Accommodation $1782.00 Lattes $688.30. The accommodation turns out to be under $9 per day and the latte total would be much healthier if Julie would count the litres of iced coffee milk we buy because it's too bloody hot for coffee. Essentially it's just a cold latte but she won't have it included in the total. When we can free camp there's rarely the opportunity to buy a latte and when we can buy a latte the nightly bill is in the vicinity of $40, so alas, the accommodation is sky rocketing ahead of the latte bill. We lament this…
After sitting around most of the day waiting for news of the car (pinion seal, transfer case seal and wheel bearings all round) we decided to walk out the back of the caravan park and into the national park for a bit of a look around. The rock formations are said to be a mini Bungle Bungles.
Got the car back along with a pink slip and a hefty bill (8.5 hours labour at $110/hour and while I could have done the wheel bearings the pinion seal instructions started with removing a nut and measuring the torque required so that was out of the question) and headed to the shops then to the bottleo. Boy was that an ordeal! In the Kimberley there are alcohol restrictions. We tried to buy a carton of beer and 8 bottles of wine but that’s too much. A person can buy 2 cartons of beer or 6 bottles of wine per day…sounds like wine discrimination to me…should be at least a dozen! Anyway, we had to split our purchases to be able to buy it all. Next morning we left the caravan park and headed to the markets. There we became "Kimberley Toad Busters"… we found out some stuff about cane toads and how to kill them and Julie got a hat. We even went to the supermarket and bought a spray bottle and cheap dettol to kill the buggers. Our first failure was that night. We heard the distinctive call of the cane toad when we'd gotten into bed so we got up, got dressed and grabbed out dettol spray and a plastic bag in lieu of gloves. Armed with headlamps and our phones we headed off about 50m until our way was blocked with long grass… um… we hadn't explored the area before dark as we got in late and had no idea how far the river was or how far the cane toad was likely to be as the literature said their calls could be heard for 5km! Back to bed defeated to listen to the bloody things call all night. :(
Headed to Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles since a Mabo decision in favour a lot of the places have reverted to their original names. All for it, but just not used to the language. In New Zealand where the original names were always used it is now probably easier for people to say them. I struggle ) the next day and found out at Warrum (Turkey Creek) we had to book online by talking to two couples that had just come off the Canning Stock Route. Glen booked online for 2 nights instead of the 3 we wanted and when we got to the visitor's centre we discovered his mistake. Stupidly there is no facility to make a booking at the Visitor Centre and there is no coverage so you have to travel out at least an hour to get a signal, The lady took pity on us and took another day's money but if the campsite fills up we have to move, otherwise it was our little secret.
Arrived in camp and set up. Nice spot except for the mozzies and it's not even dark! Mossies left about half an hour before dark. Not the behaviour we expect but tonight is a bit cool. We are now 17.3 degrees below the equator and inland so it's starting to get a bit cool at night apparently. About 200km north of here last night and it was quite pleasant.
Next day we explored the South end of the park starting at Elephant Rock…yeah if you use your imagination then the Domes walk through the beehive shaped and coloured rocks to a small pool of water where there were some frogs. They kind of looked like rockhole frogs but they weren't as agile with much smaller jumps and not being able to skip across the water. From the number of dead cane toads in the area we thought they may have been cane toad metamorphs but close examination of the photos revealed suckers on their toes so we aren't sure the exact species. It seems from this and our next walk, the adjoining Cathedral Gorge, that someone has been in there and culled as many cane toads as they could find. Cathedral Gorge leads to a large amphitheatre with a small green pond. The walls must be 50m or so high as they dwarf Julie in photos. Again several dead cane toads but Julie did find 2 live ones. We decided that they couldn't get out of the hole they were in and it was ok to leave them as we didn't have anything to kill them with. We also saw a couple of small, drying water holes that were absolutely full of fish. We don't think they'll last more than a couple of weeks. We left Picaninny Creek and lookout for the next day and headed back to camp where we relaxed for a while before heading out on the walk around camp. Turns out we didn't leave enough time to talk to all the people we met and ended up in the dark so had to turn back.
With an early start the next morning we walked Picaninny Creek to the lookout and saw the rocks and vegetation up close. Of note was a tall red grevillea with almost holly shaped grey leaves. Julie also photographed a small skink which we think would be cane toad dinner if somebody wasn't culling them. We had a date with Echidna Chasm from 11 so we hot footed it out of there and drove the 30 odd km to the northern end of the park. We were delayed by a couple of backpackers on the road who needed a jump start.
Echidna Chasm is long but only a couple of metres wide in places and mid-morning the sun travels from one side of the chasm to the other before disappearing completely. Later we walked Mini Palms Gorge - long way up a loose stone dry creek bed (which must have been hell on Julie's poor sore foot) to a cave at the end of the chasm which you could view from a distance on a platform. Maybe soon you'll be able to travel all the way up because the tour guide I met said that it was no longer a sacred site as the woman who was supposedly born there they found was actually born in Derby Hospital. Another cold night.
