Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beyond Broome...

People think Broome, they think Cable Beach. I'm guessing. But I'm probably right. They think the iconic camel train at sunset, the pearling industry and the sun melting into the Indian Ocean. All this is true of course, we spent a day or two exploring Broome and it's history of pearling and multicultural architecture and mish-mash of Japanese/Indonesian/Malay/Aboriginal/European life. But then we headed north, as everyone who visits Broome should I think, up the Dampier Peninsula to really discover what all the fuss is about...

Red, red, red cliffs meeting white sand beaches and that water. So turquoise! Indescribable really until you see it for yourself, it's like your eyeballs have exploded and you've never truly seen the colour of the ocean until you've seen it like this. We roamed through the labyrinth of mudflat tracks around Willie Creek until we found ourselves at Quandong Point for the night. A great campsite overlooking the water, but with some trees to shade us (still quite hot) and protect us from the ocean wind. As soon as dusk fell hundreds (ok maybe not hundreds, but a lot) of little hermit crabs all came scurrying about on the sand and weren't at all fussed about us, and as long as we watched where we stepped we weren't fussed about them either.

Next day after some lounging about (it is our honeymoon after all) we eventually packed up and headed further north to James Price Point. A big new gas mine is proposed to go here, I don't know all that much about it (I think it is all offshore though?) but there was a lot of placards and a group of protestors camping there. A lot of work being done on the road (basically just a sandy track) though so I think bets are hedged that it will be going ahead. Such a pristine area, I hope won't be destroyed or tarnished in any way, but like I said I don't know a whole lot on the subject.

After an afternoon of exploring north of James Price Point, finding a creek and following it out to wide open beaches, we decided to return to our camp at Quandong Point seeing as though it was so nice. Hammock was set up and an afternoon and following morning thoroughly whiled away. 

We made our way north to the community of Beagle Bay where the Sacred Heart Catholic Church is a must see. It is absolutely covered in mother of pearl shell! Well not the actual church, but a lot of the interior is adorned - from the main spectacular altar, to the windows and the floor where it is inlaid up the centre aisle. Very beautiful.

Middle Lagoon was our destination, after our friends Elisha and Dan who were here last year highly recommended it. As we were here out of season though it was a bit in we were the only ones camping there! At first we weren't even sure if they were open. But camp we did, not far from the beach, Matt went fishing off the rocks and I crocheted in the shade. We're predictable like that. That evening we watched another perfect sunset over the ocean, the only ones on the beach, and Matt went for an impromptu swim in the ocean!

Our next stop further north up the peninsula was Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm - the oldest Australian owned and run pearl farm and the only 'true' farm open to tours and visitors. I spent awhile browsing the gallery showroom - exquisite jewellery all really well set with gorgeous pearls. I tried on a divine pearl and diamond bracelet, I wish I'd got a photo, my gosh it was gorgeous! It was also $30,000.

Onwards to the little Aboriginal community of One Arm Point, lunch by the beach and a look around the trochus shell hatchery they have there. They also house lots of marine animals like turtles, squids, huge barramundi and cute little clownfish. Matt feed the barra (scary!) while I stuck to the more gentle giant turtles.

The water at One Arm Point was beyond description. We walked out, it was fairly low tide, to the water and just marvelled at it, wading and taking some photos. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. 

Another night at a small Aboriginal run campground before heading back to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm for a tour and to learn all about how they actually grow a pearl and harvest it. Very interesting how the seed the shells and grow them, makes you have a much greater appreciation for the end product knowing what has gone into it! More trying on of fabulous pearls, but didn't end up buying anything after much consideration as we thought I'd rather have something truly fabulous like a whole strand. We will be back!

We checked in to I suppose what you could call the 'most fancy' of the campgrounds on the peninsula, Kooljaman at Cape Leveque. A camping resort of sorts with safari tents down to beach camping. We opted for a little beach shack, right on the water (and very hot sand!) which provided us with shade and a cold freshwater shower in the back. It was the best idea ever to get it. We went for a swim in that blue/clear water, got salt in our skin and hair, bobbing about in the gentle waves, walked back up the beach to our hut and shower and whiled another afternoon away reading. Honeymoon bliss eat your heart out.

The next day we explored the beach some more, the still functioning lighthouse which shone brightly all night sweeping across the nearby rocks and ocean, before heading south again and back to our trusty campsite at Quandong Point. A nearby fire made for pretty smoky, windy, hazy night.

