Perth to Margaret River

Thursday 5/11/09 & Friday 6/11/09 (2 nights) - Bellevedire Campsite – Leschenault Conservation Reserve S33o 14.0515’ E155o 41.9259’ – Free as ranger did not collect fees

Saturday 7/11/09 to Friday 13/11/09 (7 nights) – Margaret River – CAW W283 – Big Valley Campsite $20pn ($140)

The highway south out of Perth is all freeway leading down to Mandurah. Mandurah is a sprawled out place and a city in its own right. It is growing fast, most likely due to the opening of the new freeway from Perth. There are some multi-million dollar homes on the canals. All of the caravan parks are on the stretch into town and none looked too appealing.  It started to rain as we arrived so we parked near the information centre and had lunch at the bakery and seafood outlet on the water. How does a prawn pie sound? Not too good, but with the creamy mornay sauce, it actually worked quite well – Jane’s choice not mine.

Leaving Mandurah, we followed the coast road and found some Thrombolites, finally ending up at Bellevedire north of Bunbury where we stayed 2 nights, where we met Jeff who was travelling alone and having problems with his Patrol and Avan combination after doing some rough work including river crossings and the wiring was playing havoc and the front Patrol suspension shaking. He was handy for some good camp sites further down the road and into SA. Friday morning we had a few showers and we spent most of the day lazing around which also gave me a chance to catch up with some work and sort out some issues.

Saturday we drove through Bunbury, filled with fuel and quickly dismissed it as being too busy for us. Having just come from Perth, we were after something that was much quieter. Bunbury has a few high rises and many housing estates being developed.

We pushed on along the old coast road towards Busselton. The area closer to Busselton has been overtaken with new housing development and when we finally arrived in Busselton we didn’t realise it except for the busy area again. It was quieter than Bunbury but maybe because it was no longer Saturday morning with all the vehicles rushing about. We visited the famous Busselton Jetty but we already knew it was having capital works done on it and it was closed (except the first 200m) to the public. It’s a pity as it is re-known for great diving and has an underwater observatory at the end of its 2km length.

We briefly pondered on staying in one of the local caravan parks as we had a parcel expected at the Busselton Post Office for Monday, but decided we’d come back with the car.

Between Busselton & Margaret River, the vineyards were very noticeable and all very close together. Just after Margaret River, we found the turnoff we were after and headed 10kms out to the Big Valley Campsite. We were rather surprised as we expected something a little different, but it was much better. Big Valley is a farm stay with power and water for only $20pn (it’s $15pn in the NP with no power and no water). We had a warm greeting and shown to a nice campsite on the fence line of the camp area, overlooking cleared paddocks of rolling hills with feeding lambs – very nice. This is a working sheep station although they have scaled back as the camping has been busier than they thought it would be. They have about 2500 sheep on about 650 acres. There are 2 camp areas both with large camp kitchens  and showers and toilets – one even has a pool table.

Sunday we decided to take a late drive down to Augusta about 40kms away. Along the way we stopped off at the Berry Farm for our first wine, liquor and port tastings – yumm! We also visited a couple of campsites: CAW5 W284 (Chapman Pool) is NP ($7pp/pn) and is heavily timbered but close to the river and had a boat launching area with only one designated caravan site and only had a couple of tents; CAW5 W287 (Alexandra Bridge Camping Area) looks like a shire camp @6pp/pn and had a lot of caravans there as well as a few tents, and a nice boat ramp but was also heavily timbered but some sites had sun for some periods of the day. At $20pn with power we decided we were best to stay where we were with the nice views and quiet.

Arriving in Augusta, the town itself is quite small but the area is larger and looks to be a very popular destination with a number of caravan parks. Some sort of surf carnival was finishing up and it was evident from all the cars leaving town with surf skies on their roofs. We quickly visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse which we read is the tallest in Australia and checked the prices – $6 or $14 for a guided tour. It was after 4pm, so we declined and may do it later when we come back down. We drove around the point and check out the water wheel build to provide water to the workers building the lighthouse – fed from a natural spring. The spring has dropped in level, so a pump now does the water and the wheel is covered in calciumified lime so no longer works.

We checked a couple of caravan parks – at $27 and $29 pn they were quiet reasonable compared to parks up north and both were right on the water, however, we were told the fishing is quiet as the fresh was still running out of the river and the target fish was herring and whiting, so decided we’ll just spend more time at Big Valley.

On the way back, we dropped into the Augusta Bakery for some fantastic pies (we hadn’t had lunch). They also make pizza on Friday nights and my bet is they are good too.

Brian & Denise arrived on Monday evening, and Tuesday we all left at 10am on a wine tour with Bush Tucker Tours. They picked us up at the campground on time. 4 vineyards, brewery, cheese factory and chocolate factory. Lunch included a well presented bushtucker lunch at a winery and witchetty grubs were offered and accepted. Jane even managed to get Denise on the wine, and Denise doesn’t drink – tsk!

Wednesday drove into Busselton to collect mail (HR brackets and T shirts and caps from Kedron). Visited the jetty which has an interesting interpretative centre, and drove around the Dunsborough, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and down the coast road popping into some lookouts along the way, down to the canals at Yallingup. We dropped into a couple of wineries along the way as well as one of the breweries (BushShak Brewery) – that had no beer!

Thursday and Friday, we toured more wineries on our own as well as visiting the Mammoth Caves and other forest drives and coastal areas down towards Port Augusta. The Venison outlet had fantastic deer product that we enjoyed over the next few weeks.

Most of the wineries were very well presented spending a fortune on their gardens and welcomed tourists with opened arms – favourites were Vasse Felix, Duckstein Brewery on Saracen Estate (great food and German beers), Voyager Estate (beautiful roses and the biggest flag). The woodworks is a must visit – they have outstanding timber furniture on display – some dining tables and desks with a $25k price tag and you can see the value in them.

On return to camp on Friday, a cross country horse racing club had invaded the vacant paddock that was our outlook, but it wasn’t until Saturday morning when the sausage sizzle van started up at 5am with a greasy bacon smell wafting through the van that we looked out the wind and decide it was time to go – he had parked on the opposite side of the low fence blocking our view completely and the smell was too sickly to put up with. The owners refunded our fees that we had paid until Monday and we headed off.

 

More photos here and here

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New Norcia to Perth

Sunday 1/11/09 – Cee & Sea Caravan Park, Rockingham – $32pn ($32)

Monday 2/11/09 to Wednesday 4/11/09 (3 nights)Karringyup Waters Resort, Perth – $30.60pn

The road along the Great Northern Highway towards Perth took us through the Swan Valley. This area has plenty of wineries and accommodation, not too different to the Hunter Valley in NSW.

[bitch]

We headed through the eastern (inland) suburbs of Perth where we could clearly see the high rises of the city in the distance to the west with our destination being Cee & Sea CP at Rockingham. We chose to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city, and had rung ahead with no answer but decided to head over anyway, much like we had most anywhere else. On arrival, the office was closed, but a tenant suggested setting up and seeing the caretaker in the morning. The caretaker came around about 9am, puzzled with our presence. He decided to give us a hard time and said we would have to move to the site adjacent to us – when asked why as we’d only be here a couple of days he umm’d and ahh’d and final settled on “it’s just the way it is”. He asked me to come to the office when it was opened between 1-5pm (unusual hours for a caravan park)  to see if we could stay at all. He looked at the van and asked how long it was then commented that he would have said no if the office was opened when we arrived as they are not allowed to take vans that large, but was stuck for words when I questioned a Jayco of equal or longer length a few sites up. He obviously had a bee in his bonnet about not checking in before setting up. It was laughable, and I told him so, questioning why they advertise the park as a tourist park. Naturally, our recommendation is to avoid this park completely. The park is bare, no trees and the new slabs have been installed for permanents. A large grain silo borders the park and noise could be heard all night. Disappointing as Badgers Caravan Park Reports on the internet listed this as a good park.

[/bitch]

We rang Karrinyup Waters Resort on Perth’s Northern Beaches who were friendly on the phone and pleased to take us, so we politely dropped $32 in the caretaker’s hand while he was mowing, declining to wait until 1pm for the office to open and headed over to Karrinyup. On arrival, we were greeted with friendly conversation, handouts of tourist things to do, a choice of nice sites (we chose a nice site adjacent the lake where there were ducks and water fowl), and were even asked if we needed anything like leads or hoses. And it was cheaper than Cee & Sea – a big change and we were pleased with our move.

On Tuesday, I spent an hour or so with the diesel heater to figure out why it wouldn’t run. I cleaned the fuel filter which was dirty. The heater took a few times to start, producing a lot of smoke. I noticed that the smoke is produced even if the fuel line is disconnected, so it appears to be related to the air/fuel mixture with the diesel heater. Once it started, the smoke disappeared and everyone was happy again. Now we’re ready for the cold of the south coast!

Today it was 31C with very little wind – the hottest and calmest we have seen it for a few weeks. It was a great change. We visited Hillarys Marina for lunch. Hillarys is a beautiful marina built on the northern beaches of Perth. It was pretty busy as it was Melbourne Cup Day, but there were plenty of restaurants to choose from, so not a problem. Some fantastic ice-cream from “Bellisimo Gellantino” finished off the meal nicely.

On Wednesday, we visited Fremantle touring the Old Fremantle Goal. We went on two tours – Doing Time Tour and Great Escape Tour – which took a few hours and were well presented by an Irish guide who had a good sense of humour and was entertaining. There were some interesting stories told of arson and attempted escapes during the tour – some were good candidates for Darwin Awards. There is a lot of history here, back to the convict days and more recent history to when the gaol was closed. Some great artwork on walls exist from some truly talented prisoners. There is also a Tunnels Tour which takes you through the tunnels under the prison.

After the gaol tours, we headed over to the Fremantle Maritime Museum but, alas, it’s closed on Wednesdays. We headed around to the docks and the port to watch the ships as Fremantle is the port for Perth.

The freeways around Perth appear to be well designed but when peak hour comes, they come to a standstill – much the same as any other Australian city. The addition of the railway line in the median strip looks to be a fantastic idea with train stations on the same strip. Why don’t other cities do this?

Big cities are not for us – we live in one – so it was time to head off back out of the city.

More photos here and here

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Jurien Bay to New Norcia

Friday 30/10/09 & Saturday 31/10/09 (2 nights) – New Norcia Sports Ground – CAW W537 – $6pn

Friday, we moved on to Jurien Bay which is a bigger town than the other villages. There are some new housing estates with nice homes going up in this area. South of Jurien Bay is a tiny village called Cervantes which looks like a top fishing spot with an island just offshore. Had the weather been better and we had more time, we would have stopped here a while. There’s not much here except a caravan park and one shop and a garage.

To the south of Cervantes is Nambung National Park where the Pinnacles are located. Your NP pass gets you into the Pinnacles and even though the tourist brochures say that it is not suitable for caravans, you can drive into the parking area where they have caravan parking. You can unhitch here then drive into the Pinnacles for a look around. The interpretative centre looks like a lot of money has been spent on it but the contents are lacking. The Pinnacles are limestone rocks sticking out of the desert sand. The drive through is interesting. See the photos.

The drive from the Pinnacles to New Norcia is a mostly nice drive through the farming land NE of Perth. The farms seem to get smaller than they were up north and the hay harvesting was in full swing with rolls of hay balled up all around the farm lands. We chose the most direct route via Emu Downs Wind Farm, and a short amount of dirt road to Moora then a little further west to the Great Northern Highway then south to New Norcia.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in New Norcia and Brian & Denise were already camped there in their bus on the oval opposite the monastery museum for $6pn but if you want power there is a camping area behind the garage.

New Norcia is a historical monastery town owned by the Benedictine monks of Spain. It use to contain a convent and schools however these have not been viable in more recent years and are now used for shorter duration school excursions and workshops. Six monks own the monastery, with many helpers that work there. Church is not forced on visitors or people who work there, but the monks lead a very strict life and attend prayer 6 times a day. For $23 each, we attended a guided tour of the monastery and a self guided tour of the art gallery. It was well worth it with lots of interesting history being told. The art gallery has some very expensive and old biblical artwork and even if you’re not interested in the church it is worth a visit. You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the art gallery but are allowed during the guided tour.

The hotel is worth a visit – the food was great and the monks make their own beer, which we assume is blessed and OK to drink, and doesn’t taste too bad either. The bread made on the premise is mouth watering with a 500g loaf easily consumed between two in a single meal – and allowed by the rules of the monks (each person is allowed 1lb of bread per day)! The main highway runs right through the middle of town carrying B-doubles on the way.

More photos here, here and here

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Geraldton to Jurien Bay

Tuesday 27/10/09 – Ellendale Pool – CAW5 W439 – $5pn (honesty box)

Wednesday 28/10/09 – 7 Mile Beach (Dongara) – free camp – S29o 10.1160’ E114o 53.3072’

Thursday 29/10/09 – Sandy Cape Recreational Park – Jurien Bay – $15pn – CAW5 W428

Tuesday we left The Chapman Valley Fishing Park after saying our goodbyes to Nicki and the girls.

Dropping in at the Greenough Pioneer Museum (pronounced Gren ‘uff) on the way out of town for an interesting self guided tour, we were provided with water to fill the tanks and some hints on where to go on out travels. Two places worthy of mention were Hamlet Township ruins which were just down the road and New Norcia (which we had never heard of – but more on that in a later post). The Greenough Museum has some very well maintained collections of the past in pristine condition including a twin toilet – imagine sitting their sharing that space with someone else!

For lunch we dropped into Hamlet, as recommended. Hamlet is a completely restored town. The main road use to pass straight through it. You can walk around the town through each of the buildings. It is a very interesting tour which includes housing, police complex, goal, churches, convent and schools. Some of the churches are still in use today. The bell was hanging near the convent, complete with rope all the way to the ground, so the temptation was a little bit too much – sorry if I disturbed any ghosts! Lunch at the cafe was excellent and highly recommended.

We decided we would head inland to Ellendale Pool and camp for the night, so headed through a town called Walkaway and past a huge Wind Farm. There are 54 wind generators here standing 78m high, with a rotor diameter of 82m and weighing 130 tonnes at a capital cost of $210 million. The van was dwarfed by the huge turbines.

Arriving at Ellendale Pool we found the area near the water cramped with caravans and even more trying to jam in there, some parking out on the roadway. We found t he entrance to the camp area at adjacent and had the whole big area to ourselves which didn’t bother us at all.

 Wednesday we didn’t leave Ellendale Pool until after midday after talking to a couple who were waiting the birth of their new Kedron caravan. They were excited to see a Kedron as they were looking forward to getting out of their Jayco camper which they emptied out into the camp area every time they stopped.

Heading back to Walkaway, we dropped into the Walkway Rail Museum and around this time, I believe we agreed we had seen enough museums for now. We stopped at Hampton Inn, which is not far from Hamlet, for another great lunch.

By the time we finished lunch the skies had opened to a drizzle and the wind had come up stirring the sea up. We had a look at one of the beach areas (Flat Rocks) for a suitable campsite but moved onto Seven Mile Beach where Brian & Denise were already setup. Our camp hosts from 40 mile beach (near Karratha) were also hear after finishing their season as camp hosts.

Thursday we moved on toward Jurien Bay. We stopped at the bakery in Dongara for some nice pies and cakes (you’re probably thinking I have a pie fetish by now and you may be right, but I only like good pies) and filled the water tanks at the local sports ground. We took the coastal road through the small villages of Cliff Head, Knobby Head, Coolimba, Leeman and Green Head before reaching Sandy Cape Recreational Park north of Jurien Bay, where we set camp for the night. The beach here was well protected and there was a large school group at the other end of the park.

At Leeman we found a nice little block of land which was advertised as being beachfront (mangroves blocked the view and access to the beach) – 252m2 for $250k – unbelievable!

Most of the little villages along the way were quite at this time of year and most had protected beaches with Jurien Reef protecting them from the ocean swell. My favourite was the horseshoe shaped beach at Green Head.

Approaching Sandy Cape Recreational Park, the map showed a northern and southern entrance and not having been here before we assumed that since we were approaching from the northern end, the northern entrance was most appropriate.  We knew exactly where we were on the OziExplorer map and could see where the camp ground was, however, there was no sign posting and the track got narrower and was overgrown in areas. We were starting to wonder if there was a campground here at all. Towards the end, we reached the intersection with the main entrance from the south which was a wide dirt road which would have saved a lot of scratches on the van windows! Reading the map at the park entrance, we discovered we had just travelled along one of the 4WD tracks – not an issue for the LC and Kedron except the width!

Friday morning it was 15C inside the van and thought I’d start the diesel heater for Jane before she got up. To my disappointment, the heater wouldn’t start and shut itself down. Looks like we finally have to clean the fuel filter – after 2.5 years…

More photos here, here and here

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Kalbarri to Geraldton

Thursday 22/10/09 to Monday 26/10/09 (5 nights) – Chapman Valley Fishing Park (private property) – S28o 30.7535’ E114o 42.6275’

$50 good-will including a few hours fishing in the stocked dam

 Thursday morning we left Murchison House Station for Geraldton visiting the Pink Lake, Port Gregory, the Lynton Convict Depot ruins, Horrocks and Northampton along the way.

Lyton Convict Depot was built in 1853 but was only used for 3 years after completion due to hardship of the area. Some of the buildings have been restored while others remain in ruins. The depot contains a complete village – police station, goal, stores and housing. Just around the corner, the home of the original settler responsible for the depot has been restored.

