When it rains it pours…

Our luck with weather was about to change.

Until arriving in Victoria the worst weather we had experienced was cold nights and wind. We had that one experience with rain at Nanga Bay but other than that, the cold wind was all that had troubled us. I should have known that travelling closer to Victoria and Tasmania would see the weather gods turn against us.

Just before crossing the border into Victoria we drove through the Hallett Wind Farm area. Producing enough power to supply 200,000 households, the 167 giant wind turbines that make up the Hallett Wind Farm are truly a spectacular sight – I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Spread out over a series of hills in the area around the town of Hallett, I was struck by the beauty of the wind farm. We couldn’t get close enough to hear them turning but they appeared as majestic tributes to modern energy production. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see all the stone ruins in the area around the wind farm. This area was once a large rail area with the town of Peterborough being the hub of stream trains transporting goods from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. Apparently 100 or more trains would pass through Peterborough each day and the surrounding area was built up to support the rail workers. They lived in stone buildings and the ruins of all these buildings now litter the surrounding fields. Seeing these ruins in front of the giant wind turbines was quite a sight.

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Stone ruins in front of turbines – the old and the new
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One of the many hills of turbines near Hallett

We crossed the border and reached Mildura, our first ‘eastern’ destination. We were spending two nights in Mildura, two nights in Echuca and two nights in Ballarat, essentially following the Murray River. Mildura was a shock to our system – they had traffic lights! After spending so much time away from large towns/cities it was quite strange to drive through such a large town. We saw McDonalds, BCF and the Reject Shop all in one block! 😉

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Our time in Mildura was largely to refresh our batteries after a series of one-night stops. We didn’t have any plans ahead of time as to where we wanted to go but it was nice to drive around and see what the town had to offer. We went to Lock 11 and the Mildura Weir, walking along the banks of the river. We also visited Woodsies Gem Shop which was a surprisingly pleasant little find. The Gem Shop advertised a maze and ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of gems which we were interested in seeing. A family business, Woodsies is owned by the Woods family (surprise surprise) and is situated on their own land next to their house. The original shop has expanded now to a thriving café, gem shop, maze and pay-to-enter ‘cave’ that houses their collection of semi-precious gems and related artefacts that have been collected from around Australia and the world. It really was an engaging place that kept us busy for a few hours. There were also a few humourous signs on the displays 😉

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The entrance to Lock 11 and Mildura Weir
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Walking along the Murray River
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Woodsies poking fun at their own display? (note the dead fly which is in a gem display behind a glass wall)
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Finding our way around (and out) of Woodsie’s maze
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More maze musings

Our campsite in Mildura was full of wildlife and interesting sights. Rabbits wandered the grass at night, there were fairy lights in most of the trees and the odd tree carving as well. We even had a very friendly possum visit our site – clearly he/she was used to being fed by the campers because he came right up to us and essentially demanded we feed him!

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Carved tree at our Mildura camp ground

 

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Friendly possum decided to join us for dinner

From here we travelled to Echuca, staying in the near-new Moama Waters caravan park. This park was similar in quality to the Streaky Bay caravan park given how new it was but the difference was we had an ensuite site. I haven’t seen one of these before so it was a bit of a novelty. The site was essentially a drive-through site where you park/set up next to a building that houses a toilet, vanity and shower just for your use only, accessed with a key. We used this as a space to lock our bags etc in when we went off exploring and it was great to have this little luxury right next to our camp site. The fauna visitors this time were in the shape of two ducks that just wandered through the camp site helping themselves to whatever they could find! We had to shoo them away because they seemed to take a liking to the ant powder we’d put down around the bottom of the annex poles.

The site also came with a fair deal of wind and unfortunately we came back to camp one day to find our annex had been blown down. Our neighbours had thoughtfully tied it off so that no further damage would be done but we snapped the new make-shift ridge pole that Brandon had put together back in the first weeks of our trip (after we left the original one at Bramwell Station). Thankfully we had spares of these poles so a new one was soon created 😉 But that was our first taste of the wind that would soon mar a number of future camp sites.

The main activity we planned for Echuca was a Murray River paddle steamer cruise. I remember doing one of these as a kid and I really wanted Charlotte and Brandon to enjoy the paddle steamer like I had once done. We went on the PS Emmylou and enjoyed a nice lunch on board as we cruised up and down the Murray River. At one point we went past the giant pile of wood they have cut up for the Emmylou which impressed Charlotte. She was able to see the engine working as we chugged up the river but I was disappointed to see that the paddle itself was housed behind a series of wooden slats so Charlotte wasn’t able to see that in action. There was a small window looking in to the paddle wheel but it was a little hard to see.

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PS Emmylou
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Enjoying the Murray River
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Daddy and daughter on the PS Emmylou
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Engine room – fuelled by steam, there was a giant wood fire down below this.
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Piles of wood for the PS Emmylou

Leaving Echuca we stopped at McDonalds to grab a quick breakfast. At every stop we make like this Brandon has gotten into the habit of checking our rig – going around the outside to make sure all looks OK, touching the wheel hubs to check nothing is running too hot etc. This is left over from all the corrugations we experienced in the first half of our trip and it certainly helps to avoid potential hazards to check things like this and make sure all your ropes are still tied etc. On this occasion, as Brandon was checking the hubs, he felt that one of the camper’s hubs felt extremely hot, even though we’d only been driving for 10 minutes. This wasn’t a good sign L We drove to a quiet back street that had lots of room for us to pull over and Brandon proceeded to take the entire wheel assembly apart to check the bearing. He could smell burnt grease which can sometimes be a brake issue, but as we’d only been driving for 10 minutes around the Echuca streets, it wasn’t likely to be caused by that. Without a replacement bearing kit on board, all we could do was pack in more grease and hope for the best. We drove very slowly onwards, stopping every 20 minutes or so to check the hub. Thankfully the work that Brandon did must have made a difference because we made it to Ballarat without any problems and in fact, that wheel ended up performing much better than any of the others on the car or camper! Disaster averted 😉

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Hmmm what’s wrong with this picture?
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I think there’s supposed to be a wheel in there somewhere?

When we arrived in Ballarat it was raining, cold and windy. I had decided we would try to get a cabin at the caravan park because we were only here for 2 nights and I didn’t want to pack up a wet camper to then get on the boat with. We’d also be warmer and more comfortable. Thankfully the local Big 4 had a cabin free for us to use, although we still had to use the caravan park amenities. It was a small, quiet caravan park and within walking distance to Sovereign Hill, so this only caveat wasn’t too problematic. It also helped that our cabin was directly across the road from the toilet block 😉 Once we were settled in, I looked out our window from the warm, dry cabin at the others in camper trailers who were setting up in the rain and felt rather satisfied with our decision!

Our main purpose for going to Ballarat was to see Sovereign Hill, another memory I have from my younger days travelling in this area. Sovereign Hill is like a living museum and piece of the Australian goldmining history. Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851 and within 10 years the city had grown to be an established town. You walk the streets of Sovereign Hill and soak up the history, the shops are all set up like the shops would have been in the mid 19th century. There’s a blacksmith, a wheel-maker, bakery, and metalsmith. There’s a confectioner, horse and carriage rides and you can even pan for gold in a stream of water that was what the original goldminers used back in the day. All the attractions are staffed by people in period costume who show you how people did those particular trades back in the day. There is also a tour of one of the underground gold mines where you enter and exit on a genuine mine tram that takes you down into the very dark mine. There’s also a ‘gold pour’ where molten gold is poured into a mould to make a $160,000 gold bar. As part of that demonstration and the mine tour we learnt about how the gold was separated from the quartz rock that it came from. The whole day was just fascinating and other than some tired legs by the end of the day, we all had a great time. That being said, it was a nice treat to come home to a warm cabin at the end of the grey and dreary day.

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It was a bit wet and cold in Ballarat
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A goldmine @ Sovereign Hill
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Charlotte trying her hand at using a proper fountain pen and ink in the old school building
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Charlotte trying her hand at using a proper fountain pen and ink in the old school building
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Red coats on the march
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Genuine working parts
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Pouring some valuable gold
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Making a $160,000 gold bar
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Panning for gold
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All that panning for this?

We left Ballarat on the morning of the day we were due to board the Spirit of Tasmania and cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. It was a relatively quick and easy drive to Melbourne where we caught up with a friend from Charlotte’s original parents group who had agreed to hold some of the stuff we had that we weren’t sure we’d be able to take into Tasmania (e.g. all of Brandon’s frozen fish!). Thanks Matanis family! Great to see you 🙂

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Pretty soon it was time to head to the boat in Port Melbourne. You wouldn’t believe how excited Charlotte was about the boat trip – I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this excited before! We were the first tall car on board (i.e. over 2.1m tall, park in a special area), so we were marshalled on fairly quickly (and, as it turns out, were able to get off pretty early). We had a porthole cabin with 4 bunk beds in it right under the bridge at the front of the boat – Charlotte was even more excited when she realised she could see out the very front of the boat as we were underway. Alas we couldn’t book a deluxe cabin with a large bed in it because they only cater to two people – next time when it’s just us adults 😉

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The Spirit of Tasmania here we come!
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Lining up to board
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Up this ramp…
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… and on to the boat!
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Charlotte loved our porthole – it looks directly out front of the boat
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Goodbye Melbourne!
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Hello Devonport!

The trip started out well with reasonably smooth sailing while we were in Port Phillip Bay. But as soon as we left the bay and went through the headlands the boat started rocking a little more noticeably and I started to feel a little queasy. Too late for a sea sickness pill now! I just had to put up with feeling a little unwell while I showered and got into bed. I figured if I slept through it, all should be OK. Thankfully that’s exactly what happened – I woke up around 5am to lovely smooth sailing as we approached Devonport’s harbour. As predicted, we were amongst the first cars to leave the boat and by 7am we were driving the (very quiet) streets of Devonport 🙂

The second-last part of our big adventure was now about to begin…

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 12 weeks.

Half way ’round…!

Gosh time flies when you’re having fun. Here we are in Esperance, in south-west Western Australia and we have about 4 weeks left on our adventure, yet we’re over half way around Australia! We have a lot left to see, and thanks to some unplanned extra nights earlier in our trip, we will be flying through our last 4 weeks 😦

Leaving Port Hedland (past the giant salt mountain!), we travelled south towards Monkey Mia.

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This giant salt mound greets visitors to Port Hedland (or waves goodbye)

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Just north of Carnavon, we saw this satellite dish
We weren’t actually planning to stay at Monkey Mia as we had been told it was over-rated and too expensive, so we used WikiCamps to select another place on the road into Monkey Mia, a placed called Nanga Bay Resort. While quite comfortable, it’s fair to say that Nanga Bay did not meet my expectations of a place with ‘resort’ in the title. Perhaps it’s the Queenslander in me expecting something like the Marina Mirage Resort, or Twin Waters Resort, but seriously, there’s nothing much resort-ish about Nanga Bay by comparison. I didn’t expect to stay in a resort per se, but when you are travelling to a place that calls itself a resort, you get rather excited about what you might find there.

