Category Archives: On the road

The Bungle Bungles

The road to the Bungle Bungles is rugged.  We turn off the bitumen of the Great Northern Road and drive fifty kilometres of wilderness track.   It’s sandy.  It’s rocky.  The road twists and turns, climbs and drops.   We turn a corner and are faced with a river crossing.   The cars driving towards us from the other side hurtle across, scarcely slowing as they enter the water,  bow waves washing over their bonnets.   Caravans rocking along behind.  It’s deep, but with a firm base.   Easy!  But unexpected.

The map says we should allow 3 hours to drive this fifty kilometres, but its not as slow as that with Richard at the helm and in 90 minutes or so we catch our first sight of the Bungles.   The towering red rocks sit on a lush landscape.   Silver gums, blood wood, spinifex (of course), black spear grass, yellow flowering acacias and red holly grevillea grow on the flat plains of the Purnululu National Park.  The afternoon sun casts long shadows and deepens the outback colours.  Beautiful West Australia.

We choose the unpowered campsite and find a shady spot for the night.  There are waterless toilets and bore water on tap.   All the mod cons we need.  Next door the site is set up for a family of six.   Five swags are laid out in a row.  Mummy and daddy bear have a double swag at the end of the row, followed by a swag each for the four little bears (teenagers all).   A shower stands at right angles to the double swag and a flood light is angled across the site.  Such a neat set up convinces me they must be Germans, and I’m a little disappointed to find out later that they come from Darwin.  German ancestors maybe?

Early in the morning we head off for the northern side of the Bungles.   Every viewpoint is dramatic and otherworldly.  We walk through the famous sandstone domes, striped red and black by the action of ancient bacteria on the soft stone.  They say the Bungles were formed 300 million years ago.  Impossible to imagine such a passing of time.  The path leads us over the pebbles of a dry watercourse towards Cathedral Gorge.   The rocks change colour, blushing pink as the hot Kimberley sun rises higher in the clear blue sky.


Cathedral Gorge is awe inspiring.  A vast cavern cut into the side of a towering chasm.  The floor is sandy and holds a pool of water.  Black traces high on the red rock tell of the waterfalls that cascade in to fill the chasm above head height in the Wet season.   Every footstep, bird call and human voice echoes around and around the rocky chamber.   This is why we build cathedrals with such high ceilings.   We can’t help but feel small in such vastness.   We can’t help but think of powers greater than ourselves.

We walk on, up a broad path with a pavement of huge flat slabs of stone.   It’s another dry water course.   It must become a white water river in the Wet.   When we make it to the lookout we are greeted by a bus tour crowd keen to capture a group photo.  Richard obliges.   ” Just one more”. “And for me”.   Cameras are passed back and forth until the appetite of the crowd is sated.   The final must-have photo is of the tour guides.   He leans away awkwardly while she snuggles up close and grins happily.
A quick sandwich, a few lemon cream biscuits and we’re ready to tackle Echidna Chasm.   Once again our walking boots crunch along a dry rocky watercourse, this time of pink, white and red pebbles.  The sun is higher now.  It’s hot and the cool shade is welcome as we enter the chasm.  Incredible orange red colours play on the flat walls.   Sturdy palms and vines cling on, their roots dangling down in search of water.  As we move deeper into the rock, the passageway gets narrower.  We can see the end.  “Not much further now, Beryl”.   I look up and the girl in front of Howard has disappeared.  I look back and Howard too has disappeared.   Like a magic portal, there is a gap in the rock that hides the final stretch of passageway.  I clamber through and walk the last few metres to view the end of Echidna chasm.

We take the afternoon off to relax at the camp.  Tomorrow we’ll tackle Mini Palms Gorge.  We’ve seen enough to know  it will be spectacular.   The Bungle Bungles are the Kimberley’s wonder of the world.


The Tanami

Author: Richard McSephney

The Tanami has a reputation.

It’s very rough, not very interesting, it’s only a shortcut.

Well, I have to say I thought it was great. Maybe finding a couple of ripper bush camps helped?

