It was intended that this story would be image rich with promises from Kris, Gus and Liz that they would send me copies of their pics. Alas they didn't come through with the goods....yet. It's only been three years....Click on the links to see images as you go...
The Kimberley Ranges, one of the most isolated and stunningly beautiful places left in this country that hasnt been exploited and bitumised, and we were going there.... Kris and Gus had flown up from Adelaide a few days before and Liz, a remote area dentist originally from Ireland took time out from her job to join us. In the weeks leading up to our departure date I was a little bit concerned about the weather. A lot of the roads we wished to travel were still closed after the wet season ran a little late. Still, we banked on the few weeks of dry weather prior to departure having some impact by the time we got there. The very cold weather of the Centre of Australia's winter was starting to bite and I for one was looking forward to the promise of warm days and mild nights that the north of the country enjoys at this time of year. We travelled in Harvey, my Toyota troop carrier and the logistics of preparing the car and packing enough food and water and gear for 4 weeks kept me busy for most of the preceeding weeks. The discerning shoppers amongst us procured the food from Bi Lo and what a load that was. Lucky for us they had peeled tomatoes on special that week and we ended up with half a dozen cans which I'm sure will come in handy some day...Kris and Gus bought themselves a Queen size swag (in purple canvas) which was so big it was dubbed "the purple slug" as it was so difficult to handle and I was considering installing a winch on the roof rack to avoid the risk of serious injury to whoever was foolish enough to try and put it on the roof by themselves... Liz and I just made do with a borrowed double swag which was half the size and undoubtedly more cozy.
It was a chilly morning when we finally set off all rugged up but hot with anticipation for tropical warmth. We headed directly North along the Stuart highway stopping briefly at Ti Tree to pick up a bottle of locally produced mango wine and for our last cappucino for god knows how long. Eventually we stopped at the Barrow Creek Hotel which is basically just a pub with a couple of petrol pumps out the front. The front bar is eclectically decorated with all sorts of photo's and bric a brac. Most of the walls and ceilings however were covered with bills of all denominations with peoples names on them. The story behind this is that when the stockman from local stations have finished mustering and are flush with cash they leave some behind for the next season when they're broke and thus can afford a drink or two. Whilst here we met Ray the barman who was a colourful character with plenty of time to yarn. It is interesting that I had been warning Liz of Kris and Gus's habits of enjoying discussion of bowel habits along with a sense of humour that mostly revolves around this subject, so there was a mixture of delight and horror when Ray produced a CD called "Pull my Finger", a collection of over 90 fart noises. Over the next half hour or so we endured every one of them whilst observing the bemused expressions of passing tourists who innocently walked in to pay for their fuel. For some examples of the sort of sounds on this CD visit www.fartcd.com but if you cant be bothered going there here is but one example. (And another). Ray obviously took a shine to us because it was very hard to get away and we eventually stopped for the night at the Devil's Marbles, amazing rock formations like huge red balls, perched precariously and looking as if one shove would send them rolling.
Day 2 saw us getting a late start and continuing to head North. Past Tennant creek the landscape takes on a more rugged appearance with craggy knolls interspersed with rolling hills. We had lunch at Renner Springs, a nice little oasis like stop which is apparently popular with contiki bus tours and backpackers. The resident chef here bakes bread fresh every morning, Yummy sandwiches... It was a lot of driving that day and it took its toll on Kris. We finally turned off the bitumen just after Dunmarra and got onto the dirt. It felt like the adventure was just beginning... We were told of a good camping spot about 60 km along the road to Top Springs where there was a natural dam. Maybe we were in the wrong spot as the dam turned out to be a place where a bulldozer had scoured out a hole which had two feet of water in it.... It was nice to camp by water nevertheless as it meant we could have a shower....Yes that's right we had a canvas shower to fill with hot water and haul up over a tree branch by rope. Theres something about being out in the open having a shower, a nice feeling.
