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

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