In our last post, our adventure’s story telling stopped as we entered into Karratha, that for most travelers is significant to use for the bank, restock, repair stuff and get out of town before their wallet ignites. For us it was the
repair part of the above that brought us here, because Voukefalas, after the corrugated trails of Karijini and Millestream National Parks, had gotten into the habit of shutting off his fuel pump and therefore stopped when he was on rough roads. So as soon as we entered the city, we headed straight for the Toyota doctor!
After the diagnostics came out, the conclusion was that we had installed the wrong after market fuel filter, something that was replaced and so after a quick overnight in a gas station and thinking that our problems were solved, we were back on the road on our way north.
En route we passed Port Hedland. We both agreed that it isn’t the prettiest place as the city is clustered with railway yards, iron-ore stockpiles and a deep-water industrial port. Not exactly what overlanders look forward to, so we pushed through the big empty stretches with destination Broome, an open area of willy-willies, dust and not much else. “There are only two roadhouses, Pardoo (148km), where we spent two nights, and Sandfire (288km), so keep that tank full.“ we read in Lonely Planet, after we almost ran out of diesel. So we ended up rolling into the gas station with only 13km left of fuel (according to our trip computer).
The second close call for us and the lesson was learned. We need to pay more attention here in the north, as fuel stations are scattered.
With the stress relief of a full tank again, we rolled into Broome that is located in a narrow strip on the Kimberley’s far-western edge, at the base of the pristine Dampier Peninsula. Surrounded by aquamarine waters, mangroves and mudflats of Roebuck Bay, this Yawuru country (Aboriginal Tribe) is isolated (2000km each way) from any near capital city. The city’s main industry is centered on pearls and Broome’s cemeteries are a reminder of this heritage, which claimed the lives of many Japanese, Chinese, Malay and Aboriginal divers. But as we were not there for the pearls, although Rochelle wished we were, we headed straight for Western Australia’s most famous landmark, Cable Beach.
This long beach just outside Broome offers turquoise waters, beautiful white sands and magnificent sunsets. Here luxury resorts, romantic beach rides on camels and sunsets drinks are the main attraction. Although beautiful, in reality it was a bit overcrowded and touristic and with a bit of time on our hands, we took the opportunity to explore the Dampier Peninsula that stretches north from Broome.
Here, the red rock formations end abruptly above deserted beaches and secluded mangrove bays. That and the reflection of the setting sun upon them create a spectacular sight. What a place! For our first stop we picked a magnificent wild camping at Barred Creek, where by being self-sufficient (thanks to “Albert”, our pop up pooper) we enjoyed a couple of days completely on our own, before pushing to the tip of the peninsula in the stunning Cape Leveque. Here we stayed in the local community run campground and got to come closer with the unique Aboriginal culture. A total stay of a bit more than a week on this pristine peninsula was more than enough to elevate it at the top of the list of the best places we have been in this trip.
Full of beautiful memories we took the road back to Broome, where we were lucky to be connected with a friend of a friend that owns a cottage there and ended up camping in his back yard as accommodation here can be costly. Lazy days followed while we were waiting for Rochelle’s parents to join us.
The only thing worth mentioning is a quick visit to Broome’s centre, Chinatown, on the shores of Roebuck Bay and a couple of swims in the warm waters of Cable Beach. As mentioned earlier, each day at sunset there is an activity synonymous to Cable Beach that involves camels and an evening ride along the sand that is considered a highlight for many visitors. For us, being on a budget, the simple stroll while watching the sun slipping slowly seawards kept us more than satisfied.
Aiming to cross the West Kimberley, our final stop before we hit the dirt roads, was Derby that except being the area’s administrative centre, there was nothing more than the last supply stop on your way to the legendary Gibb River Road (‘the Gibb’ or GRR). This road cuts a brown swath through the heart of the Kimberley, while being synonymous with one of Australia’s wildest outback experiences.
Stretching some 660km between Derby and Kununurra, the totally unpaved Gibb River Road is an endless sea of red dirt, big open skies and dramatic terrain. Rough sometimes and deeply corrugated, it gives away to side roads that lead to remote gorges, shady pools, distant waterfalls and cattle stations.
This is true raw wilderness with minimal services, so good planning and self-sufficiency were vital, something that we have been looking into since we first started planning our Australian expedition. As it is known to the overland world, adventure starts where things start going wrong. So it was here that Voukefalas remembered his bad habits of shutting off his fuel pump causing him to stop. A new conclusion for his situation was made. With so many different countries crossed and so much bad quality diesel in his fuel tank, a respectively big amount of settlement has been collected and on rough roads it rises from the bottom of the tank and blocks his intake filters. Out here in the middle of the wilderness, there was no solution to this problem.
Luckily enough we came across Nev, the bush mechanic that came up with the idea of blowing backwards each time it gets blocked (a bit of lovely diesel flavor in my mouth). And off we were back on the road again! Along ‘the Gibb’ several pastoral stations offer overnight accommodations as a relief from the dust and the heat. Windjana Gorge, with its many fresh water crocodiles set on a mesmerizing landscape and Tunnel Creek, where you can walk on the river bed that disappears under the earth, were the first stops to be visited. The next days we followed the corrugations, with a bit more of diesel flavor for me, all the way to the stunning Bell Gorge, that after 169km down a rough track, a picturesque waterfall and popular plunge pool waited for us.
