We're back after our 8 week Kimberely/Pilbara jaunt

Submitted: Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 13:03
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Hi All,

Well after 8 wonderful weeks tripping around the Pilbara & Kimberely, we are now back home safe and well. Our route took us from Perth to Newman via the Great Northern Hwy, then to the lovely Kalgan Pool just north of Newman on a horrible access track that saw the roof console come adrift - our fault - seems we hadn't refastened it properly after having it out to fit the HF radio just prior to leaving. From there we headed north via Nullagine, Marble Bar, Dooleena Gorge, Shay Gap and the Borderline Rd to pick up the NW Coastal Hwy just south of 80 Mile Beach. All these unsealed roads we found in very good condition although the section north of Shay Gap was a bit variable with some soft, narrow sections. The scenery was lovely.

We spent the next 5 days in Broome which was unseasonably hot. One day was 39 degrees which in the sun with no shade as we had was more like 49 degrees. Luckily Cable Beach provided plenty of relief in the late afternoon and sunset time. From Broome we took the hwy down to Fitzroy Crossing and did the Geike Gorge cruise which was lovely. Moving on we spent the next day camped a Mary Pool where freshwater crocs lazed on the riverbed only 60m away and down the Tanami to Wolfe Creek Crater. This top section of the Tanami was quite rough on account of the hills. The next couple of nights we spent at Sawpit Gorge south of - Halls Creek, a delightful spot. It was here that EO members - Bigkidz (Andrew, Jenelle and kids) joined us and since we all got on well we spent most of the rest of the trip in their company. After checking out a few of the attractions around Halls Creek we headed into the Bungle Bungles. The road in was rough and winding but okay driven with care. The Bungles did not disappoint. All of us including 4 yr olds Caitlyn and Matthew, hiked into Froghole walk, Echina Chasm & Cathedral Gorge. Dr Andrew swung into action and impressed us all with his "bedside manner" (not!) at the latter place when an elderly woman fell and broke her ankle.

Anyway, on to Kununurra for the next 5 nights. During our time there we all took a boat cruise down the 55km length of the Ord River from just below the dam wall at Lake Argyle finishing up at Lake Kununurra at sunset. In a word - awesome! We also took a day trip up to Wyndham via the Parrys Ck Road exploring some of the rockholes and the lower Ordc along the way. Saw enough big salties to make us plenty nervous around the river.

We spent a couple of days camping and fishing at Skull Rock on the Lower Ord, joined by another family (Geoff, Kerri and kids) whom we'd met at the CVP in Kununurra. The fishing wasn't great but Jenelle surprised us all by wandering down the riverbank with a 77cm barra - turned out to be a gift from a local for our group to enjoy. We cooked it in the coals for lunch. Now would be a good time to mention Andrew's catch - a 2cm guppy LOL. It was also here on the Ord that Andrew impressed us again (not!) with his boating prowess. Lets just say that Jenelle refused to go in the tinny again for the whole trip and Andrew did a hammy. But the entire incident provided the rest of us with plenty of laughs over the weeks to come.

Now it was time to hit the Gibb River Road with El Questro the first stop. Zebedee thermal springs was glorious, El Questro Gorge and Chamberlain Gorge (which we chose to explore ourselves using one of the hire boats) both beautiful. Next night at Home Valley Station where we saw what has to be one of the best views in the Kimberely (the Pentecost River with the Cockburn Ranges in the background) and where we watched the barra herding mullet but couldn't catch one! From here we spent a couple of nights at Miner's Pool (another lovely spot) on Drysdale Stn and indulged in an amazing Kimberely Burger- yum! Next stop was Mitchell Falls which for me was the highlight of the trip. Once again the kids handled the hike in admirably, we spent several hours picnicking and cooling off in the shallow pools at the top of the falls before taking a half hour helicopter scenic flight back to camp via the river mouth, lower Mitchell Falls and Surveyors Pool. A truly awesome experience!

Next stop was Kalumburu where we begrudgingly paid for our $35 access permit and headed out to Honeymoon Bay. Both here and McGowans Island had been virtually wiped out by a cylcone 2 months prior so the amentities were rough and basic to say the least and trees uprooted and stripped bare so no shade at all but plenty of firewood! We all drove out to the old Pago Mission ruins and whilst the other male members of the party decided on a fishing charter, we elected instead to do a scenic flight over the coast in a microlight hauled all the way from Canberra by fellow travellers. Another awesome experience! We went on ahead of the group from here spending the next night at Bennett Gorge which had great swimming and turned out to be one of our favourites. The others caught us up at Manning Gorge where we undertook the long and difficult hike (with kids) to the upper Manning Gorge but was well worth the effort.