I have to admit to being a real truck fan so for me watching out for the enormous road trains was an added bonus. These beasts are truly gargantuan. Think of a normal semi, or as others may call them articulated trucks. These beasts have four of those trailers joined on the back so your looking at about 60 meters long being towed along by a 600 horsepower Kenworth.
These trucks are made in Victoria from an American design modified for the harsh Australian conditions. Around 50,000 of them have been manufactured since their introduction in the 70s but out here they are truly the king of the road so imagine my surprise as I see one in the distance, let’s say 2 km away. My eyes must be deceiving me. It’s on my side of the road.
Now what is the etiquette in these circumstances?
It’s very easy. Move over and let him go any where he wants! I did and that’s why I’m still able to write this piece.
To be fair it was an extremely rough piece of track and he was trying not to turn to a cocktail the 100,000s litres of fuel he carried. He was plying his trade from Alice across the Tanamai to points north and west. This is the north west’s life blood. We certainly found that out when we arrived in Halls Creek and found closed signs on the diesel pumps.
What do we do now asked a visitor?
Wait until the Roadtrain arrives! When will that be? When he arrives!

I really enjoy the drive, we keep a distance between the vehicles. The dust hangs in the air making forward vision almost impossible. I mean for at least 60 m of zip if a Road train passes.

We approach Wolf Creek!
Now I’m not a horror fan but for those who like to entertain themselves with fear, this location is the site of an horror film par excellance. I’m just not into that entertainment. In fact I’ve been known to cause great entertainment to others who find my easily alarmed nature amusing.
Take the other night.
We walk in darkness to a local hotel in Halls Creek. Two Aboriginal ladies join us and give us direction to the hotel entrance. I lead and as we walk up the path there’s some rustling in the undergrowth. My alarm level rises and unlike other circumstances where the rustling recedes, It doesn’t this time and continues toward me. Well I start hopping about squealing and carrying on like a pork chop ( for non Australians that means acting like a fool). Then a large cane toad appears. My dance pace increases with steps that at audition for Michael Flately’s troupe would have me touring with them in a flash.
I reach the hotel entrance and safety only to hear the chucking of our Aboriginal guides, muttering to each other about this dopey white fella. They of course are probably crocodile wrestlers and can’t understand what the ridiculous fuss is about. Still probably gave them a story to tell their pals who I could envisage all shaking their heads in disbelief.
I learnt my dance steps from earlier experience s with frogs. Whenever I saw a frog in the garden when the kids were young I would hop about like a complete idiot explaining to them that I just didn’t want to step on the poor chap. I think they never swallowed that either!
So Wolf Creek horror film would never be for me.
I think briefly that I should suggest we camp here for the night out of sheer bravado and so I could say to anyone who won’t “chicken eh?” but can’t think of a sound excuse for withdrawing my suggestion if anyone actually agrees. So I dare not raise it.
If you’ve seen the film you’ll realise that the acting from those who should be awarded an Oscar doesn’t actually come from their skills learnt at acting school but the realistic terror is real. They had no idea what was going to happen and were really terrified. I can’t help but laugh….from a great distance with the lights on!
The crater is astonishing, written about elsewhere in the blog.
I fly the drone to about 100m altitude and take some photos. There’s a blip and the vision signal is lost. I see the drone so ignore the auto return to home and manually fly it back, re boot the system and set off again. A second warning ⚠️ sounds and again the return to home is triggered. I grab a couple of quick shots and land wondering if maybe my drone has caught my sense of spookiness.
I pack it away and we’re on our way.

As we approach Halls Creek I reflect on the previous couple of days in the desert.
I don’t care what’s said about the Tanami I loved it.

 

Sent from my iPad

Flying north

I fly in to Alice.  A short drive from the airport and we’re on the Tanami Road,  heading into the remote desert north of Alice Springs.  Suddenly I’m in another world.  Am I ready?  My mind is still in Pennyroyal with our farm, the cows, dogs, chooks, geese.  Even the wellbeing of the bees in our hives gets a fleeting thought.

We camp the night at Tilmouth Well.  It’s winter in the red centre and oh, so cold.   Mint and rosemary lamb chops sizzle on the campfire grill.  The hot meal and layer upon layer of clothing are our attempt to ward off the cold.   

It’s Territory Day.  The only day of the year it’s legal to set off fireworks without a permit.  What a shame we don’t have any.  After dinner we leave the warmth of the fire to explore a dry sandy creek bed running alongside the campsite.   A secretive Howard runs ahead, on a mission.  What is he up to?   The dark night explodes with a spinning sputtering wheel of light and we cheer!  Fireworks!  Vive le Territory!

