Day 53: 21 July – Karijini National Park – the southern part

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 75km

From: Karijini National Park – Dales Campground

To: Karijini National Park – Savannah Campground  (Karijini Eco Retreat)

Distance hiked: 5km

Floors climbed: 19

Once again we hitched up the mobile apartment and moved on after a light breakfast, this time heading to the southern part of Karijini and the Savannah Campground. This is a private campground within the national park, coupled with an ‘Eco Retreat’ (canvas cabins with king size beds, luxury hotel quality linen, private en-suites and decks, all set amongst the beauty of the national park – a bit like our mobile apartment but not quite as nice). We get hot solar showers and flushing toilets. The ‘Retreat’ is fully Aboriginal owned, and run by a hospitality company.

We arrived around 11am and after a bit of confusion with their site allocation for us (the first already being occupied by two tents, the second pretty much the smallest on the campsite!) we finally settled down on an attractive spot. This is much more picturesque than the Dales campground with a lot more birdlife – there has not been fire here, which helps.

We decided to tackle the walk nearest to us, to Joffre Gorge. While only 5km was hiked all together, it was a tough one with a lot of climbing. We arrive at the top of the gorge and look down to a emerald coloured pool, about 150 metres below us. We then have to clamber down the cliff to it. This is a class 5 (the most challenging) hike, with no handrails, no man made steps, and quite precarious drops. We get most of the way down, and Mr A is overcome with vertigo and cannot make it further. I have to admit my heart is also pounding after my hiking pole had slipped on a rock and plummeted down. I reach the bottom where the pool is, and find my hiking pole safely landed on a nearby rock.

It is lovely, but there is more. I now need to carefully pick my way along the sediments in the rock along the smooth cliff edge, the pool beneath me, to reach another part of the gorge. Trying not to think about the non-waterpoof camera around my neck, and regretting having the hiking pole (now feeling more of a hindrance than help), I make my way around safely. Around the corner, through a two metre wide crack in the rock is a beach and Joffre Falls. I would say it was really picturesque, and it mostly was, apart from the man with the big beer belly sitting at the bottom of the falls and his wife with the loud sweary voice yelling across at him.

‘You’re never alone in WA’ – our new slogan for Western Australia.

I clambered up and rejoined Mr A, and we continued on the walk along the rim of the gorge. We crossed the top of the waterfall and saw a number of pretty lizards enjoying hunting around the water. Photographs really do not do the scenery justice – it is arid and dramatic, the colours startling in the afternoon sun. When you see the gorges they really do take your breath away.

We returned to camp for sunset beers before showering and retiring for the evening with a bottle of Fat Cat Shiraz, a madras curry and two episodes of Shetland. Another fine day in WA.

Day 52: 20 July – A walk into paradise

Author: Mr A

Distance hiked: 8.5km

Floors climbed: 19

Dales Gorge is one of the highlights of Karijini NP. We packed lunch and headed out to explore it on foot. The path disappeared down its vertical side – however, steps hewn into the iron stone rock made the climb down relatively straightforward. Soon we were clambering along the rocks beside the river bed, watching a heron shaking its spindly leg in the water to disturb some mid morning snacks which are soon snaffled down.

The reflections of the sheer gorge walls in the water were stunning.

We retraced our steps and headed along to the other end of the gorge, constantly gawking at this breathtaking scenery. 

Another pool with a waterfall and it was time for lunch. What a feast the master chef had prepared. 9 different types of fresh veg, mixed with rice noddles, add a hot sauce and we were in heaven. I brewed up a cuppa and we just sat next to the waterfall and again recounted how lucky we are to be living like this. Every day there’s something to admire, laugh at, or learn about. 

Back to camp and another chilled afternoon, reading and painting (madam not me of course) – I busied myself rigging some tarp for shade, which promptly blew up in the first breeze and knocked water over madam’s iPad. No laughing then…

Day 51: 19 July – Karijini National Park – Dales Gorge

Author: Mrs A

From: Two Camel Creek rest area

To: Dales Campground, Karijini National Park

Distance driven: 145 km

Distance hiked: 5.5 km

We were amazed to find we both actually had a relatively good night’s sleep in spite of the regular road train traffic on the nearby highway – I can’t say how deep it was, or vouch for the quality, but we didn’t feel dreadful when we woke up at 6am. We set off after breakfast, continuing up the highway and marvelling as the landscape changed from the flat spinnifex filled Little Sandy Desert to iron filled rolling hills and rock walls.

