AWOL Around Australia… The Kimberley. Part 1

So we drove the rest of the highway to Broome. Nice and quiet, good for making sure there are no untoward noises after the service. Also, really great to get so much done and really just peace of mind to know everything you can visually check, seems to be A OK. Especially as after Broome we would be exploring the Kimberley, so more rough and ready tracks and trails coming up, no doubt.
I’m going to skip a little here. As another tropical cyclone was forming off the coast of north Australia meant we had to wait to see what would happen with that before deciding exactly where to go next. So a few days in Broome, which isn’t so bad. We were here twenty years ago on our first road trip around this part of the world. It felt like a very cool town back then, in a shabby chic kind of way. Many say that has been lost with the resorts and posh new houses that have sprung up in the meantime, maybe so, but that’s the world we’re in now. To me it still retained enough of that character and is still a place you could have a really great time. Although, were travelling out of season. Most locals we interacted with just assumed we were also locals. I know a mate who came here in peak dry season, and hated it.
So the original plan was to head up the Gibb River Road and then up Kalumburu, at the northern tip of the Kimberley. However the cyclone delayed this too, after local advice was not to go for a few days till any possible torrential rain has subsided. Same local advice said a road was open, which then appeared closed. Next day we found out it was probably just the signs hadn’t been taken down yet. But at $1000/wheel for being on a closed road… I should have just called Main Roads on the sat phone like the co-pilot suggested. Anyway, there was another day gone. So we pounded bitumen to Wolfe Creek. (So I didn’t really skip anything, just summarised I guess).
Some pictures anyway.
Inquisitive Manta Ray, off Cable Beach.

Some kick-ass Balinese food we had whilst in Broome.

Matso’s is the local brewery, serving up all sorts of delights for hot and humid weather. You can ge the mango beer just about everywhere, shame you can’t get the others too. Not many Australian brewers have so good a touch for balance, in their beers.

Spring clean time!

