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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #042

Editorial

Finally, after about four years, we're back in the Kimberley. In many ways this is one of Australia's most remote places, at least in terms of distance from the main cities. Because of that however every man and his dog comes here in the winter.

That's good and bad. Good because you are likely to find someone to help if you have trouble, bad because it can be difficult to find a secluded spot all to yourself.

We also revisit the Bungles and I find that my impressions of this place have changed. Last time I thought it was OK, but not fantastic. This time I'm blown away, and was already making plans to return as we drove out.

So far the old Cruiser is holding up, it will be interesting to see if doing such a trip in a 23-year-old vehicle was a good idea.

 

Mon 22 May 2006

Up at around dawn, it's raining so we make an early start into the Alice.

We buy a few things and fuel up, spending around $700, then get out of town where there's nothing to buy.

We drive all the way to Redbank Gorge, a place Chris and I spent some time at a couple of years ago, getting there just in time to view the day's last light on the foothills of Mt Sonder.



Last light on the Mt Sonder foothills.


The Landcruiser at our campsite.

Tue 23 May

We walk into the gorge today. It's a lot dryer than on our previous visit, and doesn't look nearly as good.

I climb as far as possible into the gorge and get some photos from the side of the cliff.


Some views from inside the gorge.


Kevin relaxes after the walk.

Apparently this gorge is a series of 16 pools interconnected by narrow water courses. If you have a wet suite (the water is very cold) and maybe a li-lo you can explore them all, something I must do one day.

Wed 24 May

Today we plan to get onto the Tanami Track, but rather than go all the way back to the Alice, we take a shortcut and drive past Haaste Bluff.


Here's the panorama I took from the roof of the car. That's Haaste bluff on the far right.


Haaste Bluff.

After some time we reach the Tanami track, it's bitumen for a short distance then reverts to dirt. We fuel up at the Tilmouth roadhouse (very clean, $1.71/litre) and then top up at the Yuendumu community (filthy dump, $1.95/litre) and carry on.

I've heard that there's nothing much on the Tanami, it's just a shortcut to the Kimberley. And I have to agree. However we do find a very pleasant campsite at the Mt Doreen mine ruins.


There's plenty of old vehicles rusting away.


An old corrugated iron shed and fridge. Inside the shed I find some bird nests.


This is one of the ruined buildings at the mine. A combination of one photo taken just before sunset, and a second after dark.

Thu 25 May

Long day just driving. We don't need petrol but thought we would drop into the Rabbit Flat roadhouse anyway, just to check it out.

Rabbit Flat is closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we know that, but at least we figured we could drive in and have a look around. Maybe use the picnic tables and loos or something.

No such luck, the roadhouse is some distance off the road, and the access track is blocked.


The track into Rabbit Flat is closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

We have lunch on the side of the road and carry on.


Be prepared to meet these big buggers in outback Australia. This is a three-dog road train, they come larger.

Not far down the track we get a call on the radio from the lads. "You haven't seen our solar panels on the road have you?" they ask.

Bradley has been ahead of us doing about 95kph, and it seems that the wind got under his panels and peeled them off.

Within minutes we catch them up. The three Unisolar panels are lying in the middle of the track. It doesn't look good.

After some deliberation though we decide that things aren't as bad as they first appeared. Two of the panels have no damage at all, the third one is looking a bit sad though.

We bundle various pieces into both vehicles and carry on, looking for a campsite that will be suitable for fixing the panels.

After finding a spot we get to work. Bradley fashions a frame for the two undamaged panels, then he and Kevin screw them back on the roof.


Fixing the solar panels.

Meanwhile I'm looking into what can be done with the third panel. The wires and junction box have been ripped clean off. However I figure that, if I scrape some of the silicon from the panel's substrate, I can expose the area where the wires were connected. I do this, then Bradley solders some wire directly to the exposed metal.

Viola, one working solar panel. Physically it's in a bad way and cannot be mounted back on the roof, but electronically it works fine. From now on Bradley will plug it in when we camp and place it out in the sun on the end of a wire.

NOTE: The Unisolar panels have no glass. We use them on our truck, the idea being that they will take more hammer than other styles. Obviously this is the case. On the Cruiser however we use glass panels because we need more power, and with glass we can get 240W from just two panels. If ours fall off though there will be no repairing them.

That's it then, all done. Now a cold beer would be nice. Unfortunately for Kevin and Bradley the circuit breaker tripped when the panels flew off, and the fridge hasn't been working ever since. No cold beer for them.


Our camp on the Tanami.

