at the beach and dunes 80 metres below us.  Em cracked open a bottle of wine (we've been drinking cask wine, so this was a bit of a treat!) and we drank a bit much.  It was a bit cold overnight and in the morning, but we hung around and made another top fire for a few cups of tea in the morning before starting off again...


The next leg of the journey we decided to head inland a bit away from the coast and I am glad we did as it broke up the boredom of the tarmac; we drove 16kms North and went in search of some caves.  The Nullabor supposedly has the "longest" cave system in the world beneath it and we we intent on finding an entrance to at least one of these caves, which after Em mistakenly spotted some wombat holes, we eventually found.  Pretty impressive they were too, but not being "speliologists" we just took some photos and threw some stones down to listen to how deep they were.  Deep.  We then carried on East along the Old Eyre Highway which is gravel road and a bit of a change from the new highway where we saw one mangy old fox in the morning - we saw two dingoes, a feral rottweiler (short tailed and black) type dog, four camels, a brown snake, numerous lizards, lots of ruin and abandoned buildings/water tanks and a grave!  None of the historic stuff was marked on the map or had plaques to tell you what it was which was a shame as it is National Park, it's just nobody cares about it as everybody is driving on the other road and looking at the sea I guess.  Anyway we made it another 500kms today, after the dirt road, to a camp area called Cohens, which is a bit closer to the road than we'd like, but we have had a top fire and a few beers and are now keeping warm in the tent under the clear outback sky.  I am pretty sure there is a planet visible above the moon tonight, it's reddish/orange and might be Mars, Jupiter or Saturn but I cant be sure!  Also the Milky Way is clearly visible.  I love these outback skies where you can clearly see everything you are supposed to be able to see at night...




Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Forests of South West WA and onto the Nullabor Plain

The weather has been really crap the whole time since we have been in South WA, which is a shame as it is a stunning area - rugged coastline, huge trees in ancient Karri forests, quaint towns - but when it's raining me and Em are not that good at staying put somewhere, setting up or packing up camp or getting out of the car even!

This being the case, we've made it to the Nullabor Plain (in fact its the Southern edge of the great Nullabor Plain in Central South West Australia ) aka the Eyre Highway.  This is the road that runs West to East across the bottom of Australia between Perth and Adelaide.  It's 2700kms in length (we are joining it 100kms East of Norseman at Balladonia though) which is the equivalent of London to Moscow according to our Lonely Planet book.  It's been a good day of driving and we've just watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the laptop.  It's pretty cold outside so we have thermals and hats on.  And we are on our way to South Australia and looking forward to that part of our trip (conquering the Oodnadatta Track - which is where I killed my Subaru) and then onwards back to Melbourne through North Victoria - hopefully through Ned Kelly country as I am just about to finish the book "Ned Kelly - A Short Life" by Ian Jones (borrowed from Daz - thanks mate, it was a great read, but he was still a criminal!) so it would be good to put it all in place in towns like Glenrowan, Benalla, Wangaratta and Beechworth (some of which we'd been to before, but just didn't know that much about Ned).

And back in time slightly to the drive after we left Leeuwin Naturaliste NP; we have seen plenty of Karri tree forests and in particular one 60 metre giant which used to be used as a spotting tower for bush fires.  Named the Gloucester Tree (not sure why) we didn't climb it, our excuse was it was pissing down with rain and so 1) there was no risk of fires and 2) it was downright slippery and dangerous.  Apparently only 1 in 4 visitor climbs it (but 3 in 4 backpackers do it, they are young and cool though).  The forests were great, but very wet and dank, so we didn't spend much time camping there.  Just a few lookouts and quick stops, Beedlup Falls, a nice homemade pie and custard & apple slice in Pemberton, etc. etc.


One of the best NP camp areas we have been recommended so far - due to two facts that I will tell you about in a minute - was by the friendly ranger at Conto Campground in Leeuwin Naturaliste NP.  He told us to head to Banksia Camp in D'Entrecasteaux (or Walpole as they seemed to overlap) National Park on the coast.  It was 4wd access only as it was a bit sandy, and we got there about 4pm to find we were the only people there, which was a bonus - especially when you know the access track is rough, so you have to be determined to get there, and no caravans or Wicked vans can get in even if they wanted to.  Our first pleasant surprise was that the campground has a hut.  Not just an old crappy, wet, dark, graffitied hut, but a brand spanking new large (sleeps 12) hut with a sink, bunks, hessian sack curtains for doors (for airflow!?) with no graffiti, even some old photos around the place.  We did a quick insect and anything gross check and setup camp in the hut all to ourselves.  This was a special treat sleeping in 3 walls as it was so windy and pissed down all night!  So breakfast would not have been fun in the tent, instead we had a huge kitchen area to prepare it in out of the rain and the tent stayed in its bag.  We both slept surprisingly well.


