Mon 31st May
It was an early start as we were to set off at 6am and the bleary eyed group gradually formed up to that time. Although the truck had a capacity of 16 there were only 8 of us on this run plus Blair the guide. It meant we could spread out and our packs could come inside instead of being stashed on the roof. The “bus” was a converted 4wd truck with an air conditioned passenger cabin added where the flatbed would have been and linked to the cab which had a couple of rows of seats. We would later find that though generally comfortable with good air-con it had a very loud gearbox at high speed and a crap stereo that couldn’t cope with the noise.
We were warned that the first day is a lot of driving and little else. So it proved. Our small group meant we got away quickly, however this meant we passed through Katherine too early for the bottle shops to be open so we had to buy our cased of beer later in a far more remote location and at a far higher price.
Late in the afternoon we reach the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia. There is a checkpoint at the border to stop you taking any fruit or veggies in WA. Initially this seems bizarre but apparently it’s to stop crop diseases spreading to WA from the rest of Oz where their endemic. It also means we have to eat up the small stock of apples we have or they’ll have to be binned.
Not long after we reach the campground at Lake Argyle after a quick look from the viewpoint over the lake. The weather has been strange all day with a full cover of cloud high up in the sky. The poor quality of light stops us taking any photos believing they will be better tomorrow morning.
The weather also means we pitch tents instead of just using swags as it could rain in the night (which it does eventually). Dinner is largely pre-prepared fish and fried rice and we eat it round the campfire whilst telling the rest of the group a little about ourselves. A background worry is that the Gibb River road is closed to vehicles as big as our truck. It’s the major part of our trip and we should be OK if the weather clears up, however a weather system is stuck over the west of the Kimberley’s and is dropping a lot of rain.
Blair gives us some background into aboriginal family culture. Basically all your mother’s sisters are also your mothers, plus all your dad’s brothers are also your fathers. Their offspring become your brothers and sisters. Once reaching puberty siblings of the opposite sex are allowed to have almost nothing to do with each other as this is seen as incest however the children of your mother’s brothers and father’s sisters don’t face the same restrictions. It takes a little thinking about and is very different to western culture. The discussion is also used to split us into two groups who will prepare alternate meals
We have a minor incident when collecting wood for the campfire. Blair has tied the bullbars of the truck to a chunk of dead tree with a tow rope so we can break it off for the fire. Unfortunately the bull bar is made of plastic and the entire middle section breaks off instead of the desired branch. I begin to doubt the bar’s usefulness should we ever actually hit a kangaroo.
Tue 1st June
We got up as the sun rose (5:30) as we would for the rest of the trip and had a quick breakfast before heading off for a boat ride on the lake. The sky is still overcast so it’s a fairly cool morning and most people are wearing a fleece. Almost immediately after setting off on the boat we have spotted a fresh water croc in the water, apparently hoping we were off to feed the fish farms so it could get an easy meal from the catfish attracted.
First stop was to see a group of rock wallabies. Basically these are small wallabies nimble enough to live on rocky faces. I’m not sure how they manage it with their small front legs and hopping walk but somehow they do. Although nocturnal the family of 3 come out for some food.
Next it was off to a location where there were numerous 7 spotted archer fish. These spit water at potential food sources to knock it into the water. We are given some very mouldy bread which we hold out over the water. Sure enough the fish lines up and spout of water hits your hand. When we drop a chunk of bread in the water the feeding frenzy is incredible with a lot of catfish joining the archer fish.
The island we are near to at this point is covered in a particular breed of spider (I forget the name). It has two features of note: 1 its webs are very strong & 2: some of them carry flesh eating bacteria on their fangs that can cause problems years after being bitten. Nice.
We moved on to a place where you could take a 4m jump from the rocks into the lake. Normally in the heat this would have been fantastic but today’s weather only encouraged a few of us in (and not me).
Finally as we were heading back we were lucky enough to catch the Barramundi farmers feeding their stock. It’s a staggering feeding frenzy as the pellets hit the water both inside the cage where the barramundi are kept and round the outside where the catfish collect in the hope of a few stray morsels. It’s the catfish that drive the boat’s dog nuts as they swarm just out of his reach.
Unfortunately it’s another long drive to tonight’s camp. The distance isn’t as far but the road from the Great Northern Highway to where we are to stay for the next two nights in the Bungle Bungles is 50km of slow 4wd only going. As dusk approaches Blair asks me to look out for likely firewood to collect. I spot a couple of dead trees and we stop. I then make a staggeringly stupid mistake; it’s so daft it’s hard to admit to, but here goes. I see a great looking branch about 8 feet up. To get it down I throw the tow rope over and pull down on it. Unfortunately I have shifted directly underneath it so when the branch does come down it lands on my head. I realise as the branch breaks off I am in trouble and duck out of the way. Not far enough. Its not a stunning blow like when I hit the tunnel roof in NZ, but hard enough. I reach up to check for blood and am horrified to find my palm covered. I clamp my hand back on my head and head slowly back to the truck for help whilst trying to keep calm. This isn’t helped by the cascade of blood running down my arm with 2 or 3 drips heading for the dust every second. Nor is it helped by the realisation that we are several hours from anywhere useful medically and that a might have screwed up the tour for not only myself but the others as well. The good side of the realisations was it meant I was still able to think fairly clearly.
