Adelaide to Kimberley week 9 - bitumen again!

Wednesday, Jul 22, 2015 at 19:03

Member - Carolyn & Peter L

Adelaide to Kimberley week 9 – bitumen again!
Monday 13th July

What a windy night! Poor old tent poles creaked and groaned all night. We were able to sleep in (joy!) because there were no kids near us, but once we got up it was so windy and the dust was flying everywhere! All of a sudden a big gust came and flipped the awning over ( we haven't been bothering to use the pegs and ropes to tie down since it has been so calm but our luck ran out). Breakfast plans were put on hold as we struggled to re-flip the canvas and retrieve the poles. Eventually we had it sorted out, and extra poles and tie down ropes all in place. It wasn't going anywhere now!

Today we drove another 50 km on towards Kununurra, to visit El Questro. We had decided not to camp there due to the reports of it being overcrowded and overpriced, but you can buy one of their wilderness passes for a day for $20 for two, or $40 for 7 days. Since there is quite a bit to do there and we could revisit from Kununurra in just 1 1/2 hrs, we chose the 7 day pass. We also had our first real coffee in 3 weeks! Just the smell was divine!El Questro is a massive tourist resort, with a whole range of accommodation options from camping, private rive campsites (booked out months in advance), safari style tents or their luxury homestead accommodation, for about $2,000 per night!!!

On the way to El Questro we first had to cross the Pentecost River (on which we were camped at Home Valley Station), at the big crossing on the Gibb River. It's quite a spectacle from the Home Valley side, with the Cockburn Ranges in the background. Quite a few people had stopped, and I think some had done the crossing a few times to get photos of their vehicles crossing with the Ranges in the background. You can't walk through to the other side as it is inhabited by saltwater crocodiles!

Once at El Questro decided to pay $60 each for their boat tour of Chamberlain Gorge, as you could't hike or drive to it past the jetty, it was the only way to see it. We had to be at the jetty for the tour at 2.45, so since it was already 11.30am that didn't really leave much time to do any of the other walks, so we chose to grab the laptop and iPad and catch up on a few emails, and do bookings for Kununurra and Lake Argyle for the next week.

Just as we got back to the car to grab the laptop and put up the solar panels, we noticed the back tyre was nearly flat. Bugga!! First flat we've had, and once we took it off it turned out to be a screw stuck in it! No side wall rupture from sharp rocks or anything like you would expect on the road we had been travelling on. Couldn't have happened at a better place tho, in the car park (still unsealed and very dusty tho) and the car was parked in the shade and on level ground. So much better than a flat on the side of the road with no-where to pull over, and other cars speeding past and kicking up the choking dust!! Since Pete had a tyre repair kit he plugged up the leak, re-inflated it with the air compressor then we got on with having lunch and using our internet time. Caught up with two young families travelling together that we first met at Elizabeth Station. They were glad to be nearly at the end of the Gibb as well, and one of the Mum's was a bit like me, tempted not to see the last few gorges but to head straight for the bitumen and Kununurra!!!

We made it down to the jetty in time for the boat tour. The last 500m or so was very steep descent, but no rocks! While we were waiting to board the boat, we noticed a lady wearing an Adelaide Crows cap, and started chatting about how they were going after the tragic murder of Phil Walsh. Turns out they come from Renmark, and know my sister Terri and her husband Ray, and Pete's sister Carmel and her husband David at Loxton!

The boat tour was enjoyable, the Gorge not as spectacular or unique as Geike Gorge had been, but at the half way/turn around point we had a treat as we were all given some fish pellets and instructed to put some in our hands and extend our arms over the edge of the boat. Before long lots of fish started swimming around, and spitting water! I think they were called spotted Archer fish (the fisherman can correct me if I am wrong) and this is how they get their food, spiders or insects, by spitting water on them (very accurately as we found out) so they fall in the river. Worked a treat with us too, as soon as they spat water at us we dropped the food!

