Rudall River & Karinjini National Parks June/July 2010

Tuesday, Jun 22, 2010 at 00:00

Life Member - Fred B (ex-NT)

Saturday 19th June.
7am. I, Fred, (driving a 2006 Prado GXL) met up with Peter (and “Molly”, his 1987 HJ60 Series Landcruiser) at Coolalinga before heading off for the “wild blue yonder”. Both vehicles loaded to the hilt with enough food, fuel, water, tools and spares for remote travel.

With the compulsory pit stop, and gear check at Adelaide River over with, we headed for Katherine to top up the fuel. After having an early lunch we departed for the Victoria River Roadhouse. “Molly”, was obviously not enjoying the trip and was already “playing up”, throwing a few tantrums en-route. The stereo kept cutting out at each bump in the road, as well as splitting a heater hose with the loss of a small amount of coolant. With “Molly” still spitting the “dummy”.... eh... I mean stereo, we left for “Camp Uno”, a scrape just off the road, approximately 14km west of Timber Creek. Peter “the Chef” prepared dinner while I prepared the “obligatory hole in the ground” and the camp fire.

Sunday 20th June.
Up at 0700 for breakfast and pack up camp. I discovered that the accessory socket used to power the GPS was no longer working, so we set about trying to repair that fault and the stereo problems in Pete’s vehicle. Couldn't’t find the electrical fault in mine, but believed we had cured the loose connections to the stereo of Pete’s truck.

Departing “Camp Uno” at 0900 we arrived at Kununurra at 1200 CST (1030 WAT). After battling the “grey nomads” for fuel, groceries and lunch, we set off for the servo again to use their dunny as all others were closed, destroyed or defective. Having completed that important task we set off at 1150 (WAT) for the 359km journey to Halls Creek with Pete’s stereo still cutting out from time to time.

Arriving at Halls Creek we headed for our proposed camp-site, on a heavily corrugated dirt road, to Caroline Pool. Caroline pool is a permanent waterhole on the Elvire River, not far from Old Halls Creek township. With a number of campers already camped on the sandy river bed, we decided to look elsewhere. After some too-ing and fro-ing we found a clearing about 3km back towards town to set up camp – “Camp Duo”.

While setting up camp, Peter discovered his new auxiliary battery was in fact shorting out to the bonnet, with large black marks and a hole in the bonnet as proof. This seemed the most likely cause for the stereo problems and the occasional problem with the UHF cutting out. One hour later, having cut a piece of rubber from a floor mat, the expeditious use of some “gaffer” tape, and some adjustments to the bonnet stops, problem solved.

The corrugations also proved to be too much for a couple of fittings on my new 40 litre “foot locker” water tank behind the front seats. The judicious use of a screwdriver and a towel to mop up the leaking water solved that problem. Still no power to the accessory sockets on the centre console, so ran an extension from the rear of the vehicle instead.

Monday 21st June.
After a very cold (for us - 12C inside the vehicle, 2C outside at 0600) and windy night we had breakfast, and departed the camp to have another look at Caroline Pool and surrounds before driving back into Halls Creek to refuel. Now, I carry an extensive First Aid kit, BUT... I do NOT carry a Defibrillator, which became a real issue over the next 45 minutes....!

After having topped up “Molly’s” tanks with diesel, Peter was unable to find his wallet. He instantly went into a “panic attack” and his “heart” deteriorated rapidly as time went on. While Peter was “stripping” his vehicle, I went and paid for his fuel. Forty five (45) minutes later, and 3 ton of gear on the road, Peter discovered his wallet had migrated to the underside of the passenger seat. No... not on the floor, but jammed in the material under the seat itself. After infusing a 600ml carton of iced coffee, Peter’s heart rate turned to normal, and we could continue our journey. Please note, that this set the pattern for the rest of Peter’s journey into WA.

Departing Halls Creek we had a short break at Mary Pool, 106km out of Halls Creek. This is a very picturesque and very popular rest area (24HR) about 700 meters off the highway, crossing the Mary River causeway to shady trees and grassed areas near the river banks. As we were leaving Mary Pool my CD player jammed, and that was the end of that for the remainder of the trip.

After having lunch at Fitzroy Crossing we headed for our next overnight stay, Willare Bridge Roadhouse and caravan park. Having refuelled we set up camp for another cool night.

