Broooome, Brooome, Broome!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It’s one of the most remote and untouched locations in Australia, so basically the world. To cross in anything less than a 4WD is madness… possible, yes, but not seeing much but road. As Betsy and I separated in Surfers and there were no backpackers with 4WD or even remotely able to tackle the famous Gibb River Road, much less go off that road to the even more famed Bungle Bungles. So it was that I found myself boarding the Adventure Tours 4x4 at 6:30 AM on a Saturday morning for what would probably be the most remote camping/wilderness trip I’d do in my life. Or at least until I get to Antarctica… I was happy to find our group was pretty cool and friendly. A fellow Canadian, Simon, a couple really awesome Melbourners (Alex and Richard), and some really bubbly POMs, Georgina and Steph that I met straight away. I’d be meeting the others and finding out that they were likewise terrific soon enough.

Our first stop was Edith Falls, a great place to swim… if you don’t mind fresh water crocodiles. Only about 7 of us went in, amazingly I was one of them. The fresh water ones tend to be quite shy unless provoked, it’s the salties you have to watch for. Of course it’s quite possible that a salty could be in the water somewhere, but they do comb the national parks fairly often. Still, between my skepticism that they could catch every salty out there and that fresh water crocs would leave us alone, I made sure to stay in the group. Who says humans aren’t pack animals? Safety in numbers. Still, I can’t believe I went in, though the fact that it was 35C was probably a big influence. It wouldn’t be long before I considered this ‘warm’ instead of ‘bloody hot’, but for the moment, I was swimming and enjoying the opportunity.

We picked up a bit of beer in Katherine and Simon and I led the charge by cracking open three on the bus, showing the Canadian propensity to party and alliterate. We had chicken tandoori for dinner around the campfire with flies and beetles buzzing around everywhere. I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to the point that I’d scoop a beetle out of my food and just keep eating, but there you have it. There was a time when the whole bowl would be declared a biohazard and dumped unceremoniously in the nearest garbage. Our guide, Adrian, spent 10 years living in Kakadu and Arnhem Land with the aborigines, so he brought out the didgeridoo to entertain us for a while. Simon, Steph, Richard, Adrian, and myself stayed up to midnight Melbourne time in honour of the greatest city in Australia, and then I had my first sleep in a swag. That is a sleeping mat and blanket combined but with nothing over your head, so you just fall asleep watching the many stars in the middle of nowhere… and hoping that nothing crawls into your swag or onto you over the course of the night. It was beautiful and amazing to sleep under the stars, and there were almost no bugs.

The next morning, Simon and I reloaded the swags (we appointed ourselves in charge of the top of the bus, which gave us the chance to climb on top of the massive 4WD twice a day to at least load and unload swags plus the occasional firewood stop). We were on the road before 8. Adrian took us to Keep River National Park, not a scheduled stop but really great. He is really knowledgeable too and pointed out lots of things we’d have walked right by without noticing. Another drive brought us to the second largest lake and largest manmade lake in Australia, Lake Argyle. It is huge! We went for a swim (yup, crocs included) and did some cliff jumping which was quite refreshing in the 42C heat. Then off to Kunnunura where we camped in a nice campground, had another delicious Adrian creation for dinner (no beetles!) and called it a night.

It was my turn to sit in the front and also our first day doing some rough outback road to the Bungle Bungles. I couldn’t have picked a better day. However, our first stop was, again, Kunnunura, where we stopped to get shoes for one of the older Dutch ladies on the trip as her shoe had fallen apart on the previous day’s walk. Soon enough, we were on the road for the wild. I chatted with Adrian, our guide, who apparently is also a painter, author, and one of Australia’s foremost experts in aboriginal rock art. We got to the Bungle Bungles around 2:00, after a very beautiful drive in. We had lunch by a river crossing which had dried out, and the temperature at 10AM was 36C in the shade! By the time we got to the national park, the temperature was 42C in the shade and near 50 in the sun. Somehow, 42 doesn’t seem as hot as I thought it would be. I guess I’m getting acclimatized pretty quickly. That said, the night before in the swag, I had to close the corner because of the mozzies and I awoke in a pool of my own sweat. Literally. Gross. Anyway, we set up camp, Alex and I went on a photography trek, and then our group went to a lookout to watch a beautiful outback sunset on the Bungles. This was probably the best day so far.

I would find myself of a similar opinion on the next day as well. We were up by 6, did a few hikes in and around Piccaninny Gorge including the famous Cathedral Gorge, then broke for lunch. The walks were beautiful, especially Cathedral Gorge, and Adrian played his didj in the vast natural amphitheatre. And did I mention how stunning the scenery was? If not, I’ll mention that it was beautiful on the ground. And absolutely amazing from the air. I took a 50 min helicopter ride with Alex and Michael and it was indescribable in beauty size, beauty, and variety. The helicopter had no doors which was both fun and refreshing as the temperature had climbed to 44 in the shade and, by Adrian’s estimates, mid 50s in the direct sun. I also got a quick lesson on how to control a chopper but didn’t have to use my newfound skills as our pilot survived the trip.

We did a second walk that afternoon into Echidna Gorge and were amazed not only that the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, but also that 34 felt ‘nice and cool’. Seriously. It was a long, hot, and busy day, and I fell asleep briefly and accidentally with my legs crossed like I was doing yoga and got a little too relaxed. Then dinner and a real sleep.

