Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Broome to Adelaide

Day 54—Sunday, July 20, 2008 Day 11 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Full day in Broome, nice resort, short tours of the town. Not much else to say. We mostly enjoyed the resort—including en suite washers and dryers. When you camp a lot, that becomes the most important amenity!
The restaurant isn’t the best and the acoustics are terrible! There is nothing soft in the dining room so everything echoes. Maybe that’s deliberate so we won’t spend too much time in there and they can turn the tables more often. They ran out of cups and then the coffee maker broke. It’s no wonder, there is only one coffee maker, it makes coffee one cup at a time, and everyone gets their own coffee. Needless to say the line can be interminable!
But we’re storing up all this luxury in preparation for three days in a row of camping, including “primitive” (no showers, no toilets) camping in the Bungle Bungles.
S 17° 55.696 E 122° 12.984
Day 55—Monday, July 21, 2008 Day 12 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
After two days of relaxing in a great resort hotel, back to travelling a lot and three nights (THREE!) in a row of camping. But this camping will be in Purnululu NP, home of the Bungle Bungles. And no, I don’t know why they are named that.
The bus has a DVD and big screen TV that we normally just have on the camera mounted on the dash and we watch the upcoming road. Pretty boring, actually, but at least everyone can see straight ahead if they want to.
Today was the first day we got to see entertainment. If you can call it that. We watched two episodes of “Bush Tucker Man,” which I would have thought would be a cooking show as “tucker” is food. But, no, it’s stories about escapes in Australian history. One was about a man who escaped from a serious prison and ended up eating all his companions who escaped with him. Yuck. I’d rather watch the road ahead.
We rotate seat location every day and our seat today was possibly the second worst on the bus, seat #2. The seat pairs are not in order, which is a good thing; we move randomly around the bus, alternating sides each day. Richard put stickers on the windows so we know what number our seat is. Seat 2 is the front passenger (left) side and has no foot room. Our sleeping bags are now overhead and we stuff our daily packs under our seats. The two back seat pairs are probably the worst if we are travelling on dirt roads because they are the bumpiest; they’re not too bad on bitumen (paved) roads.
We’re back in termite country and the termite mounds are everywhere but these termites seem, from the appearance of their mounds, to be seriously disorganized. Most termite mounds (that we’ve seen) are fairly smooth and even streamlined. The magnetic termites even align all their mounds in the same direction so they look like knife blades sticking up from the ground. (Maybe that’s where Jason and the Argonauts legend came from? Probably not.) These termites make mounds that look like ice cream sundaes gone wrong. Imagine six or eight scoops of ice cream all plopped on top of one another every which way and then partially melted. That’s what these termites build, only four feet high. And light brown.
Richard told us that the mass of all termites in Australia is more than the mass of all other living things in Australia. Hmm.
The world up here revolves around The Wet. The amounts of water are absolutely staggering. Our tent site, for instance, which is on fairly flat ground, will be under four meters of water in The Wet. We have crossed the Fitzroy River at—drum roll, please—Fitzroy Crossing and the river can be 25 kilometers wide in The Wet; right now it is about 25 meters wide at its widest.
Our campground is the Fitzroy River Lodge and the lodge itself has a happy hour every night. Exactly 13 of our 26 went up for happy hour. The rest drank their own liquor at the campsite.
I’m sort of enjoying the camping although it’s better if we stay for two nights. It gets pretty old having to break camp after only one night. It only takes us two hours to break everything down—tents, stretchers (Aussie for “cot”), air mattresses, sleeping bags, and pack the luggage—have breakfast and completely load the bus and trailer with tables, luggage for 26 people, chairs for 26 people, and wash (if one can call what we do “washing”) all the dishes. Hotels are better.
And Cherry has yet to repeat a meal! Plus, I just learned, she cooks a separate meal for two vegetarians on the trip.
S 18° 12.454 E 125° 35.011
Day 56—Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Day 13 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Today is the first of our two nights camping in the Bungle Bungles.
The drive in is rough and they don’t allow 2WD vehicles, nor caravans, only 4WD vehicles and trailers. There is a difference, I learned, between caravans and trailers: trailers carry things, caravans carry people who can live in them. The park (the Bungle Bungles are actually Purnululu NP) does allow “off-road trailers” but not caravans so if you camp, you do it in a tent.
The road is so rough that the sleeping bags were raining down on people from the overhead bins. We’ve switched from sleeping bags under the seats and day packs overhead to the other way around. And I’d much rather have a sleeping bag fall on my head than some of the packs these people carry!
We started at 5:30 in the morning for several hours’ drive from Fitzroy Crossing through Halls Creek (we’ll be back in two days to stay in a hotel here) and then an hour and a half north on paved road to the entrance to Purnululu NP and then 2 hours to go 53 kilometers on that very rough road. We didn’t really need the 4WD but Richard believes in using all the equipment he has so he did put it in 4WD. He doesn’t want to get stuck because he didn’t use his capabilities.
We are back in not only termite country but spinifex country. Spinifex is a kind of grass-looking plant that is diabolical. It looks very innocuous, all grassy looking and tufty. It grows in almost perfectly round tufts about 1-2 feet across and 10-12 inches tall. They grow so close together that the tufts almost touch one another. But they are sharp and have lots of silica in them and will slice your legs if you walk among them and your legs aren’t covered. It’s a really nasty plant with a soft, sibilant name: spinifex. There is soft spinifex and hard spinifex. If you walk bare-legged through hard spinifex your legs will be cut and bloody; if you walk bare-legged through soft spinifex, your legs will be cut a bloody. At least we name some of our nasty plants with nasty names: Shin Dagger comes to mind.
The Aussies do name some of their venomous snakes with venomous-sounding names: Death Adder for one. Lest you think you’ll know which are dangerous, think again; the Brown Snake is one of, if not THE most venomous snakes in the world. Australia, by the way, has I believe, either nine or ten of the top ten most venomous snakes in the world. Not to mention the spiders and venomous fish!
This park supplies firewood! We tried to introduce the Aussies on the tour (everybody but us is an Aussie) to S’mores but they don’t have Graham Crackers! We substituted some other biscuits (cookies and crackers) and they tasted pretty good. The S’mores seemed to be a big hit with everyone. But then who can turn down marshmallows and chocolate?
Tonight and tomorrow night will probably be the only fires we will have. Bummer.
Tomorrow will be the day we have really gone on this trip for: a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles.
S 17° 22.972 E 128° 20.025
Day 57—Wednesday, July 23, 2008 Day 14 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Where did the Bungle Bungles (actually, it is the Bungle Bungle Range) get its name? Nobody really knows but some of the theories are:
· It is derived from the name of a common Kimberly grass: bundle bundle grass
· It is a linguistic corruption of the Aboriginal name Purnululu which when spoken sounds like burnululu
· Or, Sam Muggleton was mining salt at a place called Date Palm and he bungled the operation so the area became known as the “bungle bungle”
None of those sound reasonable to me but I love the name anyway!
Purnululu NP and the Bungle Bungles are an area of eroded sandstone and conglomerate from 360 million years ago. It has been uplifted and eroded over time so that now there are the classic “beehives” and rib-like structures that tower over the surrounding land. Some of the domes are over 250 meters high. Many of the eroded structures have dark grey bands interspersed with the red or orange bands. The dark grey indicate the presence of cyanobacteria that grows on sandstone layers with higher clay levels and an ability to hold moisture, conditions that are conducive to the growth of the bacteria. The sandstone bands without the bacteria oxidize to form a rusty orange colored band.
Fancy ways to say they are spectacular and beautiful.
The best way to see them is by helicopter so that is what we did. Actually only 21 of the 26 of us did helicopter flights. Eighteen minutes of a flight of two helicopters soaring over the Bungles at an altitude of 1800 feet; the terrain is about 800 to 900 feet—and yes, they do use feet for elevation rather than meters. Our pilot was Cristian, had an accent I thought I recognized, thanks to my daughter-in-law, and I was right; he spent 40 years in Amsterdam (although he is Romanian by birth). We got a wonderful narrated tour by Cristian of a small part of the Bungles. There are also up to 48 minutes helicopter tours but we certainly got the flavor of the Bungles with our 18 minute flight.
The Bungles were a cattle station until about 1985 when a documentary was done on the area. Within just a few years there was so much interest that a national park was created, Purnululu NP.
We also hiked into Cathedral Gorge and the Domes, about a 4 kilometer return walk/hike and into Echidna Chasm, about 2 kilometers return into a gorge/canyon/chasm that is so narrow in places that you have to turn sideways to get through. Pretty awesome.
After all the hiking we came back to watch from our campground while the sun set on the Bungles. Quite a sight.
Then Richard gave us the good news/bad news. The good? Champagne and cheese and crackers. The bad? The air conditioner on the bus has broken. Again. So we have to get up really early to get to Halls Creek early where the same mechanic who fixed it last time will attempt to fix it again.
Richard is now using shorthand to tell us what time to get up, what time brekkies will be, and what time we will leave. He used to tell us exactly: Get up at 5, breakfast at 6, and we’ll leave at 7. Now he just says, “5, 6, 7.”
S 17° 22.972 E 128° 20.025 (same)
Day 58—Thursday, July 24, 2008 Day 15 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Up and out at 5, 6, 7. Actually left at 6:48, arrived in Halls Creek with the bus smelling like a gymnasium (no A/C) at about 10:30, hotel (such as it is) after lunch at 1. Between 10:30 and 1 we had a shopping opportunity, then ate lunch at the hotel (our normal sandwiches) and lolled around on the grass until our rooms were ready.
Pretty boring day, as will I suspect the next two and a half days be as we drive 900 kilometers to Alice for our last night of the tour.
S 18° 13.732 E 127° 40.150
Day 59—Friday, July 25, 2008 Day 16 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Long day driving across the Tanami Track, punctuated by a visit to the Wolfe Creek meteor crater, the second largest in the world. I don’t know what is first but I am assuming it is our Meteor Crater because it is so much bigger than Wolfe Creek.
I stumbled and fell, scraping my knees, on the climb to the rim of the crater. I think that is six down and 20 to go on accidental falls! Nobody, including me, has been even close to being seriously hurt.
After that interval we resumed our 1040 kilometer trek from Halls Creek to Alice Springs. The Tanami Track is dirt all the way from Halls Creek to Alice and it is occasionally quite rough.
As we travel across the endless (well, to us it seems endless!) Tanami Desert I am definitely reminded of our Arizona desert. Australia doesn’t have cactus—except as an unintended consequence of introducing an invasive species, namely, prickly pear cactus— but they do have lots of legumes. And the expanse of Tanami Desert has the same gray-green color that the Sonoran Desert has and it has the similar small, small-leafed shrubs that we have. I feel as if I am home.
We drive for hours and hours and I stare across a seemingly limitless expanse of foot-high termite mounds stretching to the horizon with only an occasional scrawny tree to break the straight line of that horizon.
As we drove, we saw not just the limitless termite mounds but also the occasional animal. One poor young camel, his hump sashaying back and forth, ran down the road in front of us. Richard slowed down and tried not to stress the animal but the young camel persisted in running in the middle of the road. Eventually we stopped for lunch and presumably the young camel disappeared into the wildness next to us.
