The big road trip – Derby to Kununurra

Days 22 and 23
Actually this starts with the evening of day 21. We had finished dinner and the washing up, and I was putting away bits and pieces in preparation to leave the next day. It was well dark and the people next door sounded like they were having a lovely evening. I thought it was a family but as it turns out there were three children in the goldstream camper trailer. This is the type of trailer that goes up and then double beds come out at each end. As I was just about to finish my chores I heard an almighty bang followed by a second one.

I looked out my window just in time to see the camper land back upright. There’s was a lot of commotion so I went outside to make sure everyone was ok. That’s when I realised there were three kids in the van and they had all climbed onto the bed at the far end of the camper and it had tipped. Twice. The kids were shaken and all the stuff in the van was strewn everywhere. When the dust settled the kids said that only one of them was staying there with her father. And on looking at the van, I also realised that the stabilising legs had not been put down. From what I can gather the van tipped back, then saved by an overhanging branch and then righted itself before doing it again, seesaw style. By which time the kids had jumped off the bed.

I sent them off to find dad who sent them back to clean up. I don’t know when he came back but his van and car where wide open when I went to bed and the stabilising legs still weren’t down when I woke up. I did see him before we left and he was very annoyed that three kids had been in his van! He said he’d heard there was some chaos and that the kids overreacted (!). When I pointed out that the legs weren’t down, he said he knew that and he was only staying one night so that’s why. I guess safety doesn’t come first for everyone.

Anyway, day 22 was a travel day, ex Broome into Derby. Just 220k so not a big one but The Mooses house fell apart so we had a minor catastrophe mid trip. Nothing a home reno couldn’t fix and The Moose is now secure in a clean abode, post wash. Derby is a nice spot. It wouldn’t appeal to everyone because there isn’t much to do but I like a quieter place. We’ve been down to the jetty at both low and high tides to see what Australia’s biggest tides look like. Phenomenal. The distance that the tide goes out is indescribable and sand can be seen miles out to sea. When it’s in, it’s all the way in, up the bank and beyond. Where we fished last night into deep water was a mud flat today (day 23) that The Piper explored. Until I got nervous about crocs and made him get out. We’ve also been to the museum, the old gaol and the swimming pool. Now it’s time to get ready for the Gibb River Road to Windjana and Tunnel. Going to be fun heading into the Kimberley proper.

Windjana Gorge in the Kimberley East

Day 24 waking up in Derby was both exciting and a little nerve wracking. Not that I admitted it to anyone. If I said I was nervous about attacking part of the Gibb River Road and then the road into (and beyond) Windjana Gorge then I give people something to worry about. So, I feign confidence and hope for the best. That said, I don’t take unnecessary risks. My truck was serviced and extensively overhauled just before we left and there are people everywhere. So I had confidence in my vehicle and in being in a place that is far from deserted.

Before leaving Derby we headed to the prison boab tree and the long water trough. The prison tree, whilst having a horrible history had a much less dreadful feel about it than the old gaol. It also explained about the importance of the boab to aboriginal people for food, and other traditional reasons. It explained that if you interfere with a boab you’ll get it back in spades. Maybe those gaolers got what was coming to them, as I hope the people who insist on initialising the trees do! Back in the car we hit the road. It very quickly degenerated to a single lane with passing involving one wheel on the road and the other on the side of the road. Not that there were many passings, maybe a dozen.

We stopped at a very large and very beautiful boab for The Piper to play his pipes. He warmed up with a reasonable version of Waltzing Matilda. Appropriate in front of a boab tree. Then he gave me Amazing Grace before we jumped back in the car. Looks like a revival of sorts and perhaps a montage of Amazing Grace from around the place. More miles and the further we got the worse the road until we made it here, to Windjana Gorge, with a load of fire wood tied down to the camper. No dramas and no breakages. The camp ground is fabulous with miles of room, hot showers and flushing toilets and an amazing gorge! Right outside my window!

Our afternoon involved a set up, and then cooling down in the shade before a nice shower and a walk into the gorge. What an amazing sight. Crocodiles galore and colours that changed every few minutes. We stayed in there until we were the last and then saw a pair of Tawny Frog Mouth owls and some bats. Little ones that look like little swifts flying around. More animals to add to our list. The Piper got a book, “Mammals of the North West” and has been having a great time identifying poo. In the evening we had a fire with our wood that was almost sabotaged by some fellows campers who took it upon themselves to start our fire. To say The Piper was devastated would be an understatement. Fortunately they were having no luck starting it and The Piper got it sorted and was happy again. Baked spuds for dinner …

This morning (day 25) we walked all the way into the gorge which didn’t prove to be that exciting but we did see a whole lot of bigger black bats (apparently they are flying foxes) and an Agile Wallaby. And of course, crocs. These are freshwater crocs and are just inside the gorge, very close to the day area parking. The literature says there are 70, the ranger said there are about 140, I counted 82 and a fellow camper counted “more than 100”. There’s a lot. More crocodiles than logodiles. In a very small amount of water in what is a huge river bed, it would be magnificent to see it in the wet season although how you would get here is anyone guess. I suppose some time in the future the roads will be paved and the whole Kimberly West more accessible but for now, it’s not.

