Nullarbor and beyond…

Forgive me as it has been some weeks since my last blog post.

I have come to realise that providing regular posts relies on having some relaxing down time that allows me to bring out the laptop and set myself up in a comfortable environment. I’m fussy like that. Unfortunately circumnavigating Australia in the time period we are doing is kind of the antithesis of things like ‘relaxing down time’ and ‘comfortable environments’. And we’re doing quite of lot of fun things so it’s hard to make time to sit down at the laptop 😉

For anyone contemplating a trip like this, I definitely suggest you make sure you have lots and lots of time. It really is an exhausting endeavour to travel around the entirety of Australia in just under 4 months. We started the trip with naive optimism and allowed ourselves to spend extra nights here and there. While this flexibility made for a more relaxed first half to our trip, it has undoubtedly contributed to us feeling a little more rushed for the second half.

At the end of my last post we were about to head off across the Nullarbor. I was super excited about this prospect for a number of reasons. Probably the strongest of these was that crossing the Nullarbor meant heading closer to the things I was more familiar with – towns I’d been to before and even landscapes I was used to seeing. We wouldn’t seem so far away from it all, we’d be back into a similar time zone. Another reason for looking forward to crossing the Nullarbor was that I really wanted to see the Nullarbor! I’d heard so much about this epic stretch of Australia and it once seemed so formidable. I was excited to be able to see if for myself.

So when last I wrote we were staying the night in a hotel room in Esperance to escape the cold (oh boy – if only I knew then what awaited us when we arrived in Tasmania!)… Because we didn’t need to pack up the camp site in the morning, we made use of having a little extra time and visited a local wildflower show. We missed the ‘big’ one in Ravensthorpe on our way to Esperance so it was nice to read a flyer advertising a smaller display at the local church.

The local horticultural community had put a lot of effort into their show and they were very welcoming when we walked in the door. There were a few other stalls/displays that caught our eye, including a lovely lady who had ‘raw’ wool and was combing it and spinning it on her wheel. Charlotte thought that was pretty cool. Another element that caught Charlotte’s attention was the questionnaire we were given to fill out. One very enthusiastic club member had put together a series of questions that you could only answer if you went around to all of the exhibits and read the accompanying information. The exhibits that provided answers were all numbered so Charlotte took charge of the clipboard and saw it as her job to help us find answers to all the questions! I was hoping for a small reward or congratulations at the end after we diligently went around and wrote everything down but alas we just drifted outside the door and no-one was any the wiser to our newfound understanding of the local salt lake flora community 😦

I have a few photos from the display but Brandon’s wildflower post (hopefully coming soon!) will tell you more…

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The entrance to the wildflower exhibit
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Some of the exhibits
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Some of the exhibits
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Some of the exhibits

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Brandon and Charlotte consulting over the questionnaire

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After this it was on towards the Nullarbor and the longest, straightest stretch of road in Australia (146km). I actually ended up driving a lot of that to give Brandon a break from driving. I figure what harm could I do driving in a straight line?!

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Nullarbor here we come!
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The biggest inhabitants of this neck off the woods are suicidal bugs!

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The scenery of the Nullarbor was rather bland but we expected that. However, we pulled over at one of the many lookout spots along the way and were rewarded with a great view of the coastline – that was what I really wanted to see. The Great Australian Bight – it was awe-inspiring. Before long we had crossed the border into South Australia and immediately lost 1 and ½ hours!

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Yippee – another state line 🙂
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The Great Australian Bight – very impressive
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Bight selfie
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Charlotte just loves contributing to any rock pile she can find (and we’ve actually seen quite a few on our travels!)

I underestimated the impact that changing time zones was going to have on me. When we crossed into WA we lost a few hours and suddenly it was sunset at 5pm. The days seemed to end much quicker, although we were getting up earlier – I was waking at 5.30am because my body clock was telling me it was 7.30am. On mornings when we had to get up and get moving early, that habit worked quite well for us. Alas on days when we drove long distances, setting up at 6pm and then having to scramble to get Charlotte showered and fed in time for a decent bedtime was next to impossible. Charlotte has now had to get used to having a lot of flexibility with her bedtime which is fine while we’re on the road, but it will be a harsh return to reality when we get home and get back to our regular routine! (Although I suspect she will actually quite enjoy going back to a regular routine and will respond well to the boundaries we’ll have to re-enforce.)

Crossing into a new time zone can sometimes be difficult – one minute it is 4pm and the next it is 5.30pm. I know it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal but when you are driving from one destination to the next and you are making plans to stop at a certain place and set up camp for the night, you tend to watch the clock a bit in the late afternoon so as to avoid having to set up camp in the dark. Crossing the border into SA we suddenly lost some time. Thankfully we were staying at the Nullarbor Roadhouse that night which makes set up a little easier (dinners usually take place in the roadhouse restaurant on nights like this). Charlotte actually made a friend at the roadhouse – the 6 year old son of a fellow camper trailer travelling family, The Howards, who we had actually seen at the lookout earlier that day. We shared a dinner table and discovered some remarkable similarities between the Howards and ourselves. It was a lovely connection and when they said they were heading to Streaky Bay the next day we decided to modify our plans and head there too (we had originally planned to Venus Bay for a few nights but we had no reason to be there specifically, so stopping a short distance away from that in Streaky Bay was not difficult).