Wolfe Creek had been on my radar after obviously watching the movie.
[sidenote; feel free to skip this if you want… When the movie Wolf Creek was released in Australia, I was away with the Army. So despite the massive hype around this film there was no way for me to watch it when it first came out. By the time I got back to civilisation the movie had been out literally months, and had probably had more publicity than any other movie for a long time (it’s a horror movie, based in the outback if you don’t know). The only cinema left showing it in Brisbane was one of those full on Art House jobs where you get your own armchair and the theatre maybe seats about 40 people. Despite all the publicity, still about halfway through (when the movie turns from being a backpacker type movie to a proper horror movie) at least half the cinema got up and walked out! I’m like, I’ve been living in the bush for the past 3 months and even I knew that was going to happen. I also tried to dissuade my mother from going and seeing it when she emailed me to say she was going to watch it. Too late, she got up and walked out too!]
So we head out to the crater, just like the movie… On the southern edge of HEMA’s Kimberley map, it feels more like the outback than the Kimberley, but anyway.
A sometimes smooth-ish and sometimes rough-ish dirt road takes you the 130km from the highway out to the crater. The land around is very flat, helping the crater to stand out, as opposed to say the Hickman crater, which you have to be standing on the edge of to make it out from the surrounding hills.
We, and the flies, make camp.
I notice we’re starting to wake earlier, around 5am this morning. I presume we are suffering the opposite effect when we were having heading west, now we are heading back east.
On my morning checkover I find a spotlight bracket broken. So I take it off. The other one is cracked but still holding at this point. Barely use the bloody things anyway…
Quick pack up and we drive over to the crater. It is a spectacle, and easily the most perfect circle of the craters we have seen. Second largest in the world apparently. Australia hates coming second…
Skin on this fella/sheila looked almost translucent, maybe he/she had just shed its skin.
We take the same Tanami Road back out, this road runs all the way to Alice Springs to the south, and where we were camped is the edge of the Tanami Desert. Hence it felt more like the outback in South Australia were used to rather than the Kimberley per se. You won’t find me complaining.
Apparently ants outnumber humans, not only by number but also by mass. I believe!
Weirdly this road feels smoother and easier going out, I guess that’s the effect of hitting it in the morning, with a fresh start, rather than hitting it later afternoon after 500km? of driving already done for the day. Worth remembering that for sticky situations late in the day, sometimes it’s best to park it and look with fresh eyes on the morrow.
Anyway, back on the bitumen and into the town of Halls Creek. Not a bad little place, we topped off fuel again and bought a couple of pies for brunch. From here we would keep heading east. Firstly to a couple of local sights and then taking another unknown minor track we could see on the map.
China Wall.
The rough and winding road out of town showcased all different ages of abandoned cars off the side.
The wheels told me this was a Discovery. Looking later at the photos, the melted aluminium bodywork confirmed the diagnosis!
We got a bit carried away looking for Sawtooth Gorge, until this minor obstacle stopped us in our tracks.
Anyway, we were on the wrong track as it turns out. We needed to be the other side of that range, see the gap in the rocks?
Ta dah!
Palm Springs.
These spots were all along the main dirt road and signposted, so had a corresponding amount of crap around them… Time to get off the beaten track.
We followed a trail off into the Ord River Regeneration area. Firstly skirting the fence line for this station.
I don’t think many people come down here…
We stop for a spot of lunch. Saying g’day to old mate.
I whip out the compressor and blow some grass seeds out of the radiator.
These ant hills guarded the horizon against the moody sky.
The road ahead.
We cross many dry rivers.
We can see a few bushfires on the horizon. The smoke is going straight up which is a good sign. No wind means they will spread slowly.
The trail is completely overgrown in sections. We see one set of tyre tracks long ago dried in a patch of mud, but that’s it. No one has been down this way in a long time. N carefully watches the GPS to make sure we are staying on the right track.
We skirt round Turner Hill and check out the abandoned Turner Station. As usual I would love to know what happened here? Maybe just a very dry wet season like the one we are travelling in, there must be a few worried farmers up here, as it’s almost guaranteed not to rain now for six months.
I find a spanner! Sidchrome too, good quality – half inch, useful size!
Turner Hill.
So we’re still mowing stuff down, like a lite version of All 4 Adventure.
The sun pokes out from behind the clouds.
There are small bushfires intermittently around, some smouldering up to the track but nothing moving with any speed.
We finally cross some water, stagnant and a bit soft, despite the rocky surface.
Deeper than it looks!
As we drive out the other side N says “we’re going in the wrong direction” “lets just give it a minute” I say, known that there are often small discrepancies in the exact position of the track on the map. But no, this track goes the wrong way. We back track to the water crossing, seems we might have missed a junction a short while back.
We find it. Easy to follow our own tracks back, we back on the route marked on the map, then…
I walk, but only so far. Not cool crashing through this thick undergrowth. We drive down a bit, but it’s literally a sea of overgrown, and more importantly there isn’t any sign of where you cross the water, and it’s getting dark.
Weirdly the map had been spot on, all day, right up to this point. No choice though, than to hang a u-bolt.
We backtrack, cross the water again. Switching to the the topo map we can see this track does eventually lead out. As we had been on this track for about 200km already, I was expecting to camp out here tonight anyway. Although with the fires, actually making it back to the main dirt road would be a good idea.
So we follow this track and make it back to the main dirt road – Duncan Road, just as the light is gone. Remember that spotlight I took off this morning….?
Anyway, one is a lot better than none.
Bushfires still doing their thing, about 100m off the road.
We drive on. Eventually at the NT border we find a clear enough spot in the Spinifex to camp. Quick chicken and rice for dinner and call it a night. I can see a few bushfires, but a long way away, still no wind. I wake every so often and have a look out the mesh of the tent, see if the light from the fires is any brighter, seems N was doing the same.
Our old man dog Rollo needs to go out for a whizz at 2am. I go out with him and then turn all the lights off and have another look at those fires. The breeze is up now, not windy but steadily blowing and in our direction. I stare at the brightest light, I think I can just see the direct light of the fire, not just reflected in the hazy night sky. Time to go.
No rush, we’re not in any immediate danger, no point in waiting though.
It’s about 200km back to the bitumen, this road is actually in pretty good condition, but no rushing from us. Unfortunately a few birds and one small kangaroo decides to hop back across the road into our path, nowhere to go… On the plus side we avoid many many others, such strange behaviour these creatures, many will just stop and sort of crawl away even though the truck is stopped right behind them. We also pass a really big snake, just down the road from a hopping mouse. Lots of wildlife on the road at night.
Sunrise just before we hit the main road.
We roll into Kununurra. Feeling pretty wasted.

One thought on “AWOL Around Australia… The Kimberley. Part 1”

  1. That’s wild old country to just go wandering off into. Glad you found an adventure that you could get out of…

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