Our usual lunch—mystery meat, bread, tomatoes, beet root, and lettuce—was had by the shores (?) of Sturt Creek. Sturt Creek is, of course, absolutely dry. And Mr. Sturt never set foot anywhere near where we had lunch. This was definitely local knowledge: Richard stopped here for lunch because it was the last large tree for 400 kilometers.
At about 4:30 Richard pulled off the road. Just that, no parking area just a short road disappearing into the distance. This was home for the night. Our next to last camp. No water. No toilet. No electricity. Richard has brought out the shovels.
For the non-campers reading this, shovels are used when there will be solid waste generated. You must dig a hole six inches deep for your waste and cover it over when you are done. Please note that there is not a person under the age of 60 (well, Lurleen is under 60 but I don’t think anybody else is) and most are over 65 in this group. and I think that Doug and Jan may be over 75! And they have to use a shovel to dig a pit! What a great group! There has been some minor grumbling about the “primitive” camping but by and large everybody recognizes that we can’t travel the “most remote track in the world” (Tanami Track) without a few privations.
Randy and I slept out. “Slept out” means that we set up our tent but set up our stretchers outside the tent with the air mattress (one does need the creature comforts when one gets to be a senior citizen) and the sleeping bags and just lay out there looking at the milky way. It was so stunningly beautiful!
There is not an artificial light for 80 kilometers, says Richard. That doesn’t sound like a lot to me. I’ve been to Death Valley and surely there isn’t an artificial light for 80 kilometers (50 miles) there. I don’t believe Richard. I believe there isn’t a light for at least several hundred kilometers. Regardless, the sky was dark, the stars were brilliant, the milky way was, well, milky!
There are only two “towns,” Biluna and Yuendumu (both have populations of about 100-200) and two “roadhouses” from Halls Creek to Alice.
There have been just a few things/activities we wanted to do, lying out under a sky that had no artificial lights was high on the list.
Check that off the list!
S 19° 53.271 E 129° 17.151, el 383 meters
Day 60—Saturday, July 26, 2008 Day 17 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Long day driving across the Tanami Track.
We stopped at Rabbit Flat, the most remote road house in Australia. I, of course, bought a t-shirt to celebrate. We (the whole group) also celebrated by using the toilets.
Not much to say about this day except that we have the perfect road for Randy: no traffic! In the past two days we have passed more “dead” cars than “living” cars. We can go an hour without seeing another vehicle—other than cars that have been abandoned alongside the road.
The high point had to be that we had a campground that had: water, electricity, toilets. All the accoutrements of civilization! Tilmouth Wells is our campground.
Our last night/day of camping! Dinner was rissoles. Australian rissoles are American hamburger meat with lots of spices. Delicious! Often the butcher will make his own recipe of exactly what spices are put in the rissoles. Tonight’s rissole is not the same as the rissole we had on the second night of our trip. But it is equally good.
This is our last camp. I am dirty, tired, and flies seem to love me. We had a celebratory martini after we set up camp for the last time.
None of us has been able to match the purported weight limits but several days ago Richard made our life hell: he said we were his heroes for our baggage. We have two carry-on bags, it seems everyone else has HUGE bags. We don’t make the 16 kilo weight limit, but neither do others. I don’t know why he singled us out.
S 22° 48.507 E 132° 35.914 el 570 meters
Day 61—Sunday, July 27, 2008 Day 18 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
The drive from Tilmouth Wells was on sealed road so the bounces weren’t too bad. Interesting road: about 10 feet wide, so it’s just a one lane road with lots of dirt shoulder. The rules of the road are that smaller gives way to larger. Assuming you know the rules of the road, that is. I don’t remember seeing even one car in two hours so it didn’t matter for us.
We passed within 10 kilometers of the “point of inaccessibility,” the point that is equidistant from any ocean or sea. And we passed close to Fink which is the center of Australia: if you could balance the continent on a point, it would be there. Don’t you wonder how someone can figure that out? Do rocky mountains weigh more that mostly dirt hills? Do cities weigh more that countryside? How much more? Do they count each skyscraper? ‘Tis a puzzlement.
Anyway, we arrived in Alice Springs in mid-morning, as advertised.
Today, Sunday, was Market Day so Richard gave us a “shopping opportunity.” Now that we are released from our weight restrictions, and, to some extent, the space restrictions, I feel freer to buy stuff.
Then we drove way out of town to Simpson’s Gap, one of several spots on the McDonald Ranges to hike, to have lunch. After that, to the hotel where Randy and I will stay for two days (we’ve rented a car), the Voyages Alice Springs Resort.
Dinner tonight is our last, and breakfast tomorrow is our last as a group and for breakfast, at least, some of the group will already be gone
S 23° 42.163 E 133° 53.117, el 581 meters
Day 62—Monday, July 28, 2008 Day 19 and end of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Dinner last night was quite nice. Instead of two long tables, we had two large square tables and that made it a bit easier to talk to everybody. Joe gave the obligatory speech and several of us also spoke, thanking Richard and Cherry. All in all a nice night to end it all.
I was SO ready to be done with the tour! I had an absolutely fabulous time, but 19 days was just too much. Although I haven’t found a cruise that is too long, I have definitely found a tour that was too long! That was probably true for several if not lots of the group as well. Putting up the tents, taking down the tents, and all the rest of the mandatory rigmarole was getting tiresome. Randy and I had it down to a pretty good pack up time in the mornings, about 40 minutes and everything was done. The group had the pack-up-completely,-eat-breakfast,-and-be-on-the-bus time to less than two hours. Pretty good, especially considering that several of the group had never camped before. And probably will never camp again!
Our last breakfast with any of the group, we ate with Lurleen, Gerald, Helen, and Joyce. We and Lurleen and Gerald went to the Desert Park and then on to Standley Chasm for a short hike and an alfresco lunch that we had bought at the Park.
The Desert Park is the Alice counterpart to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and in fact they did a staff exchange last year. Jody from the Park spent a month at the Museum and Brenda King from the Museum spent a month at the Park. The guy who did the Park’s raptor show also spent a week at the Museum.
Their raptor show is quite different than the one at the Museum but equally informative and fun. First, the spectators get to sit! And there is a covering so they don’t have to be in the sun—although today it was nice to be in the sun as the temperature at 10am was probably only about 10°C (50°F).
The narrator is also the person handling the birds but “handling” is not exactly true and he never touched the birds except to give the Galahs (ga-LAHZ) some food. We got to see black kites and another species of kite feeding in the air and actually eating in the air. They are able to grab food out of the air and bring their talons to their beak to eat without having to land, thus saving the energy necessary to get airborne again. Quite interesting.
There were a couple (breeding pair) of wild wedgies (wedge tailed eagles) in the area and they added to the show. A fascinating 25 minutes.
Day 63—Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Slept late, didn’t do much. It’s hard to get involved in anything—for me anyway—when I have a deadline and we did: 12:35 departure to Adelaide. So we pretty much didn’t do anything other than go downtown and do some gift shopping. Carlos, if you are reading this, we are bringing you a present. Ditto for Kathy & Yolanda.
Adelaide airport was a breeze except that Randy got “randomly” selected for additional screening. He got so involved in chit chat with the screener that he completely forgot that I was standing there twiddling my thumbs for 10 or so minutes. He was telling her all about out adventures. We also got to talking with an Australian who struck up a conversation with Randy, saying he thought he recognized a Tucson accent! I think he just heard us say we were from Tucson to one of the Qantas people.
After four-plus weeks without a cloud in the sky, we have arrived in Adelaide to intermittent showers and temperatures in the low teens (below 50°F). I really don’t want to complain since we have had such great weather for so long and also because all of the southern part of Australia (and other parts as well) is in a multi-year drought. The drought is so serious, several of our fellow travelers on the 4WD tour told us, that they use bottled water for drinking and cooking because there is so much salinity in the water. It goes without saying that there is NO watering of plants or lawns unless you use gray water. I would guess that, much like in California in the 70s, if you have a green lawn or beautiful flowers your neighbors will be turning you into the water conservation board!
The first panic when we arrived in Adelaide—well, it was really the only panic—was that I had left my wallet on the airplane! It’s a little thing that I carry around my neck and it was in the way so I put it on the seat next to me. Bad decision! I of course forgot to pick it up since it was the exact same color as the seats. Good news is that it really wasn’t a problem to get it; just going back through security and finding that they had already turned it in to the lost baggage people.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Perth to Broome via 4WD Tour

Day 42—Tuesday, July 8, 2008
This is the day we have to turn in the campervan. In a way I’ll miss it, but in lots of ways I won’t! It’s a cheap, mass-produced, and poorly designed vehicle. But it got us where we wanted to go when WE wanted to go and not when someone else wanted to go, so that’s a great thing.
Apparently we cleaned the campervan well enough for Apollo ‘cause they didn’t say anything and we didn’t get charged a cleaning fee. I would have screamed if they did because Randy even WASHED the damn thing.
We walked to our hotel (4 kilometers) and then walked to a restaurant close by for dinner, not memorable but good Moreton Bay Bugs! Haven’t had those since the last time we came to Darwin about 11 years ago. Like little miniature lobsters but sweeter; fabulous!
All in all a boring day getting ready to shift gears and travel to Darwin tomorrow to start the next phase of our adventure.
Day 43—Wednesday, July 9, 2008
What a difference travelling by air in Australia vs the US! The hotel staff looked at us very strangely when we said we wanted to leave the hotel at 6:30am for an 8:20am departure (the airport is about 15 minutes away). They said didn’t we want to wait until 7 or 7:15?
We had a bit of a snafu with no wake up call and no taxi ordered but we were on our way to the airport by 6:45.
When we got to the airport we knew why the hotel staff wanted us to go at 7 or even later. There was almost no hassle at the airport, Qantas staff got us our boarding pass and we queued up to give them our bags to be checked, walked through security wearing our hiking boots (!) with NO waiting, and we were at the gate at before 7:15!
Uneventful flight, delivery to our hotel by airport bus ($11—easily the best bargain in Australia, considering that hamburgers routinely cost $15!
The Holiday Inn Esplanade is quite nice, directly across from the Esplanade (duh!), we have a room sort of overlooking the ocean and the park (Esplanade), and the hotel had a free bottle of wine waiting for us in our room.
We walked around Darwin including the Esplanade and the Cenotaph and the USS Peary memorial. That is the memorial we remember from our last visit that said, among other things, that the ship went down “with guns still blazing” even though it was completely on fire. Very touching.
Dinner was at Crustaceans on a wharf and was quite good and quite expensive, but what else is new in Australia.
Day 44—Thursday, July 10, 2008 Day 1 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
We met at lunch with the group and I am pleased that we are all in approximately the same age group. I was afraid there would be a lot of sweet young things chomping at the bit to climb mountains when all I wanted was a stroll through the bush.
Our transportation for the next almost-3-weeks is quite a machine. The main part of the bus will hold the 26 of us plus Richard (the bus driver/boss/tour guide) and Cherry (his wife and assistant) and we will tow a trailer for some of the luggage. The trailer is also part kitchen. The bus itself is articulated so the cab moves separately from the main part of the bus and the hitch is the strongest contraption of its kind I’ve seen—but it has to be, we will be doing a fair bit of 4WD driving.
