Oz and the Big Lap travel blog

3 May - Adventure Wild! Day 1

Up at 5 to get breakfasted, showered and trailer packed away ready to be collected at 06.40 by the Adventure Wild bus. We made it with a few minutes to spare. It was a 16-seater bus, really a truck with the passenger part a bit like a box, on a high clearance chassis. We joined the tour bus which then headed out of town to the Great Northern Highway and north, across the single lane bridges, one of which, across the Fitzroy River had a pedestrian bridge attached to one side. We stopped and walked back to see if we could see any crocs! Ricky, who was way out in front saw one but it slid into the water before we could get there. We did see some jabiru (black-necked storks, quite rare and very shy). Fuelled up at Willare Roadhouse and on to a quiet spot for morning tea. On past the turnoff to Derby before stopping again at a pullout in Camballin. The pullout had an enormous boab tree at the centre and it whilst it was possible to get inside, we didn't. Chance to properly meet people before we set off again to Fitzroy Crossing and our campsite for the night.

The campsite was on Brooking Station to the north of Fitzroy Crossing along a dirt road, past a couple of gates to a field where the tents had already been set up. Bags and swags were unloaded from the roof of the bus and we were instructed how to set up our swag. The swag is a single bed sized canvas sleeping bag with a mattress, a pillow, a sheet and a sleeping bag all wrapped up inside the canvas. We had to roll it out and set it up. It was possible to sleep out under the stars, just using the canvas as it had a flap to creat a sort of small tent. Some people chose to do this but we preferred to be in a proper tent.

We had been booked onto a river cruise through the Geikie Gorge, not far away, so back on the bus. The gorge, on the Fitzroy River, was beautiful. The cliffs were red and white, but it wasn't as enclosed as we expected, wide and spacious. The guide was a Ranger who told us all about the history and the flora and fauna. We did see a few freshwater crocodiles on the surface who ducked under as the boat approached. The setting sun in the cliffs was gorgeous, no pun intended. Back to the campsite for dinner then bed. A long drive, over 400km today, and probably the longest drive we will have.

4 May - Day 2

Up at 5, before the sun as we had another long drive ahead of us. Breakfast then another instruction session: how to roll up the swags! All bags and swags, cooking pots etc loaded onto the bus and we were off. We stopped by the original Fitzroy River crossing, a causeway which today was was only about 30 cm above river level, but the week before, according to our hosts was three metres under water! During the wet it was over fifteen metres underwater. Stopped for morning tea along the way, and then we pulled into Ngumban Cliff rest area, well off the Highway. A very pretty spot with lovely views out across the plains and ranges. Further along the road we sw ung off hte Highway again to stop at Mary Pools for a 'comfort' break. Large pools along the Mary River with plenty of mature trees, it was a designated 24 hour camping spot, a large site in a beautiful setting but only one loo!

On along the hIghway until we hit the Tamani Road junction. The Tamani Road, a gravel road leads eventually to Alice Springs and because of that there is a quarantine notice and bins for all fruit and vegetables, with few exceptions. The quarantine area is for the Ord River Irrigation Scheme area where thanks to irrigation, vast areas are now able to grow fruit and vegetables. We were soon in Halls Creek where we refuelled and drove on along the Duncan Highway to the original town site. The old town was founded after the discovery of the first 'payable' gold field in WA in 1885. The site was abandoned both due to lack of permanent water and the exhaustion of the little gold field. The gold was of very high purity - 97%, which is rare. Most of the buildings have long gone, taken down so the building materials could be re-used on the new town site. Only the post and telegraph office, are still there, protected by a tin roof shelter are the walls of original sun-baked mud brick building. It is all locked up so not possible to go in. The building is famous for an operation carried out by the postmaster with instructions from a doctor in Perth sent over the telegraph wires. It was one of the incidents that prompted the start of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The small cemetery was very overgrown after the 'wet' and contained the graves of several of the early pioneers. We had lunch overlooking the old town before moving on.

On the way back to the Highway we turned off to view the China Wall, a natural 'wall' of rock standing proud of the surrounding rock and looking like the Great Wall of China. So, back to the Great Northern and onwards towards Purnululu or the Bungle Bungle Ranges. It was now getting quite late in the day and we arrived at the campsite, on Mabel Downs Station as the sun was setting. Baggages unloaded and camp set up, time for a sundowner before dinner.

