Traveling north from South Hedland we hadn’t gone far before we were held up at a level crossing by a very long train, it must have been two to three kilometres long with two locomotives at the head and two more in the middle. The wagons were obviously empty as the train was heading south east probably returning to Newman or one of the mines in the vicinity.
Once we were past the crossing we made steady progress and soon found ourselves at the turnoff to Marble Bar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marble_Bar,_Western_Australia).
Arriving at Pardoo Roadhouse (http://www.pardoo.com.au/) we stopped for morning tea with many other like-minded travellers; Margaret counted about fourteen caravans and motorhomes and there was a good complement of other motor vehicles and a low loader carrying a large item of earth-moving equipment. When we travelled Western Australia in 2010 we spent a night here at Pardoo in their caravan park at the back of the roadhouse.
By lunchtime we had reached Sandfire Roadhouse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandfire,_Western_Australia) so we filled up with diesel and parked to eat our sandwiches. In finding a place to park I had managed to have a (too) close encounter with a tree branch and wiped out the radio aerial on top of the van. While at Sandfire we also checked emails as we didn’t expect to necessarily have mobile coverage later in the day.
Our target stop for the evening was the Goldwire Rest Area (http://www.freecampingaustralia.com.au/free-camps/western-australia/goldwire-rest-area.html) about 170 kms north of the Roadhouse and we made steady progress throughout the afternoon and reached the Rest Area around three in the afternoon. There were many vehicles already there and most appeared to be set for an overnight stay. We found a suitable position and set the van up for the evening before we sat outside in the shade to have a cool drink. I managed to nod off for forty winks and my loving wife captured the moment for posterity. Goldwire was a reasonably quiet stop and we managed to get a fair night’s sleep before we pressed on for Broome the next morning.
Broomes Gateway (http://www.broomesgateway.com/caravan-park) was our selected destination, we had tried to book in to a number of the parks in town with no luck as it is the peak of the tourism season here and school holidays to boot. The site is about thirty kilometres east of Broome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broome,_Western_Australia) and has no power but water is laid on. The lack of power does not worry us unduly as we have solar panels on the roof to charge the batteries and if all else fails we have a generator that we can turn on. There is good local radio, phone and internet service here but if you want to watch television you will need a satellite dish.
Soon after arriving we headed in to Broome to see if we could pick up a replacement radio aerial. I had been hoping that I might just be able to buy a new top for the snapped off piece and not have to worry about fiddling with the base of the aerial. Of course it was a forlorn hope and I ended up screwing out the old base (just as well too as it had obviously been leaking if the rust on the fitting underneath was anything to go by) filling the gaps with sealant and fitting the new base and screw on top aerial to once again receive radio signal in the van.
That afternoon we headed back into town to see if we could get some pictures of the Staircase to the Moon (http://www.australiasnorthwest.com/events/staircase-to-the-moon) “Staircase to the Moon is a natural phenomenon created by the rising of a full moon and casting its reflection off the exposed mudflats in Roebuck Bay at extremely low tide, to create a breathtaking optical illusion of a widening golden staircase that extends all the way to the moon. Generally occurs March through to October every year.” – www.broomedirect.com.au. We saw quite a nice staircase and rising moon but unfortunately our photography did not result in professional like images of the event.
For those so inclined, in addition to the Staircase to the Moon, there is a fair bit to see and do in Broome such as visiting the local Chinatown, the pioneer cemetery and the Japanese and Aboriginal cemeteries, walking on Cable Beach at sunset, or just walking around the town of Broome itself is quite an interesting experience.
The Broome Visitor Centre provides a fairly comprehensive list (http://www.visitbroome.com.au/to-do) and visitors would be well advised to call in at the Centre or check out the website when planning a visit to Broome and the Kimberley. It wasn’t our intention to do a lot of touring in Broome itself as we did quite a bit when we last visited the city.
Sunday morning the staff at the park put on a bacon and egg breakfast with the proceeds going to a kids’ cancer charity. Of course we went across to the centrally located barbecue area and had our fill of muffin, bacon, egg and hash brown for the princely sum of $5.00 per serve complemented with a free tea or coffee.
Monday morning we decided to drive to town for a few things and on our return to the park proceeded to hitch the van to the car. I started getting ready to rotate the caravan wheels and Margaret went to the car to get her hat only to find the vehicle full of smoke. I pulled open the driver’s door to see the CB radio smoking and smoke coming from under the dash; I lifted the bonnet to see if the problem was in the engine bay but it was clear. In the meantime Margaret had grabbed the fire extinguisher from the caravan in case it was needed. I pulled the CB out of its bracket and removed the smouldering wires then pulled other smouldering wires from under the dash. Once I did this the problem seemed to disappear; however in the meantime one of the guys from the park has disconnected wires from the battery.
