Day 396 – Eighty mile beach to Broome
We left the beach early to escape the heat and made the 350kms to Broome. We stopped after 40kms at Sandfire Flats, a roadhouse midway between port Hedland and Broome set up by an opportunistic couple in the 1970’s. For me it was somewhere to look out for, knowing that whilst pregnant with Emma, auntie Ros had been stranded here, broken down with two young children, for 2 days whilst making her way back to give birth in Perth. Seeing it and imagining that is one way to feel very isolated.
In the car we cracked out the classic, ‘I went on a roadtrip and I packed..’, followed by the not so conventional ‘I went on safari and I brought home with me…’ Which helped us to forget we were roasting.
We pulled up to Broome’s Chinatown and main street, a quaint town with older buildings lining the road. A very iconic first spot was the sun picture house. Now it is an open air cinema dating back to 1916 when it was a theatre and showed silent films accompanied by piano. Inside was old movie memorabilia and even the equipment used to broadcast over the years.
At the first chance Ricky headed to McDonald’s to claim his long awaited free wrap he had won in Perth, and we perused the few shops. Mid afternoon we headed to the iconic Cable beach, a huge stretch of white sands and warm waters just outside of town. Here we spent the afternoon appreciating the sea breeze and the sand between the toes feeling of being on holiday.
As the sun began to set the camels set about their evening rides, silhouetting past the dramatic west coast sunset. They looked so majestic, (I was only glad I hadn’t forked out for a ride due to the not so slight smell of pee.)
I found Ricky and Luigi rigging the fishing line. In distraction from an Octopus one fish managed to break the line and swim away. Not long after that, Ricky hooked a baby reef shark, maybe 35 cms. It was cute, I’m sure a mark from its razor sharp teeth wouldn’t have been and we quickly threw it back.
We decided to camp in town and quickly made our way to town beach for ‘Staircase to the moon.’ This phenomenon of reflections on the ocean which look like stairs occurs at full moon for three nights every month. The event has become an occaison and there was market stalls and a small crowd gathered to watch the moonrise at 7.43 sharp. It was beautiful and very red in shade, a phenomenon which was very difficult to appreciate on camera.
Karolin and I set out on a late night walk to visit the brewery, however finding it already shut for the night we walked on to see what was happening in Broome on a Friday night. There was a big party happening at the oldest establishment in town, the Roebuck Hotel but without tickets we struggled to find anywhere for a drink and wandered back to the campsite.
Day 397 – Broome to Lennard River (Gibb River road)
The overnight temperature was scorching 22 degrees so as soon as the sun was up at 6 am we were up to escape the stuffy tent.
We visited the Courthouse gardens where markets take place every Saturday morning. Despite food and coffee treats, a lot of the stalls represented aboriginal art and pearl jewellery. Broome is a pearling town, harvesting pearl shell since the towns settlement in WHEN. Our next stop was the Pearl luggers where they had diving gear and boats on show. On discovery of the oceans riches many flocked to this area, including Malays, Indians and Japanese resulting in Broome’s multicultural reputation today.
The first diving for pearls was skin diving beginning in 1850, often done by aboriginals for little reward, however need to access deeper sites led to hard hat diving, the first trial in 1868. The hard hat diving resulted in many injuries, a fine art as the divers suit and gear would weigh 40kg so they would sink like a stone. The helmet a combination of a space mask and a ships window with hose like breathing equipment. They would be attached to a length of rope to maintain control and correct height. The largest haul of pearl she’ll ever recorded was 100 tonne. Now, pearls are cultivated in farms all along this stretch of coast, lots of beautiful jewellery but pricy with a pearl taking 2 years to grow.
Roebuck bay, the harbour here is so named because of the ship of William Dampier ‘the old roebuck’ which sunk here on his second voyage. The roebuck hotel which now dominates the street and towns activities dating back to 1890 serves as a reminder of older times.
We walked back to our accommodation, stopping on the way at the Masto brewery, brewing delicious beer of the Kimberly region. As it was early and we were hot we opted for the thirst quenchingly alcoholic ginger beer, which slipped down all too easily, before returning to the campsite.
In the midday heat we took cold showers which had little impact, before saying goodbye and hitting the road toward Derby and the entrance to the Gibb River Road.
We entered the Gibb River road, a 664km unsealed road from Derby to Kununara, originally used in the beef trade for transportation of cattle. The first 100km were tarmac, cattle, termite mounds and the swollen looking Boab trees providing the backdrop.
