Does everyone else give their car a name? Give it a personality?
Orlando is our 4WD Landcruiser (hence the name adaptation) 😬 He’s worthy of a little humanising. The most solid, reliable, trustworthy, tough, adventurous hunk of metal we have ever had the pleasure of owning. With a little house on his back he takes us the most amazing places and gives us so much joy. We follow remote dirt tracks with complete faith and confidence in his ability and because of that we see some bloody beautiful places. Crawling at a snails pace, windows down, a warm breeze messing up my hair, the fragrance of bull dust and gum trees in the air and sunshine glinting off the windscreen. Our happy place 🤗.
And you know what? Orlando just loves living in Central Australia. He really hates travelling fast on bitumen roads with lots of traffic and he despises big cities. Give him a rough dirt track to follow in the heart of the outback and he purrs like a kitten. Well, actually, with his big V8 engine it’s more like a throaty growl.
There’s no airs and graces. No bells and whistles. He’s not sleek and sophisticated to look at it. Comfort is not his finest feature. It’s what’s below the surface that counts – under the bonnet. Where other people fear to tread he just never lets us down. I like my cars like I like my men 😬.
Yes, we have definitely humanised our car. To the extent that Kevin makes me apologise to him if I dare say anything derogatory. After all, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. It’s a partnership. We look after him and he looks after us and our life sure would be a whole lot less fun without him.
That’s what 4WD ownership is all about. We wouldn’t have it any other way 😊.
These photos were taken around Ross River Homestead in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges.
In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.
This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.
Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.
Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.
After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.
For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.
For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.
In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.
Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.
To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.
The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.
So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.
So we’re home. And home is lovely. After months of living in arid landscapes, red dirt and deserts we had forgotten just how ‘green’ Cairns is. It’s so pretty with the mountain backdrop and rainforest. The ocean isn’t the glorious aquamarine of the WA coast but its lovely in a north QLD kind of way. Isn’t it wonderful we have experienced it all?
So we did it, the trip of a lifetime, and it was just grand. No regrets. We gave up our jobs and drove 20232 kilometres across the top, down the west coast, across the middle and a quick dash down south. Fantastic. Australia is amazing.
So here are some random statistics on our experience travelling remote Australia by 4WD.
The ultimate trip cost
We were away for just over 16 weeks in total and we spent $18 681 in total. I’m happy with that. I had budgeted for $1000 per week plus an extra $4000 for car repairs and maintenance. We came in under budget in our weekly spending averaging at $800 per week and went over in the car expenditure which blew out to $5860. Three services in Kununurra, Tom Price and Kapunda, front wheel bearings in Broome, rear parabolic springs and 4 Cooper tyres in Geraldton and, thanks to the Simpson Desert, new rear shock absorbers in Kapunda. We didn’t actually need the new Coopers but we were getting frustrated with the flats we were getting on the skinny split rim tube tyres and opted to replace them with fatter tubeless. No flats since so it was worth it.
We travelled 20232 km and spent $4696 on fuel. The most expensive fuel was at Mt Dare Station SA just before the Simpson Desert at $2.15 per litre and the cheapest in Kapunda SA at $1.21 per litre. That’s a bit uncanny that South Australia wins the crown in both cases and it wasn’t even planned.
Food came in at $4514 and we ate way too much chocolate. We would stock up on chocolate and other assorted snacks when we got to a big supermarket as that sort of stuff is too expensive to buy in remote locations. We bought 6 blocks of chocolate in Broome (after 2 weeks on the Gibb River Road) as it was so cheap and ate them all in 3 days. That’s why I had to buy moo moo’s in Broome. We ate a little too well and were not as disciplined as we are at home. Let’s not talk about all the kitchener buns and chocolate donuts in Kapunda. I’m paying for that extravagance now.
Accommodation costs were very reasonable at $1957. A good mix of free camping, national parks, the luxury of three nights in a cottage at Geraldton and a couple of nights in a cabin at Kapunda because it was freezing cold.
