Day 7 on an Australian Outback Tour
Although The Kimberley region in North West Australia is becoming more popular you still get the feeling of a last frontier, much of it is still untouched, and you can feel like a modern day pioneer exploring and adventuring through a vast landscape mostly devoid of human intervention.
I read the other day that The Kimberley has been included 17th in the New York Times list of 46 places to go in 2013. And why not? This part of North West Australia is a truly magical area of the Australian outback, still offering uncharted territory and undiscovered places.
If you’re planning a trip to Western Australia, then make sure that you add it onto your list of Things to Do in WA – you’re unlikely to regret it, but because there is so much to do, it may take a little planning.
So today, come with me and have a glimpse into life on the road with Adventure Wild, a Kimberley Australian outback tour company, and adventure from the comfort of your sofa into this outstanding region.
Farewell Gibb River Road
Yay! Yoga at 5.00am.
I’m late again, dragging my sorry ass and my still warm swag out of the tent in a most un-zen-like fashion, but I’m keen, keen as mustard, as are the other Yogi regulars it seems. There they are, lined up, hair ruffled, already doing the tree pose on a beautiful still morning, in a place as remote as remote can be.
“We need to be away from El Questro Station by 7.28am” Greg our tour guide tells us, interrupting a tricky pose and making us giggle.
“Why 7.28? Why not 7.30am?” is the obvious question.
“Because then I know there’s a chance we’ll hit the road by 7.30am” He says.
Jeepers, a 2 minute gap for emergencies. That’s cutting it fine, I reckon.
We have breakfast, perhaps a little faster than usual bearing in mind our two minute gap, and then we pack up sad to be leaving our camp by The Pentecost River and the peaceful shade of El Questro Station.
Things feel a little slower this morning, but conversely a little more organized. Perhaps I’m more centred, settled by the yoga session and I think I must really be getting the hang of this ca- I mean glamping thing!
For the uninitiated and if you’re new to a trip like this, you have to get organized to make group camping work. You need to familiarize yourself with where everything is, and what you need to do, and what you need handy for the day ready packed in your small daypack on the bus, and not in your stuff bag on top of the bus under canvas in the luggage compartment.
How to be a team player
Yes, a big part of getting the maximum enjoyment from an overland tour is being personally organized, or at least quickly learning the skill as you go along!
Divas, drama queens and big egos are not recommended. Helpers, do-ers, humorists and patient natures are most welcomed.
I’m wondering how everyone else feels today, as I roll up my swag this bright sunny morning, concentrating on pushing the weight through my knees as my hands now deftly roll up the bulky mass into as tight a sausage shape as possible. Funny how these new, basic skills can be so rewarding.
In the company of strangers who soon become friends
For 7 days we have all been in the company of strangers. Strangers who now are becoming almost like family. We know each others’ histories, we are a little bit aware of the troubles and concerns that bubble under the surface of each personality, and we are beginning to understand what makes us laugh, or sad, or even irritable. Although there is precious little of the latter with this lovely group of people.
Gregarious nature is a plus for a group tour. Choccy our tour guidess is a master at being with people – completing chores, and chatting, sorting out problems and fielding questions all at the same time. She’s truly a multi-tasker with a smile.
Barramundi and Black Cockatoos
On the road again, and we spot a flock of black cockatoos, about 20 of them screeching like harpies – glorious. Black wings and red tail tips flash, there is a flurry, they scatter either side of the bus.
We cross over the Gibb River again.
“Good place for Barramundi,” Greg says, as the fishermen amongst us take note.
The girls meanwhile watch Choccy who is taking bets on how long it will take the person on the front seat of the bus to nod off – quietly she marks our guesses on the window with a marker pen, and we watch and wait with surrepticious glee.
We are expecting two new people to join us today, although we shall be losing four of our group in Kununnura, as they head off for different adventures. We’ll be sad to see them go, but looking on the bright side we’re looking forward with childish anticipation to surprising the newbies with the old games – you know the hand and the hairy spider in the sun viser and the fart machine. Childish, I know! (If you’re new to reading about this adventure, you’ll need to scroll back to subsequent days)
Hey, but life is good and the road is bumpy.
At about 8.30am we come to the end of the Gibb River Road and transfer onto the Great Northern Highway where we turn off to Wyndham. At this junction there are huge billboards telling us which parts of the Gibb River Road are open, and we see that today they are all open – no floods at the river crossings.
At this time of year (May) the scenery is lush and green but it will change over the coming months and turn brown as the landscape becomes ever thirstier.
“We’ve traversed 94 water crossings,” Greg says, “That is, those that count … with all four wheels of the bus touching the water!”
I’m sad to be leaving this iconic road, with its stories and secret places and its history, but I’m looking forward to the next few days of the trip and especially Kununnura.
Mid morning we come to a rise at the top of a faraway hill.
Greg says, “Close your eyes. All of you. And when I tell you to open them you can all go, “Wow! And Wow Backwards!”
We open our eyes on cue and see the most amazing view – shimmering pastoral plains that stretch all the way to Wyndham.
We are at Telegraph Hill and when we’ve all taken pictures we head down the hill to Marlgu Billabong where there are boardwalks and bird hides and the most gorgeous water lilies in white, yellow and lilac.