While the fish feeding was going on we were also served sparkling wine, orange juice and fresh fruit - lovely! The tour lasted for a couple of hours, so it wasn't til after 5 that we left, with a 45 min drive to come in the near dark, travelling into the sunset. Oops!

We had to make the Pentecost River Crossing in the dark, the orange glow of the sky after the sun had set reflecting on the dark water. Bit scary with saltwater crocs in the river but very beautiful. Lots of cattle on the sides of the roads but none who felt they had to get in our way. We made it back to our river camp without further incident (and the tent poles and awning were still all in place). We crept in in the dark to find two other lots of campers had set up quite close to us in our absence. Oh well, we'll get to meet them in the morning. Even had a shower in the dark with the help of a portable LED light, the solar hot water was just tepid, but it would be a lot cooler in the morning if we waited til then. Sundried tomato and cheese and ham omelette for dinner. Bit worried about the safety of the food as the fridge had gotten a bit warm, but all was good!!

Tuesday 14th July

Nice quiet start to the day, no windy night, no awning gone astray. After breakfast we drove back into the main Home Valley Station Area and parked the car before grabbing the day pack and camera to embark on the Bindaloo Gorge Walk, 3.2km, 2-3hrs. On the way came across a detour to the Bindaloo Gorge lookout so thought we would check that out first on the way. Only problem was, it was a totally separate walk, 6km, which we didn't find out until we came back!

Frankly it was a bit if a disappointment after all the other Gorges we had seen, only a few isolated pools of water, but the walk wasn't too hard - still lots of rocks but not too steep - so we just took a couple of shots and decided it was good exercise if nothing else.

After making it back to the car we drove back on the GRR another 15km to the turn off for Bindoola "Falls". Unfortunately there are no falls in the dry season as they dry up, but a large water hole remains at the bottom which is quite pretty.

Back at the Homestead we treated ourself to a coffee and used up some more internet time checking in with the kids. Then back off to the river camp. We had a nice chat with a couple of campers from Brisbane who had come in the night before and camped quite close to us. I then indulged in a lovely hot shower before we packed up the awning in preparation for leaving in the morning. Pete used the jerry cans to fill up the car - we shouldn't be needing them anymore, then at 5.30 we drove back into the Homestead for dinner at Dusty's Bar and Grill.

We were glad we were going out. A large group of 5 rigs all pulled in together late in the afternoon. Wow! A Jayco Base Station caravan with a whole axle completely missing!!! Another casualty of the Gibb River Rd, this one once again on the way to King Edward River/ Mitchell Falls. When they lost one of the leaves on the axle, the just removed the whole axle and continued to drive (very carefully) 350km to Drysdale Station where they pulled up, set up their generator and started up their welder and angle grinder to fix the axle – as you do!!! They did come round and offer apologies and Peter and Jan even got a bottle of wine from them to smooth things over, and they promised the generator would be off by 8pm. So glad we were heading into the station for dinner! But fix it they did, and the next morning drove out with 2 axles back in place!

There was live music when we arrived at Dusty’s Bar and Grill,, a woman playing little electric bagpipe thingies - not real easy on the ear and she forgot the words to one of her songs. Bit embarrassing. Fortunately after about half an hour or so a younger chap changed over with her with an acoustic guitar. NOW we were talking! Or singing as the case may be! He was great with a lively voice, sang lots of Eagles, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, America. He took requests but unfortunately he didn't know all the words and music to the one we requested - Old Farts in Caravan Parks by John Williamson. Trevor had given us a copy, it's a real cracker and if you've done any camping or caravanning will have you in stitches. We played it for the group over a drink one night with 3 other couples. We laughed so much its so true!

Anyway the meal was delicious - I had chicken and couscous Mediterranean salad. Pete had chicken mignon. We both steered clear of the game dishes that were on offer - not so adventurous when it comes to food! No crocodile or kangaroo for me! We were going to share a Tiramisu for dessert, but the waitress talked us into the Brownie Slice - it was to die for! We still had the Tiramisu and shared half of each, but I really wanted all that brownie slice to myself!