And the second pleasant surprise was the evening before, when we arrived we decided to take a walk down to the beach, when I spotted what I thought was a lone surfer - quite a way out in some pretty rough surf and near rocks.  When I did a double take and Em arrived down the hill he had gone.  So we both looked and saw the shapes of surfboards coming out of the water at strange angles, and slowly realised we were watching two whales quite close in to the shore!  This is the first time we have ever seen a whale and what a treat it was.  We watched them on a deserted beach for about an hour until sunset.  There was a large one and a medium sized one, they stayed close in (just behind the breaking waves) just slowly moving around.  We think they were Southern Right whales sheltering in the bay on their way North from the Antarctic (or so we read about this is what they are doing at this time of year!).  So yeah, dead chuffed! 


And today we woke up at a beach camp area called Munglinup (Em had a cold shower last night out of desperation, very brave of her I must say) about 100kms West of Esperance (a lot of names on this coast are from the French explorers, including D'Entrecasteaux, Esperance, Cap Aride, etc.), popped into Esperance for some road advice as we wanted to drive through Cape Arid National Park to get to the Nullabor, and also some bread & milk and diesel.  Then in the driving rain, again, set off East of Esperance and drove North up the dirt road from Condligup(?) to Balladonia on the Nullabor.  This was a much more interesting way to go than the normal sealed route via Norseman...only because I get bored driving on 2000kms of tarmac so to drive through the occasional puddle or see a ruined homestead is a lot more fun than waving at truckers all day!  And here we are camped up on our way to the outback and the heat and the dust and the flies...again!  Can't wait (seriously!).

Monday, 29 September 2008

Fremantle - Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park

4 nights in "Freo" (Fremantle); lively, but wet stay in a town centre caravan park, trying to use their dodgy wireless internet, it rained alot, we spent a lot of time in the camp kitchen, I serviced the car and bikes, we met a nice old hippie Rollie (King Rollo to us) who gave me a little light in exchange for a can of VB, Em went on a bike ride along the wharf whilst I slept in the afternoon, we had coffee in Capuccino Strip and went out for a few beers in Freo one wet afternoon!  Nice to be in civilisation for a bit I guess (after I had got over my sulk about the speeding ticket and the puncture).

A few hundred kms South of Fremantle down the coast - 4 nights in Leeuwin Naturaliste NP; Conto Campground, finally a camp fire again (its cold enough to have one!), I nearly took the end of my finger off with my tomahawk (I may tell you more about this, but only to your face and only if you ask as it is embarrassing), Em did lots of baking including pizza & scones in the camp oven, visited the Margaret River wineries (absolutely gorgeous wineries - Xanadu, Leeuwin Estate and Voyager - Em got a bit pissed on tastings, but we felt like deros as we came straight from the NP and smelt like fires!) and surf beaches, renowned as some of the best breaks in the world - I dont have a board anymore, so didnt try any out - not that I would have anyway....the swell was big and there was a bit of a pro-looking crowd out there.  Maybe next time...This is the rivermouth at Prevelly:


On our way out, in the rain, we checked out a local recommendation of visiting the 4wd access only beach at Boranup which was well worth it for the view of the aquamarine coloured sea, the beach and to watch a rain filled squall roll in off the sea and hit us in the face. 


And went to get a photo of this place in the National Park, simply because I love the name and Roald Dahl called not have done better:


Monday, 22 September 2008

It all started when I stubbed my big toe...

Sandy Cape & Cervantes; birthday, stubbed big toe, wind picked up, cold, rain, massive fry up, packed up, drove in rain to the Pinnacles, booked a cabin for the night in Cervantes, got in at 1pm, spent all day watching tv, listening to the wind and rain outside!  First time in 4 walls for over 2 months.  Lovely porterhouse for tea.  More tv (it's a novelty and a luxury!). Comfortable bed.

Fremantle; caught speeding outside of some p*ss-ant town I dont even know the name of...78kms in a 60.  "Nice" PC downgraded fine from $150 and 2 points to just $75 fine (why were there 3 cops catching people in this nice big straight stretch of road - which I was driving perfectly safely on, even though it was over the limit, it was only another 20 metres til it was an 80 zone - yet when we called the police in Broome, in fact two people did, for an assault and witnessing a break in to somebody's caravan the police didnt even turn up!?  I wonder why indeed...).  Arrive Fremantle, realised had a slow puncture in rear left tyre (it's always the rear left side that something goes wrong on).  Ran around buying engine oil and a bucket, washed the car, etc. etc.  Cooked a nice curry in friendly clean big camp kitchen.   Hit the sack at 7:30pm.   I love cities.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Roadside Camping with our Em

Here we are, camping by the side of the road, about 10 metres from the side of Highway 1, with all the joys of the road trains passing us by in the night!  We both ate too much hot chilli con carne (fresh Carnarvon chillies) tonight, followed by far too much triple cream brie (first time in many months - the last time we bought brie we put it next to fish bait and spoilt it, and that was in Queensland!) and lashings and lashings of red wine...

