Day 62: 30 July – Gas plants and sheep stations

Author: Mr A

From: 40 Mile Beach

To: Giralia Station (Exmouth Gulf)

Distance driven: 385 km

Distance hiked: 5.6 km

We had to tear ourselves away from our cliff top view this morning, and the first job of the day was a visit to the gas plant up the road. ‘Why?’…you might well legitimately ask. Well it was the only place listed on Wiki Camps where you could get water for hundreds of kilometres. So we joined a queue of other water-poor vanners and waited our turn, in the interim picking the brains of the other grey nomads about where to camp heading south. Catherine didn’t reach for her camera. We donated a few dollars to the Royal Flying Doctors as a payment.

Ms Google’s instructions for the day; ‘Turn right in 335 kilometres’. A short stop for lunch then another spell behind the wheel and we were soon turning off the bitumen onto the dirt road leading to our home for the next two nights…a 700,000 acre property that used to be a Marino sheep station. Its current business status is uncertain. 

Off we marched for our late afternoon exploration down a walk called the ‘kangaroo trail’. A couple of big reds obliged us with their presence, their fur glowing in the setting sun. We sat on a seat and I pondered with Mrs A about all the decisions, risks and luck, that had brought us to this place, this moment in time. 

Back to the mobile apartment and we joined a group of our fellow travellers round a campfire. It was a lovely atmosphere, listening to all these people (some even older than me, yes) laugh and tell their stories about life on the road. A Polish couple in their late 60’s were a hoot, sipping away at their home made bourbon, bringing a shot glass over for me to try. Suddenly up the guy jumps and starts telling a very risqué joke to the whole crowd. Brilliant…a moment to file away and smile about. 

We crept away when food pangs overtook us and Mrs A is rustling up a chicken saté. I know many of you are saying to yourselves  ‘Doesn’t he ever cook?’ And no, I don’t do dinner or lunch. I’m let lose on a BBQ brekky but that’s it. My role is sole driver and  executer of tall and dirty jobs (e.g. porta potty emptying – enough said). 

Day 61: 29 July – 4.5 miles of 40-Mile Beach

Author: Mrs A

Location: 40 Mile Beach

Distance hiked: 7 km

It was a somewhat disturbed night as the wind got up and flapped our awning around – we had to get up at 2.30am to put it away – along with several other neighbours. We had a bit of a sleep in as a result, not waking until around 8.30am – bliss! It was an unusual start to the day, there were these white things in the sky…c…c…clouds I think they are called. We have not seen any of those since about mid May! They didn't hang around for long.

We packed up a lunch and our swimmers and decided to explore the beach.

We barely saw another person all day – a couple of guys fishing near the camp area, and then a lady on a stand up paddle board coming from a boat moored at the other end of the bay, otherwise just us. We stopped after 3.5 km, where there were no other footprints and jumped into the ocean for a swim – just heavenly.

We were entertained by a pair of White Breasted Sea Eagles on our walk back for hot showers and cold drinks.

The clouds returned just in time for sunset, making for a fabulous display and a fitting end to the day – nature's fireworks. We've really enjoyed our time at Gnoorea Point, but it is time to move on tomorrow, heading a couple of hundred km south to a former 700,000 acre sheep station…should be interesting!

Day 60: 25 July – Southward bound

Author: Mr A

From: Port Samson

To: 40 Mile Beach – Gnoorea Point, south of Karratha

Distance: 111 km

It was goodbye Port Samson, and hello the Great Northern Highway south, via Karratha to get a very reluctant tyre to part from the rim of my bike. Another replenishment of essential supplies at Beer Wine and Spirits, oh and some food, and off we go.

Early afternoon saw us turning off the highway onto a gravel road that Wiki Camps reliably informed us would take us to a ‘4 out of 5′ campsite. We came over the last hill and saw around 50 vans all lined up by the beach. Yup….’You’re never alone in WA!’. We found a patch to call our own and set down for lunch admiring the fabulous view out over the ocean one way, and over the hills in the other . Its actually one of the best spots, with a view of more than the van’s washing line to feast our eyes on. 

