We had only been driving for 45 minutes this morning when we came to a standstill behind a queue of traffic at a level crossing. The cause was a stationary train with over 200 empty trucks. Various people had got out of their cars and James was talking to the truck driver behind us. He said that he had never seen this before and that the trains were automated so there must be a problem. Eventually a horn was blown, and the train began to move slowly.
As we drove further away from Port Hedland and Dampier we left the quarries and gas plants behind but not the mines. The road crosses the Fortescue Bridge which has 22 spans and was built in 1973. There was a little water in the river. As we entered Ashburtonshire, termite mounds made a brief reappearance having not been seen on the plains since Port Hedland. At the Mesa Mine, the highway goes over the mine road on a large bridge. Before the Nanutarra Road House, some purple mountains appeared on the right, a brief respite from red rocks and hills. I was loving the colours of the landscape and wished I could have travelled more slowly and explore some landscape photography but our three-month visa limits that and an exploration of the nearby coast. Back in the bush where there are several rivers, the land was greener but soon reverted to red earth. There were many wildflowers in bloom. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at 12.32h between the Mia Mia rod junction and the rest area at Lyndon River. This was where we stopped for lunch. There was a dilapidated caravan and 4WD at the side of the area with a guy in his seventies fiddling about underneath it. Two council workers were emptying the bins and cleaning the toilets. After photographing some birds, I was chatting to the female worker while her colleague was assisting the man. He was an itinerant and one of the caravan tyres had blown. His jack would not fit to lift the van up. The council worker found theirs and went over to help. James said that the spare tyre was not in great condition. I complimented the woman for the help they were giving, and her response was ‘we see them all the time’.
We carried on and about 90km outside Carnarvon, our destination, spotted two emus but could not stop for photographs. The town provides 80% of the fruit and vegetable needs of Western Australia and sits on the Indian Ocean coast. We were back in banana plantations and with palm trees not really seen since we were in Queensland. The town has a wide main street from the days when camel trains brought wool to the coast for distribution and it needed to be wide enough for them to turn around. One of the old tramways is now a walkway to one of the old jetties.
We stretched our legs around the inlet and had our evening meal watching the sun go down, now a little later than further north and a little cooler.
Yesterday we drove 221 miles and today 419 making our total 6,490. Tomorrow will be a slower, shorter journey. Hopefully we will have resolved one of our tech problems. I sorted out James’s phone yesterday but the eternal problems with 2009 classic iPods and car audio systems continue. You need your iPod if you want to drive with music out here. Radio signals are limited to towns along the road. Two years ago my iPod and carefully constructed playlist would not work with the rental car we had in the USA. At that time, the suggestion was to reset the car system. I might have tried that with my own car but not a rental car and I needed the satnav to get me through Manhattan to the Lincoln Tunnel the next day. This year the iPods have been crashing after variable lengths of time when playing through a car. Researching this, some folks have suggested getting rid of album cover art (some of it I have been looking at since 1974) so that has been done and it no longer crashes but skips a lot of tracks. These are not corrupt and play on iTunes and when we are listening with headphones. We may get to the solution eventually.
We were back on Highway One on the 1st of October, heading west. The termite mounds seemed bigger and rounder here and it struck me that there must be a PhD in termite mound structures and sizes in Northern Australia if some entomologist has not already done one. Baobab trees and purple flowers on the verge began to reappear and we had driven 136km before we encountered any roadworks. By the time we got to the roadhouse at Willare, I was in need of caffeine. It has a café, but this was closed and only instant coffee was available. The roadhouse is next to a bridge over the Fitzroy river which eventually ends at the sea in Derby. We continued on to Broome. As it was not time to check into our hotel we drove to Gantheaume Point.
There are dinosaur footprints on the beach here, which are visible at very low tides. This was not due to happen during our visit and the information board at the point asks people not to attempt it as clambering over slippery rocks at the base of the cliffs can be dangerous. Today several people were swimming from the point and the Indian Ocean was a wonderful blue. There is a lighthouse here and the structure is a good nesting and perching site for birds.