We arrived at our campground at around 11.30am and set up and unhitched. After a light lunch we headed off in the car out to the Visitor’s Centre, about 11km away. Our original plan was to stay here three nights, but we have decided that two will be enough. The campground is pretty sparse and dusty – nice big sites, but very little undergrowth returned since the fires here in May. We called our next campground, also in this national park, to move our booking back a day. 

The Visitor Centre was really interesting – very focused on the Aboriginal communities who lived here for tens of thousands of years, before becoming displaced by European settlers. It was uncomfortable to see how they were virtually enslaved to work on the cattle stations here, and how landmarks were renamed (eg one named as ‘Nameless Hill’) despite having an extremely long standing Aboriginal name. Cultural respect anyone?


And then there are the ecological impacts of Europeans. They/we introduced cattle to the Pilbara region. The Pilbara (Karijini sits within this region) is a semi-arid ecosystem, extremely delicate, balancing long months with no rain at all against the ‘wet’ where the whole region floods and rivers and waterfalls increase their depth by up to 20 metres. The cattle trampled the earth and ate the native grasses, which did not grow back without rain and the now solid trampled earth did not allow the seeds to germinate. So the pastoralists brought over some new grass from Africa which grew nicely here. In fact this grass sent out poison from its roots and killed most of the other plants, so it grew really well…the story goes on and on. It makes you shudder to think of the damage done here! There was no research done prior to the introduction of feral species so it is hard to know how the flora and fauna was impacted by this.

In spite of Europeans, this is a really interesting area. We took a stroll from our campground this afternoon to the Dales Gorge rim track, a number of lookouts over the gorge. It is extremely beautiful and very spiritual – you feel very connected to nature. We sat at one place for a while, enjoying the view and the birds that were soaring over the pools and trees below us.

I am writing at beer/vodka-soda-with-fresh-lime o’clock as we watch the sun dip down behind the hills. The temperature is already dropping and it is likely to be another 10 degree C night. Makes for very good sleeping! Tonight is not an AFD and we are even allowed wine tonight with our Thai green curry with Spanish Mackeral and vegetables. Lucky us!

No light pollution here, making for an incredible night sky…many photos taken 🙂 

Day 50: July 18 – Off inland for adventures new

Author: Mr A

From: 80 Mile Beach

To: Two Camel Creek, Great Northern Highway Rest Stop 

Distance: 413km

It was time to farewell the brilliant caravan park at 80 Mile Beach and the coast, and head south to explore the National Parks of Karijini and Millstream. We restocked near Port Hedland, including the all important wine cellar, and followed the Great Northern Highway past the huge mines that dominate the area. It was road train central today, these things take no prisoners and I pull over as soon as I spot them in the rear camera looming up. 

The odometer clicked over to 90,000km this arvo, so that’s 8,860km (5,500 miles) clocked up since we turned out of our drive in Sydney. The Landcruiser hasn’t missed a beat (touch wood), pulling the van today loaded up at maximum capacity with 300 litres of water and 240 litres of diesel, and enough food and drink to keep us self sufficient for the 11 days before we expect to see a supermarket again selling anything that’s greeen. 

We pulled over at a rest stop late afternoon – remember its dusk by 5.30pm, and you really don’t want to be on the road then. We wandered over to the toilets and by a motor home saw….a cat on a lead. Our first camping-cat spied since leaving Sydney. Well of course this beautiful Siamese (Henry) got plenty of strokes, we are so missing Tassie, and it was great to pick the owners’ brains about how they find life on the road with her (yes I said her…some confusion in their early stages of raising what they thought was a boy cat!). 

We eventually tore ourselves away and retired to our van for a lazy evening of downloaded Netflix and tacos. No – no wine – or tequila – we decided we must have some AFD’s (alchohol free days). Mind you with the road trains roaring past I’m not sure that was such a smart idea….groan. 

Day 49: 17 July – Planning the next month’s adventures

Author: Mrs A

Being a bit of a organisation geek I felt somewhat uncomfortable not knowing what our plans were for the coming weeks, so insisted we spend the morning using our mapping resources, Dr Google and travel books to make plans. Mr A purchased brain food from the camp shop (a pie for him and a dairy-free sausage roll for me) and we set about our research.