Left to travel to Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater and found the road being dragged. Everyone was telling us the road into Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) was terrible, but it was pretty well maintained while we were there. The section of road through Mable Downs Station was a bit corrugated but nothing like the car destroying section of road we'd been hearing about.
Halls Creek was busy with tourists. Vans everywhere. At the bakery for the obligatory sausage roll, chips when Julie can get them, and latte we were lucky to be first in line when the crowd of 15 or so formed the lunch time rush behind us. We thought a coach had pulled in! Last minute visit to the info centre and we were off to the Tanami Rd and Wolfe Creek. Road conditions were again brilliant compared to what we expected, the Tanami Rd was wide and smooth and the majority of the road over Carranya Station was fairly good and the bad bit we'd been told by the Canning Stock Route people at Warmum to take the left track and avoid, which we did. Found a site at the free National Parks campsite and intend to stay a couple of nights. Trying a star trail again as the finger moon has set and there is no light pollution here. Tried F22 ISO 200 but that only captured the really bright stars. In the morning we woke with a view of the crater wall at the end of our bed. Pretty cool. We walked up to the crater later that morning and then to the top of the rim. It's a pretty amazing sight. Inside the crater there is a flat floor and the centre circle is visibly different soil and rimmed with different vegetation. Glen went about 50m along the rim to get a higher view and when he looked around Julie was gone… Thoughts of Mick Taylor entered his head until he saw her on the floor of the crater. Who cares if they recommend not to climb down because of loose rocks? Not Julie who's climbed her way through gorge after gorge! Glen followed her and slipped over on some loose rocks planting his hand in a small clump of spinifex. After the walk Julie would spend an hour removing the fine points of spinifex grass from Glen's hand with a needle and tweezers. Despite Julie's protestations that she didn't want to go to the middle pretty soon that's exactly where we were with lots of photos of plants along the way. Pretty stoked to be at ground zero of a meteorite strike even if we were 300,000 years late. The climb up the crater wall was incident free.
Late that Thursday afternoon a routine inspection of the car revealed a split in the fuel hose. Ha! We were going to avert the Fun Truck Friday Curveball by repairing it Friday morning before we left.
Tried another star trail, this time F11 ISO 400 and got much better results trail wise but not composition.
Replaced the damaged fuel hose, car started fine. We packed up and left camp getting less than a kilometre before an unusual banging had us out of the car. Julie found our awning was loose, in fact when Glen moved it to have a look one bracket broke completely and one wiggle later the other bracket broke. With the awning strapped to the boat loader we continued into town past a guy with an issue with his boat trailer, a Patrol with a fuel problem and a caravan owner we were able to enlighten as to the location of his 2 batteries - 2 km back down the road.
In town for a couple of lattes and we expected some water and some vegies. Decided against the water as the visitor centre was charging 20c/L (it's a matter of principle, not money) and the price of vegies and the location of quarantine check points saw us get a few apples, some mushrooms and a capsicum.
Stopped at China Wall, Caroline Pool and Old Halls Creek (shouldn't have bothered) before camping the night at Sawpit Gorge. Lovely campsite in the riverbed - it's not flowing, there hasn't been rain for ages - only one other person here and the river/pool is full of archer fish. Couldn't find or hear any cane toads (one was dispatched at Caroline's Pool) but the archer fish are pretty active and make a bit of noise.
Woke to bird song and a cool morning to find the pork roast was leaking from it's plastic so we're having a roast tonight and since it's easy to have a fire here we're staying put. Spent the morning watching the birds, feeding the fish and having bacon and egg wraps for breakfast. Luckily not relying on solar as it's 1pm and we've been in shade all day which makes the temperature quite pleasant. Probably another hour or so until the sun moves around past the rock wall. It's a little windy at the moment but still expecting to have a fire.
The roast port was beautiful! Our evening of relaxing was soon disturbed when Julie discovered a cane toad. When she went for the cane toad killing spray bottle she found another and came back to the light while Glen went into the dark at the far side of the camper. He sprayed the cane toad and it just sat looking at him. It then hopped off, not looking any the worse for wear. Glen supposed it would take a couple of minutes so, keeping an eye on the first busted toad, he sprayed the other. The first one still seemed fine so they both received a further spraying. The one we still could find was looking pretty sick but after 15 minutes was not yet dead. More spray. Then Julie found a toad that sat 20cm high. It was huge. Lots of spray, but it looked unperturbed and was hopping off. A couple of big rocks on it back legs kept it from running away until the spray effectiveness could be determined. After several more toads - remember there weren't any here (that we saw, and we were looking) last night - a scan with Glen's headlamp revealed that the big toad had managed to throw off his rock and was heading for the water. Three wacks with the long handled shovel blade and the toad lay broken in the rocks of the dry river bed ready for picking up in the morning with the rest. The first toad was still not dead so was killed by mechanical, rather than chemical means. A short time later when an smaller toad received the shovel treatment Glen discovered the big toad had recovered and walked away. Glen was certain he'd broken it's back but they must be tougher than he thought!
