We left Carnarvon on Saturday morning. The growers’ market was underway in front of the Information Centre and a pop-up Men’s Shed on the main street. From Carnarvon to the Overlander Roadhouse, Highway One is closer to the coast than it has been for some time. We drove through a desert landscape with only a few goats seen. The ground is too dry to support any other livestock. Wooramel Roadhouse was the coffee stop and shortly afterwards the red earth had changed to a sandy colour. Near Yaringa, we stopped at a lookout which was a welcome break from the miles of flat land with limited views.
There was more traffic heading southwards today as the spring school holidays finish this weekend. We then passed a notice telling us that we had crossed the 26th parallel and left the North West. Near the Overlander Roadhouse we took the road towards Denham and entered the World Heritage Area. This is also the traditional homeland of the Mulgana people. Hamelin Pool is an inlet with very high salinity and higher temperatures than the surrounding bays. It contains microbe mats that can become rocky structures called stromolites.
There is a boardwalk over the area and swallows were nesting underneath the wooden structure. There is also a circular walk through the bush. In the 1920s a wool shed stood on the shore. Camel trains brought the wool to the coast and it had to be loaded onto lighter boats to take it out to the ships in deeper waters. Eventually, when the road to Carnarvon had been completed and a rail link, the shed was demolished in 1968. We had our lunch at the rest area near the old telegraph station, the campsite and shop/tea room. I was about to photograph some pigeons on the roof of the shelter, but they were frightened off by a high school trip party who left noisily.
Further along the road and over the bush-covered hill is Shell Beach which is composed of cockle shells.
A few miles from Denham we again crossed the 26th parallel in the opposite direction and were back in the North West. Denham is the westernmost town in Australia. The westernmost part of the continent is Steep Point on a neighbouring peninsula. To get to it you need 4WD, high clearance and deflated tyres. There is also an entrance fee and campsites. The road leaves the Denham road long before the town is reached. We found our beachside motel and settled in before having dinner at the most western pub in Australia.
The day’s 212 miles added to our total brings it to 6,702.
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.
It was getting very windy late afternoon on our last day in Broome making waves on the pool outside our room. When we woke the next morning, the sky was much cloudier and the sea much less blue. The Broome Highway took us back to Highway One which then passes through the Roebuck Plains. Some of the shrubs we saw bare in Northern Territory have leaves on here and overall, the bush is greener unless there has been a recent bush fire. The road runs between the Great Sandy Desert on one side and the ocean on the other. At a rest area we watched a pair of crested pigeons in a nearby tree and I finally got a photo of a shrub/small tree I have been seeing for a while. It has red seed pods, and small rounded leaves. It is not in my Australian Tree Book, so I suspect it is a shrub.
The road runs through Anna Plains where the earth is sandier and then into a desert-like coloured landscape. I would have liked to take some photographs as there were even odd bits of fence and other items which would have been good in the foreground. It reminded me a little of the desert in Utah near the Great Salt Lake. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to pull off the road here and a little more traffic than we had seen for a while, so I had to give up on the idea. At the Sandfire Roadhouse, only instant coffee was on offer but as the temperature had climbed up to 40 degrees today, I had a cold drink. Like the Inn at Daly Waters where people leave stickers and other memorabilia, here there is a vogue for leaving your cap behind.
There were also number plates from around the world, road signs
and a selection of old machinery rusting outside.
Continuing along the road we passed a guy riding an electric bike with four panniers stuffed with things. I did not envy him in this heat. Just before Pardoo Roadhouse was a ‘Welcome to Pilbarra’ sign. This roadhouse sells freshly ground coffee, but it was too late in the day for me to have some as I have become a slow acetylator of caffeine and if I intend to sleep at night I can’t have any after 2pm. Our destination for the night was Pardoo Station Stay: a cattle ranch with rooms, cabins and a caravan park. It is near the coast, at the bottom end of 80-mile Beach but we were told you cannot walk there (it is only a few kilometres) and you need a 4WD to get right down to the beach. We did see a lovely sunset and had a chat with a couple of campers sitting around the campfire. It is lit at 5pm every day. They couple told us that they come up here every winter to escape the cold further south and that in peak season the caravan park is full, with people queuing up outside to get in.