5 May - Day 3

Once again up at 5, before sunrise, breakfasted and on the road by 06.20 to Purnululu about 53km away along a dirt track, Spring Creek Track. Several creek crossings, not too much water in the creeks but the dip in the road was often quite steep. Made for a bumpy ride, even though we were being driven carefully. Saw a 'wedgie' (wedge-tailed eagle) perched on a tree beside the track who stayed long enough for some photos before flying away. It took two hours to do the 50-odd kilometres, it was a pretty rough track, but finally we arrived at the visitor centre and everyone made a beeline for the toilets!

After we were checked in we headed south, road still as bad, before heading east to Piccaninny, the parking place at the head of several tracks into the southern Bungle Bungle. Mark, our host told us that an elephant had escaped from a travelling circus some time ago and was living in the area, and guess what? Just around the corner we saw Elephant Rocks, which actually did look like a mother and a baby elephant, one behind the other. Arrived at Piccaninny and walked the trail to Cathedral Gorge, via The Domes Loop. The domes are fantastic, layers of sandstones, eroded by wind and water into dome shapes, different sizes and shapes. Some of the bands are blackened by the growth of cyano-bacteria and funghi, heightening the banding effect. Cathedral Gorge was amazing, the walls soaring up into the sky offering very welcome shade. The river bed was dry but for a few isolated pools and it was possible to see the scouring effect of fast running water in the river bed and along the walls. A kilometre-long walk, at the end of which was a huge cavern, in front of the cavern was a large pool of water. It would have been a great place to have a dip to cool down but the water looked quite stagnant and scummy. No-one went in, but we did enjoy Jan singing in the cavern, the acoustics were wonderful and it was possible to hear her all around the end of the gorge.

We retraced our steps from the gorge, crossed the dried up Piccaninny Creek, with weird water-sculpted grooves/channels along its bed, and on to the Lookout. This offered views out across a small plain to smaller ridges of 'bungle' and a few black kites circling overhead. Everyone was very hot by now so we walked back to the bus for morning tea or cold drinks and a snack.

Most of the party had booked helicopter flights over the Bungle Bungle, so we headed to the airstrip and got them booked in. While they were away we had lunch and chilled, well, as chilled as it was possible to be in the 34 degree heat. On their return we boarded the bus, they had lunch on the move, it was a lovely chicken salad wrap, while we headed north. A 30km drive to Echidna Chasm, the Bungles changed character as we headed north, no longer rounded and domed but presented long rows of red and gold banded cliffs. It was all very beautiful.

Echidna Chasm was right at the northern end of the Ranges and very different from the south. The chasm had a rocky dried river bed along it, getting narrower and narrower as we progressed, closing in to one metre wide, before opening out to about 10 metres wide and 200 metres deep right at the end, a kilometre from the entrance. The rock was mostly a pebbly conglomerate, sometimes known as 'pudding stone', the materials becoming finer and finer as the chasm became narrower. On the way back a few of us walked up to the Osmand Lookout, so-called as it offered great views of hte Osmand Ranges which at 1.6 billion years old are some of the oldest rocks in the world. The rocks of the Bungle Bungle by contrast are a mere 300 million years old.

After all the walking everyone was gals to get back on the bus and head back to the campsite. Another two hour drive along the bumpy dirt road to the campsite where we arrived just about sunset. Ok, a very welcome sundowner and then dinner.

6 May - Day 4

We were allowed a lay-in this morning, we were not due to leave until 07.30! Anyway, breakfasted, swags rolled up, bags packed and everything loaded on to the bus we aleft a little after 07.30, very impressive.

Today we were to drive to Kununurra, a town largely built for the workers on the huge Ord River Irrigation Project. A huge dam was built across the Ord River to create Lake Argyle, the largest body of fresh water in Australia and thus provide stored water for irrigation in 'the Dry'.

