Escarpments alongside the Victoria Highway
We’d intended to have a steady day today. We started off early, leaving the camp site and getting into town before 8am. We stocked up on food (no veg or fruit.in preparation for the quarantine areas) for a few nights at the supermarket and fuelled up at the roadhouse in town.
We then set off towards Timber Creek, our expected stopping point between Kunnunara and Katherine.
Before too long we crossed into the Northern Territories, saying a fond farewell to WA. That also meant we crossed a time zone pushing the clocks forward by an hour and a half. Psychologically that gave us a shorter day although obviously it would also mean it’d stay light until gone 6 pm.
The two Timber Creek camp sites, or at least their descriptions on WikiCamps, were uninspiring and at a rest area before we got to Timber Creek we took the decision to go straight through to Katherine and then stop there for two nights. It would mean travelling 511km in the day but between the two of us we’ve done it before and the site at Katherine sounded more appealing.
The Victoria Highway which we were following is another attractive road that runs primarily along the valley bottoms with escarpments on either side. Lots of small bush fires along the sides of the road which we think are deliberate, burning back the undergrowth after the wet season to create “natural” fire breaks.
So, we pushed on, arriving in Katherine at around 4.30pm. The site is very nice, lots of grass and lots of space. There are also lots of posters and warnings about the local salt water crocs – the swimming pool is the only place we’ll be swimming this far north !
Katherine is probably the furthest north we will get on this trip, when we leave on Thursday we’ll be heading south towards Alice Springs. Tomorrow will probably be a rest day, hopefully the humidity will drop a bit. Alice Springs is around 10 degrees cooler in the day at the moment, which sounds nice 🙂
Breakfast at Ellenbrae – a Devonshire Tea on the veranda
Our last day on the Gibb River Road today. We started the day off with a very nice breakfast at Ellenbrae Homestead with fresh home made scones with jam and cream, washed down with tea/coffee. They really were superb scones and we had an interesting chat about life on the homestead, particularly during the wet season. Anyone travelling along the Gibb River Road should make Ellenbrae a compulsory stop !
Yesterday evening there had been a few heavy looking clouds around when we set up camp and we even had a spot of rain in the early hours. We found out over breakfast that Exmouth was cut off by flooding over the weekend with the main road in and out closed off.
As we continued along the final 100k or so of unsurfaced road the GRR continued to throw up new vistas that took your breath away. The road also gave us the biggest river crossing of the trip so far as we crossed the Pentacost River.
As we approached the crossing we could see a couple of vehicles on the other bank with people milling about, presumably trying to decide if the crossing was safe. There were markers at the side of the crossing with no depth indication on them so all we could do really was trust in the Land Rover and head on in. Even with a willing navigator this isn’t an area of the country you can send someone in on foot to test the depth…
As expected the crossing wasn’t a problem, a bit rough with some fairly large rocks under the water but not too deep. The deepest part was in the middle of the second channel where I could feel the water hitting the bottom of the footwell but nowhere near the point that the Land Rover would have an issue and we kept our feet dry 🙂
It didn’t seem much longer on before we met up with the surfaced road again and pretty soon the Gibb River Road came to an end at a T junction with the Wyndham to Kununarra road.
As we headed into Kununarra it was clear we were heading into heavy rain. Although temperatures were still in the mid 30s it was throwing it down when we booked into the Big4 site for the night. The rain was short lived and the clouds dispersed but the humidity was ridiculous. Sat in the shade we didn’t feel that hot compared to some parts of the trip but the sweat was dripping off us due to the high humidity. It reminded me of Singapore airport when you cone out of the air conditioned terminal and seem to walk into a wall of very hot water vapour.
The camp site was offering a charity fundraiser “Beef and Barra” night for 10 bucks a head so we signed up for that and, after a shower, spent the late evening sat by the lake for the communal get together. We had a really nice evening swapping tales and comparing notes with others on their journeys. The site’s friendly freshwater croc “George” didn’t put in an appearance so I’ll have a wander in the morning. There were some turtles in the water though and a LOT of big catfish around when the excess bread from the meal was thrown into the water.
Tomorrow we’ll continue our journey to Katherine, if it weren’t for the humidity we’d probably stay here another night but the thought of sitting still here during the day doesn’t bear thinking about. We’ll stock up on food and fuel before we leave town though.
