Friday, 29 August 2014


"It is what it is." I hate this saying but when I think of Broome and what it's like, this statement just rolls off the tongue. I should point out at this stage that I quite liked Broome, a town situated on a pretty beach making the most of the Winter Nomads and dirty, malnourished travellers coming down off their Gibb River Road highs.

Cable Beach- Broome's main natural attraction.

We arrived at the Broome Caravan Park (perhaps the least desirable of all the places to stay, being 5kms out of town) at 5pm and got the last (unpowered) site in this large camp. We had been warned that during school holidays Broome would be full to the brim and it was. I thought they were joking when the receptionist said a tree needed to be moved for us to fit, but we followed the caretaker on his bike down to our site, Corona on one handlebar and chainsaw on the other. Tree gone, we set about trying to beat some of the Kimberley dust off our camper  before the threatening clouds opened and it rained. Great lumps of blood red dirt fell on the ground around us, and when I finally stepped into the hottest, longest shower in the world, I dropped my filthy t-shirt into the bin on the way out, another victim of our GRR Odyssey.

Anyway, it did rain. Not enough to send us all indoors and curse theweather gods, but enough to realise that we hadn't felt the touch of it on our skin for months. During the night though it bucketed and we thanked our lucky travel stars we'd avoided driving out of the Kimberley in the mud.

Caesar's best Hasselhoff impersonation.

So Broome. It's full of backpackers, grey nomads escaping the winter chill and backpackers waiting on the Grey Nomads and everyone else. We used our few nights at the Broome Caravan Park mainly to go to Bunnings and fix the multitude of bits and pieces broken on our car and camper before heading up to Quandong Point and Cape Leveque. Luckily we were camped next to an electrician on one side and Antony, an electro-mechanical engineer on the other. Making the most of his redundancy, Antony had bought a brand new Jayco Swan, a brand new Prado and was into the first week of 12 months travelling around Australia with his young family. They had been looking at us quite nervously,  taking in the dirt and our wild eyed GRR expressions, looking back at their very white, very new rig- a baptism of fire awaited them with the Gibb being their  very next destination. So with the expertise and wonderful help of these two, Fiela managed to solve the Waeco fridge draining our batteries problem, the driver's light being held in with spit and the camper's fridge which had been churning out inordinate amounts of heat, melting the plastic vent on the outside... And those were just the electrical issues.

Our position for the 'Staircase to the Moon' before it all got a bit crazy.

We spent one evening attempting to experience an 'amazing natural phenomenon', occurring only a few nights a month, the "Staircase to the  Moon". Fiela loved it- the rising full moon reflecting over mudflats to form a 'staircase' of light. I too might have been blown away, but lost motivation somehwere between the crowds and idiots trying to take photos of the moon with their flash on. We had chosen the most popular spot to view it, and had we moved 300 metres to the south would have had an unimpeded and significantly more majestic viewing. We had also been duly warned by our Broome Insiders, Charlotta and Paul, that the best place to view the staircase thing was from the pub, but you had to book your table in advance. We'll be doing that next time. Our month in the Kimberley had clearly given us a distaste for crowds: a complete turnaround from our first months on the road, where we bemoaned the long awaited start to the tourist season.

Testing... a boat with its lights on.
The moon has not yet risen but the flashes were going off as was my temper.
Dodgy 'Staircase' picture.
We went up the Cape Leveque Road for a week(that's a whole other story) and then came back to Broome and stayed at the Cable Beach Caravan Park, again getting the last spot. This park differed to the first, in that it was within walking distance to beautiful Cable Beach and the Winter Nomads were the clear majority. We had a great big site, hemmed in by Nomads spending the cold months in warmer climes on either side. In typical fashion, they ignored us until the last day, when on packing up and on a tight timeframe, they decided that right now was a fantastic time to find out where we'd come from, where we were going, what we thought of the Glasgow Games (what games???), our political leanings and whether Collingwood was going to turn it around this year etc etc. This has happened to us time and again. Are people stupid or just socially inept? Or are they safe in the knowledge that we are leaving so there's no harm in letting us into their Nomad World? Either way, the Nomads had made this place Theirs in a way I had not witnessed before, but I would again and again on our way further down the Western Australian Coast.

Stunning Cable Beach.

What was I saying? Oh yes, Cable Beach. We had met some locals who had panned Zanders, a restaurant right on the top of the dune looking out over the bay. Great views but terrible food apparently. We ate there three times and despite the hit and miss service from a swarm of backpacking waiters, it was great. We had lovely food, great drinks and watched the water glisten and tourists burn under the WA sun.