We took a bit of a tour of Darwin, including the Aviation Museum which holds the only flyable B52 outside the US. It is a bit daunting to see an airplane that big completely INSIDE a building.
Also, we went to the Darwin Museum and again saw the exhibition of the Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve of 1974 that almost completely destroyed the city of Darwin. It include a sound recording (in complete darkness of course because it hit in the middle of the night!) made by one of the survivors of what the storm sounded like. Until I saw the pictures and heard the sound and fury of the storm I had no comprehension of what it was like. Words and pictures alone cannot do justice to the experience.
Dinner was interesting because one of our group took exception with Richard about the (stringent) luggage allowances. We are supposed to have 2 bags no more than 16 kilos each and a carryon each of no more than 3 kilos each. My computer weighs 3 kilos alone, not to mention all the gear that goes with it (hard drive, power supply, etc) and I have a camera and Randy has a camera with battery charger. AND we didn’t know until we got to the hotel that we had a baggage allowance of 16 kilos each (we think our bags are about 20 kilos each). Tomorrow morning will be interesting with all of our luggage. One of the other women said, and I agree with her, that she (who is tiny) gets angry when she is charged excess baggage and another person, who easily outweighs her by 25 or 30 kilos, has no excess baggage charge.
Richard is not the most diplomatic guide I have ever met. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Day 45—Friday, July 11, 2008 Day 2 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Our first full day on the road, we are heading to Kakadu NP by way of Litchfield NP.
The bus is pretty comfortable and very new. It is a Mercedes Benz (add mucho $) 4WD truck that seats 28 (driver, assistant, and 26 passengers) and pretty luxurious. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t have suggestions as to how they could have improved it if they asked me.
The weight limits (16 kilos for each suitcase and 3 kilos for each cabin bag) were completely ignored by almost everyone including Richard. Still, there isn’t much room in the cabin. Under our seats are our sleeping bags. That means that my foot room is taken up by the sleeping bag of the person in front of me—just like it was originally on the airlines.
There is an overhead shelf but 4 seats have part of the air conditioner over their heads and so no room on that shelf. We are in the second row on the driver’s side and there are random numbers on the windows—next to us is a 5, the next pair of seats behind us is numbered 13, across the aisle the numbers are, in order from the front: 2, 12, 8, 4, 2, 6. Richard told us that that is the numbering system for changing seats each day. Quite good system, I think. Actually it is an outstanding system. Whatever pair of seats you have today, tomorrow you will move to the next higher numbered pair of seats. So tomorrow we’ll go to seats 6 in the back of the bus, and the following day we will be on the opposite side of the bus in the front. And 13 days from today we will be back in these seats.
Randy went swimming in Litchfield NP in Wangi Falls Pool in spite of the crocodile warnings. We were told that there were no crocs there. And we believed them. Crocs can be in a pool one year and not there the next year and vice versa because of the wet which can flood them in and out of pools. Your only real recourse is to pay attention to the locals because they do survey the pools each year. Don’t you wonder how exactly they do a survey like that? Send someone in and see if they come out?
We also stopped to look at some aboriginal art. The artists (I think) were there, three aboriginal women. One of the couples was chuckling that here we are in the outback and they have an EFTPOS machine (the Aussie equivalent of our credit card machines except this can do much more). We laughed and agreed about the incongruity. I guess the aboriginal women disagreed, because one of them said to me in a belligerent tone, “What are you laughing at?” We answered something about the incongruity of it, and she got more belligerent. We tried to defuse the situation but finally had to just leave she was so upset at what she perceived we were doing. One never knows what one person thinks is an innocuous comment can be perceived as a very negative one by others.
Then we drove and drove and drove, with one break, to Kakadu NP where we set up camp. What a hoot watching Richard demonstrate how to set up the tent and then all of us setting up the tents. They are old canvas tents; the good part is that you can stand up in them. The bad part is—well, it’s all bad.
There is a pole in the middle of the tent, which is about 6 feet square, so we can’t have our sleeping bags together. We have cots which also means we can’t have our sleeping bags together. It is quite hot which also means we can’t have our sleeping bags together. Other than that it’s fine. I can hardly wait until we have to put them away! Richard demonstrated and it will be a really interesting procedure!
They gave us brand new sleeping bags but they told us we needed sleeping bag sheets so we assumed the bags would be used and spent about $60 for sleeping sheets. I think we will pony up the money to send them home and use them in our new cabin.
S 12° 12.27666’, E 130° 50.158’
Day 46—Saturday, July 12, 2008 Day 3 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Our first full day.
We went on a hike to Ubirr, the site of a lot of aboriginal rock paintings. And we went to the Gagadju Cultural Center in Kakadu NP.
Kakadu is a misspelling of the aboriginal word for the area, Gagadju. The Englishman who discovered the area for the whites recorded the aboriginal sounds but still it was transliterated as Kakadu rather than the more correct (apparently) Gagadju.
The Alligator rivers (East, West, and South) were also misnamed by an American who thought the crocs were alligators (they’re not) and the names stuck.
We also saw the longest continuously inhabited site in the world, Jabiluka. Probably that is not transliterated either, but unfortunately the aboriginals don’t create the maps nor name their own sites for the tourists.
I am extremely worried about food poisoning. The hygiene of the plates and utensils and pots and pans in abysmal, but nobody else seems to be worried. I’ve told Randy to wash his hands often and then wash them again. The plates that we use are to be washed in a basin of soapy water. Period. There is a rinse basin but no Clorox or any other disinfectant. And the soapy water becomes rapidly contaminated with food particles. I try to change the water often. But 28 people washing their plates and utensils in only a couple of changes of water is a recipe for disaster. But I don’t know what else to do. There is no Clorox nor any other disinfectant. We don’t keep our own plates, either, they all go back into the common stack.
Richard is the chief clean-up person for the cooking pots. He uses one pot of soapy water and then dries the pots with the towels that have been used for days. There does not appear to be any washing of towels.
Wish us luck to not get sick!
S 12° 39.713’, E 132° 50.099’
Day 47—Sunday, July 13, 2008 Day 4 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Today was get up at 5:30, pack up, stuff the sleeping bags, close up the cots, pack the sheets and the pillow (yes, singular—Randy is using his clothes stuffed in a t-shirt) and the air mattress. I know, I know, if you’re camping you shouldn’t need an AIR MATTRESS, but face it we’re old. We DO need an air mattress. Anyway, I couldn’t believe that the whole camp, 13 tents (some who had NEVER camped before) was packed up by 6:30. Of course Richard wouldn’t let us have brekkies (breakfast) until we were. And we were on the road by 7:30, as advertised.
We have about 13 days to figure out how to get up early and pack up the tent and the accoutrements that go along with a tent and still stay clean. We got up, packed everything up, and THEN realized we had packed our soap, shaving stuff, deodorant, etc, and all that and the suitcases they were packed in had been jigsawed into the trailer along with the other 24 suitcases . And we couldn’t exactly ask Richard, at 6:45am, to find our two suitcases among the other 24 that he had just stuffed into the trailer and dig it out so Randy could shave.
So dirty us went off to the Yellow Water Cruise on the Alligator River for 2 hours. What a great tour! The guide knew every bird, every mammal—well, the only mammals we saw were brumbies or wild horses, and every reptile. Of course the only reptiles were the salties, the salt water crocodiles. We saw LOTS of them. They were lying around everywhere! We didn’t see the largest of the salties (which can grow to 6-8 meters) but we saw some that were 4-5 meters. You do NOT want to swim in these waters. And yet people do. And they clean fish while standing up to their knees in the water. And they let their children hang over the front of the boat and drag their hands in the water. What are they thinking? A full grown male saltie can and does, take down and eat a horse. One carried around in its mouth a full grown pig for three days.
We learned how to get male crocs (which are highly prized in croc farms because they have more skin/hide): incubate the eggs at 32° to 33°. At 31° you will get a mix of males and females and at 30° you will get mostly females.
But we saw lot so other animals, mostly birds: rufous night heron, whistling ducks, whistling kites, darters (also know as snake birds), great and small herons, magpie geese (also known as $1000 ducks because that is the fine for having one. And yes, they are ducks.), royal spoonbills, jabirus, azure kingfishers, restless flycatchers, green pygmy geese, crested jacanas, and sea eagles. To name a few that we saw.
But mostly we saw crocs, salties. The rangers do a census every year by going out at night with floodlights; right now they estimate there are 250 salties in 250 square kilometers. That’s a LOT of crocodiles! And people still swim here. They tag salties that are causing problems: going after boats, generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Salties have two rows of osteoderms (bony scales) on their back gradually becoming one row of fins (for lack of a better word) that have no bones in them. The rangers cut off the ones without bones and they recognize them by the pattern of cut-off fins.
Our guide said that the rangers maintain that never—NEVER—have they had to manage again any saltie they have tagged. They can’t explain that, but still it’s pretty persuasive that merely tagging the animal means it won’t cause trouble again. My question is, however, is it so stressful to tag them that they die? Probably not because we saw several that have been tagged. But it certainly cries out to be studied!
Finally arrived in Katherine at about 5pm. It was not a great afternoon. Richard is not the greatest communicator and we never knew how long we would be driving and when we would eat lunch and would we have a “cuppa” (tea, coffee, and cookies that we have had every day). But we’re here and we’re in a hotel with our own shower and we’ll eat dinner in a restaurant and sleep in a queen sized bed rather than two cots! Life is good.
S 14°28.261’ E 132°17.388’
Day 48—Monday, July 14, 2008 Day 5 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
This will be the first of the two camping days. We are going on the rhythm of two camping days and one hotel day. So far it has been two camping days in the same camp, but that will change and we will pull up stakes each of the two camping days.
I look forward to the next hotel day, not because I dislike the camping, I don’t, but because it is in one of the most highly rated resorts in Australia, El Questro. We will be in an “upscale tented cabin.” It will have a lot to live up to after what we had in Africa.
Our tour today was in the morning with an aboriginal guide. We were on two boats, a male guide on one and a female guide on the other.
We saw lots of crocs and birds and great scenery, but the best part was the two guides talking demonstrating aboriginal stuff. And because men can’t know what women know they had to talk to us separately. She told us about digging sticks and carry bags and he told us about digging sticks and didgeridoos (multiple spellings of that word!) and woomera (same as an atlatl—Google it!) plus he demonstrated tossing a spear using a woomera.
I know intellectually about woomera and atlatls but I have never seen one demonstrated before and it is awesome how far the spear will fly!
He also showed us some pretty gruesome weapons (the “punishment boomerang”) and talked about how they discipline their children, also pretty gruesome. I realize it is their culture, but putting biting insects on your child’s lip so that it swells to the size of a grapefruit and is excruciatingly painful is not MY idea of a good way to discipline children.
S 15° 47.165’ E 128° 44.202
Day 49—Tuesday, July 15, 2008 Day 6 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Fairly leisurely morning, we only had to get up at 5:15. We are camped so close to Lake Kununurra that we could walk to the tour boat. Our tour guide is Michelle and she turns out, yet again, to be the best yet. She was entertaining, knowledgeable, and knows how to run the boat. We have the tour boat to ourselves, which is always better than sharing. 26 people who know each other sort of overwhelm anybody else who is there.