Wednesday 23rd June.
Breakfast of bacon and eggs in the roadhouse, and off to Port Hedland for refuelling, filling the Gerry cans, and the last chance for grocery shopping. After lunch we headed for Marble Bar. We couldn't’t get out of Port Hedland fast enough; what a shocking place. This boom mining town is worse than Pitt St. Sydney at peak hour.

After arriving at Marble Bar, we checked into the small caravan park and set up camp on a well grassed area. I did the laundry while Peter was trying to sort out leaking jerry cans of diesel. We had Italian chicken casserole for dinner and I called my wife on the sat phone. Sat phone had not been working too well as we constantly had poor signal strength along the coast. Better signal strength once we moved inland.

Thursday 24th June.
After another very cold night, we departed Marble Bar and took the Rippon Hills Road to Carrawine Gorge. This gorge had about three kilometres of open waterway to explore, with a number of different species of ducks, birds and pelicans making themselves at home. Our camp site consisted of “mowed lawn” right next to the water, with shady trees. We soon discovered why the “lawn” was so neat, as two large bulls came out of the water (after feeding on bulrushes) to continue to trim the lawn in our camp site. It was tempting to have “rump” steak for dinner. Not sure that the station owners would have appreciated our choice of menu though!

Friday 25th June.
Leaving the Carrawine Gorge, we headed back to the privately owned Telfer Mine Road (permission required) and onto the Telfer Mine. Both the Rippon Hills road and the Telfer Mine Road are well maintained and see a lot of heavy road train traffic. Having travelled the 131km to Telfer, we turned south onto the Rudall River NP Main North Track. This narrow track (although rough in spots) is also well maintained as mining and exploration leases exist along its route to the National Park. We stopped for several photo ops along the way, and stopped for a look at Christmas pool. Very little water remained at Christmas Pool, but hundreds of finches flew from tree to tree and shrub to shrub as we disturbed their search for water. We later stopped for lunch at the turn off to Moses Chair which could be seen on the horizon. Shortly after that we reached the Northern Hand Pump, quickly followed by the national park boundary.

The 18km track into Desert Queen Baths (DQB) was rough and corrugated in places, taking a full 1½ hours to travel. We arrived at 3:15 to find the “Idlers” 4WD club (Vic – all retiree's) in situ. We set up camp adjacent to them and got a fire going; ready for another cold, windy night. Sunset was just spectacular. It was great going to bed at night under clear moonlit skies with millions of stars across the sky.

If I listed all the “dramas” Pete had, I’d be writing for the next 3 weeks. He found the mayonnaise bottle had up ended itself in the fridge, emptying its contents into the fridge of course. The middle leg on his stretcher collapsed, so he had to splint it with timber and cable ties. It eventually collapsed completely, so he had to use his tucker box to hold the stretcher up. He also had to siphon some of his fuel from the jerry cans into his vehicle tanks as the jerrys were still leaking; and the list goes on. Wait: there is more to come!

Saturday 26th June.
Another freezing morning, but an amazing sunrise to go along with it. After breakfast we went for a walk to the DQB’s cave, 1.5km each way. A good steady walk, with a steep incline of loose gravel and rocks up to the cave. Herd of about 20 camels didn't’t appreciate our presence, so they took off in a huff. After a short break back at camp, we went to investigate the gorge and rock pools. With large boulders to clamber over, I didn't’t venture past the first water hole (knee problem). Peter visited all three, with the water being very, very cold. Bird life in the area was prolific.

The afternoon was spent refuelling the vehicles and cooking a roast in the Cobb Cooker. Other campers were rather jealous as the wind was blowing in their direction.

Sunday 27th June.
I woke up at 0330 to a cold and overcast sky, with Peter snoring and camels bellowing. Peter was noisier. We were up at seven for breakfast and a slow easy pack up while talking to other campers who had arrived the night before. We drove back out to the Main North track before once again heading south. The track was heavily corrugated and sandy until we crossed turned off for Watrara Pool. We ended up camping at Tjingkulatjatjarra Pool which turned out to be a better option (more water & better camping) than Watrarra Pool, which was only accessible from the north side of the river.

