Day one. Sunday 19th April 09
Started the long haul north to the Pilbara. First mistake was not filling up with fuel the night before departure. Arrived at the servo to see only one vehicle at the diesel pump. Great, I’ll just check the tyres while I’m waiting. Bad call. The automatic tyre thingo wouldn’t deflate my over pressured tyres, don’t ask about the over pressure I’m still arguing with the service department. Then I look up and someone is now queuing for the tyre thingo and two other people are queuing at the diesel pump. Give up on the tyres and line up at the end of the queue for fuel. Sigh.
Finally get back home to stuff the last minute items into the ute and off we go. First stop Bindoon for a cuppa and a pastry from the bakery. Drove down the service road to the front of the bakery to discover that it is a dead end. Half a dozen motorbikes in front of the bakery and several 4×4’s opposite in the no standing zone. OK, first challenge of the trip was to demonstrate how to do a ten point turn with trailer and not clean up half a dozen motorbikes. Those interested in can view it here, I missed the bikes and eventually one of the 4×4 owners took pity on me and offered to move his vehicle out of the way so I could complete the ten-point turn. I relocated ourselves over the road in the park and walked back to the now empty bakery for a refreshing cuppa and bun.
On the road we decided that we didn’t want to drive at 80km/h behind a couple of caravans so as soon as there was a passing lane we started to pass them. What the hell possesses brain dead people being passed to speed up from 80km/h to over 100km/h? Bloody morons should be banned from driving. Mission eventually completed and we proceed several km up the road to the first of half a dozen road works sections. Oh well, plenty of time to look at the scenery and ponder why we need to slow down to 60km/h for at least a km before the actual road works begins.
Dalwallinu for lunch in the park. A nice pleasant park in the middle of town. Starting to get into the real bush now with people actually waving back at you as you drive past. Must be something wrong with my speedo, I keep being passed by road trains. Catch up with two haul pack trays on semi’s which take up all the road. We follow them into Paynes Find and decide to stop for a quick break and to let them proceed ahead. We catch up with them a while later and follow them into Mt Magnet. They take the right hand side of the divided road through town so we pass them in the left lane and head onto Cue for the night. This is where is gets interesting with a French barmaid, prickles and beer bingo.
First off, the prickles. We decided to stay in the Cue Caravan Park, a typical outback caravan park. Not to flash, but honest. We requested a non-powered site and were offered a choice of a concrete caravan pad or a grassed area. We chose the grass. Wrong. The grass was just a way of disguising the prickles. After two steps I was an inch taller from all of the prickles stuck to the bottom of my boots. Packing up should be interesting.
We we’re forced to visit the local hotel after the strenuous efforts in setting up camp and felt obliged to sample a beverage or two. About this time strange things started to occur. I requested a choice of beverages on offer. Somehow my request and it’s translation into French by the nubile young waitress caused a communication malfunction to occur. Somehow we both decided that pointing to the fridge was a more appropriate alternative. This is where the beer bingo comes into play. Apparently if you turn your back to the customer and rapidly point at the various beers in the fridge and if the customers’ reflexes are incredibly quick a mutually agreeable selection can be made. Things became simpler after this as one only had to point to the empty vessel to gain new supplies.
Day two. Monday 20th April 09
The next day started with a serious effort in prickle removal as we unstuck the camper from it’s prickly location. We also discovered that for the windbreak around the gas stove to be effective it needed a strong breeze from the opposite side to the flame. It took the best part of half an hour to boil 500ml of water for a cuppa.
Today was another long haul with Newman as the intended destination. We passed through Meekatharra and were to finally see what happens when you turn north (from Wiluna) instead of south. In 1987 we arrived in WA via the Gunbarrel highway and when we reached Meekatharra we turned south towards Perth. 21 years, two teenage kids and very little grey hair later we we’re to find out. We discovered that, apart from the shadows being in the opposite direction than when travelling south, there is even more of just as little and even less people.
