Broome to Darwin.....the hard way

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June 1st 2006
Published: June 19th 2006
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Broome SunsetBroome SunsetBroome Sunset

After the nuclear blast has subsided a lovely sunset-cruise yacht sails past - every night! Seriously. On one night there were four of the blummin' things clogging up the colourful horizon.
Weeks 10-12 (17th May - 1st June 2006)

On May 17th we booked ourself into a rather tatty caravan park at Cable Beach. We built our house quite close to the camp kitchen - not our choice I assure you as the kitchen areas are usually full of loud tw*ts mouthing off and getting drunk on a sniff of cheap backpacker lager, refusing to go to bed until the early hours and generally keeping everyone else awake. We'd already paid for 3 nights as the truck needed servicing so we readied our earplugs for the nights to come.......that night in fact we were rudely awakened by a bunch of p*ssed up French guys (they're the worst in my opinion.....all that armpit hair can't be healthy) singing along to some 'Amelie' soundtrack throwback at the top of their lungs. "Respect is what I'm talking about" was all we could make out from the rather large Aussie guy that told them to "shut the flip up". .

Broome is famous for it's long beaches which can be driven along in 4WD vehicles
Nuclear Sunset PoseursNuclear Sunset PoseursNuclear Sunset Poseurs

I didn't ask them to pose for the picture, they just decided to do a picture postcard pose. Maybe they are paid by Broome Tourism Board to stand and pose like that? I wouldn't be surprised!
- we had a quick drive down to the more remote parts of the sands but as I began to park the truck I spun the wheels deeply into the sand and decided that the carpark was a better place to park......they'd gone through all that trouble to tarmac an area and paint spaces on so why not use it? We walked down onto the beach (oh the indignity of it!) and sat waiting for one of Broome's other tourist pullers, the sunset. The sun went down like a nuclear device had been set off somewhere on the other side of the Indian Ocean and was very impressive. I've heard people say that the sunset is "profound" which in itself is quite a profound thing to say!

Pearl fishing is big business in Broome and there is a long history in the area of Chinese immigrants working in the pearling industry - so much so that the centre of town is actually 'China-town' themed with red Chinese gateways and even the bottle-shop (off licence) has a green tiled oriental style roof. The narrow streets of the covered market area also have an asian feel to them with 'Jonny Chi
All our worldly goodsAll our worldly goodsAll our worldly goods

Our home and our wheels sitting in the bushcamp at Windjana Gorge.
Lane' being the central focus. With a history based upon wealth gained from the many deaths in the pearling industry, we visited 'Willie Creek Pearls' which, apart from having a rather amusing name, was to be found quite a way outside of Broome across a series of salt flats. Pearl fishing in the 21st century is a bit of a cheat actually - the oyster shells are farmed by divers and then a surgical procedure is carried out during which a machined piece of shell is placed inside a sensitive part of the oyster - maybe anaesthetic is used, I don't know. The violated shells are then put back into the sea in a metal rack and begin to form pearls around the foreign body that has been put inside them. 2 years later they pull the racks up and sell the pearls to the punters - we saw a guy paying $2,000 for a string of pearls for his wife! I tried to purchase a similar string for Claire but she flatly refused saying that a meal in the best oriental restaurant down town would suffice

Devonian ReefDevonian ReefDevonian Reef

Millions of tiny creatures made this rock formation - and then volcanic movement raised it above the sea, along with the various fossilised remains that can still be seen today.
evening we set off to town and for a Saturday night I have to say it was quiet - even the local indigenous population had decided not to large it up on the street corners with their $10 boxes of wine! We drove around the block several times looking for the restaurant that we had read about and found a parking space along the darkened roadside. Walking along the shop fronts towards the orange glow coming from the 'restaurant' we soon discovered that it had been replaced by some sort of jewellers shop. Bugger, pizza it is them! Spinning on our heels back towards where the truck was parked we were greeted by the sight of a white Landcruiser, very similar to ours, which some idiot had parked in the middle of the road instead of in the parking spaces either side! Cars were carefully weaving around the Cruiser, not beeping their horns or getting irate as I would have done! Then I found myself running towards the truck and heard myself shouting "That's my car!". I had forgotten to put the handbrake on following the rather hectic search for the restaurant and luckily the restaurant hadn't been there after
Tunnel CreekTunnel CreekTunnel Creek

Over time, water has eroded its way through a softer layer of rock to form an underground creek. This is me stood at the end of the 1km tunnel, shorts rolled up in a too kewl way.
all.......or we would have been inside eating green-thai-curry whilst the truck was being used as a roundabout. Claire laughed until she cried. I don't think it's that funny actually. These things happen! Every now and then she cries out "That's my car!" just for a laugh. I still wake in the night in a cold sweat. Trauma is a difficult thing to overcome!