Our tour is of Lake Kununura to the Ord River to the dam for Argyle Lake. Both lakes are artificial and Argyle is huge, the volume greater than 54 Sydney Harbors and Kununura has enough water for five years even if it doesn’t rain and that is highly unlikely here in the land of The Wet. Our tour yesterday showed us how much water is in the northern part of Australia in The Wet.
It was a beautiful three-hour tour and Michelle knew every single animal, bird or reptile, that showed its face to us. The two lakes are formed by a diversion dam (1963) on the Ord River that forms Lake Kununurra and another enormous wall (1972) on the Ord that forms Lake Argyle. The diversion dam enables Kununurra to have a great agricultural business. Or so they are trying. They can’t seem to decide what crop works for them. They tried rice and the birds decimated the crop; they tried cotton and didn’t have enough water; now they are trying Indian Sandalwood but it takes ten years for the first crop and that won’t be until 2011. They also have mangoes and sorghum and melons and a few others I can’t remember, but there are problems with those as well. Oh, well, it’s only been 30 or 40 years; you can’t expect overnight success!
We did however see lots of freshies (fresh water crocs). We were told that freshies are not very likely to bite you (yeah, right) without a lot of provocation. Like hitting them with a stick. Am I going in the water that has an animal that has not evolved in several million (million!) years because it is so supremely well adapted to being a killing machine? Not on your tintype, I’m not. They may not BE as fearsome as the salties, but I for one an NOT going in water that has even a hint of any crocodiles, freshie OR saltie.
Lots of raptors, lots of freshies, lots of parrots, lots of water birds, and one Merten’s water monitor lizard that didn’t get too upset at my taking his (her?) picture up close and personal although I could tell he was getting ready to bolt. We saw a lot of darters, also know as snake birds because their necks are so long and thin that in the water they look like snakes. We even saw some nests with little ones in there pestering mom or dad (dad is a very good parent, taking as much care of the babies as mom does, even sitting on the eggs) for food.
At the beginning of the trip we were in calm Lake Kununurra but by the time we got to the dam, the Ord River was rising rapidly and there was quite a current. No white water, but too much current for the two houseboats that ply the lake to come very far up the river.
The land is stunningly beautiful. High above the river are escarpments and a very deserty area with sparse vegetation and lots of rocks and cliffs but close to the river it is lush and green with lots of nesting birds and lots of hunting eagles, kites, and hawks. One eagle looks much like our American eagle with a white head and dark body and about the same size.
After our usual lunch (bread and butter, some kind of meat and cheese, and beets—yes, sliced beets are a favorite on sandwiches as are sliced pineapple—fruit, tomatoes, and lettuce we went back to Kununurra for a tour of the area. Whoopee. And a “shopping opportunity” at the local Woolies. Woolies is Woolworths, which, along with Coles, pretty much corners the grocery market. According to Richard, Woolies and Coles have 85% of the retail market in Australia. I don’t actually believe that, but they probable have more of the market than Wal-Mart does in the US since they both also have liquor stores and fuel stations.
Speaking of fuel stations, there are so many gas-powered (propane, not gasoline) cars and trucks in Australia that almost every fuel station has a pump for propane. Looks just like a gasoline or diesel pump, just the nozzle is different for the connection to a car.
When Randy and I started the tour we bought some beer to have along the way. We were the only ones and we thought all the Aussies must be teetotalers. Wrong! It was almost as if we broke the ice by bringing beer. Now when we go to a town about three quarters of the groups troops off to the liquor store for beer, wine, or hard liquor.
In the NT (Northern Territory), if you buy liquor they have to scan your license so you are in the system and if you try to buy more liquor at another store you won’t be able to. I don’t know what the limit is, but it apparently isn’t very much. It is primarily aimed at the aboriginal population who seem to spend what money they have on liquor. Or so we are told. They (the government) can’t discriminate and just limit the aboriginal liquor consumption, so they “card” everyone. I asked what you could do if you were having a party and wanted to buy several cases of wine or beer. Nobody we asked could tell us if there was some exception or if you had to start stocking up months in advance!
The rest of our day was at the camp gossiping about Richard and making disparaging remarks about the “backpacker” group that moved in next to us. Most of us are very happy with Outback Spirit but some feel ripped off to some extent. More on that later.
The backpackers sleep in “swags” (heavy canvas sleeping bags) out under the stars while we sleep in tents and have nice new “modern” sleeping bags, cots, and air mattresses. We have chairs and tables, they have canvas stools and no tables. We have an amazing kitchen and they have the supplied BBQ. We have a brand new Mercedes 4WD bus/truck; they have an old Japanese 4WD bus/truck. We paid a lot of money; they didn’t.
Who’s better off? I don’t know.
We lost (gained?) and hour and a half—why an hour and a half difference NT to WA rather than one or two hours, I have no idea—anyway it is an hour and a half earlier here than NT. As a result we are all tired at about 7:30pm. Our camp was deserted by 8pm; everyone (including us) was in bed!
S 15° 47.165’ E 128° 44.202
Day 50—Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Day 7 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
We got up as usual at 5am, packed up everything—tents, sleeping bags, cots, air mattresses, tables, chairs, kitchen stuff, washing up stuff and off we went to Five Rivers Overlook. We are really getting to be expert at folding up the tents and they aren’t easy! It involves poles and quarter turns and flipping and folding and stuffing into a big FLAT bag. But even Jan and Doug can sort of do it now and Jan & Doug are probably the least experienced at camping and they are quite old. I don’t know exactly how old they are, but they appear to be close to 75 or 80 but they are great sports and take part in everything.
Five Rivers Overlook looks over the Ord, King, Pentecost, Durack, and Forrest Rivers. The Ord is the one we cruised on for 3 hours yesterday. The others are, well, I don’t know exactly, but they are rivers of the northern part of Australia. It was quite impressive
Zebedee Falls was our next destination and we arrived at 11am. The time is important only because there is a sign that says everyone must vacate the area by noon. Why, I asked Richard, knowing full well why. The Voyages El Questro Resort ($1800 per PERSON per night) gets private access to Zebedee, a hot springs in the El Questro Wilderness Park. I don’t have internet access so I cannot look up and find out if it is a public park or a private park but apparently the EQR has private access to a lot of places, some that nobody else is allowed into at all.
Anyway, Randy went in to the pool, a hot spring. Well, a tepid to warm spring/pool. I didn’t want to sit all day in a wet bathing suit getting the bus seats wet. Didn’t matter, Richard told us this morning in the bus when our suitcases were all packed and we couldn’t change our minds. This is part of the problem I alluded to earlier about Richard and the lack of satisfaction on the part of some of the “guests.” I have to agree in my worse moments, but at the better times I think it’s fine.
Lunch was at a small river and we got to watch several cars fording the crossing. Tucson has the stupid motorist law but that definitely would not work here in Australia. We don’t have a snorkel on the bus but most of the 4WD cars and trucks here do, and I guess they can and do cross very deep waters. We’re getting pretty far into The Dry, so there aren’t too many deep fords left. Too bad, because I would love to see just how deep a snorkeled car can drive!
Tonight is at Emma Gorge, an “upscale tented cabin” in the El Questro Wilderness that is associated with the EQR in some way that I don’t understand.
Having been to Africa and their “upscale tented cabins” I am disappointed in these. They look sort of nice from the outside, set well apart and the back deck faces wilderness. BUT, our cabin’s door faces west and was quite warm (no A/C, only a fan), no bedside lighting, no place to sit except on the deck or on a bed, no table of any kind, and the shower door doesn’t close completely.
Maybe dinner will change my mind.
S 15° 54.323’ E 128° 67.625’
Day 51—Thursday, July 17, 2008 Day 8 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Dinner didn’t change my mind or Randy’s Emma Gorge Resort. The critique we (well, Randy) filled out was smoldering a bit on the edges. For example, there were three beds in the room (sleeping 4) but only three chairs; there was only one hand towel, two bath towels, however; no electric tea kettle—I’ve been in an Australian hotel nor even heard of one that didn’t have a tea kettle. The list went on but it’s not worth repeating. We will stay in a Voyages hotel in Broome for two nights and in Alice for two nights. Voyages is one of the best in Australia and I don’t understand why Emma Gorge is so bad.
Dinner was worse; they ran out of food!
Manning Gorge was our overnight, this time for the first time we only spend one night and then break camp. I think that will be the pattern for our camping nights from now on: just one night in each campground. The camping is getting more primitive and will get even more primitive yet, according to Richard.
Today was pretty much just driving on a supposedly 4WD dirt road. I’m glad we hired Outback Spirit even though the road isn’t really a 4WD because we had no idea what the road would be like and it is a very long dirt road. The Tanami (TAN-ah-my) Road is also very long and very dirt; it’s over a thousand kilometers.
All the streams and rivers we have crossed so far have been quite small so the 4WD isn’t necessary. If we were to come back here in the Dry (the only time to rent a 4WD) I would rent a 4WD and camp along these roads. We learned in the campervan that we don’t really need a toilet OR a shower. The campgrounds are so great and clean and fully equipped that we never felt the need to have our own shower.
Dinner was simple but great (chicken tonight) and after we had a bonfire in the fireplace. I had asked Richard if we were going to have a fire and he said we didn’t have any firewood. Not three minutes later, a truck drove up with the back full of firewood and Richard bought it! So after dinner we sat around a fire and several people recited some poetry (much better than it sounds!) and told ribald jokes and sang some Australian folk songs. It was a really great evening sitting around the fire, listening to stories, drinking wine, talking, just generally having a brilliant time.
“Brilliant” is an Aussie word that they use a lot to mean “the best ever.” We are learning the ‘Strine language. Phrases such as “fair dinkum” which I though was an adjective meaning “pretty good” but in fact it means “really, truly.” If I want to say, for example, that something I’ve just said is really, truly true, I will say, for example, “The canyon was beautiful, fair dinkum!” At least I think that’s what it means! We mostly speak the language that the Aussies speak, but not quite. I still don’t know what a “rock melon” is (found out later: a cantaloupe. They call them cantaloupes in Melbourne and rock melons in other places).
Since we had such a great time sitting around the fire I asked Richard if we would do it again. Yes, and Randy & I will try to find the makings for S’mores. None of the Aussies have ever heard of S’mores or even graham crackers. We apparently will have no problem getting chocolate and marshmallows, but we’ll have to improvise on the graham crackers.
I spent some time talking to Richard about his first aid kit. Since I teach a Wilderness First Aid class (thanks, Pam Phillips!), I was very interested in what they carry. I didn’t get a good answer, not because he didn’t want to tell me, but because our conversation ranged over several topics.
S16° 39.458 E125° 55.627
Day 52—Friday, July 18, 2008 Day 9 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Today started early. What else is new? We think we’ve died and gone to heaven if we get to sleep in until 5:30!
Up at 5, breakfast at 6, and leave at 7. Two hours is exactly what it takes to completely break camp. Pretty amazing considering how many of us have never camped or camped very little.
Lots of photo stops as the scenery is quite spectacular. We crossed the Leopold Range and did a short hike in Galkan’s Gorge, another pretty little canyon.