Our arrival at Newman led us to the tourist centre to discover that the rail access road permit I was after wasn’t available from here but could be obtained from Tom Price instead. We tossed a coin and ended up at one of the two caravan parks in town. We chose a lovely spot on the grass between the pool, camper’s kitchen and a speed hump. An interesting evening was spent in the adjacent beer barn where food and beverages were consumed. At some ungodly hour of the morning we found out why such an idyllic location was still available for camping. It seems that FIFO workers in trucks loaded with unrestrained steel bins can launch themselves, truck and steel bin into lower earth orbit utilising the speed hump, ready for re-entry adjacent to our place of rest. We also discovered that this process takes place, with short periods of respite, over a period of several hours.
Day three. Tuesday 21st April 09
We spent part of the morning looking around Newman and shopping for several items we had forgotten. We asked at the tourist info centre about some of the 4×4 tracks on the way to Karijini and if we could get there with the camper trailer. We were told that it wasn’t possible. Seeking a second opinion, we asked at the local 4×4 shop over the road. Bingo! A much more learned response saw us headed to Weeli Wolli Springs. It was a bit rough in places and slow but no real problem. Nice little spot and the the amount of water coming from the spring was amazing.
A return down the same track saw us back on the bitumen for the run into Karijini. We arrived at Dales Gorge and were directed to our sardine tin camping matchbox by the camp hosts. Why the hell do our National Parks people jam campers in like sardines? In parks the size of some European countries is space a problem? Isn’t one of the reasons people go into the bush, to get away from it all? And a last rant, can people leave the bloody DVD, boom box, radio and TV at home or at least turn them off before midnight?
It was still a little hot and the flies were a tad sticky and persistent. They headed to bed around dusk to be replaced by other flying insects around the light. After a quick reposition of the light, dinner was prepared and a couple of refreshing cold beverages were consumed. We watched a couple of the local dingos walking through the camps looking for a quick feed. We’d been warned not to leave anything edible outside. Including boots!
Day four. Wednesday 22nd April 09
Earlyish next morning we loaded up with water and headed off to the gorges. We looked down onto Circular Pool and then headed down to the pool for a refreshing dip. We arrived to find several backpackers already enjoying the pool. Europe must only have old people and young men left there. Everywhere we went seemed to be full of female European backpackers in bikini’s.
We moved down through Dales Gorge to Fortescue Falls and another countries worth of bikini backpackers. Fern Pool was a fitting finale to the gorge walk. It was still hot and the flies were becoming annoying. We went for a quick drive to the visitors centre to look around. It was very interesting. Then we noticed that it had started to rain. Problem was we had left the windows open on the camper, which was 10km away. Bugger! We jumped into the Ute and drove back to camp in fairly heavy rain to find it was just lightly spitting. We closed the windows and drove back through the rain to the visitors centre to finish our visit.
Day five. Thursday 23rd April 09
We packed up early the next morning and visited Kalamina Falls on the way to Joffre Falls and then onto Oxer Lookout.
We then hiked down to Weano Gorge and into Handrail Pool.
Funnily enough it was also inhabited by bikini backpackers. We then went to Hancock Gorge and waded and swam to Kermit’s Pool.
We only passed some bikini backpackers this time though. Interestingly they always seemed to be 2 to 3 bikini backpackers for every male backpacker. We decided to drive to Tom Price instead of camping at the eco retreat.
At the caravan park the couple in front of us had an interesting discussion with the reception staff as they tried to convince them that they had prebooked accommodation for themselves and their dog. The minor point that the park doesn’t accept dogs seemed to be of minimal concern. They departed soon after. Another nice neat park.
Day six. Friday 24th April 09
Next morning we had a look around town and topped up with more supplies and our rail access road permit before heading off to Millstream. We checked out Hamersley Gorge at the Western end of Karijini and it was also worth the effort with some lovely rock formations and several beautiful rock pools.
We then headed to Millstream Chichester National Park via the railway access road and see several of the ore trains. We were intending to stay at Snake Creek campsite and check out Python Pool the next morning.
Unfortunately the campsite was pretty much a small car park than a nice place to stay so we dropped into Python Pool on our way back to the Millstream side of the park. With hindsight it probably wasn’t a real good idea as it was just on dusk. The combination of dust, setting sun and potential furry speed humps made it an interesting journey. It was dark by the time we arrived and we found the first entrance to Crossing Pool was still closed due to water damage earlier in the year. We started to set up camp at the new camping ground near the main Homestead come Visitors Centre. The ranger stopped by to collect the camping fees while we were getting dinner cooked. Not as many campers as at Karijini but the campsites were just as small and close together. Sigh!