We had hoped to camp at Coronation Beach, north of Geraldton ($10pn) but it was full but we were lucky to come across the owner of the Chapman Valley Fishing Park (Wayne) who generously allowed us to stay on his adjoining property. The fishing park caretaker (Nicki) that lived on the property with her 2 girls and fed the fish each morning and evening which gave us a chance to check out how things operated. It was amazing seeing the water start to churn up at feeding time as the stocked silver perch heard the ute turn up for the feeding and even more so when the water boiled as the feed was thrown in. There were also plentiful marron in the creek at the back of the property and we gained a few tips on how best to catch them, which baits to use and how to best contain the bait. The tanks of live barramundi were also fantastic and watching the barra feed on the fish pellets gives you a fright the first time they take one as they are so fast you don’t see them move and they make a huge boof sound. Some barra were a good meter long… Thanks to Wayne, Nicki and the girls for putting us up and their great hospitality, especially Nicki for dragging me around in the ute with my fasination of the fish feeding and all my questions!

Geraldton is an old town but has some new areas and shopping centres. The waterfront has been dressed up in recent times and work is still underway and looks fantastic. It is home to a large fishing fleet, mainly of cray fishing boats. There is a huge wheat storage facility on the harbour.

The Old Geraldton Goal is adjacent the Information Centre and has some interesting information and displays of past days. The Geraldton Museum has very professional displays of local history and a large focus on the Batavia wreck and mutiny. They show a video of the Batavia mutiny in their cinema which runs for about 55 minutes which we watched. Well worth the “optional” donation.

The HMAS Sydney II Memorial is a masterpiece sitting on the highest point looking out to sea. It is a memorial to the 645 men lost when the HMAS Sydney II was sunk off the WA coast during World War II. The names of all men are listed on the granite wall and a stainless seagull representing each person makes up the dome.

Sunday, we met Brian & Denise at the Fishing Park and Wayne spoke to us about his business. Brian was already there when we arrived and had already given Wayne the heads up on bringing tourists in as he had previously with his prawn farm in Mackay. Jane and I had a fish for about 1.5 hrs for 9 fish between us. The bites were slow – nothing like the churning I had witness at feed time earlier in the day. The silver perch don’t fight too hard and if you allow them time, they will swallow the bait before giving a run which isn’t much challenge with the rods and reels provided at the park. I lost 3 hooks to fish that chose to swallow. Wayne places all caught fish in his top tanks to allow them time to recover before replacing back in the dam. This place would be a great place to bring kids for a Sunday fish – nice and safe and virtually guaranteed of a catch.

The four of us left the fishing park for some lunch at the Chapman Valley Winery down the road. Unfortunately, it was just after 2 when we arrived and the kitchen was closed but we settled on a light lunch of brechetta, warmed brie and fluffy scones – all made on the premises and all scrummy. A quick run around the wines on offer for tasting saw the girls a little merry, and the purse strings relax to buy a couple of bottles before settling in the lovely grassed lawn area for lunch. After lunch it was off to the museum in Northampton (Chiverton House) which has a huge variety of mementos from back in the late 1800 to early 1900 from the local area including photographs, clothes, household goods and appliances and a large selection of farm machinery. We were given a guided tour by the lady who lives in the adjoining house who grew up there and it was very interesting and she is a great story teller – if you go there, take her up on the tour offer – we nearly declined!

Towards the end of the tour, a storm came over – our first rain since leaving home – nearly 4 months ago! We hardly knew what it was as it had been that long. We left the museum at 6pm – 2 hours after closing time – as our guide loved to show people the museum – what great hospitality. Retuning back to camp, it appeared it hadn’t rained much but later the storm came back around and gave us a lightning show and few drenching – all welcome – and it was still overcast and a few light showers in the morning.

Monday the car was booked in at the Toyota dealer to see if they could correct the problem with the tail lights. In preparation, I removed the rear drawers and the side access panels (which was a pain in the rear) in case they had to get at the trailer light ECU which is located behind the rear quarter panel – good design Toyota! The car was dropped in while we walked around Geraldton for a few hours. It was finally returned to us with the problem solved – it turned out to be a connector not fully pushed together under the dash .An issue I had with the rear door not locking intermittently ever since the third party alarm was installed was also magically corrected, so it appears the dodgy alarm guy (who won’t answer his phone) may have been at fault.

More photos here and here

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Shark Bay to Kalbarri

Monday 19/10/09 – Murchison River – CAW W448 – Galena Bridge (Murchison River) – Free Camp (max 24hours)

Tuesday 20/10/09 to Wednesday 21/10/09 (2 nights) – Murchison House Station – S27 38.7705’ E114 14.2490’ – $11pp/night ($44)

Leaving Denham on Monday morning, first stop was Eagle Bluff which has a fantastic boardwalk lookout area which looks over Shark Bay to the west.

Next stop was Hamelin Pool to look at the stromatolites. Hamelin Pool was originally a telegraph station and tours are available but not on the day we were there :-(. There is evidence of shell mining with a quarry left in the area. http://www.sharkbaywa.com.au/pages/hamelin-pool-stromatolites/

We spent Monday night camped beside the Murchison River at the Galena Bridge. There are good facilities here and the area was busy so we chose a spot on the opposite side of the river where no one else was camping – much better. (Why does everyone insist on camping on top of each other?)

Heading into Kalbarri, the first thing you will notice is the wild flowers which are growing all over the sides of the road. The second is the wild goats roaming the area. There are plenty of photos in the photos link at the end of this post.

Kalbarri is a seaside holiday town that is popular with Perth holiday makers – the tourist brochures had us hyped up with their slogan “Kalbarri – You’ll Love It!” It was reasonably quiet during our visit as the peak season was over. We headed into town and seeing it was still windy, we decided to head stay at Murchison House Station, just outside of town. (There is no free camping in or around towns in WA and this is well sign posted coming into all towns.) We had the camp to ourselves but it is not really suitable for caravans despite being advertised and signposted as suitable, as the ground is unlevel. The campsite is on the Murchison River but there was not much water at this time of the year. Murchison House Station was previously owned by an Indian prince and has had a lot of publicity in the past with his wife contracting AIDS. It was originally a sheep station, with the shearing shed intact but not in good repair. The station now farms wild goats – with thousands being gathered each year for overseas markets. The farm has some pet goats and a pet calf that follows the goats around all day, thinking it is one of them – very amusing.

 A drive south of Kalbarri took us around the lookouts around the headlands. There are some very scenic areas worth looking at along the coast and well worth the drive. It was windy and cool the whole time we were on this drive.

We spent Tuesday visiting the gorges in the National Park. The day was hot as we were out of the wind but we enjoyed the walks. Ross Graham & Hawks Head  are easily accessible via bitumen road whilst Natures Window and Z Bend are down a long corrugated dirt road and have walks down into the gorges.

At eastern end of the NP there is the Warribanno Chimney which can be seen in the distance from the road. It is worth a drive in and a walk around the ruins of the chimney which was used as a lead smelter during the mining days.

More photos…

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Carnarvon to Shark Bay

Saturday 17/10/09 & Sunday 18/10/09 (2 nights) – Denham Seaside Tourist Park – $27 pn ($54)

We left Carnarvon planning on an overnight stop at Gladstone Scenic Lookout (CAW5 W462) but we arrived by lunchtime so decided to have lunch and move on to Denham. Approaching the lookout (which looked like a mound of mine tailings), it was easy to see Brian’s bus at the top and he just as easily spotted us coming up the road as he called us on the radio. From the lookout, you could see all the way to Shark Bay. There is a camp at Gladstone that only charges one or two dollars per night but we decided to move on.

First stop before reaching Denham was Shell Beach to look at the magnificent and well publicised beach full of shells – these turned out to be small bleached shells that had no colour or character – very disappointing and by the graffiti on the interpretive signs it was obvious others were similarly unimpressed. Nevertheless, it was covered in shells but the interesting thing was the sign that banned the removal of shells even though they were mining them at the southern end of the beach – go figure!

We stopped off at Whalebone Bay free camp on the way into Denham but decided against staying as only overnighting was allowed, although we’re sure the people setup there were staying much longer.

By the time we reached Denham it was getting late in the day, so we headed to the CP and setup before it got dark. The park was neat and tidy and it was obvious some recent work had been done as everything looked pretty new – we’d recommend this park even though one of the ladies behind the reception was a bit frumpy.

Saturday evening, I rang around to see if we could score a fishing charter for 4 of us for the next day but no one seemed to be going out and we only got offers for the Monday but we weren’t going to be around. We found out the area was best for snapper but there was a limit of 1 snapper per person in the bay – hardly worth a $200 charter fee (each).

Sunday we headed around to Monkey Mia only to find this was to be the best day we had seen in a long long time – there was hardly a breath of wind all day and the day would have been spent better fishing! At Monkey Mia, an entry fee is charged by way of parking fees. There is an interpretive centre and the dolphins are fed only 2 or 3 times a day and only if they come in during the morning. We missed the earlier show and they didn’t come in again until just after 12 (so no feeding) while we were having lunch and only 2 showed up – so a bit disappointing for what the area claimed to be. The water was glassed off so smooth and plenty of small boats left the ramp. There is a caravan park at Monkey Mia which was charging over $40pn.

After lunch we headed up to Francois Peron National Park, having misjudged the distance (yes, I know, I should have checked myself) we ran out of time and should have went early in the morning and spent all day there – we didn’t get back to camp until dark. We also missed out on the natural spa at the homestead due to coming back late. The road through the NP is a sandy track that leads all the way to Cape Peron, some 50kms north. It is an enjoyable drive with some areas being soft, so 4WD and reduced tyre pressures are needed. We took a walk a walk around the beach at Cape Peron instead of the sign posted track that most people do – there were thousands of birds resting on the beach and the dolphins that were absent from Monkey Mia showed up – all for the NP entrance fee (we bought an annual pass earlier on so we didn’t have to continually pay) – bargain.  A short drive from the cape around to Skipjack Point took us to a boardwalk where we stood for some time watching dugongs and schools of sharks and fish from a high vantage point. Leaving Skipjack Point, we looked in at Gregories campground to find a plentiful supply of rock oysters that provided a nice feast – can’t beat fresh oysters straight off the rocks.

The Cape Peron area is much better than Monkey Mia but you do need a 4WD. There are camp areas and a few caravans were spotted.

I googled a few places while here and planned on heading up to Steep Point which looked like it would be out of the wind and should hold fish. A phone call to the caretaker put me off as they said there was a couple of sand dunes to get over that were very soft. (We heard later that it was a fantastic fishing location! grrr)

We left Denham on Monday morning visiting a few other areas of Shark Bay on the way to Kalbarri.

More photos…

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Coral Bay to Carnarvon

Monday 12/10/09 & Tuesday 13/10/09 (2 nights) – Point Quobba (Blow Holes) – CAW W473 – Free Camp (no caretaker)

Wednesday 14/10/09 to Friday 16/10/09 (3 nights) – Carnarvon – Coral Coast Caravan Park – $27 pn ($81)

Monday morning, we were pleased to get out of 14 mile as we had had enough of the wind. Beautiful place – but not while it’s windy! We drove into Carnarvon, visited the Information Centre to find out the best campsites and decided on Quobba Point. Before leaving, we had a feed of undisputedly the best fish & chips of our trip at the F&C shop next to the pizza shop in town (it was so good we went back another 2 ties before leaving Carnarvon).

The road to Point Quobba is all bitumen, so is an easy 50 km drive. The peak season was officially over so the camp hosts had left the area so the camping was free. There is camping south of the humpies and around them but we chose to camp close to them, protected from the wind – no one was inhabiting them at this time, so no issue. Once again, fish habitat areas need to be closely observed, and the fishing inspector did visit us, although we didn’t fish due to winds and an excess of weed on the shore. Quobba Blowhole is a well known feature of the area here and due to the swell, they were working quite well.

Wednesday, we heading into Carnarvon deciding to stay in town and do a few of the tourist things. The Coral Coast CP gave us a double site with Brian and Denise in a double site beside us. It was good to be out of the wind and we used the time to catch up on washing clothes, and the car at the car wash across the road – the van would have to wait. Carnarvon is the first town down the coast that is in the fresh produce region and there are plenty of roadside stalls offering cheap, fresh local grown fruit and vegetables for sale, which we took up. The nectarines were in abundant supply and ripe and at $2 for a bag of 10, we had more than our fill.

The OTC satellite earth station (decommissioned) is promoted as a tourist attraction but there is no entry allowed and we felt they could have done more with it. It is a huge dish that can be seen from just about anywhere in the area.

Unfortunately, the jetty has been damaged due to a deliberately lit fire (and was being repaired), so we could only venture a couple of hundred metres out which just got us out of the mangrove area. Collecting a fee for the short stroll seems a bit rough but I guess it’s going to a good cause to maintain the jetty. There is also a museum at the jetty worth visiting at the jetty. A drive out to Rocky Pool was enjoyed where we could see plenty of freshwater fish in the pool. This area use to be a free camp but is now designated a no camping area – not sure why as it is so far out of town. Carnarvon is on the Gascoyne River but the water cannot be seen above the surface around town unless it is in flood, however Rocky Pool, about 50kms out of town, has water to be seen.

While in Carnarvon, I visited the local Toyota dealer’s workshop where they were useless in correcting the problem with the tail lights, trying to palm me off to the local auto electrician. I decided to let it go until Geraldton, as we had heard that is a big city ;-)

More photos here, here and here.

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Exmouth to Coral Bay

Monday 5/10/09 to Sunday 11/10/09 (7 nights) – Warroora Station – 14 mile camp – CAW5 W479 – S23o 16.7822’ E113o 47.3935’ – south of Coral Bay – $5pp/pn or $25pp/pw ($50)

We left Exmouth on Monday morning for the 80km drive to 14 mile camp on Warroora Station, stopping in at Kallis prawn processing factory on the way out for a final supply of prawns. 14 mile camp privately owned and located on Ningaloo Reef. For the princely sum of $5pp/pn or $25pp/pw, you can camp right on the white sandy beach, behind the dunes, or on the ridge overlooking the water if you do not have 4WD. There are no facilities except a rubbish tip and dump point and limited water in a black tank at the back of the campground, but this is not promoted as being available for us by campers. A sign clearly states all campers must have a cassette toilet before entry is allowed, so no dumping in the dunes! From the turn off on the highway, 15kms south of Coral Bay, there is about 12kms of dirt to deal with, the first 6kms being the roughest but nothing that concerned us. If you’re coming in here, top up your water tanks at Exmouth as Coral Bay charge you for water.

Heading off the brown dirt, the contrast to the bright white sand of the beach was amazing and caught our breath – this is truly a beautiful paradise!

It was quite when we arrived (and we are told this camp gets very busy during peak season) so we managed to get a beautiful spot right on the beach. The boat was setup and left on the beach for the duration of our stay, allow us to push it into the water whenever we wanted to use it.

There are some 4WD tracks in the station and there is a 4WD track that leads back to Coral Bay however this track is closed and fines prevail.

14 mile camp is located outside a Ningaloo sanctuary zone but care must be taken you don’t enter the zone while fishing at the south end of the lagoon – the GPS was handy to ensure we didn’t encroach on the sanctuary. We wind was blowing pretty badly while we were here and we only managed to use the boat on 3 occasions. The fishing was fairly poor with the speculation being that the lagoon had been fished out during the peak season that had just passed. We managed a few small Spangled Emperor, Cod and Golden Trevally. Bust offs were numerous close to the reef but mostly from small fish (we presume!). Brian managed some nice sized Spangled Emperor on the last day of fishing. Due to the wind and heavy swell, we were unable to get outside of the reef, where we assumed the fishing would have been much better. Another case of being in the right place at the wrong time.

The wind also caused a fair bit of frustration with our happy hours – one day we headed off behind the dunes, another couple we sat in Brian & Denise’s bus – even sitting behind the van didn’t get us out of the wind as you were sandblasted by the wind coming under the van. By the time we left, the sand had been blow out from under the van and the sea side collapsed into the sand on the final night which made the van unlevel, and the chairs were almost buried in the sand.

We took a day drive back to Coral Bay to visit the town and do a little 4WDing in the sand dunes. Coral Bay is a beautiful little coastal tourist town with its own power generation plant (windmills and backup diesel generators). The caravan parks look well maintained and a few shops provided supplies and a great bakery has fresh pies and cakes. The bay is protected from the south with plenty of people using the water. Excellent boat ramp facilities exist and I can imagine this would be very busy during the peak season. Lunch at the hotel cafe was pretty ordinary and I was scolded for feeding the seagulls – I still say it was Denise’s fault!

 More photos here and here

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Onslow to Exmouth

Friday 2/10/09 to Sunday 4/10/09 (3 nights)

Aspen Big 4 Caravan Park – $31.50pn ($94.50)

The 434km drive from Old Onslow to Exmouth was a big drive for us today. We didn’t get away from Onslow until well after 11am after catching up on a few last minute things and attempting (without success) to correct an issue with the tail lights that were not working on the van or car. After checking the fuses, I decided to leave it to Toyota to sort out when we found a town that had a service centre. Talking to a couple who were staying at the caravan park, we found there was a fresh seafood outlet in Onslow and headed around there for some prawns for lunch – it’s owned by an old couple who (they tell us) were trying to retire and weren’t interested in too much passing trade so they have no sign on the main road but nevertheless they were happy to serve us – the prawns were good quality and reasonably priced, so it’s worth dropping in if you’re that way inclined.

We topped up the fuel at Onslow as we had already been warned that Nanutarra Roadhouse should be avoided due to the high cost of fuel and this is the only fuel stop only the North West Coast Highway between Onslow and Exmouth. There’s even less on this road that between Karratha and Onslow, so the travelling appeared even longer. We stopped along the way, off a side road, for a feed of prawns we bought earlier and the crabs we caught the previous day. It was also a great photo opportunity in the fine bulldust (there is a sequence of photos in the photos link).