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Shark Bay World Heritage Area and Steep Point

Carnarvon - After another long day of driving we camped at a freebie "Miaboolya Beach" which was quiet beach camping behind the dunes.  Next morning stocked up on lots of fresh food from a roadside stall in this "fruit basket of WA" area; a massive bag of green chillies, green peppers, tomatoes, green beans and some delicious little sweet bananas.  It also rained in the service station whilst we were filling up.  I mention this as this is the first time it has properly rained since we were on the East coast, that's almost two months ago!  It had spat in Cape York and the Bungle Bungles, but not showered like it did in Carnarvon.  I went to turn on the windscreen wipers and they didn't work as the nuts holding them in place had shook loose on all the corrugations!  Quick tighten and we were off again toward Shark Bay, refuelled with diesel and fresh locally grown fruit & veg.

Once inside the boundary of Shark Bay World Heritage Area it quickly becomes a much more interesting drive than the other 400kms to get here!  On the way up the cape is Shell Beach (the shell is farmed for use in cement and to make chickens eggs harder) and some views of the largest sea grass areas in the world, amazing stuff!  We stopped in the pearl farming town of Denham, which had enough services and some jettys for fishing off, but was otherwise not much of note, to ask for info on camping from the visitor info centre and to get details about Steep Point, then decided to ignore their advice about camping and we went straight to the Francois Peron (a French botanist) NP which was a sandy, corrugated road in, but well worth the effort....as they have an outdoor hut tub.  Yes a hot tub, for public use (once you have paid your WA NP fees which we had).  Basically the homestead there used to be a working sheep farm, and the original owners had drilled an artesian bore about 500 metres below the topsoil and were pumping out 130,000 gallons of 44 degree water every single day!  Awesome.  We plopped in for a little relaxing dip before making our way another 20kms to the campsite, where we were the only bods there.  I tried some unsuccesful fishing, then we watched a nice sunset over Big Lagoon with a beer and some fresh food for dinner.

The next day was the Monkey Mia experience.  This is a bit of a circus and I wasnt sure I wanted to go (Em had already swum with dolphins before somewhere else in WA with Tanja), but we decided we had come all this way so better had.  We got up stupidly early (5:45) and packed up in the dark, driving out of Peron NP to the resort of Monkey Mia, and ultimately the "Dolphin Interaction Zone"!  We were so early we were among the first 10 people on the beach where these semi-wild dolphins - about 10 of them inluding an 8 week old calf - all come right into shore to investigate the human activity, every day at about the same time and have been for about 20 years now.  It was pretty cool I have to admit, until the bus loads of other tourists started to turn up then it was circus time.  The rangers feed the dolphins (which is why they are really there) and ask people to step into the water to assist with the feeding.  It was all a bit sick so we watched in awe a few idiots pushing each other out of the way for their mobile phone photos then pushed on ourselves....


We had the cheek to go back to the Hot Tub and have a cup of tea at the free BBQ area on the way back and ranger came over and said "so you are back again"...he had obviously spotted us yesterday, I explained we were from Bath and therefore couldn't resist thermal springs.  After this we made a stop on the long road back down the cape for some fishing and lunch.  Unsurprisingly we didnt catch anything with our newly purchased plastic squid bait.


Our next stop for the night was Hamelin Pool.  This is mentioned in Bill Bryson's Down Under book and is famous, for it's the only place in the world where you can see Stromatolites.  Now I find this fascinating, but many many people won't.  Stromatolites are the world's oldest living organism (cyanobacteria again), or at least were around at the dawn of life itself.  3.8 billion years old.  The earth is what, 4.8 billion years old?  These things were the only living things on the planet for 2 billion years before they alone had produced enough oxygen for other forms of life to evolve from the shallow warm seas that covered the planet.  Now that's impressive huh?


Before we went to visit the stromatolites in the morning, we needed a shower and I needed a shave.  I decided my beard had to come off as I have strange sunburn marks.  So I shaved it off, and it is coming right back on again as I write this.  Neither of us were impressed with the old Chaz, so decided the ginger beard, with dashes of grey for sophistication, was the go.  So you may notice a distinct lack of photos of me whilst I return to my former ginger bearded self.

