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Down UnderInto the Territory

On 13 August 2004 from Darwin, Northern Territory | comments closed

Tuesday morning we crossed the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory, which was a bit of a weird feeling, since I spent almost 4,5 months in Western Australia. Also, it required us to set our watches 1,5 hours forward. So now I am on GMT +9,5 (these half hour time differences are really weird), or 7,5 hours later than mainland Western Europe. After crossing the border we went almost straight to Katherine, where we found a nice campsite for the night. It was also the place where we encountered traffic lights again, and I almost forgot they existed, since we did not see any for more than 5000km.

On Wednesday we drove into Litchfield National Park, where we checked out huge termite mounds, and some nice waterfalls: Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls, and Wangi Falls. Sally, Claire and I went swimming at the first and last of these, before finding a campsite near Wangi Falls.

Thursday we drove to Darwin, with a short stop at Berry Springs. After settling at the caravan park I took the bus into town (could not be bothered driving for 1,05 euro), and checked out the city center. In the evening I went to the Mindil Beach Market, a large open-air market with lots of food stands (had some great Asian food), souvenir stands, and street artists. Later on I met Sally, Claire and Charlie (met him before in Fitzroy Crossing), and we took the bus back together.

Today I settled the score with Sally and Claire and visited Jo’s sister Adina, on the outskirts of Darwin, where I have been able to type up the last three posts. I also made a new sign looking for travel mates, made an appointment to get my car serviced, and confirmed my return flight (arriving on Schiphol at 06.30 on Sunday 14 November 2004, flight CX271; I hope you can pick me up from the airport, mum & dad).

Down UnderCar Trouble & the Kindness of Strangers

On 9 August 2004 from Lake Argyle, Western Australia | comments closed

We left Fitzroy Crossing on Friday morning, but after a while the car seemed to be pulling back (suddenly lose power) at higher speeds. So I pulled into a rest area and at that time the engine stalled as well, and I could not get it started anymore. Unfortunately, this happened between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, 140km from both towns (they would be considered villages back home, with a population of around 1500). So there we were, stuck along the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no GSM signal either. Fortunately, we were not the only ones at the rest area, and I went to a couple standing with two utes (pick-up trucks). They checked out my car, but could not find anything that was obviously wrong. So they got on the radio to ask for a ride to Halls Creek or a satellite phone to call the RAC (Royal Automobile Club, WA’s ANWB/ADAC/AA). Next thing we know this large road train (truck with 3 trailers) pulls in, and we got the RAC on the satellite phone. However, they were charging A$200 just to get out there. In the meantime, a tourist from Melbourne with his parents had pulled in as well, and he offered to tow us to Halls Creek in his rented LandCruiser. That seemed the most viable option, so we ended up getting towed for 140km to Halls Creek. Indeed, the kindness of strangers. It was not easy though, since power steering was not working and the brakes were really bad because the engine was off. But we made it, and called the RAC from the Shell service station. It took them 2 hours to arrive from a workshop not even 5 minutes away, so that was not a good impression. But they had the engine running within 5 minutes by adjusting the distributor. Of course we thanked the tourist from Melbourne with a good supply of alcohol (he would not accept any money, and beer is currency in Australia).

On Saturday we had not even got back to the highway before the car stalled again. So we called the RAC again, and it got fixed again. Once more he adjusted the distributor, but told us it should really get fixed. However, no one in Halls Creek had the time or the parts to fix it soon, so we decided to take it easy and see how far we could get. We managed to get to Turkey Creek, and had the engine cool off there for a while. When we departed the problem only seemed to have gotten worse, and I did not think the car would make it to Kununurra, 200km along the highway, so I turned back to Turkey Creek. There I called for a mechanic, and an old typical Aussi guy with a long white beard showed up. He was thinking the problem was in the spark plugs, but those turned out to be fine, and he also came to the conclusion that the distributor was broken. Luckily, he had a second-hand one in one of his engines, and he built that into mine. If you consider that Turkey Creek is just a roadhouse and an aboriginal community, it is pretty amazing that I managed to get my car fixed there. But after almost two hours it did get fixed, it was running smoothly, I was 90 euro poorer, and we were on our way again.

We managed to get to El Questro without any further problems, and we joined Ray and Jenny (an Australian couple we met at Silent Grove campsite) for dinner. El Questro is a 1 million acre Wilderness Park (that is about the size of the Netherlands) with some very upscale accommodation in the homestead (500 euro per person per night), but also chalets and campsites. Needless to say, we stayed at the latter, but spent most time at the bar, using the bar’s campfire to heat the marshmallows.