We wandered along the mangrove lined beach, and spotted quite a few feathered friends showing off their acrobatic skills. 

Along the foreshore we could see lots of vans tucked behind the dunes. Now, some of these people will be here for months at a time, with no running water….bet they don’t change their sheets once a week! Not our cup of tea…going feral for us means we cant find the wine aerator! 

Retuning to the Zone it was time for  Aperol cocktails and a chat with the neighbours. The guy turns out to be a caravan repairer from down the coast, built his own van…I pick his brains for a bit. His industry, by his own admission, has some shonky operators. There just doesn’t seem to be enough repairers to introduce some healthy competition and get standards up. 

A usual one minute we are basking in the 30 degree late afternoon sun, and a nanosecond later the sun slides off and the temperature dial drops 15 degrees in as many minutes and all the banter around the tables full of grey nomads sharing a glass and a tale suddenly empty. We all scurry back into our burrows and will emerge blinking in the sun of another perfect blue sky tomorrow. 

Tonight is curry night – ‘Well that’s not unusual’ I hear you say – and it’s not – we like a ruby and a red – no doubt about it 🙂

Day 59: 28 July – Point Samson…point disapPointment….

Author: Mrs A

Location: Point Samson

Distance cycled: 5 km

I woke this morning with a puffy swollen face and sore glands again – signs that I am about to have another allergic reaction. Have doubled the antihistamine to try and prevent anything too dramatic, and Mr A has been re briefed on the Epi pen should that be needed. Fingers crossed the antihistamine works.

It was another lovely day, but alas mostly spent cleaning out the red dust from our clothes and van. Another few washes done, even bravely used the campground machines as well, and the floor washed on hands and knees. Mr A emptied the car and did a thorough wash out and vaccuum.

So today, all went well other than:

  • The caravan repairers in Exmouth who had been lined up to fix up our broken/damaged bits and pieces have accidentally double booked us and can no longer fit us in during our visit. We have to wait another month until we get to Perth to get repairs done
  • Our washing machine has a mysterious error ‘OE’ which suggests the drain is blocked, despite us proving again and again it is not…sigh…
  • Mr A’s fat bike has a puncture and he cannot get the tyre off to fix it, so we need to spend the day in Karratha tomorrow repairing that, instead of kayaking down a beautiful river…

But all first world problems really. We managed a short cycle around the neighbourhood – we really have seen all of Port Samson now, and truly praise the talented Marketing writers who managed to make it sound like a seafood dining Mecca. 

We enjoyed sunset beers at Honeymoon Bay, before heading out to dine at the local pub ‘The Tavern’  – a truly delicious Fisherman’s Basket with chips and salad, with a bottle of Taylor’s Promised Land for $30 – not too bad!

The day concluded with a lovely FaceTime conversation with my sister, Helen, letting her know I plan to make a flying visit in September. Very excited about that!

And finally, our current location – the blue spot on the left hand side…’D’ is where our holiday truly started at the beginning of June, at Lake Argyle…

Day 58: 27 July – Goodbye red dust, hello oh so blue ocean!

Author: Mr A

From: Millstream-Chichester NP

To: Port Samson 

Distance: 171 km

It was time to say a fond goodbye to our spot by the very picturesque forest of Millstream and head to the coast. Not a bad drive, some corrugations, but livened up by the multi-coloured shrubs now lining the road. 

We made a short detour via Karratha to purchase some new camp boots. I love these pull on, leather, ankle length work boots for knocking around the dusty sites. Keeps at bay the bull ants, snakes, prickly spinnifex and everything else that’s out to get you in our wonderful bush. 

Port Samson is the only non-industrialised settlement we could see on this “WA Inc” coast of the Pilbara. It’s a very “functional” campground (i.e. No effort made whatsoever so pretty it up), concrete slabs for the van and a view of your neighbour’s washing out-so-close-you-need-to-duck when the wind blows. 

