Kimberley 2016 – Trip Map

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Broome to Cygnet Bay

Dampier Peninsula, Australia

The months of planning by my wonderful wife were coming to fruition….we are leaving Broome. On one of the few times that I know Google is wrong….it says the trip will take 4.5 hours, the locals say 2.5-3. I reckon the locals in this area are more reliable. A 9am departure from Broome Beach resort and the convoy (of 2) is away. Going is easy, the road is unsealed but sand not gravel. Pretty easy drive, mostly at 80-90kmph….except a few heavily corrugated sections.

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One stop for our pre-packed sandwiches at Beagle Bay. Cute place, with lovely church, shady picnic area and one shop. Was called a bakery and they did have bread, but more of a local take away shop. Back on the road….arrived at Cygnet Bay after 2:45 hours on the road. Locals right, Google wrong. A very warm welcome from Bruce & Alison, James & Sara. We had a coffee and headed to our “home”. Fabulous place nicely tucked away from those tourists we want avoid 😉 I’m sure we will be very comfy. As the tide was out we all went for a walk along the beach, Nim on Croc watch. The tides must take some getting used to…so much water rushing out. A visit to the rocks was marred by a slip by Nicolette and a badly cut foot. Nursing skills to the fore, but it will be sore for a few days. Dinner tonight was a wonderful feast at Alison and Bruce’s. Great food, great company….and we successfully found our way back home along the sandy road in the dark.

Morning in paradise

Dampier Peninsula, Australia

Our day started the way all days do in civilised society – with a coffee at 9am. And on this occasion we were privileged to do it with the founder of the Vegemite Etiquette society. Mr Bruce Brown esquire has been so horrified at the inappropriate actions involving the exquisite black yeast extract that he is now devoting much of his spare time to educating the world population. Everyone should take time from their busy days to read Mr Brown’s rules on Facebook here Following our first lost time injury on this trip, we made a trip in town – One Armed Point. I’m delighted to report that the service from the first aid post was fabulous. Nicolette’s foot was cleaned up and we were on our way again. Since we had made the 10 minute trip to town, we made the most of the outing and took a couple of deviations. The first was to the local fish hatchery where the local (Barry) gave us a very informative talk. We were reliably told that big Barrumundi can eat small crocodiles. We later learned that Barry has what is sometimes described as a chequered history. We stopped and watched the tide rushing through – an amazing volume of water. We then had a brief stop and saw a tinnie that had recently come ashore. The local indigenous crew had caught several turtles for tonight’s dinner. A final stop at the local shop for some milk then back home for lunch. Time was short – sandwiches, prepared and eaten inside 20 minutes….back on our way for our arvo boat trip WOW – some of us went with Bruce and Alison, some with Solly. We saw many local sights en route to some incredible whirlpools. I understand that the CSIRO have declared this area as the most extreme currents in the world. The photos are ok, but don’t really do it justice. A close up view of Sunday island where the Cygnet Bay pearl business journey all began many years ago. From there we also went to see waterfall reef – in the middle of nowhere, amazing. Back on land, a quick goodbye to one of our hosts (James) and off for dinner Dinner was a fabulous curry courtesy of Simon and Nim…….full belly and off to bed.

Sunrise to die for

Dampier Peninsula, Australia

Always listen to local advice…..this time it was Alison telling us that sunrise was something special. Most nights we were in bed early and so a 545am start wasn’t too hard. It was well worth the effort but I wasn’t too adventurous and photos were taken very close to home. I’m not sure about salt water crocs but many animals like eating at sunrise, I wasn’t taking chances. As we weave through the bush track towards One Arm Point, the track seems easier, a few of those overhanging branches seem further back. Then we get to the salt flat area and someone has placed an exotic piece of artwork. I suspect that it may still be there in 20000 years like some of the fabulous indigenous art we have seen. It seems to represent the two tribes (one in Marks Land rover and one in my Prado) who have united at this pearl farm (represented by a pearl farm buoy)…fabulous.

