Kimberley and Northern Territory
Australia is blessed with some of the most beautiful country in the world and most of it is very remote. The vast distances between these remote communities is traversed by negotiating some iconic outback tracks which reward you with some incredible scenery, unlike anything else in the world. Most times we're lucky to get to travel along just one of these tracks but on this trip, we were going to explore three. The Tanami Road, The Gibb River Road and the Oodnadatta Track. By any definition, this was going to be an epic journey through the Kimberley region not without its share of trials to test our trip preparation.
Our first night was spent at Renmark in SA where we found a delightful caravan park on the banks of the Murray River. We then we drove on to Alice Springs with a couple of roadside free camp stops along the way. There we met up with the Kylie's parents and Uncle and Aunt and did some final trip preparations. The Patrol had been sucking down diesel a bit quicker than I would have liked and the power just wasn't there. A closer inspection revealed a chocked air filter (despite having been serviced before the trip) and a suspected dose of dirty fuel. Change of filters and a reset ECU and all was good again.
For the record, it was pretty cold in Alice Springs. So much so that Kylie insisted I go buy an electric blanket for the camper. Well after going to all four variety stores in town, I managed to get the last queen size electric blanket o the shelf, fending three other people off for it. Apparently it had been the coldest spell in the Alice in 20 years...!
From Alice we headed for the Tanami Road. We had heard that the roadhouse at Rabbit Flat, about half way along the track, had closed so we had to ensure we had sufficient fuel to get across. For the first third of the road was tarmac and pretty easy travelling but it soon turned into the corrugated, sandy, back breaker we had heard so much about. The first casualty was a tyre on the camper trailer. It was sheer bad luck really as a very sharp stone penetrated between the large gaps in the tread of what were essentially mud tyres and bang she went. We quickly lowered our tyre pressures after that. Lesson learnt. First night stop was at one of the many rest stops along the way.
Next stop was Wolfe Creek meteor crater. This is a must see in my opinion as it is a remarkable feature in an otherwise featureless landscape. I'm happy to report no psychotic murderers were around at the time. However it was here we discovered the second causality of the trip. The inlaws had lost the water tank off their Coromal Caravan. Needless to say they weren't very impressed.
Next stop was Halls Creek. Now don't expect much if you are travelling here. It's a very basic community with few facilities although the local hospital was surprisingly modern and the staff were very helpful when it came to treating an ear infection I had been battling with. There was only one petrol station operating when we arrived. Still it made a good camp to head to the Bungle Bungles. Now we had heard the road to Catherdral gorge was pretty ordinary and the amount of holiday traffic made it worse, so we wimped out and took a helicopter flight instead. Best decision we made. Awesome flight and the views are just amazing. Others who took the driver in had reported round trips of 5 hours to the gorge.
From Halls Creek, we drove to Broome for some rest and get ready for the Gibb river road. We caught up with some friends from one of the camper trailer forums and enjoyed a wonderful evening on the beach watching the sunset and learning all about life in this remote town.
Our first stop along the Gibb River Road was at Tunnel Creek before making way to Windjana Gorge. Tunnel creek is a unique formation and definitely worth a look. Getting to the main tunnel requires traversing the under ground creek which can be waist deep on the average person. Kid need to be supervised here.
After a night at the Windjana camp site, we did the walk through to the gorge at dawn to catch the sunrise hit the cliffs. This is a stunning place and one we could have easily stayed for longer. Apparently there are plenty of fresh water crocodiles here but we didn't see any.
Our next stop was at Bell gorge and then onto Galvan's, gorge. Both are beautiful places to stop and have a rest with scenery typical of the area.
After Galvans, we started running into Gibb River road trouble. One flat tyre and a dual battery system that wouldn't work. This was a real issue as we hadn't had access to a powered site for nearly 7 days and the batteries were looking a bit ordinary. So we pulled into Drysdale station for 3 nights to get the batteries charged. Word of warning, getting into Drysdale Station is via the Kallumbaroo road which is easily one of the worst roads we have ever travelled along. The corrugations are very widely spaced apart so you have no chance to get to a speed where you might be able to skip along the tops. You just hit them hard and they wash all the speed off until you're crawling along at walking pace and everything is shaking apart. I would not recommend you attempt this road unless you have a well sorted out rig with appropriate off road suspension.
Upon arrival at Drysdale station we witnessed some of the carnage this road inflicts on the unprepared. There were dozens of vehicles and campers cleaning out what remained of their contents while the workshop was full of broken trailers. One particular caravan that was supposedly built for off road conditions had cracked all the welds in its chassis and was on the verge of collapse. One other unfortunate couple had broken a front wishbone on their Ford Courier and were up for a 3 week wait for the new part to arrive from Perth. Fortunately the workshop there is staff by a mechanic that is familiar with these sort of issues and can solve most problems, but at a cost and he is in high demand.