Miscellaneous spending was $1654. This money was put aside for tours, entry fees and everything else. There were quite a few Op Shop purchases in there. It was one of my favourite activities in a town; pottering through an Op Shop in an exotic new destination. My wardrobe expanded unnecessarily and exponentially much to Kevin’s perturbed amusement and mild disgust. (Chuckle)
Between us we managed to read 28 books and listen to 3 audio books. Every book swap was taken advantage of with much gusto. That’s what we did in the evenings. Read books and ate chocolate.
Ugg boots are just the best footwear on holiday, even in warm country (clean feet with ease)
I made bread 14 times in the Weber Baby Q, and with home made lentil soup this was our most popular meal choice. (Chocolate for desert of course) We called our Weber ‘Baby you fat bitch’. A little harsh I know, but she was so big and heavy and took up a lot of space in the camper. We wouldn’t have gone without her though. She gave us so many awesome meals.
The two equally worst roads were the Simpson Desert crossing and the Kalumburu Road to Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly. Both were particularly punishing to our vehicle but the scenic reward was worth it so no real regrets there.
People ask what was the absolute highlight of the whole trip and I find it impossible to narrow it down to one place. We saw and did so much that was absolutely stunning, each in its own unique way. So many ‘wow, moments. I loved it all.
So the highlight has to be the length of our trip. Four months was an ideal time frame. We didn’t feel pressured for time and we felt the pure joy of freedom to explore at our leisure. That was a sufficient length of time though as by the end we were both weary. I don’t think you can keep appreciating it as much if you do it perpetually. It was time to come home and we actually started to look forward to a couch, a TV, our own toilet and a bed where Kevin doesn’t have to climb over me to go out for a wee. It’s the little things.
Kevin and I, for the first time, spent 24 hours a day with each other, for four months in a confined living arrangement. We survived, we laughed a lot, we became more tolerant, we relaxed into a comfortable camaraderie and it made our relationship stronger. It was a fantastic experience to share.
We saw hundreds of emus in all states. They were the dominant wildlife on this trip which was great because I love them. They’re so quirky.
Lessons learnt along the way
Follow the weather. The perception of a holiday is 95% dictated by the weather, especially when living under a canvas roof. A place that is simply magnificent in sunshine becomes bleak and horrid in wet, bleak, cold and overcast weather. During the winter months the North of Australia is the place to be. Gotta love warmth and sunshine.
Less is more and will save you grief. We overpacked. Too much ‘stuff’. I tried to be minimalist when we packed but failed and it became obvious when at our first service, the mechanic assumed we were there to get our suddenly sagging rear springs replaced. We carried too much ‘just in case’ stuff and things that only got minimal use. The heavy generator and max tracks sat on the roof rack the whole way with no use, the boat only got used twice, the BBQ plate that got used once, there was too much stuff in our internal cupboards like the heavy camp oven that didn’t get used, too many clothes (in my section). The excessive weight of our vehicle became stringently obvious in Kapunda when the mechanic replacing the shockers couldn’t lift the vehicle with a 4 tonne hoist (our gvm is 3.3 tonnes). No wonder we suffered trying to cross the Simpson Desert and had the considerable expense of replacing our suspension.
It’s nice to have a home to come back too. We did actually consider selling up everything to travel perpetually prior to this trip. Sell the house, hit the road and be totally free. That’s a romantic notion though and I’m glad we didn’t go down that path. It’s wonderful to be free but living in a confined space, always on the move takes its toll. I’m positive that the thrill of travel wouldn’t be as great if it was a way of life rather than just a holiday. I guess it’s a personal thing because some people happily do it but we need a place to go ‘home’. Then we can plan and get excited about the next adventure. And there will be more………..
So to those people that faithfully followed my blog on this adventure, thank you for coming with us, thank you for the likes and nice comments and I hope you enjoyed the journey. I hope I encouraged other people to do similar and inspired you to visit these amazing places in our beautiful country. It is so worth it. We are much richer for the experience. Kevin and I have luckily both got our jobs back straight away so we didn’t even have to line up at Centrelink, which is a huge bonus. We took a risk and the reward was beyond our expectations.