Day 26 and 27

Tunnel Creek and Fitzroy Crossing

Famous last words. Seems I spoke too soon. But I’m jumping the gun …

Tunnel creek was a fabulous destination. After a good pack up we were at the site by 10 at the latest. The whole thing is very accessible and easy to traverse. We went through both caves, at times in ankle deep water, and saw bats, a freshwater yabbi but no crocs. The stalactites and stalagmites were amazing. At least as good as any I’ve seen in commercial caves elsewhere. The sheets and crystals were fabulous under bright torch light. The Piper was very very excited and hard to contain. I also saw some aboriginal art and we read the tragic story of Jandamurra. So, we had a great morning. Not so the afternoon … Although it all ends well.

Following a nice little snack and a laugh we started off toward Fitzroy Crossing, The plan was to make the roadside campsite, check the time and head on through if it was early enough. Unfortunately it all went to shit about 10k from Tunnel Creek. A flat tyre. With 60k of dirt road to go The Piper was distressed so my stiff upper lip was front and centre. With a can do attitude I got the spare tyre off the trailer just as a car came along. I flagged them down and requested the help of the lovely man and his family. Just advice, I was happy to get dirty. But, as it turns out, the flat tyre was due to broken brackets, left and right, that hold the leaf springs in place. He proceeded to explain the problem and that replacing the tyre with spare would be futile.

Nothing for it but to abandon the trailer on the side of the road. Not before I threw the spare in the truck along with my c-tek battery charger, and locked my lockbox. On the way the Fitzroy I had a million thoughts going through my head. Insurance? RAC? It’s Saturday afternoon. Will the repair need parts from somewhere else? Is it safe in Fitzroy? Ahhhh! Needless to say there was no accident so the insurance company was not interested. Off to a bad start. RAC were quick to tell me my car is covered but not my trailer! So I ask for their preferred tower anyway so I can use a reputable person. Unfortunately he didn’t answer his phone but I left a message which he answered quickly, keen to help (thankfully). He committed to retrieve the trailer as soon as possible, when the truck returns from a retrieval up near Halls Creek.

He also suggested I call RAC back and upgrade. A new telephonist and a clearer explanation on my part and $140.00 to upgrade and I saved myself a small fortune. The towing fees are $3.30 / km on bitumen (82km) and $4.40 / km on dirt (110km). My upgrade entitled me to 200km in remote Australia! Eight kms to spare! Yahoo! First win. Next, find accommodation. In a mining town. Nothing cheap and only available until Monday! First tonight, then worry about it after that. Worst case scenario the trailer can go to the van park and we can stay in it awaiting parts … Julie in the van park helped me find a donger at $150.00 for the night and The Piper and I were there and settled in by 4 at the hotel. With many patrons. Having showered we headed up for a meal in the restaurant before a night in front of the TV.

About 11pm I got a text to say my trailer was in town! I can’t say I slept soundly but I slept and woke more concerned than I’d gone to bed. The cold light of day. However all was relieved with an 08.30 phone call to say the trailer is easily repairable, first thing Monday morning, with a couple of welds and a new tyre! Yahoo! We cruised around to collect the cold stuff from the fridge and drop off the spare and our day was our own to head out to Geike Gorge. It involves a boat ride that The Piper wanted to do and then didn’t want to do. So he had a swim, we had a look at the gorge from the boat ramp and we were home by 2pm. I’ve cleaned the car, repaired the drawer in the back, washed the dust off and cooked up some sausages. We have our room for another night but not tomorrow so the trailer needs to be repaired. I can wait for a spare if needed in the van park.

I have to say that I am very fortunate. I realised there was a problem very quickly, before more damage was done. We were on a very remote road so it was safe to leave the trailer. Julie helped me find accommodation that turned out to be perfect and very safe. My RAC upgrade saved me $750! The towing guy was honest and hardworking and committed to getting my property safe and repaired quickly. The Piper and I were unharmed and have another adventure to add to our list of experiences. And best of all, no time lost, and we can go onwards to the next great stage of our adventure …

A few days to catch up, 29, 30 and 31

True to his word, my trailer was good to go bang on 10.30 with the repairs made, the water tank realigned (that tank never seems to be right) and the spare tyre replaced. With our shopping done I couldn’t wait to leave Fitzroy behind us. It’s not Fitzroys fault by any means but getting some k’s on the clock felt like one way to get my mojo back. So we hit the road and drove all day to the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park where we finally got to set up the camper and make sure all was ok inside.