We continued to enjoy the music, The restaurant is all open plan, with walls just half way up then open to the rafters, built of corrugated iron along the lines of a shearing shed, with lots of old station rustic implements like wheelbarrows and bridles hanging from the rafters, and a row of stock saddles along the half wall for the kids to sit on. So it was quite a late night when we drive back to camp, all was quiet in the camp.

------week 9----------

Wednesday 15th July

Today was going to be our last day on the Gibb River Rd!!!! I was ready for it. So it wasn’t hard to get up early and pack up the kamper. We turned East along the GRR and planned that when we got to Pentecost River, Pete would let me get out with the camera, then he would drive to the other side, do a U-turn and then come back, so I could get photos of him making the crossing with the Famous Cockburn Ranges in the background. So that was the plan. Until we got there, and there were five rigs lined up on our side waiting to cross and another 3 on the other!!! Plan B went into action – just do it, taking photos as you go. Which we did.

We reached bitumen at the turn-off to El Questro, and only 10km down the road came to Emma Gorge Resort, part of El Questro but on the other side of the GRR. The drive in was only a couple of km, and another water crossing. At the resort there is a large open plan restaurant, very similar to Home Valley Station but a lot more modern. The only accommodation available at Emma Gorge is Safari Tents and cabins, no camping. There were so many people there in the day park! The area for caravans and campers was chocked as well, it was only with a bit of skilful maneuvering that Pete was able to park the car and kamper.

We set off on the walk, a 2hr return moderate difficulty. The walk takes you along the side of the creek, you weave up and down and back and forwards across the creek, climbing up and over boulders as you go. It was very pretty with lots of Pandanus Palms along the way, and mostly shaded. When you get nearly to the end you come across the lower swimming hole, with two huge boulders behind it that the kids (and Dads) were having fun jumping off of, about 15-20m above the water! They told us it was markedly warmer that the water at the falls, which was freezing, and no-where near as crowded! We passed so many people of the track, it was probably the busiest walk we had done at any of the Gorges, maybe because it was so close to Kununurra (about 1hr) and all sealed road to the turn off with only 2km of dirt. Because the path was so narrow you just had to step aside to let people continue who were coming the other way.

Once we reached the end it was indeed gorgeous! Huge big cliffs (65m according to the brochure) with a narrow trickle of water splashing down from above. There were ferns growing up the walls. Very pretty. We sat for a while and chatted with a guy who had been on the tour Chamberlain Gorge 2 days ago, about his life of being on the road and working his way round Australia with his girlfriend. He used to do the whale shark tours at Exmouth, and had also worked FIFO in the Pilbara as a grader driver and excavator. His girlfriend was a physio.

We didn’t bother to swim – by the time we sat and chatted for a while it just felt too cool. It was nice watching the others tho. Just as we were heading back we heard a loud wail – a young boy of about 5 had fallen head first onto a rock – he had a nice egg come up on his head but was otherwise shocked but OK. Further on down the trail an older man seemed in a bit of a hurry to pass us- he had left his wife further down as she wasn’t feeling well. When we caught up with them later I asked if she was OK – she was holding her side. Apparently she had had kidney stones. Few weeks before, and when they did the CT scan incidentally found out her appendix was inflamed, but she didn’t bother to follow it up! Now it seemed she was having a full blown attack, the pain was localised and she had rebound tenderness. She thought it might go away but I encouraged her to get straight back to Kununurra and get it checked out, you can’t muck around with things like that out in the bush!

Once back at the resort we found a spare picnic table and enjoyed our standard lunch – tuna tempters and crackers! Although we ran out of Jatz on the GRR and had to switch to Salada – variety!! Back on the road and it was all bitumen to the end of the GRR, to the T-Junction between Kununurra and Wyndham. We took the road north to Wyndham for a brief look, and maneuvered the car and trailer up the steep winding road to Five Rivers Lookout. There is a reason why there is a sign saying no caravans on the lookout road. It is very steep with hairpin bends, you wouldn’t want to try and negotiate it with a big van or meet one coming the other way! The Lookout shows the entry of five rivers (hence the name!) into the ocean. The Ord, Durack, King, Pentecost and Forrest Rivers. Sooooo much water! On the way out of town we stopped to take a photo of the giant croc. I guess he’s meant to be a bit of an attraction but he looks a bit sad.