With the truck all serviced and several nuclear sunsets spent fighting off the sand-flies on Cable Beach, we filled the fridge with goodies and headed east into 'The Kimberley' along the dreaded 'Gibb River Road'. The Kimberley is a collection of national parks based around some extremely impressive mountain ranges. Following a rather challenging drive along the first part of the 660km long Gibb River Road, crossing deep water in the truck for the first time, we arrived at 'Windjana Gorge' bushcamp and were greeted with a sight that I can only explain as "that bit in the movie "Independance Day" where Will Smith looks up and sees the vast alien space ship filling the horizon". Windjana Gorge is actually a microbialite type Devonian Reef (as we'd already seen at Clifton Lake and Hamlin Pools) that
Tunnel Creek - Rock ArtTunnel Creek - Rock ArtTunnel Creek - Rock Art

There is some rock art that is supposed to be just for fun and some, like this piece, is to convey an important Aboriginal story in order to pass it on to the next generations. I think the story here was something about not drawing so rubbish.
was lifted up following volcanic activity. Fossils of early lifeforms within the walls of the gorge indicate the prehistoric nature of the surroundings and the gathering of prehistoric crocodiles (we counted 25 of them!) added to the feeling that we were walking through the set of Jurassic Park 4 (it's bound to get made as Speilberg is a sucker for ruining a trilogy).

The Gibb River Road is identified as an un-sealed highway in the map books but 4WD is advisable. A lumpy drive along the supposed 'road' led the next day towards 'Bell Gorge' bushcamp. On the way we dropped into 'Tunnel Creek' and walked 1km along an underground creek that had carved a route beneath the mountains. We waded through the freezing cold water, under huge stalactites housing squealing colonies of bats, to finally emerge into the sunlight at a small rockface and our first sighting of aboriginal art. I am a big fan of the socio-political graffiti artist 'Banksy' (look on the web heathens!) and this first exposure to aboriginal art made me feel that there was more to it than merely "draw fish so can catch more fish". Indiginous art has a quality to it
Bell Gorge WaterfallsBell Gorge WaterfallsBell Gorge Waterfalls

This is one of the several Bell Gorge. The title kind of gives it away a bit!
that I think "Daz loves Shaz" has replaced in modern times. The rock-art tells a story that is passed down in it's simplest form to new generations, just as new generations in western society will know that Darren loved Sharon - as long as the council hasn't bleach-blasted the bus shelters in the meantime. The story depicted at the end of Tunnel Creek actually tells of an Aboriginal revolutionary who used the creek as a place to hide from the European interlopers who were invading his lands. The mouth of the tunnel was actually the place where he and his followers were massacred. They've tidied the place up since though!

Safely back at camp we again slept amongst the dingoes and arose with the sun in order to walk up Bell Gorge Waterfall before venturing further along the Gibb River Road. Three quarters of the way along the road we turned off towards Mount Elizabeth bushcamp. We had discovered the worst road in the world and it took a good hour to travel the 20km to the campsite over extremely rocky, rutted, holey and sandy terrain. Again, carefully not mentioned in the guide book! Once we had checked into
BF BAD Rich!!BF BAD Rich!!BF BAD Rich!!

All we need is a bit of gaffer tape and we'll be back on track. Ironically this is the same driver's side rear tyre that I posted a photo of in our very first blog to show how kewl our tyres were! It obviously devised the blow-out as a way of getting it's photo taken again.
the campsite we were told that we had the pick of the sites before a party of 15 arrived on an organised tour. We surveyed the campsite and decided that a possible tent siting within the grasslands near to the bush-toilets would be a good idea. "I'll check the facilities" were my famous last words as lifting the lid on the nearest bush-loo I was greeted with the hissing head of a snake, coiled several times around the rim of the pit toilet. I screamed like a girl and ran in the direction of the truck. We went back a short time later to take a photo but the pythonic snake had sensibly done one. We decided to set up camp in the middle of the site and were comfortably surrounded by the tour group later on. At 3 in the morning I heard the flailings of one tour member shouting "Help me please" as her badly erected tent had collapsed, coccooning her in cold canvas. I didn't stir from the warmth of our sleeping bag and chuckled myself back to sleep. It made up for the snake incident I reckon.