Driving back to Broome the following day to explore the markets, something which I had been looking forward to. Not as big I'm sure as in the tourist season but still lots of little stalls, a few pearl jewellery ones selling Indonesian/Chinese freshwater pearls rather than the Australian saltwater ones (which fetch four times the price). We did eventually decided that I couldn't leave beautiful Broome without a pearl and so I got a pearl ring at the markets, which I love. Some more exploring of Broome, the docks and the giant blowholes down near the lighthouse. 

And just as we were leaving Broome a brilliant storm decided to roll in, creating this stunning scene. A spectacular finale to some of the best scenery we have seen on our journey around this amazing land...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gorging Ourselves On The Gibb

...and so we set off on The Gibb...

...for a little way anyway...

Our first flat tyre since leaving home in December, so not bad at all. After we Matt changed the tyre we on our way again, hoping that it could simply be patched at the nearest tyre repairs and we wouldn't be out of pocket a whole new tyre. 

The first half of the Gibb River Road (coming from the Kununurra end) doesn't have a great deal on it, lots of driving and plenty to see from the car, but from El Questro we pretty much drove a few hundred kilometres to the turnoff north to Mitchell Falls and Kalumbaru. A quick phone call to a station up the road and we discovered that the falls had just been closed for the wet season, so now point going up there if we couldn't walk into Mitchell Falls we figured (a 12km return walk in 40+ degrees wasn't sounding too appealing anyway if you ask me).

We made camp for the first night on The Gibb at Barnett River Gorge, well we found a nice campsite by a dry creek bed which we figured was the Barnett, on further investigation in the morning and walking about scratching our heads we discovered the track actually continued through the dry creek bed and we finally stumbled upon the gorge. Just goes to show how much the landscape changes from dry to wet seasons.

Continuing on down The Gibb we came to Manning Gorge and the Mt Barnett Roadhouse, grabbed some bread out of the freezer at the store but decided to give the gorge a miss. Just down the road were two gorges close together, and not far off the road (about 1km walk). Galvan's Gorge was quite beautiful, a trickle of water over the falls into a waterhole where we took a swim. As usual it was getting up to 40 degrees - consistent if nothing else! Adcock Gorge was another smallish gorge, Matt explored the rock ledges and again only a trickle of water, but plenty in the waterhole.

After a stop in at the Imintji store to get our tyre patched we headed to Silent Grove campground, hot showers and shady site with a downpour of rain overnight to cool down, a welcome surprise, especially for the rangers who were keeping an eye on a fire nearby. The next morning we headed up to Bell Gorge 10km drive away and then did the walk into the gorge. You can walk across the creek, then up the rocks and descend down into the gorge to the plunge pool at the base of the falls where we had a swim.

Next stop, Lennard Gorge. By this time of the day it was getting hot (surprise surprise). A steep in parts walk that seemed like a very long 2km found us overlooking the gorge, very high, very narrow, pretty impressive really but it was so hot I didn't take many photos. Hot, hot, hot walk trudging back to the hot over the hots, of course making it feel so much hotter. 

Driving on down The Gibb we made camp for the night on the Lennard River, just before the road where we were going to leave the Gibb River Road. Beautiful camp overlooking the river, on grass! Unheard of in these parts so we got a bit excited. Over the last couple of days the battery in poor Luxie had been sounded a little sick, come the next morning after camping at Lennard River and it simply gave up the ghost and wouldn't start. Boo! We pondered waving someone down on the road, but not many cars had gone past even since we had camped the previous afternoon. So out came the solar panels and the chairs to sit and wait...and wait...but then we heard a car coming and Matt ran out to the road. A friendly trio of fellows kindly jumpstarted poor Luxie and we made the decision to head straight into Derby to deal with the problem, 120km away, finishing the Gibb River Road though but we would have to backtrack to where we'd left after we got a new battery. A night in the Derby caravan park, checking out the amazing tidal power down by the jetty and becoming downright ashamed of some atrocious Australian history at the old gaol and prison tree. 

We got Luxie kitted with a new battery, our wallet cried some more, and we headed back 120km along the Gibb River Road to the turn off to Windjana Gorge. We got there fairly early in the day, and again very hot, so decided not to walk in the heat of the day and to do the walk the next morning. Swung the afternoon away in the hammock, very hot, luckily got a watermelon in Derby to munch on! 

Next morning we were up at dawn and exploring the gorge in the early light. Loads of squawking and screeching from hundreds of bats in trees and freshwater crocs everywhere!

Not far from Windjana is Tunnel Creek, which is quite amazing, the creek flows underground for 750m through a tunnel (funnily enough) which you can walk through. Sandals and torches are a must as you wade through the water of the creek in the pitch black, I was kind of scared to start with but is then quite cool as you explore your way by the light of your torch or the distant light from the other end of the tunnel. Unfortunately no photos from in there obviously (well some really dodgy ones from Matt's little point and shoot camera).