Sunday morning Sally, Claire and I went to Zebedee Springs: natural hot springs in the El Questro Wilderness Park. After relaxing there for a bit, I brought Sally and Claire back to the campsite for some sunbathing, and I went to El Questro gorge. I was surprised to see a few 2WD vehicles in the El Questro resort, because it is necessary to cross a river to get there, although the river is not deep at all. A lot of roads in the Wilderness Park were 4WD tracks though, impossible to do by 2WD. This was also the case for the track to the El Questro gorge, part of it was very sandy (needing lots of ground clearance) and there was a turn-off in the middle of a creek crossing. The gorge itself was great to hike in because it was very narrow, and the steep cliffs walls gave a lot of shadow. I did the full hike, requiring to wade through waist-deep water at the halfway pool. The hike was supposed to take 2,5 hours, but only took me 1 hour. At the end there was a beautiful waterfall streaming into a rock pool, so I went for a nice swim there. After driving back I joined the girls sunbathing at the river, and we made some nice dinner.

Monday morning we packed everything in the car and were ready to leave El Questro, but the car did not do anything. I got the mechanic and it turned out to be just a loose battery contact, so after that was screwed on everything worked and we drove to Kununurra. We made it just a fuel, food, and tourist information stop, and continued on to Lake Argyle, where we spent the afternoon at the pool of the caravan park.

Down UnderCreek Crossings

On 5 August 2004 from Fitzroy Crossing, WA | comments closed

On Tuesday Sally, Claire and I set off to Derby, where we took a look at the Prison Boab Tree, a tree large enough to hold people inside. In Derby we got the latest road conditions and got on Gibb River Road. This is almost 700km of unsealed road straight through the Kimberley. However, I decided to only go to some of the natural attractions on either end of the road, mainly because I did not want to break down in the middle of nowhere. On Tuesday we reached Bell Gorge, 220km along Gibb River Road, where we camped overnight at the Silent Grove campsite. The unsealed road was better than expected, but the last 20km to the campsite was a 4WD-only road and I wondered why until we got to the first creek crossing. Creek crossings are fairly normal in this part of Australia, and at this time of the year (the ‘Dry’-season) there are only a few of them. Nevertheless, it is still scary to drive through a creek that is 40cm deep, even with a 4WD. It also took some trail-and-error to figure out the best way to tackle them. I think I made all the beginner mistakes by now: using high-gear 4WD, using too high entry speeds (it does clean the windshield nicely though), stalling the engine (luckily it was not deep there). FYI: second gear in low-gear 4WD is the best way to handle the deeper creek crossings.

Wednesday morning we went into Bell Gorge, definitely one of the most picturesque gorges in the West Kimberley. I went as far into the gorge as possible and had a quick swim before joining Sally and Claire who had been sunbathing. We drove back on Gibb River Road and took the 4WD-only road along Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. After setting up the tent at the Windjana Gorge campsite, we spent the afternoon in Windjana Gorge, where freshwater crocodiles were sunbathing on the banks of the river.

Thursday morning we visited Tunnel Creek, basically a 750m natural tunnel where you have to wade through a knee-deep creek to get to the end. Coming from the broad daylight, the tunnel was pitch black and the girls were too scared to continue. I went on and met up with an Adventure Tours group, one that we seemed to be following, since I had met some of them in Bell Gorge and Windjana Gorge. After a quick look around at the end of the tunnel I went back and we drove on to Fitzroy Crossing. That turned out to be a fairly rough road with another creek crossing (I have photos of this one). We drove straight through town into Geikie Gorge, where we had a few hours to spare before the boat cruise started. I used the time for a nice walk along the gorge and the river. The boat cruise was very informative, and we saw lots of crocs in the water and on the banks of the river.

Down UnderStaircase to the Moon

On 2 August 2004 from Broome, WA | comments closed

I am not talking about the Led Zeppelin song, but about the effect caused by the rising of the full moon reflected off the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. This is a major tourist attraction here, complete with crowds and a market. This happened at 18.18 last night, and I watched it with the usual crowd of people (Sally, Claire, Phil etc.). Before the Staircase to the Moon we did not really do anything though, and spent another lazy day at the campsite. In the evening I went to the Kimberley Klub for a really fun game of Spoons, an easy cardgame with a bit of a spoon battle.

Today was the last day in Broome, and subsequently Claire and I did some laundry, before going to Cable Beach for the last time. I also had my car fixed, and it turned out the clutch did not need to be replaced, but just readjusted. So that was only a 45 euro repair.

Time to go now and check out the Staircase to the Moon again, it is supposed to be better today, since the moon is only rising at 19.18, so it will be completely dark by that time. Tomorrow Sally, Claire and I are going into the Kimberley, and from there to Darwin. That will most likely be the next place to update my website, in about 10 days or so.