Anyway, what we did find as we came around the corner was some rather lovely blue water and clear blue skies. Our hosts at Nanga Bay were very welcoming and invited us to join their communal fire that evening so we chatted to the other guests and generally had a relaxing time. Brandon was invited to go fishing in the morning with another guest so we went to bed feeling rather pleased with our choice of accommodation. As we were staying for only 2 nights we didn’t put the annex up as we decided to use the car annex and avoid the extra hassle of the big camper annex. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.

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Communal fire at Nanga Bay
We awoke to a fairly drizzly, grey day. It was the first rain we had seen since the drizzle at Seisia on the tip of Cape York so it was a little strange for us to feel this sensation on our skin! Brandon passed on the fishing trip and we made our way in to Denham and Monkey Mia but we were too late to see the dolphins. We had been warned by our camp host that there probably wouldn’t be many there and that Monkey Mia was closing for 6 months at the end of this season to “retrain the dolphins”. When we got there we were told that they had 3 dolphins turn up; past visitors had told us they didn’t let you into the water or very near the dolphins when they were there so all in all, we were kind of pleased we didn’t spend any money on what would have been a rather lack-lustre experience. Charlotte enjoyed the gift shop as much as she would have done seeing the dolphins and we came away with a new dolphin toy to add to her growing souvenir collection!

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The jetty at Monkey Mia was quite nice

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Enjoying a moment of dry sky

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Charlotte loved how close the water was to the road

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Wind power at Monkey Mia/Denham

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The sky didn’t stay dry for long
By the time we got back to our camp, the place was saturated and the rain looked to have settled in. There was also a gale force wind knocking us around and it was really rather miserable, given we didn’t have our annex set up. The only dry spaces we had were in the car or in the camper but all of our food, cooking and fridge requirements were outside the camper. The toilet block was quite some distance away so we really couldn’t do anything without getting saturated. I had no way of cooking and the camp kitchen at the resort was lacking in facilities, so we had no choice but to dine at the on-site restaurant.

I should point out that it wasn’t really a restaurant as such, more like you select a meal from their small list and tell them when you’d like to eat and they have it ready for you to eat in their dining room. I told the host I was really craving vegetables as we’d had a series of fried meals lately (e.g. fish and chips, schnitzel and chips) and my body needed something real. She told me that they didn’t have any vegetables as the truck hadn’t come yet, so I selected chicken wings and rice from the menu and said it was the rice I really wanted more than anything. I made a joke about bringing some of our vegetables then the host says if you drop some vegetables to me, I’ll make you a nice fried rice. That certainly sounded great! By the time I left, she had offered to upgrade that to stir fry beef and rice – winner! Charlotte was having nuggets and chips with a taste of my fried rice, and Brandon order a parmy (his craving for vegetables is never as strong as mine!). I dropped a mixture of frozen and fresh vegetables around later on my way to the shower block (all of which involved getting well and truly saturated because I pretty much forgot that I have a rain jacket in the car!!). I was excited about getting something nice for dinner and really pleased at how generous our host was being.

We rock up for dinner, looking a little like drowned rats, and eagerly await what was to come. The host comes out and says “I think you’ll like what I’ve cooked for you. Do you like chick peas?” Ummm, yes?? I was a bit confused because I wasn’t sure where chick peas fitted in to stir fry beef and rice. Oh boy. Was I in for a gastronomic… nightmare!! I so wish I had taken a photo of what was dished up to me because it was truly horrific.

So when the host put the dish in front of me she told me she had made some bush tucker and that I was eating something that had lots of traditional food in it. She said it had “conkleberry nuts” and “something that’s like a yam” in it. Do you know what I saw? I saw a bowl of elbow macaroni, topped with a bean-filled sauce that looked and smelled a lot like baked beans (conkleberry nuts), mixed with giant slices of cucumber (yam), with slices of capsicum, a few slices of beef in a sort of sweet and sour sauce. Ahhhh, really?? What ship do you think I just sailed in on, lady? Brandon says he lost all respect for our host at this point because up until now she had been so welcoming and generous. Thank god she only charged me about $6 for that meal because it was truly horrendous and I cannot believe she thought she was going to convince me that this was something other than some crap she’d pulled together at the last minute. I mean – where was the rice? And my supplied vegetables? When they stepped out of the room, I actually snuck into their kitchen and raided their freezer and retrieved my completely untouched bag of vegetables that was sitting right next to their own giant bag of frozen vegetables!!! We retreated to our camper trailer in the wind and rain and proceeded to have the most uncomfortable (and for me, terrifying) night we have ever had in the camper. The wind was whipping us left and right, the rain was making everything miserable and damp and not much sleep was had that night.

We awoke the next morning to a dry, quiet morning. Our canvas had already started to dry and within an hour or so of waking, everything was dry enough for us to start packing up. It was like a totally different vista and our mood lifted as we started to prepare to leave for our next destination. What an odd visit! I was pleased to be moving on.

We were travelling to Cervantes next to see the famous Pinnacles National Park, and after the mixed experience we had at Nanga Bay, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Cervantes. But as we headed further south, I began to relax and by the time we hit Geraldton, I was really starting to enjoy the passing countryside. The rain had well and truly gone by now, and on either side of the road was… green, rolling fields! That’s right – we were now starting to see farmlands. Pastures, flowers, green hills – it was spectacular! For the first time in, well, months I was seeing a richness to the land and I didn’t realise how much I missed it until that point.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cervantes, or more accurately by the caravan park we stayed in. After our Nanga Bay disaster, we elected to set up the annex just in case (it wasn’t needed), our camp site came with a large annex mat already on the ground, we were close to the toilets and had a lovely green site. We spent 3 nights there drying out and cleaning up, and it was lovely. Brandon went off for a drive and saw some wildflowers which was excellent, and we went to see the Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles are marketed as ‘living fossils’. I’m not sure how fossil-like they are and there are some mixed stories about how they come into being, but essentially they look a lot like rock pillars growing in a desert. You can walk or drive right through the area (we were quite surprised that you are allowed to drive through) but they were certainly an odd and interesting site. The attached gallery/gift shop was also really good and we would definitely recommend you visit there if you’re in the area. It’s only a few kilometres off the main road and, if you choose to drive through, you really only need to spend 20 minutes there. Definitely worth the effort.

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The Pinnacles

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More Pinnacles (this time from the car)

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Walking around the Pinnacles

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Pinnacle selfie

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The Pinnacles NP was quite nicely done

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Looking out to the ocean from the Pinnacles NP
As I have discussed in another post, we were expecting some colder temperatures as we travelled south so we had arranged to buy some new sleeping bags that were rated to -10 degrees. We couldn’t collect these until Monday when the store opened again but we wanted to start heading south so we arranged to stay with a family friend in Fremantle on Sunday night then collected our sleeping bags on the way out of town on Monday morning. When our friend found out Brandon was interested in wildflowers and orchids in particular, she suggested that we stop in at Wireless Hill Reserve on our way out of town. What a lovely little gem that place is. Like a small botanical gardens in the middle of Fremantle, Wireless Hill has a huge number of orchids that saw Brandon quite chuffed with the opportunity to photograph them. (I have asked Brandon to write a special post all about the wildflowers he has seen on this part of the trip – stay tuned for that one, hopefully soon.)

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Spotting wildflowers at Wireless Hill

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I love this kangaroo paw

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I love this kangaroo paw

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Enjoying the paths at Wireless Hill
From the big smoke, we headed south east towards the Stirling Range National Park. We camped for 3 nights at a lovely place called Mt Trio Bush Camp. Situated right on the edge of the Stirling Range National Park, this bush camp is owned by the neighbouring farming family and is in excellent condition. Powered and unpowered sites are available with ample drinking water, and the amenities blocks are in a great condition. For a bush camp, it was an unexpected surprise. A member of the Mt Trio Bush Camp staff visits around 5.30pm each night and lights a communal fire near the camp kitchen. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig here which was a disappointment because away from the communal fire it was BLOODY COLD! Apparently the temperatures went below zero during the night and I have to say, we felt that. Our new sleeping bags certainly helped a lot, but I fretted that if Charlotte accidentally stuck an arm out of her bag that she’d get hypothermia. It was freeze-your-nose-off-if-it’s-not-in-the-sleeping-bag kind of weather and despite putting our full annex up and being as protected as we could, without our OzPig, we were really feeling the cold. But the trade off was that Brandon got to see some amazing examples of wildflowers, notably orchids. We went for a drive/walk one day to Bluff Knoll, one of the local mountains in the area. We didn’t do the whole walk as it was a bit beyond what we had prepared for, but it was lovely all the same (just don’t go to the Bluff Knoll Café on a Wednesday expecting to have a nice lunch there because it turns out it’s closed on Wednesdays and an out of the way placed called the Amelup Roadhouse is the only place you’ll be able to find a bite to eat on a Wednesday).

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Rapeseed aka canola is EVERYWHERE down here

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More rapeseed

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Charlotte found some alpaca friends at our lunch stop
Speaking of Amelup, what’s with every town in that part of WA ending in ‘up’? Take a look at a fairly detailed map of the central southern and south western part of WA, near Stirling Range, and you’ll see all the local towns and localities around there end in ‘up’. Actually, there’s other towns in WA that end in ‘up’ as well – such as Joondalup, which I quite like saying now 😉

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Our full set up at Mt Trio – we added the big front wall on our second day

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Lovely bush camp at Mt Trio

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Walking to Bluff Knoll (in the background)

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Walking to Bluff Knoll

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The Amelup roadhouse has a field of kangaroos next door!

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I craved pizza but without being allowed to use our wood stove, I had to do a stove-top pan version. Turned out quite good!

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Brandon browned the top of the pizza with his flame thrower 😉 I’m sure I’ve seen these used on Masterchef?
Today we left the cold of the Stirling Range and headed further east. We actually decided to give the cold a break and lashed out for a spot of luxury, staying in the Esperance Best Western! You know you’ve been camping for a long time when a Best Western is considered luxury. But it’s nice to be in from the cold. Esperance seems like a nice place and we plan to use the extra time in the morning tomorrow to do some exploring before we head further east. Unfortunately because we were moving at a fair pace today we had to drive straight past a wildflower show that was on in Ravensthorpe, and I know that really bothered Brandon. So I think he has already started making plans to come back here next spring!

We start our trek across the Nullarbor tomorrow (well, we start moving in that direction). We have a few one-night only stops over the next few nights until we reach South Australia and hopefully some milder weather. That being said, I am keeping our -10 degree rated sleeping bags on the bed and I just need to work out a way to stop my nose from freezing!

