Port Headland to Broome vie 80 Mile Beach and Port Smith Western Australia
23 Mar 2007
The drive north from Karijini was nice and it was good to see the freshness in the vegetation after the recent rains. The last 19 miles along the coastal road to Port Headland was flat and not inspiring, however we were wondering what we would find at our destination. Although the cyclone had come inland about 20 miles to the east of Port Headland, the town had been very much in the front line.
Port Headland is a working town developing mainly in the 1960's for the iron ore industry. It is long and sprawls down to the harbour at the head of the town and most workers live 12 miles away at South Headland. Some people had described this town in very derogatory terms to us. The local people we observed seemed happy enough to be their. Later at Pardoo Roadhouse we met a young man who had been working for three weeks solid and he said he and his partner were going to visit Port Headland the next day. He was quite animated at the prospect.
We observed some trees uprooted and many trees which had some cyclone damage. A small percentage of houses had suffered damage and some had their roofs blown off. Our caravan park was three miles east on a headland by the river mouth. The river had very wide flood banks and across the other side was a lot of industry. Our neighbour on the site still had his strapping tied to the bolts embedded in the concrete on which the vans are parked, though untied them the next day.
This neighbour informed that on the night of the cyclone people sheltered in the brick built toilets and the howling wind noise was tremendous. At 1.30am, when the cyclone had past, he decided to go to his bed. His walk across to his caravan was slow and he was bent double, as were the palm trees he observed. Once in his van he slept with his feet against the back wall as a brace for the wall and felt the end of his caravan bulging in against his feet during the night. This was said to be his first cyclone and he was not eager to experience another one.
Washing clothes and bedding was a priority so we stayed two nights. On the Sunday we walked round the beach to the pool by the river mouth and then round the headland. It was very hot, (seems to be a trait of this tropical area), and we watched hermit crabs at the waters edge, marvelling how small some of them were. The walk back through a housing estate allowed us to observe some of the cyclone damage.
Monday morning was frustrating as we tried to use an internet facility at a shop, then on learning at the Tourist Office we could use our own lap top, we tried again. Pictures took ages to up load to our site and so we gave up with only some of our tasks completed. After shopping it was 3pm before we left Port Headland behind us. We had made a decision to visit Marble Bar. This small town was one of the names included in the 'red alert' at cyclone time and we felt we had an affinity with Marble Bar, and it is close to picturesque gorges. The large road sign at the top of the road was destroyed in the cyclone. A temporary sign informed the road to Marble Bar was closed to traffic other than 4 wheel drive vehicles and trucks.
Marble Bar is famous as the record holder for hottest town in Australia. Between 30 October 1923 and 08 April 1924, Marble Bar recorded 162 consecutive days over 37.8 C, (100F), and that's before Air conditioning and global warming.
At Pardoo Roadhouse we learned of a Cattle Station back along the way which had been completely flattened by the cyclone; the main homestead having been re-built recently. We head north towards 80 Mile Beach Caravan Park which proved to be 6 miles from the main road down an easy rough road. During the last two miles we must have seen over 100 wallabies; another memorable time.
This caravan park is run by Rangers employed by the Environmental Department and they help protect the turtles that use this beach area for breeding. Our hopes that we might yet see baby turtles making their way at high tide at night to the sea were dashed when we were told the cyclone and resultant high seas had washed the remaining eggs out to sea. We stayed two nights and so another lazy day was spent with little to do but walk part of 80 Mile Beach, marvel at the shells and enjoy watching the small shore life at the sea edge, and sweat buckets in the heat. In the evening we went to the fields at the entrance to the site and watched the wallabies.
Next day, Wednesday, we travelled towards Broome and were making good steady progress. I had remarked previously that the farmers had bought a job lot of signs as each 30 kilometres we came across another saying 'cows on the road, 30K. Sheep are well out of fashion at the present time due to man made fibres. Today we came across a sign saying 'cows on the road, 15K'. He must have got his sign for half price.
When we came across a sign pointing to Port Smith Caravan Park, and Port Smith Bird Park and Tropical Garden we got out our tourist book. This seemed an interesting place, so we set off on what proved to be a difficult sandy 14 miles of unsealed road. Eventually we arrived to find the recent rain had assisted in the mosquito breeding. After a 500 yard walk to Bird Park we found it closed in a half hour so had to put this off until the morrow. A further 200 yards on was the lagoon. The tide was just going out and it was too wet to get to the beach through the mangroves. This tide comes in over 9 metres high, however if we time it right we should see some stunning coast line.
Back at the caravan park the manager showed us his pet kangaroo's and two baby Rock Wallabies known as 'Agile Wallabies' which are still bottle fed. We also saw a Frilly Backed Lizard before being beaten by the mosquitoes and seeking sanctuary in the van for the rest of the evening and night time.
Next morning, we again sprayed our legs and arms and rubbed our faces with Bushman, the best spray on the market and photographed a Frilly Backed Lizard and two baby Frog Faced Owls with their mother. The mosquitoes were again very active. In the shaded areas of the Tropical Bird Park the mosquitoes will be even worse. Decision made, to hell with the Bird Park and the stunning coastal scenery, we have plenty of pictures of stunning scenery and expect to get many more. Good bye Port Smith, our many mosquito bites will remind us of you for some time.
We managed to negotiate the difficult 14 mile of sandy road back to the main road and travel the remaining miles to Broome. Since leaving Port Headland we have travelled 375 miles of tarmac road plus 41 miles of rough road. As we travelled the gentle slopes the scenery varied from low scrub, a few areas with small trees, and flat grass areas. The only road to our right was the one to Marble Bar which was shut to us. There were no roads to our left other than the 3 rough roads of which we drove on two to 80 Mile Beach and Port Smith, and a few tracks to Cattle Stations. This journey will remain in our memories for the unusualness of it. Thank goodness for the Roadhouses which are welcome oases on a long wilderness journey.