We stopped at a beautiful rest area on the Lennard river where two other groups were. 5 backpackers, 4 French and one Dutch were cooking on a fire, with our group and another couple also joining them. We cooked burgers on the fire and watched the incredible night sky, bats circling and strange noises occurring just overhead.
Day 398 – Lennard River to Mount Barnett (Gibb River road)
We left our beautiful nights stop for Windjana gorge and followed the 7km hot walk through imposing rock walls of 50 metres of more. In the water was lots of freshwater crocodiles measuring a metre or two in size. Although not as deadly as Salt water crocodiles, it was worth keeping your distance on the river bed.
On our walk we passed a huge bat, dead but still hanging as if sleeping. We also saw the fat trunk of a snake curled at a tree root, suspected to be an Olive Python.
Our next stop was Bell Gorge for swimming as the days heat mounted. The pool was carved out of rock sides and a trickle of water was still apparent, a full waterfall in wet season. We clambered down to the rocks edge where algae meant you slipped into the water and struggled to get back out. It wasn’t refreshing as it was warmed by the rocks in which it sat, and although we knew there shouldn’t be crocs it was hard to rest your mind, but all the same it was a welcome break from the stifling heat.
In a pool lower down Ricky and Luigi spotted a baby croc but it was gone in a flash and Luigi went looking for it, or it’s relatives. Despite our unease the water was trapping to escape the heat.
Mid afternoon we had sandwiches, dried by the heat, roadside at Silent Grove before heading on. A roadhouse (which only sold Diesel) provided a welcome break for a cool drink, the water in the car now so hot we popped a tea bag in it!
We planned to stop for the nightabout 40km beyond the next roadhouse however pulling up at Mt Barnett roadhouse, the only roadhouse for 400km, at 5.15 when it shut at 5pm ended our driving for the day. We stopped in a clearing roadside, not sure if it was legal or not but vowing not to pay the expensive campground fees at the roadhouse!
Wearing the headtorch was like having an unwanted sixth sense or magic glasses as you could see hundreds of twinkling sets of eyes of the Huntsman spiders, some on approach were huge! After a light dinner we lay on the tarpaulin counting shooting stars.
Day 399 – Mount Barnett to Victoria Highway (Gibb River road)
Unsure as to whether our camp spot was legal or not we were up at 5am to put away the tents and move off. We were ready and waiting at the roadhouse by 6:30 and with it not opening until 8 we went to Galvan’s Gorge for an early morning swim. On the road we saw a frill necked lizard, unpeterbed by the car and despite our attempts, not willing to open his neck and display for us.
The cool pool only 5 minutes walk from the car was teeming with life. We spotted two rock wallabies, bouncing like a baby kangaroo but with features of a lemur or similar. Lots of leaf rustling suggested lizards or snakes moving off nearby. Ricky and Luigi swung into the dark water from a rope swing mounted on a tree. Shortly after we noticed a small snake balanced on the branches of a nearby tree, clearly it’s safe resting place for the night. After a short whole he slowly made his way down the trunk and on to a rock to sunbathe. Every time a snake is spotted it is unnerving how camouflaged they are and you wonder just how many you pass without realising. There was also a small bit of art on the rock, not sure whether it was genuine aboriginal or had come later but it was easy to depict a figure and two snakes.
We drove back to the roadhouse for the most expensive fuel so far and a spot of breakfast before continuing for the day. A truck was not far infront I us and we kept having to pull over as we caught it up to allow it some distance due to the dust cloud of red pinjan on the unsealed road.
The road weaves around, changing from Wild West dust, dropping out into huge canyons on both sides, reminding me periodically of South Africa through to scenes from a western. We stopped at a lookout point for some lunch before continuing on past car corpses until the end of the Gibb River Road. We stayed at a rest area 6 kms along the highway and getting in early afternoon gave us some time to relax.
Day 400 – Victoria Highway to Victoria Highway
We are now waking with the sun and without checking the time we were ready to leave camp having packed up the tents, had breakfast and washed up from the night before, by 6:30am.
We headed 24kms back on the Gibb River Road to Emma Gorge as it is only open in the morning. The walk to the swimming pool was quite a climb and littered with toads who stood their ground as you passed. Getting to the end sweaty and being the first one was incredible as we jumped into the clear water. The droplets were more like rain than a waterfall, cascading from 50metres up. Floating on your back looking up at red overhanging channels was magical.