We'd also heard the road to Mitchell's Falls was a bit of a nightmare. This included several vehicles taken away on flat tops with broken chassis and after being rolled. So we decided to take a flight over the area. This was another brilliant idea as the flight was sensational although the plane was pretty uncomfortable and we all got a bit airsick. Nevertheless, the views were unbelievable.
After Drysdale, we headed for Home Valley. Just before we crossed the Durack River, we got our second flat tyre so we pulled off the road to change over. While this was happening, another car and camper raced passed us at a rapid rate and we both thought he was asking for trouble. We fix out tyre and drove on and just as we got to the crossing, we noticed a camper on the side of the road with a banged up landcruiser further up the bank. He'd run right up the back of another Landcruiser towing a large Trackmaster caravan who had slowed down to cross the river. Without going into too much detail, you can imagine the state of everyone. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt and after offering our assistance, we left.
We pulled into Home Valley which was absolutely packed...! We went to the reception desk to get them to make a call back to Ellenbrea Station to check on the condition of everyone involved in the crash. Apparently they had all made it back ok.
Later the driver of the Landcruiser and Trackmaster limped into Home Valley. An impressive effort...! Later we met up with them to get a closer look at the damage and it was extensive with both the Landcruiser and the caravan's chassis being bent. Both were likely to be written off.
All in all the Gibb was an real adventure but it wasn't without its downside. Its was quite busy during the August school holidays and unfortunately that brings out the idiots. And there's no shortage of them unfortunately. The number of drivers who wouldn't slow down when passing other vehicles was incredible. A lot of these fools also can't read the 'walking pace' signs at the camp grounds, covering everyone in dust. And while many people did stop to see if we were ok when changing tyres, a lot didn't and passed at full pelt. I would recommend that you check with the local authorities as to when the school holidays are and avoid the area during those times.
After the Gibb, we spent three nights in Kununurra having a break, cleaning up and getting tyres repaired. Did a day trip to Wyndham which was very interesting. The giant crocodile and scenic lookout are worth visiting.
We then left Kununurra and headed for Lake Argyle. Now this place is awesome and I highly recommend everyone up that way to go and spend a few nights there. The lake is huge beyond belief and scenery is just spectacular. We stayed 3 nights here and could have stayed longer. Sunday mornings they have all you can eat pancakes at the cafe. We did the sunset tour of the lake and got the opportunity for as swim which was an experience we will never forget. Back at the caravan park they have a beautiful infinity pool but it would need to be pretty hot for me to get in it. The water was freezing...!
We left Lake Argyle and headed to our next stop at Kakadu National Park. We stayed at the caravan park in Jabiru which is just fantastic. The sites are well sheltered and the communal area features a swimming pool with a bar. This 'glamping' thing is very hard to take.
We did the Yellow River tour and it was fantastic. We highly recommend anyone visiting Kakadu to do this tour as it is extremely informative thanks to the very knowledgeable local guide. It is a great way to see the wetlands and much of the local wildlife, including some big salt water crocodiles.
We also did the drive to Nourlangie rock to see some of the rock art and to take in some spectacular views around Kakadu. After a further couple of days just lazing around, we finally got our butts out of the camp chairs and drove to Jim Jim falls. We were so glad we did as it was just brilliant. We were lucky the grader had got rid of the worst of the corrugations on the main road and there was still water flowing over the falls. There is a short 4wd track which was a bit sandy in places but it was quite an easy drive that most soft roader 4wds could manage. The walk into the falls itself was tricky with lots of huge rocks to climb over. It was well worth the effort but I would not recommend this walk to anyone who is unfit or disabled. There are also a lot of giant orb spiders in the area and it is very easy to walk into one of their large webs. I don't know if they are poisonous or not but I wasn't keen on finding out. Anyone with arachnophobia, you have been warned...!
After Kakadu, we headed to Darwin for the next 5 days. Darwin is one of our favourite cities in Australia. It has a wonderful mix of the Australian Outback and the Asian cultures to the north. Its a surprisingly modern city with a rich history and a very laid back nature.
Our fist day trip was to do the Jumping Croc tour on the Adelaide river. This is another must do for anyone visiting the area. The tour takes you along some amazing country but the big stars of the show are the jumping crocodiles. These beasts can propel their entire body length out of the water to get to the bait. You get really close to the action too as the photo below will demonstrate. The big croc's name was Brutus and he is one very big bugger...! And he came really, really close to me in that shot. I had a super wide angle lens on at the time. Everyone in the boat went nuts. Poor Kylie wasn't impressed. I'm not scared of crocs but that moment sent my heart rate into overdrive...! I won't forget that in a hurry.