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived and we had heard many reports of having to line up early in the morning (4am) to get a spot at Cape Range National Park. It was also school holidays so we thought we didn’t have a chance, so checked into the Big 4 caravan park. We were lucky to get a spot on one of the boundaries were there wasn’t too many people and especially away from the pool, playground and outdoor movie area (but these things were good to keep other people’s kids entertained).

Exmouth is located on a peninsula with Exmouth located on the eastern side in the protection of Exmouth Gulf and the famous Ningaloo Reef stretching along the western side of the peninsula. South of Exmouth is Learmonth which has a military airforce base. Exmouth is a smaller town than we expected with only a well stocked IGA for a supermarket and only a few other shops.

Heading into Exmouth, the Kallis prawn processing factory is a must stop – the prawns were well priced and excellent quality (they are caught in Exmouth Bay and shipped all over the country) – so good that we visited a second time on the way out of town! The first sight of water was magnificent – the water being so blue and calm, which was vastly different to what we had been use to.

Saturday, we drove up to Cape Range National Park for a day trip (218kms) and have a look at Ningaloo Reef. The day was almost perfect with a beautiful clear blue sky but moderate winds which made the scenery beautiful with the reef easily distinguishable along the coast with the protected lagoon inside the reef. Along the tip of the peninsula is a military radar area that has many aerial towers that stretch into the sky.

There are a couple of caravan parks on the western side of Exmouth Peninsula which are a better alternative if you prefer to be closer to the reef before reaching the NP. The NP has a number of camp areas with most only having 6-12 campsites. All have their own hosts and the gate entry into the park provides a list of available campsites to help campers find a site before driving the long distances between sites only to find the area is full. There are a number of areas that a good for snorkelling with Turquoise Bay being the most popular but the Oyster Stacks looking to be the best snorkelling. We checked out most of the campsites and found most not to our liking as they were either well away from the water or campsites where packed in against each other like a caravan park. Pilgramunna Campground was the best with easy access to the water and a usable boat launching beach ramp. The NP stretches down to Yardie Creek where there is a campground and tourist boats that tour along Yardie Creek into Yardie Gorge. The creek is crossable at low tide, which we did. The track continues as a poorly maintained single lane track down to Ningaloo Station and some extra camping areas. We only travelled about 6kms before turning around deciding this was not a suitable track for the van as it was narrow and washed out. The road around the NP is all bitumen and goes to rough rocky road into most campgrounds.

If you’re staying in town there are good boat launching facilities close to town and there is also a great launching ramp in the northern area of Ningaloo Reef before the entry into the NP.

We had promised ourselves a dive but declined when we found out the dive shops were charging $250 per person to go for a double dive, especially when told we would the best sharks we would see would be Wobbiegong Sharks. We were clearly here at the wrong time of the year – better to be here in April to dive with the Whalesharks.

Sunday, we drove around (110kms) to the look outs  and gorges on the eastern side of the peninsula. While it was cool on the water it was very hot in the gorges as the wind was not getting in there. The drive was worth it, providing a different view of Exmouth that is not seen from the water. During the day, we stopped at Learmonth Jetty to see if anyone was catching any fish and couldn’t resist the temptation to catch a few gars on handlines as no one else seemed to be able to catch them. During this time, some whales frolicked fairly close to shore which was a nice touch. The view from the lookouts was fantastic and looking back towards Exmouth Gulf the wind had stopped completely and the seas was very calm and glassed off, tempting us for a swim, so we headed back to find a nice spot with no one else around to have a swim.

The fishing around Exmouth, particularly Ningaloo is highly regulated and many non fishing zones exist – you must get a fishing rules booklet before fishing this area.

I’d love to come back at a time when the weather is more stable and stay longer.

More photos here, here and here

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Karratha to Onslow

Distance: 183kms

Wednesday 30/9/09 & Thursday 1/10/09 – Old Onslow (2 nights)

CAW W498 – Free camp

The drive from 40 mile camp to Onslow took us through an area where a lot of mining work was starting. The drive took us through Fortescue River, Robe River and Cane River and onto Onslow. The trip seemed much longer than 180kms as there were a lot of straight sections and not much in between. A strong head wind also saw the fuel consumption rise.

Approaching Onslow, there were many salt pans on each side of the road – the tell tale sign to the salt mining that occurs there. The salt is really bright with the sun reflecting off the pure white. There is also a sign posted area just outside of town that is the home of the Spinifex termite with hundreds of mounds dotting the area. Interpretative signs provide some interesting insight into the termites – also claiming they are good guys..

Onslow is a small town with only a small IGA for a supermarket and two fuel outlets, one closes for lunch for a couple of hours. The caravan park is at the end of the main street on the point adjacent to the remembrance park. Onslow has a shipping jetty with its produce being salt.

The Visitor Information Centre doubles as a museum and also provides water for travellers via a tap out the front.

Onslow is not the original town built for the area – the area now called Old Onslow was the original town. Free Camping is allowed along the banks of the Ashburton River at Old Onslow. There are no facilities, so fill up at Onslow before heading out. There is about 20kms of dirt to contend with. There a number of camping areas stretched along the river and we found an area on the freshwater side of the weir where there were a number of swans.

Old Onslow is scattered with the ruins of its past and it is an interesting area to look around. The police/goal complex is the most intact being a large stone building that stands out on the flat landscape. Broken bottles were cemented into the top of the gaol walls to deter prisoners from escaping – no razor wire back then! There are a number of interpretative signs in the area but most have faded due to no maintenance and are difficult to read. There is a map that shows the original town and it was quite extensive and it was hard to pick from what was left. We originally presumed that Old Onslow was moved due to cyclone damage, however, this was proved wrong – it was moved due to a shortage of freshwater and silting of the Ashburton River eventually making it impossible for ships to enter port. Looking around the ruins it was easy to imagine how hard it must have been on the original settlers.

The old cemetery was restored some time back but has been neglected in more recent years but it is an interesting stroll visiting the headstones of the original settlers.

There is some mining investigative work occurring in the area and a few mining cars travelled the road in the mornings and afternoon but mostly the road was quiet.

Thursday we decided to do a spot of fishing and since the wind was still blowing and we were heading off tomorrow, we decided not to bother with the boat and have a fish along the river bank. We found a nice spot which turned out to be the original port area which was in the salt area and managed a few bream and even some crabs of the bank in a few hours.

Thursday, we decided to move onto Exmouth to hopefully get out of the wind, while Brian & Denise stayed another day putting the boat in and catching a  number of crabs, bream and mangrove jack.

More photos

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Balla Balla Inlet to Karatha

Monday 28/9/09 & Tuesday 29/9/09

40 Mile Camp (south of Karratha) – CAW W503 (2 nights)

$5pn ($10) – (Free during offpeak season starting 1/10 to 30/3?)

Leaving Balla Balla Inlet, we headed south to Roebourne. Roeborne Visitor Information Centre is located in the old gaol and it is well presented with a lot of history, some machinery and old photos. It gave us abit of insight into what Balla Balla Inlet was like in the early days. Roebourne seemed to have too many social services buildings for such a small town, but evidence of squatting by the natives was obvious during a drive of the back streets. One abandoned building was full of indigenous – right across the road from the courthouse…

Heading into Karratha it was obvious this was the biggest town we had seen for quite some time – it even had a shopping centre. We refilled the water and fuel tanks and did a big shop at Woolworths, before doing a drive out to Dampier which is the adjacent coastal town. Dampier has a large salt mine and a nice shipping port. Most of the salt is shipped overseas, and most is used for industry and chemicals, despite our demand for its use in fish & chips. Karratha being another working town, we moved on to our next camp – 40 mile camp, south of Karratha, where we had been told was good fishing.

It was late in the day when we arrived at 40 mile and I’mnot sure if it was me or the camp hosts, but I was told a couple of tracks I could go down to find a nice quite campsite. The one I went down went to soft sand a little down the track but I dismissed it as being just a patch. Well, it didn’t get any better and there was nowhere to turn the long rig around so I kept going, planting the foot to keep the rig from bogging around the mangroves. Short story, I found a spot and finally made it out but the adrenaline was working!

Heading back down another track on the opposite side, we chose a site and while backing in we heard a holler; Pete & Mary Anne who we had met at Cape Keraudren and Balla Balla Inlet was right next door. After a few beers, we went our separate ways for dinner and retire for the evening.

Tuesday morning the wind was blowing a gale onshore, so fishing was ruled out. We had a look around and the water is quite shallow for a long way out but we were told there was good fishing on a reef about 14kms out… Not likely in a 12ft boat!

Windy again on Wednesday morning, so we decided to move on.

BTW, they have started building a gas plant at this location and it is planned to be in full swing by Jan 2010. A pipeline is being build to run out to the shelf to reach the mainland right at this camp. Sign posting says the campers won’t be disturbed, but construction running 24/7 drilling a tunnel and the associated noise and movement won’t make this camp very attractive in the future.

More photos here and here.

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Karijini National Park to Balla Balla Inlet

Wednesday 23/9/09 to Sunday 27/9/09 (5 nights)

Balla Balla Inlet – CAW5 W518- Free camp

After a week away from the coast, we were keen to get back to the coast to catch a few fish so next stop planned was Balla Balla Inlet south of Port Hedland, where Pete & Mary Anne and Brian & Denise were already waiting and reported they were catching some fish. The pantry was still stocked from Port Hedland, so no need for any shopping.

Heading out of Karijini NP and over the magnificent Hamersley Range we were again greeted by the plains that lead to the coast. We stopped off an Auski Roadhouse to refuel and top up with water before moving towards the coast. The road is wide bitumen all the way and used by a lot f road trains for goods but not ore as they use the rail line, which is the largest privately owned railway line in the world at around 460kms.

Opposite the Balla Balla turn off, the Whim Creek Hotel invites you in with a model of the hotel at the road entrance. Despite this, the pub has been taken over by the adjacent mine and used for accommodation by the workers and is closed through the day due to night shift workers resting. There is no fuel or water available or camping, contrary to what we read on the maps.

We headed back across the highway and along the good dirt road into Balla Balla Inlet to find Brian & Denise’s bus setup alongside Pete & Mary Anne as well as Alby & Di who we had met at Cape Keraudren as well as a couple of others that had been camped there for 4-6 months who claimed to know where to catch all the fish..

Balla Balla Inlet use to be a thriving town and harbour supporting a number of pubs in the gold rush days. We were actually camped where a hotel use to be but there was no sign of it except some scattered glass and original trees on the creek.

It was pretty windy while we were at Balla Balla and the dust blew across the paddock into any opened windows, and of course, closing the windows forced the heat up in the van as the outside temperature was also hot.

We were camped at a rock bar in the creek where there was salt on the ocean side and fresh (brackish) on the other. The others had already organised pumps to wash down the boats and do their washing, but the water was not suitable for drinking. We had full shower tanks so managed the week without any of the creek water except for washing down the boat.

Thursday we headed out for a fish following Brian out from the muddy boat ramp. We fished inside the river as it was pretty windy and managed a couple of bream while Pete & Brian (in Brian’s boat) did much better at the mouth of a creek flowing into the river. On our second outing, we left Brian & Pete playing with crab traps and had a look at the river mouth which, even though it was windy was protected and flat so we decided to head out around Depuch Island. We travelled up the protected western side and found a huge school of fish feeding on the surface- they were swimming around with the mouths wide open as if they were feeding on plankton – but we were unable to raise any interest on any of the lures we tried. We moved around to the southern side of the island to find Brian & Pete who weren’t having much luck, so moved a bit further east. We managed a drift and picked up a lot of small bronze whalers, and kept a couple for the table as we hadn’t tried them before.

On the final fishing trip, we planned all 3 boats (all 12ft tinnies) to head north of the island to some known reef, with one of the long termers leading the way. The bar was very rough and we wondered what we were doing out there in this little boat, but the thought of some good fish pushed us along. I was quite surprised how well the boat handled the conditions but pondered that the cat I used to own would have been the best tool for the job! It took a long, long time to travel the 2kms out to the island and the west side of the island was not protected from the wind this time. We left the other 2 boats to head up the west side and while we decided to head up the east side which should have been the leeside but that was copping the wind too! After travelling halfway up the eastern side and navigating over water only a meter deep full of rocks and conditions not improving we decided to abort and head back to the river. The trip back was even worse with the bar up but we took our time and eventually made it safely back. If anything goes wrong out here, you’re all on your own! No more outside fishing unless it is a lily pond! We picked in at the creek where Brian & Pete were fishing on the last outing and at the change of the tide managed a few bream, a couple of flathead and a nice blue salmon – which turned out to be a lot better than the others who did manage to get to the northern tip but returned with their tail between their legs with nothing.

We finally pulled stumps from Balla Balla on Monday as we’d had enough of the wind which was preventing us getting out to where we wanted to fish.

More photos here and here..

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Newman to Karijini National Park

Monday 21/9/09 & Tuesday 22/9/09

Karijini NP – Dales Campground CAW5 W580 – No NextG – $7pp/pn ($28)

 Heading out of Newman towards Karijini National Park we stopped in at one of the camp areas on the maps given to us by the Newman IS. Wunna Munna (S 23 6.5755’ E 119 7.7350’) has a permanent water hole but being late in the dry season the water was pretty stagnate – it’d be a good spot earlier in the dry. We stopped for lunch before heading on to Karijini NP.

The road towards Karijini NP is good bitumen with a backdrop of hilly scenery closer to Karijini NP.

At Karijini NP we explored the interpretive centre that is being run by the aboriginals and it was good to see a positive friendly attitude from the staff. We were allocated a site at Dales Campground by the camp hosts. The road in is good bitumen except for around the campground which is dirt.

Tuesday we attacked the gorges, first driving to the opposite end of the NP along the corrugated dirt road visiting Joffre Falls, Knox Gorge, Weano Gorge and Kalamina Falls before heading back to our end of the park (closer to the campground) visiting Fortescue Falls, Circular Falls and Pool and Dales Gorge.

The biggest walk we did was into Circular Falls and downs to Circular Pool which took a few hours return including a quick dip in the pool. In the afternoon heat, we went down Fortescue Falls and had a great swim in the pool which has a nice decked area and was pretty popular. It was a great way to cool off in the heat of the day. Walking through the gorges, you can see the amount of iron ore in the ground with huge layered plates in the cliff faces. Light at different times of the day also changes to look of each of the gorges.

Karijini NP is not really big and a couple of days is more than adequate unless you want to walk into all of the gorges, but well worth it. The gorges can be visited a lot easier than other areas as you’re on top of the gorges and you look into them, while in the Kimberlies you are below them and walk into them and look up.

This is a must see for any travellers to the Pilbara and a place we had never heard of until we reached WA.

More photos…

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Nullagine to Newman

Sunday 20/9/09

Free Camp – near Silent Gorge on top of hill S23° 16.9517’ E119° 39.1868’ – NextG excellent

The road between Nullagine and Newman was mostly corrugated dirt and with a few sections of bitumen closer to the Newman end. Mining road trains frequented this road and on one occasion we were completely blacked out from the dust kicked up from a road train heading in the opposite direction – it was like driving with your eyes closed. We didn’t manage to capture the worst blackout on camera but managed another later on in the photos.

As we approached Newman, we spotted an ore train getting loaded and measured around 3kms of length.

The Mount Whaleback open cut ore mine dominates the skyline – proclaimed to be the largest open cut mine in the southern hemisphere.

Arriving in Newman, it was obvious this was a working town and was there for a purpose. We had a quick look at the caravan parks but their main business is now providing accommodation to the workers which is in short supply. Housing here is expensive with a very basic 3 bedroom house fetching around $750k and rents in the $1500-$2000 range. The rents are subsidised by the mines for their staff – imagine having to pay $100k pa in rent!

The information centre is a good source of information for the area and they provided us with a sheet for some camping options but most were well out of town and down some pretty serious 4WD tracks and since we booked on a tour of the mine for 9am the next morning, we wanted to be close to town. The town was donated to the shire by BHP for $1 as well as a number of other items such as the huge truck out the front of the visitor centre.

We headed out to a site called Silent Gorge which turned out to be a dry gorge and there were a couple of day trippers enjoying their Sunday afternoon tranquillity in the heat and no other campers. We looked a bit further down the track (and I mean track) and found a suitable site on the top of a hill where we wouldn’t be disturbed and we had a great view of the mine, especially at night when the lights could be seen moving around on the top.

Monday morning, we headed back to town to join the mining tour. We were kitted up with safety jacket, helmet and glasses and herded into an air conditioned coach for the trip to the mine (about 2kms) and driven around the mine and various objects were explained well. The highlight was the rise up the side of the mine, where they stopped all mining traffic for us so we weren’t squashed like a bug under one of the trucks, and taken to the lookout at the top and allowed to view into the mine pit. This is one big hole and it is planned to grow a lot bigger.

Returning from the tour, we caught up with a couple of potential Kedron customers who bailed us up for a look at the van as we were getting on the bus and had come back for a look – always a pleasure, as we’re pretty happy with the van.

More photos here..

Photos from the mine tour here..

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Nullagine

Saturday 19/9/09 – Wild Dog Creek (30km south of Nullagine)

Free Camp : CAW5-W601

Today we headed off about 8am toward Nullagine. We had decided to try the loop road and cut down on the miles rather than double all the way back to Marble Bar. Tyre pressures were reduced in preparation for the long stretch of dirt road ahead – from Carawine Gorge to Newman is approximately 370km of dirt road – more than half the length of the Gibb River Road that we had traversed earlier.

