Driving underwater.

Our off road adventure now took us to the far north of The Kimberley region of Western Australia. This is a beautiful and rugged part of the country, where access is difficult but the rewards are worth the effort. The region is dissected by The Gibb River Road, which we had chosen not to take due to the National Parks along the road still being closed after the bad wet season the region had encountered. The main highway had taken us around the edge of The Kimberley allowing is to visit The Bungle Bungle and had now brought us back to the top of “The Gibb” at a place called El Questro.

Arriving at El Questro.

El Questro calls itself a Wilderness Park. It is essentially a one million acre cattle station that has recently diversified into tourism after realising the thousands of head of cattle were wandering around some spectacular scenery. There are three different sites within the station with various types of accommodation. The Homestead, offers luxury rooms and suites, Emma Gorge offers safari style cabins and then there is a campsite which offers sites with power and sites without power. You can guess where we ended up!

Another great spot to spend the night.

This was probably the last of the major walking areas we would encounter on this section of our trip so we set about making the most of it. Steve, as ever, had come up with a plan to make the most of our time here and so we set about doing the three main walks.

It wasn’t all about the walking.
There is always time to relax in the hot springs!

By the time we got to the last one, El Questro Gorge, we were both quite tired. Although it wasn’t a particularly long walk it just happened to be one of the most technically difficult we have done this year. The majority of the trail involved scrambling over large rocks and boulders which had fallen in landslides from the steep walls of the narrow gorge. There was no clear marked path, but that didn’t matter too much as the only way was up.

“Looks like we are heading up there”

At one point we were once again swimming part of the way and luckily we were walking close to another group who helped us to get out of the water and negotiate a huge boulder at the other end. Steve also had to pull Sarah up a couple of the steeper sections and by the time we reached the rock pool and waterfall at the top it had taken well over two hours to cover about three kilometres.

She doesn’t know at this point she will have to negotiate that boulder behind her!!

After a refreshing dip in the pool and a well earned sandwich we headed back and by the time we eventually reached the van, we had been going for over five hours, taken a couple of tumbles each, Steve had snapped a strap on his shoe, and we were both feeling well and truly battered and bruised!

Steve takes a shower at the end of the track.

One of the best things about El Questro was driving the trails between the camping and the walking areas. Our confidence in off road driving had been growing all the time as we had driven through more and more testing conditions.

One of El Questros roads!

On one day, heading towards a walk, we came to a river crossing. “We must have come the wrong way”, said Steve. “We can’t be expected to drive across there, it’s at least 200 metres across and looks pretty deep to me”. We were parking up when a group of Spanish tourists turned up and said they were going to leave their vehicle and walk across, hoping to hitch a lift to the start of the walk on the other side. We hung around for a little longer and an Australian guy pulled up in a similar vehicle to ours. He looked at the crossing, scratched his head and then said he would have a go at crossing and would wave us over from the other side if it was alright. Off he went, slow but sure through the water, rocking from side to side on the loose bed rocks. He got to the other bank and beckoned us across. Off we went, and within just a few metres the water was coming over the bonnet. “Whatever you do, don’t stop”, said Sarah. The campervan rocked and rolled and slipped around as we kept a steady pace. Eventually the bonnet started to rise up, Steve increased the revs and we bumped out onto dry land!!

“Where are those insurance papers”?

We kept on going through the dirt and sand relieved at getting across and soon caught up with the Aussie who had gone across before us, only to find him with four Spaniards hanging off his truck.

That’s one way to get there.

After the walk we had the reverse crossing to do but having done it once we were pretty confident of making our return journey. Everything went OK except this time we lost a rear mud flap and our front number plate. “I wonder if we are insured for this sort of crossing”, said Sarah. “Umm, maybe we have pushed the limits on that one”, replied Steve.

After our bruising walk and river driving, we sat in the campervan and agreed it was time to find a campsite with some showers, toilets and maybe even a pool where we could do some serious relaxing. “I know just the place”, said Steve “and it’s only a couple of hundred kilometres down the road”. “Oh no, what has he got in store now?”, thought Sarah!

Lake Argyle is the largest man made freshwater lake in Australia. Basically 50 years ago, they built a dam wall between two banks of the river Ord, then they let it rain for a couple of years, and then they had this enormous lake (it rains a lot here in the wet season!). The water usage in the area is far below what the lake supplies, so a huge percentage is left to run off into the river.  This does seem crazy when parts of the country are in severe drought, but apparently the cost of transporting the water is far too expensive.

