Day 15: Bungle Bungle Range to Kununurra 

From: Purnululu National Park

To: Kununurra, NE Kimberley 

Distance: 231 km

Time: 4.5 hours

Author: Mrs A

We set off shortly before 7.30am, as has become our habit, all packed up and cup of tea made for the road. We drove the corrugations more confidently on the exit than we had on the journey in, slowing at the wild buffalo which decided to amble across the road in front of us as we travelled…all in a day’s work!


We arrived back in Kununurra to hitch up the van and move to a site at around 12pm, and set about doing our washing – about 4 loads! Fortunately the combined warm days and gentle breeze means everything dries in about 30 minutes, so it was not too much of a chore. 

We then jumped in the car to buy fresh fruit and vegetables ready for the next couple of weeks on the road. Tomorrow we commence our journey on the Gibb River Road – first stop El Questro for four nights. We stocked up at Coles and the local bottle shop, and returned to camp. 

As we drove back into camp we noticed an awful noise on the car – oh no! As seems to be the case in these parts, people emerged from everywhere to offer help and advice, quickly identifying that we had a stone caught inside our wheel. We were unable to remove it on site, so will need to go to a tyre shop tomorrow and get it taken out there, before it damages our new brakes. Such a pain, but good it happened here and not somewhere remote. Mr A has already identified a shop and intends to be there at 7am when they open to seek help!

We had a lovely evening chatting to our neighbours over a bottle of wine, writing down tips for our upcoming journey and ideas of other spots to visit across Western Australia. Friendly people and again, a fabulous location. 

On to pastures new tomorrow, and our last bit of internet access for a while too!

Day 12 to 14: The Bungle Bungle experience 

Day 12: Day 1 in Purnululu National Park – Saturday 10th of June

Total driven: 231km

Total hiked: About 2km


Author
: Mr A

After putting the van into storage in Cunanurra, we stocked up on a few extra provisions for three days camping. Our next destination allowed only single axle camper trailers and vans and ours is a tandem axle. We were headed into the famous World Heritage area in the Bungle Bungle Range, containing incredible rock formations in the Purnululu National Park. The most famous are the beehive like structures that you are probably familiar with, but there’s so much more to see there. 

After around 170km drive down the Great Northern Highway (sounds grand but its actually a two lane road with the odd single track over bridges!), we turned off onto the dirt. It was 56kms of bone jarring corrugations until we checked in at the Visitor Centre. What must overseas visitors think when they are coming to such a famous tourist destination and they are confronted with this drive! One French couple I overhead talking to the National Park’s reception were incredulous, saying “We had no idea it wasn’t a proper road, everyone else had those big trucks”. Not sure what they drove in with but I bet their hire car company won’t be pleased with the result! Our car is definitely looking the part now covered in red dust.


We have a great campsite, not too busy in here, very quiet and lots of bird life. 


A short walk took us up to a sunset viewing spot and we watched the incredible display of light on the rock walls.


We (term used loosely) had pre-made a dinner of bolognaise, so that was just warmed up in the BBQ (our Weber cooks like an oven) and some spaghetti cooked up and we were in business – with a nice drop of red of course. 

It’s an early night for all the campers (including us) as the best sights are just after dawn (5.45am) when the sun strikes the rock and turn the sandstone a bright.


Day 13: Day 2 in Purnululu National Park

Total driven: About 40km

Total hiked: About 12km

Author: Mrs A

After a very comfortable night’s sleep in the tent, we awoke at sunrise and Mr A cooked up sausages, egg and mushroom wraps for breakfast, setting us up for a day of hiking. 

We drove to our first location, Homestead Valley, and were off walking by 7.40am, heading up a stunning valley, full of birds and overlooked on all sides by orange walls, vibrant in the sun. 


The walk weaved through palm trees and spinnifex, across dry pebbly creeks and up to a lookout point. The valley is apparently named after some Aboriginal artwork found here, depicting a local 1800s homestead. Cattle were run in these parts from about 1880 until the 1940s, by which time they had created devastating damage to the local fauna and degraded the river banks. The parks are working hard to remove feral animals still roaming here – including cattle and donkeys. Apparently there is a substantial population of feral cats here which they are still trying to tackle. We enjoyed the view at the end before heading back to the car and onto our next location.