“Oh, for f**** sake” mutters Kevin in frustration. The Cruiser is screaming in low range as Kevin tries to gain enough momentum to reach the crest of the massive sand dune. Our springs are bouncing like yo-yo’s in the deep, scalloped sand and our heavy load is momentarily air-borne with each bounce. Our seat belts clunk as they pin us to our seats and then after a moment of indecision the Cruiser, nose sky ward, surges over the crest before plummeting earthward again down the other side of the dune, where we hope there is a track beneath us.We are following ‘The French Line’ across the Simpson Desert and we do this over and over and over again. There are 1100 sand dunes to cross on this 450km extremely remote route and the track is badly scalloped and chewed up. It is simply impossible to gain a decent run up to a steep dune when the track upwards looks like a wavy sheet of corrugated iron. The more speed we get the more we bounce. When we get to the crest we get a view of sand dune after sand dune all the way to the horizon. Its immense and goes on forever. We groan each time we see the view.
We both comment frequently, “Why, the heck are we doing this?”
The Simpson Desert was never meant to be an inclusion on this epic half lap of Australia. It was a last minute, let’s do something adventurous on our way home, kind of decision. Not thought out, no research done, and no Simpson Desert specific preparations done. Quite simply, we had no idea what to expect. We certainly didn’t anticipate the brutality of the track.
A valuable lesson has been learnt from the experience. The Simpson Desert is an epic, iconic Australian 4WD journey that should be given the respect and preparation it deserves. It’s not a destination that should be taken lightly with a ‘she’ll be right kind of attitude’. It’s certainly not a trip that you have your vehicle packed for a trip down the coastline of WA. The inflatable boat, the snorkels and masks and the overloaded Trayon didn’t exactly contribute positively to a sandy desert crossing. And it’s not a trip you should do solo and without a satellite phone because if something goes wrong with your vehicle you are incredibly remote and no help available.
This, of course, occurred to us when the car started making strange noises.
Of course, we realised the error of our ways when we were half way across and the dunes kept getting bigger and more chewed up. We could tell when a dune was going to be particularly bad as it had at least three alternate routes to choose between, all just as bad. Once we had to reverse back down all three. That was a dicey one. The cruiser was making unpleasant clunking noises and developed a rather pronounced squeak. We suspect we blew out a shock absorber. There was only so much bouncing they could absorb I guess. Most of the time we were travelling at only 10km per hour.
All that aside, I’m glad we have experienced it. Dalhousie Hot Springs (24 – 36 degrees swimming on a chilly morning) was absolutely magnificent at the start, the magnitude and colour of the Simpson Desert needs to be seen to be believed and I think the most fascinating aspect of the Simpson Desert was the absolute silence. When we camped in between the dunes there was no sound in the evening or the morning. No crickets, no birds, no wind – just nothing. It’s the first time I have ever experienced this. It’s not lifeless – there are tracks on the dunes; dingoes, camels, hopping mice but the absence of bird life was a bit freaky. No water in the desert. It’s cold at night but we have a campfire and there is something quite eerie about camping so totally alone in complete silence. Eerie and wonderful.
So, absolutely shattered, we finally reach Poeppels Corner where I jump from South Australia to the Northern Territory to Queensland. It’s the corner of the three states.
Our guide book tells us from here to Birdsville it’s still 170km (that’s a long way at 10km per hour). Here the route traverses the QAA Line where the largest sand dunes reside. What? Bigger than the ones we have just come across! That was horrific to read. We both just wanted out of the ‘Simmo’ by this stage. We were afraid for our car and had no wish to damage it further for no reason. So, a quick study of the map revealed an alternative option. There is a track from Poeppels Corner called the K1 Line that runs parallel to the dunes. This leads on to the Warburton Track which crosses claypans and intersects 200km down the Birdsville Track. Both these tracks were listed as ‘easy going’. My only concern was that we were heading even more remote, with not one soul knowing where we were and no method of communication except an EPBIRB in the glovebox. What the heck! Off we go anyway, turning south and just looking at where we are heading on the map is a bit daunting. It’s the most remote we have ever, ever been and on a remote narrow track, in the desert, of the driest state in the driest continent. It turned out to be a good decision though; the tracks were good with only a couple of really easy sand dune climbs and we even sighted another car coming towards us which was very exciting. Such a relief.