We headed north once again, stopping at the Warmun or Turkey Creek Roadhouse to refuel and for a comfort break. There is an art gallery nearby which we will visit on our return. We saw a number of bush fires along the way, deliberately set by the various stations as a preemptive measure. On up the road to Kununurra passing though ever more rocky, hilly countryside until we reached the irrigation scheme lands and the sandalwood and mango plantations. We called in at the Zebra Rock gallery to see the rare zebra rock, the source of which is now beneath the waters of Lake Argyle. It can only be mined in periods of very low water towards the end of the 'Dry'. A very pretty banded rock it lends itself to use as jewellery coasters, vases etc. All the pieces were way over-priced, I mean I know it is rare but..... And so into the town itself and the campsite at Ivanhoe Village.

We set up camp, tents already pitched, as usual and had a sausage sizzle lunch. We were then taken on a little tour of the town. First stop the Ivanhoe Crossing; the river was still high and the Crossing well under water, it looked like a weir and definitely not crossable today though in the 'Dry' it is a causeway, high above the river bed and easily drivable. We drove then to the sandalwood factory, not a factory at all, just a shop selling sandalwood products. Quite interesting to learn about sandalwood oil production - all the harvested sandalwood is sent to a processing plant in Albany, in the far southwest of WA. We bought a few things. Back to the campsite via Hidden Valley and the Mirima National Park which contained a miniature version of the Bungle Bungle. We stopped at Kelly's Knob and climbed the smaller hill beside it to watch the sun go down. A beautiful sunset. Back to the campsite for dinner.

7 May - Day 5

Up at 04.45 to join five others to drive to and then walk up Kelly's Knob to watch the sunrise. A bit of a shock to the system but we clambered onto the bus and made our way a couple of kilometres to the hill. It was still dark though the sky was lightening in the east. A steep climb up a rocky path to the summit and we made it with a good fifteen minutes to spare. The summit climb was 33 staircases according to Antony's 'fitbit'! The effect of the sun below the horizon on the clouds, making then glow red, was magical, the landscape slowly emerged from the gloom and finally the sun burst over the horizon. We could see rain pouring down to the north but it was fair over us and to the south, looked like it was going to be another beautiful day. We watched for a while and then clambered down to the bus and returned to the campsite for breakfast. What a start to the day.

Back to the campsite for breakfast, bacon and eggs this morning as we had had such an early start (well, some of us had!). Most of the group had booked a river boat trip on the Ord River, so they left straight after breakfast and we were left to chill out. Mark and Carmel, our guides, Chris and Jan, the trainee guides and we went into town for a coffee. Our hosts went off to do a large shop while we wandered along to the art galleries only to discover them closed. So a gentle walk back to the camp to totally chill out. What a relaxing day, sat down, went to the pool and so on.

8 May - Day 6

A very leisurely start to the day. The bus needed a new tyre following a puncture and there was a slight oil leak that needed checking. Yesterday was Sunday and we had arrived here too late on Saturday to get anything done, so Mark was out first thing to find a tyre shop and a mechanic. Saw some very pretty little birds by the pool yesterday and managed to get some photos this morning: double-barred finches. We had black kites circling over the campsite and glossy ibis wandering around.

Mark returned, we loaded up the bus and left, one stop to pick up the repaired tyre another to collect a few of the group who had walked into town and then we were off. Stopped at an area just below the Ord River barrage; the river was still high - there were picnic tables in the water! No crocs, salty or otherwise. So, on down the Victoria Highway away from Kununurra and towards El Questro our stop for the night. We turned off onto the Wyndham Road and after 10k or so we joined the start of the Gibb River Road. At this point it was still a sealed road, it did have a few dips or floodways where the surface had been eroded by the rains, but otherwise a good road. Great views of the Cockburn Ranges, looking quite spectacular - high ranges with cliffs at the top, a bit like mesas. We forded the King River along the way which still had water across the road. The blacktop came to an end when we arrived at the El Questro turnoff.

Down the El Questro Road, across Moonshine Creek which still had water in it, just a shallow ford and a little further on we crossed the Pentecost River, the ford here was a bit deeper, maybe calf deep, but very bouldery/pebbly and about 25 metres long. Must have been very exciting when the river was high. Four wheel drive selected for this crossing. Finally arrived at our campsite, tents already erected, we unloaded the bus and had lunch. Wandered around a bit after lunch, art gallery was rubbish, the work of one 'artist', very stylised, but we didn't like any of the works. The pool in the river looked inviting until we got there and found several young men lounging in the water with bottles of beer. Perhaps now less inviting, so we just relaxed at the campsite. All gathered around the campfire for sundowners, dinner, bed.

