Tag Archives: Australia

Reflections

We’ve been back home for a few weeks now and I’ve had time to reflect on our travels from Alice to Broome and through the Kimberley.

If I close my eyes and think back, I see a dusty red road, the bright white stars in a velvet sky at night and the glow of a campfire. Each day is punctuated by a regular routine.  We’re up early with the sun, splashed awake by a cold water wash in the early light.    Breakfast is a bowl of muesli, eaten standing.   The pop top camper on the back of our ute packs up with a little tug of encouragement, folding down reluctantly with a rush of air and a sigh.   Chairs away, a final check and we are off.

Each day we stop for a cuppa and a bite mid morning.  Time to stretch our legs, laugh and chat with our fellow travellers and take a break from the road.   A few more hours’ drive and it’s lunchtime.  A sandwich, slice of cake or some fruit.   A hot cup of tea.   Simple pleasures.

Back on the road again until afternoon tea.  Conversation turns to our campsite for the night.  Will we make our target destination?   With Beryl not at her best, we often plan to stop early, if a spot presents itself.   Howard has a geographical memory.  He follows a song line.  Like an inscrutable aboriginal guide he looks into the mid distance, his eyes go misty and he rubs his chin. “I think I know a good spot.”   More often than not, his sixth sense connects with an ancestral memory and we hurtle down some off-road track as the sun sinks and the light fades, trusting him to find the perfect camp.

In my reverie of reflection, I smell the scent of the outback.  A herbal sandalwood aroma meets mint with an overtone of spice.  Bush scents mingle with the charcoal smoke of the campfire.

I hear closeby the cackle of the blue-winged kookaburra and the caw, caw, caw of the raven.  In the distance I hear the eerie howl of the dingo.

I feel the age of this ancient weary land.   It’s odd, the eastern coast of Australia does not feel this way, but here, in the outback, the layers of history weigh heavy on the land.  It creaks and sighs with the aches and pains of age.   It hums with the power of ages.   Travelling here could easily become a spiritual journey for those with their hearts open to such things.

This ancient land has a terrible beauty.   Here you see wild untamed natural wonders, rocky gorges, dry creeks, wild flowers of all hues.   The Kimberley is a wonder of the world.   Nature here is on its own terms, huge in scale, dramatic and impassive before our human gaze.  It’s the perfect antidote to our 21st century virtual world.  Movies can’t reproduce this.  You can’t capture it on instagram.  It looks back at you and puts you in your place.

I saw indigenous rock art as if for the first time on this trip.   The Kimberley truly is an extraordinary outdoor gallery, where you can see layers of art through the millenia.  Where you can view artwork where it was created, framed perfectly by the craggy rocks that surround it.   I need to see more and understand more.

I also saw with some trepidation that the Kimberley has opened up to the world.  Campsites are full.  The roads are busy with Britz campers.  I hope tourism helps to protect this wilderness and does not convert it into an outback theme park, devoid of its spirit, its danger and discomfort removed.   I hope, I hope.

Mitchell Falls

The worst road in Australia leads to Mitchell Falls.  It is the Kalumburu Road.  It is a hard gravel road, corrugated so badly that the vibrations will find and shatter any weaknesses in the metal and plastic of your vehicle.  It is a rocky road, full of washouts and pot holes.  The rocks are sharp and pointed and cut through brand new tyres without a second thought.  It takes 2 or 3 hours to travel less than 100 km and at the end of it you feel like you’ve spent the afternoon rattling around inside your washing machine on quick spin.  

Hey, we know how to have fun!

It’s awful.  We passed top-of-the-range offroad campers with broken axles, 4WD utes with lost bullbars, overheated red-faced men changing punctured tyres and recovery trucks taking trusted vehicles for repair.  Inside our Land Cruiser, the bracket for the reversing camera fell apart.  Outside, our metal toolbox, welded to the ute tray, was hanging by a spot weld.  All fixed with some tape and strapping.  We were the lucky ones.

So, I hear you ask, why oh why would you do it?  

Oh it’s worth it.  It’s worth all this and more to take the walk to Mitchell Falls.  If you are visiting the Kimberley, this may well be the highlight of your trip.  It was certainly mine.

Turning with relief off the Kalumburu Road, we navigated the deep King Edward river crossing then stayed overnight in the nearby Munurru campsite.  This is a popular and attractive grassy site by the river, an excellent spot for weary travellers, with everything you need – swimming, fishing and good toilets.  We sampled some of these delights, but didn’t stay long, leaving early in the morning to take the Mitchell Plateau track up to the falls before the sun rose to high in the sky.  

This track was a rough one, but nothing like the day before.  Lush livistonia palms took over the vegetation as we rattled further north, vibrant green fronds covered liberally with paprika red road dust as we passed.  After a couple of hours we arrived at the car park, ready to walk to the falls.

It’s about a 9 km hike.  9 km of the most varied terrain imaginable.  It had everything, I loved it.  Let me count the ways… it had inviting swimming holes, ancient rock art, rock hopping over huge boulders, flat rocky plateaux with vertigo inducing drops, lilies, birdsong, inclines up and down, wading across a fast running river and then, at the end, the glorious Mitchell Falls, also known as Punami unpuu.