Blair got a large sterile pad from the first aid kit and I held it over the wound whilst Zoe helped me wash the blood off my face and arms. Once the worst was off we wrapped a stretch bandage round my head and chin to hold the pad in place. By this point the bleeding seemed to have slowed significantly if not stopped. It left the decision of what to do next. Based on the fact my mind worked and I wasn’t bleeding to death we decided to continue as planned.
A bit further along the road Blair suddenly stops the truck and jumps out. He’s spotted a carpet snake and is soon holding for inspection. Everyone except me jumps out for a look, I’m just happy to sit there for a bit and chill.
Although people wanted me to do nothing that evening I didn’t feel the same way and slowly put my tent whilst the others did their, also sticking my oar into our teams cooking of pasta carbonara.
The bandage wasn’t the most comfortable thing to wear and I’d avoided any alcohol or painkillers because it was a head injury but sleep came easily enough. So did wakefulness when in the middle of the night it started raining and I realised I’d left the windows of my tent open.
Wed 2nd June
Got up feeling OK but the first priority today was to replace the bandage with a more subtle method of holding the pad in place. Some work with a set of scissors to crudely trim away some hair and a lot of adhesive tape and we had a more workable solution that also looked a lot less like a nun’s habit.
We went for a walk up to the dramatic Cathedral gorge followed by a stroll down Piccanny?? Creek. Again the weather was cooler today so we were able to head further than normal. At one point we come across a wild passion fruit plant and have a taste of the delicious seeds. You need to know what you’re doing because there are several poisonous plants that look similar.
We then headed over to the airstrip as Daniel, Sonia and Hettie were taking a helicopter ride through the region. Whilst they were flying we prepared and ate lunch.
It was then a down through Echidna Gorge with Blair telling us to note the coarser sediments that make up the rocks here compared with earlier. The last part of the gorge is quite a scramble over fallen chunks of rock but its good fun. On the way out we pass a large older group on the way up. Its a reminder that although somewhere remote we are definitely on the tourist trail here, something we almost never escape on the trip except at our most basic bush camps.
On our return to camp my dressing is loose from being stuck to too long hair and the sweat of the day. Using my beard trimmer Blair trims the hair down further around the wound and sticks a new pad on for the night. Its then time for a quick shower under our improvised system of a hosepipe and a punctured beer tin, being careful to keep my head dry.
The other team cook up a curry tonight and after this we play a psychologist game that Blair knows. One person is removed from the group whilst the rest of us establish a consistent relationship between us. The person then comes back and asks us questions trying to work out the relationship. They are encouraged to ask anything they want, no matter how rude as the person being asked won’t be offended. It’s a lot of fun but I’ve not posted a clear description here as it would stop anyone reading this from being the psychologist if I play again.
Thurs 3rd June
Another long day of driving starting with the 50km of 4wd road that takes over 2 hours. We arrive in Wyndham around 2 o’clock dropping me off at the hospital whilst the others buy supplies in town. The nurse checks me over quickly and seems happy with the state of the scab and is pleasantly surprised by the neat hair trimming job round it. She then redresses it with a giant square plaster, handing me a several more for the next few days.
By 3 o’clock we arrive at the 5 rivers lookout for a very late lunch before a short drive to Perry’s Farm. The campsite here had proper showers so it time for a thorough clean and a shave. The dressing came off easily in the water and from that point on I never replaced it. The one thing I did start to notice in the shower was the huge number of mosquitoes in the area, killing around 15 of them whilst I was cleaning up.
Dinner that night was to be a roast beef with roasted potatoes, pumpkin and carrots. The managers of the campsite used to work with the tour company and generously allowed us to use the oven of their restaurant. The meat wasn’t done at the first attempt but was good half an hour later. I’d not seasoned the roast heavily enough but the garlic and rosemary roast spuds came out well. A nice bottle of wine, good food and good company helped the evening pass happily being able to largely ignore the resident mossies.
Once in my tent for the night I noticed that I had around 15 of the blood sucking little bastards in there with me. With my torch and a rolled up pamphlet I set around killing as many as possible and making a mess of the inside of the tent. You realised which ones you had got too late as they left a red smear when killed. What anyone who witnessed my performance would have though I’m not sure. Unfortunately they whole ordeal was repeated when I headed to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Fri 4th June
On waking I thought I could hear the buzz of mossie wings, but although I could see 15 or so at each meshed window on the tent it didn’t seem enough to account for the sound. Breakfast was hell as if you stopped moving you were surrounded by a swarm almost immediately. We all kept it short aiming to pack up and get the hell out as fast as possible. It was really horrible as I repacked my rucksack as there was a cloud of mossies in the tent swirling round my face. The real shock however was when I removed the flysheet of the tent; there were hundreds of the buggers sat on the tent inner and who now came at me. That was where the sound had come from earlier.