An afternoon of cleaning car, van, clothes and ourselves was long overdue after a couple of weeks in the red dirt. I’d woken up again before dawn, so it wasn’t a big night. Madam made a cracking spag bol, just the ticket, the remnants of the Bin 8 and that was it for me…done. 

Day 57: 25 July – Biking & paddling Millstream

Distance cycled: 16 km

Time paddled: 90 minutes

Distance paddled: unknown

As always we awoke to a stunning morning – about 16 degrees, blue skies and promise of a 30 something degree day ahead. Life is easy when the weather is totally predictable. We decided to head off out on our bikes while it was cool, and first of all paid a visit to the old 1930s homestead, from back when this National Park was a horse, sheep and cattle station. There was a lot of information about the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the area which continues to this day, plus an interesting depiction of life here early last century. We continued our tour along a wetlands trail to a sacred lake behind the homestead, and then along a fantastic 8km cycle trail completely off road, leading through the gum forest and through spinifex filled open desert to a fabulous viewing point over the Fortescue River.

We returned from our cycle to have a BBQ brunch and relaxed through the heat of the day.

Around 2pm we headed off to find somewhere new to paddle. We spotted a road heading down to the river and decided to park by the closed gate and hike off down for an explore. We were just opening the doors of the car and we saw a WA National Parks Ute reversing swiftly towards us. A stern woman brusquely told us were not allowed off piste, and that down that unmarked trail was an Aboriginal cultural area visitors could not access. 

National Parks in Western Australia are quite different to those in NSW, which rarely patrols its areas (meaning everywhere is open to visitors), and certainly doesn’t seem to fiercely protect Aboriginal zones. This is not the first time we have been told we cannot freely explore a park – a Karijini ranger also told us to stick the the allocated trails there. It does explain why the parks are always so busy, with everyone constantly channelled down the same avenues. 

We ended up going back to Deep Reach along the Fortescue River, inflating our kayaks and setting off for an explore. We saw many birds this afternoon, reed warblers, rainbow bee-eaters, honey eaters, firetails, ibis, herons, black kites…the list was endless, and stunning reflections on the water.

On our way back to the car I managed to stop Mr A from stepping on a rather stunning cream and brown patterned snake which was crossing the pathway. It coiled up and threatened to strike at us, its pink mouth open and hissing in our direction. We waited until it decided to retreat back into the bushes before continuing, unsure whether it was poisonous or not. Back at the mobile apartment I checked it out in our ‘Reptiles and Amphibians’ book – it was a Stimson’s Python – non-venomous…so I didn’t save Mr A’s life after all…!

Nevertheless, we celebrated with a home cooked dinner of Beef Rendang and a delicious bottle of Penfold’s 2013 Bin 8 Cab-Shiraz. 

Day 56: July 24th – Millstream National Park byPacKraft 

Author: Mr A

From: Hamersley Gorge

To: Millstream National Park

Distance: 160 km of dirt

It was a brilliant drive today across the endless plains of acacia, the red dirt kicked up in clouds as we followed a network of roads across country. We had fuelled up with a BBQ of eggs on toast just after dawn, then set off expectantly into another glorious blue sky day.

Arriving at Millstream-Chichester National Park at midday we bagged ourselves a brilliant camp spot. Almost surrounded by woodland, birds were everywhere, this is one of the best we’ve had. Bit of an issue though when I was filling up the water from our drinking water tank….it was so cloudy I could hardly see through the glass! We are thinking the Pilbara dust has penetrated the tank somehow. A problem for another day, can’t solve it here. Better drink beer instead of water then!

We decided to check out the local waterhole, Deep Creek, in the packrafts. Litttle corellas were stridently letting us know with their raucous cries we were invading their territory.  Egrets, great cormorants, straw necked ibis, royal spoonbills, white necked herons…this place was twitching central. The packrafts are great for this type of wander down a river, providing a stable but manouverable platform to take some photos, peer through bins, or just take a snooze!