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 10 weeks, 2 days

A little southern comfort… (for a Bacardi drinker)

Leaving the Dampier Peninsula and starting to head south was really exciting for me. I had been waiting for this next leg of our trip for ages and I was really looking forward to it. I don’t think Brandon felt the same way – the first half of the trip was certainly what he looked forward to most, whereas the second half was likely to be my favourite bit.

We left Broome on the Great Northern Highway and headed south towards 80 Mile Beach (yes, it’s 80 miles long). The landscape was so incredibly flat – I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Brandon said there was a lot of wind around blowing us about the road. It was rather surreal. 

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Nothing but flat landscape for an entire day of driving.
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There’s not much at 80 Mile Beach – it’s just a caravan park and a beach. And the beach isn’t good for much other than fishing. The surf is absolutely full of sharks, rays and stingers so swimming is a big no-no. Surf fishing is all it’s about. And shells. Lots and lots of shells. Charlotte was in shell heaven 🙂 

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Looking north up the beach.
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Looking south down the beach.
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We came over a hill and were greeted with water so amazingly blue it was incredible. Unfortunately (for Charlotte) there was no swimming on this beach.
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Brandon caught a ray – one of hundreds that swam in the shallows of the beach.
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The volume of shells on this beach is just amazing – it’s a beach that people drive over all the time to get to the fishing spots, but new shells just appear over the top of the crumbled ones.
 

I quite liked 80 Mile Beach. The community of campers was really friendly – we set up right in the middle of the caravans, next to the toilets, and had lots of folks (mostly retirees) saying hi to us. Every day around lunch you’d see all the grey nomads drive their quad bikes (!) down to the beach with their rods ready to go. 

80 Mile Beach is where our jockey wheel finally gave up the ghost. It had been playing up ever since Musgrave Roadhouse due to something silly we did and ever since then it buckled and needed to be beaten with a steel mallet every time we wanted to use it. Not surprisingly, it got sick of this mistreatment. 80 Mile Beach was our 26th destination, Musgrave was our 6th so that’s 40 times since then it has been bashed black and blue. Poor thing. Anyway on setting up at 80 Mile Beach it gave up altogether and it’s innards haemorrhaged and it was deemed unfixable. We used bricks and blocks that the maintenance guy found for us to replace the jockey wheel for our 3-night stay. Finding a new one became our next mission.

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Our battered and broken jockey wheel

A few hours on the phone, a few messages to my friend in Port Hedland, a few posts on a caravan and camping FB forum we belong to and we’d located a place in Port Hedland who could order us the exact same wheel and have it in Port in time for our arrival two days later. (A big shout of thanks to the lovely caravanners at 80 Mile Beach who saw my post on the FB page and wandered over to offer advice and support – love this community!)

I’ve decided the next time we travel, it will be with this sort of style…


This bus (above) was towing this boat (below) and under the boat was an FJ Cruiser – that’s the way to go!!


In typical WA style, the sunsets over 80 Mile Beach were magical…

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Unfortunately the end of our visit at 80 Mile Beach was marred by my starting to feel really unwell (as I talk about in another post) and I essentially retreated to the camper for 24 hours with lots of moans and groans. Brandon and Charlotte packed up on their own, bundled me in the car and we made for Port Hedland. 

After a rather nauseating three hour drive (which says more about my condition and nothing about B’s driving!) we arrived at Amanda and Jamie’s place and were quickly made to feel at home. For the first time in 2 months, Charlotte slept in her own room (which she quickly destroyed)! I could go to the toilet without (a) opening a zipper or (b) walk for 5 minutes, we could lounge around and watch television and, importantly, go to the doctor. Just as important was the fact Jamie was about to start one month on leave and within a few hours of arriving he and Brandon were out on Jamie’s boat fishing. All was once again right in the Hazelwood world.

With one of our lovely hosts, Amanda, on our last morning in Port. We’ve known each other since we were 7 years old!

Turns out, we arrived just in time for the 2017 Port Hedland Game Fishing Club Blue Water Classic fishing competition. If we stayed a few extra days, Brandon and Jamie could fish that together. Recalling my early departure from Kooljamin, I was quite happy to give him this fishing time (and give myself more recovery time now that I was feeling better). I feel bad for Amanda who I’m sure had wanted us to do more together but I just needed some r&r and to move slowly. So thank you Harris-Thornton household for helping the Hazelwoods get their groove back. Five days of fishing for Brandon and lots of doing nothing for me (and a new jockey wheel) and we were ready to tackle camper life once again. Oh, and we’re pretty sure Jamie caught a prize-winning mackerel on day 1 of the comp but as I write this we are still awaiting official results!

Charlotte was most taken with ‘Kitty’
New jockey wheel! Shiny!
Preparing to release a catfish
Possible prize winning mackerel weighing in at 27.6kg!
Shark mackerel (biggest he’s caught)
Brandon is looking more and more like an old sea captain every day! Needs a haircut!
Whale blowhole!
Jamie fought a shark for an hour and a half!

Weeks/nights on the road at this point: 9 weeks.

Broome or bust…

We arrived in Broome and found ourselves on a lovely grassy camp site right next to the caravan park pool. After the dirt and dust of the past week or so it was a pleasant change and we decided to stay there for a while to recharge our batteries and plan the next leg of our trip. We set up our annex, added some shade cloth to one side to increase our comfort, and made ourselves at home. We were was also quite taken with the pool at Broome Caravan Park – it was huge! It even had a lap swimming pool attached to it. It was just warm enough to still enjoy the pool so we made use of having a site so close 😉

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I quite liked Broome – it had a relaxed feel about it like a small town but still had the comforts of a bigger town like supermarkets and, luckily for Brandon, a physiotherapist (refer to my post about the physical toll our trip is having on us!). I remember when we were planning our rough itinerary that we questioned whether it was worth stopping in Broome because other than Cable Beach and the camel riding at sunset, we weren’t really sure what was here. But I was glad we took the time to rest up here because it really was a very nice little town. We toured the Matso’s brewery (Charlotte listened to the talk but I’m not sure how much she took in!), and I loved seeing the water and how beautiful it was (although I had no desire to swim in it – swimming at the beach doesn’t really do much for me). There was a water park that Charlotte enjoyed, we went to the markets, and due to the close location of the airport to the town, at one point we were sitting having a drink when a sizable jumbo jet flew straight over the top of us! It was rather odd to see the blue water right next to the red dirt but I’m realising this red dirt is now a fixture in so many places over here.

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Broome waterfront
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Broome waterfront

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Not long after this, she started quietly using her iPod but full credit to her for attempting to listen as long as she did!
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We stocked up… 😉

 

Broome is home to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park. This park is only open from 2-5pm each day, and they do an amazing crocodile feeding tour at 3pm. It wasn’t cheap for such a shortened day so I was a bit dubious at first and having only recently been to Australia Zoo with Charlotte, I wasn’t really sure if I would be impressed with this place. But I’m pleased to say that the feeding tour was actually really good and well worth the money! The guides told us all about the history of the park, did some big croc feeding in the central lake and then walked us around to each of the pens and told us about the crocs that were in each pen and how they came to be there. It was very informative and we were quite close to the crocs. Charlotte was fearless – she loved being really close. At one point, we were so close that when the croc lunged up for the food, we were showered with the small green algae that was sitting on top of the water. We also each got to hold a baby croc. I really enjoyed this park and would certainly recommend it to anyone coming to Broome.

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From Broome we headed north up the Dampier Peninsula. The road was a bit like the PDR. We ended up losing a part of our gas regulator on the Dampier road (but have since replaced it)! In some places the road narrows and there is a flat part and an angled part – like being at a velodrome! I think Brandon took a little too much joy out of driving on the angled velodrome lane and we spent a good deal of time at 45 degrees! (well, as the person on the up side of the car it felt like that but B assures me it wasn’t quite that much).

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More corrugated road

Our first destination was Middle Lagoon which was a lovely little bush camp site near the water. We had been told to camp up on the ridge, but this was a very windy, unsheltered part of the camp site that gave you immediate beach views/access but at a price. Instead we requested another site we’d been told was a little set back from the ridge and more sheltered. It was perfect. We came out of the camper each morning to a beautiful water view, but without the relentless wind to contend with. Charlotte was able to swim at the beach and Brandon did a spot of fishing and shell collecting. It was simplistic and the amenities were old and tired but it felt comfortable and we very much enjoyed our 3 nights at Middle Lagoon. We set up our own ensuite tent and connected to their water which also made the stay that bit more comfortable.

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The view from camp at Middle Lagoon
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Off to do some fishing

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From here it was further north up the Dampier to Kooljamin at Cape Leveque. Kooljamin camp ground is dirt (surprise, surprise) and not only that but it’s deep, blink-and-you’ll-break-your-ankle dirt like soft sand at the beach. I usually tend to avoid that sort of sand – it never ends well. With my foot and knee issues, I took my life in my own hands each time I walked from the chair to the stove there was so much loose dirt on the ground. We were squished into a tiny site in the back corner that required an amazing feat of reversing magic from my brilliant husband (whose mad reversing-the-camper-without-seeing-out-the-back-windows skill really does leave me speechless, particularly when there are trees and other obstacles to avoid). And as our camp site was under a tree, we ended up with an ant infestation inside the camper. At one point we went to the reception staff to ask if they could send maintenance over with something to help with the ants and the maintenance guy happened to be there and scoffed at our request because (politely paraphrasing here) he wasn’t going to be able to get rid of the ants that came from nature. I pointed out that we didn’t expect him to get rid of the ants but as they had placed us in a camp site that had overhanging trees that clearly held an active ant nest, they might like to provide us with something that we can spray or place around the camper so that we can try to limit the number of ants that make it into our bed. I was pretty cranky – I had not long earlier woken up to the feel of ants crawling all over my face, in my ears and up and down my arms. They were on my pillow and all over the walls of the camper. I was angry and uncomfortable – someone had to wear my pain with me! 😉 We went for a walk to the café on the other side of the point and when we came back there was a tin of surface spray sitting on our camp table. Small victory I guess.

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You can just make out the blue tongue lizard who visited camp one day.

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Coral trout

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This ‘sea legs’ boat was a ripper – drove straight up from the water to camp and then straight up on the trailer.

