An Australian Venture I
Why do the trip?
The Kimberley Region in Western Australia is a fascinating part of the world, as is the rest of W.A. and we have talked about visiting there for quite a while mainly to visit the Bungle Bungles but also to visit the Katherine Gorge just over the border in the Northern Territory.
Our previous trip to the Cape York Peninsular a few years ago whetted our appetite for the Australian Outback and we decided to bite the bullet and “Go for it”. It was now or never!
The combination of cheap air fares, a lousy New Zealand summer with continuous winds that curtailed our boating activities and the end of the ‘BIG WET’ making it possible to travel through the region.
Mode of travel – considered options
We considered several options including coach, coach and air, campervan and air and campervan all the way.
After due consideration, we decided to take the “campervan all the way” option and subsequent experience proved that to be the correct option in spite of the tyre and windscreen insurance being very expensive.
The KEA campervan.
Was the brand we chose and generally speaking, we were pleased with that.
The van was classed as “LUXURY” with all the bells and whistles including a ‘fridge/ deep freeze, microwave, excellent gas cooker and fully equipped bathroom/toilet and unlimited hot water.
In the event, we never used the toilet or bathroom and if we were to do another rental campervan trip,
We would choose a van with a side access rather than the rear access.
The full height rear door rear access for daytime living was excellent but complicated the sleeping arrangements at night.
The cockpit seats were like armchairs and driving the van was a dream both for Bette and me.
We had air conditioning in the cockpit and a combined aircon/heater in the living section when we were plugged into 240v mains power.
We had a 110 litre water tank and a 110 litre waste water tank to match.
Apart from 2 nights camped by rivers we used caravan parks or motor camps at a cost of between A$20 and A$24 per night. This gave us access to shower, laundry and toilet facilities. It also meant we were able to plug into 240volt mains power for the microwave and airco/heater unit both of which we used. We had a few nights when the temperature was 5-7degrees Centigrade.
When camped by rivers, we bathed in the river.
A major item of cost with the litre cost ranging between A.99c and A$1-22 depending on the isolation of the place we were at. Our total diesel cost for the whole trip came to A$620
Telephone often difficult and sometimes impossible. One gets all the way through the process and then receives a message saying “This service not available”.
The internet was our most favoured method but was not always easy to find. Broadband – when available was excellent. Prices varied between $1 and $6 per hour and some ripoffs were available.
We used computers in allsorts of odd places and some places were particularly good.
The tape recorder
I took a mini tape recorder because I realised the impossibility of remembering all the places visited and events of the trip – it was intended only to jog my memory when I returned home but in hindsight, I wish I had taken a better quality recorder with standard tapes and made a commentary. In the event I sometimes found myself making a “commentary” and some might find it interesting to listen to especially my niece Nicola in UK.
A lot can happen in a day’s drive of up to 600km so the tape proved invaluable.
Bette is/was our official photographer and did a great job with her digital camera. We think the total number of pictures taken is close to 700 and by the time they are edited and many deleted, the number should be manageable. They will be loaded onto CD’s for those who would like a copy.
The very name conjures up different ideas of what they are about and a common question asked is - what are they like and what’s inside them? I will try to explain.
First and foremost they play a vital roll in the life of the outback because they carry stocks of all kinds of motor and heating fuel albeit at a hell of a price.
Some are scruffy but most are pretty good and tidy considering the amount of red dust they have to contend with. The ones we entered all had a hot food servery with heaps of chips, sausages, hot dogs and that kind of thing – I also think I saw fried fish!!! (what! –that far from the sea?). In those places with a large Aboriginal population, the RH proprietor has a captive clientele but I also think the Road Train drivers would also find them a welcome sight for that reason and judging by the physique of some of those guys, they also would be good customers.
Some have a mini supermarket and some are pubs. Some have “motel” units and most provide a limited camp site with power points and adequate toilets and showers. Privacy is not always considered a priority.
We saw a couple advertised as “resorts” – come and enjoy our tropical paradise! I think the only one we saw that could claim anything like that would have been a relatively new one at the junction of the Great Northern Highway and the new sealed road to Tom Price.
Road Trains – the myth.
They are not intimidating as we had been led to believe but they are impressive and they are VERY BIG.
They usually haul 2 big trailers but w e have seen the odd one with 3 or 4 trailers or fuel tanks and they are not rare. Some days we would see hardly any other vehicles but road trains often in convoy.
lot are carrying mining equipment including enormous quarrying tip trucks
occasionally with pilot vehicles and a police escort. On those occasions
we had to pull off the road to allow them through.
