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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #012

Editorial

Well who would believe it's been a year since we left Canberra. Twelve months of driving, camping and generally hanging out in some of Australia's nicest places (and a few that weren't so nice).

Did we do the right thing? Yep. Are we sick of travelling? No chance. Is the motorhome as comfortable as we envisaged? You bet it is.

In short we're having a great time, we've met a stack of nice people and seen a stack of nice things, even taken a few good photos. What else could you ask for? (well OK a lotto win would be nice, maybe I'll buy a ticket one day).

So, after a year we're not old hands by any stretch (we know people who've been living on the road for 15 years), we're still learning the ropes, but we have pretty much settled into the lifestyle.

 

Some year-one statistics
At the one-year point it seems like a good time to give you some living expense stats.

  • Cheapest fuel, 79c at Bundaberg
  • Most expensive fuel, $1.03 at Carnarvon
  • Most expensive fuel price seen, $1.25 (we drove right past).
  • Average fuel price, 93c
  • Cheapest accommodation, $5 at several places
  • Most expensive accommodation, $21 at Kununurra and Exmouth
  • Average accommodation, $3.05 per night (we free camp a lot)
  • Cheapest slab of beer, $24 at Mt Isa
  • Most expensive slab of beer, $39 at Wyndam
  • Food & general household stuff, $89 per week (we never eat out and buy for several months when possible)

All up we've lived quiet comfortably on about $17,000 pa, that's $327 per week or $46 per day.

These figures should come down as we're getting better at bargain hunting, special buying, free and low-cost camping, home brewing etc.

Is the motorhome performing?
Sure is. It's not fast but we quite happy to plod along. As for liveability, we literally would not change a thing, the house is so comfortable and suited to our lifestyle it's scary :-)

 

 

Mon 9 Sep 2002

Soon after pulling into the rest area I head off on the bike to recce the track into the Bungles. It's rough but not particularly challenging and certainly no problem for the bike.

For about 30k I feel that we could bring the truck in, but then I get to Calico Springs. At this point the road passes through some steep hills and there are three creek crossings that, while not all that deep (500mmm or so), have awkward approaches and/or large underwater holes.

I'm about to decide that it would be difficult, but do-able, when a couple of off-road tour trucks arrive and pull in for lunch.

Thinking that this is a good opportunity to ask about the crossing and state of the road further in, I saunter over to one of the trucks.

The driver is very affable and says that I would not have any trouble. As they prepare lunch I realise that I have had nothing but a bowl of cereal all day. I casually mention that I forgot to bring lunch and that I'm starving, in the hope that they might throw me a sandwich.

However this merely starts them off talking about how they have misjudged the ordering of the food and have piles left over with only a few days left on the tour. As it is obvious no offer of a feed is forthcoming I said goodbye and wander off, leaving them to their abundance of victuals.

I wait for them to finish lunch then position myself at one of the crossings so I can see how they go.

There are deep holes on one side of the crossing in question and I am interested to see how trucks of a similar size to ours handled them.

As it happens they lurch quite alarmingly, and they are smaller and less top heavy than us. I decide that the road is not for the truck, and ride back to the highway.

After four hours, 80k, and ten creek crossings, I return to the truck with only one thing on my mind, food.

Tue 10 Sep

Today is spent preparing for trip into the Bungles and resting after yesterday's ride. There's not much preparation to do really, it's just a bushwalk on a motorbike.

Wed 11 Sep

I get an early-ish start with a view to completing most of the trip before it gets too hot. The ride is uneventful enough, I stop for a few photos and arrive at the visitor centre at about 11AM.


A "photo op" on the road into Purnululu.


I elect to push the bike through the creek crossings

I'm pretty thirsty by now and notice that they sell cold cans of soft drink. I down a can of orange and mango in seconds.

There are two main areas of the Bungles, the northern end has some spectacular gorges but it's the southern section that houses the "beehive" shapes the Bungles are famous for. Also at the southern end can be found Cathedral Gorge, something I am keen to see.

I decide to spend my time in the southern part of the park and make my way to the Walardi campground, finding it deserted.


Finally I pitch camp, and I have the entire campground to myself too

I set up camp, relax for a while then ride towards the Piccaninny Creek carpark. Finally I see the beehive rock formations, until this time I have not been very impressed with the park but I have to say that the landscape in the south is quite fantastic.


The beehive shaped formations that have made Purnululu famous.


Spinifex, bushland and Bungles.


The quaint "His 'n' hers" loos tucked out of sight behind a beehive.

