Outback

This trip was inspired by Bill Bryson's book on Australia and his journey through the outback and discussed at numerous dinner parties. It went through a number of incarnations, looking at driving to Ayres Rock or the Cape York Peninsula. The destination of the Kimberly was selected after reading Birgit Bradtke excellent Destination Kimberley web site and obtaining her comprehensive guide book.

Other invaluable information and assistance has been obtained from the Lonely Planet's 'Outback Australia' guide (apparently out of print but easily obtainable on Amazon), my old friend Derek Bowman at Four Seasons Travel and Jeanette at Getabout Oz.

The original cast have thined out to two couples, which is rather sad but not unexpected.

I expect updates to be intermittent at best, even charging the laptop may present issues.

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Arrived in the evening in Perth and struggled though the car hire process. Surprisingly the 'extra' insurance costs more than the hire of the car. Plainly Hertz have worked out how to compete with the rent a dents, drop the up front daily charge and load it onto the insurance, Nice one.

The GPS lost Doreen when told we were now in Australia and introduced Sheila, complete with a broad Aussie 'twang'. Sadly she doesn't know where the city roads are and the Medina Hotel is hard to find. It's a nice enough pad but right in the middle of the CBD, surrounded by office blocks. For over $A300 a night plus $A25 for parking it's not aiming for the holiday crowd and is utterly unsuitable for us.

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Read more: 17 May 2009 - Perth

Port Mill B&BChecking out was a bit interesting as the Medina as a policy of charging if you don't give 24 hours notice that you don't need the room. Luckily we have a policy that we only need give 20 hours notice so there was no problem after I'd explained it to them.

Fremantle is much more like what we expected. A first rate breakfast and we quickly found a an excellent room in the charming Port Mill B&B. The Lonely Planet while a bit thin, certainly seems to have a heap of useful information on the area.

A wander around the shops brought us a number of forgotten items and confirmed that this is a town with great character.  We had a quick look around Perry Lakes, City Beach and around the Claremont district.

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Read more: 18 May 2009 - Fremantle

Lookout treesBreakfast in the room was a pre made continental affair but very good for all that. We made a bit of progress by downloading a set of maps for Sheila, the GPS, to work from and were away by 9am.

By Rockingham the heavens opened and we were driving through sheets of water wondering if we'd made a wise decision in going south. I don't think it was just the rain but Rockingham and it's sister town of Mandurah seem to offer few reasons to stop.

Apart from a brief stops for coffee at Mandurah and lunch outside Bunbury, by which time the rain had cleared, we made directly for Bridgetown. The Nelson of Bridgetown is, as the Lonely Planet suggests, a very comfortable place to stay the night although the large spacious room, is perhaps a bit 1970's. Add a comment

Read more: 19 May 2009 - Bridgetown

img_6171Something of a disappointing day. Started with a splendid breakfast at The Barking Cow in Bridgetown, we though the Nelson might be a bit pedestrian, and opted for more adventure. It was a highlight of the day.

For morning tea we tried the 'Pink Lady' apples and these were simply delicious but the the day started to run downhill.

Bunbury was the first disappointment. There's a boardwalk through the mangroves with 70 types of bird life. We saw none. The boardwalk and surroundings have clearly had a lot of money and effort spent on them but it's all looking very tired.

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Read more: 20 May 2009 - Mundaring

img_6184An uncomfortable night in the Traveller's Rest, the walls are (apparently) brick but every sound from the adjacent rooms carries through, then it rains, a lot. We get up about 6am as there is no point in lying there any longer.

Travel to the airport is uneventful and the lounge provides penty of time to update the blog as not only are we early for our flight but it's delayed. At this stage only by half an hour but time will tell.

Mary just had a good laugh at the Traveller's Rest web site........ it really is not like that.

 

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img_6192It's foggy this morning but a walk into town gets us an excellent breakfast and coffee at Blooms (recommended).

A taxi (with a driver who kept calling us darling) took us to the camper van depot where two large identical 4wd are sitting outside. They are of course nothing like the picture we have seen. A brief peer into the oven sitting on the back has us all laughing, in part a  response to 'you have to be joking' and in part about how some of our friends might have reacted had they been with us.