With temperatures rising at 36 degrees, a refreshing fresh water swim was all we could dream of. After our refuel (diesel only) and an ice cream at Imintji indigenous station, we pushed towards Adcock Gorge. That night we spotted a free bush camp at Frog’s creek at our GPS and headed there for one more overnight bush camp. To our surprise, there was a camp fire pit still smoking from the previous night campers, so all we needed to do is keep it going throughout our stay. I got in trouble for not buying Rochelle’s marsh mellows.
A bit further down is where we came across Nev, the bush mechanic, the only hope of mechanical salvation on the whole of Gibb. We were lucky enough to pick an extra filter from him as a backup. Driving further in the GRR, in our itinerary, was Galvans Gorge with its waterfall, lovely swimming hole, rock wallabies and Wandjina art, all less than 1km easy stroll from the road that made it a must stop. Moving east Mt Barnett Roadhouse, 300km from Derby, was the place where we got our camping permits in order to visit, trek and stay overnight at the magical Manning River Gorge.
Natural fresh water plunge pools have given this gorge its fame and trekking and swimming are the activities of the days spent here. As we reached the three quarters of the route, we got the bad news from the opposite direction coming travelers that from here onwards all the Aboriginal communities were closed to visitors because of Covid-19. After a couple more overnight bush camps and some empty water crossings (very disappointed about those) at 589km from Derby, we reached the infamous Pentecost River crossing, where I had read that the water levels are unpredictable and saltwater crocs lurk nearby. As you can imagine, I had created the ultimate river crossing adventure with crocodiles and Voukefalas in the picture but…
No, not for us this time, as the crossing was nothing more than a riverbed with not one single drop of water (end of the dry season, you see!) Absolutely disappointed, there was no further reason to stay, so we pushed towards Home Valley Station, an indigenous hospitality training resort that offers accommodation while helping the local communities. As we roamed up, a big bar was blocking the entrance and a sign stated that in order to protect the local community from Covid-19, they had to set the place out of reach for visitors. That was it! With no more places to visit we called it “The end” and pushed till Kununurra, where the corrugations of ‘the Gibb’ finally end, giving way to the asphalt of the Savannah Way that takes you into the Northern Territory.
Rolling into Kununurra, on Miriwoong country, you get the feeling of a relaxed town set in an oasis of sandalwood plantations and tropical fruit, thanks to the Ord River irrigation scheme. With good transport and communications (finally a signal in our phones), excellent services and well-stocked supermarkets, it has developed to every traveler’s favorite slice of civilization after more than a week or so on the rough ‘Gibb river roads’.
The campground we ended up staying at seemed like a huge car wash, as everyone was on a mission to get rid of the red dust that had entered everywhere while traveling “the Gibb”. After spending four days of cleaning – the caravan that Rochelle’s parents towed through was covered in and out with red dust – regrouping and with a new sticker on Voukefalas stating “DID THE GIBB”, we headed 70 plus km south to Lake Argyle, a man-made lake that sizes 21 times the size of Sidney harbor. Our decision to stay for a bit more in the region was made after we found out that crossing into the Northern Territory would be a possibility only if we did not wish to return to WA.
The WA government had put in place a Covid-19 travel restriction in order to reduce interstate traveling to the absolute minimum. On top of that, our Carnet de Passage was due to expire and therefore we needed to deal with paperwork and bureaucracy once again. With all the Covid-19 hysteria happening, our travel plans from now on will be based on a day to day base as any planning has proved to be just a utopia. Unfortunately for us overlanders, Covid-19 could not be worse as our freedom of traveling around the world has been reduced from minimum to none. Positive thinking though is the solution and soon we will be free to roam again!
While camping around the lake, we found out that there are small boats for self hire (no sailing skills needed) so you spend your day navigating through the lake on your own. What a bonus that one was! Lake Argyle proved to be our turning point as we were unable to enter the Northern Territory and after reaching Wyndham (the northeast city of WA) we reset our compass and pointed it south, with destination the Bungle Bungle Range or Purnululu National Park as the official name is.
This World Heritage site is home to the incredible black striped beehive looking domes. The information taken from the visitor’s center explains that “this distinctive rounded rock towers are made of sandstone and conglomerates molded by rainfall over millions of years. Their stripes are the result of oxidized iron compounds and algae. To the local Kidja people, purnululu means sandstone, with Bungle Bungle possibly a corruption of ‘bundle bundle’, a common grass. Over 3000 sq km of ancient country contains a wide array of wildlife, including over 130 bird species.” With the temperature reaching the 40 degree range, we took the turn off from Stuart Highway that leads to the entrance of the park without knowing what to expect.
Till this day Australia has been full of wonderful, unique surprises so we will have to leave you wondering as well, at this point, as our adventure story telling stops here for now. Stay tuned!!!