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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #045

Editorial

Finally, after four years, we return to Ningaloo, Chris' favourite spot. The Ningaloo reef runs just a few hundred metres offshore and the marine life is so prolific that, with some binoculars and a comfy chair, you can easily lose yourself for hours. Which is exactly what Chris does.

For years now I've heard about how great it is on Cape Leveque, just north of Broome, and in fact it was a trip done by a friend to the Cape in 1996 that planted the original let's-dropout-and-hit-the-road seed. After all this time we actually get to the cape, and find it a bit of a disappointment.

Which just goes to show that we are all looking for different things, and there's not much point taking advice from someone re the "greatness" of a place, you just have to go there and decide for yourself.

So, bearing that in mind, there's no point reading these diaries is there :-)

 

Thu 22 Jun 2006

We have a little shopping to do, stuff we couldn't find in Derby, but apart from that there's not much reason for us to stay in Broome.

One thing we do buy is a new fire extinguisher, two in fact. It costs $48 to refill our old one, and $42 to buy a new one. Go figure.

We also book the car in to have the gas looked at, but before that I want to see if I can hot wire it, partly for future reference, but also to prove to myself that I could have got it working in the bush if I had to.

We park at Town Beach and I get to work. My theory is that the safety timer is buggered, this timer accepts pulses from the coil and holds the solenoids open that provide the gas flow. This is a safety measure designed to stop the gas spewing all over the place if the vehicle is in an accident and the motor stops.

We either haven't got the pulses, or the timer is knackered. Either way if I apply 12v to the relays it should work.

I tap into the appropriate wire, connect it to the battery, and we have lift off.

Good, if they can't fix it tomorrow at least we can use gas until we get it fixed properly.

While here I replace the front right indicator assembly. It broke a couple of weeks ago so I tied it down with an Ocky strap. It seems though that the strap fell off at some point, because the other day I noticed the indicator hanging by its wires. I removed it, after all you don't need indicators in the bush, but we've since purchased a replacement so I suppose I should fit it.

There's one more thing to do while we're in the car park. We've really hammered our two rear tyres lately, a combination of very rough roads and too high a tyre pressure is to blame. All our tyres have large chunks of rubber missing, and in at least one case the steel belting is clearly visible.

There may well still be a lot of life left in them though, and I don't want to have them changed just yet. However we are about to cross the Gunbarrel Highway, 500k of rough unmaintained track, and it doesn't make sense to start such a journey with two bad tyres.

The solution, buy two tyres and take them along for the ride. If we don't use them they'll keep. If we blow the bad tyres we'll have replacements. The only trouble is, where to put these two extra spares.

After trying several options it becomes apparent that the only feasible place is on top of the two existing spare wheels. This I do with the help of two ratchet straps. He's hoping they hold.

Now we can drive out to our friend's place for the night. Collyn and Maarit live in a fantastic house on 10 beachfront acres about 20k out of Broome. They have just completed a trip through China, Russia, and several countries ending in "stan", and we can't wait to hear the stories.

Maarit has stayed on in Finland, so Collyn entertains us for the evening. Collyn is a very interesting character. He drove across Africa in the 50s, was editor of several successful magazines, made a million, lost it, then made another.

He says he learned how to make money from Kerry Packer. Unfortunately he doesn't pass the secret along to us.

He is now a successful author, and he writes and sells his books from his house overlooking the Indian Ocean.

It's a tough life.

Fri 23 Jun

We leave the car with a mechanic to have the gas looked at. I tell them I think it's the changeover switch, they tell me they'll ring in a couple of hours. They drop us in town and we walk around trying in vain to find something of interest.

When we hear nothing from them I ring, "Oh yes, it's the changeover switch".

It will cost $265, that's a lot for us but I tell them to order one anyway, as long as it's in town by next Wednesday.

We then drive north to Point Quandong and find a fantastic camp site.


Our campsite at Point Quandong

Sat 24 Jun

We stay at Point Quandong, I spend the afternoon prowling the rocks at low tide.


Flowers and patterns in the sand.



Some of the weird denizens of the tidal pools.


Evening at Point Quandong.

Sun 25 Jun

Everyone raves about Cape Laveque, so this is our chance to have a good look for ourselves.

We leave Point Quandong and head up the Cape Laveque road. The road is badly corrugated and it's a relief to pull into Beagle Bay, an aboriginal community with a famous church. The church has much of the interior inlaid with pearl shells. It's mildly interesting, but not my style. The town is the usual sh*t hole, and they want $5 just to enter it.

We continue, and by mid afternoon drive to Middle Lagoon, a very pleasant campground owned by an aboriginal couple.