So, that’s how we end up deciding to visit Kevin’s parents in Kapunda, South Australia while we are in the State of SA and part way down the Birdsville Track already.
So, in hindsight the Simpson Desert turned out to be a little ‘too much’ of an adventure for us but has given us a hell of great story as a finish to our journey. It will be a grand camp fire tale that will be told with much relish in the future. One day I’d like to do it again properly and give it the preparation and time it deserves. We’ve had a taste and know what to expect now.
The Red Centre is truly Australia’s heart (literally and figuratively) and once again has captured our hearts. It’s so unique to our country and people from all over the world flock here to see the landscape and the colours of the ‘real’ Australia – the red sand, the blue sky, the gold spinifex plains and the myriad shades of pink, gold, purple and red in the flowering native shrubs. The sky has layers of pastel shades at dusk and at night it glitters with diamond stars in a inky black nightscape. Statuesque desert oak trees whisper in the wind and of course the sight of Uluru is something to behold. That great big ochre sandstone monolith that juts from the flat spinifex plain and has different moods according to the angle of that ever present golden sunshine. It’s glorious.
The Great Central Road was quite simply a brilliant shortcut from the WA coastline to this region of the NT. We expected a lengthy, sandy, rutted 4WD track over the 1150km distance from Laverton to Yulara but we were treated to a dirt super highway. It was a fraction rougher around the border crossing and sandier on the NT side but not a challenging journey at all.
The road is remote, passing by an occasional Aboriginal community but easy traveling and the sky at night in the Gibson Desert was incredible. For the first time in my life I could see the spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy extend completely across the sky from one horizon to another. That’s the joy of being in one of the worlds great dark night sky regions. Incredible stars.
After the border crossing its only 200km to Yulara and the ‘Namatjira’ colours of the Red Centre become obvious (Albert Namatjira was a famous Aborginal landscape painter who captured the colours to perfection).
Kevin, a bit of a history buff, has had a long held fascination with the tale of Harold Bell Lassetter and his infamous long lost reef of gold. It was a Central Australian yarn and tale of woe that he told with much flourish to his tour groups many years ago. So he was literally jumping out of his seat with excitement to finally have the opportunity to spend a moment or two in THE very cave and the region where Lassetter spent his last 22 days before perishing in the desert. Lassetters Cave is not far from the border and an interesting historic stop on our journey and sadly, although I looked, no gold was found.
Then, 35 km away from our destination, the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) start looming into view and it’s such an incredible sight after over 1000km of flat desert. We approach from the west in the afternoon sunshine and, like huge sentinels guarding the landscape, they glow red against the brilliant blue sky and send shivers down our spine. Stunning sight to behold.
This portion of the trip is nostalgic for us. Kevin and I met 28 years ago here at the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area so it’s a trip down memory lane re-exploring this region, although things change. The natural landscape is unchanged (if anything it’s more beautiful) but since our time here a lot more focus has been placed upon the traditional aboriginal perspective around the Yulara Resort and at the rock itself. It is now seriously frowned upon by the ‘traditional owners’ to climb Uluru, a pursuit that used to be a crowning glory of a visit to this 348 metre monolith. Signs and and all the Park literature ‘suggests’ that visitors respect the traditional owners and ‘don’t climb the rock’.
However, it is not banned and still an optional choice. An optional choice that we and many other visitors choose to participate in willingly on that day. This is not out of any disrespect to the ‘traditional owners’ but simply because it’s what we love to do and while we still can we will. It’s how we savour a place. We walk it and we climb it. That’s how we connect with the landscape. You just can’t get that intimate connection looking out a bus window, riding a Segway or peering through fences.
So on a sunny winters day we climb to the summit marker and feel a great sense of achievement. The views are incredible and I even meditate for a few minutes feeling like an eagle way above the plains. There’s just something really special about being on top of Uluru.We then walk the 10.6 km around the base of the rock. So much of it is fenced off now but Kevin knows this place intimately after many years tour guiding and tells me what secrets are behind the barriers in the silent crevices. The native shrubs are in flower early this year so we walk past mulla mulla, honey grevillea, wattle, acacia and many more in lovely sunshine. The following day we walk the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta, my first time even though I spent time working out here. This was icing on the cake and I was in awe. A beautiful 7.4km walk through the towering domes of the Olgas and once again I had the insights and knowledge of my personal tour guide.