Again we left the others and went on ahead to Mornington Wilderness Camp via Galvins Gorge (delightful) and the recently reopened Adcock Gorge. Mornington was nice but IMHO not worth the effort or cost. We caught up with the others again at Bells Gorge and for our final GRR stop at Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. Both of these attractions were fantastic and a fitting end to the GRR. As the others headed for Fitzroy Crossing it was also our last camp together.

The next day saw us back in Broome via Derby just in time to cop 50mm of rain overnight. It continued to rain for several days so that by the time we left they'd had 100mm of rain and we enjoyed only one relatively clear day. On our last night the entire party reunited for one last time for a well deserved celebration at the Sand Bar & Grill at Cable Beach.

Our route home was via the hwy south to Cape Keraudren, then to Marble Bar via the Pardoo-Shay Gap Rd. We took a big loop out to the east via Rippon Hills Rd (bitumen), returning to Nullagine on the Skull Springs Rd. Attractions along the route included the lovely Carrawine Gorge, Oakover River, the delightful Eel Pool thermal springs, Skull Springs and the 20 Mile/Sandy Ck mine ruins. We also noticed two sculptures place atop some low peaks at the eastern extremity of this route. Don't know their origins but suspect they haven't been there long. Anyway, they also provided a bit of interest.

We had planned to go out to Rudall River via the Talawana Track next but after hearing member - Willems report about it being very dry and most waterholes polluted with camel dung we made a last minute decision to put it off until a better season. So instead we headed west after checking out some more attractions in the Newman area (but not Karajini), Wittenoom and Hamersley Gorge (truly delightful). We headed for Karratha via the HI railway line and drove up the Mt Sheila lookout (very steep and not for the fainthearted) and Millstream NP for a night. After a few days around Karratha it was straight home down the highway.

We had a great time and saw some great scenery. Because I know some of you will want to know - here's some more info. After traversing 11,500 km's we had no major mechanical issues with either car or trailer. Our aux. battery in the car failed within a few days of leaving home and had to be replaced in Broome. Also the 12V lead for the Engel fridge failed and had to be replaced in Newman. As we travelled the GRR our main battery started failing and several times required assistance from our 12V jumpstarter pack to get the car started. This we also ended up replacing in Broome (this is the OEM battery making it nearly 7 years old and having done 125,000km's so we can't complain!). We had no tyre issues at all except for a slow flat at Sawpit Gorge which turned out to be a teck-screw which we believe we brought from home with us as we had just had some roofing and guttering work carried out on the house. This was plugged and gave no further problems. BTW, we are running Cooper AT Discoverers all round - these had only 40-50% tread remaining when we embarked and we had ummed and aahed about fitting newies before leaving. On all unsealed roads and tracks we ran them at 28-30psi.

Road conditions varied greatly. The unsealed roads through the Pilbara were generally very good and well maintained. The Skull Springs Rd was narrow and winding making it fairly slow going but still okay. The eastern end of the GRR was rocky and rough and it is here that most tyre problems seem to occur. On the contrary the western end is much better with fewer rocks (still the occasional buundy) but heaps of bulldust. The Kalumburu Rd as far as Drysdale station was excellent, then alternately good or badly corrugated in parts as far as King Edward River/Mitchell Falls turn off. From there to Kalumburu the road was generally bad, quite degraded and or corrugated in places. The Mitchell Falls road was okay except for the last 18km's which was very narrow, rocky in places and was very slow going. In summary the roads were not too bad and if driven with care most people seemed to get by okay. The family we met in Kununurra and who subsequently continued to travel with us had 3 tyre failures (17 inch Bridgestone AT's), one on the northern end of the Tanami, one on the last 18km section of the Mitchell Falls road (plain bad luck after picking up a 6 inch metal stake when he pulled off the track to let oncoming car pass) and finally a sidewall gash on the western end of the GRR. He also blew out a shockie and mount on his trailer although we are convinced that speed was a factor here.

Bigkidz arrive home in a week so know doubt we'll be hearing some more from Andrew before long.

