Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199909 Australia-WA

Wednesday 1 September 1999  Stroll down to the beach and also for a very long walk along it.  Whales can be seen off shore as they make their way South after winter.  A jobbing afternoon around town including getting the boot fixed properly at last.  Welcome mail from England plus a letter from a couple in Surrey, Vancouver, Canada (where Auntie Joan lives).  They read August 1998 Australian motorhome magazine when trying to arrange their own motorhome swap in Australia.  By chance our original letter was in it and they have now contacted us via Claire’s address in Yorkshire as they also want to visit Europe.
Thursday 2 September  Morning on the beach then afternoon by the pool.  Pat & Fred from Perth sun club whom we previously met at TENRR are now here and also Judy from Perth.   Together we go to Murphy’s pub to meet up with Banjo & Gwen, Ray & Jan and Ivor & Glenys.  Steve gets stuck into the Guinness and we have a bar meal.  Banjo is an excellent magician and puzzles us with his original card tricks.  Apparently it is even amazing when he performs at the naturist club and does the disappearing lighted cigarette trick!  
Friday 3 September  Morning by the pool before checking out of the camp site.  Sea mist swirls around the beach mid afternoon then clears up.  The camel train makes an unusual sight plodding through the sand.  Coach loads arrive for sunset and we enjoy a drink whilst listening to jazz from the nearby "Sunset Bar".  A couple come over from the Winnebago on the car park to ask if we are free camping tonight.  We tell them of a good spot nearby and they join us.  Frank and Lisa are a similar age to us and an interesting evening follows.  They are keen to do an exchange with us in a couple of years time which would fit in well with our 4 year visa.
Saturday 4 September   A ranger calls at 6.00am and asks us to use a caravan park tonight!  The courthouse markets are busy early and we buy our fresh fruit and veg including a paw paw.  Few jobs around town where we receive E mail from John and Shirley Winton.  From Stafford they have travelled overland with their Sri Lanka born daughter Danielle and are now in Perth waiting the arrival of their motorhome from Singapore.  Afternoon on the beach before free camping Gantheaume Point planning to play "beat the ranger".
Sunday 5 September   Early and into town for the final Shinju Matsuri celebrations.  Adults and children enter the home made billy cart races.  At the Pearl Luggers $10 (£4.50) buys a ticket for unlimited wine, oyster meat tasting and entry to the great pearl hunt.  Sit on the lawn sipping wine, nibbling and listening to a singer.  Then hundreds of adults grovel on the beach for empty film canisters holding a prize number. Prizes range from $5 phone cards to a pearl worth $1000 (£450).  No luck for us but it was fun trying.  Chinatown main street is decked out to look like the bottom of the sea (if you use your imagination).  One game has people dressed up as divers flapping up the street collecting pearls shells.  A band plays on the oval and stalls sell Asian foods.  Meet "the usual gang" at Tongs Chinese restaurant for an evening meal followed by the grand finale fireworks display with fireworks we have never seen before.
Monday 6 September   Tank up with diesel then nip into town for a few last minute things.  A young man collecting rubbish tells us that anyone and especially Aboriginals collect it.  You put your name on the bag and hand it in to the Ranger and get paid $1.70 (70p) a bag.  What a great idea and one which could work in England.  Last swim and surf on the beach which we tear ourselves away from late afternoon.  Leave Broome heading towards Port Hedland stopping at the first roadside parking to catch the last of the sun.  Now in the Pilbara region.
Tuesday 7 September   It takes a while to figure out the two black balls moving in the road ahead of us.  Closer inspection reveals two people on lay back bicycles loaded up with tents etc.  Yes there are hundreds of people out here crazier than us in fact I reckon we are some of the most sane around.  Barn Hill started as a cattle station offering basic camping but has developed into a caravan park with powered sites $15 (£6.50).  Just above a beautiful beach it looks like a great spot.  Wally and Fran (from the cruise) are here and we look at their photos and reminisce.  We see our first frilled neck lizard in a tree but not fanning it’s neck out in defence.  A good beach which at lunch time we have to ourselves.  I spend the afternoon on the computer whilst Steve goes for a very long walk to explore the interesting beach.  5.00pm everyone gathers round for "Happy Hour" a good time to gather information for our route.
Wednesday 8 September  Another great beach day and we explore the sandstone rock formations at the far end.  Everyone congregates for the evening around the big BBQ.  Coloured lights are strewn round and someone puts the stereo on.  The people off the flat bikes are here but we don’t get chance to talk to them.  The evening winds up with singing and joke telling.