The last few kms to Woodie Woodie Mining Centre is all bitumen with a few windy bits over creek crossings until the turn off to Nullagine is reached on the right via Skull Springs Road. The road is dirt and signs state it is narrow and windy for the next 105kms and unsuitable for vehicles over 4 tonnes between Woodie Woodie and a creek I can’t recall the name of but couldn’t find it on the maps anyway. Regardless we headed on. The road went to river pebble over the first river crossing but then solid ground the rest of the way. It was reasonably well maintained and a steady 60-70kms was maintained with very few corrugations encountered. A few bulldust patches saw the van almost disappear from the rear vision mirrors. The road winds over and through many hills and through abandoned mine sites. It is a quite a pretty drive and recommended. There is not much else growing here except the occasional tree around a dry creek bed and lots and lots of spinifex – and boy does that hurt when you brush up against it!

We stopped at a couple of abandoned mines at the Nullagine end of the road and peered down the abandoned mine shafts, poked through the ruins and discarded diggings for any little treasures or valuable stones. There was plenty of quartz and Jane found a piece with a little bit of cold sprinkled through it which wouldn’t be worth much but it’s a nice memento.

We arrived at Nullagine at 1:45 and on rechecking the Hema map noticed fuel was only available until 2pm on Saturdays. We rushed up to the bowsers to find the store closed but asking at the pub, which has a jukebox and pool table (but I digress), and I was told to head around to the roadhouse. We had visions of being stuck here until Monday… The Hema maps are incorrect and the roadhouse is opened until 5pm on Saturdays (2pm on Sundays) – hasn’t changed for about 14 years! They do not take credit cards but do have an EFTPOS machine. Fuel was 157.2c/litre – a little cheaper than Marble Bar. We topped up to make sure we would have no issue getting to Newman.

We headed around past the *nice* caravan park toward the signposted lookout only to find a sign at the bottom that no caravans or trailers were allow up and we weren’t walking up in the 36C heat. With nothing else to indulge our curiosity, we headed out of town toward Newman.

The road between Nullagine and Newman is 190km of unsealed road and starts off a little worse than the Carawine to Nullagine section but it was still good going. About 30kms out of town we stopped in at Wild Dog Creek (CAW5-W601) where we found a nice secluded spot off the road to camp for the night. There are plenty of shady trees and some pools of water left in the creek where all the other crossings appeared dry. It was 36C today and the batteries had already topped up, so it was a welcome campsite to have the afternoon shade. The cows appeared disappointed with our arrival – they had gathered under a tree, no doubt ready to have their own happy hour around the pool – and dispersed not to be seen again. Hey, they were welcome to share! No other campers tonight, which was wonderful.

Footnote: As I write this tonight, the bugs are really annoying us, as they have done the past 2 nights also. They are getting into the van even though we have fly screens. We are really starting to hate the Dometic windows! We love them for ventilation, they have a great privacy blind and look great but the screens allow bugs attracted to the light to crawl down or over the rolled up part of the blind and in through some ventilation holes! Taping the holes up seems to have reduced the problem a lot but a few are still getting in, perhaps through the flyscreen on the door which is not midgee screen. We have heard others have had the same problem but have not really had an issue with it before that we had noticed. I’ll have to see if I can get some replacement screen in Karratha for the door but the blinds are a custom fitting and I don’t know of any solution except closing the windows but it’s too hot to do that.

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Carawine Gorge

Thursday 17/9/09 & Friday 18/9/09 – Carawine Gorge

Free Camp – GPS S21o 28.51’ E121o 1.72’

It is about 200kms to Marble Bar and further 180kms to Carawine Gorge on the Ripon Hills Road. We were up early to get out of Port Hedland but didn’t get out until about 9am. We doubled back about 50kms to the Marble Bar turn off. Between the turn off and Marble Bar we only saw one car and about six road trains from the mines, so it was a pretty quiet drive. Not many tourists in this area at all.

The road is all good wide bitumen except for a section near the end where it winds through some hills and slows to 40kph but it was still easy going. There was a strong headwind, however, that blew the consumption over the top to 30L/100kms doing 95kph – not real good at all when we are use to 20-22 while towing!

Marble Bar is a small town that seems to have been left behind from the old mining days. It only has a population of about 200 while we were told it had some 20,000 in days gone past. It used to have a train line to Port Hedland but was closed down many years ago. It has one pub and two fuel outlets – the roadhouse and the motel.

We visited the Marble Bar and Chinaman Pools at the opposite end of town which were quite nice as they both had water and it was a hot, dry day (33C). None of the river crossings on the way in had water including the CAW5 listed sites. We visited the magnificent government building built in 1896 (which looks totally out of place and easily mistaken for a resort hotel at first site) which houses the police station and courthouse and spoke to the young constable who didn’t seem to have much clue about the road conditions from Carawine Gorge to Nullagine but we were advise it may not be a good idea even though it would save us about 150km and a couple of hours of our time. We also visited the Comet Gold Mine which is about 10km out of town along 7.5kms of dirt road, which the maps listed as having mine tours. The caretaker wasn’t impressed about us bringing the van up the narrow driveway but there was an adequate turning circle to get back down. He seemed a bit reserved until we got talking to him and he started commenting on the how good he had heard the Kedron vans were. He did question us as to why we were not staying in the town caravan park (which, on inspection, we noticed was empty). His information was contrary to the police and he stated the road between Carawine Gorge and Nullagine was good and suitable for towing. There haven’t been any mine tours for some years and there is a display of old bits and trinkets and stones – I wouldn’t call it a museum – and an entry fee of $3pp applied. He showed us a frozen snake he had stored in the freezer and we could smell spirits on him and it was getting a little weird so we decided to leave.

We topped up at the roadhouse on the way out at 158c/litre (134c at Port Hedland). They do take credit cards and EFTPOS. The roadhouse is also sign posted as the information centre but questions about road conditions drew shrugged shoulders.

We headed out of Marble Bar about 1pm, doubling back to the turn off to Woodie Woodie on the Ripon Hills Road. The road is all good wide bitumen as the mines use it for Woodie Woodie Mine Centre to transport to Port Hedland. We crossed paths with a number of road trains (all 4 up and heading in the opposite direction) and they were no problem at all. I managed to get the fuel down to 25L/100km on this section as the wind appeared to have eased a little.

The Carawine Gorge turn off is sign posted to the right and is down a 13km dirt road. The road was in reasonable condition and winds over and around a few small hills/mounds. There is a track to the right across the end of the runway that leads you down to the river bank and to some beautiful grassed (yes grass!) campsites right on the edge of the water. The grass is kept down by some resident bulls that didn’t seem too pleased with our presence but they were more afraid of us and took off in the opposite direction, except for one that seemed quite OK with our presence.

The area is pretty remote and there was only one other group of people camped when we arrived and we managed to find a good spot about 50m away from them and shielded by the trees. Two other vehicles (one party) came in about an hour after us and we recognised them as people we had seen at Marble Bar who had never heard of Carawine Gorge until I told them about it, which Jane kept reminding me… One other vehicle came in after dark.

It was 4:30 and a quick setup – a couple of chairs and winding down the jack saw us relax in for the evening. Much easier than setting up at a caravan park where the car has to be disconnected, legs wound down, water and power leads connected, drain connected, etc. And the location was better than any caravan park. A dinner of a beautiful tender rib-on-the-bone topped off the evening.

A couple of bulls were spotted in the water up to their shoulders eating the long reeds. One was a little less shy than the others and didn’t seem to mind being too close to us, but we kept our distance. When he returned from his wade/feed on the reeds, he proceeded to dry himself off by rolling around on in a dirt hole right near the van.

I was woken about 2:30am by the sounds of loud splashing in the water. I couldn’t see what was causing the commotion but it must have been the bulls up for a late (early?) snack.

Next morning, everyone left except for the people who had come in after dark and they were a respectable distance away and we couldn’t even see them through the trees so it was like they were not there until the electric saw started for the next few hours – it sounded like the guy was building a house!

We took a walk further up stream to have a look around. There is plenty of camping area up on the river pebbles but they were soft in areas and would not be suitable for 2WD or perhaps even towing a van.

There were many birds including pelicans, ducks, swans and ibis. The water was only shallow but it was easy to see many fish including some larger fish which we understood to be sooty grunter. The day was hot but we managed to cool off by wading in the cool clear fresh water.

It was a very nice campsite in a beautiful location that provides peace and quiet from the masses, that we thoroughly recommend. The water would be suitable for topping up shower tanks.

More photos here and here

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Port Hedland

Wednesday 16/9/09 – Port Hedland

Port Hedland Caravan Park – $30pn

This morning we were up early to leave for Port Hedland. One of our neighbours had decided our spot was better than his, so he had his gear all packed up before 6am and relocated outside our awning before we were even up! What is wrong with some people?? We decided to take our time and had a chat and goodbyes to our other neighbours before heading off. ;-)

First stop was the Pardoo Roadhouse at the end of the 13km dirt road out of Cape Keraudren to see if we could score another yummy sausage roll for morning tea but they weren’t ready yet, so, disappointed, we rolled off on the bitumen for Port Hedland.

About 80kms down the road we stopped in at DeGrey River Freecamp (CAW5-W615) to check it out as we had been told by numerous people it was a good spot, and it was – plenty of sites along the river and water in the river – so it’s worth a night or two, but we had only left an hour before and decided to keep going.

The road to Port Hedland is all bitumen and changes after DeGrey River from flat plains to small hills that indicated mining and there are a few mines in this area. About 30kms from Port Hedland, don’t miss the termite mound city each with an individual miner’s hat!

Approaching Port Hedland, the traffic started to increase from the occasional mining road train to include cars, making it obvious we were approaching a town.

On the north side of town, there is Port Hedland Caravan Park ($30pn) at the BP service station which had been burnt down about 4 months ago. It is full of permanents working in the area who don’t take too much care of their surroundings, bringing the area into a bit of disrepute – I think sh*thole is the correct term.

Heading over the Redland Bridge and to the right there is the Cooke Point Big4 Caravan Park which looked much nicer but they didn’t have any vacant sites for our van – they do charge $44pn though. They were helpful with providing info on what else was around and even offered us water to top up our tanks which I declined as I thought I would get it when I got fuel, if needed. There is another park at South Hedland which we were told was similar to the Port Hedland one, so we headed back to the Port Hedland park as we knew Brian & Denise were also camped up there and managed a large bus site at the end of the park close to Brian & Denise, so it wasn’t too bad and we didn’t have any troubles. I recommend you book if staying for more than one night as others also told me this one was full when they came through. On the plus side, Brian & Denise had their repairs complete and were ready for another inspection for the bus first thing in the morning before they head off.

We only planned to stay one night – enough time to pick a parcel up from the post office, do some shopping, defrost the fridge, do some washing, fill with fuel (134c/litre) and have a quick look around town – all achieved in the one afternoon. Port Hedland is a busy, booming working town and that’s all it appears good for – it’s not a good tourist destination but does offer tours of the port facilities and salt mines. Entry to the port is closed but you can watch the ships come into port from the town jetty behind the information centre (which we did). The train comes in from Newman regularly, and I had seen this on TV before. It is up to 7kms long with 4 engines (two in the middle) although we did see one with six. The salt mines produce salt from the sea and you can see large stockpiles while heading into town and at the port. Contrary to speculation, most of the salt is not used for fish and chips – 60% is used for industrial applications and only 10% fits into the consumption category, but it’s still a lot of salt!

We plan on being in Newman in a few days time and hope to do a mine tour there as they claim to have the biggest open cut mine in the world and this is the other end of the train line.

BTW, yesterday it was a bit cloudy and we noticed the solar input top 51.6A – the most we had ever seen before was 44.8A. Must have been some refraction through the clouds…

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Cape Keraudren

Thursday 10/9/09 to Wednesday 16/9/09 – Cape Keraudren

Camp fees: $45pw, or $10 entry fee + $7.50/day ($45)

Next-G coverage was skittish – sometimes it was really good, others non-existent.

The drive to Cape Keraudren was easy – 9kms of dirt out of Eighty Mile Beach, 94km of good bitumen on the highyway, then 12kms of good dirt into the Cape Keraudren Reserve.

The Pardoo Roadhouse is near the turn off to Cape Keraudren and allows people to fill their water tanks for a donation to the RFDS. We didn’t need water but we stopped in for one of their tasty homemade sausage rolls – even better than Barn Hill!

Cape Keraudren Reserve is a shire run camping area and it’s very popular during peak season – we were told 80 caravans at one stage this year – we’re sure we would not wanted to have been here then! There is no water or facilities at Cape Keraudren, however, there are toilets and a dump point. We had prior knowledge of this, so filled all the tanks before leaving Eighty Mile Beach, so that should give us enough water to last the week.

There are 3 camping areas: the Boat Ramp area; Sandy Beach; and another area which is located at the southern end of Eighty Mile Beach, which we were told is sheltered from the wind but sandflies were prolific. We chose a nice spot right at the end of the road near the boat ramp with fantastic 270 degree water views and set up camp before Brian and Denise arrived in the bus. They managed to fit in towards the end of the road also.

Cape Keraudren marks the end of the famous rabbit proof fence – the longest fence in the world – that stretches 1837km from Starvation Harbour on the south coast to Cape Keraudren in the North West built between 1904 & 1907. It is no longer maintained but remains can be seen at Cape Keraudren.

There is a concrete boat ramp that is usable from mid to high tide but the prevailing wind swell caused a bit of churn at the ramp today. Below mid tide, a rock shelf extends from the boat ramp around the shore which will allow the boat to be launched.

Thursday afternoon was spent watching the tide come in and fill the lagoon, then watch it go back out again to leave a number of narrow drains. A number of fish and turtles could easily be seen coming in with the tide in the crystal clear water. Whales were seen breaching just offshore, and the sunset over the water again matched Middle Lagoon – we were in heaven! It was fantastic to be back out of the caravan parks.

The trailer was constructed, together with the setup of the boat and motor ready for tomorrow’s fishing. The evening dew was heavy even though the wind was obviously present.

On Friday, we had to wait until about 11am (3hrs before high tide) to launch the boats so we had enough water in the channels. We slowly motored out of the bay in about 1m of water, set the lures and set off across the mouth of the bay south. It wasn’t long before I felt a hit but thought the fish had been dropped as it hadn’t been taking line and no weight could be felt but looking back a fish could be seen floating on the surface. The lure was retrieved to find a small ribbon fish that was so thin that it explained the confusion.

We kept heading south to the next bay and around some bombies, and tossed some lures but didn’t see another fish. The wind was up by now and the water was pretty rough in the tinny, so we headed back to our bay and down into the mangrove area out of the wind.

Over the next couple of hours we were kept busy with a few bream which ran hard and small cod. A few good runs, including one that ran hard out of the mangrove, straight under the boat, around the anchor line and back to the mangroves while I fed the rod around the anchor rope while it was still taking line, then it was all over as the fish put the line around the mangroves!

Jane was having a quiet time so she decided to up the anti and put a whole pilchard on her hook which was almost immediately taken by something big but lost when the hook bent. A new hook and a fresh pillie saw another hit but this time the fish was landed – a large diamond scale mullet. It’s mouth didn’t look big enough to swallow a pilchard and no one believed it was caught on a pillie – usually they are caught in nets or with a bit of bread dough.

Happy hour was enjoyed with some fellow campers and a morning trek across the low tide mudflats planned for some fishing in the last drain which always seems to hold some water.

Saturday morning a few people treked across for the fishing on the outgoing tide (low was at 9:30am) but only a couple of cod were caught. Brian was keen to show us a little trick he had been shown and rigged up a hook on a metre of dowel before we headed across to a large rock that stands out of the water in the middle of the bay. A couple of rock pools had some rocks with holes under them and Brian was sure there had to be something hiding in them. A few pokes with the hooked end and Brian could feel something which he managed to then hook but couldn’t pull it out as the hole was too small! After a bit of wriggly around, out came a nice cod which surprised me! The hook went back in and another was pulled out, this time slightly smaller.

Today we left the boats on the trailers as the wind came up with the incoming tide and it was rougher than the previous day. A drive around the property took us to some other bays and creeks including Mosquito Creek that was almost drained when we arrived but a couple of hours later it was full with the high tide.
Some more people arrived today, including another Kedron towed with a troupie, which we pulled from the soft sand after he ventured a little too far off the track when turning around – the 200 did a great job of pulling out the 5.5-6 tonne.

Happy hour had a great group gathered behind our van out of the wind. We were going to cook a roast that night, but the wind was still blowing pretty hard, so decided on something else. The wind blew most of the night but it was calm again at 6am the next morning.

Sunday we decided to have a fish during the low tide at the creek mouth but had no success. The tides difference was not as big today so we didn’t have as much time as the previous day. In the afternoon, Jane and I headed around to the creek during the high tide but could only catch catfish.

Monday, the tides were a lot smaller – 3m low and a 4m high, where they had been 6.4/1.3 on Friday. There was too much water in the inlet, so the option to fish the opposite drain was not an option as it was too deep to walk across. Brian and I took the boat out to try our luck and to fish through the change in the low.

We had to go outside of the inlet and come back in the other side and managed to troll up a small mackerel before heading in the other side. Over the next few hours, we picked up a couple of trevally, tarwhine, shark, shovel nose shark, and catfish; but not as much as we expected.

Tuesday saw Brian and Denise leave for Port Hedland to get their windscreens replaced before their permit expired on Friday. It was sad to see them go and we’ll miss their company, but maybe we’ll catch them again down the road. On the positive side, the van looks bigger again now that huge bus has gone. ;-)

Packup day today saw the car reorganised, and the boat, motor and trailer restowed ready for our trek to Port Hedland tomorrow where we’ll restock the pantry before heading down to Marble Bar, Carawine Gorge, Newman then in Karijini NP. Happy hour has been reduced to 4 vans as a few left today. It blew a gale all day and by happy hour we were all sick of the wind. It continued to blow all night long and was still blowing when we left.