Finally we arrived back in Kununurra, what a welcome sight! We lined up at Kimberleyland Caravan Park along with several other groups. By the time it was our turn I was dismayed to find out they weren’t expecting us – and they were full!! I had phoned two days previously, but the lass I spoke to couldn’t tell me what site I would be getting (I tried for our previous site or a lake site) but assured me she would find one. I guess she got distracted!! Fortunately Lee, being the professional she was and remembering us from last time, apologised and asked me to hang on a minute while Graham went out to see what he could find. Within 10 minutes he was back, and had found a spot just back from the lake that we could squeeze into, powered as well. Happy Days!

Earlier on when we reached phone range there was a text from Deb and Ron who were staying at the same park. At first we were going to catch up that night, but after the mix-up with the booking, and all the calls we needed to make to family, I texted her we would leave it til the next day. As it was, I ended up finding their site as I walked back to the office and had a quick chat then.

Thursday 16th July

Planning a nice quiet day, we slept in til it was too warm to stay in bed. After breakfast and showers I set up the laptop and camera and started downloading and backing up photos, while checking emails and phoning each of the kids in between. Pete was happy to go and wash the Gibb Rive dirt iff the car – I didn’t recognise it when we was finished! It was so nice to get something out of the back of the car without getting covered in red dirt leaning on the stone stomper!

After lunch we drove into town for groceries. We also took one of the lithium batteries for checking which we were suspicious wasn’t working – sure enough, it was dead! May well have been like that the whole trip, no wonder we seemed to run out of power every now and then. One more thing to replace when we get home (nit cheap either!). We also went to the Visitor Centre to get information on the Keep River National Park – just over the border in NT, we planned a couple of days there on the way to Katherine and Darwin.

Friday 17th July

Originally we were gling to drive back onto El Questro to do El Questro Gorge and Zebedee Hot Springs that we had missed previously, but the day broke and we both thought – can’t be bothered!! We truly were over the GRR. Instead had another day mooching around, photos, phone calls and cooking – I made vegetable pastie slice in the weber for dinner, and while it was set up made some choc chip muffins too, our previous supply had dried up!

At 4pm we headed down to the lake shore for a performance of live music from Steve Case. He works at Lake Argyle 5 days a week, and on his days off comes into Kununurra. It was a free concert for us, paid for by the caravan park. We met Deb and Ron there, and all of us enjoyed the music, singing along to some of our favourites. Later Gary and Estelle joined us, they were staying at a different caravan park but wanted to catch up with Deb and Ron as they had started out their holiday together before going different ways when the rest of the group did the Munja Track. It was a very enjoyable night, altho a bit chilly by the end, a good time was had by all, particularly Ron and Pete As they joined in singing the Frozen theme song – if only the kids could see them now!!

Saturday 18th July

Up early to pack up for Lake Argyle, but no real rush as it was only 73km away, and I had booked previously (and double checked the booking the day before!). Before we left town we filled up with fuel, topped up the groceries and drive back out to the Sandalwood Factory so I could purchase some gifts.

The drive into Lake Argyle was beautiful, although a very narrow sealed road. Once we arrived we were directed to “The Bowser Boys”. Because they had been so busy Lake Argyle hD stopped taking bookings the day after I booked, and the Bowser Boys were just the usual guys who direct you into your campsite, but they were taking the pressure off reception.

We were directed into a nice little spot up on the first level. The resort is built on the top of a steep hill, with amazing views of the region. We even had a lake view – if we stood at the front of the kamper we could see a little glimpse of the Lake!