Next was Echidna Chasm. We set off on our walk around 10am, aiming to reach the narrow crack around 11am, when the sun reaches the walls, bringing bright light into the narrow crack in the range. Again, many birds lined the track as we walked up, extremely hard to capture on camera as they ducked and weaved their way around the palm trees and undergrowth, hunting for insects. Upon reaching the gorge we were greeted by a narrow crack in the cliffs, a pebbly base to walk along and dark corridors, lit way above by blue skies and glowing orange rock. 

The geology around here is high in iron, giving the gorgeous rust colours, and takes the form of fossilised sediments from an ancient river bed. Many of the pebbles we walked upon were from this river bed, rolled many millions of years ago. The rocks in this fossilised river bed are even older, and are derived from an ancient, long since eroded, mountain range. It definitely feels spiritual, and a little eerie walking through a narrow path, sediments full of pebbles towering high on either side of us, looking as though they were still made of silt and likely to crumble and bury us alive. Mr A did not appreciate me sharing this thought!


As 11am arrived, we awaited the spectacle, and waited…and waited…perhaps 11am was a little early – it was more like 11:40am that the sun hit, by which time Mr A was giving me the impatient look of someone who was ready to get back out in the sunshine! I got some incredible photos though, and the change in light and atmosphere was well worth the wait.


After hiking up to a final lookout, we returned to the car and back to camp. 

About 9 years ago, we bought a gadget for our Land Cruiser which allows us to pump water through the hot engine, and have a lovely shower. To date we have never been able to enjoy this – the water either scalding hot, or not hot at all. Today, we finally managed to get it right and had a fabulous shower each and changed for the afternoon. Very civilised, and LONG awaited!

It is now beer o’clock. We accidentally didn’t bring enough booze (yes, I know, unheard of!) and therefore have a ration of 1 beer each tonight and maximum 1/2 a bottle of wine between the two of us. Last night we had no beers, and one glass of wine each! Shockingly sober for a camping trip, especially when the sun sets at 4.45pm and we have so much evening ahead! I’m sure we will be early to bed again though, the temperature drops to around 7 degrees at night, and we are not allowed fires.

Best get off to prepare dinner – chicken tikka (home made out of the freezer) this evening, and another early start tomorrow as we head to the opposite end of the national park for our hikes and viewpoints.


Day 14: Day 3 in Purnululu National Park

Total driven: About 55km

Total hiked: 13.5km

Author: Mr A

This will make our top 10 best walks“…I said to Mrs A as we walked into the most incredible scenery amongst the rock dome formations that this southernmost area of the park is world famous for. 

The day had started early we were on the road by the 6.30 to catch the early morning light. An hour’s drive round the tracks in the park took us to the area where we had planned some walks. We booted up (the spinifex is fearsomely sharp) and set off into this surreal landscape. 


The banded sandstone formations towered over us, and again we had that feeling of being dominated by this ancient landscape. 


We explored all of the day walks and were rewarded with magnificent views round every corner. 


We had skipped breakfast to get away early so a lunchtime feast back at the car was anticipated and then realised!


Back at camp we each had a long shower thanks to the bore water tap provided and our shower system that runs off the engine and heats the water just right. C even managed to wash her hair. 

This is our last night here and its been a wonderful experience, but I am looking forward to getting out of the dust and into our luxury mobile apartment (van!) – soft I know 🙂 

Day 11: Friday 9 June – Kununurra, North East Kimberley, WA

From: Lake Argyle, NE Kimberley

To: Kununurra, NE Kimberley 

Distance: 70 km

Time: 40 minutes

Author: Mrs A

We had a leisurely start to the day before packing up and heading off, travelling a short distance to the nearby town of Kununurra. We set up our apartment on the shores of the lake, admiring our incredible view.


We then jumped on our bikes and cycled a couple of kilometres into town – we had to purchase some fresh fruit and vegetables to replace those we abandoned at the border, and buy a Western Australian national parks pass – Mr A was delighted to find he got $30 off for being a senior, making it just $70 – bargain!

We returned to camp and another lovely Mark, one of the campsite managers,  came over and helped us to switch our filter on the van – we now have full running water – enough for lovely hot showers and a couple of clothes washes in our 2kg machine! Hopefully he can help fix the new one when that arrives next week…

We decided to take our Packrafts out on the lake to check they were not indeed leaking. It was a stunning afternoon on the water, and we proved they were air tight and it was probably user error causing the issues yesterday. Such a relief. We enjoyed a fantastic sunset, followed by a spectacular full moon rising – just perfect!