 

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Eighty Mile Beach

Monday 7/9/09 to Thursday 10/9/09 (3 nights) – Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park

Camp fees: $33pn powered ($99)

The drive from Barn Hill Station is 10km of dirt out of Barn Hill back to the highway, then 220km of good bitumen before the turn off to Eighty Mile Caravan Park where a final 9km gets you to the park. The dirt into Eighty Mile Caravan Park was well graded and there was no need to adjust tyre pressures.

Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park is within a section of Wallal Downs Station. There is 24 hour power that is run from the local diesel generators that can be heard all night but, depending on where you camp, the noise is not too disruptive. It does have a caravan park feel and there are a lot of people that stay for a few months at a time – not our style. You are not allowed to venture outside the caravan park onto the station but you are allowed to drive on the beach.
The first day we took a walk down to the beach which is just over the sand dune to sus out the fishing – an easy walk. We had heard lots out big King Salmon (called Whities) that are caught off the beach, so we were keen to try our luck.

The beach had beautiful white sand and the water went from milky green to green to deep blue – absolutely beautiful.
The tide was going out (it was about 2hrs after high tide) and we witnessed king landed as well as a number of people with blue salmon, which are a smaller variety. The area looked promising!

That night we enjoyed happy hour with Brian & Denise, who we had met at Barn Hill) and also a touring poet that we had not seen at Barn Hill who was good entertainment for an hour. Brian & I discussed our plan of attack for the tomorrow’s fishing session and attacked the park store for a little bit of tackle and some bait.

Jane and I walked down to the beach that night at low tide to see if we could see the “Staircase to the Moon”. The conditions were right – low tide and the full moon had not risen but was due soon. We waited about an hour for the moon to rise and were rewarded with our wait – the staircase lit up nicely across the shallow pools left in the sand and best yet no one else was on the beach, so no crowds to contend with as there would have been in Broome to see the same thing.

Next day, high tide wasn’t until 1pm – the best fishing is a couple of hours either side of high tide as the tides are big (about 9m) and the low water is a km or so out from the beach. We walked down to the beach about 10:30am, fishing rods and gear in hand to find the beach already fairly busy. We walked down about 500m and found a spot at the end of the people already fishing and set our gear down and headed for the water. Within a few minutes someone had squeezed between me at the closest fisher back towards camp, and also Jane on the other side and both managed to tangle their lines with ours – it wasn’t looking good. A few minutes later, another guy tried to weazle his way in between Jane and the guy that was only about 10m away from her – that doesn’t give much room for beach fishing and since the guy next to Jane had already managed to tangle, I sent him on his way. FFS, why do people have to be so close?

We fished until about 3:30 (2.5hrs after high tide) and we were pretty busy most of the time with plenty of bites, however, we only managed to keep 1 blue nose salmon. We caught a few sharks, a few small salmon that were turned into bait (that seemed to get the best bite) and a couple of cat fish.

Brian and Denise, managed to keep 4 bluse nose salmon. Around us, we saw the occasional whitie landed and pondered on when our turn would be, but it didn’t happen.

We had decided to leave the next day (Wednesday) as we weren’t keen on the shoulder-to-shoulder fishing, however, another guy we had met at Barn Hill (Geoff) dropped by our camp and told us about the 2 big whites he had landed that day further up the beach. Taking the car up the beach sounded like a better option which should allow us a bit of space, so we decided to stay one more night.

Wednesday we head up the beach about 10:30am in readiness for the 1:30pm high tide. We took a packed lunch and with the car and cold drinks in the fridge it was a much better option than the long walk in the heat and the shouldering..

We setup about 3kms up the beach with Geoff, Max (another guy we met at Barn Hill), and Brian & Denise. There was plenty of room between us and nobody tried to squeeze in between us!

We were all in sight of each other and it wasn’t long before Max pulled in a nice Whitie – it looked really promising!
The tide came in pretty quick and we marched back against its approach as we fished. Jane and I managed a few blue nose salmon before the top of the tide, then after that it was cat fish after catfish!  There were a lot of small sharks working the gutter right at our feet for a lot of the day and it was a little daring to step in the water at times to cast out that little further. A few more whities were pulled in around us, but we were unlucky again, as were Brian and Denise. Max managed 2 whities and a nice fillet came our way at the end of the day.

Brian managed to hook up on one of the sharks and was taken a couple of kms up the beach before he gave up and cut the line.

Wednesday night is hamburger night here ($6 each), but we had plenty of fresh fish and had that – 5 x filleted blue nose salmon and a little of the whitie, but we weren’t that impressed with it as were were told it was much better than barra, but Jane and I both disagreed.

Jane managed to collect a few shells here, with help from Brian & Denise (thanks guys!), and there is a collection hidden in the van somewhere adding a few more tonne to the van…

Tomorrow, we’re off to Cape Keraudren – the plan is to put the boat in and get a few reef fish.

No Next-G coverage.’

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Barn Hill Station

Tuesday 1/9/09 to Monday 7/9/09 (6 nights) – Barn Hill Station

Camp Fees: $18pn unpowered ($144)

The drive from Broome to Barn Hill station (about 120kms) is all good bitumen road to the gate at Barn Hill with the last 10kms in the property being dirt with 13 large speed humps. It was an easy drive and it was good to be back on the road after the long Broome stay.

On arrival at Barn Hill, we stopped at the office to pay a few night’s fees to discover home baked sausage rolls and bread rolls being freshly baked (they were still on the fire) so snapped up a couple of delicious sausage rolls for lunch. They also make yummy vanilla slices which we sampled the next day.

We picked a nice spot in the unpowered area on the edge with a view of the water. We had a beautiful view, second only to Middle Lagoon where we had the view plus direct access to the beach. The beach access here was a short stroll down the paths and then down a steep decline. It was a little more crowded in than expected but that thinned out a bit over the next few days.

After setting up, a stroll along the beach to check out the fishing and for Jane to collect a few shells and some nice rocks – more weight in the van ;-)

The scenery is beautiful with the red cliff faces quickly changing to white sandy beaches. There is an area called the pinnacles that is remarkable in the way it stands out.

We didn’t hear of too many catching fish but decided we give it a go tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Trakmaster friends, Terry & Di arrived after leaving Broome a day later and we had a couple of days of happy hours and cooked a few meals together before they departed. They were great company and it would have been great to travel further with them.

Brian & Denise (whom we met in Broome) also arrived in their bus and it was also great to spend a few happy hours with them, as well as a meal of mackerel that they had caught when they took their boat out.

We fished off the beach on a few occasions but only managed a dart, a small GT and little else, but the location was nice so we decided to extend until Monday and enjoy the Sunday night roast and entertainment the station puts on for the guests.

Wednesday nights is communal BBQ night, but we declined opting for a private BBQ with Terry & Di. We heard the next morning we missed the visiting poet who had a series of caravanning related poems.

Thursday, we went for a drive to Port Smith (about 50kms) to check out  the next caravan park south. The maps showed a safe lagoon and the fish finder book had a good write-up on the area, but we had only heard it was full of sandflies. On arrival, the lady at the shop was a pretty reserved and was pretty hard to get much information out of, but allowed us to stroll around the park and we talked to a couple of people with boats that indicated they were only catching a “few”. The lagoon, or more correctly, the creek, is another km or so down the road from the park and it was hot and dry in the park with little breeze to keep you cool or keep the sandflies at bay. We drove down and onto the mangrove flats as it was near low tide. There were a few other car tracks so we safely followed these. Brian was a little hesitant but a little coaxing and he had the wangler right behind us following our tracks – his first remarked were that he was never going to take the jeep on the beach and he was now corrupted and it was my fault! Love it!

We spotted a couple of guys who were loading their boat onto the trailer who claimed they had bagged out on snapper and caught a big red emperor but didn’t show any evidence. He also said he worked at the caravan park, so we put it down to trying to talk the place up for some business. We were never to find out for sure as we decided to stay another few nights at Barn Hill before heading off for Eighty Mile Beach. Before leaving Port Smith, we roamed around the low tide mud flats and around the edge of the mangroves looking for any signs of crabs, but no large ones could be seen.
While we were away, a large band of vehicles, including a semi-trailer, had arrived at Barn Hill – it was the “Treking for Kids” tour that had travelled from Perth up the coast to Broome to raise money for kids with cancer. After dinner, we wandered down to their music to find out what was going on as no communication had been made. They had an open party with a great band and were all having a great time. Park guests were welcome to join in and they hand out a few treats of desserts. The park manager said she wasn’t sure what they were about as they didn’t tell her they had an open party – it was a pity about the miscommunication as I’m sure many others didn’t go over because of this.

Sunday night is roast night at Barn Hill and this week an aboriginal band came in from a few hundred kms away. We set up chairs and table and even had a table cloth ;-) at 5pm in readiness for the band and dinner serving at 6pm. The roast was pretty average but plentiful – 3 courses for $15: chicken broth soup; beef, potatoes and corn/peas with gravy served out of buckets; then ice-cream & canned fruit salad for dessert. The band was good – the elder singer was a bit monotone, but the young drummer was excellent as were the rest of the band. They involved the whole audience (at least 100) with dancing on the grassed area and we even managed the hokey-pokey, which I probably shouldn’t admit!

Monday, Brian and Denise headed off for Eighty Mile Beach about 7am while we left just after 9.

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Broome

Saturday 22/8/09 to Tuesday 1/9/09 (10 nights) – Broome Caravan Park

We left Middle Lagoon about 8am so as not to miss the Beagle Bay store opening hours should we have any problems along the way. In this area, you have to attend the local store about a km from the bowser, purchase a fuel card, go back to the bowser, swipe the card where it dispenses your fuel, then take the card back to the store to get your deposit back. The store has limited opening hours and was not opened when we attended a few days earlier, as stated it should have been in the tourist brochure so be careful if in this area not to get caught out – it would pay to ring ahead and check the store will be open. We were running low due to the sandy conditions, towing the van and the trip up to Cape Leveque and we didn’t want get stuck down the track.

On arriving in Broome, we were allocated a huge bus site as on booking I had stated the van was 27ft (well it is if you include the A frame). The site was very roomy and we weren’t squashed up against someone else’s window so we were pleasantly surprised.
Broome Caravan Park has a newly built swimming pool which has to be the best we had ever seen in any park and would put a lot of 5 star hotels to shame – we enjoyed the pool a few times during our stay as it was getting quite warm and the humidity starting to rise by the time we left Broome. The park was full when we arrived but was less than half full when we departed as the peak season had just finished. Hopefully, this will see us with no problems further down the coast.

6 of the Trakmaster group were still in the park and we had a quick catchup.

First up was a top up of a few pantry items, so we hit the shops – there is a large well stocked Coles supermaket in Chinatown and later we found an equally well stocked Woolworths supermaket and shopping centre (something we hadn’t seen for a while) on East Cable Beach Road.

While in Broome, we took a drive to Cable Beach but didn’t bother with the sunset visit as we had already seen sunsets over the ocean at Middle Lagoon which were couldn’t beat.

Next-G was good so a few days were spent catching upon some work. We were parked under a tree, so no satellite TV but we didn’t miss it.
One of the neighbours, Brian & Denise, had a bit of strife with the visiting road transport inspectors with their bus and trailer combination – mostly petty things like reflectors and cracks in windscreens but were also told they had to ensure the Jeep Wrangler they were towing on their trailer was wired to tow the trailer it was being carried on, including brake controller and breakaway battery system and charger. The local auto electrician “took them for a ride” and overspec’ed their needs and none the wiser, they took their advice and payed up. I guess it was fate as we would never have met them if they hadn’t been pulled up as they were heading out of town. I won’t go into all the detail, but the defects placed on their vehicles and forcing them to get a full inspection on repair of the whole vehicle rather than just the defective parts caused them some real pain and delays. The sooner all of the states align their road laws the better.

I helped Brian wire the brake controller charge circuit through a couple of RedArc voltage sensing relays and 24/12V converters as the spiteful auto electrician had removed the documentation so he wouldn’t miss out on a few hundred more dollars for the wiring (he was charging $170ph). With a little internet help, the circuit was wired but Brian was ripped into when he went back. They reluctantly checked everything was Ok and couldn’t fault anything but still charged Brian for 1/2 hr of their time. The relays cost a few hundred dollars and the whole thing could have been accomplished by buying a small 240V battery charger… So be careful when attending an auto electrican in Broome!

Broome has a lot of history in the pearling days and this shows in the number of pearl shops in town. We took a tour at Pearl Luggers, which we recommend – they give you a good 1.5hrs of history and the presenter did a great job, and you get to try a bit of pearl meat (sells for $140/kg) at the end of the tour. We took a combined tour of Pearl Luggers and Willie Creek Pearl Farm which saves about $15pp. The next day we drove up to Willie Creek Pearl Farm for the tour, which we also recommend.  The tour was entertaining and includes a boat trip around the creek for about 30 mins and morning tea with freshly baked damper. Afterwards, we took a drive further up the Willie Road where there are a number of free camps along the dirt road. The best ones can be found about 45kms up and we found 3 of the Trakky group who had absconded from Broome for a few days. We spent a few hours before heading back to camp.

There are a number of cafes in Chinatown part of Broome, and a great Kebab shop that we give the thumbs up, near the Coles Supermarket.

The final day saw us restocking the pantry for a couple of weeks of supplies as there isn’t anywhere between Broome and Port Hedland to shop. A full trolley saw us wondering how it would all fit, but it always does… The Tender Spot Butcher was a great find- their meat was fantastic and reasonably priced too – much better than the supermarket meat.

There are 2 fuel distributors near the port that sell fuel about 8c cheaper than town, although the Woolworths outlet was selling fuel cheaper on the last day if you included the discount coupons.
The finally evening’s drinks were spent with John & Robyn (Bushtracker), Lindsay & Anne, and Terry & Di which was a great little send off.

Sorry about the lack of pics – we had some more but they’ve gone into the never never!

Camp Fees: $34pn powered ($340)

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Middle Lagoon, Cape Leveque Peninsula

Friday 14/8/09 to Saturday 22/8/09 (8 nights) – Middle Lagoon

We left Derby around 10am for the 220km drive to Broome to refuel and the approx 150km drive up the Cape Leveque Road to Middle Lagoon.

The road between Derby and Broome is all bitumen, so we looked forward to a nice relaxing drive, but some road works coated the car and van in some red dirt that fused to the van galvanising and checker plate and proved difficult to remove later.

On arrival in Broome, we found a Shell service station, refuelled and quickly departed for Middle Lagoon – the hussle and bustle of the “city” was something we were not use to and something we weren’t looking forward to!

Middle Lagoon is on the Cape Leveque Peninsula with the turn off 10kms east of Broome. The road sign indicated the road was open to all traffic but road trains and the road was not recommended for caravans. Caravans are prohibited at Cape Leveque.

The first 13kms was good bitumen that changed to sandy dirt for the next 90kms. We deflated the van tyres to 30psi to absorbed all the corrugations and found ourselves travelling at a steady pace of around 60-70kph most of the way slowing to 40 in some rougher sections. The road was corrugated in sections, mostly quite wide and other sections narrowed into a deep dish that had the car and van leaning at what seemed a 45 degree angle. There wasn’t too much traffic but you had to be careful of oncoming traffic in the dished sections – two vans could touch roofs due to the lean. Once off the dirt, the road changed to a wide bitumen road (110kph limit) that was better than any highway and we had been told it was like that the rest of the way to Cape Leveque.

Regardless of the excellent road, we stayed at 80kph due to the low van tyre pressures as we knew we were likely to get some more dirt at the Middle Lagoon turn off.

We passed the Beagle Bay turn off with their big hand painted “Church” sign and found the Middle Lagoon turn off another 30kms up the road.

The 30kms into Middle Lagoon was all corrugated dirt and narrow in parts and we were glad to have finally reached our destination.

We weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay here but we had 8 nights before our booking in Broome. We were shown our camp site on “The Ridge” which was on the hill looking over the ocean and with direct beach access and the sun was setting over the ocean. Immediately, I was seduced into paying up for the full 8 nights – at $30pn it was a bit steep (no power) but the setting was pure magic.

The next day, we built the trailer and setup the boat and put it in to give it a run and make sure the new motor was adjusted properly – this was the first time the boat had been in the water on this trip. We had a look around and got a feel for the area, sounding out the bottom around the headlands while trolling around.

The next day, was Henriette’s birthday and Clive & Shirley had come up the previous night and stayed in one of the “cabins” which consisted of a square area covered with a tin roof and clearly transparent shade cloth walls and no bathroom @ $150pn. Shirley dropped off one of her fantastic fruit cakes – a huge cake – to see Jane and I in cake for some time in her absence – thanks Shirley! After a birthday song and yummy chocolate cake made by Shirley, we headed out for Beagle Bay where we did a bit of bottom bouncing for some small reef fish but soon found a large school of fish feeding on the surface. We motored over and deployed a large white squidgy to hook up on something big that took 15 minutes to land – we weren’t sure what it was and had to send a pic and description to some of the fishing guys back home to have it confirmed as a Bludger Trevally. Some more lure tossing found hundreds of large fish under the boat but they would only follow the lures but not take them. A change of lures to a large popper saw the same response for the first 2 casts but the 3rd saw something big bound completely out of the water and take the popper with gutso and I was on. The line screamed off the small reel and it wasn’t long before I saw the last layer on the spool. Jane was quickly instructed on starting the outboard and did a great job of following the fish which soon tired after its huge run and before long we saw a nice spanish mackerel come to the surface!

I was surprised I hadn’t lost this as they have razor sharp teeth and I was only using a mono leader where wire traces are usually used.

The fish was measured at 1.2m and with no trace of the hessian bag or anything else to cover it with, and no further action after a few more casts, we headed back to camp so as not to spoil the fish.