Now to say it was dirty and dusty just wouldn’t really describe it. There was filth everywhere but it’s easy cleaned and everything was in order by bedtime. Unfortunately the people staying beside us passed comment on the difficult road to the Bungles (they did a day trip at $285.00 per person) which put the wind up me again. Mind you, these are people with a brand new, very shiny white Prado and a huge caravan with a glass (surely it isn’t glass!) door. So I was left to assume their 4wd experiences are minimal. Instead of taking their word for it, I looked on a few blogs and reassured myself that I could make the drive, even if it took all day. On that note, I slept with the windows open and the stars and moon shining into the camper all night.

Early wake up by a helicopter warming up for its expensive trip over the Bungles. When we were in Broome at the pearl farm, we were offered a helicopter trip for $80 over the ocean or $120 back to Broome. I contemplated it for The Piper. I should have done it. The trip over the Bungles was upwards of $400 per person depending on the number of people. Clearly they are making their money! As are the van park who charged $35/50 unpowered/powered a night. They have you over a barrel because it’s your safest option for your van while you are in the park, and a good launching pad, as well as a welcome sight at the end of the day. But don’t expect much. The receptionist was rude, the toilets are smelly demountables and the place is dry and dusty.

Anyway, with breaky under our belts we headed off on our next adventure. To see the Bungle Bungle for ourselves. The drive in and out is a mix of rough corrugations, 5 water crossings, winding blind corners and blind crests, as well as stunning scenery, all providing an opportunity to test your car and your driving. We made it without a problem but I was watching every stone, bend and crest until my hands nearly blistered. The first section, owned by the cattle station, Mabel Downs, is worse slightly worse than the section managed by the park. And there are more sections depending on what you want to see. Once you are at the visitors centre (53k from the highway) it’s another 30k to the domes (south) and less to the attractions in the north.

The Piper and I headed to the domes and Cathedral Gorge. Having banned screen time for the drive in, we both got to see the domes appear and become more and more prolific. They are imposing, towering structures that abound near and far, once you get to them. How they are still standing 360 000 000 years after being formed is anyone’s guess, but I’m glad they are. The loop walk gave us a chance to take them in before the 1k walk into the gorge. One k is nothing for us but it was hot in there. And that was before 11am. But it was worth the heat and once inside the gorge we stayed in there for well over an hour. The Piper skimmed stones into the pool and rescued frogs, while I just soaked it all in. We did it! We’ve been to the Bungle Bungles, I managed the road (and have the sticker to prove it) and the day was uneventful. I think my mojo is mostly intact.

Moving again, onwards to Kununurra. An early start, this time thanks to cattle making their presence known. The Piper befriended the wee ones while the bigger one is skittish because folk throw rocks at him. Who does that? Anyway, having packed we hit the road and made Kununurra in great time, checking into a van park with a pool for The Piper. Of course, you expect a twist and things that can go wrong, will. I noticed about halfway to Kuna that the car was very noisy, especially under load. My suspicion? Muffler. Now this exhaust system is brand new, replaced for this trip. So, I called up the muffler shop who looked at it and sure enough something had come loose and gaskets had blown. Apparently the something should be checked 500-1000k after fitting. So, now they are redone, I’ll get them checked in Darwin then they are good for the life of the exhaust. That’s it now. The trailer and the car have had their respective issues and the rest of the trip will be issues free!

A much needed rest day spent around the resort like pool either swimming or enjoying the entertainment provided by Peter Brandy, an indigenous singer and guitarist, over a glass of wine and a saudpsage sizzle. Some of the most simple things create great memories that can be recalled many years later. I predicted I’ll say “remember that evening in Kuna when we listened to that guy singing songs about shearing, finding tucker, the big rains and other Kimberly stuff?” The Piper was very engaged and a perfect date for the evening,
El Questro (Friday 28th August)
We’ve stayed in Kununurra and day tripped to both El Questro or Lake Argyle. You can stay at both so it’s just personal preference. I didn’t want to set up and pack up twice and have needed almost endless mechanical support, so this way has worked for us. El Questro is a must do but there are a few things you need to know. Firstly you need to buy a wilderness pass. These are $12 per adult, so in my case it was a cheap day out. We went to Zebedee Springs and Emma Gorge. Zebedee closes at 12 to allow the area 18hrs to recover each day. So, we swung into Emma Gorge Resort and got our pass and then scooted down to Zebedee. We got there about 11, just as the tour buses were starting to depart, so we had about an hour. Not long enough but it was a great thing to do. We spoke to the staff there who said that they have seen the place overwhelmed with people, so I would suggest a 7am start or an 11am visit. The springs are warm and flowing despite being dry season. The surrounding are beautiful and provide a perfect vista. There are green palm trees set against the browns and reds of the towering cliff faces. I reclined in two different pools and had natures own massages under a small and a larger waterfall. If you go there walk up as far as you can. The older folk stick to the lower pools. And pee and other human detritus travels down the pools … Having said that the water is quite literally crystal clear.