After being mesmerised by the Stromatolites and their incomprehensible timescales, next up was Steep Point...we rang the ranger to get some details on the road in, it was a sandy 4wd track with some sandhills to cross, so lower tyre pressures were a must, there was no fuel, food or water within 150kms and it was a small entry cost and camping fee per person per night as it was private property, not National Park.  I'm writing this just after we have left Steep Point and we are both so glad we made the effort to get there, as we almost didn't.  It is the most Westerly point in mainland Australia and something we had to tick off on our list of things to do here, it's possible we may never come back to this particular place as it is so remote too.  It reminded us both of Scotland, but much harder to get to!  Anyway we spent 3 days there, originally planning on 2, but extended as long as our fresh water lasted!  We had such a great time, it is definitely one of our top places to visit in Australia.  We were camped right on the beach front under some small cliffs at a spot called "Blackies".  The very helpful ranger (nont really rangers, more an old couple who lived on the property - we were both quite jealous of their lifestyle in fact - to be so far from anyone or anything!) suggested grabbing some oysters from the rocks and using them as bait to catch a whiting (small fish) then using the whiting to catch something bigger, which we duly did....the first day we caught 4 or 5 whiting, Em caught a Yellowfin Bream and a very cool Wrasse with tattoos on his face, he was too cool to eat so we put him back, and I caught a smelly little bream which we didnt keep.  This was all fried up for tea.  The second day we both caught more whiting and subsequently a tuskfish each!  I reckon Em's was about 2kg and mine slightly bigger at 2.5-3kgs apprx!  We thought they were impressive looking, but ugly fish with little white tusks.  They live under the rock ledges as predators so are bit tricky to catch, but we persevered for several hours (in fact it was all we did all day every day, plus drink beer).  The third day I caught an even bigger tuskfish, it gave us our last dinner of two whopping big fish steaks with green beans and lashings of mayonnaise, mmmm,mmmm. 


Whilst fishing we saw large bream in a school of twenty or so, a 1.5 metre shark cruising around looking for trouble (bait came out of the water each time he came past), jellyfish and a massive turtle - his head was easily the size of a football and his body was, well you put it in perspective for a size 5 football for his head!  Huge.  He came up for air right in front of me a few times and even though he was 5 metres away the noise was still loud.

So after three days of eating fresh fish caught by our own fair hands and we were understandably sad to leave.  Two mornings we had two dolphins swimming around about 10 metres from our tent, flipping a fish about for fun (I missed this as was being lazy at getting up, but Em saw it).  We had some friendly old fishermen as neighbours from whom we learnt a thing or two about bait and "floaters" and some tips for places to stay as we headed South.  The weather was good, a bit windy, except for the last day when it was a bit squally and damp - everything in the tent felt damp, plus the zip for both doors has now completely packed it in, so we are looking at a repair job or a cheap, new tent :-(  On the second day we took a drive out to Steep Point itself, about 10kms North of our campsite, to visit the most Westerly point; very impressive scenery all the way there.  Also False Entrance on the way out on the last day was stunning (it's where the Dutch in the 1600's originally aimed for to get to a safehaven from the massive swell on the Indian Ocean around the coast here, but it proved to be not the way in, hence the name, apparently) and had amusing blowholes at the top of the cliffs.

Em chopping up some whiting for bait:


Em with her Yellowfin Bream:


Look at all this fresh fish (this is our first catch of tuskfish):


Blackies campsite on the beach:


Friday, 12 September 2008

Cape Range NP/Ningaloo Reef and onto Shark Bay

Cape Range National Park is the home of Ningaloo Reef.  The largest fringing reef (dont ask me what this means) in the world and I believe the only coral reef to form on a Western coast.  And pretty amazing it was too.  The National Park is a small one, and quite bare (no trees), but it is beautiful in other ways and the reef is definitely the highlight.

We spent four nights at Kurrajong camp area - after queuing from 7:30am behind 5 other keen campers , we had heard the ranger is a bit of a Nazi so you have to get there early to get a spot or he just laughs at you and turns you away - to get a nice spot on a beach camp area.  We managed to get a decent spot on a quiet (no generators) campspot on the beach, however the weather didn't hold up and was windy for 3 days out of the four.  Not just a bit of a draught but a proper coastal gale.  The tent came apart from the frame a couple of times, but we strapped it back down and had two pegs in on each rope plus large rocks holding them down!  Anyway we really enjoyed our stay, especially the snorkelling, the fishing (I caught a small Chinaman cod, twice!  I used one as some bait and put the other back) and just chilling out in the tent with the wind blowing around us.  We took a trip into Exmouth one day as we were a bit bored and fed up with the wind, bought some bread and checked emails, etc.  There is a large naval comms base here which isn't very exciting, but it has the second highest structure in the Southern Hemisphere - a Very Low Frequency radio tower to communicate with the Navy submarines.  Fascinating hey?