Lastly, Ayers Rock and The Olgas are 600 million years old and it bemuses me that the word owner and the concept of money is bandied around in relation to them these days. This place is so ancient and timeless and its just such a privilege to feel the soul of the landscape. It’s always an amazing experience.
Next stop is an afternoon hiking around the rim of Kings Canyon. The walk was lovely but it has been ‘manicured’ since we last did it 20 odd years ago. No more slithering through slippery caves and perilous clambering down rock faces. Had to happen but the adventure has diminished somewhat. Still nice though as the scenery is impressive.
Then a couple of nights camping at Ormiston Gorge in the Western MacDonnell Ranges where we hiked the 4 hour Ormiston Pound circuit. One evening I was sitting here alone by the waterhole at dusk being mellow and enjoying the stillness and serenity. A hippy chick with dreadlocks walked past me deeper into the Gorge and a few minutes later she started chanting in a pure, high voice. It was magical as it echoed through the gorge. Moments like this make holidays so special.
Next stop on the journey – our old hometown of Alice Springs. Now that will be a jaunt down memory lane.
IT WAS A HEART WRENCHING AFFAIR leaving the coastline of Western Australia. I crane my neck seeking one last glimpse of that strip of alluring blue and then it was gone. Inside my soul was kicking and screaming, dragging its heals and hanging on with clawed fingers. It was just sad like I was losing something precious. We had the most wonderful time on this gorgeous coastline.
Its all a trade-off though. We said goodbye to the ocean but in the process have gained something back in the desert; something just as precious and soul stirring.
On the coast in the popular National Parks we had a nightly routine. Watch the sun set into the sea, retire into the camper out of the wind and read for a while before sleeping to the lullaby of waves. Here in the desert, however, that time of day is the most special. When the skies pastel layers of pink, mauve and blue start to disappate, we enjoy the warmth and companionship of a blazing mulga campfire. Other than the crackle of the flames, the silence is absolute. It’s utterly still and for the first time in over a month we hear white noise in our heads. That chandelier of stars commands our attention and we have quiet conversations feeling toasty warm while that cold desert air descends heavy around us. This too is special.
Now, instead of our bed sheets being salty and crunchy with beach sand they have a whiff of campfire about them. All is good with the world. We are still out here doing it and appreciating another new phase.
Our Landcruiser is now a totally sexy beast after having been fitted with new fat Cooper tyres and rear WA made parabolic leaf springs to give it the butt lift it so seriously needed. So with total confidence once again in our rig we finally turned to the East from the Geraldton coastline and two hours later passed a big sign announcing ` You are now entering the Outback`. The point of no return and the commencement of phase 3 of our trip.
Our trip is composed of three phases
Phase 1: The Savannah Way- Cairns to Broome
Phase 2: The WA Coastline and Karajini
Phase 3: The Mega Desert Crossings – West to East
In this last and final phase we will traverse most remote and isolated regions of Australia. Through the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts into The Red Centre of the Northern Territory and the Simpson Desert crossing back into Queensland.
This phase will be different again and we are both excited about the adventure ahead. As I write this we are heading for the remote WA township of Laverton, permit to cross Aboriginal land in hand, as we prepare to cross The Great Central Road. Next blog post will be from Ayers Rock in Territory.
She’s in her bikini, thigh deep in the Pentecost River – not that far down from where it joins the Cambrian Gulf which is the domain of absolute monster estuarine crocodiles. Meanwhile Kevin and I, a bit further along the bank, tie a rope onto our bucket and chuck it into the river from high on the bank to scoop some water out for our dishes. There’s no way we are going near that water. Not after our episode at Douglas Hot Springs ( Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs )
It’s a car load of adventurous European backpackers and we are all being ‘slippery gypsies’ free camping at the Pentecost River Crossing on the Gibb River Road. I say to her “you’re brave” and she replies with “it’s okay, I can’t see any crocodiles”. Oh dear. Their naivety is delightful but then she didn’t get munched so all good. We saw a croc the next day so they were definitely in there.