After considerable consultation and advice from many “wise” men and the removal of all the burnt wiring and the making safe of what remained we called a local Auto Electrician who advised us he was unable to assist and suggested we ring others in Broome. Our next port of call was to be Derby and we rang the Auto Electrician there and decided to drive through to Derby. As it happened we did not have lights, signals, nor brakes on the van as something appeared to be asunder with the connection between car and caravan. The air-conditioner was also affected in the melt down so it was a very hot slow trip to Derby.
When we arrived we called to see the Auto Electrician and he had a cursory look, fiddled with the brake controller and we had lights and signals on the van. We booked the vehicle in for a complete check and the necessary repairs then proceeded to the Caravan Park to set up our site. By this time it was getting close to three o’clock and we hadn’t had any lunch so we headed for the Wharf Cafe for a feed of fish and chips. After our feed we took a short walk along the wharf; with the making tide running in quite quickly those fisher people who had lines in were wetting the lines for a later catch and reserving their spots on the wharf rather than seriously expecting to catch anything.
The reason we had come to Derby was to take a bus tour to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek (http://www.australiasnorthwest.com/Destinations/The_Kimberley/Windjana_Gorge_and_Tunnel_Creek_National_Parks). Derby Bus Service provides a tour to these locations on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday (http://www.derbybus.com.au/WindjanaTours/) so at 8:00am on Tuesday morning Margaret and I were waiting out the front of the caravan park for the tour bus to arrive and take us to these interesting locations.
In due course a conventional bus arrived and the driver explained that the usual four wheel drive vehicle used for the tour was off the road and we would be travelling in the small coach. We set off and picked up a few other passengers along the way then headed along the Gibb River Road in the direction of the Gorge.
For a large part of the journey to the Gorge the Gibb River Road is bitumen with only about three patches of gravel along the way. With the driver (Chris) providing commentary our first stop was at a very large and very old Boab Tree (believed to be about two thousand years old). The driver gave us background information about the country and its early settlement.
Eventually we turned off to the Gorge Access Road (this road will take travellers prepared to drive it right through to the Great Northern Highway at a point about forty kilometres west of Fitzroy Crossing) and about thirty kilometres along we arrived at the Windjana Gorge National Park (http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/windjana-gorge) where we met our local guide for the day – Emmanuel.
After a biscuit and a drink, Emmanuel welcomed us to the Country of the Banuba people and performed a traditional smoking ceremony (albeit that the smoke emanated from a 5 gallon drum).
Emmanuel with the assistance of Kerrissa (the other member of the team from the bus and apparently a Banuba woman and the current Derby Boab Festival Queen) then led us on a tour of the Gorge. Traveling along part of the length of the gorge Emmanuel and Kerrissa pointed out fossils in the banks of the gorge and at one stage Emmanuel told us part of the story of Jandamarra and the Banuba resistance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jandamarra).
Along the banks of the gorge lagoons fresh water crocodiles were quite prolific and most were unperturbed by the presence of our touring group and other groups and individuals exploring the gorge.
Finally we returned to the day use area where we were provided with stools and a lunch of cold meat, salads and bread.
Back on the bus we travelled a further 35 kilometres south along an extremely rough corrugated gravel road where we found just how unsuitable for the purpose the tour bus was.
After about an hour we arrived at Tunnel Creek National Park (http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/tunnel-creek) where we were advised to change our footwear to something that could be worn in the water through which one must walk to travel the 750 metre length of the tunnel. We were also provided with torches by the bus company (although some of us had bought our own) as these were the only source of light in parts of the tunnel.
This time Emmanuel was assisted by Chris (the bus driver – Kerrissa being unable to enter the tunnel under tribal law) and we walked into the tunnel to be shown aboriginal rock art (pointed out in dark places by Emmanuel) and other interesting sights. Emmanuel related the tribal beliefs about how the tunnel was formed and how the Rainbow Serpent formed the tunnel – he had us each pick up a pebble and rub it in our armpit (to attach our individual scent) then toss the pebble into a pool near a permanent spring which feeds the stream in the tunnel – this alerted the serpent to our presence and knew our intentions were friendly.
Along the way Emmanuel told us more of the story of Jandamarra and how he was eventually captured and killed. His head was removed from his body and has never been recovered although his body was given a traditional burial in one of the caves in the vicinity. At the end of the tunnel Emmanuel sang us a traditional song taught to him by his grandfather and performed a traditional dance.
After this we walked back through the tunnel, dried our feet and re-boarded the bus for the torturous journey back to Windjana Gorge where (even though it was five o’clock) afternoon tea was served before we again boarded the bus and returned to Derby about an hour later than our originally expected arrival time. This bus trip was quite an experience and Margaret and I both enjoyed it immensely.