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I think he artist was Mardean or something like that. Today’s trip to One Arm Point was for a few photos and essential food (yoghurt), we then went on to Cape Leveque. Road in was the first time I have driven on a divided dirt road. Most dirt roads are pretty narrow, this one was wide enough to have an island in the middle of it. Spectacular views and good food Home for fish sweet and sour, thanks to Mark and Wendy. An interesting chat around the fire – what do you remember from primary school years??

Official tour

Dampier Peninsula, Australia

As has become our custom, we have breakfast early enough to meet Bruce for coffee precisely at 9am….or 910am or maybe 915am. We have coffee with Bruce when he arrives. Today we do the official pearl farm tour with Terry. He went to school here with James and was a font of knowledge. He does show one flaw in his character – he supports the Dockers. At least he has the courage of his convictions and hasn’t jumped off when they started losing. We even watch a shell being opened by Mike…and a keshi is found. It’s the second time in two weeks I’ve seen guys in wheelchairs working alongside more able bodied workers, great to see. More pearls purchased. Back home for last nights leftovers for lunch….even better today. Mid-arvo the Villards arrive. Thierry has another achievement crossed off his list, he has now driven on an Aussie dirt road. Was more like sand than gravel. They settle into their tents while some others do a boat tour with Bruce. The Villards squeeze in a quick tour….more pearls purchased. Sue and Wendy do a great dinner and then we all sit around another fire. Some great stories told but as you know ‘what happens in tour, stays on tour’. Arnaud is concerned about the lack of internet as he has a major piece of Uni work to submit, Simon tries to help but his connection is slowish. Arnaud will wait until tomorrow. Mark and I help Thierry navigate back to their tents. While we are gone the others have a visit from a friendly 2m python.

Last day in paradise

Dampier Peninsula, Australia

You should know the routine by now….coffee with Bruce at 9 Sandy and Nicolette caught up the walking tour that they had missed the previous day. Catherine decided to stay while the rest of her team headed back to Broome. Bruce and Alison took us on an unofficial mangrove tour….it was amazing and should be added to everyone’s itinerary. It seemed there were a few empty spots on the arvo boat tour to the whirlpools. Good for the Browns, some last minute paying tourists arrived and so Sandy was the only one who managed a freebie. To celebrate our final night we all dined at the restaurant. Most of the ladies were delighted to exhibit their new pearls, one managed to exhibit her extensive collection…..all looked lovely. Great night all round.

Broome, Horizontal Falls, Stairway to moon

Djugun, Australia

An early start needed as some of us had an appointment with an 11am plane to the horizontal falls. In the car at 7am but one of our most experienced travellers realised that a mobile phone was missing. A quick hunt, and a check on last nights dreams – look under the towels in the laundry. Correct and, after a quick goodbye we’re on our way. We have had a great deal of fun courtesy of Alison and Bruce’s hospitality – it’s not trivial having 8 free loaders but we were looked after wonderfully well, thanks a million. An uneventful trip back to Broome in good time. We checked in, sorted out things for those staying and headed to the airport. All aboard the plane, with the co-pilot having an uncanny resemblance to that great artist Mardean. We had been a little spoiled by Cygnet Bay boat trips and, while this one was very good, I preferred the Cygnet Bay tour. Had a few trips thru the falls, spotted some crocs and Sandy, Simon and Nim swam with the sharks. A return flight and just enough time to get back to the Mangrove Hotel to see the famous stairway to the moon. Sue and Nicolette were clever enough to find Matthew and Janet, we were joined by local friends Liz and Larry, the Villards turned up too. Good night and some good photos. Back to accom and bed, bus is due at 645am.

Tunnel creek, Wandjina gorge

Gibb, Australia

We had a busy first day with Kimberley Wild.

Morning tea stop at Willare road house. Somehow it seemed odd to see a TV sitting up there playing some show. Hadn’t seen TV for a week or so.

Next stop was an old baobab tree that was used as a stopover prison over 100 years ago. The tree is supposedly over 1000 years old. Also a v long trough for watering your stock – that was built in 1916-17, so it’s near enough to 100 years old.