After setting up and having lunch – leftover pasties – we started on one of the walks from the camp. We headed back out past Bamboo Cove towards the Homestead Museum. – not a hugely difficult walk but steep and rocky in parts and I couldn’t believe how quickly I had become de-conditioned. It had been 3 days since we hiked Emma Gorge. There were huge panoramic views if the Dam and the surrounding hilly countryside.

The Homestead Museum is the relocated Homestead of the Durack family who owned Argyle Dam and in fact Kimberley Durack had the idea and foresight to build the Dam, sacrificing much of his own land. The original Homestead was flooded, but most of the stones were carefully numbered and removed in 44 gallon drums and stored in Kununurra for future resurrection before the dam was filled. Unfortunately it was some years before the money could be raised for the rebuilding, by which time many of the numbers had worn off the stones! They did a pretty good job as it stands now much the same as it did in its current location.

Argyle Downs was the result of the hard work and determination of Patsy Durack, who bought the lease then drove over 7,000 head of cattle overland from Queensland. He had anticipated it taking 6 months, but in fact it was over 2 years, and in the process he lost half the herd. The Homestead facts ands figures state that it cost him 70,000 Pounds to relocate the cattle in the late 1880’s. It seems too mind-boggling to be true! The story is told in Kings in Grass Castles, by Mary Durack, wife of Kimberley.

Anyway, back to the walk. While at the Homestead Museum we started watching a video of the construction of Argyle Dam, amazing video footage of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Before we knew it, it was 4pm and they were closing the museum so we headed bCk out on the track and took a left hLf way back to continue the walk another 2km to The Bluff, overlooking the Dam wall and the caravan park and boat ramp. The walk back to camp was lovely, the sun had set behind the hilltops surrounding the Dam, so it was lovely and cool with still plenty of light before the proper sunset at 5.30.

Made it back to camp in time to enjoy Steve Case entertaining the crows down at the bar. We could hear him clearly from our kamper as I prepared our dinner of lamb strips with beetroot and feta and spinach leaf salad.

Sunday 19th July

After enjoying a slow start to the day we thought we would take another walk before our booked sunset cruise which started at 2.15pm. This time we headed out the front of the resort and took the Ord Gorge walk, the start of which was quite steep. Actually most of it was steep. But when you got to the lookout it was beautiful. You could see the Dam wall and the Ord River snaking away below the dam. Right at the too Pete spotted a rock wallaby which kindly hung around for me to take photos of it. Quite different from the Black Footed Rock Wallaby at Yardie Creek Gorge near Exmouth, this one was mostly grey a black stripe running down its back. We got back to the caravan park with plenty of time to have lunch before we were picked up for the cruise.

We were picked up by bus from the caravan park, which then took us over the dam wall before heading back and down the boat ramp. Very very steep, and not even sealed like all the other roads – go figure! There we were handed over to Jack our boat captain and tour guide, and Heidi who helped out with the catering.

Jack was full of lots of different statistics and information about the Dam. Most of which I can’t remember, except it is currently about 32 times the size of Sydney Harbour, 70km plus from north to south and 45km wide. 43m deep at the deepest point. He also knew a lot about the animal life. There are heaps of fresh water crocodiles that grow a lot larger than usual, some we saw were well over 2-3metres, and if I came across them on my own I’d be convinced they were the nastier salties! Jack was able to bring the boat up close to lots of crocs and birds. We saw a Darter Cormorant with its wings extended looking like it was drying them out, a Jabiru, a little wallaroo with Joey that comes close to the boat for a handful of food each trip, Pelicans, Rainbow bee-eaters (still can’t get my own photo of these amazing birds), Kites and also an Osprey’s nest.

At the start of the four hour cruise we could help ourself to tea, coffee, biscuits and soft drink. Heidi later passed round carrot cake. Then just before sunset Jack stopped the boat in the middle of the lake for everyone to go swimming. It just wasn’t warm enough for me altho we were assured the water was a warm 22 – 25 degrees. I just took pictures of the brave souls who did. Jack and Heidi passed out beer and champagne to them, using a life raft for the serving tray. What style! They had swimming noodles to help stay afloat, a lot harder in fresh water than salt water. Some of the guys even climbed up on to the roof to dive bomb in to the Lake.