Day seven. Saturday 25th April 09
Still a fair bit of water damage from the earlier rains but we had a good look around and walked around as much of the park as we could. Driving around the back way to look at Crossing Pool and stopping at Deep Reach Pool on the way out of the park. Our initial plan was to spend the night at Pannawonica but we arrived early in the afternoon and decided to keep going and see what happens. We ended up at Nannaturra roadhouse where we encountered lamb shanks, AC/DC and the ping pong balls. It was a typical outback roadhouse where it is the people you meet that make or break your visit. In our case we scored with the people and the food.
We were greeted on arrival by a reverse Mohawk on a tattooed lad to the sound of AC/DC at full volume. We weren’t sure how to take all this but he was polite and accommodating when we booked in. After setting up the camper I decided to get some fuel, which our attendant did to the tune of even more AC/DC. We had a chat about AC/DC and he turned out to be quite a fan. It seemed strange talking to someone who wasn’t even born when you first listened to AC/DC yourself. The joys of age I suppose.
The head cook (and driver) decided that someone else should provide sustenance this night so we ended up in the roadhouse with a lovely dinner of lamb shanks. I suspect that they were from a rather large lamb. Lovely, meaty and very tender. Very nice they were.
Oh, I nearly forgot about the ping-pong balls. I commented to the caravan receptionist/ fuel attendant/ waiter and AC/DC fan that he seemed to do everything around here. I wondered if he also cooked dinner? His reply was that he wasn’t the cook but he did do everything else except for the dance with the ping-pong balls! With thoughts of Asian nightclubs in mind I decided not to pursue this comment any further.
Day eight. Sunday 26th April 09
It was an all bitumen run into Exmouth the next day. We did notice that there seemed to be vast amounts of not much at all adjacent to the road. We went into Charles Knife Gorge, which was very impressive. Thinking that a nice feed of prawns from the Kailas brothers factory on the way into town would be a good idea only to find they were closed on Sundays. Ended up slumming it in Brumbies Bakery with a pie, coffee and a real vanilla slice, bliss.
Had dinner in the Italian restaurant next to the caravan park that night. For some unknown reason I was convinced to take a walk around the block after dinner. I never knew Exmouth had such a large block to walk around. Several eternities later we arrived back at our camp for a well-deserved rest.
Day nine. Monday 27th April 09
With my legs only just recovered from their extensive work out the night before we started with a quick backtrack to visit Shothole Canyon where we saw some goats clambering around the edge of the canyon. We waited for the emus to grant us access to their private road so we could continue to the canyon proper.
Back through town to check out the North West Cape where we observed various sea critters that we think were dugongs feeding on the seaweed. Proceeding down the east coast of the cape we spent some time in the visitors centre. Another excellent setup with lots of interesting information about the park to look at. Went for the walk along the top of Yardie creek and kept finding the bushes full of Black footed wallabies.
Headed back to Vlamingh lighthouse to watch the sunset. It was an interesting drive back with lots of furry creatures checking out the passing traffic with some even pondering a career as a hood ornament. Pulled up at the lighthouse to find the people everywhere talking on mobile phones. Seems it is the spot to get mobile reception on the East coast.
Then we got to observe the mentality of some members of the human race. This particular clown weaved through all of the parked cars, around the Armco to pull up in front all of other people set up to watch the sunset. This rocket scientist then got himself and family standing up in front of everyone and we all got to watch the flashing lights as he hit the remote locking on and off every 30 seconds as he unloaded his car. Must be something to be proud of being this considerate of others.
The sunset wasn’t much but we did get to see the lights on the oil rigs twinkling on the horizon. Headed back to camp for some leftover chicken Korma for dinner and another relaxed sleep.
Day ten. Tuesday 28th April 09
Next day we headed back into Exmouth to restock. Strangely there are two supermarkets in town, both IGA’s and both within 100 ft of each. Weird. Then the worst thing in the world happened. We went into the bottle shop to make sure we didn’t dehydrate and there was no beer! Lots of empty shelves though. Not sure if it was closing down or what, but luckily the drive throughs in the pub could supply the vital fluids needed.
