50Km down the dirt road was Tunnel Creek which is a picturesque cave with a river running through it. As it was fairly dry we could wade through the river complete with bats, fish, freshwater crustaceans and lizards. In the evening we made it back to a tarmac road and headed towards the famous Bungle Bungles (Purnululu). This was were we had our first major near miss with animals on the road. A cow this time rather than a roo. We’ve seen lots of roos hanging around by the roadside but they haven’t jumped in front of us yet. This cow was clearly fed up with life and it took a severe swerve and floored brake to avoid him. Australia - too lazy to build fences. On Tuesday we reached the 50Km dirt road that leads to the Bungles. There was a warning sign that said we’d have to do some river crossings but they should only be 50cm deep at most. What a lie this was! The first one we sank into so deep that the water filled up the head lights. Amazingly the engine handled it ok and got us through with a bit of sputtering on the other side until it dried out. Changing to a points distributor clearly paid off there. Another 50Km of corrugations, steep hills with creeks at the bottom and blind corners and we were in an offroad heaven as the huge buildup of mud on the Landy testified. Eventually we made it in to the national park and headed down to do the Cathedral Gorge walk. I’m not going to bother with a wordy description of the Bungles. The photos will do that better than I can but suffice to say they are worth the trip and are easily the best thing in Western Australia. We camped in the park and the next morning signed up for a helicopter ride over some areas of the park that are restricted to walkers. I wasn’t so keen when I saw that the chopper was tiny and had no doors but once we were up it was pure quality. Afterwards we did the Echinda Chasm walk which was good but not on a par with the Cathedral Gorge. Then it was back on the dirt road out and heading north until we crossed the border into the Northern Territory. On the way up to Darwin we started to see our first cane toads but nowhere near as many as we expected to see. We passed through the small town of Adelaide River which has the water buffalo from Crocodile Dundee stuffed in a bar but more interesting is the massive croc they have stuffed outside. We reached Darwin late in the night and parked down by the shore after a quick scout of the town. Of course we got woken by the council the next morning saying we couldn’t camp there but the obvious fact that we already had was clearly lost on them. Darwin was a nice city but an unwelcome return to the tropical climate for us. It has a lot more life than Perth though and good bars with cheerful punters so we spent Friday exploring it. On Saturday we drove into Kakadu national park and signed up for a tour of the Ranger Uranium Mine. It was a much smaller-scale operation than I expected but informative although they did gloss over what they were going to do with the tailings after they’d mined all the uranium. Afterwards we went to look at some Aboriginal rock art. It was pretty rum to look at but is interesting for the sheer age of some of it (20,000 years). Luckily the park rangers are too lazy to work weekends and we got to camp for free. It was here that our erstwhile companion Mr Clayton discovered the joy of tropical areas - mosquitos. Waking up with over 100 bites all over his body and with the best impression of a baboons bottom that I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness provided me and Richard (who take elaborate precautions with mossies) with great amusement and the victim with a lesson he won’t forget anytime soon. On Sunday we took a boat cruise down the Yellow river and spotted alot of birds - darters, Jacana (Jesus bird), herons and the massive Jabiru. We headed out a dirt track to see a scenic water spot in the evening but the corrugations were so bad that they shook a wire loose from the keyswitch and left us motionless beside a bush fire that the rangers had just started. After a hour sweating behind the dashboard (Landrover keyswitch is in a really awkward position to reach) I had it fixed but was in no mood to drive any more corrugated roads so we slung hook and started the long, long drive through the Northern Territory.
Having reached Carnavon we decided it would be a good time to register the car. We had to get an MOT equivalent done which the old beast passed with flying colours (not much safer than a car that doesnft start reliably). Then we had to pay the paltry 10 quid to insure it until July. Hardly worth while but itfll keep the coppers off our backs.
Afterwards, we blasted up to Coral bay. This litte collection of shops is based on a nice beach and close to the Ningaloo Reef which regularly attractes the worlds largest fish (stupidly named the Whale Shark of which it is neither). The lads spent the next two days futilely going on boat tours to see one of the beasties but to no avail. There were none. Are they as regular as the aussie tourist info claims. Undoubtably not and you canft get a refund for a no show either. They did see a large manta ray and the sad, dying state of Ningaloo reef though. Angry? I reckon so. The reef is apparently brown and dead with a paltry number of fish. The tour operators claim its because of El Nino heating the waters up. The literature Ifve read suggests its more likely to do with the massive soil erosion caused by Australiafs farming and irrigation practices which wash huge amounts of the already sparse topsoil into the water, thereby increasing its turbidity and killing the reef. But hey, its easier to blame the weather isnft it?
In short, Coral Bay was a failure so we blazed up to Karratha. It was just a petrol stop but we took a small detour to see some aboriginal rock carvings nearby. Well, wefre not sure if we actually saw them or not because all we saw were some vague scratchings in some rocks instead of the hundreds of distinct carvings the tourist literature told us to expect. Wefre fast coming to the conclusion that Australia will promote any crap as an amazing site. This is shown by the large number of brown signs on the roads that direct you to such exciting things as a former sheep shearing site a whole 100 years old (I jest not) and truly terrible monuments to events that are of such vanishingly small significance to anyone that I fail to remember a single one to use as an example of how rum they are. But trust me, they are rum - one was a metal fench section 60 cm long. Donft believe me? Herefs a sample - the stunning Beef Road monument: http://www.ipe.nt.gov.au/whatwedo/ntroads/restareas/victoria/duncanhwy.html
Many miles and hours behind the wheel later, we reached Port Hedland and motored on to Broome. This town also has an over-inflated reputation. The beach is lovely and there is a micro-brewery with some decent brews (first one Ifve found Tucks) but there isnft alot else. 99% of the tourist here are elderly couples out for a day at the seaside. On the plus side, we were starting to see groups of Aboriginal people in the shops and pubs and being treated like normal people instead of second class citizens. This situation improves the nearer you get to the Northern Territory and the further from South Western Australia.