Mon 26 Jun

We leave Middle Lagoon and drive to the actual Cape Laveque. I say "actual", because in general the entire peninsular is known as Cape Laveque, but the "actual" cape is privately owned and features a caravan park and lighthouse.

It will cost you $10 just to look around, $16pppn to camp. Not this little black duck, and not a lot of other black ducks it seems, as about ten other unimpressed travelers stand around, hands pointedly well away from their wallets.

We continue to One Arm Point, the community is OK, relatively clean by community standards, but the view from the point is great. The tides up here are enormous, and we watch the eddies, standing waves, and swirling currents as we eat lunch. I wouldn't like to be out there in a small boat.

After lunch we go looking for "Bully's", a low-profile campground we had heard about.

We find a track in roughly the right place and turn onto it. It's getting late, so after about 10k we decide to just look for a spot in the bush. We turn down another track and find a fantastic place right on the water. This'll do.


The mangroves near our campsite.

Tue 27 Jun

Up bright and early to get some shots. The tide is out and I am lucky to encounter some birds fishing in the shallows.


An egret and a black-necked stork (Jabiru) rustling up breakfast.


Mangroves on the shoreline.

We no longer need to find Bully's, but decide to continue down the main track anyway, just to see what's there.

We encounter a man walking with a donkey (I didn't ask), then drive through a community before encountering an old fellow in a new Nissan 4x4. It's Bully himself. "Just make yourself at home" he says, "I'll be back later". I tell him that we won't be staying, but that we would look around for future reference.

Within a few hundred metres we reach Bully's camp. It's a very nice spot, and I'm sure Bully would have been great company for the evening. I feel a bit guilty that we free camped so close, but then I remember his new car, he's doing alright.

We then drive back down the crappy road to Barred Creek, just to the north of Broome. The top of the Cape Laveque road is bitumen, and the several kilometres before that is pretty good. But about 150k of the total 200k length is just terrible, and, having found little of interest, we have to drive back down it as we must return to Broome.

All in all we are very unimpressed with the cape, there were a couple of highlights, and I think it would have been very pleasant to stay with Bully, but we won't be back in a hurry.

We'll camp at Barred Creek, just north of Broome, then go into town in the morning to pick up our $265 switch.


Corellas on a dead tree overlooking our campsite

Wed 28 Jun

The switch is not in, that's bad luck. No, that's good luck, because a couple of days ago I rigged up a switch myself for about $2. It's not the full deal, and doesn't have the safety cutoff feature, but it will do for the moment and we'll be $263 better off.

We leave Broome and head south.

Four years ago we camped at Barn Hill for a week or so, and today we intend to camp there again. Barn Hill is a working cattle station, but they've opened up a part of their coastline for camping, and it's a fantastic place to be, or at least it was four years ago.

However when we arrive we find it to be way too crowded, there's almost nowhere to camp, and the few available spots are not good.

We carry on down the highway and stay in the Stanley rest area. Whether there are so many people at Barn Hill because it's early in the season, or because it's become popular, I don't know. I hope it's just the time of year, because we won't be back if it's always that crowded.


A wedge-tailed eagle abandons its road kill as a car approaches.


This cute little gecko is in the loo at the rest area

Thu 29 Jun

Bradley hasn't seen Port Hedland, we have however, and don't want to see it again, so we part company for a while. We'll meet up somewhere around Marble Bar in a day or two.

You can reach Marble Bar via bitumen roads, but where's the fun in that, there's another option we see on the map, Boreline Road.

Boreline Road appears to be a service road for some mines and a water pipeline, as such it's well maintained and a pleasure to drive on.

The scenery is great as well, and we stop on several occasions to explore the rock outcrops.



Some views of the landscape along the road.

We lunch on the banks of the De Grey River (note for future reference, great camp spot) then decide to explore some of the smaller tracks and to drive through Coppins Gap.


That's Coppins Gap in the distance, we should be able to drive through it, according to our map

After much ado trying to follow maps that are bad, or just plain wrong, we find Coppins Gap alright, but there's no way to drive through it as the map suggests. We manage to walk through by clambering over the rocks, then retrace our steps back to the "main" track.

We plan to camp tonight at Doolena Pool on the Coongan River, but by nightfall we're still driving around, in fact we're a little bit geographically embarrassed. Despite our maps we do eventually find our way back to the road and up to the gorge, finally making camp in the dark.

For the record, the maps we are using are totally wrong in this area. I've since looked at Bradley's GPS and it appears to be about right. I think a GPS system may be on the shopping list when we get home.