Heading south to Coral Bay we passed through some more vast quantities of nothing apart from anthills. Must be doing a good job of ant farming around here. After a chat to the local water toy hire shop near the beach we worked out that snorkelling wasn’t going to be very practical for someone wearing glasses nor for those graced with facial hair. Back to option 2. Happy hour at the pub. It’s very relaxing observing the vagaries of ones fellow humans when cheaper booze is on offer for a limited period.
Day eleven. Wednesday 29th April 09
Next morning we substituted a glass bottomed canoe for the snorkels and masks and paddled out to check on the coral before the wind came in. Well worth the effort.
Our destination tonight was Gascoyne Junction via Manilya roadhouse and then following the back roads via Lyndon. Time was against us a bit but we did manage to make a quick side trip into the Kennedy Range National Park to check out the gorges before we continued into Gascoyne Junction.
Why are the roads in national parks so bloody corrugated? Saw a total of two vehicles once we left the North West Hwy. A grader and a ute. Pretty lonely country. We pulled into the Junction just on dusk. Set ourselves up in the council caravan park and headed to the pub to be sociable. Lovely home made hamburgers from the pub for dinner and some interesting local conversations. We navigated back to camp in the dark ok and settled in for a good nights rest. At some stage of the early hours we were woken up by footsteps creeping around the camper. This was then followed by chomping noises. After imagining what was going on for a while the dulcet bellows of a cow was added to the entertainment. Bloody cows were after the only green grass for miles.
Day twelve. Thursday 30th April 09
Next morning saw us heading south to Murchison settlement. Surprised ourselves when we arrived at Bilung Pool for lunch.
It was certainly unexpected to find such a waterhole in this country. We must be approaching civilisation as we passed at least three vehicles today. Most impressed with the setup at Murchison. A nice Oasis. Decided to stay here for the night. Checked out the museum behind the shire offices, worth the effort.
Had a chat to the locals and the story about some previous visitors who complained about the generator noise at night. They reckoned that the council should relocate the generator or build noise walls. Not sure what some people expect about country facilities but I suppose if they are upset and don’t come back it’ll keep it nice for the rest of us.
Nearly forgot the pet roo. It turned up around dinnertime and headed onto the lawn near the clothesline behind the roadhouse. It followed the owner out to be hand fed. It was fairly tame and didn’t seem concerned about people at all. It did make the night time visit to the dunny interesting, as you had to walk around it in the dark.
Day thirteen. Friday 1st May 09
Helped a fellow traveller change a tyre. Wheel nuts done up with a rattle gun, vehicle nearly off the jack as he tried to undo the wheel nuts and then he released that he hadn’t jacked the vehicle high enough to fit the unflat tyre on. Should get a new badge for my scout hat after this good deed.
Checked out the Coalstream Reserve on the way today and will have to go back during the wildflower season to see it at it’s best. We ended up at Carnamah for the night in another neat tidy caravan park. Had a lovely dinner in the local pub. Don’t let the puke green paint job on the pub put you off.
Day fourteen. Saturday 2nd May 09
Just a run down the back stuff today as we headed home. The final meal of the trip saw us having lunch at the bakery in Bindoon before the last hour back home. Parked over the road from the bakery this time so there was no need for a another twenty point turn.
Facts figures and thoughts.
All up we did nearly 5000km in 13 days. Spent ~$900 on fuel. Fuel economy decreased by ~10% from normal, so the camper cost ~$100 extra to tow for the trip. Better than setting up a tent for thirteen nights and it didn’t stop us getting anywhere we wanted to.
We used non-powered sites when staying in caravan parks ( ~$4/night less than powered sites ). 10 nights @ $4 night = $40 saved by having own power. We would have needed some sort of power for the other three nights anyway.
Travelled on dirt roads at ~80-90km/h depending upon surface and condition.
The camper doesn’t have fancy springs or shock absorbers, just leaf springs with greaseable shackles. Even on the worse corrugations it handled well and didn’t pogo or bounce around. It has a short drawbar and while the front and guards on the camper are pretty well shot blasted I haven’t found a single stone chip on the back of the ute. Maybe the advantage of a long tow bar when reversing means you’ll need a stone guard?