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