Thursday 9 September   Morning on the beach and afternoon departure.  We stop when we see the recumbent tricycles with Sharyn and Patrick.  They need water as Patrick has an upset stomach.  Pull over shortly after at Stanley rest area where other caravans are already gathered round for "Happy Hour".  Sharyn and Patrick join us and we all have fun trying out their bikes.  We hear about other crazies going round Australia.  One pushing a wheelie bin which he sleeps in at night and another with a shopping trolley – reckon he must be off his trolley!   The "old fossil" caravan people provide Sharyn and Patrick with a shower whilst I cook them a meal.  They think they have arrived at the "Hilton".
Friday 10 September   Away around 7.00am but it is quite a way down the track before we pass the trikes.  Eighty mile beach has a caravan park at the Southern end $16 (£7) night.  A picture by the door shows a red headed python and says "I live here and if you don’t invade my space I won’t invade yours"!  Stroll down to the beach intending to find a secluded spot to sunbake (Aussie terminology).  Shock horror – there are over 100 fishermen lined up along the shore.  Wally & Fran are here and in the afternoon take us for a drive along the beach in their 4WD which is great fun.  The tide goes out about 1km which reminds us of Morecambe. 
Saturday 11 September  Quick catch up on washing then down to the beach.  Reckon we are the 4 B’s now (brown British beach bums) or should I say 5 B’s and add bare!  2 pairs of dolphins swim just off the shore.  Leave early afternoon and pass the trikes which have been on the road since 4.30am.  It was dark then and they had to ride the white line to see – mental.  Afghan Well with a cluster of date palms is where the camel trains stopped overnight and each one planted a date seed.  Kangaroos hop by and we hear rustling outside the van after dark.
Sunday 12 September   Into Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve $5 (£2.25) a night to camp in one of the many spots around the headland.  Explore them all then settle alongside Cootenbrand tidal creek.  The water is still and low and we set up the windbreak on a nice sandy island in the middle.  Fellow travellers pop over to tell us the tide will come in during the next hour and this is an area of very high tides.  The inflow is quite spectacular and the river bed rapidly changes.  The level rises very quickly by over 2m.  The island disappears as do most of the mangrove trees in the middle.  I set up stall with the hand line but the fish are none too impressed with my corned beef sandwiches!  Signs warn of crocodiles following a sighting 10 years ago.  We now hear that one was seen on the opposite side of the headland 10 days ago.  It looks like crocodile country but the tidal flow and clarity of the water should make this area safe. 
Monday 13 September  Our 24th wedding anniversary (Netty & Dave’s 19th).  Had planned to be further along the track and in a town so celebrations are very low key.  Anyway we figured the cruise was our birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents to each other for the year.  Enjoy a relaxing day with the place to ourselves and feel like Robinson Crusoe.  Stroll to the beach where the tide is so far out you can hardly see the sea.  Later on a mini bus gets stuck on the way to the beach.  A group of 15 year olds are hiking round the point and the bus has their camping gear etc.  The youngsters arrive and push the bus out then set up camp on the beach but far enough away from us not to affect our privacy.  The beach has some most unusual shells which I collect then dump as they won’t travel well in a back pack.  A wonderful place.
Tuesday 14 September  Can’t tear ourselves away so another day strolling, sunbathing and swimming.  The ranger calls round daily for the fees but today deliberately drives past us without looking (yes I had covered up).   Someone told us he doesn’t really like to charge people and often "forgets" to collect their money.
Wednesday 15 September    Sunbathe swim and finally leave at 2.30pm.  Next stop De Grey River.  Meet Clive and Judy an English couple with a camper trailer now living in Australia and on 6 months long service leave.  Find lots to talk about and end up joining them for a BBQ.
Thursday 16 September  Port Hedland is where some of the longest trains in the world unload their iron ore.  Not a tourist town so we complete the necessary stocking up and e-mailing and head out to park on the banks of the currently dry Yule River.