We came out onto the Great Northern Highway and decided not to go into Fitzroy Crossing, and instead head south through some station country and made camp on the Fitzroy River. Very hot night! Didn't get much sleep, hot and sticky with no wind all night. Yuck yuck yuck! Luckily the view wasn't that bad on the eyes which made it not so bad...

We headed off early the next morning, further south before turning west and heading through more station tracks to eventually join up with the highway again. Headed straight for the Indian Ocean in Broome - we'd made it! The entire length of the Savannah Way, from Cairns to Broome. 

And that was divine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

El Questro...and a baby!

We left Kununurra and started our way on the infamous Gibb River Road - carved through the Kimberley's to be able to move cattle to port at Derby and Wyndam, 'The Gibb' is one of Australia's last frontiers and winds it's way through some of the country's most remote regions. These days however it is frequented by tourists (like us) traveling the countryside, and is graded and maintained regularly, making it not so much 'the last frontier' for four wheel drivers. We were expecting the road to be a lot worse, being the very end of the season we weren't sure when the last grader had gone through, but were pleasantly surprised to find some graders still out there! 

First stop on The Gibb is the equally famous El Questro Station. Formally run as just a run-of-the-mill cattle station, in 1990 an Australian girl and her cashed up British husband bought the million acres, decided to build a very lovely homestead hanging over the Chamberlain Gorge and call it a day. Legend has it that lying in bed one night in the little shack they lived in whilst the homestead was being built, they had the bright idea to not live in the dream house but set it up as luxury world class five star accommodation. The rest is history and now you can stay in The Homestead at El Questro for the bargain price of $2800 per night...

...aaaaaand that's about as close as I was getting! Apparently for that amount of money you get whatever the heck you want (naturally) - open cocktail bar, all the tours around the property you want, a private butler and cook. You know, all the usuals. 

We *ahem* chose to stay at The Station, the campgrounds on the Pentecost River. As expected El Questro was fairly commercialised, although I'm so glad we didn't see it in the peak of the tourist season. We'd been warned of 300 people in the main campground but the first night we were camped there were a grand total of...five vehicles! We did a few walks whilst at El Questro - the longest (7km) and probably the best walk we have even done so far was into El Questro Gorge. The first third is relatively easy, then you get to a small swimming hole with only one way of going on further up the gorge - wade in and boost each other up the rocks, passing backpacks, shoes and camera up. The water came up to my chest! The rest of the walk was fairly challenging in parts, a lot of rock jumping and scrambling, some more getting wet and some more boosting each other up rocks. At the end we were rewarded with a waterfall into a plunge pool and a well deserved swim.

Whilst at El Questro we splurged a bit and did a boat cruise up the Chamberlain Gorge - the last one of the season! We really were there right at the end of things, we ended up staying three nights because there was an end of season barbecue and live music on the Saturday night, we left on the Sunday and they locked the gates behind us. The Chamberlain Gorge cruise was lovely - gliding along under towering orange cliffs, tasting some native passionfruit on the way, spotting some rock wallabies. We parked the boat up the end of the gorge for awhile, popped some champagne and told the interested four other people on the cruise 'our story'. Still love peoples reactions when we tell them what we're doing - homeless, jobless, no idea what we're doing really, just cruising along trying to figure it all out...

Whilst we were at El Questro something exciting happened...we became Aunty Em and Uncle Matt again! Matt's brother Geoff and his partner Chelsea welcomed a little girl, Madeline, and we were eagerly on the satellite phone getting updates. One night we went up to a lookout to watch the sunset, Matt called Geoff to see how things were going and Chelsea had gone into labour! We were pretty excited.

We also ventured across to Emma Gorge (appropriate, I know) and walked into the high falls, had a swim and sat in the thermal pool overlooking it all. Zebedee Springs is another nice spot, lots of palms and little pools of warm water. Like I said, on the Saturday night we stayed on to enjoy to buffet barbecue on offer and live music at the bar, had some drinks with a group of guys and girls about our age who worked in the Argyle diamond mine. Great to meet locals (well sort of) who live and work in the area - and learnt a bit about how they mine diamonds!

Bidding El Questro farewell we drove west, always west, to really start The Gibb. Destination: the Indian Ocean at Broome - bring on that seabreeze!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kununurra and The Bungle Bungles

On that very last (and very hot) night in Katherine I finally finished a project I had been working on since when we were on Malden Station - six months in the making and I was d.o.n.e! My friend Amy had a sweet baby girl, Savannah, and throughout her pregnancy as we bumped along dusty tracks, traveled to Papua New Guinea, discovered this vast and amazing country and did lots of thinking and planning and hoping for our future...all the while I crocheted this blanket for Savannah, and in Katherine I finally got to wrap it up and post it on down to the rolling South Gippy hills. So proud I actually finished this, and taught myself to crochet along the way!