In the morning I say to Kevin, “this is priceless” and he agrees. We have just cooked bacon, eggs and naan bread toast on the BBQ plate over a small campfire and eat in the sunshine on the bank of the Pentecost River in the beautiful light of a cool Kimberley morning. This is good.
I admit we were a little ‘jaded’ with the El Questro experience at the start of the Eastern end of the Gibb River Road. Its bitumen all the way to the turn off now and too easily accessible by the masses. I swam in icy cold Emma Gorge by myself, as we were the first early birds there, and it was just delightful, however, Zebedee Hot Springs and El Questro Gorge were just ridiculous with the volume of people. (although the scenery is worth it).
This is our third time across the Gibb River Road and we got to see it 28 years ago when it was totally ‘uncommercialised’. We had to pump diesel out of a 44-gallon drum at Mt Barnett to refuel and the road was little more than a rough track. It’s much busier now, the road is badly corrugated in places but a lot wider than back then. Initially we thought it was less of an adventure than our honeymoon trip in 1989 BUT THEN for the first time ever we turned onto the Kalumbaru Road and headed north to Mitchell Plateau. Crikey. The road was savage with corrugations as big as speed humps. Now that’s definitely an adventure.
It took us a brutal bone shattering six hours to travel 230km from the Kalumbaru turn-off to the Mitchell Falls campground. So why do it you may ask. Is it really worth it? Well, yeah. Mitchell Falls were the most awe- inspiring, magnificent, totally gob smackingly WOW. The sight of them in full glory while we perched on the edge of a steep cliff after walking for 2 hours was something to see.
If you look where we are on a map, remote is an understatement. We saviour this remoteness by spending a couple more nights camped beside the gorgeous King Edward River where we swim and have a canoe adventure where we try to get our inflatable to ride the rapids (Kevin fell in).
Then we face the horrendous corrugations back down again. Kevin was exhausted from the serious concentration required skating over the road but it’s a small price to pay to experience such amazing scenery. No major issues with the car which was great: a few more rattles and the tray bolts were loose (despite nylock nuts) but no flat tyres. The car has been an absolute champion and performed admirably under very trying conditions.
The Western end of the Gibb River Road is in much better condition than the Eastern end with the bonus that there is more to see – gorgeous gorges and swimming at regular intervals (Manning, Galvans, Adcock, Bell and Windjana: all different). We free camp at Barnett River Gorge which was an absolute gem and free camp (a little sneakily) along a creek near beautiful Bell Gorge.
Mornington Wilderness Camp, 90 km off the Gibb River Road, was a must see. Kevin made me to drive in and I went through a couple of water crossings (over the bonnet and up to the windscreen). Okay, I exaggerate – just a little…..
Dimond Gorge is really remote and so dramatic. We paddle down the tranquil Fitzroy River where it cuts through the King Leopold Ranges. The sandstone gorge walls are contorted from long ago earth movements and ancient (up to 1.8 – 2 billion years old – mind boggling). It really was so stunning and we both commented on how at that moment in time how we were the wealthiest people in the whole world.
The Gibb River Road is not about driving the road itself, it’s about the extraordinarily special scenery it leads you too. You need to travel the corrugations, do the hard yards, make like a mountain goat at times, swim under the waterfalls and see, hear, feel and touch the landscape. Soak it up. Touch the soul and feel the heartbeat of The Kimberley. I do love it so. We both do. We did it all.
So how do we feel after 7 weeks and 6800km on the road living in a 2m x 2m box on the back of a ute? Pretty good. Naturally we have days where we feel weary, worn out and dirty, however, then we have another ‘magic’ moment to remind us why we are out here. A night sky, a sunset, a magical piece of scenery.
There are so many magic ‘wow’ moments, every day is different with a sense of anticipation and most importantly we laugh a lot. After coming all the way across the top of the country we are definitely tired and gorged, waterfalled and rough roaded out a bit now though. Its ‘slip into Broome time’ mode coming up and we have every intention of chilling out for a decent break around Broome to recharge the depleted batteries (and possibly splurging just a little with the savings we made by free camping).