The pools are a simple two or three minute walk from the car park which is about 10k, on gravel, from the Gibb River Road (it may be more or less). Although the maps say that this section of the Gibb is unsealed, it has recently been sealed so this site is very accessible. After the springs closed we headed back to Emma Gorge and had lunch and a milkshake before walking the trail into the gorge. We had heard that the gorge had a pool in it and a trickling waterfall. Indeed, it had a most amazing pool of water and a stunning waterfall as well as droplets on at least one quarter of the pools edge. But I’ve jumped the gun. The walk in is graded “blue” and required an hour over a variety of terrains. I estimate The Piper and I did it more quickly than that, but arrived at the end of the gorge very hot. And very overwhelmed and excited by what we found! You don’t have any idea what you are going to see until the last few metres.

The gorge ends at the pool and is surrounded on three sides by towering cliff faces between 70-90m high. The whole area is 1800 million years old (no typo) and is awesome. As in, it creates some amazing awe! The cliff faces are covered in ferns that are watered by either the falls or the droplets. There is a tree root the length of the falls, almost dangling in the water. There are a variety of ways that the water enters the pool, not only via the falls but also from the droplets and some thermal springs. The springs create areas of warmer water at the edges, attractive to those that don’t like the cooler water. We swam the entire thing, despite cramps in my feet. The water was pleasant and the crevices and cracks were intriguing to look into. The Piper jumped from the rocks and the waterfall as I floated on my back from the falls to the beach, staring up into the top of the gorge and the blue sky above. We though Zebedee was good but this was amazing and we spent over three hours there, returning the to the car after 5, as the sun set.

A couple of words of note. The last allowed time to walk into Emma Gorge is 3pm, to allow sufficient time to walk out before dark. Remember that this whole area operates on WA time despite being so far east that it would be more appropriate if NT time was used. It gets light here early and gets dark here early too. The other word of note is about the numbers of people here. Apparently it is slowing down, but everywhere we have been, there have been bus loads (literally) of people. Don’t expect to get a place to yourself. We had Emma Gorge for about 2 minutes before a contingent of people rolled in. As we left, one young couple remained, clearly waiting to have it to themselves. Finally, the gorge is about an hour from Kununurra so bear that in mind if you are trying to make Zebedee before it closes, or be back in town before dark.

I should mention my car troubles right about here but it clouds a perfect day. Suffice to say we seem to be ok despite some additional hurdles. For now it’s onwards but not before an enforced extra day in Kuna …

Lake Argyle (Saturday 29th August)
With a new auxiliary battery installed in the car the RAC mechanic suggested a run out to Lake Argyle to make sure the car is ok before heading off tomorrow. Now I’ve underplayed the whole car troubles but I have to say I would have preferred to do one hundred laps of town. But the mechanic assured me that there would be plenty of folk to help if I needed it, so I headed off. Just to get it out of the way, the car went without a hitch and the mechanic at home who supposedly replaced that battery in May either gave me a dud or invoiced me for something that was never actually done (it certainly didn’t look new when it was removed).

So, to Lake Argyle. In contrast to Emma gorge that is many millions of years old, the lake is man made and only about 40 years old. Although the gorges they flooded and the cliffs that now make up the lake sides are like Emma and other gorges. I guess someone said that we are all gorged out and can afford to sacrifice a few. The plan was to irrigate Australia’s next food bowl and there is more than enough water, but it hasn’t come to fruition. There are new wetlands of significance to birds and other animals but at the price of graves and other sites of cultural significance to the local Aboriginal People. You just have to wonder. At what point might we just say that not everything has to be done, just because it can be done.

Anyway, all that aside, it’s a beautiful lake and we looked out over it for a while before taking to the infinity pool at the resort. Needless to say The Piper was in there for as long as possible and we filled our day quite nicely. It was also race day in Kuna but that didn’t appeal to The Piper so the rest of the evening was spent preparing to hit the road on Sunday … See you in the Northern Territory.

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