El Questro is a million acre station, though no longer an active cattle station, all its pastures are leased to other stations, it now caters for tourism with campsites, glamping tents, cabins and a luxurious homestead, $3,000 per night, minimum 2 nights! It is still possible to see remains of the Station cattle setup, cattle yards, branding paddocks, barns etc. The Station was used for many of the location shots for Baz Luhrman's film 'Australia'.

9 May- Day 7

Early start today, 5.30, we had set the alarm but the kookaburras and other birds had other ideas. Waking us well before the alarm. Breakfasted and into the bus, we drove back down the road and turned off for Zebedee Springs. Mark wanted us to be their early as it can be very busy. We were at the gate ten minutes before the Ranger arrived to open up. Ruth spotted a pheasant coucal in the bush ahead of us, then another. Gorgeous colouring of browns and golds. They were very nervous of us and took off shortly after we discovered them. The Ranger arrived on the stroke of 7 and opened the gate, we drove in and parked.

The Springs were a little way up the valley, but it was a lovely walk through the woodland, many Livingstona Palms, quite lush. We saw Rosella bushes with pretty flower buds and flowers, woolly-butt gums, some in flower, beautiful red-orange flowers. Lots of little frogs hopping across the path. Finally arrived at the Springs, issuing from rocks at the base of a huge cliff and into little pools, some big enough for several people to immerse themselves. The water was lovely and warm, 28 degrees we were told, and it was lovely just to lay in the water. Back to the bus and on, this time to El Questro Gorge. The track crossed several creeks, Moonshine Creek with a 30 metre-wide ford and the Pentecost River with an almost 50 metres ford to,drive through, there were also several shorter fords, and all of these would be dry later in the season.

We parked and walked up to the entrance to the Gorge, similar vegetation to Zebedee, lush and tropical, lots of palm trees and ferns and the creek winding down towards us. A difficult walk up the river bed, lots of boulders and rocks, fallen trees and of course the creek coursing down the valley. It was however beautiful, the sunlight streaming between the trees and palm fronds. Little frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, pretty wasps plus the usual butcher birds, it was a lovely walk. After about a kilometre we paused as it was steeper and more difficult ahead. Ruth waited by the stream and we climbed on another kilometre until we reached the Midway Pool, stripped off (just to swimmers!) and clambered across the rocks into the lovely cool water, so refreshing.

A steady walk back down the valley, it really was very pretty, even if rugged. Spotted something clinging to the cliffs further down and on investigation found they were honeycombs, most of them grey and empty, but a few were active, with bees flying back and forth. We emerged from the shade of the gorge into the carpark, rejoined the bus, back to camp. We went for a swim in the camp pool, a pool created by damming the Pentecost River, again very refreshing, just what we needed in the heat of the day. There were supposed to be little snapper turtles in the water, but we didn't see any. Lunch, then a relaxing hour or two before we were back on the bus.

It was now 3.30 in the afternoon and the sun was going down, we drove out past the other campsites, they seemed to go on and on until we hit the bush. Drove along dirt roads, slowly, and after a few ks we crossed the Pentecost River once more, different spot, and found ourselves at a boat dock on the Chamberlain River, to the north the Chamberlain Gorge and to the west the Chamberlain River and the new El Questro Homestead on a rise above the river. Wonderful setting. By the dock we saw archer fish cruising along the edge waiting for insects. The river was still above its normal banks, we could see lines of trees out in the water.

Ok, we backtracked and headed west, back through yet another crossing of the Pentecost, it was much wider here and the bottom very bouldery and pebbly, definitely a low ratio 4WD job. Crossing very cautiously we reached the other bank and checked for rocks in the double rear wheels before proceeding. Still heading west we closed on a ridge, and to our surprise the track went straight up the side of the ridge and we found ourselves on a lookout on top of the ridge. It had wonderful views all round, to the Chamberlain Gorge and River and the Pentecost River. In the distance the Cockburn Ranges. Mark and Carmel produced bottles of bubbly and we toasted them and the sunset. Glorious.