Looking for rock art at Mitchell Falls

Richard on the way to Mitchell Falls

 

You feel small before the mighty Mitchell Falls, even at a distance.  And you have to have that distance to take in the scale of the four tiered waterfall.  The Mitchell River hurtles over a precipice before crashing down into a vast rock pool, collecting there, then tumbling down again, and again, and again, before continuing on its way to the sea.

The natural energy released here is vast.  It’s tangible.  You can feel the air humming with its unstoppable force.  Looking across at the falls from my perch on the other side of the gorge, I couldn’t quite believe it’s raw, powerful beauty.  A photo will not do it justice.  

Of course, you can fly in by helicopter and hover above the falls without getting your feet wet, your brow heated or your clothes dusty.  But to me, the journey is a must.   I felt the same when I visited Uluru, you have to drive the corrugated road and walk the dusty track to feel the wild, remote power of these natural wonders.  

Land of the Boabs

Freshwater crocodiles are becoming more aggressive in Geiki Gorge as they grow familiar with human traffic.  They soak up the sun on the sandy banks of the Gorge, mouths open in a long lazy yawn.  Occasionally one will slip into the water for a feed of barramundi or smaller fry.  Like their larger more dangerous cousins, the saltwater crocs, they are a remnant from the age of the dinosaur.  They proliferate here under the protection of the national park.

We take a boat trip along the Gorge with the Departmemt of Biodiversity, Environment and Attractions.  I think I’ve got that right, the park ranger stumbles over the clumsy new name.  We glide across the water in an unsinkable flat bottomed boat, 25 years old.   She’s to be replaced with a fancy upgraded version later in the month.  The new boat, costing millions, will have toilets, bow thrusters and a shiny paint job featuring smiling crocodiles.  This may draw in the punters, but the toilets and bow thrusters can’t be used in the national park, and the ranger will be sad to see old faithful go.  

The Geiki Gorge stands tall above us.   It is the remnant of an ancient Devonian coral reef.   The water has cut into the rock over the years, creating vast overhangs that shade the river.  A fig tree high up on a limestone ledge stretches its roots hundreds of metres down to dangle them in the cool clear waters below.  Pink and white, sculpted like the backbone of an enormous dinosaur, we marvel at nature’s artwork.

The crocodiles fascinate us.   Young ones lie in groups and slide into the river for safety as we pass. A grumpy old grandfather looks up to see who has woken him from his dozing, then closes his eyes again to dream of fish suppers.

It is late in the afternoon when we leave the Gorge and the sun is sinking rapidly.   Five o’clock is sunset this far north.  We drive back to Fitzroy Crossing where the local rodeo is in town.   Then head off on the road to Broome.  Howard is convinced he can find a little bush camp out of town.

The bitumen road to Broome holds little hope for the bush camper.   On and on we drive, as the setting sun drops lower and lower in the sky.  Finally the turn off to Tunnel Creek appears to the right.  It’s a gravel road.  Maybe there’s a place to stay for the night.

We drive along several kilometres of fenced road without luck.  Then, up ahead two boab trees stand sentinel either side of the road.   Their branches like arms raised in silhouette against the twilight.   “This looks promising”.   We find a clear spot near a fence corner, build the camp fire and set up for the night.   

In the morning we wake to see that our sentinel trees mark the start of boab country.   The landscape is dotted with these incredible bottle shaped trees.  Their trunks are a shiny elephant grey, skin stretched over a knarled skeleton.  Some are huge and ancient, covered in warts and with misshapen limbs.  Others are young and supple, lifting graceful bodies to the sky like ballerinas.  A couple stand together, entwined in each other’s arms, trunks leaning close, whispering sweet nothings.   

The boab is more than the average tree and this is their country.  Boab country.

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

Wolfe Creek Crater

We turn off the Tanami Road to visit the Wolfe Creek crater.   A meteorite hit the earth here millions of years ago, shattering our planet’s crust like a stone hitting the surface of a pool of water.  The impact site is apparently the second largest in the world.  It’s not famous for that now of course, but for a horror movie located here.

The road to the crater is lined with yellow flowering acacias as if it were an avenue of trees leading to a grand European house.   The colours are delicious, the red road strewn with the fallen yellow flowers.

The walls of the crater tower above the car park.  They too could come from a Grand Designs TV programme.   Perfectly round clumps of silvery green spinifex grow up the crater, interspersed with yellow acacia bushes and lilac wild flowers.  The vegetation glows against the smooth red and pink rocks.  I decide to get my garden landscaped just like Wolfe creek…

We climb to the top while Richard readies his drone for aerial photography.  The scent of the acacias is like a dusty sandalwood.   The crater’s walls form a complete circle.  Down below we see rings of different greens, as the native plants choose to grow on their preferred mineral earth.  The ripples sent out so many years ago are frozen in time, circle within circle into the centre of impact.   The garden below is lush.  Water flows down the walls in the wet season forming rivers that meet and pool at the centre of impact.   Even now we see an oasis of trees there and hear the distant call of birds.

We are brought back to the 21st century as Richard’s drone buzzes into life and flies at eagles’ height, far above us, capturing aerial photos of the site.   The site is on too large a scale to be photographed any other way.  Beryl has a brave attempt and masters the art of the panorama with her camera, helped by a kind traveller we name Neville the nomad.   The brave man is travelling on to the Canning Stock Route alone.  This is a rugged four wheel drive trail that is usually attempted in packs.   Good luck Nev, we hope you make it.