We are actually really doing this. I never thought we would be able to do it until retirement but wemade it happen. Just goes to show that when you want something bad enough you’ll find a way.
Its a weird day because, after months of just sheer excitement, we are actually full of nervous trepidation. A million things are frantically going through our heads. That will pass 100km up the road and turn into sheer joy but what a funny, strange sensation to have in the final straight.
There is relief too though. For so long the travel to the West for months has been just a pie in the sky concept. Not really feasible. Not really sensible. Just a pipe-dream. A ‘gonna do one day’ thing that you never really expect to happen unless you win the lotto.
Well today we are doing it – hitting the ‘frog and toad’ with months of absolute freedom ahead of us and damn it feels pretty good. We feel brave. Running away from home. Bye kids. Bye jobs. Bye house. Bye rut. HELLO to really living. (I say all this with a cheeky grin)
With some heavy duty planning and saving by yours truly, all obstacles have been overcome and all contingencies covered. One manky gall bladder gone and one bank account nicely brimming with holiday cash. Although the tide went out a little with yesterday’s rock flung by whipper snipper into the glass sliding door trick ($600 emergency glass repair at the very last minute – bugger, bugger, bugger!) I obviously needed a quick lesson that not everything always goes to plan.
So now that this day has arrived we can finally just relax, go with the flow and have faith that my planning was good. Just live in the moment, let each day be an adventure and have absolutely no regrets.
We have so, so much to look forward too. Its a beautiful country out there. Today the sun is shining, the open road beckons and in this moment of time we are free. Really, really free. Today is a great day.
Seeya later alligators and stay tuned for what is to come.
Like a turtle, we carry our accommodation on our back. It’s a wonderful way to travel because we have no restrictions due to towing. We are comfortable, can get out of the dirt, have a refuge from the weather and most importantly wherever the car can go, we can go. There are no extra registration fees, no extra wheels or maintenance and less weight.
If we stop somewhere for more than a couple of nights we can put the Trayon on legs so will still have the freedom to use our vehicle.
Kevin and I have always loved 4WD camping holidays. We have had other types of holidays too. Backpack hiking in New Zealand and Tasmania, trekking up Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa and cycling in Holland but our Australian camping holidays are our perennial favourite.
Over the years our style of camping has sporadically changed. We started off sleeping under the stars in swags. There is something awesome about waking in the middle of the night and being able to see the stars. Our big double swag was warm and toasty and was carried on the roof rack. I did worry a little about creepy crawlies and on one occasion we could hear wild donkeys braying nearby and Kevin got his shot gun out the car and put it under his pillow. Just in case. I slept in the car that night. The drawback is there is nowhere private to retreat too or get changed and you live in the dirt.
When we had kids, we got a bit flasher and progressed to a camper trailer. It was great for a couple of years but it was a more time consuming set up and pack up procedure and all our gear was under the bed in the trailer. We found the more space you have, the more stuff you bring. Then we had the extra expenses associated with towing. Registration, tyres, broken trailer springs to fix and the limitations on where we could go.
A bit later we decided to go back to keeping things a bit simpler, carry less ‘stuff’ and purchased a canvas touring tent instead. It was a bit crowded with all five of us and you can’t see the stars in ‘chateau de canvas’ but served us well for a couple of years. It was big and bulky to carry though and a bit of a pain to set up and fold up every day.
Then we decided that it was more fun camping when we kept life really simple. So we went back to swags; five of them, one each, all lined up on the roof rack. We travelled all the way from Cairns to Broome this way, with mosquito nets. What a sight we were. We would line up our swags between two trees and tie a rope from tree to tree to hang our mosquito nets. These weren’t hardy outdoor mosquito nets either. They were the coloured indoor variety. Bit silly now when I think of it. We must have caused a few laughs on the way.
Anyhow when we finally got to Broome we splashed out and purchased 5 little mosquito dome tents. These were brilliant and served us well for many years. We were still sleeping in swags under the stars but had the protection of a fly screen tent and our own individual ‘chateau de flyscreen’. More work for me though as I usually ended up rolling up the kids swags as well as my own as they couldn’t roll them tight enough.