Near the top of Bell Gorge
Our first “task” this morning was to walk to the Bell Falls, along the Bell Gorge. The walk was challenging in places and quite rough going until we got to the river crossing where you have to pick a route through the pools and rocks at the head of the waterfall that minimised wading. As the water was so clear we elected to make the crossing barefoot rather than have wet boots for the rest of the walk.
The falls and surrounding canyon were impressive and once we’d got to the end of the marked route we just sat and took it all in for a while before heading back.
The Bell Falls
Heading back out onto the Gibb River Road our next destination was the Imintji Roadhouse which turned out to be an oasis on the dusty road. It seems a long time since we’ve found anywhere offering decent coffee but at Imintji they serve excellent coffee and the fresh made muffins were just as good and nicely presented. We sat in the shade in the garden area and planned the rest of the day.
There were a few options for places to stay along the rest of the GRR but in the end we opted to try and make it as far as Ellenbrae, a camp ground that was a good distance along but has excellent reviews on WikiCamps. It meant driving just over 300k, all on unsurfaced roads, but would leave us an easier day tomorrow being within 150k of the end of the Gibb River Road and the surfaced road.
A lizard basking above the Bell Falls
The Gibb River Road itself is a really attractive road to drive. Along with the challenges of an unsurfaced road that normally keep the driver busy the scenery constantly changes. You start to take for granted the huge vistas that seem to appear at the top of every hill and the lush trees and bush that surround the road. The road surface is pretty good but you have to be vigilant as you can be lulled into a false sense of security as you trundle along at 50mph and suddenly find a rough creek bed in front of you. We even came across a fallen tree covering most of the road where a small bush fire had burnt through the base of it’s trunk.
Ellenbrae itself is a nice camp spot at a homestead. Nicely laid put facilities and not badly priced. They also serve scones with jam and cream from 8am so that’s breakfast sorted !
Tomorrow we should complete our crossing of the Gibb River Road and will be back on tarmac for a while. We’ll head to Kunnunara and Katherine before turning south towards Alice Over the next few days.
We’re just over half way through our trip now, time wise, and have covered over 8000 miles since leaving Sydney.
Formations at the start of Tunnel Creek
After a restful stop at the Fitzroy Crossing Lodge, including two nights of eating out and sampling the draught beer, we returned to the Gibb River Road today after topping up our fuel and water at the Fitzroy Crossing fuel station.
Our first stop was at Tunnel Creek, just off the Leopold Downs Road. We’d passed it on our way out from Windjana Gorge but hadn’t stopped last time. This time we stopped off for a look.
Tunnel Creek is a subterranean creek that cuts through the Devonian Reef for around 2km. The quartz rich rocks and boulders you have to clamber over to get into the tunnel/cave system are quite daunting and then, once you enter the tunnel you need a torch to proceed. There aren’t any signs to show the way and once we were confronted with having to wade through water of indeterminate depth, in the dark, with no idea if we needed to go left or right, we decided not to go any further.
One of the many vistas that just seem to appear from nowhere on the Gibb River Road
From Tunnel Creek we rejoined the Gibb River Road proper, resuming our journey east along it to head to the, hopefully now open, Silent Grove camp ground. The scenery along the GRR a this point is stunning and the road itself is mostly in good condition although it did seem to deteriorate with more holes and corrugations the further east we got. The road is now open to road trains too, they kick up a LOT.of dust compared to normal 4x4s so when you see one coming the other way it’s as easy to almost stop while the dust disperses.
Thankfully when we got to the Silent Grove turnoff there was a sign declaring that both Silent Grove and Bell Falls are open. Although it was still early afternoon neither of us fancied the 4km walk to Bell Falls and back in the heat of the day so we set up camp early with the intention that we’ll get going early in the morning and try to cover some of the walk while it’s still relatively cool.
As anticipated, there’s no internet here so not sure when I’ll get to post this to the blog !
First thing this morning we took a trip to the southern part of the Purululu National Park to see the Cathedral Gorge. We’d expected it to take a while but combined with our early start we’d completed the walk by 9am. As a result we decided to have a bit of a marathon day and try and make it all the way to Fitzroy Crossing before dark.
Last night we came across something first hand that we’d known about through documentaries and so on but never expected to come face to face with the reality. On our walk to see the sunset we noticed a lot of dead toads on the track leading to the view point which, from the information on the various boards we’ve seen, all looked to be cane toads.
As it got darker it was apparent that the area is completely overrun by them, everywhere you walked on the roads or in the camp site you’d see them hopping away from you. The camp caretaker rounded up 300+ last night and they’ve barely made a dent in the population. Now alerted to them, during the drive out of the park, every creek/River crossing we made saw loads of the cane toads running off the road. We tried to do our bit by running over as many as possible ! They are an introduced species that is playing havoc with the local wildlife, sending some species into extinction.