When we returned to Darwin and spent the evening at Mindil beach for sunset at the markets. The variety of food and crafts here is endless and the sunsets are always spectacular. We did find it amusing how the crowd applauded the setting sun...!
The next day we went to the Darwin air museum to see the B52 bomber they have there. The story behind this is quite interesting and definitely worth a look if you're an aircraft enthusiast. On that note, it was interesting to see the local air force base was holding training exercises with the American and Singapore air forces so there was a lot of activity in the skies. This did cause some problems as the action started pretty much at 9 and went through to 6 so you got a wake up call at 9 whether or not you wanted it. It was also pretty noisy at times during the day which some people didn't appreciate. Personally I didn't mind it as I love military aircraft.
Another new attraction in Darwin worth visiting is the wave pool. It's pretty cheap to get in and its lots of fun even for us 'grown ups'. We also went to Stoke Hill wharf for dinner one night. Here I found a meal which included a steak, barramundi filet, chips and salad for $18...! Now it wasn't the best steak or barra I've had but it certainly wasn't the worst and for the price it was awesome...!
Then we left Darwin and headed for Mataranka hot springs. Now we had heard the original springs had been turned into pretty much a public swimming pool and that we should go to Bitter Springs instead. This turned out to be a brilliant move as Bitter Springs is sensational. You get into the water at the head of the spring and you drift along the current down this small creek until you get to a walk bridge at the end after about 250m or so. The creek goes through a natural palm forest and if you're lucky you'll catch the odd goanna or turtle along the banks. If you get up early in the morning, just after sunrise, you'll see the steam from the 30+ degree water rising from the surface in the low sunlight.
After Bitter Springs we continued south after an overnight stop at Tenant Creek. Things got a little hairy over night after the locals Aboriginal community decided to have a small camp fire when things got a little out of hand. Fortunately the wind was blowing south, away from the caravan park otherwise we may have been doing a quick pack up and dash.
We continued down the Stuart Hwy and stopped at Wycliffe well. This is a quirky little place where it's obvious someone went to a lot of trouble to set up a tourist attraction but failed to keep it up. It's still a good place to stop overnight and have a look around but the lake is all but dried up, the scenic railway doesn't work, not that there's a lot of scenery, and the 'zoo' is quite run down. Still the café serves a mean open steak sandwich.
We then stopped again in Alice just to refuel and rest then headed to Marla at the beginning of the Oodnadatta track. The hotel here serves great meals and the campground is pretty good. The Oodnadatta was not what we remembered it to be. The rains the had earlier in the year had turned it into a rough and rocky track and the flood ways were much deeper than the last time we were there. I'd go as far to say its almost like being on the Gibb Rover Road again. We stopped at the Pink roadhouse and noticed our trailer plugs had been dislodged and pretty much ruined. I can only think a large rock must have hit them because we were being quite careful to avoid bottoming out.
We stopped overnight at William creek and had dinner at the roadhouse there. Now this place has improved out of site with new owners taking over. The restaurant is awesome and has a great variety of meals on offer at reasonable prices. Definitely worth the stop. We also took the opportunity to try to repair the trailer electrics and managed to get the lights working again but the brakes refuse to work.
After William creek we stopped to see Lake Eyre and were lucky to catch a glimpse of water in it. From what we were told, Lake Eyre South was still about 25% full. There was no water in the North Lake. There were still scenic flights happening when we were there both from William creek and Maree.
The photo was taken at the lookout just outside William creek. We heard from one fella who said he actually drove to the shore but according to all the signs in the area, this was not allowed. We saw tracks that probably went there but it was clearly not the right thing to do.
We then continued to Maree and stopped there for the night before eventually heading on to Peterborough for a couple of nights. Peterborough was a really lovely place although the cold weather was just a bit too much after all the warm north sun. We had a look around the town and went to the rail museum, or Steamtown, and it was quite interesting. If you're a train buff, you'll love it.
I also took a look at the motorcycle museum which I found very interesting. The owner basically has a private collection and for five bucks he's happy to take visitors for a tour. He has a lot of unusual motorbikes and mopeds. Later that night we returned to Steamtown for their light and sound show. This wasn't what we thought it would be but I found it interesting to see the history of rail in the area.
We had planed to stay a few nights in Broken Hill and Mildura but unfortunately my ear infection resurfaced again and I needed to get to specialist to have it treated so we just spent one night in Broken Hill and another in Mildura then headed straight home .
This was an epic trip. We had seen so many beautiful places, experienced the best and worst this country throws at you, met some really fantastic travellers and friends along the way and we learnt so much more about traveling in remote Australia by camper and 4wd.
We dearly want to return to the Gibb to see the places we missed. We definitely will return to Broome to see more of the areas around there and we will go back to Darwin as it is a favorite for both of us.
Bring on the next adventure...!!!