Friday 17 September  Pull off the highway to drive 100m and walk 500m to a recommended aboriginal art site.  In reality 10m drive and over 1km to walk to a pile of boulders with quite a lot of art once you get the hang of looking for it.  Top up with fuel at Whim Creek with a Pink Pub and a super selection of birds in an aviary with colours too varied to mention.   Turn inland shortly after and onto dirt track. It’s Spring now and the wildflowers are starting to bloom.  The Sturt Desert Pea is particularly nice – an enormous sweet pea in red and blank.  Hit the 20,000 km mark for our travels in Australia.  In Chichester National Park we stop for a swim at Python Pool.  A big pool with not a python in site.  Climb to the top of Mount Herbert to enjoy the view then drive on into Millstream National Park.  Camp on the banks of Deep Reach Pool $8 (£3.50) where steps have been provided to make swimming easy.  John and Patsy are camped by us with children Charlie (6) and April (5).  John asks if we are doing our travelling before settling down to a breeding programme!  Surprise him by telling him we have been there done that and now have the grandchild to go with it.  Alan and Diane join us all round the campfire and we share popcorn and cook marshmallows on the fire.
Saturday 18 September  Sunbathe and swim until early afternoon.  Drive to the homestead and follow the 750m trail.  It’s a pretty area with lots of streams and palm trees.  Friendly kangaroos pose on the front lawn.  Head further south on the dirt track with lots of kangaroos hopping across in front of us.  Spot another branch of "Hotel Gravel" and pull off for the night.  The wildflowers are increasing and we are surrounded by pretty pink clover type ones.  The van is full of red bull dust and we need a shower to clean ourselves up.
Sunday 19 September  Steve’s 45th birthday and we’ve decided to detour to Tom Price as we are tight on fuel and maybe we can enjoy an evening meal in a restaurant.  First into Karijini National Park to visit Hamersley Gorge and waterfall.  Climb down steps into the gorge then follow the route to the end.  The trail is undefined and hard going but we find "The Grotto" a fern lined chasm at the side of the gorge with dripping water.  Steve comes to an abrupt halt on the walk back only a step from tripping over a large monitor.  It makes no attempt to move away from us so we detour around.  Stop by the natural "spa" pools on the way back.  The gorge walls are magnificent with multi coloured layers of tectonic rock squashed into amazing patterns.  Tom Price is a new town set up around the nearby iron mine but nothing inspires us on the restaurant front so we buy some groceries and spend the afternoon by Kings Lakes.  Just phoning Claire prior to leaving town when the trikes fly past.  Sharyn and Patrick have changed their route and it is pure chance that we see them.  They tell us that people from Tom Price drive 2 hours to get a decent meal so it looks like we made the right decision.  Head back towards Karijini and stop at a roadside rest area.
Monday 20 September  Visit a lookout where someone has started a stack of memorial rocks.  One is for a 22 year old boy killed by a drunk driver.  The stone names the driver and says he only got $400 fine and a driving ban.  Into Karijini and a quick look at the visitor centre then out to Dales Gorge.  Start on the Callitris Track which runs into the Gorge Rim walk.  Link this up with the Circular Pool lookout before descending into the Gorge and rock hopping to circular pool for a swim.  Double back and head along the Dales Gorge track running along the bottom of the gorge past lots of clear pools.  Arrive at Fortescue Falls and enjoy a picnic and a swim in the spring fed permanent falls.  Carry on to Fern Pool which is a huge pool surrounded by cliffs sprouting ferns.  Swim across the pool to the waterfall which is wonderful.  Retrace our steps to Fortescue and then climb out of the gorge – tiring but fantastic.  On to Kalamina Gorge in readiness for tomorrow’s walk.
Tuesday 21 September  7.30am descend the steps into the gorge and explore down the stream filled with lemon-scented grass.  The trail ends at Rock Arch Pool where we take some photos then return upstream to the waterfall and swim in the cool pool.  Back up the steps then a drive to Joffre Lookout.  Peer deep into the gorge with an unusual curved wall forming a natural amphitheatre.  Pass on the walk and head to Knox Gorge.  A very steep rugged descent with lots of shingle sliding under our feet.  The tour buses don’t come here and it’s evident in the trail standard and danger warning signs.  Head left into Red Gorge and to the end where the gorge narrows into a high waterfall and the signs warn not to proceed further.  Return and enjoy a swim in the pool where the two gorges meet.  No one around so we skinny dip then realise we are directly under the lookout!  Walk as far as we can in Knox Gorge coming to a halt at a big pool with sheer gorge sides.  Enjoy our picnic lunch after a swim in the pool.  Clamber along narrow ledges, rock hop and machete our way back through the undergrowth.  The climb out is hard work and really challenges our fitness. West to Weano Gorge camping area $8 (£3.50) where we peer down from the lookouts at our route for tomorrow.  