The destination for tonight is Winjana (WIN-jin-ah) Gorge for camping and a hike at Tunnel Creek National Park.
Tunnel Creek NP was awesome! Australia is so different in its attitude to tourists and tourism, compared to the US. Tunnel Creek is an underground river that flows for about ½ a kilometer in a tunnel and partway through the tunnel has collapsed leaving lots of big boulders strewn around. In the US there would be warning signs and fences to keep you out of most of it because it is so dangerous.
To get in you have to scramble/climb down some large boulders into knee-deep water and then wade the rest of the way, more or less. You do walk on some sandy parts but largely you have to be up to your knees in cold river water stumbling over submerged rocks. It is all worth it at the end where it opens up to a spectacular little gorge with lots of trees and plants growing over the rocks.
I can’t imagine being allowed to do that in the US.
Unfortunately when we came back we were so hot and tired that we decided not to hike to Winjana Gorge. The ones who did told us about the beautiful scenery and the basking freshies all over the banks of the river. Oh, well, I did have a nice (cold) shower. I asked a woman coming out of the shower what it was like and she said, “refreshing.” I asked if that was Australian for “cold” and she allowed that was fair dinkum.
S 17° 24.781 E 124° 56.472
Day 53—Saturday, July 19, 2008 Day 10 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Hump Day!
Off to Broome for two nights in what we are told is a really nice resort. Apartments with their own washers and dryers. Here that is described as “en suite,” meaning the washer and dryer are in the apartment, not down the hall. They say the same thing about toilets and showers. We can even have a campground powered site “en suite,” meaning there is a little building right next to your campsite that has a sink, toilet, and shower that is just yours, not shared. That’s about as close to camping heaven as one can get!
Our drive to Broome via Derby was 389 kilometers of about half and half dirt road. I think that would be an easy day when we get to the Tanami Desert, over 1000 kilometers of dirt road from Halls Creek to Alice Springs. We all think Richard and Cherry are softening us up with the resort in Broome.
In Derby we saw the Prison Tree, a mostly hollow boab large enough to hold prisoners overnight before transporting them to a proper jail. Mostly that would have been aborigines, not whitefellas.
Whitefella and blackfella MAY be OK words to describe the Caucasian population and the aboriginal population. I don’t have anyone I trust to ask that of but at least one guide has said neither is a derogatory term. I’ll withhold judgment on that.
Boabs are weird trees that also grow in Africa where they are known as baobabs. The thinking is that the Aussie’s penchant for shortening words made the tree the boab in Australia.
Also in Derby we watched several men “fishing” under the jetty for mullet (a bait fish) by walking out in the tidal flats when the tide was way out and about to turn and throwing a large net over what water there was (the tide in Derby is the second largest in the world, second to the Bay of Fundy) before the 11 meter tide turns and comes in. They put on rubber boots or go barefoot, carry the net and a pail, and hope to net enough mullet to enable them to fish the next day. None were having much luck that we could see. But it is an interesting way to fish!
Long drive to Broome from Derby but well worth it when we saw our accommodations! We each have a full one-bedroom apartment—not that we need to cook for ourselves—with a deck or balcony. In our case there is a pool right in front of us.
I even have internet access, although I have to sit on the bed and unplug the lamp in order to use the internet! But it’s the first connection I’ve had since we left Darwin ten days ago.
We are here at the full moon (well, everyone says it’s the full moon but Randy thinks the full moon was last night; it’s full enough) and when the full
S 17° 55.696 E 122° 12.984

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Denham to Perth

Day 27—Tuesday, June 24, 2008
At 8:50, Tim Hargreaves picked us up in the 6-passenger 4WD from the Monkey Mia Wildsights tour company for our all-day tour of the Fran├žois Peron National Park. Part of the reason we hired a tour company is that the area has had three years’ rain in three days (spread over about 2 weeks) and the ground cannot absorb all that so many roads are underwater. I wish that so much of Australia wasn’t accessible only by 4WD! In Western Australia alone, there are at least six national parks that have NO roads accessible by other than 4WD!
As the owner of Wildsights told us we might be, we were the only people on the tour! We are getting so spoiled by being the only or almost the only tourists in most of the places we have visited. That won’t last, however, after we get further north; it’s winter and the north is much warmer and therefore more desirable to a lot of people in Australia. But not Americans; we still haven’t met a single American. We’ve met Germans, French, Dutch, Singaporean, Chinese, Japanese, British, but no Americans or even Canadians or Central/South Americans.
Before the park part of our tour Tim drove us all around town showing us the sights, many of which he had a part in constructing at some time in his 30-year tenure in the town. Among them was The Old Pearler restaurant, hand-built by Tim in the 1970s of seashells. Well, actually of the shell blocks mentioned earlier (the shells bonded by pressure) he had quarried with a hand saw from the Hamelim Pool area. Railway sleepers were used for the door and window frames; the tables and benches were made from timber salvaged from the original Peron shearing station. The Old Pearler is the most westerly restaurant in Australia (and has great food—we had a wonderful dinner there with a BYO Clairault Chalice Bridge Margaret River Shiraz 2005)
Fran├žois Peron was a Frenchman who was interested in maintaining his ranch as a natural reserve. When he lived he was a naturalist as well as a sheep station owner. He ran about 80,000 sheep (the sheep man in Busselton said that 4,000 was the minimum needed to sustain a family) on over 50,000 hectares, all of which is now the national park. We saw the original shearing sheds and shearers’ quarters; it’s hard to imagine the backbreaking work of shearing 150 sheep per day in searing heat. The shearing sheds and living quarters and kitchen are all constructed with corrugated metal walls and roofs. Can you imaging the heat? The outside temperatures are routinely as hot as Tucson in our summer.
After touring the sheep station Tim drove us out into the park. All the roads into the park are 4WD roads and one of the reasons we went on a tour is that the only car rental place (we didn’t learn our lesson with the last rental) isn’t allowed to send its vehicles into the park because of the recent rains. Tim told us that in the past 3 weeks they have had 3 years’ worth of rain. The park land doesn’t drain well so there is still standing water in many areas. However there is also deep dust on many of the roads and Tim had to lower the pressure in the tires to about 20 pounds in order to navigate them.
He found us a large blue tongued lizard (about 1 foot long and as thick around as my wrist) and captured it for me to take pictures. The lizard was not impressed. He wanted nothing more than to be let go and he hissed and bared his teeth and generally let us know that he wanted to be let alone. So we gave him his wish after immortalizing him in pixels.
For lunch Tim took us onto the beach at Bottle Beach. Randy and I would NEVER have even attempted what Tim did: drive along the beach through the deep sand to a spot about a kilometer down the beach. He was weaving back and forth from the harder wet sand (the tide was coming in, we thought) and our tire tracks were being washed away as we drove through the froth of the incoming tide. Our car would slew back and forth in the deep sand; Tim said he does it all the time but it would have been extremely difficult without his having lowered the tire pressure.
Randy still hasn’t seen a live kangaroo, but we did get to see a lot of ‘roo tracks in the sand.
After lunch we did a short hike from Cape Peron to Skipjack Point. It was a bit of hard slogging for a while as the sand there was pretty deep at times but it was beautiful. Lots of cormorants and sea gulls and lots of wildflowers just starting to come out. And the occasional lizard and snail.
A wonderful day with a delightful—if opinionated—guide. Followed by the aforementioned dinner of Australian Rock Lobster at The Old Pearler.
Day 28—Wednesday, June 25, 2008
We have TV for the first time in several days and the lead story is about Jane McGrath’s losing her 11 year battle with breast cancer. She was the 40-year-old wife of an Australian cricket player and apparently ha s been working very hard to raise money for breast cancer research. She was extremely well known and loved by Australians and it seems to be a national story. Very touching, even for Randy and me, who didn’t have any real idea who she was until we got here.
It is so interesting to get caught up in the local news when you are in an area for a long time (we’ve now been here a month). One of the issues now in the news is polygamy; not the polygamy of the Mormons as we have in the American news, but the polygamy of Muslims. It is becoming a bigger and bigger issue here although most of the Australians are against it. Then of course there is political corruption: one of the MPs apparently got caught up in lying about a fracas in a nightclub and now the Prime Minister has to deal with her. He ordered her to take anger management classes but that is seemingly not enough and he may have to fire her. We’re not at all certain how the PM can fire an elected official, but that may happen. News at eleven!
We have also gotten quite interested in footy (Aussie rules football) and—heaven help us!—cricket. Trying to learn the rules of any sport just by watching the game is frustrating. When that sport is cricket, it is a recipe for madness. Of course, if you rarely get TV then when you do get it and you only have one or two stations, you’ll watch ANYTHING!
Other news that may directly affect us is that the only fuel station in Tom Price (a town near Karijini NP) has been running out of diesel, occasionally for as long as a week (11 times in the past 12 months, the news reported. Since one of the main places we want to see one this trip is Karijini NP and Tom Price is the nearest town with diesel, we may have a problem!
But we’ll deal with that later.
Today was Monkey Mia and feeding the dolphins. I had the idea that we could wade into the water and just feed any dolphin that happens by and that there are lots of dolphins. This is really hyped to the tourist trade and I have to say we fell for it.
That said, that it is a really touristy thing. They (the national park) are trying very hard to protect the dolphins. Originally (the early 60s, I think) the dolphin feeding started just as I said, wade in and feed any passing dolphins. Researchers discovered that none of the young dolphins (offspring) were surviving. They didn’t have the skills that wild dolphins need to hunt for survival. Therefore the current orchestration of the feeding began.
The program reminds me a lot of the Desert Museum’s Raptor Free Flight (minus the feeding, of course!). There is a narrator (a ranger) who stands in the water with a microphone interpreting the behavior of the dolphins as they come in (the dolphins may not have watches, but they certainly know when feeding time is!) for about 30-40 minutes. The narrator knows the individual dolphins by name and talks about all their behaviors from their feeding behaviors to how they sleep: half their brain sleeps and the eye on that side closes. The other side of the brain and the other eye is awake to any dangers in the area. They spend about 1/3 of their time sleeping (one half brain at a time), 1/3 eating/hunting, and 1/3 playing.
After about 35 minutes of talking to the visitors who line the beach and the jetty (at least 100), the ranger makes everyone move back from the edge of the water (“if your feet are wet, you need to move back”) and volunteers with pails of fish arrive and the volunteers get to choose at random who of the 100 get to step forward and feed one dolphin one fish. I was lucky and among the first chosen (probably because I was directly in front of one of the volunteers), given a small fish—they only feed the dolphins 1/3 of their normal intake, divided into 3 separate feedings each morning—and instructed to lay the fish flat on the water and allow the dolphin to take it. Hopefully gently, which she did. Boy! do they have a mouthful of teeth! They only feed the female dolphins (if the fed the males they would take all the food and the females wouldn’t get much if any) and only the dolphins already in the “beach dolphin feeding program” and their daughters.
That’s it. That’s all she wrote, folks. My feet were freezing from standing in the Indian Ocean for 45 minutes (we got there at 7:25 and they didn’t start feeding until about 8:10). I got to feed the dolphin, we got some pictures (Randy stayed on the jetty so he could get pictures of me), so we left. Got fuel (now up to $2.04/litre) and headed about 400 km north to Carnarvon on our way to Exmouth.