Heading out on the lake.

We were quoted all sorts of facts and figures about the lake while we were there, but probably the one that was most impactive to us was its surface area. When full it is 1000 square km, compared to lake Windermere in The Lake District which is 15 square km. The other interesting fact is that it is home to approximately 25,000 freshwater crocodiles. Luckily they are the friendly ones!

There is only one campsite at Lake Argyle, so our choice was limited. Luckily, true to Steve’s word, it had toilets, showers and a pool. Not just any pool, but an infinity pool with views of the lake. On top of that, it had yoga classes every morning for Sarah. It was the best campsite we had been on for absolutely ages, if not the best since we have been in Australia.

I said you would like it here.

We also went out on the lake on a boat tour. It was more enjoyable than expected and we saw rock wallabies which dance across the steep slopes of the lake as agile as mountain goats. We saw Archer fish in action too. They are the ones that spit water at insects in the low lying branches, knocking them off and having them for supper. We were also taken to a corner of the lake that is inhabited by hundreds of golden orb spiders. These are pretty big arachnids that weave intricate webs on the dead trees and the whole are looked like it had been seriously decked out for halloween, and with the occasional freshwater croc drifting by it made for a very eerie scene.

Spiders and crocs. I thought Lake Eerie was in Canada?

On the way back, the driver stopped the boat and said we were all invited to go in for a swim. Steve was straight up and first into the lovely warm water. As he was not immediately eaten by crocodiles most of the other passengers jumped in too.

“Watch out for the crocs”

The driver opened some beers and bubbly, and placed some floats in the water with nibbles and dips on them. We were all soon bobbing about in the water in an unbelievable setting, watching the sun go down, eating and drinking! We really have some fabulous memories and constantly remind ourselves how lucky we are.

“Look, no hands”!
“Look, both hands”!

Our planned two days at Lake Argyle had very quickly become four, but when we looked at the map we realised we had a seriously long way to get back to Cairns. We were still in Western Australia and we had to drive across The Northern Territory and all of Queensland. There were also a couple more places we wanted to visit on the way, so we packed up, buckled up, refuelled the van, and set off on another of those multi day drives that we are starting to get used to.

Just another “downward facing dog” before we leave.

The first day took us back into the Northern Territory. This is a sparsely populated area in a sparsely populated country. We drove for most of the day with very little signs of life and eventually arrived in the town of Katherine. With a population of around 6,000 people it ranks at number three in the busiest places in the State, so we made the most of civilisation and did a good restock of food, water, and fuel. Katherine also marked a significant point in our trip. Although, by now, we were approaching 50,000 kilometres of campervaning around Australia, our route had left a section of the country we had not covered. When we drove into Katherine the last section was now done, so we had joined up the dots, and completed a full circumnavigation of Australia. We had done what they call here, ‘The Lap’.

Back in The Northern Territory.

We made our way back South through the Northern Territory, stopping at a couple of places we had enjoyed when we were here last year. This included a dip in the hot springs at Mataranka and an overnighter with a beer at the historic Daly Waters pub. We also found a couple of new places to stay, the pick of which was camping at the disused Uranium Mine at Mary Kathleen.

The disused Uranium mine…………
…….and the road up there.

This was a strange place where the entire village has been demolished leaving only the foundations behind, which are now used as lovely flat camping pitches. We also drove up to the mine along yet another road, that became a rough track, that became a rocky trail, that became a cliff edge!

The camping area, along with inquisitive cows.

Our next and final significant stop on this section of our trip was at a place called Cobbold Gorge. This was somewhere we had wanted to visit previously, but the 90 kilometre drive from the highway along the unsealed road is pretty unsuitable for two wheel drive vehicles. But now we were armed with our 4WD campervan (minus mudflap and number plate), off we went.

Cobbold Gorge was almost a cross between El Questro and Lake Argyle but on a much smaller scale. It is a working cattle station, diversifying into tourism, with a very smart campsite with yet another infinity pool. “These infinity pools are like buses”, said Steve. “You don’t see one for 18 months and then two come along at once”.

A great place to pass a few hours……or maybe a few days.

It was Sarah’s birthday while we were there. It is pretty difficult in remote places to plan anything special and surprising but we did do some Stand Up Paddleboarding plus a walking and boat tour as a treat. It was pretty low key, and a lot more relaxing than it sounds, but with a couple of hours sitting in the sun by the pool thrown in, she had a pretty good day.