Fri 26 May


Chris warms herself with an early fire.


Kevin's tent just after sunrise.

After a quick breakfast we continue along the Tanami track.

We intend to camp at Wolf Creek meteorite crater, however when we get there the campground doesn't look that enticing, so we have some lunch, a quick look at the crater, then head off. Might as well get to Halls Creek or even to the Bungles (aka Bungle Bungles or Purnululu) turn off.


These ring-tailed dragons are all over the side of the crater.


There's a deserted station on the side of the road. These are some of the outbuildings.

Just a few kilometres west of the Bungles turnoff runs the Ord River. There was a good rest area here last time we traveled this way, but I seem to remember it being on the other side of the road.

It looks like a new high-level bridge has been constructed and the road realigned, that may explain my confusion. Then again, maybe I'm just confused.

There's a lot of people in the rest areas so we camp on the other side of the river on the old low-level crossing, right in the middle of the road.

There are some huge boulders blocking the crossing so we shouldn't be in any danger of being run over. However it looks like they have only been there a day or so, judging by the fresh dirt and scrape marks, so Kevin and Bradley place some buckets and an old sign on the road, about 20 metres from our camp.


Camping in the middle of the road at the old Ord river crossing.

That was probably a good idea as it happens, because while we're sitting around having a drink we see some headlights coming our way. The car is coming pretty fast, but at the last minute the front of the vehicle dips, indicating that the brakes are being applied.

The driver has seen both our camp and the boulders. He's obviously a station hand on his way into Halls Creek for a big night out, and the old road is a good shortcut.

"Where the hell did those rocks come from?" he asks, "They weren't there the other day". He does a U-turn and screams off. For several minutes we can hear him gunning the ute as he crosses the new bridge and hurries towards town. He must be on a promise.

Sat 27 May


A whistling kite in the pre-dawn.


An ingenious way of indicating the water depth on the crossing. If the water is up to this mark then it's 0.8 of a metre deep at the deepest point.


The Ord River as it flows through the old crossing.

After breakfast we drive into the Bungles. It's officially a three-hour drive, but most people do it in two.


Bradley's Cruiser, a tour bus, and a dingo on the track into the Bungles.

For the most part this is a pretty good dirt road. There used to be a difficult section at about the halfway mark, at a spot called Calico Springs, however this appears to have been filled in, and is now nothing more that a shallow creek crossing.

We check in at the office, then make our way to the Walardi campground, about ten kilometres away. After selecting a spot, and leaving the trailer in place to reserve it, we drive to the Piccanniny creek car park. From here we can walk a few hundred metres into Cathedral Gorge, or thirty-odd kilometres along Piccanniny Creek.

We choose the gorge.


Some domes on near the beginning of the walk into Cathedral gorge. Note the termite mounds in the third photo.


Scenes from the track as it approaches the gorge.


Inside the actual gorge, Chris and Bradley are sitting near the camera on the right. To get an idea of the scale, note the other people over on the left.

It's only about a kilometre walk from the car park and well worth it, especially if you have time to wait for the tour groups to leave. They only get a few minutes, so it's easy to get the place to yourself if you wait a while.

Sun 28 May

Bradley and I get up early and drive around to the Piccanniny Creek area for some sunrise photos.



First light on the domes.

After breakfast we strike camp and drive north to the Kurrajong campground, this time leaving a table and chairs to reserve a spot, then head off to Echidna Chasm.

We walk into the chasm through an incredible landscape of conglomerate rock.


Access to the gorge is via narrow chasms like these.


So narrow that falling rocks get stuck.


This is one amazing landscape.

At the end the gorge opens out just a little, and we get a clear view of the sky.


Looking up from Echidna Chasm.

Kevin and Bradley are well ahead of us, and are already at the Mini Palm Valley car park as we return from Echidna Gorge.

On the radio Kevin says I really have to "come and see this". He doesn't elaborate as to the nature of "this".

We drive around to the other car park and Kevin leads us to the end of a small gorge. On arrival we see a pool but nothing of any real interest. "Look closely around the edge of the pool" he says.

I look, but still see nothing.

Then something moves, it's a tiny frog. As I approach another one moves, and another. There's hundreds of them, all sitting within an inch or so of the water's edge. Some in the water, but most are on the pebbles or the sand.



The frogs congregating around the water's edge.


A wasp drinking from the wet sand on the edge of the pool.

Mon 29 May

It's a long drive up to Kununurra, where we stock up on food and beer, then drive out to the Mambi Island boat ramp, about 30k along the back road to Wyndham.

I've been wanting to camp here since our last time through this way, about four years ago.

