Monday, 1 September 2008

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 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

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