:o) Melissa
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Reply By: Member - Rattles (Andrew R) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:10

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:10

Sounds like you had a great time. That was us this time last year.


AnswerID: 118542

Reply By: Bob of KAOS - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:34

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:34
and I thought WA was the pits :-)
I swear I am just about to pack the Mastercard, get in the car and head north west after reading that.
AnswerID: 118546

Reply By: Member - Captain (WA) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:44

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 14:44
A great read Melissa, makes me very envious. Glad to hear you had such a good time.


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AnswerID: 118549

Reply By: 10 Para (Qld) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 16:52

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 16:52
Hi Melissa,
We did just about the same trip last year, went up the borderline road from newman to 80 Mile beach across the De Gray river " was quite some water in it last year what about this year, you did not mentioned the artisian bore just before you reach the black top great place to wash up and get clean, sounds like you had a great trip we used to live in Pt Hedland left in 1972, and used to wander all round those places then, although i had never seen it so green as last year sitting at home on the coast at the moment we are off again in about 3 weeks, not sure where you just follow the wind.
all the best
AnswerID: 118560

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:43

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:43
Borderline Rd is certainly a great shortcut to the highway and one we will definitely use again in the future. Didn't see the artisian bore you mentioned though. Do you have a waypoint for future reference?

:o) Melissa
FollowupID: 373725

Follow Up By: 10 Para (Qld) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:42

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:42
No we found it because i saw the top of a caravan off to the right and went to have a look, and found this big steel pipe sticking up out of the ground like a oil rig has about 5 high the water was just pouring out the top hot as well, the guy in the van was making beer from the water and does that each year he told us it had been that way for years, sure was nice to have a shower in it has also formed quite a little river with all sorts of green plants etc around. I would say it would have been only 2 to 5 k's of the black top. have a look next time you are up there of course with 80 mile beach so close one would stay there as we did.
10 para
FollowupID: 373764

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:47

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:47
Thanks Para, I was wondering how we managed to miss it. Had a look on our Raster maps last night but the bore doesn't appear to be on it so it seems that unless you get a clue (eg. caravan) it would be easy to miss.

:o) Melissa
FollowupID: 373766

Reply By: Al & Mrs Al (Vic) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 17:16

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 17:16
Thanks for that Melissa, it was a great read, and I'm sure Andrew will have a different slant on some things...esp the 2cm guppy...hahahhaah...

looking forward to when we can explore WA.

glad you're back safe and sound..

AnswerID: 118562

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:41

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:41
Hi Lyn,

2cm guppy is a true story! I have photographic proof - even used a 5 cent piece for scale LOL. Bigkidz, particularly Andrew, certainly provided us with plenty of laughs along the way. Look forward to seeing you over here in WA sometime.

:o) Melissa
FollowupID: 373723

Follow Up By: Al & Mrs Al (Vic) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:49

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 18:49
can't wait to see the pic :))
FollowupID: 373727

Follow Up By: Big Kidz (Andrew & Jen) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:46

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:46
Had a good trip .... been reading emails and letters and paying bills and doing BAS's since I got back. Now that fish she was talking about..... I was looking for bait! She is a naughty girl Melissa - she's got photoshop and made the fish look small.... I will show you the real picture of that Barra I caught on the Ord.
FollowupID: 375489

Reply By: motherhen - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 19:27

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 19:27
What a wonderful trip description Melissa. We have only done one glorious trip in the Pilbara, and want to see more, as well as of course the Kimberley. I will mark your post for reference when we get to travel north again. We loved the Boreline road; spent a most enjoyable but very hot day at Marble Bar, and choose the Boreline to head North,then found the DeGrey River crossing the road - water - cool - delight - submerge in the shallow cool refreshing water. While we were swimming a couple of "grey nomad" camping rigs turned right just after crossing the river - they must have known of a good camp spot on the river. It was then into the golden afternoon sun up the scenic Boreline, looking but not finding somewhere to pull off for the night. As we saw the T-junction sign of the highway, i saw something glistening in the last rays of the setting sun; it was the bore, tumbling out hot water. We pulled in and were setting up camp, as unperturbed cattle came to drink at the bore, obviously used to travellers. Then i darted for cover as 3 cars of other travellers came in (i had been swimming in the DeGrey), saying they were going to disturb our peace - a regular stopping point of theirs. Did you bush camp for most of the trip? Good on you for coping with your little ones on such a long trip.
AnswerID: 118568