Anyway, today we made a dash for Fitzroy Crossing, 500k in total but by sharing the driving and with suitable selection of loud music we made it in time to set up camp before the sun went down. It’s one of the best things about this country, you can stick at 100km/h for 5 hours and not see another vehicle in front of you.
We’ve booked in here for 2 nights as it has a bar, a restaurant, a pool and a laundry. We’ll then set off refreshed on Saturday morning to the Gibb River. Road again and this time we’ll drive what is open.
We’ll be out of phone/internet contact for a few days now so I’ll probably be unable to post any more blog entries until we reach the end of the Gibb River Road.
From Halls Creek to the Purnululu NP is around 150k although the last 60k is unsurfaced and very rough in places. We set off in good time and were surprised, on the Tarmac road, to see hundreds of Black Kites sat along the road. It took us a while to figure out what they were doing as some of the ones that we’re flying would swoop down at the road surface with their talons open.
It soon became apparent that there was some sort of seasonal epidemic of grasshoppers or crickets and they were crossing the road. The kites were determined to make the most of an easy meal.
Light reflecting off the red sandstone at Echidna Chasm
The unsurfaced track into the national park was good fun for me, bringing back memories of some of the tracks we raced along in the Outback Challenge competitions. The tight turns, descents and climbs with an occasional river crossing were great to drive but Pam was feeling a bit green, not helped by the hot sun that was mostly on the passenger side.
On arriving at the NP we registered for a night’s camping and then headed north to the Echidna Chasm. The tracks inside the NP were, fortunately, much smoother than the track in !
I think, like many of the places we’ve seen, it’s difficult to capture this kind of scenery with a camera. The walk through the chasm was fascinating and in some places quite challenging. Rock falls had partially blocked the way at one point and you had to thread your way through the huge boulders. The final part of the chasm was closed, presumably due to similar boulders.
Sunset at the Bungle Bungle Range
In the late afternoon we headed back to the camp site, set camp and had an early tea. The camp caretaker came round to let us know what time the sun would set in case we wanted to see the sun come down over the Bungle Bungle Range. As it was only a 1k walk we decided to head to the view point. It’s a very tranquil place, not sure why it should be so, you just have to be there I guess.
I’ll mention the cane toads in tomorrow’s blog when we’ve headed out of the Bungle Bungles and are heading back towards the Gibb River Road.
Freshwater Crocodile in the shallows of the river at Windjana Gorge
Had a good stroll down Windjana Gorge this morning, as per the recommendations we set off early after getting up just after dawn. The last kilometre of the gorge is closed at the moment but the 2.5 km that were open were more than enough !
The track through the gorge was hard going, much of it vague or indistinct and we spent more time than want to pushing through undergrowth. We both have no doubt added to our growing collection of insect bites as a result. It seems every time one finally subsides and stops itching you get another two elsewhere to take it’s place…
Anyway the aim of the excursion was to see the fresh water crocodiles and we certainly achieved that so it was worth the effort and the inevitable scratching for the next few days. We didn’t see any crocs out of the water but saw them swimming and, the one in the picture, basking in the shallows.
The gorge itself is quite stunning when you take your eye off the water or the track ahead checking for snakes. We also picked up some info from the ranger that the other two NP attractions should be open on Friday/Saturday as he is the ranger for those too.
In the bottom of Windjana Gorge
From Windjana we headed south to the Great Northern Highway as planned. As it was still early (a benefit of getting up at 6am I guess) we got to Fitzroy Crossing at around 1pm so decided to push on as the less days we spend travelling to the Bungle Bungles the better really.
We had a change of drivers at one of the free camp spots/rest areas on the way, notable primarily because of all the warning signs about crocodiles – staying 4 metres from the river edge etc… Looked a nice spot actually and quite busy but the timing was all wrong for us.
In the end we covered 437km today, calling it a day when we got to Halls Creek as pushing on to the Bungle Bungles in one go would have seen us traveling in the dark. Halls Creek strikes you as a sad town, struggling with many of the problems that the indigenous population endure. The caravan park is surrounded by high fences and barbed wire and notices and warnings that all valuables should be locked in a vehicle. Glad we’re only here for the one night although the camp site seems pleasant enough, almost like a gated community which is a real shame.
One side of the gorge – The Devonian reef that the gorge has been cut through.