Our rough plan from here is as follows:

  • Karijini National Park (6 nights)
  • Millstream National Park (3 nights)
  • Karratha – Point Samson (2 nights)
  • Ashburton River (2 nights)
  • Exmouth/Cape Range National Park (8 nights)
  • Coral Bay/Carnarvon area (5 nights)
  • Kennedy Range (2 nights)
  • Gladstone (1 night – our 15 year wedding anniversary!)
  • Denham (3 nights)
  • And the lovely named Prickly Point on Useless Circuit (2 nights)

There will be a few nights coming up where we will be offline (up to about 6) after which you will likely be bombarded with information!

The map below shows where we are now. Our plan is to head south, then inland for a few days:

We did a short 5km hike along the coast this afternoon, enjoying the final bit of coast for a couple of weeks and then enjoyed the stunning sunset.

Now we are semi packed up in preparation for our next adventure from tomorrow.

Day 48: 16 July – Biking the beach

Author: Mr A

Distance cycled: 22km

Today we hit the beach – on bikes –  we wanted see how far we could get while the 6 metre tide (yes that’s big) was out. It turns out 11km down the beach before we had to dash back as the tide turned and raced in over all the hard sand. 

It was awesome – we soon left behind the walkers, and then the drivers (yes cars allowed on the beach) and we were the only people for miles. The only footprints (and tyre prints) were ours and the birds’. Brilliant. Riding a bike always makes me smile  – let alone riding along a perfect beach with a blue sky and nothing in the diary….except getting back for the lamb roast that the park was laying on tonight.

We got back early afternoon and pottered around, Mrs A painting and me trying to extract some more red dust from the truck. It was soon roast o’clock and up we went to the canteen. The average age is probably mid/late 60s in this park, and I was struck again by what a great time these people are having. Sharing drinks with friends old and new. Recounting their adventures on the road. No wonder the caravan industry is going through such a boom. There’s just not enough parks to cope with the swelling numbers of people who chose this lifestyle over staying in their relatively cold home turf over the winter. 

Every day here in northern WA you know the sun is going to shine and it will be 27-30 degrees. We are in no rush to head south, so we have just booked an extra night here. We could only get an unpowered site but our solar panels are re-charging everything during the day, and almost all of our stuff now is USB chargeable on 12v – even the toothbrush :). 

Day 47: Eighty Mile Beach (which is actually 140 miles long…ah-hem)

Author: Mrs A

From: Barn Hill Station

To: Eighty Mile Beach

Distance driven: 256km

Time: 3 hours

Distance hiked: 10km

We started the day with an early walk along the beach at Barn Hill Station to make up for arriving so late yesterday. The beach continued to enthrall us in the other direction, giving more views and interesting rock formations. 

After a hot shower we hitched up and set off back on the road south.

They call this part of Australia ‘The Big Empty’. There are no towns, and the one main road (National Highway 1) runs about 10-20km inland away from the coast, offering a view of nothing more than a dead straight road, bordered by flat, hot, featureless scrubland. It makes for a boring drive, and the podcasts got another workout on the way.

We arrived at the Eighty Mile Beach caravan park at around 2pm. We were originally hoping to bushcamp for the next two nights, but alas, there is no bushcamping along here – the land bordering the coast either privately owned cattle stations or Aboriginal country. So it was back into a campground for us. This camp is much nicer than last night’s – large campspots with grass, clean toilets and showers, and we are a short walk from the beach.

And wow, what a beach – we were immediately enthralled.

We walked up the beach, paddling our feet in the champagne-like water’s edge, the extremely fine sand feeling like velvet underfoot. One of the things this beach is famous for is its shells. Beautiful shells of every colour, size and shape deposited with every wave – just stunning. The other main claim to fame is its attraction to migratory shore birds – hundreds of thousands flock here to feed, and turtles which lay their eggs here (later on in the year – from October onwards).

We finished our walk as the sun set, before returning to our mobile apartment to shower, cook dinner and relax. We’re here for at least another night, if not two, so we can slow down a bit now!

Day 46: July 14th – Giving Broome the brush-off…groan

Author: Mr A

From: Broome

To: Barn Hill Cattle Station

Distance: 135km

Finally we escape Broome’s clutches and point our nose south…but the town wasn’t letting go that easily, it clung to us all morning. 

First, a pre 7am visit to the car wash (keen I know), and on the way back I heard a nasty scraping sound coming from the tyre…the new very expensive tyres. The front offside one was rubbing on the mud flap…sigh. So off back to the tyre shop and I was told ‘Fitted thousands of these to 200 Series…’ I completed his sentence; ‘Never had this problem before…don’t care…I do have this problem’. So off they went to buy a heat gun and ‘adjusted’ the flaps back. 