Before long it was time for the swimmers to climb back onboard, and we finished up the cheese and crackers and dip that Heidi had been serving along with out beer, wine or bubbly. Once the sun had set we headed back across the lake, all of us making the most of the photographic opportunity. By the time we arrived back at the boat ramp it was fully dark, and we climbed back on the bus for the return short trip to the caravan park. What a wonderful evening! Pete was so impressed with the tour and the engineering dynamics of the dam that the sunset cruise is now one of his highlights of the trip.

Monday 20th July

Time to leave Lake Argyle, and Western Australia, so we packed up and headed the 40 or so km back to the main highway, then turned East. We passed the NT/WA border shortly after, and then only another 10km down the highway turned north into Keep Rover National Park, stopping first at the Ranger Station, the. driving another 32km on dirt (corrugated rd)! to the Jarnem campground.

The campground was very quiet with only half a dozen campers. Maybe school holidays really were over after all! It was a wonderful haven after all the noise, people and activity of the past few weeks. We set up the kamper in a rather small campsite – they were all the same – and sat back on the chairs and let it all soak in, just reading and backing up photos. Now that we were back in the NT, we had lost 1 ½ hrs. Really weird to get used to after being on WA time for so long. Sunrise and sunset is so much later.

Because we had been sitting around all afternoon, we went for a quick walk along the walk track we would do the next day, Just for 40 min. It was all level and easy walking except for the sandy patches, taking us around the base of the rock formations (some of which are remarkably similar to the domes of the Bungle Bungle). It was nice to have a stretch before dinner – chunky cream of chicken and vegetable soup, more like chowder really. The night wasn’t very cool, we didn’t need any extra blankets.

I spent some time after dark attempting to photograph the stars with some success. Its absolutely amazing how many stars there are – you capture so many more with a camera than the eye can see. I played around a bit using a large Boab as the foreground – reasonably successful I think.

Tuesday 21st July

The intention was to get up early to go for our walk while it was cool. So much for good intentions. The sun didn’t come up til after 7 (instead of 5.30 across the border) so we got up according to our WA habits, but it was actually after 8.30! So no surprise that we didn’t start on the walk til 11. It was quite warm, but probably still under 30.

We retraced our steps on the part of the walk we did the night before, to find we were only 5min from the turnoff to the lookout. The first couple of km was all flat, once again with lots of river sand to walk through making it a bit harder. There are three parts to the walk, but all combined just over 7.2km of walk. The first part takes you up to a lookout (yes quite steep but just with lots of high stone steps, no big boulders). The views were amazing, 360 degrees! I took a video because the photos couldn’t do it justice.

After leaving the lookout we headed in a circle back down to the valley floor, through Ngili Gap whee there were some faded aboriginal rock art paintings. Lots of Pandanus and Livistona Palms like on the Mitchell Plateau – very beautiful with the Dome like rock formations as a backdrop glowing in the sun.

The walk took us about 2 ½ hrs, we were rather tired by the time we got back and absolutely filthy from the dust of the walk,a made worse by sticking to the sunscreen I had on my legs. Time for a bird bath I think! (no showers at the camp just drop toilets). The afternoon was spent napping and reading and enjoying the bird life. Noisy rosella parrots that wouldn’t stop still long enough for me to photograph them!

Easy dinner of chicken Nachos – Pete didn’t have many dishes to do! Camp was once again quiet as a few groups had left in the morning and not so many had come in. So peaceful! So there ends our ninth week, off back into Katherine tomorrow then up to Darwin before Kakadu. Still a few new places to see before we head home!

Take me back to my home
To the spirit of the land that calls me
Colours and textures, light and birdsong
There I can breathe, and restore my soul
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