There’s a profusion of water birds, hundreds of them. It’s a bit of a paradise for twitchers. We spot kites, pied herons, black billed terns, little black cormorants, grebes, pelicans, and rainbow bee eaters.
It’s sunny with a slight breeze and we talk in whispers. This place has a serene calmness about it untouched by human noise pollution, that’s only split by bird calls – the shrieks, and cackles of resident birds who know they belong here more than we do.
We have morning tea and shortbread biscuits soaking up the serenity of this beautiful place that is just so far from anywhere, before driving onto Wyndham.
Wyndham, a windy road and a lookout
Wyndham is the most northerly port town in Western Australia and is known geographically as the Top Town of the West, and it’s at this point that five rivers run into the west arm of the Cambridge Gulf. They are namely; The King, The Forrest, The Ord, The Pentecost and The Durack.
Wyndham’s had an interesting history as a small frontier town and in many ways it typifies the character of the Australian outback.
The town grew rapidly as a port for the East Kimberley goldfields, John Forrest was sent to select a site for a townsite in 1886, and many people came to try their luck finding gold at Halls Creek, and although the goldfields soon declined, Wyndham remained as a port for the growing pastoral industry. Back then there were 6 hotels and it was a bustling town.
“Another interesting fact is that due to lots of off cuts of meat (from the abbatoir servicing the town’s meat export) getting thrown into the sea, Wyndham was known to have the largest of large saltwater crocs in the area,” Greg says.
Warning: Today crocodiles inhabit many of the waterways in the East Kimberley region of the Australian outback.
But the meat works closed down in 1996 and today we find a ramshackle town with only two pubs, looking more of a ghost town than a place with a vibrant port history.
We wend our way up a very steep hill, in first gear, to the Five Rivers Lookout which is 350m above sea level. Here there are panoramic views and we gaze over the vast salt plains which are like a shimmering mirage, and we can see the Cambridge Gulf into which the 5 rivers converge.
The views are not chocolate box pretty, but boy they are dramatic and expansive. Today it’s as hot as Hades up here, although there is a welcome breeze. Ants scurry under our feet on their way to who knows what or where, and in the air there’s a buzz, like a heat buzz.
We are 3216 km north east of Perth. Woah, we’re a long way from home.
Choccy and Greg miraculously produce food for a barbie and we have a typical Aussie sausage sizzle of the finest order, up there high on the hill at a free gas barbecue, overlooking an amazing geological wonder. We are the envy of neighbouring picnickers who rally in positive “Yes” to Choccy’s cry of, “Anyone want a third sausage?”
The demand is so great that Choccy replies, “I’m considering auctioning them off!”
Sandalwood and Hooch
Suitably stuffed with snags, onions and bread we begin the downward descent along the windy sometimes treacherously steep hill, and then drive towards Kununurra. It only takes about an hour, but most of us fall asleep.
We are woken for a stop at the Sandalwood Factory and here buy sweet smelling sandalwood products, have cups of coffee to wake us up and then head for The Hoochery, the oldest continuously operating legal still in Australia.
Most of the men are just a little bit excited at the very thought of this next ‘adventure’!
It’s a rum distillery where for $2 a tot or $5 for three we can try various rums, blends and liqueurs.
The Hoochery itself is housed in a huge shed, with a corrugated iron roof above and big wooden tables on the ground. It’s dark and cool and there’s art on the walls along with old weathered stock saddles on the railings, in fact there’s lots of old farm memorabilia which contrasts starkly with a vivid picture of The 3 Sirens above the bar.
The 3 Sirens, leading us into ….?
Everyone enjoys a tipple. Dave buys an aniseed liqueur while I favour the mango. The Hoochery does well out of us, and our stashes are stacked carefully under the seats on the bus.
“Hey, careful of that!” I hear someone warn. “That’s precious moonshine!”
We head on to the Backpackers Hostel in Kununurra where we sadly say goodby to the Yoga Master and his lovely wife.
In Kununurra we head to Coles supermarket, where Choccy does a huge shop (think 3 full trolleys) and we stock up on wine and beer at the Liquor Store which for those of you who might be planning on doing the same, is only open from 2 – 8pm and you’re limited to buying 2 bottles per person.
We set up camp under a shade sail surrounded by trees at a camp site close to Kununurra Lake. Tonight we are not allowed a campfire due to fire restrictions, so our impromptu ‘Leavers Award Ceremony’ is conducted around the table as we eat fresh salad, rice salad and barbecued marinated chicken, followed by big plates of fresh fruit (You can tell Choccy has been shopping today because there’s not a tin in sight!)
The ‘Awards Ceremony’ has us all in stitches. There are several awards that I can remember:-
- The wrinkled finger – for the person who has helped most around the camp
- The Yoga Award – for the person who has showed the most prowess at yoga
- The Tosser – he/or she who best throws the swags up onto the roof of the bus
- The attention seeker – obvious
- Tinkerbell – she who trots like a fairy over big boulders
- Best swag roller – obvious
- Neatest campers – obvious
- The Japanese award for the best photographer – obvious
Finally after plenty of hooch and humour, and feeling like Oscar awards winners (and nominees) we head to our tents and swags for a night of peaceful Kununurra dreaming. But I am just a little excited, because I can’t wait for tomorrow and our boat excursion up the beautiful Ord River.
Zigazagers, do you have you a favourite Australian outback destination? Or where else in the world would you suggest? Please share with us in the comments section.