From Katherine in the Northern
Territories to Broome on the coast of Western Australia is a distance of
roughly one thousand miles. There are
several wonderful national parks along the way (the main reason for our
journey) but very few towns. The biggest
(by far) is Kununurra, which has a population of less than 5,000. Shops are few and far between, so while in
Darwin we stocked up for the journey.
Our provisions included a dozen bottles of wine, so we clanked our way
happily across the Outback.
From Katherine the next place was
Timber Creek, a tiny outpost with a scruffy campsite and motel rooms that were
frankly awful – sadly we’d booked to spend two nights there. This was to enable
us to visit Gregory National Park, but we found very little of it was
accessible to 2WD cars. We did one very
interesting walk, however, scrambling along under towering cliffs with
multicoloured sandstone layers. We also took
a boat trip on the Victoria River.
After that we crossed into
Western Australia and the region known as the Kimberley. In the process you
have to discard any fruit you may have, as WA has very tight quarantine
controls on fruit. Just before we reached the border we visited Keep River NP,
where we wandered through wonderfully eroded sandstone features, which
resembled the ruins of a fabled lost city.
This was a real highlight – a place that didn’t even feature on our
planned itinerary, but was a wonderful bonus.
Our next stop was at Kununurra,
with Mirima NP very close to the town centre: a small but perfectly formed
miniature gorge and towering red cliffs at sunset. Then we were off on an
overnight camping trip to the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu NP) – as amazing as
advertised, with the celebrated ‘beehive domes’ of striped red and black rock.
We also tramped through a couple of narrow gorges in the red rock, calling to
mind the entrance to Petra. Our Bungle Bungles adventure involved a a great
deal of driving, including rattling over a dreadful 53 km dirt road to get into
the park itself. We camped overnight in a tiny mesh tent under the stars, and
on the second day had an 18-minute helicopter flight to see the domes from the
air. This was terrifying (mainly because the helicopter had no doors) but the
views were outstanding.
From Kununurra we also did a
day’s excursion which involved a fast boat trip down the Ord River, with some
fantastic scenery on the way, a great lunch, and a sunset cruise on Lake Argyle
with more picturesque views.
From there we drove on to Halls
Creek, staying in a nice but securely walled-in resort with rather rundown
motel rooms. We then went to Fitzroy Crossing, where we spent two nights in a
‘safari lodge’: a large, well-equipped tent with an ensuite – quite nice and
much smarter than some of the motel rooms we’ve had. From Fitzroy Crossing we visited Geikie Gorge
NP – impressively sculptured limestone cliffs, with white rock (where the water
reaches during the Wet) and dark rock above.
We did the standard one-hour ranger-led boat trip up the gorge to see
the cliffs, and then did some walking to get different views.
One thing we noticed, especially
in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing, was the presence of a large number of
indigenous people (a much higher proportion in the North than elsewhere in
Australia) and their involvement in the local community and in the tourist
industry. One place we frequented more than once was the Old Crossing Inn at
Fitzroy Crossing, which has a largely aborigine clientele, some of whom gave us
a friendly welcome. We noted the clear signs of efforts being made to tackle
social problems (especially excessive drinking) and promote good relations between
communities that live side by side.
After leaving Fitzroy Crossing on
August 25th we headed for Broome with a short detour en route to the
small town of Derby. Broome, with a population of 13,700 (according to our most
recent guidebook) seemed like the big city compared with other places we’ve
visited recently. After emerging dusty,
dirty and dishevelled from our long drive across the Kimberley, we were
delighted to see the beautiful turquoise sea and to indulge in luxuries such as
good coffee again. We were also looking forward to being able to unpack some of
our clothes. We’d booked accommodation
in Broome for four nights – the first time since leaving Sanur Beach (Bali) on
3rd August that we’d spent more than two nights in the same room.