On the return journey, assuming we continue with our plan to complete the Gibb River Road, we’ll overnight at Fitzroy Crossing. The camp site there looked really nice as we passed it. We’ll also try and restock some of our food there as the diversion has stretched us a bit thin. We have enough food with our reserves but it’d be preferable to top them up as we won’t see another supermarket until the end of the Gibb River Road.
Tomorrow we’ll head into the Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park. First stop will be the visitor centre to find out what’s open/closed and then expect to be camping in the NP. Probably no Telstra coverage again…. We’re expecting to stay for two nights before retracing our steps back to continue the Gibb River Road.
Now that’s a large termite mound !
Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans – a saying that more often than not seems to be appropriate ! Our plans around the Gibb River Road and how, with the road opening early this year, we’d get the benefit, went out of the window today.
Our first stop this morning was at the info centre in Derby as it was shut yesterday afternoon when we got there. We picked up a current map of the road with details of the different “attractions” along it and had a chat with the person behind the counter. She pointed out that although the road itself was open most of the off shoots are still closed.
Windjana, our intended first destination, is open but the other routes are still closed with no firm opening date. After some deliberation we decided to carry on as planned to Windjana Gorge for tonight.
So, having topped up the fuel tanks yet again we finally set off down the Gibb River Road. The road itself, at least as far as the Windjana turnoff is easy going with most of it being a single lane of Tarmac in the middle of a 2 lane unsurfaced road. It was only when there was traffic coming the other way that you had to drive onto the unsurfaced part. There were some long stretches of gravel road but all in pretty good condition with very little in the way of corrugations or holes.
We arrived at the gorge in the early afternoon and set up camp. It was too hot to consider walking into the gorge this afternoon so we chilled out, reading books and I managed to get a few decent photos of the local wildlife.
Tomorrow we’ll aim to get up at sunrise and walk into the gorge before it gets too hot. Hopefully we’ll get to see some of the crocs. With the rest of the “attractions” along the GRR still closed we’ve decided we’ll take a long side trip to the Bungle Bungles, a national park that we didn’t expect to fit into our route.
Devonian Reef cliffs at Windjana Gorge
From there we can either continue north to the end of the GRR or double back to complete our journey along the road if the side routes are open by then. It’ll be a real disappointment if we don’t complete the GRR but hanging around waiting for them to open any more than a week will see us with less time around Alice and Mount Dare. It’s probably going to take a couple of days to Bungle Bungle so at least 2 days back and a day or so there. We really want to be in Alice early in May if we can but for the moment at least the decision can be put on hold until we have more info.
Our change of plan does mean we’ll have more internet access than anticipated at least for the next couple of days. Currently we have no phone service at all so this won’t get published to the web site until tomorrow sometime when we get on the Great Northern Highway through Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.
The Prison Boab Tree at Derby
A nice touch this morning at the camp site, the site caretakers went around the camp site handing out mini Easter eggs on their quad. Chocolate for breakfast ? That’ll do nicely 🙂
Another hot and humid day today as, according to weatherzone we were in the hottest part of Australia today with a high of 38C and humidity at around 80%. Not being used to that sort of heat doesn’t make you feel much like doing anything other than driving where with the windows open you can at least get some sort of cooling breeze.
We’re establishing a coping strategy at the moment which works quite well. We start with tea/coffee in the morning in our insulated mugs – it’s strange how refreshing a hot drink can be even in these temperatures. Those keep us going for about an hour on the road by which time we try and find a roadhouse that sells cold bottles of pop that will last us another hour. Pam puts our water bottles in the fridge, full of water and/or orange juice and they come out when we run out of coffee/pop. The final defence is a bottle of mineral water, also in the fridge. We’re easily getting through 5 litres of liquid a day, each, at the moment.
Today our little drive took us 288km to Derby, a small town near the start of the Gibb River Road. Along the way we refuelled at a roadhouse and thankfully the diesel stayed in the tank again so we’re pretty confident now that any leak we have is very minor and won’t cause us issues. The fuel gauge also seems to be working properly on both tanks so we’ve not upset the sender unit on the main tank.
On the road into Derby we crossed a number of rivers and the notes on the HEMA maps make you realise you really are in croc country now. One of the river crossings had a note against it along the lines of “camping and fishing is popular alongside the rover here but there are large numbers of salt water crocodiles so take care”. We didn’t stop for a swim.