In the late afternoon we drove over to Cable Beach to watch the sunset. The beach was named after the Australia to Java telegraph cable which emerged there. Sunset viewing is a very popular activity in high season. There are bars you can sit in or picnic on the grass or as we did, sit on a bench. 4WD vehicles are allowed on a certain area of the beach. Whichever option you pick, get there early to park & pick a spot. Cable Beach is 22km long so quieter places are possible. There are three companies offering camel safaris at sunset, late afternoon or morning. The beachside restaurants had queues outside after the sun went down so we drove back to the town centre to dine.
The following morning we explored China Town. Broome grew on the pearling industry which began in the 1880s. Hence there are several stores selling Broome pearls and others from around the Pacific. I did some early Christmas shopping in one store that had a sale. The prices of some jewellery is well into four figures. Later we stopped at Magabala Books, a publisher and bookseller of indigenous books. Had i not got my baggage weight at the end of the trip to consider I could have bought several. It has a good selection of children’s books. Plans for the rest of the day were cooling off in the pool and walking to the lost isolated brewery in Australia, Matso’s for a cold beer. One thing of note about Broome is that it is very spread out. You think something is just a couple of blocks away and then discover the distance. You either need your own wheels (car or bike) or to use the bus network to get around.
Having spent a few days in the outback it was time today to return to the city and the ocean. Our motel was just off the highway in Katherine, so we were on our way fairly quickly. Highway One was fairly quiet although we did see our first four tanker road train and there were the inevitable roadworks. Our coffee stop was in Pine Creek at a café where a cat was sitting outside the door ready to greet us. Further on in the town is a railway museum. It was closed when we passed by, but I had a brief look around. Inevitably the gold rush was the reason the railway opened in 1889. It was extended to Katherine in 1917 but never got as far as Alice Springs. When a nearby mine closed in 1976 the railway closed. In 2004 the Darwin to Adelaide line opened which we must do at some point.
There are a couple of locomotives in a shed. As it was closed I had to take photographs through the wire enclosure.
We continued north into a more rocky and hilly landscape. Just after Hayes Creek, the option to divert via the Dorat Road to Adelaide River where it rejoins Highway One. It was even quieter and the termite mounds even bigger. Some were almost 3 metres tall.
We saw some kangaroos grazing in the bush but all too soon we were back on the main road. A sign to a place called ‘Tortilla Flats’ raised a smile. After Mount Dam the water pipe ran alongside the road. Bad signage nearer Darwin meant that we missed our exit but third time lucky we were on the correct road and off to the airport to dump the rental car. Some bizarre rules mean that we could not keep the same car all the way around according to the offices in the UK and Sydney. The woman in the Darwin office thought that we could have had a rolling contract. Anyway, it is pleasant to be car-less for a day and hopefully we can re-negotiate the fee we are being charged which is for those dropping off at a different destination. Whichever car we have, it will be returned to Sydney where we started. One bit of good news is that when we checked into our hotel, we got upgraded to a suite with an ocean view! The following morning, en route to the Botanic Garden, I spotted an Avis office in town. While James went in to switch the car pick up to that office I explored the Catholic Cathedral opposite.
We walked the just under two miles to the Gardens and enjoyed being back in a green oasis after the dry outback.
Unlike the last one we visited, the epiphytic greenhouse was open and gave me some ideas to try with my orchids and some of my succulents if they have survived my absence. After a cold drink at the cafe it was time to walk a little further to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. One of the exhibitions was 66 out of the 300 entries for the Telstra National and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. There were other galleries of art work and I particularly liked some of the linocuts and wood engravings and hope that these will inspire me to get back to my art over the winter.
There were other very colourful works as well as galleries devoted to the geology and natural history, Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day in 1974 which I remember being reported on the TV and some early 20th century history of the Territory. After walking back to the hotel (with a diversion to a cold beer) it was time to relax with the AC on. Later on we found Darwin’s bookshop: Readback Books and Aboriginal Art Gallery. As usual when travelling I have to restrict myself and we bought one novel which we can leave behind when finished. I overheard the proprietor telling another customer that her main business was the art gallery and the books were a hobby. Sunset is later up here but it was so cloudy little could be seen. Today was the autumn equinox and a full moon. However, we could not see the moon for cloud so here is last night’s almost full one.