We hit the dirt road with first stop near Tunnel Creek. That was our lunch stop and then our time to explore. First we were told about an indigenous freedom fighter called Jandamarra whom apparently lived and hid in this area. After walking through the creek / cave you could see why. It was cool, fresh water and he’d have been v hard to track. We had our first sighting of freshies here.

Made camp later that arvo near Wandjina gorge. Then we had to put up our own tents….that presented a few challenges, especially if the last person had not put all pieces back. All was sorted, we had swags to sleep on the ground. Our ‘upgrade options’ saw us get pillows and sheets to go with our swag.

Once we were set up a few walked down to the gorge for a night view of the local crocs. Some saw them grabbing low flying bats. Seems the bats were swooping down for some water, some didn’t make it out. We arrived a bit later and only saw the red eyes of the crocs.

It was surprisingly comfy and I had a v good sleep. Sue decided to use a camp stretcher that didn’t fit into the tent, sleeping near the fire. She was happy with the choice.

Bell gorge

Gibb, Australia

An early start, walked down for another look at Windjana before we took off. Wow, a lot of crocs sunning themselves was a sit to see.

Onward to Bell Gorge. A gorgeous two level gorge, but some slippery rocks. A swim at the gorge and then on to Mt Barnett station caravan park.

Things are a bit tougher here with coldish showers. I’d have said cold but they weren’t icy but they certainly weren’t warm. We were also warned that after 8pm there was no generator and so no water.

At least tents here were set up for us, and we had camp stretchers…..by morning I had decided that swags mattress on the ground was preferable to camp stretchers.

Early night , ready to go out to Manning Falls early tomorrow


Manning Falls

Gibb, Australia

They’d told us that Manning Falls was going to be the toughest walk of the week. Starts with a decision, walk/swim across the river or pull yourself across on a boat on a rope. I went by boat, Sandy swam. Then you have to make sure your feet are dry before the walking boots go back on.

Then a 90 minute walk, in warm shadeless conditions. Some sand, lots of rock…hard work. We were a little slow but made it to the beautiful waterfall / pool. I had a short swim, Sandy a long swim across to the waterfall.

Now we have to make it back….harder but no other option.

Once we made it back to the creek, we spent a while calling our heels and bodies there. I went back, had a cool drink, grabbed my book and chair …and headed back to the creek. Some went on to another gorge, we settled in for a lazy arvo.

Had a good chat to Leigh, the head of the local fire and emergency services. He was passing through, he lives in Broome and manages the Kimberley controlled burns…and other stuff. The controlled burns only go for 6 weeks at the end of the wet season.

A birthday with no phone, power or internet

Kununurra, Australia

Driving day today, a bit of a hike but the reward of El Questro at the end of the day. I’m starting to struggle a bit with lack of power (so the camera is now dead) and lack of phone connection, especially as it is my birthday and I’d probably get a call or two. I’ve had my phone set to ultra power save and I’ve been using it frugally for a few photos, it still have about 75% battery after a few days. I pull birthday rank and decide that Sandy and I should travel up front. We stop for lunch and an old sensation occurs…I feel a vibration in my pocket, I am getting messages coming through in the middle of nowhere. I am holding my phone in front of me reading the various messages when I see something very bad. We have a shredded tyre! The damaged tyre is a back tyre, fortunately an outside one of the double setup. Even more fortunate is that Mark, with some help from Simon, efficiently make the change. The team was very appreciative. On to El Questro. Ahhh, after a couple of days of cold showers at Manning Falls caravan park, the numerous hot showers are fabulous. So are the upgraded tents with power board and the beer garden. That cold beer and live music after a hot shower…..I’m really appreciating these great comforts. Sandy managed some champagne for a birthday toast and then a filling meal of spag bol. Our tents even had proper beds (single beds but real beds)

 

Cool trees and warm springs

Kununurra, Australia

Rona had told us, we need to head out early tomorrow. The warm springs at Zebedee, are very popular and if it is crowded it is not worth going. She also told us that at noon it is closed to the public, so that the El Questro high flyers can have exclusive access. So we headed out early and it was great advice. The car park even has a sign, if the car park is full, do not stop, the springs are full too. It was a tropical paradise, lots of shade from the numerous palms and then pools of lovely soothing warm water. We had one pool almost to ourselves, just another couple from Melbourne. From there we went on to Emma Gorge resort, also part of El Questro. Some went on to the gorge itself, others sat around the coffee shop and pool. This is a place that would be good for 3-4 days, it has nice feel, good looking bungalows (or caravan park), good food, pool and close access to quite a few tourist places. Dinner tonight was at the local restaurant. Was ok but a bit over priced for the food that I ate.