Here is me snorkelling:


We had a look at a bird hide on one of the beaches, there were no birds, but we did spot a Port Jackson Shark (or that's what we reckon it was).  In the ocean at our campsite I also saw my first sea snake and we think we saw a stonefish which is the most venomous fish known to man.  And it's ugly too.

When we left we decided not to wait around for the tide to go out so we could cross the Yardie Creek crossing at the Southern end of the park, so instead drove back through Exmouth and back down the sealed road, then turned West again and headed for the 4wd track which follows the coast down to Coral Bay.  One of our more pleasant lunch stops on the way:


Unfortunately the departure journey out of Cape Range NP did't start well as when we were driving to Yardie Creek we found a medium sized wallaby (or roo not sure) in the middle of the road.  It was 8am so still quite early, and a Britz Toyota was stopped a few km's before we saw the roo checking something, so I think he may have hit it and kept going.  Anyway it was trying to stand up and was kind of leaning on one of it's front legs so I stopped and tried to help it.  It was in shock I guess as it's eyes were rolling around, it was also bleeding from its ears and nose so I put a blanket over it and dragged it to the side of the road after a bit of fussing and trying to radio the rangers (apparently they dont care it happens so much).  In the meantime a car pulled up and an old surfer and young girl got out to say you can either hit it with a stone/hammer to kill it or if they had a gun they would have shot it!  They left it up to us, but I was glad they stopped anyway as we were a bit unsure what to do.  When they left I checked him again and he was still looking dodgy, so we decided to leave him, I pulled the blanket off and as we drove away he stood up and hopped across the road!  Seriously.  Well Em told me he did, I didnt actually see him. A happy ending to a sad start to the day.

We eventually arrived without more incident (and after seeing lots of emus) at Coral Bay which is a tourist trap, but a pretty one and it has more coral right at the beach.  We jumped in for a quick swim and then kept motoring down the yet more boring sealed roads to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area which includes Denham, Monkey Mia and Steep Point - a personal highlight for me as this is the most Westerly point in mainland Australia...


I think we have just spent 5 nights sat watching the tide go in and out from pretty much the same spot.  Obviously we needed to as we didn't feel the need to rush around or leave Broome.  It was so nice to get out of a) the dust, b) the flies and mossies and c) the heat (although it was still 35 on most days here) by being able to get in the sea as the stinging jellyfish - Irukandji, the ones that affect your nervous system and give you a "dreadful feeling of anxiety and fear" plus vomiting and general nastiness - haven't arrived yet and no worrying about crocs).  We had a pleasant camp spot right on the sea front in front of some mangroves.  The tidal range is massive, so in the morning it was about 1km away, then high was at lunchtime, perfect as the day warmed up you could get in for a dip!  The sea (Indian Ocean) was quite salty so you could float around and just cool off for 4-5 hours until the tide started to recede again.  And that's what we did for 5 days.  We had a few unfortunate nights when the backpackers (or local idiots) decided to keep the whole caravan park awake by invading someone's caravan one night and fighting (that was a weird thing to wake up to 10 metres from your tent)/playing the bongo drums at 4am or generally "finding themselves" i.e. being a nuisance!


Broome itself is a small resort-type town with a backpacker scene.  It is also interesting historically; world famous large pearls brought diving which in turn brought Islanders, British, Chinese and Japanese settlers, oldest open air cinema (in the world?), WWII history including two flying boat wrecks still on the beach where they were strafed and bombed by the Japanese Navy fighters in 1943, some pretty cool coastal scenery and some nice little streets with lots of art galleries to poke around in. 

Our favourite art gallery has to be Giant Tides which was macro photography of the weirdest little creatures called "mangrove tree snails" which lived on the mangroves in the pic above.  Check out the website, I dont have any pics as the camera lens wont go that small (they are smaller than your fingernail), but I got some snaps of some other weird lifeforms, some of which live on the flying boat wrecks, on the mudflats anyway:

P1110807 P1110789 P1110791 P1110793 P1110804

We also got the bikes off and (after a quick WD40 service) did some sightseeing around the town; Cable Beach (named after the telegraph cable was laid here over to Indonesia and then onto London) which was stunning, the Chinese and Japanese Cemeteries, Johnny Chi Lane and Gantheaume Point which has Megalosauropod Broomensis (sp?) footprints from over 140million years ago.  This dinosaur was like a 2m Tyrannosaurus Rex apparently.  Broome is world famous in dino terms as it has nine different types of footprint around it's ancient beaches, the usual maximum number for these things is three different types.  So I read on the info board anyway.  We couldn't find the actual footprints, but have a snap of the plaster-cast ones for good measure:


We got the auxiliary battery checked out as it still wasn't charging, and had it boosted from the mains, all now seems to be ok so we can chill the beer again.