Day 3 and we trundled along to Top Springs (another petrol pump equipped pub) where we seemed to be the only customers for the hour or so we were there. The service was good, they supplied free coffee and let us top up our water supplies with rainwater. From here we drove on towards Victoria River Downs or "VRD" as the locals call it. We are a little worried as we drive as no-one is able to tell us if we can actually cross the Victoria River as it has been impassable for a while now. It certainly looked impassable with the water flowing hard and fast and we were in the process of deciding whether to give it a try when a truck came along and just nonchalantly drove on through. It still looked rather deep but we contacted the truck by radio and he assured us that similar vehicles to mine had got through and it should be OK. Even with this reassurance some of us decided to be safe and sit on the roof "just in case". At least I had faith in Harvey to get us through....VRD is one of the largest Cattle stations in the country with its own airport, post office and store. During the cattle mustering season the homestead and grounds are like a township and the airport is busy with helicopters taking off and landing constantly. For us though it is quiet and there are only a few helicopters parked about. A few km down the road from VRD at a junction we wanted to travel into Gregory National Park at the southern end but a sign told us it was closed. Apparently there was another river which was also supposedly impassable and if we did attempt it and fail it would have meant a long journey to back track and take the other road. Having seen a vehicle go through just before us made us wonder if the locals knew they could get through. Luckily Harvey is equipped with a HF (Flying Doctor) radio and I was able to call up Ken Metcalfe at the Australian National 4WD Radio Network's Alice Springs Base (over 1300km away) and he obligingly rang the rangers in the park for us....Yep definitely closed so we took the other route and ended up at Jasper Gorge where we set up camp for 2 days mainly because we had heard from other travellers that Gregory National Park, Gibb River road and Mitchell plateau roads were all closed so we figured what the hell... It was a nice spot for camping at Jasper gorge, a beautiful river running past (complete with crocadiles unfortunately) and some shallow rapids where, as it was starting to get quite warm we could paddle while keeping a wary eye out. Once the camp was set up and we had dined courtesy of Liz and her new camp oven it was time for some bloody marys by the fire. It was about this time that literally thousands of tiny flying insects came out and started to harass us. The insect repellant did little to stop them and they even got through Kris and Gus's mosquito net and crawled into bed with Kris who was NOT impressed !! From this time on we set up the inners of our tents every night in case the little blighters followed us on our journey. It was nice to spend a full day hanging around Jasper, the road actually travels through the gorge and we went for a walk along it thinking it was pretty nice. (note Gus's essential bushwalking attire of sensible hat and shirt) Little did we know but that was nothing compared with what lay ahead. We put the Yabbie net out in the river that night and the next day was rewarded with a nice bunch of large freshwater prawns which were promptly eaten for breakfast. Having eaten well we set off North again to meet the Victoria Highway and travel westward to Timber creek for fuel, supplies, Barramundi Burgers and beers. I dont know how fresh the Barra burgers were because those of us that ate them were quite grumbly in the tummy department afterwards and this provided ample opportunity to talk about bowels and anything vaguely associated with the subject. Having restocked we backtracked a little and entered Gregory National Park (from the Northern end this time) having ascertained that Harvey would get us there. Limestone Gorge was closed to vehicles and so we went to Bullita Homestead campground near the rangers residence where there were such luxuries as long drop toilets (a big hole in the ground with a toilet seat on top) and a tap which actually worked. Again there was a river which apparently was full of Barramundi as well as the inevitable crocodiles but luckily there were some more rapids where one could cool off. Liz promptly took the opportunity to fall over in the shallows and get muddy. The campground was in a nice setting surrounded by big Boab trees which looked especially nice silhouetted in the sunset. Liz reckons they are one of her favourite trees.