The ferry to Fraser Island leaves from River Heads at the mouth of the Mary River.
We had wanted to visit the island but the sandy roads require 4WD with high clearance and deflated tyres. This meant we would have had to hire one but we also fancied a break from driving. I booked a day tour: there are several, but we chose one with a maximum of 16 people in a converted vehicle which can cope with the terrain. We were picked up from our motel and were soon on the way, spotting a brief glimpse of a humpback whale in the bay. The ferry crossing is 50-55 minutes and then you have arrived on the largest sand island in the world. It has had several names. The first was K’gari, the nearest translation is ‘paradise’. This was given by the indigenous Butchulla people. Captain Cook named it “Great Sandy Peninsula’, not realising it was an island. This was later discovered by Matthew Flinders to be the case. Fraser Island became the name after a shipwreck left behind the wife of Captain Fraser who remained with the Butchulla people for a year before being rescued. Unfortunately her account of her time with them was dramatised, not accurate and may have contributed to their forced removal from the island later on.
We were driven on a sandy track across the centre of the island. It reminded me of being driven across similar terrain in the back of a Landrover with the nurses, on our way to a clinic in northern Kwazulu in South Africa on my medical student elective. Sandtool Sandblow was our first stop at the overlook.
We were then driven part of the way up 75 mile beach which runs along the east coast, spotting our first dingo. Those on the island are pure bred as dogs and cats are not allowed. We also passed what is called ‘coffee rock’ because of the colour but is actually remnants of the nutrient layer in the sand which allows trees to grow. On the beach, this exposed layer suggests that the island once extended further east.
The beach is a highway with speed limit signs and the need to avoid aeroplanes landing. There are two police officers on the island and they will test for alcohol and drugs should the need arise.
We stopped briefly at Eli Creek: a freshwater stream that runs into the ocean.
Further on there were a couple of worm collectors on the sand. The worms are collected and sold at profit to bait shops for fishermen. A good income can be had and licences to dig worms are hard to come by. One only comes available if someone who has one, dies.
A little further on is the Maheno shipwreck which is gradually sinking into the sand. The ship was built in Scotland, used as a hospital ship during the First World War. Afterwards she returned to commercial service and at the end was sold to shipbreakers in Japan but was separated from the towing ship in a cyclone and had to be abandoned.
Before we turned round to head south we stopped at The Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs sacred to Butchulla women.
Our lunch stop was a the Happy Valley Hotel before heading back up with beach with several humpback whales in the distance. We left the beach at Eurong before stopping at Central Station where logging was transported by railway until the advent of lorries. The community has now disappeared and logging stopped in 1991. Instead there is a rainforest walk. King Ferns grow in the freshwater but we were told that the ones in Daintree National Park are larger. The last stop was Lake Mckenzie, a rainfall lake at the top of the dunes. It was too cold for me to swim in but a few brave souls did.
There are places to stay for longer in the resort. Alternatively you can, even if you have no qualifications, stay at the manned lighthouse in the north of the island. It is a weather station so readings must be made and sent off twice a day and you need to take all you need for 30 days as there are no supplies. You can earn $30 per day if that appeals. All too soon it was time for us to leave and the sun was setting as we sailed back to Hervey Bay.
It is now officially winter and after several years of mild winters probably due to climate change, an approaching snow storm was forecast. The lack of snow probably had nothing to do with the fact that I had found a book on snowflake photography just after our last snow in 2010. I have not been able to try any macro photography of snow or ice since, not even on the Iceland trip. We had decided to stay in Birkenhead the night before our morning ferry as problems on any of the three motorways we use to get there could have delayed us. We did not anticipate any problems getting there in the afternoon. However, while we are all too aware of the problems satellite navigation systems can have in rural areas, this was unexpected in an urban setting. It kept trying to send us down the Queensway tunnel to Liverpool, not to the street in the next block we needed to get to. Once on the tunnel approach you cannot turn around. A very helpful member of staff at the toll booth (who has probably experienced this before), let us out and we reached our destination. The following morning the sailing was delayed and we eventually boarded in the midst of wind and sleet. That had already put paid to any shots of dawn over Liverpool and I had thought that I would be wandering around on the very cold and wet deck taking photographs. Fortunately there was a brief lull in the weather south of the Isle of Man and I was able to watch the sun going down before the next front approached.