Tim and Renee are a double act who, with their 5 month old in tow, fill in paperwork, take more money and show us the ropes. We rather feel Tim is taking our expedition just a bit casually but he runs over the camping stove, 'pop top' and the rather basic kit. Anyway this all took a touch longer than we thought.
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Read more: 22nd May – Out of Broome

img_6204The camper is pretty small and packed with stores and our gear but comfortable once you get everything arranged. It got cold overnight but that was ok as we do have blankets, we just had to find them.

Dave had the first slip of the day, falling out the truck. Luckily only pride injured. He's the first one to get red dirt on his pants.

Just met Mary who is travelling around Australia on her own (with her dog Tim). She's been doing it for eight years, nine in December. Mary was a bit disparaging of our attempts to strike camp, she thought us very slow, in fact we were the last to leave.
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Read more: 23rd May - Derby

img_3517Another beautiful day and we took a brief walk back to Windjana Gorge to look at the 'freshies' (freshwater crocodiles). The 'freshies' were obliging, apparently they are not dangerous according to Dave's brother, they 'just bite'. The gorge is less colourful in the morning than last night so clearly the evening is the optimal time.

The road from Windjana to Tunnel Creek is only rough in parts but otherwise pretty good and we have our first encounter with fords with actual water in them. Expect more of this.

Tunnel Creek is very spectacular being a stream, not really flowing at the moment through a 1.7km tunnel gouged by the force of the water. High on the roof there is an aboriginal art work, I don't like to think how they got there to do it.
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Read more: 24th May – Tunnel Creek

img_3564A long drive planned for today. Returning to Fitzroy Crossing and through Halls Creek then on to the Bungle Bungle. First however bacon and egg for breakfast and another super swim in the quarry, the water was just as good in the morning.

Apart from the first few km retracing our way back to the main road the road was all tar seal. At Fitzroy we were able to fill the empty gas bottle and but a couple of things we needed (more batteries and cleaning cloths) as well as diesel, our wagon seems much thirstier than Dave's.

Some of our party think Halls Creek is a tidier town but for myself I see few redeeming features except for a swimming and recreation centre, otherwise not really. It makes a useful refuelling and lunch point. I also pop into the store which is an interesting experience and has a very limited stock, I'd say it's not any sort of gold mine.
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Read more: 25th May – Fitzroy Crossing

img_3586Another early(ish) start and we are picking up speed in striking camp but not by much. It does warm up quickly in the morning and this was the coolest night so far.

The road into Purnululu (the Bungle Bungle) is pretty rugged but mostly not needing actual 4wd, we do engage it to cross some of the fords but I fancy it's not really required. Some of the oncoming traffic is moving at quite a speed, particularly the tourist trucks/buses which we are lucky not to come upon in some of the tighter spaces. We take just over two hours to make it to the Visitor Centre.
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Read more: 26th May - Purnululu

img_3600Simply stunning, like something from another planet. The actual striped beehive structures that comprise the Bungles are just amazing and there are far more of them than I would have believed. It's a world heritage area and in our opinion fully meets the criteria: "Superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance".

We have to drive some 30km to the southern end of the park to do the walks there, and need to call in at the Visitor Centre to pay for another night in the park. We are also able to book a helicopter ride for the afternoon at 3:30.
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Read more: 27th May – Bungle Bungle

img_3555Our plan today was to get out of the Bungles and head North to Kununurra, hopefully stopping at Doon Doon for a day tomorrow along the way. The Purnululu road out is no shorter and no less scenic than before and still takes just over 2 hours.