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 22:00

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 22:00
Motherhen, I have long regarded the Pilbara region as my favourite. Having combined both the Pilbara and Kimberely into one trip I have to say to say that IMHO the Pilbara still has the edge. This is because it is such a diverse region but the scenery throughout ranges from lovely to superb. There is nothing ordinary or boring about this region. Many of the attractions in the Pilbara take a bit more effort to seek out than those in the Kimberely but this only serves to make them more rewarding. Also, the Pilbara still offers immense freedom to bush camp and travel without seeing another soul for days if that is your wish. Comparitively speaking we found the Kimberely very busy and less "free" in the sense that there are far more restrictions on where you can go and station owners charging not insignificant fees to enter and/or camp on their properties. We always try to bush camp as much as possible but make the most of washing facilities etc at CVP's when we are in town. Our ideal is about 4-5 nights in the bush followed by 2-3 on a station stay or in a CVP. The kidlets are no trouble to travel with as they have both been "trained" to it and take the long hauls in the car in their stride. Also, they love camping and being in the outdoors. In truth I've found the last couple of days at home with them far more trying than any single day of our trip.

:o) Melissa
FollowupID: 373739

Follow Up By: Member - bushfix - Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 10:38

Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 10:38

can't believe I used to get paid to go there. Covered a bit of it with work in the 90s. some of the best years of my life. Work like billyo during the day then play like billyo, exploring and swagging it under the stars each night. aaah miss it terribly and often.
My younger brother has just started working up there, ultrasonic testing the ore rail lines. He has never been there before so for me it is a mixture of excitement for him, reminiscing (on our phone conversations depending where he is) and jealousy for me. it's been 8 yrs now since i was last there. Still, it's in the planning pipeline for my four sprogs....my two yr old is hooked now...."camping, again" "camping, too"....beautiful.
FollowupID: 375522

Reply By: AussieChris - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 19:53

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 19:53
Hey Melissa

Great to see some people do actually enjoy Western Australia :)
We live in a great state and have soooooooo many things to see and i would say have the best 4x4 in Australia :)

Congrats on a great trip

AnswerID: 118572

Reply By: Member - Marion C (VIC) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 20:05

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 20:05
Thanks Melissa for a great read, I hope we will get to WA soon. When you great people take the time to post your experiences in the forum I think it helps to give us the nerve to visit this our wonderful and diverse country we are blessed to live in. Keep travelling.
Regards Marion
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AnswerID: 118575

Reply By: Member - James B (VIC) - Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 22:23

Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 at 22:23
"After checking out a few of the attractions around Halls Creek we headed into the Bungle Bungles. The road in was rough and winding but okay driven with care. "

I have just come back from there myself....am wondering which Bungle Bungles you were at!?

The road is in it's best condition ever, and quite frankly I don't think little granny in her hyundai excel would have trouble getting in at the moment. 2WD vehicles would currently get in with no problems.

As for the GRR....I'm suprised you found it a bit rough and rocky in parts....again I thought it was very smooth, and again no problems getting a 2WD along there.

Did you drive to the end of Lennard Gorge? Now that was starting to get rough!

AnswerID: 118590

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 02:06

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 02:06
Hi James,

Don't wish to get into a slanging match about road conditions which are after all a relative interpretation depending on what you're used to or what you expected. Re the Bungles - there was a road crew in there doing some work when we were there and had already completed some small sections which we found very good. The tracks in the park were also good. Sounds like the road crew have progressed nicely since you found it so good. Even so, I don't think we'd take our commodore in there despite your assurances. As for the GRR, read my post again - I said the "eastern end was rocky and rough". Specifically I was referring to the section between the Pentecost R and the end of the GRR.

As a point of interest we found when talking to other travellers that opinions on road conditions varied hugely. Everyone's interpretation was different. With the men in particular there seemed to be a lot of "machoness" involved to the point where my husband reckoned the best advice was the testosterone free version (ie. the wifes). At the beginning of the GRR we got talking to a couple who'd just finished. The guy was busy assuring my husband how good the GRR and Kalumburu Roads were but never mentioned the two stuffed tyres his wife told me about.

We skipped Lennard Gorge after hearing from fellow travellers that they definitely wouldn't take trailers in there and that the hike down to the gorge was very steep and not suitable for the kidlets. And to be perfectly honest, we were getting a bit "gorged out" by the time we got that far along.