We were running low on vegetables and our caravan park sent us to a family farm nearby. They had the largest avocados I have ever seen; they looked like large, green softballs and were way too big for Randy and me to eat before it spoiled so I asked if they had smaller ripe ones. The owner brought one out that had a small blemish—to me, a TINY blemish—and said it wasn’t salable, so she GAVE it to us! I can’t say it too often: Australians are so friendly and wonderfully generous! By the way, the avocado was absolutely delicious and once the skin was off, I couldn’t even find the blemish she said made it not salable.
Ian and Melinda gave us a bottle of “champagne,” Pas de Deus 1999 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Methode Champenoise (I know that’s not how it’s spelled but I don’t have a dictionary—darn!). Quite nice and Randy was thrilled because he loves champagne.
Day 29—Thursday, June 26, 2008
The weather is turning a bit, lots of clouds on the western horizon and last night I heard the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof. It’s nice to be snug as a bug in our campervan when it rains. I have vivid memories of tent camping in the rain and this beats that, for sure!
Today was just drive, drive, drive another 400 or so kilometers. We haven’t resolved the pronunciation of kilometer. Is it KEE-loh-meet-er or is it kih-LOM-it-er? We hear it both ways. I lean towards the first pronunciation, kind of like centimetre is pronounced, but Randy leans toward the other pronunciation. And we hear Aussies do it both ways.
We got to our caravan park, another Big4, Exmouth Cape Holiday Park, and it wss supposed to have internet but didn’t. Oh, well, whatever happened to truth in advertising?
One of the items we have been unsuccessfully searching for in every city we have driven through is a cheese “planer.” I guess Aussies use something else because nobody seems to even know what it is! In the US you can find a cheese planer in any Safeway or gourmet kitchen store or anything in between. Here, I guess, they just use a knife.
We drove out to the lighthouse and drove out on to one of the beach access roads to a wreck of a cattle ship from 1907. I am amazed that the wreck is still visible, not more than 100 metres from the beach. I would have thought that an iron ship would have corroded completely away in 100 years. But I would have been wrong.
Still cloudy but very nice temperature. Not so nice bugs, however. I am bitten from stem to stern and Randy seems immune. Bummer! But he is sympathetic.
We discovered that our refrigerator isn’t working. We can’t determine what is wrong; it’s not the circuit breaker, it’s not the power, we don’t know what it is but we have no refrigerator and we went shopping yesterday. Apollo will call us in the morning about repairs.
Day 30—Friday, June 27, 2007
I had a terrible night, I woke about every 30-40 minutes (unfortunately I could see the clock on the microwave) because of the itching from whatever tiny bug has bitten me and bitten me and … Randy is not affected at all and I have somewhere around 55 bites (when I couldn’t sleep, I counted bites!). Oh, well, travel always has problems! If that’s the worst problem we encounter, I’ll be grateful.
We are now on a first name basis with Ivan at Apollo (campervan) repairs. When we told him this morning where we were, he said, “You are at the end of the world!”
This is not shaping up to be a great day. We waited until about 10am for Apollo to call back about the fridge, which they finally did, telling us that it couldn’t be repaired today, but the refrigeration company could diagnose it for us today. The company, Bill Ruby Refrigeration, called us and told us to come by. Luckily they called before we left town on our way to the Cape Range National Park or we would never have had the experience we did.
Well, I said “they” called but it is a one-person shop and Bill himself called, said to bring the campervan over and he’d look at it. We went there and our serious problem rapidly became a highlight of the day. First of all, Bill came out to look at the refrigerator and then said he had just put his tea on and would we like some tea or coffee while he had his tea because he liked to drink it while it was hot. So we had coffee while he had his tea and we admired his cartoons. Like, “When you’re stressed, treat it like a dog would: piss on it and walk away.” That set the tone for the rest of the morning.
The shop is dilapidated. There are old refrigerators and old air conditioning units everywhere. There are trailers, loaded with old air conditioning units, that are never going anywhere because they don’t have wheels, nevermind having tires. Everything is rusted. Bill has an old RV in the back that he made us walk back to and look at the old English script name over the front of the vehicle: Far-Kin-Off. He said that most men liked that and most women didn’t. I loved it!
He worked and cussed and worked and cussed and made innumerable trips to get the part or tool he had forgotten. Bill was supposed to be going to Coral Bay because his parts supplier had sent 6 of the wrong part rather than 1 of the right part. Instead he stayed around to help us. This is why I love Australia and Australians.
Finally, after about an hour or so he found the problem—the manufacturer or the builder or somebody had forgotten (?) to crimp a wire to a connection and guess what, it came apart and of course the fridge couldn’t work. He fixed that and soldered it to make SURE the connection was secure.
Then, he said, I make my own beer, would you like to try some? Would we? Is the Pope Polish? Oops, that doesn’t work any more. Does a bear shit in the woods? Of COURSE we’d like to try some of his home brewed beer. He opened two bottle of his own recipe stout—as they say in Australia: Brilliant! I sort of like stout and Randy loves stout and we both thought it was—brilliant!
He even showed Randy his makeshift cellar. Very difficult to describe: The house (which is in back of his refrigeration business) was originally 3 feet off the ground. He wanted a cellar; he had a customer who wanted to repay him for letting him (the customer) park his caravan in the back yard. The customer excavated an additional 4 feet under the house and, because he was a bricklayer, bricked in the whole basement. It is accessed from a hidden trap door in the middle of the living room of his house and there, underground, Bill has his brewery. There is even a neat circular stair to get into the basement. I stayed in the back yard admiring his vegetables while Randy got the tour of the underground brewery.
Then, to make things even better, when they surfaced from his brewery, Bill cut some bok choy from his garden and gave it to me to cook for dinner, even including a recipe. Now I finally know what to do with Australian bacon!
Our fridge was fixed, Bill gave us a CD of all his jokes he’s gotten on the internet, we had some wonderful beer; life is good!
We headed off to Cape Range National Park and some lunch and hiking, comforted in the knowledge that our fridge was repaired and we could keep our beer cold.
Yardie Gorge was our destination. That is as far as one can go without a 4WD. If you have a 4WD and you are gutsy, you may (can? That’s iffy.) drive across the sandbar dividing the Yardie River Gorge from the Indian Ocean. How’s that for a pucker factor? You want to drive across a sand bar that divides the river from the ocean??? Are you nuts? Every once in a while there is so much rain (a major “rain event” as the weather guessers say) that lots and lots of sand washes down and the sand bar becomes, instead of an occasional thing, a MAJOR thing trapping sharks and all kinds of animals above the sand bar, sometimes for years, unable to return to the sea!
Yardie Gorge is about 70 km from Exmouth and is the end of the road unless you have a 4WD and major cojones. We don’t have a 4WD. There is what is laughingly called a medium difficulty hiking trail. MEDIUM difficulty ? I’d like to know what the Aussies call difficult. Randy and I hiked up hill and down dale; we clambered over sharp rocks; I sat down and sort of inched my way down a few ravines; we huffed and we puffed and finally we made it to—what? A lookout over the river. I should have taken the boat trip that was offered. It was a beautiful view up and down the river, toward the ocean and toward the hills. But, MEDIUM difficulty?
The flowers are just starting to come out. I think about what the weather is like in Tucson when the wildflowers are blooming. What that reminds me of is that when the wildflowers bloom, it’s getting warmer (today was in the high 20s—that’s low to mid-80s Fahrenheit) and the snakes are getting ready to move. Remember I said that Australia has 10 of the top 10 venomous snakes in the world. Some of which are nicknamed things like the 50-pace viper? Or their pictures in the visitor center have tags that say “Extremely venomous.” So I see those pretty flowers and I think: SNAKE! I like snakes and I’m a little nervous!
I have yet to see a snake in the wild.
We had the Frazer Woods 2004 Shiraz with dinner. Very nice.
Day 31—Saturday, June 28, 2008
I realized that what the signs said in the Rainbow Jungle, that many parrots are pests, is really true. Looking out my door I can see a bunch of beautiful cockatoos (pure white, beautiful crests) plundering the garbage. One I watched was able to open a large garbage can lid to get at the good stuff inside.
From Exmouth to Karratha is over 600km. A long day through the most isolated part of Australia we have yet been to. We will be even more isolated later in our campervan trip as we head south and of course on the camping tour we’ll be taking out of Darwin, but from Exmouth to Karratha there are two, count ‘em, TWO, petrol stations (actually, “roadhouses”) and absolutely nothing else. No houses, no ranches, no towns, nothing. Not even telephone poles or electric wires. We stopped at the first one, Nanutarra Roadhouse, and diesel was $2.349 per liter! I’m getting pretty good at not translating measurements—like kilometers to miles, or Celsius to Fahrenheit—but I can’t stop myself from translating dollars per liter to dollars per gallon: over $9 per gallon. We’re getting about 6.2 km/liter; I just don’t want to know how many miles/gallon that is.
It is so isolated that part of the highway is actually a runway for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, complete with runway threshold markings. We didn’t measure the length of the runway, but I’d guess it was about two kilometers.
We’ve also been learning that, unlike in Tucson, there is no “stupid motorist” law. Here, it’s pretty much, “Y’all be careful out there!” If you get stuck, maybe—MAYBE—someone will come along and pull you out. But there are places where they say: if you get stuck, it’s your problem.
When we arrived at the Big4 campground we were again told they do not have internet access. We joined Big4 because, we were told, every Big4 campground had what they call Net4, a transferable internet access program. Hard to transfer credits when there isn’t any internet! Our future travels may enable me to use it—we will stay at a Big4 in Perth and I’m pretty sure they have Net4. If all else fails, when we drive from Adelaide to Sydney we may stay at a Big4 even though we won’t have a campervan. The Aussie parks have very nice cabins as well, so we might well choose to stay in a caravan park even if we don’t have a campervan.
Randy finally saw ‘roos!
Day 32—Sunday, June 29, 2008
In general, Australia seems to be a country where you are left to do whatever you want to do but you also then have to accept any consequences. Suing others when something bad happens is, until recently, almost unheard of.
You are also expected to behave responsibly while driving. Since we have left Perth, some 1600 km south of here, I could count on the fingers of one hand the stop lights and stop signs. Instead, they have “round-abouts.” Instead of the stop signs we have at almost any intersection that doesn’t have a traffic light, they have a sign that says “Give Way.” In other words, Y’all be careful out there! Randy and I LOVE round-abouts and wish the US used them more. But nobody is asking for our advice about traffic. Bummer.
Today we went on a drive in the immediate vicinity of Karratha. In the spirit of being in Australia, “immediate vicinity” meant we only drove about 200km.
There are several small towns in the vicinity, old towns dating back to pearling days of the mid-1880s: Roebourne, Cossack, and Port Samson. We wandered around all of them, poking through the old buildings and reading about the towns and the townspeople and a little about the aborigines. Until now we have seen very few aborigines. By very few I mean fewer than a dozen since we arrived in Australia. The shadow of the aborigine is always there in the place names, the museums, the occasional comments on pictures in museums, but until now we haven’t seen many of them.