It turned out there were in fact plenty of Barramundi, but despite a lot of trying with all the right gear, lures etc and some WICKED casting on Liz's part we didn't catch even one while a few people around us caught plenty (including some english girls with hand lines Grrrrr) Sharing the campsite with us were Ken and Terry (and their partners whose names I cant recall). They have been travelling from Sydney most of the last 10 years and have always been in search of a Barra feed but never caught one, until now.... We were able to share in their joy (and their Barra) and a good night was had by all. ...... The next day saw us staying camped at Bullita and we hiked into Limestone Gorge. There is a campsite here too but the last Wet Seasons rains had destroyed the access road and so we had a hot walk in. There were a couple of spots where the swimming was supposedly safe and so we braved the waters. There were some Tufa rock formations in the waterholes and around some small waterfalls. Tufa forms through a reaction with the calcium in the water and the action of oxygen where the water swirls around obstacles like tree roots and the like after a while calcium builds up and a solid rock like substance forms. We stayed by a small waterhole through the heat of the day where the tufa formations at the waterfall were like stalactites. After a hot walk back to Harvey it was nice to be able to fling open the fridge and retrieve some icy cold beers. After another night in Gregory National Park it was time to move on to Kununurra where a mutual friend Gill Hopton was working at the hospital there. Kununurra represents the stepping off point for the famous Gibb River road and many 4WD travellers stock up here before heading down that long lonely road. Not 5 km from our campsite (with Liz driving) we managed to get well and truly bogged in a small muddy crossing right uo to the axles. I'm really glad I had Harvey fitted with a winch before we left and so it was with a minimum of fuss we managed to get out (after nearly managing to uproot a tree in the process). After a quick drive we ended up in Kununurra, Our first big town with dedicated petrol stations and standalone pubs and restuarants (since leaving Tennant Creek anyway) where Gill awaited our arrival. She gave us little time before whisking us off on a tour of the town and to the local lookout where we were treated to views of the surrounding country. It was easy to see the effect that the creation of Lake Argyle has had. A strategically placed relatively small dam wall has created a lake bigger than Sydney Harbour. As a result the land for miles around Kununurra has been opened up to cultivation with an abundant supply of water in an arid part of the country. The soil is good and from our lookout we could see plantations as far as the eye could see. The ripe sugar cane with its silvery pampas grass like heads created the illusion of water in the late afternoon sun, shimmering in the distance.
Gill most certainly is the hostess with the most, she whipped us up a gourmet meal, making it look very simple in the process and after our camping meals (which for the most part werent too shabby at the worst of times) it was a real treat. And real beds too, what luxury.... The morning brought news of a friend of mine, Keith Rickart who'd just arrived in town on his BMW. He had ridden over from Cairns and joined us for a few days. Before too long we all piled into trusty old Harvey and headed off to explore the local country. We went to a place called Black Hole where there was a gorgeous pool and as it was a pretty warm day we hung around there for a bit and had some lunch then through Parry creek road. This road took us through a nature reserve and we saw an abundance of wildlife including many birds at the numerous creek crossings. The book of australian birds got a fair bit of use getting opened up every 5 mins or so. The road was quite a bit of fun as Harvey went flying through the muddy crossings covering the car with mud, a good laugh (except when washing it all off later). Parry Creek road led us onto the main Kununurra to Wyndham road and so off to Wyndham we went. On arrival we were surprised to see a huge crocodile in the main street and Gus just had to have his photo taken with it. Another lookout here gave us fantastic views of the surrounding plains and mangroves with tidal river inlets stretching away into the distance. Of course no trip to Wyndham is complete without a trip to the port area where you can get the best Barra burgers in the country (and no-one got rumbly tummys this time just a jolly good feed. While waiting for the burgers we were approached by some local aboriginal people who showed us some of theircarved Boab seed pods. The art work varied but was mostly very intricate and eye catching. All too soon it was time to head back to Kununurra and after a quick freshen up myself, Gill, Liz and Gus went off for a pub crawl.... Well the only pub open was the Hotel Kununurra which looked a bit frayed around the edges and Gill had previously been advised not to go there as it was "too rough". What we actually found was a quite pleasant beer garden with some live entertainment and a mixed crowd and a half empty lounge bar with a pool table. We got enmeshed in a friendly rivalry challenge pool competition between us and a bunch of drunk blokes who appeared to be drinking jugs of Midoori. It was a a funny few hours with lots of laughs as passing the pool cue to the next player involved a complicated series of foot manouvres in time with the music and the more drinks that were consumed the more complicated it got (or was that stumbling I saw...) We "cleaned up" at pool and there was some good natured ribbing about the bloody pool shark tourists and we left the pub a happy little knot of people. Happy?, there was a fair bit of staggering on our part on the way home that night! The next day was recovery day with a fair bit of walking around shopping, emailing, eating and having cappucinos. Tomorrow we would be back on the road and roughing it again so it was very pleasant to just wander around. Its a pretty little place Kununurra and I can see why some people come and never leave.