Warmun aka Turkey Creek is the first stop other than to dump our trash and the roadhouse there is clean, pleasant and well stocked. In addition the ice cream tastes marvellous. We picnic there and meet a party doing the circuit, including the Mitchell Falls in ten days. Our recommendation would be to take much longer than this or cut part of the itinerary. Ten days is far too long just to sit in a bus. The driver does tell us that the Mitchell Falls road has only been open a week but that it's the 'worst road in Australia'.
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Read more: 28th May – Doon Doon

img_6458Our leading truck started to loose it's roof after we pulled out of the not really so good camp site this morning. Disaster was narrowly averted by use of the walkie talkies as there is no way of overtaking the leader as these machines have plenty of torque but really no acceleration to speak of.

Seemed that the clamp that holds one of the front corners down had disappeared and the pressure of wind was pealing it open rather like a sardine can. Mary and I backtracked several times looking for the clamp but it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.
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Read more: 29th May - Kununurra

Something of a lay day. We tried to get a scenic flight but both Slingair and Alligator Airways are quite rigid about what they will do. The man at Shoal Air was much more obliging but essentially their equipment is too big and expensive for a two person trip.

Breakfast and dinner at the Pumphouse were excelent and thier internet allowed the blog to be updated. Great.

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Read more: 30th May - Kununurra

img_6471It rained quite heavily in the night which cooled things down quite a bit, very welcome it was too.

Breakfast at the very fine Pumphouse Restaurant followed by fuelling up at BP and getting more cash. This is proving an expensive holiday.

Despite an early start we were still quite late getting out of town and our truck is behaving rather badly. The engine idles fine but at speed it starts to 'bunny hop' as Mary calls it. It's barely noticeable but not particularly desirable when you are heading out of town and worse yet when going into the outback.

At Wyndham we call the RAC, and have a discussion with a very nice Aboriginal man (Gregory) and his daughter while waiting for the contractor. Calling back it seems he won't be available until Monday (it's Sunday).
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Read more: 31st May - Diggers Rest Station

img_2224Mornings are not the most creative times but it's the one time I have the opportunity to blog before it gets too busy and frankly too hot to do it. This morning is a particularly good time as we are camping at Diggers Rest Station and there is a horse trek going out. They started to prepare at 4:15 by Mary's watch. This is not a quiet procedure.
Departing pretty early we head out along the Karunjie track which according to the map leads to the Gibb River Road. We figure that we leave the other truck to Big Al we will go directly to Kununurra and see if we can expedite a repair.

After an hour or so on the track we work out that we are going the wrong way and are pretty much at the point of no return. The track is good and the views of the Cockburn Range are beyond spectacular so we decide to press on until suddenly the vehicle bogs. I'm telling Mary to keep it moving but the wheels may be spinning but there is no progress. The truck has sunk into a patch of thick glutinous and utterly unyielding black mud, probably as a result of the rain on Saturday night.
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Read more: 1st June – The long Way to Kununurra

img_6532An uncomfortable night at the Discovery, some of the trees have bats in and these buggers make a row all night and seem to either dislodge or throw hard berries at the roof of the camper. Thump then roll, roll, roll. That and a continuous chattering sound make it very unplesant. We were warne off this location last time but last night found out why.

Dale from Argyle Motors is as slow as a wet week but helpful and once he has finally gotten the paperwork done the truck disappears out the back with a “come back in a couple of hours” so we head back to the Boab Bookshop for brekkie.

Metalland are very helpful with the other truck are repairing the guard plate but report “cracks in the chassis”. This is information we really don't want to know about. What they do tell us about is the hierarchy of camper vans.
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Read more: 2nd June – Gibb River Road, Finally

p6020150There are mechanics at Home Valley Station and a very pleasant South African chap makes short work of reinstalling the bash plate. The cost of $50 is picked up by Camper World and it has to be said it has to be said that you can't fault their responsiveness to paying for repairs. I'd guess they get a lot of practice.

We are determined to get to Drysdale Station, just up the Kalumburu Road and all goes well until just before the Gibb River/Kalumburu Road junction when we stop for lunch and discover a flat tyre. Amazingly all the gear works and we are off again within an hour with minimal damage.
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Read more: 3rd June - Drysdale

img_6596Much more reasonably priced repairs take place in the morning (a mere $A500 for a new tyre rim, studs and bolts) and we are away by 11am. I'm very impressed with the standard of service at Drysdale, if not the prices. They need to work on their product range though, with a million acre station at their disposal there should be some activities you'd have thought?