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Watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean while waiting for pizza

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I am becoming quite a connoisseur, as it were, of ‘ablution blocks’ as is often referred to in camp grounds around here. That is to say, I feel I’ve now seen so many of them that I am developing quite a tolerance to things that once may have shaken the (not so) proverbial shit out of me. Staying in roadhouses and 24-hour rest areas you have to learn to cope with toilet and shower blocks in various states of disrepair (if they are provided at all). Some have been great and others have been horrid. We always wear our thongs in the shower, I try to avoid touching the walls and never put anything down on the ground. When I’m brushing my teeth I close my eyes so I can’t see the condition of the sink and just make do. Those who know my cleanliness OCD traits would be proud of how far I’ve come. But there were some aspects of Kooljamin’s toilet block that really tested me. The toilets themselves were clean, so that aspect was fine. But they put the two showers in the middle of the two toilets. I’m sure there was probably a good reason for that, but it was rather odd to have toilet, shower, shower, toilet. I didn’t think much of it at first glance but then one afternoon I was sitting on the toilet and realised my foot was getting wet. I looked down to see dirty, soapy smears of water splashed over my legs from the opening at the bottom of the wall shared by the shower where someone was showering in the next cubicle. The toilet floor quickly became wet as well, which when mixed with the earlier mentioned dirt from surrounding camp grounds… well, you can imagine the condition of the floor. Moments earlier, I had a clean toilet cubicle; now I was soggy and surrounded by mud. I know it probably doesn’t seem like much but this is a place that has ‘resort’ in its name and that charges close to $60/night for this luxury. I wasn’t impressed. And then to top it off, the toilet I was in shared a wall with the men’s toilets next door and for some unknown reason the wall didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. I guess it’s an airflow thing. Anyway, I could hear all the lovely sounds coming from the men’s toilets next door, including the various bodily noises one particular man decided to entertain me with – a gentlemen who clearly had bigger problems than me when it came to feeling rather unwell looking at the surroundings 😦

One thing we did while at Cape Leveque was visit the Cygnet Bay pearl farm. This was a great place! We did a tour of the farm and as we were the only people on the tour, we had the guide to ourselves. She told us all about the pearl industry and how it started in Western Australia. We learned about the difference between farmed pearls and natural pearls, between rock oysters and pearl oysters, and saw the various stages of how they create the pearl in the oyster and how they use the mother of pearl from the shell. We were allowed to open an oyster and retrieve the pearl from within and later we had this pearl graded and valued ($55 – not a great specimen but pretty cool to see). We were also offered the chance to eat the raw pearl meat that came from inside the oyster (not the same as an oyster – more like scallop). I tried a piece but it didn’t do much for me. Crumbed and deep fried may have worked better 😉 We were also allowed to see their most expensive piece of jewelry – a $230,000 necklace. The largest pearl they ever found was also on display – something like 23mm in diameter. There was a restaurant and pool there, both of which we enjoyed, and I quite liked the look of their caravan park. If we ever come back this way, I would definitely be willing to stay at Cygnet Bay.

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Yay we found a pearl!
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We learned about the different markings on the pearls and how they classify them – this one we found had circles around it which made it less valuable.

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The largest pearl they have found
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I’m not a fan of pearls as such but this necklace was attractive to me because it wasn’t all perfect, round pearls. I prefer these natural ones (called Keshi pearls). This is valued at $230,000.
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The pool at Cygnet Bay pearl farm.

From the first day we arrived at Kooljamin we could see bush fire smoke. I am incredibly nervous about bush fires and to see smoke so close to us got me rather concerned*. No-one else seemed to be concerned but instead of taking that as a good sign, I was convinced that we were all going to burn! We asked at reception and they just said it was a slow moving fire and there was nothing to be concerned about. If you look at a map of Cape Leveque you will see there’s only one road in and out – if fire cuts that road off, we’re doomed. We’d need to launch the canoe and hope for the best! 😉 My nerves were not lessened when I spoke to the man in the camp next door (who owned that sea legs boat) and he told me he was here a few years ago when he was awoken at 4am to the sound of a bell ringing and Kooljamin staff calling out to everyone to pack up and quickly evacuate as there was a bush fire approaching the camp. A quick search on Google and I found a report saying the fire came within metres of the camp buildings. I wasn’t being comforted. And then the next morning I woke up to a weird mix of fog and smoke mingling around the camp site. The staff had never seen anything like it. I looked like fog but was thicker and smelled smokey. That was almost my tipping point. Still the staff seemed unfazed. I came to the conclusion that either we were all completely fine, or we were all going to die.

* We later found out that the fire was “15-20km away” and that wasn’t considered close. I’m not convinced.

We were supposed to stay at Kooljamin for 5 nights because Brandon felt the fishing might be worth an extended stay based on friends’ reports. But I was so miserable that we left after 3 nights and forfeited our money. We made friends with Glenn and Naomi in the camp site behind us (who Brandon had also seen at Middle Lagoon) and Glenn was a fisherman. They went out a few times together so it wasn’t all a great loss as far as fishing was concerned. Still I knew he wasn’t happy about me being such a wet blanket so I promised myself I’d try to find a way to make it up to him in the coming weeks. I knew we were headed to Port Hedland where an old primary school friend of mine was living and her partner is a mad keen fisherman – I hoped he’d get more fishing action in Port to make up for missing out at Kooljamin.

It’s worth pointing out that Kooljamin have a type of accommodation called a beach shelter that is actually quite nice. You set up your camper next to the shelter and use this large thatched hut as your shelter. It acts as an annex and essentially doubles the space you have available to you. There are fire pits and cold outdoor showers there as well. The shelters overlook the beach and give you immediate access to swimming and fishing etc. The problem is these shelters are $120/night and given that they don’t include ensuite toilets or anything else to warrant this steep price, we elected to camp in the regular camp ground like the other plebs.

We left Kooljamin and started heading towards Port Hedland. We broke the trip up a bit and camped a night at the Roebuck Roadhouse just out of Broome. Roebuck was lovely – we arrived at a busy time and the manager just told us to park and set up then come back and tell him where we were and pay. So we toured around and found a lovely, green grassy (unpowered) site that was very comfortable after the dirt and dust of the Dampier. I went back to tell them where we were and the lady said “Oh, you’re in the overflow area. You’re not allowed to camp there.” I was about to lose my shit, but thankfully the manager overheard and said “It’s OK, they can stay there.” So we ended up being the only camper on a grassy space close to the size of a football field, right away from the generator or road noise, with access to lovely clean toilets and showers and a swimming pool (yes, Charlotte and I swam!) and it was just magic. It’s amazing how quickly you start to appreciate simple things 🙂

The next morning we started out south again, heading for 80 Mile Beach and Port Hedland. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, as our trip to 80 Mile Beach was marred by some health issues, as I wrote about in an earlier post.

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 8 weeks, 1 day

Taking its toll…

We have been on the road now for 8 and 1/2 weeks and while there has certainly been quite a lot we have had to get used to over these weeks, one thing I’m really struggling with is the physical toll that living out of a camper is taking on us. I think I’m doing a good job of getting used to the dirt and the constant packing and unpacking of the camper, living out of a suitcase, cooking in gale force winds, having to ‘climb’ out of bed just to go to the toilet, wearing ‘clean’ clothes that really don’t resemble cleanliness no matter how you define it, or having to apply sunscreen just to go and make breakfast. But the passage of time is doing nothing to help me get used to the physical toll that this trip is taking on my old and weary bones. I tell you, there is nothing like living out of a camper trailer to make me feel every one of my forty-five years. I have run half marathons but now, at the end of a long day, I struggle to climb the 3 steps into our camper.

Camping is a very physical activity. Every time we stop to set up, we need to lift heavy boxes, clamber through the camper to attach poles, heave this and ho that. There’s lot of bending, stretching, hunching, tugging, pushing, grabbing and just about any other ‘-ing’ activity you can think of that sounds tiring. And on a trip like ours, where you spend on average 3 nights at each place, possibly less, that’s a lot of setting things up and packing things up. At last count, we have stayed at 21 places – that means 42 opens and closes, 42 times we have tugged, pulled, hunched… anyway, you get the point. Just going to the toilet after you are in bed means having to climb over your partner in bed, lower yourself down off the bed, open the zipper to the fly, open the door clasp, climb down the camper stairs (and then remember as you are half way out the camper door that your child-bearing hips and plus size shape mean you are actually too wide for the camper door and scold yourself for not remembering to turn 45 degrees to walk down the stairs at an angle thus saving said plus-size hips from rubbing against the pointy bits of the door as you past), scrounge around in the dark for your headlight then slap the light against your face when you attempt to put the darned thing on, walk to the toilet (which always seems to be at the farthest end of the camp ground when we don’t have our ensuite tent set up*), then repeat everything in reverse to get back to bed. And then you are finally settled back in bed and get that horrid niggly feeling in your bladder that suggests maybe you didn’t get it all out after all so you tell yourself “quick, fall asleep so I don’t feel like I need to go to the toilet again!!” That never gets old.

*The indignity of walking through a camp ground with my Choose Life sleep shirt on never gets easier but is certainly better under the cover of darkness.

So not surprisingly, after 8 or so weeks, we (OK, mostly me) are/is starting to feel the side-effects, and it’s not pretty. First let’s talk feet. Some of you may or may not know that before we left I was slowly recovering from a wicked case of plantar fasciitis and a heel spur, with a dose of achilles tendinopathy thrown in. After a few months of different treatments and lots of exercise, I was finally starting to feel on top of things. Then I went on an around Australia trip in a camper trailer where the main footwear, if any, is thongs. To quote Vivian (from which movie, movie buffs?) “big mistake, huge”. Throw in a good dose of walking over rocks and dry river beds and spending LOTS of time on my feet and I am in a world of plantar fasciitis hell. I now need to strap my foot almost every day – but in these dirty camping conditions that strapping tape gets seedy pretty quickly. (Note – it also doesn’t help to spill unleaded petrol all over your foot with strapping tape on it – the tape melts and sticks to your foot and thong…) So my foot is suffering.

Then there’s the blisters. But not from what you might expect. I have blisters thanks to doing the washing. You may recall I bought a Scrubba bag to do our hand washing while we were on the road. I have tended to use camp ground washing machines where possible (although they are pretty gross and I’m not sure how clean the clothes are getting) but in between camp grounds or if something needs a solid scrub or overnight soaking, I use the Scrubba bag. But that means hand wringing the clothes after they have been washed and then rinsed. And while that might not seem like a big job, you should try hand wringing the equivalent of a full load of washing to a point where they stand a chance of drying in 24 hours. It’s bloody hell on your hands! And, as it turns out, gives you blisters.

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A small specimen of one of about 6 blisters I had on my hands as a result of washing clothes.

Next up? Bugs and insects. While I seem to have suffered only one or two annoying bug bites and Brandon seems to have escaped their clutches altogether, poor Charlotte has had to endure an unending number of bites which she scratches at relentlessly no matter how much we warn her not to. Invariably these end up bleeding and scabbing over, which is further annoyance and pain for her. Charlotte’s skin tends to react quite badly to bites which I suspect is due to some form of eczema so the poor thing is usually left in welts if she’s around bitey bugs for too long. One place we visited she was attacked by midgies that left her feet and legs covered in angry red splotches. By chance a fellow camper recommended a natural product called Midgie Magic that we located in a chemist and it has really helped take the sting out of Charlotte’s bites. Great stuff that!