Our cosy camper feels more like an icebox when we retire to bed.  I’m under the doona fully clothed, wearing the hood up on my fleecy hoodie against the chill.  But sleep comes quickly and soon the icy cold night breaks into a clear bright day.  Lying in bed I pull out Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, my choice of reading for this trip.  In the first chapter I read how aboriginal myths describe the creation of the world.  They believe their dreamtime ancestors walked through the country singing the land and all that lived in it into being.  I love this idea.   Life from song.

Humming Nessun Dorma I quietly sing this day into life.  I climb out of the camper and line up my wash bag contents on the rickety little camp table.   The sun shines through the gum trees.   Its weak rays carry the promise of warmer weather.  I splash icy water onto my face and shock my system awake to start the day.  Time to head north.

Outback, suburbia. Suburbia, outback.

Guest author: Richard McSephney

What an incredible day.  Departing Port Augusta, at the top of the hill turn left to West Australia, turn right to Darwin. It doesn’t matter, 3000 km either way before you see an ocean again.

This is the point at which a line has been drawn in the sand.  The outback starts at the 110km speed advisory.  Literally, suburban town abruptly stops and the deep red sand and mint green saltbush contrasts with the bright blue sky. You could straddle it. Outback, suburbia. Suburbia, outback. It truly is that simple.

I find myself at peace. I’m a total novice but I feel strangely belonging. I love this feeling. I feel at home. It can’t be so but that’s how I feel. I truly wish I’d known this place earlier.
The day is spent thundering up the Stuart Highway. We aim for Coober Pedy some 600 km away.

Janette has invited us to visit her on Ingomar Station about 50 km from Coober Pedy. There has been rain so our route has to be carefully orchestrated to ensure we don’t damage the road or get stuck in the soft slippery soils of the outback. Following Howard’s ute looks like attending a neatly choreographed dance as the Landcruiser slithers sideways, is carefully caught and scrabbled for grip. It feels like ice.

Dave a maintenance man on the station relays a route to ensure we make it in.
“About 40 km from Coober you’ll see an overpass. Keep the mine haul road on your left and follow a bitumen mine road for about 20 km then turn left pass a dam..”…and so the instructions go on. The homestead is about 40 km off the highway. It never used to be but the state rerouted the road and now the driveway is essentially 40 km long. Now that might sound a lot but dimensions here are of gargantuan proportions.

The cattle station has 3 airstrips and its very own atomic shelter. This is located in the prohibited Woomera area and not all that far from Maralinga where from 1956 to 1963 Britain tested a few atomic bombs. It was safe though, no chance whatsoever of the cloud drifting anywhere near Westminster! Not so for our host’s property as the earth shelter testifies! Wonder how the animals were protected?

The adjoining station Anna Creek is the largest working cattle station on earth. Anna Creek and the associated outstation, The Peake, cover 23,677 sq km of pastoral land, which will double the size of Williams Cattle Company’s holdings to some 45,000 sq km. Together, they have a capacity for 35,000 cattle. It’s larger than some European countries.
So by contrast our host’s property is a modest 1,000,000 acres! That’s twice the size of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and twice the size of Luxembourg.

The station is home to 13,500 sheep and 3,500 cattle. The logistics of running a place like this are staggering. The cattle yards are just 50 km away, with a second set 150 km away. Last week it took two helicopters 5 days to bring the cattle in. That doesn’t include the 8 ringers on motorbikes assisting.

This is not an operation for the faint hearted.  Scott the new owner has great plans for improvements as the station is a bit run down and when I see the stocks of pipes, steel, trucks and machinery I can only marvel at the task ahead.

We gather wood for a fire and I’m reminded of the story of an adventurer who not that long ago met a King Brown snake whilst gathering wood.   His body was found 7 years later not far from here. I shudder at the memory and look out into the dark where I hear shuffling and crackling. I call out…”You ok Howard, no sign of snakes?”

Where was I, you ask?  Standing on the step of the Landcruiser holding a torch so he could find the way back, that’s where I was.  Oh come on, that’s also a dangerous task.  I wasn’t shirking my responsibilities, you could easily slip off and sprain your ankle.
It is a tough job and someone had to do it and to be fair it was Howard himself who planted the fear of snakes by telling me the story in the first place.

It was a very cold night and we wake early to the sound of the fleet of vehicles heading off to the far flung corners of the station to start the day’s work, for us a cruise day toward Alice.