A mixup left us short of supplies so we backtracked to Kununurra to get some more then hit the road for El Questro station and our first day on the Gibb River Road – a 600km dirt road through the heart of the Kimberly infamous in its rough and remote nature. We took a walk through Amalia Gorge to the Ochre Road and had a swim before returning to the cattle station ‘homestead’/campsite for some happy hour beer and another great meal. Plus a much needed and very excellent shower. We woke up before the sun was even up to get a great spot in Zebedee Hot Springs, and a great spot we got… right at the top. The temperature was about 35 which would’ve made it cool and refreshing midday. Either way, a great way to kick off the day. Simon and I were joined by the Swiss girls (Anita and Cheryl) and we basically had our little pool to ourselves. After breakfast, we stopped at the Colburn lookout, looking over Pentecost River and the mountains we’d been camping under. Then, an unscheduled stop at Hora Valley, where Adrian showed us some really remote rock art.

He’s a great guide, Adrian, if you haven’t guessed that already. Even when he stopped for a smoke he showed us some great bush tucker – Rosella petals. Then to Barnett Gorge, another place even Adrian had never been, which was lined with red rock and absolutely beautiful. We camped the night at Mt. Barnett station and Michael and Richard gave us a great ‘Swiss show’ after dinner. I fixed a broken tent and Alex and I slept in it though it was quite hot and uncomfortable, at least it kept the mosquitoes at bay.

What was probably the best day of the trip through the Kimberly started rather innocuously with a 4km walk to Manning Gorge. We had to put our stuff in a Styrofoam container and float it across to do our walk. When we got to the other side and the end of the walk, it was just incredible, probably one of the best swimming holes in Australia. Of course, this was after Adrian stopped to show us the delights of billy goat fruit (not bad) and dentist fruit (bad, but a mild anesthetic hence the name). Simon and Adrian did a 14m jump which I couldn’t bring myself to do, but I did a 12m one. Again, an amazing amazing spot. We stopped again for supplies at Mt. Barnett roadhouse before our next stop at Gavan Gorge. Adrian and I jumped from a tree hanging about 7m above the water. There was also a rope from below that you could swing out onto the water with. Lots of fun. Then, back on the road, we ran across another Western Exposure bus. Richard stole some firewood as a joke while I provided a distraction. The whole thing was pretty hilarious, which is why Richard is the “king” I suppose.

In the middle of nowhere, we stopped again and spent the night. Quite remote and unmarked, but Adrian took us to see some rock paintings and burial sites that are not even recorded or known to most of the world. And when they are listed with the museum, the exact location will be known to only a handful of other experts in rock art for their protection. Yes, we had a terrific guide indeed. After the educational quotient, we went for a sunset swim and some beer, and then Simon and I had to come up with a Canadian show right before dinner. It turned out pretty well considering the lack of notice, at least I think. We toppled the monarchy (King Richard) with a well thrown swag, Ranger Dean identified some native bush tucker for the tourists, we poked fun at the Swiss, and of course Australian beer/water/VB. The Swiss also had a game where Alex and Angela had to rub a rope and discuss aloud what the thought they were doing, not knowing that they were a couple on their honeymoon. Much more funny than it sounds. Finally, Adrian had a game where you say two words and try to guess what they have in common by coming up with two other words that also share this trait. Mine was fish and sheep. Some thoughts animals, others that the second word started with the last two letters of the first. I’ll put the solution at the bottom of this post.

Already a week had gone since leaving Darwin, and we woke Saturday morning refreshed after a quiet and bug-free night. Our first stop was Imintji Roadhouse, where I discovered that Geelong was still cleaning up in the footy playoffs. It was a little oasis with a green lawn and flowers surrounded by red dust in all directions. Refreshed and refueled, we were off to the Bell River Gorge, which took us on a walk overlooking the waterfall and then across the river and down the cliff for a swim – our last swim on tour. Going back up, one of the Dutch ladies finally had enough of the walking in the high-40s temperature and I helped her along a bit, but I’m really impressed with how well they’ve done considering that they’re all in their 70s and the one I helped is 78!

We made camp that night in Windjana Gorge, quickly tossing firewood and swags to claim our spot before heading off to Tunnel Creek, a 750m long underground river passing through the Napier ranges. Then camp, and ‘Empire night’, where we all had to do a skit. They were all pretty bad if I may say, including ours. Our final day in the bush and it’s just as well we’ll be in Broome tonight, I haven’t showered in 4 days nor shaved in 9, my clothes are now all one colour (dark reddish brown) and my hands and fingernails have been painted a matching shade. I slept really well on my swag last night and didn’t dream for the first time this month. We packed up and took a walk through Windjana Gorge, home of 100s of crocs, a beautiful and massive (and dead) reef from a time when Australia was underwater, and more. There were too many crocs to even think about thinking about swimming here, so we walked and moved on to our last stop. A boab tree that had once been used as a prison.

This is no fairy tale, though. They’d round up aborigines, particularly young males to keep the older ones in line, and keep them here overnight on the way to be a slave in the pearling ships. Nearby was a huge windmill-fed trough that used to give water to 500 cattle at a time as they were driven across the land. And then, we were back in Broome. The trip was over but we didn’t say goodbye. Not yet. The end is part of the beginning of a new story, coming soon to a blog near you.

Oh yes, and the answer to what fish and sheep have in common? Simply that both were plural.

Darwin-Bungle Bungles Photos
Bungle Bungles Land Photos
Bungle Bungles Air Photos
Bungles to Broome Photos

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