Thanks Uncle Tony- you've saved the Zanders day yet again with your cartoon downloading expertise!

We also checked out Matso's a brewery with mango beer as its signature drink. Sorry to say, beer and fruit have never really got along, this being a further example proving that point. The lime and apple cider was nice but at $20 a six pack not nice enough, the food overpriced and the service haphazard but it was lovely to be tourists and have our wallets cheerfully pillaged.

Tasting the brews at Matso's.

Probably the best outing was a sundowner expedition to Gantheaume Point at the southern tip of Cable Beach. We watched the sun go down and marvelled at nature's flourescent light show, glad this particular spectacle had not been given a natty name and been outrageously commercialised.

Broome has a very chequered past involving a cut throat pearling industry, brothels, opium dens and countless destructive  cyclones. Government housing in the town itself lends a dilapidated and even squalid air alongside slick resorts and shamelessly touristy shops selling Indonesian sarongs. Out in the suburbs there are neat rows of houses (not one rain gutter among the corrugated roofing- in the wet season it is WET!), an indicator that life goes on when the weather gets into the unrelenting 40s and all the tourists head for home or the next Nomad/backpacker wonder spot.  Broome is a big lady wearing a bright dress, giving an amazing smile which she charges you exorbitantly for. It is what it is- a tourist town on a pretty beach, and we loved it!

Loving the beach and winter weather in Broome.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

Yet another corrugated dusty road led us off the Gibb River Road to Windjana Gorge. Everyone raves about this and Tunnel Creek as being unforgettable experiences. Whatever, I thought as we rattled and bumped, all I could see at this stage was the microcosm of our car, a petrie dish of dirt, dust and foul human mess everywhere.

Tunnel Creek photo opportunity. Love a well placed Boab tree.

But of course, the Windjana Range popped up all beautiful and stunning, unlike anything we'd seen in the Kimberley so far; its moody, sinister walls admonishing me from above. This rock formation is prehistoric ocean reef, left high and dry millions of years ago by continental shifts, namely that of Australia's movement up out of primeval swamp water. In the full midday sun the tall walls were black, completely out of character in the usual colour palate of the Kimberley.

The entrance into Tunnel Creek.

We picked our site in the camping moshpit of Windjana, led into a false sense of space and peace by the time, 12 pm, and drove down to Tunnel Creek, home of Jandamarra's last stand. Jandamarra was an Aboriginal figure of the 'take no white man shit' ilk in the late 1800s who made this geographical phenomena his hide out for years. It is, as the name suggests,  a tunnel with a creek running through it. The tunnel is only a kilometre or so long; you must walk along and through the creek to get to the other side, and you must have a good torch or headlamp as it's pretty dark in there. It is at this point we realised none of our headlamps emit more than the slightest illumination - a firefly attached to a piece of string would have been more effective. Luckily we were far from alone in a big dark cave and other intrepid and prepared walkers were always at hand, if a little hard to keep up with. People walk so much faster when an Uyshuis is breathing down their neck.

Halfway through the tunnel opens up to the cliff walls above before closing a around you again.

Looking out to the back door of Tunnel Creek.
Peaceful scenes. Aboriginal rock art adorned these gorge walls.

Again, it's not all beer and skittles. Caesar yet again proving impeccable in the poo timing stakes.

Meanwhile,  back at Windjana, our idea that we were exceedingly clever by avoiding the usual crowds and setting up camp early in the normally not so crowded generator area was blown apart. Not only were we hemmed in on all sides by campers, but a d*!k with a generator was right next door and clearly having a princess style meltdown that his microwave wasn't working, running his generator from 8am to 8pm. Seriously,  applause erupted over the campground when he finally turned it off that night. Yeah I know that technically generators are allowed, but still, nothing is more annoying than another person's petrol motor going all night.

Packed in at the Windjana campground.

After a cosy fireside chat with some fellow travellers  (from Mullumbimby no less!), we ate steak cooked over the fire, opened the last bottle of wine -a shiraz lucky us - and toasted to our last night on the Gibb. Guzzle guzzle.

The black outer walls of Windjana Gorge.

Heading into Windjana.