Brandon has also been suffering due to the long hours in a car and the physical work setting up the camper and packing things away again. The downside to having the boat loader on the camper is that all that heavy stuff up there has to come off every time we set up and then go back up there every time we pack up! (except the canoe and ladder – they tend to stay strapped to the boat loader). So it comes as no surprise that Brandon’s back and shoulder are in a world of hurt. He actually went to a physiotherapist when we were in Broome and then at the Broome markets had a massage for half an hour and it seems as though his aches and pains are starting to settle down a bit.

The last two injury and illness prizes belong to me. I have a condition in my knees called Chondromalacia Patellae where the cartilage behind my knee cap has slowly worn away. It makes for very painful kneeling and bending but for the most part, I’ve learned to live with it. In one knee however a side-effect of this disease is the ligaments that run behind my knee and hold my knee cap in place are also very worn and tired (I know how they feel!) and, if I squat down at the same time as turning my knee slightly, I can actually twist the ligaments around themselves and slightly pop my knee cap over to one side. A semi-dislocation, as it were. As you can imagine, this is rather painful so over the years I have learned to avoid putting myself in positions where this problem can occur. I probably got a little complacent on this trip because I was more concerned about my foot than my knee, and I haven’t actually had many problems with my knees since I’ve taken up running. But unfortunately that all changed in Broome as we were packing up and getting ready to hit the Dampier Peninsula. I squatted down to attach the camper’s Andersen plug into the back of the car and I felt that familiar pain in the back of my knee. It was too late to correct my stance and before I knew it I was on the ground moaning in pain and swearing at all manner of spiritual beings. I ‘popped’ it back in place fairly easily – lucky. It doesn’t always go back as easily and once I remember writhing on the floor in pain in my bedroom and calling to my father in law who was 20 metres away at the other end of our house to get him to come up and pop my knee back in for me. Not pleasant. Anyway, this wasn’t quite that bad but it certainly wasn’t pretty and the end result was that I really couldn’t walk 😦 So I was bundled into the car while Brandon finished connecting things up and we started our trip to the Dampier with me feeling rather sorry for myself. We couldn’t walk the many gorges of the Gibb because of my foot and now who knew what we wouldn’t be able to do because of my knee. Upon arriving at our first destination on the peninsula I felt a little better and was able to walk. I went back through the memory banks for how my orthopedic specialist used to strap my knee in times like this and ended up strapping the knee so that I could at least help set up a little more. I couldn’t bend my knee though so I was still limited but at least I was pain free and mobile.IMG_5671

The last incident is less of an incident and more of a growing discomfort. For a few months now I have felt a niggly pain deep in my lower right abdomen. It hasn’t really bothered me before now, it comes and goes, but I should have expected that even the mildest of discomfort is likely to be amplified while living in a camper trailer for three and a half months. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when my pain became worse while we were staying at 80 Mile Beach on the northern coast of WA and out in the middle of nowhere. I was in a world of hurt, nauseous, clammy, unable to eat or concentrate on anything except my own discomfort. It wasn’t gastro (being the parent to a 6 year old I’m intimately familiar with those symptoms!) but I had no idea what it was. And in true hypochondriac fashion, being stuck in the middle of nowhere, I was convinced that there was something really horribly wrong with me and I was about to die. So then my anxieties took over and amplified all of my pain and symptoms to the point where I really couldn’t do anything except groan, cry and lay around the camper feeling sorry for myself. We were due to arrive in Port Hedland the next day so we made a doctor’s appointment for me and I just toughed it out until then. To be fair, Brandon had to be more tough than me – he had to look after Charlotte all by himself while I was useless in the camper knocked out on codeine, he also had to pack up the camper and our gear all by himself when we left the next day with me groaning and feeling exceptionally sick in the front seat of the car all the way to Port. Thank god we were staying with friends in Port so that I actually had a bed and a lounge and carpet under my feet and some sense of normality about me. I could have a nice hot shower (without wearing thongs!) and relax a little bit. If it weren’t for that, the next 24 hours after that point would have been hell – again, more for Brandon probably than me! The doctor sent me off for scans at the local hospital, Hedland Health Campus.

 

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Hedland Health Campus – never have I been so happy to see a medical building!

This is just a small place and is the only place you can get imaging done in town, and I was told that people typically wait 3 weeks for an appointment. As my doctor didn’t think I had appendicitis, I wasn’t considered critical enough to get an emergency appointment (travelling isn’t considered enough of a reason to get ahead of people, and that’s fair enough I guess). But I rang and harassed them and said I was in huge amounts of pain (and threw in some genuine tears) and thankfully I was given an appointment at 10am the next day. I was honest with my doctor and admitted that my pain was probably more psychological because I had felt so isolated and unable to soothe myself with the comforts of home, thus making my physical pain a lot greater and more significant in my mind. I knew as soon as I had that scan I’d start to feel better, regardless of what they found. And thankfully they found nothing.

The diagnosis now is a combination of things – ovulation pain (gotta love being a woman), combined with the possibility of pulling or straining myself a little too much over the weeks, potentially aggravating an injury that might have happened before we left. The nausea was probably because of (a) my anxiety and (b) taking codeine on an empty stomach. All of which was amplified in my mind into something far more serious thanks to isolation and lack of creature comforts. Boy, am I glad those 72 hours are over! I’m off the pain meds now and the pain is receding as I’ve spent the last two days laying around on a proper couch in a proper lounge room, relaxing and catching up with friends which has clearly had medicinal powers.

So prepare yourself physically if you decide to undertake a trip like this. Definitely buy some Midgie Magic, bring lots of strapping tape, and make sure you have all niggly pains etc checked out before you leave. Murphy’s Law says you will feel that pain again when stuck in the middle of nowhere and it’s really quite amazing what our brain can do to amplify our discomfort and convince us that there is something truly horrific happening to us when really we’ve probably just pulled a muscle.

Time to Netflix and chill… 😉

“Go west, life is peaceful there…”

[Bragging rights to the first person who can tell me who sang the song that the title of this post comes from… if you don’t mind showing your age…]

So when I last wrote, we were leaving the Bungle Bungles headed for El Questro (ELQ) and the infamous Gibb River Road. We decided to stay at a 24 hour rest stop on the way to ELQ so as to be there nice and early the next day (to get a better camping spot – see, we’re learning the way of the “we-don’t-take-bookings” camping world). It was our first rest stop camping experience and it was actually quite pleasant. We got there around 2.30pm so we were able to pick a good spot with a shelter and table which reduced the amount of stuff we had to unpack for the night.

[Note – it is worth pointing out here that I am now 150% convinced that we are buying a caravan as soon as we can afford it. The differences between the two modes of travel are never more noticeable than when you pull up to a 24 hour rest stop. If you are in a camper trailer, you huff and puff and have a tanties with your partner, then a more significant argument where maybe one of you walks away in disgust, then you make up and eventually you get the camper level and set up. Caravan folk pull up, put the stabiliser legs down, open the door and pull out their chairs. End of set up. “Save your marriage, buy a caravan”.]

It was with some degree of excitement that we approached the sign to mark the start of the Gibb River Road, and then the turn off for ELQ. We had seen both of these things so often on the DVDs and television shows we’d watched to help plan this trip that it was great to finally be seeing them I the flesh. The drive in to ELQ was corrugated dirt roads (groan) but we let the tyres down (again) and made our way without drama. There were a few water crossings but nothing too substantial and eventually we got to ELQ nice and early. Our plan worked and we secured a lovely shady camping spot down near the Pentecost River. You were allowed to source firewood from anything that was laying on the ground around the property so Charlotte and Brandon went off in search of something for our fire that night (not that we really need it – it only gets to about 15 at night around here!). I couldn’t stop laughing when Brandon came back dragging what looked to be a giant tree trunk. Turned out the joke was on us – for whatever reason, this log left a bitter burning smell through everything. Its ash was very light and flighty and it covered our camp with ash and filled our camper with this disgusting stale-ashtray smell. We don’t really know exactly what sort of timber it was (it was a little porous inside but we don’t know if it was a boab branch or not…) but whatever it was, I’d recommend you never burn it near your campsite!! There is one sort of tree around here that is apparently nicknamed the shitwood tree because when it’s burned, it smells like dog poop. This wasn’t quite like that, but it was equally as noxious.

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We stayed at ELQ for 4 nights and had a lovely time exploring their surrounds. El Questro is essentially a large working cattle station but they have turned themselves into a major tourist attraction in the dry season. There is a fancy homestead you can stay in if you have muchos $$ or else you can slum it like the rest of us in your own camping set up or in the onsite tents. There are lots of gorges on the property that you can walk to (after a short drive), there’s a bar and restaurant, horse riding, helicopter sight-seeing flights (also muchos $$) and cruises. Every night we’d wander up to the bar for happy hour from 5pm and listen to the musician playing that night and relax under the stars. It was here that we discovered Matso’s Ginger Beer. I’ve never really been a big ginger beer fan except for in punch but I decided to give it a go on a whim and I was so pleased I did! It was so refreshing and tasty. And then I discovered that Matso’s brewery is in Broome! Hold me back! A quick google search told me they did brewery tours on Wednesdays and Fridays so we knew we had to stay in Broome long enough to cover at least one of those days! On our final night at ELQ they put on pizzas – they must have known I was experiencing withdrawal after my less than tantalising pizza experience in Kununurra.

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Happy hour!
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My new favourite drink
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There are only a few places I’d be willing to be seen in public in ugg boots – clearly ELQ is one of them!

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We did the walk to El Questro gorge and it was magnificent. Charlotte had a swim in crystal clear water that looked incredible. The fish even came up to her to say hello!

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This was what the whole trip was like – climbing over rocks and boulders – it killed my poor foot 😦

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Unfortunately, the walk involved scrambling over quite a number of rocks and boulders and was quite hard on my foot. It really tested me and I was barely able to walk by the time we got back. The walk was about 1.3km in each direction and just about all of that involved putting your feet on rocks or boulders and not on an even surface. I was in a world of hurt 😦 I strapped up after we got back to camp but it really made us have to think twice about our future walk plans.

Brandon’s shoulder and back were also playing up thanks to long hours in the car and then heavy work setting up the camper each time we stopped (refer above comment about needing a caravan!!!). To top it off, we seemed to be having some small problems with the batteries in our car not holding charge as well as we’d like and the engine running a little hotter than we’d like. No one single issue was a big deal on its own, but put together, they all made us question the sensibility of taking off to tackle 600km of corrugated road in the middle of nowhere with the car not running smoothly and bodily aches and pains that were leaving us feeling less than enthusiastic about the walking and adventures to come.

