“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