This evening we ate at a local restaurant – fantastic quality food and wine in an old Pumphouse – originally built on the banks of the Ord River to help irrigate the local area for tropical crops. Crops nowadays are mostly cotton and chia seed, which is sent predominantly to China (a Chinese owned farm). The other main business here is diamond mining. Look up the Pink Argyle Diamonds – very rare and very special…

This is a great location and one we wish we could spend more in. We head off tomorrow to the Bungle Bungle range (Purnalulu National Park) for three nights, before returning back here mid next week.

Day 10: Thursday 8 June – Lake Argyle

Author: Mr A

Location: Lake Argyle

We woke up early again (sunrise at 5.45am) and decided this was a day to kick off with pancakes – lay down a foundation for the activities we had planned. Loaded up the mountain bikes and headed off for a short drive and then parked up and headed off following the spillway from the lake through stunning country. Wildflowers everywhere – boab trees, kites. This ride had everything.


After a couple of hours we headed back to the car and drove back to camp ready for the next adventure – pack rafting Lake Argyle. Yup that’s the one with 40,000 crocks in it – but freshwater types so no trouble to be expected. However, when my raft started leaking air and became upaddleable I did wonder if the crocks had read the manual that they leave humans alone. We made it back the boat ramp and headed back to camp for a well earned glass of wine or two. Another great day, this weather of late 20’s in the day and cool at night suits us fine! 


Tomorrow we leave lake Argyle and head off to Cununurra. 

Day 9: Wednesday 7 June – Lake Argyle

Author: Mrs A

No travel stats today as we stayed still – hurrah! In spite of this, we still were up and about at 5.45am, our body clocks not yet adjusted to Western Australian time. We had a celebratory BBQ breakfast of bacon and eggs, before putting on our hiking shoes and climbing up to another lookout, this time overlooking the Ord River. 

We are staying amongst incredible scenery which supports much bird life. From our perch up on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river and gorge below, we saw Whistling Kites soar past us, talons grasping twigs for their nest building, and red winged parots flying by, squawking. 

After returning to camp we decided to visit the infinity pool. It’s crystal clear and high up on the cliff overlooking the lake, views stretching forever. I jumped in – it was freezing! Apparently, because the warm surface water is constantly running over the edge, it takes a long while for the pool to heat up – I’m guessing we are about 5 months early!


After a light lunch we headed over to the restaurant to watch an early 1970s documentary about the history of the damming of Lake Argyle…it was about 30 minutes too long (yawn), but gave us some idea of the scale of the job involved before we jumped on a sunset cruise on the lake.

This is no ordinary reservoir. It was dammed in 1970/71, and is the size of 19 Sydney Harbours – classed as an inland sea. When cyclones hit these parts during the summer months, it is not unusual to see waves of up to 3 metres on this lake! Our cruise set off at about 2.30pm and we covered little more than about 5% of the lake by the time we were returned to shore at 6pm. We saw more kites, and on one island a community of rescued rare Walleroos who hopped over to check us out. A fish feeding session revealed some of the residents below the surface. And of course crocodiles – all of the freshwater variety, more nervous of us than interested in taking a bite.


The sunset was lovely, accompanied by many stories, facts and figures, plus glasses of wine or beer, cheese and biscuits. It was a great way to spend a 31 degree day – apparently tonight is meant to drop to a chilly 16 degrees – how will we cope?! Ah well, first world problems…


Our key learning on the caravan today is to not let the water tanks run too low. Apparently that is what we have done, and it has resulted in our water filter becoming clogged (with whatever nasties lurk at the bottom of water tanks!) and the water flow is very slow as a result. A quick call to ZoneRV, the caravan manufacturers, has seen them organising a replacement to be sent to our next location, Kununurra, where we will be on Friday. Now we need to learn how to replace it. Fortunately we are in a location surrounded by seasoned caravanners who are willing to offer a hand, so hopefully tomorrow we will learn a new skill. 

Every day’s a school day (to quote a regular blog reader ;-))….

