Saturday, 22 September 2018

Day 19–to Carnavon and beyond

Another 650km on the costal road today.  Not that we saw the ocean…. just more flat red desert and scrub.  To the west we passed Exmouth and Coral Bay.  the only sign of civilization until we reach the outskirts of Carnavon were the roadhouses.

We did pass another long road train rest stop similar to last night’s campsite.  However this one was fenced off with a large yellow sign proclaiming “Bio Hazard”.  I wonder what that’s about? Winking smile

We didn’t actually enter Carnarvon as the road junction south is on the northern outskirts of the town.  We’re working to a tight schedule so I’ll have to come back one day and have a good look around.

Yet more kilometres of empty road until we eventually reached the highway rest stop at Edagee.  The State Highway Department has constructed a number of these rest stops on NH1 but this was the first we had used.  The stops have been designed so that road trains can’t use them.  They are strictly for light vehicles, caravans and camper trailers.

IMG_3029

The areas are well utilized by the ‘Grey Nomads’  This one had space for approximately 30 caravans.  You are only supposed to stay for 24 hours but some people looked like they had been there longer.

The only facilities are a dump station and long drop toilets

IMG_3027

IMG_3030

Remember to bring your own paper!

IMG_3028

We should have set ourselves up with the trailer facing the opposite direction as the wind came up during the night giving Carlin and Monique a right bucketing.  My stretcher tent was lower down and slightly sheltered by some adjacent scrub.

Dinner was another of my “all in one” stews   

Friday, 21 September 2018

Day 18 – Broome to Karratha

It’s slightly more than 600km from Broome to Port Hedland on National Highway 1 (NH1).  There is a major road junction at Port Hedland where NH1 joins National Highway 95 (NH95).  The latter is the inland road and the shortest route back to Perth.  We plan to continue on NH1 which is the coast road. 

There are road houses approximately every 200km which might mean we no longer need to carry jerricans of diesel. A road house is generally a fuel station with some additional facilities such as toilets, food, and sometimes a caravan park.  I had assumed the further we drove from a main population centre, the more expensive the price of fuel.  Therefore we refuelled both the 4x4 and two jerricans in Broome ($1.66.09p/l) on the morning of our departure. 

However before we could depart Carlin needed to install the trailer replacement shock absorbers which we had collected from the Broome Post Office.

IMG_3021

I’ll admit he completed this task in about 20% of the time it would have taken me.  Oh, to be young, healthy and slim again!

Note the large rectangular aluminium checker plate box underneath the trailer.  It’s the second trailer water tank with a capacity of 30 litres.  I’m considering removing the water tank and using the aluminium box to hold my 150Ah AGM trailer battery.  The trailer front water holds 50 litres and I also have a 20 litre plastic water can (jerrican).  We didn’t use the water from 30 litre tank during our trip and there were three of us.    

Although we are travelling on the coastal road it’s so far inland there is very little opportunity to see the ocean.  Nearly the entire landscape to Port Hedland is as flat as a pancake.  Much of it is a floodplain and during the wet season earlier this year much of the floodplain (including the road) was under 500mm of water.  Broome was cut off along with the small communities along NH1.  Several times we had to either stop or slow down for road construction crews repairing long damaged sections of road.

Our first refuelling stop was at Sandfire Roadhouse where we topped up the 4x4 tank.  I should have checked the price of fuel first as it had jumped to $1.82.7p/l.  Much to my chagrin the fuel was cheaper at the second roadhouse!

By now we were travelling parallel to Eighty Mile Beach which is rather amusing because it’s actually approximately 220km long!  Of course we were too far inland to see it.

Our third refuelling stop was at Paradoo Roadhouse.

IMG_3022 Most of the traffic at the roadhouses were ‘grey nomads’.  The road trains obviously know the fuel is expensive and their fuel tanks have sufficient capacity to travel between major centres.

It was at this point we needed to review our situation.  Once we reached the Port Hedland – Karratha region we knew freedom camping was both prohibited and actively enforced.  We either had to camp soon or carry on well beyond Karratha.  We elected to do the latter continuing to rotate drivers every 90 minutes. 

