Sep 24 – Oct 2 Broome to Cape Range National Park
Arrived in Broome shortly after noon, just in time to get seats in the pub for the Australian Footy Final being played in Melbourne. For the west – the West Coast Eagles from Perth, for the east – the Sydney Swans. The pub is full, with big screens projecting the excitement.
The pre-game show is all about Dame Edna making jokes about washing smalls for the team, singing her ditties, riding around the stadium throwing gladioli at the crowd. For some reason I thought she was British, but not so. She is as Australian as they come and the crowd loves her. They are getting pretty pumped, both in Melbourne and here in the pub in Broome.
See waitresses bringing around huge platters of wedge chips – look delicious so order some. Well seasoned and crisply fried, they are served with sour cream and chili sauce – excellent value for $7.50.
As the game progresses, the crowd grows and they are a highly vocal bunch. But this is a family event with lots of kids around, most watching the screen as intently as their parents. The crowd is good humoured and accommodates the cheers of the few, but highly vocal, Swan’s fans. The Swans win, the crowd deflates and we head back for a swim at the caravan park. The pool is the best thing about this place – huge and deep and scarcely a soul in it.
Next morning we are off to see the sights of Broome. Took the Port Road out to the Port ...a fabulous beach ...striated sandstone blocks broken off and tossed about like a child’s toys ...conglomerated rock ...where hard little stones are embedded in lumps of sandstone, looking like cookies with raisins, chocolate chips, mixed fruit, etc. embedded in it. In some places the beaches are so hard that 4 WD vehicles are driving on them.
Continued around the periphery of Broome to the lighthouse. That is certainly a worthwhile drive. Just amazing rock formations, massive waves crashing over the sandstone, basically sculpting it while you watch. In the distance, colourful kite surfers dance over the waves.
Also took a turn around the town of Broome itself ...not too much to see. There is a “town beach” but not much to look at. No big shopping areas here, just collections of small shops.
Next morning we take off on the Great Northern Hwy towards Port Hedland. This must be the most boring strip of highway in Australia. “Flat and featureless” is how I recently saw it described and that about sums it up. You are actually traveling on the fringes of the Great Sandy Desert. But it's not an interesting or majestic desert like you see in Namibia. No, this is flat with sandy soil, scrubby, dried up, dead-looking spinifex grass and a few other scrubby shrubs. Even the termites seemed to have forsaken large parts of it.
One pretty spot was the De Grey River Rest Stop. No amenities here, but a beautiful, peaceful location on the banks of the river. Lots of cows, calves, some steers and a bull with the biggest penis I've ever seen. It was not erect, but even so, it was literally dragging over the grass. I wonder if something is wrong with it. Couldn’t have been all that comfortable. But then what do I know about it.
Pulled out our chairs, and enjoyed some cold water as we sat there and tried to wake up for the final push to Port Hedland. The issue here, vis a vis the “flat and featureless” landscape is that the road through Western Australia has been pushed through at some distance from the ocean. There are no roads (at least thus far and as I write this we are about 700 km north of Perth) close to the shoreline. Towns are on the ocean, but there are 2-300 kms between towns. So you are stuck traveling for hours and hours and hours through the flat and featureless until you can turn west again towards a town and see the ocean. By contrast, the eastern shore of Australia has roads running all along the ocean so it’s an ever changing vista – and indescribably beautiful. The beaches here are beautiful too ...it’s just not easy to access them. And many of the access points are 4WD roads, not suitable for our campervan.
We are days ahead of schedule, but so far there just has not been anything to hold us in any one place so we move on.
Made it to Port Hedland and checked into Cooke Point Holiday Park. The most expensive night yet at $30 and no big whoop.
We are due for an oil and lube on the van, but Toyota told us there was a three-week wait. Checked another place - same story. Stopped at the Mitsubishi dealer and he fitted us in right away because it was the end of the day and he was already finished all his scheduled work. Oil, lube, and filter cost $150.