Wednesday 22 September  Descend into Hancock Gorge which is so steep there is a ladder  for the last part.  The brochure says "journey to the centre of the earth down this steep narrow gorge" and they aren’t kidding.  Miss the track sign and turn right along the gorge floor and hack our way along until eventually we reach a deep pool with steep sided gorge walls.  Retrace our steps and Steve suddenly jumps back having spotted a snake just in front of him.  It looks like a black rock python and like the monitor it makes no attempt to move away from us.  I make a major detour which had the gorge sides not being sheer would have involved climbing out and along the top!  Reach the bottom of the ladder and spot the yellow dots marking the trail in the opposite direction.  The gorge rapidly narrows and the polished grey sides lead us to Kermit’s Pool.  Another couple are there and I go on with the girl to investigate further.  We wade waist high through the pool then clamber over rocks and a small waterfall.  This leads us to a narrow water channel which we swim along to another pool.  This in turn leads to a steep waterfall which appears un passable.  We hoped to continue and link up with Weano Gorge saving a lot of walking and climbing.  Return to climb out of the gorge and cross the road to descend to Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge.  An easy walk down proper steps to the basin and a short meander between the layered rock walls and rock pools.  Things get interesting as the walls narrow and there is only a spot of light filtering through.  Past a pool then into the final passage which is so narrow you can wedge your feet along the walls instead of getting them wet.  It opens out into huge chamber which you enter by hauling yourself down the side of the waterfall using first the handrail and then a knotted rope.  I read that "for the intrepid explorer the adventure continues beyond the pool".  We abandon our rucksacks and set out in just swim wear down the narrow passage at the far side.  We scramble up and over rocky falls and swim along passages so narrow you can’t even do breaststroke.  The tunnel opens into a small pool which leads to a waterfall.  We can see some people who have gone beyond the waterfall so we follow.  Getting down the narrow waterfall is scary because if you lose your footing you would be washed over the edge to drop over 20 feet into a deep cold pool (if you are lucky not to catch the rocks on the way down).  We negotiate the waterfall which opens up into another amazing chamber.  Carry on a further but when the ledges get very narrow I chicken out.  Climbing the waterfall is slightly more tricky.  Make it safely back to Handrail Pool and then a guy tells us that we turned back just before Weano waterfall where two people died.  He has just done the whole circuit from Hancock Gorge but says it is very dangerous.  The people who were ahead of us return shortly after.  Make our way back to the big pool at the bottom of the steps and enjoy a cooling swim and sunbathe.   Climb wearily to the van and head back towards Tom Price.  Stop for lunch and both fall into an exhausted sleep.  Make it to Tom Price before the shops shut then head out towards Nanutarra pulling over at the first rest area.
Thursday 23 September  After 1 hour on the road we are delighted to hit the bitumen again having covered around 900km of dirt track.  (Can you imagine driving the length of England on dirt road?).  Start to see other cars when we rejoin the main highway at Nanutarra.  Ashburton River Travellers Park offers powered sites at $10 ($4.50) and so our active afternoon begins.  The dust has got into every nook and cranny and all the cupboards need to be emptied and wiped out and both clothes and the van need to be washed.
Friday 24 September  Arrive in Exmouth and check onto Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort $18 (£8).  There is a fantastic swimming pool with an aquarium in the middle.  When you swim underwater it feels like you are snorkelling in the sea.  Exmouth was devastated in March by the cyclone but has made an incredible come back.  Receive written confirmation of our swap in Sydney and check out our flights through to New Zealand. 
Saturday 25 September  Find even more cupboards to clean the red dust from.  Stroll to the tourist office to read about the cyclone devastation.  Vance peaked on 23rd March as a grade 5 with over 300km gusts.  Remarkably no one was killed and the town was open for business again within a month.  North up the coast to the Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station.  An American base until 1991 now only part is used by the Australian Navy.  Old quarters are now backpacker style motel units and dive centres us other buildings and the pool.  Further North Murat point naval pier was made to withstand cyclones and 10m tides but didn’t and is now derelict.  Heading round and down the West coast Vlamingh Head Lighthouse gives us a superb view.  We spot giant killer whales flipping out of the water.  Enter Cape Range National Park where for $8 (£3.50) you can camp in one of 18 locations with bays for between 1 and 16 vehicles.  South Mandu Beach is the first available spot and we enjoy sunbathing and snorkelling.  Ningaloo Reef just off shore here is Australia’s big secret as it compares well with the Great Barrier Reef.  The coral near the shore is not very colourful but the fish are fantastic.  Kangaroos gather round as we enjoy sipping our wine whilst watching the sun set over the ocean.  A fitting end to another day in paradise.  By 8.45pm the other 4 campers on our site have all retired to bed.  Yes Australia is definitely the land of early to bed early to rise people.