With gorge-tolerance running low (again!) we decided that the best course of action would be to head swiftly out of The Kimberley. We set off on the 300km trip along the GRR (this is a very apt acronym for the Gibb River Road as it makes you "Grrrrr" the more holes and creeks you drive through). Our target was a small town called 'Kununurra' where we'd have a short stop over to break down the long journey across to Katherine and up to Darwin. Slowly but surely the speed of the truck began to rise as I became more confident with my off-road skills. Claire was still clinging to the handles hanging from the truck ceiling but I didn't seem to care......Kununurra and a real shower were calling. We reached a section of road that had a warning sign of 'Road hazard ahead' and as we came around the corner we saw that the hazard was actually that the road had been replaced by a bunch of jagged rocks floating in a sea of sand. Nice. As I was still motoring along at this time I had to carry out some more Australian Rally manoeuvres, putting the truck sideways at one time, before getting out of the sandtrap apparently unscathed. As the kilometres whipped by my confidence and speed quickly built until we were buffetting along at 100kmph on an unassuming piece of road that was actually reasonably flat. The explosion from the back tyre was like a gunshot and luckily the remaining three wheel drive helped us to continue along a reasonably straight path until we reached a stop. Bugger.

We'd had a conversation about 2 hours before our blowout that we really must see how easy it would be to change a tyre in the eventuality of a flat. We would do this at Kununurra campsite the day after arrival. Nice and flat and safe. 250km from Kununurra at the hottest part of the day we were now faced with a tyre that looked as though someone had knifed around the rubber with a Crocodile Dundee style machete. It took us half an hour of pushing & pulling before Claire figured out how to lower the spare tyre from beneath the truck. It was plain sailing from there although we had to fend off the helpful advances of several stopping vehicles all asking if we were okay, but not offering to help in any way. We were safe but drove slowly away on the newly fitted spare tyre with a sense of achievement, and a feeling that we could have been in serious trouble had this happened elsewhere. Keeping the speed at 60kmph we had several river crossings to complete before getting to Kununurra, the longest one being the 'Pentecost River' which fortunately had a highways guy testing the integrity of the crossing following the recent floods. "Put it in Low 4WD and head for the other side" was the only advice we got and hazy memories of Roly's Land Cruiser springing a leak came back to me as we lurched our way to the opposite bank. We were possibly slowed by the shredded spare wheel sitting under the truck, dragging in the flood swollen waters of the Pentecost.

Kununurra is a small town that is conveniently situated at the convergence of several viciously sharp, gravel roads. It has the wonderful Ord River flowing through the middle so has an abundance of water which our campsite sprayed about the place at every opportunity. The thieving pirate who charged us $320 to change our shredded tyre had the forecourt of his garage washed clean as he lowered our spare tyre to the ground. Several gallons of Pentecost River water came flooding out of the gashed tyre down into the drain. "Got some Pentecost in there have ya, muahahaha?" joked the gap-toothed country yokel. "Change the goddam tyre monkey-boy!" I retorted.

With our shiny new tyre in place we headed off to see the 'Zebra Rock Gallery' which is just outside of Kununurra. They mine the Zebra Rock from alongside a local lake and it is supposedly the only place in the world where this stripey rock occurs. The rock is many different colours but due to an unknown method of formation it has fine stripes and polkadots running through it's length - a bit like a stick of rock from the seaside! We walked around the workshop to check out how the objects in the gallery were made - we even bought some, as the stuff out back was cheaper than in the main shop and we've started to watch our money a bit more now......especially with the recent cost of $320 tyre fresh in our minds!