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Charlotte and Ashley – we haven’t seen a camel yet!
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The Nullarbor roadhouse’s own attraction 😉
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Fake whale selfie

 

On the way along the second half of the Nullarbor the next day we stopped at the Head of the Bight, which is the best place to see whales during the spring season. We weren’t disappointed – there were at least 5 pairs of mothers and calves frolicking in the water beneath the cliffs and it was delightful to watch.

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Whales, whales and more whales
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Whales, whales and more whales
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We have seen so many of these fellows on the road! Shingleback lizards – literally hundreds on the roads

Our (my?) reason for selecting Streaky Bay wasn’t just to give Charlotte a play friend for a few days; Jo showed us photos of the bathrooms which were all set up like ensuites – each has a toilet, vanity and large shower. The Streaky Bay Islands Caravan Park has only been open since February of this year and it was such a luxurious treat to find such great amenities! The park has large (very large), tiered camp sites that are perfectly flat.

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The attraction of a clean amenities block!

It was a great place to stay for a few days. It was also a bit cold and windy but we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig stove. This was a great opportunity to head into town and look for a Mr Heater Buddy portable heater. We had wanted an alternative heat source for times like this and had been researching camping heaters so we were pleased to find the local hardware store had what we wanted. We won’t use it in the camper itself (despite what you see in this photo – that was a test), it will be for the annex.

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Streaky Bay has a few sights to see, one of which was a series of blowholes which we took a trip to see. Charlotte loved the long boardwalks that allowed her to run ahead of us. I just love the cliffs and coastline here – it’s breathtaking. And cold! The wind that comes up here pretty much comes straight from the South Pole, I’m sure!

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Lots of boardwalks to get to the blowholes

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After two nights in Streaky Bay, it was time to continue the trek east – we had a date with a big ship that was going to take us across the Bass Strait! So we headed further along the Eyre Highway towards Victoria, a route that took us through Kimba, South Australia. I had heard about the painted silos that seem to be dotted across the country, mostly in South Australia and Victoria. So I was really pleased to see that Kimba had some painted silos! They were every bit as impressive as I had hoped they would be.

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Painted silos at Kimba

Charlotte was pleased to see that Kimba also had a giant galah 😉

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The Big Galah

We weren’t exactly sure where we were going to end up when we left Streaky Bay because we didn’t know exactly how far we were going to be able to travel that day (recall what I said earlier about changing time zones!). We had thought we’d stop at Port Augusta but nothing there really took our fancy and we still had a little bit of daylight left so we kept moving. We headed a little further east towards Wilmington but we couldn’t find a 24 hour rest stop which was the first time we’d had that problem. It seems the southern states may not have as many of them as we’d encountered in WA. So we were starting to get a little nervous when it was getting to be dusk and we hadn’t yet spotted anywhere yet to stay. WikiCamps hadn’t provided any morsels of joy either.

If we were travelling in a caravan we’d probably be able to just pull over on the side of the road somewhere and set up camp. You have more security in a caravan and don’t feel quite as open to the elements. But in a camper trailer, where all your cooking and living still happen outside and when you only have canvas between you and what waits outside, it’s a little less secure. In order to stay warm (well, not freeze), we also have to make sure all our canvas was zipped up tight which means no windows to look out. You’re a little like a sitting duck if someone wanted to come along and cause trouble. So we try to avoid just pulling up on the side of the road, particularly in towns, unless we’re in a gazetted rest area.

We finally found a caravan park in Wilmington and given the time of day we had no choice but to make camp there. It was actually a very pleasant last resort. The Beautiful Valley Caravan Park is more like a bush camp. We didn’t need a powered site just for one night so we were able to choose where we wanted to set up. We were also allowed to have a fire which was great – we used one of the fire pits a previous guest had established. We were nestled in the trees in a very private spot but with the advantage of a toilet block a few metres away. There was even a children’s playground and a pony to keep Charlotte entertained. It was quite a lovely surprise. And Brandon wants to head back there to do some sight-seeing around Alligator Gorge (not suitable for towing). As usual as soon as we had set up camp, Brandon disappeared into the bush to see what treats he could find 😉

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Pretend bush camp at Beautiful Valley
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Charlotte by the camp fire
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She found a pony 🙂
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Our view from the camper 🙂

The next day we headed off with the excitement of knowing that we were going to reach Victoria today. At least, I was excited. As we have been getting further and further east I have noticed Brandon getting a little less excited about places, perhaps not quite as enthusiastic as I have been about our impending Victorian/Tasmanian travels. I suspect that’s more a sign of him missing all that is now behind us and feeling rushed more than not necessarily wanting to go east. The downside to doing a trip this quick is that a lot of places you really like or want to explore you can’t really spend a lot of time at. It’s more an opportunity to identify parts of the country you want to come back and visit again. I know Brandon has already started planning a southern WA trip to see the wildflowers in more detail, hopefully this time with his Dad.

I was excited to be heading towards a part of the country I felt more familiar with, scenery that made me feel ‘at home’ and seemed less foreign. I have gotten so much out of what we’ve seen so far and am thrilled we had the chance to spend so much time in WA, but I was also constantly aware of how different the countryside over there was and how far way we were from everything. We were now going to be visiting places I’d been to before but wanted to share with Brandon and Charlotte – it felt nice to be heading towards a part of the country that was closer to home, that looked and felt more predictable.

Unfortunately, the predictable hostility of the weather was something I had forgotten about, something that caused us some troubles as we headed east and then on to Tasmania. I’ll save that story for the next post…

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 11 weeks, 1 day

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