We walked into Windjana Gorge the next morning after packing up. The outside walls were impressive enough, but as you walk through a natural stone archway,  the prehistoric vibe is increased tenfold by the scores of crocodiles basking on the shores of the gorge. Amazingly, we were shooshed as we approached; some serious looking walkers took offence to our procreative products and their voice boxes. When Marguerite asked why we needed to be quiet (surely crocodiles weren't super bothered by people standing a couple of hundred metres away?) I replied, quite loudly and fairly pointedly, that I had no idea.

No swimming. There were scores of crocodiles, all freshwater, but the photos of crocodile bites on human legs at the information board back at the start would surely put even the greatest animal enthusiast off a swim.

Fossils were imbedded in the walls.

The crocodiles did all slide into the water, disturbed by a pair if crazy kayakers, and we had a good laugh at the shooshers,  impotently enraged over on the bank. (These two made a repeat hissy fit performance later in the walk, but one shoosh anecdote is probably enough).


Harassed crocodile.

Anyway, the gorge is pretty amazing and quite eery- I suppose that if there was a scene requiring a semi arid landscape involving crocodiles in "The Lord of the Rings", this is where it would have been shot.

Inside Windjana Gorge.

Spectacular Windjana.

I was glad we had made the detour here, but I  admit there was a definite spring in my step when we walked back to the car. An hour later we hit the bitumen. Aaaaah. It was like an apres ski hot spa, a cold beer on a hot day, taking uncomfortable shoes off at the end of the night, sitting down on the couch after working all day, your mum's best stew on a cold winter's night..... All. At. The. Same. Time. I've said again and again that the Gibb River Road is an amazing experience, and that the Kimberley is a magical and deeply iconic place. It's a bucket list kind of trip and I feel deeply privileged to have experienced such beautiful country. We'll come back again, but not for quite a few years, long enough for the dirt, dust, broken car and camper parts and continuous rattling of bones and machinery  to have crossed over into that wonderful realm of amusing travel stories ending with "... but it was wonderful."

The end of the Gibb River Road- dirty car pic #1

Dirty Car Pic #2

We sighed all the way into Derby thinking we would hook up with a tour of the Horizontal Falls, and whilst we were prepared to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to do so, apparently  Caesar was too young for the trip in any case. So onward we marched; Broome Ho!

Dirty Car Pic #3

Friday, 22 August 2014

Bells Gorge

A typical Kimberley scene.
So I think at this point of the trip I've mentioned I was over the Gibb River Road. Whilst it is an absolutely wonderful and beautiful adventure, we'd been bouncing our way through swathes of red dust for three weeks and with all the injuries we'd sustained to our rig and ourselves (Fiela looked like he'd been in a fist fight with his toes, every one had a scab on it. And Marguerite looked like a pauper with scrapes and bruises all over her-the hazards of completing a gorge walk every day), I was done. I think our time at Charnley River, whilst peaceful and rejuvenating, had made it clear that this love affair with the GRR was turning sour.

Bells Gorge, busy even at 5pm.

So when we were met at the Silent Grove National Park campground by an overly officious volunteer,  needless to say I was unimpressed. But we set up in the busy campground and headed down the road for another walk. Ho hum.

Bells Gorge in the late afternoon.

Bells Gorge is beautiful, even the walk in is lovely with just enough hard bits to make you want to have a swim when you get to the end. Marguerite had clearly picked up on my funky vibe; forgetting her hat she had to wear one of Fiela's and complained she looked like a boy for about 15 minutes non-stop. She forget she's not really supposed to walk through water with her shoes on and so just strolled straight through one of the creeks. A gust of wind blew her hat off into the murkiest bit of the creek which I rescued after lots of quiet but forceful swearing and "oh yuck"s. She walked bare foot and head the rest of the way (and of course stubbed her toe spectacularly on the way back).

Bells Gorge.

So what was I saying? Oh yes, the gorge was lovely but far from child friendly, with smooth, steep rocks beckoning young bottoms to ride them over the cliffs and into the water below. We had  a quick swim, marvelled at the bits of plastic and food left lying around from a days hard work of being a tourist attraction, and walked back out in the afternoon light.

Finding a place to rest amongst smooth stones and cliffs.

I took a few quick photos from the top while Fiela trudged on with the kids and even now I can clearly see the beauty of Bells Gorge in the after glow of a glorious Kimberley day. The reds and faded greens were perfect, even a heron came to feed on the waterfall with no pesky tourists around to frighten it. And I could also see my mood for what it was- I was finished with the Gibb River Road. I would not be walking to any more gorges, no matter how great the swimming hole was supposed to be. I would not be taking another detour, I could not pay for another night's accommodation for the sake of a lukewarm shower. I love you Gibb, but we need some time apart.