I walk around Domes Trail but keep stumbling over things and realise that I'm a bit dehydrated, so instead of continuing to Cathedral Gorge I return to the carpark and ride the 15 kilometres back to camp.


The road to Piccaninny Creek.

By the time I get there I've ridden over 100k on rough roads, mostly with a full pack and loaded bike, and I'm buggered.

Thu 12 Sep

Today I plan to spend time in Cathedral Gorge, but first there is an urgent matter to attend to.

I've been dreaming of drinks, cans of peaches and all sorts of cold refreshing things all night. The park shop at the visitors centre doesn't have any peaches but it's got a heck of a lot of cold drinks, and I plan to deplete their supplies a little. I do the 20k return trip, desperate for another can of orange and mango.

Returning to camp I collect the cameras, ride back to the Piccaninny Creek carpark and head off on the walk to Cathedral Gorge.

Before long I encounter some amazing eroded holes in the rock.


Eroded hole in the creek. This hole is about eight feet deep, I know because I dropped my hat in and had to climb in after it

These holes are caused by pebbles being swilled around during the wet season rains that flood this gorge. The largest hole is about eight feet deep and a really interesting shape so, I set up the large camera.

However before I can take the shot a tour group arrives and the people mill around me and the camera. By the time I've described what I do, and allowed some of them to look through the camera, the sun has emerged from behind the clouds, the light is now too bright and the shot no good.

There is an intermittent cloud cover so I wait for another chance.

After nearly an hour spent waiting for the right light, talking to more tour groups, and retrieving my hat from the hole, I finally get the shot and proceed into Cathedral Gorge proper.

The "Cathedral" is packed with people so I settle at one side to admire the view. I eat lunch then walk around looking for a photo. One of the tour guides is dispatched by her charges to ask "what's the photographer's story".

Her name is Wendy, she and other guides live full-time in the park during the tourist season then find a house in Kununurra for the rest of the year.


Cathedral Gorge.


A not so subtle reminder that these gorges are growing all the time. You wouldn't want to be camping here when this dropped in.

After a while everyone leaves and I have the place to myself, there's a lovely cool pool for my feet, a soft sandy beach for my back, and the only sound being that of an occasional leaf falling to the ground. Perfect.

Fri 13 Sep

I'm leaving the park today so pack up the tent and ride to the visitor centre. I buy another orange and mango drink and get chatting to the woman minding the shop. We talk about land management, track hardening, water usage, increased visitor numbers and other national park type issues.

I buy yet another orange and mango drink and continue chatting to the woman.

I buy a third drink "for the road" and, by this time, I've been there so long she gives me a staff discount.

An hour later I reach Calico Springs and it's a relief to get off the bike and walk it through the cool water.

I stop for a break and watch various vehicles drive through one of the crossings.


The second creek crossing at Calico Springs.

On leaving the springs I cross the last creek and encounter a man standing next to his Subaru. Apparently he tried to cross yesterday but the car got stuck then the motor died, due to water in the ignition he said.

He managed to reverse from the creek then set up camp for the night. When I met him it was lunch time the following day and he is still waiting for the engine to dry out, and the bonnet wasn't even up.

I briefly try to get to the bottom of the problem, after all he had managed to reverse from the creek so the motor must have been running at that point. Eventually decide I don't care, I just want to get back to the highway and some more cold drink.

An hour and a half later I return to the "mother ship" and raid the fridge, drinking four large tumblers of orange cordial before feeling that my thirst was satiated.

Sat 14 Sep

Herb Farlow (one of the CMCA off-road SIG members) and his wife were driving past and saw our truck so they dropped in. They have a 1400 series International and are doing a quick loop around half of Australia in 6-8 weeks. They stay to chat for a short while then hit the road. (With only a couple of months to drive around half of Australia they don't have much time to talk).


A fellow WORT owner drops in for a chat.

The rest of the day is spent packing up my bushwalking equipment and recovering from the Bungles trip.

Just as we are about to settle down for a quiet evening a 4x4 with trailer pulls in. Emblazoned on the side was the word "ROC" which turns out to be an acronym for Remote Outback Cycle Tours (if you don't count the word "Tours" that is).

On the roof was a rack with slots for a dozen or so bicycles, about five of which are occupied, with a similar number of people, presumably the riders, inside the vehicle.

Obviously the rest are following somewhere down the highway. This doesn't bode well for a quiet night as these groups tend to have sing-songs and just be plain noisy.

Fortunately they must be pretty tired from the day's riding, there was a small burst of guitar playing, but by 8:30 everyone is in bed.

