Cape York via Simpson Desert 8 July 2015 – Day 36

Wednesday, Jul 08, 2015 at 23:58

Peter Beard (WA)

Pete’s replacement for Ali is a bit spindly. The back-answering has stopped but Pete misses that, especially to important questions like “can you check the map and see how far it is to … “ or “if we’ve got phone coverage can you call … in … and see if we can get … “ or “do we need to buy more beer”.

Ali’s replacement doesn’t help Pete pack up the tent, pass Pete cold water from the console fridge or peel mandarines for him and pass him the individual segments. Like Pete is some sort of Roman emperor. Even though a regular video record of the trip is still being kept by her replacement, Ali’s position of navigator and passenger seat photographer and videographer is secure and confirmed.

It took Pete a little more than an hour to pack up the rooftop tent, have breakfast, pack the car and get back on the road.Carawine Gorge is a really beautiful place and well worth the visit. Not too sure about swimming here this time of the year but the wildlife is abundant and the fish seem to be plentiful. About sunset Pete could regularly hear fish breaking the surface, presumably to make a meal of insects that were using the water’s surface tension to gently touch down and take a drink.

After a few photos this morning at Carawine Gorge the drive back out to Woodie Woodie Road was straight forward and after the right had turn it was back amongst the road trains. It’s only about 30km down the bitumen to the gravel road that is Skull Springs Road.

Despite the mental images its name evokes, Skull Springs Road starts out like most dirt roads in the Pilbara – smooth and recently graded. WA’s regional roads are so in much better condition than the NT’s. The road crosses the Oakover River, which also flows through Carawine Gorge, about 5km from Woodie Woodie Road. Pete stopped to take some photos and from there it was roughly another 5km to the turnoff to Eel Pool, also part of the Oakover.

The track down to Eel Pool requires low range and a bit of clearance in a couple of places but it was no problem for the 80. Eel Pool was a bit of a disappointment though, it was more like Eel Puddle. Quite a nice and secluded camping area with lots of trees when you reach the pool but apart from a muddy puddle, not much water.

Once back on Skull Springs Road the good gravel surface continues on for a number of kilometres then gradually turns into a proper track. No low range sections but just two wheel ruts winding though the undulating green spinifex and white gum country, which is interspersed with rocky plains and smooth green hills.

Once the track passes Mount Hays on the left and Hays Spring Station a couple more kilometres down on the right, the track begins to turn back into gravel road. From there it’s a pretty straightforward run into Nullagine, once again mixing it with the four-trailer road trains transferring iron ore to either the nearest port or railhead.

It was about lunchtime so Pete stopped briefly in Nullagine for a sandwich. The only place that seemed to have anything on offer was the pub so Pete ordered a takeaway ham, cheese and lettuce sandwich from the bar. Two of the local cops were sitting in the pub having lunch (each with a can of Coke it has to be noted) so Pete asked if they had any information about the condition of the road from Roy Hill to Auski Roadhouse on Great Northern Highway, or Munjina as it’s known to the local Aboriginal people. When Pete left Perth six weeks ago the road was closed due to flooding. They said they were from Newman but had no knowledge of the road’s condition, but a guy dressed in hi-vis gear overheard the conversation and said it had just been graded and was in good condition.

The Marble Bar Road from Nullagine to the Roy Hill Road turnoff was also freshly graded and in good condition, including some bitumen sections and a particularly new section of tarmac that skirts in a wide arc around Fortescue Metals Group’s (FMG) Roy Hill mining operation.

The new road passes the workers’ accommodation complex that can be described as a city of dongas, all laid out in rows and all exactly the same, and surrounded by a high cyclone fence topped with barbed wire. It looks more like a prison than a place a worker would choose to live, it’s in the middle of nowhere and miles from anywhere. The people that come out here away from their often very young families for weeks at a time with nothing to do but work deserve every cent they get, even more. It looks soul-destroying and reports sadly show that it often is.

Once back on the original Marble Bar Road the road passes what a sign says is FMG’s Roy Hill Airport with no fewer than 50 coaches in the parking area all lined up to transfer the next swing of fly-in fly-out workers to and from their accommodation camp.

Just down the road a little further is the picturesque Fortescue River crossing. Sometime in the recent past the old concrete ford has been augmented by an all season bridge, obviously to limit the amount of times of the year the crossing has to close due to flooding.

Once on the Roy Hill to Munjina road it’s only a couple of hour’s drive on good gravel down to Great Northern Highway, Auski Roadhouse and Pete’s accommodation for the night. The room’s quite comfortable and has everything Pete needs for a good night’s rest (except for the two dripping taps) and dinner at the roadhouse was a couple of lamb chops with salad complemented by a couple of Coronas.

So tomorrow? Just a short 300-odd kilometre trip along Nannutarra Munjina Road down to Paraburdoo, where Pete plans to catch up with an ex-WA State Government work colleague, her husband and their new baby.


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