By now we had left the Kimberley Region of Western Australia and were in the Pilbara.   Port Hedland is the second largest town in the region and is blessed with a large natural harbour.  This made it the ideal location for a large port to support the four major iron ore mines in the region.  The two largest companies are BHP and Rio Tinto.  The trains in this part of Australia are big.  Up to 2km long and weighing approximately 35,000 tonnes.  In the last decade there has been a move to robotic trains (driverless).  The trains actually don’t stop.  They are loaded; unloaded, and refuelled whilst on the move.  Port Hedland is 99% a mining town where the majority of the workforce is FIFO (Fly In – Fly Out) working 10 days and having 10 off.  Wages are high compared to most of Australia and there is a concessional income tax range for working in a tropical (hot) location.  I suspect one of the major reasons why freedom camping is prohibited in the area is to discourage workers arriving who don’t already have employment.

230km west of Port Hedland is Karratha.   The town’s income is derived from iron ore exports, sea-salt and supporting the offshore gas industry.  Karratha is probably more attractive than Port Hedland.   We only stopped to refuel at the Shell roadhouse before continuing south. 

Two hours later and the sun was getting ready to set.  We needed to find a campsite eventually deciding to stop at a long road train rest area.  There were no facilities here and it wasn’t until we’d set up camp that we realised we’d stopped at the longest open latrine on the highway.  It was too late to move on which meant camping the night surrounded by toilet paper and “the other stuff”.  All of which decomposed extremely slowly in the hot and dry conditions.

IMG_3023

A poor choice of campsite! Sad smile

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Day 17 – Cable Beach, Broome

Probably the most iconic attraction at Broome is Cable Beach which is located approximately 6km from the town.  The beach is named after the 1889 Java to Australia telegraph cable which came ashore here.  The former cable station is now the Broome Courthouse which (purely by accident) I happened to photograph as it was adjacent to the Saturday Market.
IMG_3012IMG_3009
Cable Beach is 22km long and almost flat.  This means when the tide is out there is plenty of beach.   4x4 vehicles are permitted at the northern end of the beach with the southern end the exclusive domain of pedestrians.  When we walked down to the beach a Ranger was parked at the vehicle ramp to ensure all vehicles went north.
The northern end is also where you can take on of Broome’s iconic camel rides.  Monique is a keen equestrian and very interested in riding a camel.  Three camel companies operate, Red, blue and Yellow.  The most expensive time to book a ride is at sunset where you can ride along the beach as the sun sets into the Indian Ocean.  Monique opted for the cheaper afternoon trek on the Blue Camels.
IMG_2922
Northern end of the beach looking south
IMG_2924
“The Rocks” an area vehicles need to traverse when entering or exiting the beach
IMG_2930
You get introduced to your camel.  Monique & Carlin meet Jabul, who didn’t appear to be all that interested! Smile
A camel rises on it’s hind legs first and then front. This creates a forward and rear tipping motion for the rider.  Hence the grab handles on the saddle
IMG_2940a
And they are off…… 
IMG_2943
I gave Carlin the action camera and asked him to record some footage.

<Filesize 4.7Mb>

<Filesize 2.5Mb>
Eventually they returned.  But not before Jabul decided to bite the rear end of the girl riding the camel in front! LOL
IMG_2945
We were now starting to get hungry and Carlin suggested we eat at Cable Bay Resort across from the beach.
IMG_2950
They settled on a pizza whilst I opted for a hamburger and chips washed down with a cold bottle of Crown Lager (or two).
Then we realised the sun was setting.  Time to grab the cameras and try for that elusive sunset photo.
IMG_2957IMG_2961IMG_2986
I was reminded of an Australian I met 25 years earlier.  He lived on the east coast and had only seen the sun rise out of the Pacific Ocean.  At 62 he visited Perth and saw the sun set into the ocean for the first time!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Day 16 – Broome

We had an early start and travelled the 400km to Broome arriving just before midday.  There isn’t much to tell about the drive.  Mostly long straights with your usual scrub and termite mounds.  I’d done my research and identified there was little point in attempting to freedom camp anywhere around Broome.  The local shire forbids it and there are rangers about to enforce the rules.  There are a number of holiday camping grounds in Broome and I’d selected the one furthest away from the ocean.  The sole reason for doing this was price…. Yes, it was the cheapest.  On arrival I paid for two nights on an unpowered site.  That won’t be an issue when our trailer is completed as I have two solar panels to recharge the trailer battery.  The camping ground was a step above The Gap at Alice Springs,  The showers and toilets were cleaner and the washing machines worked.  there was even a swimming pool.