Such as the Stuart, the Victoria, the Great Northern and all the others are superb.
The roads from Darwin to Perth are just a continuous ribbon of very high quality bitumen and very impressive. Goodness knows what they have cost to put down. In over 5000km of motoring, we only struck 2 short stretches that were under repair and both of those were in cities and of short duration.
Caravan parks and motor camps.
Most of these places are high quality with a few 2nd class.
In the small remote towns, although fairly arid and devoid of vegetation, the facilities are of reasonably high quality in our opinion. They provide a welcome haven after a long hot day.
The resort - style of Caravan Park at Kununurra are very upmarket affairs and provide an excellent resort destination with palm fringed swimming pool and children’s play area. It’s obvious from some the elaborate sites that the users are regular customers.
They even have little en-suite rooms that can be rented by campers in tents or for any other reason – I have seen nothing like this in New Zealand.
innovative idea that was new to us is the provision of TV connections
to a common aerial providing 1st class reception. These are on the on-site
power connection poles and are not charged for.
A lot has been said about these much maligned creatures and I must admit I was pretty ignorant of the true story.
There are basically 2 types of crocodile. The fresh water croc - (freshies) and the salt water croc. (salties).
Freshies are shy of people and most locals simply ignore them. They are in large numbers in most waterways including small pools left behind after the receding wet season.
300 metres from our camp site in Katherine, the river was full of them and the camp proprietor told us that it is difficult to see them in the daytime because they spend most of their time under water but if we went down after dark with a torch, we would see lots of shining eyes near or on the surface. We did not take up the offer because we had to walk through bush and scrub to get to the river and we knew there were snakes a plenty in the area.
Lake Argyle is reputed to have between 35,000 and 40,000 freshies in it and it is used extensively for recreation. 80% of them are females.
Salties are a different story. They are very dangerous and partial to human snacks. They are different in appearance to the freshies and are very agile being able to leap out of the water and move very fast on land. Although mostly found in salt water, they are also found in fresh water especially during and after the wet season. They are often seen in small pools left behind by the receding floodwaters. I will talk more about them in part 2. Unfortunately, my tape recorder was not working during our visit to Wyndham where we visited a crocodile farm and took some good pictures.
Everyone knows that the Northern Territory and the Kimberley and in fact most place in Australia have a lot of wonderful wildlife. We were fortunate enough see quite a bit of it though not always the way would have liked. Most of the kangaroos were dead ones on the side of the road. When we did see some they were contained behind a fence near Bunbury and presumably being farmed.
We did see wallabies, snakes, camels, crocodiles, snakes, lizards of varying sizes, frogs of all kinds, a wombat (we think).
The beautiful birds are too numerous to mention but I will mention the magnificent eagles that we saw cleaning up the carrion on the roads. They are about twice the size of our hawk and look as though their trousers are at half mast. Bette managed to get a couple of good photos of them. We were in awe of them and I must try to find out what their full name is.
Roadside picnic and stopover areas.
They are not infrequent and the NT areas and the WA areas differed mostly in the provision of drinking water. The WA areas did not have any water supplies but in the NT all the areas have a large vertical water tank with a locked lid and a tap. We understand that the quality of the water is certified though we had no need to try it.
areas are open to the hot sun but in Western Australia there were areas
designated “overnight stops” and these usually had a fire
place and several very good shelters complete with tables. The problem
was that the flies tended to stop people lingering. One place we stopped
at in the Pilbarra had a modern hi-tech environmentally friendly toilet
on trial. There was no water there but someone had pinned a notice on
the ‘loo door saying “dingoes steal shoes here – don’t
leave them outside at night”
Apart from a couple of Northern Territory oafs we came in contact with at Katherine railway station, everyone we met was friendly, helpful and amiable. Many of them had interesting stories to tell and a lot of them were retired folk doing the same as us – spending their money before it is too late.
were very impressed by the sheer beauty of the place. It is modern and
clean and boasts what must be one of the most efficient transport systems
anywhere and oh those roads. Like the outback highways they are just amazing.
A very impressive and important city in the process of being rebuilt – we only had time to explore the city centre and St Kilda beach by tram but what we saw we liked. Our trip by modern high speed train to Warragul to visit an old shipmate - Don Flounders and his charming wife Iris was one of the highlights of our entire trip.
END OF PART 0NE.