The next day, Thorston and I took the boat out about 7am and did some bottom bashing for a mixed bag of reef fish. We saw plenty of whales and came close to some on the way out.

Jane and I went out again on the following day and decided to hit the reef again. We did reasonably well with some better reef fish than the previous day, keeping 4 for the table: a spangled emperor, a golden trevally, a painted sweetlip and a stripey sea perch. We caught a lot of blue tuskfish (blue bone) which we are told are excellent table fare but we thought too small to keep so were released. On returning to the cleaning table all that everyone else had were even smaller blue bone – one I measured at 24cm.

The freezer was full of fish now and especially because of the spanish mackerel we caught a few days before so we were having fish every day now.

One day we took a drive up to Cape Leveque and the other areas north for the day: Lombadina, Kooljaman Resort at Cape Leveque, One Arm Point, Mudnunn and a couple of others. Once back to the main road out of Middle Lagoon, the road to the tip and around to One Arm Point is all excellent bitumen with a 110kph limit, so it is an easy drive.

Kooljaman don’t allow caravans in the camping area but we spotted a couple of Jayco campers. All of these areas charge a fee of about $10pp to day visit the area which makes it quite an expensive day. One Arm Point is a beautiful area with crystal clear water around on the eastern side of the peninsula.

On the way back, I calculated we may only just make it back to Broome towing the van on Saturday, so decided to detour via Beagle Bay and also have a look at the church before heading back to camp. The fuel system makes it difficult as you need to go to the store to purchase a fuel card then go to the bowser (which is not near the store) and use the card. The store was not open, even though the tourist brochure said it should have been, and so we could not get any fuel – we had gone about 100kms out of our way and wasted more fuel.. It pays to ring he store before heading there when visiting this area.

While at Middle Lagoon, a couple of Kedrons came and went and the Trakmaster group came up for a visit.

Camp Fees: $15pp/pn unpowered ($240)

More photos here, here, here and here

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Derby

Monday 10/8/09 to Friday 14/8/09 (4 nights) - Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park, Derby

The road from Windjana towards Derby to the bitumen was well graded with minimal corrugations. We prematurely stopped at the first bitumen stretch to celebrate the end of the dirt (and inflate the tyres) only to find that a few kms ahead was some more dirt. Fortunately, the dirt was freshly graded and was pretty smooth, so there was no need to re-adjust tyre pressures.

A lot of the rest of the road into Derby (about 100kms) was single lane bitumen. We were continually amazed by the number of vehicles heading towards us that thought it was their right to stay up on the bitumen while we head for the dirt with the van rather than to share the bitumen with one wheel on the dirt, but I soon had them educated with the swerve back toward the full bitumen that I’m sure sent them a clear message.

Heading into Derby, our radio banter with Clive & Shirley led us to thoughts of freshly baked pies for lunch and a plan was set to hit the bakery as we hadn’t seen one for 2weeks.

Derby only has 2 caravan parks and only one is really an option with the other only having a few sites and positioned in the middle of a dodgy looking housing estate.

Kimberly Entrance Caravan Park was the park chosen – it was pretty busy but we managed adjacent sites on concrete slabs surrounded by dirt. After setting up it was a trip to what we were told was the bakery (in the IGA supermarket) only to be very disappointed….oh well, we’ll have to wait until Broome…

Derby has two “shopping areas” and the one near the caravan park was the largest but only about a dozen shops, the largest being the IGA which incorporated a bottle shop. There is a Woolworths back on the main road heading into town which also incorporates a Woolworths Liquor outlet.

We looked around for somewhere good to eat for dinner but, like the bakery, there was much to choose from, so we declined. Thorston & Henriette were already in Derby staying at the backpackers motel and we joined them for a dinner of takeaway pizza in the motel’s BBQ area.

While in Derby we visited the Boab Prison Tree, Myalls Bore & Cattle Trough (a 120m long trough used to water the cattle in the old droving days) and Frosty’s Pool (a bath built in the war days for the troops) (all are in the same area) and the aboriginal art centre. A fortune looks to have been spent on the art centre but only a limited area used for display of the art work. There is also a gallery in town that we didn’t get around to visiting.

The highlight of Derby is the loading jetty where you are allowed to drive around and fish during daylight hours. We declined the fishing as the tides brought in a lot of muddy water and fishing amongst the masses on a jetty isn’t our idea of fun. We spoke to a few people who said they weren’t getting anything but small catfish.

We heard from many travellers than it was impossible to get into any caravan parks in Broome and the overflow areas in places like the pistol club only allow 1 week stays and were also full, so we decided to try to book a week ahead – the first phone call saw us booked at the Broome Caravan Park for Saturday week – this is the first time we have booked any accommodation.

When we did our final shop at Woolworths before leaving, we found Woolworths didn’t stock the meat shelves well, but we don’t take kindly to supermarket beef due to past experiences, so stuck with a few packs of chicken as we still had some meat from Brisbane – besides next stop was Middle Lagoon and we would finally be after some fresh fish for the table!

Tomorrow, we’re off to Middle Lagoon.

When in Derby, there is a fuel distributor near the port that sells diesel for 8c cheaper than the service stations around town.

Camp Fees: $29pn ($116)

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Kimberley’s via the Gibb River Road

The Gibb River Road is approximately 700kms from Kununurra to Derby. It is mostly gravel road and is reknown for being harsh on vehicles and towed trailers. It is only suitable for 4WD and offroad caravans and camper trailers.

El Questro Station – Thursday 30/7 to Saturday 1/8

The first leg of the Gibb River was only to be the short run to El Questro Station, about 120kms from Kununurra and only about half dirt. The turn off onto the Gibb off the Northern Highway, saw us pull up to adjust tyres pressures to suit the conditions and prevent the van from being shaken to pieces. A lot of vehicles passed in the few minutes were were stopped and the road resembled a highway with the only difference bing the thick clouds of dust that followed each vehicle.

The dirt to the El Questro turn off was reasonably good but more corrugated that I thought it would be from reports I had heard but no concerns. The turn off to El Questro onto the 16km dirt road into the station saw the road smooth a bit and there was some grader work closer to the station. A couple of river crossings made the final leg a little more interesting and scenic but the crossings were shallow with a large smooth river gravel base.

El Qestro is very commercialised with helicopters flying in and out of the “township” most of the day and was a fairly busy place. The campground in the township is well shaded but no powered sites are available. We were lucky to be allocated a “private river site” that was large enough for both vans. The site was about 3kms from the township and well off the road along a narrow but smooth track through the scrub. The sites are all on the Pentecost River and are the same price as the township sites at $16pp/pn.

To enter El Questro, you must also purchase a wilderness pass that is $17pp for 7 days.

El Questro is owned by Voyager Hotels but we heard from a staff member that it had just been sold to an unknown buyer. There are a number of gorges, some hots springs, 4WD tracks and lookouts, as well as helicopter and plane flights and heli-fishing trips. Most are quite pricy at $200 pp for a 20min chopper ride.

On Friday we visited the ZebeDee Hot Springs which are 28-32C all year around and we soaked in the pools for over an hour. The pools were very busy as they are closed at 12pm each day to allow organised tours to visit in the afternoons. The springs are a short 10-15min stroll along an easy track from the carpark.

Friday afternoon, we visited Emma Gorge, where we picnicked on the green lawns in the shade of the trees at the resort. There is no camping at Emma Gorge but there is accommodation in the cabins and permanent tents located there. The walk up the gorge to the plunge pool is listed as a one hour walk and it took us 50-55 minutes so it is pretty accurate (we have found most NP walks only take about 1/3 of the listed time as they seem to cater for the frail and elderly). The walk up the gorge allows viewing of the high rock faces and water in the creek all the way with a few small pools. The “torquoise pool” is just before the plunge pool at the end of the gorge. The final access to the plunge pool is via some large boulders that were easy to climb over. Jane and I quickly stripped to a swimmers and waded into the warm waters – NOT! The water was freezing, so000 cold that after a few minutes you could feel your body numb! Nevertheless, we swam across the pool and under the falling water before exiting to warm up. There is no sun in the pool area and the whole area is cool – it would be a fantastic place in the middle of summer and also provided relief from the day temp (about 30C) that we had forgotten about. Clive and Shirley decided to keep warm on this occasion. The pool was busy with people after a group of 15 turned up behind us. The walk out of the gorge saw a number of helicopters fly up the gorge on the afternoon flights buzzing around like dragon flies.

Saturday, we decided to do some 4WDing, visiting Pigeon Hole which is a large area of lagoon in the river reached after crossing a couple of mountain peaks and lookouts. Some of the climbs were steep and the track a little rough but taking our time there were no issues. The access around the water is very soft sand but no issue at the tyre pressues we were running already (30psi). The track is rated moderate. The next track we drove leads to Explosion Gorge but we were told you can’t see the gorge without a tour but Branko’s lookout and Branko’s Hole were both worth visiting with extensive views from the lookout over the country side and back to the Homestead.

The El Questro Homestead is out of bounds to campers, being reserved for exclusive guests willing to pay around $2500pp/pn and we heard there is no shortage of tenants as it is booked out for the rest of this season and well into next. The homestead is built right on the edge of the river on the rock face and is quite lavish.

Clive and Shirley decided to splash out on a helicopter flight and were pleased to get an extra 10 minutes for free as the pilot was leading a group of trainees (there seemed to be a lot of trainee pilots here). They reported it was well worth it and visted all of the gorges including El Questro which is a 5 hour return walk.

We were pleased to hear Shirley’s comments that evening that she did many things she had never done before – the helicopter flight and the 4WDing up and down the steep inclines that she doesn’t enjoy, but said she was glad she experienced it all.

The girls hit the sack early after dinner and a few wines while Clive & I went up to the township in the dark to have a look at the Saturday night entertainment. We had earlier decided to skip the $35pp BBQ (ouch) which turned out to be a good decision as the BBQ area was crowded with bus tour and we were told the food was cold. We watched the regular whip cracking show that is held every Saturday night and found it not very entertaining especially after the young female volunteer from the audience was whipped after the cracker missed the burning paper. She was crying and they bribed her with a bottle of wine to dilute the pain… The guitar player wasn’t as expected – no country music as you would expect out here and only rambled on with a long loud tune with no vocals  that no one appeared to be listening to.

While at El Questro, we looked at the Steakhouse menu and thought it didn’t apear too badly priced considering where we were, but a few travellers that did eat there said the servings were small and the quality lacking.

In summary, El Questro is pricy and over rated for food and entertainment, but the gorges, 4WDing and helicopters are worth the visit.

Home Valley Station (HV8) – Sunday 2/8 to Monday 3/8

On Sunday, we left El Questro leaving Clive & Shirley to stay another 2 nights on their own while they waited for their mail. Exiting ELQ, we heard someone call on the radio that there was a Kedron in front of them in the middle of their group. A return call found us in a group of 8 Trakmaster caravans on a group turn – 6 in front of us and 2 behind. We offered to sit back but were welcomed to remain where were were and join their little tour. We chatted amongst the drivers for the hour long trip to Home Valley Station which was our next destination. On reaching the Pentecost River crossing which is about 100m wide, we were let ahead while the group gathered for their group photos. We were invited to join them for happy hour which we did over the next 2 evenings – what a great bunch of friendly people.

HV8 has just been renovated about 6 months ago at a cost of around $18M of tax payer dollars. The property is to be given back to the original owners in 5 years and there are a number of aborgines working there as trainees, which is great to see. It offers a nice green grassed campsite (which we took) at $15pp/pn and powered sites for an extra $15pn (which we declined). It was great to walk around on nice grass with no shoes for a couple of days! There is plenty of water which we used to replenish the shower tanks and a couple of loads of washing.

Sunday evening we decided to check out the dinner offerings and have a break from cooking and washing up. We had heard from a couple of the Trakkies that lunch was good. Some other travellers (Mark & Tammy) that we had met at ELQ were already eating and invited us to share their large table which we accepted. The food was outstanding – I had a rib on the bone ($36) that was huge and cooked to perfection, while Jane had lambshanks ($32). Mark had a porterhouse steak that was too big for him to complete and Tammy had the barra which was grilled and looked good too. The company was great over dinner and Mark & Tammy are heading the same way so we may run into them again before Broome.

Monday we took a drive down to the riverside campsites and also spent Happy Hour there with the Traky group. A couple of crocs were spotted on the opposite bank and the tide was low and the banks a sticky muddy goo not too dissimiliar to the Keep River. That evening a roast chicken dinner enjoyed with a couple from the traky group that was camped next to us – Lindsay and Ann – who were great company.

Tomorrow the Tracky group heads for Durack River or Ellenbrae Station if Durack does not have enough room for their 8 van convoy, which is similar to our plans. They welcomed us to join them at the next camp but declined my offer to lead the convoy with the Kedron ;-) No doubt we will see them further down the track…

Ellenbrae Station – Tuesday 4/8

Leaving HV8, the road was a little corrugated but no issue doing 50-60kph. The road rises 200m to view the surrounding landscape and it’s quite a pleasant drive.

Approaching Durack River Homestead (which has been abandoned since 2002 in preference for HV8) we took the turn in to find locked gates, so no entry or camping here. We moved further west to find a grader at work but after the grader the road was terrible with heavy corrugations. I saw something out of the corner of my eye hit the windscreen and fly off thinking it was a small tree branch only to discover it was the UHF aerial stick – it had been dancing backing and forth in the corrugations and finally decided to give in. To my surprise it still worked but the range is limited. I’ll have to wait until Broome to get another.

We stopped for a short lunch break just after the Durack River Crossing (which was dry on the road) then moved on to Ellenbrae Station to camp for the night @ $10pp/pn. The managers (who live on the road in a Trakmaster van) were quite talkative and helpful, and talked their scones up somewhat but we declined.
There’s not much at Ellenbrae as it’s not commercialised like ELQ & HV8, but the campground was tidy (but dirt), and a sheltered area provided an old donkey boiler for hot showers and there was one flushing loo.
A track adjacent the campground leads down to a watehole that we were told was safe to swim in, so we ventured down there and waded in the shallows for a short moment and sat and chatted with some other travellers.
The van is still intact after the corrugations but all of the knobs on the pot lids decided to unscrew themselves, to our entertainment…

Mt Elizabeth Station – Wednesday 5/8

This morning at Ellenbrae it was 10C inside the van – hey, it’s supposed to be the top end and warm! The diesel heater was kicked into motion to warm the van before Jane would venture out of bed (She is being spoilt with her milk coffee in bed every morning – something she never got at home!).

The road from Ellenbrae Station to the Kalumburu Road turn off was pretty good in parts but corrugated in others. We managed an average speed of about 55kph.
There was a free camp marked in the book a few kms up the Kalumburu Rd that we visited for our morning tea break (CAW5 – W754) which was a great area right on  the river bank. Too bad it was so early in the day otherwise we would have made a night of it. We had already decided not to go up the Kalumburu Road as the road is bad past Drysdale Station and the falls were reported to only be at a trickle anyway.
We turned back along the highway to head for Mt Elizabeth Station (CAW5 – W761). The road was heavily corrugated in many sections despite reports the road got better after the Kalumburu turnoff.
The 30kms from the turnoff into Mt Elizabeth was even worse and we wondered why we were going in!
We found the girl at Mt Elizabeth unaccommodating and had to squeeze information out of her. They have 2 gorges, reportedly worth a visit up a pretty rough track but it was too late in the day to visit (they won’t allow leaving after 1:30pm) and we’d seen enough corrugations for one day anyway.
Fees were $14pp/pn (advertised as $12pp/pn). The offering is pretty bare for $28pn – no power, dirt camp ground (although the homestead lawn was green), but they did have toilets and hot showers, which we didn’t use anyway. In hindsite, we should have free camped as there were many spots and gravel pits on the roadside that would have done us just fine.
We were offered an A5 size handdrawn photocopy map of a walk around the station with about 4 points on it as long as we promised to return it when we were finished with it – we’re not sure what is with that 10C copy out of $28…

Manning Gorge – Thursday 6/8 & Friday 7/8

The temp inside the van this morning at Mt Elizabeth was 9C – it’s getting colder! Diesel heater again…

The road out of Mt Elizabeth was corrugated back to the property boundary (about 15kms) but improved once out of the property and we managed to make the 30kms in about 50 minutes.
It was a pleasure to rejoin the Gibb River Road as it was better and we made our way to Mt Barnett Roadhouse where we filled with fuel at 195c/litre and booked into the Manning Gorge campground @ $12.50pp/pn.
The road from the roadhouse to the campground is a 7.5km run through private property over a well maintained road.

Looking around the campground we found Thorstin & Henriette in a quiet back corner and setup camp a respectable distance from them and between each other before strolling down to the entrance to the gorge walk where a refreshing pool invited us in for a cool swim – the water was cool and was great to feel after a dusty few days.
The pool is the start of the walk and visitors have the option of wading and swimming the final part to commence their walk (and also on return) or there is a 10 minute loop that skips the swim – we recommend doing the swim to cool off before and after your walk.
Not long after T & H returned from their walk and confirmed it was all worth it. That night we shared a campfire with the 6 of us discussing what we had been doing since we left Kununurra and T & H keen to share the Kalumburu and Honeymoon Bay experience.
We also met another KOGGER – Mick & Lynne from WA (although Lynne didn’t join us for happy hour).

On Friday morning, T & H headed off for Bell Gorge while Clive & Shirley, Jane and I headed off on the trek to the gorge about 10am. It was already quite warm so Jane and I went with the swim but Clive & Shirley declined, however, a bus load had already headed off earlier and the all of the foam boxes that are provided to float your gear across were on the otherside so an initial swim to retrieve some then swim back and dry off and put the walking shoes on was actually longer than Clive & Shirley took to come around and we met them a few hundred metres down the track. The track is well marked with painted arrows on rocks and reflectors hanging on shrubs. The first part was a gradual incline to the first peak then a descent over a small creek before another climb before reaching the gorge about 45 mins later (others took 1.25hrs). There wasn’t much to see on the walk except the landscape. Quite a number of people were already making their return trip and we even passed 2 busloads of people.

