“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


6 August 2015

WA Road trip: Broome to the foothills of Karijini National Park

Monday 25th May 2015:

Finally back on the open road after nearly a month
     After a quick fry up we said our farewells to the Pete and the rest of the gang at the Last Resort and met up with Dustin, Dave and Bastiaan outside the Kimberley Klub YHA. They were just dropping off their Italian travel buddy, who had decided to search for work in the warmer North rather than join us on the Southern trail. Most of the day was spent sorting out the vehicles for the trials ahead and stocking up on essential supplies. With the rusty suspension of both cars under strain from a few metric tons of budget booze, noodles, rice, tuna, bacon, crisps and dips we finally hit the open road early afternoon. It was 600km to the next large settlement of Port Hedland and our first campsite was at least two hours away. Dustin and the others wanted to avoid driving after dark as much as possible. According to them a drive after sunset goes from being a pleasant exercise into an animal obstacle course and neither the Hyundai Getz nor the Ford Falcon were likely to survive a collision with a cow or a kangaroo.

     Driving in Northern WA is possibly one of the easiest things anyone could ever do. A few turns of the steering wheel to get out of Broome, point the nose down Highway 1 and that’s it for the next 600 kilometres. The arid bush landscape around Broome is beautiful in a desolate and harsh sense of the word. The natural and domesticated herbivores are forced to cover huge areas to find enough sustenance amongst a plethora of bone dry vegetation. There is no escaping the fact that this is a hostile landscape where only the most resilient and resourceful entities prevail. Not perhaps a band of dopey backpackers with a boot load of booze.     

The first of many free campsites
    We arrived at our first campsite just before sunset. The place was already occupied by a few huge Winnebago’s owned by retired couples (known as grey nomads out here) and a couple of backpackers sat in a campervan which looked as though it was held together by a combination of rust and cobwebs. This didn’t seem to bother them too much and after noticing the tell-tale signs of dreadlocks and a Bob Marley sticker occupying the entire rear windscreen I was pretty sure that having a campervan welded together with cobwebs wasn’t going to be the weirdest thing they had seen that night but nonetheless they were extremely friendly folks.

    After some warming grub we sat down for the first time as a group and set about draining our lager and cider supply with pass the pigs and some weird card game that Dustin showed us (Although I’m still sure it was rigged). Shockingly! It turns out that Australia is a great country to travel around on the cheap (if you ignore the ridiculous price of alcohol and food) thanks mostly to the existence of these free campsites. They are located everywhere and although the facilities are basic to say the least there is certainly something familiar and comforting about sitting around a campfire under the stars, meeting new people and sharing stories.  It’s a primeval means of socialising built into our DNA over millennia (one millennia for those reading from Texas) and one which is kind of lost in today technology driven world.
Once again we are left to sleep in incredibly cosy lodgings. 

Tools of the Trade: WikiCamps
When setting out on a road trip in Australia make sure you download the app “Wikicamps”. It catalogues and maps (linked to Google Maps) all available free campsites, showers and points of interest around the country and the best thing is you don’t require Wi-Fi to use it. Once the maps are downloaded they can be used offline which is great when you are miles away from the nearest hot spot.   Wikicamps is also available for the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand.

Tuesdays 26th May 2015:

     Our 9:00 set off time was a little ambitious considering it wasn’t until 10:00 that Dave and Bastiaan woke up. Jono and I were still excited about the trip ahead and woke up too early really and set about sorting out the breakfast for the lazy bunch of soap dodgers. The grey nomads were already long gone and even the friendly stoners were lively enough to pack up their gear. Needless to say we weren’t making the use of the days light but then again we were in no real rush to reach Perth. This lack of motivation wasn’t helped by the fact that we seemed to be the only people heading south. The Australian winter must be a brutal one as it seemed the whole world and his wife were seeking warmer climes on the annual migration to Broome, The Kimberley’s and Darwin. So like tornado chasers we headed against the flow of traffic towards the eye of the storm to Port Hedland along with the odd road train. This brings me to another experience when driving in OZ, overtaking road trains. Unlike most Lorries these vehicles consist of three or more separate carriages and more often than not travel at bang on the speed limit making the experience of leap frogging one of these monsters a harrowing affair. Finding a straight section of road is not the problem, it’s having the confidence to pull out hoping that another vehicle doesn’t come the other way in the next 2 minutes.