We discussed the situation and ummed and ahhed and came up with the decision that we’d not do the Gibb River Road in its entirety. We would double back to the Great Northern Highway, south down past the Bungle Bungles, through Halls Creek (where we got some supplies) and start to head north to Fitzroy Crossing and then turn off at Windjana Gorge/Tunnel Creek, heading north west from there. We’d visit Tunnel Creek as a day trip and set up camp somewhere on the other side. The (dirt) road in to Windjana continues and meets up with the Gibb at its northern end so we’d still see the end of the Gibb but be closer to civilisation should anything happen. As we weren’t feeling up to doing much walking, it seemed silly to just drive the Gibb, possibly at risk of damage to the car, just for bragging rights.

We left ELQ with a small sense of disappointment that we weren’t going to see the full Gibb experience but it was a sensible choice and we knew we were doing the right thing in the long run. We spent another night in a 24 hour rest stop south of the Bungle Bungles (by the way – that same bushfire was STILL burning). This rest stop was next to a lovely flowing creek so we were able to put our toes in and freshen up a bit. Most of these sort of rest stops have drop toilets but no water – so no way to wash your hands or shower etc. You need to supply your own for that sort of thing. And the drop toilets take on a bit of a smell after a certain time of day once business starts to pick up so you need to be quite resilient to bad smells if you want to stay in a rest area 😉 By morning they have usually sorted themselves out though so you’re safe if you can make it through the night 😉

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From there it was on to Tunnel Creek. On the road in we saw a few different long-dead cars left on the side of the road. Hadn’t really seen that since we were on the Cape so it was a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising was seeing that one of the dead cars was an 80 series Landcruiser!

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Gosh – what a remarkable place Tunnel Creek is! During the wet season it would be almost completely under water but during the dry season you can walk through the entire cave (with headlamps). There are parts where there is some deeper water you need to wade through, and we had some reptilian company during the walk in places, but it was well worth the effort. It was largely sand we walked on so not as difficult as our past walks. And being underground it was extremely cool and walking through the water made it quite refreshing.

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On the recommendation of some of the others we talked to, Brandon and Charlotte walked a little further at the end of the cave to see some Aboriginal art on the rocks further up. It was probably a little less grand in scale than Brandon had been expecting, but it was impressive all the same.

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(This wily-wily came up in the parking lot as we emerged from the cave – it really looked like a mini twister and had a few kids running for cover!)

After here it was an easy drive to Derby where we got fuel but we didn’t have a good feel about the place so we kept going and ended up setting up for the night at a roadhouse further down the road. It was all you could eat BBQ night and they had cold beer – sounded OK to us! That stop marked 3 overnighters in a row for us and (a) no set up arguments and (b) it was done in the dark. We’re clearly getting used to this!

The next day we pushed on to Broome – and back to civilisation. I’ll leave that for another post 😉 But needless to say, we found the Matso’s brewery! J

Weeks/nights on the road: 5 weeks, 6 nights.

Bungle Bungle bound…

We left Katherine after some much needed rejuvenation and some refreshing social interaction. While we have only been on the road for a month now it has surprised me how much I miss social interaction. Obviously Brandon, Charlotte and I have each other to talk to but there’s only so many conversations you can have about tufts of grass, Smurfs and wild animals. Spending time with Christine and Andrew and their kids was such a lovely change from the norm. But all good things must come to an end and we moved on from Katherine, headed for the northern WA border and Kununurra.

The scenery between these two towns was absolutely delightful. There were mountain ranges dividing our path, rocky outcrops and some different types of plants. After the many, many, many kilometres we’ve done in northern Queensland and the Northern Territory with much the same looking bleak, grassy plains with dust-covered trees, seeing these rocky outcrops was a huge joy. Before we knew it, we were crossing the NT/WA border. But this meant stopping at the quarantine station and handing in all our fresh produce and honey. I had already been warned of this so Christine and Andrew benefited from my recent stocking up on vegetables! Doh – I forgot I was going to need to give it all up when I was buying it at Woolworths two days earlier! All I was allowed to keep were my carrots – I just had to cut the greenish ends off them. But goodbye (to Christine) two bags of potatoes, two heads of broccoli, a few onions and some cherry tomatoes. I declared (and lost) my unopened Capilano honey bottle (still with the plastic seal on it – we bought exactly the same thing at Coles in Kunanurra the next day!). I’ve heard some people have had lots of issues with the quarantine folk searching every element of their vehicle but our quarantine guys were really good and mostly just took our word about not having anything. We probably could have stashed everything in our camper which they didn’t show any interest in making us open (thank god!) but we’re fairly honest folk and I really couldn’t be bothered! 😉

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The change in scenery as we neared the NT/WA border was a welcome relief.
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I have no idea what these trees are but they are everywhere – there isn’t a leaf to be found on the tree but it is full of yellow flowers. EDIT: They are kapok trees!
In total we spent 4 nights in Kunanurra. Originally we intended to go straight to Lake Argyle and spend our time there but we were told that really only needs to be a day trip and it was better to base ourselves at Kunanurra. Our caravan park was on Lake Kunanurra and we had a lovely shady spot (no grass – best get used to that). But as we drove into town I saw the word ‘pizza’ and then I wasn’t able to get bloody pizza out of my mind! When we checked in I mentioned my craving for pizza to the reception staff and they recommended a place to me. So after we had set up camp I rang them and lo and behold they delivered! Is it glamping if you are getting pizza delivered to your camp site? (for the record, don’t go to Valentine’s in Kunanurra – while it was great that they delivered to our site it was the blandest, most tasteless pizza I’ve ever had!).

The Kunanurra Hoochery Distillery was an interesting place to visit. Established by an American who was raised in a family that distilled original Kentucky moonshine, the Hoochery is a family run business and the first and oldest legal still in Western Australia. At one point we were in the storage room where all the kegs of rum are laid to rest and our tour operator (also the main brewer) mentioned that the room has the potential to make Brandon blow over the legal limit if we stayed in there too long! Charlotte thought that was a hoot 😉

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Charlotte was thrilled that her colouring in was put on the wall in the Hoochery 😉

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We thought this was a cute mural of a boab tree for Charlotte to have her photo taken. But if you look up close (second photo) we’re not really sure what’s going on there!
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Our camp site was inundated with water hens – we came back from a day trip away to find all our stuff covered in hen poop!

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Beside Lake Kunanurra
We did a day trip to Lake Argyle. This place is really a must do for anyone coming to this area – it was just amazing. This is the largest man-made lake in Western Australia (and second-largest in Australia) and while it’s not the biggest dam I have ever seen, the countryside around it was just stunning. We drove over the dam wall and had a picnic lunch next to the water. Some friends of Brandon’s family were staying at the caravan park by the lake so we stopped in to see them and caught a glimpse of the infamous Lake Argyle Resort infinity pool. We weren’t tempted to get in – the water may look impressive but it’s frigidly cold!

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The dam wall
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Looking back at the dam wall from the picnic area
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We restocked our food and alcohol at Kunanurra and set off for our next destination, Purnululu National Park or otherwise known as the Bungle Bungles (that name just brings a smile to my face whenever I say it – such a cute name!) This was on Brandon’s wish list – he really wanted to see these magical, striped bee-hive mountains. I hadn’t heard of them before he told me about them but it seems that I’m no different than much of Australia, as this is one of Australia’s newest national parks with the now-famous Bungle domes only being discovered in the late 20th century. We stayed two nights at the national park here and after the relative busy-ness of our Kunanurra caravan park, it was great to be in the peace and quiet of a national park. Again we saw some amazing scenery on our way to the park – and a bushfire that seemed to be left to just burn itself out. It was creeping half way up the mountain range next to the road but in a weird kind of way, it didn’t seem to be a threat.

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Slow-moving fire up the side of a mountain
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This is an image of ‘Pompey’s Pillar’ (with a termite mound in front). I feel I should write to the WA Government and alert them to their spelling issues…?
At the park we visited the Echidna Chasm, a large ‘crack’ in a mountain range that was created by thousands of years of erosion and water mixing together. The entire Bungle Bungle range is made of this incredible looking stone/pebble-sand mix. It’s hard to really appreciate how amazing this is until you are standing up against this giant cliff face and you realise the entire cliff is made of stones and pebbles embedded in sand. There are a number of signs warning of rock falls and the entire 500 metre walk from the car park to the chasm itself consists of scrambling over rocks resembling a dry river bed. Charlotte thought this was marvelous – I’ve never seen her more enthusiastic about a walk!

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Close up of what the entire cliff face is made of!
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Brandon got a great shot of this bower bird nest on the way to the chasm.

After the chasm, we drove around to The Domes, where the true Bungle Bungles can be found. These dome-like ‘bald’ structures are just stunning. Certainly worth the 2 and ½ hour drive in from the main road (well, it was 2 and ½ hours for us towing our camper, but the driving is substantially easier if you’re not towing anything).

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Brandon and Charlotte getting their Bungle on…
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Bungle selfie!
The side of the rocky outcrops and lower plateaus have these cute grass tufts growing out of them which Brandon noted resembled the rolled up trolls in the Frozen movie (he and Charlotte then had an amusing conversation about how their stone bodies were covered in long hair). From that point on, whenever Charlotte saw these tufts of grass she would say there were lots of trolls on the side of the mountain 🙂

We left the Bungle Bungles this morning and are on our way to El Questro and the start of the Gibb River Road. Interestingly, on our way out this morning we saw the same bushfire burning, only this time it had made it down closer to the road. Still no-one was attending the fire or seemed at all perturbed by it – how very odd!

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The fire on the mountain side is still going two days later…

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Now the fire has come closer to the road
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So far we have remained injury and accident free – let’s hope our luck continues as we make our way west along the Gibb River Road!

Nights on the road: 34

The highway to Hell (and beyond)

Up until this point I had been lead to believe that the worst driving conditions we would encounter would be on the Cape. Boy was I wrong!

We left Adels Grove with the intention of eventually getting to Katherine in the Northern Territory. We looked at the distances and decided to head to Borroloola, just over the NT border, for the night then push on to Katherine the next day. We went north through Lawn Hill Station and then on the Savannah Way to Hell’s Gate Roadhouse, where we stopped for lunch, fuel and water. On the way to Hell’s Gate, Brandon and I commented to each other that we wondered if the Hell that was being referred to was the road in to the roadhouse or the road beyond the roadhouse. We hoped it was the road in, because it was a pretty bouncy, unattractive dirt road. Turns out, we were wrong there too.