As the sun started to dip it was back to base for vodka and soda, nibbles and a reflection on the day….just marvellous. As for dinner…well tonight it was me manning the BBQ with lamb cutlets and roast sweet potatoes sizzling away. Mrs A added the magic with stir fried veggies in a van made satay sauce. I produced a Konunga Hill Shiraz Cab blend from the depths of the cellar (who needs a shoe cupboard, really?) and the night was made. 

Day 55: 23 July – Tom Price & Hamersley Gorge

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 83 km

Distance hiked: 2.2 km (Yes, mostly in the car!)

Flights climbed: 10 floors

After praising the Savannah Campground for its peace and quiet we were disappointed last night when a group of camper trailer toting friends turned up late and set up right opposite where we were camping. They then cracked open the beers and yelled across to each other until long after midnight, despite Mr A politely asking them to quiet down (he was told to ‘f-off’) and apparently the retreat manager told them on two occasions also. So this morning, we packed up and departed, forfeiting tonight’s booking (‘no refunds’).

We headed first for the nearby town of Tom Price, where we hoped to gain a permit to take the shorter mining road to Millstream-Chichester National Park. Unfortunately the information centre told us it was in terrible condition as there was a new mine opening along it, and that caravans were not allowed. We had no choice but to add 200 km to our journey and go via the ‘highway’ (a rough, corrugated gravel road!).  We stocked up on fruit and vegetables while in town and headed off.

As tends to be the case, our change in direction and plans was not bad. We passed the outer southern side of Karijini National Park and a final gorge which is visited by few. This made it our favourite location as we pulled in for lunch, and then hiked down into the gorge. What a fabulous spot. Absolutely stunning reflections and rippling sediments in the walls which any landscape designer would be jealous of. We sat for a while with our feet in the water, enjoying the serenity and watching the fish swimming beneath us, cautiously eyeing my blood-orange coloured toenails.

We decided against driving any further, and pulled into a bush camp nearby. It is by far one of the most stunning locations we have camped. Yes, of course there are other campers here (‘You’re never alone in WA’), but they are at least 200 metres away from us in any direction. We are surrounded by stunning hills of the Hamersley Range all around us and the chirps of Rainbow Bee-eaters, Firetails and Zebra Finches. I think we are going to be happy here tonight!

Day 54: 22 July – Exploring more gorges in Karijini 

Author: Mr A

Distance hiked: 5km

Floors climbed: 22

A pleasant day spent wandering around more gorges. A short drive took us to a lookout (Oxer) with a commanding view over several of the gorges we were planning to clamber down into. It looked a long way down, but the first hike in was a relatively easy scramble down the red rocky path. This was Weano Gorge, where briefly we were alone – around 10 treasured minutes I think. The silence was wonderful. Alas, soon we were with the hordes again. My only explanation is that the areas we have been visiting so far in WA contain very few roads, and limited places you can actually access and walk, so everyone is funnelled to the same places. Also, NSW, Victoria and the central and southern parts of WA are all relatively cold currently, so every tourist and grey nomad in Australia has only three choices during our winter if they want the sun (and who doesn’t!) – Queensland, northern WA, or the Northern Territory. Anyway I digress. 

We soon came to the end of where I was prepared to clamber. A very cold wade followed by a swim would have taken us to the end…wasn’t keen. 

The next gorge (Hancock) was graded as a class 5 walk all the way. The scale goes from 1 (easy) up to 5 (for mountain goats as far as clumsy me is concerned). Down we went, not too bad I thought, just before I stumbled and nearly ended up taking a far too fast route down head first. At the bottom (phew) we clambered along the side of the water that amazingly still flows in the dry season.  

The next stage was boots off time and wading through icy cold water across a pebbly creek bed. I was persuaded against my better judgement by my lovely (younger) wife. The final leg would have involved gripping onto a ledge and sliding along the side of the cliff. No thanks… Ah well..getting old I suppose. A stiff climb out and we were done walking for the day. Time for an iced mocha at the Karijini Eco Retreat. Quite civilised really. 

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.