Day 8: Tuesday 6 June

From: Vince Connolly Limestone Creek (just outside Katherine, NT)

To: Lake Argyle resort, North East Kimberley 

Distance: 453 km

Time: 5.5 hours (including breaks, lunch and border control)

Author: Mr A


Today we made the final big push to the Kimberley. Gradually the landscape changed from the flat as a tack landscape of the last few days to the rugged country cut through with deep gorges that epitomises the north east Kimberley. Our excitement built as we crossed the border from the Northern Territory into Western Australia, giving up our fruit and veggies at the checkpoint. So explain the logic of this – we were supposed to give up our jar of honey  – unopened – and and we could buy the same brand over the border… less Australia.

So after another time zone change (our second in two days) we arrive at our camp for the next three nights on the edge of the Kimberley on what is officially classed as an inland sea, but called Lake Argyle. Massive just doesn’t even describe the size of it. We’ve been told it takes more than 4 hours for a motorised boat to reach the other side. More facts to follow tomorrow as we have booked a tour. We cycled up to a local lookout to admire the lake – even from afar it looks impressive.


It was wonderful to pull up knowing I didn’t have to climb into the driving seat at sunrise. So we are now all set up,  washing done and a dinner of lake-caught-fish at the camp cafe. Fortunately for me, despite ordering a dairy free dinner for the delicate Mrs A, they got that wrong. The waitress was about to take it away and re-cook minus the dairy, when I suggested I could “look after it”. She looked puzzled…then looked into my hungry eyes and clicked…it was delicious and after I finished the two dinners Catherine was astonished, her response; “Impressive”. I feel about satiated…

The waitress asked Catherine if she would like to have a free something else…I requested a side order of chips which was immediately dismissed out of hand. Ah well…worth trying. Given we have a bottle of not ‘too’ bad $28 2013 Merlot (Due South, from Denmark, a wine making area in WA) it may well be a couple of free take-home beers. Just realised we actually ordered Shiraz. The guy taking our orders did ‘really well’!

There’s a resident singer/songwriter. His third song is “Old farts and caravan parks”  – yup we are definitely in grey nomad central here. A lovely atmosphere – everyone so friendly and has a story to tell and advice to share. And share…and share…and share…The adventure has truly begun! 

And finally. Three things learned from podcasts today:

  • Border Collies can understand about 1,000 human words (the average dog can learn 200)
  • And on the topic of dogs, they can only see three colours in the rainbow (bonus points for those who can name those colours!)
  • And (really finally!), we are learning more about Quantum computing and physics and can almost describe a cubit and what it will be able to do for humankind….almost….

Day 9: Monday 8 June – Churchill Head to Manbulloo

From: Bush camp at Churchill Head

To: Vince Connolly Limestone Creek roadside camp area, just south of Manbulloo, NT

Distance: 646 km

Time: 8.5 hours

(Authored by Catherine!)

Once again we were up early, but as we had moved states, we had a bonus half hour in bed and still left at 7.30am! As always we were treated to a fabulous sunrise as we showered – ah how we love our apartment! 


We continued northwards on the Stuart Highway to Katherine where we stopped off to do some last minute food supply stocking up. We don’t see any more shops until Friday, so we needed to ensure we had all our lunches and dinners catered for. 

Our key challenge is fresh fruit and vegetables. There are strict quarrantine regulations each time you cross state lines – some stricter than others. Crossing into the Northern Territory, restrictions were largely limited to banana plants and beehives but tomorrow we cross into Western Australia, meaning another change in clocks (back a further 90 minutes) plus no fresh fruit,  vegetables or honey. Tough call. We also have two potted herbs – coriander and basil, which both have question marks over them at this point. I guess we will see tomorrow. If they are included I will pluck off all the leaves and put them in the freezer (of course we have a freezer!).

After our shopping, we filled up with fuel and set off again, this time heading westwards for our final 40 minutes along the Victoria Highway. 


We parked up, along with about 10 other campers and caravans, at a ‘camping permitted’ roadside rest area. On the surface of things, this looks like a great location:

  • Lots of space between vans/campers
  • Clean toilets, rubbish bins and picnic tables
  • Plenty of shade giving trees
  • Wildlife – many birds and hoppy creatures around
  • Fabulous sunset (seems to be de rigour in these parts!)
  • Free

The downside is the road. We are about as far away from it as you can get, with many others camping about 50 metres from the edge – but at about 200 metres away it doesn’t make a roaring 3 to 4 carriage long road train any quieter or more invisible…we’re a little anxious about the amount of sleep we’re going to get tonight. There has also been the odd ‘locals’ vehicle driving past, hands on the car horn and yells of ‘yeah-hah’ out of the window (this must be what they call the Wild West?)…great!