Back to the camp as the light was fading, a pheasant caucal danced in the road in front of us before flying away into the bush. No more excitement, arrived at the campsite safely in the dark. Someone was playing at the bar, so we wandered over. He was ok, but we returned to the camp after a couple of songs, sat around the fire until dinner, long chat over the table. Took some photographs of the cane toads. Bed.

10 May - Day 8

Another early start, 5 am this morning, we dressed and boarded the bus for a bird watching session at the camp hide. Just six of us and we quietly walked up to the hide, which unfortunately had not been repaired after the storms of the 'wet'. There was some cover however and we all sat there quietly waiting for the birds to appear. Some really pretty birds were seen by those with binoculars, but the birds flitted about all the time so it was difficult to get any photographs. A male yellow-crested cockatoo put in a noisy appearance.

Back to the campsite for breakfast, showers etc then we struck camp, packed up the bus and left. We only drove a few k back onto the Wyndham Road and then turned off to Emma Gorge. This was another resort on the El Questro Station, this one a bit more upmarket. We set off for the Gorge, a hot day, and there had been a fire through here in the summer destroying much of the shade. The path started off as a gravel track, easy walking but we soon came to the river bed and followed it up into the Gorge. It was very rocky and some of the boulders were huge and had to be clambered over. The vegetation was free from fire damage the higher we went, but it had sustained a lot of damage by the very heavy rains and the ensuing floods. We could see debris from the high river levels way up the sides of the Gorge. The walk was beautiful, we saw lots of different brightly coloured butterflies and heard lots of birds. Eventually we came to a beautiful pool at the base of a short waterfall, wow this is it I thought, but someone pointed up the gorge -there was further to go.

So, climbing a steep slope over huge boulders we made our way to the head of the Gorge. A huge open-roofed cavern with a large pool of water, filled by a 70 metre slender waterfall at the back. We stripped off and got into the water, it was cold (Australian freezing, British cold) but so refreshing after the climb. There is a small hot-spring to one side, it was warm really, not hot, but did offer some relief from the cold. We stayed for a while, warming up in the sunshine then going back in the water. Fabulous. Pity Ruth missed it, she had decided not to make the climb, but had a great time at pool in the resort.

We made our way down to the first pool, it was really pretty, so we just had to get in there as well. A nice gentle walk back down the Gorge and into the resort, met up with Ruth and had lunch in the gardens. What a great morning. Time now to move on to our next campsite, so back onto the Gibb River Road, now a gravel road, which wound its way beneath the escarpment of the Cockburn Ranges (also featured in the 'Australia' movie). The quality of the surface varied, but the corrugations weren't too bad - yet. We arrived at the infamous Pentecost River crossing, about 100 metres long and very bouldery, so a bouncy ride even taken slowly, but the water was nowhere near as deep as expected. We watched a land cruiser drive through after us and the water only came up to the middle of its wheels. Here was croc country, saltwater crocodiles had been seen on the ocean side of the crossing, but none today. We had time to look around as the bus had collected a rock between the tyres of one of the rear wheels. Mark and Chris had to let the air out of the outer tyre to be able to get the rock out. It gave a little while to wander around and take some photographs, no crocs.

On down the road, several floodways and dips, a few stretches with corrugations, but otherwise the road was good - for a gravel road. Some cattle wandering about close to the road, apparently many of these had never been mustered and are not branded, so they are almost feral. About 15 km on we arrived at Home Valley Station, our stop for the night. After unloading the bus we went for a swim in their pool, very refreshing after our travels. Lunch and a bit of a rest before we boarded the bus for a drive out to the Pentecost River. Much wider here and saltwater crocodile habitat, and there, quite far away, was a salty. It was in the water, just resting at the surface, then dived. Luckily i got a shot, not very good due to the distance, but our first salty.

The views across the river were fabulous, the Cockburn Ranges glowed in the setting sun. More bubbly to celebrate the sunset, which was beautiful and no longer had the sun gone down than the moon rose, a full moon and it was just stunning, shining across the river. Back to the campsite, more drinks around the campfire, dinner the bed.

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