Sunday 26 September   Further South is Bloodwood day use car park.  We have the place to ourselves and stroll North along the beach which turns to rocks.  We spot hundreds of green crabs and one very large 1m (1 yard in old money) eel.  Return for the fishing tackle and Steve wastes a couple of hours which include him dropping the reel in the water at the only decent bite!  Back to the van for lunch and as we turn the corner Steve jumps back at me (yet again).  This time a kangaroo is sat on our door step.  I hold the bags whilst Steve tries to creep in to get the camera.  Not necessary as the kangaroo follows him into the van!  It is incredibly friendly and insists on sitting by us like a pet dog.  Back to the beach to stroll South in the afternoon.  Skippy is still on guard when we return.  Chance staying overnight as the camping bays are crowded.  Sip wine yet again whilst watching the sunset accompanied by Skippy.
Monday 27 September  South to Yardie Creek where only 4WD can continue by driving over the sand bar.  Stroll along the cliff top into the gorge admiring the views and limestone cliffs.  Lots of mullet can be seen in the water below.  Check out Osprey Bay whilst heading back but it has 16 bays, is busy and only a minute beach.  Sandy Bay a day use area further North looks more promising.  Set ourselves up at the far end of the beautiful soft white sandy bay with the most beautiful turquoise sea.  All is well until the wind builds up and drives us away at lunch time.  No shelter in the next bay so return to Bloodwood which seems the best spot.  The ranger calls to collect our fees for the last 3 nights and says we are OK to stay.  I spot a big splash at sea and with the binoculars we see more whales.  This time they are jumping right out of the water.  They are enormous and even the ones on the horizon look as big as ships.  Skippy comes back to visit and sits by the van.  Quite a few vehicles pull in to visit the lookout.  Think everyone has been driven off the beaches and decided to explore every bay.  The wind hasn’t dropped and a few clouds swirl around but it’s still hot.
Tuesday 28 September  A blustery but cloud free start to the day.  I left the bedroom blind up last night and it is just fantastic to wake up and see the beach, sea and reef.  The wind drops and we move to North Mandu Beach which has pretty pink pebbles.  Clear an area of stones so we can sunbathe on the sand between snorkelling.  Strange how along a 50km stretch of coast you can have so much variation.
Wednesday 29 September  The Oyster Stacks make interesting snorkelling with big fish hidden underneath.  The beach here is almost like big concrete slabs and not inviting so we press on North to Turquoise Bay.  What a contrast.  Beautiful clean soft white sand fringes the most brightly coloured clear turquoise sea.  Obviously the best place on the coast as the car park is full and dozens of people spread out along the beach.  The snorkelling is excellent here but there is a very strong current.  The best thing is to walk at least 200m South of the headland, swim out and then let the current bring you back.  It’s like being on the Lazy River at a water park.  The colourful coral holds many different sizes shapes and colours of fish. Although I am wary of snorkelling it is so good that I make 3 trips.  Just fantastic.  Glad we bought the snorkelling gear when we were in Darwin.  Call at the Milyering Visitor Centre where we learn that Skippy was an orphan raised by humans.  She got too friendly when stationed by the visitor centre so was re-located at Bloodwood.  Someone has told us of a little known place with a turtle rookery. We turn off 2km North of Yardie Homestead down a dirt track through the dunes.  Park and walk over the last lot of dunes.  Over 50 turtles are swimming near the shore and we sit on one of the high dunes observing them.  A magnificent spot and ours are the only footprints around.  Back to the van for tea but return to the beach with torches just before 8.00pm.  Two of the turtles are making nests in the sandbank.  They look enormous and it’s an incredible sight.
Thursday 30 September  Strolling along the beach at 7.00am we notice the tide has been in and washed away the turtle tracks and all signs of the nests.   Drive to the Naval Base for a fix of ten pin bowling.  $11 (£5) for 3 games inc shoe hire.  Very basic lanes where you write your own scores down.  Steve 177,180,190 and I get 103,136,167.  Pick up mail and E-mail in Exmouth, shop then return to the caravan park.  The local Chinese restaurant do a Thursday night special all you can eat for $15 (£6.50).  We enjoy traditional Chinese food and special seafood.

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