Next morning we packed up from Sawpit Gorge and decided on a last minute toilet break. The hole was dug and a car came down the road! Bloody inconvenient timing people! While they fed the fish some bread Julie used the hole and they were curious turning around all the time. Couldn't work out if they had no idea or were just being annoying!
We drove out, checking out a couple of old dumped cars. Impressive how the chrome work lasts on those old cars. In the last days of chrome bumpers the coating was so thin they rusted well before the car was scrapped. These wrecks haven't moved for many years and have rust all over every body panel and everything that opens and shuts but the chrome work shines on.
We went back up the Duncan Rd a short distance to Palm Springs. Might be nice with a bit more water… Continuing on the Duncan Rd we saw Nicholson Station mustering cattle with a helicopter and then came across three camels on the road. Of course they run away on the road, not left or right, so before we were able to pass the poor animals were running scared next to the car at 50km/h. Julie got a great video on her phone.
Our planned stop that night was at Negri River but it looked terribly uninviting as a campsite with a 50m concrete causeway with the green water not flowing. Luckily we decided to check out further down the river bank and found some nice campsites. While unpacking the camper Glen remarked on a rock in the river. Julie went for the new binoculars and found the rock was in fact a crocodile. No point unpacking further until it was identified as friend or foe. Eventually it was decided the narrow snout meant a freshie and the camper could finally be unpacked.
Another family came in and it turns out they knew Simon and Rachel and had been at Honeymoon Bay with them. That night we caught up on all the 4WD Action DVDs we hadn't got around to watching and then did some trip research by watching a DVD on the Savanah Way. Turns out most of the things we wanted to know about they didn't do and even had to have their 4WD snatched out of a mud hole on Lorella Springs by a Volkswagen! The other campers went croc spotting and saw 9 pairs of eyes and as we left the next morning eagle eye Julie spotted a sign on the northern side of the crossing warning of a croc sighting in December! Lucky we didn't swim!
We stayed at the Zebra Rock Mine for the next two nights so we could do a sunset cruise on Lake Argyle. No the usual tourist one but a wetland safari on the eastern side of the lake. The rock is interesting and beautiful, the campsite was relatively cheap at $10/head/night, complimentary tea and coffee, scones with jam and very yummy cream for only $3, and fish and chips for $15! The sunset tour was on the second, smaller boat with the owner, Kim, a self-made millionaire who was born and raised on Argyle Downs Station but who has a philosophy of not ripping off the tourists and is leaving the majority of the zebra rock in the ground even though he could sell it all now for huge sum as it is the only mineable zebra rock in the world and was only ever in this small part of the Kimberleys. We saw tons of birds and crocs (only freshies because Kim and his father trapped or shot all the salties in the 50s), went swimming in the clear water and walked on the bank before getting back on the boat to watch the sunset. It is at this point that Julie realised she had lost her phone. We think it may have dropped out of her pocket into the water as she was taking pictures with the DSLR. It had been 10 days since Glen had backed up the photos so many, many photos are gone along with phone numbers and lots of lists and notes as that phone was the means of recording almost everything. Julie was very upset.
Before leaving the next day we did the mine tour which was very interesting (it's a small scale) and we could all take some zebra rock home with us as long as it could all be carried in one hand.
After more scones and chatting to Mark and Sarah, the travellers we met at Negri River, we headed out to camp at Keep
River National Park AFTER we stocked up again at Kununarrra. As always with us shopping it took longer than expected and organising flights, accommodation and a car for Kyra and Eli in Darwin, since we are now close enough to be fairly certain when we'll get there, we ended up arriving to set up camp after dark and had to go to the second campground to find a spot. The brakes were pulsing badly by the time we got there - and it's only Wednesday.
Glen found the front end wheel bearings were very loose after less than 2 weeks and 1500km after having them replaced. This meant a trip of 70km back into town to arrive unannounced at the mechanic (no phone service out there). They tried to book us in for the next morning but eventually took the car and we had about 4 hours to kill. The Wild Mango Café was nice after a walk around the hardware store and Metaland trying to replace our awning bracket. Metaland could fabricate them for us for $1.30 each plus a bit of labour which brought them to just shy of $60 for 4. We declined. The awning can stay strapped to the boat rack for that price!
We got the car back, he didn't find any issue with the rear and didn't road test it to see if the pulsating brake pedal was gone. As we drove out so did he and (after picking up some booze) we got on the highway and found the whole car shuddered under brakes. Back tomorrow :(
There was a slideshow at the other campground and since it was dark we stopped in there. Very interesting and a lovely park. Too bad we only see it in the dark. We checked the rear and found loose bearings so up before sunrise to head back to town. The shudder was due to the rear and they are fixing them now.
All fixed! Back to Keep River NP NT!