Although it was probably the fastest we had done it packing up to move on never seemed to take so long. We constantly had to check each others backs as you could find 20 or so mosquitoes landed there. It was the nearby billabong (lake formed up by a partially dried up river) that had acted as the breeding ground for our nemesis so it was with a certain lack of enthusiasm that we headed for our first stop at Marlgu Billabong. Our fears were unfounded and the nature reserve had an incredible range of birdlife in a lovely tranquil setting.
Next came Emma Gorge one of the loveliest settings I have known as a tall fine waterfall plunged into a pool suitable for swimming. I had been advised against swimming so sat by as the others chilled out in the water and tried to pose in a line for a group photo. It was a great spot and a taste of things to come over then next few days.
That night was our first proper bush camp with no facilities on Russ Creek. The toilet for solids was a spade and a walk to somewhere private (easier said than done in this location). Some of the group went for a short walk to see sunset on a nearby hill whilst the rest of us had a beer and set around the prep work on tonight’s dinner: fajitas. In particular the shop bought salsa was souped up with fresh ingredients and a touch more chilli.
After dinner we went to look at the stars which are truly incredible where you have so little light pollution. We got a good look at Scorpio and the southern cross before the moons light obscured the constellations.
Sat 5th June
In packing up we noticed a couple of tatas, small lizards that apparently will wave at you as if in goodbye, hence their name. Cute little suckers.
It wasn’t too long before we had arrived at Galvin’s Gorge. This was another waterfall with a swimming pool at its base and there was no way I was staying out. It was fabulous, you could sit on the rocks at the base of the falls and have the water cascade over you and at one side someone had built a rope swing in a tree that Zoe and I made use of.
Blair had hung back and when he arrived he was carrying a 2 foot long water monitor. He had come across it on the way up and it hadn’t got out of the way quickly enough. It was worth being careful around it as its powerful tail could still hurt if it hit you. A few photos and strokes and we let it go. Unfortunately for him, by the time Blair was ready to swim the rest of us were out and sunning ourselves. Lunch was had on a rocky shelf just next to the fall.
It’s not a lot further down the road where we park up for Manning Gorge. It’s probably the longest hike of the trip to get there but that’s still only an hour, is easily done and well worth it. It’s a very wide fall plunging into a large pool and if you negotiate the currents you can swim in behind the falls. There’s also a good 5m high rock jump you can climb to. It’s the first set of falls we have had to ourselves and its wonderful. As we are sunning ourselves afterwards I get Zoe to trim the rest of my hair to Grade 1 so it better matches the area round the wound before plunging back in for a swim to wash all the little bits of hair off. Hettie joins me for the swim and we challenge ourselves by swimming against the current of the falls; good exercise but tiring. I think I’m keeping up with her OK until she puts a sprint on and then she’s off, must have fish genes or something. It’s a relaxed afternoon of sunning ourselves on the rocks before setting off for our second proper bush camp.
Dinner tonight is spaghetti bolognaise but before dinner we head for more star gazing, in particular the Milky Way and the Aboriginal Emu.
Sun 6th June
Our only real stop of today is a Bell’s Gorge where a large waterfall plunges into a very large pool, before continuing down a set of smaller falls and pools. It’s a great place but also busy. Again Hettie and I head for the currents at the base of the falls before chilling out on the rocks.
That afternoon we drive to Wyndjana where we set up our last camp and have a BBQ for dinner with backed spuds and a whole range of salads.
Mon 7th June
We leave the tents up this morning to dry whilst we head in to look at Windjana Gorge. It’s a dramatic place, home to fair number of fresh water crocodiles. On a gravel bank to the river we find one around a couple of meters long. He looks harmless enough and doesn’t seem too bothered by us either. Nearby is a rock that the local Aboriginals believe contains the spirits waiting to be born. Eating food from the river here is the key to becoming pregnant as that is how the spirit enters the mother.
Not far away is Tunnel Creek a set of tunnels carved by a river through the rocks. The main tunnel is a couple of hundred meters long and involves wading through the river, which just about reaches my shorts on a couple of occasions. There are many side tunnels and this allowed the place to become the hideout of an Aboriginal outlaw at the end of the 19th centaury. Only by employing the witchdoctor of a neighbouring tribe were the whites able to eliminate him.
The rest of the day is a drive to Derby where we have lunch on the harbour. A quick visit to the Boab Prison Tree where Aboriginal slaves would spend the night on their journey to the pearling towns and then on the final drive into Broome.
We arrive around sunset and take a look at cable beach before dropping people off at their hotels & hostels. The 3 of us that are continuing with the company to Perth (Kat, Ian and I) are staying at the Last Resort hostel along with Blair & Julia, Zoe & Hattie are at Cable Beach and Sonia & Daniel at the Tropicana.
Everyone gathers at the Last Resort for a few drinking games and pizza before heading to a local bar a 11ish. Unfortunately it closes at midnight and nothing else appears open; Zoe, Hattie and myself are gutted we needed to club.
Just noticed this BBC story about an eruption on Mount Bromo that I visited a fortnight ago!!!! Looks like I was lucky in my timing as it killed a couple of people.