Tomorrow we ‘only’ have about 4.5 hours to drive, and we will be at our long anticipated destination – Lake Argyle. And then our holiday will begin all over again!

Finally…our top three learnings from podcasts today:

  • George Takei of Star Trek fame started his life in a POW camp behind barbed wire in the USA because his family’s skin and look was ‘wrong’ post the Pearl Harbor bombings – despite being born in the USA to parents who were born in the USA…
  • The bacteria in our stomachs alone weighs about 1.5kg! Does that mean I am lighter when I am taking antibiotics? (Answers in the comments field below please!)
  • Despite Fidel Castro’s dictatorship (and in fact because of it), Cuban biotech have developed a treatment for final stage lung cancer which turns it from a terminal disease (eg 10 months to live) to a potentially chronic disease (eg not cured, but living for potentially another 10+ years with a good quality of life). It’s not on offer outside Cuba yet (USA are finally doing trials), but many ‘terminal’ lung cancer patients from around the world who have heard about it are flying there to get treatment and doing really well.

Thank you for continuing to join us! 

Day 7: Saturday 3rd June – Ayrshire Hills to Mount Isa 

From: Ayrshire Hills bush camp off the Old Landsborough Highway

To: Mount Isa, north-west Queensland

Distance: 403 km

Time: 4.5 hours

Well not every day can be perfect, and this was one of those. Some time during the night, what started as a niggling headache evolved into a full blown migraine, which made the 403 kms quite a challenge for me, feeling hot and cold, shivering with stinging, streaming eyes and pounding head. I was not the best of travel companions.


Thankfully it was a ‘relatively’ short drive to Mount Isa, where we pulled in to a very basic caravan park and set up under a tree. I collapsed in bed feeling awful while the very patient Mr A set about doing our washing and cycled into the city centre to find me strong drugs and stock up on supplies. Our next two nights are going to be bush camping, so we needed to ensure we were well stocked with water and food for the trip.

Mount Isa is here because of the mining (lead, silver, copper and zinc) with a large Aboriginal community and substantial poverty and crime. Much of the mining population is fly-in, fly-out. It was slightly disturbing being warned as we entered to ensure we lock our car and van at night. We were amused when the park owner asked us whether we had an address – many of the grey nomads coming through here have sold up their homes and are living as gypsies, wherever they park up being their home.

I was last here 18 years ago, when I called through via coach on the way to Darwin. I was given 2 hours to explore, and my lasting impression of the town from the lookout was the metallic taste of the air here. I am guessing the pollution levels have been decreased now, as I don’t notice that today.

Hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight, in preparation for more long hours and distances over the next couple of days…fingers crossed!

And finally, back by popular demand, the top three things learned from podcasts today:

  • There are two types of artists (including musicians, painters, writers) – the Picassos – those who can pen a song/paint a finished masterpiece in 15 minutes (eg Bob Dylan) and those who take years – the Cezannes (eg Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello)
  • The Toyota scandal in the USA in 2009 (accelerator stuck to the floor, brakes don’t work) cost Toyota billions in court costs and recalls, but in reality was caused by human error (foot hitting accelerator instead of the brake in an unfamiliar car)
  • The Challenger space shuttle disaster, while horrendous, improved engineering and NASA’s business processes exponentially

Day 6: Friday 2nd June

From: Cooper Creek

To: Ayrshire Hills bush camp off the Old Lansborough “Highway” (dirt road), an hour south of Kynuna, central QLD

Distance: 560km

Time: 7.30am  – 4pm = 8.5 hrs


Highlights:

Leaving Cooper Creek in the dawn light we headed north again on a single lane road (tarmac) and playing