As the cold wind had died down, it was time to have a hot shower... well maybe...!!!! Pete’s shower pump (heat exchange type) failed.... It was sucking air, pumping intermittently until the switch died. OK, no problem, jury rig a switch... that worked, but the pump was still sucking air and spitting extremely hot water. Oh, and did I mention that the jerry can of water was dropped (by Peter) onto my toiletry bag, busting my shaving gear, tooth brush and paste. Poor Peter, having another “drama queen” day! Even with all the drama, it was great to get clean and into fresh clothes.

Monday 28th June.
Spent a couple of hours exploring a number of tracks in the area, including the track to Watrara Pool. At 1030 we headed off toward Hanging Rock. It took 4½ hours to travel the 67.5km with most of the track in good condition. This time included photo ops, stretch breaks and checking out two herds of camels, donkeys, dingos, the “You are Lost” sign, and Curran Curran Waterhole.

The track included crossing the very wide and sandy Tarcunyah River (twice), numerous creek crossings, and several kilometres of overgrown track, Spinifex and gibber plains. Our camp at Hanging Rock, turned out to be the coldest night of all. More on that later.

Peter climbed part way up Hanging Rock, while I took photos. We later climbed a ridge to the east of the Rock to take sunset photos. After sunset, the temperature dropped rapidly, and the wind increased dramatically as well. It was a rough night.

Tuesday 29th June.
Up at 0600, and its freezing. I opened the car door to feel a “heat wave” coming at me. I looked at the thermometer in the car... 10C and falling rapidly. I enjoyed it while it lasted. After some sunrise photos, breakfast and packing up, we headed back to the Rudall River main track. During the trip back, we came across two Landrover Disovery(s). We had met them earlier at Desert Queen Baths. We explained the tracks direction, junctions and conditions as it was easy to miss the turn.

Once back at the Main Track, we explored a number of tracks to the south and east of the river. Here we discovered another great camp site complete with a large pool of water, ducks and firewood. The only drawback was another cold, windy night.
P.S. Peter has lost his reading glasses.

Wednesday 30th June.
From the rock pool we headed south on the Main Track (very rough and corrugated) to the Southern Hand Pump and onto the Talawana Track. This track was in very good condition as we headed west to the Len Beadell marker and the ruins of an old cattle yard. Just past this point, we turned south onto the Billinuka Road; just another track, leading to Billinuka Station and a short cut to Jigalong. We stopped about halfway along this road to have lunch before proceeding to Jigalong.

At Jigalong we caught with friends of mine who had previously lived in Darwin. After coffee and cake, we headed onto Newman where we took rooms at the Kalgan’s Rest Caravan Park. The park is full of miners with hundreds of extra rooms (in dongas) filling the park. After having a nice hot shower and change of clothes we were off to the local pub for a rump steak dinner. That night, Rudall River NP, Jigalong, Nullagine and surrounds copped more than 1½ inches of rain – all dirt roads were closed...! We had made the right decision.

Thursday 1st July.
It was another freezing cold night and I had not been able to get the reverse cycle aircon to function on heat mode. After breakfast we cleaned out the vehicles, put batteries, phones and radios on charge; did the laundry etc..... A very cold day, and at midday it has only just reached the 15C mark. We had lunch at the shopping centre before heading off to refuel the vehicles.

Friday 2nd July.
Up at 0600, had breakfast and packed up. Off to Karijini National Park and Dales Campground. Arriving at 0930 we are allocated site 71 in “Dingo Loop”. Off we go, set up camp and start the genset. The volunteer ranger rocks up on his bicycle at 1050 while on his rounds. He tells us in no uncertain terms that we are in a “no gensets allowed” area of the park. After explaining that it was in fact his wife who had allocated us the site “for a genset”, he agrees to go sort it out while we pack up our gear.

Back we go to the “reception tent”, and the poor woman is so embarrassed. Having been evicted from site 71, we are given a new site, right next to their own camp, “so they can keep an eye on us rogue campers”. We stayed three nights at Dales Campground and had a really good time and good relationship with all the volunteer rangers. They were really great. We even presented them with a packet of “Tim Tams” when we left.

Having set up camp twice in one day, we decided to take the rest of the day to rest and recuperate. After lunch, our “neighbours” (Ray and Robin) were having trouble with the brakes on their “OKA” bus conversion. After the helpful information provided by the many “advisers” on hand, they were eventually able to get them working again. After getting cleaned up, we all sat down for a well earned drink and nibbles.