The Bungle Bungle Ranges was our days destination but we decided to have a quick look at Lake Argyle before we went and it was worth it. Its amazing to travel through the Savannah type country and to come across this huge body of water with mountain peaks jutting up from the depths. We had some lunch by the causeway there and so we were pretty late heading off to the Bungles. Consequently it became obvious we would not reach them before dark. We had a book with us called The Kimberleys, an Adenturers Guide by Ron and Viv Moon and it told us of a disused camp site on the road in at a place called Calico Springs so we thought we would stop there. We met a couple of Aboriginal Ladies driving in themselves and even though they were going on they confirmed the campspot and told us we werent supposed to camp there but as they were traditional owners we had their permission as it was late and a bad road to travel on at night if you did'nt know it. Sure enough we found the site and there was a post with a "no camping" logo on it. Gus's big footy socks managed to cover that up alright though and after a quick feed it was a bit nippy so out came Keiths trusty bottle of Green Ginger wine. Gus seemed to take a bit of a shine to this stuff and it was'nt long before they were both talking Swahili and eating the remains of our marshmallows while the rest of us slept.
The next morning we were busy cooking breakfast and after the GGWine probably looking subhuman when a 4WD tourist bus arrived and stopped for a cuppa and a bit of a trek into the bushes for those with rumbly prostates and weak bladders. Soon after we trundled off too. By this stage everyone was well into the swing of making and breaking camp like a well oiled machine. Harvey might be a large car but with 4 people and all our camping gear and food everything has its place. We also had Keith travelling with us and to make life easier for him we carried some of his stuff as well. Keith rode on ahead to the Jasper River where we were told it had been fairly deep and until recently the road had been closed. When we arrived there we had to help Keith find a shallower place to cross as the water at the crossing would have entered his engines air intakes. Finally in the National Park at the Bungle Bungles we checked in to one of several campsites called Wallardi. Quite a nice spot but we did'nt realize the noise from the nearby airstrip would be so loud. It being May 17th and Gus's birthday after a quick trip to Echidna gorge and "the froghole"we hi tailed it back to camp for lots of beers and some bloody mary's to celebrate. Next day saw us exploring Cathedral gorge where the surrounding classic bee hive shaped rock formations are recognizable from postcards and TV documentaries. The parking area there reminded us of an Alice Springs car yard which deals mainly with 4WD's... After hearing all the activity from the airstrip we thought we might join them so very early the next morning we all went on a helicopter ride over the Ranges. The 5 of us went in 2 choppers at the same time. They had open sides so the view was unimpeded. There are eight images of this so click here to see the pictures. This was our farewell to the Bungles as we wanted to get to Broome today as the moon was coming up to full that night and we wanted to see the famous "Stairway to heaven". The Stairway is a phenomenon seen from the Eastern side of the peninsula on which Broome sits. (When the tide is low at moonrise looking out over the large tidal flats the moon reflects on the wet ridges of the flats and looks a bit like a stairway leading to the moon) Its a bit of a tourist drawcard and all the hotels and resorts are able to tell you to the minute when moonrise is expected. (We did'nt make it to Broome in time that day as we were a little optimistic about how far we could get in one day). We stayed at Sue Lairds that night and after such a long drive we gratefully accepted her hospitality, but not wanting to outstay our welcome we moved on to the Kimberley Klub, a very pleasant Backpacker resort. After nearly 2 weeks of camping it was great to have an airconditioned room, a pool and Bar within close proximity. And so that night we duly arrived at the appointed "Stairway" viewing site and caught a glimpse of it before the clouds around obscured our view...oh well....We got an idea of what it might have looked like and there were certainly lots of postcards which were undoubtedly clearer than any shots we got that night...
31/3/01 .....At this point in the story I have got a bit sick of recounting it as its been nearly 12 months now... There are a few more images but I've sort of lost enthusiasm for the whole thing since none of my fellow travellers have contributed any promised images (except Gus, who sent a few which were accidentally deleted from a mail box) sometime soon I will put an index in and just list the images so at least you can see some more of the kimberleys, dont hold your breath however....It WILL happen, but it wont happen overnight....
Oh, needless to say we got home safely without mishap.... Travelling down the Tanami...now thats another story, for another time...
This page last updated Friday, 26 May 2006