Port Hedland to Karijini National Park
First 100 km or so of the drive is fairly boring. We were wondering if we made a big mistake as this is a 400 km (roundtrip) detour inland. But the decision redeemed itself as we started to climb up into the mountains. I don’t know how high we climbed as there were no markers on road or map but I have the feeling we were quite high – at one point we came to the top of a pass and a poor road train was struggling mightily to make the summit – then we descended steeply into a green valley and the land of the gorges began.
Very beautiful – the colourful striations and banded sandstone making us drive with our mouth’s open – mine anyway.
At one point, we had Elvis Presley on the CD player and he was singing Dixie ....you know, where he goes “Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on!” Soul stirring stuff – both the song and the landscape.
Settle into Karijni Park for the night. This is a National Parks campsite, no water or power, but pit toilets
The mosquitoes are biting madly – have DEET all over my legs and feet but they already got a pint or two of blood before I cottoned on to their presence. Thought there had to be water around for those guys to breed – apparently not as there is no water here and the air is alive with them.
Other than the mosquitoes there is a lack of birds or any wildlife that we can see. There are warnings up about not leaving garbage out to attract dingoes, but we don’t see any.
Otherwise, the night is magical – with a sky so black the stars jump out at you. Billions and billions of them. I love bush-style camping, mosquitoes notwithstanding.
In the morning we continue on through the park. There are quite a number of gorges, some we see – and they are impressive, others are inaccessible without a 4WD vehicle.
We spend the next night at the House Creek Bridge Rest Area. This was our first experience with sleeping over for free at a rest area. There is an outhouse but that is it. It is a pretty place, set in amongst a lot of shady trees, on the banks of a creek – that would have water at another time of year. There were four or five other units camped there as well.
There wasn’t much privacy, but after having spent the previous night at Karijini without showers, and the temperature during the day having exceeded 40 degrees, we were desperate for a shower. We set up the solar shower and got naked – just kind of backed the van into the bush and hoped no one was out for a walk at the time. If they were, they were discreet enough to take another route once they saw us.
Steve tied the solar shower bag onto the roof of the van and set up some rocks over the bowl dust to stand on ....of course it all turned into a big mud pit, but at least from the knees up we felt a lot cleaner.
Watched a family of Galahs (large grey and pink parrots) in the tree above us. The nest was full of babies. There was another nest full of babies almost at eye level in a tree next to our van – looked like some kind of kingfisher – mother (or father) kept coming back to the nest with grasshoppers and such for the babies.
Eventually it got too cold and we had to go to bed – and found a humongous grasshopper had sought refuge on the ceiling of the van. Bugger must have been three inches long. They are VERY hard to catch. Eventually we think we chased him out the door. Never saw him again anyway.
In the morning Steve surprised some large kangaroos when he went out for his morning constitutional. So lots more wildlife in this area again.
Drove towards Exmouth today. It’s a pretty drive with lots of wildflowers in bloom at the sides of the road. In places the ground is carpeted in pretty bright pink or yellow or white. The road is ever changing again. Saw several big emus with their young. The first only had one chick, the second had about five or six.
Finally turned north up the cape towards Cape Range National Park – but first into the town of Exmouth where we’ll spend the night. The first thing we saw when we came into town was an emu and his young, then another, then another. Turns out they are a bit of a pest here actually as the adults can get quite aggressive if cornered. Apparently they are becoming habituated to the food tourists give them – not a good thing. In Africa they explained that an ostrich can gut a man in the blink of an eye with the talons on their exceedingly powerful feet – I imagine the emu has the same capability.
Tomorrow we’ll head down the Cape and into the National Park. It will be National Park style camping again so we’ll need to prepare, as there will be no showers, power, water or shops.
Cape Range National Park
At the park gate you have to pay the entrance fee of $9 and if you want to camp inside the park you book it there and. They assign you a park. None of them are very large, typically holding 8-15 "bays". They are completely exposed to sun and wind.
We are booked into Tulki Beach Caravan Park. It’s right on the beach, as they all are. We are perched just behind some big sand dunes. Driving down to Tulki we see a good-sized kangaroo nibbling grass - he didn't hop away too fast so we got a good look.