Saturday 3rd July.
After using the “defibrillator” on Peter again...... this time he lost his watch, we walked Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls and the Fern Pool. What an incredibly beautiful place. After leaving the Fern Pool, I climbed back to the top of the Gorge and walked the rim, while Peter walked the bottom trail. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I would love to do it all again. Although Peter and I took entirely different paths, after 3 hours we both arrived back at camp at the same time. After lunch we spent the afternoon reading and relaxing. Well, I did, Peter was stressing over his watch and glasses.

Sunday 4th July.
It rained overnight: that’s when Peter discovered he had made up his swag head to toe, therefore unable to cover himself from the rain. Up at 0700, it was still raining a little, and a heavily overcast day. We decided to take a risk and drive the 76km to Weano Gorge and hope the weather cleared.

On arrival, it was still overcast, but decided to do the class 3 walk along Weano Gorge. Another great 1hr walk; awesome stuff. It started raining just as were arriving back at the car park. We then drove to Junction Pool, Oxer Lookout, Joffre Falls, Knox Gorge and Kalamina Falls. We had enough time at each spot to get some great photos without being driven off by the rain. Some of these gorges are incredibly deep with spectacular views from the top. With the rain, it was too dangerous to walk any of the gorges.

On the way back to our camp at Dales, we call in the visitors centre to buy some souvenirs and a fleecy jacket each. Time to plan the next stage of our journey.

Monday 5th July.
Another cool, windy night with some rain. Packed up our camp and said goodbye to the staff (with Tim Tams) and headed for Port Hedland. Shortly after turning onto the Newman-Port Hedland Road, we had a 45 minute wait while the road was closed to allow two very large, oversize vehicles with mining equipment pass by. These trucks were averaging about 5kph. They had already taken three days to travel from Port Hedland to the rest area just short of the Munjuna Road junction.

After lunch and refuelling at Port Hedland we headed for Pardoo Roadhouse for our planned overnight stop. Peter was still to locate two spoons, his glasses and watch. “Molly” obviously liked variety in her ‘diet’.

Tuesday 6th July.
Up at 0600, breakfast in the Roadhouse, packed up and on our way by 0800. The north of WA had received a lot of rain, so there was a very steady stream of traffic headed south. Called into Sandfire Roadhouse for an iced-coffee break (a heart ‘calmer’ for Pete) before continuing our journey to Port Smith caravan park. Parts of the 23km dirt road into Port Smith were still flooded, but the road was open and usable, while the road into 80mile beach had been closed for two days due to heavy rain and traffic.

By the time we arrived at the caravan park, the sun was shining, the rain had already gone and the ground had dried out. People we spoke to said that they had been flooded out two nights in a row. We had dodged another one – perfect timing again....! The afternoon was spent on fixing a washing machine (another story for another time) in the Laundromat, doing our laundry and going for a walk down at the lagoon.

Wednesday 7th July.
The morning, a warm, sunny day, was spent exploring the local lagoon, tracks, beaches, cliffs and sand dunes. That was four hours well spent. The beaches and cliffs were just magnificent, amazing scenery, with many kilometres of sandy tracks over a variety of terrain and flora. Don’t tell anyone.... the place will become too popular!

After lunch, the afternoon was spent reading under a pepper tree, going for walks, chatting with other campers and just relaxing.

Thursday 8th July.
It’s raining lightly, overcast, and the wind is starting to pick up. Peter finally recovers his watch from the ‘black hole’, otherwise known as “Molly”, and we pack up and head for Roebuck Roadhouse where we stop for breakfast and to top up with some fuel. Then it’s off to Willare Bridge Roadhouse for lunch with Fitzroy Crossing our planned overnight stop. As heavy rain was forecast, we check into our Fitzroy River Lodge Safari Lodge (a tent with en-suite and a tin roof shed covering it). It was a warm night, our restaurant meal (dinner) was very mediocre, but our beds were good.

Friday 9th July.
Both of us must have slept pretty well as neither of us heard the rain during the night. At 0700 we drove the 23km out to Geikie Gorge for a one hour boat tour of the gorge. Pretty impressive river system, as were the marks on the limestone gorge walls indicating the level of previous floods. There were plenty of freshwater crocs warming themselves in the sun.