Broome is the tropical tourist hub of North-West Australia with a permanent population of approximately 13,000.   May to August is the cool season with average temperatures of 36-38 degC.  Outside this the temperatures ranges between 41-45.

Pearling started here in the 1880’s.  In those early years local aborigines were enslaved and forced to diver for pearls.  Subsequently Javanese, Asians and Pacific Islanders were employed.  Japanese were particularly sought after.   Pearl diving is quite hazardous and Broome cemetery contains the graves of 919 Japanese divers.

Today all of Broome’s pearls are grown in cultured pearl farms although many have closed in the last couple of decades.  Mining and tourism are now Broome’s main source of income.  If you carefully study the locals you can see the racial mix of those early inhabitants. 

During WW2 Broome was repeatedly attacked by Japanese aircraft based in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

Our arrival coincided with the regular monthly Saturday open market so we went to have a look.  We also wandered around Chinatown and stopped to photograph the Sun Picture Garden.

The Saturday Market

IMG_3007

IMG_3008

IMG_3011

Chinatown

IMG_3019

IMG_2999IMG_3013IMG_3015

The Sun Picture Garden is the oldest operating picture garden in the world.

IMG_3016IMG_3017IMG_3018

They were showing “Mamma Mia” which didn’t particularly interest me so I opted not to have a closer look at the premises.

However I was interested in the bronze statues commemorating the pearling industry.

IMG_3001IMG_3004

The type of building construction was also interesting.  Most building were clad in horizontal sheets of corrugated iron.  Vertical supports were very strong and anchored deeply.  This is typhoon country where strong winds and torrential rain can reek havoc.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Day 15–Halls Creek to Broome

Readers I know you will have realized that in reaching Halls Creek we had passed back into Western Australia and another time zone.  This time we needed to wind our watches back 90 minutes.

Hall Creek Shire covers 143,000 square kilometres of mostly desert and large cattle stations. It’s the only town for 600km when travelling on the Great Northern Highway.  The town mostly serves the local aboriginal communities, cattle stations and mining.  It had a major crime problem associated with alcohol abuse.  In 2009 a ban was placed on the sale of packaged liquor with an alcohol content greater than 2.7 per cent from licensed premises.  However full strength beer, wine and spirits can still be purchased in conjunction with a meal at any of the town’s hotels or motels.  This ban; which is still in force; dramatically reduced the local crime rate.

In 1885 gold was found in Halls Creek leading to a gold rush and the town’s population exploded to 15,000.  However within three months the gold had petered out.  The climate was harsh and the land inhospitable.  The remains of miners can be found in the town cemetery.

It’s 700km by road from Halls Creek to Broome and by the time we reached Halls Creek it was apparent we wouldn’t reach Broome today.  Almost halfway to Broome is the town of Fitzroy Crossing.  This would be our next refuel stop.

Fitzroy Crossing is similar to Halls Creek in that it’s isolated with a small population of approximately 1300.  The majority of the population is aboriginal and the town serves their needs along with the local cattle stations and mining. 

The town is located on the Fitzroy River which provides and advantage Halls Creek doesn’t have.  In 1882 sheep stations were established around the mouth of the Fitzroy River.  Transportation was via coastal shipping.  In 1886 the first cattle station was established when Dan MacDonald purchased a lease from the government.  His brothers brought the cattle overland from Goulburn, NSW in an epic 3500km 3 year trek.

During the ‘wet’ season the local river can become raging torrent and the highway is frequently cut by floodwaters.  Traffic isn’t heavy and this can be confirmed by the fact that most of the bridges are long and single lane.

I completely forgot to take a photo of Fitzroy Cross.  Probably because it was so uninteresting! 

Because this part of NW Australia is subject to monsoon rains the vegetation also changed.  We were travelling at 100km/h when I managed to take a photo of an unusual tree.

IMG_2918

Slightly blurred but you can see the unusual trunk.

It’s a Boab Tree  and unique to this part of Australia.  The tree can also be found on the east coast of Africa and scientists have yet to agree how they arrived in Australia.  Some of these trees are 1500 years old making them the oldest living thing in Australia.  Their seeds are edible and very high in vitamin C.  Actually almost every part of the tree is edible.