The drive to the Mitchell Plateaux turn off is very rugged where the grader hasn't been yet, which is most of it. The King Edward river ford is pretty impressive and fortunately a couple who have been stranded there for a couple of days (ruptured fuel tank) point out where the big rock in the middle is.

The camp site of the other side is excellent albeit with only 'camp toilets' and the detour to the Aboriginal paintings is very worth while. We have a great swim in the river where there are we are told “no crocs”.
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Read more: 4th June - King Edward River

p6050193Mary and I have a rather uncomfortable night with her rolling into me and as I get out of the truck I wonder who has moved the ladder, then realise that the truck could do this all by itself. Sure enough the repaired tyre is the culprit, only flat on one side but that's not too flash.

Our plans for an early start to the Mitchell Falls are put on hold and we decide to head on the Kalumburu where the map claims we can get fuel and the tyre repaired but only on weekdays. Today is Friday.

The road starts well but quickly gets rumpy and we arrive at about 12 noon, it has to be said the Kalumburu is something of a disappointment to us all. The local cafe and garage are  incomprehensibly closed for lunch so we ask a local about the best local picnic spot. This turns out to have some lovely old shade trees, a dog ransacking a green wheelie bin and a wrecked car surrounded by broken glass. A garnish of litter has been added to complete the effect.
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Read more: 5th June - Kalumburu

img_6652We have been told that it the “Worst road in the whole of Australia” and I have no reason to doubt that claim. The Karunjie track is a highway by comparison. If these vehicles have been here very often it really does explain their condition. Bang, thump, judder and that's the smooth bits.

I gather the experience was amplified in the other truck when Dave took a swallow of his iced coffee drink (a concoction involving milk and coffee flavour) that had not been in the refrigerator. One lump or two?

Birgit suggests that the track to the Falls will take two hours or three at the start of the season. We took three and a half. The grader was working but that seemed to have made it worse not better.
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Read more: 6th June – Mitchell Falls

img_6683Today is our day to part company with the second truck. Lynn is heading back the day before us so our schedules need to reflect this, and allow for any more incidents on the way

Our plans to walk to the falls and helicopter back are stalled by the large crowd of day trippers who get to the helicopter site before us. I've got a bit reluctant anyway as the things are very intrusive in this area as the peace and solitude of being hundreds of miles from the nearest habitation is wonderful but completely disrupted by the thump, thump, thump of the choppers.

The walk is easy, despite what the sign says, mostly flat but a few rock scrambles to keep your attention. The Falls however are breathtaking and photos hardly do the place justice.  The walk progressively unveils one vista after another, absolutely magic. It's another one for your 'bucket list'.
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Read more: 7th June – King Edward River

img_6768The road has not improved much despite the sterling work of the grader man, there is just endless miles of corrugations, dust and banging about. The truck has started a new noise which I am sure is a bad sign but we fillally trace one of them to the number plate that has worked loose. I jam it up with sticks to quieten it down a bit but that just reveals the other sounds.

Lunch is a departure from normal and we have a burger at Drysdale Station as recommended by Brigit. It is excellent. We can't however get fuel as their deliveries have been delayed so we defer that and buy a few supplies for the next couple of nights and carry on after Mary has had a chat with Annie. They are a really nice family leading a life that must be very tough but they take it all in their stride.
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Read more: 8th June – Mt Manning Roadhouse

img_6808What a cold night, the temperature dropped for the first time since we have been here, in the end my thermal top came out, far too late to be of use. No matter, the morning is another cloudless affair and looks set to be warm. We'll make an early start to avoid the heat of the afternoon, I hope.

Later

The walk to the Manning Gorge suggests it is 1.5 hours, that is more reasonably each way time as it took us over an hour to get there. It is very much worth the walk, not as good in my opinion as the Mitchell Falls but a very well worth while visit and a great place for a swim and picnic. Great fun as you have to drift your stuff over the river in styrofoam boxes to get to the start of the walk.