Sun 15 Sep

We arise at 5 o'clock, as do the cyclists. The truck is surrounded by their small dome tents, looking like an hippopotamus at a gerbil convention.


Surrounded by cyclist's dome tents

While we are wondering where all these people go to the loo one of their members emerges from the bushes with a massive wide-mouthed shovel. Mystery solved.

We pack up and head for Halls Creek.

Not far down the road I see an object in the road; unable to determine what it is, I steer to straddle it with my wheels. As we get just a few metres away I see the hooked beak and upturned talons of a Wedge-tailed eagle.

It struggles and raises its head, staring straight at me with a single bright eye.

Just a few yards down the road is a dead wallaby and I think I know what's happened. Wedgies can be very protective of their meals, even in the face of oncoming traffic, and I suspect that this one was dining on the wallaby when it was hit by a car.

The poor thing is obviously quite badly hurt, if I had realised what it was earlier I would probably have run it over to put it out of it's misery. Now there's nowhere to turnaround or even pull over as the roads around here all seem to be built-up with steep-sided shoulders.

I've been driving around Australian roads now for over thirty years and have seen all manner of dead and dying animals on the road, you'd think I would have hardened myself to it but I find the reverse is happening, every time I see a distressed animal I am more upset than the last time.

We enter Halls Creek, the supermarket doesn't have a single piece of fruit but the service station does, so we buy three apples (at these prices that's all we can afford) then drive around behind the information centre to top up with some water.

While doing so we're accosted by a local for using their water. He ranted about people coming off the Tanimi and washing their vehicles, and what if everybody filled up a thousand litres of water, it costs money you know.

OK, I know that some outback towns charge for water and that's fair enough, so how much?

"Oh it's illegal to charge for water but you should get permission". So where do we get permission, given that it's Sunday?

"Don't worry, just ask next time" he said and strutted off.

I'd understand if we were giving the truck a scrub down, but surely anyone's entitled to get some drinking water.

We finish topping up our tank and leave town.

At a point about 50k from Halls Creek we see a cyclist ahead. As we get nearer it's obvious that he's a bit worse for wear, wobbling severely. We drive past but then start wondering of he's in trouble. "He was very erratic" Chris said, so we stop and let him catch up so we can see if he's OK.

When he gets to within a few metres I ask if he would like a drink, "Yes yes" he croaked, promptly pulling over and falling into a heap of limbs and bicycle bits.

He has a lot of trouble getting up with an obvious problem in his right leg. I ask if he has a cramp but he replies that he is partly crippled in that leg.

He guzzles a tall glass of water and asks for another. We also fill his water bottles but only add about a litre to his apparently adequate supplies.

He thanks us and proceeds to get back on his bike, falling over again, this time in the middle of the road. I help him up, rehang a pannier that had come adrift, shake hands and he is on his way.

He does seem to have plenty of water but his actions indicate that he is dehydrated, I assume that he is conserving his supplies. Maybe too much.

We are a bit worried about him but he has ridden all the way from Brisbane so, presumably, knows what he's doing.

Half an hour later we pull into the Mary Pool rest area, and very nice it is too.

Mon 16 Sep

We leave Mary Pool at about 8AM, just as our Japanese cyclist friend arrives. He seems in good spirits.

We drive all day with a few short breaks, not even stopping at Fitzroy Crossing.

At 3PM we pull into a great campsite known as "The Lake", about 90k west of Fitzroy Crossing.

Not long after we've settled in a couple we've camped with before pull in. They park and proceed to change a tyre on their trailer. Three fellows from nearby motorhomes saunter over to "help" (read "stand around and talk to the worker thereby preventing him from actually doing any work") and so do I.

Two of the others said that they wouldn't even know how to change a tyre on their rigs if they had a flat, unbelievable.

One also said that his fanbelt came off at Victoria River and he called his insurance company to have it fixed. A mechanic had to drive out from Katherine (190k away) to put it back on. Worse than that, the mechanic was expecting to tow the motorhome back to Katherine, so the owner didn't even know enough to diagnose this simple problem and inform the mechanic.

Words fail me...well almost...UNBELIEVABLE!.

No wonder insurance is so expensive.

Tue 17 Sep

We cruise down the highway, stopping briefly next to a giant boab for breakfast then enter Derby.


Now that's a big boab

Today we finally manage to get in touch with Adrian & Carrol, friends of ours with a 6x6 Thornycroft motor home. They've been up on Cape York and out of mobile phone reach for some time.