The boat ramp is no more, just a slab of concrete surrounded by mud on the side of the river, a victim of last year's wet season I assume.

It's still easy enough to launch a boat from the river bank though.

Tue 30 May

We stay at the boat ramp having a relaxing day. The lads go fishing, I take photographs, and Chris reads.


Kevin and Bradley go fishing.


A rainbow bee eater.


Mosquitoes hide out in the bushes during the day, unless of course you disturb them to take a photo. Note how this one gets big and fat on my blood over just a few seconds.


Some wildflowers and a cricket.

Just on sunset a car drives past the nearby dirt track, the sunbeams streaming through the resultant dust look great.


"God beams" in the dust.

Wed 31 May

It's beautiful and peaceful here on the side of the Ord river, there's the occasional fishing tour speed boat heading down river, but apart from that there's no sign of man.


Chris enjoys some quiet time.


Well mostly quiet.


While our panels catch some rays.

Today Bradley takes me out on the river, looking for crocs.

And we find plenty, in fact there's a croc every hundred metres or so. Some freshies, and some salties, but the biggest of them all is a huge salty we find sunning itself on a bank, just a few hundred metres from our camp.


A big freshy on a sand bar.


This goanna is swimming across the river, rather him than me.


Most freshies slink into the water as we approach.


While the salties just raise their heads to have a look.


Except this fellow, he is so large he doesn't care who gets close. In fact, he's probably thinking the closer the better.

Thu 1 Jun

From the boat ramp it's a short drive up to Marlgu Billabong, a bird lover's paradise. There's a hide here, it's placed at the end of a boardwalk and right in the lagoon. From here you can observe the birds at very close quarters.


A pied heron and another type of heron one I can't identify.


Duck families out for a swim.


An intermediate egret and a juvenile nankeen night heron.


Birds aren't the only things that fly around here.

I'm particularly amused by the Pied herons as they attempt to stand on the lilies. They manage to do so for between 5 and 15 seconds, before the lilly sinks and they have to jump ship. The time depends on such factors as the size of the bird, and the size of the lilly pad.


This lilly looks pretty firm.


Oh oh, it's sinking.


Time to bail out.


Not all the herons are fooling around, this one gets a feed.

I could spend days here, but before long it's time to go.


It's not a good idea to go for a swim around here.

We drive the short distance to Wyndham, where I have to post some photos and check my email.

Having done that, and spent some time up at the Five Rivers lookout, we leave town.

After a short drive we turn right and head west, finally we are on the famous Gibb River Road (hitherto referred to as GRR).

There really doesn't seem to be much on the eastern half of the GRR. The most obvious place to visit here is the well-known El Questro resort. It's quite nice by all accounts. "Accounts" being the operative word, as you'll need a healthy bank account to stay there.

I dub the place El Costo, and we move on.

Before long we cross the Pentecost River, and shortly after that we find a lovely secluded campsite on the side of a billabong.


This is the classic shot from here, with the Cockburn range in the background.

Fri 2 Jun

Still on the GRR, today we plan to get up onto the Mitchell Plateau. We reach the Kalumburu turn off at around lunch time, but drive another couple of kilometres to the Gibb River before stopping for a feed.

From here it's on to Drysdale station, the last chance to get fuel for some time. Drysdale is a real hub of activity, mostly because everyone who comes up this way drops in for something. There's a bar, restaurant, fuel, mechanical repairs, you name it. Plus it's still a working cattle station.

From Drysdale we continue north, turning onto the Mitchell Falls road after 100k. There's a campground on the banks of the King Edward River and we plan to stay there. It's on the other side of the river however, so we must cross that first.

It's looking rather deep, Bradley wades into the stream and decides it's a goer, then Kevin also goes through on foot so he can photograph the cars as they cross.


Kevin wades through so he can take photos of us crossing. It's OK, crocks don't eat Canadians.


Chris looking over the river to Kevin on the other side.

Then it's Bradley's turn with the trailer.


Ooo, that looks a bit wet.

Because we have a petrol motor and no snorkel I decide to put the tarp over the bull bar, just in case. As long as I drive at the correct speed this will stop water entering the engine compartment which can flood the motor and/or pull the fan through the radiator.


So far so good


It's getting a bit deeper.


Oops, must be a hole there.


No problems. (Photos by Kevin Keldson)

We get slightly wet feet in the cab, but the old bomb done good. It probably wasn't necessary to use the tarp, but better to be safe than sorry.

Just a few hundred metres along the track we find the campground on the banks of the river, and pull in.

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