The toilet situation is worth a mention. They are actually called “Ozzie Bush Loos”. They don’t use any liquid. The principle is that human waste is composted and dried to 3-5% of its former bulk. There is an exhaust pipe coming off the top that spins in the wind. All I know is that they are clean, there are no flies and no smell. After a lifetime of camping in North American National Parks with true pit toilets (never mind our African saga with the long drops) this is sheer luxury.
After confirming our “bay” in Tulki Beach Park and paying the $5 per person/per night fee, we headed down to Yardie Creek Gorge – basically starting at the bottom of the park (total length is 74 km) and working our way back up.
We walked up the gorge – it was supposed to only take 30-40 minutes. It started off as a flat, sandy walkway. Then it switched to gravel with increasingly larger rocks. The gravel segued into big limestone formations that we had to pick our way around and over. Then the walk started to go up and it became a case of scrambling up and around and over boulders ...at which point Steve told me to stop coming. He continued on and it did get increasingly challenging. At one point he took quite a tumble. He didn’t go all the way to the end as a fellow coming down said it was another 15 minutes along and nothing to write home about ...so at that point Steve opted to climb down onto the floor of the gorge and follow the river along.
So it was nice enough ...but not too exciting.
When he returned we climbed the sand dunes to look at the coral reef ...it’s a very impressive reef, some 260 km in length from Exmouth in the north to Coral Bay in the south. A substantial portion of the reef is close enough in to shore to provide highly accessible snorkeling. In places the coral reef comes right up to meet the shoreline.
The best place for snorkeling that we saw today was Turquoise Bay. Water was exceedingly cold though. We also liked Sandy Beach and walked along it for a very long way. Not too many interesting shells, which is just as well as this is a protected marine conservation area and you cannot remove anything. As they say, if you take a shell you are stealing someone’s home.
So ...very tired after all the walking in the sunshine. The sky is blue as can be but a strong wind keeps you from getting hot and seduces you into staying in the sun longer than you should.
Came back and set up camp, using the van as a windbreak. Looks quite homey with our blue tarp as the “floor” and the rag mat someone left behind as our welcome mat. We set out our two lawn chairs and our stools ...and we are home. Steve popped a big pot of popcorn tonight – the old fashioned way – it was good.
The sky is sooooo black and beautiful. A billion stars twinkling down on us. Unfortunately the wind is also blowing hard and cold, driving sand into everything so we retreat to our very cosy (read tiny) van to read and watch the stars through the windows.
Left Tulki Beach this morning and proceeded up the coast towards the park entrance. Stopped and checked out the Lakeside Campground – it is reported to be the most desirable and we could see why. The sites are sheltered by trees – and sit behind a big dune so perhaps the cold wind is less intrusive. As well, there is snorkelling right at the campground. You can’t pre-book any of these campsites, it’s first come, first served. What you can do, though, is book into another campsite then ask your camp “host” to try and get you into Lakeside first thing in the morning if you are willing to stick around.
On our way up and out of the park we checked out most of the enroute beaches. They are all very nice – lovely white or golden sand, big breakers, reef close to shore. The sand really drifts here though and that’s obvious by the fact that many of the walkways to the beach – with wood-poled handholds, are partially covered over by sand drifts.
Finally arrived back in Exmouth about noon. There was a “Sunday Market” in progress, but not much to interest me – everyone seems to make jewellery or soap or take photos. Had a hamburger and fries at the bakery there in town. There was a big line-up of locals buying lunch so we figured that had to be a good sign. The burgers were made up fresh and they were good. Cost $6.20 each.
Took off for Coral Bay – arrived in mid afternoon and surprise – the place is packed. Wall-to-wall people and kids. Some “sites” have 4-5 tents on them, cars and boats parked haphazardly all over the place – people on top of each other – must be what a refugee camp feels like. Except, of course, we CAN go home and refugees cannot. Apparently it is school holiday for another week. So we may run into this again.
Pretty blue water, white sand beach but far too many people to be a place to hang out in. We’ll leave in the morning.