Kununurra and Argyle


Kununurra, Australia

A driving day. Start at 730 and first real stop is Kununurra. Rona and Gilly have some urgent tasks to run – food, fuel and a new spare tyre. The rest of the team do their best to stimulate the local economy. Firstly with coffee but others buy various pieces of art, some head to the Op Shop for some bargains. Sue, Sandy and I headed to he IGA to see if he guy Sue met there almost 20 years ago is still there. The motorbike is still hanging over the fruit and vegetable section, good sign. Yes, he is still there and remembers Sue….he’s a real long termer. On to our camp at Lake Argyle. Those of us that had paid for an upgrade, have what feels like a six star room. A week ago we’d have called it very nice, after a few nights in tents, it is decadent luxury. It has a queen bed and an en suite. The resort person apologises for the fact we only have 3 channels on he TV….we have not had any TV for best part of a week, three channels is fab. I had heard all the stories about the size of Lake Argyle but you have to see it to really understand. My rough geography says it is about the size of the total Perth metro area. It is 70km * 45km. And it is man made, could never happen now and I am sure huge amounts of native wildlife was killed….but there is now huge amounts of native wildlife thriving. Very large fresh water crocs, massive amounts of fish. Matt for the local boat touring company took us all out on a sunset cruise – incredible. I was very proud of my favourite sister, she was one of the first to jump in for a swim. We all know the freshies don’t eat people but…. Back home from the cruise in darkness, no nav aids up here. On to the restaurant for a v good steak. Unfortunately the local entertainer was sick with some tummy bug….a portent of things to come?

Sickness hits


Warmun, Australia

Normal early start, his time from Lake Argyle. I was up at dawn and managed some great shots. My favourite is one of their infinity pool in foreground and THE lake further back. I was a little surprised to see Simon and Wendy together admiring the dawn view, their silhouette against the rising dawn. I decided I would move a little closer, frame the photo right and then give a short whistle to get them to turn around. All set, about to let the whistle go and the gentle bottom squeeze made me realise it was not Simon and sister in law Wendy, but an amorous young couple. The illness has taken a little more toll and a few miss breakfast, including Sandy. We head to Kununurra to refill gas bottles and grab a morning coffee. In the short drive we make a quick chuck stop for one of our passengers. Sandy is feeling worse and makes a dash for the toilet on arrival. We hit the road for Warmun (previously called Turkey Creek). En route we pass over the Bo River bridge, the one that Matt told us last night went 8 metres under water during the last big flood. The bridge is down a bit of a slope but impossible to imagine how far the water would have covered if it was 8m deep here….and that is 8m above the bridge which is well above the ground! Before we make Warmun, we make a couple more chuck stops. Seven of nineteen and had the lurgy. It seems it is a 24-48 tummy bug. On arrival at Warmun we take the ill ones to the local medical centre for a check. It was an impressive setup (not part of the Naccho group that I did some work with last year). Sandy decides she would rather stay at Warnum for 48 hours rather than face the 2 hour rough dirt road in and 2 hours back. The bus has to return past here, so we will wait it out here. If Sandy had to get sick somewhere…this is not too bad. Reasonable rooms, air con / en suite (good for toilet dashes if needed), strong mobile reception and live AFL. Sandy has her medication and snoozes, I watch the Cats beat the Dogs. Started live at 520pm WA time….I kicked on and didn’t hit bed until around 10pm