The road from Hell’s Gate to Borroloola was atrocious!! And to make it worse, we had bugs and dirt smeared all over the window, corrugations from hell (literally as it turned out), and as we were heading west, we had the sun directly in our sight for almost the entire afternoon. It was really bad. And we were on the road in total for that day for 9 hours. Never again. Our nerves were frayed and all three of us were in one hell of a bad mood when we got to Borroloola. We arrived just on dark and decided to get a cabin for the night because we wanted to head off again in the morning and after the emotionally draining, exhausting day we’d just had, we needed a rest.

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We’ve been on the road for 3 weeks and have just crossed our first state border!
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Never drive west into the setting sun on badly corrugated roads with poor visibility out your window 😦
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In our tired state, from a distance these donkeys looked like people blocking the road in front of us. Gave us a bit of a fright then amusement when we realised what they were 🙂

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Thankfully Borroloola has a nice place to eat so we grabbed a meal, had a hot shower and caught up on some sleep. The road to Katherine from Borroloola was all bitumen so we hoped the next day would be an easier day for us.

For the most part, it was easier. The driving conditions were certainly an improvement, although most bitumen roads in these parts are one lane and every time a car comes in the opposite direction you need to take one side of your car/camper off the road in order to pass oncoming vehicles. This can be a little difficult at times and cars with lesser quality tyres can find that quite dangerous given the large ridge between the bitumen and the dirt next to it. But Brandon managed these diversions with minimum fuss and the car, camper and inhabitants made it unscathed to Katherine. We stopped to make lunch at Daly Waters outside the pub – quite a well-known place and certainly full of character!

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At one point we even saw a bushfire on the road – it might be winter, but the dry 32 degree days make for great fire weather – gulp!

It was another long day – 6 hours on the road and we set up in the dark. [Note to self: setting up in the dark is hard enough; doing it with a camper trailer makes it harder; doing it without causing world war three between married partners is even harder; add to that 15 hours of driving out of the past 32 hours and it’s a wonder B and I are still married!].

While mulling over a beer later that night Brandon and I agreed no more long days. We need to slow down and take our time. We are about a week ahead of schedule so we clearly have time up our sleeve and need to enjoy our days more. That means doing more bush camps on the side of the road to break up the long days of driving (if only the roads were pretty enough to encourage us to sleep next to them!). Our next big leg is across the Gibb River Road, so we have promised to slow down, travel less each day and smell the roses, as it were.

One thing we were doing in Katherine was picking up some Clearview mirrors we had ordered earlier in our trip. They were waiting for us at AutoPro Katherine (can’t rate these guys highly enough – they ordered these mirrors for us on nothing but a promise we’d be in town some time in the next 10 days or so, and didn’t ask for a deposit or anything. That’s a $650 gamble they took and we were very grateful!

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Our new Clearview towing mirrors

In total we will have spent 6 nights in Katherine by the time we leave. It’s not that there’s huge amounts to see and do here but we really just needed a nice long break to recharge.

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The giant fig tree at the Big 4 Katherine caravan park is decorated and has a restaurant under it – just lovely 🙂

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Katherine Hot Springs – luke warm water but nice all the same

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Celebrating being back in civilisation by getting our nails done 😉

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Northern Rosellas at the campground – lovely!

We have also had the lovely surprise of meeting up with some people we know while here! Well, sort of know. Christine and Andrew and their children Ines and Linc are on the road for 6 months and set out about 3 months ahead of us. They started out travelling over to WA and were making their way east so we hoped we’d meet up at some point and we were even planning to slightly alter our itinerary to try to find them. Brandon went to school with Christine but hadn’t seen much of her since other than on Facebook. Reading Chris’s posts, I felt we had a lot in common so I was looking forward to meeting her and Andrew. We have been following their progress on their Facebook blog – 20,000-km’s in a shitbox camper trailer. It was a great joy to see them setting up in the same caravan park we were staying in two days ago 🙂

We spent the day together yesterday doing a day trip to Katherine Gorge, then up to Edith Falls for a swim. We planned to eat lunch at the Gorge but the only grassy, shady patch of land out there was home to hundreds of fruit bats! It was smelly and unattractive so we decided to have lunch at Edith Falls instead.

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Fruit bat city
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The gorge lookout
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An impressive view at the top
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The climb up to the lookout at Katherine Gorge was pretty steep but worth it!
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The climb up to the lookout at Katherine Gorge was pretty steep but worth it!

Unfortunately we didn’t get to eat lunch at Edith Falls. We had our first mechanical problem on the road between the Gorge and the falls that saw us laid up on the side of the road for an hour or so while Brandon fixed the problem. Thankfully because we were following Christine and Andrew, we had company and the kids were able to keep each other amused while they ate and waited for the car to be fixed. The fan belts had all come off and the alternator was being held on by a thread. Brandon had brought replacement belts with him thankfully and he and Andrew were able to replace them all and tighten up the alternator and we were good to go. Such handy folks! But we think this was probably caused by the thousands of kilometres of corrugations we have travelled on these past few weeks.

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Not a sight you really want to see while travelling 😦
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Linc and Ines kept Charlotte company in the shade as they waited patiently for the car to be fixed.
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Brandon trying to poke his tongue out at me while snorkeling at Edith Falls – he needed that swim after the car repairs!
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Charlotte and Brandon’s first snorkeling adventure on this trip – Edith Falls was great for that. Fish nibble your feet if you stand still long enough!

We leave Katherine tomorrow nicely refreshed and ready for our next adventure. Charlotte has had some good play time with some children her own age, we have had some nice conversation with likeminded people and we are ready to cross the border to Western Australia and start our next adventure – the Kimberley!

Nights on the road so far: 26.

 

From dust to Lawn…

I was up early the morning we left Musgrave because I wanted to ring Bramwell Station and make arrangements for the return of our pole. I was rewarded with one of the most stunning sunrises I had seen in a long while. Almost made me forget I was surrounded by dust holes and corrugated roads. Almost, but not really.

Sunrise at Musgrave Roadhouse
Sunrise at Musgrave Roadhouse

After leaving Musgrave we drove south for about 20km and then left the PDR to travel cross-country to Normanton on a back road that would eventually meet up with the Burke Development Road and take us south west. I guess ‘cross-country’ is a relative term around here because every road feels like you are driving cross-country. In any event, this road had smaller dotted lines on our Hema map compared to the PDR, so I think of it as cross-country 😉

In fact, the road ended up being much better than the PDR, for the most part. We had first heard about it from watching The Big Lap DVD series and I suspect in the 10 or so years since that series was filmed, the road has been upgraded. There were still some fairly hairy places and at one point early on in the piece I actually did think our trip was about to come to a grinding halt. Brandon was doing a great job dodging some timber that was laying on the road when we both looked up and THUD – the car nose-dived into a small ravine crossing the road. I let out an almighty scream, I can’t remember what Charlotte did but knowing her she probably giggled uncontrollably because she’s her father’s daughter when it comes to off-road hijinks! We had landed quite hard and I was certain we weren’t going anywhere soon. Brandon got out to inspect the ‘damage’ and was pleased to report there didn’t appear to be any, despite the fact our front end was clearly in a trench and not on the road and our trailer hitch was touching the ground behind us. Cool as a cucumber, Brandon locks in the hubs, starts the car up again and slowly but surely drives us out of the hole we got ourselves into. We pull over a short way up the road to see if there was any missed damage or fluids leaking now that we were out of the hole and still nothing to be seen. Looking at the impact point, it seems the chassis railing and winch took the brunt of the hit, with a minor dent in the bullbar. Dodged a bullet there! (we are having problems with our dashcam or else I’d post footage of the incident – quite impressive really. Alas, we don’t have it recorded L )

Thankfully the rest of the drive was uneventful. As with every other road we have been on, we came across a number of stretches of road workers grading the road, and cattle. Lots and lots of cattle. And not pretty, soft cattle but drought-hardy, weary looking cattle. They look like they’re doing it tougher than me, that’s for sure. We saw the odd emu or two and plenty of other bird life, quite a few kangaroos and even a feral pig with some piglets! But other than that the drive really was quite boring. The scenery was far from picturesque – dry grass, brown trees that occasionally looked green. It’s such a tough country out here, I don’t know how anyone could live here and work this land. It would depress me too much. That being said, it was easy to see where the flood plain would go through in the wet season, based on how plants were growing and where the marshy areas were. Brandon and I commented to each other we’d like to see this area in the wet season to really appreciate it because it certainly isn’t much in the dry season!

The one part of the road that was a little different was when we had to cross the Mitchell River towards the end of this side road and approaching the Burke Development Road. During the wet season this would be an impassable stretch of water, and even in the dry season you need to take it easy. But they have a fiord in place and have laid rubber matting down on top to make the crossing much easier. I actually enjoyed the crossing and that’s saying something from such a scaredy-cat like me!

We stopped for lunch on the side of the road after crossing the Mitchell River. It was around this time I was grateful that we were carrying our own toilet! Admittedly it was strapped to the roof of the camper, but Brandon dutifully retrieved it for me and set it up beside the car so I could have a tinkle 😉 I’ve never been good at bush peeing – too OCD I suspect. But now we bring our own loo, I don’t need to be good at it! J Photo evidence not supplied LOL

Finally we reached Normanton. A nice little town, with phone reception (that is my new definition of whether a town is nice or not – does it have phone reception?) We pulled up to the caravan park and set up a quick camp site without the annex. It was nice to be back in civilisation for a while and we even had a swim at the pool! That is Charlotte’s new definition of whether something is nice or not – does it have a pool? 😉 The weather is still quite warm out this way – low 30s during the day – although it cools down in the evening to make sleeping in canvas quite pleasant.

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Eskimo Charlotte in Normanton – despite the wrapping up, it was actually quite warm and pleasant.

From Normanton, we headed to Adels Grove in Lawn Hill National Park. It was (thankfully) an uneventful drive and we even managed to get away early! Yay us! On pack up days our intention is always to get going early and while the alarm is usually set for 7am or similar, we rarely jump right up and get going. Well, *I* do, but the rest of Team Hazelwood is a little slower off the mark! I usually look longingly at fellow campers who are all packed up and ready to drive off at 8am and wonder how they do it. But this time around, we were one of those campers and managed to hit the road by 8.30am. Unheard of.

The scenery around this area isn’t much to look at if truth be told – very dry trees, brown grassy plains. There are some lovely rock formations and mountains the look great in the setting sun as their rusty brown rocks pick up the sun’s rays. The nature walk you can do at Adels Grove was initially a walk over dry, dusty paths and I was beginning to lose faith with the ‘grove’ part of the name. But eventually we reached the creek and our view was transformed. The juxtaposition between the dry, arid surrounding countryside and the greenery around the water is quite remarkable.

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There are two camp grounds at Adels Grove and because we wanted to be able to use our generator we had to go with the ‘top’ camp ground that was a little more dusty and less pretty. If we’d been willing to be self-sufficient we’d have been able to camp in The Grove, which is right next to the creek and more picturesque. It’s also more shady though meaning less success with solar panels. So we erred on the side of caution and chose the sunny, dusty site. We had some good neighbours who made for interesting company around the campfire at night.

