From Port Hedland we headed up along the coast, it was a very dark and dreary day so we just headed straight to Broome. In Broome the weather improved and it got hotter and more humid. In addition to the heat and humidity the change in plant life and architecture heralded the arrival of the tropics. The coconut palms and lush vegetation as well as the houses made of wood, many of which were raised above the ground for additional cooling, left no doubt that we had reached the tropics.
Broome has become a tourist mecca with all the usual trappings. The origins of the town stem from the pearl and mother of pearl trade, evidence of which abound around town, including a Japanese cemetery which draws tourist to the graves of the early pearl divers. The real gem of Broome though is Cable beach. It is a really beautiful long wide flat expanse of sand with gently lapping waves to cool the masses. The beach is so large that no matter how crowded it is really pretty empty. One of the tourist attractions was camel rides at dusk along the beach. Speaking of camel rides a few days ago I read in Newsweek that a city council woman in Broome has proposed that the camels be outfitted with tail lights so that they can be easily seen in the twilight coming or going to the beach!
One of the "must" things to do in Broome consisted of going to the movies. There is a very old open air movie theater in Broome, called Sun Pictures (opened 1916), which shows latest releases (and nearly latest). One night we went to see Jumanji with Robin Williams, 10 minutes into the movie a plane flew overhead and landed at the airport a few miles away. Everyone jumped in their seats because it flew right over our heads only a hundred meters or so above us. For the next half hour all I could smell were the exhaust fumes. Nevertheless it was a lot of fun watching movies under the moon and stars, with the only down side being we didn't bring mosquito spray the first night, but we sure did the second.
We received the important parts parcel that we had been awaiting and spent a couple of days mounting a new shock and changing oil and filters. The day we had planned to leave, Cecilia's bike had a slight problem which delayed us an additional day. The oil return hose from the oil cooler had sprung a leak and had to be replaced. This gave us another chance to go to the movies. The show tonight was Dead Man, very interesting movie made even more so by the locale. Black and white and this theater go very well together, specially since we weren't interrupted by planes.
From Broome we headed to Derby where we spent the night and stocked up with a few essentials before "going bush" as they say. The night in Derby will always be remembered for the ants we encountered in the campground. We should have known that something special was up when we received a sheet of paper warning us of problems with ants. They recommended that we use talcum powder or ant spray and spray around the tent and around our vehicles. We were a bit skeptical and figured it couldn't be that bad. Never mind that all the other campsites had talcum powder around the tents and vehicles. We chose not to do anything.
That night we awoke to ants crawling all over us in the tent, ugh. That is a feeling you do not want to experience. Since we have strict rules never to have or eat food in the tent we thought that we wouldn't have any problems. Unfortunately we had forgotten about all the mosquitoes and flies we had killed inside the tent, and although we shake the tent out every time we pack it away, a lot of these dead insects had gotten collected in the corners of the tent. To get to them the ants had simply eaten through the tent material and waltzed right in. There were lines of ants going from each corner of our tent to the other, with a lot of stray ants climbing around and over us. We got up and Cecilia went to the bike to get a can of Backwoods Off, which was all that we had even remotely resembling bug spray, while I played lord high executioner to our uninvited guests. Cecilia, on opening the bike box found that ants were setting up a permanent camp in our food supplies. Since we don't keep any food in the tent, it is all kept in our bike boxes. The boxes are watertight, dust and bear proof, unfortunately the ants weren't impressed one bit. They were having a lovely picnic on our bread and eggs.
Getting the spray, she sprayed around the outside of the tent and around the bikes until she ran out. The rest of the night we slept fitfully and although the amount of ants diminished there were still quite a few around. In the morning I was to find a neat little row with 6 holes in the tent with a number of other holes at strategic points, wonderful. Our breakfast had to be thrown out. Even after shaking the bread (what was left of it) there were ants crawling out of it everywhere. The eggs faired even worse, hard boiled eggs had been invaded through small hairline cracks and when we opened the egg, fully a quarter of the eggs was gone. Really incredible, we have never seen ants this aggressive.
From Derby we planned to cross the Gibb River road which goes through the King Leopold Ranges and the Kimberlies before coming out near Kununurra and Wyndham. This was going to be over 800km of dirt, gravel and sand as we had determined beforehand, and we were apprehensive about what it really would be like. It is always difficult to ascertain road conditions from third persons. What may be simple for them can easily turn out to be a nightmare for us. Well we had gotten a bunch of differing opinions which left us with only one real alternative and that was to go and see for ourselves.
