This is the fourth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers the second half of our drive through the Kimberley in north-west Australia.
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After getting back on the Gibb River Road from Mount Elizabeth we continued south-west. We stopped at Mount Barnett roadhouse which had a good choice of food and very expensive diesel which we needed. I noticed that their shop had a whole row of freezers presumably with food for campers.
There was no water in the Barnett River crossing and we were soon at the turning for Bell Gorge which is 30km off the Gibb. The walk to the gorge was quite tough, downhill to begin with then along a rocky trail. It was 38C and on the way down we met an elderly group struggling up.
Bell Gorge was another beautiful small lake surrounded by coloured cliffs. People were swimming in the water but you had to go across to the other side of the water and then walk up and then down to get to where you could get into the water.
Further on the Gibb the scenery changed to a few hills and there were more jump-ups. Our next two nights were at Mount Hart station which is 50kms off the Gibb. At Mount Elizabeth Pat Lacy had told us that this road would take 90 minutes, but it had been graded recently and was one of the best bits of gravel we drove on. It took only about 45 minutes. We arrived to find all very quiet.
We were in a safari tent The ensuite bathroom was a metal box about 2.5 ft away at the back. It had a smart shower, loo and washbasin. It was very hot in the bathroom and in the tent. The other accommodation at Mount Hart was in an air-conditioned building but the bathrooms were a 20m walk away outside.
The two dinners we had here were the best on the whole trip. Only 5 people were there for dinner on the first night but the chef had taken great care in preparing a starter of whiting in batter with cabbage and sauce, then steak cooked to order, mash and mixed veg and, to finish, sticky date pudding with ice cream. We also had fresh fruit for breakfast and some of the best bread we had in Australia.
Mount Hart is a good place for a rest but there is not too much to see. The South African
manager agreed with me that a lot of the scenery looks like Africa but without the giraffes. Somebody had a sense of humour. The golf cart he used to get around the site had a road train notice on the back of it. There was also a faded sign for Mount Hart International Airport by the airstrip.
We attempted to drive to a big baobab tree, but came to a deep creek. Martin waded across (no snakes) and took some photos.
In the late afternoon we drove up to a viewpoint for the sunset, but spent more time watching a full moon rise.
In the afternoon I had a conversation with the wet season caretaker who had just arrived. He would be the only person there for six months to look after the site when it is closed. All the tents are taken down and everything is packed up. The road accesses and the airstrip are all flooded and so his only lifeline was a helicopter with a 4 figure callout charge.
A rather noisy but fairly small group arrived for our second night. We had another excellent dinner finishing with individual mango crème brulées. Fancy preparing that for 20 people hundreds of miles from civilisation?
Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek to Derby
Further south on the Gibb we drove through more hills with more jump-ups passing a large rock called Queen Victoria’s Head for obvious reasons. We then turned off along 23km on a better road to Windjana Gorge. This was a real gem. A very short walk through a tunnel brings you to a gorge with a lot of little freshwater crocodiles. They are about 3-4ft long and most were snoozing. We were assured that they are not dangerous like the saltwater ones. There were also some flying foxes (fruit bats) which mostly sleep during the day.
We carried on another 37km to Tunnel Creek where Martin did the 45 minute walk through the tunnel and back again through some water. You have to clamber over some rocks to get into the tunnel and so I decided to pass.
Not long after we got back to the Gibb, miracles, we got to the end of the gravel road. As we drove further south the scenery became flatter with less vegetation. There were a lot of termite mounds and we came across Graham and Prue photographing them and some large baobab trees. It was well over 1000 km since we first met them.
We finished the Gibb and spent a night in luxury in an apartment in the town of Derby (rhymes with herby) where, miracles again, there was a washing machine. It was time for another TV dinner and an evening in. We just got to Woolworths before it closed at 6.
Most people who do the Gibb carry on straight to Broome but we had decided to detour to Cape Leveque which is at the tip of the Dampier peninsula north of Derby and Broome. We had to go almost to Broome to get to the turnoff. Just outside Derby there was a huge baobab tree which had been a prison tree. A display board showed awful pictures of aboriginals, some of them in chains.