Fri 30 Jun

Chris tells me that there's a small pool not far from our camp. I walk up to investigate and find not one, but three pools, each higher up the cliff than the other.

In true Goldilocks fashion the lowest of the pools is a bit scungey, and the top pool doesn't have much water at all, but the middle pool is deep and clear, it's just right. On a hot day this would be a fantastic place to cool off.


View from the Doolena Pool camping area

Another "must return to" spot. For now though we must press on. Marble Bar is Australia's hottest town, but not today, we froze last night just a few kilometres away.

We haven't seen hide nor hair of Bradley yet, so I get on the UHF just in case he's in the area. He replies, he's just a few kilometres out of town.


Flying Fox lookout. There's actually a flying fox here that spans the valley, what on earth it is used for though is anyone's guess.


The swimming hole at Marble Bar

We leave Marble Bar, meet up with Bradley at the Comet Mine and continue along the dirt road towards the Great Northern Hwy.

About 42k from town we turn off into Glen Herring gorge. The wildflowers here are quite amazing, and I finally get some good photos of the Sturt Desert pea.


A Green Birdflower or parrot pea.


Sturt Desert pea

We leave Glen Herring gorge and continue west, turning into the old Spear Hill tin mine after about 28k. Here we have lunch and explore the ruins.


The ruins of the Spear Hill tin mine

Finally we reach the highway and turn south towards Karijini National Park, pulling into the Bea Bea rest area just as the sun sets.

Sat 1 Jul

First day in Karijini, we enter the Dales campground and meet the camp Kommendant...er host. What an officious woman. She demands that we choose a site from a printed list, we demand that we look at the actual sites and choose one we like. As it's early in the day, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to drive around and pick a good spot.

Eventually she relents, we drive around, choose a nice spot, then I walk back to tell her of our choice.


The campground is divided into separate areas each with their own name, ours is called "Dingo", we soon find out why

After a short break we walk along the gorge rim and down to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. Very nice indeed.


An amazing fig tree root system near Fern Pool.


Interesting rock formations at Fortescue Falls.


An overall shot of Fortescue Falls.


Some detail at the falls

For dinner we have one of our usual dishes, chicken something-or-other and rice. We both feel the chicken isn't right.

Sun 2 Jul

Chris is sick so we stay at the Dales campground. I erect the fly screen in the shade so she can sleep unmolested by the insects, then I sit around and read our latest Wanderer magazines.

When she wakes she feels better and I head off into the gorge, this time I go down to the other end, check out Circular Pool, then walk along the bottom in the direction of Fortescue Falls.


The red rock of the gorge wall reflected on the surface of Circular Pool, nearby is lovely ferny area with these maiden hair ferns.

Along the way I meet a young bloke who is obviously well into his photography. We walk together for a while talking about cameras and photography, then separate at the falls.


I spend quite some time exploring the reflections on the creek surface.

Later he drops into our campsite for a quick look at some of my recent shots. It's great to talk with someone who knows about photography, but it doesn't last as he must return to Paraburdoo.

I sit up late looking at the last few day's images, but I'm eventually driven to bed by the cold.

Mon 3 Jul

We get up at around sunrise, it's -3 degrees, and that's inside the car. The washing-up water we left out on the bonnet has frozen.

It's around to the Weano Gorge area today, but on the way we want to check out the new Savannah campground.

It seems to be an increasing trend in National Parks lately to move campgrounds away from the attractions and into private hands. This reduces the experience, and increases the cost. And the Savannah campground is a case in point.

Whereas you used to be able to camp within easy walking distance of the Red and Hancock gorges, you now have to camp 10k away, so you cannot "experience" the place anywhere near as well as you once could. Also, if you are in a campervan or other vehicle where the vehicle is your camp, you have to pack up and move every day to walk in the gorge. And what if only one of you wants to do so, with the old system one goes walking, the other stays in camp and reads or whatever.

And the price, Savannah is twice the cost of the Dales campground we've spent the last couple of days in, and it's not as good.

And to make matters worse, they're erecting safari tents and will soon be building a restaurant for Heaven's sake. A bloody restaurant!

I guess that's what people want, or at least enough people want, to make it worth the creation of all this infrastructure. People want to experience cuisine, not landscape, 5-star comfort not the environment, neighbours not wildlife.

It's happening everywhere, Ayres Rock in the 80s, Carnarvon Gorge in the 90s, and Karijini today.

Anyway that's enough rant for the moment, and besides, we found a great spot right near the Weano gorge area, it's both natural and free, so they can stick the new campground where the sun don't shine.