The border between Western Australia and the Northern Territories is about 35km east of Kununurra. We had seen signs saying that you can't take fruit & vegetables across the border or you get fined so the evening before we cooked up all the fresh veggies that we had with us and ate them for dinner. Next day Claire pealed all of a large bag of satsumas and we got back on the road for the long drive east to Katherine. On the road to the border we busily chomped our way through a bag of 20 satsumas and as we got closer to the checkpoint we noticed that there wasn't a checkpoint on our side of the road and that the quarantine is only on the way into Western Australia! Following a long drive to Katherine we ducked into the supermarket and bought a pile of fruit and vegetables to restock the fridge for our bushcamping at Nitmiluk Gorge. Taking a boat cruise through the gorge is the only way to really see it. The alternative of a 3 hour bushwalk to the rim of the gorge in the heat of the day didn't sound like a good idea to either of us, so we jumped aboard and had a nice day of cruising. Nitmiluk is a series of 6 huge gorges linked with rapids and as you progress further up the system you have to swap from one boat to another. We only had to do this once as we'd gone for the cheap 2 gorge option - and as we we're both quite gorge weary following our exploits in the Kimberley we thought that we might not fully appreciate the full-on 6 gorge experience.

On the way out of Katherine we had an early morning dip at 'Katherine Hot Springs' before heading down the road to 'Edith Falls' bushcamp. Stopping at Edith Falls early afternoon was a good way of breaking down our journey to Darwin as we we're both becoming slightly weary of being on the road for 6 hours each day. It was still almost another full day of driving to get to Darwin but we managed to have a quick look around to get our bearings before retiring to the campsite. Our next door neighbour was the 'talent' at the campsite and the evening's entertainment was a quick change musical comedy act which was actually quite good once you'd got some cheap wine inside you. Still chuckling to ourselves we got back to our tent and into bed. Our campsite was reasonably close to the airport which is really convenient if you are catching a flight - not convenient if you are trying to sleep and they are landing army planes over your head at 2 o'clock in the morning! It sounded like they were testing the rockets for a new Australian moon-landing mission, and this happened 4 or 5 times during the early hours of the morning. We had again booked in for 3 nights at the campsite so 3 more sleepless nights were again on the cards. If there is one thing that long-term camping has taught us it is that you cannot expect to get a good sleep - there will always be some thing that either wakes you up, keeps you awake or simply bugs you about the campsite that you lie awake thinking about.......such as "we are maybe camping on an ant-nest so will they invade the tent whilst we sleep and possibly walk off with all our food like in the cartoons?"

I don't know quite what I was expecting to find in Darwin City Centre but I was pleasantly surprised none the less. The city is loosely based around it's port workings and there is a huge seaside development being built at the moment which messes up the traffic around that edge of town a bit. After a swift walk along the harbourside we went to the botanical gardens for a hot afternoon stroll - we are in the tropics here so even in winter the humidity can be felt. A long walk from the gardens to the Natural History Museum was well worth the struggle and apart from being very informative about evolution (it's not called 'Darwin' by accident), we also found out about the devastating 'Cyclone Tracey' which practically wiped Darwin off the map one Christmas day. After a lovely lunch in the restaurant we hufted ourselves back across the botanical gardens to the truck and drove out to the local night market. With hundreds of stalls to choose from, the fragrant main street of the market had Asian foods from practically every country you can think of. Claire and I both headed for the Malaysian food stalls and ordered things that we hadn't eaten since we lived in Kuala Lumpur. There was a real hippie vibe to it and the various stalls were selling tie-dyed sarongs, floppy flowery hats, camouflage shorts, 'your name on a piece of rice', medicinal emu oil, sensual Thai massage and even one guy selling just a handcrafted bed! There was a reminder that we weren't actually in Asia by the sound of the 'indigenous rock' music that could be heard coming from the main stage area. I still can't play the didgeridoo yet (no shock there then) but the lead singer of the band was playing 5 huge didges all lined up on stands with microphones on the ends. Along with a guitarist and a stoner playing the biggest drum kit in the world, the lead singer played manic didge music, made animal noises and managed to sing along to the music all at the same time! The freaky aboriginals dancing in front of him indicated that they didn't mind someone using their ceremonial instruments to make rock music. With the taste of Nasi Lemak still lingering on my lips we headed back to our darkened tent to prepare for the next part of our journey into Kakadu National Park.


19th June 2006

Good effort on the still have to beat my efforts on flooding Roly's truck though...keep trying or else we will be out to show you it is really done. Jackie, Willow, Callum and Bramble...oh yea and Roly!
23rd June 2006

BF rip off rich
glad to hear that all is going well, you should have given me a call when you had your blow out for that price i could have posted you my spare and i would have thrown in a free roll of gaffa tape and still made a proffit!!!!!!!!!! take care y'all Rich
10th July 2006

Great to hear your news
Thanks again for keeping up with the blogs - always fascinating to read as they are so well written. Hopefully no more blow outs though. all the best Claire and David

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