“Happy Birthday to you”

One thing we have noticed about the tours we have done is that they vary considerably in quality and professionalism, including the guides. Some are excellent and full of knowledge, while others are, shall we say, not as excellent and try their best. Part of the problem has been the pandemic. Due to the International borders here having been shut for well over a year there is a severe lack of immigrant workers which Australia relies on.  This includes competent guides or people capable of becoming competent guides so this has resulted in anybody passing through being able to get a job doing pretty much anything. It would have not been much of a problem, if our visas allowed and we were that way inclined, for Steve to be a paddleboard guide and Sarah to give tours explaining the various uses of native plants and berries!

“And here we have the very bigus spiderus”

So we drove the 90 kilometres back to the highway enjoying the last of our four wheel driving in Australia and continued our journey across Queensland. Six hours later, we had crossed the Atherton Tablelands, where they grow almost every tropical fruit you can think of and some you have probably never heard of, and we were descending through the rainforest back down to the East coast.

Seven months after we left Clifton Beach and said our goodbyes to our landlord John, his wife Sheree, and their dog Rosie, we were back knocking on their door again. “I don’t suppose our old apartment is available for three weeks?” was our question. “It sure is”, was the reply. So we unpacked and settled into our apartment, surrounded by a plethora of life’s luxuries including, a washing machine, oven, electricity, running water (hot), TV and a real bed with a mattress. Oh, and so much space. It was going to be a good few weeks!

It’s good to be back!

Sunsets, Spiderman and a Solar Shower.

We left Ningaloo Reef on a real high. It had, unquestionably, been one of the highlights of our time in Australia. Our journey now took us away from the coast as we travelled directly East, inland, heading towards Karijini National Park. We had never heard of Karijini until a few weeks ago when we started to look at possible places to stop on our route, but it seemed to be mentioned more and more as we met travellers heading in the opposite direction who had come from there or travellers heading back there for a second or third visit. We started to think this place must be pretty good, or is it just one of those places in which people make a big deal out of nothing, just because it is the only place for hundreds of kilometres? There are certainly a few of those in OZ!

It turned out that Karijini was the real deal. Anyone who has read parts of our blog will know that one of the things that seems to appear high on our list of favourite activities is a good walk. Some of the best we have done with varied and unusual scenery have been in Southern Utah, in The States. Karijini was reminiscent of there. It wasn’t as expansive and the walking networks were not as long but it was certainly a stunning place, and in some areas the rock formations were equally as good as some of those in Zion, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah.

Steve surveys Karijini National Park from above.

The Park is basically split North and South with a campsite in each area and a series of gorge walks within a few kilometres of each site. It is possible to stay at one site, cover that side of the Park then move to the other site and see the rest. In true Aussie style there are two roads, one unsealed and direct 40 kilometres (about 25 miles) or the long way round 150 kilometres (about 100 miles) on the sealed road. Now we were driving a 4WD vehicle, we were able to take the short route through the sand, boulders and uneven dirt which was both quicker and much more fun.

It is pretty dusty when you cross another vehicle!….

We did three days of walking in Karijini and really crammed it all in. The walks were incredible. In some places it was pretty technical, with plenty of steep climbing and descending which involved hands as well as feet as we scrambled over boulders and huge fallen rocks. In one paticular place it was possible to walk with one foot on either wall of the gorge, this is known as “The Spiderman Walk”.

Sarah on The Spiderman Walk!

We were visiting these areas at the end of the wet season and we kept hearing locals talk of how it has been “A big wet”, with a significantly greater than average rainfall. This had meant some of the roads had been washed away and some of the National Parks were still inaccessible, but on the positive side those that were open had plenty of water in the waterfalls and gorges and the whole area was much greener than we expected. The added bonus was that this made the walks far more interesting and in many places we had to walk through waist high (and deeper) water to follow the routes and in a couple of places we had to swim across! The end result was always worth it as we accessed some amazing swimming holes fed by the waterfalls.