Adcock Gorge is another worthwhile place to stop for lunch and another swim. In many ways nicer as the 5km 4wd track means you get it to yourself.
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Read more: 9th June – Bell Gorge

img_6821Bell Gorge is just as good as many of the rest that we have seen, a very pretty walk to get there followed by a little under an hours walk, some of it rather rock scrambly. The Swim is very welcome  and we linger there for an hour or so, finally getting underway at 11ish.

Despite getting a good review from Brigit, we had to pass on the Lennard Gorge there just isn't time to get there and do enough of the 500 or so km remaining before Broome. We are also a bit anxious about the 'transport of delight', it's still surging despite it's new fuel filter and at any time we feel it could conk out again.
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Read more: 10th June – Derby

img_6901A very quiet start to the day with no pressure to be anywhere in particular. We decided to skip the muesli and opt for a breakfast at the cafe we stopped at last time but I still didn't get the name of.  The food was good but the coffee somewhat sad. Pity, it would be an easy fix.

Curiously the bottle stores don't open until noon which means that we are short of a bottle of wine for tonights meal. Not a disaster but we'll go into Broome to fix it.
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Read more: 11th June – Quandong

img_6925We had to spend a bit of time clearing up the camper first thing before it got too hot, even so it was  warm work but since it's so small it didn't take that long. A proper English cooked breakfast on the beach was slightly marred by the flies that came out with the sun but was otherwise a perfect end to our trip.

St Vincent's op shop in Broome did well from our store of canned goods that were unused and a visitor to the shop scored our barbecue, must have been her lucky day. Alfred back at the shop we bought the barbecue from had offered to buy it but today he said he had left his money behind. Yeah Right.
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Read more: 12th June – Broome

img_6933Woke in the night very cold as the air conditioning seems to have run amok and to the sound of the people next door having an endless shower. Actually they were blameless, it was raining, hard. Sleep from this point was fitful and I kept thinking about how badly rain would have affected us on some of the roads we have covered.

The only other point worth covering is the woefully misnamed Comfort Inn Bel Eyr in Perth. It rates down past the Travellers Rest encountered some weeks ago, mostly as Mary and I were bitten in the night, we suspect the worst; bed bugs. Ugh! Add a comment

Read more: 13th June - Perth

img_6946We made an early escape from the dis-Comfort Inn, they were less than interested in our complaints, the man said he “would tell housekeeping”, sure - that'll fix it. The airport is far more welcoming and we had a scratch breakfast in the Qantas lounge, updated email and put some more stuff onto the blog.

Sails in the Desert is very much better than I'd been led to believe by various reviews on the Internet, our standards may have been compromised by the dis-Comfort Inn but I don't think so. Add a comment

Read more: 14th June – Uluru

A very early start for the Sunrise tour to Uluru, this was extra early for us as the time change from Perth was working against us and the previous night could not be described as either early or abstemious. Luckily I'd stopped Mary heading for the bar with our fellow customers last night or we might have flagged the whole thing.

The actual sunrise was somewhat disappointing in part because of a bit of cloud that appeared and partly because the viewing location was just a roadside. All a bit odd. 'Marty the bus driver' was better than that and the tour went on to take us around the rock, we found him most informative and entertaining. Add a comment

Read more: 15th June - Home

img_2228Driving 3855kms in three weeks is too much and did not give us enough time to see many of the sights. That said we found it was long enough in the camper we had selected as the setting up each night and morning was becoming very tiresome.

The Bungle Bungle, Mitchell Falls, various gorges, Diggers Rest and the Northern Beaches were all among the highlights of our trip. We had splendid company and met many, many, wonderful characters among the Australians. It has quite changed our view of the country which had been hitherto limited to the big cities of the east coast.

The only real downside to the trip was the clapped out vehicle (see Camper World rentals) which gave us some trouble and cause us to have to cut our itinerary here and there.  It's by no means a cheap holiday with fuel, food and other services very expensive in this part of the world. Add a comment

Read more: Conclusions on the Experience