And now I am writing this while Em is driving the next 100kms down the incredibly monotonous road of 600kms to Port Hedland, where we shall refuel, then drive another 600kms to Exmouth.  The roads are straight, there are mirages in every direction when you can see past the thin, straggly trees and there is terra cotta coloured "Pilbara" dust contrasting with the green and the blue, and that's about it!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Broome to Exmouth

AKA the most boring drive in Australia, so far yet.  Seriously, the road from Broome to Exmouth is very tedious.  There is nothing to look at.  Port Hedland is a mining/export town.  Karatha is pretty much the same.  There are a couple of "historical settler" towns and some pretty islands off the coast, but the road is inland so you have to go out of your way to see anything, even the crap towns sometimes. 

We have covered over 1300kms in two days, that's a lot of driving.  We swap over every 100-150kms to share the pain/boredom and we are getting through a lot of MP3s (thanks SJ!).

We also made a decision not to go to Karijini NP as we are fully "gorged out" and understand that is all there is, plus its a >400kms round trip to do it.  Also the Pilbara region is vast and I am sure has lots to look at and do if you have the time and the money for fuel.  Western Australia is big by the way.  I saw a map of Germany, UK and Japan overlaid onto WA and I reckon they would all fit into WA three times over.  That's three times each country, just to fill the state of WA!

So we are now in Yardie Creek Homestead (friendly Land Rover owners that run it!) waiting for tomorrow so we can get access to Cape Range NP.  The NP is home to Ningaloo Reef, one of only a few west coast reefs apparently.  You can snorkel, swim with the whale sharks and fish from your campsite near the beach and there is always a mad rush for the campsites so we have been told, so we are getting an early night ready to battle it out with some grey nomads tomorrow!  Can't wait.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Day to Day Stuff - Part II

As we are now in Western Australia, having travelled through Northern Territory, and I last wrote about day to day stuff when we were in Queensland I thought it appropriate to write another one as our routine has changed somewhat - mainly due to the weather!

Since leaving the Cape and travelling East to West across Gulf Country, NT and into WA via the Gibb River Road the days have been getting progressively hotter, and the nights too with some exceptions.  In the last couple of weeks especially, travelling from Kakadu to WA I am talking about 35-36 degrees in the day, not just for a while in the afternoon, but hitting 33 about 10am, then heating up to 36 by 4pm and dropping down to a "cool" 22-24" overnight!  Sometimes we have a decent nights sleep when it drops below 20 degrees, I am guessing that's what it is anyway!  To be honest me & Em are'nt cut out for this kind of weather as you can well imagine I expect!  So to beat the heat we wake up at sunrise (currently 5:30am in WA) when it is at its most cool, pack up the tent and mattress, etc. have brekky then get in the car as it's hotting up and basically try to drive for 8-9 hours until the sun is going down again!  Quite seriously, we have driven a lot of miles recently, which is fine as the car is comfy and we can pump the aircon out at 16 degrees.  Funnily enough I was going to say we hadn't seen or felt rain since we were in the Cape - and that was only large drops for a few hours, not really rain, but we had the same experience in the Bungle Bungles, large drops I mean.  It was really odd as it is so dry up here everywhere.  Apparently we are right in the edge of the "build up" to the wet season so clouds are becoming more frequent.  But we aren't missing the rain either, don't get me wrong, we just don't enjoy the heat all that much!

Apart from the weather then we are doing laundry when we need it, but aren't wearing much apart from swimming stuff, shorts and the odd t-shirt/singlet!  We resupplied on cryovacked meat in Katherine as we found a decent butcher there and are still going on that meat (Em made homemade meatballs for dinner last night, a recipe she had tried out with Nik before, mmmm meatballs).  Lunch stops are wherever is convenient, yesterday we were at the mighty Fitzroy River near Derby in WA, apparently there are numerous salties there, but we didnt see one.  The river is a shadow of itself at this time of year though I guess.  When we are out of fresh bread its mountain bread for lunch, with cheese, meat and cabbage (its lasts better than lettuce!).  On that note we have taken to wrapping fruit and veg in newspaper and putting them in our soft esky rather than the fridge, just as an overflow, but they seem to last quite well even in this heat.  Here's Em in the kitchen under the shade of a tree making wraps:


We tend not to camp in such proximity to people if we can avoid it, caravan parks are like a bad dream, but sometimes we have to.  Having met some really nice people so far on our travels too, I guess we feel a bit reluctant to spend time meeting others in a funny sort of way.  Strange.  But people can be annoying - the caravan park in Broome where I am writing this is a prime example of too many people in a small space....the backpacker's camping area reminds us of Glastonbury.  And of course with our accents we get pigeon holed by the caravan parks as they presume we are in a Wicked van too!  Enough of my rant....