“When I said it was a walk, that was a loose description!”
“I told you it would be worth it”

It is easy to get carried away and distracted with the stunning beauty of Karijini but every so often something reminds you that it can be a dangerous place as a loose rock gives way under your foot, or you stand on a slippery rock under the water. Even though the walks were not very busy we still saw a couple of people fall. Probably the worst one was as we were climbing out of one of the gorges. We were on a part of the rock which had formed into terraces, some a few inches wide, others a couple of feet wide making a sort of uneven staircase. A young woman was coming down and slipped, causing her to fall down several terraces and onto the one above Steve, which was luckily quite wide. Steve broke her fall, but her momentum was still carrying her forward, until Steve grabbed her ankle with both hands and stopped her. She was extremely shaken up, but thankfully she had no serious injuries. Her partner joined her and we continued our climb out of the gorge. When we reached the top we stopped for a rest and a couple, who had been following us out, stopped with us and said that Steve had probably saved the woman’s life. Steve thought they were exaggerating a little but if she had kept falling it certainly wouldn’t have been a happy ending!

Don’t rip those shorts.

It is difficult to truly describe how stunning and visually impactive Karijini was, with the colours, the unusual geology and the narrowness of some of the walks, so here are a few more photos:

“No way! I draw the line at going down that one!”

Then add to that, the blue skies, the beautiful hot weather, and the welcoming cool waters in the pools and you can say we had a pretty good time in Karijini.

We were now aiming for the town of Broome which was about 1000 kilometres (600 miles) away, where we planned to restock on food, water, gas and a few other things we were running short of. We still had about three days’ supplies left, so we decided to drag the journey out and take three days to get there.

We made our way North towards the town of Port Hedland. We had decided against stopping here as it didn’t seem to have anything to entice us to stay. Australia is a relatively rich country and Western Australia provides a substantial part of the country’s wealth. If it were an independent nation it would be among the wealthiest in The World. This wealth comes predominantly from the mining of iron ore with some of the biggest companies on the planet such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto carving up the earth, producing the iron ore, and shipping it off mainly to China. Entire Chinese cities have been constructed using the iron dug out of the Western Australian outback.

Waiting for the next load.

The iron ore is moved from the mines to a huge industrial facility on the coast, where it is loaded onto container ships, in what seems a never ending process. This industrial facility is Port Hedland. Impressive to see, but we chose to view it from our campervan as we passed through.

On our way from Karijini to Port Hedland we saw the transportation operation of the iron ore in full flow. Apparently the price of the iron was at an all time high and so we presumed they were shipping as much as possible. Trains that were over one and a half miles long with four engines and well over 100 carriages shunted along specially laid tracks heading to the coast, while huge road trains raced up and down the highway supplementing the load. These road trains were four trailers long and including the cab had 106 wheels. They certainly don’t do things small in this part of the world.

They just go on forever.

After passing Port Hedland and heading North along the coast, the road trains soon became far less frequent and the giant iron ore mining machine became a thing of the past. We reached the start of Eighty Mile Beach, which isn’t really 80 miles long it actually extends for 137 miles, a seriously long beach!! We spent the next three days at a couple of locations along the beach doing not much at all as we were feeling pretty tired from our exertions at Ningaloo and Karijini.

Some of these camping locations are a bit difficult to access.
But worth the effort.

We have found that sometimes we get swept along, throwing ourselves into all the things there are to see and do here, and without realising, we get pretty exhausted and have to take some time out to recover. We just aren’t as young as we once were! A couple of days is usually enough and we are then off again. So we arrived in Broome with our supplies at rock bottom, but feeling we had made the most of the journey so far.

Broome is a popular holiday destination and is probably most famous for Cable Beach with its amazing sunsets and camel trains. We spent a couple of days getting the necessary photo shots and drank cold beer watching the sun going down.

A camel train on Cable Beach….
…and a camel trainer?

The west coast of anywhere is nearly always good for a picturesque view of the sun disappearing for the day and Western Australia is no exception. It has to be said, so far, Broome takes some beating. Pretty “Specky” as they say around here.

Definitely pretty “specky”

Next on our sunset tour of Western Australia was Cape Leveque. This was another of those places Steve read about and fancied making the 300 kilometre detour to get there and back and it turned out to be seriously worth it. It is perched at the end of a peninsula North of Broome, with nothing in between. We made our way to the very end of the road, along a dirt track, through some sand and onto our campsite, which was situated on the cliff above two beaches, one exposed to the ocean and wind, and one in a sheltered bay.

A beach for the days.
A beach for the evenings.