This was completely solidified when, through the smoke of everyone's campfire, the  cold of the shower and the noise of a full campground, I almost cried with relief when Fiela and I realised we only had enough cash for one night's stay at Windjana Gorge National Park and would have to head to Derby (civilisation) the day after. Two more sleeps!? Yes, I could stomach that.

Yes alright it is an incredibly impressive waterfall and gorge.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Charnley River Station

I chanced upon a brochure in the Barnett River Roadhouse which espoused the wonders of Charnley River Station, a place of hot showers, home cooked meals and secret gorges off the main tourist route. Once I'd cross referenced  a few different maps, (Lonely Planet and Camps7), we realised it was the sister site to Mornington, a conservation park off the Gibb River Road which was a bit of a mission to get to, but apparently amazing. Fiela and I had discussed taking the 2+ hours to drive the 100kms down to the ritzy campgound, even thought about getting up at crackers to see whether we could get a spot (you have to radio down to Mornington Wilderness Camp and see whether they have any availability from 7.30am. Some people we know got there at 8.30am, and nothing, others sauntered up hours later and got a spot), but that lasted a few seconds and we both put it in the too hard basket. Going up to Charnley, also a conservation area, would be the next best option.

Lillie Pool, one of the lovely spots at Charnley.
Westward bound, we turned off the Gibb and up the private road to Charnley River Station, about 50kms. The road was OK, just more dust and corrugations and suddenly I had a bit of a moment. What if  this was just another dust bowl with limited facilities, packed to the brim with fellow campers like a few of our previous GRR forays. Fiela echoed my thoughts seconds later- we really needed this to be lovely and peaceful.

And there out of our gloom shone Lorrie and Chicko, caretakers of Charnley and the most hospitable people I think I've ever met. Lorrie gave us an informative talk on the facilities,  the nearby gorges and the role of the conservation park. The sites were grassy, the hot water powered by gas (heavenly!) and the water lovely. I had washing? Sure bring it up, you can do it in my washing machine. Need some milk? I've got a bit I can lend you. Electrical problems with your fridge? We can have a look for you. No time to hang out that washing? No probs, I'll hang it out  on my line if you want.

The amazing Lorrie and Marguerite.

I actually feared for these people, and mentioned to Lorrie she'd burn herself out with these 15 minute info sessions for every incoming camper and the rest. But she assured me that she'd only be talking nonstop for the next 9 weeks or so, and then she'd only have Chicko to talk to for a few months while they were stranded in the Wet Season! And of course, I hung out my own washing.

So we found a spot amongst the trees, set up and for the first time in ages had a beer with our sandwiches over lunch. There is a peacefulness here that we hadn't had since the Mango Farm, and it was like a salve on our weary and dusty traveller bones.

More Lillie Pool.

We spent one day looking at the nearby gorges and another full day of doing nothing but haircuts and a few repairs, surrounded by corellas, goannas and little else. I came to the conclusion that I was indeed gorge-fatigued. We only had three gorge walks to go before we exited the Gibb and headed on bitumen (biggest sigh ever) to Derby and then Broome. I suggested to my driver that we just give the rest of the GRR a miss and head for the cafes and electricity of Broome, but he said no. The next three were supposedly the most spectacular and we would not just be "giving it a miss" because the lady of the camper was tired of the dust and things continuously falling apart or off. Thus I enjoyed our last day at Charnley completely uninterested in our next leg of the Gibb (Schmibb), but with less hair to wash. There's always a silver lining isn't there?

Grevillea Gorge.

At the bottom of Grevillea.

About to have a swim, followed very quickly by an intense icecream headache.

Looking down into Grevillea.

Kimberley sunsets, a great place for a poo according to our children. Worst. Timing. Ever.

Home Haircuts.

That's not a grimace, turns out Marguerite LOVES getting her hair cut.

Stoked with her haircut (which also means all the dreadlocks are gone).

Can you believe people trust this man with a surgical knife?

The mop.

Looking attractive. Oh yes, the Gibb has been working its charms on me in spade fulls.

Movie, icecream, toys... 

And Caesar still cracked it- not a fan of haircuts. Take note of the end result on Fiela's Home Haircut Head.

A typical travel scene- red open roads.