The road to Cape Leveque was worse than that to the Bungle Bungles. It was not corrugated so badly but we were in a sandy dip trying to avoid obstacles and vehicles coming the other way. In some places it was really only wide enough for one vehicle and we had to drive up the slope at the side to get past. It took 1 hour 45 minutes to drive 90km of bad road.
The entire trip is about 200km and suddenly the road became paved and in very good condition. We were now on aboriginal land. We took a short detour to the village of Beagle Bay where there is a lovely church with 3 altars each decorated with mother of pearl. The rest of the village seemed deserted, perhaps because it was a Sunday.
At Cape Leveque we found ourselves in Kooljaman which is a sizeable resort with tents, cabins, a camping area and shop. We were in a safari tent which was on an elevated platform looking out to sea. There was a deck with a barbecue and a tin building behind the tent housing a proper kitchen and a bathroom, although we had to boil water for tea on a gas ring by the barbecue.
Martin went out for a walk and met Graham and Prue again and so we had a drink with them before dinner watching the sunset. It was Graham who described the road as ‘concave’.
We had booked dinner in the restaurant where a Michelin trained chef attempts to use local food. I had a kangaroo-based main course with local fruits, carrot, nice potatoes and assorted other items all presented elegantly. Martin had a similar meal based on spatchcock. It was the most expensive main course we had in Australia.
Two nights would have been better at Kooljaman especially as they also have a pizza bar for cheaper food, but we needed to get to Broome.
Before leaving the area we visited Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm where there was an excellent tour. The farm is still run by the family who established it and our tour guide was third generation working there. We watched a video of the farm’s history and then went to the hatchery where the guide opened an oyster and found a pearl. The oyster shells are about 6 inches across. The oyster flesh looked very unappetising but they sell that as well.
In the jewellery shop we were shown how they grade the pearls by size, shape and lustre. The one we saw being opened was grade B1 size 12mm which they said would fetch about $75.
It took a bit less time to drive back on the terrible road and we arrived at Ochre Moon bed and breakfast in Broome in the early afternoon. This was a wonderful place, especially after a fairly gruelling road trip. Nothing was too much trouble for the owners and even getting more washing done was great as it dried outside in 45 minutes in the hot air and wind. This B&B has a large area with sofas, a well-stocked kitchen for guests and plenty of things to read.
Ochre Moon is in a residential area. We had seen from the map that Broome is quite spread out and so after we took back the expensive Pajero we rented a smaller regular car for two days. There are buses but we would have had to walk and then wait in temperatures of the high 30sC and bright sun.
Broome is on a peninsula and on the one full day we had there we drove to a couple of
places at the end of the peninsula. In the afternoon we also went to Cable Beach which is considered to be one of the world’s best beaches, but the tide was in and we wondered what all the fuss was about. At least there were no high rise buildings.
We went back to Cable Beach for the sunset when it was much better. You can drive on the beach and also have an (expensive) ride on a camel as the sun sets. We did neither but had a nice meal close to the beach and watched the camel trains walking back in the dark. They had red warning lights at the front and back.
Another couple were staying at Ochre Moon for our second night. We talked to them for a while over another imaginative breakfast. They have friends and relatives in Britain and were very upset about the Brexit vote.
Before going to the airport that afternoon we drove out to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park where we were sure to see a crocodile. There were plenty in a large lake, well fenced-off, also a number of other particularly aggressive ones in individual cages. We learned that one of these had been rescued after attacking a horse. There were a few other animals and birds including a dingo and a cassowary.
We were able to stay for most of the presentation which started with a talk and then a little crocodile about 18 inches was passed round. Its mouth was taped up and I braved holding it. A feeding demonstration, or rather frenzy, followed at the big lake when the crocs were fed chickens and barramundi. They can certainly jump up.
Then it was time to take the plane. We had driven 3300km from Darwin and had travelled overland from Kuala Lumpur to Broome by train, boat and road.