We spent two days laying on the sheltered beach with white sand, blue sea and virtually no people, and two evenings on the exposed beach watching the days end with sunsets to rival that of Broome. The cliffs here are a strange red colour and as the evening light hits them it throws up a fabulous scene.

Someone is trying to camouflage.
This really was a gorgeous location.

After more than enough relaxing, sunset watching and lazing on beaches it was time to get back into some activities….well Steve thought it was! Sarah was quite happy with a few more days of sand, sea and sunsets but we were on the West Coast and we had to be on the East coast 3500 kilometres away in three weeks with a lot to see on the way.

I love it here too. But we have more to see.

On leaving Broome and heading East there are essentially two routes to get to the next significant town of Kununurra. Our preferred choice was the 600 kilometre Gibb River Road. ‘The Gibb’, as it is known, is not much short of legendary in this part of the world. A dirt road all the way, with rough conditions including river crossings, corrugations, dust and potholes making it a challenging drive of around six days. It is closed during the wet season as the rivers flood and make it impassable, but when it is open it gives access to some reputedly spectacular National Parks and scenery, something which we really wanted to do. However, ‘The big wet’ which had hit the area this year had caused significant damage to the road and in some places washed it completely away. This had delayed its opening by over a month and, although it was now open to vehicles under 7 tonnes, the National Parks were all still closed. We had discussed what to do in the days before we left Broome and eventually decided we would leave ‘The Gibb’ for another time when we could drive it and access the National Parks. So instead we decided to take the highway which would allow us to visit The Bungle Bungle, which itself had only just opened following the wet season.

The Bungle Bungle (I just love saying that!) was a couple of days’ drive away so we made an overnight stop at The Mimbi Caves and took an aboriginal guided tour. The local aborigines have resisted Government Health and Safety measures and so the caves are in their original state, no walkways, no lighting, no structural support, in fact, no safety measures at all. You just follow a local woman around who tells a few stories about the local people, past and present.

Our guide for the day.
Steve looking less than impressed.

Sarah enjoyed the natural side of the tour, squeezing through the narrow passages and over the boulders, while Steve wasn’t too bothered and his highlight was the green tree frog we spotted enroute!

We then made our way to The Bungle Bungle, which involved a 50 kilometre detour off the highway on what was said to be one of the worst roads in the area. It did turn out to be pretty bad but we had driven on worse before and we were certain to find much worse further into our trip.

On our way to The Bungle Bungle.

We had heard of The Bungle Bungle before our trip here. It is famous for its orange and black beehive shaped rock formations, some of which are several hundred feet high.

Sarah admires the peculiar rocks.

It turned out that the strange shaped mounds were only found in one area of the National Park, but the rest of the Park had some interesting chasms and walks which kept us busy for three days.

One of the narrow chasms.

We did quite a long walk during our time here which followed a dry river bed for several kilometres. During the wet season the whole area is inaccessible and the river flows several metres deep. As the waters had receded, it was interesting to see how the force of the water had carved peculiar shapes along the now exposed rock.

Walking along the dry river bed.

During our few days at The Bungle Bungle the weather was seriously hot with the mercury hitting the high 30’s and with very little breeze. By the end of each day we were glad to get back to our campsite for a bit of shade, some fluid replacement and a shower. As in many of the National Parks we have visited throughout Australia, facilities are either limited or just non existent. But the fact that a camping location is provided, for just a few dollars, so close to such amazing locations leaves little cause for complaint. Besides, we have a solar shower! This is essentially a large bag with a special coating which heats up relatively quickly in direct sunlight, which is something we have in abundance here. You then hang the bag up over a tree branch or part of the campervan and then use gravity to feed the sprinkler shower head. It works reasonably well and with a bit of help from Steve, Sarah is even able to wash and condition her long hair. It’s amazing how something so basic can make you feel so refreshed after a long day of walking!

This shower is excellent after a long hot day.

The Bungle Bungle was well worth the detour. In fact, we had three thoroughly enjoyable days and considering it had originally been Plan B we felt we might have missed a real highlight if we had gone with Plan A along ‘The Gibb’.

Well worth the trip here.

So we made our way back along the 50 kilometres of rough dirt, over a couple of water crossings, back onto the main highway, reinflated our tyres and we headed North to our next stop at El Questro …..”That doesn’t sound very Australian, does it?”

We would just like to apologise for the large number of photos in this post. But it has been such a great section and we have so many more we could have used.

Here is one more for luck…