The first day we decided to try for Windjana Gorge national park which looked like a good place to camp. We had no problem with the main road, it being a fairly well maintained dirt road, but from the turn off the road got markedly rougher and although it wasn't difficult required a us to travel a little slower. The park turned out to be a gorge carved through fossilized coral with walls going 90 meters straight up. The campground is situated near the entrance to the gorge and the sheer walls of the plateau rising from the flat countryside were very impressive, specially with he moon rising over the reddened peaks at dusk. Before doing the gorge walk and seeing the fresh water crocodiles which were supposed to be there we headed to a nearby park called Tunnel Creek which has a tunnel cut by a creek through a mountain which you could wade through, this sounded very interesting.
Tunnel Creek was just what it was billed to be, a creek running through a mountain. The walk is 750 meters long and very cold and dark. When we were there the water level was pretty low so we didn't have to swim (unless you chose to go through the deepest part). Most of the hike consisted of finding the shallowest part through the various pools in the tunnel. In the middle of the tunnel the roof had collapsed so you could take a break in sunlight before going through to the other side. We had hoped to see some freshies (fresh water crocs) which were supposed to be here but we didn't find any. The freshies (Crocodylus johnstoni) are fairly small rarely over 3 meters and are not harmful to humans, (it says so in the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia) unless provoked of course. The salties or saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) on the other hand are larger and are definitely dangerous. Once we reached the other side we took a little break and got warmed up before returning the same way we came. Of course by this time we were down to one flashlight (I forgot to check the batteries) and so we gingerly retraced our steps following close to one another.
Walking through Windjana gorge the next day was a bit disappointing, we had looked forward to something similar to the Karijini gorges and this turned out to be much less spectacular. It did however start very impressively because we saw our first freshies. Only a couple but they very interesting because you are standing only a few meters away from a wild animal and there is no fence or other enclosure to keep him away from you should he choose to have a little snack. The walk was unspectacular in that it was wide, flat, sandy and for us anyway not all that scenic. We have seen a lot of sandstone cliffs with interesting formations etc., but the exercise was good. On the way our there were literally a hundred freshies both on the banks of the river and in the water. We got within 2 meters or so and took some pictures, without taking our eyes off them. They seemed to be eyeing us wearily but showed no interest what so ever, and we didn't provoke them.
After spending two days at the park we continued on the Gibb River road. The road was for the most part quite good (for us) and we made good progress. The area we were passing through was very impressive. We enjoyed the vistas as we rode over and around the King Leopold ranges. The area was pretty arid but not as bad as the coast north of Perth and we rode through both empty flat cattle ranges and eucalyptus forests. Once through the ranges we entered mostly flat cattle country.
When we reached the Kalumbaru road which heads up to the Mitchell plateau we decided to give it a try. As soon as we started on this road though the conditions deteriorated markedly. We were now riding through mostly fine chalk like sand (bulldust) and after 14km of this we turned around and pitched camp on the Gibb river at the junction of the Gibb River road and the Kalumbaru road. We were exhausted. The bulldust takes a lot of energy to ride through, not to mention picking up the bike after a crash. Luckily the bikes were built to take the punishment and nothing broke. (The sand isn't all bad, it also cushioned your fall). After pitching the tent we took a cool dip in the Gibb River. If it hadn't been for some other campers already in the water I don't think I would have dared it. At most of the river crossings you are warned not to go swimming due to the danger of Salties, which are very prevalent in this region. The kids swimming had been there all day and said there weren't any crocs in this water hole, we also didn't see any signs, so in we went.
We continued along the Gibb River road, whose conditioned continued to worsen, although not never quite as bad as the Kalumburu road. For us a road is bad when it has sand, bulldust, or mud, anything else is usually tolerable. The road now consisted of long and sometime deep bulldust and sand patches. As a friend of mine would say, "no fun at all". In addition we were now having to cross numerous creeks and streams, some of which had lots of large stones hidden in the murky water. Water crossings though were a respite from he dust and sand, although our boots remained wet for the rest of the day.
We took a break and wanted to fill our petrol tanks at a place called Jacks waterhole, which according to our maps had both petrol and diesel. Much to our dismay they had no fuel for us and the next place where we could get fuel was 110 km ahead or 60 km back. We had enough to go approximately 80 km, no problem going back but not enough to go forward, and the stretch we had just mastered had been the worst so far. One thing to keep in mind is also that there is also the possibility that either place would have none. Luckily after scrounging around we found someone who was willing to sell us 20 liters of fuel for an outrageous price of A$1.20 a liter. Beggars can't be choosers and it would still be cheaper than having to go back and get fuel. Not to mention that the fuel up here costs at least A$1.05 a liter.
We continued and headed for El Questro station on a road that continued to be difficult, though not impassable. We reached this huge station (as ranches are called in the outback) which as well as being a working station, had both camping and first class accommodations for tourist, . They offered a lot of tours and sights but everything cost too much for our tastes so we spent the night and continued on.
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