On arrival at the gorge we were met by a deep gorge that looked very inviting for a swim, but scrambling around the initial rockface, the plunge pool was even more inviting. There were only about 10 other people there but we were told it was very crowded while the busloads were there so the delayed start was a good idea. We ran into Mick who joined us for a swim across the plunge pool and under the waterfall. Clive and Shirley arrived after returning across the pool. We relaxed, had lunch, swam back across the pool and scrambled up the waterfall side to the top of the falls and a quick dip in the warmer pool at the top.

We stayed about 2 hrs before deciding the head back to camp. Heading off it was quite cool as we had cooled off but we soon realised the heat of the day once we moved away from the water. The initial walk back is a bit strenuous in the heat as it is all up hill to climb out of the gorge (about 20 minutes) but the remaining 25 minutes was easy and mostly a gradual decline and the thought of the cool swim at the end helped us along. The track is mostly rocky with some sandy patches and a lot of the time you’re watching your feet to make sure you don’t trip up. Make sure you wear good sturdy shoes and take at least 1 litre of drinking water each.

On return to camp it was time to plug one of the van tyres after finding a nail that was causing a slow leak.

Some people we met at Ellenbrae Station – Jack & Debbie with their 8 month old boy joined us for happy hour and a pleasant chat.

A roast lamb dinner cooked in the Webber finished off the day nicely.

Windjana Gorge NP - Saturday 8/8 and Sunday 9/8

We decided to skip Bell Gorge and head for the coast for some fishing as we were getting over the gorge thing a bit by now, so last stop was to be Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek before heading across the Derby.

On Saturday, we headed off about 11am after a cool off swim before departure and Clive welding a bracket on one of his van’s spares that had fractured. Heading out of Manning Gorge, we found 8 trakkies heading in… A quick hello to all of them and we left them to the gorge.

The road was not too bad over the first hour but improved around Imintji Store where a grader was operating. A bitumen section up over the Leopold Range saw us stop at the top and wait for Clive and Shirley who we could see coming for miles away. A white landcrusier filled with aborginals including the roof was an entertaining encounter while waiting. The drive through this area is quite relaxing and changes as the day progresses. The road wound through the Leopold Ranges and through Napier Station where an interesting rock formation named “Queen Victoria’s Head” grabbed our attention. Creek crossings like “March Fly Glen” and “Same Creek” also raised a few eyebrows…
There were some roadworks after Napier Station for quite a while but the side tracks were better than most of the Gibb River Road so not a problem. The final leg for the run into Winjana Gorge was also freshly graded. The 200m run from Mt Barnett to Windjana Gorge had taken us about 4 hours.

On arrival at the campground, we found the non-generator area which was starting to get busy and some waving arms saw us camped near T&H again, who we thought would have still been at Bell Gorge. They told us Bell Gorge no longer accepted camping and Silent Grove was the option but was not appealing to them – last night they camped at March Fly Glen (with no march flys!), with Henriette calling in the local dingos… :-)

Damper and soup was the pre-agreed evening meal for the 4 of us and it was my turn again – one hour later it came out with the bottom as even as the top – beautiful. After dinner, some chatter around the fire with some other campers including some who were heading back to rejoin some others we had met. Bed at 9pm was a late night for us – we have to learn to get the fire going earlier to get the dinner coals ready earlier…

Today it was 34C and quite hot now we are back down off the ranges. Tomorrow, the plan is for an early start for the gorge walk then a drive down to Tunnel Creek for the afternoon before heading off to Derby on Monday morning.

Sunday morning we started off about 8:30 for the Windjana walk. It was already quite warm but the first part of the walk lead us to the shaded area that is sheltered from the morning sun. The limestone cliff faces have some interested washouts that have formed channels that keep you entertained for quite some time. A little further into the walk we heard many corellas crying and a little further on dozens of freshwater crocodiles basking in the sun. The final part of the walk was long and hot only to end at a sign that said “end of trail” to the amusement of many people. The walk back was very hot and with no chance of a swim, the only thing we looked forward to was a cold shower to cool off.

After lunch and a rest, we drove the 35kms down to Tunnel Creek for the 750m walk through the tunnel carved by the creek. It was very cool and a pleasant walk and best time seemed to be in the afternoon where the heat was soon forgotten about in the cool. Make sure you take a good torch as it is very dark. A roof collapse about half way in sheds some light in that area and the remainder of the walk leads into a calm pool. The water in the tunnel never went over knee height. A very nice walk not to be missed.

Tomorrow we are off to Derby. It’ll be good to get out of the dust onto some grass and see some blue water…

More photos here and here.

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Back to Kununurra

Monday 27/7 to Wednesday 29/7

On Monday, we headed back into Kununurra and this time decided to stay in the Hidden Valley Caravan Park to allow some exploration of the NP. We decided to take some powered sites @ $27pn and camp in the shade as we had a far bit of sun in the past few days. We managed to get 2 sites next to each other but not until one of the sites was vacated a few hours after arrival. It was nice to have the cover of the heavy trees but the nuts dropped from the trees were quite large and could have caused some damage to the car if they hit the right spot. The boat protects the roof of the cruiser so it didn’t eventuate into a problem.

Jane, Shirley and Clive took the walk on the 2nd morning from the campsite while I stayed back and attended to some work to keep my clients happy that had been neglected. I took the walk on the second day. The walk through the Hidden Valley (Miriam) NP is pretty easy taking about 2 hours from the campsite, return. One section leads to a rise allowing views across the valley and around the surrounding irrigated fields. The NP is described as the mini Bungle Bungles in some information sheets.

A trip was made to Coles to top up the pantry for fresh fruit and vegetables with a plan to last 2 weeks for the trip across the Gibb River Road, before departing on the 700km stretch of dirt on Thursday morning.

More photos

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Keep River

Thursday 23/7 to Sunday 26/7

The run from Kununurra to Keep River is through the irrigated farming areas of the Ord River and is very green and lush. The first 20kms is gravel with the remaining 70kms to our chosen campsite being gravel ranging from large sharp rocks to dirt to some soft sand and some small creek/gully crossings towards the end. The new Cooper STT tyres felt confident on the road and gave me a new confidence in the ‘cruiser on the rough dirt roads, so I’m pleased with the decision so far. They whine a bit on the bitumen as they are mud tyres but for the type of driving we will be doing towing they should be great.

On arrival at the Keep River camp, Clive was quick to wave his barra skeleton by the tail in the air to show off his achievement – at 66cm, the fishing looked promising. We setup camp with the other 2 Kedron’s fairly quickly and settled down for some lunch and a catchup on the tides and conditions. The river had changed a lot since our visit a few days ago and the tide was now high enough (>7m) to reach over the mud flats and flood the river. Due to the delay caused by the mud flats, the tide didn’t hit this area of the river until it was high enough to flood the mudflats then it would suddenly scream in and fill the river in only about 45 minutes before turning around and running out over the next 3 hours. Only one tide was high enough each day to get over the mudflats. With the fast incoming tide, the river turned from a milky green to a dirty brown that developed from the edges and worked its way to the centre. The multitude of branches, logs and whole trees was entertaining to watch.

Graham had launched his boat and as the boat was only accessible for a couple of hours each day due to the thick sticky muddy banks and I still needed to setup the motor and adjust heights, I decided not to launch my boat.
We tossed a few lures over the 4 days here without success and with no further barra being caught even from the boat.
Graham & Clive set some crab pots (we were back in the NT – crab pots aren’t allowed in WA) and managed about 8 muddies which provided a great feed and one threadfin salmon that managed to work it’s way into one of the pots.

There were plenty of saltwater crocodiles in the river that could be clearly seen on the opposite banks that would slip into the river at the sign of anything interesting floating along the river with the tide. A whole cow, severely bloated the first day we saw it, drew considerable interest with single crocodiles following it until another came out at which time the first would retreat, then another would come out to see the second retreat – obviously, they were encroaching on each other’s territory. No crocs seemed to touch the cow on the first day as it came in with the tide, went up the river out of sight, then later came back with the outgoing tide. The next day the cow was sitting lower in the water so obviously the bloated air had escaped and the crocs again showed plenty of interest on the incoming tide but still didn’t seem to touch it. On the outgoing tide, we spotted one croc had latched onto the cow which was considerably lower in the water now and was swiming it towards the bank – our side of the bank aimed right at our campsite! We grabbed the cameras and grabbed a couple of shots but once the croc saw us and got a little closer, he let go and retreated to the safety of the opposite bank. It would have been great to watch the croc feed on the cow on the river bank.

A couple of our crab pots set on the opposite bank raised the interest of a couple of crocs that would swim back and forward between the floats for hours on end. We watched and discussed how they could smash the pots and there was nothing we could do to stop them as the tide was low and the riverbank a gooey mess of slippery, sticky mud that would render anyone that slipped into the water croc food. The crocs never got too close to each other and often moved away if another came out to inspect the pots. After watching one croc for quite some time swim from float to float, it disappeared under the water for a minute or so then reappeared on the river bank clutching what we all agreed as the biggest muddie we had seen. The croc had the muddie in jaws, nippers away from it’s throat and the legs and claws were hanging out each side of it’s mouth. It then proceeded to munch down on the crab and crush it. That’s one crab we weren’t going to get and we weren’t about to wrestle the croc for it!

Thorsten & Henriette moved on after 2 nights to start their Gibb River Road adventure – hopefully, we’ll catch up with them again down the track. They have certainly learnt a bit about Aussie traditions and the Queenfish are not all keepers ;-)

Graham & Ros left us on Sunday night to return home to attend to some personal business. We were all sorry to see them go as we were all getting along great together and with Graham gone we have now lost the washer upperer!

That left us with just Clive & Shirley – a 2 van convoy.

I managed to get the satellite broadband working at Keep but it did have a lot of drop outs that I’m not really happy with.

I managed to mix up my second damper (ever), and first for this trip, which came out better than the first. It was even edible the next morning where most dampers tend to harden and are no good the next day. I think the secret is not only in the mix but the slow cooking. Time will tell…

More photos here and here.

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Kununurra & Surrounds

Monday 20/7/09 – Lake Argyle

Today we  travelled out to Lake Argyle to see the dam. The drive from Kununurra to the dam is around 70kms of good bitumen road. The lake was dammed to supply fresh water to surrounding towns and a small hydro power station was built at the based which provides a constant flow of water into the Ord River.

Tuesday 21/7/09 – Ivanhoe Crossing & Wyndham

Today we drove out to Invanhoe Crossing to throw a line in without success. The water was cool so suspect a little too cool for the barra and being well into the dry season it doesn’t help either. The water is fresh and it is the salt water we are looking forward to later in the week.

The water was reasonably high at the crossing and flowing pretty fast and hard but nothing the LC couldn’t handle. There are two water sections to cross. We threw a few lures at the northern end of the crossing. No other cars were coming across, so it was peaceful and quiet and looking through the trees we released why – a car had stalled in the middle of the main crossing and wasn’t going anywhere. They had no radio and people were shouting out and trying to communicate. After a while, a LC ute towed the vehicle back but we don’t know what became of the stalled vehicle or why it stalled.

The drive to Ivanhoe Crossing from Kununurra is all bitumen, but after the crossing the road turns to dirt. We continued on the dirt section headed toward Wyndham to meet Graham/Ros, Clive/Shirley and Thorston/Henriette for lunch at the Wyndham pub. Along the way we pulled into a few sign posted locations along the road – all 4WD only.

Black Rock Ponds is a plunge pool at the bottom of a waterfall. The pool had water but the falls were not flowing so the pool was a bit stagnated. The pool area was cool especially compared to the 34C heat but was not inviting for a swim. In the wet season, this would be a nice spot to cool down.

A sign to Buttons Crossing took us down a sandy track to the edge of the Lower Ord River. There were many campspots along here but we only spotted one setup, with 2 others coming down while we were there. A few open locations along the river saw us reach for the lures again for a quick throw around a fallen tree without a hint of a fish. Pulling up at the first location, there was a big splash ahead of us as a freshwater lizard took off for protection from their unwanted visitors. The area was very sandy in parts and lots of river pebble covered the tops indicating in flood the whole camp area would be covered with water. Getting the van in would be OK as long as tyre pressures were reduced.

Another camp area at Parry Creek Island was smaller than Buttons Crossing but close access to the water was also available.

Back on the road heading north we encountered quite a few gates which had to be opened before continuing (always leave gates in the position you find them). The final run along Parry Creek Road was through the mountain cutting before rejoining the main road for the trip into Wyndham.

The Wyndham Hotel dining room was full to capacity but our 6 other travellers were already seated and waiting for us. They had already ordered and the delivery was slow. As the food was brought from the kitchen, a call that can be heard in bingo halls could be heard – it was like winning when you heard your number! Our feed of barra burger and barra & chips was OK, but Jane was disappointed the barra burger was no where near the quality of the Daly Waters burger.

Wyndham was a little disappointing with no public access to the port and the town sitting on mud flats that isolate it from the river mouth. There is a crocodile farm but we didn’t visit it and we are told the bakery has really good pies but were unable to confirm as they were closed on the way back (we were going to get a couple of dinner).

After lunch, Graham/Ros & Thorston/Henriette decided to head straight back to camp while Clive/Shirley and Jane/I decided to head out to the Prison Boab Tree that was 25kms off the main road. The road to the tree (Diggers Rest Road) was good graded dirt but a few short cuts could be gained by going across the vast clay pans, which we did. The clay pans were smooth and dry and wide, and good speed could be gained. There are a lot of young people back at home that would love this to play on, drag racing each other.

Before the tree we reached the King River which was very low at the time and very muddy but it was low tide and you could see where the huge tides rose to all the way to the top as the banks were still wet from the previous high tide. Further in, we stopped off at the Wyndham town dam and some aboriginal paintings before finishing up at the Prison Boab.

Back at the main bitumen, it was 100kms back to town so tyre pressures were restored to enable a quick trip back only to find one tyre had been cut and was leaking. The tyre was changed and it was dusk before we were back on the road. Within 10 minutes it was dark and we knew this wasn’t a good time to be on the road so all eyes were strained to lookout for animals on/near the road. A near miss as a cow crossed the road was the only event and the boat must be attached well to the roof as we half expected it to hit the cow as we screeched to a halt from 110kph.

We’ll delay heading off with the rest of the guys tomorrow to chase up a new set of tyres so we are well prepared for the Gibbb River Road next week. I’m disappointed with the original set of Goodyear as they have only lasted 40,000kms.

Wednesday – 22/7/09

Today is Ros’ birthday and since they will be leaving us while we stay in town another day, a birthday cake was organised to celebrate. Shirley produced her magic yet again! I’ll bet they have a great campfire, dinner and celebration on the Keep River tonight – wish we were there. Happy Birthday, Ros!

Today we organised some new tyres for the cruiser and decided to go with muddies this time instead of the highway tyres Toyota dish out. Hopefully, we’ll get better than 40,000kms out of this set. Now the cruiser looks like it can go anywhere and is ready for the Gibb River Road.

A short trip up to the Diversion Dam and beach swim area late in the day was the only time we had today with the car for sight-seeing and we managed to drop in at Zebra Rock Art Gallery. There are some amazing rock cuttings here from rock formed by minerals that have set into stone giving a nice stripped effect. They also have a fish feeding area on the Ord River and provide bread for feeding. We strolled down to expect a few small fish but were surprised to see the biggest catfish we had ever seen and they were bunched up so tight!

Today was 35C and it seems to be getting hotter. Tomorrow, we’re off up the Keep River to join the rest of the guys for some fishing – fingers crossed for some barra and mudcrabs!

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Camooweal to Kununurra

It’s been just over a week since the last post – partly due to no internet access and partly due to being slack! Sorry about that, but we are enjoying ourselves!

Sunday 12/7/09

Today we drove from Camooweal across the Barkly Highway. This is a long 460km stretch with only one fuel station at about the 260km point at Barkly Homestead. The LC holds enough fuel to tow the van all the way across but we stopped for a lunch break at Barkly Homestead anyway. Barkly have grassed campsites at $24pn (unpowered) but there are plenty of free camps along the highway at windmills and rest areas which are more appealing to us, however, we did not use them on this occasion.

This is a very isolated part of the country with just about every approaching driver waving as a greeting and welcome to the remoteness. Despite this, the road is well maintained and fairly wide – one lane each way.

We decided not to go to the Devil’s Marbles as it would be preferrable to spend more time there so will do it when we visit the centre later. We turned north at ThreeWays, which is the junction of the Barkly Highway and the Stuart Highway that travels north to Darwin. We refuelled and travelled the remaining 80kms to Banka Banka Station and booked in for two nights. This was the first time we stayed anywhere for more than one night – we need to slow down! 

Banka Banka has plenty of fresh underground spring water that you can freely use to wash vehicles, clothing etc. Banka Banka was pretty full and we were lucky to acquire our sites together so late in the day. (The next day, the gates were closed about 1pm and no one was allowed in).

Cost $12pp/pn.

Monday 13/7/09

A designated day of rest, and with no Next-G, I decided to finally setup the broadband satellite dish. The mountings were fixed to the van front and back to allow moving around when access is required then the tedious task of getting the dish working began. The CD delivered with the dish was not readable and there was no success on this occassion after a few hours of patiently trying – I’m not ready to recommend this system just yet!

Jane took the opportunity of all the available water to catchup on the washing and even with an unpowered site, the solar supplied all our needs to run the washing machine. 