Eventually as our kids got older, the thrill of camping with the old folks became a burdensome chore and Kevin and I started leaving the older two at home when we went for short jaunts. On one of these trips we spent a week at Lawn Hill Gorge with our youngest son, Riley. We were camped at Adeles Grove with our three little mosquito domes and our gear spread out all over the ground around them, living out of boxes, feeling dirty.
Then a 4WD Landrover ute pulls in to the campground with a white box on the back, a bit like a smoko van. It was a Trayon. They flip open this box to reveal a little canvas house with big windows and 5 minutes later they are sitting on chairs under their verandah enjoying the serenity. I was a bit envious and I was intrigued. My curiousity got the better of me eventually so I casually made like I was walking past to get a better look. As luck would have it, we had a chat and they invited me up the stairs to have a look.
It was awesome. Inside was a double bed, a table and lounge chairs, lots of storage cupboards, a gas cooker that could be moved outside, a 90 litre upright fridge and a kitchen sink with a proper tap connected to a 110 litre water tank and pump. This was camping in style but still keeping it simple. All this was on the back of a ute; in a box. I went back to Kevin and said “we are so getting one of those when it’s just the two of us”. So we did.
That was it. Decision made. We saved ourselves at lot of comparing, analysing and confusion at Caravan and Camping Shows and in hindsight it was just one of the best decisions we have ever made. Those impulsive gut based decisions usually are. It was a bit more costly than a swag of course but we figured that it would be a long term investment that would reap dividends. And it has. We absolutely love it. Finally we have close to the perfect set up.
We have had it for 4 years now and done a few long trips as well as lots of weekend camping forays. We travelled from Cairns to Tasmania for 6 weeks and the bonus is that it’s the same price as an ordinary car to put on the ferry. Makes going to Tassie very attractive compared to the exorbitant cost of towing a trailer or caravan.
So now on the ‘big trip’ the accommodation part is easy for us. We know we can easily head up the Roper Bar Road, up to Mitchell Plateau and take the dirt track from Karajini to Mt Augustas and live in complete comfort with our house on our back. Just like a turtle (but a bit faster). We nicknamed it our royal swag. Its simple like travelling with a swag but oh so much flasher…..
I get so much value from planning a trip; almost as much as the trip itself. It’s the anticipation, the imagining and the dreaming. I look at a map and I paint a picture in my mind of how it’s going to be. From a tiny splodge on a map I can visualise some version of paradise.
So I like to plan a holiday. I like to organise the finer details. It’s not a chore because it gives me so much pleasure using my imagination.
So let me tell you about the map on the dunny wall. It’s a big map; really big. After all Australia is a big country with vast distances and I was planning a workable format for this big adventure. I was having trouble picturing the complete journey. Google, such a wonderful resource most times, kept leading me along the black top roads. We want dirt.
So I found a big dusty map of Australia in the dark recesses of a disused drawer and a black marker pen became my best friend. That black line that I drew on it travelled from Cairns along the Savannah way all the way to the Western Australian Coastline. Along the way, in my head, we canoed along peaceful gorges, frolicked in natural hot springs and created clouds of billowing bull dust as we explored remote 4WD tracks. Such pretty mind paintings. When we got to Western Australia those paintings became staggeringly beautiful, an explosion of colour. Corrugated dirt tracks leading to picturesque waterfalls on Mitchell Plateau, red sand and turquoise sea near Broome, red ochre gorges with enchanted fern laden pristine water holes at Karajini, the sublime vast views from the summit of Mt Augustas and swimming in the azure Indian Ocean with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. I could see us throwing in a line and lazing aimlessly on the most beautiful white beaches, where ‘the only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair’ (Thanks Zac Brown – that’s my theme song).
Wow. That great big partially torn map with its ugly black scribbled lines is just the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen.
So, over the last couple of months it has taken pride of place on the dunny wall. A location where one has the time just to sit and ponder. It has provided inspiration, reminded me to stay focused on the end goal, to budget and save furiously and remember that in a few short months we are going to be really following that black squiggly line.