On our return to Fitzroy Crossing we took a smoko break and headed for Mary Pool Rest Area, approximately 110km before Halls Creek. On arrival we found it jam packed with caravans and motor homes. People everywhere; we had a quick lunch break and got out of there. Plan ‘B”; head for Caroline Pool at Halls Creek. All the rest areas between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek were jammed with vans. Once at Halls Creek, we headed out to the old township for a look around. Not much there except a few plaques and a shed covering the remains of the old mud walled post office, protecting it from the weather.

We then began our search for a suitable camp for the night. Not much luck, so back to our previous site, “Camp Duo”. Another warm night; our second in a row. Makes a big change from all the cold, windy nights we have had on this trip. Sunset was great, and a nice quiet camp. Having the flu, I only unpacked the bare minimum for the night, and was glad to be in bed by 8pm.

Saturday 10th July.
A warm night with clear skies so the stars were in all their glory. I awoke at 0345 to find the moon highlighting heavy storm clouds overhead. Not a happy scene. Fortunately the wind picked up for awhile and the cloud cover disappeared.

After getting up just before 0600 we were on the road before 0700. Stopped at Doon Doon Roadhouse for a short break, and took on 20 litres (@ $1.76 /litre) of fuel, just in case of more head winds. As we are leaving Doon Doon, Peter manages to ‘flick’ his sunglasses out the window, and onto the road. Somehow, he manages not to run over them and then retrieve them safely without further mishap. Arriving safely in Kununurra at 1130, we refuelled and had lunch at the shopping centre cafe. Departing Kununurra at 1220, we crossed the border into NT and put our watches forward 1½ hours. We headed for one of our previous road side stops, a scrape we called Camp Uno. It’s a very hot and humid 34 degrees C. Simply a very strong contrast to the cold and windy weather we had on the way down.

Right next to our camp (within 3 meters) a Bower Bird has set up its nest and is trying to court a female into the nest. While this is going on, another male turns up to try and steal her away. We watched this fascinating courting process for about an hour before prising ourselves away to make dinner.

This is the last night with Pete as ‘Master Chef’, so we have scotch fillet steak with mash potatoes and veggie's. YUM! I am writing my journal, so Peter insists that I write myself up for foolishly burning my fingers with hot water while making porridge this morning.

Sunday 11th July.
Up at 0700, but the body still feels like its 0530 WA time. It’s our last day, and our plan is to make a penultimate stop in Katherine to visit friends and top up the fuel tanks. Then it’s time to head for the compulsory ice-cream stop at Adelaide River Township before getting home.

We leave Camp Uno at 0815 with a noticeable increase in traffic heading in the same direction. We pass by the various entries in Gregory National Park and at nine thirty we are a couple of kilometres west of Timber Creek. We decide to take a drive up part of the Newcastle Range, to the lookout and memorial for the “Nackeroos” based at Timber Creek during WWII.

The lookout overlooks the Victoria River, the township and the eastern part of the range. The memorial is in memory of the men and horses of 1/2 North Australia Observer Unit who watched over Timber Creek and the coast during WWII. In 1942 they set up a base adjacent to the original Timber Creek Store, sited near the present day airstrip. They operated a fleet of small boats as offshore patrols, set up observation posts in Blunder Bay (near the mouth of the Victoria River) and on Bradshaw Station. The “Nackeroos” also operated mounted coastal patrols and operated the “pedal radio network” in this region. The pedal radio network operated right across the northern part of Australia with base Stations in Cloncurry, Alice Springs and Halls Creek.

We arrive at Katherine just after one o’clock. After coffee and cake, and a good chat with friends, we are off for the final leg home. With the compulsory purchase of the ice-cream at Adelaide River, we are home and hosed. Completion of the trip comes when we return to the start point, Coolalinga, and Peter and I go our separate ways.

Some facts:
We were away 24 days, travelled some 6,883 kilometres, used about 1,100 litres of fuel each, consumed a ton of food and water, and lost one spoon and one pair of reading glasses. We did not destroy one tyre or have a flat. Apart from some minor electrical glitches, we had a trouble free journey and a great time. I would like to thank Peter for helping to make this such a great and interesting journey. I would do it all again any time.

Postscript: Peter found the missing spoon, but no reading glasses.

PPS: I will add more photos and edit some of the text as I have more time available.
Fred B
VKS 737: Mobile/Selcall 1334
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