What we try to do before we set off somewhere is - if we are staying near one - get to a waterhole or gorge/waterfall and have a swim.  At ELQ we went to Zebedee Springs which is a natural thermal springs (same as Mataranka and Katherine), you might think 32 degree natural spring water is too much on a hot morning, but actually it was lush, and the surroundings were stunning.  Otherwise a cool dip in fresh water is an unbeatable way to start the day.  I wish we could do it every day for the rest of our lives.  Can you buy property in the Bath area where you can tap into the thermal springs still I wonder?....


Looking back at the original Day to Day Stuff article, I was surprised how green the photos looked compared to the NT and WA ones, it really is dry up here.  And dusty.  And there are lots of flies.


Yeah, so that's about it for the second installment of day to day stuff I think.

Darwin to Broome Continued...

Now we were in Western Australia (WA).

At this stage the timezone changes and we go back in time 1.5 hrs, a weird feeling driving across timezones, normally one flies!  It messed us up for a few days as we woke up at 5:30 instead of 7:00 and were ready for lunch by 10:00, ready for dinner at 4pm etc. etc!  There is also quarantine for fruit and veg and honey (and dirt on your car) when entering WA from NT.

Onto the Bungle Bungles!  They (NP's) say it's the most beautiful place in Australia.  It is certainly quite stunning, but I haven't seen everywhere in Australia, so reserve judgement.  It is up there though.  Maybe this place should be more advertised than the Sydney Opera House (which is crap in my humble opinion) as it's more, I don't know, real?  And is more what "Australia" is about for sure; old and impressive...the road in is rough as hell, 52kms takes over an hour to drive, but it keeps out the caravans, and the tourist hordes too I guess.  The walks around the "beehive" formations and the other gorges and chasms were stunning, so tranquil for such a top spot.  Maybe that will change if they improve the road in one day.  We did spend some time there worrying about the dual battery though, as it didnt seem to be holding it's charge - a little drive perked it up for a while, but it was apparent the battery was struggling for some reason.  There wasn't much in the way of info around the site, and not much on Aboriginal usage of it, in terms of what they thought of it or used it in a ceremonial way anyway.  We enjoyed the Bungles and were glad of the strong recommendation from Darren and Nik (who also worked there as tour guides, and we can see why) to go there and not miss it.  They are sandstone mounds underneath striped layers of "other rock" and cyanobacteria - dont remember all the details, but they are old and fragile apparently.  And they suffer the rains in the wet season which would be an awesome sight.  They are 3.8 million years old in place.  1 billion less than the age of the planet.  That's impressive.  Ancient rivers carved out the gorges and chasms.



Out of Bungle Bungle country and in to Kimberley country:  We drove on sealed highway the "Great Northern Highway" up to the start of the "Gibb River Road"...a road trip we had been looking forward to almost as much as the Cape!  We decided not to go to the towns of Kunnunara or Wyndham, but instead headed to El Questro (ELQ).  A cattle station property of a million hectares (or acres, cant remember, anyway it's massive!) stretching right up to the North coast.  It was 30 odd kms down the GRR.  A bit of a shock was in store as the resort is owned by the hotel chain Voyages, and on getting to Emma Gorge you go into the reception where there are young men in shirts behind an air conditioned desk asking how they can help - a bit different to customer service elsewhere in Northern Australia!  We got the lowdown on where to camp (at the "Township") and also were told to do the Emma Gorge walk asap as it was getting dark soon.  The gorge walk was b*stard hot to start with as there was no shade, it was 3:30 (about the hottest part of the day here I reckon) and we struggled a bit before it got shady and the temp dropped.  The swimming hole at the end of the gorge was absolutely gorgeous - one of the prettiest we've seen and we were there on our own to add to it.  I swam in my underpants as I didnt have my boardies on.  Nice.


Driving back onto the GRR for a few more K and turning down into the main ELQ arena; another shock was helicopters, hundreds of people, a steakhouse, a shop and more lads in shirts serving us!  Unfortunately they really rip you off to stay here if you are already self sufficient in terms of accomodation: $30 for a "wilderness pass" (access to all their sites) and $30 per night camping - this is the most we have paid to camp anywhere in one night in the whole of Aus!  It's nice, but nothing you cant see in a National Park.  Anyhow we weren't tempted by the steakhouse amazingly (god knows what the price of their steak would be) and spent an uneventful night listening to the station diesel generator humming (wilderness experience, yeah right).  We packed up in sweltering heat, even before 9am I was sweating out of my arms, yes arms not armpits and drove up the made 4wd track to Saddleback Ridge for a typically splendid East Kimberley view over the station, quite a good, fun little 4wd track up a rocky steep and narrow track too.  Next off we headed to Zebedee Springs, the water temp bubbling out at 32 degrees, but it was still refreshing to have a dip after sweating so much packing the tent up!