It was now late afternoon and we started to think about a campsite.  There was little point in pressing on during the night and there are severe fines from freedom camping around Broome so we found a small track to the south of the road and set up camp for the night intending to reach Broome tomorrow.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Days 13 & 14 – Tanami Desert

The Tanami Desert Track is 1013km  long connecting Central Australia with the north western coast of West Australia.  This road isn’t as difficult as it once was.  Numerous new mines in the area have meant the traffic volumes are much higher and there isn’t the same feeling of isolation.  However much of this traffic consists of long road trains which bring their own risks.  The other major risk is the lack of refuelling stops.  There used to be a roadhouse halfway at Rabbit Flat.  That closed some years ago and it’s therefore important travellers carry sufficient fuel. 
Tanami Map
We filled the 4x4 tank (65ltrs) and two jerricans (40ltrs) at Alice where the price was cheap (that’s a relative term) and planned to top up the 4x4 tank at Tilmouth Well Roadhouse some 200km from Alice Springs. 
The Tanami Track starts some 40km north of Alice and for the first 100km it’s sealed.  Eventually this sealed portion of the road narrows to a single lane with unsealed portions either side.  That in itself can create a problem for the unwary driver who is now sharing the single sealed lane with oncoming traffic.  The risk becomes even greater when it involves a road train.  The important thing to remember about road trains is once the driver has worked his way up through the 32 odd forward gears and gained momentum he doesn’t like to stop.
From Tilmouth Wells Roadhouse we faced 800km of unsealed and corrugated road.  The trailer was still without shock absorbers and we all wanted to see how it would handle the road conditions.  Would it jump around like a rabbit on a hot plate.  Well it travelled rather well with plenty of movement in the tyres and springs, but little sign of the trailer wandering behind the 4x4.  By trial and error we established 90km/h was the optimum speed for skipping over the corrugations.

<Filesize   4.14Mb>
Our strategy for sharing the road was to slow down and get as far off the road as possible.  Don’t attempt to overtake the slower road trains as they tend to spew out rocks in all directions.  Instead, stop and take a break.  Fortunately we were only overtaken once (speeding Range rover) during the three days.
The bitumen ceased before we reached Tilmouth Wells Roadhouse and along with a road train, we stopped to let air out of the bottom of the 4x4 and trailer tyres.  At Tilmouth Wells we stopped again to refuel the vehicle and make use of the porcelain facilities as we won’t see them again until we reach Broome.  Tilmouth Wells roadhouse is owned by the local aboriginal Ngurratjuta people, although the staff all appeared to be foreign backpackers.  With a full tank and two jerricans we headed west.
Some six hours later I realised I’d got it wrong erred in my judgement.  We were almost exactly between Tilmouth Wells Roadhouse and the next fuel at Halls Creek AND I had miscalculated the distance.  I had calculated we had 600km to travel when it was actually 800km.  At the rate we were consuming fuel we didn’t have enough to reach Halls Creek or turn back.  Running out of fuel in the middle of a desert is serious. “Huston we have a problem”  How do we make our fuel last?  The first step was to turn off the 4x4 air-conditioning <pant pant> which resulted in the fuel consumption dropping from 14.2ltrs/100km to 12.2.  Then we decided to reduce the wheel rolling resistance by putting the air back in the bottom of the tyres raising the pressure.  Fuel consumption dropped to 11.2.   This still wasn’t enough to reach the next fuel stop.  Carlin proved to be the most economical driver and assumed sole driving duties.  By reducing our speed to 70km/h and driving to the road condition he reduced the fuel consumption to 10.2.  I then suggested we stop for the day and recommence tomorrow when the ambient temperature would be cooler and the engine more efficient.  If that didn’t save enough fuel the fallback position was to place Monique on the side of the road wearing shorts and a Tshirt carrying a jerrican.  I was fairly confident one of the road train drivers would stop! Smile
So we set up for the night some 50 metres south of the road.  The location wasn’t a random decision.  The wind was from the south which meant all the fine talcum powder Tanami road dust raised by infrequent passing traffic would blow in the opposite direction. 
IMG_2894
During the night I was kicking myself for not filling the 3rd and 4th jerricans!  I’ve created a crisis! Sad smile
Our sleep was broken during the night by the sound of the occasional passing road trains.  They actually sound like a jet aircraft passing overhead.
By mid morning on the second day the Isuzu on board computer was displaying we were using 9.6ltrs/100km and we had 230km of fuel left in the tank.  That was more than sufficient to reach Halls Creek.  One consequence of this was we became emboldened, deciding to make the 40km detour to view Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater.
The meteorite struck the earth here approximately 300,000 years ago and has been calculated as weighing 50,000 tonnes.  It’s the second largest meteorite crater in the world.  It was only discovered by Europeans in 1947 during an aerial survey of the region.
IMG_2900
Crater rim on the skyline
IMG_2905
IMG_2907
IMG_2908
And all around the crater it’s as flat as a pancake
IMG_2910