By Sunday we had reached Derby, the gateway to the famous Kimberly region. A long drive done a dusty outback road brought us to Wingjara gorge. This is part of a former coral reef that existed 350 million years ago and now consists of towering limestone cliffs packed with fossils, that have been eroded into gorges by rivers now that the ocean has receeded. Its a visually stunning area and well deserves its reputation as an area of outstanding natural beauty. Walking along the gorge we saw quite a few crocodiles but they were freshwater beasts and therefore not dangerous unless provoked. Allegedly. We camped up here and got ready to tour more of the Kimberlys over the coming days.
The distributor took some setting up as it was an old second hand job but by Wednesday morning we had it running. It has to be tuned every morning though as the contact gap wanders while driving so its not a long-term solution but it will get us around to the east coast.
We hit the road and drove up north to Cervantes. It is just a small village which we didn’t spend much time in but nearby are the Pinnacles - a large field of strange limestone pillars that protude out of the desert near the coast. I wasn’t expecting much from this place but was pleasantly surprised - it has an eerie feeling about it. Afterwards, we had a look at some stromatalites in the area. They’re not much to look at but are interesting for what they represent (living microbes which are almost identical to organisms which existed 2000 million years ago and formed the basis for modern lifeforms).
After some unsucessful fishing attempts along the coast, the road north brought us to Geraldton which is a sizeable town. Here we came across our first free gas barbeque. They have them at parking sites near the beach along with toilets and showers. Luxury.
On Friday morning we did the Geraldton lobster factory tour which was not bad for 5 dollars. Then it was a long and dusty drive out an outback road to another country. Yep, another country that I never even knew existed (neither did you so don’t say you did you lying feckers). The “Hutt River Principality” is legally another country seceded from the Commonwealth of Australia under a hastily closed legal loophole in 1970. The place is gimmicky but quite cool. It’s basically a farmhouse, a postoffice and souveniour shop. The Prince (Leonard Casley) showed us around and stamped our passports and is an all-round cool chap. He declared the place independant after an argument with the Australian government over wheat quotas. He takes great delight in how much they dislike his existance and endeavours to send representatives to international meetings to goad them. Quality.
Afterwards, we headed to Kalbarri where we found another great site, with BBQ etc. These are going to be alot of help on this trip and definately an improvement from parking in fields and truck stops. We also caught our first fish here but it was only a small blowfish. Still, progress.
On Saturday we drove up to Denham in the Shark Bay area. There’s not much here except clear waters and desert country. We stopped off at some scenic gorge sites but they weren’t that exciting. The next day we headed to the famous Monkey Mia, where friendly dolphins come onto the beach (the free fish they’re given isn’t the only reason - its cos they’re friendly right?). The two Rs went on a boat trip to see the sealife (of which they saw very little excpet a loggerhead turtle) while I sat typing this before we headed further north to Carnavon.
We’ve been here long enough to talk a bit about the culture now so brace yourself. The Australians we’ve met have generaly been very friendly and professional in their work. They are easy-going and happy to help you out. Petrol is cheap. Everything is spotlessly clean and well maintained and the free gas barbeques in the towns and along the highways are pure genius. The reputation the place has for being upside down is true in some instances though. For instance, the beer is expensive and crap, but the wine is cheap and very good. Everything closes at 5.30 even in the city centre. People who are perfectly friendly during the day can become aggressive buffoons when they’ve had a beer in the evening. And everyone still thinks sarcasm is really funny. As for the attitude to aboriginals - mainly the people who bring the subject are the racists so it can quickly give you the impression that racism is endemic in the culture which is not the case. The younger people we’ve met have been well informed about aboriginal issues.
We phoned quarantine on Monday to see what the progress was only to be informed that they weren’t going to look at it because it was raining. This is a valid reason apparently though no explanation as to why you couldn’t clean a car in the rain was forthcoming. The rest of the week was spent sitting in the hostel reading, watching crap tv and indulging in rants against quarantine. By friday they’d “cleaned it” so we went down to pick it up. It was in fact dirtier than when they’d got it because they’d cleaned something else beside it and splattered it with mud (thereby revealing the joke of what they do). They’d also taken everything out and not put it in again and charged us for 4 hours cleaning (3 and 1/2 hours sitting saying it looks like rain and 1/2 an hour cleaning more like). Oh, and the ignition module was busted again. The air would have turned purple with language had I been able to speak past the red cloud of rage engulfing me. We had no choice though but to get it out of there so I went to get another ignition module knowing full well that it was doomed to self-destruct. There was something causing the problem but we hadn’t the time to find out what it was. Unsurprisingly, the module denoted the next morning so we got towed (by a kind passerby) to an auto-electrian to see what could be done. After discussing options we decided to change to an old contact points distributor as it had no electronics to be destroyed by our hooligan voltages. Dwyer