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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’.
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…