Once at Weano we only have time to do one of the walks, so I read the blurb to find the hardest one. It seems like the Spider walk and Kermit's Pool in Hancock gorge will fit the bill, so we don our walking boots and head off, following the track along the top of Red Gorge before descending into Hancock.


Small bush on the gorge wall, seen from the rim

Chris comes most of the way down but baulks at the final ladder, so returns to the top and walks around the rim.

I carry on and find that, by climbing the cliffs, I can get nearly all the way without getting wet.


Strange bulbous, water-filled growths on the gorge wall.


The creek widens to block the walk along the gorge floor, but you can climb up the cliffs and keep your feet dry

I make it to The Amphitheatre with dry feet, but then enter the Spider Walk and have to get my feet in the water if I want to continue to Kermit's Pool. Now I hate getting wet, but it's well worth it to walk through these gorges. I can't really describe what it's like in the pool and I don't have any good photos either because I think I was a bit late in the day. Next time I'll spend several hours here.


Three views of the Spider Walk.


Another tourist climbs into the Spider Walk.


The Spider Walk flows into Kermit's Pool.


Kermit's Pool empties down "The Shute"

When I return from the gorge Chris is ready to go, we think about camping in the spot we just found, but eventually decide we have to get a bit further for the day. Bradley should be in Tom Price by now, so we'll make our way there.

Some time later we book into the Tom Price caravan park. Yes, you read correctly, a caravan park, the first one for us in nearly four years.

It's a bit of a shock to the system being parked so close to so many people, but it's probably worth it to have an endless hot shower, that alone covers the $10pp cost I reckon.

Tue 4 Jul

While in Tom Price I decide to check on the fantastic wages I hear about for working in the mines. We've heard everything from $65,000 to $130,000 for driving a Haulpack dump truck, so I might just be tempted to see about a job.

We drop into the local Skilled employment agency to find that the money isn't as good as reported. Roughly $48,000 for 12-hour shifts, six on, six off. That equates to $22/hr for day shift and $27/hr at night.

Not bad, but not fantastic either. Still we've heard differently directly from people doing the work, so we're still not any wiser.

Either way we don't want a job yet, so we leave town and drive to Hammersley Gorge. Bradley already has a good job and was not interested in truck driving in a mine so he set off earlier, and is waiting for us at the gorge.

Before leaving town we go to the tourist information centre to obtain permits to drive along the mine access road. The permits are free, but you have to watch a safety video first, and what a joke that is. It's almost entirely aimed at a 16-year-old on L plates, with sections on fastening seatbelts, and using rear vision mirrors. I've been driving for 35 years and find it a little insulting to be forced to watch this crap.

What I expected was information pertinent to safety on this particular stretch of road, and that was almost entirely lacking, with one exception. Never wear red clothing or in any way display red objects. This is because the track follows the railway line, and train drivers are trained (sorry) to stop if they see anything red because it's a universal "something is wrong" signal.

Along the highway I see an injured owl, I stop and make several attempts to contact the appropriate wildlife care people, but they didn't seem interested.


A Southern Boobook that had been hit by a car.

We have no means to look after it, and I would probably get myself shredded trying to pick it up, so with much regret I leave it on the side of the road and continue to Hammersley Gorge.

After a quick look and an even quicker lunch we head off...again. Not much rest on this trip.



Check out the folds in the rock strata here at Hammersley Gorge.


Some Mulla Mullas with the gorge wall in the background.

Having acquired our permits for the railway access road we can drive along it to Millstream Chichester National Park, arriving at the Millstream end of the park late in the afternoon.

The only open campground is almost full, and after briefly considering an uneven and crowded position, we decide to try our luck on the road.

Before long we round Mt Herbert, really just a hill, and find a great spot on the northern side.

Wed 5 Jul




Several early-morning views from our campsite

We break camp early and find an even better spot within a few hundred yards, no matter, we'll stay there next time.

The landscape is fantastic, it's certainly worth spending some time here.

We visit Python Pool,


Python pool, a nice spot and that water would be very welcome on a hot day.

Then head back to the highway. Bradley wants to visit the towns of Karratha and Dampier, but we plan to drop in on two friends who are camping at a beach called "40 mile", 50k south of Karratha.

Gavin & Tracey own a bus called Hobohome (www.hobohome.com), we've only met briefly before so don't know them that well, but we do know the bus because they bought it off some close friends of ours.

Gavin and I have similar skills and interests, and it's great to chat with them for the rest of the day.

Thu 6 Jul

After another chat with Gavin and Tracey it's time to leave. We drive all day and pull in to the Barradale rest area at about 4.