:o) Melissa

FollowupID: 373753

Reply By: Member - Cocka - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 00:08

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 00:08
Sounds like you had a WOW of a time Melissa. Probably made all the more so because you had been putting the trip off for family reasons.. Well nice to see you have got back amongst it with a vengence again, we wont be able to keep you at home now.

BTW you made no mention of the littlie(s), did they travel well ??

I don't when I'm going to fit in our trip to your part of the world, maybe '06. In Aug / Sept we are headed up to the Gulf track and beaches, then Arenhem land tracks, Coburg Peninsular then 5 days barra fishing off Melville Isl, about 6 weeks in all. In Feb '06 we are of to Antartica for 11 days with a month in Sth America via Easter Isl. (all non 4wd) Then, '07 we will be doing a 4wd right across the southern part of Africa via the Kalahari desert, must talk to Willem about that one.
Well you know the storey, it's tough but someones gotta .....

Thanks for the great trip report, are you going to include it in your website ??
Best wishes.
AnswerID: 118600

Follow Up By: Member - Melissa - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 02:15

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 02:15
Hi John,

Nice to hear from you. Poor you not being able to get over here to WA and having to undertake all those other "consolation" trips instead LOL. The kids were fantastic to travel with. Both took in the long hauls in the car with barely a murmur of protest and we're so proud of Matty for all the hiking he did, some of it over pretty rough terrain too! He was a real little trooper. We have heaps of pics which I'd like to put together with a more detailed trip journal and get them up on our website. Trouble is I've run out of space and will need to fork out some more $ before I can post it. Still haven't got last years trip up yet. But I'll get to it eventually. Take care.

:o) Melissa
FollowupID: 373755

Follow Up By: Member - Cocka - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 18:17

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 18:17
G'day Melissa

I'm just doing a little web research on Arnhem Land and came across some photos under the name of Ludo Kuipers. I thought "Kuipers", I know that name from somewhere. "Ah-ha"

Just wondering if there is some relationship to your family ???

See here:

FollowupID: 373815

Reply By: 10 Para (Qld) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:42

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 09:42
No we found it because i saw the top of a caravan off to the right and went to have a look, and found this big steel pipe sticking up out of the ground like a oil rig has about 5 high the water was just pouring out the top hot as well, the guy in the van was making beer from the water and does that each year he told us it had been that way for years, sure was nice to have a shower in it has also formed quite a little river with all sorts of green plants etc around. I would say it would have been only 2 to 5 k's of the black top. have a look next time you are up there of course with 80 mile beach so close one would stay there as we did.
10 para
AnswerID: 118609

Reply By: Glenn (VIC) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 11:22

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 11:22
Hi Melissa,

Welcome back : )

Great trip notes, I really enjoyed reading them. I a hope to get up to northern WA again next year, it is certainly beautiful countryside.

Thanks again

AnswerID: 118617

Reply By: Member - Roachie (SA) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 19:53

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 19:53
Great report Melissa. Sounds like you had a ball!!!

I hate reading these reports....it just makes me wanna fill up the tank, increase the limit on the m/card and hit the frog'n'toad...lolololol

Aw well, I guess I'll just have to make do with our 2 week trip across the Simpson Desert starting next saturday (along with about half of the Australian population).

Thanks for the notes...........one of these days we'll be able to get up that way.


AnswerID: 118665

Reply By: Member - Poppy (QLD) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 20:45

Sunday, Jul 03, 2005 at 20:45
Hi Melissa
What a great read
My wife and I lived in Newman for 3 years and our 28 year old son was born there,so gives you an idea of how long ago we were there, and have not been back since. We are currently living in Townsville
We are planning our "big trip" for next year and the Pilbara is high on the list.
We spent most weekends exploring the whole region in those days and your words bring back so many wonderful memories.
If only we had a gps then, as i would dearly love to visit the same "secret spots", but I guess they would nearly all have signposts on them now.
Glad to hear you had such a great trip and had the opprtunity to meet up with other EO members
Cheers Poppy
AnswerID: 118672

Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Monday, Jul 04, 2005 at 09:25

Monday, Jul 04, 2005 at 09:25
Hi Melissa,

Thanks for the entertaining and informative story. Looks like you had a great time and shame you couldn't catch your own barra though.

Appreciate the the ,latest info on the area as we are leaving in 2 weeks for our 3 months in the Kimbeley.

Kind regards
AnswerID: 118731

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