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We used the OzPig for the first time at Adels Grove so I could cook roast lamb in the camp oven. The pig takes a while to generate coals so we ended up just putting some flaming logs up on the camp oven to speed up the process!
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Roast lamb and baked potatoes with vegetables – camp fire cooking at its best!

We finally got the canoe into the water at Adels Grove! I told Brandon is he was going to all the trouble to bring the canoe, then it had to hit the water at least every second or third place we camped. Unfortunately crocodile warnings have laid rest to those plans, but here at Adels Grove the only crocs are 30-40 freshwater crocs that aren’t around the grove itself but further into the national park. They have canoe hire there if you don’t have your own so I took that as a good sign it was safe for the canoe to come off the boat loader 😉 We paddled up as far as we could go without having to take the canoe out of the water to go further upstream and hit some faster running water going back towards the way we came. We had to duck under the pandanas growing by the creek’s edge and struggled to keep heading upstream but eventually the current got the better of us and we shot back downstream! Later when I asked Charlotte what her favourite part of the day was, she said the bit when we went backwards fast in the canoe 😉

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You see some interesting sights on the water! 🙂

We also did a small cruise on the river and Lawn Hill Gorge in the national park itself and saw more of the waterways – quite stunning 🙂

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Walking back to the car from the cruise and we came across these catfish – Brandon was able to feed them by hand and scratch their noses!

The water has a very high calcium content and needs to be filtered before drinking – you can see the effects of the calcium on all the plants and water. A product called ‘tufa’ lays over everything – it is essentially hardened calcium deposits and means all the plant matter around these parts needs to be very hardy. For us humans the impact of the calcium is that it made everything really dry – you need to constantly apply moisturiser to cope with the drying effect on your skin. My fingerprint scanner on my mobile phone doesn’t recognise my fingers anymore thanks to the dry skin!

After 3 nights at Adels Grove, it was time to move on. But I’ll save that horror story for later – it really does deserve its own post!

Nights on the road (up to leaving Adels Grove): 20

The Tip! (not the rubbish kind)

After surviving the corrugations of the Peninsula Development Road, it was a relief to finally make it to Seisia, at the top of Cape York. We stopped in to the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) on our way up to see what that would be like – we had entertained the idea of doing that track but had been warned it was pretty “gnarly” (do people still use that word these days? Apparently so!).  And “gnarly” it was!

The initial track through to the first water crossing at Palm Creek was quite good with only a few little spots that required some caution. Poor Brandon – with such a sooky pants in the car (that’s me, not Charlotte – she loves everything to do with the car being on it’s side or bouncing around up and down) this small bit of 4WD-ing is probably all he’s likely to do on this trip 😦 We would have attempted OTT if the Palm Creek crossing was passable as that is apparently the worst. But alas it was just too risky for us. It really was quite bad – particularly for heavy vehicles towing heavy camper trailers! We stopped to watch two cars attempt the steep descent into and then climb out of the creek and I was cringing all the way. The first car was driven by the son, the second driven by the father. I was talking to the mother on the banks of the creek and she said her and her husband had done quite a lot of 4WD-ing. When I watched first her son and then her husband attempt to exit Palm Creek, I was able to see where his experience came in! The son gave his car too many revs at the top of the slope and ended up getting stuck (and, as it turned out, damaged his wheel or tyre and had to change it after winching himself free). Meanwhile Dad does it after him a more measured and steady pace and makes it look easy.

The son entering the creek…

The son leaving the creek…

Dad showing us all how it’s done…

Not surprisingly, we made the very adult decision to give it a miss. We had also heard that the road in to Elliot Falls (our next destination) was likely impassable thanks to deep water and while we could probably take a more northerly road to reach it, it would add a few hours to our trip. So we decided to just head straight to Seisia instead.

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The infamous sign leading the way to ‘gnarly’ tracks

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There are literally millions of termite mounds throughout the Cape. Every now and then you see someone has decided to make one stand out 😉
Brandon’s one and only 4WD attempt on the OTT 😉

It was drizzly and wet as we arrived so Brandon suggested as a treat we stay in a cabin – I think he felt sorry for me having to put up with all that red dirt and adding in the rain would have just about sent me stark raving mad! Setting up the camper and annex in the rain is certainly something we’re going to have to experience, but my capacity to cope with discomfort is being stretched a bit already, so let’s just take things one at a time. A cabin it was, for two glorious nights. Yes, I know, I’m a bit soft. But I have another 3 months to toughen up, OK?We were planning to stay at Loyalty Beach Campground originally because Brandon had been told they had palm cockatoos there. Brandon loves palm cockatoos and he would probably tell you he only had 2 things he wanted to achieve while we were up the Cape – (1) catch a fish off the Seisia wharf, and (2) see a palm cockatoo in the wild. Turns out, palm cockatoos like Seisia too 😉

We were driving back into the campground after a quick trip to the shops and suddenly Brandon brings the car to a screaming halt and says “palm cockatoo” – and voila, there on the ground right in front of us was this illusive creature that Brandon has waited most of his life to see! Just hanging out, nibbling on a nut. Right in front of us. And then, later during our visit, we saw another one just next door to our cabin! Brandon was able to get incredibly close to it, which I thought was pretty special 🙂

(Side note: alcohol restrictions in this part of the country mean you are limited to what you can buy at the bottle shop in Bamaga. When we saw the first palm cockatoo we were coming back from a trip to buy our allowable limit of alcohol – in this case, a 30 pack of cans of beer and a 2 litre cask of moscato (yeah, cask moscato – it’s a thing up here). You know your car is packed to the brim when you have to sit your carton of beer on your lap!)

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Beer balancing
Our first night, we watched the sun set as we sat next to the water in Seisia – even knowing there were probably crocodiles in the water in front of us, we still enjoyed the ambience. We also made friends with the locals – tree frogs and wild horses. This little green tree frog parked himself outside our cabin for pretty much the entire time we were there. He was adorable 🙂 At one point, Brandon grabbed a grasshopper that was jumping about the garden nearby and held it in front of the frog’s nose. As soon as one of the grasshopper’s legs brushed against the frog – gulp! He was gone. So cool to watch! And if you come to Seisia you have to get used to seeing wild horses everywhere. They roam through the campsite and attack the wheelie bins in the evening, hunting for food. They were hanging out the back of our cabin. We were warned against approaching them – they have a nasty bite apparently.

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Doesn’t get much better than this!

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Charlotte’s new friend

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Seisia beach looking towards the jetty

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Charlotte thought this bush turkey was trying to get away with having us believe it was a palm cockatoo.

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Horses hanging around camp
We left the camper at the cabin and headed for the Tip proper on our second day. (Charlotte took great pleasure in pointing out we were going to the Tip of Cape York and not a rubbish tip.) Despite the volume of red mud we brought back with us, it was great to finally get to that illusive sign I had seen on so many television programs about the Cape. The tip of the continent of Australia – pretty cool really. It required a bit of climbing up a small rocky mountain but I heard not one word of complaint from Charlotte about all the walking and climbing. It was marvelous 🙂

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These rock ‘mountains’ are all over the path as you climb to the tip. Charlotte insisted on putting a rock on every. single. one.

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We made it!
On our second morning, Brandon headed off to the Seisia wharf nice and early for a spot of fishing. While I suspect he had hoped for more variety in his catch, he came away having caught three quite nice sized trevally. Apparently the highlight was watching the 6 foot shark chasing his trevally in, and then also seeing a 5 foot grouper following too!

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The catch

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Happy camper (see what I did there?)
We initially planned to stay 3-4 nights up the top but we’d pretty much seen all there was to see, Brandon had been for a fish and the palm cockatoos had made an appearance, so we decided we might as well start our trek back south. Obviously Brandon would have been happy to fish for days more and I would have been happy to lounge in a cabin for days more, but we needed to keep moving. Too much to see in a short period of time! We have a few places we want to add to our itinerary so being a few days ahead of schedule isn’t a bad thing. On the way south, we stopped in at Fruit Bat Falls. This is a day use area only, no camping allowed. There’s a walk of about 200 or so metres from the carpark to the Falls and then you reach this glorious freshwater water hole along the Elliot River where you can swim and paddle around. Charlotte was in heaven – she’s such a water baby. Some people were swimming but we hadn’t brought our swimmers down from the car so we settled for a quick paddle before hitting the road again. I pointed out an orchid flower I hadn’t seen before which was also a new one for Brandon too. I can’t remember what it’s called now, but no doubt JH will tell me.

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Fruit Bat Falls

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Fruit Bat Falls

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Fruit Bat Falls

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A new (for us) orchid

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Fruit Bat Falls
After this we made our way to Bramwell Station. We had heard that this place had a good atmosphere and had live music etc each night, so we thought it would be a good place to stop for the night. Like most places here, it was a little rough around the edges but the beer was cold and during happy hour the manager, Ken, put on a talk about the history of the Station, the current owners and the surrounding area. If you wanted to join in the buffet meal (for $35/head) at this point you could but we retreated to our campsite as we had just splurged on the cabin and didn’t really need to spend more money. We packed up in the morning and continued our journey south, returning to Musgrave Station for a final night on the PDR before beginning our trip west. Unfortunately, after arriving at Musgrave some 5 hours later we realised we had left behind a rather integral pole for our annex at Bramwell. After a nervous few hours, we were able to get the Station to confirm they had our pole (which also has our LED lights attached to it) and had put it in their office for safe keeping. Now as I write this we are waiting to hear if someone is heading south from Bramwell tomorrow who can bring the pole to us! If not, we’ll ask them to hold on to it and arrange them to send it back to us COD once we return to Brisbane. Brandon has found there’s a camping supply place in Katherine so we may just have to make do until then. We plan to get up early in the morning to ring the Station again to see if they have found anyone to send the pole with. If not, we’ll head off without it. But if they did, we’ll wait around here another night to get our pole back. Stay tuned for more news I guess!

EDIT: Pole was found by the manager of the station but no-one was heading as far south as Musgrave the next day so we pushed on. The manager, Ken, lives in Brisbane and will be returning home at the end of October. He is bringing our pole home with him and will contact us to collect it 🙂 Meanwhile, we will have to make do with what we have and will buy another one at the next camping shop we find.

I suspect it will be a little while until our next blog post as we head off into unchartered territory and do some bush camping on our way to the Burke Development Road and Normanton. From there we are heading to Lawn Hill Gorge for a few days and then across into NT and Katherine. We have ordered some Clearview mirrors through a supplier in Katherine so they should be there when we arrive and who knows – we might have to source a local camping shop to buy a new annex pole if we’re not lucky!

Night on the road: 16