 Whilst we were in Katherine Matt thought we'd better take Luxie to a mechanic to get his oil changed. On closer inspection mechanic noticed we were leaking from rear diff, as well as a nut had come off rear spring shackle (which holds the leaf springs to the chassis). Replaced nut and pondered diff issue. Got going to Timber Creek and camped at Policeman's Point - great spot on the Victoria River, again very hot at night though! In the morning Matt checked the diff, still leaking, and then noticed two big cracks in our spring shackle. Oh dear...

We drove easy into Kununurra, avoiding gravel roads in case we completely cracked it, and took it to a few different mechanics - turned out the one we went with could do it the next afternoon as he thought he had a part to fit. Brilliant! Next day after touring the sights of Kununurra and tasting some belly burning rum at local distillery, The Hoochery, Luxie got kitted out and we set off to Lake Arglye, 75km's south of Kununurra. 

Great caravan park, grassy site, good showers (always a plus in my book), mango trees and...a gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the lake and surrounding ranges!

After checking out the dam wall and how the massive lake was constructed we drove back into Kununurra, then decided to head down towards Purnululu National Park - or as most people know it, the famous 'Bungle Bungles'. It's a fair drive down there from Kununurra, a few hours on the bitumen then a few hours on a rough road through station country to do 53km. After a camp at a creek halfway down we set off at dawn to get in there early and do some walks. Now we're in Western Australia though dawn is like 4am! Good to be out of the heat though.

First walk we did was Mini Palms - relatively short (about 2km return I think) but my goodness it was getting hot! Impressive towering red cliffs close in on you, very awe inspiring and makes you feel quite insignificant in the grand scale of Earth's wonder. Amazing end of the gorge at a platform overlooking a chasm of more red cliffs, brilliant angles of light streaming in. We sat for awhile and soaked it in.

Next up was Echidna Chasm, as much as Mini Palms was stunning for its grand scale rock formations, Echidna Chasm amazed us as it lead us deeper and deeper into the narrow confines of the rock until you could reach across with your arms and touch both sides. Again, amazing light and a respite from the soaring 44 degree temperatures outside.


We found camp at the only campground still open at Purnululu (the rangers were no longer there and there were hardly any other people but us!) Spent the afternoon trying to get comfortable in the extreme heat! I think I've said it before, but it was the hottest day we'd had, and now I think I can confidently confirm that as the hottest as we will be heading south soon to (please God!) cooler weather.

To beat the heat the next day we rose at dawn and headed for the famous 'beehive domes' that people associate with the Bungle Bungles. Sunrise over the ranges was beautiful, and we got a bit excited when we first sighted the domes!

 We did three loop type walks through the domes, out to a lookout and up into Cathedral Gorge, a natural amphitheatre which is very impressive. The domes were just as impressive as you would imagine, especially bathed in the early morning light. As usual we pondered over what this area would be like in The Wet - imagine the water running off the rocks and down into Cathedral Gorge!

Back on the road and back to Kununurra - this time returning to the mechanic (I know!) to see about a new radiator. We decided to order one from Perth, but it would be a few days obviously before it would arrive on the plane so we booked a flight to go over Lake Argyle, the Bungle Bungles and the Argyle Diamond Mine. Like Katherine and Kakadu I had been to Kununurra about 13 years ago and seeing as though we flew in my Dad's plane I had seen the Bungles from the air, but was still keen to do it again! What a fantastic perspective you get, especially after walking through them...

With still a few days before our radiator arrived we headed north to Wyndham via Parry's Creek Road - the non-bitmumen alternative route, just what we like! Found a fantastic campsite on the Ord River, very rocky which was good to set up the camp shower. So much splashing of fish and crocs here overnight!

Continuing along Parry's Creek Road towards Wyndham, Matt fishing at places on the Ord River, me crocheting (a new baby blanket!) We had a look around Wyndham - at the port where they export cattle and iron ore, went up to the very high Five Rivers Lookout but was unfortunately a bit hazy. We headed west of Wyndham across the mud plains to see the big boab used as an overnight cell for prisoners. Very interesting, a huge tree with a 'window' cut in it (which apparently used to have removable bars attached). We camped the night on the King River, overlooking the land where they shot a lot of the movie 'Australia'.

Back in Kununurra we got our radiator fitted (and our wallet cried what few tears it has left!) and prepared to hit the road again, this time towards a big tick off our to-do list for this crazy adventure: the infamous Gibb River Road...!