On the outskirts of Derby is a very old boab tree that we stopped to see, although we didn’t hang around in the heat too long so a bit of a flying visit… We couldn’t figure out from any of the information how old it is but it’s impressive. Sadly in it’s history it has been used as a kind of land mark and was used as an overnight stop for Aboriginal prisoners being walked in chains to the nearby prison or to Derby for sentencing in the late 19th century. Hence it is known as the Prison Boab Tree.
Once in Derby we got booked into the camp site first and then headed into town to stock up with provisions at the super market and the bottle shop. We also pulled some more cash out of an ATM and will get some more tomorrow as some of the more remote roadhouses only take cash.
All jobs done we set up camp just in time to watch the China F1 Grand Prix live on channel ten. Another poor showing by McLaren with JB finishing out of the points.
F1 on the iPad, a bit of shade from a tree, chilling at the camp site.
If you look closely at the pic of the camp site you may be able to make out a fence with some long grass behind it… Apparently it’s the crocodile fence, used to keep the salt water crocs in the estuary in the estuary and not in the camp site. I might make extra certain there’s nothing below when I climb down the ladder from the tent though.
Tomorrow we’ll top up the fuel tanks again, hit the ATM for some more cash and then head onto the Gibb River Road. Our first diversion from the road and our first night’s stop will be at Windjana Gorge. Apparently it has a large population of fresh water crocodiles so, again, no swimming but maybe some photo opportunities.
We’re not expecting to have any form of phone/internet coverage for a while now. Updates to the blog and our posts on Facebook are likely to become very sporadic as a result. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from us for a while, we have the sat phone if anything goes wrong !
Parked on 80 mile. Beach
We moved a bit closer to Broome today after a relaxing night at the rest area. It’s often the case that the rest areas seem to be quieter at night than the paid for sites.
We stopped off at the first roadhouse we came to and topped both fuel tanks off with some trepidation after what happened last time… No drama this time thankfully and we left the forecourt dry.
Anyway, first diversion was to 80 mile beach which, as the name might suggest, is quite a long stretch of beach. We took a look at the camp site there but it looked crowded and it was too early in the day really to think about setting up camp. Instead we drove down onto the beach and parked up, deploying the side tarpaulin for a bit of shade. We spent a couple of hours there watching the world go by, it seems to be a bit of a Mecca for fishing.
The colour of the ocean on the west coast never gets old…
Continuing towards Broome we stopped off at the roadhouse we’d originally considered for an overnight stop but there was little/no shade there and with the temperature pushing 38C we didn’t fancy that in the heat of the afternoon so chose to continue for the remaining 200+ km to the Barn Hill Station camp site.
It’s not the most interesting road, to say the least, and seems to continue forever with very little change in landscape or even any bends to speak of and hardly any traffic. At around 30k from the camp site we came across a saloon car sat on the verge and the occupants waved us down. They’d had a front tyre blow out and had a spare tyre but no jack.
We carry a bottle jack and a Hi-Lift jack and with the car sat on the wheel rim there was no way we could get the bottle jack under without lifting the car first so we suggested flagging down another car in the hope that they had a smaller jack that was easier to get to.
When you consider how little traffic there was on the road and that we’d not seen more than 3 or 4 Defenders since Perth, it was more than a bit of a coincidence that the next vehicle to come down the road was another Defender ! It was nice to get a chance to meet another Defender owner but didn’t really help as they pretty much had the same jacking options as we did !
In the end I dug the bottle jack out of our tools box and between us we managed to lift the front of the car up and slip the jack under the front frame where it looked solid enough to support the weight. The other Defender is also heading to the Gibb River Road but will be there at least a day ahead of us, driving into the night. The saloon car driver was very grateful for our help and offered money, which we refused, so hopefully we’ve gained a few karma points.
Sunset over the west coast. Is that amazing or what ?
We got to the camp site just before sunset which will probably be the last sunset we see over the west coast as our route now will almost certainly mean we won’t see the coast again until we get to the east coast in Queensland. We might see it again in Derby I suppose.
We were inundated with insects tonight after dark, attracted by the lights at the back of the Land Rover as we cooked. Lots of crickets as well as a multitude of flying bugs of all sizes. We ended up taking refuge in the tent after eating !
Tomorrow we’ll continue past Broome towards Derby, no idea where we’ll stop… We want to stock up on food, water and fuel in Derby before heading out on the Gibb River Road and given the Easter holiday we’re bit certain we can get that done until Tuesday morning. That means if we get to Derby tomorrow we’ll need to stay a couple of nights unless the super market is open on Monday.