Our waitress at dinner was from Ireland. We have met several people from the Emerald Isle on our journey so far. At times I still feel I have not left home: we saw an Everton shirt a few days ago, a child in a Liverpool Mo Salah strip yesterday and the receptionist at the motel in Timber Creek which is not really on the tourist trail, was from Kirkdale in Liverpool. In our room at Pardoo, the mugs were made in Stoke on Trent.
The following morning, we were back on the highway continuing westbound towards Port Hedland. At one point we had to avoid a large lizard who was crossing the road. Fortunately there was were no other vehicles there and we could swerve around him. The soil here is very red and hills began to appear on the horizon. We saw quite a few willy-willies: columns of dust like mini tornadoes.
Port Hedland is a big industrial area with the railway bringing iron ore in from the mines, a nearby limestone quarry and a huge pile of salt that puts British Salt’s heap in Middlewich to shame. Some of the termite mounds here have got white workers’ hats on them. There were long lines of trucks waiting to be filled and a large metal recycling plant. Between Whim Creek and Roebourne, the Sherlock River was the only watercourse we crossed that had any water in it. We passed through Roebourne to take the road off to Point Samson. There are some old stone buildings as you enter the town. These were the regional prison and can be visited. The current prison is on the road to Point Samson. A lookout at Point Samson revealed merchant ships queuing to get to the harbour to pick up consignments of iron ore.
I did some beachcombing and was admiring a new mural that some children were helping to paint on the walls of the toilet block. One of the people there was a wildlife warden, who spotting my camera (I had been trying to photograph birds on the shore), told me that there were ospreys nesting at the harbour and they were very easy to spot down there.
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.
Before leaving Halls Creek this morning, I got a photograph of the cows on top of the local supermarket. I had noticed them the day before, but it was too busy to get a parking spot. The cows are testament to how important the beef industry is to the local area. The town holds a rodeo every July. Wikipedia said that in 2016 a mining company was exploring setting up in the area to mine iron ore. A population explosion was expected, and several stores and fast food businesses were planning to come to Halls Creek. There is no obvious evidence in town two years later, that this has happened. We did pass a small mine west of town on the highway but too quickly to see who or what it was. Halls Creek is on the edge of the desert and much of the land alongside the road is flat grassland with a few bushes or trees. Later on, some rocks did appear near the road and other escarpments were visible on the horizon.
Our destination was Fitzroy Crossing. The Fitzroy River (known as raparapa to the indigenous community who have inhabited the area for 40,000 years) has one of Australia’s largest catchment areas: 90,000 square kilometres. It has 20 tributaries and the water can rise up to 26 metres over the old crossing in the wet season. The area has flooded numerous times in the past and the town of Fitzroy Crossing was founded to enable an adequate crossing to be constructed. The first bridge was built in 1935 and the modern one in 1970. Today there was only a little water in the river but as it was hot, some of the locals were swimming.
Before checking into our hotel, we drove up to Geikie Gorge which is accessible with 2WD although one stretch has some pretty bad pot holes. One company and the parks service run river cruises in the gorge but today these were limited to 8am and 4pm which did not really fit in with our schedule. At other times they are hourly. There are some walking trails but as the temperature was the highest it has been so far on the trip at 39 degrees, we limited ourselves to a couple of the shorter ones and a peep over the water at a boat ramp.
I did solve one mystery here. The Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri) grows in the gorge. I had seen the yellow flowers on bushes and wondered what they were but had not seen any close up. Here, there was also an explanatory notice. The flowers turn into a pod which later splits to reveal the kapok. The indigenous Bunuba people (who call the plant Wanggu), weave the kapok with human hair to make thick belts called wanala. They also eat the tubers.
At the hotel I solved another mystery. On the east coast we had seen bushes or small trees in gardens and parks completely devoid of leaves, but the top of the branches had been pruned. Further north leaves and flowers have opened and they turned out to be rhododendrons. As a result of the flooding the town Fitzroy Crossing moved a little further away from the river. Our hotel had photographs of the most recent devastating flood in 2011 in the restaurant. Fitzroy Crossing has the oldest pub in the Kimberley Region dating from 1897: The Crossing Inn. It is still right down on the river bank as is the Pioneer Cemetery. The Inn has some indigenous art on display.