After wandering around for several hours and climbing a couple of hills to see the view we were tired and, of course, thirsty, which meant we wanted to find a pub. In Port Samson several places were recommended and we chose one with an upstairs deck and a view of the beach, the ocean, and the tankers unloading.
Near Cossack is a place called Whim Creek (I love these Aussie names! There is also Intercourse Island, not to mention East Intercourse and Mid East Intercourse and West—you get the idea!) that holds the record for most rainfall in 24 hours (28.6 inches) and 36 hours (on average, an inch an hour for all those hours: 36.5 inches)
After a great beer and an uninspiring but filling lunch in nearby Port Samson, we were ready to leave, but met up with some very young Aussie men who started up a conversation with us for about 20 minutes. They wanted us to have lunch with them. Too bad we’d already eaten! Anyway, we talked about politics and politics and oh, yes, politics. Plus some economics: They were all working in Port Hedland and making killer salaries. One said a friend of his was a first year apprentice mechanic and he was making $100,000! None of the others said exactly what they were making but they definitely said that Port Hedland was a place for a young person to go for 5 or 6 years and make a nest egg for later in life. Such fun talking to them! One had a t-shirt from Tombstone; he’d never been there, he just liked the t-shirt. Another told us about having “Destiny” tattooed on his forearm and realizing when they were done that they had tattooed “Destjny” instead. He was a good sport about it, he said, “The letters are right next to one another in the alphabet, it’s an easy mistake to make!” It’s all done in Old English script so it’s hard to read, and anyway, he said, that made his tattoo distinctive.
After that we went to Dampier, about 50km back past Karratha, mainly to see the statue to a dog, “Red Dog,” who lost his master and spent the rest of his life hitchhiking on busses and private cars. He was so well known and so popular that the town erected a statue to him after he died in 1979. Pretty ugly dog, though.
The weather changed on our way back and we drove through some rain and saw huge black clouds and the isolated downpours that our western US also has. Really black clouds and pouring rain then nothing and sunshine. By the time we got to Dampier, it was clear again.

Day 33—Monday, June 30, 2008
It was suggested by many people that we not bother with going to Port Hedland. Perhaps they were right, but go we did and, among other things, we bought a modern aboriginal painting. Unfortunately we shipped the provenance and the painting to Kathy and I can’t remember the name of the organization that sponsors the young (and not so young) aboriginal painters. Got some email done after paying $15 for 24 hours of wireless internet but the connection ended just before I was going to upload my journal. I try to remember back to trips before laptop computers when I wrote my journal longhand in a book.(Of course, the last time we came home from Australia I left my journal on the plane when we landed at LAX and never got it back.)
I can’t figure out why I could get to the website of the company that offered the internet service but every other site tells me there is no connection. Even big ones like CNN that have bandwidth to spare.
We didn’t do much in Port Hedland other than wander about looking at the town. We did what the visitor center suggested: go to an overpass and watch the loaded ore trains. Sounds pretty boring and it was; waiting for a train is only marginally more exciting than, say, cricket (or golf). But we wanted to see the extremely long trains that routinely arrive in Port Hedland. The longest was over 7km. How’d you like to wait at a railroad crossing for THAT train? It did come, we did watch it, it was very long.
Day 34—Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Continuing our train motif, we did a tour of BHP Billiton, a gigantic iron (and others) ore company.
I have to comment on profits. I do not think profit is a dirty word. Companies have to make a profit or they won’t be able to pay their employees and continue in business. But driving through BHP Billiton and listening to the guide telling us how much money they make—the infrastructure alone is worth $6 billion and every loaded ore train is worth some huge sum of money that I can’t remember at this point—does make me wonder why, exactly, they charged us tourists $24 each for the damn tour. And the heir to the finder of all the ore is the richest woman in Australia. Why, exactly, do they need the $480 from the tourists on our bus?
It was interesting to see how, exactly, they take raw stuff from the ground and turn it into valuable ore. Probably the most interesting was how they dump three ore cars at once. At once! They have a building that will sort of grasp three full ore cars at once and turn them 130°, dumping all the ore onto a conveyer belt.
We then drove from Port Hedland to the Auski Roadhouse on our first southbound day. From Port Hedland to Meekatharra (400km beyond Auski) is about 900 km on the major north-south highway, the Great Northern Highway, Australia 95. In that 900 kilometers there is almost nothing—no fuel stations, hotels, restaurants, ranches—except for one town, Newman, that didn’t even exist 40 years ago and two roadhouses that offer fuel, food, and minimal accommodation. In the US, outside of Alaska, I doubt there are areas as isolated, even on small highways, and certainly not on major highways. The longest segment of our trip so far will be about 608 kilometers from the Auski Roadhouse to Meekatharra. In that 608 km there will be one town and one other roadhouse. There are more remote areas in Australia—the Gibb River Road, the Canning Stock Road—but those are dirt tracks, not paved main highways. This road, the Great Northern Highway, is the main connection between Perth and the cities and towns of the north—Darwin and Broome.
After we stop at Auski Roadhouse for the night we will go tomorrow to Karajini National Park.
Auski Roadhouse looks just as if it we plopped down from the 1930s, lots of dirt, scruffy trees, and broken down vehicles scattered around. But, it has all we need for our campervan: electricity and water. No cell phone service, no internet, but we haven’t had those much at all on this trip anyway.
Day 35—Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Karijini National Park is one of the reasons we came to Western Australia. We had heard so much about the beauty of Karijini that we wanted to see it for ourselves. Beautiful it is, and interesting, but not spectacular. Since we live in the state that has the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to see any other canyon as spectacular.
Today was our tour of the park and we decided to go with Pilbara Gorge Tours (www.pilbaragorgetours.com.au) because they got great recommendations from the Visitor Bureau in Port Hedland and they take smaller groups. On the basis of a phone call, no deposit, just a verbal commitment, Jeff picked us up at the visitor center of Karijini NP. We were a bit nervous that they wouldn’t pick us up since we gave them no deposit and they couldn’t even get in touch with us (we have had no cell phone service since we left Port Hedland).
We needn’t have worried. Jeff picked us up at the promised time and we were numbers 5 & 6 of the tour that started in Tom Price. We first drove out past Dale’s campground (where we planned on staying), one of only two campgrounds in the park and on to Circular Pool, one of many water features in the park. There is access by foot and we could have done that if we stayed at the campground. On to Fortescue Falls and our first experience with how the Australians designate their trails. The trail to Fortescue was marked a Class 3 (of 6).
From the brochure: “[Class 3 ] users require a moderate level of fitness. Trails may be slightly modified, and include a combination of steps, some hardened sections and unstable surfaces.…Weather can affect safety.” OK, I can handle that. As Jeff—who, by the way never stops talking and who one of the others described as a “tour sheepdog: he nips at your ankles to keep everyone together, barking all the time”—said, there was no OSHA around when they constructed the steps. One step would be 3 inches, the next, 8 inches and the one after that, 16 inches. No consistency at all. And very steep but there were handholds and a railing part of the way. At the bottom was a beautiful pool and Fortescue Falls about 70 meters away. The only way to get to the falls was by swimming and Jeff said the pool was about 16° although the falls was warm; like a warm massage, he said. The water comes directly from the underground aquifer. Nobody volunteered to swim over there although Randy has regretted not doing it, so Jeff swam over alone.
The walk down and back was truly beautiful. Lots of rock figs growing along the way. These are gargantuan compared to my little rock fig at home! Where my fig’s roots grow over a rock about the size of two or three bricks, this one grows over the side of a cliff. The roots were twice as tall as I am! We saw several small birds, notably the Willy Wagtail.
On we went, back to the Visitor Centre for tea and muffins (homemade by Jeff’s wife), and to pick up six more tourists for a half-day tour, and a little walk-through of the Visitor Centre and of course, the shop. I would have liked a shirt with their logo, but the only sizes they had in any color were XS, S, and XXXL! I probably don’t have room in my suitcase anyway.
Next stop was Joffre (pronounced Jof; I have no idea why) Gorge, then over to the Oxer Lookout, also known as Four-Gorge Lookout, for lunch and the sad story of what can happen when there are accidents. Lunch was great, boxes and boxes of fresh veggies and fruits and some meats and breads for sandwiches. All laid out it looked too pretty to eat! Nevertheless, we all stuffed ourselves.
The main overlook at the Four Gorges actually has a gate in it for the specific purpose of attaching huge rescue pulley mechanism—that’s how many rescues they have at that particular spot! Perhaps I should say “had” because guides will no longer take people into these gorges, they STRONGLY recommend that nobody go hiking in this gorge, and the paths down are blocked. Not that that will stop everybody, but it’s a start.
On the day of the accident, two separate groups went into Hancock Gorge (one of the four gorges); each had one of their members injured enough that they couldn’t walk out. The SES (which is, I think, Shire Emergency Services) came out to rescue the hikers—there is a radio-telephone for just that reason; there is NO cell phone service at all in the park—along with the police and fire department.
Three men pulled out the first guy and were working to get to and pull out the second victim, a woman. They had been working for hours, it was by then the middle of the night . Jimmy Regan, one of the SES volunteers came out to the rescue site and told the other SES guy to go home, he’d been working too long. Jimmy was then dropped into the canyon in the other man’s place to help the other rescuers just before a huge flash flood came roaring down the canyon. Two of them had already hooked up the stretcher to the giant pulley mechanism and were able to hang on to the stretcher with the woman in it and they survived. Jimmy had nothing to hold onto and was swept to his death. They finally recovered his body several days later.
As Jeff was telling us this story, he actually broke down and cried.
In the advertising for Jeff’s Pilbara Gorge Tours he mentions that there is a hip-deep walk through a pool of water. We walked down into Weano Gorge towards Handrail Pool. These are rated Class 3 and Class 5: “Mostly indistinct trails through undisturbed natural environments. Terrain is rough. A high level of fitness is required. Users must be prepared and self reliant, with advanced outdoor knowledge.” I hiked down to where we would have to wade through hip-deep water and Randy continued on. I would have continued but Jeff’s attitude of “come on, keep up, keep moving, don’t be slow” turned me off. I have difficulty with high places and I have difficulty if I think I’m being pushed. I figured it would be better to stay behind and take pictures of all of them in the water. It is a beautiful canyon, but I just couldn’t go on.
This was our last stop on the tour, but before we could get back on Jeff’s bus we helped a couple whose car had died. First the guys tried pushing it to give it a jump start, but that didn’t work so they tried again. Still didn’t work so Jeff brought the couple back to the Dale’s Gorge Campground where they said they had friends who could help.
By this time it was after 4:30 and the ranger at the Visitor Centre had earlier said the campground usually filled up by lunchtime. Since we weren’t going to be doing anything more at Karijini the next day, we decided to go back to Auski and start our long drive early.
Day 36—Thursday, July 3, 2008
The scenery is awesome. Not just because of the vast distances but the variety of the land and the vegetation. In most areas you can see forever across a vast level plain, punctuated only by an occasional tree; go over a gentle rise and before you are mountains—well, large hills. These must be very old lands as the mountains are mostly low and smooth rather than steep and jagged.