Tuesday 14/7/09

Today we left Banka Banka destined for Katherine where we were to meet our KOG friends Clive & Shirley. We stopped in at Daly Waters Hotel for a barra burger for lunch – highly recommended – then pressed on to Katherine. We didn’t stop this time at places like Newcastle Waters, Elsey Cemetery (We of the Never Never fame) or Mataranka Hot Springs as we stopped at all last year, but all are recommended stops for any first time travellers to the area.

On arrival in Katherine, we met up with Clive and Shirley, making our Kedron van convoy 3, and headed into Woolworths to top up our pantries. When visiting, don’t forget to visit the gourmet butcher in the same shopping centre. A line the length of the Woolworths bottleshop also saw the happy hour beverages topped up (you need to provide proof of ID here where your licence is scanned for repeat purchases).

We headed off late in the afternoon west along the Victoria Highway and found a rest area and all 3 vans headed further down an old road and found a clearing in the bush for our first camp with all 6 of us. A little confusion when the F-Truck got caught up on a rock (Graham will never live this down) but we were setup before dark for a late happy hour and welcome drinks. It was great to be out in the bush with no one else around. 

Wednesday 15/7/09

Today we headed further west along the Victoria Highway. The drive toward Victoria River Crossing is very picturesque with surrounding escarpments and the road following the plains. Approaching Victoria River Crossing, there is a lot of roadworks with new bridges and roadwork being built to try to prevent it all washing away in next year’s wet. The river looks fantastic here and tempting for a swim but many a lurking crocodile inhabit these waters!

The road from Victoria River Crossing to Timber Creek passed pretty quickly. Arriving in Timber Creek we decided to top up our fuel despite having more than 1/2 tank of fuel remaining. Telstra services were out – so no mobile, no EFTPOS – lucky we grabbed some cash before leaving Katherine, and we recommend any travellers do the same when travelling these areas as many areas don’t take credit cards or have EFTPOS facilities.

The national park camping area outside of Timber Creek was full to overflowing, and not liking crowds and wanting to get the 3 vans together we pushed off further west and found a large now disused roadworks quarry that sheltered us from the highway and allowed us to make as much noise as we liked. The State of Origin was on tonight so the sat TV was turned on and the TV setup outside which allowed us to cheer our teams as much as we liked. It was great to see NSW finally take one game out even though QLD had already won the series. I wished for mobile reception to allow the usual stirring of text messages… ;-)

Thursday 16/7/09

This morning, another attempt at the broadband satellite saw better results but not the final internet connection - this was put down to some trees in the path of the dish. Not as much time was spent this time but the satellite position in respect to C1 was an important milestone to note and should help in the future. The tuning is very tedious compared with the sat TV but something I’ll have to get use to.

Today we headed off toward Keep River NP just a few kms east of the NT/WA border. The road in the NP is well graded dirt and the 15km run up to the first camp area saw us with 3 adjacent bays for the night – any later and we would not have been so lucky. The NT/WA border has checkpoints were no fruit and vegetables are allowed across, so the remaining vegetables were pooled with some lamb, beef and chicken to form a huge pot of what we now affectionately call “border stew”. A combined chopping effort and leadership from Shirley assured us of a fine meal. It was a fantastic meal consisting of a list of ingredients longer than your arm – so much for simple camp cooking! No slumbing it in our camp!

Friday 17/7/09

This morning we walked the designated trek from the campground. It is only 2kms but covers some vastly different environments, taking us about 1.5hrs as we leisurely strolled.

We left Keep River NP for the WA border checkpoint which was uneventful after handing over our last remaining fruit and honey. From there the drive into Kununurra was short and we booked into the Kimberlyland Caravan Park for 3 nights @ $12pp/pn (unpowered). All powered sites were taken but the area we were allocated allowed us to setup a private common area between the vans placed in a U-shape.

A couple of hours was spent at the Coles supermarket here to refresh the pantry and mainly to purchase all fruit and veges which we had none after the border crossing. The quality was pretty good and the border must be a great business opportunity for Coles and IGA which are the only shopping centres here. The local tackle store was raided of their few remaining Reidy’s barra lures before heading back to camp.

Saturday 18/7/09

Today was spent in camp relaxing and again catching up on some washing, and “supervising” a few small jobs ;-) 

Sunday 19/7/09

Today we travelled up the dirt road to the Keep River back across the border to check out some campsites along the river where we plan on heading this week for some fishing. The road was pretty good but lots of sharp rocks saw us let the tyre pressures down. The road narrows to a track and many potential campsites noted. Some people already camped indicated they were catching plenty of barra and some mudcrabs, so next week it is.

The drive back saw us pull into the Hoochery Distillery to taste the local produce of rum, liquors and coffee.

Happy hour for the past couple of evenings has been joined with some other traveller’s German couple Thorsten & Henriette. They have been travelling in a LC troupie for the past few months and seeing much of Australia most Australians will never visit. They have some good pics on their blog but the text is in German.

We’ll extend our stay in Kununurra for a couple more nights to allow us to visit a few local locations and perhaps take the plane trip over the Bungle Bungles and Lake Argyle.

More fantastic cakes from “Auntie” Shirley topped off a nice BBQ lamb dinner. Yumm.

More photos here.

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Kynuna to Camooweal

Saturday 11/7/09

Today we travelled from Combo Waterhole (Kynuna) after a cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs. Destination for the day was Camooweal, close to the Queensland/Northern Territory border.

First stop was McKinlay, the location of the Walkabout Hotel of Crocodile Dundee fame. The hotel doesn’t serve food for morning tea or lunch,so we had a cuppa in the carpak,refueled (at 139c/L) before moving on.

Next stop was Cloncurry where we stopped for bread rolls and a few little things an Woolworths (Cloncurry Bakery is highly recommended – they have the BEST pies, and their bread is good too!), then a liitle up the road for lunch before moving on to Mount Isa.

A brief stop at Mount Isa in Bunnings saw us lacking what we were after only to find it in the car after it had been thought it was left at home, so headed off on the final 190kms to Camooweal. The road between Mount Isa and Camooweal is pretty good and we arrived in Camooweal about 4:30pm where we refueled (at 168c/L) in preparaton of tomorrow’s trip across the Barkley Highyway to Three Ways. There is a stop at Barkley Homestead but they are always a lot more expensive than anyone else for fuel, so the preference is to make it right across. This stretch of road is well known for headwinds that can push fuel consumption up, so we topped up a jerry as we’ll use it for backup later anyway.

Tonight we camped at Camooweal Billabong (Camps 5 – Q313). We have never camped here before, but have camped at Camooweal Caves NP. The river has lots of free campsites spread out along the river and lots of bird life. A nice T-bone and roast vegetables, followed by ice-cream and home grown passionfruit brought by Graham & Ros from their garden was the night’s meal.

Tomorrow we head across the Barkely Highway for Three-Ways, then south on the Stuart Highway through Tennant Creek onto the Devil’s Marbles. Graham & Ros plan to head straight for Banka Banka where we will meet them again on Monday night.

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Barcaldine to Kynuna

Friday 10/7/09

Today we travelled from Barcaldine (Lloyd Jones Weir) towards Kynuna. The plan was to stay at the Blue Heeler Hotel who offer a camp for $10 per night (or is it $10 per person per night which would be expensive for a plot of dirt).

Leaving Lloyd Jones Weir, we stopped in at Barcaldine to do the tourist thing and take the pictures at the Tree Of Knowledge (which was poisoned in 2006 and some other tree brought in???). A huge memorial has been built at a cost of around $8 million – an obscene waste of taxpayer’s money.

From Barcaldine we drove on through Longreach (we didn’t stop as we did the QANTAS tour and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame last year – we recommend the Stockman’s but not QANTAS) and on to Winton where we stopped for lunch. We had a fantastic meal there last year and have been raving about it but this time the food was dry and tasteless – very disappointing – so no longer recommended. We walked over to the North Gregory Hotel where they use to allow travellers to stay overnight for free but they have now stopped this practice, possibly because the travellers were not spending money there and going across the road to the othe pubs. Our recommendation would be the Long Waterhole where we stayed last year which is only 1-2kms put of town on the Lark Quarry Road (free camp) (Camps 5 – Q359).

We headed on towards Kynuna but just short of Kynuna, spotted Combo Waterhole on the map (Camps 5 – Q364) and decided to turn in there for the night. The campsite is 9kms down a well graded dirt road and the tunoff is well sign-posted on the highway. It was a fantastic quiet spot with no one else camped, but one other camper arrived soon after we arrived but that was all for the night. This was a much better choice than the back of a hotel.

There was water in the river and a few brolgas stood as silhouettes in the sunset.

We had a good feed, sleep and first cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs. Jane spotted a few kangaroos and brolgas again in the morning and the drive out saw us rounding up a few cattle that decided they rather run along the road instead of off it.

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Tambo to Barcaldine

Thursday 9/7/09

Today we travelled from Tambo through Blackall to a free camp just south of Barcaldine – Lloyd Jones Weir (Camps 5 – Q346) – a total of about 200kms. The campsite was busy with many travellers staying a month or more.

We stopped briefly at Blackall to visit the Black Stump. The original Black Stump was one of the markers used by surveyors to mark the boundaries but was burnt out – the current display is a piece of petrified wood. Anything west of the stump is termed as being “Beyond the Black Stump”, while anything the otherside is “This side of the Black Stump”. As you can see by the picture, the van has been “beyond the black stump”.

The road between Tambo and Blackall was fairly wavey which causes a bit of pitching but the new suspension in the cruiser seems to dampen this out much better than previously. The road between Blackall and Barcaldine is much better however there are hundreds of roadkill (kangaroos) and the occassional black feral pig. The roadtrains seem to wipe all of these out at night on their travels through.

Today we saw our first cattle drove (for this trip) with a few hundred head grouped across the road. It always amazes me how much these animals herd together - never liking to be left behind on their own – safety in numbers, I guess. We’ve also seen a number of emus on the side of the road and on one occassion a few crossed in front of us, although they seem to have more sense than the ‘roos – at least they don’t dart one way then when you think they are clear, dart back again and run into the vehicle!

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Chinchilla to Tambo

Sunday 5/7/09

The run from Oakey Creek Reserve to Chinchilla was a short run, so we decided to wash the van before heading off as time had beaten us and it didn’t get washed before leaving home. The morning was cold and it wasn’t very inviting for spashing around in cold water but it had to be done.

We arrived in Chinchilla around 1:30 where our friends, Graham & Ros, had lunch waiting for us – what top hosts! We spent the remainder of the afternoon installing an automatic satellite dish on Graham & Ros’ van before heading inside to the warmth of their fire for dinner and a few drinks.

Monday 6/7/09

The morning was spent doing a few tasks – a new spare tyre for the van, realigning the HR hitch, filling water tanks – and putting a rough plan in place to meet up with Graham & Ros in a few days time when they hit the road.

We left Chinchilla about 1pm, after dropping into the local bakery (highly recommended) for some fresh rolls and delicious pies. We arrived at our Monday night destination, Mitchell, around 4pm where we found a nice freecamp right on the river at a place called Fisherman’s Rest (Camps 5 – Q659). Only 3 other campsites were setup and there was plenty of room between sites. The van was levelled and it was time to relax before dinner and a cold night. The diesel heater once again was put into action and the van was toasty and warm.

Fisherman's Rest Campsite at Mitchell, QLD

Fisherman's Rest Campsite at Mitchell, QLD

Tuesday 7/7/09

This morning, a small wallaby waltzed right past the van along the river bank. The morning was initially cold but once the sun was fully up, the air temperature increased nicely so finally I had my first “shorts and T-shirt” day. Today we had a short run to Charleville, only 180 kms west, where we had planned to visit the Cosmos Centre for some star gazing. Since we were going out at night we’d need to unhook the van and didn’t what to risk a bush camp leaving the van at home, so paid the $18 for an unpowered site at the Cobb & Co Caravan Park. We stayed away from the powered area as it was all dirt and vans were parked tightly together – not to our liking. The unpowered camp area was grassed and green, so we had a nice grassy site to walk around on away from the crowds.

The Cosmos Centre was fully booked out for the next 3 nights so we put our names on the standby list. It was a clear day so we didn’t expect there would be any cancellations. We headed off to the Cosmos Centre anyway as we had heard there was a daytime presentation. At $5 per head, it wasn’t too bad but talked up by the young lady at the counter who insisted we would be “amazed”. Hmmm

We headed off to the Bilby Show at 4:15 at the National Parks & Wildlife Centre at Charleville. The Bilby Show consisted of a presentation, a screening of the Austrlian Story documentary “The Bilby Brothers” before a Bilby was brought out in a small cage.  A Bilby is a small marsupial that is in danger of extinction from feral cats and other predators and there is thought to be only 700-800 animals left in Queensland. They have the 2nd shortest gestation period of any animal at only 10-12 days before giving birth to what was referred to as baked beans with legs. The story of the Bilby Brothers is about 2 guys (not actually brothers) who raised over $500k to setup an electric fence to contain a 25 square km (5km x 5km) area of land within Currawinya National Park because they were so taken by the plight of these creatures. Currawinya is on the QLD/NSW border in the middle of nowhere but an excellent flood of donations and support soon had the fence built. It’s an interesting story and at $5 per head, it’s worth a visit and show your support.

Within 5 minutes of arriving back at camp, we received a phone call from the Cosmos Centre saying they were running an extra show at 6:00 so we headed off for the viewing. They showed us a couple of stars through the telescopes that sit within a shed where the roof wheels away. We also saw one constellation – Scorpious - and had a look at Saturn (which was pretty cool) before a look at the full moon and instruction on how to find south from the Southern Cross – now we’re prepared to wander around the bush at night! Best time for visiting would be on a 1/4 moon and when the rings in Saturn are more tilted. The centre was worth visiting but at $22 per head for an hour long presentation and an extra $2 for a photo copied sheet we felt a little taken.

Today was our 25th wedding anniversary – congratulations to beautiful Jane for putting up with me for so long! (She could have been out by now)

Wednesday 8/7/09

The morning was quite reasonable once the sun rose and it was another shorts and T-shirt day. We headed off from Charleville about 9:30, took our time for the 200km run up to Tambo where we found a nice campsite (free) on the Barcoo River (Camps 5 – Q678) by lunchtime. Last time we were here, the area closest to the road was busy with vans and motorhomes and we moved further down the river for some solitude and quiet. This time there were only 5 other sites setup spread along the river and the extra clearance provided by the van allowed us to take a spot off the road.

The day was quite warm about 22C and it was beautiful in the sun. Jane collected some wood for our first campfire and enjoyed the afternoon, while I did a little w**k. There was no need for the heater tonight as the van was still 20C when we retired for the night.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Barcaldine we’re Graham & Ros should meet us late in the afternoon after driving all the way from Chinchilla.

Barcoo River Freecamp at Tambo

Barcoo River Freecamp at Tambo

Horses at Barcoo River Campsite

Horses at Barcoo River Campsite

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Departure Day

Departure day was Saturday 4/7/09 with a time between 11-12 anticipated.

Sara & Tim were waiting intently for us to leave – something about facebook and a party, but we’ve blocked that out of our minds – we just hope the cops are forgiving….

Our departure was delayed by the usual last minute fine tuning and a delay in getting a couple of things and we finaly set off at 2:30. The Ipswich roadworks caused a little confusion as the ramps have been changed in the past few weeks since we had been there last and the traffic was built up, which we didn’t expect on a Saturday but once we cleared that it was an uneventful trip to our first campsite. The wind has been blowing pretty hard in Brisbane for the past couple of days and we had to contend with a head wind that increased fuel consumption to about 23L/100kms – not too bad considering we are dragging 3.5T and we had the boat on the roof and all the car is pretty busy with gear..

First night was spent at Oaky Creek Reserve at Bowenville about 35kms east of Dalby (Camps 4 – Q620). This area is a huge flat area beside the creek – we had stayed here once before so we knew it was an easy first stop to get us out of Brisbane and settle into our new routine. There is a toilet block but no showers, but we needed neither facility as we are self contained. Only a few vans and motorhomes here even though it’s in the middle of the QLD school holidays.

Exiting the car, saw us scramble for jumpers, shoes and beanies and Jane keen to try out her new snow boots ;-). Once rugged up, a couple of celebratory drinks for our first (late) happy hour were consumed while we cooked our first camp dinner – a nice thick rib-on-the-bone with roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and eggplant – what a great start!

The Dometic Diesel heater proved its worth keeping the van toasty and warm until bedtime where the electric blanket took over. The new satellite dish worked without fuss tuning in Foxtel – just like home.

The night was cold with the van temp reading 4C and the diesel heater restarted to take the chill off the air.

A little maintenance task already as I managed to catch the 12V Engel lead in the drawers in the cruiser – but nothing a soldering iron won’t fix. The van is filthy from our last trip, so that will be washed before heading off today also.

Today, we’re off to Chinchilla to install a satellite dish on our friend’s van – only 100kms away, so a short trip. We’ll overnight there before heading off on Monday.

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First Post

Welcome to our travel blog.

The last few weeks we have been busy preparing the van and car for our trip and we’re almost there.

Today is our last day at work. The next few days we will be busy doing last minute errands, final modifications, packing and cleaning before heading off – hopefully on Saturday.

4 more sleeps! ;-)

See the About Page for some background on our plans and rig.

Once we’re travelling, we aim to keep this blog up to date, so come back regularly or subscribe to the RSS feed. We’ll also provide links to our photo album to share with friends and family.

We’ll get a fresh picture together of the rig hooked up as we are leaving – should be nice and shiny, but it won’t stay that way for long.

Keep in touch and don’t work too hard ;-)

David & Jane

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