Port Hedland is swamped by flocks of white parakeets although the dust makes them look a bit rusty

     We reached the settlement of Port Hedland at around 13:00. The town is the main hub for transporting minerals and natural produce around the country and has good rail, road and sea links. It’s a barren, grubby industrialised place and is not likely to feature on the tourist maps in these parts but it is a good place to top for supplies. Dustin was forced to search around town for a new spare tyre for the ford falcon. He had a slight puncture between Darwin and Broome and was attempting to find a cheap replacement and thought the larger shopping centres of Port Hedland would have some. Unfortunately for him finding a “cheap replacement” was going to be difficult to find in a place occupied by cash rich mine workers. So he had no choice but to move on and hope the roads of Karijini National Park would be smooth.

     It was getting late in the day by the time we left Port Hedland and Highway 1 behind and turned onto Highway 95. The reduced flow of traffic meant we were now forced to alter our game of punch buggy from spotting a road train to any vehicle. As the sun set we could feel the rust dust scattered flatlands changing even though the scene remained draped in darkness and once again we were forced to set up camp by torch light.   

Wednesday 27th May 2015

Looking like a proper Brit on holiday at Karijini visitor centre

     A new day brought a change in the weather and unfortunately that meant rain. It was the first time we had seen the most familiar of weather events for Brits in over a month (Since it had hammered it down on our Indian Ocean voyage) but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. Karijini National Park was only 80km away and we were all keen to get away from the cars and out into the great outdoors. Sadly our optimism was premature and whilst signing in at the visitor center we discovered that the roads leading to the best walk spots were closed. Left literally “out to dry” we took advantage of the warm showers at the visitor center and forged a “cunning” plan over a plate of pancakes. We knew we would have to use the same free campsite for the next two or three nights and decided to put the wasted hours to better use and build up a decent pile of kindling for later in the day. Before we set off the visitor’s center had a little surprise in store. Despite it being a miserable day preventing us in seeing the wildlife, one local decided to come and visit us. It was a creature commonly associated with Australia, the yellow dog, Dingo. The wild dog was about the size of our border collie “Zac” back home and had the smile of a rascal that most canines inherit. It was clearly in a scavenging mood hoping to find easy pickings around the car park and skulked around for a good twenty minutes before moving on. Sure it was only a brief sighting but at least we could say we had seen something.

First glimpse of a dastardly Dingo

     The free campsite was located east of the national park (where there are only pay to enter sites) and was already beginning to attract overnighters despite it still being mid-afternoon. Unlike our previous stops this one had no onsite toilet but what it lacked in sanitation it made up for with a sturdy steel shelter and an hours free WiFi. It still seems nuts to me that even out in the middle of nowhere you can stay connected to social media. After a quick introduction to our new friends we put our hunter gathering skills to the test and searched for fire wood of which there were plenty. Regular bush management projects maintain the scrub land with controlled fires and it seemed it hadn't been long since an inferno had passed through. By the time our pyre was up and running we had a good group of around twenty backpackers looking to avoid the extortionate prices of the national park camps. The crap weather intensified the social atmosphere with Canadians cooking an incredible stew leaving the mix of Germans, British, French, Dutch and Australians sharing stories and booze whilst eagerly awaiting the hearty meal.

The group beginning to gather 

     You don’t get this sort of experience in a five star hotel and I would gladly turn my nose up at an all-inclusive package holiday over meeting real characters over a bonfire.

     I may change my mind about that after a few weeks of super noodles.

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