We headed into Kununurra and hit up the bakery, followed by food, fuel and of course cold drinks. Luigi had ordered a break cable from Toyota which we were expecting mid afternoon so we headed to Kununurra lake for a paddle, beer and chill out in the sun.
A small national park lay on the outskirts of the town and we went for a walk there. As our route had bypassed the bungle bungle range, I was keen to see this as the rock formations were described as smaller versions. We took the 2km track into the park, red stratified rock jutting out either side, snake tracks marked in the hot sand. We somehow strayed off the park, through prickly grasses and snake territory and found ourselves climbing a rock face. From half way up it seemed more effort to go down than to go up and from the top the view was a beautiful panorama, but a steep drop down! On an alternative path down we saw a small owl, and after a steep and sweaty descent made it back to the car having covered twice the distance.
At about 4pm having still not heard from Toyota we patiently waited outside, drumming our fingers. Come 4:30 they locked the door, no parts had arrived, so we disheartedly headed back 50km to where we had spent the night before at a rest area.
The sky was being illuminated periodically with lightening forks in the distance and occasional rumblings of thunder. It skirted around us leaving us dry but entertained by its power.
Day 401 – Victoria Highway to Victoria Highway
We set off early for Kununurra determined to leave the town with a new break cable so we headed for a scrap yard, got the piece and Luigi fitted it, (I held the pliers!)
The Victoria highway took us across the border into Northern Territory! The time difference between the states was 90 minutes, I believe our first time and a half time difference which must put us out of sync with the rest of the world! We stopped at the Victoria River crossing for a lunch break and hoped for a bit of crocodile spotting, of course from now on, if the water looks nice, the crocs have probably beaten you to it!
We stopped a little further up the road at the Judburra Gregory National Park for a hot walk up onto a hill with amazing outlook over the surrounding scenery. The path had signs explaining the aboriginal dreamtime stories which seem to agree with western theories of formation of the land but with a poetic and personalised rendition, for example the land used to be covered with water or sea, but retracted with the rainbow snake, gorges were then formed by the lightening snake.
We stopped at the roadhouse for obligatory expensive cold drink before pressing on for a rest area 60km outside Katherine, a good 450km from the night before but alas, still on the Victoria Highway.
The rest areas, or free camping we have been doing is very basic. Essentially a pull off from the highway with picnic benches, occasionally a BBQ spot and toilets if your lucky. Running water is not a luxury usually but this one had an outdoor tap, and with the piping exposed to the sun the water was warm. In our swim gear Ricky and I had a bucket shower, a luxury we couldn’t stop giggling about, and I’m sure the passers by on the highway felt the same.
Day 402 – Victoria highway to Kakadu National Park
We drove the 60km to Katherine passing through on our way to Katherine Gorge. Northern Territory is crocodile territory and in some places it is no longer possible to swim. Amusingly ‘salties’ or the bigger salt water crocs are a no go, but ‘freshies’ or the smaller freshwater crocodiles are an at your own risk deal. Luigi and Ricky jumped into the river that runs through the long gorge.
We climbed up the rocky gorge and looked down the length of it, believed in Aboriginal dreamtime story to be formed by the rainbow serpent Burlong who still inhabits the water. The view was lovely, green vegetation lining the banks, however our walk seemed to steer us inland through sparse bush trees rather than along the gorge edge.
We drove back to Katherine, gateway to driving further into the territory. As you travel further north, you notice more contact with the Aboriginal people of Australia who generally have a reputation of suffering including Alcohol abuse. Unfortunately a lot of the times you see them in this light but it seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy as they are often isolated from society or struggle against huge prejudices. I’m sure stereotypes don’t come from nowhere and it’s hard to live amongst a struggling community and not make generalisations, however it still feels like a form of racism they are experiencing here, often grouped together and regarded as trouble, shortened in reference to ‘Abo’s.’
We passed through Pine creek and turned onto Kakadu highway to enter the national park, passing a wildfire on the run smoking across the road. We set up camp at Gunlom down a rough 4wd track. Now we have changed the clocks we have a much longer evening and so we paddled in the beautiful Gunlom pool at the base of the falls.