We arrived in Belfast only an hour later than scheduled and were in the car ready to disembark when we were told to go back inside as a broken down truck was blocking the ramp. This took almost two hours to sort out. Fortunately we could go back into the lounge (it’s worth paying a bit more for Stena Plus on long daytime sailings) and I had a couple of brandies courtesy of Stena. James had to stay sober as he was driving. Someone told us that thinking it had run out of fuel, they brought some more diesel but found out that there was some air in the fuel system. This would have locked the brakes. Some engineers from Merseyside we were chatting to were amazed that in a port, there was no means of dragging the vehicle away that could be found quickly. At least once we could leave the roads were quiet, there was very little snow and we arrived about 11.30pm.
We woke to sun and light cloud on our first full day in Shetland. Rain was forecast later and having spent so much time yesterday in the car, we decided to explore on foot. A little further back down the road is the Cross Kirk Churchyard which is still in use as a burial ground. The Roman Catholic Cross Kirk continued after the reformation but gained a reputation as a place of ‘superstitious pilgrimage’ and it was burnt to the ground in the 17th century by the minister of Northmavine, Hercules Sinclair who was a Protestant zealot. Some of the older stones apparently commemorate local notables but after a wet winter they were covered with lichens and I could not read them.
Back to the coast we descended to Stenness which was a Haaf (deep water) Station where fisherman went 40 miles offshore to fish for cod and ling with lines. The ruins of their summer lodges remain on the beach. Any sand on the beach is dark and along with all the black rocks, clues to the area’s volcanic past.
We wandered back along the coastal trail on the cliffs. Just south of the lighthouse is the Kirn O’Slettans. It is thought to have been one of the side vents of the volcano and when the waves are high enough they blow up it and the spray drenches the lighthouse. Back at the lighthouse we had lunch and then set off to Brae as James felt the need to find a newspaper (we had no internet at the lighthouse and the only thing on the TV news was the cyber attack). Mission accomplished, we stopped off at the Mavis Grind on the way back. Deserted by people but with sheep grazing, we walked along the shore and I picked up some wool for a future project.
After dinner, I sat outside and waited for the 21.40ish sunset.
Our second full day at the lighthouse was sunny but the wind had returned. We decided to walk up the coastal path to the north of the lighthouse. The trail is marked at stiles and occasionally signposts but mostly you follow the coast on sheep tracks and don’t get too close to the edge. Following sheep tracks reminded me of my childhood on the Ochil Hills. I spent hours just exploring on sheep tracks. We first reached the Hols O’Scrada, a 100m passage which was a long cave where the pressure of the water opened it to the sky. There used to be two holes but the bridge between them collapsed in 1873.
We diverted off the trail a little to visit the Broch O’Houlland where the remains of a defensive broch sit on a peninsula on the loch.
Further on up the coast there is a large gap in the cliffs at Grind O’ Da Navir.
We saw the New Year in quietly at home as James had worked a 12 hour day and then driven up here on Thursday and we had been out celebrating his birthday with friends on the 30th. The 31st had dawned with high winds which were blowing down all the barriers being erected in the city centre for the Hogmanay celebrations that evening. It then rained for a few hours in the afternoon. I had been contemplating doing some firework photography from Blackford Hill as the weather did improve a little. However, I could see myself slipping in the mud with all my equipment in the dark and thought better of it. New Year’s Day began quietly as some of my neighbours are away and one is a taxi driver who had been working last night. After coffee with friends who popped in to deliver a Christmas present, we needed some exercise and headed up Blackford Hill. The dog-walkers, kite-flyers and some runners were all out and a few others who like me were hoping so see a good sunset. The darkest clouds were moving away to the southwest but the sun remained mostly hidden as it set.
As we walked downhill towards the Observatory, I spotted this guy who was playing Auld Lang Syne on the top of one of the hillocks.