We were driving south toward Perth through some of the most desolate country I’ve ever been in. Many of the hills have jagged outcroppings, probably loaded with ores of various sorts. Iron is the biggest ore around Western Australia and one of the mountains of iron ore—yes, whole MOUNTAINS of iron, and yet not so long ago (the 50s) Australia had an embargo on the export of iron ore because they were afraid they would run out—was discovered by a man just flying over. His compass would deviate wildly and he saw rust colored water running off; from those two clues he deduced that there was a lot of iron in them thar hills and got control of them. His granddaughter now gets a percentage of each ton of iron produced from the many mines in those hills. She is now the richest woman in Australia.
We finally got to Meekatharra. What can I say. Dirt, dirt, and, did I mention: more dirt. BUT, adversity has yet again spawned a wonderful experience.
We arrived in Meekatharra at the only caravan park in town (nothing to write home about!) and our credit card was refused. Sigh. We had called the credit card companies before we left but obviously they didn’t care that we said we were going to be in Australia for three months. Off we went to call the credit card in the US (“Call collect” they say). Well, that’s not so easy when we have no cell phone coverage and all the public phones (two, 2!, in town) accept only Telstra cards (what’s that? We asked.) Not to mention that “dialing” 0 doesn’t work. What to do? Go to the local pub, of course! They served my new favorite beer, Emu Bitter, so what else matters?
The phone book and the caravan park owner and anyone else we asked had no idea how to get hold of an operator (the logical, to me, “0,” doesn’t work). But, when we went to the bar and asked the barmaid, she just yelled out to the group around the bar. One of them knew the number to get the operator. Simple, right? Not exactly: call 12455 is what Randy was told. 12455 told Randy to call 1234. 1234 told Randy to call 12550. Then press 1 then 2 and then and only then get to an operator to make the collect call. Whew! Good thing we’d only had one beer!
Finally, we got our problem solved. How would we ever have known that, to get an operator, we would have to dial 12455? Whatever happened to “0”?
While we were waiting, a woman came with an orphaned kangaroo, about 8 months old; his mother was killed by a car. He was SO cute! I went to talk to her and she immediately handed me the ‘roo to hold. It was wrapped in a baby blanket just looking around, totally tame, seemingly. The only part that was sticking out from the bundling blanket was its face and ears. SO cute! We have pictures.
Day 37—Friday, July 4, 2008
Happy Independence Day! Kind of weird to not see American flags flying everywhere.
We thought that we’d see a couple of towns along the way back to Perth and only go a few hundred kilometers. Well, by 11:30 we had seen Cue and Mt. Magnet. Now what? Well, we might as well continue on to Perth and spend the days there that we didn’t at the beginning of this trip.
So on we went, another 500 kilometer day to Dalwallinu, another gold country town. The owner of the caravan park was out when we arrived so her note said to pick any spot and pay her later. We picked a nice spot sort of away from everyone else, had a nice steak dinner and opened our bottle of Suckfizzle wine. Laugh if you want, but Suckfizzle (the name) has a nice history and the wine was wonderful.
Day 38—Saturday, July 05, 2008
Dalwallinu is only about 180 kilometers from Perth and about 90 km from New Norcia. Today we decided to go to Perth tonight but stopped in New Norcia on the way.
New Norcia is the only religious town in Australia. It is owned, lock, stock, and barrel (I wonder where that expression came from? If only we had better internet access I could look it up. Even caravan parks that advertise “wireless internet” don’t seem to have it. I don’t know if it is the wireless provider or if I am doing something wrong. Since I have been able to get access at some places, I have to believe it is not what I am doing.) by the 9 remaining Benedictine monks. They are NOT “brothers,” I was told, they are monks and some are priests. One of them has just celebrated his 98th birthday and is the only remaining monk who immigrated to Australia from Spain—80 years ago! What will happen when the 9 monks die off, I don’t know. The tour guide, who herself is an immigrant from England, says that the Abbot says the community will remain as long as there are at least 2 monks. But the youngest is 38. And few are taking up the monkish lifestyle, none from Australia.
Every building in the town is owned by the monks. If you want to live in New Norcia (Norcia, Spain, was the birthplace of St. Benedict), you must work for the monks. Their mission in years past was education, now it is hospitality. They own the hotel and a guest house that is, according to the guide, very comfortable and modern. They also own a bakery with a new, but old-style, brick oven that makes delicious bread. I can attest to that, we bought a loaf and it is wonderful. Two years ago, one of their benefactors, who is the owner of a brewery, decided the best way to help them would be to create a beer (?). The monks agreed but it had to be a realistic recreation of a beer that would have been made and drunk when the monks were in their heyday.
As an aside, the guide told us about the Rule of St. Benedict. One of the differences between Benedictine monks/nuns and other orders is that they have no father/mother house, no place that is monk heaven that they all go back to occasionally and which dictates their behavior. Each community is its own community and each one interprets the Rule of St. Benedict according to where they live, and that is, they s, how St. Benedict wanted it. A community in the Australian desert will interpret the Rules differently from a community living on an island in the Pacific. She gave the example of how much wine each monk should be allowed to drink. The Rule says that each monk will have a “[some strange word] of wine each day.” The monks of New Norcia have no idea what that word means and so they have interpreted it to mean that they each get a half a bottle of wine every day. Since one of them is 98, it’s hard to argue with that interpretation.
We had a wonderful tour and a wonderful tour guide. We’ve had some pretty great guides over the past 3 ½ weeks, and she is at the top of the list! Knowledgeable and entertaining; what more can you ask? I have to give the monks a lot of credit as well. She was able to talk about their lives, their daily activities, their lifestyles, everything about them with humor. She could not possibly do that without their permission and it made the tour and the information so much better. How much fun to know that they drink half a bottle of wine every day! That the seats in the chapter house are canted forward so that when the novices fall asleep over their lectures, they will fall into the aisle.
Some of the sad things have to do with Vatican II. According to our guide (I have to stress that, although she did seem to know a LOT!), after Vatican II, a lot of the art work that had been done in the churches and other buildings was covered up—it was too overwhelming, and Vatican II mandated that it should be more relative to the people. So wallpaper was put over some frescoes that had been done many years earlier. And other frescoes have even been painted over. Without money, it will remain—except for isolated patches that have been cleaned—hidden. And they do not expect money any time soon to do any additional restoration.
From the little we could see, it is truly a tragedy. I wish I were Bill Gates.
We’re only 3 days from flying to Darwin. I’m really going to miss the campervan, in spite of its many bad points. Well, maybe I won’t MISS it. We’ve had such a great time travelling about and stopping when we want to. Going on a guide led tour and having to stop when they want us to stop will be a severe change! Eating in restaurants and on the tour will be a really different activity to eating what I cook. I sort of look forward to the tour and yet will miss our freeform travelling! Oh, well, on to a new adventure.
We’re going to be in Perth for 3 nights and we’ll figure out what to do when we get there.
Day 39—Sunday, July 6, 2008
We found a Big4 campground that is very, very nice but as usual the wireless isn’t working so I have no ability to send my journal or to check my email and download my bills.
The caravan park is beautiful, set in the wine country amongst grape vineyards—it is winter, so it looks kind of bleak and we are about to fly to Darwin so we can’t really stock up on wine. Bummer.
Today was my botanical garden fix. We went off to Kings Park and Botanical Garden and walked and walked and walked. It was so beautiful! The weather was fantastic, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature in the teens (Celsius!). One part of the walk overlooks part of the bay where there was a sailboat race going on. So beautiful! They sailed out, around a buoy, and unfurled their spinnakers. We watched the whole race and thought the boat with the blue and red spinnaker would win. At one point he (she?) was WAY ahead—we thought. But by the third time around a boat with a red spinnaker had caught up and by a hair, crossed the finish line first. Although watching sailing races is akin to watching paint dry, it was fun to see the order of the boats change (although we could only tell when their spinnakers were up because otherwise, the boats looked identical!).
We did a few other touristy things like the Western Australian Museum where we saw exhibits that were very bland and exhibits that would have stirred up some angst in the US. They are unapologetic about evolution. Throughout the Museum there was reference after reference to evolution. There were whole exhibits about evolution. Nowhere was there anything to say, Well, maybe evolution isn’t to everybody’s taste. The exhibit statements were all: This evolved from that; Evolution of this shows that…. In the US such unapologetic evolutionism would have engendered huge demonstrations, perhaps not in Tucson, but certainly in most other parts of the US.
This is why I love to travel!
Day 40—July 7, 2008
34 days to go! I can’t believe we are past the half-way point.
Today was a short, relaxed day except for the fact that we had to drive around to many, many hotels to find a room for tomorrow night. Good thing we decided that, since we have to drop off the (cleaned!) campervan, we should make arrangements for a hotel for tomorrow night. One might think we could just call several hotels, but one would be wrong. There is no list of hotels so we drove all around the airport looking for hotels—you might think that was just an expression, but you’d be wrong; we drove completely around the airport and there were NO hotels on the roads that were directly contiguous to the airport.
We thought there would be no problem finding a room for a Tuesday night, but the first three hotels had rooms tonight (Monday) but not tomorrow night. We started to panic. We went to another couple of hotels; same problem, rooms tonight but not tomorrow. Finally we found one. Now our only problem is to pack (ha, ha; not MY problem, Randy’s problem) and to find a taxi to get us to the airport before our 8:20 departure.
Putting that off for tomorrow, we headed off to Yanchep National Park. What a great idea it was to buy a month pass to national parks! Unfortunately, they don’t offer a pass for a year as they do in the US! We only have a month so we won’t be able to use it when we start out from Adelaide.
Yanchep is fantastic! It is more like a city park than a national park. There is a hotel (with great beer!), tours, caves, tons of picnic areas, a koala enclosure, a lake with rowboats for rent and, did I mention, lots of picnic areas? Randy & I just took off and walked and walked and walked.
First we went through the koala enclosure. You may not hold the koalas, but they do do a good job of putting the koalas up close and personal. In the small enclosure that they have, the park could not possibly grow enough eucalyptus to sustain the nine koalas that we saw. So, they have a wonderful system: in each of the three areas, each tree has a place to put a very large “vase” full of eucalyptus branches. And they put them low, so we photographers get to get up close and personal with the koalas. Unfortunately, nobody told the koalas that they needed to be awake for my pictures. Since koalas sleep about 20 hours a day (their digestive system isn’t the most efficient), I guess that’s not surprising.
Then we decided to just walk around the park. As we approached the Henry White Oval and Picnic Area (as opposed to the Bull Banksia Picnic Area, the Lakeview Picnic Area, the Yanger picnic Area, or any of the multitudinous other Picnic Areas) we noticed lumps with ears. We rapidly determined that these were, in fact, ‘roos! They are wild but we were able to walk among them fairly easily. Our voices seemed to frighten them more than our persons did. One baby ‘roo was very comfortable nursing from its mother (meaning it stuck its head deep into her pouch) as I got to within about 2 meters.
£24,000/liter for bull semen. Just in case you were thinking that fuel was expensive.
I love watching Australian TV. Nevermind that we only get 3 or 4 channels most of the time. We get Bart Simpson and the news (but no Benny Hill. Yet.). What more is there? Where else would I learn about the cost of bull semen? Not to mention that you will hear fuck-this and fuck-that. No bleep-this or bleep-that for Australian TV!