So I drove back to the van park…reversed back up to the van…same scraping….sigh. Back to the tyre place….this time taking the van as we had to be off the site. So more time spent hitching up then unhitching  for more mysterious work with the heat gun at the tyre shop. Again the manager started the sentence ‘I’ve fitted…’ I must have given him my death stare as he stopped short..paused and continued; ‘Just leave it with us’. We retired to the van to console ourselves with a brunch of snags and onions in a wrap. 

Finally at 1pm we left Broome, and for the first time on the trip pointed south. We had booked in at a van park a short drive down the coast. Barn Hill is a working cattle station still, but has tapped into the grey nomad revenue stream. There would have to be a couple of hundred vans here. All crammed together. Not our thing. Anyway there’s a stunning beach here and we had a quick swim and a lovely walk, complete with an Australian Kestrel which actually posed for Mrs A’s camera.

We spotted another Zone RV van here and went to introduce ourselves. Steve and Pam have build number 3, so it was fascinating to talk to them about their experiences as one of the early owners. Nothing but praise for the company, which echoed with our experience. No, Zone RV hadn’t got everything right on their van, as you would expect with such an early model, but had always been supportive in fixing issues, which has also been our experience. 

Even though we felt this place is pretty hemmed in, you cant deny the buzz that there is with so many people sharing drinks at happy hour with their neighbours. A real community. Some transients like us, but others have been here so long they have their own herb gardens growing outside the van! Brilliant.

Day 45: Back down the peninsula to Broome

Author: Mrs A

From: Cygnet Bay, Dampier Peninsula

To: Broome, WA

Distance: 208 km

Time: 3 hours

I thought I should share our marvellous view of the moon across the low tide mudflats, captured on our walk home to our tent after dinner last night – just magical. They call this the staircase to the moon (though it is more of a ladder) with the moon tinted orange by the bushfire smoke – the local communities are doing a lot of early-season burn offs to prevent late season wildfires, which can be devastating to the wildlife and people in these parts if left unchecked.

We packed up camp and were off on the road by 8am heading back towards Broome. 

We made good time, and decided to call into Bantry Bay on the way back, tempted by its advertised bakery. Unfortunately the advertising was false, and the bakery was no more than a tin hut, where they microwaved frozen Mrs Mac’s pies – yuck! I took a quick look around the church, famous for its mother of pearl decorations, and we moved swiftly on.

We collected our mobile apartment from its storage area and commenced tackling the washing mountain. We then drove into town so I could stock up on fruit and vegetable supplies for the next few days while Mr A made the rather expensive purchase of 5 new tyres for the 4WD, ours being rather cut up by the Gibb River Road, and also nearing 6 years old.

This evening we at out at a local Indian restaurant – delicious curry (with a South Australian Cake Shiraz), and well deserved after our busy afternoon. Its 9.45pm now and I am about to hang out the 9th wash of the day!

 Tomorrow we will finally leave Broome and commence our journey south to adventures new.

Day 44: July 12 – A day around Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm

Author: Mr A

We got up to watch the dawn break over King Sound, the massive tide is out, making for this stunning photo by the very talented Mrs A…

We wandered along the mangroves, the first people making footprints in the sand this morning. 

The bird life was prolific.

Back to camp for  a bacon and egg extravaganza, then off in the car to explore the next community along the peninsula, One Arm Point. Another place where you paid to enter, the locals trying to raise some cash to fund projects. Didn’t begrudge them $15 a head – for that we got to look around a local display of marine life, with a fascinating story board built by the local kids explaining about their history as a people. It won second prize in a national competition. The vibe up here in the local communities is very positive, still plenty of issues, but plenty of success stories compared to some other areas we have seen. 

We went down to the local beach, kilometres of brilliant white sand..again…cyrstal clear water that you just have to plunge into and feel so good to be alive, doing something people have done here for at least 40,000 years. The tide races in and we pack up to return to the pearl farm we are staying at for a talk by one of the staff.

Terry introduced himself as being from the Bardi Jaewi people, even though his great grandfather was a white English pearler (with three Aborignal wives!), and proceeded to enthrall us with a story of his life growing up here, and how life has changed for him and his people with the coming of missionaries in the early 1800s, then the pearling industry. It was a window into a world so different from our own. The best part of travel.