To illustrate the difference between the mechanical abilities of motorhome owners, and bearing in mind yesterday's diary entry, get this.

While on the rough dirt road to the Cape the Thornycroft broke a shaft in the transfer case. Adrian just happened to have a spare (and just happens to be a mechanic) so he fixed it right where they stopped. They were back on the road in two hours, and that's with a broken gearbox. Adrian would probably change a fan belt without even stopping the vehicle :-)

We spend the day in Derby, initially doing some shopping, then parking out at the wharf.

TIP: The Derby Coles is the cheapest supermarket we've encountered since Biloela in central Queensland.

We need to stay within mobile phone reception so move just out of town for the night.

Wed 18 Sep

We wait most of the day, trying to organise with a friend to pick up some Marsden Mats but we can't seem to co-ordinate things. At about 4PM we drive down the road and camp near the Willare Roadhouse.

Thu 19 Sep

Only 160k to Broome now so we make an early start, and pull into town at about 10AM.

We collect our mail then drive out to Cable Beach where we stay for a few hours. We're due to stay with friends tonight but want to fuel up first so drive down to the BP depot at Broome Port.

After filling up we check out the wharf then drive the 20-odd kilometres to the large ocean-fronted block of our friends, Collyn and Maarit.


A patrol boat moored at the Broome wharf.


Our friend's house.


Parked in the back yard next to our friend's OKA, and I used to think OKAs were big

We arrive just in time to share a bottle of wine on the patio while watching the sunset.

Fri 20 Sep

We piled into Collyn's OKA this morning for a tour of the Willie Creek area, drive up the main road to the pearl farm, then walk along the shore to have a look at the Indonesian fishing boats.

These boats and their crews have been caught fishing in Australian waters and brought to this idillic spot just north of Broome.

Apparently the captains are sent to prison but the crew are furnished with rudimentary facilities on the coast and pretty much left to fend for themselves.

On the return trip we decide to use the back road, a narrow track that crosses a vast mud flat.

Bisecting the mud flat is a tiny creek that must be crossed, it seems hardly even worth putting the OKA into four-wheel-drive but we do so just to be on the safe side.

Collyn lines the vehicle up on the creek while I get out to take a photo of the event, I put the camera on auto because I reason that I'll only have a couple of seconds to get a shot. Little did I know that I would in fact have several hours.


The OKA crosses a small creek...almost.


Seconds later it looked more like this

As the OKA climbs the far side of the bank the wheels begin to spin and within seconds the truck is bogged down to its axles. Oops.

There's nothing to winch from out here, so for three hours we battle with sticky mud, rising tides, and a broken high-lift jack, but to no avail.


Not a tree in sight, it'll be difficult to use the winch

Eventually we admit defeat and call Worldcare (vehicle recovery insurance people). Within forty minutes a recovery vehicle arrives and snatches the OKA from its sticky bed.

To be fair we weren't totally out of options (winching from a buried tyre for example) and, I'm sure, could have recovered the vehicle. But why have a dog and bark yourself?. A satellite phone, insurance company and recovery vehicle were at hand, so why not use them (providing you have a good try at the recovery first).

Sat 21 Sep

Maarit is up early to set up her stall at the markets, we follow an hour or so later. We park nearby, spend some time browsing the markets, then get a bike out and into the shopping centre and scout for a camp site.

Tomorrow is the "staircase to the moon" and we want to be camped in town to see it. The phenomenon is best viewed from Town Beach and there is a caravan park right on the beach, but we take one look and decide it's not for us.

Eventually we find a spot and move the truck to it.

Sun 22 Sep

Once you've seen a lugger, an art gallery and a pearl then I feel that you've tasted what Broome has to offer.

There's just one thing left for us to do and that's see the stairway to the moon, fortunately it's a low tide and a full moon today so we've decided to hang around and watch this event.

The truck is parked almost right on Town Beach and at about five o'clock people start arriving to get a good position.

We could actually see things just fine from our lounge room, but I want to get a photo from lower down, so we make our way onto the mud flats.

For nearly an hour we wait, eventually the moon rises and we see the so-called staircase.

To be honest (and maybe it's better on some days than others) I think this has been very much over hyped. Of course it's always an impressive sight to see a big orange moon rise, and even better if there's a reflection in some water, but to make it a major tourist event is stretching things a little in my opinion.

We eat dinner then leave town to the massive booms of a fireworks display. It's well after dark by now so we only drive to a rest area 22k south of the Roebuck roadhouse.

 

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