The rest area already has quite a few happy campers in place, so we cross the Yannarie river and find a great secluded spot under the river gums.


White-faced heron.


Port Lincoln parrots (aka western Ringnecks or Twenty-eights)


Galah peers from it's nest log.


The cows come down to drink and dusk

Fri 7 Jul

We continue down the highway then turn onto the dirt road that leads to Ningaloo Station.

On the track we find another injured bird, this time a galah. It's in the middle of the road with a dead companion and surrounded by the rest of the flock, all alive I'm happy to say.


This poor little galah had been hit by a car

This time I do pick up the bird, although there's still not much I can do. I place it in a nearby field near a dam so at least it can get a drink.

It's very cheap to camp on Ningaloo station ($2.50pppn I think) but we decide to explore up the coast road towards Ningaloo National Park.

We encounter a lot of wildlife on the way, including a demented emu that circles the car several times at full gallop before heading off into the dunes.


A big red crosses our path.

We find several potential camp sites but continue towards the park. Last time we were in this area we stayed at Osprey Bay, about 30k north in the Cape Range NP.

NOTE: Most people refer to this area as Ningaloo, however Ningaloo is a marine park that borders the Cape Range NP, so technically you don't camp at Ningaloo (unless you're sleeping in a boat) you camp in Cape Range National Park.


This is an RAAF firing range, with a "No shooting" sign

We drive as far as Yardie Creek, the creek is flowing at present but it's very shallow and would be easy to negotiate with suitably low tyre pressure.

We don't see any need to cross though as we've already identified a great spot to the south, about 20k north of the Ningaloo homestead, and just outside the station boundary.


Our camp on the shore of the Indian Ocean, you can't get much closer than this

We no sooner set up camp when we spot a shark in the shallows and some turtles a bit further out. Chris is happy.

Sat 8 Jul

Chris has been looking forward to spending some time on the coast, and this looks like the place to do it.

We'll spend a couple of days hanging out here.


Plenty of wildlife here

Later in the evening I go in search of nocturnal wildlife, and find quite a lot of spiders and other interesting insects.


These little fellows emerge form their burrows at night, how cute.


Check out the little sea-lice thingy getting in on the action with some ants as they dismember a grasshopper

Mon 10 Jul

I guess we must leave although it's difficult to do so. It's relatively warm here, not that windy, and we have a great water-front location.

Ever since we were last in this area, about four years ago, we've wanted to see what's down the coast road from Ningaloo to Coral Bay, and today is our opportunity.

Bradley has broken a U-bolt and has gone on ahead to get a new one in Carnarvon, we plan to drive down to Coral Bay then head inland to Mt Augustus and meet him there.

The road is a little sandy in places but really just a normal dirt track. It takes us several hours to drive the 53k, but that's because we drive down any track that looks like it might lead to a campsite on the coast.

We do find several good locations, and will be back one day when we have more time.



This is a very nice potential campsite, while you can't see the ocean from the car it's just a few yards over the dunes

Eventually we reach Coral Bay, what a culture shock. This is the typical tourist spot that everyone takes the kids to, and it's currently right in the middle of the school holidays.

What a rat race, we fill up with petrol then decide to get a pie for lunch from the bakery.

It's 12:15 and everyone else has decide to get a pie for lunch as well. Chris stands in the queue while I hover at the back of the crowd, I don't do queues.

A little old lady spots the drink in Chris's hand and obviously decides she would like one too. I can see that she will loose her place if she leaves the queue to get a drink, so I offer to get what she needs from the fridge.

I then return to my spot at the back of the shop, the lady turns to Chris and says "What a lovely man", "He's not a lovely man" she replies, "he's my husband".

After consuming our much-waited-for pies (and very nice they were to) we are just about done with Coral Bay, only needing to fill up a gas bottle before we can leave.

It takes a while to find out where this can be done though, at the service station they only fill bottles at 8AM and 4PM which is no good to us. Eventually we discover that the supermarket will fill gas bottles as well, and we have it done, but at a price. $14.50 for a 2kg gas bottle, that's extortionate, we paid $4.90 at Kununurra just a few weeks ago. Coral Bay?, more like Coral Pay I think. They say that is the same price as paid in Perth which I find very hard to believe, I'm sure it's loaded because the town is chock full of tourists.

We pay up and leave, we didn't like the place last time we were here, and like it even less now.

As it's already 2PM we see little point in going to Mt Augustus, it's a lot further, and we would just get there in time to sleep and leave. So we drive down the highway to Carnarvon, eat at a fish & chip shop, then camp at Rocky Pool, about 40k out of town.


Full moon over our campsite.

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