Day 403 – Kakadu National Park
With the flies already flocking around our faces in the morning heat we climbed up to the top of Gunlom waterfall for a morning swim. The view over the park and the pool some drop below was stunning. On top there was a series of 3 pools, the third acting like an infinity pool before the water drifted over the edge. When we tired of appreciating the tranquil beauty, Luigi decided to try and use his seating position to plug the flow into the existing waterfall. It caused so much amusement that we all got a new seat in order to stem the flow of water before letting it go to cause a surge of water over the edge. As usual the water was surrounded by life, small frogs, huge dragon flies and butterflies and a few curious fish.
Another precarious climb up led to another pool of clear, cool water, edged on all sides with slippery rock meaning once you slid in, you hoped you wouldn’t see a croc!
We moved further through the park to Maguk, a short walk through humid monsoon forest, crossing streams until a beautiful pool emerged at the end. It was blue and murky with its depth but after Ricky took the plunge and wasn’t snapped up I got on my snorkelling gear and joined him. The fish were inquisitive as you swam over them, the floor of the pool suddenly dropping from a few metres to a huge cavern below. There was also some icy falls coming over the rocks.
When we left the water, immediately the flies were on us again, an annoyance which never fails to make your blood boil. We went next to the Warradjan Aboriginal Centre where there was information about the land, now jointly managed by the indigenous settlers and the government to create a balance between tourism and protection. Lots of aboriginal stories are only just being believed by westerners. For example the aboriginals believe that the rainbow serpent still occupies this land and certain areas shouldn’t be disturbed, sickness country. As superstitious and irrational as this sounds, this ancient knowledge has begun to be backed up by science, now showing to hold high levels or radium, asbestos and lead. They also have a calendar for this area which shows six distinct seasons which they use to manage the land.
As the afternoon drew on we went to see Nourlangie rock, an area of lots of rock art paintings. They were fascinating, well preserved and colourful, often depicting fish or animals, many in an anatomical way of parts which could be eaten or not. The style was distinctive from the African rock art, truly decorative and beautiful. The story at this site was of two people who fell in love but were forbidden under aboriginal marrying code as there is strict laws about which tribes can marry due to inbreeding and survival. There was depictions of the lightening spirits who found and punished the couple.
We made camp nearby and later in the night Luigi and I took Koko the car out on a night drive to see if we could see crocodile activity in the river. We were off road and I drove her in 4wd, dodging trees, ploughing over roots and through untouched spiders palaces. We didn’t see any crocs but the noises of the night were alive and spooky.
Day 404 – Kakadu National Park
From our morning camp we called in at the sites other visitor centre where they had more displays of dreamtime stories, bird life and also the burning cycle, how they manage the land through periodical burning to prevent wildfires and promote regrowth.
The main town of Kakadu is Jabiru which had a bakery and fuel stop before we headed up to Ubirr. This sacred aboriginal site is the edge of Kakadu so looks out onto Arnhem Land, still belonging to the aboriginal tribes. The 2km trail took us around some more amazingly preserved rock art. The stories passed messages along to the aboriginal people, warnings about where to swim due to crocodiles, through fables and hunting tips.
Nearby we walked a route through monsoon rainforest. As we entered the dense canopy there were hundreds if not thousands of flying foxes above our heads, squealing like pigs. At part of the walk the track split and became women’s only with an alternative for men. This sacred spot was where women would be taught about growing up and puberty.
Just down the river from here was a lookout point where you could spot crocs in the murky water. They came to the surface silently, displaying their long scaly bodies. They use their breathing much like you do in diving to control their height in the water, meaning they can rise without so much as a ripple warning!
We drove back to Jabiru to use the outdoor swimming pool here having ran out of safe places to swim! As the day drew on we drove past the South alligator river to camp on the edge of the park.
Day 405 – Kakadu to Darwin
We left the park early and travelled the 150km to Darwin, which now felt like a short stretch. The roadtrip which seemed colossal three weeks ago drew to a close. We pulled up in Darwin and swapped photos, saying Goodbye to Karolin, then Ricky, Luigi and I checked into a hostel on the lively Mitchell street.
Sand fire roadhouse: $1.97
Mount Barnett Roadhouse: $2.50
Timber Creek: $2.02
Three things which are enough to drive me insane;
1. Sweating, always. Even in my sleep!
2. Flies, around your face, in your ear, up your nose. Arghhh
3. Dirty feet, but even when you wash them there’s the ingrained dirt, and beneath that a flip flop tan!
Total showers: 11
Dead kangaroo count: 9
Live kangaroo count: 47
Emu count: 7
Snake count: 3
Total spent (between 4); $3,332
Kilometres covered: 7,052
Distance from Perth: 5000