Then we were onto the Gibb River Road proper.  It was corrugated, rocky, dusty, not too busy, not too slow.  I was a bit worried about getting a puncture, but knew we had some tyre repair rubber things and also a spare of course - and we had forked out $70 on 12v air compressor so we could pump up again should we successfully repair a tyre.  Some great lookouts on the way giving quite stunning views of the Kimberley, I could fall in love with the country, if it wasn't so damn hot and remote!  Another place they call a last frontier too interestingly.  Perhaps it felt more wild than the Cape, certainly it was more empty.  It's the size of Victoria with about 30,000 people living across it apparently.  The Gibb River Road is 660kms of dirt road (about 80 kms is sealed at the Derby end now).  The Kimberley region is dominated by rocky ranges and white or pink dusty and rocky plateaus.  Quite stunning.


We stopped at a little walk to a gorge, mainly to look at the Aboriginal art - as by now we are feeling gorged out! - the art was of note because the face looks....well I will let you decide what it looks like so I dont sound like a weirdo!  P1110632    It's called a Windjana Head - Windjana being the local Aboriginal clan.  We also saw a water monitor up nice and close.  P1110623

We had decided on a place to camp already, and it had been recommended (by Daz and Nik again!); Bell Gorge.  The battery was still playing up at this stage and the fridge was struggling to keep our stuff below 4 degrees, so we were nervous about only being two thirds of the way along the GRR with no refrigeration, but knew we had to camp as the sun was fast going down, and there were cattle and roos flying across the road in front of me intent on being knocked down!  Camping was pleasant, but spoilt by a fat American guy snoring all night near our tent.  We seem unlucky with our choice of camping sites sometimes.  Oh well.  In the morning we were up early worrying about the fridge and knowing we needed to drive to charge the battery, so headed up the gorge for an early morning swim, very pretty it was too and we were the only ones there again!  On our way back there was a busload of tourists coming down, so we were lucky.  We also saw another water monitor, they seem to be getting more and more brazen.  The road in and out was quite rocky, always a worry when already worrying about punctures! 


The last section of the GRR was pretty and fairly easy going.  There was a rock formation called Queen Victoria's Head in one of the last ranges (Napier I think) we passed through before hitting the plains again.  Can you spot it?: P1110705

First town you hit when you finish the GRR is Derby.  A bit of a sad little town (reminded us of Normanton in Qld), but it does have a claim to fame...it has the second largest tidal range in the world (so half the time there are huge mudflats everywhere you look).  Reminded me of a kinda outback Weston Super Mare, maybe that's the first largest?!  Adi - can you add to this?  Thanks for your Early Man facts regarding Wookey Hole by the way, love it.  William Dampier was an early buccaneer-cum-explorer that poked around on this coast of Australia in the late 1600's.  I don't know much about him, but he is said to have buried some treasure near Derby.  Derby also has a Boab Prison tree which we were keen to see.  Aboriginal prisoners (slaves sometimes) were chained up here on route from the Kimberley, sometimes they were crammed into the tree.  Imagine, 35 degrees outside and chained up in a tree.  Cruel and bizarre.  One white settler was killed in the 1880s in response to the land being used for cattle grazing for the first time, which in turn sparked a frenzy of rounding up young male Aboriginals to quiesce the remainder of the tribe.  Clever thinking, me thinks not....



Some more info about the Boab trees, as they are common in this part of the country and quite a strange looking tree:


Em drove the boring road to Broome, passing some some roadworks where we listened to the roadworkers (doozers) on the UHF controlling the traffic - interesting stuff when you are bored - passed caravans, and a flotilla of old Citroen 2CV's! 

Two places I would like to go back to up here are Mitchell River National Park and Cape Leveque (if we don't go here when leaving Broome).  They are both quite a large detour from the route we were on and the roads not great apparently.  An excuse to come back one day I guess.....

We then spent a nasty few hours trying to find somewhere nice to camp in Broome and not be ripped off in the process, but it paid off as this is my view as I am writing this.  Yes the Indian Ocean really is that colour.  And yes you can swim in it (first time we have been swimming in the sea since the NSW coast we have worked out!).  And yes it is lush.  And now I think I will open a beer and enjoy the next 3 days camped right here, getting rid of the dust from myself (my feet don't look like mine they are so cracked and dirty!), the car and the tent - and there are no flies bothering us here which is great news:  P1110739