In the last couple of days, we have driven 220 and 215 miles bringing the total to 5541 miles.
The stretch of Highway One between Kununurra and the turn-off to Wyndham was a long series of road works but not too many traffic lights. The bush was a little greener here with blossom appearing on some trees. At the junction we joined the Great Northern Highway heading southbound. We stopped at the Doon Doon Roadhouse for a break. It has a little bit of everything you might need for your journey including some new and secondhand books. Further on hills appeared and the landscape became drier and rockier.
We passed the sign to a mine which my road atlas said was ‘Argyle Diamond Mine: no public access’. Most of the small creek crossings on this part of the highway are single track bridges. However, at Bow Bridge a new bridge and road access is being built. We stopped for lunch at a rest area and for the first time in the last couple of weeks, were not pestered by birds, just a few flies. Many of the trees surrounding the area had peeling bark and James suggested it might make and abstract painting. I only have a sketchbook and a few pencils with me on this trip and I might get started on some ideas.
Not long after the lunch break we passed this cow sitting by the road.
Halls Creek is the only sizeable town on this stretch of road. Its population was only just over 3,600 in 2016 of 70% are indigenous. On Christmas Day 1885, a prospector found a huge gold nugget here. The subsequent gold rush was very short-lived but the Visitors’ Centre still has a leaflet on tips for gold prospectors. The town is the administrative centre for the locals and the surrounding cattle farming region with a hospital and police station in addition to a school and some shops and churches. There is also an indigenous art centre but unfortunately this is closed at the weekend so I could not visit it. If you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance e.g. A Toyota Landcruiser, you can drive the 52km from the highway north of Halls Creek into Purnululu National Park or drive 200km south of town on the Tanami Track to the Wolfe Creek Crater. Other options include rather expensive helicopter or plane flights over the National Park. We had decided to have a fairly lazy day so drove the 6km on the Duncan Road to China Wall. The last 1.5km is on gravel but easily accessible with 2WD.
China Wall is a vertical layer of white quartz which in places is 6m high standing above the surrounding land. The section near Halls Creek can be viewed from the path in the wet season but in the dry season you can walk right up to it across the creek.
There were a several wildflowers in bloom in the bush.
Heading back into town there was a long queue at the filling station as some of the pumps were out of order but the shops were open so we got stocked and prepared to continue our journey the following day.
We had planned to have a slightly later start as Kununurra is only 140 miles from Timber Creek and we gain 1.5 hours with the time difference. However, the family in the room next to ours got up very early and very noisily so once we were up and breakfasted, decided to head off. Just west of Timber Creek are outlooks over the town and the Victoria River. Some are orientated west and east so that you can observe sunset and sunrise. I was just happy to have an elevated view after many miles of flat bush.
Baobab trees began to appear amongst the vegetation and we saw a couple of flocks of white cockatoos and one tree with larger black parrots on it. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to stop safely for photography as we were in the midst of yet more roadworks. This is another section of Highway One which is being upgraded along with some new bridges over the Victoria River. As we headed towards the border with Western Australia, the Pinkerton Range was on our right. Further on sandstone escarpments emerged.
At the border, we had no problems with the quarantine check as I had downloaded the customs document before I left and kept it on my laptop. It has some very helpful tables for each border crossing about what can and cannot be transported.
A little further on we passed Mount Hensman. Crossing a creek called Golden Gate Creek made me briefly think that that in the surrounding landscape I could be in California. At Kununurra we stocked up on supplies and fuel before driving down to Lily Lagoon, part of the Ord River system. I saw a few birds.
A Comb-Crested Jacana on the lily pads
A Straw-necked Ibis
A Masked Lapwing
and some raptors still to be identified in a tree. Too far away to photograph, a pelican landed on the water and other birds were fishing. A couple of boats cruised past, there were other boat ramps on the shore and fishing huts on the water, so I I suspect it can be much busier at times. We had hoped to have our lunch on a viewpoint by the river but it was being upgraded so we moved to another spot beside the lagoon for our picnic before checking into our hotel. We had driven 156 miles bringing the trip total to 5,106.