Chopper over Bungles Bungles

Warmun, Australia

Sandy slept well, me too and I seem to have avoided the bug so far. Woken at 7am with a handful of locals kids doing wheelies on a quad bike. It only stops when the roadhouse owner says “please stop”….or something like that, just a little more colourful. Later in the morning I spot the kids a little further away, they’re out of fuel. Sandy and I have roadhouse brekky….the German guy called Marvin, has trouble entering ‘toast’ into his high tech ordering system. After brekky, Sandy heads back to bed and I decided to take a chopper flight over the Bungles. Absolutely amazing. I had lost my keenness of choppers when one that I had flown in several times in Hedland, crashed less than a week after I’d been in it. They luckily landed ok but I did put me off choppers. That was very hairy as it had no doors and only a lap belt. Today Bridget, the young pilot was super professional, making sure we knew where the first aid kit and EPIRB were located, and we had full glass doors and full harness….I felt very comfortable. Company is called HeliSpirit, I’d strongly recommend them. The pilot flies here in dry season and out of Albury during the Victorian fire season. Clearly loves her job. As so often is he case, the shots look pretty good but do not really do it justice. We spot the Kimberley Wild camp and then later spot their bus. They’ve stopped for morning tea….of maybe another emergency stop for a sick passenger? I arrive back after an hour and the patient has not missed me…more sleep and no toilet trips, good news.

V Short video

Kimberley wow

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Broome, Australia

Our journey is over, we are in the big silver bird heading back to Melbourne, and some much cooler weather.

We’ve been to Broome before, I’ve been to Derby before and we lived in Hedland but three weeks here has opened our eyes to the spectacular Kimberley. The gorges, the red dirt, the rough roads, the pearls, the crocs and the harshness ….amazing.

A quick summary….a few days in Broome, almost a week at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, ten days on an organised bus tour up the Gibb River Rd ….and then two nights back in Broome. What are the memories?

1. Broome is a maturing holiday resort – we have been here about every ten years and it is growing up. But it is not losing it’s great feel. The weather was fabulous, Cable Beach as white and inviting as ever and town was fun. Direct flights to and from Melbourne make it so easy. We stayed at a couple of different places but Seashells was our favourite.

2. Cygnet Bay pearl farm may be at the end of a longish mostly dirt road, but well worth the effort. Combine it with a stop at Cape Leveque, a great combo. While we were at the pearl farm, we had several boat trips – I loved the reef waterfalls / whirlpool one. Also cafe had good food and great coffee.

I’d also have to say that their pearls were great too….the range of quality and prices meant most of our group could find something special to buy to help remember the trip.

3. The Gibb River dirt road is hard work, even in a bus built for the trip. We enjoyed it but would not recommend for those towing vans (unless they are the rugged ones). Our trip with Kimberley Wild had some highs and lows. The sights were incredible but their organisation skills lacked a little. The side trips on Lake Argyle, Gieke Gorge and the Bungles were amazing.

4. A bus trip with 19 people for ten days is hard work – even if you know more than half of them before you start. Living in one another’s pockets (or tents) is fun but causes a few stresses, not sure I’d do it that way next time. I must say that Sandy’s decision to pay for a tour upgrade was extremely wise. Some nights it was just a decent pillow and sheets, on others we had real beds in permanent tents….at the end of a tough day, it was well worth it.

5. I can live without power, hot water, Internet and phone for about 3 days. The lack of phone and net was less of an issue that the lack of power. It meant having to ration camera use to ensure I’d capture that important shot before the camera and phone batteries both died. The cool showers simply meant the river swim was even more appealing.

6. I think that tour guides need a decent accreditation system. We had some (Chopper over the Bungles, Boat on Argyle and boat on Geike) who were unbelievable passionate and knowledgeable. In other places, the information was a little skinny. I’d be happy to pay more for a ‘Level 3’ accredited guide.

Finally I must add something about health. As my regular readers know, we often test local hospitals and medical facilities, various members of our team tested a few places this time. The doctor at One Arm Point, the medical centre at Warmun and the hospital at Halls Creek all played a part and I must say, were all very good. None of the visits were serious but were necessary. Health insurance and a good first aid kit are always important, in this part of the world, they are essential.

One final thanks to Qantas who did the obligatory lap of Uluru (Ayers Rock) for us.