We had booked the car into the Auto Electrician on Wednesday so we were both up early as everything in the back had to be removed and stacked under our awning before I delivered the vehicle to the AE by eight o’clock. I walked back to the Caravan Park (about three kilometres) and then set about rotating the tyres on the caravan as two of them had been scrubbing on one side. Margaret had done some laundry and this was on the line to dry. We had been experiencing some leakage from our kitchen sink so we also set about trying to rectify this. After lunch Margaret went to take a look at the Derby Visitor Centre (http://www.derbytourism.com.au/) to pick up a few souvenirs while I walked back to the AE to pick up the truck.
Turns out our problems with the truck were caused by faulty earthing on the second battery in the back of the truck. A short caused the current to earth along the body to the bull bar and then back along the CB aerial cable (which was all burnt) to the CB itself (also burnt out) and then to some other obsolete wiring left connected after another device was removed from the truck; thankfully the air-conditioner problem was only a fuse failure and easy to fix. Anyway about $950.00 later ($400 just for the CB) – the vehicle has been properly repaired, correctly earthed and all is good again.
Thursday morning was drizzling rain (a rare occurrence for this time of year in Derby) and we were on the road to Fitzroy Crossing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzroy_Crossing,_Western_Australia) with our ultimate destination being Kununurra.
We pulled up for smoko at a roadside rest area at Ellendale and met up briefly with another couple we had camped with at Beasley River and Tom Price. There are a lot of one lane bridges along the highway from Fitzroy Crossing north east with the most notable being the Fitzroy Crossing itself. Each of these bridges is speed limited to 80 km per hour with whoever reaches the bridge first having the right of way.
At Fitzroy Crossing we topped up the fuel and drove on to stop for lunch at Ngumban Cliff Rest Area (http://www.exploreaustralia.net.au/Western-Australia/Kimberley/Mueller-Ranges/Ngumban-Cliff-Rest-Area)
before driving on to Mary Pool Rest Area (http://www.exploreaustralia.net.au/Western-Australia/Kimberley/Mueller-Ranges/Mary-Pool-Rest-Area) where, with about 60 other caravans, motorhomes and trailers we stopped for the night.
Next morning we drove on firstly reaching Halls Creek (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halls_Creek,_Western_Australia) where we again topped up with fuel and drove on heading for Kununurra. The scenery along the road from Halls Creek is much more interesting than that between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek with many interesting ranges and hills to vary the view.
Smoko was at a roadside rest area beside the Ord River with lunch taken further north only a few kilometres south of the T junction (Wyndham to the left Kununurra to the right).
We arrived in Kununurra (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kununurra,_Western_Australia) on Friday afternoon and moved into the Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort a very busy park but also having lots of shady trees.
This park is opposite the Kununurra Showgrounds and the annual agricultural show (http://www.kas.org.au/) was on for two of the three days of our visit.
Friday evening one could be forgiven for thinking we were under military attack as the fireworks were being let off and the sound was quite loud here in the park. Follow this up with a band that played very loud music until near midnight and sleep was very elusive. The same medicine was meted out again on the Saturday evening – good for the locals but not great for tired visitors.
There is a lot to do here in Kununurra, one could take a flight over the Bungle Bungles (http://www.australiasnorthwest.com/attractions/Outback_adventures/Scenic_flights); take a tour on the Barbecue Boat or on Lake Argyle (http://www.lakeargyle.com/discover-and-experience/boat-cruises-on-lake-argyle-and-the-ord-river-gorges/); tour the Hootchery (http://www.hoochery.com.au/); or the Zebra Rock Gallery (http://www.zebrarock.biz/); visit the Sandalwood Factory (http://www.mtromance.com.au/visit-us/the-sandalwood-factory-kununurra/); take a drive and have a look at Lake Argyle (http://www.lakeargyle.com/); walk through the tracks and trails of the Mirima National Park adjacent to town (http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/mirima); take a late afternoon cruise down the lower Ord River (http://lowerordtours.bigpondhosting.com/aboutus.htm) and observe the large number of estuarine crocodiles in the area. No if that’s not enough one can drive to Wyndham (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyndham,_Western_Australia) and take in the view from the Five Rivers Lookout (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3pUnYx3Qvs) or get a photo with the big crocodile. One can easily fill in a week in Kununurra as we did in 2010 but if you want to see photos of these activities you will first need to get yourself here as we don’t intend to do any of these things this time round.
On Monday morning we will join the procession of travelers leaving Kununurra to be replaced by a whole new batch of visitors. Monday will also see us leave the state of Western Australia as we will cross into the Northern Territory some 42 kilometres east of Kununurra. Our journey across the NT will be relatively quick and we will return to Queensland after a week or so.