Cape Leveque and the Dampier Peninsular Western Australia 25 March 2007
28 Mar 2007
The road into the Dampier Peninsular is unsuitable for caravans. Our plan was to hire a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We were advised that after all the recent rain an experienced driver and guide would better suit our purpose. On the day of our journey, the notice board stated that only 4 wheel drive vehicles and trucks were allowed to use the road; on return to Broome our guide stated the road would be shut for the next few days, and he was right.
Our alarm went off at 5.45am and we met Clive our guide at the caravan park gate at 6.55am. Last night the clocks went back and we got an extra hour in bed; this must be our lucky day. The transport carried seven plus the driver and Sylvia and I shared the wide back seat with a few cushions and another man. Why did the van have cushions? It was not long before I had worked that one out.
Soon we were on the unsealed road to our first destination of Beagle Bay, about half way towards Cape Leveque which is over 130 miles away. Our view was restricted to the 8 to 15 foot high bush alongside or the road ahead, and the sky at the end of the rise. The road in front became of paramount importance.
It began to rain and continued on an on and off basis for most of the day. The road conditions varied from:- light corrugation with potholes; windswept areas where the corrugation was hard and very rigid; soft soggy sand over 1 foot deep; wet rutted sections; flooded areas; hills where we drove up the course of a young river, or downwards going with the flow as it were. In the dips were pools of water and some of them were large enough to go fishing; and of course you could not tell how deep they were or what you might hit whilst crossing them. And this is the only road into the Dampier Peninsular.
To add to the fun there were fallen branches and parts of bushes strewn in our way. Clive, our driver took evasive action where necessary and prayed in the appropriate places. We rattled about in the van and we were soon sitting on the cushions. By the end I was wondering if I had acquired a flat head, I knew I had acquired a very sore posterior. The wild jerking, jumping and sliding of the transport inspired me to watch out for a 'Rodeo' on our travels. I shall certainly put in an entry for riding 'the bucking bronco', and take pictures of Sylvia for the blog site as she wins first prize.
We arrived at our first aborigine village of 400 inhabitants at Beagle Bay and admired the Sacred Heart Church which is famous for its pearl shell alter. I told Father Bernard that my picture of the church with the large puddle in the foreground put me in mind of the Tajh Mahal. The original church was built by the aborigines under the guidance of French Catholic Monks and roofed by wood, and the white ants ate it. By this time German Monks were in control and they roofed it with sections cut from empty tins of kerosene; these can be seen in the part above the alter. After a cyclone spoiled the rest of the roof, the local people in conjunction with people from Broome put a new steel roof on. Many roofs and some houses are built with steel because of the termites and ants.
Inside the church there is a lot of 'mother of pearl' and the church alter is beautiful. There are also special oyster shells embodied in the walls and you can't acquire this type at this size any more. Father Bernard is a Nigerian; also living near by is an Irish Nun who is 87 years old. Unfortunately we did not meet her. Father Bernard joined us under the trees for our morning break of cakes and tea/coffee, and sheltered with us when it began to rain. When the rain became intense he ran and unlocked his vestry where we all sheltered; a lovely man who's English is still sometimes hard to understand. Apparently when he first arrived five years ago the aborigines used to turn up for his services despite not understanding a word.
About 15 miles further up the road we met our fourth vehicle of the journey and he was flashing his lights and pointing . Clive told the man, "Yes, that is the way back". He said, "Have you lost something". Fifty yards behind us was our trailer with the tables and chairs, food and beverage, still attached to the broken A frame. We had not heard it break loose even though this was on one of the better sections of road, apart from the pot holes. The expensive satellite phone would not work so we drove along river roads and through ponds for about 10 miles before Clive was able to phone his boss; on his normal mobile. 'Leave the trailer and continue with the trip'.
On our way back for the food we met Father Bernard on his way to Lombadina where he would conduct a service at 5pm. He said he had blest the trailer as he drove past. At least he did not give it the last rights. After re-distributing the food we packed the boxes around us and set off. We are now travelling through the same pools for the third time and each time they are deeper than before; at least we know the best way past the broken trees.
Cape Leveque was named in 1803 by a French expedition and is owned by an aborigine community. An area with chalets and camp sites is near to the automated light house. We inspected new decking built on poles around the hill top whilst Clive prepared the lunch. These will be luxury eco tented properties; what a view but expensive to stay in. It is not yet the tourist season and the restaurant was shut. However some of the outside tables and chairs were under cover which was really handy as it was again raining and our tables had been left stuck in the sandy mud.
There was a wide range of choice of food and we all dined very well and stayed dry. It was a bit different from the leisurely lunch on a pristine beach promised in the brochure. Most of this journey was different from that described in the brochure. It had stopped raining. We walked the sand dunes while Clive lowered the tyre pressure before setting off on our 4 mile beach drive along the side of the waves to visit Hunters Creek. This was a very interesting drive as was the return drive along the sandy dune road. After another interesting walk while Clive re-inflated the tyres we were again packed in with the lunch boxes and liquid containers, and on our journey.
This was the slowest journey Clive had ever been on in the peninsular. We did not arrive at the Lombadina Aboriginal Community until 5pm. Father Bernard greeted us outside his church and allowed us to view his church before the service. There are two communities who share the church, medical centre, school and shops. One community remain traditional and poor. The other is more progressive and have work shops producing jewellery and other items to sell to tourists. They run fishing and kayaking trips and have accommodation for tourists and back packers. The toilet, shower and basin area was tiled, curtains were at the windows and the cleanliness was equal to any where I have been. As it was Sunday, the shops were shut and we were unable to contribute to the local economy; the children were lovely and very friendly.
We are on our way back with over 100 miles to go. At the Cape Leveque end the road was tarmac and more is expected to be built this year. Unfortunately it did not seem to last very long and we were once more driving on the very rough road and fording the puddles which have become even deeper. Although there was no water around the abandoned trailer we gave it a little wave as we past by.
Night fell an hour early due to the clocks being put back and the road looked even worse in the headlights. The noise on the roof above my head was getting louder and I thought we would be soon joined by the spare wheel. As we reached the turn off for Beagle Bay, Clive stopped the van and removed the roof spare wheel. Planking it as we say in Scotland in the long grass a few yards off the road. We still have one spare wheel attached to the outside of the back.
Clive commented on the time we would arrive home. "Oh, you are still confident we will get back" I said. He was and fortunately this was not misplaced. Half an hour later Clive stopped so we could stretch our legs. With much practiced military precision our friends at the front removed the boxes by the side door, those in front of us and then the man next to me got out, and Sylvia and I placed the items by our feet on his seat so we could alight from the vehicle. A lovely star filled night sky.
The expectation of returning home between 7.30 and 8pm did not happen and we were eventually unpacked from the vehicle for the last time at 9.30pm. Clive had regaled us with stories from his chequered past and looked after us very well. It had been a memorable day in several ways and Sylvia and I will not be riding our bikes for a while. We have been to many other beautiful parts of Australia and I don't think Cape Leveque was any better. What made this exceptional was the remoteness and unspoiled beauty. An aborigine council is in charge and in possession of the area and they don't want to have too much development and spoil what they have.
Some day there will be a sealed road all the way to Cape Leveque and this may or may not be a good thing. It will certainly be a gentler journey. Anyway, based on the toilets of the Lombadina community, my confidence is with them to manage the area and keep it as unspoiled as possible. Good luck to them.