1.  Spot the road train coming

2. Spot the suicidal roo

3. Hold your breath until the next bend (about 130km so we lost that one!)

We arrived at the birthplace of Qantas, Longreach, and resupplied with the de rigour huge Queensland bread rolls and a few other essentials for the road trip still to come. A series of podcasts and before we know it we are eagerly trying to find our camp for the night. WikiCamps again delivers – we turned off at some low lying hills along the Old Lansborough Highway (the first hills we have seen for days) and follow a dirt track around their base. I manage to drive a bit too close to a washout and the road collapses, the car dropping about half a metre into it! Low range is enagaged and reverse gear backs us out safely…phew…


We then pull up to our camp for the night facing the setting sun. A quick clamber up the low hill behind us and the view opens up. The sandy plain is covered in footprints from camels, kangaroos and goats, plus shows us evidence of snakes and lizards which had passed by during the day.


It’s wine o’clock and what a sunset.  It has to be a spag bol with a delicious red from our wine cabinet after a show like that!
The evening continued with a fabulous moon and starlit night – the lack of light pollution allows us to try out some more star photography…and yes, we can still wear shorts at 10pm! 

Day 5: Thursday 1st June – Cunnamulla to Cooper Creek (nr Windorah, Qld)

From: Cunnamulla, Qld

To: Cooper Creek, about 11km east of Windorah, Qld

Distance travelled: 532 km

Time taken: 7 hours 

Sunrise in Cunnamulla, Qld

After a perfect night’s sleep (peace, darkness and an incredible view of the Milky Way) we awoke to another stunning blue sky day. We enjoyed hot showers and topped up with fresh water in preparation for a few nights off the grid on our continued journey. It was about 0 degrees centigrade first thing (making for a quick dash back to the luxury apartment…I mean van…after the shower) warming to a fresh 19 degrees during the day.

 A slightly blurry Milky Way 

From Cunnamulla we headed west along the excitingly named Bulloo Development Road and then north up the Quilpie Thargomindah Road. The landscape became decidedly red and scrubby, with the roadkill (mainly roos and emus…but disturbingly the occasional cow, pig or sheep) on the single track road frequent and needing to be avoided. 

This land is the domain of the road train, and as soon as you see one of these giants roaring towards you, you immediately pull off on to the gravel at the side of the road. Road trains, for those who are unaware, are ‘long vehicle’ delivery lorries on steroids – often three massive trucks long, pulled by a single giant engine. There is no arguing with a road train – they have right of way and do not stop for anything. The good thing for us, is that the rule seems to be that anyone smaller than you will pull off to give way – single Utes or 4WDs would pull off completely for us, where other caravans would half pull off, as would we, meaning we have half the car on the Tarmac. The unspoken rules of the outback, it seems.


Lunch today was at the side of the road, seated at our table admiring the raw outback beauty. At first glance you might see it as scrubland, but when you realise how little rain it gets out here, you begin to recognise the strength of the place, the lack of contours on the land only serving to allow us to admire the curvature of the earth. We are both truly beginning to feel more connected to Australia on this trip, and it is only our 5th day.

We pulled into Cooper Creek, a free camp beside the water and road, at around 4.30pm. With around 10 caravans and campers already set up here, it was the busiest traffic we had seen all day (no, not missing Military Road in Sydney at all!). It seems to be a crossroads for travellers with many of those we chatted to heading south, and others on their way north like us, but none mentioning the Kimberley. Based on the feedback from other people we had expected to see more ‘Grey Nomads’ heading our way, but so far we’ve met none. Perhaps once we hit Mount Isa on Saturday (I must admit I had to look up the day – we already have no idea what day of the week it is – ha ha!).

We’re hoping for a peaceful night – given we are about 50 metres from the road and the road trains still seem to be operating at 8pm, there is some doubt….but fingers are crossed. We are heading towards (and ultimately past) Longreach tomorrow, the birthplace of Qantas Airlines. More new ground to cover and adventures to be had!

 Cooper Creek at sunset 

And finally…the top 3 things learned from podcasts today:

  • Most of the dinosaurs I learned about in my childhood are no longer the same – either they were incorrectly identified (eg Brontosaurus was 2 dinosaurs!) or don’t actually stand up like Godzilla. Perhaps I’m the last to learn this!?
  • One of Saturn’s moons potentially harbours alien life! Scientists have already identified snow, glaciers, an atmosphere and salt water…the moon is only 500km across
  • 1-3% of any population is born with both male and female organs – that’s a lot of people we don’t hear from!