Wolf Creek Crater <Filesize  7.5Mb>
We are now well and truly into termite country.  There are billions of termite columns.  Some only 30mm high and other well over 2 metres.
IMG_2912IMG_2913


Tanami Termite mounds <Filesize  2.73Mb>
This is harsh country where the flora has to live for long period without rain whilst the termites gnaw at their roots.
It was with a sigh of relief we reached the junction with the sealed Great Northern Highway and signs of civilization (two wheel drive traffic).  The low fuel warning light had been illuminated for the previous 100km!   20km later we reached the Shell service station at Halls Creek.  The 4x4 fuel tank capacity is 65 ltrs and I added 63.8 litres to the tank.  I won’t make that mistake again!
IMG_2915IMG_2916
Halls Creek
The best view of Halls Creek is in the rear vision mirror!
Well that’s the last of unsealed roads on this trip.  From now on it’s bitumen all the way back to Perth.   Only 3000 kilometres.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Day 12–No Parts and Ormiston Gorge

The replacement bolts and shock absorbers for the trailer must be coming on the slow camel as they still haven’t arrived in Alice.  There seemed little point in wasting time waiting in Alice and we therefore decided to make a side trip to one of the local gorges.  Without the repairs to the trailer this was a risk, however we wouldn’t be leaving the bitumen and we would monitor our temporary repairs.
The MacDonnell Ranges are pierced by a number of gorges and some of these are very picturesque.  We decided to visit Ormiston Gorge approximately 135km west of Alice Springs.  I’d read there was a camping ground here along with toilets and a swimming hole.
IMG_2844
Setting up camp
The roads in this area are mostly used by Grey Nomads, retired old people… like me Sad smile!  The campsite was actually more developed than I’d anticipated and included a cafe, which was staffed by a young European couple on an extended visitors visa.  The young woman told us her boyfriend did the cooking at the cafe whilst she cleaned the camping facilities.  She confessed to being a terrible cook!
IMG_2845
Gas hotplates and BBQ’s
After establishing our campsite and paying our site fees ($20ea p/ni) we went exploring.
IMG_2851
The first part of the walk took us up a hill and along a path to Ghost Tree Lookout.  You can see the lookout in the above photo.  It’s to the immediate right of the lone gumtree in the middle left of the photo.
IMG_2848
IMG_2849Looking back to the cafe and camping ground
The trail winds it’s way around the side of the gorge
IMG_2850
IMG_2855
Looking back towards Ghost Tree Lookout
IMG_2859
It gets very hot here during summer and the waterhole provides a good location to cool down.  However we’ve arrived at the end of winter and the water is just too cold for anyone other than the hardiest of souls

Ormiston Gorge Video <Filesize 3.5Mb>
IMG_2861
There was plenty of wildlife around the area.IMG_2875
IMG_2838IMG_2839
As you would expect; the native animals blend in with the environment.
We heard from another traveller that the nearby Glen Helen Gorge was even more attractive and went to have a look.
IMG_2884
The following day we returned to Alice Springs where we discovered the slow and thirsty camel had arrived at the post office and delivered our replacement parts.  That afternoon Carlin fitted the replacement camber bolts.  Our wire and tape “fix” had lasted just over 2000km!  Unfortunately the wrong sized shock absorbers had been sent.  They were too long!  I phoned Perth to report the problem informing them we couldn’t wait in Alice any longer and requested they send the right shock absorbers to Broome; our next major stop.  We’d travelled 2000km over some rough roads without shock absorbers so we’d risk crossing the Tanami Desert without them.